Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Top Story

Less material consumption is not the end for business
Every government in all affluent countries wants their economy to grow; all engage in collective panic when material consumption slows or stops. In the poorest countries, of course, more consumption is good. It means food, shelter, water, education, transport. Yet after about $10,000 (£6,300) per capita GDP, the returns for wellbeing flatten off.  One explanation for this is that material consumption also produces many costly side effects on both human health and the natural environment. It gives with one hand and takes away with the other. The external costs of modern living have risen dramatically. Now we have to spend to solve the problems created by the very material consumption we thought was solely good.

Energy and Climate Change

SunPower broadens its commercial reach by offering battery services from Stem
The last couple of weeks have brought a dizzying array of partnerships between solar and storage companies, most of them with Tesla. Add SunPower and Stem to the list. For the last five months, SunPower has been reselling Stem’s behind-the-meter battery systems to commercial customers across the U.S. The companies are not revealing the number of systems they’ve installed through the partnership, but SunPower’s Ivo Steklac said he expects storage to help increase commercial-sector business “rather dramatically” based on early activity.

Sellafield nuclear waste storage safety limit relaxed following accident
UK – Safety limits on the storage of some of the world’s most dangerous nuclear wastes at Sellafield in Cumbria have been relaxed after an accident knocked out a treatment plant. The government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), has permitted the private company that runs Sellafield to breach legal restrictions on the amount of hot, high-level radioactive waste that can be kept in tanks. The limits are likely to be exceeded by up to 350 tonnes between April 2014 and July 2016.

Victoria wants Feds to get out of the way on state RET
AUSTRALIA – The Victorian government has announced support for a state renewable energy target, and has called for the federal government to get out of the way so it can happen. The renewable energy act that governs the federal RET currently has a clause prohibiting state governments from enacting similar schemes. If the federal government agrees to remove the clause, the Victorian government says it will implement a state RET, designed to “top up” a scaled-back federal scheme.

UK renewables investment hit record £10.7bn in 2014, says PwC
The UK’s renewable energy industry had its best year yet for new investment, attracting £10.7bn in 2014, according to new analysis. But the report also warns that the country still requires a further £50bn over the next five years if it is to meet its green energy targets. Analysis by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) on behalf of the Renewable Energy Association (REA), published today, shows solar power alone attracted £4.5bn of investment, accounting for half of new investment in UK renewables last year. The offshore wind industry also attracted a large volume of investment as a result of the new Contract for Difference (CfD) auctions and the Green Investment Bank’s backing of the sector.

Environment and Biodiversity

Yes, bad beekeeping is to blame for unwanted urban swarms
It’s swarming season. Across southern England the warm weather and abundance of flowering plants and trees (food for bees) make the ideal conditions for colonies of honeybees to propagate. The queen bee flies out from her hive with around half her workers in search of a new home, leaving behind a host of queen cells – one of which will emerge as the new queen to begin a new colony in the hive. As more of us are keeping honeybees in towns and cities, this natural process witnessed 3,000 years ago by the first beekeepers in ancient Egypt and Greece and every spring since, appears to be causing alarm in our high streets.

Watch: Mother Owl Takes On Snake—and Wins
To defend her young from an encroaching snake, Dottie the Texas barn owl reacted with extreme prejudice to remove the threat. In the infrared video, filmed earlier this month at a Texas ranch, the owl was a ghostly sight. And with a second angle showing the snake creeping towards the entrance to her nest full of newborn owlets, it all had the makings of a horror movie. The footage comes from the Bird Cams project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which educates people about birds and lets them connect to individual birds through round-the-clock live feeds of species such as red-tailed hawks, albatrosses, ospreys, and, of course, Texas barn owls.

A third of Europe’s birds under threat, says most comprehensive study yet
One in three European birds is endangered, according to a leaked version of the most comprehensive study of Europe’s wildlife and natural habitats ever produced. The EU State of Nature report, seen by the Guardian, paints a picture of dramatic decline among once common avian species such as the skylark and turtle dove mainly as a result of agricultural pressures, and also warns that ecosystems are struggling to cope with the impact of human activity.

Long distance champions flying into extinction
AUSTRALIA – While the world celebrates World Migratory Bird Day this weekend, BirdLife Australia’s Threatened Species Committee has released grim news confirming that seven of Australia’s migratory shorebird species are on a trajectory to extinction. “It’s a very sad roll call,” said Samantha Vine, BirdLife Australia’s Head of Conservation. “Once common species like Eastern Curlew and Curlew Sandpiper are now Critically Endangered with Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot and Great Knot not far behind”. “Without urgent conservation action, in the 30 years it takes for the average Australian to pay off their mortgage, many of these species will have become extinct. Gone. Lost to the world forever,” continued Ms Vine. Perhaps most alarming is the fact that the once numerous and widespread Red-necked Stint has moved onto the Near Threatened list.

Economy and Business

Using Dashboards to Distill, Compellingly Sell Complex Sustainability Stories
From sustainability consultants to environmental compliance professionals, and from emissions or waste monitoring specialists to Vice Presidents of Sustainability, the challenge is the same: to tell their story. Perhaps the most difficult — and arguably the most important — part of their job is communicating: communicating with the media, with their executive team and in-house decision-makers, with professional partners, and with the general public. The difficulty is that these sustainability stories are not easy to tell. They revolve around complex and sometimes abstract topics, and many sustainability metrics are notoriously difficult to visualize… The difficulty is not finding the information, but contextualizing that data, and presenting that data in a clear and compelling way.

The world’s first crowd funding bank has launched
A new Australian bank claims to be the world’s first combination of crowd funding and banking. “Act” is a division of Community Sector Banking, which is a joint venture between Bendigo Bank and Community 21, a banking service for the not-for-profit sector. The initiative was, its creators say, the “logical evolution” from CSB’s heavy focus on the not-for-profit sector. Act provides the same products most people use such as savings accounts, credit cards and home loans. The difference is in what the bank does with the profits it makes with these products. For example, for a $250,000 home loan, the customer will be given $31.16 “impact dollars” a month to give to a community project of their choice listed on the Act website.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Are cloth nappies really better?
The invaluable yet lowly nappy was first mass-produced in 1887, a rectangle of oft-soiled, washable cotton fabric unimproved for more than 60 years, until a disposable version appeared. Ever since, the cloth nappy has fought a losing battle against its more convenient (and more aggressively marketed) counterpart. By 1990, more than 70 per cent of American babies were wearing disposables; today, it’s more than 95 per cent. Cloth has had a resurgence recently, however, fueled by parents aiming to make environmentally and socially responsible choices in child rearing. “Greener” and “more natural” is how parents on one online forum described cloth nappies, citing environmental factors, lower long-term costs and the health benefits of putting natural materials against their babies’ skin. One or two admitted that guilt and peer pressure factored into their choices, too.

Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Announces New Material Health Certificate Registry
This morning, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute launched the Material Health Certificate Registry, a new online tool for identifying and communicating the work of manufacturers toward chemically optimized products. Two pilot companies, Owens Corning and ThyssenKrupp Elevator Americas, are the first to obtain certificates and today announced several products assessed against the Material Health requirements of the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard.

Politics and Society

Abbott government budget boost could help controversial Galilee coal projects
Coal projects in the Galilee Basin and on the door step of the Great Barrier Reef could receive government financing under a $5 billion loan scheme in the federal budget. But companies would have to demonstrate their projects would not be commercially viable without government funding to be eligible, the Abbott government has said. Tuesday’s budget included a new concessional loans scheme of up to $5 billion for infrastructure projects to encourage the private sector to invest in northern Australia.

European Commission drops demand to cut fossil fuel subsidies
The European Commission removed calls to end subsides for fossil fuels in its yearly audit of 26 economies on Wednesday, raising questions over its commitment to addressing climate change. Last year, the EU’s executive arm told Italy to “remove environmentally harmful subsidies” and ordered France and Belgium to “phase out” grants in their extracting of coal, oil and gas. Eight countries were urged to start taxing pollution, and 17 to boost renewables, electric grids and energy efficiency. But this year’s ‘country specific recommendations‘ omitted all mention of the polluting subsidies and the environment – save a minor call for Luxembourg to “broaden” its environmental tax base.

Built Environment

Urban planning: International experts in Melbourne discuss design of city’s future
Local and international urban planning experts in Melbourne for a conference have had their say on the city’s future planning needs.  Great Places: Planning Congress 2015 winds up on Friday after three days at the Melbourne Convention Centre.  Andrew Dixon, who specialises in reinvigorating declining industrial towns through arts and culture, is visiting for the event from the UK.

Food Systems

Smallholder Farmers: The New Global Food Frontier
A new global food scare is under way. While the last one led to the proliferation of industrialized agriculture in developing countries, this time around some prominent multinational corporations are coming to the aid of the world’s 2.5 billion smallholder farmers. These forward-thinking firms are partnering with locals and NGOs to launch market-based initiatives that revitalize smallholder farms and rural communities.


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