Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Power of Feedback

About twenty years ago I came across an electrical engineering textbook entitled Feedback Control Systems. It was a highly technical piece about how to design thermostats, automatic doors, alarms and the like. The key to such devices, of course, is that they monitor local conditions and adjust their operation when those conditions change. These feedback systems can be surprisingly simple, but imagine our lives if they didn't work properly. Imagine the waste and frustration if the automatic door at the supermarket had to guess when a trolley was approaching, or if the heating unit in your home couldn't detect the temperature.

One of the things I like about my five year-old hybrid car is that it includes the driver in an energy efficiency feedback system. In everyday terms, there's a simple but informative fuel economy display mounted in the dashboard. This system doesn't take control - the petrol and electric motors will work together and provide a boost if I need to out-accelerate the huge truck bearing down on me. But the feedback is always there, and I can use it to change my behaviour. If I get caught up in the rush-hour road rage, the display shows my fuel economy dropping - 48 mpg, 45 mpg, 43 mpg... And that's my cue to take action. By maintaining a steady speed, coasting on the downhills or slowing down gradually at traffic lights, I can see the numbers go up - 50 mpg, 60 mpg or more. Since my last tank of fuel, I've been averaging 57.2 mpg. Getting regular, visible feedback on my performance gives me a strong incentive to change behaviour and reduce waste.

When Carbon Clear measures your company's carbon footprint, we are helping you design a powerful feedback tool for tracking environmental and financial performance. Our standards-compliant analysis identifies those activities - flights, vehicle fleet, outsourced manufacturing, etc. - that make up the lion's share of your carbon footprint - and are probably costing you money. Of course, knowledge alone is not enough. We help companies take action, developing plans to tackle those emissions sources that will give the fastest or most cost-effective reductions. And we'll help measure progress over time.

Every company has the potential to achieve significant, absolute reductions in their carbon footprint. At Carbon Clear we'll help you get there. Measuring your carbon footprint is the first step.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Will High Oil Prices Save the Planet?

The scientific academies of thirteen countries yesterday issued an unprecedented joint statement urging faster, more decisive action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon reduction specialists at Carbon Clear applaud that sentiment, and are committed to helping businesses and individuals, measure, reduce, and offset their carbon emissions. And yet more remains to be done.

Many pundits are hoping that help will come from the rising cost of fuel. With oil prices skyrocketing, firms around the world have a strong incentive to reduce consumption. Emissions reductions are sure to follow - won't they?

At first glance, the signs are encouraging. Fuel purchases in the U.S. are down 7% from a year ago, and consumers can't seem to ditch gas guzzling cars and trucks fast enough. Last week, auto giant General Motors announced that it was closing four truck and SUV production lines and was considering abandoning its signature Hummer SUV brand. Meanwhile, the company has announced the launch of two new small cars, and a new electric-hybrid vehicle called the Volt.

The airlines are economising, too. Northwest Airlines is parking its workhorse DC-10 airplanes, in favour of newer A330 models that are 38% more efficient. Southwest Airlines claims to have saved millions in fuel costs simply by cleaning its engines more frequently, and Delta is flying its planes 20 mph slower to save fuel.

To be sure, high oil prices strengthen the economic case for demand reduction in the form of increased fuel efficiency or fewer journeys. But they also strengthen the economic case for increasing supply - in the form of oil substitutes. While some substitutes, like biofuels, show promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when used correctly, others are the stuff of environmental nightmares.

In the remote regions of Canada's Alberta province lie vast deposits of thick, tarry sand and soil. These tar sands hold the equivalent of 175 billion barrels of oil - nearly as much as Saudi Arabia. The challenge has been getting to it. In order to convert the oil in the tar sands to usable form, the solid granules must be mined, crushed, diluted and cleaned - and then manufactured into synthetic oil in an energy-intensive refining process. According to an estimate reported by the Financial Times, this process means that oil from the tar sands has five times the carbon intensity of conventional fossil fuels. On an individual level, while a round-trip flight from London to New York might normally result in 1.3 tonnes of CO2, a flight fuelled by tar sands-derived kerosene would result in a whopping 6.5 tonnes of CO2. Driving 10,000 miles in a car would result in a 15-tonne carbon footprint. And this says nothing of the vast tracts of forest wilderness that must be cut up to reach these fuel resources.

But the global implications are even more serious. Alberta's 175 billion barrels of oil equivalent, if it were all consumed, would result in the release of about 35 billion tonnes of CO2.

That's 30% more than all the CO2 released from fossil fuels worldwide last year.

Extracting oil from the tar sands is dangerous and expensive work. So long as oil was relatively cheap, the tar sands were safe. But at $120 a barrel, $200 a barrel, or even more, the tar sands begin to look like a viable option. Six million hectares of oil sands - 43% of the total - have already been leased to oil companies for exploration and development. The oil majors are lobbying regulators to include these resources on their balance sheets, signaling their intent to exploit them.

With high oil prices likely here to stay, more energy efficiency measures will be pursued, but the tar sands are more likely to be tapped as well.

And that's bad news for the environment.

A high oil price can be a mixed blessing. We need to bring other tools to bear in the fight against climate change. We'll present some more ideas in subsequent posts.

(Carbon Clear website)

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Carbon Management Providers Unite to Promote Rigorous Standards

Carbon Clear and seven other leading carbon reduction and offset providers yesterday announced the formation of the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA). The organisation has been created to build support for the carefully crafted standards that now exist for the voluntary offset market. In addition, the group will provide a unified voice in promoting credible carbon management strategies, which use a ‘reduce-and-offset’ approach. ICROA intends to be active in policy discussions, push for high standards and advocate greater transparency in the carbon reduction industry.

Jamal Gore, Managing Director, Carbon Clear said: "Carbon Clear is delighted to be a founding member of ICROA. As a company that leads by example, it was important that we lend our expertise to the development of a rigorous Code of Practice that will raise the bar for the entire carbon management industry. We look forward to continuing to help environmentally responsible companies develop a sound carbon management strategy and achieve significant greenhouse gas emission reductions."

Climate change and the greenhouse gases driving it are an international concern so of ICROA’s eight founding members, five have headquarters in the United Kingdom, two in the United States, and one in Australia.

ICROA founding members currently serve thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of individuals and are:

The key elements of the ICROA Code of Best Practice include:

  • Measure carbon footprints according to accepted international standards
  • Set emissions reduction targets based on scientific assessments
  • Assess and implement both internal and external emissions reduction opportunities, the ‘reduce and offset’ approach
  • Use credible offset projects, where offsetting is appropriate to meet emissions reduction targets
  • Be transparent in communicating emissions reductions strategies and practices
  • Use offsets that meet the following principles: real, measurable, permanent, additional, independently verified, and unique
  • Submit annual report demonstrating compliance with the Code

Carbon offsets are designed to complement the measures that individuals and corporations undertake to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and GHG that result from their daily activities and operations. Carbon offsets result from projects that reduce, avoid, or capture the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHG. Offsets are measured in metric tons of CO2.

Initially the ICROA Code of Best Practice recognizes three standards for offsets as being of sufficient quality: Voluntary Carbon Standard, Gold Standard, and Clean Development Mechanism/ Joint Implementation. The Climate Group, an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing business and government leadership on climate change, is currently responsible for the day-to-day operations of ICROA, under the direction of the organization’s Executive Committee.