The blockbuster documentaries putting sustainability on the map

Read the full story in The Guardian.

From Food Inc to Blue Gold – a look at some of the documentaries that have put sustainability in the public eye.

Environmental Safety of the Use of Major Surfactant Classes in North America

Christina Cowan-Ellsberry, Scott Belanger, Philip Dorn, Scott Dyer, Drew McAvoy, Hans Sanderson, Donald Versteeg, Darci Ferrer & Kathleen Stanton (2014). ” Environmental Safety of the Use of Major Surfactant Classes in North America.” Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology 44(17), 1893-1993. DOI: 10.1080/10739149.2013.803777. [Article available through open access]

Abstract: This paper brings together over 250 published and unpublished studies on the environmental properties, fate, and toxicity of the four major, high-volume surfactant classes and relevant feedstocks. The surfactants and feedstocks covered include alcohol sulfate or alcohol sulfate (AS), alcohol ethoxysulfate (AES), linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS), alcohol ethoxylate (AE), and long-chain alcohol (LCOH). These chemicals are used in a wide range of personal care and cleaning products. To date, this is the most comprehensive report on these substance’s chemical structures, use, and volume information, physical/chemical properties, environmental fate properties such as biodegradation and sorption, monitoring studies through sewers, wastewater treatment plants and eventual release to the environment, aquatic and sediment toxicity, and bioaccumulation information. These data are used to illustrate the process for conducting both prospective and retrospective risk assessments for large-volume chemicals and categories of chemicals with wide dispersive use. Prospective risk assessments of AS, AES, AE, LAS, and LCOH demonstrate that these substances, although used in very high volume and widely released to the aquatic environment, have no adverse impact on the aquatic or sediment environments at current levels of use. The retrospective risk assessments of these same substances have clearly demonstrated that the conclusions of the prospective risk assessments are valid and confirm that these substances do not pose a risk to the aquatic or sediment environments. This paper also highlights the many years of research that the surfactant and cleaning products industry has supported, as part of their environmental sustainability commitment, to improve environmental tools, approaches, and develop innovative methods appropriate to address environmental properties of personal care and cleaning product chemicals, many of which have become approved international standard methods.

New Catalyst Converts Carbon Dioxide to Fuel

Read the full story from the University of Illinois — Chicago.

Scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago have synthesized a catalyst that improves their system for converting waste carbon dioxide into syngas, a precursor of gasoline and other energy-rich products, bringing the process closer to commercial viability.

Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and his coworkers developed a unique two-step catalytic process that uses molybdenum disulfide and an ionic liquid to “reduce,” or transfer electrons, to carbon dioxide in a chemical reaction. The new catalyst improves efficiency and lowers cost by replacing expensive metals like gold or silver in the reduction reaction.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications on July 30.

IBM to Offer Free Supercomputing Power to Climate Change Scientists

Read the full story in Environmental Leader.

IBM has announced it will offer free access to dedicated virtual supercomputing as well as a platform to engage the public in their research to eligible scientists studying climate change-related issues.

Each approved project will have access to up to 100,000 years of computing time, valued at $60 million. The work will be performed on IBM’s philanthropic World Community Grid Platform.

Treat sofas like electronic waste, say scientists

Read the full story at

Waste from soft furnishings like curtains, cushions and sofas should be discarded with the same caution as electronics, say scientists.

Both types of waste contain brominated flame retardants (BFRs), which have been shown to damage the environment and human health. In the UK, at least two thirds of electronic waste – or e-waste – has to be treated before it can enter landfill. But furniture waste isn’t currently regulated.

UK households dispose of almost a million tonnes of furniture and textiles each year, the vast majority of which ends up in landfill. The rest is incinerated.

Scientists are concerned that this is adding to a reservoir of harmful chemicals which might eventually leach into groundwater, contaminating water supplies and spreading to the wider environment – BFRs have already been detected in water from landfill sites.

Full article citation: William A. Stubbings and Stuart Harrad, ‘Extent and mechanisms of brominated flame retardant emissions from waste soft furnishings and fabrics: A critical review’, Environment International, 2014, DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2014.06.007.

The A to Z of Unusual Renewable Energy Sources

Read the full story at Triple Pundit.

The use of renewable and sustainable energy sources is growing worldwide. Subsequently, new technologies for sustainable energy are ever-emerging, and some are rather unusual. Outside of the more commonplace solar, tidal and wind energy sources, researchers have uncovered some uncommon ways of producing and harnessing renewable energy, and decreasing worldwide dependency on fossil fuels.


Behavioural tracking and neuroscience are tools for sustainable innovation

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Let’s ditch sustainability surveys which tell us consumers pay more for sustainability – they don’t. New tools, used responsibly, can properly analyse behavioural patterns.

Why Restoring Wetlands Is More Critical Than Ever

Read the full story at Yale Environment360.

Along the Delaware River estuary, efforts are underway to restore wetlands lost due to centuries of human activity. With sea levels rising, coastal communities there and and elsewhere in the U.S. and Europe are realizing the value of wetlands as important buffers against flooding and tidal surges.

The geography of the global electronic waste (‘e-waste’) burden

Read the full story at EnvironmentalResearchWeb.

As local and national governments struggle to deal with ever-growing piles of electronic waste (or “e-waste”), scientists are now refining the picture of just how much there is and where it really ends up. Published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, their study found that nearly a quarter of e-waste that developed countries discard floods into just seven developing countries – with major potential health risks for the people who live there.

The Surprising Role the Military Plays in Environmental Protection

Read the full story and watch the interview at Knowledge@Wharton. Although it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to ENB’s regular readers. I publish news items about DOD’s sustainability efforts pretty regularly.

The common perception of environmental protection and regulation is that the federal government creates the laws, and then targets businesses and consumers for enforcement. But Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Sarah E. Light says that’s only part of the story — that private businesses often enact policies that influence environmental practices far beyond their walls. 

In this interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Light also discusses related research that shows the military, which has increasingly been investing in areas such as renewable energy, also has a surprising and important role to play in encouraging environmental stewardship.