Tag Archives: Sustainability

Carbon Offsets

There are many sites and organisation you can use offset your carbon footprint.

While I have used different ones in the past, for 2008-2009 I decided to offset my combined personal and business offsets with Climate Friendly. For 8 tonnes (my total was 7.5 tonnes) it cost me a bit over $200AUD.

In this report, Climate Friendly were ranked as one of the best in Australia.

I highly recommend reading that report if you are in Australia and considering offsets. The authors contacted all known providers and reviewed and ranked those that responded. If organisations did not respond, you have to wonder why not. The criteria the authors used to rank those that did are very sound,  and I support the advice they give. For example:

  • reduce your footprint first!
  • ask for details about what you are paying for e.g. what projects
  • choose offsets that are independently accredited
  • choose offsets that are based on prevention (e.g. energy efficiency)

The organisations and individuals who worked on the report are highly credible.

But, offsets themselves are problematic, and the cheatneutral site and youtube video is a very funny look at why. It’s based on the analagous idea of offsetting ‘cheating’ in relationships ; )

Final 2008-2009 Carbon Footprint

I am now settled in Geraldton, Western Australia and have done the calculations on my final carbon footprint from April 2008 to April 2009.

My target was to get it down to 6 tonnes, which was a target my fellow CRAGers and I all agreed to.

My actual carbon footprint was 7543kg!

[This is a combined total for all my work and personal activities, which is slightly different from most people’s calculations that are purely personal.]

The numerous trans-Australia train trips in the last-month added a few hundred kilograms, as I actually traveled 1.5 times the distance in Australia  by train as I had done the whole way from London to Darwin!

It’s a bit disappointing that I didn’t get the overall footprint lower, but think it is still a significant improvement from the previous year’s total of 19533kg, and puts me well below the average despite having traveled a lot.

2009-10 should be relatively free of travel, I will be pretty much vegan, in control of the water and energy usage of my house, and living 5 mins from everywhere by bike…so will see if I can get below 5 tonnes. Which is still incredibly far from the 2.2 tonnes that would be my fair share!

Considering I have now offset my footprint, I guess you could say my footprint is zero…but we all know offsets are a little flawed.

You can see the details of my calculations here: Custom calculator_Actual 2008-2009_ao

Hunting for happy dolphins and ‘clean’ coal – Hallbarhet Day 2

The first day on the road got off to a fast and early start and continued the pace through the day. Although, you can’t complain about being too busy if your first appointment is cruising the beautiful Port Stephens for a cruise on the estuary looking for dolphins. These dolphins are worth seeing, in fact between the 90 of them, they bring in $40 million dollars of tourism income to the region. However teir happy lives entertaining humans are under threat due to the sheer volume of boats, and from a proposed new water treatment plant that would dramatically increase the level of nutrients in the estuary.

I enjoyed reconnecting with the sorts  of issues I used to deal with as a coastcare  facilitator, but also sensed I would get quite bored if I had to ever be restricted in the scope of my work to single-issue, conservation- focused  projects.

The new CSIRO Energy Technology research centre in Newcastle was the next stop, where the facilities host the research, but are also a research project in themselves. The solar tower, thin film panels and died titanium oxide wall coverings all generate power on-site. While the whole intelligent building design is not new, but is not something I have personally seen close up. The neat integrated automatic climate control system incorporates user feedback accounts for human psychology and even the clothing that occupants are likely to be wearing at different times of year.

I was happy to visit this site, and proud that CSIRO was doing some cool stuff. But, as we drove off I also had the feeling that it was also a monument to the lost opportunities when Australia was leading the world in solar research, and decrease in freedom and funding of the CSIRO in past decades.

Then, dashing off to the Tom Farrell Institute at Newcastle University, set up to be a credible voice for the region as well as research and run projects that may be relevant to other similar regions in the world. John Rodger of the institute introduced Dr Joe Herbertson of Crucible Carbon. Dr Herbertson emphasised useful distinctions between environmentalism that focuses purely on impacts, versus a sustainability approach that emphasises value over impact. I was happy to here this, as it is the way I often introduce sustainability, especially referring to maximising satisfaction of human needs within ecological constraints.

He also presented some information and perspectives that challenged those who only think simplistically about the transition period from our current unsustainable energy and agricultural systems to sustainbility. Specifically, he warned against seeing coal as ‘evil’ versus understanding the challenges and opportunities related to such unsustainable practices. He provided examples of how coal could be complemented by burning biomass and pyrolitic processes to generate carbon neutral or ‘net negative emissions’ energy. The resulting materials, such as biochar, can then be used to increase agricultural productivity. It is these technologies and applications that were featured on recent online and television reports in Australia.

During the following presentation, I witnessed and participated in a very interesting clash of cultures and worldviews. The general manager in charge of operations at Delta energy, Chris Horner, presented their strategy and thinking on the short and medium term future of coal. Some of the grunts and shifting in chairs hinted at the audiences distaste for some of his company’s strategies, and there were many questions that challenged the assumptions underlying their priorities. For example, Delta energy are projecting ongoing increases in energy demand, while Professor Broman from BTH cited Swedish studies on the 50% decreases in industry energy demand after simple efficiency changes. Chris didn’t believe what Goran was describing was possible.

Ultimately, I think it was quite a challenge for our group to a) understand the context in terms of the nature of Australia’s economy (coal exports being a major earner) and b) being willing to accept that the context, understanding of the system, and strategic options can not be reconsidered.  Whatever Chris doesn’t understand that we do, it is our chosen role as sustainability professionals to be intelligent about engaging and working with those whose knowledge, behaviours and impacts we wish to affect. I really enjoyed it, and really appreciated the opportunity to hear from someone like Chris and especially from someone like Joe Herbertson.

Their presentations provided more than enough food for discussion during the subsequent bus ride to Pittwater and a hostel set in bushland on an isloated headland….

First big steps – Hallbarhet Day 1

Today we took our first steps on the Hallbarhet2009 sustainability learning journey. And it really is ‘we’. For me, months of traveling alone have given way to reconnecting with people who speak the same ‘language’ and have a great depth of shared experience and perspectives.

Already, in our morning meeting about the evolution of The Natural Step (as an organisation) in Australia and the afternoon introductions with the wider group, the magic of what we have already achieved became apparent. With no budget, no central management, no two people in the same geographical location (or time-zone) and just a compelling vision we have managed to gather people from around the world in Australia, but also to connect at other parallel ‘regional’ gatherings.

Some of the things we managed to co-create across the oceans (thanks skype!) included: detailed menu plans to be made with local food, an impressive carbon emission minimisation and offset strategy, plans for sourcing biofuel for the bus, a zero waste strategy….all in addition to an amazing agenda of events, speakers and a three day intensive retreat.

The evening opening event was another example of the learned ability of alumni of this Master’s program to be entrepreneurial, leverage our networks and show real leadership. Hosted and driven by University of Technology Sydney, but seeded by two MSLS alumni (Richard and Shawn) over 100 people turned up to hear Alan AtKisson speak via webcast from Sweden, and participate in a conversation about how we make sustainability mainstream.

Alan’s presentation was a recording of an earlier presentation to a gathering of the influential and successful Sustainable Seattle initiative, but also include lots of singing and performance, His on-stage sills are a really unique way to introduce systems thinking, exponential rates of change, and the urgent need for us to think ‘within the box’ of global ecological and cultural constraints.

In the Q&A session, Alan fielded questions on the opportunities that economic downturn presents for transitioning to a zero-growth sustainable society; the opportunities for young people moving into this field, the importance of doubling advocacy efforts to push at opening doors (e.g. on the back of Obama and Rudd’s election), and reframing the population challenge as an example of one area where global society has actually done pretty well by bringing population growth well below projections. Through all these questions, what stood out for me was AtKisson’s positive, humorous and creative way of engaging with the questions. Certainly if we are considering how to scale up the uptake of these ways of thinking about our global situation, having engaging, articulate people like Alan as role models is a good start.

The other speakers were also great.

  • Scott Grierson from our group but also Director of TNS Australia spoke from a strategic perspective, and linked it to his personal experience of rapid change in Australian attitudes and awareness, driven by a rapidly warming climate and severe drought in Australia.

  • Cynthia Mitchell from ISF talked through her organisation’s approach to transdisciplinarity and the interesting projects on Phosphorous (see my previous post on pooh, or perhaps this more informative  site). Increasing our collective acceptance of multiple ways of investigating and knowing is critical in a situation when we know we need to think creatively, laterally and collaboratively.

  • Nik Midlam Manager of the Environmental Strategy for City of Sydney talking about the Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan. The plan seemed like it had a really thorough consultation strategy, some significant changes (70% cuts in carbon emissions by 2030) and strong support from the CEO and councillors. Perhaps an example for other cities to follow?

All these presentations were very pragmatic and positive and got me excited about where the conversation and action are in Australia, but my enthusiasm was somewhat tempered by individual conversations. New friends who had all been living in the UK, and are now involved in corporate compliance work, Landcare and doing strategy consulting to large private businesses all suggested that Australia was years behind the UK. This question of the Australian context, and what is the real need in this space will continue to be a question I hold over the next 10 days…and perhaps 10 years.

Luang Prabang (don’t but a beer shirt here, please) – Laos

Truly a beautiful place, with a serene atmosphere. Apparently it was peak season, but even then it felt like there was really no-one around compared to all the other touristy towns I have been in. My mood was helped a lot by getting in my morning exercise and meditation, then getting up early to wander the main street and see the incredibly photogenic old town and wats (temples), then on to the river, and vegetable gardens. And later on to the markets etc. The combination of French colonial and buddhist-inspired Laos architecture set amongst a spacious and tuk-tuk free town centre was quite enchanting.

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In the evening I climbed atop the hill in the centre of town to watch the sun set with other sun-worshipping tourists (many of them Australian). I say sun-worshipping because it was remarkably similar to a religious ceremony. Dozens of people, crowded closely, holding and staring at objects above their head, then drawing the object down to look closely at it. I wasn’t the only one who thought it was funny, or thought it even funnier when most people left before the sunset actually started to get really good.

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A delicious evening meal at the night markets, good nights sleep, meditation and exercise then indulgent (expensive) bowl of muesli and yoghurt for breakfast followed. The muesli was a bit disappointing, so I stopped at a street stall for a local omelette, which once again proved the locals eat where they do for good reasons. The real highlight of this day was exploring the two cultural exhibitions which should have really been my first port of call. One, led by a French couple who seem to be driving much of the town’s sustainable development (and who own one of the fancier bars and bookshop), was an amazing example of how to educate tourists and ensure they have a great time. It contained exhibits and advice on everything from local customs, to food, to how to choose products that are really made in pre-industrial Laos (not factories in China, or Thailand). The second cultural exhibit (an ethnology museum) contained more costumes of local minority people, and was actually useful in helping me understand some of what I saw in southern Yunnan,  in Yuangyang.

Actually, the main thing I remember after perusing both exhibits was wanting to scream at some of the younger,  Australian males in the night-time souvenir markets “don’t buy that fucking beer shirt you ignorant f*&@wit“. Beer shirts are not made in Laos, even if the beer is, and are such a crap choice of memorobilia from a place with such an incredible diversity of crafts, ethnicities, history and natural beauty. Seriously, a bloody disgrace.

I had booked a massage (very popular for tourists here) at the local Red Cross (proceeds to charity), which was nice, but didn’t quitte hit the spot (I’d been hanging out for one for months!), then headed to catch the bus towards Thailand.

Sacred cows…should be everywhere?

I really like the sacred cows in India. Because they wander wherever they want, the docile look in their eyes starts to look more like wisdom. The also bring a lovely sense of chaos and the presence of nature into the cities – like a reminder that nature is always there and can not be ignored.

So it got me wondering, what if all nature was treated like sacred cows?

What would our cities look like if all animals and living things were left to do as they wish, and we drove/walked/worked around them all. What if, in Australia, the cultural expectation was that you were cursed if you hit and killed a bird or kangaroo….I wonder how would this change things, and should it be that way?

Perhaps this reverence for life will return once we start to realise how much our biodiversity is actually worth?

What I realised today…

  • There is NO EFFORT required (for peace, elightenment)
  • I have grown up, now
  • Now, I am prepared to die