Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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The case for corporate sustainability? Better employees
When it comes to finding and keeping top talent, companies can offer benefits and good pay – but they can also offer a less easily articulated perk: the sense of working toward a higher goal. “Being part of something meaningful is really cool,” said Simon Mainwaring, CEO of We First Branding, after the We First Brand Leadership Summit in Los Angeles last week. “Every employee is looking to feel good about where they work and make a larger contribution. Through sustainability they can feel better about their role within a company.” And those feelings matter to a company’s bottom line. Employees who are the most committed to their jobs put in 57% more effort on the job and are 87% less likely to resign, according to a study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board.

Energy and Climate Change

Southeast Asian Countries to Invest $13.6 Billion In Smart Grid Infrastructure by 2024
Southeast Asian countries will invest $13.6 billion in smart grid infrastructure between 2014 and 2024, according to a new study by market intelligence firm Northeast Group. This investment will include smart metering and the modernization of electricity transmission and distribution networks with sensors, communications and software. By 2024, the largest markets will be Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam. Smart grids permit power generators and users to monitor usage, which helps utilities to adjust supply to demand and reduce costs by saving energy in transmission.

Severe frosts will be more frequent due to man-made greenhouse gas: scientists
Frosts like the ones that caused so much damage to crops this season could be more common for the next 20 years, according to scientists. They say greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were changing the way high pressure systems formed and moved, causing severe frost problems for farmers.  Frosts in August this year devastated grain, legume and oilseed crops across Australia’s cropping regions. Final crop losses would not be known until what was left was harvested, but anecdotal reports suggest some farmers have lost up to 80 per cent of their crop, while others had hardly been affected at all.  But frosts like these may be something farmers would have to adjust to in the future.

Lockheed announces breakthrough on nuclear fusion energy
Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade.

Environment and Biodiversity

WA’s Pilbara needs plan to protect environment from mining, EPA warns
Western Australia’s Pilbara needs a long-term plan to protect its fragile environment from massive mining developments, the environmental watchdog says. The Environmental Protection Agency has called on the State Government to examine the cumulative impacts of development in the north-west of the state in its annual report, tabled in Parliament today. The region is a mining “hot spot”, the report said, with 92 per cent covered by live or pending mining tenements.

Slow going but richly rewarding
The Taimate farmland, which includes part of the shore around Lake Elterwater just south of Seddon, has been in his family for about 100 years. Typical of the region, the lake, which is classed as a wetland, is surrounded by barren, tussock-covered hills, battered regularly by the wind and rain or parched by the hot summer sun.  Generations before him weren’t as concerned about maintaining or restoring the natural ecology of the area, but it’s something John has a passion for. About four years ago he decided to become proactive and approached Marlborough District Council about joining its Significant Natural Areas (SNA) project, led by environmental scientist Nicky Eade. The project falls under the Resource Management Act, but is specific to Marlborough. Under the act, councils around New Zealand are required to identify and help promote the protection of significant natural areas, Nicky says.

Australian banded stilt’s nomadic path tracked for first time
Some people claim to have a sixth sense for inclement weather, but no human can compete with a native Australian waterbird that knows when it has rained thousands of kilometres away. For the first time ecologists have tracked the movements of the highly nomadic banded stilt, a large desert bird that travels vast distances across the country to breed in desert salt lakes. Deakin University researcher Reece Pedler said attaching tracking devices to 21 birds had unveiled amazing insights into the species’ highly unpredictable mating behaviour, which relied on rare and shortlived flooding events.

Tiny tuatara survives unnoticed for six months
In a tale fit for a Bear Grylls-type survival show, a tiny tuatara has beaten the odds and survived six months with a throng of carnivorous tuatara teens.  The endemic New Zealand reptile, just a baby at six months old and barely the length of your index finger, survived camped out in the hostile environment evading the watchful eye of predators and curators alike. Southland Museum and Art Gallery tuatara curator Lindsay Hazley described the feat as ‘‘remarkable’’. Tuatara are indiscriminate eaters – if it moves and can fit in their mouth, they’ll probably eat it, he said. Locusts, huhu grubs, and even baby tuatara all fit in to this category.

Economy and Business

The incredible shrinking coal industry
A lot has changed in the last few years. Just a few years ago, with prices of both thermal and coking coal through the roof, it was cigars and caviar time for an industry who were proposing more new projects than you could point an activist at. A long and glorious future was expected, based on China’s insatiable demand for coal – our coal. It didn’t quite work out that way. A slight drop in GDP growth in China saw coal piling up in import stockyards. Then, the recognition that China’s horrendous air pollution problem needed urgent action has seen all manner of restrictions and caps on future coal consumption. And all the while, that other world leader in carbon pollution – the United States – continued to close coal power stations as gas, renewable energy and efficiency plugged the gap.

ANU mining investment sell-off move backed by business, investors as Tony Abbott labels decision ‘stupid’
Dozens of Australian investors and business people have written an open letter in support of the Australian National University’s (ANU) decision to end investment in mining companies. It came as Prime Minister Tony Abbott labelled the ANU’s move a “stupid decision”. It also flagged a review of the ANU’s funding and described the investment decision as “bizarre” and “outrageous behaviour” that could cause financial and reputational damage to the seven companies.  A group of prominent leaders and business people including former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, former Greens leader Bob Brown, and representatives from superannuation companies and ethical investment firms have taken out a full-page newspaper advertisement to back the university.

UNSW releases sustainability report in GO8 first, but no word on divestment
The University of New South Wales has become the first Group of Eight university to publish a stand-alone, publicly accessible sustainability strategy. Based on the Global Reporting Initiative, the report has been created to identify issues impacting on the environment and society resulting from UNSW’s business activities, and provide a snapshot of achievements as well as future aspirations. The online-only sustainability report covers environmental sustainability areas like water, energy, waste, transport and purchasing, as well as social sustainability areas like equity, diversity, safety and education.

Örebro becomes first Swedish city to divest from fossil fuels
The city of Örebro has become the first city in Sweden to commit to ditching its investments in fossil fuel firms, as the global divestment movement builds on its gathering momentum. The county capital confirmed on Tuesday that it will completely divest its €655,000 (£520,000) stake in fossil fuel firms, having already reduced its investments from more than €2 million (£1.6m). This, the mayor of Örebro Lena Baastad explained, will bring the authority’s investment policy in line with its environmental goals. “We need to take action on climate change on various levels. Our efforts are more meaningful, when we ensure that our financial assets don’t work in the opposite direction,” she said.

The Phone Co-op offers UK’s first ethical smartphone
The Fairphone, the first smartphone to be marketed as being free of “conflict minerals”, has arrived in the UK this week, after the Phone Co-op inked an exclusive distribution deal for the new technology. The Phone Co-op is the UK’s only consumer-owned mobile phone operator, offering a range of services through its Co-operative Mobile, Co-operative Business Telecoms, and Co-operative Phone and Broadband brands.

Facebook refuses to disclose carbon emissions information to CDP
The stench of hypocrisy is wafting around social networking giant Facebook over its approach to climate change. Despite consistent requests by NGO Carbon Disclosure Project, the social media giant year after year refuses requests to disclose information that will allow the benchmarking of its greenhouse gas emissions and the action it is taking to mitigate climate change.

Plastic Bag Lobby Launches Attack on California Ban
Plastic bag manufacturers have begun collecting signatures for a referendum vote to overturn California’s recent ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. If the law’s opponents submit more than 500,000 signatures by January, the ban would not take effect until voters weigh in on the November 2016 ballot. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the historic statewide ban on plastic bags following one of the fiercest legislative battles of the year. In September, the California State Senate voted 22-15 to approve the ban, Senate Bill 270. The legislation implements a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags while promoting recycling and California manufacturing. It also provides financial incentives to maintain and retrain California employees in affected industries.

Politics and Society

Richard Flanagan ‘ashamed to be Australian’ over environmental policies
The winner of the Man Booker prize, Richard Flanagan says he is “ashamed to be an Australian” because of Australian prime minister Tony Abbott’s environmental policies. Flanagan has won the prestigious award for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, about prisoners and captors on the Burma railway.

The Bangladesh Accord factory audits finds more than 80,000 safety hazards
It has been almost 18 months since the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed killing more than 1,100 people and injuring over 2,000. This tragedy gave the ready-made garment industry a much needed wake up call and led to the creation of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Ever since, the Accord has been working towards solutions with the industry, labour unions and brands, to make sure nothing like that happens ever again. We have recently completed the initial inspections at more than 1,100 factories covered under the agreement, within the agreed time line of end September 2014. We have found safety hazards in all factories, which in all honesty was to be expected. These ranged from minor to significant.

Pentagon warns of climate change security threat
Climate change presents a global security threat, increasing the risk of terrorism and conflict, and will fundamentally change the way the US military operates, the Pentagon has warned. In a landmark new report, the US Department of Defense has presented its climate change adaptation roadmap. Acting as “threat multipliers”, the impacts of global warming – from extreme weather and rising seas to resource scarcity and the spread of disease – will create new security risks and exacerbate conflicts around the world, the report concludes. Significantly, the report notes that its findings are based not just on climate science but also on impacts already observed by the military in the field.

Fighting over groundwater: water companies v environmentalists
Catfield Fen and its neighbour Sutton Fen, both near the east Norfolk coast, are home to more than 90% of the UK’s population of fen orchids. The groundwater dependent sites are a haven for other rare animal and plant species too, nine of which are listed as endangered and 40 as vulnerable. Yet the owners of Catfield Fen fear groundwater abstraction by a local farm could be imperilling the delicate ecosystem. “There’s increasing science that leads us to believe that abstraction is already causing that site to deteriorate”, says Phil Burston, senior water policy officer at RSPB, which manages the environmentally-sensitive site.

Built Environment

Hawaiian mission to Mars will explore the furthest frontiers of sustainability
The barren otherworldly landscape of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano is about as far from the swaying palm trees of Hawaii tourist brochures as you can get. But the six people who will enter a 36 foot diameter geodesic dome on Wednesday on the slopes of the second biggest volcano in the solar system are not there for a holiday. They are beginning an eight-month mission funded by the US space agency Nasa to test if humans will be able to withstand the long periods of confinement in a tight space that will be required to send a manned space mission to Mars some time around 2030. For Martha Lenio, the 34-year old renewable energy entrepreneur who is commanding the mission, it is something else besides: a chance to explore the furthest frontiers of sustainability.

Food Systems

Whole Foods to roll out ‘environmental’ ratings system for produce
Whole Foods plans to start rolling out a system that ranks fruits and vegetables as “good,” ‘’better” or “best” based on the supplier’s farming practices. Most notably, the supermarket chain says its “responsibly grown” labeling system for produce and flowers will prohibit the use of several common pesticides. The rankings will also take into account factors such as water and energy use. The program will start appearing in the nearly 400 Whole Foods stores in the US and Canada starting Wednesday, with the rankings being noted on signs where prices are listed. Not all produce and flowers that Whole Foods sells will qualify.



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