Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Plug-Ins Going for a Spin

By Michael Taylor
The San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday 31 October 2007

100 Northern California households to put modified Priuses through their paces.

Davis - One hundred Northern California households will be given the use of experimental, plug-in hybrid cars next year in the first widespread consumer testing of the super-high-mileage vehicles in the nation, under a program announced Tuesday by UC Davis transit planners and an auto club.

The households, to be chosen from the ranks of more than 4 million members of AAA of Northern California, will each have an eight-week loan of a Toyota Prius converted to run on batteries that are twice as powerful as those originally installed by the automaker.

The cars can easily get 100 miles per gallon on their combined power from electric motors and gasoline engines. They also spew out far fewer environment-harming emissions than even conventional hybrid cars.

"This is the first large consumer study of plug-in hybrids," said Tom Turrentine, director of the Plug-In Hybrid Center at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. "We're the advance guard of putting a lot of these (cars) in households." The program is scheduled to start in the spring of 2008.

Plug-in hybrids are in their infancy - perhaps 50 of them are in fleets maintained by utility companies, universities and other organizations - and so far there has been no large testing of how they work in everyday use.

Normal hybrids use a combination of electric and gasoline power to eke out better mileage than gasoline-only cars, largely by having the electric motor take over in situations where the car does not require much power, such as crawling down a city street or in a freeway traffic jam. The electric power is created by on-board generators and regenerative braking, freeing the car from the leash of a power cord and hours of recharging t

Plug-in advocates say the converted hybrids constitute the best of all worlds: By equipping the car with more powerful batteries and then letting them recharge overnight, the next day's journey can be done mostly on electric power, saving the car's gasoline engine for more stressful situations such as zooming onto a freeway or for long-distance travel.

The downside of plug-in hybrids, critics say, is that the converted cars, by using household electricity for daily recharging, are simply sucking more energy from the already polluting coal-fired power grid, and that in the long run this is just as bad for the environment as having a gasoline-only car.

Turrentine conceded that the United States "should clean up its coal-fired plants," but said that in states such as California, which gets much of its power from cleaner sources such as hydroelectric plants, plug-in hybrids will only help.

The 10 Priuses to be used in the test are being turned into plug-ins by Pat's Garage, a San Francisco firm that has been doing such conversions for several years. Each car costs about $15,000 to convert. The program is being funded by the California Energy Commission and the state Air Resources Board.

Driving a plug-in Prius is much like driving a normal one. The major difference is that the car is more silent than a conventional hybrid because its electric motor is whirring away far more often than the gasoline engine.

"We're going to be interviewing households every week," Turrentine said. "We want to know how people respond to the car. Are they excited because it is cheaper (to operate)? Are they excited because they are saving the world?"

The guidelines for choosing test households are pretty simple: The program is seeking people who have a garage, carport or parking place with a nearby 110-volt outlet and who will not only be willing to plug in their hybrids every night but will remember to do it. Turrentine also said they will be seeking people with daily roundtrip commutes from 20 to about 120 miles.

He said the type of households chosen for the plug-in exercise will have different lifestyles - "it could range from a typical American family to a young urban dweller to a retired couple living in Tahoe."

UC Davis officials said AAA plans to select program participants from the association's member rolls, rather than open it up to volunteers.

AAA senior vice president Alexandra Morehouse said her organization got involved because "our members are overwhelmingly interested in alternative-fuel vehicles. Our mission (in this program) is to get people to think, 'I could drive a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. It's not that different, and it could be part of my life.' "

Monday, October 29, 2007

World’s addiction to coal growing

Portland Press Herald
October 29, 2007

Despite concerns about global warning, use of the cheap, black- buring fuel is expanding quickly in China.

By ELAINE KURTENBACH, The Associated Press

JUNGAR QI, China — Almost nonstop, gargantuan 145-ton
trucks rumble through China’s biggest open-pit coal mine,
sending up clouds of soot as they dump their loads into
mechanized sorters.

The black treasure has transformed this once-isolated
crossroads nestled in the sand-sculpted ravines of Inner
Mongolia into a bleak boomtown of nearly 300,000 people. Day
and night, long and dusty trains haul out coal to electric power
plants and factories in the east, fueling China’s explosive

Coal is big, and getting bigger. As oil and natural gas prices
soar, the world is relying ever more on the cheap, black-burning
mainstay of the Industrial Revolution. Mining companies are
racing into Africa. Workers are laying miles of new railroad track
to haul coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and

And nowhere is coal bigger than in China.

But the explosion of coal comes amid rising alarm over its dire
consequences for workers and the environment. An average of
13 Chinese miners die every day in explosions, floods, fires and
cave-ins. Toxic clouds of mercury and other chemicals from
mining are poisoning the air and water far beyond China’s
borders and polluting the food chain.

So far, attempts to clean up coal have largely not worked.
Technology to reduce or cut out carbon dioxide emissions is
expensive and years away from widespread commercial use.

“Not very many people are talking about what do we do to live
with the consequences of what’s happening,” said James Brock,
a longtime industry consultant in the Beijing office of Cambridge
Energy Research Associates. “The polar bears are doomed –
they’re going to museums. At the end of this century the Arctic
ice cap will be gone. That means a lot of water rising, not by
inches but meters.”

Burned since ancient times, coal dramatically increased in use
during the Industrial Revolution, when it became fuel for the new
steam engines, gas lamps and electrical generators. Worldwide
demand for coal dipped at the end of the 20th century, but is
now back up and projected to rise 60 percent by 2030 to 6.9
billion tons a year, according to the International Energy Agency.

Today, most coal goes to electrical power plants. In developing
nations such as India, China and Africa, coal is the staple – and
affordable – source of fuel with which families run their first
washing machines and televisions. Worldwide electricity
consumption is expected to double by 2030, the World Energy
Council says.

In America, about 150 new coal-fired electrical plants are
proposed over the next decade. In China, there are plans for a
coal-fired power plant to go on line nearly every week.
Emissions from these plants alone could nullify the cuts made by
Europe, Japan and other rich nations under the Kyoto Protocol
treaty, according to a report from the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars in Washington.

In a developing country like China, coal is the backbone of the
energy system.

Look at the port city of Shanghai, where the bitter tang in the air
is not from a salty sea breeze – it’s the smoke from coal-
burning stoves in the suburbs used for cooking and heating.
From the shacks of migrant workers on the edge of town to
modern factories and skyscrapers, China’s biggest city is
powered by coal. Even the ultramodern Maglev railway line runs
on electricity from a coal-fueled plant.

China mined a record 2.4 billion tons of coal in 2006, up 8.1
percent from a year earlier. But even that can’t keep boilers and
blast furnaces stoked in an economy growing more than 10
percent a year. So China became a net coal importer for the first
time this year. While Chinese authorities are closing down older,
heavily polluting plants, they can’t keep up with a massive
expansion in urban housing and industry and the coal that feeds

China is the world’s biggest consumer and producer of coal, but
it’s far from the only one. U.S. coal production hit a record 1.2
billion tons last year, according to the National Mining
Association, and is forecast by the government to rise 50
percent by 2030. Yet the United States rejected the Kyoto
Protocol, arguing that the required emissions cuts could slow
economic growth.

For another measure, look at the ticker on the Web site of St.
Louis-based Peabody Coal Co., the world’s largest coal mining
company, which tracks its growing sales second by second. Last
year: 248 million tons sold. For 2007: On track for up to 275
million tons.

China’s Shenhua Group is hot on Peabody’s heels. On one day in
June, a record 111 Shenhua coal trains left its mines in north-
central China, the company said.

Rising demand can be met because coal is the Earth’s most
abundant fossil fuel, with reserves expected to last some 250
years – far longer than forecasts for petroleum. And whether in
China, India, the United States or Europe, coal is available at
home, away from the instability of the Middle East.

“The U.S. has under its own soil at least a 200-year supply of
coal. China has a very long-term supply of coal,” Steve
Papermaster, co-chairman of the energy committee of President
Bush’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, told a
recent conference in Shanghai.

For several years, cleaner burning natural gas appeared a
promising substitute. But soaring prices and worries over the
reliability of Mideast and Russian supplies have dimmed the
promise of that option. Alternatives such as wind and solar
power are getting cheaper but still can’t compete with coal.

Most experts believe that whatever the costs to the environment
and public health, coal is with us to stay.

“The question is not about putting a line through coal and
saying we’re not going to use it,” said Milton Catelin, chief
executive of the London-based World Coal Institute, an industry
association. “There’s a future for coal. The developing world will
have to use coal. They need cheap energy to get ahead.”

The solution Catelin and others in the industry are pushing is
clean technology, although they admit they are late to the game.

“The decade 1997-2007 was a lost decade” for clean coal
technology, Catelin conceded. “We should have done much
more. Now we’re playing catch-up.”

The need is clear. In the provincial steel town of Baotou, trucks
heaped high with coal rumble into Shenhua yards, dumping their
loads into huge sieves for sorting into various grades of quality
and size. Wind gusts whip black soot into the sky, thickening the
layer of smog from the city’s smelters.

The U.S. and Chinese governments are subsidizing the
development of technology that converts coal to a clean-burning
gas before it is burned. But such plants still emit ample amounts
of carbon dioxide, notes Qian Jingjing, an expert with the
Natural Resources Defense Council in New York and co-author
of the report “Coal in a Changing Climate.”

She and many other experts believe coal can only be made
environmentally sustainable through the more experimental
technology of capturing carbon dioxide emissions and storing
them underground.

A joint government-private project in the United States aims to
build such a “zero emissions” plant by 2012. Separately, Xcel
Corp. of Minneapolis, a major electric and natural gas utility, is
studying building a carbon capture and storage power plant in

Across the Atlantic, the European Union may require carbon
capture and storage systems for all new coal-fired power plants,
with a proposal expected by year end. The gas would be buried
in aquifers, depleted coal mines or geological faults deep

But the costs are daunting.

“It takes a lot of money since you have to go so deep,” said
Brock of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “There is not
one commercial carbon capture and storage project yet. It’s yet
to be proven.”

With such high costs, few utilities will embrace these
technologies without a strong push or subsidy from
government. The U.S. Congress is weighing several proposals,
but their fate remains uncertain.

The degree of public support for such policies remains unclear.
Consumers may balk at having to pay more for electricity from
“clean coal” plants, either through higher rates or taxes.

But there is growing awareness of the problem. In both the West
and India and China, traditional utilities and new players are
investing in wind and solar power. A subsidiary of coal giant
Shenhua is building a 200-megawatt wind farm in the waters off
China’s east coast.

“The goal is to raise both efficiency and turn to renewables while
backing out of coal in the process,” said Lester Brown, president
of the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental think tank in
Washington. “The question is, can we move fast enough?”

Meanwhile, in Jungar Qi, the house-sized mine trucks rumble
on, rushing their multi-ton loads of coal to railways and coal
yards. The biggest landmark in the city – the two huge
smokestacks of its coal-fired power plant.

Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Energy project puts focus on new emission control

Portland Press Herald

Scientists consider the prospects for carbon capture and storage at the proposed Twin River plant.

By JOHN RICHARDSON Staff Writer October 25, 2007

WISCASSET — Maine and other states want to slow global
warming by setting limits on carbon dioxide that comes from
the smokestacks of large power plants.

But what if the gas could be captured before it gets into the
atmosphere, then injected deep into the earth?

The huge potential of that technology -- known as carbon
capture and storage -- is driving scientific research around the
world. Now, a proposed coal gasification plant in Wiscasset has
focused attention on whether, and how soon, it can be done in

"This is clearly going to be an issue of statewide discussion,"
said David Littell, commissioner of the Maine Department of
Environmental Protection.

Scientists from around the Northeast gathered at the Chewonki
Foundation on Wednesday to present the latest research on
carbon storage, which involves injecting carbon dioxide into
deep underground aquifers that can absorb and hold it.

Large-scale carbon storage is possible and is being tested
elsewhere in the country, the researchers said. But it's expensive
and it will take years of geological studies to determine whether
it's even possible in New England, they said.

Chewonki's forum drew more than 100 Mainers who are
concerned about global warming, the coal plant or both.

The $1.5 billion Twin River Energy Center, proposed near the
former site of the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant, would turn
coal and wood waste into a synthetic gas. Some of the gas would
be burned to make electricity and some would be converted into
a diesel fuel.

Twin River faces years of study and review by local and state
regulators. And it will be put to an early test on Nov. 6, when
Wiscasset voters decide whether to let the developer exceed a
height limit in the zoning rules.

Maine's Legislature also is expected to weigh in on the plant.

State Rep. W. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, said Wednesday
that he has submitted legislation to ban any new coal plants in
Maine unless they can capture and store 90 percent of their
carbon dioxide emissions. Passage of the bill as written could
kill the plan in Wiscasset.

Coal is considered a major culprit behind global warming
because it puts more carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, into
the atmosphere than other fossil fuels.

Twin River's gasification technology is different from that of
conventional plants because it could more easily capture the
gas, and potentially store it.

If it can store 25 percent of the carbon dioxide it generates,
Twin River could have about the same impact on global warming
as if it used natural gas and oil instead of coal, according to a
study that the developer released at Wednesday's forum. It's
unclear where the carbon dioxide would be stored, however.

"We have not characterized the geologic sinks in this area, and
that's going to take some time," said Sarah Forbes, an
engineering consultant hired by Twin River to lead the study.
Carbon dioxide may have to be piped hundreds of miles, for
burial in other parts of the country or beneath the ocean, she

Researchers said Wednesday that Maine's granite foundations
make it unlikely that there are porous formations to hold carbon
dioxide. There could be such formations beneath the Gulf of
Maine, they said.

"We do know there are some potential sites there," said Howard
Herzog of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an expert
on carbon storage. "We don't really have any holes in the ground
to give us data."

Building long pipelines to carry the carbon dioxide elsewhere is
an alternative, but would be too expensive, Herzog said.

Developing the ability to capture and store carbon is considered
an urgent need globally. The United States gets half of its power
from coal and has vast reserves of the mineral, and China is
firing up massive coal-burning power plants at a rate of about
one a week, with no effort to capture the carbon dioxide.

New England has not been a big coal-burning region and, unlike
the rest of the country, it has not been studied for potential
underground carbon storage sites. Although gas-fired power
plants may ultimately be required to capture the gas, too,
carbon dioxide storage has emerged as an issue here only since
Twin River's arrival this summer.

"It would be very prudent for New England to start thinking
about it," said Joe Chaisson, research and technical director for
Clean Air Task Force, an environmental advocacy group. "It's
gotten people thinking."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Sustainability is here to stay

Portland Press Herald
October 21, 2007

"Hannaford is building a 49,000-square-foot store in Augusta to showcase its conviction that environmental friendliness, lower costs and higher sales can all go hand in hand."

By Tux Turkel

Hannaford Bros. Co. plans to open a new supermarket in
Augusta next year, built to standards that will make it the most
environmentally friendly in the country.

Will that make area residents more likely to shop there?

Maybe, if the company sets up school tours and store displays to
explain the special features, as it is considering, and invites
shoppers to classes focused on environmental and energy

"We want to take full advantage of the consumer education
opportunities associated with this store," said Caren Epstein, a
Hannaford spokeswoman.

The 49,000-square-foot store will cost more to build than a
conventional supermarket, but less to operate. Goodwill and
customer loyalty, Hannaford hopes, will be an added benefit.

Hannaford's decision is part of a wider trend in the supermarket
business -- a move toward sustainability. Designing stores
powered by renewable energy; striving to recycle all waste;
working with suppliers to reduce packaging: These are examples
of how supermarkets are embracing sustainability as an
opportunity to cut costs and boost sales.

"It's just a tidal wave in our industry," said Jeanne von Zastrow, a
senior director at the Food Marketing Institute.

Von Zastrow sits on a task force made up of 22 supermarket
representatives, including Epstein, and an executive from
Supervalu, the parent company of Shaw's Supermarkets. The
task force defines sustainability as, "business practices that
promote the long-term well-being of the environment, society
and the bottom line."

The trade group will hold its first Sustainability Summit next
June. Meanwhile, it's developing resources, including a
"sustainability starter kit," to help members make the business
case for sustainable practices and learn how to incorporate them
at their supermarkets.

That business case is critical in the high-volume world of food
retailing, where the average net profit margin is a penny or so
on every dollar in sales. Supermarkets generated nearly $500
billion in gross sales last year, according to institute estimates,
with the average household spending between $62.20 and
$131.40 a week, depending on the number of family members.
So stores are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves
from rivals down the street and attract shoppers. Sustainability
is emerging as the latest buzzword.

It's not clear, though, how meaningful sustainability will be with
shoppers. A study done for von Zastrow's group found that just
over half of people surveyed were familiar with the term; only 5
percent could say which companies supported the values of

Sustainability isn't a totally new concept at supermarkets. High
refrigeration, lighting and trucking costs have led companies to
invest in energy efficient controls and equipment. The difference
now, von Zastrow said, is a commitment from senior
management to integrate these practices across the entire


Take Wal-Mart, the country's leading food seller and world's
largest retailer.

Better known for its focus on low prices, Wal-Mart recently set
ambitious goals around sustainability. Among them are recycling
all its waste, getting all its energy from renewable sources and
selling products that help preserve the environment. Within
three years, the company says, all new stores will use 30 percent
less energy and generate 30 percent fewer gases associated with
climate change than those built in 2005. An experimental store
in Texas has solar panels and a wind turbine, and recovers rain
water for landscaping.

In California last month, the large Safeway chain announced
plans to install solar panels at 23 stores. First up was the
55,000-square-foot store in Dublin, Calif., which has a rooftop
solar electric array that provides 20 percent of its average
power, and up to 48 percent at peak hours.

Safeway already is the largest retail buyer of wind energy in
California. The company receives favorable feedback about its
investments in renewable energy, according to Teena Massingill,
a spokeswoman. After a news conference at the Dublin store,
Safeway fielded several phone calls from people interested in
installing solar panels at their homes. They wanted to know the
manufacturer Safeway was using.


As part of its sustainability effort, Hannaford is installing solar
hot water panels this year at four stores -- none in Maine. It's
also considering a demonstration wind turbine at a warehouse in
New York.

The Augusta store will feature solar electric panels, geothermal
heating and cooling and a vegetation-topped roof to help
manage stormwater. The project also plans to recycle a high
percentage of the old Cony High School building, which now
stands on the site.

These and other extra measures will allow the building to be
certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as a platinum-level
LEED building, the highest designation. Hannaford is the first
supermarket to meet that industry standard.

Hannaford is headquartered in Scarborough. The Augusta
location gives top management a nearby laboratory to test
sustainable practices that could be used in other stores. The
LEED platinum designation also offers the company some
bragging rights, but Epstein said it's too early to gauge the

"We don't know to what extent it will resonate with customers,"
she said.

Some insights may come from a study done for the food
institute's sustainability task force by The Hartman Group, a
consulting firm in Bellevue, Wash. The study concluded that
public awareness of sustainability is low, but increasing. It also
found an intersection between sustainability and health and
wellness, and a recognition that the majority of people relate to
these concerns through their personal and family lives, not
through global issues, like climate change.

Hardly any shoppers are familiar with LEED, which stands for
Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, suggested
Blaine Becker, marketing and communications director at The
Hartman Group. So the news that Hannaford's Augusta
supermarket will be certified at the top level for a LEED building
is a fine distinction for most shoppers.

"It will really come down to how Hannaford communicates with
its customers," Becker said.

Hannaford, Becker said, has done an excellent job in marketing
its Guiding Stars nutrition grading program, making a personal
connection for shoppers. It will have to make a similar link with

Hannaford received national publicity for its LEED platinum
plans. But the Augusta store won't be the first LEED-certified
supermarket in New England.


Shaw's Supermarkets, Hannaford's longtime rival in Maine,
opened a basic-level, LEED-certified store in Worcester, Mass.,
in 2005. That store features water-saving fixtures, heat-
reflective roofing and a carbon-dioxide monitoring system that
adjusts air flow to shopper traffic.

Neither Shaw's nor Hannaford will discuss specific store
finances, but Judy Chong, a Shaw's spokeswoman, said the
company has gotten positive feedback about the store. One way
the company measures public interest in sustainability is
through the sale of reusable, cloth shopping bags. Across all its
stores, customers have bought 500,000 or so, since sales began
in mid-January.

Shaw's also has plastic bag recycling bins in stores. They have
collected 589 tons of plastic so far this year.

These statistics don't indicate how much of this activity is
coming from shoppers who already are committed to
environmental action. In its surveys, The Hartman Group
identified a vast middle group of shoppers -- 65 percent of all
consumers -- who aren't focused on global issues. For these
shoppers and many others, price is a major consideration when
choosing a supermarket.

At the Augusta store, Hannaford may have to address concerns
that a state-of-the-art supermarket that costs more to build will
charge higher prices.

Epstein, Hannaford's spokeswoman, said food prices aren't tied
to the cost of any one store, but she recognizes that some
people may have that perception.

"That's a risk we're willing to take, and that we'll address in the
education process," she said.

Staff writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Monday, October 22, 2007

Friedman on the Daly Show - Solar and Wind

Over the Moon for Cow Power

And yet another interesting story on the Daily Grist, this time concerning cow power. As the story states, this form of renewable energy has been wildly successful in Vermont. There are similar efforts to get a similar program underway here in Maine, but unlike Vermont, Maine does not have very many farms with ample enough cattle under one roof to make this type of project economically feasible. For this reason, there is talk of introducing food waste into the equation, which would allow smaller farms to participate.

Interesting concept.

October is Energy Awareness Month?

I came upon the following peice by Joseph Romm which states that October is Energy Awareness Month. I, like most people, never knew this. Interesting post to say the least.

White House warns Democrats of energy bill veto

Source: Gristmill

The below letter was supposedly sent from the White House to Congressional Democrats. One word, pathetic.

October 15, 2007

Dear Madam Speaker:

I write you to reiterate the Administration's commitment to work with Congress to produce balanced energy legislation that improves the Nation's energy and economic security and protects the environment.

The Administration submitted "Twenty in Ten" legislation to Congress earlier this year. Passage of that legislation would result in a 20 percent decrease in U.S. gasoline consumption by 2017 and a significant reduction in projected greenhouse gas emissions. While we prefer that this legislation be passed by Congress, the Administration is concurrently developing regulations to implement these goals. In this context, we offer a basic framework for an energy bill that would not compel the President's senior advisors to recommend a veto. Such a bill would:

* Contain an ambitious alternative fuel standard comparable to that proposed by the President in his 2007 State of the Union.
* Reform and strengthen the fuel economy standard for cars, and maintain separate, attribute-based standards for cars and light trucks, based on sound science, safety, and cost-benefit analysis.
* Not reduce but instead increase domestic energy production.
* Not raise taxes nor use the tax code to single out specific industries.
* Not contain provisions (such as the NOPEC provision) that encourage retaliation against American businesses abroad, discourage job-creating investment in the U.S. economy, and injure U.S. relations with other countries.
* Not impose price controls that could bring back long gas station lines reminiscent of the 1970s.
* Not expand the application of Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wage requirements.
* Not contain a mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Statements of Administration Policy describe additional concerns with the energy legislation. The Administration would like to work with Congress to resolve these concerns. Two years ago, the President signed into law energy legislation that was crafted in a bipartisan manner. We hope for the opportunity to work with you in a similar fashion to move America toward a stronger, cleaner energy future.


Allan B. Hubbard
Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and
Director, National Economic Council

Yahoo! goes carbon neutral

Source: Gristmill

Back in April, Yahoo! announced that it will be going carbon neutral in 2007, and pledged to be entirely transparent about the process. They acknowledged the controversy around offsets:

We know carbon neutrality isn't without controversy. And it's honestly deserved if companies and individuals don't first make an effort to find direct ways to reduce their impact. We'll continue to be vigilant about cutting ours, looking for creative ways to power our facilities, encourage even more employees to seek alternative commutes, and generally inspire Yahoos around the world to think differently about their energy use. ... We'll also be deliberate about investing in offset projects that can verifiably deliver their expected environmental benefits.

A few hours ago, the company announced the investments that would bring it to carbon neutrality for 2006:

After much due diligence, Yahoo! has decided to offset its 250 thousand metric ton carbon footprint from 2006 through hydropower in rural Brazil and wind turbines in India. We've partnered with EcoSecurities and CantorCO2e, who helped us source, vet, and execute these projects.

(The hydropower project is of the eco-friendly run-of-river sort, not a huge dam.)

These sound like great choices -- I can't imagine even the grinchiest offset critic taking issue with them. But one aspect of the story struck me as somewhat remarkable.

When I talked to Chris Page, Yahoo!'s director of climate and energy strategy, she told me the total investment to offset a year's emissions was $2 million. Two million! I mean, that ain't nothing, but it really isn't all that much for a company with revenue of $6.7 billion in 2007. Hell, it probably cost 10 times that to get Flickr. It turns out Yahoo! doesn't emit all that much CO2, so it's not all that expensive to offset it.

On the bright side, going carbon neutral was fairly cheap for Yahoo! On the other hand, it's cheapness demonstrates that it's not doing a hell of a lot of good beyond the symbolism of it.

So why not maximize the symbolism? Why shouldn't Yahoo! make its entire history carbon neutral? Why not make its partners carbon neutral? Why not go carbon negative? Why not offer carbon neutrality to the most loyal customers?

If it's not Yahoo!, it will be Google or some other company come along to do it first. If the $2 million is any indication, such feats wouldn't be all that expensive, and they would be enormous public relations coups.

Time to start thinking big!

Curbing Climate Change Report

Source: Combat Climate Change

This report (PDF), originally published in 2006 by the Swedish energy company Vattenfall, has become the call to arms for a group of large companies calling themselves Combat Climate Change. The 80-page report outlines the components of an effective global climate policy in some detail. "Curbing climate change is about combining technology, finance, and policy in a wise way," write the report's authors. "If that is done worldwide a carbon dioxide market will follow. Technology is not an unsolvable problem, given time and incentives, neither is financing. The real challenge is policy."

Sonoco Helps Manufacturers Cut

Source: Greenbiz

Hartsville, S.C., Oct. 22, 2007 -- Industrial and consumer packaging company Sonoco will help manufacturing companies save money by pinpointing waste streams that can be eliminated or reused.

Sonoco Sustainability Solutions (S3) aims to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. Through the service, an audit of the manufacturing dacility will be performed to evaluate the methods by which the waste is handled.

Sonoco, which iteself collects some 3.5 million tons of recyclable materials each year, will then introduce custom programs to its customers to chip away at the amount of waste generated, thus reducing hauling charges and landfill fees. S3 also will search for new uses for the waste to create a new revenue stream. For example, it is possible to find alternative recycling initiatives for items such as plastic banding, bulk plastic liners and sacks, and flexible packaging.

Sonoco will then analyze how the program is working in terms of financial savings and environmental benefits.

"S3 was originally developed and piloted at 12 Sonoco plants to improve productivity by reducing waste materials going to landfills," saiud Jack sanderes, Sonoco's senior vice president. "However, once we identified the many benefits of the program, we began partnering with some of our customers' locations and found that the service could provide significant productivity savings along with new revenue sources and environmental benefits."

Study Finds Greener Companies

Source: By James Murray, BusinessGreen

NEW YORK, Oct. 22, 2007 -- Companies with sophisticated and comprehensive climate change strategies have financially outperformed their competitors over the last three years, according to a major new report from investment research firm Innovest.

The Carbon Beta and Equity Performance [PDF] study of 1,500 companies found that there is a "strong, positive, and growing correlation between industrial companies' sustainability in general, and climate change in particular, and their competitiveness and financial performance."

It also concluded that the investment premium attained by those companies with the best climate change strategies was growing as regulatory regimes tighten.

"In the longer term, the out-performance potential will become even greater as the capital markets become more fully sensitized to the financial and competitive consequences of environmental and climate change considerations," the report predicted.

The findings are likely to be welcomed by green business leaders as vindication of those firms that have invested in greener business models on the assumption such initiatives will help bolster their competitiveness and attractiveness to investors.

However, the report found that despite the correlation between environmental and financial performance, there was still huge variation -- both between and within different industry sectors -- in businesses responses to climate change. It also argued that current corporate reporting of environmental initiatives remained largely inadequate and as a result investors were finding it difficult to identify those companies with the lowest "climate risk."

"Disclosure information is notoriously unreliable, inconsistently reported across companies and over time, and generally not validated by independent third parties," the report argued. "Emissions data alone provides less than 25 percent of the information a sophisticated investor requires."

Matthew Kiernan, founder and chief executive of Innovest, said that with more than $40 trillion of institutional investor assets now concerned about climate change, it was time for investors to demand more sophisticated tools for assessing the environmental performance of companies.

"It is increasingly critical that performance-driven investors move beyond simply pressing for greater company disclosure," he said. "We are now seeing them begin to demand the sorts of investment tools, research and products they need to turn mere information into superior investment decisions and performance."

Putin encourages farmers to produce biofuels: Russia as a green energy giant

October 21, 2007

For those of us who thought energy exporters are not interested in biofuels or feel threatened by them, think again. The world's largest oil and gas exporter, Russia, has called on its farmers to join the global transition to biofuels.

During his televised conversation with Russians last Tuesday, Vladimir Putin told farmers they stand to benefit from capturing part of the emerging market for bioenergy. Few countries have as large a biofuels potential as Russia, he said, given its gigantic territory which stretches across 11 time zones.

With the advent of next-generation bioconversion technologies, which succeed in turning lignocellulosic biomass such as wood and grass into liquid and gaseous biofuels, Russia, with its vast taiga and tundra, has indeed emerged as one of the largest potential producers.

Recent projections by researchers working for the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40 show the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union) together with the Baltics have a combined sustainable bioenergy capacity of maximum 199 Exajoules by 2050 (earlier post), or roughly 32.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent energy per year. This comes down to 89 million barrels per day, or roughly the same amount as the world's total current oil consumption.

Earlier this year, Russia's agriculture minister Alexej Gordejev estimated the country has 20 million hectares of low value land available immediately for bioenergy. A short term goal would be to produce a whopping 1 billion tons of biomass for exports, roughly the equivalent of 15 Ej of energy, or 2.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent per year (earlier post). That is around 6.7 million barrels of oil per day; Russia currently produces some 9.1 million bpd of fossil oil.

Putin said he sees no objections to Russians "who work in the countryside to take some of the market share of our petroleum and gas producers".

Russia is a food exporter and will harvest around 78 million tons of grains this year. "This is a bit less than last year, but more than enough to allow for the exportation of around 10 million tons", Putin said.

For the production of bioenergy, Russia would use its vast forestry resources and land not suitable for the production of food crops, that is the vast taiga and tundra, where a range of productive herbaceous and woody biomass crops can be grown.

Russia's agriculture ministry has meanwhile begun cooperating on bioenergy with Germany's ministry for economic affairs within the 'German-Russian Agricultural Policy Dialogue'. Germany has a large know-how in the sector and is leading the development of new conversion technologies. But it has relatively few biomass resources compared to the 'green giant'.

Citing Global Warming, Kansas Denies Plant Permit

NY Times
October 20, 2007


A Kansas regulator has turned down a permit for a large coal-fired power plant solely because of the global warming gases it would emit.

Opponents of the plant say this is the first instance of a regulatory agency’s rejecting a permit for that reason alone.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Thursday turned down a permit for twin 700-megawatt coal-fired generators that a group of electric cooperatives is seeking to build near Holcomb in southwest Kansas. The ownership and the electricity would be shared by 67 cooperatives in Kansas and neighboring states.

The department’s staff had recommended issuing the air quality permits, but Roderick L. Bremby, the secretary of the department, said in a statement, “I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing.”

Mr. Bremby cited a Supreme Court ruling this year, Massachusetts v. the Environmental Protection Agency, in which the court found that carbon dioxide was a pollutant and could be regulated.

At the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, which would be the operator and part-owner of the plant, a spokesman, Stephen J. Miller, said the court decision merely permitted regulations on carbon dioxide but did not create them. “There are no carbon dioxide regulations in the federal rules or in Kansas,” Mr. Miller said.

A spokesman for the environment and health department, Joe Blubaugh, said, “What it really boils down to is the secretary is authorized by Kansas statute to affirm, modify or reverse a decision on an air permit to protect health and the environment of Kansas.”

Mr. Miller said that if the plant cannot be built, the cooperatives would try to build a power line to import electricity from a coal-fired plant planned in Missouri.

Kansas has a goal of getting 10 percent of its electricity at peak periods from the wind. Mr. Miller said the co-ops would meet the goal by the end of the year, two years ahead of the state deadline.

He said the builders would file an administrative appeal of the decision, which they expected to lose, and then go to court.

At the Sierra Club, which is involved in two suits against the project, Bruce E. Nilles, director of the group’s national coal campaign, said, “I went back through all the rejections I could think of, and none of them were explicitly on the basis of carbon dioxide.” Other environmental groups said they would use the Kansas decision as a precedent in fighting plants elsewhere.

The Kansas decision points to a problem in determining the value of carbon dioxide. Mr. Miller said that as an alternative, the cooperatives could build plants powered by natural gas, which creates half as much carbon dioxide per unit of heat produced. But at a market price of $8 per million B.T.U.’s for gas, the fuel cost for a kilowatt-hour from the co-op’s existing gas-fired plant is about 8 cents, while from coal, the price is 1.5 cents. (A new plant would need less gas to make a kilowatt-hour, experts say, but the price difference would still be substantial.)

Since there is no tax or trading system for carbon dioxide in the United States, there is no common yardstick for determining whether the additional amount that consumers would pay for gas is offset by the carbon saved.

Fight Against Coal Plants Draws Diverse Partners

NY Times
October 20, 2007


GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Richard D. Liebert turned his back against a hard wind the other day, adjusted his black cap and gazed across golden fields of hay. Explaining why he is against construction of a big coal-burning power plant east of town, Mr. Liebert sounded like one more voice from the green movement.

“The more I learn about global warming and watch the drought affect ranchers and farmers, I see that it’s wind energy, not coal plants, that can help with rural economic development. Besides, do we want to roll the dice with the one planet we’ve got?”

But Mr. Liebert, despite his sentiments, fits nobody’s stereotype of an environmentalist. He is a Republican, a cattle rancher and a retired Army lieutenant colonel who travels to South Korea to train soldiers to fight in Iraq.

He is also an example of a rising phenomenon in the West. An increasingly vocal, potent and widespread anti-coal movement is developing here. Environmental groups that have long opposed new power plants are being joined by ranchers, farmers, retired homeowners, ski resort operators and even religious groups.

Activists say the increasing diversity of these coalitions is making them more effective.

“You’re seeing a convergence of people who previously never worked together or even talked to each other,” said Anne Hedges, program director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, which is spearheading three lawsuits aimed at blocking construction of the power plant near Great Falls. “They’re saying these coal plants don’t make any sense, whether from an economic or environmental or property-rights standpoint.”

Power companies concede that anti-coal coalitions are indeed becoming more effective — and they describe that as a threat to the reliability of the nation’s electric grid. In their view, building more coal-burning power plants is the most realistic way to meet the rising demand for electric power.

“It’s clear new coal-fired generation is running into roadblocks,” said Rick Sergel, president and chief executive of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. “I don’t believe we can allow coal-fired generation to become an endangered species. We simply must use all the resources we have.”

Natural gas is an alternative to coal for electricity generation. But Mr. Sergel said the industry worries about relying too heavily on gas because it is far more expensive, prices have become volatile and a share of the gas supply has to be imported.

New nuclear power plants are on the drawing board, but they are many years from completion. And although energy conservation and efficiency, as well as renewable energy, will play larger roles in the future, they are not enough to meet the nation’s growing appetite for electricity, Mr. Sergel said.

The collaboration of former strangers — even enemies in some cases — to fight coal development is largely a Western phenomenon. While medical groups, city officials, environmental groups and others have banded together to fight coal plants near cities east of the Mississippi, the power plants in the West are largely in rural areas and thus directly affect farmers and ranchers living on the plains, the prairies and near the Rocky Mountains.

Government projections suggest that coal, which provides 50 percent of the nation’s electricity and a quarter of its total energy, will continue to dominate the nation’s energy mix, despite its environmental problems. As of last May, the Energy Department projected that 151 coal-fired plants could be built by 2030 to meet a 40 percent rise in demand for electricity, largely from soaring populations in Western states.

“Coal is still very much alive,” said Jim Owen, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group.

But opponents of coal plants are winning some battles. Reports from the government, the industry and environmental groups show that at least three dozen coal plants have been canceled or scaled back in the last two years.

Bruce E. Nilles, a lawyer who directs the Sierra Club’s national coal campaign, said his organization and collaborating groups had filed 29 lawsuits and administrative appeals against proposed coal plants. Aside from legal battles, the power industry said rising construction and labor costs and regulatory pressure were contributing to the cancellations.

Ranchers and farmers have featured prominently in several recent battles over power plants. In Jerome County, Idaho, for instance, Sempra Energy of San Diego had planned to build a large plant to burn pulverized coal. A coalition that included the Jerome County Farm Bureau, a dairy association, ski resort owners, other landowners, local politicians and environmental activists defeated Sempra. They also prompted a two-year statewide moratorium on such coal plants.

And in Iowa, a 77-year-old retired farmer living on the land his great-grandfather settled in 1879 has galvanized ranchers, farmers and environmentalists to fight plans by the LS Power Group of New Jersey to build a coal plant on his property.

In 2003, the farmer, Merle Bell, sold LS Power an option to buy his land. He said that even though he had doubts about the wisdom of coal plants, he thought he had little choice because the company was also purchasing an option on his neighbor’s land and said it would build the plant anyway. Mr. Bell later changed his mind. His coalition is pressing the Iowa Utilities Board to kill the plant, which also faces larger permitting hurdles.

“I grew up here,” Mr. Bell said from his home just east of Waterloo. “I rode ponies here. I farmed and raised cows, chicken and hogs here. A coal plant would be bad for the environment, and I don’t want to see it harm people living here and future generations.”

For many farmers and ranchers, protecting the land they till hardly means that they have become environmentalists. In fact, seeing environmentalists as potential allies and not enemies has been awkward for many of them.

C. J. Kantorowicz grows winter wheat on 6,000 acres near the proposed Highwood coal plant east of Great Falls. Last fall he joined other farmers in a zoning lawsuit against Cascade County commissioners to stop the plant. Until he went to an organizing meeting that another farmer, Robert Lassila, held at his house, Mr. Kantorowicz loathed environmentalists. So he winced when he was introduced to a pathologist who had started a local environmental group to fight the proposed plant. She came to talk about the public health and environmental risks.

“I think global warming is a hoax, and I hate to hitch my wagon to environmentalists,” Mr. Kantorowicz said recently in his living room after a hard day planting winter wheat. “I went to the meeting with the mind that I’d shoot holes in her story, her environmentalist’s view. But she and others convinced me they were right by being honest and answering our questions in detail about pollution and such.”

Robert Lassila’s son, Daryl, lives next door to his parents. He recalled some of the neighbors bristling when the meeting started.

“Many were looking at each other nervously and wondering who brought the environmentalists here and is there a back door to this place,” he said. “But they stayed put and here we are, together in this fight.”

For many farmers and ranchers, their aversion to coal is more pragmatic than philosophical. Their crops and livestock have been plagued by severe droughts and storms lately, and some wonder whether those are linked to global warming. Whether that proves to be the case, the strain on their finances has made them more interested in renewable-energy projects, like wind turbines, on their land.

Janyce and Leonard Harms, who grow wheat and millet in Hereford, Colo., near the Wyoming and Nebraska borders, last year agreed to allow eight towering wind turbines on their land. The turbines are part of the new 274-turbine Cedar Creek wind farm owned by BP, the huge energy company, and Babcock & Brown. The project is expected to churn out electricity for some 90,000 homes, mostly near Denver.

The Harmses, though a bit skeptical about coal plants, have not become involved in any battles. But they typify the fascination with wind energy that is sweeping rural America. They have received about $5,000 from the wind farm’s owners for leasing their land, and once the wind farm is fully operational by year’s end, they will receive at least $3,500 a year per turbine.

“We’re not environmentalists by any means,” Ms. Harms said as she gazed through her sliding glass door at the huge turbines spinning in the distance. “I see this as supplemental income. We’re getting older and we’d like to retire. This is a great deal, and the fact that it’s clean energy makes it even better.”

Criminal Element

NY Times
October 21, 2007


Has the Clean Air Act done more to fight crime than any other policy in American history? That is the claim of a new environmental theory of criminal behavior.

In the early 1990s, a surge in the number of teenagers threatened a crime wave of unprecedented proportions. But to the surprise of some experts, crime fell steadily instead. Many explanations have been offered in hindsight, including economic growth, the expansion of police forces, the rise of prison populations and the end of the crack epidemic. But no one knows exactly why crime declined so steeply.

The answer, according to Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, an economist at Amherst College, lies in the cleanup of a toxic chemical that affected nearly everyone in the United States for most of the last century. After moving out of an old townhouse in Boston when her first child was born in 2000, Reyes started looking into the effects of lead poisoning. She learned that even low levels of lead can cause brain damage that makes children less intelligent and, in some cases, more impulsive and aggressive. She also discovered that the main source of lead in the air and water had not been paint but rather leaded gasoline — until it was phased out in the 1970s and ’80s by the Clean Air Act, which took blood levels of lead for all Americans down to a fraction of what they had been. “Putting the two together,” she says, “it seemed that this big change in people’s exposure to lead might have led to some big changes in behavior.”

Reyes found that the rise and fall of lead-exposure rates seemed to match the arc of violent crime, but with a 20-year lag — just long enough for children exposed to the highest levels of lead in 1973 to reach their most violence-prone years in the early ’90s, when crime rates hit their peak.

Such a correlation does not prove that lead had any effect on crime levels. But in an article published this month in the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, Reyes uses small variations in the lead content of gasoline from state to state to strengthen her argument. If other possible sources of crime like beer consumption and unemployment had remained constant, she estimates, the switch to unleaded gas alone would have caused the rate of violent crime to fall by more than half over the 1990s.

If lead poisoning is a factor in the development of criminal behavior, then countries that didn’t switch to unleaded fuel until the 1980s, like Britain and Australia, should soon see a dip in crime as the last lead-damaged children outgrow their most violent years. According to a comparison of nine countries published this year by Rick Nevin in the journal Environmental Research, crime rates around the world are just starting to respond to the removal of lead from gasoline and paint. “It really does sound like a bad science-fiction plot,” says Nevin, a senior adviser to the National Center for Healthy Housing. “The idea that a society could have systematically poisoned its youngest children with the same neurotoxins in two different ways over the same century is almost impossible to believe.”

The magnitude of these claims has been met with a fair amount of skepticism. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, wonders how lead could have had such a strong effect on violent crime while, according to Reyes, it showed almost no effect on property crimes like theft. He also doubts that the hypothesis could explain the plunge in the U.S. murder rate from the 1930s through the 1950s. “I certainly think it’s a reasonable exercise,” Miron says. “We just have to be appropriately suspicious of how much you can actually show.”

The theory will be put to the test as children grow up in Indonesia, Venezuela and sub-Saharan Africa, where leaded gasoline has just recently been phased out. Meanwhile, the list of countries that still use lead in gas — Afghanistan, Serbia and Iraq, as well as much of North Africa and Central Asia — does not rule out a connection with violence.

No matter how suggestive the economists’ data, it takes a doctor to show that some of the people most damaged by lead are out there breaking the law. Herbert Needleman, the University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist and pediatrician whose work helped persuade the government to ban lead in the 1970s, recently studied a sample of juvenile delinquents in Pittsburgh; the group had significantly more lead in their bones than their peers. And lead may not be the only source of damage. The National Children’s Study will soon begin to track more than 100,000 children to determine the effects of exposure to common pesticides, among other chemicals.

Jascha Hoffman is on the staff of The New York Review of Books.

Save the Planet: Vote Smart

NY Times
October 21, 2007



People often ask: I want to get greener, what should I do? New light bulbs? A hybrid? A solar roof? Well, all of those things are helpful. But actually, the greenest thing you can do is this: Choose the right leaders. It is so much more important to change your leaders than change your light bulbs.

Why? Because leaders write the rules, set the standards and offer the tax incentives that drive market behavior across a whole city, state or country. Whatever any of us does individually matters a tiny bit. But when leaders change the rules, you get scale change across the whole marketplace. And the energy-climate challenge we face today is a huge scale problem. Without scale, all you have is a green hobby.

Have no illusions, everything George Bush wouldn’t do on energy after 9/11 — his resisting improved mileage for cars and actually trying to weaken air-conditioner standards — swamped any good works you did. Fortunately, the vacuum in the White House is being filled by leaders from below.

Take the New York City taxi story. Two years ago, David Yassky, a City Council member, sat down with one of his backers, Jack Hidary, a technology entrepreneur, to brainstorm about how to make New York City greener — at scale. For starters, they checked with the Taxi and Limousine Commission to see what it would take to replace the old gas-guzzling Crown Victoria yellow cabs, which get around 10 miles a gallon, with better-mileage, low-emission hybrids. Great idea, only it turned out to be illegal, thanks to some old size regulations designed to favor Crown Vics.

Recalled Mr. Hidary: “When they first told me, I said, ‘Are you serious? Illegal?’” So he formed a nonprofit called to help Mr. Yassky lobby the City Council to change the laws to permit hybrid taxis. They also reframed it as a health issue, with the help of Louise Vetter, president of the American Lung Association of the City of New York.

“New York City has among the dirtiest air in the U.S.,” Ms. Vetter said. “When it comes to ozone and particulate matter, New Yorkers are breathing very unhealthy air. Most of it is tailpipe emissions. And in New York City, where asthma rates are among the highest in the nation, the high ozone levels create very serious threats, especially for kids who spend a lot of time outdoors. Converting cabs from yellow to green would be a great gift to the city’s children.”

Matt Daus, who heads the taxi commission, which is independent of the mayor, was initially reluctant, but once he learned of the health and other benefits, he joined forces with Messrs. Yassky and Hidary, and the measure passed the City Council by 50 to 0 on June 30, 2005. Since then, more than 500 taxi drivers have converted to hybrids — mostly Ford Escapes, but also Toyota Highlanders and Priuses, and others.

On May 22, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the greenest mayors in America, decided to push even further, insisting on a new rule, which the taxi commission has to approve, that will not just permit but require all cabs — 13,000 in all — to be hybrids or other low-emission vehicles that get at least 30 miles a gallon, within five years.

“When it comes to health and safety and environmental issues, government should be setting standards,” the mayor said. “What you need are leaders who are willing to push for standards that are in society’s long-term interest.” When the citizens see the progress, Mr. Bloomberg added, “then they start to lead.” And this encourages leaders to seek even higher standards.

I asked Evgeny Freidman, a top New York City fleet operator, how he liked the hybrids: “Absolutely fabulous! We started out with 18, and now we have over 200, mostly Ford Escapes. Now we only put hybrids out there. The drivers are demanding them and the public is demanding them. It has been great economically. With gas prices as they are, the drivers are saving $30 dollars a shift.” He said drivers who were getting 7 to 10 miles a gallon from their Crown Vics were getting 25 to 30 from their hybrids. The cost of shifting to these hybrids, he added, has not been onerous.

Now Mr. Hidary is trying to get law firms and investment banks, which use gas-guzzling Town Cars — 12,000 in the city — to demand hybrid sedans only.

This is how scale change happens. When the Big Apple becomes the Green Apple, and 40 million tourists come through every year and take at least one hybrid cab ride, they’ll go back home and ask their leaders, “Why don’t we have hybrid cabs?”

So if you want to be a green college kid or a green adult, don’t fool yourself: You can change lights. You can change cars. But if you don’t change leaders, your actions are nothing more than an expression of, as Dick Cheney would say, “personal virtue.”

Inch by Inch, Great Lakes Shrink, and Cargo Carriers Face Losses

NY Times
October 22, 2007


OSWEGO, N.Y. — From his office at the port here, Jonathan Daniels stared at a watermark etched on the rocks that hug one of the commercial piers — a thick dark line several inches above the surface of Lake Ontario — and wondered how much lower the water would dip.

“What we need is some rain,” said Mr. Daniels, director of the Port of Oswego Authority, one of a dozen public port agencies on the United States side of the Great Lakes. “The more we lose water, the less cargo the ships that travel in the Great Lakes can carry, and each time that happens, shipping companies lose money,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s people like you and I who are going to pay the price.”

Water levels in the Great Lakes are falling; Lake Ontario, for example, is about seven inches below where it was a year ago. And for every inch of water that the lakes lose, the ships that ferry bulk materials across them must lighten their loads by 270 tons — or 540,000 pounds — or risk running aground, according to the Lake Carriers’ Association, a trade group for United States-flag cargo companies.

As a result, more ships are needed, adding millions of dollars to shipping companies’ operating costs, experts in maritime commerce estimate.

“When a ship leaves a dock, and it’s not filled to capacity, it’s the same as a plane leaving an airport with empty seats: It cuts into their earning capacity,” said Richard D. Stewart, a co-director of the Transportation and Logistics Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

“Because it’s mostly raw materials we’re talking about, the average consumer may see an increase in pennies in the price they pay for, say, a new car or washing machine,” Dr. Stewart said. For major manufacturers or firms managing big projects, however, the increase in transportation costs “is much more significant,” he said.

The port of Oswego receives scraps of aluminum from Canada, which are rolled into sheets at a local plant and sent to car manufacturers; soy beans for a bio-diesel plant in nearby Fulton; and parts for windmills that are used to generate power on a farm south of Canandaigua Lake, near Rochester, said L. Michael Treadwell, director of Operation Oswego County, a nonprofit economic development agency. The windmill parts arrive from Brazil and Indonesia, in ships that enter Lake Ontario through the St. Lawrence Seaway, which connects the lake to the Atlantic Ocean.

The port also handles soy beans grown in central New York and sent to the Middle East, and it receives potash, a mineral used in fertilizer, and road salt, which are distributed by truck and rail to companies across the Eastern United States.

The water levels in all five Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario — are below long-term averages and are likely to stay that way until at least March, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. (The same is true at Lake St. Clair, which straddles the border between the state of Michigan and the province of Ontario and is between Lake Huron and Lake Erie; it is not considered one of the Great Lakes, although it is part of the Great Lakes system.)

Most environmental researchers say that low precipitation, mild winters and high evaporation, due largely to a lack of heavy ice covers to shield cold lake waters from the warmer air above, are depleting the lakes. The Great Lakes follow a natural cycle, their levels rising in the spring, peaking in the summer and reaching a low in the winter, as the evaporation rate rises.

In the past two years, evaporation has been higher than average, and not enough rain and snow have fallen in the upper lakes — Superior, Michigan and Huron — which supply water to the lower lakes, to restore the system to its normal levels, said Keith Kompoltowicz, a meteorologist at the Corps of Engineers’ office in Detroit, which monitors water levels in the lakes. “Mother Nature is largely the driving force on what the water levels are, and it plays a large role in what we project water levels to be,” Mr. Kompoltowicz said.

The International Joint Commission, which advises the United States and Canada on water resources, is conducting a $17 million, five-year study to determine whether the shrinking of the Great Lakes is related to the seasonal rise-and-fall cycles or is a result of climate change, said Greg McGillis, a spokesman for the commission. A final report is expected in March 2012.

Lake Ontario’s water level can be regulated through releases from a dam on the United States-Canada border, which allowed the lake to maintain its normal levels until May, Mr. McGillis said. Then a drought hit, and the releases became less generous, said Robert O’Gorman, supervisor of the United States Geological Survey field station here. The drought and the lower inflows from the upper lakes, diminished Lake Ontario’s water level, he said.

Lake Ontario stood at 244.1 feet as of Wednesday — 3 inches below where it was at the beginning of the month, 5 inches below last month’s average and about a foot below last year’s average. The water, however, is still about 2 feet above the lake’s low of 242.19 feet, registered in 1934, according to the Corps of Engineers.

The picture is just as serious in the upper Great Lakes and is particularly grave in Lake Superior, where water levels have hovered below average since 1998 and, based on provisional data, set record lows in August and September. It is the longest stretch of below-average readings at Lake Superior since the Corps of Engineers started tracking the Great Lakes’ levels in 1918.

On average, 240 million tons of cargo travel across the Great Lakes every year. The United States fleet circulating in the Great Lakes has 63 ships, which have lost a total of 8,000 tons of cargo capacity for every inch of water the lakes have fallen below normal this year, said James H. I. Weakley, president of the carriers’ association. Those 8,000 tons, he said, correspond to enough iron ore to produce 6,000 cars, or enough coal to provide electricity to the Detroit area for three hours, or enough stone to build 24 houses.

Mark W. Barker, president of Interlake Steamship Company, said the nine ships his company operated made about 50 trips a year across the Great Lakes, and the larger ones have transported 1,800 tons less per trip this year compared with last year — the equivalent of losing an entire ship’s capacity over the length of a season.

“We get paid by the ton, so we’re losing a lot of revenue per trip, and we’re just going to have to reclaim that loss by increasing our rates,” said Mr. Barker, whose family has owned the company since 1987. “It’s either doing that or risk the business.”

The Great Lakes region is home to about 70 percent of the steel industry in North America and about half of the heavy manufacturing in the United States, Mr. Weakley said.

Here in Oswego, a city of 18,000 residents that is 40 miles north of Syracuse, the port has acquired renewed significance in the past two years, largely because of a budding renewable energy sector that depends in part on lake shipments. The area’s economy has struggled since the decline of its agricultural-based industries, like brewing, began in the 1970s.

Mr. Daniels, the port director, said that water transportation was still one of the most efficient alternatives for companies that rely on bulk cargo, and that Oswego was banking “on the water coming back to the lakes.”

“If the low levels in the Great Lakes are a result of global warming, I don’t know,” he said. “What I know is that we can’t control nature. All we can do is hope for rain.”

Drake Landing Solar Community

Back a few months ago I overheard someone talking about a district solar thermal heating system being put in place as part of a new housing development in Canada. What makes this project unique is that solar thermal collectors are placed on the garage roofs of each of the 54 homes. The hot water is then piped to a large pit filled with grout. This pit acts as a battery which will allow the homes to store enough hot water during the summer months necessary to meet approximately 90% of their space heating needs during the year. Additionally, each home will have a small solar thermal array which will provide approximately 60% of their domestic hot water needs.

Definitely check this out. It is a good example of thinking outside of the box.

Drake Landing Web Site

As an aside, I have to wonder if this type of solution might work for large retail or office buildings. You could place the thermal storage pit under the parking lot and potentially use the heat which builds up in the asphalt to help heat the pit. Food for thought.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Carbon Offset Market Heats Up By 3Degrees

Greentech Media
October 10, 2007

by: Jennifer Kho

3Degrees, a San Francisco company that sells carbon offsets, officially launched Wednesday.

The spinoff from renewable-energy firm 3 Phases Energy Services sells offsets it calls "verified emission reductions" to companies that want to reduce their carbon footprints. It also sells renewable-energy certificates and helps manage and market utilities' energy-efficiency programs.

The company isn't the only one selling carbon offsets in the United States, of course.

Charlotte, Vt.,-based Native Energy, which sells carbon-offset certificates to customers such as The Coca-Cola Co., Levi Strauss & Co. and The Timberland Co., raised its first institutional financing from FreshTracks Capital and Village Ventures, according to a Dow Jones story Tuesday.

And TerraPass in San Francisco also sells offsets, focusing more on residential customers.

In each of these cases, the idea is to help customers bring their net carbon-dioxide emissions to zero by "offsetting" their emissions with projects that reduce carbon by the same amount.

While industry insiders think carbon trading could become a huge business in the United States if mandatory carbon caps are set, that could be years away.

So the business is currently driven by companies and individuals who voluntarily pay to offset their emissions. And industry insiders are looking to the voluntary market for early hints about what is coming.

But critics have compared carbon offsets to the Roman Catholic Church's sale of indulgences for worshippers' sins, saying they might not actually work to reduce overall carbon emissions.

3Degrees hopes to combat such skepticism by only buying offsets from projects that meet certification requirements of Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism, the Gold Standard or the Voluntary Carbon Standard and that can demonstrate that the income from selling the carbon reductions plays a significant role in the financial viability of the projects.

Priced at a Premium

3Degrees' reductions cost between $6 and $15 per metric ton, more than the carbon credits currently trading at less than $3 per ton on the Chicago Climate Exchange.

But Steve McDougal, 3Degrees' executive vice president of marketing and business development, says customers such as Starbucks, IBM, Wells Fargo, Coldwater Creek, Philips Semiconductor and Adobe think the company's accountability makes the premium worth it.

Still, the road ahead could be bumpy. Peter Fusaro, chairman of environmental consultant Global Change Associates, said 3Degrees is entering a "crowded field, with Terrapass and others already established."

He also wonders if they will have access to the best projects.

"Will there be enough low-hanging fruit for them, as many projects have been picked over?" he said, adding that people now want higher prices for their credits in anticipation of coming mandatory markets.

McDougal said plenty of projects are vying for 3Degrees' attention. The company sends company representatives to each project site before agreeing to buy offsets.

"It they don't meet our standards, we don't take them," he said. "We think it's very important that sellers of carbon reductions projects are transparent and only offer projects that meet these high certification standards."

Finding the Right Projects

McDougal said the company rejected a project last week that definitely accomplished the goal of reducing carbon, but that didn't appear to rely mainly on carbon financing to be successful.

3Degrees already has bought offsets from wind projects, coal-mine methane projects, agricultural methane projects and projects that preserve old-growth forests, McDougal said.

Aside from wind, those types of projects might not be the usual ones the industry expects to see.

But while anaerobic digestion, the process of converting manure into natural gas, as well as technologies that capture methane emissions from abandoned coal-mines and use them for electricity, might not sound (or smell) particularly sexy, McDougal said they can reduce carbon emissions.

They also often are projects that would not make enough money on their own, without selling carbon offsets, McDougal said.

The company hasn't made deals with any solar projects so far, McDougal said.

"We are very big fans of solar; the challenge is the economics often don't meet corporate needs for investments because of [solar power's] high cost," he said.

Still, McDougal said he expects many more technologies will end up benefiting from carbon trading in the future.

Strategizing for a Mandatory Market

The company believes its work in the voluntary market will give it an edge when the U.S. puts a mandatory cap-and-trade system in place. McDougal said he expects that to happen within two to four years.

But while many industry insiders believe a mandatory carbon program is coming - Sen. Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential hopeful, this week proposed a mandatory cap, along with an auction system so companies can trade carbon credits - the timing of such a program is unclear.

Fusaro said that while a California program and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are scheduled to take effect by 2010, a federal program isn't likely to be decided until 2010 - and will probably take at least another five years to implement.

And while voluntary carbon-credit providers expect the credits will appreciate in value over time, it is still unclear how much value these voluntary credits will have, he said.

"It is still problematic whether any voluntary credits will be allowed under any U.S. mandatory program in California, [the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative], or at the federal level," he said. "The latest thinking is that there will be some partial credit allowed in a compliance-driven market."

Still, even if a mandatory market does take longer than expected to materialize, McDougal said 3Degrees is expecting "great things to happen" in the voluntary market.

The company has grown revenues from roughly $6 million as a division of 3 Phases in 2006 to an expected $20 million this year and hopes to double revenues again in 2008, he said.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Earth Policy Institute

Lester R. Brown

We recently entered a new century, but we are also entering a new world, one where the collisions between our demands and the earth’s capacity to satisfy them are becoming daily events. It may be another crop-withering heat wave, another village abandoned because of invading sand dunes, or another aquifer pumped dry. If we do not act quickly to reverse the trends, these seemingly isolated events will occur more and more frequently, accumulating and combining to determine our future.

Resources that accumulated over eons of geological time are being consumed in a single human lifespan. We are crossing natural thresholds that we cannot see and violating deadlines that we do not recognize. These deadlines, determined by nature, are not politically negotiable.

Nature has many thresholds that we discover only when it is too late. In our fast-forward world, we learn that we have crossed them only after the fact, leaving little time to adjust. For example, when we exceed the sustainable catch of a fishery, the stocks begin to shrink. Once this threshold is crossed, we have a limited time in which to back off and lighten the catch. If we fail to meet this deadline, breeding populations shrink to where the fishery is no longer viable, and it collapses.

We know from earlier civilizations that the lead indicators of economic decline were environmental, not economic. The trees went first, then the soil, and finally the civilization itself. To archeologists, the sequence is all too familiar.

Our situation today is far more challenging because in addition to shrinking forests and eroding soils, we must deal with falling water tables, more frequent crop-withering heat waves, collapsing fisheries, expanding deserts, deteriorating rangelands, dying coral reefs, melting glaciers, rising seas, more-powerful storms, disappearing species, and, soon, shrinking oil supplies. Although these ecologically destructive trends have been evident for some time, and some have been reversed at the national level, not one has been reversed at the global level.

The bottom line is that the world is in what ecologists call an “overshoot-and-collapse” mode. Demand has exceeded the sustainable yield of natural systems at the local level countless times in the past. Now, for the first time, it is doing so at the global level. Forests are shrinking for the world as a whole. Fishery collapses are widespread. Grasslands are deteriorating on every continent. Water tables are falling in many countries. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions exceed CO2 sequestration.

In 2002, a team of scientists led by Mathis Wackernagel, who now heads the Global Footprint Network, concluded that humanity’s collective demands first surpassed the earth’s regenerative capacity around 1980. Their study, published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, estimated that global demands in 1999 exceeded that capacity by 20 percent. The gap, growing by 1 percent or so a year, is now much wider. We are meeting current demands by consuming the earth’s natural assets, setting the stage for decline and collapse.

In a rather ingenious approach to calculating the human physical presence on the planet, Paul MacCready, the founder and Chairman of AeroVironment and designer of the first solar-powered aircraft, has calculated the weight of all vertebrates on the land and in the air. He notes that when agriculture began, humans, their livestock, and pets together accounted for less than 0.1 percent of the total. Today, he estimates, this group accounts for 98 percent of the earth’s total vertebrate biomass, leaving only 2 percent for the wild portion, the latter including all the deer, wildebeests, elephants, great cats, birds, small mammals, and so forth.

Ecologists are intimately familiar with the overshoot-and-collapse phenomenon. One of their favorite examples began in 1944, when the Coast Guard introduced 29 reindeer on remote St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea to serve as the backup food source for the 19 men operating a station there. After World War II ended a year later, the base was closed and the men left the island. When U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist David Kline visited St. Matthew in 1957, he discovered a thriving population of 1,350 reindeer feeding on the thick mat of lichen that covered the 332-square-kilometer (128-square-mile) island. In the absence of any predators, the population was exploding. By 1963, it had reached 6,000. He returned to St. Matthew in 1966 and discovered an island strewn with reindeer skeletons and not much lichen. Only 42 of the reindeer survived: 41 females and 1 not entirely healthy male. There were no fawns. By 1980 or so, the remaining reindeer had died off.

Like the deer on St. Matthew Island, we too are overconsuming our natural resources. Overshoot leads sometimes to decline and sometimes to a complete collapse. It is not always clear which it will be. In the former, a remnant of the population or economic activity survives in a resource-depleted environment. For example, as the environmental resource base of Easter Island in the South Pacific deteriorated, its population declined from a peak of 20,000 several centuries ago to today’s population of fewer than 4,000. In contrast, the 500-year-old Norse settlement in Greenland collapsed during the 1400s, disappearing entirely in the face of environmental adversity.

Even as the global population is climbing and the economy’s environmental support systems are deteriorating, the world is pumping oil with reckless abandon. Leading geologists now think oil production may soon peak and turn downward. Although no one knows exactly when oil production will peak, supply is already lagging behind demand, driving prices upward.

Faced with a seemingly insatiable demand for automotive fuel, farmers will want to clear more and more of the remaining tropical forests to produce sugarcane, oil palms, and other high-yielding biofuel crops. Already, billions of dollars of private capital are moving into this effort. In effect, the rising price of oil is generating a massive new threat to the earth’s biological diversity.

As the demand for farm commodities climbs, it is shifting the focus of international trade concerns from the traditional goal of assured access to markets to one of assured access to supplies. Countries heavily dependent on imported grain for food are beginning to worry that buyers for fuel distilleries may outbid them for supplies. As oil security deteriorates, so, too, will food security.

As the role of oil recedes, the process of globalization will be reversed in fundamental ways. As the world turned to oil during the last century, the energy economy became increasingly globalized, with the world depending heavily on a handful of countries in the Middle East for energy supplies. Now as the world turns to wind, solar cells, and geothermal energy in this century, we are witnessing the localization of the world energy economy.

The world is facing the emergence of a geopolitics of scarcity, which is already highly visible in the efforts by China, India, and other developing countries to ensure their access to oil supplies. In the future, the issue will be who gets access to not only Middle Eastern oil but also Brazilian ethanol and North American grain. Pressures on land and water resources, already excessive in most of the world, will intensify further as the demand for biofuels climbs. This geopolitics of scarcity is an early manifestation of civilization in an overshoot-and-collapse mode, much like the one that emerged among the Mayan cities competing for food in that civilization’s waning years.

You do not need to be an ecologist to see that if recent environmental trends continue, the global economy eventually will come crashing down. It is not knowledge that we lack. At issue is whether national governments can stabilize population and restructure the economy before time runs out.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Clean energy can't meet growing demand

USA Today
October 3, 2007

By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY

Demand for renewable energy is outstripping supply, pushing up prices and raising the specter that some states may not meet clean-energy mandates.

Behind the shortage are the growing number of states requiring utilities to include clean energy in their power mix, as well as surging demand from big businesses.

By 2010, clean-energy demand will outpace generation by at least 37% unless a rush of projects is built, says a report due out next week from the National Renewable Energy Lab.

Under laws in 25 states, clean energy — such as wind, solar and biomass — must constitute up to 30% of a utility's energy portfolio in five to 15 years. In 2003, just 10 states had such requirements. Also, growing concerns about power plants' global-warming emissions have led consumers and businesses to boost clean-energy purchases by 46% a year since 2003. Much of that is fueled by corporations, which have increased their green power purchases twenty-fivefold since 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency says. "Demand is growing faster than people expected," says NREL senior analyst Lori Bird.

Utilities and customers typically don't buy renewable energy itself. Rather, they buy renewable-energy credits — premiums above standard electric prices that subsidize a generator for each kilowatt hour of power it produces. Consumers, for instance, can pay up to $10 extra on their monthly utility bill or buy credits online.

Meanwhile, green energy, mostly from wind farms, has expanded 30% a year, NREL says. But new wind capacity has been slowed by a worldwide turbine shortage and local opposition to wind projects.

Partly as a result, renewable-energy prices have doubled the past couple of years in Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Plains states and have risen up to 50% in the West, say green-energy marketers Green Mountain Energy and 3Degrees and broker Evolution Markets. In the Mid-Atlantic, wind-price increases bumped the average monthly premium on utility bills for green-energy consumers to $10.50 from $6.30, says Green Mountain's John Holtz.

By 2015, New England will face a gap of 1,500 megawatts — enough to power 1.1 million homes — between green-energy resources and what's needed to meet standards, Northeast Utilities says. It will have to import clean energy from Canada, though there are now inadequate transmission lines to do so.

Shortages could keep utilities from meeting state mandates, leading to hefty penalties, Bird says. Renewable certificates for customers in some areas may be unavailable or too costly. Bird says high prices should spark more clean-energy projects, though construction could lag behind demand by up to two years.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Confounding Complexities of Building Green

A survey released last week by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development found that key players in real estate and construction overstate the extra costs of green buildings by some 300 percent, "creating a major barrier to more energy efficiency in the building sector."

Respondents to the 1,400-person global survey (Download - PDF) -- co-chaired by United Technologies and Lafarge, both global companies heavily in the building sector -- estimated the additional cost of building green at 17 percent above conventional construction, more than triple the true cost difference of about 5 percent.

At least, that's what the WBCSD's press release told us, and what most news organizations dutifully reported.

The study itself told us something else: It's not just the money, honey.

Building green turns out to be an overly complex proposition, with a fragmented value chain and a confounding lack of integration and coordination among the various players. Moreover, the study found, incentives to reduce energy use usually are split among these players "and not matched to those who can save the most through energy efficiency."

Even a brief examination of the motivations and interests of the players involved with the creation of a building reveals the disconnect when it comes to making them green:

Developers are frequently speculative, which inevitably results in a short-term focus on buildings' financial value. Even when developers plan to hold on to property as an income stream, they don't typically benefit from energy-efficiency measures, as energy cost savings go to the occupants, even though the developer incurs the investment cost.

Architects and engineers can be influential on green matters, but their influence on key decisions may be limited, especially if they do not work together in an integrated fashion.

Owners that rent their buildings have interests different from those of end users. Owners that plan to lease or occupy a building themselves are the ones most likely to consider investments that may have paybacks over several years.

End Users are often in the best position to benefit from energy savings, but they may not be in a position to make the necessary investments. This also depends on the financial arrangements among owners, agents, and users, which may include a fixed energy fee per square foot, regardless of actual consumption, thus eliminating financial incentives to conserve energy.

There are other players: leasing agents, local authorities, lenders, construction specifiers, and on and on. Each brings their own interests to the party. Conclude the authors:

The complexity of interaction among these participants is one of the greatest barriers to energy-efficient buildings.

That's a worrisome finding, one that suggests that even at cost-parity, making buildings greener might be a tough sell.

"I'm not sure when it started, but the industry developed in a very expert-oriented way," Bill Sisson, Director of Sustainability at United Technologies, told me recently. "The industry evolved itself around areas of expertise and investment. As it evolved over time, you have this structure that doesn't naturally lend itself to a common set of decisions being made through the process."

Along the way, this leads to decisions that are short-term, at best, or at least ones that aren't in everyone's best interests. "It's sad, but in many cases you find the marble in the lobby gets higher preference to a new higher-performing chiller or mechanical system because of who makes the decision, and which one is valued more," says Sisson, who led the WBCSD project on behalf of UTC.

What do to about this state of affairs? The WBCSD study concluded that financiers and developers are the biggest barriers to more sustainable approaches in the building value chain.

WBCSD identified eight factors that influence decision-makers about sustainable buildings, four of which "are the main barriers to greater consideration and adoption by building professionals and are the most significant in influencing respondents' consideration of 'sustainable building'."

They include:
Personal knowhow -- whether people understand how to improve a building's environmental performance and where to go for good advice

Business community acceptance -- whether people think the business community in their market sees sustainable buildings as a priority

A supportive corporate environment -- whether people think their company's leaders will support them in decisions to build sustainably

Personal commitment -- whether action on the environment is important to them as individuals
Sisson points out that a small but growing number of building professionals are attempting to avoid the industry's stovepiped mentality by employing an integrated design process, in which the various players get together -- virtually or face to face -- to examine various trade-offs. This may seem like an obvious solution to fragmentation, but it's nothing less than revolutionary for the building industry.

For example, in working with its own customers, United Technologies -- whose Carrier division has been one of the prime movers in the green building sector, and one of the original conveners of the U.S. Green Building Council -- has borrowed some tools and techniques from its aerospace division. "If you think of an aircraft as a building with wings, it's got all the same basic ingredients -- power systems, environmental control systems, creature comforts," explains Sisson. "And aircraft manufacturers are very sensitive to fuel consumption. So, to design an aircraft effectively you need to bring concurrent engineering thinking into the design of the aircraft."
UTC is beginning to deploy some of this same "concurrent thinking" in its building division. Says Sisson: "We have to go beyond just thinking about air conditioning. We have to think about how the air conditioning is part of the building system, and how customers can more effectively make those trade-offs" -- for example, between building orientation, the number of windows, or the thickness of insulation on the one hand, and the size of the air conditioning system on the other. (And how all of this relates to the cherished marble lobby.)

It's not just about building greener buildings, of course. It's also about building more profitable ones. Lighting, cooling, and maintenance make up as much as 85 percent of a building's fifty-year life-cycle cost, and the lion's share of those costs are locked in during the design phase, before any construction begins. So, thinking through costs, benefits, and trade-offs early on has a high leverage factor.

Moreover, there is evidence that an energy-efficient building can command a premium. According to the Green Building SmartMarket Report 2006, professionals expect greener buildings to garner an average 7.5% increase in value over comparable standard buildings, together with a 6.6% better return on investment.

Sisson acknowledges that the WBCSD report defines the business levers, but falls short of citing specific recommendations. His WBCSD working group is now engaged in scenario planning, forecasting, and modeling to come up with a robust set of recommendations on the policy, finance, technology fronts, with the aim of breaking through the barriers to make building green an easier process for everyone involved.

Of course there's an additional front to be addressed: human behavior. Developers and all the other players need to change their habits, break the cycle from "that's the way it's always been done" to "how can we do it better?" As the WBCSD report makes clear, that's a question that often goes unasked.

And it's not just the building community that has issues here. Building occupants can thwart even the best-designed and implemented green schemes. As Sisson puts it: "Just because you give the most energy-efficient building to a user, doesn't ensure that it will be used in the most energy-efficient way."