U.S. Reps. Tony Cárdenas and Larry Bucshon used America Recycles Day to introduce the Realizing the Economic Opportunities and Value of Expanding Recycling (RECOVER) Act. A coalition of partners, led by the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), support House Bill 5115 (H.R. 5115), which would allocate federal grants to states and municipalities to invest in improving recycling programs and infrastructure, including upgrading material recovery facilities and other plants that receive and process recyclables, and enhancing the recovery and collection of material.
In addition to establishing a $500 million matching grants program to support and expand the recycling programs and infrastructure, the RECOVER Act would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to submit a report to Congress no later than two years after the date of enactment of this legislation on measures taken toward implementation, according to a news release issued by Cárdenas office. Moreover, the bill precludes the use of EPA funds for incineration.
According to Cárdenas’ Facebook post about H.R. 5115, the bill also would support public-private partnerships to increases materials recovery, direct grant money to consumer education on recycling practices and encourage the development of rural recycling programs.
“This bipartisan, commonsense bill is a smart solution to a growing problem,” Cárdenas says. “The RECOVER Act encourages local and state governments to invest in recycling programs and new technologies to increase collection rates and promote consumer education. This grant would support public-private partnerships and will help communities across the nation to expand and modernize our country’s recycling infrastructure. This bill would create new jobs, boosts our economy and, ultimately, it is good for American families and the environment.”
Bucshon says, “As the father of four kids, it is important to me to leave future generations with a cleaner environment than the one we inherited from our parents and grandparents. One of the ways that we have been successful in cleaning up our nation’s environment is by encouraging greater numbers of Americans to recycle waste items instead of discarding them in landfills.
“Today, our nation is facing a recycling crisis due to inadequate infrastructure and the inability to keep up with waste stream contamination,” he continues. “Without the proper recycling infrastructure in place, we will not have the capacity needed to recycle waste items and they will either end up in a landfill, our oceans or elsewhere in the environment as litter.”
Bucshon adds, “On America Recycles Day, I am proud to join Congressman Cárdenas in introducing the RECOVER Act, which will help promote greater investment in recycling infrastructure and consumer education to ensure our nation has the recycling infrastructure needed to continue allowing Americans to recycle waste items instead of sending them to the landfill.”
H.R. 5115 would establish a recycling infrastructure program within the EPA and put federal funding toward building new recycling technology and programs to help increase collection rates, improve the sortation and separation of materials, enhance the performance of curbside collection and more, its supporters say.
“We applaud Reps. Cárdenas and Bucshon for introducing a bill that will improve our recycling systems and educate Americans on the importance of reclaiming valuable materials and repurposing them for greater use,” says Tony Radoszewski, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, Washington. “This bipartisan bill will help address the infrastructure shortcomings that can contribute to recyclable materials ending up in our oceans and waterways and we look forward to working with the representatives to move it forward. We are thankful to the coalition members who helped in the development of the bill because improving our recycling infrastructure is necessary for all materials.”
“Prioritizing recycling requires bipartisan support,” says Scott DeFife, president of the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), Arlington, Virginia. “The Glass Packaging Institute applauds Reps. Cárdenas and Bucshon for their leadership in introducing this important legislation. The RECOVER Act is a proposal both parties can get behind as it grows American manufacturing jobs with a public-private matching infrastructure investment package.”
He adds, “Recycling efforts, including those focused on glass recycling, need federal support to help the system reboot and handle modern waste stream challenges. This bill—and the jobs and economic and environmental benefits it will create and support—is a viable part of a solution to bolstering domestic recycling endeavors while making an impact on sustainability from coast to coast.”
In addition to the Plastics Industry Association and GPI, other supporters of the legislation include the American Chemistry Council, American Frozen Food Institute, AMERIPEN, Berry Global, EREMA, Flexible Packaging Association, Foodservice Packaging Institute, International Bottled Water Association, Kenrich Petrochemicals Inc., National Waste Recycling Association, The Recycling Partnership, SNAC International, Solid Waste Association of North America, Sustainable Packaging Coalition/GreenBlue, Unilever and The Vinyl Institute.
“I am in full support of the RECOVER Act,” says Chairman and CEO of Evansville, Indiana-based Berry Global Tom Salmon. “The time is now to enhance our country’s recycling system through improvements in infrastructure and education at all levels – national, state, and local. Increasing recycling access and material recovery is the first step towards moving to a truly circular economy.”
Did you know seven million trees go into landfill each year? A pot-grown tree with all its roots intact means it can be replanted in your garden afterwards to enjoy – try Pines and Needles or HollyBerryTrees. If only a cut tree will do, choose British, locally-grown trees to keep carbon miles down. Forestry England sources trees from sustainable forests with short transportation lines, or look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo when shopping in stores. After the big day, recycle trees through your council’s recycling scheme (check locations here). Or consider renting one instead. Sites like loveachristmastree.co.uk or londonchristmastreerental.com deliver and collect rented trees, and if you’re sentimental, you can pick exactly the same Norway Spruce, year in, year out. Got an artificial tree? Show it some serious TLC. According to the Carbon Trust, it needs a minimum of 10 Christmases to be less environmentally harmful than a real one.
Sprint Corporation is an American telecommunications company that provides wireless services and is an internet service provider, based in Overland Park, Kansas. It is the fourth-largest mobile network operator in the United States and serves 54.5 million customers as of March 2019.
Kansas — Sprint has made a commitment to source 100 percent renewable electricity across its entire operations – all retail stores, offices, call centers, and network sites – by 2025. Sprint also re-committed to responsibly reuse or recycle 100 percent of electronic waste directly generated from business operations, and divert 50 percent of operational waste from landfills by 2025.
“We recognize the global importance of operating a sustainable company – it’s the right thing to do and it makes good business sense,” said Sprint President and CEO Michel Combes. “I’m proud that Sprint will be among the companies around the world committed to decreasing our carbon footprint and addressing the impacts of climate change. This is an issue that requires immediate and bold action, and that is why Sprint is stepping up in a big way.”
100 percent Carbon neutral by 2025
The path to reaching 100 percent carbon neutrality includes efforts to directly reduce Sprint’s overall energy consumption as well as investments in alternative energy that offset carbon emissions.
Existing efforts to directly reduce energy use include implementing various energy efficiency projects. For example, Sprint’s headquarters is equipped with an intelligent system that has reduced energy consumption by 6 percent.
In retail locations, intelligent thermostats have seen an average of 10-14 percent reduction in energy consumption. And, nearly 75 percent of Sprint’s commercial properties operate under a green lease, recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy as a national leader in this space.
Current investments in renewable and alternative energy include two 12-year virtual power purchase agreements (VPPAs). The recently announced Maryneal project with Duke Energy Renewables – combined with an aggregation agreement announced with Apple, eBay, and Samsung to purchase renewable energy from Apex Clean Energy’s White Mesa Wind Project –will offset Sprint’s CO2 emissions 30 percent by 2021.
Looking forward, Sprint will continue to evaluate alternative energy investments and direct clean energy purchasing, including the conversion of electric accounts in parts of Virginia from the local utility to clean solar power later this year.
Divert 50 percent of operational waste from landfills by 2025
At our corporate headquarters campus, Sprint provides several waste and recycling programs, including composting, access to surplus office supplies, e-waste collection, and glass recycling.
Outside headquarters, Sprint runs a national waste hauling and recycling program at the office and retail locations, data centers and network facilities across the nation – either through onsite services or a mail collection program. Sprint’s two national haulers report diversion tonnages through monthly cloud-based reporting, which has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Waste Wise program as “best in class” for large companies.
Reuse or recycle 100 percent of electronic waste
The e-waste goal announced today is further reinforcement of Sprint’s current sustainable waste management practices. This covers internal e-waste generated from our business operations and wireless devices held in inventory and returned devices by customers and non-customers for recycling.
Customers can also choose to donate their device to the 1Million Project Foundation, an initiative launched by Sprint in August 2017 with a mission to help one million high school students achieve their full potential by giving them free mobile devices and high-speed internet access.
Sprint focuses on the full lifecycle of the electronics bought and sold and is committed to buying greener electronics, extending the useful life of the equipment, facilitating the collection of used equipment, maximizing the reuse of electronics, and responsibly recycling through accredited third-party certified vendors. Sprint continues to be recognized by the EPA Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge Awards for diverting electronics from landfills.
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Following damage from Irma and major renovation, a new, reinvigorated Islander Resort greeted guests and locals in January. With 114 rooms on roughly 24 acres, a beach side bar in the Tides and fine dining in the Elements Lounge, the resort is also showcasing a number of green initiatives that make Islander one of the most eco-friendly resorts around.
In September, installation initiated on what is the largest solar panel array in the Keys. Fifteen different buildings on resort property will contain solar panels — for a total of 1,950 — to supply over 45 percent of all energy consumed at the resort. That’s enough to supply enough power to about more than 130 homes. Reduction in its fossil fuel reliance would reduce emissions equivalent to that produced by 160 cars a year.
“So far, we’ve lined our roofs with panels on several buildings,” said Dan Martin, director of sales and marketing at Islander Resort. “The solar panel component is the largest piece of our green strategy, but the little things we do every day, from green housekeeping practices to the use of energy-efficient climate control units, shows just how conscious Islander is about decreasing our carbon footprint. We’re looking to be a full-fledged, eco-friendly resort.”
SALT Energy in Marathon is installing the 638-kilowatt solar panel system, and they say it’s by far the largest on one site in Monroe County. The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District has a 110.8 kW system that was installed by SALT in 2019. Projected energy production of the full system at Islander is 1,090-megawatt hours annually. The system will also be able to sustain category 5 force winds.
“We have really appreciated the support from all the partners on this project, including FKEC, who have worked very closely to ensure that the power upgrades would be safely integrated,” said Chuck Meier, business development manager and owner of SALT. “SALT applauds Islander Resort’s earth-friendly initiatives developed during their recent renovations. Their investment in solar energy adds to their green portfolio and will lower their electric bills substantially.”
Solar panels are expected to be completed and all live by the start of 2020.
“Flipping on the switch and gaining that energy from the sun is a great solution and a huge moment not only for Islander but for our guests,” Martin said. “Every day, we’re making mindful choices to help move the needle toward self-sustainability.”
In addition to its solar panel array, Islander Resort also boasts a water treatment system repurposed to collect and hold reclaimed rainwater to irrigate the property’s extensive landscape collection. A state-of-the-art cold-water laundry system is designed to conserve water and decrease hot water use, while climate control units in guest rooms detect when guests leave for efficient cooling. Drinks served to pool and beachgoers at Tides are served in biodegradable materials, while water filling stations throughout the property encourage the use of reusable bottles and illustrates the resort’s commitment to reduce plastic use. As for the solar panels, Martin said it’s the “crown jewel” of the Islander’s green initiatives.
On Thursday, fast-food giant McDonald’s announces its latest sustainability plans to pursue two new renewable energy projects. These projects are virtual power purchase agreements with Apex Clean Energy and Ares Management, and are based in Texas. One project will be solar-energy based, and the other will generate power using wind energy. And altogether, these projects are estimated to be able to power over two thousand stores.
So just how much energy will be produced in the project and what will its impacts look like beyond just the numbers?
How Much Energy Will Be Produced In The McDonald’s Sustainability Project?
According to the business’s calculations, these two projects can produce 380 megawatts (MW) of energy. To give that number some context, that could power more than 2,500 McDonald’s restaurants.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, one MW of solar energy can power about 164 American homes. That means that the energy output from this project has the potential to power about 62,320 homes.
However, this number can vary with differences in average sunshine, wind, and temperature that the solar panels endure. According to McDonald’s, this is contribution of renewable energy to the grid is more than any other restaurant company.
This agreement is also good for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The restaurant’s power generation will aid in preventing 700,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. This amount of emissions would otherwise be created during energy generation processes using non-renewable means like natural gas or coal.
This is equivalent to planting more than 11 million trees. It is also comparable to taking over 140,000 passenger cars off the road for a year.
So, What Is A VPPA?
A business produces a surplus of energy that it would rather sell to the grid than use itself. The grid is the supply of energy sent to other users, like private residences.
To do this, the business partners with an offtaker, someone who wants the electricity the business wants to offload. (This is frequently an electricity supplier.)
In a VPPA where the energy involved in the transaction comes from renewable resources, the company also receives renewable energy certificates, or RECs.
Energy from coal and energy from solar panels look the same once put into the grid. RECs are essentially proof that the energy that the company is selling is derived from renewable sources. The energy supplier pays for the energy and the RECs in a contract that typically lasts around 15 years.
In short, this agreement gives McDonald’s an incentive to grow its renewable energy production. If this deal is a success, then it will majorly motivate other companies with the same scale as McDonald’s to make VPPAs as well and grow their renewable energy production.
McDonald’s Sustainability Goals Broken Down
Many businesses have sustainability goals that deal with reducing their carbon footprint or energy usage, or utilizing renewable sources of energy.
Companies frequently make announcements of new sustainability goals. With their frequency, it is easy to become desensitized to them.
More than half of Fortune 500 companies have such goals. What’s more is that many of these companies take no concrete steps towards achieving their goals. This seemed to be the position of McDonald’s before this week.
Back in 2018, McDonald’s announced its Scale for Good environmental sustainability campaign. The goals contained within included reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 36% by 2030, and a 31% reduction in emissions intensity per metric ton of food and packaging.
According to the restaurant chain, this would “prevent 150 million metric tons of C02 equivalents (CO2e) from being released into the atmosphere by 2030.”
Additionally, it would be the equivalent of “taking 32 million passenger cars off the road for an entire year or planting 3.8 billion trees and growing them for 10 years.”
Like other Fortune 500 companies, these are lofty goals. Unlike a majority of other Fortune 500 companies, though, McDonald’s has taken a concrete step to achieving these goals by creating the VPPAs.
Looking Into The Future
Consuming more energy from renewable sources is a major step towards overall environmental sustainability and a step towards preventing further environmental damage.
With the announcement of this deal, hopefully other companies follow suit and make real, serious progress towards their own environmental goals.
Final Note: We encourage the McDonald’s team and other companies making a difference in sustainability to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always looking to work with companies to learn what they’re working on.
Maddie is a Writer at The Rising and a Bioengineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Behavioral Neuroscience student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
It’s easy to forget that tourists contribute to climate change in a substantial way. So can you satiate your travel bug while minimizing your impact on the environment? This package will help answer that question with tips and ideas on how to be a better traveller.
The environmental impact of travel
It’s a big world, but many of us flock to the same places. Of the 1.4 billion international tourist trips that people took in 2017, half a billion of them were to the 300 most popular cities, according to the World Tourism and Travel Council. Shanghai, Beijing, Paris, New York and Orlando were the five most popular destinations.
Many destinations have already made efforts to combat overtourism. In August, the Italian government announced it would be rerouting cruise ships from the central part of Venice, and earlier this year Venice council voted to impose an entrance fee for visitors to help pay for the upkeep of the much-visited World Heritage Site. Amsterdam removed its iconic “I Am Amsterdam” sign due to overcrowding in 2018. The city has also limited Airbnb rentals and has banned new tourist shops from opening in the city centre.
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Cities found to be most at risk of suffering the damaging effects of overtourism are Cairo, Jakarta, Delhi, Bangkok, Bogota, Mumbai, Moscow, Kuala Lumpur, Istanbul, Manila and Ho Chi Minh City, which were all singled out in the report as having inadequate resources for dealing with tourism growth.
By the numbers
Amount of greenhouse gas the average Canadian produces each year, according to a report by Climate Transparency, a coalition of international climate organizations.
Amount of greenhouse-gas emissions produced by a round-trip flight from Toronto to Vancouver.
83 per cent
Amount that CO2 emissions from international aviation have increased since 1990, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.
25 per cent
Amount of a plane’s emissions caused by takeoff and landing. Flying nonstop is better.
17 per cent
Estimated reduction in the number of loads of laundry washed by hotels that request guests reuse their towels instead of using fresh ones each day, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Amount of fuel a mid-size cruise ship, carrying approximately 2,800 passengers, can use each day, emitting as much particulate matter as 1 million cars, according to Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, a German environmental association.
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2 per cent
Amount of the world’s carbon emissions caused by global air travel.
Amount of plastic bottles Marriott International expects to save each year, on average, for a 140-room hotel by replacing individual soap, shampoo and conditioner bottles with bulk dispensers in its showers.
Train, plane, car or bus?
How much carbon dioxide do different modes of transportation produce, per passenger, for each kilometre?
Train: 14 grams
Small car: 42 grams
Average car: 55 grams
Bus: 68 grams
Plane: 285 grams
(Source: European Environment Agency)
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“Everything we take – and leave behind – has a footprint. The trick is to do more with far less,” says zero-waste advocate Lauren Singer. She has lived a zero-waste lifestyle for eight years and owns the popular Package Free Shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. Here are some of her ideas on how to cut down your travelling weight.
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Good options include Patagonia’s Black Hotel duffel, which is both sustainable and fair trade – it uses a zero-wastewater discharging system, meaning wastewater from manufacturing the bag is treated so nearby waterways are not polluted. Singer also advocates for buying luggage with a lifetime warranty, which improves the odds that a bag will be repaired rather than thrown in the trash.
Minimize toiletries or make your own
Look for toiletries that are organic and sustainably sourced and that come in biodegradable packaging. Shampoo and conditioner bars are a great way to minimize plastic use while travelling. David’s Natural Toothpaste is free of sulfates and comes in a recyclable metal tube. Its box packaging is paperboard made using renewable wind energy. Singer makes her own organic, vegan toothpaste. Her recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of organic coconut oil, 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 15 to 20 drops of organic essential oil, such as peppermint or anise. If you’re a snorkeller or scuba diver, make sure your sunscreen is reef-friendly. Agent Nateur makes organic, all-natural deodorants for both men and women from sources that are non-toxic nor environmentally harmful. Plus, they come in metal containers instead of plastic.
Pack snacks, reusable bottles and utensils
Bring your own food in organic cotton bags or beeswax wraps. Singer says bamboo is an ideal replacement for plastic and the sturdy material can be moulded into reusable coffee cups, straws and utensils. Wet wipes have become a travel essential, but are not flushable and clog sewers. Replace them with biodegradable tissues. And don’t forget to bring a cloth shopping bag to pick up groceries, take to the beach or store dirty laundry.
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Eliminate the need to bring along a cache of cords to charge your electronics and try solar-powered chargers, which are ideal for daytime charging and short-term needs. They’re also perfect for adventure travellers who might not be near electrical outlets. Popular options include the Nekteck solar charger, Anker solar charger and Goal Zero Venture 30 solar power recharger kit.
Aruba’s Bucuti Tara Beach Resort sits on 14 acres of beautiful white sand beach. Named the world’s most sustainable hotel by Green Globe, a Los Angeles-based sustainability certification agency, Bucuti Tara became the Caribbean’s first carbon-neutral resort last year. Thanks to the largest solar panel installation the government of Aruba will allow, energy-efficient appliances and purchasing carbon offsets from a local wind farm, the resort has been able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. Guests are provided with a reusable water canteen, and are invited to participate in monthly beach clean-ups.
With demand surging, the cruising industry has come under fire for its environmental impact. Intrepid Group, an Australia-based company that operates several brands, including Peregrine Adventures, has been carbon neutral since 2010 thanks to carbon offset projects. Their nine-day sustainable cruise to Thailand, for example, takes passengers to small islands off the west coast, where you can swim in the Andaman Sea and then dine with locals in villages. To promote sustainable cruising, Peregrine uses smaller boats that each accommodate a maximum of 50 passengers. The company banned all single-use plastics from its cruises, and sources 90 per cent of each trip’s food locally.
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There are few things more quintessentially Canadian than paddling in local waters. Family-owned Owl Rafting teaches guests the intricacies of white-water rafting, the finesse of canoeing and the importance of this country’s waterways. The company has two locations: one in Ottawa, and one just east of Algonquin Park. Both locations are committed to green practices, including in how they prepare and buy food and in the day-to-day operation of their eco-lodges.
The epic arctic
Seal River Heritage Lodge is the flagship eco-lodge of tour operator Churchill Wild, where you can experience Arctic safaris. Most daily excursions are conducted by foot to minimize impact on the environment and interference with wildlife. The lodge runs primarily on solar power, operates greywater recycling systems, maintains a strict waste, water and compost program and offers locally foraged foods as well as organic produce grown in a recently built greenhouse in the southern part of the province.
A place in paradise
Taking a “green tour” may not seem like a priority after making the long journey to Tetiaroa, an atoll not far from Tahiti, in the South Pacific. In French Polynesia, air conditioning accounts for 60 per cent of resort electricity bills; the Brando uses sea water air conditioning, chilled water from the ocean’s depths, as the cooling source for its 35 villas. The Brando has the largest solar field in the country, which produces two-thirds of the island’s energy. A generator, fuelled by coconut oil and other biofuels, is used from midnight to 8 a.m. Rainwater is collected and used for laundry, glass is ground and used in paving projects and the compost program is so successful the resort sells its extra to a company in Tahiti.
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What about carbon offsets?
Carbon offsets allow travellers to purchase a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions to compensate for the same amount of emissions produced by their trip.
Carbon offsets are bought and sold through a number of international brokers, online retailers and trading platforms. For example, a wind energy company would sell carbon offsets to help their company create new non-polluting energy, which the buyer would be able to claim mitigates their polluting energy use.
The David Suzuki Foundation recommends the Gold Standard, the highest standard in the world for carbon offsets. Administered by the Gold Standard Foundation, a non-profit based in Geneva, Switzerland, the Gold Standard is now supported by more than 80 non-governmental organizations and focuses on projects in developing countries.
Less Emissions, a Canadian company owned by the green energy retailer Bullfrog Power, prices its carbon offsets by the tonne. Domestic offsets cost $24 per tonne, while international offsets cost $32 per tonne. “If you flew from Halifax to Vancouver and back … that would cost you roughly $40,” says Sean Drygas, president of Bullfrog Power.
Think local when looking for transportation, a hotel, restaurant or tour guide to help tourism dollars benefit the community you’re visiting. Renting a bike can seem like a small step, but it allows you to explore beyond the confines of a vehicle, is less polluting and puts money into the pocket of a local business.
Flex your studies
Use a guide book or official website to research your destination to understand customs, traditions and history before travelling. Learn what to wear when exploring, whether you’re visiting a monument or a local market (remember to bring clothing to cover up when visiting any religious site). Ask a hotel concierge or tour guide for advice on what to pay for local services, such as a ride in a tuk tuk.
Meet the maker
When shopping for souvenirs or handcrafted objects, avoid buying items that could be considered a biological treasure (such as a rare plant or exotic pet) or an antique that may be archaeologically significant. Never buy banned wildlife products such as ivory or a tortoise shell. If you want to go the extra step, be considerate when bargaining, depending where you travel — it’s normal to barter, but don’t fight over pennies.
Treat your destination as if it were your home. Go beyond avoiding plastic straws or bags and reusing towels by bringing your own biodegradable toiletries in refillable containers — leave behind as little as possible.
Watch what you eat
Choose locally sourced and created cuisine. Try to eat in instead of eating on-the-go — that way there’s less waste from your carry out containers. Avoid supporting chain stores, where you might be missing out on the culture and where more waste may be produced. Pack a refillable water bottle; in areas where bottled water is the only option, consider buying larger bottles to share to reduce plastic waste.
Other resources and websites
To change the way you look at travel, try to seek out designations such as the Green Destination Standard, which sets environmental, cultural and business criteria to measure, monitor and improve the sustainability of destinations and regions.
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council
The GSTC is a comprehensive resource for learning about tourism businesses and destinations that strive to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources. The council grants voluntary, third-party certification for destinations, tour operators and hotels that want to make sustainability integral to their business plans. The GSTC also suggests a 30-minute online web class, created by G Adventures and Sustainable Travel International, for travellers who want to know more about making the right choices when planning a vacation.
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Bee + Hive
This sustainable tourism association launched a booking platform this year to help you find a list of hotels and experiences focused on wildlife conservation, environmental preservation and sharing cultural traditions while also providing economic benefits for communities.
Scientists from Trinity College Dublin have taken a giant stride towards solving a riddle that would provide the world with entirely renewable, clean energy from which water would be the only waste product.
Reducing humanity’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is arguably the greatest challenge facing 21st century civilisation – especially given the ever-increasing global population and the heightened energy demands that come with it.
One beacon of hope is the idea that we could use renewable electricity to split water (H2O) to produce energy-rich hydrogen (H2), which could then be stored and used in fuel cells. This is an especially interesting prospect in a situation where wind and solar energy sources produce electricity to split water, as this would allow us to store energy for use when those renewable sources are not available.
The essential problem, however, is that water is very stable and requires a great deal of energy to break up. A particularly major hurdle to clear is the energy or “overpotential” associated with the production of oxygen, which is the bottleneck reaction in splitting water to produce H2.
Although certain elements are effective at splitting water, such as Ruthenium or Iridium (two of the so-called noble metals of the periodic table), these are prohibitively expensive for commercialisation. Other, cheaper options tend to suffer in terms of their efficiency and/or their robustness. In fact, at present, nobody has discovered catalysts that are cost-effective, highly active and robust for significant periods of time.
So, how do you solve such a riddle? Stop before you imagine lab coats, glasses, beakers and funny smells; this work was done entirely through a computer.
By bringing together chemists and theoretical physicists, the Trinity team behind the latest breakthrough combined chemistry smarts with very powerful computers to find one of the “holy grails” of catalysis.
The team, led by Professor Max García-Melchor, made a crucial discovery when investigating molecules which produce oxygen: Science had been underestimating the activity of some of the more reactive catalysts and, as a result, the dreaded “overpotential” hurdle now seems easier to clear. Furthermore, in refining a long-accepted theoretical model used to predict the efficiency of water splitting catalysts, they have made it immeasurably easier for people (or super-computers) to search for the elusive “green bullet” catalyst.
Lead author, Michael Craig, Trinity, is excited to put this insight to use. He said: “We know what we need to optimise now, so it is just a case of finding the right combinations.”
The team aims to now use artificial intelligence to put a large number of earth-abundant metals and ligands (which glue them together to generate the catalysts) in a melting pot before assessing which of the near-infinite combinations yield the greatest promise.
In combination, what once looked like an empty canvas now looks more like a paint-by-numbers as the team has established fundamental principles for the design of ideal catalysts.
Professor Max García-Melchor added: “Given the increasingly pressing need to find green energy solutions it is no surprise that scientists have, for some time, been hunting for a magical catalyst that would allow us to split water electrochemically in a cost-effective, reliable way. However, it is no exaggeration to say that before now such a hunt was akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. We are not over the finishing line yet, but we have significantly reduced the size of the haystack and we are convinced that artificial intelligence will help us hoover up plenty of the remaining hay.”
He also stressed that: “This research is hugely exciting for a number of reasons and it would be incredible to play a role in making the world a more sustainable place. Additionally, this shows what can happen when researchers from different disciplines come together to apply their expertise to try to solve a problem that affects each and every one of us.”
Professor Max García-Melchor is an Ussher Assistant Professor in Chemistry at Trinity and senior author on the landmark research that has just been published in a leading international journal, Nature Communications.
Collaborating authors include Gabriel Coulter, formerly of Trinity and now studying for a MSc at the University of Cambridge; Eoin Dolan formerly of Trinity and now completing an Erasmus Mundus joint MSc degree in Paris; Dr Joaquín Soriano-Lòpez, MSCA-Edge fellow in Trinity’s School of Chemistry; Eric Mates, PhD candidate in Trinity’s School of Chemistry and Professor Wolfgang Schmitt from Trinity’s School of Chemistry.
The research has been supported by Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC), where the team is benefiting from 4,500,000 CPU hours at Ireland’s state-of-the-art super-computer facility.
As lush and verdant as it already is, Cayman is steadily becoming greener.
Several recent and pending projects point to an increased effort towards and demand for ecologically friendly elements to be incorporated into new homes and apartments.
Solar panels and low-energy LED lights have become fairly common home features on the island, but some newer developments are including such energy-saving elements as increased insulation, recycled materials, sustainable woods, battery storage of solar-generated electricity and geothermal cooling. One development is promoting itself as a self-sustained community.
Matthew Wight, managing director of Cayman developer NCB Group, said new projects have to take eco-friendly elements into consideration. It’s what customers want, he said.
“Consumers are starting to drive this,” Wight said. “Gone are the days we used to be able to sell properties by saying they had solid wood cabinets and granite countertops. The knowledge of the end users has become so advanced.”
These days, he said, homebuyers are demanding such things as countertops made from recycled concrete and cabinets made from woods that come from sustainably managed forests. They are also often concerned with reducing their carbon footprint.
“We’ve integrated renewable energy into every one of our projects in the last six years,” Wight said. Those include Solara, Cypress Pointe and the grid-independent Cayman Technology Centre. The company is behind the Aura development near Hurley’s supermarket, the new Kailani, Grand Cayman Hilton hotel across the street from Kirk Market and a cooperative venture with Dart Enterprises on the OLEA development.
Both the Kailani and OLEA projects recently earned five-star awards at the USA Americas International Property Awards for Best New Hotel Construction and Design, and Best Sustainable Residential Development, respectively. The properties feature a number of eco-friendly elements, including water recycling, rainwater capture, electric-car charging stations and low-energy-use appliances.
OLEA is expected to have the largest solar array in Cayman, the company said. Wight said the alternative electricity source is an expected part of NCB’s projects.
“We offer solar panels as a standard,” he said. “It’s not an upgrade.”
Green additions expected
Realtor Kim Lund, of the Lund Team, said solar power is not yet an expected part of new construction, but energy efficiency is.
“Pretty much every development is incorporating some energy efficiencies, from insulation to high efficiency air conditioning,” Lund said. “Not all of them are slapping solar panels on their roofs.”
James Whittaker, co-founder and CEO of GreenTech Group, a company focussed on alternative energy, is, however, in the business of installing those very panels. He is also the president of the Cayman Renewable Energy Association, a non-profit that promotes sustainable practices.
The use of high-efficiency appliances and alternate energy sources will eventually become mainstream, Whittaker predicted.
“When you’re purchasing a home or condo, you’re going to be able to purchase a home that has a low electric bill or no electric bill,” he said.
That’s the case for residents at Lighthouse Point in West Bay. The first building on the site, with condominiums overhead and a dive shop and restaurant on the ground floor, was Cayman’s first to be certified as LEED platinum.
Developer Jay Easterbrook promotes that structure, which not only uses solar power, but also has a wind turbine, as Cayman’s first eco-development. He’s now building a second complex next door that also features such elements, including eco-friendly floor and bath tiles, the use of white organic paint and a wastewater treatment plant.
“There’s so many great technologies out there and we try to use what we can,” Easterbook said. “We’re trying to get people to see the future and what we need to do.”
One of those technologies, recently introduced to the island, is the use of storage batteries that absorb the excess energy produced by solar cells during the day. The home can then draw on the batteries during the night and overcast days.
Demand for homes with such features appears to be high. According to the Lighthouse Point project’s website, all but three of the yet-to-be-completed condominiums are sold.
Developer Ryan Ostendorf said energy efficiency is one factor that has drawn buyers to the Periwinkle development north of Grand Harbour.
“I don’t know why more people don’t (build this way),” said Ostendorf, project manager for the Arch and Godfrey development. “The cost is not prohibitive. This is how we’ll develop going forward.”
Ostendorf said Periwinkle is the first, and so far only, LEED gold-certified community in Cayman.
“Every home will have solar panels,” said Ostendorf, who owns one of the 24 units in the first phase of the development. The homes also have extra insulation, hurricane-rated impact windows, low-flow plumbing, high-efficiency air conditioning and sustainable materials such as the ‘gray’ floor tiles in the homes which are made with recycled components.
Ostendorf said many customers are more focussed on the long-term economic advantages green building provides than in the environmental impact. But that often changes as they settle in.
“At the onset, I think people look at it for a cost savings,” he said. “Later you say, ‘What else can I do?’ I think in our minds we want to do better. I see more people taking stuff over to the recycling centre at Hurley’s.”
‘Green washing’ concerns
Catherine Childs, educational programmes manager for the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, said she’s heartened to see the demand for such developments.
“It makes me feel encouraged that developers think that’s a selling point,” Childs said of sustainable features. “It means a lot.”
She cautioned, however, that there are more important elements than just the buildings themselves.
“There’s this term called ‘green washing,’” she said, which she thinks applies to some of Cayman’s developments. Eco-factors should not just be focussed on the buildings, but on the impact of the development on the surrounding environment, she added. Having an energy-efficient building sitting on land where mangrove was clear cut to make room for the project is not necessarily sustainable.
Two proposed developments, the Orchard and a resort at Barefoot Beach, have emphasised fitting their designs into the existing landscape.
The Orchard, which is marketing itself as an eco-village, will have its own garden and greenhouse, along with a composting system, where residents can grow some of their own food. It is promoting a ridesharing system, as well as daily shuttle service to George Town, to enable residents to avoid having to own a car. There are also plans for a Montessori school on site.
Dart, perhaps the largest builder on the island, often touts its attention to sustainability. Three of its properties, including the Kimpton Seafire resort, are LEED certified.
In a statement, Dart said it is an “advocate of recycling and one of the largest local producers of solar energy”.
Its buildings, the statement said use such things as geothermal energy, rainwater harvesting and turtle-friendly lighting.
In East End, NCB has been contracted to build the $10 million eco-resort on 10 acres of Dart-owned property on Barefoot Beach. In its planning application, NCB said the resorts 81 solar-powered units would be built to blend into the landscape. Plans call for such elements as “high-tech super-insulated modular wall panels … [and] rainwater harvesting and sewage recycling”.
This and other projects are just a hint of what is to come, say the companies behind them. Estimates are that a LEED-certified structure costs only 7% more than a standard building, and those costs are recovered in the first few years by energy savings.
Lighthouse Point’s Easterbrook says the move toward green only makes sense.
“The technology is getting cheaper and cheaper,” he said. “People should be taking advantage of it.”
Energy experts Hafod Renewables have just installed an 86-panel solar array at the Ty Gwyn Holiday Park, at Towyn, Abergele, where the Owen family has been welcoming visitors since 1938.
The third generation of the family, brother and sister Rhodri and Angharad, have been stepping up their ‘green’ credentials with renewable electricity tariffs and recycling policies and the new £23,000 system will save them over £4,000 a year and pay for itself within six years.
Hafod Renewables Managing Director David Jones is at the UK’s largest holiday park show, the Holiday Park and Resort Innovation 2019, at the NEC in Birmingham this week to bang the drum for renewable energy in the tourism industry and to showcase the Ty Gwyn project.
Jones said, “We want to try and educate the holiday park sector that there are cleaner, more sustainable and cheaper ways to provide electricity for their sites.
“This makes sense for sites like Ty Gwyn because they’re busy from Easter through to Halloween which are the sunniest and warmest months of the year.
“Here at Ty Gwyn they also have a number of buildings with roofs suitable for solar panels and so the new system is spread over five different buildings and generates 34.4 kilowatts of electricity which is enough to run eight homes and easily tops up their mains supply.”
It’s a perfect solution for Rhodri Owens who had been faced with rising electricity costs, increasing demand and possible supply issues on the park which is just yards from the beach at Towyn.
He said, “We are very proud of our green credentials and are delighted to have been able to work with Hafod Renewables.
“As a high consumer of energy, part of our green drive is to move all our electric to cleaner energy sources and alongside the solar, we have also switched our mains electricity contract to a green tariff.”
Jones set up Hafod Renewables with his father, Richard, in Denbigh in 2011 and the award-winning £1.5 million turnover firm now operates from off-grid headquarters in Tremeirchion.
Jones explained, “There is no subsidy support provided any more for solar schemes but as the cost of solar panels have come down, their efficiency has risen so solar power is still very competitive and in the long-term it will be cheaper than fossil-fuel or even nuclear generated power.
“This system will pay for itself within six years but it has a 25-year lifespan so that adds up to almost 20 years of free electricity.”
Hafod Renewables installed its first system in July 2010 and since then they have fitted over 10,000 solar panels. Stacked end on end they would tower over 29,028-foot Mount Everest.
In the past 12 months they have provided solar systems for businesses like Henllan Bakery in Denbigh, dairy farms and even the world’s oldest heritage railway, the Talyllyn, where although Welsh steam coal is still king, solar is now playing its part.
They have also installed over 73 air-source systems and over 30 ground-source systems with a 16,000 hen egg producer and the North Wales Wildlife Trust among their customers.
Jones concluded, “In just a few years almost everyone will be driving electric cars and by then most of our power will be produced by solar, wind, tidal and other renewables.
“Renewable energy isn’t a Cinderella-style operation any more. It’s a real contender and one with a better, cheaper long-term future than fossil-fuel or even nuclear generated power.”
Caption: David Jones with Ty Gwyn holiday park’s Rhodri Owen and some of their solar array on the roofs behind.
As Hawaii policymakers seek to wean the state from fossil fuels, Hawaii Gas, the state’s regulated natural gas utility, is preparing for a major fight before the Honolulu City Council.
Oahu lawmakers are considering an ordinance that would eliminate gas hot water heaters from new homes, or require Hawaii Gas to produce at least 90% of its gas from renewable sources, like waste.
The bill might seem like a modest step. But Hawaii Gas is taking a hard line against the measure, saying it could be the first step toward broader restrictions that could threaten its business model.
“Many people see this as a slippery slope to the ban on many other things,” said Jeannine Souki, Hawaii Gas’ director of government affairs and corporate communications.
The Honolulu City Council is considering a measure with serious implications for the use of natural gas on Oahu.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
If that’s true, the bill could pose a significant threat to the 115-year-old firm. While natural gas provides a tiny fraction of the energy Hawaii uses, it nonetheless plays an important role in the mix – especially for the hospitality industry.
Almost all of Waikiki’s 270-plus restaurants use natural gas for cooking, Souki said. In addition, she said, “approximately 100 hotels and resorts in Waikiki use gas for everything from heating water for showers, pools, cooking food at their restaurants, drying towels and sheets.”
The industry was particularly concerned that a renewable gas requirement could hurt the ability of hotels to set up so-called “combined heart and power” or CHP systems, which use gas to generate electricity and them use leftover heat for things like heating water.
“This one will have a negative impact on large facilities such as our hotels that are currently using, or are in the process of installing, methods of generation such as combined heat and power (CHP) units,” Hannemann wrote.
Hawaii Gas also has support from builders and construction trade associations. They say the City Council measure will significantly drive up construction costs. Renewable energy advocates supporting the bill say the opponents have inflated the cost impacts to consumers.
Still, Hawaii Gas is so concerned that it has asked its 70,000 customers to join the fight.
In a September letter sent out with gas bills, the company’s chief executive, Alicia Moy, described the council measure as something that “would essentially eliminate your right to choose a gas water heater of any kind for your home.”
Moy encouraged customers to “be part of ensuring gas remains a clean and affordable choice for Hawaii homeowners and businesses.”
Other Cities Have Imposed Tougher Laws
Hawaii Gas has good reason to worry. Nationally, policy trends and new technologies are raising questions about the future of gas.
For example, while natural gas was once viewed favorably as a clean-burning alternative to fuels like oil and coal, municipalities like Berkeley, California, which is often a bellwether for progressive policies, have banned gas completely for some new construction projects. San Jose has done the same.
The plummeting cost of alternative energy technology is also posing a threat.
Last week, Forbes reported that costs of large-scale battery storage for power produced from solar farms are so low that it might not make economic sense to invest in natural gas production.
“New natural-gas plants risk becoming stranded assets (unable to compete with renewables+storage before they’ve paid off their capital cost), while existing natural-gas plants cease to be competitive as soon as 2021,” Forbes reported, citing a new study by the Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy think tank.
Locally, it’s not just renewable energy advocates and environmentalists who are pressuring Hawaii Gas.
In October, in a rare display of one regulated utility criticizing another, Hawaiian Electric Co.’s senior vice president for public affairs, Scott Seu, wrote a strongly worded op-ed piece published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser supporting the City Council’s bill.
HECO has been at the center of a state policy to shift from fossil fuels to renewables, and the op-ed piece criticized Hawaii Gas for fighting proposed laws imposing similar standards for natural gas.
“No matter how much it describes itself as the Clean Energy Company,” Seu wrote, “Hawaii Gas has consistently opposed legislative efforts to require that they transition to renewable energy, arguing that the technologies for renewable gas are not sufficiently mature or robust.”
Jeannine Souki, Hawaii Gas’ director of government affairs and corporate communications, shows off the company’s renewable gas production unit at the city’s Honouliuli Wastewater Treatment Facility.
Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat
On a recent afternoon, Souki led a tour of the technology Hawaii Gas is using to create the sort of renewable gas Seu mentioned.
Most of the gas Hawaii Gas uses is synthetic gas produced from a byproduct of oil that’s imported into Hawaii and refined to make gasoline and other products. But Hawaii Gas also has a contract to convert human waste from the City and County of Honolulu’s Honolululi Wastewater Treatment Plant into natural gas.
Set up amidst the city’s 1.8-million gallon circular tanks that collect waste, the renewable gas generating facility is a spaghetti of silver pipes and valves running between a variety of lime green tanks and pillars.
Souki was joined for the tour by Ross Tanimoto, an engineer with the Honolulu Department of Environmental Services.
As Tanimoto described it, the facility’s work is anything but glamorous.
“Basically, we’re undoing what the toilet does,” he said.
The challenge for Hawaii Gas is there are only so many toilets in Hawaii. The facility produces enough gas from Honouliuli annually for about 6,000 residential customers, or the equivalent of 15,000 barrels of oil, Souki said.
The company hopes to negotiate deals with the city to produce more from waste collected at the Honolulu Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and Waimanalo Gulch landfill, Souki said. But that can only go so far, she says.
Natural gas is vital to Waikiki’s tourist industry, providing fuel used by hundreds of hotels and restaurants and the neighborhood’s iconic tiki torches, such as these near the Kuhio Beach Park hula mound.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
To renewable energy advocates, the Honolulu City Council bill is a modest step.
“We forget that there are larger strides being made by other communities,” said Josh Stanbro, executive director of the Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency.
“This isn’t us just going rogue out there,” he said, pointing to the measures in Berkeley and San Jose.
Solar water heaters do that better than gas ones in the long run, he said. Although he said the initial costs of solar systems are higher, the systems ultimately pay for themselves by saving consumers money.
“After three to four years you’re getting free hot water,” he said.
According to a document published by his office, the cost of installing a solar system in a new home is about $3,600 to $5,250, about $1,100 to $2,750 more than the $2,500 for a gas system.
According to the document, the $2,500 installation cost was provided by Hawaii Gas. The solar prices were based on “industry channel checks and are based on new construction” not more costly retrofits.
Stanbro said the office is eager to see data that could refute its estimates.
Hawaii Gas, meanwhile, says “the current estimated cost difference between a gas and a solar water heater is at least $7,000.”
Souki said the estimate came from sources including customers, builders and trade associations such as the Land Use Research Foundation of Hawaii.
Disputes over costs notwithstanding, Souki said, state and local policymakers should consider the overarching purpose of imposing tough standards on natural gas.
Given the relatively small amount of gas used in Hawaii and the fact that it burns cleaner than oil or coal, Souki said, “we have a very low carbon footprint.”
Hindering the use of gas, she said, will only hurt consumers and do little to help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.
“The question I would ask is, ‘What is the goal?’” she said.
“Hawaii’s Changing Economy” series is supported by a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation as part of its CHANGE Framework project.
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