Sustainable Development News

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

Top Story

Scientists reveal revolutionary palm oil alternative: yeast
The ubiquity of palm oil, which appears in everything from margarine to lipstick, is now widely recognised. So too are the detrimental effects of palm oil plantations on the world’s remaining rainforests. So why do we keep using it? The simple answer is it’s just too good at what it does. Its versatility comes down to two main stellar properties: an exceptionally high melting point and very high saturation levels. Some vegetable oils get close to one of the two, but none to both. Now researchers at the University of Bath believe they may have hit on an alternative: yeast. A three-year research programme between the university’s biochemistry and chemical engineering faculties has successfully cultivated an oily yeast that matches palm oil’s key properties almost identically.

Energy and Climate Change

Global warming trend unaffected by ‘fiddling’ with temperature data Attacks on institutions that keep records of global temperatures, such as NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the UK Met Office, and Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, continue to appear in the press. Recent articles have raised concerns about the temperature record in Paraguay and the Arctic. The Australian newspaper has published a series of articles on similar concerns about the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s temperature data. The thrust of these articles is that data adjustments, made to correct for biases caused by changes in location, exposure or instrumentation, have exaggerated the apparent warming trend. For the scientists who identify, and adjust for, these biases in regional, national, or global climate records, this sudden burst of interest in our work is both bemusing and gratifying.

World’s first grid-connected wave energy array switched on in Perth
Carnegie Wave Energy has officially switched on the onshore power station for its Perth Wave Energy Project, thus launching the world’s first commercial-scale grid connected wave energy array and marking the first time in Australia that wave-generated electricity has been fed into the grid. The switching on of the plant, attended by federal resources minister Ian Macfarlane, caps off nearly 10 years of work by Carnegie Wave, and extensive testing over 2014 after the successful installation of the Perth company’s CETO 5 wave energy generation units – two installed so far, one more to come – off Garden Island.

World’s biggest offshore windfarm approved for Yorkshire coast
Plans for the world’s biggest offshore windfarm have been given the green light by the energy secretary, with planning permission for an array of up to 400 turbines 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast on the Dogger Bank. The project, more than twice the size of the UK’s current biggest offshore windfarm, is expected to cost £6bn to £8bn and could fulfil 2.5% of the UK’s electricity needs. Covering about 430 sq miles, the Dogger Bank Creyke Beck project will – if fully constructed – generate enough electricity to power nearly 2m homes, and could support an estimated 900 jobs in Yorkshire and Humberside, according to the government.

The Emissions Reduction Fund for Dummies
AUSTRALIA – Since first announced before the 2010 federal election, we’ve found Direct Action and the ERF process quite confusing and have decided that by simplifying the language we are starting to get a better hold on things internally. By using the term “dummies” we don’t mean to suggest that readers or council staff are in fact “dummies”, we are just trying to make this as simple as possible and add some brevity.

Environment and Biodiversity

Let’s move the world’s longest fence to settle the dingo debate
Australia holds many world records, including the world’s longest fence, the dingo fence. At 5,531 km, the dingo barrier fence stretches from eastern Queensland all the way to the South Australian coastline. The fence was erected in the late 1800s and early 1900s to protect cropland from rabbits. It was later modified to protect livestock, particularly sheep, from dingoes. But there is increasing debate in the scientific community on whether the dingo fence is damaging the environment. There is a simple solution, as we argue in a paper published today in the journal Restoration Ecology: move a small section of the dingo fence to test whether the dingo can help restore our degraded rangelands.

Census takers search for Siberian tigers in Russia’s east
With a yelp of excitement, Pavel Fomenko slammed on the brakes and jumped out of his four-wheel drive. To most eyes, little would appear extraordinary about the vista ahead – just another stretch of bumpy, snow-covered track deep inside the endless Siberian taiga. Fomenko, however, had spotted exactly what he was looking for from the corner of his eye. He lay flat on the ground to get a close-up look at the faint imprint in the snow. “A cub, about two years old, judging from the paw size. It was here yesterday,” he said, whipping out a metal ruler to log the exact size of the print. It was another small piece in a hugely complex jigsaw that, when completed, will show whether Russia’s efforts to conserve the Siberian tiger over the past decade, including the personal intervention of Vladimir Putin, have been successful.

Rogue ‘Electro-Fishing’ Puts River Dolphins at Risk in Myanmar
On a pale blue dawn on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar (Burma), Maung Lay crouched at the front of his canoe, rapping the gunwale with a short stick. He then made a throaty, high-pitched purr, like the ringtone of an old telephone: his call for assistance. On cue, the shiny gray flipper of a dolphin broke the surface and waved—dolphinese for: “We’re ready to cooperate.” Standing up, Maung Lay pulled a pleated net over his right elbow and shook the lead weights woven into its hem against the hull. At the other end of the 15-foot (5-meter) boat, an assistant splashed the water with an oar. But when he hauled the net back in, it was empty—not a single fish. Such scenes are increasingly common on the Irrawaddy River. That’s because of “electro-fishing”—a new, and illegal, technique in which rogue fishermen send an electric current through the water to stun fish, making them easier to scoop up in bunches.

Limpet teeth set new strength record
Engineers in the UK have found that limpets’ teeth consist of the strongest biological material ever tested. Limpets use a tongue bristling with tiny teeth to scrape food off rocks and into their mouths, often swallowing particles of rock in the process. The teeth are made of a mineral-protein composite, which the researchers tested in tiny fragments in the laboratory. They found it was stronger than spider silk, as well as all but the very strongest of man-made materials. The findings, published in the Royal Society’s journal Interface, suggest that the secret to the material’s strength is the thinness of its tightly packed mineral fibres – a discovery that could help improve the man-made composites used to build aircraft, cars and boats, as well as dental fillings.

APP turnaround gives hope for tropical forests in Indonesia and worldwide
It is the biggest forestry, pulp and paper business in the world, responsible for an area of forest the size of Belgium. And from being a notorious destroyer of Indonesia’s tropical forest, home to orang-utans and the endangered Sumatran tiger, Asia Pulp and Paper promised in 2013 to clean up its act. The company gave an unprecedented degree of access to NGOs to check its progress. Greenpeace and the Forest Trust helped APP develop its forest protection policy and the Rainforest Alliance carried out an independent audit, published this month. “This is the first time anyone has done a completely publicly transparent, independent evaluation,” Richard Donovan, who led the audit, told RTCC. “It is a pretty big deal, not only for the pulp and paper sector but also for anyone making commitments on deforestation.”

Economy and Business

GM Set to Achieve Renewable Energy Goals 4 Years Early
General Motors for the first time is procuring wind to power its manufacturing operations, enabling one of its Mexico facilities’ electricity needs to be run mostly on renewable energy. This addition of 34 megawatts of wind power allows GM to achieve its corporate goal of renewable energy use four years early. GM says construction of the wind farm will begin in the second quarter of this year. When complete, more than 12 percent of the company’s North American energy consumption will come from renewable energy sources, up from 9 percent. GM’s current renewable energy use — comprised of solar, landfill gas and waste to energy — totals 104 megawatts against a goal of 125 megawatts by 2020.

Apple Halts Production at 15 Facilities for Environmental Violations
Apple suspended production at 15 facilities that violated its environmental rules in 2014, according to the company’s Supplier Responsibility 2015 Progress Report. Last year the tech giant conducted compliance audits at 633 facilities — a 40 percent increase from 2013. Three of the sites were suspended for repeating a violation of no or inadequate environmental impact assessment approval. Once the EIR reports were complete and approved by the local environmental protection agencies, the facilities resumed production. Another five were suspended for releasing waste air without treatment. Apple says the violating sites installed equipment to filter discharged air and put monitoring protocols in place.

Unilever seeks to boost UK recycling rates with Comic Relief fundraiser – 18 Feb 2015 – News from BusinessGreen
Unilever is seeking to raise £20,000 for Comic Relief next month by encouraging more consumers to recycle their rubbish through a new incentive scheme. The consumer products giant confirmed today it has formed a partnership with Greenredeem, which offers rewards points to members of its recycling scheme. The points can usually be spent in shops, restaurants and gyms, but through the new campaign, Unilever will encourage Greenredeem members to instead donate their points to Comic Relief. The companies estimate that 1,000 tonnes of recycled materials would equate to a £20,000 donation to Comic Relief.

Waste and the Circular Economy

An Airbnb for washing machines? How to achieve a circular economy

Every year massive amounts of valuable resources are deemed “waste” and consigned to landfill. Take the UK – around 540 million tonnes of products and materials enter the country annually, but only 117 million tonnes are recycled. However if we truly thought that waste equals value, and ensured that resources are kept in the economy for longer and thus reducing the use of raw materials, we could make serious steps towards diverting all this waste from landfill. This is what’s known as the circular economy.

Closed-Loop Fabric Producers Still Ironing Out Wrinkles in Circular Textile Supply Chain
Interest is growing in new synthetic fabrics and textiles made from waste materials that have the potential to be used again and again. Designed from the outset to work within closed-loop supply cycles, Returnity and Econyl are perhaps the two best-known examples of branded products in this field. The level of innovation that is built into these regenerative fabrics is impressive – they outline a wealth of environmental benefits and savings. In the case of Econyl, there is a clear social value driver in terms of delivering a more community-minded, inclusive business model. On a more technical level, however, questions persist over how effective existing supply channels and material flow routes are when it comes to maximizing re-entry points for such fibers. Closed-loop approaches for waste streams, particularly in the post-consumer space, are still in their infancy and heavily reliant on building the right types of collaborative networks.

tonlé’s Creative Approach Showing Fashion Industry How Zero Waste Is Really Done
Cambodian fashion brand tonlé is revolutionizing the textile industry not only with its ethical business model, but also a creative approach to zero-waste: The company incorporates even its smallest scraps back into “yarn,” which is hand-woven back into new fabrics, creating unique and delicately woven garments perfect for shoppers who are conscientious about how their clothing is made. Sustainable Brands caught up with Rachel Faller, tonlé’s designer and founder, to learn more about the company’s motives and impact.

Saving the environment one coffee at a time
Environmental coffee campaigners the Honest Coffee Company are taking their biodegradable capsules around New Zealand, offering Kiwis a chance to swap their aluminium and plastic capsules for biodegradable ones – as well as trying out some of the coffee. Josh Cole and Jayden Klinac, who co-founded the Honest Coffee Company in 2012, are the exclusive New Zealand distributors of biodegradable coffee capsules from the Ethical Coffee Company, a French business founded by Nespresso’s former chief executive Jean-Paul Gaillard. The capsules are made from plant fibre and starch, and decompose in less than 180 days, compared with traditional pods which can take up to 500 years.

Politics and Society

Economists warn of “lost decade” risk for EU carbon market
The European Union faces a “lost decade” for low carbon investment without early and robust reforms to its flagship climate policy, researchers have warned. Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s environment committee are to vote next Tuesday on proposals to prop up the ailing emissions trading system (ETS). The European Commission has recommended bringing in a “market stability reserve” (MSR) in 2021 to tackle oversupply of pollution permits, which has depressed the carbon price. Leading economists are urging MEPs to bring in the measure sooner, in a report from Climate Strategies.

MPs call for their pension fund to divest from fossil fuels
A group of 11 MPs and two Lords have called for the MPs’ pension fund to cut out fossil fuel holdings, citing economic risk. The group, which includes members of the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and SNP parties, argues that £487 million of the pension pot is at risk. The group has previously raised the issue with the trustees of the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund. However, despite the Law Commission confirming that investment trustees can take environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into account in a review, the pension fund rejected the idea, stating it was incompatible with their fiduciary duty.

Food Systems

Your Seafood: Now Fair Trade Certified
Look out Whole Foods: Safeway is pulling ahead when it comes to seafood transparency. Whole Foods met its match when Safeway was ranked slightly ahead for seafood sustainability by Greenpeace back in 2011. Both retailers had much to celebrate when they came out with the NGO’s first ever seafood rating of “good.” Safeway hasn’t taken its foot off the gas pedal in recent years, though. The company has continued to push ahead toward an audacious goal of 100 percent sustainable sourcing for all fresh and frozen seafood by the end of this year. The grocer’s latest commitment brings it up to par with your local farmers market when it comes to worker transparency.

Celebrities posing naked with dead fish – a campaign so crazy it might just work
“That’s obscene,” I thought when I saw the photo of Helena Bonham Carter, nude, clasping a tuna between her legs and gazing lovingly into its face. She declared the fish was her “Valentine”. My Western, 21st century eyes weren’t in the least offended by the actor’s nudity. It was the corpse that bothered me, the way it was being sexualised, displayed, humiliated. It was then that I realised I was identifying with the tuna rather than the human. The picture of Helena Bonham Carter and her Valentine is one in a series that’s part of a campaign aiming to raise awareness and funds to prevent the overfishing and possible extinction of many sea creatures.


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.