Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
Sign up on the right for sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Top Story

UK Valentine’s cards could be contributing to deforestation
Purchasing a Valentine’s card for your loved one on the UK high street could contribute to illegal logging and deforestation, the WWF has warned, due to loopholes in EU regulation. WWF purchased a number of cards from high street retailers and found that three, from Card Factory, Clintons and Paperchase, contained various amounts of mixed tropical hardwood, signalling that the fibres had most likely come from natural growth tropical forests. However, only Paperchase was able to provide evidence that the product was sustainably sourced.

[Ed: I chose this story as a good example of how purchasing something as seemingly innocuous as a gift card can make you a contributor to negative environmental impacts.  You can very easily get around this by buying FSC certified or, even better, recycled cards.]

Energy and Climate Change

France says UN climate talks crucial for world security
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius launched a round of global climate talks in Geneva on Sunday and warned that world security, as well as the environment, depended on their success. The week-long meeting is the first in a series that is meant to culminate in a globally binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Paris in December, with a target of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2C above pre-industrial times. Countries, companies and other organisations are expected to announce commitments to cut emissions in the run up to the Paris meeting. The cumulative commitments, backed by a financing mechanism and a binding global agreement that is being shaped at the series of meetings, must be enough to hit the 2C goal.

Burlington, Vermont Now Runs on 100 Percent Renewable Energy
Burlington, Vermont, has been making waves for becoming the first city in the U.S. to be powered 100 percent by renewables. (Some may say Greenburg, Kansas was the first, but we are talking about a town of 800 people versus 42,000 in Burlington.) Reliant on coal a generation ago, Vermont’s largest city has slowly revamped its energy portfolio, culminating in the purchase of a hydropower plant late last year. This milestone may not be surprising considering Vermont’s progressive politics and buy-in from residents who overall supported the plan of the local utility, Burlington Electric. But the fact that Burlington has been able to do this without raising rates since 2009 — while saving the city about $20 million over the next 20 years — creates a case study for communities that are interested in investing in renewables but skittish about making such an aggressive move.

Environment and Biodiversity

Indonesia Disbanded Its REDD+ Agency. That Might Not Be So Bad. (Opinion)
Last week, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi’ Widodo disbanded the country’s independent REDD+ Agency as part of his effort to better coordinate activities related to forestry and the environment. While some worried this could undermine the country’s efforts to save its forests and slow climate change, Pungky Widiaryanto of the State Ministry of National Development Planning says the change makes sense, and will lead to a more efficient implementation of REDD.

Frontline teams ‘unaware’ of wildlife smuggler tactics
Front-line transport workers largely lack awareness on how criminal networks disguise illegal wildlife products, it emerged at a summit in Bangkok. Customs officials and wildlife trade experts say that educating freight forwarders and handlers of air, ship and land cargoes could help the fight against trafficking. Their recent meeting with transport operators was the first of its kind. “There was a genuine shock (among participants from the transport industry in the meeting) as to the magnitude of wildlife trade and the methods of disguise used by traffickers to transport these commodities,” said Martin Palmer, an expert in global trade compliance requirements and international transport.

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth up to $23 billion annually

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth up to $23 billion annually

Hawaii’s war on major bee pest could help Australia prepare for future varroa destructor invasion
The US state of Hawaii is using selective breeding to win the war against the destructive varroa mite, which is crippling honey bee populations around the world. The overall significance of honeybees is often overlooked, but keeping up natural bee populations is critical for farmers who need crops to be pollinated. Australia is still free of varroa destructor, but the major pest has been spreading around the world, including to neighbouring New Zealand and Indonesia.  Dr Danielle Downey, from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, is trying to rid the Hawaiian islands of the pest, by breeding disease-resistant bees.

Scientists to develop trojan female possums
NEW ZEALAND – Scientists are considering using a trojan female to woo possums which means the blokes could be shooting blanks in the future.  A research group comprised of Landcare Research, the University of Otago and Monash University proposed a novel and cost-effective method for the control of pests through genetic mutations.  The trojan female technique uses naturally occurring mutations in DNA that cause male infertility to reduce and control pest populations.

Northern Territory gold mine releases 750 megalitres of treated water into the Edith River
Mount Todd gold mine has released about 750 megalitres of treated water into the Edith River, 50 kilometres north of Katherine in the Northern Territory. Since Mount Todd gold mine abruptly ceased production in 2000, retention ponds and the lowest parts of the mine have filled up with around 10 gigalitres of water from wet season rain. Some of the water is contaminated by waste rock at the site.  Each year, with Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) approval, the mine releases controlled amounts of treated water, allowed under mine operator Vista Gold’s water discharge licence.

Economy and Business

University of Sydney to cut carbon emissions from $413m share portfolio by 20pc in three years
The University of Sydney will cut heavy polluters and some fossil fuel companies from its $413 million share portfolio in a bid to reduce the carbon footprint of its investments by 20 per cent over three years. In a move away from straight divestment of all fossil fuel producers – an approach pushed by environmental advocacy group and taken up by institutions like Stanford University in the US – the university has taken what it calls a “whole of portfolio approach” to address climate change. This means all companies the university invests in will come under the microscope in its attempt to have a more environmentally friendly portfolio.

The Social Purpose Continuum: Changing the Lens, the Focus, Everything in Our Approach to CSR
For 25 years, I’ve developed CSR strategies. And now I see that CSR is becoming business as usual. You’d think I’d be celebrating. But I’m not — because CSR has stalled. This struck me in 2012 when I developed the Qualities of a Transformational Company for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility and started tracking corporate innovation in CSR (see 38 case studies of transformation in action at CBSR’s website). That’s when I saw where we needed to be. As identified by KPMG, World Economic Forum and others, CSR as practiced over the past decade has not realized the commercial or social benefits necessary to address the global mega-forces that will affect the ability of business and society to thrive in the medium to long term. Our pace is too slow. The change we are realizing is incremental when it needs to be transformational.

Can multinationals deliver selfless community projects?
Community projects undertaken by big multinationals, however well-meaning, often lack community involvement and focus on what they give rather than the long-term impact… Today, Nigeria has the most out-of-school children in the world – some 10.5 million, the majority of them girls. This April could see a small dent in that number as Nigerian oil and gas company Oando seeks to encourage thousands of girls to register for primary school for the first time. As corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects go, it ticks all the obvious boxes: it’s well-funded (to the tune of £4m), its goal is clear (to get 21,000 girls into school over the next three years) and its approach is partnership-based (the British Council and the Clinton Global Initiative are both on board).

Why Barclays must quit bankrolling coal industry (Opinion)
What got me thinking about this was listening recently to Antony Jenkins, CEO of Barclays, talking about the 20 Quaker families who created the bank more than 300 years ago. Barclays, like many other banks, lost its moral compass when the puffed-up investment bankers and traders came to believe they were masters of the universe and that their purpose was to make money from money, sod the rest of us. Jenkins is now trying to rebuild the company’s shattered integrity by re-embedding a set of values into Barclays that point to the bank’s founders who were, like Arup and Scott, business people who also understood their obligations to society.

Do Natural Resources Companies Recognize Supply Chain Management as a Material Issue?
Companies are under increasing pressure to improve transparency across their supply chains and introduce more stringent procurement policies covering issues including human rights, corruption, and social and environmental impacts. Whilst much of the media focus has been on retailers and other consumer-facing businesses, there is an argument that natural resources firms will be more impacted by this trend, as regulations such as the Dodd Frank Act in the US — which requires companies to report and make public the use of “conflict minerals” from the DRC or adjoining countries in their products — come into force.

US green buildings to attract lower interest rates
The US Federal National Mortgage Association, Fannie Mae, has announced it will provide lower interest rate loans to green multi-residential buildings. For buildings with a green building certification, Fannie Mae is granting a 10 basis point reduction in the interest rate of a multifamily refinance, acquisition or supplemental mortgage loan. “This is a great demonstration of leadership from Fannie Mae, and the partnership between the multifamily finance industry and the green building industry,” Rick Fedrizzi, chief executive and founding chair of the US Green Building Council, said. “This is real money and an incentive to not only build green but also for existing buildings to achieve certification. For the first time, Fannie Mae multifamily lenders will be able to reward building owners for their better buildings.”

Online Toolbox for Safer Chemical Substitution
The EPA, the University of Wisconsin Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have launched an online toolbox to help companies use safer chemicals. The OECD Substitution & Alternatives Assessment Toolbox includes resources relevant to chemical substitution and alternatives assessments. Alternative assessments are processes for identifying, comparing and selecting safer alternatives to replace hazardous chemicals with the objective of promoting sustainable production and consumption.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Unilever, P&G Join Closed Loop Fund to Boost Recycling
Recycling has become a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States, with some estimates suggesting it could even be worth as much as $80 billion this year. Nevertheless, many communities in the U.S. still do not offer recycling with their municipal waste collection. Even though cities such as Los Angeles have seen a net financial benefit — gaining revenues from selling off recyclable materials instead of paying to send them to landfill — cities are losing money from not launching recycling programs. Of course, as with the launch of any business or initiative, seed money is needed. And despite the improving economy, many municipalities cannot or will not invest in the launch of the program. Recently Unilever and Procter & Gamble joined a program that seeks to address the growing challenges of waste diversion.

What Can You Do to Create Positive Change in the Fashion Industry?
“What does it mean to be ‘eco’ or ‘green’ today? We need to redefine that. We need to modernize the fashion industry. This is where we need to be in the 21st century — all products need to be created with thought.” This statement was made by actress, fashion icon and social entrepreneur Amber Valletta at the public launch for Fashion Positive in New York on November 14, 2014. The occasion was the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute’s Innovation Celebration and the audience was a room full of the next-generation thinkers of sustainability, fashion icons, industry leaders and vision makers.

Politics and Society

Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?
We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change—faces organized and often furious opposition. Empowered by their own sources of information and their own interpretations of research, doubters have declared war on the consensus of experts. There are so many of these controversies these days, you’d think a diabolical agency had put something in the water to make people argumentative. And there’s so much talk about the trend these days—in books, articles, and academic conferences—that science doubt itself has become a pop-culture meme. In the recent movie Interstellar, set in a futuristic, downtrodden America where NASA has been forced into hiding, school textbooks say the Apollo moon landings were faked.

Sustainability now key selling point for business schools attracting students
It has become increasingly accepted in corporate boardrooms that sustainability is an important business issue, but the business schools that train the managers of tomorrow – and the students themselves – have not always kept pace. In the past, issues such as climate change, labour condition and access to resources were not widely recognised as factors that could make a big difference to the bottom line and students were encouraged to focus on maximising shareholder value, short-term profits and the narrow interests of individual businesses rather than society and the economy as a whole.

Built Environment

UK mandates minimum energy standards for rental properties
It will become illegal for landlords in the UK to rent out energy inefficient housing from April 2018, thanks to a new government law labelled the UK’s most important piece of green building legislation for existing stock in a generation. The new requirement means landlords will need to get a property to a “Band E” Energy Performance Certificate rating before it can be put on the market (the lowest ratings are bands F and G, with most housing sold in the UK rated between bands C and E). According to a government press release, the average difference in a heating bill between a Band E house and the most inefficient housing is £880 (A$1730) a year, with up to one million tenants set to benefit from the changes.

Hey, fancy buying a straw house?
The first straw houses in the UK to be offered on the open market are on sale.  Though straw walls might be most readily linked to a story of pigs making questionable construction choices, the team behind these homes says the material could help to sustainably meet housing demand.  The homes are the result of an engineering research project led by the University of Bath.  The researchers worked with specialist architectural firm Modcell.  The team says this development should move building with straw from a niche technique for the ecologically minded to the wider market.

Electric car sales accelerate into 2015
The advance of the electric car has continued into 2015 with industry figures showing a fourfold increase in sales in January 2015 compared to a year earlier. Statistics from the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show 512 pure electric cars were sold in the UK last month, a 58 per cent rise from the 325 sold in January last year. But by far the biggest rise came in sales of plug-in hybrids, which shot up 1,035 per cent from 106 in January last year to 1,203 sales last month.

Food Systems

New guidance aims to keep products of pirate fishing out of UK supply chain
Illegal “pirate” fishing damages the environment and human rights, and leads to economic losses of as much as $23.5bn (£15.3 bn) a year, according to fresh guidance which aims to help British businesses keep illegal fish products out of the supply chain and stamp the practice out. A briefing published by retailers, conservation and human rights groups sets out in full how retailers and suppliers should act to end the long-term threat to the oceans, while building up legal and sustainable fisheries.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.