Author: Laura B.

I'm the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center's Sustainability Information Curator, which is a fancy way of saying embedded librarian. I'm also Executive Director of the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable. When not writing for Environmental News Bits, I'm an avid reader. Visit Laura's Reads to see what I'm currently reading.

A systematic literature review on employee relations with CSR: State of art and future research agenda

Onkila, T., & Sarna, B. (2021). “A systematic literature review on employee relations with CSR: State of art and future research agenda.” Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1002/csr.2210 [open access]

Abstract: Within recent years, the literature on employee–CSR relations has grown significantly. However, the research is fragmented throughout various journals and disciplines, and we still lack a comprehensive literature review on the topic to show what we currently know about the employee relationship with CSR, and what we do not know. In this study, we conduct a systematic literature review on employee relations with CSR, based 331 journal articles. We analyze their methodological and theoretical approaches. Based on their key findings, we build a categorization of dominant research findings and their connections. Building on our review, we show how the research has been dominated by a focus on the organizational implementation of CSR and organizational benefits. Employees have been mainly perceived as implementers of top-down sustainability policies and as mediators towards organizational CSR-related benefits. We also discuss the need for future research on the more active role of employees in CSR relations, especially bottom-up change processes and understanding the role of tensions and complexities.

Q&A: Sustainable farming expert weighs in on California’s historic investments in ‘climate smart’ agriculture

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

Gov. Newsom’s new $15 billion climate package includes more than $1 billion for sustainable agriculture, but the work is just starting.

What does a tree see?

Read the full story at JStor Daily.

A hundred-year-old red oak in a Massachusetts forest told a writer and a team of scientists secrets about change over time.

A major federal response to occupational extreme heat is here at last

Constructions workers in warm climates are often exposed to dangerous heat. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

by Lynée Turek-Hankins and Katharine Mach (University of Miami)

The summer of 2021 was devilishly hot across much of the U.S. Just five minutes in an attic guest room with no air conditioning could be enough to leave a person drenched in sweat and lightheaded, as one of us discovered during a heat wave in Washington state. It’s the kind of heat where it’s impossible to move, to think, to do anything.

In parts of the U.S., people work in heat and then go home to heat all summer long. Research shows that chronic heat exposure is a growing threat to health and productivity, yet it’s often overlooked by employers.

A new federal initiative to combat unhealthy heat exposure for vulnerable populations, including workers, could finally provide some relief. By bringing multiple agencies together to solve the problem of heat, the Biden administration has the opportunity to help workers avoid dangerous acute and chronic heat exposure at work and at home.

But the plan has some important gaps and ambiguities that, as infrastructure and policy researchers, we believe should be addressed to keep people safe.

A worker in a reflective vest holds a
A construction worker guides traffic on a humid, 100-degree day in Washington, D.C. Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Image

Who’s at risk

Heat is not a health and safety issue if you’re sitting in a well-constructed, air-conditioned building. But people who work primarily outside, whether in agriculture, construction or mining, in military training or on a utility or wildfire crew, may have limited access to a cool environment on hot days, and that can raise their risks.

Heat indoors can also be a threat to workers, such as cooks in a steamy kitchen or factory workers on an assembly line without adequate airflow. Personal protective equipment and clothing like hazmat suits can also intensify the impact of excessive heat.

When heat combines with other hazards, like humidity, particulate matter or ozone in the air, the health risks increase. Even if none of the hazards on its own is considered “extreme,” combined they may pose a threat. At many points in the day, a worker may face a large cumulative burden of environmental hazards that add up, with few options for adequately dealing with them.

Workers who are exposed to excess heat on the job are more likely than average Americans to be low-income, to be immigrants, to have chronic health problems, to lack health insurance or to live in poor-quality housing without air conditioning. That suggests they may also lack a cool environment at home and may be at higher risk.

A sweating cook carries as plate past rows of ovens. The photo is shot with the cook slightly blurred, capturing the frenetic pace of the kitchen
Indoor workplaces like kitchens and factories can expose workers to high heat for many hours at a time. Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

How the body responds to heat

Cool night temperatures are important for the body to recover from daytime heat exposure. Research has shown that hot nights can reduce the body’s capacity to rehydrate and negatively affect sleep, potentially leading to more workplace injuries the following day.

A severe heat episode may also permanently harm internal organs. One study linked hospitalization from acute heat illness to an increased risk of early death later in life.

People have different thresholds for heat exposure. Preexisting health conditions, such as those affecting the heart or lungs, can increase the likelihood that extreme heat will harm the person’s health.

Whether a person is acclimatized, meaning they have adjusted to the heat, is also important. One hundred degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle (38 Celsius) is different from 100 F in Las Vegas. However, getting used to a climate can only take you so far. The body’s ability to cool itself off diminishes significantly beyond 95 F (35 C). Hence, there are upper limits to acclimatization. Likewise, acclimatization may not prevent health effects from chronic heat exposure.

Chart showing where heat crosses the dangerous threshold for each percentage of relative humidity. At 100% humidity, 90 degrees is dangerous. At 40% humidity the same temperature requires caution and 108 becomes dangerous.
Humidity increases the health risk as temperatures rise. NOAA

Adapting workers for the increasing extreme heat

There are many strategies for reducing occupational exposure to heat. A workplace may require breaks and offer water; implement technologies that keep workers cool, such as cooling vests; reduce expected rates of productivity when temperatures climb; or even stop work.

Some of these strategies, however, will likely become less effective under intensifying climate change. Some locations may face high temperatures combined with humidity levels that exceed thresholds for workability.

The Biden administration’s new efforts, announced in late September 2021, provide direction for adapting to extreme heat in and out of the workplace. Some of the proposed strategies include creating standards for heat exposure at work, improving enforcement and inspections for the heat safety of workers, increasing opportunities to direct federal funds to household cooling assistance and technologies, and transforming schools into locations with free air conditioning access.

As presented, the strategies for workers are isolated to the workplace and hot days. However, chronic heat exposure, whether from living in a hot home or a habitually hot climate, is an emerging risk. Worker-specific responses that target social determinants of health and chronic exposure may be necessary, such as improving access to cooling among itinerant workers in temporary housing.

Rapidly reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is also essential to reduce climate change that will bring more frequent exposure to dangerous temperatures.

About a dozen farmworkers in long sleeves, jeans, hats and boots sit in the shade of a covered, open-air truck bed.
Farmworkers get a shade break while picking melons on a hot day in California. AP Photo/Terry Chea

Other gaps in the plan

The proposal for addressing the most pressing heat risks across America also has important gaps.

First, other environmental threats like air pollution exacerbate heat-related health impacts but aren’t currently factored in with high temperatures and humidity when developing workplace health and safety standards and heat-health policies. From emergency responders exposed to toxic dust at the Surfside Condo collapse to farmworkers facing wildfire smoke in Fresno, California, addressing heat and poor air quality together is a critical need.

Second, the proposal doesn’t address heat risk in other facilities, including prisons and migration detention centers. Here, heat protections and proper enforcement of those protections are critical for both the workers and the people in those facilities.

Third, in addition to increasing federal spending on cooling assistance, utilities could be required to stop residential utility shut-offs during extreme heat events. Although many utilities provide such protections to people with medical waivers, this process can be arduous.

Solutions should consider what influences a person’s vulnerability to heat, as well as their threat of chronic exposure. Ambitious heat safety policies are critical in a rapidly warming world.

Lynée Turek-Hankins, Ph.D. Student in Environmental Science & Policy, University of Miami and Katharine Mach, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, University of Miami

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

GM, GE look to develop rare earth materials supply chain

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

General Motors and General Electric are looking at developing a supply chain of rare earth materials that help make electric vehicles and renewable energy equipment.

Bye-bye, batteries! Engineers release software for DIY battery-free electronics

Read the full story at Centered.

When playing a handheld video game, don’t you just want to keep going and going without worrying about replacing batteries? Now you can, thanks to Northwestern University computer engineers. 

They were on the team that developed a battery-free Game Boy that harvests solar energy and kinetic energy from the user’s button mashing to power the device. Now they introduced a platform to enable even novice programmers and hobbyists to build their own battery-free electronics.

More companies pledge ‘net-zero’ emissions to fight climate change, but what does that really mean?

The world’s pledges so far aren’t enough to stop climate change, U.N. data show. Metamorworks via Getty Images

by Amrou Awaysheh (Indiana University)

You’ll probably hear the term “net-zero emissions” a lot over the coming weeks as government leaders and CEOs, under pressure, talk about how they’ll reduce their countries’ or businesses’ impact on climate change. Amazon, for example, just announced that more than 200 companies have now joined its Climate Pledge, committing to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.

But what does net-zero emissions actually mean?

“Zero emissions” – without the “net” caveat – means emitting no greenhouse gases.

“Net-zero emissions” has more wiggle room. It’s like balancing a checkbook. The country or company cuts most of its emissions through efficiency and clean energy, then offsets the rest by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or eliminating emissions elsewhere.

For example, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air, so they’re often considered “negative emissions.” The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan can claim net-zero emissions because almost all of its electricity comes from hydropower, and its forests sequester about three times more carbon than its vehicles, factories and other human activities emit.

Companies have another way to claim net-zero emissions – they can take advantage of carbon reductions elsewhere by buying carbon credits. For example, a U.S. company might pay to protect forests in South America and then subtract those trees’ negative emissions from its own emissions to say that its operations are “net-zero.” Other carbon credits support sustainable development projects, such as installing wind or solar power in poorer countries.

But counting on carbon credits also draws criticism, because it allows those companies to keep generating greenhouse gases. Other concerns are that some projects would happen anyway, the emissions reductions might not be permanent or even verifiable, or they might get double-counted by more than one entity. Some projects, like tree planting, can take years to pay off in emissions reductions while the companies buying forest offsets continue emitting greenhouse gases. [View a chart showing worldwide national net zero emissions pledges]

Why does net-zero emissions matter?

Greenhouse gases trap heat near Earth’s surface. When their concentrations get too high, they fuel global warming.

In 2015, countries around the world agreed to limit global warming to well under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) compared with preindustrial times, with a goal of 1.5 C (2.7 F). To keep warming under 1.5 C with the least disruption, the United Nations says the world needs to be on a path to reach net-zero emissions by about 2050. To put those temperatures into perspective, global warming today is just over 1 C (1.8 F) above preindustrial levels, and rising seas and extreme weather are already a problem.

Several countries, including the United States, have pledged to meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. But when the U.N. analyzed each country’s commitments under the Paris Agreement in mid-September, it found they still fall short by so much that even if every pledge is met, temperatures will rise about 2.7 C (4.86 F) this century.

Chart showing temperature limits and emissions trajectories to reach them.
Keeping global warming to 1.5 C will require negative greenhouse gas emissions. Climate Analytics and NewClimate Institute

How a company gets to net-zero emissions

To see how a company might get to net-zero emissions, let’s imagine a hypothetical company, ChipCo, that makes, packages and distributes potato chips. ChipCo purchases electricity from a local utility to run machinery at its factory. It also has boilers to generate steam to heat the building and for some production processes. And it uses delivery trucks to transport its products to customers. Each step generates greenhouse gas emissions.

To achieve net-zero emissions, ChipCo’s first step is to ramp up energy efficiency. Improvements in insulation and equipment can reduce the amount of energy needed or wasted. A simple example is switching out incandescent light bulbs that use 60 watts of energy with LED bulbs that give off the same brightness, yet consume only 8 watts.

The second step is to switch from fossil fuels – the leading source of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions – to renewable energy, such as solar or wind power, that doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions. Once the company’s electricity is renewable, using electric delivery vehicles further cuts emissions.

Homes and office buildings can also be built to net-zero, or carbon-neutral, standards. In that case, the focus is on making them extremely energy-efficient and relying on heating and electricity from clean energy sources.

ChipCo’s third step is finding negative emissions. It might be too expensive or not yet technologically possible for it to replace its steam boiler with a carbon-neutral product. Instead, ChipCo might purchase carbon credits that would remove the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere that would be generated by the boiler.

Companies are increasingly under pressure from governments, activists and their customers, as well as some powerful investors, to cut their emissions.

To tell if a company is taking its responsibilities seriously, look for its action plan and performance so far. A company that announces a net-zero target of 2030 can’t wait until 2029 to take action. There needs to be a consistent trajectory of improvements in energy efficiency and clean energy, not just promises and carbon offsets.

Amrou Awaysheh, Assistant Professor of Operations Management and Executive Director, Business Sustainability Lab, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Competent regulation might have prevented the Huntington Beach oil fiasco

Read the full story from Mother Jones.

Whomever shares the immediate blame, it was systemic under-regulation that set the scene for the spill. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  responds to more than 150 oil and chemical spills in US waters each year. But earlier this year, a report by the Government Accountability Office warned that the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, responsible for overseeing construction and monitoring of offshore oil drilling, was failing to properly monitor and inspect active pipelines.

The Biodiversity Advantage: Thriving with nature – biodiversity for sustainable livelihoods and food systems

Download the document.

IFAD’s second Biodiversity Advantage report showcases five IFAD projects which highlight the integral importance of biodiversity in agriculture.

These projects show how promoting biodiversity improves human and ecosystem health, and the roles of small-scale agricultural producers in preserving and restoring biodiversity and schemes that reward them for their stewardship of healthy natural environments.

Schools collaborate on the roadmap to zero carbon

Read the full story from the New Buildings Institute.

As we witness the consequences of rapid, widespread and intensifying climate change, our students face the prospect of worsening impacts in the world they will inherit. Students are demanding a more hopeful and sustainable future and are also asking for better environments than the aging, unhealthy, and underfunded school buildings where they currently learn. This is inspiring school districts to address health, student experience, and carbon emissions from schools in a holistic way. As a major form of public infrastructure that spans buildings, land, and bus fleets, school systems offer an opportunity for emissions reductions that also positively impact the health, wellness, and resiliency potential of entire communities.

%d bloggers like this: