Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Energy efficiency: more important than renewables?
In this edited version of a presentation given at the recent Clean Energy Council’s Clean Energy Week conference in Sydney, Bruce Easton suggests energy efficiency is more important than renewables and needs a stronger voice in the Australian energy debate. This is a big call and I’m not wanting to detract attention from the solar versus coal battle, but I am simply suggesting the discussion needs to broaden a little to give energy efficiency its due.

US solar giant quits Australia due to policy uncertainty
Recurrent Energy, a leading US developer of solar power plants, is closing its Australian office because of the uncertainty over the renewable energy target. Recurrent last week said it had 1,500MW of large scale solar PV projects in the pipeline in Australia, worth around $3 billion in potential investments, although it said it was only likely to be able to develop these if the renewable energy target was maintained. However, the California-based company has since decided to cut its costs and close down the Australian office and will manage its Australian portfolio from the US. It may reopen the office once policy certainty is returned.

Climate targets have failed, a new approach is needed
According to Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University and Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General on the Millennium Development Goals, if the world is to successfully tackle the problem of climate change then it will need a new approach. Currently, the major powers view climate change as a negotiation over who will reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. Each agrees to small ‘contributions’ of emission reduction, trying to nudge other countries to do more. The US, for example, will ‘concede’ a little bit of CO2 reduction if China will do the same. Sachs explains that we have been ‘trapped’ in this incremental mindset for two decades.


Intensifying ocean acidity from carbon emissions hitting Pacific shellfish industry
For more than a century, Bill Taylor’s family has used the calm, protected waters of Puget Sound to raise oysters, planting billions of larvae in underwater beds and then harvesting them to ship to some of the finest restaurants in the world. But then something went wrong. After the hatchery produced peak levels of seven billion larvae in 2006 and 2007, the numbers began to drop precipitously. In 2008, it had just half as many larvae. By 2009, it produced less than a third of the peak. Up and down the Pacific Coast, from California to British Columbia to Alaska, other shellfish farms experienced the same decline: Something was happening to their larvae at the formative stage of life when they build their shells. No one in the industry knew why. “We didn’t know that much about the water because we didn’t have any problems,” Taylor said. Once the larvae started dying off, they tested the water: It was much too acidic.

Shellfish reefs to be restored in Port Phillip Bay
Shellfish reefs will be re-created on the bottom of Port Phillip Bay in a historic project that aims to improve marine habitats in Victoria’s largest bay.  Researchers say that if the reefs can be successfully established as expected, they would provide healthy habitats for shellfish like mussels and oysters. They would also provide habitat, shelter and food options for fish such as snapper, flathead, rockling and many other fish that live in the bay. They would also help improve water quality.

Wading birds declining in the UK
The magical winter wildlife spectacle of hundreds of thousands of wading birds converging on British estuaries could be under threat as research shows big declines in some of the most familiar species. Results from the Wetland Bird Survey reveals that ringed plovers, oystercatchers, redshank and dunlin are among the eight most abundant species overwintering on UK estuaries to suffer significant and consistent population drops over 10 years. Conservationists believe several factors are responsible, including climate change forcing the birds to areas outside the UK, and say collaborative international research is imperative. Examinations of the traditional sites, the largest of which include the Wash, Morecambe Bay and Thames Estuary, are also required to determine if there are site-specific issues.

Economy and Business

Why TED Has Given All Of Its Employees A Mandatory Two-Week Summer Vacation
Here’s an idea worth spreading: Enforced time off. Now, go share this with your boss. There are two times of year when people tend to go on vacation: the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s, and late summer. But while many offices shut down during the holiday week, few close their doors in the summer, even though employee productivity often dwindles. TED is one of the few organizations that grants employees the gift of a forced two-week summer break. Visit and you’ll see no new TED talks until August 4. Try getting in touch with employees this week, via email, phone, or carrier pigeon. You’ll have some trouble.

World’s biggest synthetic golf course set for tee off
As the Sunshine State struggles through one of its worst droughts on record, a central Queensland couple have built the world’s largest synthetic golf course in a bid to save water. Developers Rita and Chris Dadson used artificial turf in their design for a golf course at Zilzie Bay because of the high salt content in the soil. Chris says the course will last for at least 14 years before it needs replacing. The 100 acre, 18-hole course will cost a lot less to maintain than a traditional grass course. “A normal course, you would spend $1 million to $1.5 million looking after it,” said Chris. “I think we will probably spend about $100,000 to $150,000 a year maintaining this course with labour.”

Lessons from Chrysler: how to rev up a purpose-driven corporate culture
Bob Kidder became chairman of Chrysler in 2009, just as the once-proud “big three” American automaker slid into bankruptcy. Survival was uncertain. It was time for the company to move in a new direction, fast. …incoming CEO Sergio Marchionne was determined to revitalize the business. He understood this could only be accomplished by changing Chrysler’s innovation-stifling culture. The changes that energized Chrysler began at the very top, with the board of directors and the senior leadership team.

Volvo and Renault lead way as electric car sales double in EU
New models helped sales of electric cars in the European Union double in 2013, but the zero-emission vehicles still only account for one in every 250 new cars sold.  Electric cars are a crucial part of government policies tackling both air pollution and climate change, but car manufacturers have lobbied hard against rules to cut emissions. “Electric cars are growing strongly, but at the same time the simple truth is that they are too expensive for most people to consider,” said T&E’s Greg Archer.

UPS Increases Deliveries, Still Meets Carbon-Intensity Reduction Goal Three Years Early
UPS has met its 2016 goal of reducing its air and ground fleet’s carbon intensity by 10 percent three years early, and has set a new goal to achieve a 20 percent reduction in carbon intensity from transportation by 2020, according to the company’s new sustainability report.

Politics and Society

Preparations underway for first Pilbara farmers’ market and harvest dinner
It’s better known for producing iron ore, but Western Australia’s Pilbara region is also home to a growing number of backyard fruit and vegetable producers. In fact, the town of Port Hedland is close to holding the region’s first farmers’ market. Until now, the nearest grower market has been several hundred kilometres south, in the Gascoyne town of Carnarvon. The Care for Hedland Association’s Kelly Howlett says it’s an exciting development for local growers.

Banking reform: how to clampdown on bad behaviour and restore trust? – poll
Banking reform has been firmly on the public agenda since the financial crash. For the last six years the government, think tanks and regulators have worked to devise the answer to the tricky question: how to restore trust in the banking sector? A number of reforms have been forwarded – from a suggested oath of virtue to a new law criminalising reckless behaviour. And this week proposals were unveiled to enable bankers’ bonuses to be clawed back up to seven years after payment. But what will work – you tell us

National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest 2014
In 2014, National Geographic Traveler magazine received more than 18,000 entries from around the globe. With thousands of pictures to review, judges found themselves wandering through stunning ice caves, mysterious desert views, and intriguing scenes from cultures throughout the world. Which photos were selected as the best of the best? See the winners today!

Waste and the Circular Economy

Explainer: What is a circular economy?
The concept of the circular economy has left the realm of academic theory and entered the world of business. The price of natural resources and materials is soaring, and in response to volatile markets and increasing competition, developed nations are examining this sort of alternative economic model. A circular economy is one that exchanges the typical cycle of make, use, dispose in favour of as much re-use and recycling as possible. Extending the life of products and materials prevents the over-generation of waste and recovers the full value of products. This would create new business opportunities and revenue streams, while minimising the environmental impact of mining, resource extraction, refining and manufacture.

Food Systems

Sheep milk – better for ewe
Sheep milk holds out the promise of being a potential money maker for New Zealand farmers, with the bonus of a lower ecological impact.  An estimated 50 per cent of Asians are intolerant of cow’s milk. There is a high demand for infant formula, bulk milk powder, and cheese, and research is being carried out into other sheep milk products such as icecream, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.  Sheep milk is higher in total solids than cow or goat milk, and contains up to twice as many minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. It also provides more of the percentage of A, E, C, and B complex vitamins than cow’s milk.

Food and drink sector cut water use by 16% in 2013
Food and drink manufacturers that signed the Federation House Commitment to reduce water usage have managed to cut water use by 1.35 million cubic meters (m3) – or 15.6% – last year, according to figures released by resource efficiency organisation Wrap. The initiative, involving 70 signatories across 284 active sites, was launched by WRAP in partnership with the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). Signatories, which include Kellogg’s, Birds Eye, Heinz and Arla Foods, have managed to reduce their water use by nearly 16% between 2007 and 2013 – equivalent to 6.1 million m3 water or 2, 430 Olympic-size swimming pools, saving the industry £2 million.

Built Environment

Handbook launched for healthy, energy-efficient homes
We typically spend at least a third of our lives in our homes, but while there have been many studies done into the impact of sustainable environments in the workplace, the domestic realm has not had the same degree of attention. A new book by interior designer Melissa Wittig from Healthy Interiors and sustainability consultant Danielle King from Green Moves Australia aims to fill the residential information gap and provide a blueprint for creating energy efficient and healthy homes.


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