Sustainablog

This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.

17.7.09

Green newsclips for July 17th, 2009: Walmart speeds up and Ocean currents slow down


http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/16/business/energy-environment/16walmart.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

At Wal-Mart, Labeling to Reflect Green Intent
July 16, 2009
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM

Shoppers expect the tags on Wal-Mart items to have rock-bottom prices. In the future they may also have information about the product's carbon footprint, the gallons of water used to create it, and the air pollution left in its wake.

As the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores is on a mission to determine the social and environmental impact of every item it puts on its shelves. And it has recruited scholars, suppliers, and environmental groups to help it create an electronic indexing system to do that.

The idea is to create a universal rating system that scores products based on how environmentally and socially sustainable they are over the course of their lives. Consider it the green equivalent to nutrition labels.

Rather than a retailer or a product supplier's focusing on only a few sustainability goals — lower emissions or water conservation or waste reduction — the index would help them take a broader view of sustainability by scrutinizing and rating all sorts of environmental and social implications.

Did this T-shirt come from a cotton crop that was sprayed with pesticide? Was excessive packaging used to ship these diapers?

Wal-Mart's goal is to have other retailers eventually adopt the indexing system, which will be created over the next five years.

"We have to change how we make and sell products," Michael T. Duke, Wal-Mart's president and chief executive, plans to tell about 1,500 of the company's suppliers and employees on Thursday at a "sustainability meeting," according to a copy of his prepared remarks. "We have to make consumption itself smarter and sustainable."

The only thing less likely than a Wal-Mart meeting that sounds as if it were dreamed up by liberal-arts environmentalists may be that a number of scholars and environmental groups say that Wal-Mart is the only entity capable of making "sustainable consumption" a retailing reality.

"Nobody else could pull this off," said Michelle Harvey at Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups involved in the creation of the index.

The question, of course, is whether even Wal-Mart can make it happen.

"I think it's going to be a lot of work for a lot of people," said Jon Johnson, a professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, whom the company asked to help create the index, along with Jay Golden at Arizona State University. "But obviously we're optimistic about the prospects."

Joe Cavaliere, a senior vice president for customer development at Unilever, a big Wal-Mart supplier, called the indexing idea "a great move forward for the industry."

Wal-Mart's sheer size has long enabled it to create ripple effects throughout corporate America whenever it adopts new ways of doing business.

For instance, Len Sauers, the vice president for global sustainability at Procter & Gamble, recalls that a few years ago, when his company and a few others began selling concentrated laundry detergent that uses 50 percent less water — and allows for a smaller container using less plastic — that version was slow to catch on.

In 2007, Wal-Mart decided it would sell only the concentrated detergents.

"Because of Wal-Mart's leadership in that area, they were able to set a standard for the entire industry," Mr. Sauers said. "That opened the door to allow it to progress very, very quickly."

Procter & Gamble said sharing the new sustainability index across the industry was important.

"The last thing a supplier really wants is when you're doing a separate index for every retailer," said Tim Marrin, associate director of external relations for Procter & Gamble. "Wal-Mart has invited the Targets, the Costcos, the Tescos of the world," he said, "to come up with a solution so that there are not 5, 10, 15, 20 different standards that retailers are implementing in their markets."

But creating a single set of measurements for the entire retailing industry will be complicated. For one thing, some suppliers have concerns about their proprietary information.

And environmentally sustainable production and distribution methods will not necessarily be cheap.

"The first question is always, 'It's going to cost more,' " John E. Fleming, Wal-Mart's chief merchandising officer, said in an interview this week. "But you know, I think we've demonstrated time and time again, if you reduce packaging, if you reduce energy, the costs go down."

Wal-Mart plans to begin by asking its more than 100,000 suppliers around the world to answer 15 simple questions about the sustainable practices of their companies. Questions include "Have you set publicly available greenhouse gas reduction targets? If yes, what are those targets?"

The largest United States suppliers will be asked to respond by October. Deadlines outside the United States have not been set.

Wal-Mart said suppliers that choose not to participate would not be penalized, but warned, "then they're probably less relevant to us."

Whatever grumbling the index might create, Wal-Mart executives said that more and more consumers, especially those born from 1980 to 2000, will be making purchasing decisions based not only on price but also on which products do the least harm to the environment and the people, often in poorer countries, who produce them.

"These younger consumers, they care deeply about this regardless of what happens in the economy," Mr. Fleming said. "When I go around to colleges and universities to recruit, sustainability is tops on their list. So I think this will help us build a better business model."

If successful, the index could compel manufacturers and suppliers to create more sustainable products.

"If we could take a snapshot of products today in the store and then fast forward 10 years from now," said Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart's senior vice president for sustainability, we would see "dramatic changes."

http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/07/090716141142.htm

Ocean Current Shutdown May Be Gradual, Not Sudden

ScienceDaily (July 17, 2009) —  The findings of a major new study are consistent with gradual changes of current systems in the North Atlantic Ocean, rather than a more sudden shutdown that could lead to rapid climate changes in Europe and elsewhere.

The research, based on the longest experiment of its type ever run on a "general circulation model" that simulated the Earth's climate for 21,000 years back to the height of the last Ice Age, shows that major changes in these important ocean current systems can occur, but they may take place more slowly and gradually than had been suggested.

The newest findings, to be published July 17 in the journal Science, are consistent with other recent studies that are moving away from the theory of an abrupt "tipping point" that might cause dramatic atmospheric temperature and ocean circulation changes in as little as 50 years.

"Research is now indicating that this phenomenon may happen, but probably not as a sudden threshold we're crossing," said Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. "For those who have been concerned about extremely abrupt changes in these ocean current patterns, that's good news.

"In the past it appears the ocean did change abruptly, but only because of a sudden change in the forcing," he said. "But when the ocean is forced gradually, such as we anticipate for the future, its response is gradual. That would give ecosystems more time to adjust to new conditions."

The findings do not change broader concerns about global warming. Temperatures are still projected to increase about four to 11 degrees by the end of this century, and the study actually confirms that some of the world's most sophisticated climate models are accurate.

"The findings from this study, which also match other data we have on recorded climate change, are an important validation of the global climate models," Clark said. "They seem to be accurately reflecting both the type and speed of changes that have taken place in the past, and that increases our ability to trust their predictions of the future."

The intensity of computation on this experiment, involving a quadrillion calculations each second, was so great that it took more than a year to run, Clark said. It was the longest such study of its type that ever examined past climate in such detail and complexity. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and other agencies.

It included the height of the last Ice Age about 21,000 years ago, the emergence of the Earth from that Ice Age around 14,000 years ago, and some other fairly sudden warming and cooling events during those periods that are of considerable interest to paleoclimatologists.

The period when the Earth emerged from its last Ice Age actually had amounts of natural warming similar to those that may be expected in the next century or two, with some of the same effects - melting of ice sheets, sea level rise, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Studies of those periods, researchers say, will provide valuable insights into how the Earth may respond to its current warming.

A particular concern for some time has been the operation of an ocean current pattern called the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, or AMOC. This current system is part of what keeps Europe much warmer than it would otherwise be, given its far northern latitudes, and there is evidence that it has "shut down" with some regularity in Earth's past - apparently in response to large influxes of fresh water, and sometimes quite rapidly.

"Our data still show that current is slowing, and may decline by 30 percent by the end of this century," Clark said. "That's very significant, and it could cause substantial climate change. But it's not as abrupt as some concerns that it could shut down within a few decades."

Climate changes, Clark said, are actually continuing to occur somewhat more rapidly than had been predicted in recent years. Arctic Sea ice is both thinning and shrinking, and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are going up faster than had been projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.



Adapted from materials provided by Oregon State University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

(Alternative Energy) Solar Power Generation to Double by 2010


http://www.environmentalleader.com/2009/07/17/solar-power-generation-to-double-by-2010/

Solar Power Generation to Double by 2010
solar-panels2A glut in solar panel capacity may mean this is the best opportunity for businesses to buy their own solar installations. New research suggest that global solar capacity may double by 2010, led by incentives in the U.S. and China.
New investments in clean energy could rise to $450 billion in 2012, or triple the $150 billion spent in 2007, according to information from Nomura Securities, Bloomberg reports.
In China, solar capacity is expected to hit 10 gigawatts by 2020, which equates to enough electricity for 10 million U.S. homes, according to the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association. Currently, China produces 1.8 gigawatts of electricity from solar.
While robust growth is expected in coming years, for now the market is oversupplied.
The solar panel market has 12 gigawatts of capacity for sale, versus only 6 gigawatts of demand on the market. Despite the oversupply, solar panel producers are expected to add 50 percent more next year, the article states.
Asian solar panel suppliers are selling most of what they manufacture, but European suppliers are sitting on about half their inventory.
As for the U.S., demand for solar panels could rise from 342 megawatts in 2008 to 2.13 gigawatts in 2012, reports SeekingAlpha.

16.7.09

Green newsclips, 16 July 2009: Closing lanes to reduce traffic, CFOs like sustainability, and a Green power revolution in the UK



http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jul/15/labour-green-energy-revolution-plan

Labour orders green energy revolution


Miliband takes control of power grid and lays out plan for low-carbon UK


Buzz up!
Digg it

Terry Macalister
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 July 2009 21.12 BST
Article history
Wave and tidal energy
Natural power: Britain has most of Europe's wave and tidal energy resources yet it provides next to no electricity at present. New funding will provide support, particularly in Cornwall. Photograph: Matt Oldfield/Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley
The government seized control of key levers in the energy sector today in an attempt to kickstart a stalling "green energy" revolution and head off the threats of global warming and a rundown in North Sea oil.
Ministers plan to take over the allocation of electricity grid connections in order to favour renewable schemes, force the industry regulator, Ofgem, to tackle carbon pollution and pass laws to compel power companies to help poorer families meet rising energy bills.

John Vidal: 'This has never been attempted on this scale in any country' Link to this audio
The moves came as Ed Miliband, energy and climate change secretary, set out an ambitious road map for the UK to meet its legally binding target of a 34% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Measures range across homes, cars, business and farming, but clean electricity generation will deliver half the reduction.
Miliband said Britain would meet 40% of its electricity needs from wind, tidal and nuclear by the end of the next decade. The government's overall plans believe 1.2m new green jobs will be created.
"Our plan will strengthen our energy security, it seeks to be fair to the most vulnerable, it seizes industrial opportunity and it rises to the moral challenge of climate change," he said.
The government said £100bn had to be spent on energy projects and accepted that customers' bills would have to rise to pay for much of it.
But Miliband said domestic energy saving initiatives should mean there would be no related hikes in utility bills until 2015 and by 2020 should mean on average 6% – £75 – a year on domestic bills. The decision to significantly strengthen government control of the planning and infrastructure of the energy markets in a bid to increase renewable power sixfold turns back some of the market-driven approach developed by Margaret Thatcher.
Lord Mandelson, business secretary, said: "We must combine the dynamism of the private sector with a strategic role for government to deliver the benefits of innovation, growth and job creation in the UK."
The developments have delighted a clean energy sector frustrated by long delays to win access to the national electricity grid. "The renewables industry has had a tough time in the UK for many years and it has missed out on technologies where it should have led the world. What we heard ... today shows a level of understanding and political leadership that suggests that may be about to change," said Gaynor Hartnell, director of policy at the Renewable Energy Association.
Friends of the Earth also welcomed the moves. "Today's announcements are a significant step towards the creation of a safe, clean and low-carbon future," said Andy Atkins, executive director.
But some of the large power companies which want to build nuclear and coal plants as well as wind farms still felt the government was not doing enough. "The government has to give companies such as E.ON a market that also gives them confidence to build Britain's low carbon future," said Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK, which is pushing to build a coal-fired plant at Kingsnorth but is also engaged in the world's biggest wind farm, the London Array off the coast of Kent.
Ofgem denied it had been found wanting by the government. "We don't see this as a kick in the teeth. We have been working under our existing powers to make changes to the grid access regime without much success. So [we] welcome the government stepping in," said an Ofgem spokesman, who also said it was happy to take on a greener role.
Miliband said he was exercising reserve powers provided under the 2008 Energy Act for the government to intervene. He expects wind and other renewables to provide "over 30%" of the renewable power for electricity by 2020 but denied this was rowing back on a previous commitment to obtain 32%.

http://www.sustainablefacility.com/Articles/Industry_Watch/BNP_GUID_9-5-2006_A_10000000000000300191

Study Finds That CFOs See Financial Benefits in Adopting Environmental Sustainability Practices and Metrics 

April 1, 2008
 

ARTICLE TOOLS





New York — In an in-depth study conducted by CFO Research in collaboration with global commercial real estate and money management firm Jones Lang LaSalle, CFOs and other senior finance executives overwhelmingly report that environmental sustainability is an increasingly important issue for their companies, and that a range of significant financial benefits are achievable for companies that can implement strategies that truly reduce their impact on the environment. The study surveyed 175 corporate CFOs and senior finance executives.

Among the key findings of the report:
  • More than half of finance executives believe their companies are "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to increase revenue, reduce operating costs, improve investor returns and shareholder value, and improve employee retention through sustainability. The most often cited benefits were reduced risk ("very" or "somewhat" likely to produce benefits at 78 percent of companies), enhanced brand and reputation (77 percent), customer retention (72 percent), and improved employee health and productivity (68 percent).
  • The highest priority objectives in corporate sustainability are regulatory compliance (ranked as a high priority for 61 percent and a mid-level priority for 26 percent of respondents), improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (a high priority for 47 percent, mid-level for 32 percent), and reducing the environmental impact of operations (45 percent and 32 percent).
  • The greatest barriers to incorporating sustainability into financial strategy include the inability to measure the effects of sustainability on shareholder value (ranked among the top three challenges by 46 percent of respondents), inability to document the effects on financial performance (37 percent), and a lack of standard decision-making frameworks that consider environmental factors (36 percent). The least significant challenge was organization resistance, ranked among the top three barriers by just 20 percent of respondents.
Although most finance executives acknowledged that their own role in driving sustainability was limited, the survey results point to a tremendous opportunity for CFOs to guide their companies to sustainable strategies that bring financial success, according to Lauralee Martin, Global Chief Operating and Financial Officer at Jones Lang LaSalle. 

In 2007, Jones Lang LaSalle helped corporations reduce energy usage by 210 million kilowatt-hours, saving $38 million in energy costs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 133,000 metric tons. The firm provides more than 11,000 properties with specialized energy services, manages 27 buildings that received ENERGY STAR certification in 2008, and has 40 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) registered project under way totaling more than 25 million square feet. 

About the Study
CFO Research, in collaboration with Jones Lang LaSalle, surveyed 175 senior finance executives and conducted in-depth interviews with executives at several firms, including Bank of America and Herman Miller. Results are detailed in "The Role of Finance in Environmental Sustainability Efforts," a report available by request from Jones Lang LaSalle. 

For more information, visit 
www.joneslanglasalle.com.




Closing lanes and adding cycling lanes reduces traffic

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/16/reducing-traffic-by-closing-roads/

Reducing Traffic by Closing Roads
By FREAKONOMICS
The city of Vancouver has turned one lane of traffic on the busy Burrard Bridge into a bicycle route. Critics predicted chaos, but the first day of the experiment found traffic moving smoothly. This seems to be in line withrecent studies suggesting that road closures actually lead to fewer traffic jams.


http://www.theprovince.com/life/Cyclists+pedestrians+feel+safer/1787890/story.html

Cyclists, pedestrians feel 'safer'


 



No commuter chaos, mayor pleased with launch of three-month trial
 
BY CHERYL CHAN, THE PROVINCEJULY 14, 2009
 
 

Day 1 of the Burrard Bridge bike-lane experiment unfolded smoothly yesterday, much to the delight of cyclists, pedestrians and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Despite doom-and-gloom predictions of chaos after the closure of one southbound lane for cyclists, morning and afternoon rush-hour commutes went off without a hitch.

"Today was a real test," a bicycle-riding Robertson told reporters gathered at the south end of the bridge during the height of the afternoon rush-hour traffic.

"A lot of people were expecting it to be a disaster and it hasn't been that at all." Traffic police officers were on hand to direct motorists and some confused pedestrians at both ends of the bridge.

The southbound lane closure wasn't the only change. The three-month trial also has the east sidewalk -- now separated from the road by concrete barriers -- designated for cyclists heading into downtown, while the west sidewalk has been set aside solely for pedestrians.

The changes were lauded by cyclists and pedestrians alike, who were out in full force yesterday on their bikes, some pedicabs, or walking with children and their dogs.

"Today was really good," said Katherine Landrath, who bikes the bridge every day.

"You can really see the difference. There are so many people and they're safer and their dogs on leashes are safer. It's fantastic." Marc Dalloway, a pedestrian who lives in Kits, said there weren't any traffic backups.

"Burrard Street on the downtown side is the lightest I've ever seen it," he said, adding that "it's nice to be able to walk across without dodging those bikes and those bells ringing at you all the time." However, there was some congestion on Pacific Boulevard, between Thurlow and Hornby streets, merging on to and getting off the bridge.

Robertson said Pacific and Thurlow has always been dangerous.

"We will try to make those improvements and see how the new flow is working and how we can improve it," he said.

The mayor chalked up the relatively problem-free commute to motorists who may have chosen to leave their vehicles at home or take alternative routes, but admits that traffic might be heavier in September.

But Arno Schortinghuis, president of cycling group Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, points to the new Canada Line, expected to start operation around Labour Day.

"By that time, you'll have the equivalent of 10 more traffic lanes with the Canada Line," he said. "I don't think it'll be a problem." chchan@theprovince.com

© Copyright (c) The Province

http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/critical_mass/

FOR PARTICLE PHYSICISTS WHO STUDY PHASE TRANSITIONS, A TRAFFIC JAM IS SIMPLY A SOLID MADE UP OF IDLING CARS.
SHARETHIS
PRINT
A few years ago, Swiss economists Bruno Fey and Alois Stutzer announced the discovery of a new human foible, which they called "the commuters paradox." They found that when people are choosing where to live, they consistently underestimate the pain of a long commute. This leads people to mistakenly believe that a mansion in the suburbs, with its extra bedroom and sprawling lawn, will make them happier, even if living there might force them to drive an additional 45 minutes to work. It turns out, however, that traffic is torture, and the big house isn't worth it. According to the calculations of Fey and Stutzer, a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.
Long commutes make us unhappy because the flow of traffic is inherently unpredictable. As a result, we never adapt to the suffering of rush hour. (Ironically, if traffic were always bad, and not just usually bad, it would be easier to deal with.) As the Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes, "Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day."
But why is traffic so unpredictable? After all, the number of cars on a highway during a typical weekday rush hour is fairly constant. And yet, even when there are no accidents—and most traffic isn't caused by collisions—the speed of traffic can undergo dramatic and seemingly inexplicable shifts.
The key to understanding traffic jams is something known as "critical density," or the number of vehicles that any road can efficiently accommodate. Past this threshold, when too many cars are trying to cram onto the same six lanes of asphalt, the flow of traffic starts to break down. At this point, congestion becomes all but inevitable, as even seemingly insignificant events, such as a single driver tapping on the brakes, can trigger a cascade of brake lights. That's when the highway becomes a parking lot.
While the concept of critical density has been repeatedly demonstrated using computer simulations—drivers are surprisingly easy to model as a system of interacting particles—it wasn't until last year that this theory of traffic was experimentally confirmed. A team of physicists at Nagoya University wanted to see how many cars could maintain a constant speed of 19 mph around a short circular track. It turned out that the critical number was 22: Once that density was reached, tiny fluctuations started to reverberate around the track, which caused the occasional spontaneous standstill. As the scientists note, this is actually a pretty familiar scenario for particle physicists, who are used to studying phase transitions, such as the transformation of liquid water into solid ice. In this case, the critical threshold is temperature, which triggers clusters of molecules to slow down and form a crystal lattice, which then spreads to nearby molecules. A traffic jam is simply a solid made up of idling cars.
The hope, of course, is that by understanding traffic jams we can learn to prevent them. Tom Vanderbilt, in his authoritative book Traffic, describes a simple experiment performed by the Washington Department of Transportation that involved a liter of rice, a plastic funnel, and a glass beaker. When the rice was poured into the beaker all at once, it took 40 seconds for the funnel to empty; the density of jostling grains impeded the flow. However, when the grains were poured in a gradual stream, it took only 27 seconds for the rice to pass through. What seemed slower actually turned out to be 30 percent faster. This helps explain why traffic engineers are so eager to install red lights on highway onramps: By slowing traffic before it enters the concrete funnel, they hope to prevent the road from exceeding its critical density.
And then there's the insect solution. Dirk Helbing, a "congestion expert" at the Dresden University of Technology, constructed a network of "carriageways" between an ant nest and a source of sugar. Within a few hours, the ants located the most direct route to the sugar, which became dense with hungry insects.
If ants were people, this density would eventually lead to gridlock. However, Helbing discovered that just as the carriageway approached its breaking point, ant "traffic cops" physically blocked the road. This forced the ants to find another route to the sugar, and thus prevented a traffic jam.
Obviously, human cops can't shut down the interstate just because it's busy. But the hope is that humans will be able to build smarter GPS networks. By taking real-time traffic data into account, devices linked to this system will direct drivers away from saturated roads. Is the highway approaching critical density? If so, take surface streets. Traffic will always be caused by a miserable sort of randomness—the stochasticity of too many automotive particles in too small a space—but there's nothing inevitable about gridlock. We can learn to drive like ants, even if we still insist on driving in from the suburbs.
Front image courtesy of Walid Hassanein.

http://features.csmonitor.com/environment/2008/10/06/does-closing-roads-cut-delays/

Does closing roads cut delays?
By Eoin O'Carroll | 10.06.08



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File this one under "intensely counterintuitive." A recent study has found that closing off certain streets can actually relieve traffic congestion.
Using Google Maps, a trio of scientists – Hyejin Youn and Hawoong Jeong, of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and Michael Gastner, of the Santa Fe Institute – looked at traffic routes in Boston, New York, and London. Their paper, titled "The Price of Anarchy in Transportation Networks: Efficiency and Optimality Control" [PDF] and published in the jounral Physical Letters, found that, when individual drivers seek the quickest route, they sometimes end up slowing things down for everybody.
It all hinges on something called Braess's Paradox (and yes, I appreciate the irony of a Wikipedia entry that challenges the wisdom of crowds), which states that adding capacity to a network in which all the moving entities rationally seek the most efficient route can sometimes reduce the network's overall efficiency.
The authors give a simple example of how this could play out: Imagine two routes to a destination, a short but narrow bridge and a longer but wider highway. Let's also imagine that the combined travel times of all the drivers is shortest if half take the bridge and half take the highway. But because each driver is selfishly trying to seek the shortest route for himself, this doesn't happen. At first, everyone will go for the bridge because it's shorter. But then, as the bridge becomes backed up, more drivers  start taking the highway, until the congestion on the bridge starts to clear up. At that point more drivers go back to the bridge, which then becomes backed up again. Eventually, the traffic flow settles into what's called the Nash equilibrium (named for the beautifully minded mathematician), in which each route takes the same amount of time. But in this equilibrium the travel time is actually longer than the average time it would take if half of the drivers took each route.
Note that this still happens even if – indeed, especially if – all the drivers have perfect information about what all the other drivers are doing, such as with a GPS that gives real-time traffic updates.
The authors compared the Nash equilibrium time to the socially optimal travel time, and dubbed the ratio between the two "the price of anarchy." In their study of the Boston area, which looked at travel times from Harvard Square to Boston Common, the price of anarchy at peak traffic times made for a journey that is 30 percent longer.
But the price of anarchy drops if you close a few roads, because individual drivers are less able to selfishly optimize their routes. In their analysis, the authors identified six streets in Boston and Cambridge: By closing those streets, they say, the optimal collective travel time would decrease between the two points.
At first blush, this study seems dissonant with findings that traffic flows can be improved by increasingvehicular anarchy. As I noted a few months back, there is considerable evidence that removing all traffic controls – lights, signs, road markings, and even the distinction between streets and sidewalks – can actually make traffic move more smoothly, as well as cut down on the number of accidents and increase the area's economic vitality. The idea behind these "shared streets," which have been successfully deployed in many European cities, is that the lack of traffic signs makes you take personal responsibility for directly negotiating with the pedestrians, cyclists, and other cars around you, instead of, say, gunning it through an intersection just because you know you have the light.
But maybe these two traffic models have more in common than it first seems. Both encourage individuals to drive more slowly so that everyone gets to his destinations faster. Both favor a holistic approach to traffic, one that designs from the perspective of the overall flow rather than that of an individual driver. And both open up more space for pedestrians.
It's not too difficult to imagine a city designed with these principles in mind. Fewer roads with slower but smoother traffic. Spaces that can  easily be converted to car-free zones to suit the needs of the network. And fewer opportunities for people to drive like jerks. Sounds like a nice place to take a walk, actually.

15.7.09

(Alternative Energy) Huge Solar Plant Deal Is Sealed


http://www.globe-net.com/news/listing.cfm?newsID=4461

Huge Solar Plant Deal Is Sealed

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Huge Solar Plant Deal Is Sealed


 
GLOBE-Net (July 14, 2009) The private European solar power project in the middle of the North African desert is now a reality. By 2050 it may provide around 15 percent of Europe's electricity.
Yesterday, 12 European companies signed a 400 billion euro (560 billion dollar) initiative to built huge solar thermal power plants in Africa and the Middle East. 

Munich Re, Deutsche Bank and Siemens are among the corporate giants that will form the consortium Desertec. By 2050, the solar farms may provide up to 15 percent of Europe's electricity needs and a substantial portion of the power needs of the producer countries with carbon-free power. 

"The [Desertec] project has been on the drawing board for 30 years and now for the first time, it has become technically feasible," says Wolfgang Dehen, chief executive of Siemens Energy according to Financial Times. 

"The partnerships that will be formed across the regions as a result of the Desertec project will open a new chapter in relations between the people of the European Union, West Asia and North Africa." says Jordan's Prince Hassan bin Talal in a press release. 

The solar power plant will use the sun's heat to generate electricity. Hundreds of mirrors will concentrate the sunlight to create heat which is used to produce steam. The steam drives turbines and generates electricity. Heat storage tanks (e.g. molten salt tanks or concrete blocks) can be used to store heat during the day to power steam turbines during the night or when there is a peak in demand. 

According to Munich Re, experts project that an area of "only" 130 kilometers by 130 kilometers would be sufficient for Desertec to supply all of Europe's energy needs.

 

Wal-Mart to Rate Products’ Impact on Environment


July 16, 2009
Wal-Mart to Rate Products' Impact on Environment
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM

Wal-Mart, which has been venturing into environmentally sustainable products and business methods for the last few years, is about to announce its most ambitious effort yet on that front. And it wants the nation's other retailers to take part.

The company is expected on Thursday to announce the creation of an electronic indexing system meant eventually to help Wal-Mart and other retailers determine the social and environmental impact of every product they place on their shelves.

"I never thought I would be working with Wal-Mart a few years back," said Jay S. Golden, a professor in the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. But, he said, "we are thrilled that Wal-Mart is taking a leadership role because they can move more companies toward this than any government can do."

Wal-Mart's enormity has long enabled it to create ripple effects throughout corporate America when it adopts new ways of doing business. Now it is spearheading the creation of a standardized electronic index that will determine how "sustainable" products are, based on their impact across the products' life cycle. To make it happen, Wal-Mart is expected to ask its more than 100,000 suppliers to provide details about their supply chains. It will also team up with scholars, environmental and social groups, and other retailers.

In the short term, the sustainability index would be meant to give store buyers a system of measurements to help them decide which products to put on their shelves, so that determining which products are "greener" is no longer solely the consumer's burden.

In the long term, the index will drive competition to create more sustainable products. Right now, there is no universal metric to help manufacturers make decisions based on what is best for the planet.

Wal-Mart has made strides in certain areas of sustainability, like recycling. But its biggest challenge has been measuring and changing the actual products on its shelves.

"It's an audacious undertaking — audacious even by Wal-Mart's standards," said John Johnson, a professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. "And I think it's going to be a lot of work for a lot of people. But obviously we're optimistic about the prospects."

The index is to be introduced in three steps over the next five years. The first will involve Wal-Mart's gathering information from its suppliers about the sustainable practices of their companies.

Step two would involve scholars at the University of Arkansas and the Arizona State University who would create a database and build a system of metrics used to evaluate the life cycle of products. Step three is translating the information in the database into a tool that consumers can use to evaluate the sustainability of products.

Rather than a company's having to focus on one or two sustainability goals — lower emissions or water conservation or waste reduction — the index will help them take a broader approach to sustainability by scrutinizing all environmental and social implications for all products.

For instance, Mr. Golden, who will help study the supplier data and create the index, said a supplier could engineer a laundry detergent that removes all retained water from clothes, so that they come out of the washing machine much dryer than they do today. That could save water, as well as energy by cutting down on time in the dryer.

But because that new detergent could end up being hurtful to human skin, part of what Mr. Golden and others involved in the index intend to do is determine where trade-offs should and should not be made.

There is bound to be some concern from suppliers, of course, about money and proprietary information.

But as Michelle Harvey of Environmental Defense Fund put it: "For the people saying 'I'm not going to share this,' I think they'll be building a hurdle for their product to get onto the Wal-Mart shelf."

Vancouver Requires Plug Access for EVs


http://www.matternetwork.com/2009/7/vancouver-requires-plug-access-evs.cfm
Vancouver Requires Plug Access for EVs
Developers in Vancouver are BC now required to provide plug-ins for electric cars under a new regulation approved by the city council last Thursday.
The regulation requires charging acces for at least 20% of parking spots at new condominium and apartment buildings, along with some city-owned parking lots, according to a CBC report.
The council decided to double the original proposal, which called for only 10%. The new regulation goes into effect in 18 months.
In April, BC Hydro announced that Mitsubishi Motors would begin testing its all-electric iMiEV vehicle in Vancouver by the end of the year.
In Related News...
A CNNMoney.com report outlines the different electric car strategies taken by Nissan, GM and Ford. The competitors have different visions as to how soon the U.S. market will adopt the new technologies.
Read the report at the link below.
Website: money.cnn.com/2009/07/01/autos/electric_cars_strategy/index.htm
Reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business