BAMBOO AS A DEVELOPMENT TOOL

This article looks into bamboo as a development tool.

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Bamboo is a resource with many properties that are favourable to sustainability. In terms of its environmental properties, last week we looked into why it wins on the environmental front.

But sustainability is meant to be tackling social, economic and environmental problems at the same time and bamboo has many advantages that allow it to be a key tool for development.

One benefit is that it is a can be used as a tool to encourage sustainable, integrated farming systems. These allow farmers to diversify and create a balance of crops to sustain their livelihoods.

Another benefit is that it is a resource which has multiple uses. It is highly valued as a material that is able to produce range of products from consumer staples, to houses. Many of these products are aimed at international markets, which can contribute to export revenues. Bamboo allows for the development of value-added manufacturing opportunities that are accessible to the rural poor.

Lastly, the fact that it is a grass allows it to be harvested annually after it has reached maturity. This is essential as the long lead times and capital-intensive nature of tree crops make them unsuitable for lifting people out of poverty.

What you need to know

This article looked into bamboo as a tool for development.

We looked into 3 reasons why bamboo is a superior resource that can be used as a tool to enable development.

As a resource, it faces many challenges in terms of stereotyping and preconceptions. But it has many advantages and is facilitating real change.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to promote the benefits of bamboo as a sustainable resource?

 Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

WHY BAMBOO WINS ON SUSTAINABILITY

This article looks into the sustainability credentials of bamboo products.

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It is based on the findings from the INBAR Technical report number 35, which can be found here.

Bamboo is often lauded for its best-in-class sustainability credentials. The INBAR report uses Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and carbon footprinting to assess the sustainability of a selection of bamboo products. These are the two best methodologies for comparing the true sustainability of various products.

The figure that caught my eye in the study was the finding that showed that if production parameters were optimised, that industrial bamboo products can have a negative carbon footprint over their full life-cycle, from cradle to grave.

The authors provide the following helpful explanation of what this means:

“This means that the credits gained through carbon sequestration, and from burning to produce electricity in a power plant at the end of each product’s life, outweigh the emissions caused by the production and transport processes.”

I thought the study’s finding that energy consumption in processing industrial bamboo products is the largest contributor to their environmental impact was interesting. This makes up 36–53% of eco-costs and 52-63% of the carbon footprint of bamboo products.

A common defence of using timber in Europe and North America is that Bamboo’s transport from South America and Asia will make it less sustainable. In this regard it is interesting that the next largest contributor to environmental impact is international sea transport, which is responsible for 15-25% of the carbon footprint and 28-37% of the eco-costs of industrial bamboo products.

Eco costsCo2 costs

As we can see from the two charts bamboo performs vary favourable as compared to other materials in terms of carbon costs and eco-costs.

However, the key benefit of bamboo and why it wins on sustainability lies on the resource side. Because bamboo is a giant grass species, it is less susceptible to clear-cutting and deforestation and is ideal for reforestation.

The key winning features of bamboo include the following:

  • The mother plant consists of many stems connected through a vast underground root system, with new stalks coming up each year.
  • Bamboo is harvested like an agricultural crop.
  • Due to its extensive root system, bamboo can be planted in areas where farming is not feasible.
  • Its fast growth results in a high annual yield

What you need to know

This article looked into why bamboo wins on sustainability through the findings of the INBAR technical report number 35.

The report provided the eye-catching figure that bamboo products can be produced that are carbon negative over their lifecycle.

Energy consumption and international shipping were identified as two pinch points that are responsible for a large proportion of bamboo’s environmental and carbon footprint. Actions taken in these areas would go a long way to making it even more sustainable.

Bamboo was shown to compare extremely favourably in compassion to other industrial materials.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to promote the benefits of bamboo?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

THE HIDDEN COSTS OF CARS

As cities and regions around the world begin to shape their transport systems for a socially distanced future, the hidden costs that cars impose on society should not be forgotten. Now is the time to envision car less streets, towns, villages and cities.

I am minded to share the following quotation, which is attributed to Rudiger Dornbusch:

“In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”

After years of campaigners pointing to cycling success stories in the Netherlands and Denmark in the hope that their local area could have space for cycling, lots of people are waking up to find that their politicians have finally answered this call.

Interestingly in these areas which are often held up as having the apex of cycling infrastructure, their local politicians are calling for even higher levels of cycling, to facilitate socially distanced mobility.

In all this, we should not forget the hidden costs that cars impose on society. Car less cities and rural areas are a good idea with or without a highly infectious virus.

The figures that I will go through can be found here.

In this European Commission study, the following externalities were taken into account: accidents, air pollution, climate change, noise, congestion, well-to-tank emissions, and habitat damage.

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The total external costs of transport in the EU are estimated at €987 billion.

These are significant costs and it is important to look at the differences between transport modes.

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As we can see in the table, passenger cars is the largest contributor to external costs, making up 57% of the total costs, at €565 billion.

This is a significant burden placed upon society, so it is only right that this is called into question as to whether this is a desirable long-term solution.

What you need to know

This article looked into the hidden costs of cars.

It was based on a 2019 European Commission report that showed that transport is responsible for almost €1 Trillion of external costs on society, with passenger cars making up the vast majority of that number.

It is only fair that these hidden costs are taken into account as cities and regions look to remodel their transport systems to facilitate socially distanced mobility.

Whilst the study is purely academic, the costs imposed on society by the excessive and unnecessary use of passenger cars are real.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to communicate the hidden costs of cars?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

REIMAGINING CITIES AS CYCLING CITIES

This article looks into what needs to be done to reimagine cities as cycling cities.

If coronavirus has proved one thing to be true, it is that great shifts are possible in short periods of time, if there is sufficient impetus to make the changes.

This crisis has reminded me of a quotation by Lenin that I will post below:

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

It has been great to see mayors and regional leaders supporting cycling as a route back to normality. There is no way that we can return to packed rush hour tube carriages and busses any time soon. But people will still need to move around cities for work and for leisure.

This made me think about the actions that are required to reimagine cities as cycling cities.

To get there, it is not necessary to invent solutions from scratch. Rather best practices can be borrowed from cycling hotspots. I will post the chart below from Pucher and Buehler’s seminal 2008 article Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany.

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As we can see, The Netherlands, followed by Denmark have by far the highest rates of cycling. Unfortunately, the data is not as up to date as it could be, and some of the laggards have likely moved on a bit, but there is still much that can be learned from them.

The following 5 items will go a long way to reimagine any city as a cycling city:

1. Provide separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections

2. Traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods where full segregation is not possible

3. Rights of way in favour of cyclists wherever possible

4. Ample bike parking

5. Making driving expensive and inconvenient

Going down the list, it is important that cyclists feel safe, so that everyone from young children to elderly adults feel confident enough to buy and use their bike. This is achieved by having as many routes as possible where cyclists are fully segregated from vehicular traffic. This means no to token gestures such as bike logos and blue paint on the roadside. Real infrastructure is required to achieve real results.

Where this is not possible such as on quiet residential streets, vehicular traffic should be slowed down, ideally to no faster than 20mph and rigorously enforced.

You get more of things you subsidise and less of things you punish. Ideally rights of way should always be in favour of cyclists. Why this notion has been allowed to develop where city centres have been turned over to private cars, with pedestrians and cyclists treated unfairly and forced to wait for long periods of time at crossings.

Secure bike parking is a necessity. Good quality parking infrastructure for cyclists is not hard to create. Cyclists should not be chaining bikes to railings and other non-suitable items but are so often forced to because of the lack of U locks in city centres and covered bike hangars in inner city areas where they live. If possible CCTV is a great deterrent to prevent theft and to reduce the worry about theft by potential cyclists.

I have touched on this in some of the above points, but to create the cycling city, you have to imagine a city with fewer cars. Cars travel at greater speeds, requiring frequent overtaking of cyclists, they require far greater amounts of parking space and unless they are fully electric they create urban air pollution, which is damaging to all and especially damaging to some. Space in urban areas is at a premium, if it is dedicated to one use, such as driving, it can be used for cycling, but this is not ideal. The cycling city is a city where people cycle because it is the easiest and cheapest mode of transport, but where cars are heavily restricted, to prevent a freerider phenomenon, where driving looks attractive because of the lack of congestion caused by policies to encourage cycling.

What you need to know

This article looked into what cities need to do to reimagine themselves as cycling cities.

The solutions already exist, and they can be borrowed from cities that experience high levels of cycling that they have maintained for many decades.

This is an opportunity to reimagine cities, not just in a crisis aversion mode, but for shaping a positive future long term.

Maybe people like the lack of air pollution, the quiet streets and the lack of congestion. If people like these things and they want to keep them, then they should be able to.

The route towards more cycling cities is possible, but it needs policies that promote cycling and discourage driving in equal measure.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to reimagine cities as cycling cities?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

DEBUNKING PLANET OF THE HUMANS

This article looks into the recently released documentary Planet of the Humans. I was interested to watch this as I saw it getting a surprisingly warm reception online.

I was initially hesitant as I am a big Christopher Hitchens fan and I was aware of how he had intellectually disassembled Michael Moore and exposed his many weaknesses. I will post a video of Christopher doing this below.

Upon watching it, it became immediately obvious how one sided the documentary was. There was no attempt to be balanced. It reminded me of some of the worst instances of corporate greenwashing, but in reverse and in documentary form. The documentary is using bad science and inaccurate information to put across a one sided point of view. It is ironic that the documentary is guilty of a crime they are accusing others of.

For those who are unaware of what greenwashing is, it consists of misleading communications, to insinuate that a product or process is more environmentally friendly than it really is.

There is a 7 step framework originally created by TerraChoice that you can find here and I have my own article on the subject that you can find here.

So what I thought would be interesting, would be to re-watch the documentary and highlight where it commits sins highlighted in the 7 sins of greenwashing.

Sin of the hidden trade-off

This is used to describe claims that suggest a product is green based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.

There are several scenes where music festivals are shown to be attempting to be powered 100% by renewable energy without success. The documentary is guilty of this sin, as there is no attempt made to investigate whether these technologies work at a grid level, which they do.

If the documentary makers would have watched this video by Amory Lovins, they would have learned that modern renewable power doesn’t need a breakthrough in energy storage in order to be highly successful.

Sin of no proof

This is used to describe environmental claims not substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.

There is a scene at 1 min 22 where it was suggested that there was a seaweed forest that was promoted as being a sustainability game changer, but that was dead 1 year later. Why was it dead, were there specific reasons, should we give up on seaweed, what about algae? The documentary merely leaves the suggestion out there that this technology is useless, but no evidence is provided as to whether this is correct.

Sin of vagueness

This is used to describe claims that are so poorly defined or broad that their real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.

This is probably the sin that is most synonymous with the documentary as whole so there are quite a few examples to get through.

There is a scene at the launch of an electric car where a question is asked about the electricity that is charging the car. Yes it was likely from non-renewable sources in the USA, but that could change, and electric vehicles are superior at turning energy into power, something that was not explained in the documentary.

There is a scene where a hydrogen salesman was asked where the hydrogen comes from. This was cute, but there was no attempt to explain that ammonia could end up being a breakthrough source for hydrogen, with the ability to reduce carbon emissions substantially.

Sin of worshipping false labels

This is used to describe claims that give the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists.

I don’t want to sound too harsh, but the documentary repeatedly uses cutaways to social scientists who espouse views that humanity is doomed and there are no technological fixes that will save civilisation. I would have preferred for a diversity of views to be aired, including those from engineering, physics and sustainability backgrounds. Why was no attempt made to interview people who hold the opposite point of view?

For instance, Project Drawdown has recently catalogued the top 100 most powerful climate change solutions. Is it not strange to not have interviewed someone from their organisation, such as Paul Hawken?

Authors such as Richard Heinberg where wheeled out and promoted as having widespread respect for their viewpoints. I say this as someone who got interested in sustainability by reading books by Richard Heinberg. He has been wrong about many issues, such as his opinion on the timing of peak oil. His book titles are deliberately provocative, he is but one view among many, there are reasons to be optimistic.

Sin of irrelevance

This is used to describe claims that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.

There is a fairly odd scene with a tour of what can only be described as a group of activists who espouse views on the efficacy of wind turbines. I appreciate their sincerity, but are these really the best people to listen to, to get a balanced view on the costs and benefits and environmental trade offs of wind power? I don’t want to say that their viewpoint is irrelevant, but their elevation and promotion via Michael Moore’s platform bear no resemblance to their subject matter expertise.

There are other technologies put forward for mockery in the documentary. These include elephant dung and animal fat. I have never heard these promoted as mainstream solutions, these have been included for no other reason than to be immediately shot down. It makes for good TV, but it is not scientific.

Sin of lesser of two evils

This is used to describe claims that may be true within the product category but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.

The treatment of renewable energy in this documentary is very disappointing. The documentary would have been fine if it focussed its attention on the questionable sustainability benefits of biofuels and biomass.

Unfortunately, it became a very poorly executed hatchet job on wind power, solar power and electric vehicles. Interestingly, I do not remember there being a single mention of nuclear power, which is strange, as it is normally something that stokes a strong degree of debate.

The first time that energy return on energy invested is even touched upon, the documentary is 32 minutes in, and it barely comes up again. This is the benchmark against which all energy sources should be judged against.

Sin of fibbing

This is used to describe environmental claims that are simply false, I think we all know what that means.

I have found 1 particularly egregious example. At around 1 hour 4 mins, I saw a chart of the German electricity mix, this was used to demonstrate that they have not been performing strongly and are in fact over reliant on biomass to meet their renewable energy obligations. I will post a screen shot of this chart below.

Germany Energy Mix POTH

The source for this was said to be the German federal government, however I noticed that there was no date attributed to this data.

After an easy search online, my suspicions were proved to be correct, and biomass does not make up a preponderance of Germany’s renewable energy mix for the 2019 data. I will post a pie chart below.

fig3-share-energy-sources-gross-german-power-production-2019

What you need to know

This article looked into the recently released documentary Planet of the Humans through the lens of the 7 sins of greenwashing. As we can see, there are many examples where the documentary is guilty of these in reverse.

I haven’t even felt the need to touch upon the conspiracy theory nature of the documentary, the assertions made speak volumes about Michael Moore’s quality control filter.

I think it is important to point out that the environmental and sustainability movement is much bigger than Bill McKibben, Al Gore and Robert F Kennedy Jr. There was no mention of corporate sustainability, commitments to net zero or progress to date.

My worry is that this will find widespread appeal and those that watch it won’t follow up with any fact checking of their own.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to promote effective climate solutions?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

THE SUSTAINABILITY BENEFITS OF GREEN ROOFS

This article investigates the sustainability benefits of green roofs. It was inspired by reading Green Roofs: Ecological Design and Construction. I thought this was an impressive book, and I learned a lot by reading it. It comes highly recommended from me.

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In the preface by Earth Pledge Executive Director Leslie Hoffman, she shares an excellent quotation which I will post below:

Green Roofs represent an elegant opportunity to simultaneously mitigate environmental problems and create immediate life-enhancing value. They individually offer building owners savings on energy and roof membrane replacement costs, while also greening the cityscape for owners and residents of neighbouring buildings. Flowering and native plants help cool the urban landscape and combat the pollinator crises in our region, and one doesn’t need to hear much about combined sewage overflow and the erosion and runoff issues in coastal zones to understand why pervious surface is desirable.”

In terms of the environmental benefits of green roofs, these can be broken down into a few categories.

Climate change

Green roofs help to address climate change by reducing the urban heat island effect. This is a phenomena where urban areas warm to a greater extent than rural areas.

Green roofs accomplish this by warming less in summer. Where an asphalt roof could reach 160oF, a green roof would rarely exceed 80 oF.

There is also another green roof phenomena called evaporative cooling, which reduces heat transfer through the roof into the building, making the inside cooler and reducing the air conditioning load.

Hydrology

Urban infrastructure disrupts the natural movement of water, known as the hydrologic cycle.

Green roofs can help to solve this problem. They retain and detain stormwater, reducing runoff volume and slowing the rate at which it enters the sewage system.

Delaying the runoff is as important as reducing its volume, as this helps to prevent waste water systems from becoming overloaded.

Urban ecology

Green roofs can act as an ecological beacon in urban areas and support biodiversity.

Green roofs can be designed to protect endangered plant species, or to blend in with the local habitat.

Other roofs, so called brown or rubble roofs take material that is excavated during the build and use that soil to create a green roof on the finished build. The hope is that this is naturally colonised by indigenous plants and supports local ecology.

Green roofs can also support many varieties of bird and insect that would not survive without the habitat that they provide.

What you need to know

This article investigated the sustainability benefits of green roofs.

It was based on the book Green Roofs, by Earth Pledge, it comes highly recommended from me.

Green roofs provide many benefits, but particularly in terms of climate change, hydrology and ecology.

People are always looking for breakthrough technologies that will make the built envelopment more sustainable. Green roofs could be one of those solutions.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to promote the benefits of green roofs?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

ONE STREET AND TWO NUMBERS THAT REVEAL A LOT ABOUT STREET ARCHITECTURE IN THE UK

This article investigates street architecture on Kentish Town Road and suggests that more needs to be done to reclaim space from parked cars, especially now there is a nationwide policy of social distancing.

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The picture above is taken from outside my house on Kentish Town Road in the London Borough of Camden earlier today.

I would say it is typical of a high street in a metropolitan area, especially in London.

After taking a tape measure to the pavement section, this measured up at 390 cm.

Whilst the car parking space measured up at 198 cm.

This is actually pretty good as Inclusive Mobility (2002) advises that ideally the width of the footway should be 200 cm to facilitate two people in wheelchairs to pass each other comfortably. So we can anticipate that there is likely to be pavements in London well under the 390 cm on Kentish Town Road.

Interestingly, according to the British Parking Association, there is a minimum width of 180 cm for on-street parallel parking, so the space here is slightly larger than the minimum.

Where I am going with this, is that with a pavement width of 390 cm, unless there is a segregation system where people walking in different directions pick a side, and stick to the edge, it is challenging to keep 2 metres apart, to meet the governments social distancing requirements.

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This could be simplified a lot by reclaiming space dedicated to car parking and using this to create ultra-wide pavement spaces for pedestrians.

There is no need for anything fancy, a simple line of cones and a sign informing of the changes would do.

This predicament reminded me of the excellent illustration by Karl Jilg from the Swedish Road Administration.

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Without thinking, over time so much space has been designated to the motor car, that pedestrians have become confined to small patches of land. Hemmed into only the spaces that are left, after copious amounts of space have been designated to moving and stationary cars.

With a highly infectious virus in our midst, now is the perfect time to challenge these norms and reclaim space on Britain’s high streets for pedestrians.

I also believe more space should be segregated to a make space for cyclists, so that people can get to where they need to without the need for public transport. With or without a virus, this makes a great deal of sense. With social distancing measures that will potentially be in place for some time, it is essential.

The UK has been slow to make these kinds of emergency changes. Countries and regions all over the world have been rushing to enact emergency measures to reclaim space to enable socially distanced mobility. Laura Laker has a great article where she summarises all of these changes.

In New Zealand, the Government is helping councils expand footpaths and roll out temporary cycleways to help people keep 2 metres apart until after the lockdown is lifted. This is what real leadership looks like.

Laura has another article on the proposed changes in Hackney. These look good to stop the problem of speeding on roads that are operating at reduced capacity, but do not offer anything for socially distanced mobility for pedestrians or cyclists.

hackney

What you need to know

This article investigated reclaiming space on Britain’s high streets for pedestrians to have more space to enjoy socially distanced mobility. In an emergency, car parking spaces on high streets are a luxury we cannot afford.

I also believe space needs to be reclaimed for cyclists. This would significantly reduce pressure on public transport systems.

I appreciate concerns that right now, the priority is on not encouraging the public to travel at all. But I think we need to look beyond that, to a time when travel is allowed, but social distancing is still in force.

A great way to solve the conundrum of busy public transport systems would be to massively encourage the uptake of cycling by potentially novice cyclists. One way to do this is to make it dramatically safer. This can be encouraged in the short term by reclaiming space from car lanes and ensuring that everyone can get from A to B in London on a route that is completely segregated from cars. This would make a big difference.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to enable socially distanced mobility?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby