Sustainable Development News

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

Drought lengthened by climate change
The evidence is in – humans have left a distinctive fingerprint at the 2013 drought crime scene.  In an international paper released this week, New Zealand scientists have analysed climate models around the extreme weather event, which knocked at least $1.3 billion out of New Zealand’s economy.  While the natural variations played a leading role, human activity was a definite accomplice, according to National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research scientist Sam Dean.

Distributed generation rule change has commenced
A reform to the National Electricity Market making it easier to connect distributed generation to the grid has commenced. The rule change, put forward by the Property Council of Australia, ClimateWorks and Seed Advisory, means that large embedded energy systems – including solar, trigeneration and wind – can now be connected to the grid more quickly and cheaply. From today (Wednesday), distribution network service providers will be required to provide better information to consumers about the process for connecting embedded energy systems to the grid, including standardised forms and information packs including technical standards, costs, application details, time frames for each stage of the connection process and a model connection agreement.

Kiwis seek greenhouse gas remedies
[New Zealand] Farmers would like a vaccine to cut greenhouse gas production in sheep and cattle, but finding an injection is tough work for scientists.  In the meantime, agricultural greenhouse gas researchers are checking out animals that could naturally be lower emitters and feed that could reduce greenhouse gas. They’re developing methane inhibitors, as well as measuring and increasing soil carbon… “About 46 per cent of greenhouse gas in New Zealand comes from animals. In the developed world, which we are part of, the closest to New Zealand is Ireland, which has 27 per cent,” says PGgRc manager Mark Aspin.

Trawling for trash in Sydney Harbour to understand plastic’s impacts
Professor Richard Banati and a team from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation are trawling the [Sydney] harbour for plastic debris, as part of an odyssey from Hobart to Sydney to further ANSTO research on how plastics break down in the marine environment and the impact they have on maritime species and the food chain. The team’s work is disproving the old adage that “the solution to pollution is dilution”. Working with the tracer principle in collaboration with Dr Jennifer Laver from Monash University, Dr Banati showed that only not does the average shearwater’s stomach contain 10 per cent plastic, elements from the plastic have found their way into the feathers of the birds, raising the possibility that potentially toxic contaminants such as cadmium transfer into the body after ingestion and remain there after excretion.

Environment and Biodiversity

Five ways to stop the world’s wildlife vanishing
Full marks to colleagues at the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London for the Living Planet Report 2014 and its headline message which one hopes ought to shock the world out of its complacency: a 52% decline of wildlife populations in the past 40 years… Today, conservation-minded people will probably be wondering what can be done to reverse wildlife declines. For me the question is how can today’s conservationists leave a wildlife legacy for the 21st century, and I think there are five ways we can change conservation to better fit the circumstances we face.

Walrus mass on Alaska beach – in pictures
Pacific walrus unable to find sea ice on which to rest in Arctic waters are coming ashore in record numbers on a beach in north-west Alaska. Females give birth on sea ice and the animals use it as a diving platform to reach snails, clams and worms on the shallow continental shelf, but climate change means there is ever less available.

Satellite images show Aral Sea basin ‘completely dried’
A large section of the Aral Sea has completely dried up for the first time in modern history, according to Nasa. Images from the US space agency’s Terra satellite released last week show that the eastern basin of the Central Asian inland sea – which stretched across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and was once the fourth largest in the world – was totally parched in August. Images taken in 2000 show an extensive body of water covering the same area.

Judge says it’s clear dairying was dirty
Farm owner Phillip Woolley has been found guilty of dirty dairying. Following a two-day Environment Court hearing in Nelson, Woolley, from Tuamarina in Marlborough [New Zealand], who owns Awarua Farm, was found guilty of multiple breaches of the Tasman Resource Management Plan (TRMP) and the Resource Management Act [RMA], including ponding of effluent and stored effluent solids on unsealed ground at his Matakitaki farm near Murchison. Under the RMA, Woolley could be jailed for up to two years or fined up to $300,000 individually, and up to $600,000 for the company, on each charge.

Economy and Business

The for profit business ethos motivates selfish, unsustainable behaviour
At the heart of the failing capitalist system is the “for-profit” ethic. Based on the myth that humans are mostly selfish and competitive, the for-profit ethic says the best way to incentivise innovation and facilitate economic activity is to appeal to people’s self-interest. This manifests in the for-profit business model, central to the current economy, where owners and investors go into business expecting a portion of a company’s profits in the form of dividends, options or shares. This way of conducting business has led to socioeconomic inequality, with capital gains and company dividends a big contributor to income divides… What, then, might be the alternative? Fortunately, the dominant story about human nature is changing. Research increasingly shows that, under the right conditions, human nature has a tendency towards co-operation (pdf). We’re witnessing the rise of a workforce increasingly motivated by purpose, and we’re realising the potential of an existing business structure called not-for-profit (NFP) enterprise.

90% of CEOs believe businesses should have a social purpose
A survey led by Coca-Cola Enterprises has found that nine out of ten CEOs believe companies should fully integrate sustainability into their business, with future leaders showing more willingness to employ corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices. The study surveyed 150 CEOs, as well as 150 MBA, MSc students and recent graduates across Europe. The results were presented in London at the Future for Sustainability Summit: Enhancing the Value of Business. The survey found that 90% of present and future leaders believe that a successful business should combine profit and social purpose, arguing that this offers relevance to the next generation of customers and employees and ensures business survival.

Trust will out: how the financial crisis boosted the best leaders
Six years on from the financial crisis and still many of us feel deeply unsure about institutions and individuals we had previously revered as beacons of reliability and certainty. The need to repair that broken trust has put pressure on leaders within banks and other household-name businesses to doubly demonstrate their trustworthiness to their customers, to their employees and to society at large. Among the finger-pointing and mea culpas, however, a more optimistic picture emerges. We have trawled through data collected over 3 years from 22 significant public and private-sector organisations which draw contributions from a cross-section of employees, trade unionists, middle managers and HR professionals, as well as senior managers and their colleagues and bosses. The data show that in the aftermath of the crisis – through waves of downsizing and restructuring, salary cuts and divestments – there were individual leaders and organisations who kept and cultivated the trust of their customers and employees despite all those around them losing ground.

Five steps to jumpstarting worker happiness at your company
Companies of every size and in every industry have whole-heartedly embraced the idea that happy employees are more productive, and that engaging employees in a company’s mission is one of the best ways to ensure success… According to Alison Davis Blake, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, there are myriad ways for companies to pick and choose the positive business strategies that best suit their size, industry and particular needs. Here are five strategies some of the world’s most successful businesses have deployed to help them not only hire employees that are a good fit, but also keep them engaged over the long term.

Fair Trade USA Kicks Off Fair Trade Month with Expanded Product Categories
Alongside Fair Trade Month, Fair Trade USA has announced the launch of several new Fair Trade Certified™ products across new categories, including home goods, apparel and coconut. In 2014, the third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in North America partnered with 109 new companies (for a total of 915), and helped launch 455 new Fair Trade Certified products into the North American market. The growth and increased availability of Fair Trade products empowers shoppers to choose items that make a positive difference — from ensuring that factory workers have safe working conditions, to helping farmers and workers improve their communities and environment.

The Benefits of Environment Initiatives: Australian Companies Going Green
Australia’s government offers a fairly comprehensive plan for reducing the negative impact the country’s people and businesses have on the environment. The Department of the Environment has specific goals to maintain clean air, land and water to preserve the country’s national heritage.

Chinese solar mogul unveils 50,000MW clean energy initiative
Through Asia Pacific Resources Development Investment (APRD), Cheng has announced plans to deploy geothermal energy, electric vehicles, LEDs and energy storage on an unprecedented scale at an investment conference in New York. The plan involves ten companies, with a goal to create vertically integrated manufacturing and a focus on urban areas. Reclusive solar and real estate investor Cheng Kin Ming, who bankrolled Shunfeng’s acquisition of Wuxi Suntech, has unveiled his strategy to speed up the transition to renewable energy and transform cities around the globe at the Next Generation Solar PV Finance Conference New York City.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The Circular Economy Requires Size and Scale — How Will We Get There?
In early September, leading circular economy experts from Forum for the Future and around the world came together in Nachterstedt, Germany, to discuss [barriers and opportunities] and other challenges — not just for our recycling center, but also similar circular economy incubators — and how we can overcome them on a macro scale. During this session we explored three of the most significant barriers to meeting the size and scale required to make a true circular economy. Here’s what we realized.

Novelis Opens World’s Largest Aluminum Recycling Facility
Novelis, global producer of aluminum rolling products, today opened the world’s largest aluminum recycling center, located adjacent to the company’s rolling mill in Nachterstedt, Germany. The $258 million recycling center will process up to 400,000 metric tons of aluminum scrap annually, turning it back into high-value aluminum ingots to feed the company’s European manufacturing network.

Innovations in mobile phone recycling: biomining to dissolving circuit boards
More than 1.8bn mobile phones were bought in 2013, but within just a few years, 44% of them could end up “hibernating” in drawers according to research from Hywel Jones, a materials scientist at Sheffield Hallam University. He estimates that the same share will be resold and passed on, 4% will end up in landfills and only 3% will be recycled. Jones unsurprisingly sees major environmental and resource implications in the lack of phone recycling. Each phone contains about 300mg of silver and 30mg of gold. Between now and the end of 2020, 10m tonnes of electronic products will be purchased in the UK. This will include silver, gold and platinum group metals with an estimated total market value of £1.5bn.

Politics and Society

Stopping global deforestation will take more than more words
At the recent UN Climate Summit in New York there was little in the way of new climate policy announcements, but 27 countries did sign a new forest agreement — the New York Declaration on Forests. Some 27 national governments, 34 major companies, and 61 NGOs vowed to halve deforestation by 2020, and end it by 2030. Signatories included some countries with high rates of deforestation — Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and Peru— but not Brazil, or some of the African countries now experiencing significant forest loss and degradation. The declaration is just the latest in international forest agreements that began in 1992. So, could the declaration succeed where past agreements have failed?

Without Peace, Can There Be Development? (Blog)
As UN Member States follow last week’s General Assembly debates with the months-long intergovernmental negotiations around the post-2015 development agenda, this is a critical time to remind all stakeholders that a strong goal on peace and security must remain on the list of proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which currently number at 17.

A rare cypress forest at the National Arboretum has been dedicated as a living acknowledgement of the contribution of ACT senior citizens
A forest of critically endangered cypress trees at the National Arboretum has been dedicated as a space for reflecting on the contribution senior citizens have made to the development of the ACT. Forest 40 contains two varieties of long-living trees, Moroccan Cypress (Cupressus atlantica) and Saharan Cypress (Cupressus duprenziana), which can grow for more than 2000 years.

Built Environment

Detoxing healthcare: hospitals get healthier
Are hospitals making tiny babies sick? That question troubled Kathy Gerwig, an executive at Kaiser Permanente, the big US healthcare provider, when she visited a Kaiser neonatal intensive care unit in San Francisco back in 2001, to take an inventory of medical equipment including IV tubing, blood bags and feeding tubes. She and her colleagues wanted to find out if they contained a chemical substance known as DEHP, a phthalate used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics to make them soft and flexible. Studies of animals had suggested that DEHP could be harmful to a fetus, especially to the reproductive systems in males.


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