It’s a regular Sunday afternoon in Monterrey. While most people are home with their families or enjoying the last days of summer inside their ranch houses–due to the nearly 40 degree heat–a handful have decided to do something “crazy”. At six in the afternoon, people start gathering at the local plaza, bringing along their bicycles, helmets, fluorescent clothes, and most importantly, their thirst for change. Despite the overwhelming heat, which makes it hard to breath, cyclists assemble, and thirty minutes later, they start their ride.
Flying. It’s convenient and quick but let’s face it – it’s a big environmental headache. And worldwide ecological conferences aren’t helping in that matter. As argued by my editor, Claudio Ruch, in the above linked article, we have to sometimes look beyond the carbon footprint to see what value we’re getting. After all, if there hadn’t been a global conference, I would still be sitting in Switzerland and Samuel Pickard in the United Kingdom, we would have never met and there would have been no extraordinary story to report.
Biofuels are nowadays very controversial, even if they promise a lot. That is why Adam Wong – who helped me for the preparation of the interview and who filmed it – and I took the chance to talk to a very up-to-date researcher in the fields. At the World Resources Forum 2012 in Beijing, we interviewed Philippa Usher from the University of Leeds. The brilliant Ph.D student from the Energy Research Institute is specialized in low carbon technology and more specifically, in microalgae biofuels. Her research, as she explains in the interview, focuses on Brazil where biofuels are already produced on a large scale.
Biofuels from corn seem to have been in vogue lately. This is especially true in the United States, where the Navy just paid $12 million for a Pacific fleet this summer, reopening at the same time the debate. But are biofuels really a sustainable and practical solution to our energy problem? Is it responsible to continue in that direction, especially with cars, while other possibilities could be and are being developed to avoid using fuel or biofuel? The concept of biofuels is not a new one and it is not just in the last decade that it came to the mind of some car producers to use ethanol to run their machines. In fact, Henry Ford planned to have his Model T running on ethanol, which is a type of biofuel, already back in 1906.
The World Resources Forum has officially opened and the student reporters are reporting live. This is reason enough to shed light on some of our activities from an ecological point of view. Since we’ll be sleeping, breathing, and talking resources for the next three days, we thought it’d be interesting to see the resource footprint of getting our team to Beijing. We’re only looking at the carbon footprint for now, and using an easily accessible online calculator, we came up with a quick calculation. 6.68 tonnes CO2e (4 people from Zürich to Beijing, return)
4.63 tonnes CO2e (2 people from Philadelphia to Beijing, return)
1.53 tonnes CO2e (1 person from Budapest to Beijing, return)
0.47 tonnes CO2e (1 person from Hong Kong to Beijing, return)
1.71 tonnes CO2e (1 person from London to Beijing, return)
1.72 tonnes CO2e (1 person from Geneva to Beijing, return)
1.80 tonnes CO2e (1 person from Zürich to Beijing via Helsinki, return)
This results in 18.54 tonnes CO2e for transporting 12 student reporters.
Can biofuels still be the magical solution to our energy problems? Thousands of scientists will admit that biofuels are no longer a new concept (in fact, it is a very old idea). From the ‘first generation’ ethanol to the ‘second generation lignocellulosic’ biofuels and the latest algae-based biofuels, scientists and researchers are trying their best to find the best biofuels solutions. But with controversy shrouding if they’re actually sustainable means that biofuels are still debated hotly. Opposition to biofuels mainly revolves around concerns that are mainly related to the sustainability aspects of their development and manufacturing.
When it comes to scarcity of resources, one of the most publicly discussed topics is the impending shortage of fossil fuels. As we have known for a while now, global oil reserves are limited. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 2035 will be the decisive year in which the maximum amount of oil production will be achieved. Thereafter, less oil will be available on the market year after year and eventually, reserves will be exhausted. This knowledge implies that people have to change their consumer behavior sooner or later.
As I took part in some of the side events today on sustainable transport, a cognitive dissonance was created in my mind. It happens quite often that brilliant ideas somehow do not marry so easy with everyday reality. Even at Rio+20. People from all over the world – large global multinationals and the most powerful countries – have gathered at Rio’s Athletes’ Park in the city outskirts. The topic under discussion – bright new ways of managing the concrete spaghetti that feeds the daily maneuvers of urban inhabitants.
How can businesses develop products that are both environmentally and economically sustainable? Many company executives see green initiatives as a financial burden that are only pursued out of good will. Some environmental projects require large initial investments or involve changing the structure of an operation. However, many initiatives that reduce the environmental impacts of products also reduce costs for businesses and improve their bottom line. At the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) conference titled “Greening the Supply Chain: Best Business Practices and Future Trends” on Thursday, April 26, many strategies were presented by various companies that have improved both their environmental and economic sustainability. (more…)
Europe has learned many times from Japan. In past decades Japanese business administration principles were adapted by European management consulting agencies, Japanese art of cooking found it’s way into our restaurants and even Japanese styles of bedding are popular in Europe. Tomorrow maybe we’ll have the chance to adopt Japanese resources management into our European concepts. Masafumi Maeda, Vice President of the University of Tokyo, Japanese Academy of Engineering is giving a keynote address at the World Resources Forum on Tuesday 20th of September. The general title “The Japanese View of Resource Management – a Perspective of Industry and Science” promises different insights into the way resources topics are discussed in Japan.