Does the United Nations’ new global sustainability agenda mean anything for cities?

To the raucous applause of relatively few people, the U.N. General Assembly quietly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last week, and with it, 17 technicolor goals for fixing everything in the world. These are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2015–2030’s answer to yesteryear’s Millennium Development Goals. Pony up, humans; we’ve got some sustainable things to develop:


Seventeen: Just enough to make achieving even one feel insurmountable.

The first thing to note is that each of the goals is an amalgamation of targets that allow for measurable progress. There are 169 of these targets, which is to say that any governments interested in hitting the goals — and 193 of them just signed up to do exactly that — will be tracking at least 169 new indicators to demonstrate how well they’re doing. (To be clear, we don’t actually know the indicators for the targets yet. Those will be adopted at a future U.N. session.)

But let’s zoom the lens in on one of these goals and see what’s going on. Goal 11, for example, is to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” I think we can all agree those are reasonable asks. But what does it actually mean to be a sustainable city?

That question was the concern of a March 2015 position paper by the Local Authorities Major Group, a channel through which a collection of NGOs and subnational government stakeholders sends feedback to the U.N. Among the authors’ proposed metrics for pairing with the targets were numbers like “percentage of people within 0.5 km of public transit running at least every 20 minutes,” “percentage of urban solid waste regularly collected and well managed,” and “area of public space as a proportion of total city space.”

While the Local Authorities Major Group doesn’t decide which metrics the U.N. will adopt, you can imagine several like these making the cut. But this is where a central contradiction of the SDGs reveals itself: For all the grand and all-encompassing nature of the goals themselves (cf. “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”), developing appropriate metrics for the 169 targets gets persnickety pretty quickly. It threatens to devolve into pegging arbitrary, ultra-specific definitions to things like “reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities” (Target 11.6). What’s more important to the U.N., a given city’s carbon emissions or its water pollution? Both? Either? Fix all of the things in all of the cities? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯?

Among Goal 11’s other targets are items like “provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all,” “strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage,” and “enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.” Although these targets are admirable, 15 years is a pretty tight deadline for reaching them.

But not all is lost. If the SDGs actually mean anything for cities, it’s that massive multilateral institutions like the United Nations are recognizing the potential of local governments — something that rarely happens in the U.N.’s rooms of noble conversation and dark suits. At a meeting at the New School last Friday, a global coalition of governors and mayors endorsed the SDGs and noted their own role in holding up Goal 11. “When it comes to sustainability, environmental protection, social inclusion, and creating a prosperity that can spread, mayors can do something about that,” said California Gov. Jerry Brown. “To do any of this, though, it will take heroic efforts,” he added.

Indeed. At the same event, speaking on behalf of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, U.N.-Habitat head Joan Clos i Matheu said that Goal 11 “calls for an urban transformation that requires political will and the capacity to coordinate many actors and stakeholders. … Most importantly, [mayors] can give a voice to their citizens.”

And that’s where the SDGs really start to matter. The U.N. argues that the Millennium Development Goals “galvanized” governments to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty. That may well be true. (There’s no good way to be certain about what motivated that achievement.) But there’s a difference between government galvanization and actual citizen empowerment. Embedded deep in the SDGs, in the thicket of Goal 11, is the acknowledgement that people count, local governments have a serious role to play in development, and some of the U.N.’s lofty solutions are going to have to come from the bottom up.

Source: grist

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Asthma could be worsened by energy-efficient homes, warns study

The number of Britons with asthma could almost double by 2050 because the air inside homes is becoming more polluted as they become more energy-efficient, a new report warns.

The trend towards airtight houses could also worsen allergies as well as breathing problems, and even exacerbate lung cancer and heart problems, according to a leading expert in indoor air quality.

Airborne pollutants created by cooking, cleaning and using aerosols such as hairsprays will increasingly stay indoors and affect people’s health as homes are made ever more leak-proof to help meet carbon reduction targets, a report by Professor Hazim Awbi claims. Small amounts of chemicals found in detergents can stay on the fibres of washed clothes, be emitted into the air and combine with particulate matter from logs burned in a real fire, for example.

“Poor indoor air quality is connected with a range of undesirable health effects, such as allergic and asthma symptoms, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease,” says the report written by Awbi, who is professor of the built environment at Reading University’s school of construction management and engineering. “With the expected increase in airtightness for UK dwellings, it is anticipated that indoor air quality will generally become poorer, resulting in an increase in the number of cases of health symptoms related to poorer indoor environment quality.”

People with long-term health conditions and three groups who spend a lot of time indoors – young mothers, children and older people – will be particularly at risk, the report says.

It predicts that by 2050 – the date by which Britain is supposed to have achieved an 80% cut in carbon emissions – declining indoor air quality could have led to:

■ An 80% rise in the 5.4 million people already suffering from asthma.

■ Concentrations of volatile organic compounds – chemicals linked to the use of aerosols – being 60% above World Health Organisation 24-hour limits.

■ Nitrogen dioxide levels rising to 30% above the WHO’s limits.

The report’s findings reflect growing concern that indoor pollutants, not just fumes and other chemicals in the outdoor environment, can damage health. The WHO has already identified indoor air quality as a health hazard. And Public Health England, an agency funded by the Department of Health, is finalising a report on “climate change and the domestic indoor environment”, which it will publish before Christmas.

Lack of proper ventilation in both newly built homes and those that have been refurbished to reduce their consumption of gas or electricity is storing up future health problems, Awbi said.

“Many people spend 70-80% of their time at home, or even as much as 90% indoors if you include workplaces. Given that the average person takes in 500 litres of air an hour, if the air you are breathing in is polluted, you can imagine how much of this pollution is going to be absorbed,” he added.

He fears that increasingly airtight houses in which too little fresh air gets in are causing indoor air quality to deteriorate and preventing pollutants from being dispersed quickly. Humidity caused by poor ventilation also helps the proliferation of mould and house dust mites, which can cause asthma and other allergic conditions, according to Professor Peter Howarth, a professor of allergy and respiratory diseases at Southampton University.

Formaldehyde, a toxic gas emitted by wooden furniture, can also be problematic, added Howarth, who said he believed Awbi’s estimates were a realistic assessment of the harm to human health if building regulations are not overhauled to improve ventilation and ensure “air exchange”.

Simply opening windows to let in fresh air is not enough, and some form of mechanical ventilation is needed, according to Awbi.

“Poor indoor air quality can have a negative effect on people’s health, including aggravating asthma,” said Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis, Public Health England’s’s head of environmental change. “While energy-efficient houses will help address climate change, it is important to ensure that adequate ventilation levels are maintained and indoor air pollution sources minimised to protect public health.”

Awbi’s report was funded by Beama, a body which represents the UK’s electro-technical industry, which includes firms that install ventilation systems.

Andrew Proctor, director of advice and support at Asthma UK, said: “We know that indoor exposure to allergens can be a real problem for some people with asthma, but it is difficult to avoid them.” The one in 11 Britons with asthma should always seek help promptly when they have symptoms suggesting an attack, he said.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change said simply that government was committed to ensuring energy efficiency improvements in homes met the highest standards of installation.

Source: theguardian

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Carbon emissions from aircraft endanger human health, says US EPA

Finding is first step to regulating emissions from industry, allowing US to implement global carbon dioxide emissions standard.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has said greenhouse gases from aircraft endanger human health, taking the first step toward regulating emissions from the domestic aviation industry.

The EPA’s finding kicks off a process to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry, the latest sector to be regulated under the Clean Air Act after cars, trucks and large stationary sources like power plants.

The finding allows the EPA to implement domestically a global carbon dioxide emissions standard being developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The UN agency is due to release its CO2 standard for comment in February 2016 and adopt it later that year.

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The EPA had been under pressure from environmental groups who first petitioned it to regulate aircraft emissions under the Clean Air Act in 2007 and sued it in 2010. A federal court ruled in favor of those green groups in 2012.

Aviation accounted for 11% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector in 2010 in the United States, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.

The airline industry has favoured a global standard over individual national standards since airlines operate all over the world and want to avoid a patchwork of rules and measures, such as taxes, charges and emissions trading programs.

“If you’re a big airline and you’re flying to 100 countries a day, then complying with all those different regimes is an administrative nightmare,” said Paul Steele, the senior vice president at the International Air Transport Association, the main global airline industry group.

But some environmental groups are concerned that the standard being discussed at ICAO will do little to change the status quo since it would only apply to new and newly designed aircraft that will not be in operation for several years.

“The stringency being discussed at ICAO is such that existing aircraft are already meeting the standard they are weighing,” said Sarah Burt, an attorney at Earthjustice, one of several groups that sued the EPA to regulate aircraft.

Source: theguardian

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City cares for climate

By joining the Compact of Mayors, the City of Cape Town became one of 33 cities at the ICLEI World Congress in Seoul, Korea held in April to intensify its commitment to battling escalating climate change.

The Compact is an international declaration of responsibility whereby cities are holding themselves accountable to reduce carbon emissions, inspire dynamic green economies and commit to cleaner technologies. At the climate negotiations to be held in Paris later this year, the Compact will buttress the voice of mayors and their cities as they campaign for greater global national action. For Cape Town, this forms part of a resolve to inspire a sustainable future which seeks profound change in our

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energy supply and framework.

The City has already pledged itself to introducing a 10% renewable energy mix into its electricity structure by 2020 and we have made significant achievements in energy efficiency in this regard.

We are encouraged by the support shown by cities worldwide in committing to transparent and standardised climate change reduction, as well as by our fellow South African metropoles.

Climate change assumes a unique context within our country, where we are confronted with deteriorating electricity infrastructure and desperately require unanimous municipal support in lobbying the government to rapidly incorporate renewable energy into the national energy structure.

The journey towards becoming a more viable, self-reliant city requires a holistic appreciation of the way in which sustainability weaves through our lives.

As a demonstration of our commitment to lead by example, we have implemented an extensive energy efficiency programme in our own operations and are now realising energy savings of R25m.

Given the heightened importance of using less energy more efficiently, Cape Town also became one of three cities in Seoul to pen a Founders Commitment to Green Public Procurement.

This pact demonstrates a willingness to bring about social, economic and environmental change by committing to a greener future constituted by greener technologies and a greener supply chain. It ensures that the municipal government screens its suppliers, producers and distribution channels so that they might be held to a higher standard of construction and production.

The potential that this holds is untold as we aim for new industry and job creation that moves away from the traditional ‘dirty’ sectors and inspires greater invention and skills development

Source: News 24

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Agri sector shows interest in carbon calculator initiative

In addition to registering significant growth in the number of wine cellars calculating their carbon emissions, the South African Fruit and Wine Industry Confronting Climate Change (CCC) initiative has, over the past year, noted increased interest from other commodity groupings, such as grains and vegetables, in the initiative’s carbon emissions calculator.

“The CCC has also registered overall growth in the number of carbon emissions datasets received for its benchmarking process, as well as increased interest in the high-quality data that has been collected and reflected in the CCC benchmark reports,” says CCC project manager Anél Blignaut.

The CCC initiative, launched in 2008, focuses on agriculture, including citrus growers, wine growers and wine cellars, and aims to encourage information sharing and to ensure the availability of an on line carbon emissions calculator that growers use to accurately calculate their carbon footprint.

In calculating the agriculture sector’s carbon footprint, the user assesses several factors, including but not limited to yearly electricity consumption figures, the litres of diesel used by vehicles and equipment and the amount of fertiliser and plant protection products used. It consists of three phases in which the initiative encourages participants to calculate their carbon footprint. Phase I and II have been completed.

Phase III of the initiative, which builds on Phase II, will run until January 2017, with the CCCcontinuing to strengthen its mandate and its endeavour to promote the continued uptake of the emissions calculator, says Blignaut.

Key focus areas of Phase III include strengthening the capacity and skills across the fruit and wine industries through both technical and train-the-trainer workshops to support users in the calculation of their carbon emissions. Further support outside the workshops is also provided. Phase III also aims to strengthen the industry benchmark database across all commodities through focused regional technical workshops.

Blignaut adds that this phase also places greater emphasis on underrepresented regions to ensure that more growers participate and to support emerging farmers in being able to calculate their carbon footprint.

Value Addition

The CCC is also investigating the addition of a carbon sequestration calculator.

“We are working with the Department of Agriculture to adapt the existing carbon emissions calculator for mixed small-scale farmers to ensure that their needs are addressed and that they can also calculate a quality carbon footprint,” says Blignaut.

The carbon emissions tool has been adapted for wheat, in collaboration with the Better Barley Better Beerproject, and is being piloted on grain farms, she adds.

The carbon sequestration calculator will also assess several factors, such as land rehabilitation, clean technologies and soil carbon. The tool is expected to be made available by midyear.

“This will enable producers to calculate their above- and below-ground carbon stocks. As many workshop attendees are requesting whether their carbon footprint can be offset by certain activities on their farms or along their supply chains, the carbon sequestration tool will be used in conjunction with the carbon calculator to determine the net carbon emissions,” explains Blignaut.

Source: Engineering News



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From disclosure to insight: Predicting Carbon Management strategies of South African companies from CDP data

By Donald Gibson and Natalie Matthews

The usefulness of sustainability reporting and disclosure information and data extends beyond the analysis of individual companies. Secondary data can be analysed to deepen the knowledge of business-wide and country level strategic management and leadership practices. With multiple carbon management activity options to choose from, companies need to select the most appropriate carbon management strategy to meet the challenges of a carbon constrained future. Because of South Africa’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change as a developing country and because of business’ pivotal role in addressing this urgent issue, it is important to characterise the corporate responses to climate change.

The contextual factors that influence carbon management strategy decisions need to be understood so that appropriate policy decisions are taken to encourage innovation related to climate change opportunities.

This usefulness of carbon disclosure data is exemplified by this study which analysed responses from 70 large South African listed companies to the Carbon Disclosure Project 2011 questionnaire.

The responses were text-mined to identify five carbon management activities currently practised by the companies. A cluster analysis of these activities revealed four general response strategies to climate change and carbon emission reduction pressures.

The companies were found to have a strong focus on saving energy with less focus on higher-order sustainability activities.While market capitalisation, turnover, sector and carbon commitment were shown to correlate and predict the carbon management strategy chosen by companies, no statistical link was found between carbon management strategy and corporate financial performance.

Broadening the usefulness of reporting information

Academic and practitioner research on the determinants and functions of corporate responsibility reporting is extensively described in the literature (see for example Fifka, 2013).

Indeed, disclosure and reporting on sustainability performance serve numerous functions for corporations. Enhancing credibility and trust in the eyes of stakeholders (for example shareholders, potential investors, customers, activists, governments and communities) is one such function, and is an important objective of transparency and disclosure.

This is particularly the case where concepts like ‘social licence to operate’ or ‘legitimacy’have recently become important factors governing the ability of corporations to create value.

An example is the extractives sector, which, as was evident from numerous presentations made by and discussions held with mining company executives at the 2014 Mining Indaba held in Cape Town, sought to defend its right to exist, as well as articulate its developmental contribution beyond that of the narrow Milton Friedman concept of the purpose of business.

Other functions include, amongst others, using reporting as a standard business management tool to understand risk exposure to global change, convince potential investors of survivability, and potential to profit from new commercial opportunities (KPMG, 2013); set goals and measure performance (GRI, 2013).

against specific metrics and benchmark against industry peers (KPMG, 2011), and importantly to understand and manage material issues that affect the ability of the organization to achieve its goals and its impacts on society (GRI, 2013).

Yvo de Boer believes that the number of detractors of the organizational benefits of reporting is dwindling (KPMG, 2013). However, the usefulness and benefits of sustainability reporting and disclosure extend beyond the organizational boundary and the analysis of individual companies.

Data such as those generated by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) can deepen the knowledge of sectoral and country- level carbon management practices and strategy. This, in turn, can assist companies in adopting appropriate response strategies, informed by a deeper appreciation of the approaches of competitors and peers.

This study therefore used reporting data from the CDP to identify carbon management activities and strategies of South African companies and to investigate the determinants of the type of response strategy adopted.

Carbon management activities, strategies and company characteristics

While there is some research globally on characterizing carbon management strategies of companies, little has been conducted in developing countries (namely Pakistan and South Korea)(Lee, 2011; Jeswani et al, 2008), and none has yet been conducted in South Africa.

Previous research elsewhere has also found that company characteristics, such as size, sector and location, play an important role in the selection of carbon management strategies.

With a dynamic policy landscape on climate change in South Africa and the intention to further price carbon through a carbon tax to be implemented in 2015, implications for company competitiveness and value creation should be leading companies to carefully consider their response strategies.

Research objectives and approach

In this context, the objectives of this research were to:
• Identify the carbon management activities and strategies adopted by South African companies.

• Investigate the relationship between carbon management strategy and company characteristics (sector, size and corporate carbon commitment).

• Investigate the relationship between carbon management strategy and corporate financial performance.

• Determine whether company characteristics can predict carbon management strategies employed by a company.

The study used a similar framework to that suggested by Lee (2011), and similar to Weinhofer & Hoffmann (2010) and Sprengel and Busch (2011), whereby a company’s carbon management strategy is conceptualised by combining (using cluster analysis) the scope and level of the company’s carbon management activities (using automated content analysis).

The study identified five carbon management activities that characterize the response to climate change through analysing 70 company responses to the 2011 CDP questionnaire.

Classification and regression trees were then used to determine whether the combinations of various variables (in this case market capitalization, turnover, CDP disclosure score, CDP performance band, return on assets (ROA) and company sector) could be used to classify the corporate carbon management strategy of a company.

An Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was performed to investigate the differences between carbon management strategy types in terms of the company characteristics (for example, company size, carbon commitment and financial performance).

Carbon management activities

The foremost corporate carbon management activities used by large South African listed companies are:

  • Process improvement – including elements of process improvement such as recycle, efficiency, reduction, energy, store and costs
  • Supply improvement – improvement of the supply chain including transport, retail and distribution
  • Eco-efficiency and cost reduction – involves energy use, costs, emissions management and efficiency
  • Product and new market-development – exploring opportunities outside the current scope, and investing in disruptive technologies
  • Governance and regulatory compliance – relates to governance and risk management elements, as well as regulatory compliance

    These activities are similar to those conducted elsewhere, with the exception of “emission reduction commitment” and “external relationship development” which did not emerge in this analysis. Further, South African companies focus on  “governance and regulatory compliance” activities more than companies elsewhere.

Carbon management strategies

Four key types of carbon management strategy are employed by large South African listed companies:
• Governance, risk and compliance (GRC) reducers

• Vertical reducers
• Internal efficiency seekers • Cautious reducers

*The characteristics of the four strategies are provided in Table 1.

These strategies are similar to those employed elsewhere, with the exception of “GRC reducers”. This strategy strongly incorporates “governance and regulatory compliance” activities, which as mentioned above, does not strongly appear in companies elsewhere.

It is interesting to note that “Vertical Reducers” have the highest CDP disclosure and performance scores, while “Cautious Reducers” have the lowest.

Predicting carbon management strategies

Company size, sector and carbon commitment individually influence to some degree the type of strategy adopted, while return on assets (ROA) was not found to do this.

However, different combinations of variables were tested to provide the best prediction of carbon management strategy, with the following results:

• All variables (market capitalisation, revenue, ROA, company sector, carbon disclosure score and performance band) – provided 77 % prediction accuracy

  • Company variables (market capitalisation, revenue, ROA and company sector) – provided 66 % prediction accuracy

CDP-related variables as a proxy for company commitment (carbon disclosure score and performance band, as well as whether a company has emission reduction targets) – provided 66 % prediction accuracy.

Therefore, the proportion of companies’ corporate carbon strategies correctly classified based on company size, carbon commitment, company sector and corporate financial performance is greater than the proportion that would be obtained by chance (that is, 25%). Corporate carbon management strategies employed by companies can be classified based on the variables used. As combinations of variables does not seem to have been assessed previously, the findings from the current research add new information to the body of knowledge available on carbon management strategies and the contextual factors that influence the choice of management strategy.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 11.38.40 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 11.39.05 PM

This study provides an empirical examination of the carbon management activities and strategies employed by the South African listed companies in the sample.

It would appear that, because of their focus on lower-order activities (that is, incremental changes to existing products and processes and not transformative strategy), managers in South African listed companies are not yet focusing on activities which could better prepare their businesses for future change and shocks (Kurapatskie & Darnall, 2012; Hart & Milstein, 2003).

As anticipated, the findings of the study verify the relationship between a company’s carbon management strategy and its size,

particularly for the largest and smallest companies in the sample; however this link was not clear for companies sitting between these extremes. A company’s level of carbon commitment, as proxied by disclosure score andperformancebandallocatedbytheCDP, was shown to have a bearing on the type of carbon management strategy employed, as was the company’s sector.

The analysis did not find a significant relationship between carbon management strategy and corporate financial performance, and there are many reasons that this could be the case. The combination of company variables was shown to predict the carbon management strategy chosen by a company.

Implications for companies, policymakers, and investors

The results of this study have a number of important implications for companies, policymakers, investors and also for the CDP. Firstly, carbon management strategies employed by companies in developing countries (like South Africa and Pakistan for example) are in initial stages of responding to climate change (Jeswani et al., 2008).

Most companies in this context are likely to take a relatively reactive approach to climate change (Lee, 2011) as evidenced by the fact that none of the companies in this sample have a comprehensive carbon management activity focus.

Climate change issues present business risk as well as opportunities which could “completely transform existing competitive environments” (Lee, 2011, p. 44) thus companies can choose from various strategic options that are available to address the “market components related to climate change” (Lee, 2011, p. 44). Companies should therefore consider market activities, as well as political and non-market responses, while integrating climate change issues into their strategic management processes (Kolk and Pinkse, 2005). Secondly, policymakers can use the results of this study to understand the actual corporate responses to climate change. This understanding can help to shape policy and legal decisions. Companies in more regulated industries were found to have reduction initiatives and targets in place (for example, the materials sector) while those in less regulated industries were less structured in terms of a carbon response (for example, media).

Therefore legislation is important and is required to encourage action. However, the structure of policies should remain such that flexibility in how companies respond is available (Kolk & Pinkse, 2005).

The pending carbon tax (Clarke, 2012) is something that has started to make companies pay attention to their emissions. The government can play a role in inducing innovation by providing incentives, increasing awareness and creating an environment which enables and fosters innovation in the area of climate change responses (Jeswani et al., 2008).

However, the success of any policies will “largely depend on the proactive response from industries” (Jeswani et al., 2008, p. 58). Therefore, policies need to address “barriers faced by industries, which hinder adoption of low-carbon strategies” (Jeswani et al., 2008, p. 58). This study has concentrated on the largest South African listed companies which are likely to have far greater resources available that many of the companies that exist in the country.

It could be assumed that smaller companies’ level of response to climate change would be less evolved than that of the respondents implying that much needs to be done to ensure that more businesses are working towards addressing climate change. Policy makers need to consider how to improve the general response to climate change and could consider government awareness and assistance programmes.

Third, investors can use these results, and this type of analysis, to better understand the actual responses to climate change that companies are engaged in as they have been derived from the companies’ own responses to the CDP survey, in conjunction with company sustainability reports and marketing collateral which may contain a degree of “green washing” (Delamus & Burbano, 2011).

A greater understanding will allow better informed decisions with regards to financing and investments and may advise the types of conditions which may be imposed on financing arrangements.


This article is a summary of research conducted at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria in 2012. The authors are thankful for the support provided by the Carbon Disclosure Project and the National Business Initiative, who supplied the CDP 2011 database to GIBS for research purposes. Thanks are also due to Merle Werbeloff, for her input on statistical analysis.

Source: Sustainability and Integrated Reporting Handbook Volume 1

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How green is working from home? When it makes sense to stay out of the office

by Andreas Wilson-Späth

The idea of allowing employees to work from home instead of requiring them to work in a centralised company office every day is not new. Together with more flexible working hours, remote working became a well-established practice in North America and Western Europe in the years following the Second World War.

In recent times it has experienced a considerable upswing, not least because of the perception that it offers distinct environmental benefits. But how much greener is working from home really, and should you consider it as an option for your own business?

Changing attitudes meet new technologies

A growing trend away from process-based staff assessment towards a more outcomes-oriented approach, along with an acknowledgment of the advantages of allowing employees greater freedom in time management, has led many companies to consider homeworking as a viable alternative to full-time office-based jobs.

This marked change in attitude has been encouraged in part  a range of technological innovations—from videoconferencing and smart phones to broadband internet connectivity and cloud-based data sharing — having become more widely accessible and affordable. A number of governments, including those of the UK and the USA have endorsed progressive homeworking policies for civil service workers, and in the UK more than four million employees out of a total workforce of 30 million now usually work from home.

Eco benefits

In a global business environment increasingly affected by concerns over the looming threat of climate change and the need for sustainability, remote working has been touted as an effective measure to significantly reduce corporate as well as personal carbon emissions.

The reason is obvious: for most people, travelling to and from work on a daily basis represents by far the largest portion of their overall greenhouse gas emissions and thus the biggest single environmental impact they have.

An American study suggests that more than 98% of a typical individual’s work-related carbon footprint is accounted for by the CO2 released into the atmosphere during their daily commute.

At a first glance, avoiding these emissions by working at home offers obvious advantages over driving to work every day. But is the equation really quite that simple?

No one-size-fits-all solution

Earlier this year, the UK’s Carbon Trust, a not-for-dividend organisation that promotes a move to a low-carbon economy
among governments, businesses and the public sector, published
a study that investigated the potential environmental benefits of homeworking. The results are very interesting, and while they strictly apply to British conditions, they are certainly relevant to South African companies who are thinking about giving their employees the choice of working remotely.

The study confirms that an average UK employee can save approximately 260 kilograms of CO2e (equivalent carbon dioxide) per year by working from home during two days of every week. It highlights two additional factors that can tip the balance of carbon emissions in the opposite direction, however.

Both the distance individual employees travel to get to work
and the mode of transport they use have important effects. Homeworking was only found to offer a net saving on carbon emissions if the person travels a distance by car that is greater than seven kilometres (one way). If they take the bus or train, the tipping point lies at 11 and 25 kilometres respectively.

So working from home provides the greatest environmental benefits for people who live far away from their place of work. Clearly this has significant implications in the South African context where many people travel large distances to work. If they use public transport or cycle or walk to the office, however, working from home may not save any carbon emissions at all.

The reason for this is that staying at home involves energy usage and carbon emissions that would not occur otherwise. These involve powering computer equipment and other appliances, lighting, as well as heating and cooling requirements, all of which depend on specific behavioural patterns, climate and weather conditions and the energy efficiency of the homes involved.

In the cold British winter months, the Carbon Trust estimates that having to heat the average house for just one additional hour per day would eliminate any carbon savings accrued from avoiding an average daily work commute. The organisation’s Hugh Jones warns that “companies must be careful to ensure that they get the balance right, for if employers do not take account of their individual circumstances, a rebound effect from employees heating inefficient homes may actually lead to an increase in carbon emissions”.

While South Africa is favoured with a much milder climate than the UK, home-cooling, air-conditioning and heating may still make considerable contributions to the net carbon emission balance and may, depending on specific circumstances, tip it in a direction that would favour working in a centralised office over working at home.

Massive potential savings

Having emphasised the importance of carefully considering the specific circumstances under which homeworking policies are implemented, the Carbon Trust’s report leaves no doubt that the practice promises very significant potential benefits to companies.

In combination with hot-desking, in which multiple employees share a single desk, remote working allows businesses to raise desk occupancy while reducing office space, resulting in lower energy consumption, carbon emissions and costs.

For a company with 100 employees, the associated annual savings are estimated at between 270 and 700 kilograms of CO2e per employee and between R1.7 million and R3.4 million. The UK as a whole would stand to lower carbon emissions by over three million tonnes of CO2e per year and costs by over R50 billion annually if an additional four million people worked from home.

The report highlights a case study of a homeworking roll-out implemented by the BT Group, a British telecommunications company, which resulted in a 14 000-tonne CO2e reduction and financial savings of more than R100 000 per full-time homeworker over a period of 12 months.

When telecoms and financial services provider O2 asked its entire head office workforce (bearing 125 mission-critical employees) to work away from the office for just one day in 2012, they saved a cumulative total of 2 000 hours of commuting time and over
12 tonnes of CO2e while reducing electricity and water consumption by 12% and 53%, respectively.

Things to consider in your own business

Employers who want to explore the option of homeworking in their own business should take into consideration a number of issues. While the practice does allow them to greatly rationalise and optimise their office space through, for example, the introduction of hot-desking and a variety of novel technologies, leading to a potential reduction in space, costs, energy consumption and environmental footprint, they need to carefully evaluate the particular circumstances of their workforce.

How far from the office do their employees live? Do they commute in private vehicles or by foot or public transport? Do they live in energy efficient homes? Will homeworking actually result in a net decrease in overall carbon emissions?

Business owners who are intent on making real improvements as opposed to merely ‘green-washing’ their operations cannot simply ask their employees to work from home and ignore whatever additional carbon emissions they may cause while doing so. That would amount to wilfully outsourcing part of their responsibility to a sustainable future.

A thorough survey of all employees, followed by a homeworking trial (perhaps for a particular subsection of staff), during which measurable environmental impacts are monitored and compared to business-as-usual scenarios, are necessary to ascertain whether offering remote working as an option can in fact deliver the eco benefits it promises. If successful, such a trial could then be extended to a larger section of the workforce or the company as a whole. Depending on the circumstances of individual employees, business owners could help to ensure the positive outcome of a work-from-home policy by offering their staff assistance in improving the energy efficiency of their homes. In instances where remote working is not an option, they should consider incentivising the use of public transport. Of course, a number of other positive aspects of remote working should be kept in mind as well, including:

• a reduction in the consumption of petroleum, a valuable, non-renewable natural resource,

• a reduction in unproductive time spent commuting to and from work along with significant savings on money previously spent on paying for transport,

• greater personal freedom, convenience and flexibility for employees, leading to improved employee work-life balance, job satisfaction and staff retention, and

• perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, higher staff productivity, which has been confirmed by several studies of homeworkers.

Employers also need to take into account that working from home is not for everyone, improved ecological footprint or not. Most companies who use remote working offer it as an option for their staff rather than a requirement, and combine homeworking with working in the office on different days depending on job roles, patterns and priorities. During a typical week, part-time homeworkers may thus have regular office days to allow for face-to-face interaction with colleagues as well as work-from-home days on which they benefit from being able to concentrate on tasks without interruptions.

Source: Green Economy Journal Issue 15


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The African City That Is More Sustainable Than San Francisco


There’s a new list of the world’s most sustainable cities, and not one American metropolis made the top 10.

European cities dominate the Sustainable Cities Index, which ranks the top 50 cities in the world based on their environmental, social, and economic viability. The list is based on factors grouped into three broad categories: “profit,” “people,” and “planet.”

Overall, seven of the top 10 cities that scored the highest on the list are in Europe, with self-proclaimed “Green City” Frankfurt, Germany, holding down first place, thanks to its waste management efforts, climate protection plans, and large city forest. London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam, Netherlands, round out the top five.

World's Most Sustainable Cities
(Infographic: Courtesy

The list was released on Monday by Netherlands-based design and engineering firm Arcadis, with an index based on 20 indicators, ranging from income gap to total green space areas.

Boston, the highest ranking of any U.S. city, took 15th place. But it made the grade because of its especially strong showing under profit. When it came to environmental factors such as energy consumption, carbon emissions, and use of green space, Boston and all U.S. cities rated relatively low.

The reason? Energy-hungry cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia get only a small amount of their power from renewable energy. That puts them more in the company of oil-rich Middle Eastern cities such as Dubai, UAE, and Doha, Qatar, than with European cities, which tend to obtain a significant percentage of their electricity from low-carbon sources.

San Francisco ranked No. 1 in North America on Siemens’ 2014 Green City Index but came in at 37 in Arcadis’ planet category. The reasons included frequent natural disasters and continued reliance on fossil fuels for energy.

Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, beat out the City by the Bay, taking 35th place for environmental factors.

The rankings reveal just how challenging it can be for a big city to stay economically healthy without ruining the environment or making life miserable for residents.

One lesson of the index, according to its authors, is that no ideal city exists.

“Cities face a difficult balancing act between the three pillars of sustainability [planet, people, and profit],” stated Arcadis. “In particular, cities are failing to meet the needs of their people. Across the world, they perform poorest on these factors.”

But “managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century,” John Wilmoth, the director of population programs at the United Nations Division of Economic and Social Affairs, said in a statement.

It has become crucial to figure out how to live sustainably in cities, because this is the first era in human history in which more people live in urban areas than in rural: 54 percent of the world’s population call cities home, and according to the United Nations, that number will continue to grow.

Source: Take Part


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Manufacturers benefit from cost-saving measures in a slow economy

There is a clear business case for investment in organisational sustainability – smart adaptations that save manufacturers money while cleaning up their environmental act – when slow growth releases pressure on the production line.

Sustainable production: a global issue

Increased demand and technical advances over the last century raised production levels, often with very little consideration for the environmental ramifications. This century is a watershed, where population growth, consumption patterns and production methods threaten the natural system that has buttressed our road to social and economic wealth.

Environmental policy revision, corporate reform and consumer activism share the objectives of accountability and sustainable development. A greener global economy requires industrial development that assures economic growth and increased standard of living, whilst at the same time reducing resource use, pollution, waste and its impact on nature and communities.

The business case: industrial sustainability in Africa

A taxing economic climate fuels the urgency to sharpen any organisation’s competitive edge, thereby liberating resources for investment in growth and job creation. South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) believes Africa’s growing domestic markets – 1 billion plus consumers – must be served by boosting local manufacture and free trade.

With African manufactured output doubling over the last decade, the pressure is on for local producers – big contributors to carbon emissions and massive users of water and energy resources – to realise the investment opportunities presented by improved efficiencies in energy and water conservation, waste and GHG reductions.

International and South African authorities have put attractive incentives and support mechanisms in place to aid manufacturers keen on investing in positive change. In short, it is prudent to ‘clean house’ while the economy is slow.

Support mechanisms: industry aided

The United Nations’ Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and Environment Programme (UNEP) have been establishing national cleaner production centres (NCPCs) in developing economies since 1994. These NCPCs roll out resource efficiency and cleaner production (RECP) programmes that equip emerging economies with improved competitive technologies sensitive to best-practice environmental and natural resource use. So far, RECP programmes exist in 47 developing and transition countries to harmonise productivity, environmental and social imperatives. The network, known as RECPnet, provides a useful platform for sharing success stories, policies and best practices.

In South Africa, the National Cleaner Production Centre of South Africa (NCPC-SA) is funded by the dti as its key industrial sustainability programme for the manufacturing industry focused on energy, water and materials efficiency, as well as waste management.

The NCPC-SA actively engages producers on resource efficient business practices, and offers support through in-plant assessments and training programmes using the RECP toolkit.

RECP assessments are carried out at participating companies targeted using a sector approach, aligned to government’s Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP). The process includes energy, water and material assessments to gauge current consumption levels and opportunities for reduction; as well as waste assessments, to benchmark existing waste generation against reduction targets.

Proven cost savings: material drop in energy use

By implementing innovative energy-saving measures, resource-intensive manufacturers find that they can meet the growing demands of consumers for more and cheaper goods, whilst migrating to cleaner production processes and methodologies, reducing their carbon footprint and liberating capital for investment in growth.

This is not pure theory, with many South African success stories in the bag. Businesses adapting in a timely manner through innovative and more efficient methodologies have demonstrated remarkable resilience by developing new business models that recognize the need to do more with less.

Profitability: a steamy return on energy investment

Stanger-based manufacturer Gledhow Sugar Company runs a factory 24/7 nine months of the year to process 1.5 million tons of sugar cane into refined white sugar, fibre for paper production and molasses.

Although Geldhow generates enough steam power for internal use by burning coal and bagasse during harvesting, the factory relies on electrical power from the local municipality out of season, three months of the year.

In 2011, Gledhow Engineering Manager, Barry Parkin, commissioned the NCPC-SA’s Industrial Energy Efficiency (IEE) Project to conduct a baseline study into the factory’s energy and mass balance, keen to improve the factory’s energy efficiency, reduce
the amount of coal used and to increase profitability.

Numerous opportunities were identified to improve Gledhow’s steam distribution network, leading to improvements in thermal insulation, boiler controls and the introduction of a steam trap and steam leak maintenance programme. This saved the company R500,000 in energy costs during 2012 alone!

Gledhow invested R210,000 into cleaner production methods, which included courses in energy management; motors; and steam, compressed air and fan system optimisation for the engineering manager, mechanical and electrical engineers, and electrical technician. After attending the courses, the engineering team were equipped to actively champion energy optimisation technologies and initiate energy optimisation projects at the factory, with the tools and insight to ensure success.

Because the investment cost was recouped within six months, Gledhow possessed capital to invest a sizeable R2,25 million into four more energy-saving projects during 2013. This year, Gledhow also installed soot blowers and automated boiler blow down systems on its coal-fired boiler.

To boot, Parkin not only became on of the country’s first Expert Level Steam Specialists, but Gledhow now operates as a Training Host Plant with the IEE Project, fast-tracking advanced energy efficiency implementation for future gain.

As a spin-off, improved energy efficiency may enable GSC in future to bid for renewable energy cogeneration in the Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer (REIPP) Procurement Programme.

Put your energy behind smarter savings

The Industrial Energy Efficiency Project (IEE Project) teaches South African industries how to use available energy resources more productively, so that energy-intensive industrial stakeholders (such as mining, automotive, metals, chemicals and agro-processing plants) can implement and optimise energy management systems.

Now in its fourth year, the IEE Project (run by the NCPC-SA, in collaboration with UNIDO) focuses on implementation of energy saving interventions and training energy experts to drive and manage the processes.

To date, 31 experts have been trained and 111 more are undergoing expert level training in energy management systems (EnMS) and/or energy systems optimisation (ESO) – the optimisation of energy systems, including fan, motor, steam, compressed air and pump systems.

An increasing number of companies are signing up as demonstration plants, where energy experts practice their newly acquired skills, implementing energy efficiency interventions that result in substantial energy savings and carbon emission reductions.

To date, EnMS and ESO interventions at demonstration plants have resulted in energy savings of over 270 GWh, which translates into a cost saving of R 229 million and carbon emission reductions of almost 255 000 tons of CO2.

Incentivising savings: return on investment

To support industrial sectors in enhancing their competitiveness and job creation targets, the South African government offers a suite of incentive schemes to bolster cleaner and more resource efficient production with financial support. The dti’s Manufacturing Competitiveness Enhancement Programme (MCEP), launched in May 2012 as a key driver of the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) 2012/13 – 2014/15, helps manufacturers to upgrade their production facilities and methods through one of two mechanisms, co-managed with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC):

• the Productivity Incentive (PI) and

• Industrial Financing Loan Facilities.

In granting financial assistance for new technology and advanced manufacturing, the dti makes sustainable transformation more accessible to companies, particularly small and medium enterprises, in sectors under threat from international competition, low margins and increased compliance requirements.

Call to action: the buck starts here

For South African industry to compete in an increasingly environmentally aware global marketplace and on a Continent geared for growth, local companies cannot afford to exclude resource efficiency and cleaner production from their business mandate. And in the face of increasing energy and resource prices, efficiency is now a business imperative – not a nice-to-have…

By committing to implementing sector-relevant adaptations and by increasing awareness among employees and supply chains of this imperative, manufacturers can realise substantive downstream business opportunities – not only in garnering customer and industry reputational mileage, but tangible financial benefits at this time while the focus and feasibility for change is at its greatest!

Hisense implements several sustainability initiatives locally

Hisense, a manufacturer of premium consumer electronics and home appliances, is focusing its attention on increasing its green credentials in an attempt to decrease carbon emissions, increase recycling, and creating a closed loop system at their high tech manufacturing facility  in Atlantis, Western Cape.

Hisense has always looked for ways to contribute positively toward the environment. The business places an importance on creating products that are energy efficient and which lead the way in green technology. In addition to this, the business looks at ways in which its operations can be more sustainable.

Recycling systems have been put in place to contribute to the bottom line including the environment, strategic initiatives have been implemented to recycle discarded cardboard, bubble-wrap, polystyrene, plastic, foam and other materials.

Ebrahim Khan, Deputy General Manager, Manufacturing Group at Hisense South Africa, says, “When we launched our new manufacturing facility in Atlantis in 2013, we ensured that energy efficiency is part of the core of the products being manufactured at the facility. Sustainability and greening are so important to us that our launch was a green event.  Our close collaboration with Bluemoon and Earth Patrol produced a carbon neutral event called ‘Living Legacy’ that proved the industry and sustainability are on par.”

From planting 190 indigenous trees to offset carbon emissions, to using LED lighting, to implementing recycling programmes, initiatives were put in practice throughout the operation aimed at reducing the company’s environmental footprint.

From January – September 2014, Hisense collected 655,780kg of recyclable materials, and saved a total of 2,790,378kg of carbon emissions. Recyclables now heavily outweigh general waste and the figure is improving on a monthly basis – in September, 10,680kg of general wastes vs. 79,954kg of recyclables.  Carbon emissions in January measured 154,955kg, and in September, 324,522kg was reported, and landfill volumes have more than tripled too.

To put this into perspective, 2,790,378kg of carbon emissions is equivalent to:

  • The annual greenhouse gas emissions from 587 passenger vehicles or;
  • The carbon dioxide emissions from burning 1,359 tons of coal or;
  • The carbon sequestered by 71,548 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.

“Hisense’s future plan centres on a process of implementing a zero-waste to landfill strategy, which is currently in its testing phase. The plan will be implemented in 2015,” explains Khan.

Hisense has made the most of the opportunity to run a sustainable business, and is fully conscious about the environment in which it operates.

Source: Cape Business News