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US rail traffic hits traffic highs thanks to commodities

US rail traffic hits traffic highs thanks to commodities | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Even coal showing a gain.

Via SustainOurEarth
Mike Barry's insight:

First the good news, rail freight in the US is growing up 3.6% on LY.

 

But there's a (potential) sting in the tail. Road freight may be being displaced but overall the figures probably show that US consumption of primary raw materials (grain, coal, oil, timber etc) is going up as the economy improves.

 

Economic growth is welcomed after years of downturn but a growing US (and world) economic growth is currently largely connected to growing consumption of (finite) materials.

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How The BP Oil Spill Launched A Movement To Investigate Pollution With DIY Tools

How The BP Oil Spill Launched A Movement To Investigate Pollution With DIY Tools | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Now, through the work of the Homebrew Sensing Project, you can measure oil contamination in your backyard with your smartphone.
Mike Barry's insight:

This is fascinating. Scientific and social media advances are powering the rapid development of citizen science which in turn is enabling a new frontier in transparency, democracy and campaigning.

 

The Public Lab for Open Technology and Science is developing easy to use, cheap tools to allow anyone to investigate pollution levels in their community. It empowers individuals and communities and will have far reaching implications for business, regulators and the traditional science community.

 

Some of these implications may be challenging - 'a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing'... but overall biz and Gov will have to respond to a welcome ability for individuals to know more about the environment they live in.

 

No longer will institutions control what is monitored and decide (quietly) whether levels are good or bad. Traditional regulators may be by-passed. The liabiliity risk for business will grow.

 

You can see the trend spreading beyond environmental investigation to product analysis (food, clothing, electronics etc) for contaminants and ingredients that an individual may know harms them specifically (the personalisation of wellbeing).

 

 

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Climate Change | New Scientist

Climate Change | New Scientist | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Mike Barry's insight:

Scientists from NASA's Goddard Institute have created an interactive global map showing how temperatures are changing in specific locations.

 

Now the difference between where I work and where I live is about 40 miles so I'm probably going to see the same trend for the 2 locations. In fact I might just as well have used a southern England average or even whole UK BUT the key point is that the more we 'personalise' data like this making it relevant to people's everyday lives and communities the more they are likely to engage with the information rather than it being a distant and abstract number.

 

It might be many years away but the next iteration would show you the likely impact on your life and community of a significantly warmer climate

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Sustainability certification may be failing farmers and the environment

Sustainability certification may be failing farmers and the environment | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
A new study criticises certified sustainable agricultural products for failing to lift farmers out of poverty, benefiting rich countries and lacking robustness
Mike Barry's insight:

IIED's State of Sustainability Initiatives (SSI) Review is very important. Cerification is at the heart of the 'race' to shift production and consumption to a more sustainable footing before the tidal wave of developing world consumption overtakes us.

 

Jo Confino's article captures succinctly 300+ pages of hard work. Let me offer a few additional quick 'buyers' thoughts:

 

Put simply the certification dilemma is, is it better to have 100% production meeting a bronze sustainability standard, 50% silver or 20% gold. Of course we all want 100% gold and I hope one day we will but there is a vital strategic point here and I would suggest that at least some of our aim should be to have all production meeting a basic standard sooner rather than later.

 

Not enough standards allow a 'ladder of improvement' securing scale at an entry level standard (that cannot act as the basis of a consumer claim) but then offering a roadmap for progression to the gold standard and public recognition

 

Tied into this is the deployment of National/Foundation aid budgets more closely to the delivery of extension services to help the poorest producers work up the 'ladder' because the SSI Review is right, certification is now dominated by the richer of the developing world not the very poorest.

 

There would have to be an acceptance though that much of the volume of certified production may not have the credibility in the short to medium term to merit a consumer claim. Standards will have to think through how they offer B2B (bronze/silver) certification and B2C (gold) certification in one standards suite.

 

Compromise? Watering down? I don't believe so. Provided we are careful what is claimed publicly and that to reach bronze whilst worth celebrating is not cause for 'putting one's feet up'!

 

At a meta level, many of the easy wins in certification have gone. Those producers who were already 'good' have 'iced their cake' by getting the auditors in to prove what they were already doing. The future is about doing the 'hard yards' working with millions of producers who are a long way from the end point of sustainable production. And growing demand in developing world markets (which broadly are where we were 20-30 years ago, revelling in the new found opportunities of consumption not its downsides) means that we have to find a way of engaging Indian and Chinese buyers in driving change too.

 

Which takes me to the second point. The core business case for certification needs to be sharpened further. Most western brands have invested into certification on a brand reputation level rather than as a specific and direct driver for product sales growth. In many markets this 'brand halo' is not a sufficient energiser for companies to demand certification. We need an additional commentary about the business benefits of certification (enhanced productivity, more resilience in the face of extreme weather, simpler and faster value chains) to encourage widescale adoption into markets such as China and India.

 

And finally, we need to innovate harder to use technology to deliver certification, as a tool in the field to improve production; measure benefit; to track and trace; and bring stories to life for consumers. One of the reasons that only half of the raw materials that is produced to certified standards is actually sold as such is in part because fragemented and opaque value chains defeat attempts to segregate the good batches from the bad ones.It's another big data challenge!

 

Certification is one of the great success stories of the sutainable business journey so far. From Rainforest Alliance, WWF, MSC and Fairtrade Foundation to Unilever, Mars and Nestle (to name but a few) an enormous amount has been achieved so far. But I'm not sure that mass adoption of certification is based on the linear scaling of today's approach we need to be radical in addressing how we get to a point where the majority of global production is certified.

 

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Is solar-powered desalination answer to water independence for California?

Is solar-powered desalination answer to water independence for California? | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
From Isle of Man to Saudi Arabia, renewable desalination is gaining interest around the world as solution to water scarcity and food crisis
Mike Barry's insight:

The water/energy nexus is fascinating. More and more energy is being used to extract, pump and clean water. Most of the energy is fossil based, driving climate change, reducing water availability, requiring more energy and so the viscious circle descends.

 

New renewable based de-salination systems though offer  a way of breaking the cycle. Like any new tech its not cost competitive today but scale will help tackle that.

 

Don't be surprised to see uptake be fastest in Middle East, not just because of its inherent (and growing) water shortages but also so it can minimise the use of oil based de-salination so it can keep exporting that cash cow to the rest of the world 

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Guardian Cities: welcome to our urban past, present and future

Guardian Cities: welcome to our urban past, present and future | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Today the Guardian launches a new section devoted to ideas, discussion and predictions about cities all over the planet
Mike Barry's insight:

A welcome addition from the Guardian to explore the role of cities in the 21st Century.

 

They are important in so many ways - society, culture, history and wealth creation

 

They are at the heart of growing consumption globally as we seek to sustain not just 9 billion people but an extra 2-3 billion new consumers.

 

But crucially they are also the 'hothouse' for innovation in sustainable living, new approaches to mobility and the circular economy are likely to happen here fastest.

 

And perhaps most importantly of all they are sufficiently big to create scale change but not so big as to be caught up in the sclerotic global policy system. Cities from London to Paris to Copenhagen to NYC to Shanghai and Mumbai have the potential to develop fast social and environmental solutions #cityscale

 

Does this mean we forget rural life? No, billions will continue to live there and (whatever space age urban farms we may develop) produce the bulk of our growing food needs. So perhaps that's where the Guardian or some other opinion former turns next, a rural hub!

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Lord Stern: I should have been fiercer in climate change review

Lord Stern: I should have been fiercer in climate change review | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Larry Elliott: Global temperatures are set to be 4-5C higher in the next century and governments are fooling themselves if they think this will only have a modest impact on their economies, says Stern...
Mike Barry's insight:

Stern unduly harsh on himself in saying his original groundbreaking report should have been 'fiercer'. The report was based on the scientific and economic knowledge of the time. The limited policy gains made since its launch are in significant part due to the measure and balance of his review. If he was to update the review now I'm sure it would be 'fiercer' in predicting the future and claling for a response

 

On green growth he offers important geo-political insights. There is a strategic green growth race to win. China is (relatively) better placed today to win it. Whilst much of its 'green growth' today is based on responding to its major air and water pollution roblems that's is not to say that this won't stimulate the development of the technologies, strategies and partnerships that won't help it win the green growth race globally.

 

Stern remains one of the most insightful thinkers on sustainable development not least because of his deep economic understanding.

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Westpac crowned world's most sustainable company - The Australian

Westpac crowned world's most sustainable company - The Australian | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Westpac crowned world's most sustainable company by Global Knights
Mike Barry's insight:
For many sectors we can begin to imagine what a sustainable end point may look like. It's been harder in the finance sector but Westpac offer important clues, particularly interested in their commitment to female leadership in the bank
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Gore Rejects Climate Change Geoengineering - CleanTechnica

Gore Rejects Climate Change Geoengineering - CleanTechnica | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Al Gore pulled no punches about geoengineering as a climate change solution in a phone conference with reporters on Wednesday....
Mike Barry's insight:
Gore lays out clearly the false promise of geo engineering - the cost, the environmental risk and the likelihood it will fail to tackle climate change. Emissions reduction, energy efficiency and renewables have to be core of our efforts
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Climate Change Threatens East Africa's Food Security | Climate ...

Climate Change Threatens East Africa's Food Security | Climate ... | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
A new report says soil deficiencies in many parts of East Africa mean agricultural productivity is falling.
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Is 3-D Printing Better For The Environment?

Is 3-D Printing Better For The Environment? | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Even though it's subverting traditional--and dirty--manufacturing, the new technology isn't without its own flaws.
Mike Barry's insight:

3D printing is generating much discussion but there is little hard evidence on whether it will be better or worse for the enviroment than traditional centralised manufacturing.

 

This article summrises some early research on the pros (light weigting, less freight) and cons (energy use). It's early days but it's difficult to discern a substantial positive or negative trend environmentally.

 

Perhaps most interestingly the article concludes that the social benefits of 3D printing may be the sustainable game changer, putting individuals/communities in charge of the means of production and enabling products to be made in developing countries remote from existing well established global supply chains.

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CVS Ending Cigarette Sales; Says Health Care Trumps Dollars

CVS Ending Cigarette Sales; Says Health Care Trumps Dollars | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
CVS will cease all sales of tobacco products nationwide in its stores and pharmacies by Oct. 1, 2014, the company announced Wednesday.
Mike Barry's insight:

CVS one of the US' largest pharmacy groups with 7,600 will stop tobacco sales from later this year, potentially costing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues.

 

CVS may have unique reasons for doing this but I would make the general point that a tipping point will be reached where businesses recognise that the downside of selling 'old' market products (tobacco) outweighs the potential of the new market (wellbeing).

 

Again we are at a point of inflection where the uncertain surface signs of change (little impetus from policy makers and investors) is masking deeper realignment driven by innovation and business recognition of the opportunities that 'green' and 'wellbeing' markets offer.

 

As I say, CVS may be outlier with its own very specific motivations but I sense actually another significant business led shift in creating sustainable marketplaces.

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China on world's 'biggest push' for wind power

China on world's 'biggest push' for wind power | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Mike Barry's insight:

Today's announcement that 30% of China's Xinjiang province's electricity (thanks @alexends, not energy!) output is renewable shows continued pace of investment but as Shukman shows in this article, like many countries, the growth in renewables is not without significant birth pains - particularly creating the grid and storage systems that link distant intermittent supplies with the energy hungry connurbations of China

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New Report Finds International Trade Integral to Global Food Security - PRWeb (2014)

New Report Finds International Trade Integral to Global Food Security - PRWeb (2014) | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it

A new report released today by the Global Harvest Initiative highlights the need for more effective, holistic trade policies in order to meet the food demand of a global population projected to exceed 9.7 billion by 2050 while becoming increasingly urban and affluent. 

 

“GHI’s latest report underscores the critical need to reduce barriers to moving agricultural products, equipment, and information technology from producers to consumers,” said Dr. Margaret Zeigler, Global Harvest Initiative executive director. “What is now required is great political will, an open dialogue with public, private and NGO stakeholders, and the recognition that we can only move forward by enabling effective global trade, transparent enabling environments for business, and outward looking trade policies.” ... 

 

“Trade policy vehicles, such as the WTO, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the U.S.-East African Community Trade and Investment Partnership, along with the legal and regulatory reform they encourage, present practical, holistic approaches to improving trade and facilitating agricultural sector development,” said Katrin Kuhlmann, president of the New Markets Lab and TransFarm Africa. “Open national, regional and international markets could make a critical difference in improving food security, economic opportunities, and livelihoods worldwide.” ... 

 

The report also details priorities for trade negotiations and continuing discussions at the WTO, including: (i) Reduction of export restrictions, high tariffs, restrictive tariff-rate quotas, and trade-limiting non-tariff measures on agricultural products, equipment, and modern technology that could improve agricultural productivity, particularly in less development countries. (ii) Establishment of consistent, transparent, and science-based frameworks for regulating food safety. (iii) Increased dialogue around adequate and effective intellectual rights protection and enforcement... (iv) Market-driven development assistance and capacity building programs in which the private sector is engaged from the beginning. 

 

http://www.prweb.com/releases/GHI/trade_policy/prweb11522086.htm


Via Alexander J. Stein
Mike Barry's insight:

This one will run and run. Is global food security best served by the localisation of food production or by the further opening up of global trade.

 

We can speculate but we don't really know because our understanding of 'what is a truly sustainable food system' is so poor. We know that we cannot carry on as we are in the face of growing consumption, more extreme weather, loss of soil and water resources, malnutrition and inequality. But what do we replace it with? There's an awful lot of science to be done and assessed to inform the development of a new system. But ultimately (to borrow from Churchill) we need 'science to be on tap not on top' and human value judgements on what matters most in a sustainable food system will have to be made.

 

Globally we're not set up to make these values x science decisions and yet we'll have to work at how. Failure will lead to us clinging too long to what we have today, fearful of the lack of an 'obvious' alternative and at the mercy of more troubling trends like food 'imperialism' as strategic control and advantage is sought by nation states. 

 

Individual countries, cities and corporations may be able to create their own food 'oasis' in the medium term but longer term a web of co-operation and sharing will be needed

 

 

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Business leaders in Davos keen to mainstream circular economy

Business leaders in Davos keen to mainstream circular economy | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Chief executives said biggest barrier to progress is ingrained mindset of 'manufacture, use and dispose'
Mike Barry's insight:

Davos generated some serious and positive discussion amongst CEOs on the circular economy.

 

Most were honest enough to recognise though that whatever the 'logic' of circular there remains a fundamental inertia (even addiction) to the current 'once-through' approach to the economy. Literally the entire infrastructure of today's economy has been built (at the cost of trillions) to support once through use of (ever more) product.

 

Can we break this cycle? Well look what investment in the 'spine' of the internet enabled. A common architecture, protocols and piping then enabled companies to spring up and competitively create new biz models.

 

The level of collaboration betwene biz, civil society, communities and policy makers will actually have to be much greater to create the circular economy - the internet economy wasn't having to adapt something that existed it was built from scratch. The physical economy exists already and it will take hardwork to change.

 

So its interesting to see how the internet economy will in turn become the enabler of the circular economy as the 'internet of things' enables us to identify and exchange redundant products and we can re-purpose today's 'old waste sector' to become a 'resource industry'. And there is an additional incentive for today's economic players to adapt. The internet is also allowing the development of a new C2C economy where people swap, share, barter, exchange goods and services (sharing economy/collaborative consumption etc) without a big biz 'middleman'. Will circular economy be polarised as big bizs way of responding to this alternative 'social economy'?

 

But at the heart of it all will be collaborative platforms and those biz that can leanr to inject 'collaboration' and 'partnership' into their DNA will be the ones who survive the next great 'shake out'.

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Government launches £100,000 community energy competition

Government launches £100,000 community energy competition | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Department of Energy and Climate Change floats idea for UK's lowest energy village (Government launches £100,000 community energy competition: Department of Energy and Climate Change floats ...
Mike Barry's insight:

DECC's Community Energy Strategy + Urban Community Energy Fund and the Energy Technology Institute's Energy Pathway are important first steps by the UK policy system to recognise that the long term energy infrastructure of the country may be very different from today's centralised 'big energy' system. Renewables lend themselves to this localised approach, not just in technology terms but also more emotionally in terms of a sense of 'ownership'.

 

No one will get carried away but it's important that policy makers drop the  right 'seeds on the ground' to allow this fusing of social, environmental AND economic outcomes to have a good chance of succeeding.

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Climate change adaptation and lignocellulosic bioenergy crops

Climate change adaptation and lignocellulosic bioenergy crops | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Bioenergy crops can be a good strategy for climate change adaptation. Recent studies show benefits and sinergies between energy and food.
Mike Barry's insight:

Potsdam Institute research suggests unabated climate change will increase global food prices by 25% (real terms) by 2050 whilst aggressive use of bio-fuels to tackle climate change would only increase price by 5% PROVIDED there is a shift to second generation (ligno-cellulosic) bio-fuels AND these are produced on marginal land rather than currently productive farmland. Lots of 'maybes' but reminds why the shift from first to second generation bio-fuels needs to be accelerated if their potential contributon to the (time bound) fight against climate change is to be fulfilled.  

 

(As an aside modelling suggests that unabated climate change will not only drive up prices but it will also require an extra 120m hectares of farmland (equivalent to 3 Germanys) to deal with rising population and declining yields)

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Finally, a reason for a bit of optimism about climate change

Finally, a reason for a bit of optimism about climate change | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Ritter report identifies 200 opportunities for Obama administration to drive #climatechange action thru executive order
Mike Barry's insight:
As with so many countries US stands at a cross roads with one direction (no jokes about our favourite boy band!) offering significant opportunities for positive action. Action on coal power plants is becoming the big issue for US to resolve
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Shanghai, Beijing Tackle Air Pollution | The Diplomat

Shanghai, Beijing Tackle Air Pollution | The Diplomat | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Beijing and Shanghai are tackling air pollution, part of a larger government campaign to clean up China's environment.
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EU sets targets of 40% carbon cut and 27% share of renewables by 2030 – live

EU sets targets of 40% carbon cut and 27% share of renewables by 2030 – live | Practical Sustainable Business | Scoop.it
Adam Vaughan: Rolling coverage and reaction of Europe announcing a new 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target (CONFIRMED: EU will set new binding renewable target & emissions target of 40% for 2030: http://t.co/T52qmUawD3)...
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