Day: January 23, 2017

Can artificial intelligence make supply chains sustainable?

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Last week’s World Economic Forum in snowy Davos, Switzerland, brought a blizzard of proclamations about the disruptive impact of artificial intelligence, along with an avalanche of debate over its job-killing potential.

Supply Chain Audits Work for Corporations, But Not The Planet, Says New Report

Read the full story in Forbes.

A new report argues that supply chain audits are ineffective at improving compliance and act merely to embed an unhealthy status quo in multinational offshore sourcing.

Trump’s regulatory freeze halts four Obama rules aimed at promoting greater energy efficiency

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Nearly simultaneously with President Trump’s oath of office Friday, the White House website shifted to remove climate change related content from the Obama administration and supplant it with a new statement of Trump’s energy policy — one focused, it said, reducing “burdensome regulations on our energy industry.”

Those are just words — but an action hours later by White House chief of staff Reince Priebus had more teeth. Priebus’s memorandum, issuing a governmentwide freeze on new or pending regulations, would appear to have the effect of sweeping up four very nearly finished Energy Department energy efficiency standards, affecting an array of products, including portable air conditionersand commercial boilers. The standards are designed to reduce energy use, and, in the process, consumer bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Priebus memo states that federal agencies cannot send new regulations to the Office of the Federal Register — a key step in the finalization of new rules — until Trump’s administration has leaders in place to approve what these agencies are doing. Moreover, it also states that regulations that have been sent to the office but have not yet made it into the published register need to be withdrawn. The Obama administration issued a similar memorandum right after the president took office in 2009.

Drinking Water: A Comparison of Bottled and Tap Water Using Life Cycle Analysis

In 2009, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality published a study that compared a wide range of environmental impacts (including greenhouse gas emissions) of drinking water from the tap, 5-gallon reusables, and single-use bottles. It also looked at the environmental impacts of tap water (“reduce”) against the impacts of bottled water (“recycle” and “dispose”). The study confirmed that while recycling bottles is environmentally preferable to disposing of them, buying bottled water and recycling the bottles is not the best environmental choice. Drinking water from the tap (waste prevention) typically has substantially lower impacts in most categories of environmental impact.

Other highlights of the study include the following:

  • For water that is bottled and consumed within Oregon, the large majority of environmental impacts are typically from producing the plastic resin used to make the bottle.
  • If the bottle comes from across the country or the world, most impacts increase by a factor of 3 or more.
  • End-of-life (disposal) related impacts are very small, with the possible exception of biodegradable plastic bottles. If they decompose in a landfill, the resulting methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Even when landfills capture some of the gas to produce energy, the remaining gas escapes and contributes to climate change.
  • If you choose to drink bottled water, recycling the bottle can have moderate environmental benefits. These benefits, however, are still overshadowed by the negative impacts of making and transporting the bottle in the first place.
  • For tap water, the frequency of washing your container in a dishwasher influences the results more than any other factor.


Frequently Asked Questions

Coal Ash Recovery Could Pump the Domestic Rare Earth Metals Supply

Read the full story at Waste360.

Since 1988 China has been the dominant supplier of rare earth elements (REE), providing 95 percent of the global market in 2011. To break their dependencies, countries around the world have been on missions to identify ways to extract these valuable minerals, and a Department of Energy (DOE) lab is among the players taking the lead in the U.S.’s efforts.

There is tremendous potential. In 2015, the U.S. produced about 900 million tons and consumed 798 million tons of coal. If 100 percent of the REEs were extracted annually from coal ash, it would meet the market demand for most industries that depend on it, according to the DOE.

Currently REEs are used in catalysts, cell phones, hard drives, hybrid engines, lasers, magnets, medical devices, televisions and other applications.

The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics

Download the report.

Plastics have become the ubiquitous workhorse material of the modern economy – combining unrivalled functional properties with low cost. Their use has increased twenty-fold in the past half-century and is expected to double again in the next 20 years. Today nearly everyone, everywhere, every day comes into contact with plastics – especially plastic packaging, the focus of this report. While delivering many benefits, the current plastics economy has drawbacks that are becoming more apparent by the day. After a short first-use cycle, 95% of plastic packaging material value, or $80–120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. A staggering 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems, generating significant economic costs by reducing the productivity of vital natural systems such as the ocean and clogging urban infrastructure. The cost
of such after-use externalities for plastic packaging, plus the cost associated with greenhouse gas emissions from its production, is conservatively estimated at $40 billion annually – exceeding the plastic packaging industry’s profit pool. In future, these costs will have to be covered. In overcoming these drawbacks, an opportunity beckons: enhancing system effectiveness to achieve better economic and environmental outcomes while continuing to harness the many benefits of plastic packaging. The “New Plastics Economy” offers a new vision, aligned with the principles of the circular economy, to capture these opportunities. With an explicitly systemic and collaborative approach, the New Plastics Economy aims to overcome the limitations of today’s incremental improvements and fragmented initiatives, to create a shared sense of direction, to spark a wave of innovation and to move the plastics value chain into a positive spiral of value capture, stronger economics,
and better environmental outcomes. This report outlines a fundamental rethink for plastic packaging and plastics in general; it offers a new approach with the potential to transform global plastic packaging material flows and thereby usher in the New Plastics Economy.

Around the Web: Saving Government Data from the Trumpocalypse

Read the full post at Confessions of a Science Librarian.

While I’m working on a major update to my Documenting the Donald Trump War on Science: Pre-Inauguration Edition and preparing for the first of the post-inauguration posts, I thought I’d whet everyone’s appetite with a post celebrating all the various efforts to save environmental, climate and various kinds of scientific and other data from potential loss in the Trump presidential era.

Study Finds Current Corporate Sustainability Reporting Misses the Mark

Read the full story from North Carolina State University.

A new study finds that corporate sustainability reporting often focuses on issues that are unimportant to stakeholders, and offers specific suggestions to improve the content of future corporate sustainability reporting efforts…

The paper, “Corporate Sustainability Reporting and Stakeholder Concerns: Is there a Disconnect?” is published in the journal Accounting Horizons. The paper was co-authored by Julie Earp, an associate professor of information technology at NC State. The work was done with support from the Institute of Management Accountants’ Foundation for Applied Research.

Study finds air polluters more likely to locate near downwind state borders

Read the full story from Indiana University.

Research by an Indiana University professor and colleagues at two other universities reveals a pattern of companies strategically locating facilities where wind will carry pollution across state lines.

Locating factories and power plants near downwind borders can allow states to reap the benefits of jobs and tax revenue but share the negative effects — air pollution — with neighbors…

The study, “Gone With the Wind: Federalism and the Strategic Location of Air Polluters,” was published in the American Journal of Political Science. Other authors are James Monogan, assistant professor of political science at the University of Georgia, and Neal Woods, associate professor of political science at the University of South Carolina.

How to Weaken the Persuasive Power of Climate Change Disinformation

Read the full story in Pacific Standard.

In light of the proliferation of “fake news” reports, which may or may not have influenced the outcome of the presidential election, Facebook has announced it will work with fact-checking organizations to flag suspect stories.

While that’s an important advance, new research points to the value of a sharper message than “This may be factually incorrect.” It might be more effective to note: “This may be an attempt by certain special interests to manipulate how you think.”

Such a statement effectively “inoculated” people against a key piece of climate-change misinformation, writes a research team led by Cambridge University psychologist Sander van der Linden.

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