Could the United States reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80% from 2005 levels by 2050? A new report released this week says yes by assessing the potential for reducing petroleum consumption. The National Research Council report, “Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels” found that by the year 2050, the U.S. may be able to reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80% for light-duty vehicles (cars and small trucks) through a combination of more efficient vehicles, the use of alternative fuels such as biofuels, electricity and hydrogen and strong government policies.
The most logical starting point, offering an economical and easy-to-implement approach, is improving the efficiency of conventional vehicles. However, improved efficiency alone will not meet the 2050 goals because the average fuel economy of vehicles on the road would have to exceed 180 mpg; a scenario the report says is extremely unlikely given current technologies. This is not to say that improved efficiency doesn’t play a role. “To reach the 2050 goals for reducing petroleum use and greenhouse gases, vehicles must become dramatically more efficient, regardless of how they are powered," said Douglas M. Chapin, principal of MPR Associates, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. Fuel efficiency measures center around decreasing the work the engine must perform, including: reducing vehicle weight, aerodynamic resistance, rolling resistance, and accessories as well as improving the efficiency of the internal combustion engine powertrain.
The report examined current capabilities and estimated future performance and costs by vehicle type, including: hybrid electric vehicles (e.g. Toyota Prius), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (e.g. Chevrolet Volt), battery electric vehicles (e.g. Nissan Leaf), hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (e.g. Mercedes F-Cell, slated for 2014 introduction) and compressed natural gas vehicles (e.g. Honda Civic Natural Gas). Non-petroleum-based fuel options, also called alternative fuels, which could significantly contribute to the GHG reduction goal, were also analyzed, including: three biofuels (corn-grain ethanol, biodiesel and lignocellulosic biomass), electricity, hydrogen and natural gas. Although natural gas was considered, its greenhouse gas emissions are too high for the 2050 goal.
There are pros and cons to each of the scenarios that combine various alternative fuels and vehicles. For example, the study committee analyzed corn-grain ethanol and biodiesel biofuels, but found much greater potential in lignocellulosic biomass, which includes crop residues like wheat straw, switchgrass, whole trees, and wood waste. The beauty of this alternative fuel is that it can be used without major changes in fuel delivery infrastructure or vehicles.
Electric powered vehicles do not emit greenhouse gases, but the process of generating electricity often does so the report stresses the importance of successful carbon capture and storage. The additional load on the electric power grid is also a factor that must be considered. Furthermore, the batteries essential to these vehicles may limit the use of all-electric vehicles to local driving because of their close range and long recharge times. Serious technical challenges await advanced battery technologies under development.
Next the report considered using hydrogen as a fuel cell in electric vehicles. The pro is that the only vehicle emission is water; the con is that greenhouse gases are emitted during hydrogen production. There are low-greenhouse gas methods of making hydrogen, but they are currently expensive and require further development to become competitive. Another pro is that fuel cell vehicles do not have the same limitations as battery vehicles, but the con is the cost and difficulty entailed in revamping the current fuel infrastructure to fuel cells.
"Alternative fuels to petroleum must be readily available, cost-effective and produced with low emissions of greenhouse gases. Such a transition will be costly and require several decades. The committee's model calculations, while exploratory and highly uncertain, indicate that the benefits of making the transition, i.e. energy cost savings, improved vehicle technologies, and reductions in petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions, exceed the additional costs of the transition over and above what the market is willing to do voluntarily," said Chapin. So to address the barriers to implementation of these technologies, the report suggested adaptive policies such as investment in research and development (R&D), subsidies, energy taxes or regulations to achieve the desired reductions.
The report cannot tell the future, but the best approach is to promote a portfolio of vehicle and fuel R&D. Both industry and government must support efforts to solve critical challenges. Meanwhile, evaluation should be ongoing to see which technologies emerge as the most promising and cost-effective.
Even the most environmentally sensitive businesses know that their annual operations contribute to the increase in carbon emissions in our atmosphere, but the businesses that are truly committed to operational sustainability are taking simple and affordable steps to reduce their carbon footprint.
For the past six years, CarbonFree® Business Partner Arbor Teas has neutralized its annual operational emissions and its product shipment emissions in partnership with Carbonfund.org. Arbor Teas retails one of the largest selections of USDA-certified organic loose leaf teas from around the globe, most of which is Fair Trade, through its on-line store. In addition, Arbor Teas is committed to making a positive impact on the environment and has taken many steps to reduce emissions by offering only organic teas, reducing and “greening” its packaging and using renewable energy sources. However, their teas come from all corners of the world, so the shipping emissions are unavoidable. To mitigate these emissions, Arbor Teas has maintained a CarbonFree® Shipping program to offset the carbon footprint of annual product shipment emissions, and to offset all internal operational emissions, by supporting Carbonfund.org’s renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects.
“It makes no sense at all to sell an organic product if the method of delivering it to our customers is environmentally harmful,” says Jeremy Lopatin. “Although we do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint, we’re happy to partner with Carbonfund.org to offset what we can’t avoid… yet!”
Almost three years ago, Arbor Teas became the first tea company to deliver its full line of organic loose teas in 100% backyard compostable packaging. With the release of this next generation packaging, Arbor Teas advanced its environmental mission, continuing to lead the tea industry through its staunch commitment to sustainable business practices. For the first time ever, tea drinkers are now able to compost their tea leaves AND tea packaging together in their home composting system. This innovative packaging is composed of a cellulose film made from wood pulp sourced from sustainably-managed trees, and the films used for Arbor Teas’ new packaging breaks down in a backyard compost setting.
Carbonfund.org applauds Arbor Teas’ long-term commitment to maintaining its CarbonFree® Operations and Shipping programs, and to its continuing innovation in the areas of product packaging and sourcing.
This Sunday approximately 35,000 protesters gathered on the National Mall to march past the White House and demand action on climate change. The Forward on Climate Change march was said to be the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Protestors organized by groups such as Sierra Club and 350.org’s aim was to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project and set limits on carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants. Last year, the EPA proposed limits only on new plants.
For quite some time, Congress has remained gridlocked on the issue of climate change. President Obama has promised to tackle the problem on more than one occasion, but perhaps we the people should consider the effect we can have on bringing about meaningful change. Top down efforts are certainly necessary, but we should all be supporting more bottom up efforts as well. After all, that’s how broad changes have been achieved before.
Take for instance the Civil Rights movement. The White House and Congress were encouraged to overcome their extensive political reservations and bring about true change on the issues of racial equality and voting rights only after a strong grass-roots movement led at the local level by activists such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed public opinion and made it politically unacceptable to do nothing.
There are other examples of successful grass-roots movements, but the core message is that we have to begin leveraging our bottom up power. This weekend’s rally was a great start. Let’s build on the momentum and begin organized, local activism, especially in the districts and states of those members of Congress that are hesitant to act on global warming.
We cannot expect President Obama to do all of the work on combating climate change. Everyone can do their part at the local level and even in their own homes. Let’s also lessen the demand for energy. We live in such a blessed country, but using less energy and being more efficient is in everyone’s best interests. Here are some good ways to start reducing your carbon footprint, and then you can also go carbon neutral and offset the rest.
Ever wonder how large facilities in your state are doing regarding greenhouse gas emissions? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began collecting greenhouse gas emissions data in 2010 under the congressionally mandated Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reporting Program. In February 2013, the EPA's program released its second year (2011) of emissions data, which provides public access to emissions data by sector, by greenhouse gas, and by geographic region such as county or state.
The 2011 data includes information from facilities in 41 source categories that emit large quantities of greenhouse gasses. New this year is data collected from 12 additional source categories, including petroleum and natural gas systems and coal mines.
Highlights of findings from the 2011 data include:
- Power plants represent approximately one-third (33 percent) of total U.S. GHG emissions, making them the largest stationary source of GHGs in the country
- 2011 emissions from power plants were roughly 4.6 percent below 2010 emissions, demonstrating an ongoing increase in power generation from natural gas and renewable energy sources
- Refineries represented the third-largest source of GHG emissions, which increased by a half of a percent over 2010 data
- Overall emissions reported from the 29 sources tracked in both years were 3 percent lower in 2011 than in 2010
Transparency is critical to a better environment and the key to conquering climate change. If companies, communities and individuals take a look at how large facilities are doing in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and compare the latest data to national averages, perhaps we can find ways to cut these emissions and begin to curb global warming. Being better informed is also good for the businesses as they may identify opportunities to conserve energy and thereby save money.
Check out how individual large facilities in your state, county, and even zip code perform. Access this data through the Facility Level Information on Green House gases Tool (FLIGHT), which is a web-based data publication tool, or dig deeper through the EPA’s online database Envirofacts that allows information searches via zip code.
According to a recently released report by the World Wildlife Fund, 58 of the United States’ Fortune 100 companies set goals in 2012 to either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or use more renewable energy in their operations. However, oil and gas companies are lagging far behind in this movement. Eight of 11 domestic energy companies on the Fortune 100 have not set internal energy goals.
This is in direct contrast to 68 of the planet’s 100 largest companies who recognize the impact of global warming and are making investments in greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy goals. Sadly, energy companies represent the lowest participation rate of any industry worldwide. The few exceptions are Hess and Chevron who have both set renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets, and ExxonMobil who set a greenhouse gas target.
Why have three quarters of the nation's industrial companies voluntarily set some sort of environmental target? There are a variety of potential reasons including: policy pressures, public relations or perhaps even the forward thinking that sees renewable energy’s potential to someday be less expensive than, or at least competitive with, oil and gas.
And why haven’t most oil and gas companies voluntarily set environmental targets? It may be because the very products they put on the market directly contribute to climate change. There is also a lack of urgency to act; little pressure comes from investors or policies. An example of a type of policy that was successful in the past is the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, which worked by making large companies publically accountable for which potentially toxic chemicals they use and where they are released. Then the information is posted on the EPA’s website for anyone to see.
The planet would really benefit from a similar policy focusing on oil and gas company emissions, or better yet, a broader climate change policy such as a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. There are other options that could pave the way towards a cleaner energy future. The federal government could require that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources and offer further tax incentives for wind and solar production. Many companies are setting their own internal goals, but for others such as the majority of the oil and gas industry, they’re not going to do anything about increasing efficiency and reducing their carbon footprints until someone makes them.
This year offered several events that shone a spotlight directly on the important and urgent issue of climate change, but the question remains, “Was it enough to bring about meaningful efforts to reduce climate change?”
June of 2012 presented the United Nations Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which disappointed many as international representatives hemmed and hawed instead of establishing true endeavors to tackle global warming. Meanwhile the continental United States embarked on summer heat waves that were some of the hottest in its history.
This year also saw drought cover more than half the country; farmers suffered as their crops and animals died.
Then October of 2012 brought superstorm Sandy, this year’s biggest example of extreme weather and a deadly harbinger of the devastating effects of climate change. Can we continue to sit idly by in the face of all these signs that global warming is making broad changes to our planet? Should we leave these environmental problems for our children to face as we continue down an unsustainable path?
The close of the year is a time to reflect on the previous events of the year and make resolutions for the coming year. Let’s pledge to make 2013 the year where we confront climate change in every possible way. We can all embark on energy efficiency efforts; reducing what we can and lowering our carbon footprints. Every bit helps. Then it is a powerful combination to offset the rest of our carbon emissions. It would be a genuine shame to let the lessons of this past year slip from our consciousness while there is still time and so much that can and should be done to address climate change.
The Earth cannot use words to speak for itself, but if it could what would be on its climate wishlist this holiday season?
Environmental activists and climate scientists have done a good job of communicating the risks of climate change. Part of the issue is that it’s a delicate balance between scaring people so thoroughly that they don’t think there is anything they can do about global warming and encouraging people to make any changes that positively impact the environment, even small ones to start. Perhaps we’ve also underestimated the importance of personal experience.
The facts on climate change alone are not enough. We’ve had solid, scientific evidence for many years that global warming is man-made and happening right now. However, many people need to experience the effects for themselves in order for the light bulb to go off in their heads. Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events are helping people to connect the dots, but now that process has begun the question then becomes, “What next?”
We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the planet. That is what the climate needs and wants this holiday season. There are two main changes that we can undertake to fulfill the planet’s climate wishlist. The first is to lower our carbon footprints. Ask yourself, do I really need to leave my lights on all day at home when I am not there? Can I combine trips in the car to drive less or take public transportation instead? What simple steps can I take to save energy and myself some money as well?
The second change is to offset the rest of your carbon footprint. There are many affordable options to make this holiday season a reality, not just for the planet, but for future generations also. Any positive steps you take are welcome and really do make a difference. Although the planet cannot use words to thank you, reducing what you can and offsetting the rest is a beautiful gift and a wonderful place to start this holiday season.
According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, cloud computing can help companies realize $12.3 billion in energy savings and reduce carbon emissions by 85.7 million metric tons annually by the year 2020. This staggering carbon emissions reduction figure is equivalent to mitigating the emissions from almost 181 million barrels of oil each year.
These compelling statistics are creating a surge in cloud computing options and providers; the challenge is to find the right provider offering the breadth of computing services, systems security and deliver the flexibility required by each business.
Chicago-based Steadfast Networks offers an additional benefit to its customers by operating in a CarbonFree® environment. Steadfast Networks calculates the annual carbon emissions from all base operations and neutralizes those emissions by supporting Carbonfund.org’s carbon reduction and clean air technology projects. Steadfast Networks also provides a CarbonFree® option to all customers by calculating and mitigating specific operational emissions through Carbonfund.org for each customer’s dedicated or co-located server energy consumption.
"At Steadfast, we're always looking for new ways to reduce our environmental impact. Carbonfund.org fit organically into our business model and so it was pretty much a “no brainer” for us," explains Karl Zimmerman, President and Chief Executive Officer at Steadfast Networks.
Steadfast Networks specializes in highly flexible cloud computing, including options for dedicated servers or collocation services at their fully redundant data centers in Chicago and New York. The facilities used by Steadfast Networks are highly engineered to assure reliability and maximize energy efficiency, resulting in a significantly reduced carbon footprint. Their status as a CarbonFree® Business Partner sets Steadfast Networks above the competition for companies seeking the most environmentally responsible options for cloud computing solutions.
One of the primary components of Carbonfund.org’s mission is to provide climate change education and public outreach through our programs, and through our business partners and supporters. Two of Carbonfund.org’s business partners recently teamed up in a great example of public outreach, hosting a zero-waste event in their community.
The City of Pleasanton, CA and Hacienda Business Park Owners Association hosted the 3rd annual Pleasanton Green Scene Fair on September 20th at Hacienda West. The event featured over 100 exhibitors providing information, demonstrations, raffles and samples of products related to health and nutrition, energy efficiency, commuting alternatives, water conservation, recycling, and locally-sourced foods. The event also included a special display of alternative fuel vehicles, a mini-farmers market and the “Off The Grid” gourmet food trucks selling natural and sustainable treats.
Hacienda Business Park Owners Association has been a CarbonFree® Business Partner since 2007, calculating and neutralizing annual operational emissions by supporting Carbonfund.org’s carbon reduction and clean energy technology projects. And Hacienda’s Owners Association helps to spread the word about Carbonfund.org’s mission and projects, including the Million Tree Challenge, to the many businesses that occupy Hacienda’s properties. They also recommended that the City of Pleasanton contact Carbonfund.org to evaluate the fair’s carbon emissions and create a program to mitigate emissions associated with the day’s events by supporting Carbonfund.org’s clean air projects.
The road to succeeding in the fight against climate change and to hasten our transition to a cleaner energy future is to act boldly and work together to engage businesses, communities and networks to join in local and global efforts. The Pleasanton Green Scene Fair is a great example of partnership among a local business leader in sustainable operations, their environmentally-aware municipality and Carbonfund.org to promote environmental conservation and sustainable business practices in their community.
Some businesses express reluctance when it comes to embracing the path to a cleaner energy future. They see nothing but dollar signs. However, a recent case study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps demonstrates that it is possible to get into a “virtuous cycle” of energy efficiency that pays dividends for both the company’s bottom line and the environment.
EDF Climate Corps is a great program that matches either specially-trained MBA (Masters in Business Administration) or MPA (Masters in Public Administration) students as summer fellows with companies, cities and universities interested in achieving energy efficiency to cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2008, the program’s fellows have built business cases for smart energy investments. The end results are lighting, computer equipment and heating and cooling system efficiencies that can cut 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity use and 27 million therms of natural gas annually, equivalent to the annual energy use of 100,000 homes; avoid over 1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to the annual emissions of 200,000 passenger vehicles; and save $1 billion in net operational costs over the project lifetimes.
The Virtuous Cycle of Organizational Energy Efficiency has five components: executive engagement; resource investment; people and tools; identification, implementation and measurement; and results and stories. According to EDF, the virtuous cycle is a model of change for energy efficiency across even extremely different organizations.
The business profiled in the case study is Diversey, which is a subsidy of Sealed Air. Diversey entered the virtuous cycle of energy efficiency by establishing a public commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from operations to eight percent below 2003 levels by 2013. This was also the initial component of the virtuous cycle, executive engagement.
Once Diversey’s leaders committed, policies from the top down required that energy efficiency projects produce a positive return on investment in a payback period of three years or less. This criterion allowed Diversey to invest $19 million, and yield $32 million in cash savings over the life of the program in order to reach their emissions reduction goals.
Because the goals and criteria were clearly articulated, Diversey’s ability to measure success was also positively impacted. In fact, Diversey’s environmental health and safety department received a 40 percent year-on-year budget increase, which is significant because all other divisions of the company at the time were undergoing a 50 percent budget cut. This was due to the capacity to produce data that demonstrated energy project performance. According to the report, plant managers were also engaged and incentivized to implement efficiency measures due to centralized capital budgeting.
This is all to say that there are easy and affordable ways for businesses to invest in a commitment to combat climate change that is both good for the company and the environment. Saving money is always in style; simply combine that goal with one of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and you’ll be maximizing the good you can do.