Sunday, August 9, 2009

Whole Foods Sets Good Example

While we are on the lookout for poor environmental stewards, we're not afraid to point out the good Samaritans as well. Whole Foods has set its sights on being the eco-friendly food market, and I believe they are doing as fine a job as any (though there's still room for improvement, of course).

Lets start with the environmental segment of their Declaration of Interdependence (catchy huh?).
We see the necessity of active environmental stewardship so that the earth continues to flourish for generations to come. We seek to balance our needs with the needs of the rest of the planet through the following actions:
Supporting sustainable agriculture. We are committed to greater production of organically and biodynamically grown foods in order to reduce pesticide use and promote soil conservation.
Reducing waste and consumption of non-renewable resources. We promote and participate in recycling programs in our communities. We are committed to re-usable packaging, reduced packaging, and water and energy conservation.
Encouraging environmentally sound cleaning and store maintenance programs.
Sounds good, me like. And the highlights thus far:
  • The first major retailer to offset 100% of grid energy use with wind energy credits.
  • Reduce grid energy use with efficiency upgrades saving more than 15 million kWh annually and planned solar panels installations at ~70 stores (1/4 of total stores).
  • Tracking GHS emissions, including refrigerant leaks and truck emissions.
  • Implementing paperless ordering systems to reduce paper waste.
  • Supporting carpooling and public transportation for employees.
  • Using biodegradable supplies for food and wine sampling.
  • Composting, which has reduced landfill waste by up to 75% in some regions.
  • Banning plastic grocery bags and encouraging use of reusable bags.
  • Implementing the use of reusable and biodegradable plates and bowls in dining areas.
  • Saving packing peanuts and donating them to local shipping stores.
  • Working with suppliers to eliminate Styrofoam use in shipping.
  • Replacing disposable batteries with rechargeable ones.
  • Holding company and community recycling drives for electronics.
  • Using recycled paper with a high percentage of post-consumer waste whenever possible.
  • Providing receptacles for glass and plastic recycling in our dining areas along with collection boxes in many stores for cell phones and ink jet cartridges.
  • Adopting LEED building standards.
  • Pledge to support the development of more sources of sustainable, fairly traded palm oil, to ensure that palm oil in the WF private label brand products are not sourced from the conversion of rainforest ecosystems or from companies engaged in the conversion of natural forests and/or peat lands.
  • Promoting organic agriculture
  • Gradually converting our truck fleet to biodiesel fuels
  • Truck fleet is being fitted with aerodynamic aprons to cut down on wind resistance resulting in less fuel consumption.
  • Some stores converted to flush-less urinals; each will save approximately 40,000 gallons of water per year (average use).
  • The WF Earth Month Initiative

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

recycling the bull

Following the story on the blue recycling curbies

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Electric Transport

If anyone out there is interested in electricifying transportation, there was recently a conference at NCSU in which many presentations were made. You can download the presentations from NCSU's clean transportation website. There is a motivational meeting to discuss ways we can work locally to make electric vehicles a reality that is free of charge. See the website here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Developor attempts to rezone Jordan Lake watershed

The Indy's Triangulator has a great scoop on the Durham Planning Commissions reconsideration of allowing the rezoning of 240 acres owned by Cree founder Neal Hunter.

And tomorrow, June 10, at 3:00 PM is the Senate vote on the "Jordan Lake Rules" regarding nutrient runoff.

Update: Senate voted to not increase stormwater run-off regulations for Jordan Lake

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Is Jordan Lake functioning well?

Bill Bell thinks so. The Durham City Council opposes mandating controls for stormwater runoff from existing developments in Durham. There are many facets to this story but lets start with the following incident report.
On March 20, 2006 Phytoplankton samples were collected by the Division of Water Quality as part of a fish kill investigation. Forty nine catfish and 1 shad were found dead in the New Hope Arm of Jordan Lake near HWY 751. Staff found elevated dissolved oxygen (106%) and pH (8.5) indicating a possible algal bloom occurring at the site. Phytoplankton density was 45,000 units/ml which is considered a severe bloom ( >30,000 units/ml). The assemblage was diverse and comprised of blue greens, greens, diatoms, and cryptomonads The dominant taxon ( >30% of total density) was the filamentous blue green Pseudanabaena at 17,000 units/ml. Pseudanabaena is considered an indicator of nutrient enrichment.
To me it doesn't sound like the lake is functioning well. But lets continue with some of the talking points we've seen regarding the lake.

1. It was ill conceived in the first place and was never intended to be anything but flood protection. Well both statements may be true, but that doesn't change the fact that its now an important part of the regions ecosystem, recreational economy and a source of drinking water for many communities, so lets we must accept it for what it is today and deal with it.

2. Those upstream (Durham) bear an unproportional burden for protection compared to the benefit received via the lake. Again, this may be so, but doesn't this argument for inaction sound selfish and immoral.

3. "The "science" behind Jordan Lake’s condition can certainly be argued both ways, but it is a fact that the lake is successfully serving uses that many experts thought would be impossible when it was constructed." (City of Durham Statement on Jordan Lake Nutrient Rules). In my research I haven't found any rebuttal from an accredited scientist of the "science" behind the Jordan Lake Nutrient Rules. The closest I can find are the rule comments from the Environmental Policy Analyst of the National Association of Home Builders in which the accuracy of chlorophyll-a analyzers, and thus any modeling derived therefrom, are called into question.

4. We just don't have the money. Utilities made the same arguments when the Clean Air Act was going to make them clean up emissions of particulate and SO2, but those companies are still around many years later. And then again with the EPA's NOx SIP Call. And now again with the recent ruling that CO2 can be considered under the Clean Air Act. We now see this argument almost anytime regulations are introduced that will requires companies, or in this case municipalities, to make significant capital expenditures for social benefit programs. Instead of just saying we don't have the money, how 'bout demonstrating to the public the budget shortfall expected and what other programs would need to be cut to make room for the program.

Finally, I would just like to say that our local politicians are joining the ranks of national politicians regarding their disregard of citizens' opinions. Consider the final tally of pro and anti public support received by the DWQ during the public rules commenting period.

Support: 58 letters, 28 emails, 3500 postcards, 2844 signatures. In addition, general support was given by ~ 100 municipalities, for profit and non-profit companies, professional organizations, etc..

Oppose: 14 letters, 600 postcards. General opposition from ~25 municipalities, etc.. Of these it seems the majority were from individuals or companies related to the construction / apartment complex industry.

The following letter is from a real estate agent in favor of the rules, which I believe gets to heart of the matter.

"As a REALTOR and avid outdoorsman and kayaker, I feel as though I have a unique perspective on the pollution problems at Jordan lake. I have seen firsthand the sediment build-up and algae blooms in the NE Creek section of Jordan Lake. At the same time, I know that and owners have rights to develop their land, and development is inevitable....but development must be done responsibly. Susanne Gomolski and myself, regularly paddle NE Creek, and we have seen a major increase in sediment build-up and pollution in NE Creek over the last two years. We must institute better controls for runoff at new and existing developments, and to require waste water treatment plants to begin nitrogen reduction now. The Lake is in trouble and needs help now. My family had to develop the Berryhill tract in Carrboro several years ago to pay estate taxes. It was a difficult process, but Carrboro finally approved the sale and development after a portion of the land was deeded to the Triangle Land Conservancy. So, I am fully aware that landowners often need to develop their land, but it needs to be done responsibly. We need rules in place to protect our streams and lakes and the wildlife who call these areas home. If we do not protect these fragile areas which are our sources of drinking water, recreation, and wildlife habitat....then we will certainly pay a hundredfold in the future for our lack of action now. Thank you.
Gregg Weiner

Monday, May 4, 2009

How to get to Kyoto?

The Kyoto Protocol calls for a reduction in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions to 7% less than1990 levels, whereas in 2007 Duke emitted 84% more GHGs than in 1990. These figures also do not include student transportation contributions, which undoubtedly have shown similar gains within this period. Meanwhile, GHG emissions per square foot of building space have remained pretty constant over the same period (see 2008 GHG inventory update presentation at bottom of Duke's Climate Action Plan webpage). Given that a 2005 Feasibility Study Committee found that Duke could reduce its carbon emissions from current levels by ~10% cost competitively, that leaves a whopping ~70% more to go.

Heres the BCEW simple path forward for Duke to reach the Kyoto goals.

1. Stop expanding until you figure out how to do it sustainably, and spend the capital for the new gas turbine on something more productive, like the following.
2. Phase in buying electricity via NC Green Power. Start with 20% of purchased electricity in 2009, working way toward 100% of purchased electricity in 2020. The cost of this electricity will motivate a redoubling of effort towards energy efficiency I bet.
3. Get involved in boostering Durham area public transportation projects, including light rail. Promote public transportation to students by giving students incentives for using public transport to get to/from campus. Give parents feebates if they send their kids to campus without cars.
4. Implement a Parisian style bike program, where bikes are free to students/employees and picked up/dropped off at many locations around campus.
5. Start digging geothermal wells for all that heating and cooling.
6. Build some concentrating solar hot water heaters.
7. Reduce consumption with continuous energy efficiency upgrades and campus conservation initiatives.

When you're done all of the above you should be carbon neutral. Its really not so hard.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Can Duke University Achieve Goals?

There are many people at Duke who have great concern for environmental causes. But let us not forget that just like most other colleges, environmental stewardship is not found in its mission statement. Its primary reason for pursuing any environmental mission is to improve public relations, therefore increasing enrollment, and thereby achieving its mission.

Background: In 2007 Duke President Richard Brodhead signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment which requires that signatories;
"Within two years of signing this document, develop an institutional action plan for becoming climate neutral."
But, as Duke's sustainability coordinator has pointed out, timetables are adjusted based on more than just good intentions.
"The hope is that we can eventually get off of fossil fuels," she said. "We're looking at it in the next five to 10 years, depending on the economic environment."
At the extremes of the two basic approaches to achieving so-called carbon neutrality we have:
  1. Business as usual, but in 2020 purchase or produce carbon offset products equal to carbon emissions of your business
  2. Modify business operations to become carbon neutral without carbon offset credits.
I strongly favor the latter. It can be argued that the concept of carbon offsets do not result in equivalent carbon emissions reductions. To explain, take the simple case of Duke and wind power. Duke could proceed "business as usual" and increase energy consumption until 2020, at which time they might possibly purchase carbon offsets from wind projects through TerraPass, basically providing a subsidy to wind farms. We need wind power to be competitive, not subsidized. Such a measure does not take one CO2 emitting power generation facility off the grid, it just supports energy consumption intensive habits. It would be more appropriate for Duke to either reduce energy consumption (thus lowering the demand for electricity produced by CO2 emitting facilities) or to purchase wind power as their source of electricity through NC GreenPower (thus increasing wind power pricing and making it a competitive investment for power companies). If everyone demanded 100% wind power I guarantee we'd have it in less than 10 years.

None-the-less, Duke's first move is to reopen the East Campus energy facility with upgrades, allowing the closure of the existing coal-fired unit.
"When we finally get rid of all that coal and the ash that goes along with it... hopefully, it will be a simpler, more streamlined process to make the steam. It'll definitely be cleaner."said Steam System Manager John Fidgeon.
The old coal delivery railway is coincidentally in the way of the proposed hospital expansion.

Oberlin College, in their Climate Committment Action Plan, has concluded that a similar "low-hanging fruit" approach at their institution would result in carbon reductions of around 50%, while only an "aggressive" approach will be able to reduce carbon emissions to 0% by 2020. Thus we see that Duke has made their decision, they will fall somewhere between the two extremes. Nicholas School of Environment Dean Bill Chameides understands this logic and is honest that Duke intends to become neutral by "buying" carbon credits.
"We can, for example, pay hog farmers in North Carolina to use technology that captures methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and a by-product of the breakdown of manure. By paying the farmer to capture the methane before it escaped to the atmosphere, Duke would own those negative greenhouse gas emissions, or offsets, which could then be used to negate an equivalent amount of CO2 Duke put in the atmosphere."
This example makes much more sense than the wind example, as methane has 23 times the Global Warming Potential as does the CO2 resulting from the combustion of that methane. It is interesting to note that Oberlin's Plan also concluded that although the upfront cost of the "aggressive" approach are significantly higher, their is the potential that it will be a lower cost approach if carbon offset prices increase dramatically as more institutions seek carbon neutrality.

We will have to wait and see what the Duke Action Plan recommends. I wonder if they can get carbon offset credits for educating the next generation of energy conservationists?

Friday, April 24, 2009

We're Watching

Yes, we're keeping an eye out for environmental concerns in the Bull City and surrounding areas.

Thanks for visiting and keep Durham beautiful.

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