The circular economy is coming to electric vehicles for both environmental and financial reasons, as a leading Japanese automaker plans on starting a rental scheme for its battery-powered cars.
Drivers interested in making the switch to electric will soon have another option to do so in Japan, as Nissan—manufacturer of the Nissan Leaf, one of the earliest and bestselling electric cars on the market—is preparing to launch a new rental plan for its EVs, the Financial Times reports.
In 2019, researchers at the U.S. Government Accountability Office investigated climate-related risks at the 1,571 most polluted properties in the country, also known as Superfund sites on the federal National Priorities List. They found an alarming 60% were in locations at risk of climate-related events, including wildfires and flooding.
As troubling as those numbers sound, our research shows that that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Many times that number of potentially contaminated former industrial sites exist. Most were never documented by government agencies, which began collecting data on industrially contaminated lands only in the 1980s. Today, many of these sites have been redeveloped for other uses such as homes, buildings or parks.
For communities near these sites, the flooding of contaminated land is worrisome because it threatens to compromise common pollution containment methods, such as capping contaminated land with clean soil. It can also transport legacy contaminants into surrounding soils and waterways, putting the health and safety of urban ecosystems and residents at risk.
We study urban pollution and environmental change. In a recent study, we conducted a comprehensive assessment by combining historical manufacturing directories, which locate the majority of former industrial facilities, with flood risk projections from the First Street Foundation. The projections use climate models and historic data to assess future risk for each property.
The results show that the GAO’s 2019 report vastly underestimated the scale and scope of the risks many communities will face in the decades ahead.
Pollution risks in 6 cities
We started our study by collecting the location and flood risk for former industrial sites in six very different cities facing varying types of flood risk over the coming years: Houston; Minneapolis; New Orleans; Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; and Providence, Rhode Island.
These former industrial sites have been called ghosts of polluters past. While the smokestacks and factories of these relics may no longer be visible, much of their legacy pollution likely remains.
In just these six cities, we found over 6,000 sites at risk of flooding in the next 30 years – far more than recognized by the EPA. Using census data, we estimate that nearly 200,000 residents live on blocks with at least one flood-prone relic industrial site and its legacy contaminants.
Without detailed records, we can’t assess the extent of contamination at each relic site or how that contamination might spread during flooding. But the sheer number of flood-prone sites suggests the U.S. has a widespread problem it will need to solve.
The highest-risk areas tended to be clustered along waterways where industry and worker housing once thrived, areas that often became home to low-income communities.
Legacy of the industrial Northeast
In Providence, an example of an older industrial city, we found thousands of at-risk relic sites scattered along Narragansett Bay and the floodplains of the Providence and Woonasquatucket Rivers.
Over the decades, as these factories manufactured textiles, machine tools, jewelry and other products, they released untold quantities of environmentally persistent contaminants, including heavy metals like lead and cadmium and volatile organic chemicals, into the surrounding soils and water.
The tendency for older factories to locate close to the water, where they would have easy access to power and transportation, puts these sites at risk today from extreme storms and sea-level rise. Many of these were small factories easily overlooked by regulators.
Chemicals, oil and gas
Newer cities, like Houston, are also vulnerable. Houston faces especially high risks given the scale of nearby oil, gas and chemical manufacturing infrastructure and its lack of formal zoning regulations.
In August 2017, historic rains from Hurricane Harvey triggered more than 100 industrial spills in the greater Houston area, releasing more than a half-billion gallons of hazardous chemicals and wastewater into the local environment, including well-known carcinogens such as dioxin, ethylene and PCBs.
Even that event doesn’t reflect the full extent of the industrially polluted lands at growing risk of flooding throughout the city. We found nearly 2,000 relic industrial sites at an elevated risk of flooding in the Houston area; the GAO report raised concerns about only 15.
Many of these properties are concentrated in or near communities of color. In all six cities in our study, we found that the strongest predictor of a neighborhood’s containing a flood-prone site of former hazardous industry is the proportion of nonwhite and non-English-speaking residents.
Keeping communities safe in a changing climate will mean cleaning up flood-prone industrial relic sites. In some cases, companies can be held financially responsible for the cleanup, but often, the costs fall to taxpayers.
The infrastructure bill that Congress passed in 2021 includes $21 billion for environmental remediation. As a key element of new “green” infrastructure, some of that money could be channeled into flood-prone areas or invested in developing pollution remediation techniques that do not fail when flooded.
Our findings suggest the entire process for prioritizing and cleaning up relic sites needs to be reconsidered to incorporate future flood risk.
Flood and pollution risks are not separate problems. Dealing with them effectively requires deepening relationships with local residents who bear disproportionate risks. If communities are involved from the beginning, the benefits of green redevelopment and mitigation efforts can extend to a much larger population.
One approach suggested by our work is to move beyond individual properties as the basis of environmental hazard and risk assessment and concentrate on affected ecosystems.
Focusing on individual sites misses the historical and geographical scale of industrial pollution. Concentrating remediation on meaningful ecological units, such as watersheds, can create healthier environments with fewer risks when the land floods.
The state’s agency in charge of project construction, the Capital Development Board, is seeking formal bids from architectural and engineering firms for the planned sustainability research center.
Announced in October 2018, NICCS is part of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), a group of state-funded research and innovation hubs that are under development and aimed at driving economic growth in Illinois while addressing critical global issues.
“The Illinois Innovation Network exists to ensure the needs and ideas of every community are represented in the economy of the future, and I’m proud to dedicate $15 million in state funding to bring this hub for groundbreaking research to DeKalb,” Gov. JB Pritzker said. “The establishment of NIU’s Center for Community Sustainability represents a climate advancement for our whole state, and I’m proud to greenlight its development.”
IIN centers will support interdisciplinary research, policy development and public-private partnerships to stimulate economic development and job creation, as well as to attract and develop talent. NICCS will be a world-class research facility focusing on water resources, environmental change, and food systems, while also promoting science-based policies and practices for communities.
“We appreciate the continued efforts by Gov. Pritzker and state legislators to support this project, which will benefit our region, the entire state and well beyond,” NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman said. “We have the opportunity to grow our economy in ways that promote equity, protect the environment and meet the needs of the present and future.
“NIU is a perfect fit for this new center because our distinctive peri-urban geography positions us to understand the stresses among cities, suburbs and farmlands and create sustainable solutions to span the gaps,” Dr. Freeman added. “The new center will address statewide sustainability issues, drive economic opportunity and spur public-private partnerships and investment. NICCS will also create opportunities for NIU faculty members to expand their research related to food systems, water resources and environmental change, and educate the next generation of environmental scientists and stewards.”
The roughly 30,000-square-foot NICCS facility will be constructed on the university’s west campus, in an area northwest of the NIU Convocation Center.
About two-thirds of the new building’s cost, or $15 million, will be financed from the $500 million in state capital funding approved in 2018 to launch the innovation network. NIU will provide the remaining $8 million through in-kind contributions. Additional contributions are anticipated through private investment and donations.
Construction could begin in 2023 with the facility coming online in 2026. A concept design calls for a building with classrooms, offices, laboratories, an atrium, an auditorium and collaborative and conference spaces. Two envisaged wings are planned for research and external tenants.
“In keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Illinois Innovation Network, we aim to create a world-class destination for experts, university faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, government and business leaders, and citizens working to enhance sustainability in their communities,” Blazey said.
Work at NICCS will focus on three key areas:
Improving water resources: NIU faculty, students and IIN partners will develop new sustainable water management systems for agriculture, industry and personal consumption.
Predicting and managing environmental change: Research will be conducted on topics that include biodiversity, ecosystem restoration, environmental maintenance, natural disasters, climate change and response to extreme climate events.
Creating food-system innovation: The center will conduct multidisciplinary research into new methods of food production, working with partners from across the state, nation and world.
NIU has been busy preparing for the center. In addition to Blazey’s leadership IIN role, the university completed its preliminary planning, identified and recruited faculty who will conduct center-related research and education, initiated research projects and sponsored internal research presentations, as well as a lecture series on food-system innovation.
Blazey said he foresees NICCS developing into a substantial economic engine as the center partners with private industry.
“NICCS addresses real-world challenges and promotes the kind of breakthrough discoveries that can create new products and companies,” he said. “The entire statewide network aims to address critical global issues and drive economic growth in Illinois.”
The center is expected to be a boon for faculty and students as well.
The university has strong network of faculty members who have been working on sustainability issues for many years and have ongoing projects that feed into the mission of the new center. Since the center was first announced, faculty have won grants from the IIN and federal sources to conduct research on American prairie restoration, soil microbes, turning trash into usable products, exploring urban-rural connections and enhancing agricultural practices.
Additionally, NIU has seen strong student interest in sustainability. The university has more than 100 students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in environmental studies, and many hundreds more pursuing degrees in areas ranging from meteorology and geology to engineering and law where sustainability issues regularly come to the fore. The new center’s classrooms, laboratories and collaborative spaces will further promote sustainability education, collaboration and research conducted by faculty and students alike.
“In my field, the issue of sustainability is extremely important—from enhancing long-range, severe-weather forecasts to developing dwellings and business structures that can withstand a region’s extreme weather events,” Meteorology Professor Victor Gensini said.
“The sustainability issues we are tackling today are complex and require expertise from many different disciplines,” he said. “It’s exciting to know that the new Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability will be at the forefront of collaborations on sustainability solutions for decades to come.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s new drinking water health advisories for PFAS, released on June 15, 2022, included an advisory level of 10 parts per trillion (ppt) for hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid and its ammonium salt, collectively known as GenX. On July 14, 2022, Chemours, which manufactures GenX, petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for review of the GenX health advisory. In its filing, Chemours argued that the health advisory was “arbitrary and capricious” by challenging EPA’s scientific assumptions, but Chemours also made a more radical argument: “The manner in which EPA has used its Safe Drinking Water Act authority to issue health advisories violates constitutional requirements, including the nondelegation doctrine, because EPA has utilized unfettered discretion to publish health advisories,” and had thus affected “the legal rights and obligations of companies, water utilities, and others across the country without sufficient legislative direction or regulatory safeguards.”
Chemours’ suit was probably in part a response to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s letter to Chemours requiring it to “revise its Drinking Water Compliance Plan and Feasibility Study Report and provide public water or whole building filtration systems to any party with a private drinking water well contaminated by GenX chemicals in exceedance of 10 ppt.” This demand was in accordance with a consent order agreed to between the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Cape Fear River Watch, and Chemours in 2019, requiring that Chemours provide water to substitute for any “private drinking water well that has been found through testing validated by DEQ to be contaminated by concentrations of GenX compounds in exceedance of 140 ng/L, or any applicable health advisory, whichever is lower.”
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a climate transition plan. Instead, it must be tailored to a company’s circumstances, and use specific strategies that address its sub-industry, place in the supply chain, corporate structure, operating regions, and other key factors. This can leave companies struggling to find a foothold to begin their transition.
Nearly 6 in 10 consumers either don’t know what the term “carbon neutral” means or they incorrectly define it, according to new research from Morning Consult. Less than half of consumers who say they have changed their behavior some or a lot because of climate concerns were able to correctly define the term.
While 23% of respondents to the Morning Consult survey said environmental claims are a factor when choosing which food or beverage brand to buy, only 20% said they always or sometimes try to buy a product with a carbon-neutral label.
As food and beverage CPGs such as Mondelēz and Anheuser Busch increasingly embrace carbon-neutral claims for their products, they will have to better explain the term and the methodology behind it to entice sustainability-minded consumers.
With new funding from NASA, a University ofIllinois team of scientists will use NASA Earth science and localized social data to develop an innovative, multi-sector geospatial environmental justice toolkit for urban decision making in the Chicago region.
This two-year data integration project will leverage transdisciplinary expertise and multistakeholder leadership to address environmental inequities and empower Chicago communities to take measures to improve health and equity and reduce crime in vulnerable and marginalized environmental justice (EJ) urban communities.
The extreme heat and air quality problems caused by climate change are especially damaging for people of color and low-income residents. For example, during the infamous 1995 Chicago region heatwave, neighborhoods with large African American populations and high poverty and crime rates had the highest heat-related mortality rates.
Climate change exacerbates poverty, poor health outcomes, and disparities in healthcare access. Environmental stresses such as excessive heat along with structural racism also have been linked to higher crime rates.
“In the past few decades, the Chicago region has become polarized between the haves and the have-nots based on race, color, and income inequities,” said principal investigator Ashish Sharma, research climatologist at the Illinois State Water Survey at the U of I. “As a society we need to reduce these inequities and co-create just solutions for inclusive growth of the region.”
He added, “these solutions need to be iteratively designed with EJ communities and regional stakeholders. At the same time, they need to be realistic and provide short-term wins to build trust in historically underinvested communities while also providing a vision for advancing long-term EJ action.”
Sharma will piggyback on his past and ongoing research efforts to study extreme heat risks and the relationship of heat with crime to address EJ issues in the Chicago region. An important feature of the data-integration project is to leverage NASA Earth science products and couple in-house-run climate model outputs over the Chicago region.
The scientists will also gather information on community-specific threats to health and equity and develop a heat vulnerability index based on community demographics, public health, land cover, and living conditions. In addition, they will map crime rates in Chicago neighborhoods and explore their relationship to heat and air quality.
The user-friendly web-based GIS toolkit, e-JUST (Environmental Justice using Urban Scalable Toolkit), will combine numerous factors, including threats from climate change, to help stakeholders, policymakers, and others make informed decisions for their communities. Urban planners can use e-JUST to determine locations for cooling centers, manage streetscapes, and develop affordable housing policies for an equitable region.
“We are using state-of-the-art datasets from NASA and multiple other sources to identify multi-faceted social vulnerabilities, priority areas, and potential solutions,” Sharma said. “What we bring to the table is our modular approach to integrate diverse spatial and temporal resolution data for empowering communities with evidence-based measures to improve health equity and reduce crime. Our design framework will allow ingesting any additional data from regional partners for robust assessment of EJ issues and planning.”
U of I information scientist Matthew Turk, a co-investigator on the project, described the toolkit as a compilation of disparate pieces of information to paint a full picture of our changing world.
“The most personal data that we can see is that data that relates to how we live our lives, about the places we live, and the future of the climate,” Turk said. “I hope to work to make an accessible toolkit that provides actionable knowledge to people who are feeling the effects of climate change.”
The toolkit will be designed to be user-friendly, scalable to smaller or larger communities, and portable so that it can be used for other cities or parts of the world. The project will be a collaboration among the scientists, community leaders, non-profits, and state agencies.
Researchers will hold town halls and workshops to boost partnerships with EJ communities and build trust in scientific methods. The outreach efforts will focus on the communities in Waukegan, Elgin, Joliet, West Chicago, Park Forest, and Westchester.
Engagement with residents and community leaders is important for scientists to learn about the challenges of lived experiences, said co-investigator Edith Makra, director of environmental initiatives for the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus in Chicago, who will lead these efforts.
“Accomplishing the goals of the project is not something we can do with data assessment alone,” Makra said. “You have to have a dialog with community members to learn about the perceived threats and perceived opportunities of environmental justice issues. This leads to an understanding of what is occurring in the community and what are the ways to address it.”
The investigators will also collaborate with researchers from the University of Illinois System, the State Climatologist’s Office, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, NASA, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Department of Corrections, City of Chicago, and community and public sector organizations.
Coca-Cola is switching Sprite bottles from green to clear PET plastic in North America, which the company said will increase their likelihood of being recycled into new beverage bottles. The transition will begin in August. Other brands packaged in green plastic bottles — including Fresca, Mello Yello and Seagram’s ginger ale — will shift to clear plastic in the coming months.
The company is also transitioning a majority of Dasani water bottles in North America to 100% recycled PET (rPET) plastic. Coca-Cola said the shift would save over 20 million pounds of virgin plastic compared to 2019, and cut more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2023.
As Coca-Cola and other beverage makers work to create a circular plastic packaging economy, in which all materials are reused or composted, they are seeking ways to boost availability of food-grade rPET.
A planned 2,000-mile network of electric lines known as the Energy Gateway is more than a project to transport massive amounts of wind and solar energy among Western states that face potential supply shortfalls.
It’s also a key piece of the Department of Energy’s clean electricity strategy.
The cluster of high-voltage lines, located mostly in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah, is among two dozen “shovel-ready,” long-distance transmission projects that DOE is counting on to accelerate an enormous expansion of wind and solar power this decade. The transmission buildout is needed to reach President Joe Biden’s goal of a zero-carbon U.S. grid by 2035, according to DOE officials.