In these pages you will find blogs, articles and book reviews about the real-life challenges of sustainability and resource efficiency. I hope that, in some small way, that these will help al those involved in the huge tasks we face to transform our relationship with nature while delivering value to our organisations and stakeholders. Please do feel free to comment and offer you own thoughts! You can comment in the space below any article, or you can contact me using the details to the right. I look forward to your inputs!.
Quantifying the effect of greenhouse gases (GHGs) on global warming, such as methane helps us to understand where we can best focus our efforts to combat climate change. Here I will be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the way we measure greenhouse gas impacts for the second most significant gas, methane – whose inexorable rise is shown left.
There are well over 100 different GHGs, each having a varying warming effects – that is to say they absorb infrared light to different extents and in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. The lifetime of these gases in the atmosphere differs a lot: some like methane, CH4, are broken down by chemical processes in a relatively short time, around 12 years, and others like sulfur hexafluoride, SF6, are very long-lived, taking in the order of 3,200 years to be eliminated.
For carbon dioxide, CO2, there are a number of different ways that it is removed from the atmosphere, some relatively fast like dissolution in sea water over 30-80 years, and some very slow, such as weathering reactions with rocks over hundreds or thousands of years, so precisely pinning down its lifetime is still to be done. As a result CO2 is generally assumed to have a lifetime of at least a hundred years.
A further complication is that some of the breakdown products of these gases may be GHGs in their own right, for example, methane eventually breaks down into long-lifetime carbon dioxide (through a series of intermediate chemical processes primarily involving radical chemistry in the stratosphere) and water, with a very short lifetime, meaning that even after it has decayed, methane has a residual warming effect with variable persistence.
To simplify the process of calculating the combined effects of lots of different emissions, we have created a measure called the Global Warming Potential, GWP, for each of the greenhouse gases.(more…)
In the week where the IPCC has issued its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) which contains its starkest warning yet about the risks from climate change and the urgency for action, I find myself thinking back to recent job application I was unsuccessful at.
I should point out that I am not really looking for a full-time role at this point. However, the job in question was for Director of the Manchester Climate Change Agency which has intrigued me ever since it was advertised at the back end of last year.
With the re-advertisement of the role, I thought a lot about how one might facilitate a process of decarbonization at a city-wide level and I did some background research on the Agency. In particular, I very much agreed with the Agency’s partnership approach, rather than a top-down or command-and-control style. So I threw my hat into the ring for the job. I should point out that I did have also some very considerable misgivings, which I intended to raise in the interview process, if I ever got that far.(more…)
Research supports the negative effect of Green Electricity tariffs on corporate energy efficiency efforts.
Those of you who have followed my previous articles on LinkedIn will know that I have a particular bugbear about Green Electricity tariffs.
I have three fundamental objections to these tariffs:
1. The tariffs are based on a lie. The renewable electricity has been produced as a result of the subsidy paid for by all electricity consumers not from any contribution made by the organisations or individuals falsely claiming it for themselves.
2. The use of these tariffs to report lower emissions leads to double-counting of emissions reductions. This is because the renewable generation is usually part of the mandatory target for utility companies and so form part of the UK-wide ‘location-based’ grid average CO2 conversion factors, but the same renewable electricity is used by the “green” tariffs consumers in their own ‘market-based’ calculations to claim zero emissions. As a result, the overall emissions recorded are lower than they actually are.
3. Most worryingly, is the possibility that that the Green Electricity tariffs disincentivise important efforts to reduce electricity use. After all, why invest additional time and money in the difficult work of energy efficiency if the emissions are already zero?
The latter concern has, until now, merely been a suspicion on my part, based on my own interactions with decision-makers in many organisations. Mindful that I could not find any research on this topic, I was delighted when my son, Connor Enright decided to look into this subject for his Natural Sciences Master’s thesis at the University of East Anglia – with the full support of his School and input of his thesis supervisors, of course.(more…)
Amongst all the possible responses to climate change few topics are as hotly debated and controversial as offsetting. So it was with interest that I read the recently released “Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting”.
This is a brief (12-page) document produced by a number of collaborators from a range of disciplines and schools in the University of Oxford. Its objective is to redefine best practice for offsetting as we aim for net-zero emissions and beyond.
The question in my mind is will I recommend to my clients that they adopt these principles?
While I do have some practical concerns about these principles, as described below, I would strongly recommend my fellow climate change and sustainability practitioners look at these and contribute to the debate about what offsetting is and should achieve.(more…)
In this long format article I will explore why a knee-jerk response to the climate emergency can lead to well intentioned but counterproductive consequences. I have heard it said that we are living in a time where political reality is approximating scientific reality – at last policymakers are beginning to grasp what science has been saying for many years. This article explores another critical dimension, which I will call engineering reality, where I believe that much of the hard work and tough choices around climate change will be focused. The broader themes in this article are absolutely central to our success or failure and are offered not as a criticism of one specific response, but as a broader lesson to all those who can influence our responses to climate change.
The climate emergency is real and requires a rapid and effective response. Our success in delivering fast decarbonisation of our economy depends on myriad decisions taken in every sector based on our knowledge of the technologies, skills and finance available. These decisions are intricate and complex, not helped by a large number of uncertainties about the future, inconsistent data and conflicting visions of how to achieve Net Zero emissions.The climate emergency is real and requires a rapid and effective response. Our success in delivering fast decarbonisation of our economy depends on myriad decisions taken in every sector based on our knowledge of the technologies, skills and finance available. These decisions are intricate and complex, not helped by a large number of uncertainties about the future, inconsistent data and conflicting visions of how to achieve Net Zero emissions.
Those of us who have been in the business of sustainability for a long time crave a John F. Kennedy moment: “we will put a man on the moon by the end of the decade”. We fancy the notion of a mobilisation of all resources available to limit climate change, to adopt a state of war where combating climate change become the overwhelming priority in everything we do. We can’t wait to see the many barriers we have faced in the past come tumbling down.(more…)
Simple payback, often referred to just as payback, describes the length of time needed for the savings generated by a resource efficiency project to return the initial investment made. It is calculated using the formula:
Thus, an investment of US$1,000 that yields regular annual savings of US$500 has a payback of two years. The annualized saving could be determined by a number of uneven cash flows, e.g. US$250 in year 1 and US$750 in year 2; here, the payback period is determined by adding up successive savings in the cash flow until they match the investment. If we are interested in the payback in months, then we would multiply the annual payback by 12.(more…)
I am writing this post from Goa, on the West coast of India. I flew here from Manchester, in the premium economy section of a Tui Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
According to the ICAO carbon calculator  the aircraft will have burned 54 tonnes of fuel on each leg of the journey, which equates to 654kg of CO2 per passenger (2x the standard economy emissions due to the “premium” cabin seating). The plane was full, so I think the calculations are reasonable and, while I could argue that “premium economy” is not really twice the space or mass of standard economy, I don’t quibble with the figures.(more…)
For change to happen, people and teams need two things: the capability to carry out the required action and the desire to do so. Capability reflects many aspects such as knowledge and skills, as well as resources like time and money. Motivation can be intrinsic due to beliefs and attitudes or extrinsic due to instructions, incentives, penalties or social norms.
Capability and motivation are related. An easy-to-implement behaviour change (i.e. one for where the existing capability to act is high) will need much less motivation than a challenging behaviour change (i.e. one which requires lots of resources, time, effort, risk-taking, knowledge, etc).
Understanding the interrelationship between capability and motivation can dramatically increase the chance of success of our change programme.(more…)
I started my book on energy and resource efficiency (available free as a pdf) with a traditional saying:
“How do you eat an elephant? Why, one bite at a time, of course”.
In the section on availability barriers to resource efficiency, I argued that we can drive a successful efficiency programme by getting a lot of people to regularly dedicate a little time rather than by getting a few people to commit a lot of time. Clearly, we need to start with where people are at and it is often unrealistic to ask someone to make a large change in their behaviour from the outset. Indeed, asking for too much or holding back for “perfection” are the root causes of many programme failures I have observed with my own eyes. So starting small is a reasonable strategy.
Is that true, though? Some argue that if all that we request in terms of change is a minor action, then this will result in – surprise, surprise – a small result! Folks like Donella Meadows, Bob Doppelt and many others have reasoned eloquently that no less than a fundamental change to our underlying systems will deliver the scale of change needed to address the magnitude of the problems we face. Similarly, Cambridge Professor David MacKay, in his fantastic book Sustainable Energy — without the hot air asserts: (more…)
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