THE HIDDEN COSTS OF DRIVING

This article looks into the hidden costs of driving. What if everything is not quite as it seems, what if there are hidden costs to driving that make this activity costlier than it is commonly perceived to be.

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The correct academic term for these hidden costs is negative externalities. These are the unaccounted for or unpriced costs of an action. I however am no fan of the word externality, I much prefer the word hidden costs as it exactly represents what it means.

This article is based around the analysis of Amory Lovins in Reinventing Fire which itself was inspired by a paper by Delucchi and McCubbin, which you can find here.

There is an old saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch, let’s now turn to the hidden costs of driving.

Driving [Reinventing Fire] eds

These include congestion delays. These waste everyone’s time and they make vehicle movements average speed extremely slow in urban areas. This is also an indicator that is on the increase. This is a major hidden cost of driving.

The next is accidents. This is an indicator that has been declining per vehicle mile travelled, but thanks to the increasing number of vehicles, the total number of accidents has been rising. Accidents, both to the driver, the passenger, other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists are a significant hidden cost of driving.

Pollution and health are hidden costs of driving. These are areas where thanks to technology, even though the number of vehicles bring driven has risen, emissions of all air pollutants from highways in the U.S. have declined dramatically since 1990. But there is a caveat that road transportation has high hidden costs because it is energy intensive and because the emissions and noise disruption take place in areas with high population densities.

Climate change is another significant hidden cost of driving. Until such a point where the majority of vehicles are powered by electricity, which is generated from renewable sources, driving will remain an activity with an outsize climate impact. There are also energy security risks which come from importing oil from far off lands. Thankfully an EV and renewable energy solution puts a country in total control of its own energy and vehicle power needs.

These hidden costs of oil powered driving in the U.S. have been calculated at $820 billion a year. You can find a summary of the estimates in the Delucchi and McCubbin paper below.

Externalities [Delucchi and Mccubbin]

$820 billion is a staggeringly high figure and shows why a transition towards more sustainable forms of transport is needed so badly. This must include rapid public transportation options and roads that make walking and cycling feel safe and enjoyable.

What is not needed is continued expansion of dedicated vehicle parking spaces, and parking spaces being provided at below market rate. Changes in these areas would go a long way to reducing the hidden costs of driving.

What you need to know  

This article looks into the hidden costs of driving. We looked into a combination of the analysis of Amory Lovins, and Delucchi and McCubbin.

We looked into how driving in the U.S. creates external costs of congestion, accidents, pollution, climate change and noise which total $820 billion a year. Whilst the U.S. is one of the most car centric nations, these figures may be lower in other countries, but external costs will still be present in some capacity.

There is also the significant external cost for oil importing nations, who must rely on far off lands for the fuel that powers their vehicular transport. A much smarter solution would be for car transport to reflect the hidden costs that it imposes on society and the environment. This would make walking, cycling and public transport more competitive. A smart policy would also heavily favour electric vehicles which have lower hidden costs and can be powered with renewable energy which is generated domestically.

Overall, far from being a benign form of transport, oil powered cars create a significant burden through the hidden costs of driving.

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 are your thoughts on the hidden costs of driving?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

IS COMPOSTABLE PACKAGING A CON?

This article looks into compostable packaging from the point of view of sustainability. How sustainable is this new alternative touted as a mainstream solution for disposable single use plastics?

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As with any newly introduced product, there is always a small risk that clever marketing and effective salespeople are able to introduce a product that is inferior to the one it is replacing. This is especially the case in areas such as sustainability which can be complex and alien to purchasing managers. The risk of this happening is also increased in the post Blue Planet era, when companies are desperate to be seen to be doing something to solve the problem of plastic pollution.

People are becoming increasingly aware that plastic, whilst it has many impressive properties that have served the food, drink and retail industry well becomes problematic when it escapes into the environment. This is because it takes an exceptionally long time to biodegrade. This has been the catalyst behind the meteoric rise of compostable packaging.

However, these newly introduced compostable bioplastics also take a reasonable amount of time to biodegrade, even in ideal conditions. This means that they are no panacea to the problem of plastic pollution. There is also the possibility of rebound effects, where individuals may litter more frequently or become indifferent to littering if they believe the packaging will biodegrade with a short passing of time.

The appropriate way to dispose of this newly introduced packaging is through a food waste collection, but as we will see in a moment that is far from being a simple solution.

Most food waste is taken to an anaerobic digestion facility. The food waste will be screened before being admitted into the chamber to sift out things that should not be there, including conventional plastics. These facilities operate at a high tempo and it is during this phase that the compostable packaging is stripped out because it is indistinguishable from conventional plastics. This removed material will then be sent to landfill or to an energy from waste plant. Not exactly the high-flying sustainable solution that was promised. There is also a big question as to whether compostable packing will ever fit in with a food waste collection as the times they take to decompose do not match up.

An ideal solution would be a composting service that is tailored exactly for compostable plastic packaging instead of attempts to compost it with food and garden waste which it shares few similarities. That would allow it to flourish and for more of the material to be composted, when currently this is not the case.

I think it is worth considering the waste hierarchy when thinking about this new compostable plastic packaging.

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In the post Blue Planet era, whilst there has been some emphasis on prevention, I think that a lot more could be done to reduce the amount of waste that is generated as that is the most sustainable option.

It is also worth pointing out that conventional plastic packaging is recyclable and therefore, if it is used and then placed in the correct container for recycling, that would be a more sustainable solution.

I think compostable plastic packaging is an example where the packaging industry has moved too quickly for the waste industry, which is struggling to catch up. Perhaps when the market grows, there can be a better alternative than the compostable packaging making its way through the waste industry to end up at a landfill or in an energy from waste plant.

What you need to know

This article looked into compostable packaging from the point of view of sustainability.

We looked into how Blue Planet has changed the game for disposable plastics and is forcing businesses to demonstrate to customers that they are acting on their concerns.

We looked into the properties of these biodegradable plastics and the possibility that litter could rise if there is a widespread belief that the litter will disappear shortly.

We looked into how these new biodegradable plastics will fair if they are sent away via a food waste collection. In all likelihood they will be stripped out and sent to a landfill or burned.

We looked into the waste hierarchy and what it tells us about how sustainable these solutions are.

Overall, there are properties of conventional plastics that are bad if they enter the environment as pollution, but they come with the benefit that they can be recycled.

Compostable plastic packaging comes with the advantage that if it enters the environment as pollution, it will biodegrade, but to dispose of them conventionally is problematic and big question marks hang over the sustainability of this process.

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 are your thoughts on compostable packaging?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

WELCOME TO THE FUTURE OF PROTEIN

This article is based on a recent trip that I took to Honest Burger to sample the Beyond Meat plant-based burger.

Menue

Promoting plant rich diets came in as the fourth most effective solution to slow down and reverse climate change in Paul Hawken’s 2017 work Drawdown. If you would like to read my review of this book, please click on the link below.

DRAWDOWN EDITED BY PAUL HAWKEN

Promoting plant rich diets, is therefore something which is integral to a successful transition towards sustainability.

Having enough protein, is crucial to sustaining a healthy diet. I think it is a moot point that ample protein can be obtained from vegan sources such as vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds. People clearly like to eat things that look like meat, hence the success of the Quorn range of products.

At the time, these were great products that vastly enhanced the range of eating opportunities for those following vegan and vegetarian lifestyles. But they were often viewed with ridicule by those who follow more carnivorous lifestyles. This meant that they were unable to break into the mainstream, as they neither looked nor tasted like the meat options that they were intended to replicate.

This is the problem that Beyond Meat was created to solve. If you can use technology to create meat substitutes that look and taste more realistic you have a much bigger chance of becoming a mainstream option enjoyed by large sections of the population, rather than the preserve of those following vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

Burger whole

To begin with, when the burger was dropped off, my first impression was that it was highly realistic. I have eaten many veggie burgers in my life and this was by quite some considerable distance the most realistic looking burger.

burger half eaten

The next most important consideration is the taste test and, on this front, the Beyond Burger performed exceptionally well. I am unable to provide commentary on if this is realistic to a meat-based burger, but I was dining with my brother who enjoys such products and he confirmed that it was highly realistic. In comparison to other vegan and vegetarian burgers that I have ever tried, it was probably the best that I have ever sampled.

The amount of greenhouse gasses that are released by different food options varies dramatically. As you can see from the chart below, the impact of Beef is enormous, which is worrying as it is a dish associated with status.

Food-footprint

There is therefore a big opportunity for companies such as Beyond Meat to come in with a technological solution to temper the demand for meat, by developing realistic meat substitutes.

These companies are still in their infancy so it is too early to tell whether these substitutes can break into the mainstream. But based on my first experience of the Beyond Burger, where I left exceptionally satisfied, I think there is definitely scope for these options to become a lot more popular in the future.

What you need to know

This was an article about my recent trip to honest burger to sample the Beyond Meat plant-based burger.

Going in with high expectations, I was completely blown away by the quality and the taste of this burger.

Whether you are a lifelong vegetarian or just someone who likes to try new things I definitely recommend that you make the effort to try this burger.

With beef contributing to large quantities of greenhouse gasses and with billions more people this century expecting to have meat as part of their diet, hopefully these types of meat substitutes can continue to increase in quality, so that people have a sustainable and ethical source of protein to choose from.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. Do you think these meat substitutes can become mainstream?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

NEXT GENERATION COLLABORATION

This article looks into the The NextGen Cup Consortium. This is a new partnership between Starbucks and McDonalds to solve the problem of a lack of recycling solutions for takeaway drinks cups.

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As soon as I saw this, I thought it was a great partnership, that would be good for both parties and help to deliver a sustainable solution at scale.

I think partnerships for sustainability are very important. I have another article about partnerships for the goals which is goal number 17 on the UN SDG’s and you can find this via the link below.

PARTNERSHIPS FOR THE GOALS

These two companies are fierce competitors, which makes this partnership all the more interesting. They are also open to requests from other companies to join them in their quest to make takeaway cups more sustainable.

I would classify this type of partnership as pre-competitive. This is a type of collaboration between partners who are otherwise competitors, but who agree to share the burden of the early stages of research into a particular area. There is a lot of scope for these types of partnerships to help make sustainability happen. If you would like more information on pre-competitive collaborations and sustainability, please click on the link below, I know I found the article interesting.

THE CASE FOR PRE-COMPETITIVE COLLABORATION; SUSTAINABILITY AND RADICAL INNOVATION.

The NextGen Cup Consortium aim to achieve their breakthrough with an innovation challenge and accelerator program. They have the following aims

  • Identify and commercialize existing and future recovery solutions for environmentally friendly single-use hot and cold paper cups
  • Ensure disposable cups are recaptured with the highest material value through recycling and/or composting
  • Minimize raw material use
  • Encourage reusability

These are good aims and easily achievable with two of the largest food and drink retailers working on the problem together.

The funding part of the partnership is especially interesting. The challenge is open to suppliers, innovators and solution providers with promising ideas to make the cups more sustainable. Those selected receive grant funding up to $1 million based on key milestones.  Up to seven awardees enter a six-month accelerator program to help scale their solutions. The criteria they are judged on include performance, recoverability, environmental benefits and scalability.

This is a bold move and it is important for companies to realise that ideas for innovation are just as likely to come from outside of their business than inside of it.

What you need to know

This article looked into The NextGen Cup Consortium, which is a new partnership between Starbucks and McDonalds to solve the problem of the unsustainability of takeaway drinks cups.

We looked into the wider narrative, which includes partnerships for the goals, which is goal number 17 on the UN SDG’s.

We explored how even though they are fierce competitors, this type of pre-competitive collaboration can bring about solutions that benefit both parties.

We then looked into the aims and funding parameters of this collaboration.

Overall, this is a promising partnership with the potential to make cups, which seemingly everyone is ranting and raving about more sustainable.

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 stands out for you as being a great partnership for sustainability?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

HOW MUCH DIFFERENCE CAN ONE TREE MAKE?

This article looks into trees in urban areas and asks; how much difference can one tree make?

When people think of trees and forests, they probably think of the Amazon rainforest, the Congo basin or tall giant redwoods reaching for the sky in California. This is a shame, because trees have an indispensable role to play in cities. They make our lives better and our surroundings more beautiful.

This week I was struck by a number of impressive instances of trees in urban areas. I will share them with you below.

Jeremy Barrell wrote:

For years, I have been looking for better images for my talks to illustrate trees buffering temperature extremes. Enspec in Australia came up with this, which is great. 39.8C in the purple foreground tree shade, 50.9C in the yellow road in the sun. It speaks for itself.”

tree in heat

You can find a link to the original Tweet here.

A picture is worth a thousand words and the image above demonstrates nicely the cooling benefits that trees bring to urban areas.

I was also pleased to find out about the progress of Trees for Cities as they are a charity that I really like. They wrote:

Would you believe this is the first tree we ever planted, 24 years ago! 💚 Since then we’ve planted 773,831 more urban trees and counting.”

 

urban trees

 

You can find the picture to the right and a link to the original Tweet can be found here.

In an age of 24/7 rolling news and smartphones where you can access thousands of services at the touch of a button, trees can be contrasted with their slow growth and longevity.

But urban trees provide many benefits and we need more of them.

 

 

 

 

This week I also enjoyed reading The Little Book Of Ecosystem Services In The City by Sadler et al. This may be a small book, but within it contains a powerful message. Cities depend on ecosystem services to make them more liveable, but green urban areas are under threat.

An area that I find particularly interesting is the linking of environmental indicators to human health outcomes. They identify three different types of evidence linking ecosystem services to human wellbeing.

  1. Epidemiological studies linking health benefits of exposure to cultural urban ecological services to an improved natural environment
  2. Epidemiological evidence linking green space to behavioural changes leading to increased levels of physical exercise.
  3. Improvements in psychological (mental) health engendered by exposure to natural places and scenes.

As we can see, trees and green spaces in urban areas, have quite significant links to improved health outcomes.

What you need to know

This article looked into trees in urban areas and asked; how much difference can one tree make?

We looked at evidence from Australia that showed the significant cooling benefits that trees in urban areas can bring.

We looked into Trees for Cities, who are an amazing charity that do so much to help beautify urban areas.

We looked at the health benefits that green spaces in urban areas can confer, which are substantial.

So overall, how much difference can one tree make? The answer is, a lot.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. How much difference do you think trees make to urban areas?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

WHERE’S THE CHANGE?

This article looks into change at an organisational level. Why is it that there seems to be such a demand for change amongst consumers and employees, but so many people appear to be dissatisfied?

rear view mirror

I came across a quote in a great book called Tempered Radicals by Debra Meyerson that perfectly captured how organisations change. It goes as follows.

Since most changes are small, incremental adaptations scattered throughout organisations, it may be difficult to recognise this movement as change, except retrospectively when small effects have had time to accumulate. In addition, because this process is diffuse, specific causes of change are often difficult to pinpoint. Indeed, the change process looks more like random events and chaos than it does rational cause-effect sequences

So perhaps this is the problem, change is all around us, it is ever present. Some companies are changing for the better, some are changing for the worse.

These small changes make it hard to appreciate progress, even though much transformation for the better has taken place.

Perhaps when we are actually in the moment of change, it can be hard to appreciate the progress that has been made. Organisational change is something that is best viewed in the rear-view mirror.

A big issue is causality. Being able to pinpoint the catalyst for change is very hard. For a big issue like sustainability, which requires action on many fronts over a sustained period of time this is particularly problematic. Oftentimes, credit for change is handed out to executives, when it is the every day heroes in operational roles and in middle management who deserve credit for progress on sustainability indicators.

Change for sustainability is inherently random and full of awkward juxtapositions. One of the most important steps on any journey towards sustainability is to take account for individual and corporate environmental impacts. Environmental problems are not created by someone else somewhere else. We all play a role in creating them and we are all required to play a part in their solution.

What you need to know

This article looked into change at an organisational level.

We looked into Debra Meyerson’s quote from Tempered Radicals which captured many of the reasons why organisational change can be frustrating.

So, when you next hear someone ask, where’s the change? You can tell them that it is all around us, we just need to make sure that it is of the right kind.

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 find frustrating about organisational change?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

SELLING SUSTAINABILITY IN 60 SECONDS

This article looks into how to sell sustainability in 60 seconds. This is the amount of time that you may be lucky enough to get with an influencer or a decision maker in your organisation who can help make sustainability happen.

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You may be unlucky and only get 30 seconds. But the points in this article become more important if that is the case.

This is a fairly typical way for getting sustainability moving in an organisation. Particularly in large public companies, CEO’s will divert large parts of their attention to the financial success of the business. Some farsighted CEO’s may connect their financial success to social and environmental parameters, but a lot will not. In this case, they will need persuading.

So, let’s say you work in a large organisation, you are passionate about sustainability and you are lucky enough to get a moment with the CEO. How should you structure your approach?

I came across this great article in Triple Pundit recently, which helped me think about how to approach this. You can find the article here.

The key points from the article for how to create a successful elevator pitch for sustainability are as follows.

  1. Confidence in your offerings
  2. Enthusiasm and energy that is contagious
  3. Conveying a sense of the experience of being a client of your company
  4. Effectively communicating your competitive advantage
  5. Clearly stating the problem you solve
  6. Your delivery

I thought that these points nicely summarised exactly what is needed to persuade people that a sustainable approach is what is needed.

Having confidence in your offering will make sure that people begin to listen to you. Having enthusiasm will ensure that people continue listening whilst you are speaking. Being able to convey something from a client’s perspective will ensure that you position sustainability as something which is very much in demand. Communicating about competitive advantage will ensure your idea is presented as a good business idea, not a nice to have. If you clearly state the problem that you are solving, it will be obvious that sustainability is about solving problems for people and organisations, which it is. Lastly, delivery is very important and holds the key to the success of the whole approach.

What you need to know

This article looked into how to sell sustainability in 60 seconds.

We looked into, CEO’s, who for the most part take an economics first perspective and see environmental and social considerations as less important.

This provides an opportunity for people who are passionate about sustainability to persuade these influential people over to their way of thinking if they happen to meet.

We looked into 6 essential elements to include in this pitch, based on recommendations from a Triple Pundit article.

Overall all 6 are important, but impeccable delivery above all else will ensure that people listen and remember your message.

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 is the best way to persuade people that sustainability is important?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby