Green infrastructure is an attractive concept, but there is concern surrounding its effectiveness. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are using a mathematical technique traditionally used in earthquake engineering to determine how well green infrastructure works and to communicate with urban planners, policymakers and developers.
Green roofs are flat, vegetated surfaces on the tops of buildings that are designed to capture and retain rainwater and filter any that is released back into the environment.
“The retention helps ease the strain that large amounts of rain put on municipal sewer systems, and filtration helps remove any possible contaminants found in the stormwater,” said Reshmina William, a civil and environmental engineering graduate student who conducted the study with civil and environmental engineering professor Ashlynn Stillwell.
A good-for-the-environment solution to mitigating stormwater runoff may seem like a no-brainer, but a common concern regarding green roofs is the variability of their performance. One challenge is figuring out how well the buildings that hold them up will respond to the increased and highly variable weight between wet and dry conditions. Another challenge is determining how well they retain and process water given storms of different intensity, duration and frequency, William said.
While studying reliability analysis in one of her courses, William came up with the idea to use a seemingly unrelated mathematical concept called fragility curves to confront this problem.
“Earthquake engineering has a similar problem because it is tough to predict what an earthquake is going to do to a building,” William said. “Green infrastructure has a lot more variability, but that is what makes fragility curves ideal for capturing and defining the sort of dynamics involved.”
William and Stillwell chose to study green roofs over other forms of green infrastructure for a very simple reason: There was one on campus fitted with the instrumentation needed to measure soil moisture, rainfall amount, temperature, humidity and many other variables that are plugged into their fragility curve model.
“This is a unique situation because most green roofs don’t have monitoring equipment, so it is difficult for scientists to study what is going on,” Stillwell said. “We are very fortunate in that respect.”
William said the primary goal of this research is to facilitate communication between scientists, policymakers, developers and the general public about the financial risk and environmental benefit of taking on such an expense.
“One of the biggest barriers to the acceptance of green infrastructures is the perception of financial risk,” William said. “People want to know if the benefit of a green roof is going to justify the cost, but that risk is mitigated by knowing when an installation will be most effective, and that is where our model comes in.”
The results of their model and risk analysis, which appear in the Journal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment, provide a snapshot of green infrastructure performance for this particular green roof. The results from a single model do not yield a one-size-fits-all approach to green infrastructure evaluation, and William and Stillwell said that is one of the strengths of their technique. Adaptability across different technologies and environments is essential to any green infrastructure analysis.
Image Credit: Credit: Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
As part of its rebranding, the Southern African Energy Efficiency Confederation is redefining its purpose and vision. We take cognizance of our current recession with its uncertainties and the constraints on investment and growth. Whilst businesses are struggling to survive and consumers are looking for opportunities to cut costs, we believe that Energy Efficiency remains core to our sustainable growth and prosperity as a country and continent. Not only does the focus on energy efficiency assist in mitigating the impending rising costs in energy, but it also will save money for businesses to survive and grow. This will foster growth and investment for the greater good and prosperity for all.
Admittedly energy efficiency is not the only sustainability solution, however, it does unlock the nexus with other energy solutions, water, food, climate change mitigation and social development. At the same time, where businesses are struggling to survive or thrive, we are looking at ways for the Confederation to be the recognised link to partnerships, addressing challenges and finding solutions that will serve the needs of its members.
At the recent United Nations Conference in Trade and Development, (UNCTAD) seminar, in which we participated, the South African achievement in energy efficiency and climate change were applauded. These achievements were a collaboration between the South African private sector and with government Other African countries also attended. However, there is still much to be done and hence the SAEE Confederation envisions being the recognized link to policies, partnerships and programmes that support energy efficiency.
The UNCTAD seminar revealed that investors are interested in the promotion of green industries, and companies who integrate some of the 17 Sustainable Development (SDGs). For more about the SDGs, CLICK HERE. As part of charting its new vision, the SDGs which bear particular importance for the Confederation are: Affordable and Clean energy; Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure; Responsible consumption and production and Climate Action. Enablers to reaching these goals include amongst others, SDGs such as Quality Education; Gender Equality and Partnerships for Goals. With both the national and global context in mind, the SAEE Confederation is in the process of implementing the following actions:
Information sharing: Rebuilding its digital platform to promote ease of access to information that will support successful implementation of Energy information and best practice. Through its annual conference and other events, the SAEE Confederation will continue to profile cutting edge information, knowledge and engagement on key issues and innovation in the industry.
Capacity Building and Networking: The Confederation is planning various platforms with government and other partners to support capacity building and networking for an improved drive towards a skilled and measurable impact on energy efficiency and climate change mitigation. Promotion of Energy Services: The Confederation is promoting the development of the Energy Services Companies’ Association (ESCOs) to build the human resource, technical and job creation opportunities required to implement energy efficiency in both the public and private sectors.
Empowerment of women: Through its South African Females in Energy Efficiency division, (SAFEE), the Confederation recognizes that a pipeline of young women need to be mentored and supported to promote inclusivity of young people and women in particular, in various roles that promote energy efficiency. It also recognizes the pivotal role played by women in social development and growth of the economy and therefore, the need to increase participation, management and ownership levels in this sector.
Measurement and Verification: In order to track progress in reaching Energy Efficiency targets and facilitating access to incentives and investments based on Energy Efficiency performance, the Confederation will continue to promote the Measurement and Verification sector.
Building Sectoral Competitiveness: Through its affiliate: Thermal Insulation Products and Services SA (TIPSASA), the Confederation encourages a sectoral approach where associations work together to optimize opportunities. Working synergistically through their value chains will enhance the competitiveness of the entire sector. The Confederation welcomes the membership of other associations who support such a common purpose.
Recognition of Excellence: Through its Energy Efficiency Awards which link to the international awards such as the Clean Energy Ministerial Awards and the American Energy Engineers Awards (AEE), the Confederation has extended its range of awards and intends enhancing the prestige of these awards in order to showcase best practice, leadership and acknowledge the hard work of those who champion continuous improvement of resource efficiency and competitiveness. CLICK HERE for more information on the awards.
If you are not yet a member of the SAEE Confederation we’d like to leave you with this quote:“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” John C. Maxwell
The Water Research Commission (WRC) today set the trend as world leaders with the launch of the world’s first ’mine water atlas’ in partnership with consulting firm Golder Associates. The event was also part of the World Water Day Celebrations that saw the global Launch of the UN World Water Development Report 2017: “Wastewater: The Untapped Resource” at the international conference centre, Durban, South Africa. The mine water atlas was officially launched by the honourable Minister of Water and Sanitation, Ms. Nomvula Mokonyane.
The South African Mine Water Atlas, provides a comprehensive reference on the vulnerability of water resources to mining activity in South Africa and will be launched at the United Nations World Water Day event on 23 March 2017, at the Durban ICC. The Atlas will highlight the critical interplay between mining and water resources and will be the most extensive set of documents of its kind. “We’re very excited about this project. It’s a world first. No country in the world has done this before,” said Water Research Commission research manager Dr Jo Burgess. The project, which was led by consulting firm Golder Associates, aimed to deliver the most comprehensive document of its kind in South Africa.
The Atlas will introduce mine water and its geological, hydrological and legal context, while examining the geographical foundations of water quantity, quality and distribution, as well as the challenges and opportunities facing South Africa as it strives to improve the quantity, quality, protection and use of its water resources. “Decision-makers will be able to look to the Atlas for background information and tools to assist in fulfilling commitments made in other recent events and declarations,” explained Burgess. “The Atlas uses various measures to illustrate South Africa’s hydrological characteristics by charting and mapping water resources on a provincial scale.” Further, each mining-affected province and the challenges, and opportunities it faces are addressed.
The Mine Water Atlas in application:
The multi-layered set of maps spans all mineral provinces in South Africa and particularly drills down into the areas where mining frequently takes place. The maps chart the water resources in the various provinces and in turn are overlaid with maps of mining and mineral-refining activities, in order to understand the locations at which surface and groundwater and mining collide. The Atlas is intended to help mining companies, investors, government departments and students get a better understanding of the impact of mining on water resources. While it is an extremely useful guide, the Atlas does not replace Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) or tell you where you can or can’t mine, but assists with the decision-making process around the likely impacts of mining activity in a given mineral region. The Atlas can be used to see what the potential liabilities may be and what the focus of mitigation measures may need to be to protect water resources in an area of operation; for example, water treatment plants may be needed to ensure water discharges from the mines are of good quality and won’t damage the environment or pose a risk to public health.
Mining often comes under the spotlight for water pollution problems. Uncontrolled discharge of acid, neutral, and saline mining-impacted water can have a devastating effect on surface and ground water resources. Acidic water leaching out of mine dumps can flow into rivers or streams, stop plants from growing and kill the food chain from the bottom up. When left unchecked, the dirty water generated from mining activities finds its way into surface water features such as rivers and wetlands, negatively impacting both downstream users and the aquatic environment.
• The Atlas will help government departments to visualise and highlight areas that are very risky, and help define the key questions for impact assessment
• It will serve as an educational reference for legislators as well as universities.
• It is geared towards raising awareness among the public about the critical link between water and mining.
The Mine Water Atlas for South Africa’s primary benefit lies in the ability to assess cumulative impacts of mining in a catchment, through the understanding of the presence of upstream mines (both operational and derelict) and the sensitivity of the receiving water environment. This in turn will enable an improved understanding of an individual’s mine’s potential impact versus the cumulative impact.
The Water Research Commission is committed to leading research that will continue to produce ground breaking interventions such as the Mine Water Atlas and will continue to partner with industry to translate leading research into tangible implementations that ultimately inform legislation, drive innovation, educate the public and ultimately improve the quality and quantity of water resources.
While South Africa continues to move towards a green trend when developing new buildings, the real test of sustainability begins on occupation. If a building is green, but its occupants are not, the trade-off will most likely lead to diluted sustainability results.
According to the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA): “Green building incorporates design, construction and operational practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development on the environment and people.
“Green buildings are energy efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible.”
But what happens when the janitorial staff use harsh chemicals to clean the workspaces, or eco-friendly practices are abandoned within the first year because they’re perceived to be too difficult to maintain?
Adopting green trends in your workplace
GreenTag certified local manufacturer, green cleaning consultant and CEO of Green Worx Cleaning Solutions, John J Coetzee, confirms that green consultants (also known as sustainability consultants) can play an instrumental role in keeping your building and its occupants green, aware of their impact, and worthy of their Green Star SA (or other) green rating.
Firstly, objective green consultants are able to identify hidden areas where sustainability is slipping, and conduct valuable audits.
“The right consultants will help businesses to improve their current sustainability score across the board – looking at all aspects of green, and not just what materials were used to build the building,” confirms Coetzee.
“Something that is often overlooked is the products utilised by the facilities’ management company. Chemicals damage the environment, and when they’re being used to clean an entire building, the effects are exponentially more damaging.
“Consultants should develop sustainable green cleaning programmes – and assist in their implementation. A properly implemented programme consolidates products, procedures and training, and features ongoing assessment.”
Hygienic work conditions
The second reason why green consultants are crucial is that they provide a measurement in terms of the health of your workplace (and your staff).
“Statistics show that 40% of all office workers are concerned that they may fall ill due to poor office hygiene.
“By focussing on maintaining green practices, human health and wellbeing will be positively affected, for both building users and workers,” adds Coetzee.
This positively affects productivity, decreasing downtime and improving the general office morale.
Nurturing the triple bottom line
Lastly, sustainability consulting (if done properly) will ensure that businesses save money and improve their profitability.
By limiting the use of precious resources, and using more effective methods, overheads can be decreased dramatically.
“Every business runs with the objective of making a profit. In the past, South African businesses have viewed sustainability as another expense – but this view is changing. The realisation that green is often more affordable allows businesses to continue making money, without compromising the environment to do so.”
Issued by Perfect Word Consulting with primary input from John J Coetzee, CEO, Green Worx Cleaning Solution
One reason behind the popularity of sustainability reporting is that transparency not only helps companies tell their story, it also drives improvements in performance. As per the business axiom, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Transparency is a currency that builds trust.
Because of this success, multiple sustainability reporting frameworks have emerged. Companies complain of an increasingly fragmented and burdensome process. Part of this discussion is whether companies should use the standards from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). This is often framed as a competition; a choice between rivals.
We’re writing to set the record straight: This is a false choice.
At a time when we are confronted with existential threats such as climate change, as well as egregious issues such as human trafficking, we don’t have the time or resources to waste on such false distinctions.
Rather than being in competition, GRI and SASB are designed to fulfill different purposes for different audiences. For companies, it’s about choosing the right tool for the job.
Established in 1997, GRI developed the first corporate sustainability reporting framework. Today, GRI’s standards are used by the majority of companies reporting sustainability information. The standards are designed to provide information to a wide variety of global stakeholders ranging from civil society to investors. Consequently, the GRI standards include a very broad scope of disclosure. Typically, companies use them to develop and design their sustainability or corporate responsibility reports.
SASB, established in 2011, develops standards for the disclosure of material sustainability information to investors in mandatory filings (financial disclosures). SASB standards, available for 79 industries, identify material sustainability factors that are likely to impact financial performance.
Investors have their own unique needs, different from those of suppliers, customers, communities, interest groups and other stakeholders. They demand reliable and comparable sustainability information with clear links to financial performance. Focused on this need, SASB standards identify the subset of sustainability issues that are reasonably likely to be material to investors. In order to preserve a focus on financial materiality as well as to attain comparability among peers, SASB standards are industry specific.
Different audiences, unique needs
As you can see, GRI and SASB are intended to meet the unique needs of different audiences. The GRI standards are designed to provide information to a wide variety of stakeholders and consequently, include a very broad array of topics. SASB’s are designed to provide information to investors and consequently, focus on the subset of sustainability issues that are financially material.
As such, deciding between GRI and SASB is a false choice. Companies that produce a sustainability report also should (and in many cases must, when required by law) disclose financially material sustainability information in their mandatory financial reports, such as a 10-K. Conversely, companies that only disclose sustainability impacts that meet a financial materiality test are potentially ignoring issues critical for sustainable development.
Truly sustainable companies do both. They identify sustainability impacts that are financially material (and therefore compelled to be disclosed to investors) as well as the impacts relevant to a broader range of stakeholders. They communicate their story to investors and other stakeholders in the appropriate reporting channels and ensure consistency.
The bottom line is that the GRI and SASB standards are not mutually exclusive; they are mutually supportive. Transparency is still the best currency for creating trust among investors and other stakeholders, but companies should focus on which stakeholders need which information in which format.
The world needs corporations to understand, reflect and act on a broader range of concerns than those raised by financial stakeholders. Stakeholder concerns are often leading indicators of what may become financially material to a company in the future.
Investors need standardized, high quality information on material factors that can affect price or value. When sustainability disclosure distinguishes between that which is material to the investors (because it may affect price or value), and that which is of interest to stakeholders (because it describes company’s impacts and could affect the company trajectory in the long-term), all stakeholders benefit. SASB and GRI are designed to meet these respective needs.
Actions driven through the financial markets and actions driven through a wider range of stakeholders are important in different ways. Both SASB and GRI recognize this and we pledge to support one another in this common quest on improving corporate performance on sustainability issues.
We hope that cooperation between our organizations will further the understanding of the sustainability disclosure needs of different stakeholders and promote the harmonization of the corporate reporting landscape. It is imperative that we all work together. Companies need to better navigate the landscape of multiple frameworks and get on with the business of articulating their sustainability impacts in formats that meet their business objectives and stakeholder needs.
GRI and SASB are both here to help companies move from transparency to performance. There is no time to waste.
The challenges in the power sector in Nigeria grew with time in the face of weak infrastructure, vandalism, electrical accidents with several electrocutions, and poor service. For the purpose of implementing a strategy to reduce fatality and injury rates in the power sector, as it impacts on service delivery, health and safety of utility workers and the general public, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) put in place the Nigerian Electricity Health and Safety Code Version 1.0, released in 2014. This practical document formulated with best industry practices to achieve the standards of health and safety as required under Part III Sections 32 (1)(e) and 32(2)(b) of the EPSR Act 2005.
Despite this code and other applicable safety guidelines, such as the Nigerian Electricity Supply and Installation Standards Regulations 2015, the level of electrical accidents, the fatality and injury rates, are still on the increase.
Electrical accident especially when it involves people, both utility workers and the public as well the environment, usually leads to huge expenditure, which has a deep effect on the triple bottom line (Profits, People and Planet) of business sustainability. Hence, managing the health, safety and environmental risks prevents losses and reduces attendant accident costs including compensation, medical expenses, regulatory penalties and fines, reputational damage, operational losses and legal consequences.
The duty of business is survival
According to Peter F. Drucker, an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation, avoidance of loss is paramount to business success. Drucker states: “The first duty of business is survival, and the guiding principle of business economics is avoidance of loss – not maximisation of profit.” Hence, avoiding losses – including those that occur as a result of our failure to integrate appropriate safety risk assessment into the power industry in Nigeria and the entire global village – will eventually promote and sustain the profitability and health of the players in the industry.
Be that as it may, in order to prevent accidents, and increase the bottom line of players in the industry, three critical safety factors (unsafe behaviours of the utility workers, poor public perception of safety and unsafe network conditions in terms of the electrical infrastructure) have been identified to have contributed to over 90% of accidents that have led to injuries and fatalities in both the utility workers and the public in Nigeria. Therefore, to avoid losses and improve performance, operational excellence and profitability, risk management programmes must focus on these three critical elements.
In terms of the unsafe behaviour of the utility workers, the players in the industry – especially in the distribution, transmission and generation companies – should embark on strategies that will enhance attitudinal change of the workers so that the safety culture is improved and sustained. Examples of such strategies include behavioural-based safety programmes, reward system and consequence management, safety counselling sessions, strategic safety meetings like toolbox talks, safety huddles and contractors’ safety engagements, safety learning sessions, and field safety monitoring and compliance activities.
Safety awareness programmes
The illegal construction of homes under power lines, trading near electrical equipment, working illegally with electricity assets (without permission from the distribution companies, wiring houses in the wrong manner) are among the poor public safety habits. Yes, attitude plays a role here but lack of safety awareness and government intervention with respect to enforcement of laws plays a major role. In order to overcome these challenges, the players in the industry should organise public sensitisation programmes using the media including print, electronic and wordofmouth. They can also engage in safety discourse in the communities, organise awareness on power safety in schools as a corporate social responsibility initiative, paste safety warnings/caution signages, and work with government to prevent encroachment on power lines as stipulated in the Nigerian Electricity Supply and Installation Standards (NESIS) Regulations 2015 Vol. 1 (chapter 3 Section 3.1).
Furthermore, unsafe network conditions like failure of the relay system, use of undersized conductors, poorly maintained electrical equipment and bent poles usually lead to accidents. Therefore, to prevent any untoward incident in the industry, there is an urgent need to carry out network technical audits, so as to identify unsafe network conditions and implement corrective actions. Meanwhile, the distribution and transmission companies should carry out quick-win programmes such as network safety monitoring and periodic facility safety assessment (FSA) to identify unsafe network conditions and fix immediately.
In conclusion, it is pertinent to be cognisant that a robust safety risk management programme, that will enhance operational excellence and profitability, requires commitment from the top management of every facet of leadership from both the corporate organisation and government. Hence, no matter how laudable the programme is, its workability and sustainability is dependent on the leaders in the industry. ESI.
Sustainability has always been a key consideration in the mining industry and will continue to shape activity today and beyond.
Tord Svensson, head of TOMRA Sorting Mining
Activity in the mining industry is integral to modern life, with minerals and commodities mined across the world playing a crucial role the way in which both businesses and consumers operate.
As with any industry providing essential products and services, a significant amount of attention is placed on its processes and their impact from both an environmental and economic perspective.
Figures compiled by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development division show that, in the 20th century, extraction of construction minerals increased by 34 times, while that of ores and industrial minerals increased 27 times, which significantly outpaced the quadrupling of the global population and even the 24-fold increase in worldwide GDP.
The dramatic increase in activity naturally placed strain on resources and also created questions around sustainability, but the fact is that sustainable practices have long been an important consideration in mining, stretching back more than 50 years.
In an industry where developments take place across decades and decisions being made now could only come to fruition in half a century, it is essential that the potential impact of any move is taken into account.
A global report carried out by professional services firm Deloitte into the constant challenges and constraints affecting sustainability in mining found that that the ever-increasing demand for mined resources remains a major concern, as well as the consumption of resources such as energy and water, which are required throughout the extraction process.
Increasing pollution generated by the extraction process must also be factored into thinking, with these principles applying to both large-scale, multinational corporates, as well as smaller-scale operations.
In many cases, the sustainability of extraction can vary greatly depending on the industry, but regardless of the processes and techniques being employed and implemented, these operations are still associated with negative environmental and social impacts in some markets.
The ever-present challenge for the sector is strengthening the relationship with local communities and reinforcing the importance of mining to both revenue and employment in many nations, particularly developing countries.
The non-renewable nature of mined resources is also at odds with sustainability, which further illustrates how crucial the efficient use of resources for development remains.
Of course, questions around how to maximize the developmental benefits of mining while also contributing to both environmental and social sustainability are nothing new.
It was given the spotlight in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, agreed at the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development, where three priority areas were identified, including addressing the environmental, economic, health and social impacts and benefits of mining throughout the entire lifecycle, encompassing issues such as the health and safety of workers.
Another key aim outlined was to enhance the participation of stakeholders, including local communities and – just as crucially – fostering sustainable mining practices through the provision of financial, technical and capacity-building support to all countries.
At its core, the practices that will be central to maintaining and improving the sustainability of global mining is the management and reduction of energy and resources used in extracting materials.
Although new sites are being discovered and means of extracting materials are being developed, the nature of the work can have a significant number of side-effects on the surrounding area both in the short and long term. This necessitates the use of the most effective possible methods and machinery, as well as approaches to reducing water and energy use.
Minimizing the use of water that is diverted for mining activity – and can impact both the quantity and quality of water available downstream – has proven highly effective in countries such as Canada, where figures from the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy show that water intake used in mining fell by a third in just ten years.
Reducing energy consumption is also paramount if the impact of the mining industry is to be mitigated; it is estimated that three per cent of the world’s energy is used to mine natural commodities, while land disruption remains a key issue as land that could potentially be used for vegetation may be spoiled.
The use of technology that can play a key role in reducing the industry’s impact on the planet in both the long and short term is therefore paramount, and TOMRA’s range of sorting technology is playing a crucial role in this.
Sensors are able to recognize the target material according to typical characteristics such as color, atomic density, transparency and conductivity and then selectively extract it using a pulse of pressurized air to minimize waste.
A strong emphasis is placed on reducing eventual water and energy consumption when designing all TOMRA machinery, and sensor-based material handling sorters are no exception.
Sorting has a direct effect on reducing the downstream energy consumption in relation to the amount of mass removed by the sorter. If a sorting machine removes 15 per cent of waste by mass, then downstream processes will use approximately 15 per cent less energy, and the same applies to water consumption.
However, processing a ton of sorted ore will consume the same amount of energy as unsorted material; the key factor being that you will be able to produce the same amount of final concentrate treating less material.
Sustainability continues to be at the heart of the mining industry, and maintaining this focus will ensure that new methods of extraction are being complemented by sustainable processes that help to maintain the integrity of the area being mined and its local population and offer tangible business benefits.
As I set out this summer for a month traveling with my family through Africa, the Middle East and the United States for business and vacation, I wondered: Where would I find the best examples of sustainability and social impact — and lessons to bring home for businesses, brands and those of us working for a better world?
Let’s face it: Africa and the Middle East don’t usually conjure up images of “sustainability,” but quite the opposite.
We might think of impoverished, malnourished and oppressed people living in over-crowded, polluted cities, drought-stricken deserts or remote jungles — places where greedy corporations, corrupt dictators and violent warlords exploit them and natural resources.
The U.S. and other developed countries more likely would come to mind as a model for human rights, corporate responsibility and environmental conservation practices. But I was pleasantly surprised to find sustainability bright spots and takeaways in all five countries I visited on three continents: Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.
Senegal: Advancing human rights for women and girls
To address the lack of basic education at the root of most failed development projects in Senegal, American Molly Melching created the nonprofit Tostan in 1991 using a then-novel approach: educating villagers in their own national languages, such as Wolof and Pulaar, using non-traditional methods such as theater and storytelling. I knew this was something special when I first volunteered at Tostan (which means “hatching” in Wolof) for seven months in the mid-1990s.
But visiting this summer after more than 20 years, I found that Molly and her team have become the driving force behind a globally recognized movement to end the prevalent traditions of female genital cutting (FGC) and child or forced marriage in Senegal and five other African countries where Tostan operates, a story chronicled in the book “However Long the Night.”
To date, more than 7,400 African communities have pledged to end these practices and Senegal has outlawed FGC — sparing millions of girls and women the pain, infection birthing complications and even death that can accompany it.
How is Tostan succeeding on this complex issue where so many others have failed? Recognizing that women practice FGC out of respect for religious and cultural norms, Molly’s team didn’t judge them or even ask them to stop. Instead, they empowered women with the human rights and health knowledge that, over many years, led them to make their own brave declarations.
As Hillary Clinton put it, following her visits as first lady and later as a senator, “Tostan’s approach succeeds because of its deep respect for the people it serves.”
Takeaway: To change behavior, let the audience lead
If your brand or business wants people to take action, don’t tell them what to do. Instead, as Tostan teaches us, educate your audience in ways they like to learn and you’ll empower them to change even the most entrenched social norms.
Kenya: Reduce, reuse, recycle and respect
In the remote Masai Mara region north of the Serengeti, I found Cottar’s 1920s Safari Campreminiscent of a bygone era, but its sustainability practices and goal “to become net positive” cutting edge. Cottar’s funds a wildlife trust focused on conservation, community, culture and commerce; irrigates the onsite organic garden with recycled grey water; and is transitioning to solar, wind and other forms of alternative energy — which also seemed to include using elephant dung instead of wood as fuel for heating my shower.
Not only do they reduce and reuse, they also show great respect for the land, animals and people. Cottar’s hires and trains half its staff from surrounding communities, pays wages well above industry averages, and contributes several hundred thousand dollars a year in “land use fees” to the Masai’s regional council for daily access to the game preserve where they take guests on safari. This is even more impressive given that many safari operations in the region illegally build on protected land, exploit the Masai and leave a heavy environmental footprint.
I saw another win-win story in Nairobi, where Ocean Sole recycles thousands of flip-flops littering the beaches and waterways and turns them into hand-crafted animal figurines. This “upcycling” eco-venture is literally turning trash into treasure — creating job opportunities for locals, protecting oceans and wildlife, and educating countless souls worldwide about the threat of marine debris.
Takeaway: Be naturally resourceful
Cottar’s and Ocean Sole prove that even the smallest businesses can leverage natural resources creatively. Just as they use elephant dung and discarded flip-flops to make an impact, perhaps your company can find unconventional and untapped resources to advance your sustainability goals.
Zanzibar, Tanzania: Celebrate diversity
In Zanzibar, an archipelago of islands off the coast of Tanzania, I experienced a culture steeped in history and rich in ethnic diversity, yet seemingly enjoying social harmony.
As the tourism commission website notes, “Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and British have settled here at one time or another and influenced the local culture into the present fusion.” Zanzibar is both a multiracial and multicultural society, with people of many faiths and origins, where almost the entire population is of mixed races, primarily of Arab and African decent blended with local culture.
I saw this diversity on display while strolling the streets during the final evenings of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when families in their finest, multi-colored traditional attire mingled with other locals and tourists. It was also evident in our tour guide Juma, a modest Muslim of African descent who spoke not only English and Swahili but also French, Japanese and Russian.
Another man perhaps best exemplifies the celebration of Zanzibar’s diversity: its most famous native son, Freddie Mercury. The flamboyant former frontman of rock band Queen was born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar to Persian parents from India, and his memory is still very much alive there thanks to his childhood home that’s now a popular museum.
Takeaway: Be patient but persistent
Achieving harmony among diverse people — whether in a business, a community or even an entire country — takes time. In Zanzibar’s case, it’s taken literally centuries to become the multicultural society it is today. In America, we’re still early in the struggle to overcome racial, religious and other tensions, and we have a long road ahead.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates: An embarrassment of riches
Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, is known to boast about its largesse, from having the world’s tallest skyscraper and largest mall to the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East. So it’s no surprise that Dubai has an entire “sustainable city” development, enough LEED-certified buildings to make the world’s top 10 list and plans to be the “Capital of the Green Economy” by 2021 — a goal which sustainability leader John Elkington called into question in this GreenBiz article.
In my brief visit, I found that sustainability in Dubai is not only a grand ambition but also a grand conundrum. On the one hand, Dubai is indeed doing environmental sustainability right in many areas, from green buildings and solar farms to desalination and public transportation. But such development, and the society itself, isn’t entirely sustainable or socially progressive when funded by fossil fuel profits, reliant on pervasive human rights abuses of migrant laborers and steadfast in its oppression of women and homosexuals.
In Dubai I caught a glimpse of how a lot of money is a double-edged sword for sustainability: It can help realize visionary plans for sustainable living in a harsh desert climate, yet also fuel the kind grandiose ambitions that result in Dubai’s man-made islands shaped like a giant palm tree(the world’s largest, of course, with high-end homes, shops, hotels and a water park) and islands forming a map of the world. That the latter project has been abandoned due to the 2008 global financial crisis is perhaps the best reminder that our scarce resources could be best applied to saving the islands we have rather than building new ones.
Takeaway: Spend wisely to achieve the attainable
While most of us struggle with a lack of funds rather than an abundance, Dubai is a good reminder to use what we have wisely. Before putting your bets on the best or biggest sustainability accomplishments in the field, focus your scarce resources on achieving outcomes that are meaningful for your business and don’t compromise your values.
West Virginia, United States: Challenge conventional thinking
Business brought me to rural Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where I trained the team at the Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute (a client) to tell the story of the groundbreaking work they’re doing in land-based aquaculture, featured in the Time Magazine article “You Won’t Believe the Source of the World’s Most Sustainable Salmon.”
This story starts with the FedEx trucks that deliver salmon larvae from labs around the world to Freshwater — a collection of warehouses on a farm-like property outside town — where the team breeds fish in giant tanks (think above-ground swimming pools), embedding each with a transponder tag to track and optimize their growth based on variations such as feed type, water temperature and fish density. The operation is low impact on many levels, using fish feed made from agricultural byproducts, water that’s re-circulated from the onsite spring, fish waste that’s used as a soil-amendment for nearby farms, and slaughter techniques that are more humane than conventional methods.
The result is farmed — yes, farmed — salmon that’s surprisingly sustainable compared to alternatives, and one promising way we can help achieve the estimated doubling of world food supply that will be needed to feed the earth’s population by 2050.
Takeaway: Swim upstream
Despite the negative perception around farmed fish, Freshwater leaned into this space and found a way to do it better. So, don’t be deterred from taking on the most sticky, unsolved sustainability challenges. Swimming against the current may be more risky, but it also can set you apart as the biggest fish in your pond.
Last year, Apple announced it would invest $850 million in a solar power plant through a partnership with First Solar, one of the nation’s largest photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers and a provider of utility-scale PV plants. Through a 25-year purchasing agreement, Apple will get 130MW (megawatts, or million watts) from the new California Flats Solar Project.
The First Solar deal rocketed Apple past Walmart as the largest corporate user of solar power.
On the same day Apple joined RE100, Bank of Americaalso announced it was committing to RE100.
America’s top tech companies have been going green in a big way, so much so that the availability of clean energy resources is a key consideration in where they locate corporate offices and data centers. The move is designed to save them millions of dollars in long-term energy costs.
“We believe energy is the future of our business,” Josh Henretig, director of environmental sustainability at Microsoft, said in an earlier interview withComputerworld.
Last year, Google announced it would purchase 842 megawatts (MW) of clean energy, nearly double the clean energy it had already purchased — taking the company to 2 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy.
Put in context, 1 megawatt (MW) can power roughly 200 homes, so Google’s purchase could power about 168,000 homes. Google has pledged to triple its renewable energy purchases by 2025.
Last year, Apple also joined with 12 of the largest companies in the U.S. to launch the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, a White House initiative to have corporations commit to reduce their emissions, increase low-carbon investments, deploy more clean energy, and take other actions to build more sustainable businesses and tackle climate change.
Despite only being a few months old, the RE100 collaborative already boasts corporate signups from companies in India, China, Europe and the U.S.
“Research shows that in the U.S. alone, doubling energy productivity by 2030 could save $327 billion annually in energy costs and add 1.3 million jobs to the economy, while carbon dioxide emissions would be cut by approximately 33%,” RE100 stated on its website.
“We’re happy to stand beside other companies that are working toward the same effort,” Jackson said during remarks at Climate Week in New York City on Monday. “We’re excited to share the industry-leading work we’ve been doing to drive renewable energy into the manufacturing supply chain and look forward to partnering with RE100 to advocate for clean-energy policies around the world.”
Apple is also a member of The Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), a trade association representing the renewable energy industry.
“We’re thrilled that Advanced Energy Economy member Apple has committed to run on 100% renewable energy and also sees the need to improve policy,” AEE CEO Graham Richard said in a statement Tuesday. “They are upping the ante as they manage their energy needs, a trend we are seeing among our corporate energy buyer members.”
Last month, Apple glass supplier Lens Technology in Beijing announced it would run its Apple operations entirely on renewable energy. The clean energy commitment by Lens was combined with a zero waste compliance agreement for all of its final assembly sites.
Solvay Specialty Polymers, which supplies Apple with antenna bands for the iPhone, also pledged to use 100% renewable energy for all of its Apple production. The commitment will cover 14 manufacturing facilities across eight countries by the end of 2018.
Catcher Technology, one of Apple’s largest aluminum enclosure suppliers, also is targeting 100% renewable power for its production of Apple goods by the end of 2018.
Altogether, Apple suppliers’ commitments to date will represent more than 1.5 billion kilowatt hours per year of clean energy used in the manufacturing of Apple products by the end of 2018, equal to the amount of electricity consumed by more than 1 million Chinese homes.
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As the impact of an extended period of drought across much of South Africa and the Southern African Region continues to be felt, the realisation is setting in amongst both commercial and small-scale farmers that a water-constrained environment is no longer a short-term challenge but could, in fact, become their new normal.
While this realisation is also dawning amongst agriculture stakeholders across much of the planet, it’s a reality that is particularly difficult for farmers in SA to deal with. That’s because they’re already challenged by having to operate in an environment of very low water supply per capita, compared to most other countries, not to mention an extremely low ratio of annual rainfall to annual water run-off. In fact, research done by WWF-SA showed that only about 9% of rainfall actually makes it into our rivers.
Since irrigated agriculture already accounts for more than 60% of SA’s total water usage, it’s highly unlikely that farming is set to enjoy a higher allocation of this scarce, vital resource anytime soon. In fact, the opposite is probably true. National government has declared its intention to significantly expand irrigation-based crop farming land use in the country, but no increased allocation in water rights have been specifically earmarked for this purpose.
A shift in farming mindset required
Clearly then, the onus now falls on SA’s agriculture sector – and its commercial farmers in particular – to shift the farming mindset from one of water usage to water stewardship, and proactively embrace more water-friendly technologies, practices, and attitudes.
The latter is arguably the most important paradigm shift that has to take place in order for agriculture in SA to achieve the levels of sustainability required. In previous eras, it has been acceptable for farmers to focus more on the profitability and yield potential of crops than on how thirsty they were. Today, the picture is vastly different, and profit margins have to be carefully balanced with water demand considerations of crops. That’s not to say that farmers with established water-intensive crops like tree nut or citrus orchards need to pull up their orchards and replace them with water-friendly alternatives. But where new farms or crops are to be established, indigenous or water-wise crops should now take precedence over high-profit, water intensive options.
There is also much that farmers with existing non-water-wise crops can do to lessen their impact and dependence on water. In many cases, achieving this merely requires a willingness to challenge practices that have been passed down for generations. It may also involve some short-term financial investment into water saving technology, but this will almost certainly deliver long-term sustainability returns.
One prime example of this change in mindset is being willing to invest time, effort and capital in converting a farming operation from spray to drip irrigation.
Then there are of course also the proven water and soil preservation benefits of shifting from the historically accepted practice of seasonal tilling of farmland to a low-till or no-till farming approach.
The bottom line is that there is so much information and technology available to farmers today, that there really is no excuse for anyone to be practicing farming methods that involve excessive amounts of water usage or wastage. And the simple truth is that only those farmers who are willing to invest the time and effort into learning how best to manage their farm’s water requirements will be the ones who are still in business, and producing, a decade from now.
The future of SA farming rests on emerging farmers
While it’s relatively easy for large-scale commercial farms to invest in water management technology and processes, the future of SA farming undoubtedly rests on the long-term success potential of its growing contingent of emerging farmers. In this regard, the industry has a clear responsibility to educate, enable and support this vital agriculture sector when it comes to instilling an attitude of water stewardship and effective water management at the outset.
Key to this large-scale adoption of water-efficient practices is the understanding by farmers – established and emerging – that managing water more effectively is not just a green consideration, it has become a prerequisite for ensuring long-term economic viability. For SA’s farmers the bottom line is that, when it comes to water usage, there is no longer a place for business as usual. The new, water-constrained ‘normal’ demands an absolute commitment to water efficiency – even if that means drastically changing the way they farm.
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