Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. If you like what you see, you can sign up to the newsletter (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning. 

Top Story

Good, natural, malignant: five ways people frame economic growth
Growth is good. We need growth for wealth, for jobs, to help the poor – without it society will collapse. Or, at least, that’s the message we’re surrounded by, even though logic tells us growth can’t go on for ever on a planet with finite resources. Growth is so strongly framed as good and necessary that rational or technical arguments – pointing to the damage to our planetary life-support systems, for example – go in one ear and out the other. Such messages are worth examining. So how is growth framed?

Energy and Climate Change

Singer Akon launches solar academy in Mali
St. Louis-born singer and hip-hop artist Akon, 42, announced at the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York last week that he is to open a Solar Academy in Mali this summer.  The institution will follow on from the Senegalese-American’s Akon Lighting Africa initiative, which was launched in 2014 to bring solar electricity power to 600 million Africans that currently live off the grid.  According to Akon Lighting Africa, the academy will teach students how to install and maintain solar-powered electricity systems and micro grids, harnessing the 320 days of sunshine that most parts of Africa receive annually.

North American scientists call for end to tar sands mining
More than 100 leading US and Canadian scientists called for a halt on future mining of the tar sands, saying extraction of the carbon-heavy fuel was incompatible with fighting climate change. In a letter published on Wednesday, the researchers said tar sands crude should be relegated to a fuel of last resort, because it causes so much more carbon pollution than conventional oil.

Environment and Biodiversity

Why More Scientists are Speaking Out on Contentious Issues
For decades Ken Lertzman has studied the ecology of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. Wedged between British Columbia’s Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, this rugged forest is home to thousand-year-old red cedars, salmon runs, millions of migratory birds, and the elusive white spirit bear. On Wednesday, Lertzman and more than a hundred other North American scientists, including a Nobel laureate, signed a statement calling for a moratorium on development of Alberta’s vast oil sands. Lertzman, a professor at Simon Fraser University, worries that transporting the oil through Great Bear would harm one of the world’s last remaining unspoiled temperate rain forests.

This "spirit bear," or Kermode bear, inhabits British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. It is a subspecies of black bear that is often born with white fur due to a unique recessive gene. Activists and some scientists worry that its habitat may be at risk from transporting oil sands.

This “spirit bear,” or Kermode bear, inhabits British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. It is a subspecies of black bear that is often born with white fur due to a unique recessive gene. Activists and some scientists worry that its habitat may be at risk from transporting oil sands.
Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic Creative

Wood pigeon high on PhD student’s radar
NEW ZEALAND – Walking about Auckland’s streets holding up a rather large antenna, Alice Baranyovits isn’t surprised some bemused onlookers have asked if she’s searching for aliens. But in fact, the Auckland University PhD student has been listening out for another little green creature – New Zealand’s noisy native pigeon… The bird is particularly important to New Zealand conservation as it’s the principal disperser of seeds of larger fruiting plants, such as the karaka and taraire, vital for the regeneration of native forests.

Care urged after recent fan worm finds in Coromandel Harbour
NEW ZEALAND – Boaties and marine farmers around the Coromandel Peninsula are being urged to take extra care after recent new finds of the marine pest fan worm Sabella in Coromandel Harbour. The warning – which includes all vessels sailing, anchoring and mooring in the area, as well as marine farms – has been prompted by increased signs of the pest… Bailey said the worm, while spectacular looking, can form dense colonies, crowding out other marine life in harbours and affecting aquaculture in the area.

Great Barrier Reef: Public reporting of water quality ‘misleading at worst’, Queensland auditor-general says
A report from Queensland’s auditor-general has questioned the State Government’s claim that water quality on the Great Barrier Reef is improving. The auditor-general’s report examines the Queensland Government’s handling of agricultural run-off from farms over the last 12 years.  It found the State Government’s response has been uncoordinated, lacks purpose, and holds no-one accountable.

Tasmanian World Heritage dispute set to be played out on world stage
AUSTRALIA – UNESCO’s (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Committee is worried about the Tasmanian Government’s plans to change the way the state’s vast World Heritage wilderness is managed. The committee is concerned that the new plan will create the potential for logging and mining alongside commercial tourism.  The Tasmanian Government is preparing a response for the committee in Germany, and environmentalists who oppose the State Government’s plan are also travelling to the meeting.

Economy and Business

Origin says future split between grid and solar + storage
AUSTRALIA – Origin Energy has become the latest big Australian energy utility to admit that its future is split between the traditional grid-based assets and distributed generation, where consumers continue their rapid uptake of rooftop solar and, soon enough, battery storage and electric vehicles. In a major presentation to analysts and institutional investors in Melbourne on Wednesday, Origin Energy said it intended to become the biggest installer of rooftop solar in Australia.

Kingfisher collaborates to innovate for Net Positive progress
A collaborative approach to responsible sourcing, packaging and the circular economy has taken DIY giant Kingfisher to new heights in the second year of its Net Positive sustainability plan. The B&Q and Screwfix operator has today (10 June) released its annual Net Positive Report, updating stakeholders on its sustainability ambition to transform the business to have a restorative impact on the environment… Highlights from the 2015 Net Positive Report include reaching 92% responsibly sourced timber and paper products last year, 2% ahead of Kingfisher’s 2016 target and well on-track to hit the 100% target by 2020.

Waste and the Circular Economy

How Dell is Closing the Loop
As our world increasingly revolves around the latest tech gadgets, consider this: Less than 15 percent of electronic products are recycled each year, and the majority of e-waste that is thrown into landfills can be readily reused or recycled for materials recovery, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When it comes to the electronics industry, the gap to close the loop is huge. Dell hopes to change that with its design-for-environment-inspired OptiPlex 3030 and closed loop plastic recycling initiative.

New Zealand dairy farm expansion creates new environmental challenges
New Zealand farmers face a new set of environmental challenges as sheep numbers decline and the dairy industry booms. Dairy New Zealand environment manager Dr Mike Scarsbrook has told a roundtable discussion at Mystery Creek Field Day about steps the industry has taken in the past 20 years as it had expanded. Dr Scarsbrook said the dairy herd had doubled in that period causing major concerns for freshwater environments in many areas of New Zealand.

Recycling system will revolutionise dairy farming in New Zealand
A new effluent recycling system that turns raw dairy shed effluent into clean, clear water could revolutionise the New Zealand dairy industry. The system is being unveiled at the opening of National Fieldays at Mystery Creek near Hamilton on Wednesday by its creators, Matamata-based water filtration company Forsi Innovations. Forsi operations and marketing manger Craig Hawes claims the system will change current farming practices by eliminating the need for effluent ponds, help farmers remain compliant and reduce waterway contamination.

Politics and Society

The young climate campaigners to watch before Paris COP 21
Youth activists and bloggers from around the world are stimulating the public debate in the lead-up to the climate summit in Paris, shadowing negotiators, co-ordinating fossil fuel divestment campaigns at universities and exploring the links between social and environmental problems. Some are students and others work as journalists or community organisers. Here are the ones to read and follow.

UN climate talks agree major forest protection plan
One of the key elements for a global climate deal has been unexpectedly resolved in Bonn, with governments signing off on plans for a UN-backed forest protection scheme. Envoys spoke of their surprise at the agreement, which will see the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd+) programme form part of a Paris pact in December.

Animal welfare campaigner outraged over shipment
NEW ZEALAND – A massive shipment of 50,000 live sheep and 3000 cattle has sparked outrage from an animal welfare group. At the Port of Timaru on Wednesday afternoon, the livestock carrier Nada began loading what will be the largest ever shipment of live animals to leave New Zealand. The shipment is bound for Mexico for breeding purposes to counter a recent drought, according to the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

Farmers using sheep to control fireweed in south-east NSW
AUSTRALIA – In a state first, a community led approach to weed management is being trialled across three towns in south-east New South Wales. The project aims to support communities to better understand widespread weeds, take ownership of the problem and develop plans to tackle the weeds in each region. NSW DPI project coordinator Bronwen Wicks said the project would involve workshops, surveys and other extension activities.

After two years, the Rana Plaza fund finally reaches its $30m target
After more than two years of negotiations involving backroom deals, activists chaining themselves to shops, global petitions and statements by G7 leaders, the Rana Plaza donors trust fund has finally met its target of $30m. When the Rana Plaza factory complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed in April 2013, a campaign was launched to provide adequate compensation to the families of the 1,134 people killed in the collapse and the 2,500 severely injured survivors.

Built Environment

Analytics and Big Data on a roll in efficient buildings
There are myriad challenges facing the buildings sector in Australia and across the globe. Energy prices are rising, assets are ageing, budgets are shrinking, technology choices are increasing and the pressure to be sustainable and green is higher than ever. To compete in this rapidly changing and competitive environment, organisations need better performance outcomes… By installing modern building management systems and big data analytics tools, there is the opportunity to cut energy costs dramatically, monitor ageing assets and be informed prior to making decisions that could affect a building’s bottom line.

London’s charging: Fire Brigade installs EV plug-in points
The London Fire Brigade has unveiled 156 electric-vehicle charging points at 76 fire stations and sites around the capital.  Nine of the stations will make their charging points open to the public, as part of the Brigade’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Government funding for the charging-point rollout totalled £592,000, covering 75% of the cost. The remaining cost was covered by Chargemaster, who were appointed following a competitive tender, to install and manage the charge point sockets. The company will recoup its expenditure by charging a tariff for recharging.

Christchurch needs an eco-neighbourhood like Vauban
Vauban, in Freiburg, south-west Germany, is one of the world’s most celebrated residential eco-neighbourhoods. With its solar power, “plus-energy” buildings, and accessible streets, Vauban offers a bold sustainable vision for the future of urban or suburban living. It could even work for Christchurch and Canterbury ­– but only if the authorities and enough people are determined to make it happen Vauban actually took shape despite, rather than because of planners.

A residential neighbourhood in Vauban, a district of Freiburg in south-west Germany.

A residential neighbourhood in Vauban, a district of Freiburg in south-west Germany.

WELL on the way to Canada
The WELL Building Standard now has strong backing in Canada after an agreement between the US-led Green Business Certification and the Canada Green Building Council. WELL is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features that impact human health and wellbeing through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. The new agreement will align the business and administrative processes in the US with the demands of the Canadian market.

The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pennsylvania, USA is the first institute to achieve the International Well Building Institute's highest distinction

The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pennsylvania, USA is the first institute to achieve the International Well Building Institute’s highest distinction. Photo credit:

Cabinet approves $2m in funding to stop coastal erosion at Seabird
The Western Australian Cabinet has approved $2 million in funding to stop dramatic coastal erosion in the seaside hamlet of Seabird, the local MP says. Locals have long been campaigning for help and say at least 15 homes in the community, 100 kilometres north of Perth, are at risk of falling into the ocean.


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