Tag: sustainability

Three Industries Where Technology Is Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

 

The science is in. We need to significantly reduce our carbon emissions to limit the amount of warming our planet undergoes as a consequence of climate change.

The good news is, technology is rising up to meet this challenge. The bad news is it needs to do far more, and do it faster. How is technology helping? Well, if we check out some of the industries with the highest carbon footprint (energy, transportation, and agriculture), we can see some of the massive disruptions that are happening there, and how they are impacting emissions.

1 Energy

The energy sector is undergoing a massive transition globally from a system powered by centralised, thermal generation based often on fossil fuel combustion, to one increasingly powered by decentralised renewable sources. And while it would be great if this was happening for reasons of climate concern, it is, in fact, happening for reasons of economics, which is better because it means it is sustainable in the long term.

Why do I say it is because of economics? Because the cost of wind, solar, and lithium-ion battery storage are falling. Falling fast (due primarily to the experience curve). Since 2012 the cost of wind power has fallen 50%, solar power has fallen 80%, and battery storage has fallen 85%. It is now at the point where unsubsidised, combinations of wind and battery storage, or solar and battery storage are able to beat natural gas on price.

Don’t take my word for it. At the Wolfe Research 2019 Power & Gas Leader’s conference last month (October 2nd, 2019) Jim Robo, Chairman, and CEO of NextEra Energy the biggest and most successful utility in the US said

“We see renewables plus battery storage without incentives being cheaper than natural gas, and cheaper than existing coal and existing nuclear… And that is game-changing”

Then, when you consider the amount of time it takes to deploy a power plant, renewables win again.

IMG_0029

And consequently, the share of new power generation being deployed globally that is renewable is rising rapidly, while the share of new fossil fuel generation is falling fast.

IMG_0030

And it is not just the supply side of the equation that is changing. The demand side is changing rapidly as well.

More and more organisations are demanding that their energy provider only supply clean, renewably sourced electricity. In fact, RE100, “a global corporate leadership initiative bringing together influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity” counts at time of writing (November 2019) 212 of the world’s largest companies (including my own employer SAP) as members. All 212 companies are either sourcing all their electricity from renewable sources or have committed to doing so in the near future. Companies do this because it is good for business. Consumers feel better about purchasing goods if they know they were produced using renewable energy, and employees feel better about working for organisations committed to renewable energy.

 

2 Transportation

So the carbon intensity of electricity, one of the main carbon polluters is falling worldwide on a gCO2/kWh basis. What about one of the other big polluters I mentioned at the start, Transportation. Well, fortunately, electric grids the world over are embracing renewable energy, because transportation is now starting to use electricity as a fuel, instead of dino-juice!

Why is transportation going electric? Three main reasons:

  1. Increasing environmental awareness among consumers
  2. Regulations from regions, countries and local governments and
  3. Economics – the costs to operate an electric vehicle (EV) are significantly less than a fossil fuel one
Nissan Leaf charging
Photo credit Tom Raftery

Greta Thunberg has done an amazing job of raising awareness in younger generations particularly about the dangers of climate change, but even before she burst on the scene, the 2019 regulations governing NEVs (New Energy Vehicles) in China and the 2020 emissions regulations for vehicle manufacturers in the EU (as well as local ordinances by cities restricting access to older, more polluting vehicles and countries on the phase-out date for the sale of Internal Combustion Engined vehicles) meant that vehicle manufacturers have had no option but to get on board with the electrification of cars and increasingly other modes of transport as well.

At a time when global vehicle sales are falling, sales of EVs are taking off.

statistic_id270603_battery-electric-vehicles-in-use---worldwide-2012-2018

Volkswagen, who have had some *ahem* reputational issues recently, have decided to embrace the Winston Churchill mantra of never letting a crisis go to waste, and are going all-in on EVs. They plan to spend €60bn (yes billion with a “b”) by 2024 to switch to electric, hybrid and connected vehicles. They will introduce up to 75 all-electric models, around 60 hybrid vehicles and plan to sell 26 million all-electric vehicles as well as around 6 million hybrid vehicles by 2029.

Perhaps even more tellingly, Daimler recently announced that they are stopping their internal combustion engine development initiatives and focussing instead on electric vehicles. The reason this announcement is so game-changing is that Daimler owns Mercedes Benz and Karl Benz, the founder of Mercedes Benz received the patent for the world’s first production internal combustion engine vehicle in 1886. Now 133 years later Daimler has decided that the era of the internal combustion engine is over, and EVs are the future.

And it is not just cars, motorbikes are also going electric with announcements of electric bikes from all the major manufacturers including Vespa, Yamaha, Honda, all the way up to Harley Davidson.

Buses, trucks (from the large class 8 all the way down to delivery trucks), and refuse collection vehicles are also going electric. This is important not just for reducing their carbon emissions, but also because these vehicles often work primarily in urban centres so converting them from diesel to electric will improve air quality, reduce noise pollution, and significantly reduce the cost of operation for these machines.

FuelUseVehicleCategory

Also, when you take into account the fuel use by categories of vehicle, you can see from the chart above that class 8 trucks, buses, and refuse collection vehicles consume far more fuel than other vehicle categories. Fuel use is of course, not just a good proxy for their potential to pollute, but also for their running costs so the economic case to shift these to electric is very strong. In the case of buses, battery-electric buses cost 20c per mile to operate over their lifetime, whereas diesel buses cost 75c and so, battery-electric buses will dominate the market by the late 2020s.

And it doesn’t stop there. Construction equipment is going electric. Ships are going electric. Even planes are going electric. Global consultancy firm Roland Berger is currently tracking 170 different electric plane initiatives (about 50% are in the urban air taxi space). While the Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet has said that:

easyJet is collaborating with US company Wright Electric to support their goal for short-haul flights to be operated by all-electric planes within 10 years

It is hard to think of a mode of transportation that is not moving towards electric drivetrains. And as we saw above in the section on energy, as our grids are getting cleaner daily, shifting transportation to electricity quickly drops transportation’s carbon footprint too (as well as reducing noise pollution, and cleaning up our air quality).

3 Food Production

Food production is the third industry where technology is about to play a huge part in reducing our carbon footprint. Agriculture globally accounts for about 13 percent of total global emissions. That makes the agricultural sector the world’s second-largest emitter, after the energy sector. And this doesn’t include emissions associated with deforestation to clear land for more agriculture.

However, shifting away from our current practices of food production to one where our plant food is grown in massive indoor vertical farms has the potential to significantly clean up agriculture’s environmental toll.

Indoor vertical farms use 95% less water and 99% less land than conventional farming practices. They use no soil, require no herbicides or pesticides and they can produce food in the middle of cities, thereby reducing drastically the crop’s food miles. When you are producing food so close to the point of consumption, you no longer need to optimise your produce for shelf-life, and you can instead choose to optimise for taste, and/or nutrition.

Then there is the clean meat movement. Clean meat is meat that is produced from either cultivating animal cells (without having to slaughter the animal), or by converting plant protein to take on the taste and consistency of animal protein as companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are doing so successfully.

Our current means of producing plant food and meats are vastly inefficient and have a huge carbon footprint. This won’t scale to feed the population of 9-10 billion inhabitants that we are projected to reach in the coming decades, especially as the middle classes grow in the developing world and their meat consumption expectations grow too.

Converting to a system where we produce plants in massive vertical farms, and then using that plant food to create clean meat solves a lot of the problems associated with agriculture today such as the unconscionable cruelty we visit on the animals we breed for slaughter, the vast amounts of antibiotics that are used in agriculture leading to the development of multi-drug resistant superbugs, and agriculture’s massive carbon footprint.

Zebra
Zebra in Pilansberg reserve – photo credit Tom Raftery

If we return the land we have stolen from nature for agriculture back to the wild we can restore the enormous losses we have seen in recent decades in biodiversity, create a huge new ecotourism industry, and through reforestation sequester from the atmosphere much of the carbon we have emitted in the last century, mitigating the or possibly turning back the worst effects of climate change.

As the United Nations COP25 Climate Change Conference kicks off in Madrid, it is important to remember that although the situation with the climate is indeed dire, there are solutions. We just need to embrace them. Quickly.

This piece was originally posted on my Forbes blog

Apple puts its environmental initiatives front and centre at its spring event

 

LisaJacksonAppleRenewableEnergyApple held it’s annual spring event yesterday in Palo Alto to make iPhone, iPad, and iOS related announcements (amongst others).

However, this year for a change the first executive invited to address the audience was Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, former EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson.

Lisa was greeted by warm applause which became more enthusiastic when she announced that 93% of Apple’s facilities worldwide are now powered by renewable energy. This means Apple is now well on its way to achieving its stated aim of being fully renewably powered globally. And in 23 countries, including the United States and China, Apple is already 100% renewably powered.

In China Jackson explained, Apple has a 40MW solar farm which has a minimal impact on the local environment, and allows for the local Yak farmers to graze their animals and grow hay under the panels (seen above). This solar farm produces more electricity than Apple uses currently in all of China.

Apple’s data centres are also fully renewably powered, and it has a policy of siting new data centres only if the site has access to renewable power. This was one of the reasons behind Apple’s choosing Ireland and Denmark for its two newest data centres last year.

In fact, since hiring Jackson away from the EPA, Apple has made some extremely positive moves in reducing its footprint, and greatly increasing its transparency. This focus on transparency may go some of the way to explaining Apple’s decision last week to move a significant portion of its iCloud storage business away from notoriously opaque Amazon to Google (although, it is as likely to do with diversifying suppliers, moving to a supplier more in line with Apple’s views on data privacy, and possibly easing the transition to eventually self-hosting the data).

Jackson also talked about Apple’s investments in forestry, and how Apple are using paper sourced from sustainably farmed forests for 99% of its packaging now.

Apple is demonstrating tremendous leadership in the energy and sustainability space (as well as the privacy space, but that another story!). Kudos to them, and interestingly Amazon appears to be finally getting around to supplying some of its operations with renewable energy too – though, it still shuns any kind of auditing or reporting on its energy and emissions. Sigh, maybe someday after seeing Apple put their environmental initiatives front and centre, Amazon will also see the value of doing this.

Blogging for social sustainability – the why’s and how’s

WordPress.com blog's Add New Post Screen

In my first post on Social Sustainability, where I talked about the importance of sharing, I mentioned that I had been thinking of writing a post about blogging – well, here it is!

I know this will be the proverbial “teaching granny to suck eggs” posting but seeing as blogs are such a fundamental tool in your social media armoury, I couldn’t leave them unaddressed. In fact, there are so many things to write about blogs and blogging that I can see many more posts on the topic in my future. This brings me to a question – what aspect of blogging would you like me to write about next?

I’m going to start off though with a quick ‘why blog’ and then a discussion of whether to go for a hosted or a self-hosted blog (and the differences between the two).

I won’t spend too much time on the ‘why blog’ question – I’m assuming if you are reading this it is because you are interested in Social Sustainability – if that is the case, then you probably already know that the primary tool of social media is a blog. I wrote a bunch of posts a few years ago on the advantages of blogging for a business – here’s one to have a firkle through if you are still not convinced (read down through the comments as well to get full value).

On the question of whether to go for a hosted or self-hosted blog, I’m not going to make a recommendation either way – rather, I’ll list their relative advantages and let you decide which is more appropriate for you:

Hosted blogs (like WordPress.com which this blog runs on, and Blogger.com) advantages:

  • Speed – a hosted blog can be setup in a matter of seconds
  • Reliability – hosted blogs are very rarely offline (the last time WordPress.com had an outage was in June 2010)
  • Simplicity – hosted blog providers generally look after hosting, updating, security, spam and malware protection
  • Branding – hosted blogs now allow you to brand your blog with your own domain name (e.g. no longer tomraftery.wordpress.com, now simply tomraftery.com) and
  • Price – most hosted blog platforms are free

On the other hand Self-hosted blogs (such as GreenMonk.net)have these advantages:

  • Flexibility – With your self-hosted blog you can extend the functionality of the blog with themes and plug-ins
  • Ad free – most hosted blogs will display ads in your blog – with self-hosted, you can go Ad-free, or roll out Ads and benefit from the revenue yourself!
  • Cheap – although you have to pay for the hosting – there are free blog platforms (such as WordPress.org) you can download to run your blog and
  • Security – if you can control the country and hoster your blog is hosted with, you run far less risk of falling foul of spurious (or otherwise) take-down notices

One possible suggestion, if you are still undecided, is to start off with a hosted blog. If, after a while, you find the limitations of your hosted blog too frustrating, you can always export all your blog posts and comments and import them into a self-hosted one and go from there.

Either way, happy blogging.

You should follow me on Twitter here
Photo credit Tom Raftery

Social Sustainability and the importance of sharing

Flickr Advanced Search with Creative Commons

I wondered for a while what to post on first here after the re-branding of the site and the new focus on Social Sustainability.

First I thought about doing a post about blogging seeing as it is one of the most basic building blocks of social media but then I took a step further back and decided to talk about Social Media and Sharing!

Why? Well, sharing of content is essentially the raison d’être of Social Media, whether it is sharing it privately behind your corporate firewall, or sharing it with as many people as possible on the public Internet. And that’s really the key thing, isn’t it – you generally want your social media generated content to reach as large an audience, as possible.

So, how do you do this?

There are many strategies you can rollout to try to maximise the reach of your sustainability message – everything from ad campaigns to search engine optimisation – however, one of the less discussed ones that I wanted to mention is the use of Creative Commons licensing.

Flickr All Rights Reserved notice
Flickr All Rights Reserved notice

What is a Creative Commons license?

These are like the opposite of the “All Rights Reserved” notice you often see associated with works online – it is the default copyright on a lot of online content and it means that the owner of the copyright reserves all rights around distribution of the content. Obviously, if you want to get your message to the widest possible audience, you want to be sure it is not licensed as All Rights Reserved.

There are different forms of Creative Commons license – from the Creative Commons 0 – which is the least restrictive and is basically a legal tool for giving content into the public domain, through to the most restrictive Creative Commons license which says people are free to re-distribute your works as long as they 1) give you attribution, 2) share the content under a similar license and 3) do not use it for commercial purposes, and various shades of licenses in between.

So, any sites you are creating content on, be sure that you have made it clear to people that they are free to re-distribute your content for you on other sites by displaying the Creative Commons logo along with your content.

So, why the Flickr Advanced Search screenshot above?

Well, when I’m writing blog posts I like to include images to make them look more presentable, however, I don’t want to potentially fall foul of copyright restrictions. Luckily the Flickr Advance Search page allows you to restrict your search to only Creative Commons licensed images. The obvious corollary of this is that if you want to increase the viewership of your images (or any other content, including blog posts, videos, audio, etc.), apply a Creative Commons license to it.

By the way, if you are wondering how to go about getting a Creative Commons License for your content – head on over to the License Your Work page on the Creative Commons site and follow the instructions there.

And if you are looking for the Creative Commons license associated with this article, see the bottom of the right-hand side sidebar.

You should follow me on Twitter here

Photo credit Tom Raftery

Tom Raftery’s Social Sustainability – site re-brand

Beauty of nature

I started this blog back in July 2004 – back then a lot of my posts were centered around Open Source and web technologies in general. Back then the blog was branded Tom Raftery’s IT views.

Then in April 2007 I (belatedly) re-branded the blog Tom Raftery’s Social Media because I had been blogging almost exclusively about Social media since 2005!

In May 2008 I joined RedMonk as an industry Analyst, leading our research into Energy and Sustainability and blogging at GreenMonk.net. After that this site languished a bit I’m sorry to say.

Now though, I’m hoping to start blogging here a little more regularly on the intersection of the two topics I have been blogging about most for the last six/seven years, and am most passionate about, Social Media and Sustainability.

With that in mind, I have once more re-branded the site Tom Raftery’s Social Sustainability – I hope you like it.

Reducing your Costs and your Carbon Footprint – presentation

I gave a talk at the it@cork Green IT event yesterday entitled “Reducing your Costs and your Carbon Footprint”.

The talk goes into some detail on how Cork Internet eXchange, the cork-based data centre I am a director of, achieves hyper energy efficiency.

It is also worth noting that tomorrow’s OpenCoffee session is in CIX. Hope to see you there.

Reducing your Costs and your Carbon Footprint – A Case Study

I am speaking at the it@cork Green IT breakfast event tomorrow morning (5th March ’08). My presentation is “Reducing your Costs and your Carbon Footprint – A Case Study” and I will be using CIX as a case study on how innovative thinking can lower your carbon footprint and your costs.

The event kicks off at 07:45 in the Cork International Hotel, at Cork Airport and the other speakers are James Governor of RedMonk, whose talk is titled “The Sustainability Imperative: Towards Greener Software” and Mike Hughes of Microsoft Ireland who is going to talk about Windows Vista energy conservation features.

Should be a good event (and you get breakfast!).

Shai Agassi's Better Place project explained

In my post about the DLD conference yesterday I showed the video of Shai Agassi’s presentation because I thought it was an amazingly good idea, well explained.

However, when I checked out Shai’s blog I found the following video of kids doing a far better job getting Shai’s idea across (sorry Shai!).

It is a three minute video. Watch it. You’ll be glad you did!

Then head over to Project Better Place, check it out and get involved.