Sustainable = cheaper?

Well… sometimes.

David highlights some Economist stats that demonstrate that sustainability doesn’t necessarily cost more. In fact, sometimes it can save money.

David makes the point that although overall these measures are cheaper, often the decision makers are not the ones who benefit from the reduced costs. And as a result they don’t actually implement these simple measures that have a societal benefit, because they don’t get to see that benefit on their bottom line.

I’ve kind of had this thought before, but never fully put two and two together. In buying our unit in Newtown we were really aware of the poor water management and lack of sustainability features like water recycling, rain-water tanks, solar panels or motion sensor lighting (the body corporate did look into installing a motion sensor lighting system after the fact but the cost was too high to install then – no doubt it would have been significantly cheaper if it had been incorporated at build time). We had limited options due to our financial situation – but mostly it was a case of the “green” options simply not existing.

Virtually every place we looked at neglected the simple measures – which was immensely frustrating for us as buyers. We did end up in a place that was north facing and has good insulation, but had to forgo some of the other things we were aware would have saved us money and been better for the environment.

My view, much as I hate to admit it, is that the buyer has no influence on this – we can ask about it, but in the end we kinda have to accept what’s available (“no influence” is probably too strong – but it certainly is negligible in the grand scheme of things). Even if we chose not to buy, waiting for an enviro-friendly place to come on the market – the market (i.e. developers) don’t know this, and aren’t incentivised to do so. A market failure caused by lack of information perhaps…

I wish there was a way for us all to flag what we were looking for so developers could take heed (assuming we could get sufficient numbers interested in sustainability measures). But there is no such mechanism as far as I can see. So ultimately I feel that government intervention is the only way.

If I were building or buying a house it would be a different story – I’d have a lot more options and choices and my dollar could be focused more effectively. But living in Sydney I can’t see any way that I can afford a house, let alone build one – so I’m stuck relying on developers of apartments and other urban housing. I think the situation is even worse in high density buildings.

But I’m not holding my breath – as I understand it the BASIX laws have actually been clawed back to support developers who claim that it’s too expensive (i.e. too much of a hit on their profits) to do some of these things. It’s really so short sighted and neglects the state of the environment in the name of profit – two steps forward, one step back.

More on carbon neutral business

In a previous post, I pointed to a some articles by Joel Makower on the “green-rush” – companies scrambling to become “green”.

I just came across another post by Joel: Is ‘Carbon Neutral’ Good Enough?. This passage in particular (actually taken from an earlier post) caught my eye:

buying offsets for an energy-wasteful home or business and calling it environmentally responsible is akin to buying a Diet Coke to go with your double bacon cheeseburger — and calling it a weight-loss program. Efficiency (and calorie reduction!) comes first.

This is what was so interesting about the announcement from Yahoo! – they are actively distancing themselves from this position.

It’s a concern I’ve heard from quite a few people. Australian carbon credits provider, Climate Friendly re-inforce the “Reduce, Renew, Offset” ‘hierarchy’ that I’ve mentioned before (also promoted by WWF).

And it is also reflected in Energetics’ paper The Reality of Carbon Neutrality (PDF 52 KB) paper.

If ever there was a business case for an agreed framework or guideline for reporting on carbon neutrality, so that consumers, analysts and investors can determine with absolute clarity the genuine aspiration from the green wash – this is it.

The Energetics paper suggests that “carbon neutral” as a claim is problematic, unless backed up with life cycle analysis, verified and audited by a third party, and accreditation under a variety of standards (including the Australian and International Standard AS ISO 14064 used by the Australian Government’s Greenhouse Friendly program).

Energetics’ position leans a bit on risk management – that companies that claim “carbon neutral” status without going through such processes open the company up to reputation and financial risks:

Companies should be aware when they consider proclaiming their carbon neutrality, based on a less rigorous approach than the one outlined above, that there is a real reputation risk for Boards and Executives of accusations from civil society of “green wash”.

At present the ASX Corporate Governance Council is deciding to what extent they will require or recommend that ASX listed companies should voluntarily report on non-financial risk with regard to environment, social and governance risk and to what extent they will define reporting frameworks. Issues around carbon neutrality will fall within such guidelines or frameworks should they emerge.

It’s a useful approach, if only because risk is one of the key drivers leading businesses down the path of carbon neutrality. The other, of course, is marketing – perhaps one of the drivers of green wash?

Murdoch to go carbon neutral by 2010

SMH: Hybrid-driving media mogul discovers that it’s easy being green.


The key pull-quote for me:

Although some of his newspapers were once sceptical about global warming, he said that although he was no scientist, he understood how to assess a risk.

(Emphasis mine)

And that is what it’s all about. Whether you agree with the IPCC or green groups on the detail, the risk is clear. Is the debate over yet?

(P.S. the news was splashed over the Daily Tele print edition, but I didn’t find it on the website. If someone has a link, pass it on in the comments.)

Cars and CO2

Jason Kottke points to this great visualisation of the amount of CO2 a car produces each day.

This has to be the best visualisation I’ve seen of emissions from cars…

(It’s interesting that I found out about this action through Jason’s blog, and not WWF itself – the power of social media eh?)

Earth Hour results

Well – Earth Hour was a lot of fun, and a roaring success.

Check out the official press release for more detail, but the highlights are:

  • An estimated 2 million Sydneysiders participated by switching off their lights or taking other energy saving measures;
  • A 10.2% drop in energy usage across the Sydney CBD;
  • A significant drop in energy usage across Western Sydney – the same amount of electricity required to power 6500 homes.

Ang and I walked through Circular Quay for the start of Earth Hour, then attended the WWF fundraiser event.

On the bus on the way to the Quay, I started noticing the difference at around World Square, with Ernst & Young having their lights off. IAG was amazingly dark.

When we got the the Quay, AXA and AMP were both in darkness. A lot of the restaurants around the Quay were also candlelit.

It was both eery and cool and exciting to be walking through the city. You really could notice the difference. I’ve heard a report of a cab driver thinking there was a city blackout…

The Earth Hour Flickr group has some great shots. The before and after of Centrepoint is great, as is the blurry one at the end. Although side-by-side they don’t look as impressive, when you overlay one after the other the difference is amazing!

What’s really cool is a lot of the businesses remained in darkness all weekend – meaning an even bigger energy saving. Integral noted the same thing in the areas where they operate.

Anyways – had a great night, and it feels wonderful to be part of the team that made it happen. I’ll remember it fondly for a long, long time methinks…

Virgin carbon offsets

Well, I missed the news yesterday – but it seems that Virgin must have been listening 😉 They’re now offering carbon offsets for their flights. Noice!

More on the news – I do hope other airlines follow suit, but in the meantime this will impact my decision when booking airfares. I currently offset my flights using Climate Friendly – but this makes it easier (and by the looks of things is also cheaper).

Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to have been integrated into their online booking system (I did every step but pay) – but I’m sure it’s not far away…

I think it was a very wise step to get the “Greenhouse Friendly” accreditation. In one fell swoop they remove any ambiguity about the validity of their efforts.

You know, I was just thinking about offsets this morning. I, like others I know, are waiting for the greenwash, with companies scrambling to go “carbon neutral” by doing nothing more than using offsets.

Although I don’t agree with this method of doing things, one thought I had was that at least a lot of money and investment will go into renewable energy infrastructure development. I don’t think it would take long for the existing investments to “run out” of capacity, therefore driving the business case for more renewable capacity.

Then again, maybe I’m just idealistic…

Cars and business

Oikos: The environmentally destructive tax rort for cars. The bottom line:

There’s lots of talk about new measures to discourage the use of fossil fuels and debates about carbon taxes, carbon trading, mandatory renewable targets and so on. But a good start would be simply removing the economically questionable and environmentally damaging tax breaks that exist for private cars.

Can’t say I disagree. I know a few people that have cars as part of salary packages or work pays for them – what say ye?