Island generates sustainable future

Published in The Financial Times 15 April 2008

By Andrew Bolger, Scotland Correspondent

 

Cutting edge initiatives may not generally be associated with the Orkney Islands, whose sleepy pace of life tends to attract more holiday makers than policy makers.

But Westray, the largest of Orkney’s northern isles, is attempting something never before tried in the UK. In just four years it aims to become the first community to produce the equivalent of all of its energy needs from renewable sources.

Developing renewable energy is a key object of the Westray Development Trust, which was created in 1998 in an attempt to stem the brain drain from the island.

Now, while its population still stands at a meagre 600, the number is rising and the trust feels the island “has turned the corner”, according to William McEwen, one of the trust’s founders.

Sandy McEwen, who with her husband has refurbished several historic buildings on the island, is in no doubt that the commitment to sustainability is luring newcomers and helping to safeguard Westray’s future. “We are attracting creative people – painters and jewellery makers – and protection of the environment is very important to them,” she said.

A maths teacher at the island’s high school, Mr McEwen has created Orkney Bio-Fuels, which makes bio-diesel from used cooking oil collected from hotels, pubs, restaurants and chip shops. As well as supplying the islanders with cheap green fuel, the venture makes a modest income for the trust – enough, it is hoped, to hire a full-time employee.

Another idea of Mr Mc-Ewen’s is an electric taxi for Westray’s elderly and disabled residents. It is about to enter service after receiving funding from ScottishPower and the government. Wind turbines will charge the pollution-free vehicle’s battery.

A care centre for the island’s elderly has wind turbines and a ground source heat pump. A youth centre is partly heated by a 2.5kilowatt wind turbine since it opened eight years ago.

Lorna Brown, a youth development worker, said: “It’s great that our young people use electricity generated from the wind at their own youth centre. They are growing up with renewables and that can only be good for the long-term future of our island.”

Westray-based company Heat and Power aims to be the first company in Scotland to turn cattle slurry into fuel for cars. Colin Risbridger, the chartered engineer behind the initiative, is working on using silage and cattle waste. “Who knows? We could see every farm becoming either a filling station or a power station in the future,” he said.

The Big Question: Why is the world so slow to produce environmentally-friendly cars?

 

published in the UK Independent

 

By Sean O’Grady
Thursday, 17 April 2008

 

Why are we asking this now?

Because Britain’s first hydrogen filling station opens today at the University of Birmingham. Researchers there will be assessing alternative fuel vehicles in search of greener motoring.

Is hydrogen the answer?

The hydrogen fuel cell is revolutionary. It supersedes the internal combustion engine and does away with fossil fuels. So there are vested interests involved. That said, it isn’t so much a question of conspiracy as cost. Some of the world’s leading energy and motor companies are developing alternatives to the conventional car. If the world wants hydrogen it will have to invest in it, scrapping existing technology, factories, refineries, infrastructure and know-how. That means consumers would have to pay for the leap forward. Will they? Besides, not everyone is convinced about the hydrogen fuel cell.

What’s so good about hydrogen?

Hydrogen is green at the point of use. Hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles emit no carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide or carcinogenic particles. All that emerges from the exhaust is water vapour. The hydrogen fuel, stored in pressurised tanks, is used to create a chemical reaction using catalysts. That is converted into electric power and drives a motor which moves the vehicle along. It is quiet, and performance is acceptable for many purposes; in any case it is early days yet. After all, we’ve had a long time to get from Karl Benz’s 1886 Patent Motorwagen (top speed: 11mph) to today’s Formula 1 wonders.

Do hydrogen fuel cells work?

Yes. Buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells have been judged “really successful” by Transport for London. Californian and South Korean authorities have tested fleets of Honda and Hyundai fuel cell cars satisfactorily. Mercedes-Benz and General Motors are two other companies who’ve produced running everyday fuel-cell models (Mercedes A-Class and a Vauxhall Zafira, respectively). The Honda FCX Clarity, a “proper” executive fuel-cell car, will be available for lease in the United States this summer.

So what’s the snag?

The greenness of hydrogen does depend on how much energy is inefficiently expended in generating it and moving it around. If, at one extreme, a much more efficient method of making hydrogen could be discovered, and if the energy used in it s manufacture and transport was sustainable (like from a power station using solar energy), then it might well be the greenest option. At worst there isn’t much advance on fossil fuels. Storing hydrogen requires pressurisation or cooling, which can be troublesome. Hydrogen also tends to vaporise, so there can be losses in transit. Some, with the tragedy of the Hindenburg airship in mind, wonder whether this highly combustible fuel can ever be safe.

How about just using hydrogen as fuel?

Simply replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen in a conventional internal combustion engine can be done. BMW’s Hydrogen 7 is almost as quiet and refined as its petrol-powered cousin. However, it needs a huge tank for the (unpressurised) hydrogen, and that tank of fuel can evaporate in as little as 10 days.

Are biofuels any use?

Biofuel versions of Saabs and Fords can be bought now, though there are few filling stations. This technology is also controversial. In theory, biofuels are carbon neutral, as the carbon dioxide used in producing them is “absorbed” by the plants grown to make create the biofuel. So-called first generation biofuels do suffer from drawbacks. First, they can displace food crops. Biofuels, even their best friends would agree, have had some effect on rising food prices. The EU wants to see monitoring systems to assure consumers that biofuels are not damaging the environment or food supplies, but those safeguards are yet to be implemented . Second, they can reduce biodiversity, as witnessed in the Indonesian rain forest, where palm oil crops for biodiesel have done much damage.

Third, critics point to the energy expended in producing and transporting the biofuels, the artificial fertilisers used, the western subsidies to grow them in Europe and the US, and so on. More defensible are second, third and fourth generation biofuels, which become progressively greener, though none are commercially available. The next stage will be to find ways to use the waste product of crops rather than the nutritionally valuable seeds and grains in biofuel production. One day, the scientists promise “carbon positive” biofuels – enzymes that can save the planet.

Why aren’t there more hybrids?

Toyota’s Prius leads the field, although Honda and Ford and General Motors in America are also on the scene. Using power wasted, for example in braking, and recycling that via an electric motor to supplement a petrol engine is a clever one. But many manufacturers say small, efficient diesels engines are just as effective and a lot cheaper to make, with no problematic batteries to dispose of. Japanese and US makers tend to favour petrol/electric hybrids because their main markets have very little appetite for diesel; European makes such as Mercedes and Peugeot are more traditionally committed to diesel. “Plug-in hybrids”, where energy direct from the mains can add to the cars’ range, are a step forward.

What happened to the electric car?

Nothing especially, though GM did can one of its more promising projects on the grounds of cost. However, the motor-show concept Chevrolet Volt (a “plug-in” hybrid) promises much, and GM are committed to making it. Electric cars can be extremely green, but again much crucially depends on how their power is generated. They used to be slow and fragile; mainstream makers are working on that. The Modec van is a fine example of a practical vehicle.

What can I do now?

Drive more carefully; downsize; use public transport more. There’s an argument for keeping an old car on the road for longer, thus saving the resources and energy used in producing a new one. A Morris Minor Traveller even uses renewable ash in its bodywork. The car makers are doing their bit, too. Modern cars are much greener than their predecessors (see chart). Ford and Volkswagen are tuning existing models to return exceptional economy and low emissions, the VW Polo “Bluemotion” being an outstanding example. But manufacturers such as VW and Citroë*do tend to price their green or diesel cars on the high side compared to the equivalent petrol models.

Will cars be greener any time soon?

Yes…

* All new cars are greener than their ancestors, so it is a process of evolution

* Small diesels are the way forward at the moment, and there are plenty on sale now

* Everyone is downsizing anyway. That might be the immediate means of cutting vehicle emissions

No…

* The car makers and oil companies will try to protect their old ‘brown’ technologies

* Consumers aren’t demanding them loudly enough, giving makers no incentive to crank up production

* ‘Green’ technologies aren’t as clean as they say. A real solution has not arrived yet

Hydrogen fuel stations for cars land in Britain

PM2.5

Nhar l-14 t’April 2008 il-Kunsill tal-Ministri tal-Unjoni Ewropea approva direttiva ġdida dwar il-kwalita’ tal-arja. Għall-ewwel darba din id-direttiva tistabilixxi l-limiti massimi ta’ dawk li huma msejħa PM2.5 fl-arja. Dawn huma frak żgħir (fine particle emissions) ta’ daqs inqas minn 2.5 micrometres.

Dawn l-emissjonijiet joriġinaw l-iżjed minn mezzi ta’ transport (karozzi, trakkijiet) u billi huma żgħar ħafna jiġu depożitati fil-pulmun b’mod li huma l-kawża ta’ ħafna mard respiratorju fosthom l-ażma.

Din id-direttiva tobbliga lill-istati membri, Malta inkluża biex sas-sena 2020 inaqqsu l-emossjonijiet ta’ PM2.5 b’20% fuq il-livelli li jiġu stabiliti fl-2010 (ara stqarrija tal-Kunsill tal-Ministri tal-EU hawn).

Il-MEPA tippubblika rapporti dwar il-kwalita ta’ l-arja. L-aħħar rapport ippubbikat huwa dak li jwassal sal-2005 (). Meta tidħol fis-seħħ din id-direttiva l-ġdida jkun hemm l-obbligu ukoll li tiġi ippubblikata informazzjoni dwar il-PM2.5.

Sadanittant il-Gvern għandu l-obbligu li jibda jippjana kif ser jimplimenta din id-direttiva.

BOV’s CSR : The next step

This was originally published on the 5 January 2008 as an article in The Times

BOV’s CSR: The next step

 

Bank of Valletta is to be congratulated on the recent publication of its second Corporate Social Responsibility Report covering 2007.

In its mission statement BOV defines its commitment as being that of playing a leading and effective role in the country’s sustainable development “whilst tangibly proving ourselves to be responsible and caring citizens in the community in which we operate”. The objective of the CSR report is hence that of informing the community as to the manner in which the bank is acting as a responsible citizen. The bank’s CEO makes this even more clear in his statement on page four of the report. In fact, he rightly underlines that while the bank is responsible towards its shareholders it is also accountable towards society.

This is the crux of CSR: the accountability of business towards all stakeholders, the community at large. Profits generated on their own are not a measure of success, as the business of business is not just business!

The bank has ploughed back into the community 1.31 per cent of its profits (Lm350,000 or €815,500) through engagement in seven pillars of activity, namely the arts and culture, heritage, environment, sports, social, education and business sectors.

In particular, BOV has assisted Heritage Malta in preserving the Tarxien Temples. It has furthermore supported the restoration programme at Palazzo Falson, Mdina.

Reading through the BOV 2007 CSR report one encounters many a positive note as to the manner in which the bank is being eco-efficient. First on the list is its Santa Venera centre which, through both design and operation, is energy-efficient. Its Marsascala branch has, during 2007, been equipped with photo-voltaic panels, thereby contributing to an annual reduction of three tonnes of CO2 emissions as a minimum. The other branches await their turn.

BOV recycles its paper and has taken the first steps which will eventually lead to a paperless administration. Furthermore, it makes use of recycled toners and cartridges, not only contributing to less waste going to landfill but also paying less eco-taxes as a result. Reducing environmental impacts has a positive financial impact too!

The BOV report does not mention the environmental impacts generated by the use of transport (by both the bank and its employees). Nor is any reference made to the use of water in its branches, including the collection and utilisation of rainwater.

BOV has also sponsored a number of environmental initiatives aimed at the environmental education of the community.

While BOV is setting a good example which should filter through the business community, this should be seen as only a first step. In addition to improving the management of its direct environmental impacts, thereby reducing them, BOV can move forward, in the process retaining its leading role in banking CSR in Malta.

BOV should, on the basis of this eco-efficient experience, move on to new initiatives that address the eco-effectiveness of the banking system. In addressing its corporate responsibilities, BOV as any exemplary citizen would undoubtedly ask whether its services are being misused. In particular, whether any of its customers have used its services to contribute towards the ever-increasing national environmental deficit.

It would be interesting if in a future report we could read about environmental criteria applied in the consideration of requests for business loans, including those utilised to finance the construction industry. Additional interesting information would be whether BOV has refused its services to any client on the basis of environmental criteria.

The financial balance sheet on its own does not measure progress. It is only concerned with profits. The environmental and social balance sheets need to be addressed too, thereby having a “triple bottom line” approach to measuring progress.

Through its 2007 CSR report, BOV has proven that it is serious about managing its direct impacts. It now needs to move further by managing its upstream and downstream impacts. Managing its upstream impacts signifies addressing the environmental impacts generated by its suppliers – hence the introduction and maintaining of a green procurement service. Managing its downstream impacts would address the environmental impacts of those using its services. When this is done successfully BOV would be eco-effective, as a result contributing to a reduction of Malta’s environmental deficit.

BOV has taken the lead. I hope others will follow because profits and principles can co-exist.

Banks & the Environment ………… in Miami

Article below was published on MiamiHerald.com last Sunday

MIAMI BEACH

Bank meeting embroiled in ‘green’ debate

As the Inter-American Development Bank gears up to support biofuel and renewable energy efforts, environmental critics claim the lending agency is backing too many unsustainable energy projects.

Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno touted the lending agency’s efforts to support green fuels and energy conservation on Saturday. But environmental groups accused the bank of pumping billions of dollars into projects that harm the environment.

During a series of seminars on climate change, renewable energy and biofuels during the IDB’s annual meeting at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Moreno outlined the bank’s energy and climate change efforts, including the Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Initiative launched a year ago.

”[It is] the focus of the IDB’s efforts to respond to these key challenges of our age and assist our partner countries in dealing effectively with the issues they raise,” Moreno said during the second day of the meeting, which is expected to draw 6,000 Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. finance officials, business executives, bankers and members of nongovernmental organizations.

But Amazon Watch, Friends of the Earth and the Bank Information Center, which also are participating in the annual meeting, questioned the bank’s support for highway and energy projects that they said will contribute to deforestation, harm indigenous communities and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

In Peru, the bank has approved a $400 million loan to the Camisea gas project, which cuts through a biodiverse region of the Peruvian Amazon. In Colombia, the Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Initiative has announced its backing of the Cerrejon coal mine, which Friends of the Earth says is highly polluting.

”The policies of the Inter-American Development Bank cannot be double-faced,” said Silvia Molina of the Bank Information Center.

At midday, about 20 demonstrators gathered outside the convention center and launched a balloon holding a banner that read ”Investing in Agrofuels is Dirty Business, ” a play on the organization’s initials IADB.

Jodie Van Horn of Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco said the IDB needs to quit pushing biofuel projects that are draining Latin America to feed U.S. energy consumption.

”We’re concerned about this mad rush into a false solution called agrofuels,” she said. Instead, the IDB should focus its efforts on truly renewable sources of energy and encouraging conservation, she said. “We want to see some real reforms.”

During seminars organized by the bank Saturday, experts pointed out that climate change threatens the region with extreme weather events, has driven farmers from land degraded by drought and could threaten plants and animals with extinction as well as endanger coral reefs in the Caribbean.

”There is no silver bullet, but we do have multiple actions” said Mario Molina, a Mexican who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry. He proposed that the IDB help organize a network in Latin America and the Caribbean to promote best practices in biofuels, renewable energy and energy conservation.

Kenrick Leslie, executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize, said the Caribbean region was particularly vulnerable. ”The Caribbean is just barely coping with the current situation,” Leslie said.

When the main meetings of the IDB get under way on Monday and Tuesday, the focus is expected to shift to the regional economy and finances.

CSR Day

 

 

Impjegati ta’ diversi kumpaniji f’Malta nhar id-19 ta’ Marzu li għadda ħadu sehem f’CSR Day. (CSR tfisser Corporate Social Responsibility.)

 

L-attivita’ f’dan il-jum kien jikkonsisti filli f’ġurnata li kienet festa pubblika, dawn il-ħaddiema għamlu xogħol volontarju f’diversi istituzzjonijiet bħal Dar Vajrita f’Marsaskala, l-Għabex fl-Aġenzija Appoġġ ġewwa Fleur de Lys, f’Angela House Gwardamanga, fil-Hostel tar-Richmond Foundation ġewwa l-Floriana, f’Dar San Ġużepp f’Santa Venera, fir-residenza tar-refuġjati ġewwa l-Good Shepherd Home ġewwa Ħal-Balzan u fil-Fondazzjoni Arka ġewwa Għawdex.

 

 

Dawn l-impjegati ġew minn diversi postijiet tax-xogħol : minn Deloitte and Touche, Gasan Group of Companies, HSBC Malta, M. Demajo Group, Middlesea Group, Mizzi Organisation, Simonds Farsons Cisk plc, and the Vodafone Malta Foundation. Fil-waqt li sabu l-appoġġ mill-kumpaniji fejn jaħdmu dawn l-impjegati taw parti mill-ħin liberu tagħhom. Prosit.

 

 

Imma dan huwa biss parti żgħira minn dak li jfisser CSR. Li l-kumpaniji jinkoraġixxu lill-impjegati tagħhom biex jimpenjaw ruħhom b’dan il-mod huwa posittiv. Imma hemm bżonn ukoll li dawn il-kumpaniji, u oħrajn, jidħlu ftit iktar fil-fond fuq l-impatti negattivi tal-ħidma tagħhom fuq is-soċjeta u jgħidulna kif dan ser jiġi mnaqqas. Dan li qiegħed iseħħ f’pajjiżi oħra. Żewġ kumpaniji f’Malta bdew jippubblikaw dawn l-affarijiet. L-oħrajn għadhom ftit lura.

 

By carmelcacopardo Posted in CSR Tagged

Reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi – bdil fit-taxxa

Il-Ministru tal-Finanżi Tonio Fenech qal lis-Sunday Times li m’hemmx għalfejn noqgħodu lura milli nixtru l-karozzi. Dan qalu fil-kuntest ta’ rapport li kien hemm tnaqqis sostanzjali fil-bejgħ ta’ karozzi minn Novembru li għadda meta sar magħruf illi l-Gvern kien fi ħsiebu jirrevedi t-taxxa tar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi. Issa fir-realta’ r-riforma ser tindiriza tlett affarijiet.

L-ewwel ser tindirizza t-twissija mill-EU li ma jistax ikun hemm ħlas ta’ VAT fuq it-taxxa tar-registrazzjoni. M’hemmx taxxa fuq taxxa.

It-tieni ser tindirizza d-diskriminazzjoni fir-rati tal-ħlas bejn karozzi ġodda u karozzi second hand. Biex dan ikun jista’ jsir il-Gvern ħabbar illi ser jorbot ir-rata tal-ħlas mal-emissjonijiet tal-karozzi. Kif dan ser isir għadu mhux magħruf. Hemm iżda bosta modi kif jista’ jsir. L-ewwel irid jiġi stabilit x’inhu l-oġġettiv : jiġifieri jekk huwiex wieħed finanzjarju jew inkella wieħed ambjentali. Inkella jekk għandux mit-tnejn. Minn dan jiddependi x’ser jipproponi l-Gvern.

Fix-xhur li ġejjin inkunu nafu għax ġa tħabbar illi fid-dokument ta’ qabel il-budget li normalment jiġi ppubblikat f’nofs is-sena ser tibda konsultazzjoni pubblika.

Lidl, the Big Brother supermarket, is watching you

The Lidl Scandal

From The Times (London)

March 27, 2008

by Roger Boyes in Berlin

The Stasi secret police may have died with communism but its surveillance methods are still alive at Lidl, the German supermarket chain.

George Orwell’s Big Brother, it seems, stalks the aisles between the cornflakes and the canned dogfood. Detectives hired by Lidl – which has more than 7,000 stores worldwide, including 450 in Britain – have been monitoring romance at the cash till, visits to the lavatory and the money problems of shelf-stackers.

Several hundred pages of surveillance records have been passed on to Stern magazine, causing outrage among the unions and data protection officials. Verdi, the powerful service sector union, is offering legal help to Lidl workers who want to sue the company for invasion of privacy.

The secret monitoring of staff seems to have taken place only in Germany, though there have been reports of something similar from Lidl outlets in Eastern Europe. Lidl UK declined to comment yesterday. In Britain Lidl has gained the reputation of being a sharp competitor to chains such as Tesco and Sainsbury but staff have complained in the past of long hours and low wages. Lidl Germany says that the cameras were placed “to secure our goods against shoplifting and not to watch our employees”. Even so, spokeswoman Petra Trabert said that the surveillance helped to “establish any possible wrong behaviour.”

Detectives hired by Lidl in Germany would install ten covert matchbox-sized cameras at strategic points in a supermarket every Monday and observe the store for a week. What emerges from the mass of accumulated material is a portrait of an intrusive employer; no information is too trivial for the watchers.

Here is Observation period 9-14 July, 2007 at a branch near Hanover: “Saturday 10.10am Ms J tells Ms L that she has never paid her television license fees because she is still registered with her parents, even though she lives with her boyfriend. The detective’s end-of-week advice to management is that Ms J is a security risk.”

Ms J’s days with Lidl, one suspects, could be numbered. But a Lidl spokeswoman told Stern: “All the people named in the transcripts are still employed with Lidl with the exception of five workers. Two were released after the end of their probation period, another three offered to resign.”

Little escapes Lidl. Above all there is a fascination with lavatory behaviour. “Ms R has been leaving the till to go to the toilet every 15 minutes, despite waiting customers,” says one report.

Watching two staff at a cash till in northern Germany, detectives spotted a budding romance. “Friday 13.50. The relationship between Ms L and Mr H should be investigated since they seem to have become close. When Mr H counted up Ms L’s takings he drew a little heart on the receipt.”

Among the crates of cheap German beer at Lidl’s Brixton branch, there would be plenty of places to hide cameras. The store’s deputy manager, who declined to be named, told The Times that he had no knowledge of any covert surveillance in his branch. He said that the rows of roof-mounted cameras are there only for security.

For Peter Schaar, the government ombudsman for data protection, the Lidl revelations are deeply disturbing. Federal data protection law, he says, is strict about surveillance in public spaces such as supermarkets. Hidden cameras like those used by the Stasi are banned. “They count as clandestine surveillance which is forbidden.”

It-tielet waħda

susfut_turbine.jpg

Fl-impjant ta’ Dagenham tal-Ford fir-Renju Unit ġiet istallata t-tielet turbina tar-riħ. (ara hawn).

Dan ifisser illi l–enerġija elettrika meħtieġa f’dan l-impjant li ser jespandi dal-waqt ser tkun ġenerata 100% mir-riħ.

Meta taqra dawn l-affarijiet tirrealizza kemm għadna lura f’Malta.

Wasal iż-żmien li l-industrija f’Malta tibda tieħu ftit tal-inizzjattiva ?