climate change

10 sustainable innovations: from solar-powered suitcases to floating classrooms

Laura Storm, the guardian, Wednesday 29 October 2014 03.00 EDT

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The 2014 Sustainia Awards, chaired by Arnold Schwarzenegger, attracted more than 900 submissions for projects and technologies representing 10 different sectors from food, fashion and, city development to transportation and healthcare. Collectively, these projects are deployed in more than 84 countries.

The runners up for the award are showcased here and the winner will be announced in Copenhagen on Thursday 30 October. The ceremony will celebrate these innovations ahead of the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) anticipated report on climate change, due to be finalised 31 October.

  1. Food finalist: Netafim (Israel) – gravity-powered irrigation

Netafim offers low-tech irrigation. Photograph: Netafim

Netafim is behind a low-tech irrigation system for smallholder farmers in developing countries which increases and secures yields while saving water and cutting costs. It drips precise quantities of water and nutrients right at the root zone of crops while an elevated tank distributes the water using gravity.

This minimises the need for electricity and investments in infrastructure. The UN estimates that 500 million smallholder farmers provide over 80% of the food consumed in the developing world. Irrigation systems are vital to sustain agriculture as it addresses water scarcity and soil erosion. The solution is commercially viable with a payback-time of about a year, making it fit for microfinance projects.

  1. Transportation finalist: 8D technologies (Canada) – bike sharing app

Spotcycle bike-sharing app. Photograph: 8D Technologies

As a mode of transport, the bicycle is one of the lowest emitter of greenhouse gases – even with the CO2 emissions of the food you need to power a bike. This helps explain why bike-sharing systems are being adopted increasingly by cities. The Spotcycle app from 8D technologies aims to make bike-sharing more convenient and smartphone-friendly. The app locates nearby bike stations and communicates availability, maps out bike paths and helps with navigation. The app is already in sync with cities in North America, Australia and Europe.

  1. Buildings finalist: Advantix (USA) – air-conditioners which use saltwater

Advantix’s saltwater air conditioning system. Photograph: Advantix

Air conditioners use about 5% of all electricity produced in the US. As a result, 100m tons of carbon dioxide are released each year. Advantix’s air conditioning system uses saltwater which means it needs 40% less energy than normal systems. Whereas air-conditioning systems normally chill the air to remove humidity and then reheat it in a highly energy-intensive process, Advantix’s air-conditioners funnel the air through non-toxic fluid saltwater instead. The process dehumidifies the air without the need for re-heating.

  1. Fashion finalist: I:CO (Switzerland) – textile recycling

An I:CI clothing drop-off recepticle. Photograph: I:CO

Clothes are often discarded after the first or second life cycle, and apparel accounts for up to 10% of a western consumer’s environmental impacts. Through an advanced take-back system, I:CO works to keep apparel, footwear and other textiles in a continuous closed-loop cycle. Used shoes and clothing are collected in stores and retail outlets, where customers are financially rewarded for depositing their used items. Once collected, the textiles are sorted according to more than 350 criteria for designation. Used clothes can be labeled suitable for: second-hand sale, recycling into fibres and paddings for new products, or upcycling.

 

 

  1. IT Finalist: Fairphone (Netherlands) – A smart-phone with social values

Fairphone conflict-free phones. Photograph: Fairphone

Through development, design and production, social enterprise Fairphone works to create positive social impact in the consumer electronics supply chain – from responsible mining, decent wages and working conditions to reuse and recycling.

Fairphone began by redesigning the processes behind the production, making phones that use conflict- free minerals and are assembled in a factory with a worker-controlled welfare fund. To date, Fairphone has sold nearly 50,000 phones from its first two production runs.


 

  1. Health finalist: We Care Solar (USA) – solar suitcases giving life

The Solar Suitcase provides lighting for medical professionals. Photograph: Solar suitcase

Preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth claim 800 lives daily and 99% of cases happen in developing countries. We Care Solar has created a sustainable solution. The Solar Suitcase provides solar electricity for medical lighting, mobile communication and essential medical devices for rural areas and humanitarian settings. This enables safe and timely obstetric care, which ultimately improves maternal and neonatal outcomes. Additionally, the innovation allows emergency surgeries to be conducted around-the-clock in rural hospitals. The Solar Suitcase has been introduced to more than 600 healthcare facilities in 20 countries.


 

  1. City Finalists: Wecyclers (Nigeria) – Pedal-powered recycling

Wecyclers collectors. Photograph: Wecyclers

In Lagos, Nigeria, Wecyclers is fuelling social and environmental change by enabling people in low-income communities to make money from unmanaged waste piling up in their streets.

It is a response to the local waste crisis; the municipal government collects only 40% of city garbage. The Wecyclers initiative has deployed a fleet of cargo bicycles to pick-up, collect and recycle garbage in low-income neighbourhoods. Families are encouraged to recycle their bottles, cans and plastics through an SMS-based programme. For every kilogram of material recycled, the family receives Wecyclers points on their cell phone. Families can then redeem points for goods such as cell phone minutes, basic food items or household goods. The initiative adds to the local economy by hiring personnel locally.

  1. Resource finalist: Newlight Tech (USA) – carbon-negative plastic

Carbon-negative plastic. Photograph: Newlight

With its novel technology that converts greenhouse gases into plastic material, AirCarbon has disrupted the market by replacing oil-based plastics with a sustainable product that is competitive in both price and performance. It is made from a process where carbon in the air is captured and used in manufacturing. AirCarbon uses pollutants as resources to make products otherwise made from oil. Products made from AirCarbon are carbon-negative even after calculating the emissions from the energy used in production. AirCarbon is currently used to make chairs, bags and cell phone cases.


 

  1. Education finalists: Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha (Bangladesh) – school boats combatting climate change

Floating school rooms. Photograph: Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha

More than one million Bangladeshis could be displaced by rising sea levels by 2050. One consequence is that children cannot attend school for long periods of time, making it harder for them to escape poverty. By building a fleet of solar-powered school boats, the Bangladeshi initiative Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha has secured year-round education in flood-prone regions of Bangladesh. Each floating school boat collects students from different riverside villages, ultimately docking at the last destination where on-board classes begin. Solar lighting makes the schedule flexible, which provides for additional educational programs in the evening. Shidhulai’s floating schools model has been replicated in Nigeria, Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam and Zambia.

  1. Energy Finalists: Opower (USA) – personal energy-efficient expert

Utilities use Opower to share money-saving insights with custumers. Photograph: Opower

Through use of big data, Opower has given energy utilities a new way of engaging with customers in order to improve energy efficiency. The software solution combines cloud technology, big data and behavioural science to produce data analyses and personalised information on how to save energy. To motivate reductions in energy consumption, utilities use Opower to share money-saving insights with custumers. Opower can also show households their energy usage compared to neighbours; an effective method in motivating people to save energy. Opower has enabled savings of over 4TWh of energy, which is equivalent to $458m (£283.1) in bill savings.

Laura Storm is executive director at Sustainia

Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come

By JUSTIN GILLIS

MARCH 31, 2014

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YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.

Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said. And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty.

Panel on U.N. Climate Change Report

Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Christopher Field, the co-chairman of the group that wrote the report, discuss its warning.

In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday presenting the report.

The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the scientific panel. The group, along with Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released in Berlin in April, leaked in the last few months.

The report attempts to project how the effects will alter human society in coming decades. While the impact of global warming may actually be moderated by factors like economic or technological change, the report found, the disruptions are nonetheless likely to be profound. That will be especially so if emissions are allowed to continue at a runaway pace, the report said.

It cited the risk of death or injury on a wide scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations.

“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger,” the report declared.

The report also cited the possibility of violent conflict over land, water or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”

The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just a problem of the distant future, but is happening now.

Studies have found that parts of the Mediterranean region are drying out because of climate change, and some experts believe that droughts there have contributed to political destabilization in the Middle East and North Africa.

 

In much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists said in the report. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less melt water to ease the parched summers. In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.

“Now we are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance,” Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization, said at the news conference.

The report was quickly welcomed in Washington, where President Obama is trying to use his executive power under the Clean Air Act and other laws to impose significant new limits on the country’s greenhouse emissions. He faces determined opposition in Congress.

“There are those who say we can’t afford to act,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic.”

Amid all the risks the experts cited, they did find a bright spot. Since the intergovernmental panel issued its last big report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are making extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.

“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the ground that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.

A striking example of the change occurred recently in the state of New York, where the Public Service Commission ordered Consolidated Edison, the electric utility serving New York City and some suburbs, to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions.

The plan is a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy. Con Ed will raise flood walls, bury some vital equipment and conduct a study of whether emerging climate risks require even more changes. Other utilities in the state face similar requirements, and utility regulators across the United States are discussing whether to follow New York’s lead.

But with a global failure to limit greenhouse gases, the risk is rising that climatic changes in coming decades could overwhelm such efforts to adapt, the panel found. It cited a particular risk that in a hotter climate, farmers will not be able to keep up with the fast-rising demand for food.

“When supply falls below demand, somebody doesn’t have enough food,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist who helped write the new report. “When some people don’t have food, you get starvation. Yes, I’m worried.”

The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.

The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during an editing session of several days in Yokohama.

The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations were private. The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.

Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.

Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India.

For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily.

The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress. The report said that climate change was already dragging down the output of wheat and corn at a global scale, compared with what it would otherwise be.

David B. Lobell, a Stanford University scientist who has published much of the recent research and helped write the new report, said in an interview that as yet, too little work was being done to understand the risk, much less counter it with improved crop varieties and farming techniques. “It is a surprisingly small amount of effort for the stakes,” he said.

Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the antipoverty group that sent observers to the proceedings in Yokohama, praised the new report as painting a clear picture of the consequences of a warming planet. But he warned that without greater efforts to limit global warming and to adapt to the changes that have become inevitable, “the goal we have in Oxfam of ensuring that every person has enough food to eat could be lost forever.”

Correction: March 31, 2014

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified a station with flooded tracks. It is the South Ferry subway terminal, not Grand Central Terminal.

7 Factors Driving High Performance Buildings

8/30/13

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In a world faced with an evolving array of challenges – economic, environmental, security, and social – the bar for building performance is continuing to rise. High performance buildings go beyond the basic requirements of codes and standards to significantly reduce energy consumption, increase use of renewables, have a minimal environmental impact in material use and site selection, enhance human comfort and safety, and improve occupant productivity.

High performance buildings also create the flexibility necessary for open-plan space and respond efficiently to inevitable changes within the building. High performance buildings achieve these performance objectives in a cost-effective manner throughout the lifetime of a facility.

According to Legrand, a provider of infrastructure solutions, a host of factors are driving a paradigm shift in performance expectations within the built environment. Key factors include:

  1. Market and Economic Forces: In recent years, institutional investors and building owners have sought out energy and other efficiencies in building portfolios to reduce risk and improve asset value.
  2. Homeland Security & Natural Disasters: Today’s buildings are faced with a more diverse and rising number of man-made and natural threats, ranging from terrorism to flooding and earthquakes.
  3. Energy Security and Climate Change: In the United States, buildings consume nearly 40% of all national energy and significant amounts of natural resource, putting the sector under increasing pressure to become more energy and resource efficient.
  4. Social Equity: The aging of the American population and the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act are driving building owners and managers to redefine and redirect the traditional understanding of design for accessibility.
  5. Changes in Building Design, Delivery, and Management: New information management and modeling tools, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), have created the ability to simulate and manage building performance across a wide array of attributes.
  6. Information Technology: The Internet, with all its associated devices and applications, is changing the functioning of the building and the activities of its occupants. This creates demand for new levels of embedded intelligence, communications, and interoperability of systems and products.
  7. Codes and Standards: A new generation of building codes and standards are a reflection of new market expectations, and they have become a driving force for higher levels of building performance.

The federal government formally defined high performance buildings in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, but in practice, it is building owners and managers and the design teams they commission who define and embody high performance on a day-to-day basis.