Categories
Climate Environment

I’m a guest on How Public Works

Listen to my interview with experienced municipal public servant Ilmar Simanovskis, P.Eng, MBA, on how the public sector works.

As he describes the episode:

Dianne Saxe is an environmental lawyer who has an extensive career in advocating for environment, climate and sustainability in our society both locally and globally. In her private practice and as the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dianne has come to understand much of the issues threatening our planet. Her message is clear and her concerns real as the effects of climate change become more and more visible around us. But she also has hope and optimism in a brighter future if we all appreciate the impact our activities have on our environment and take personal responsibility for our daily actions. She is optimistic that together we will make a difference…in her view we have to.

Categories
Climate

Can smaller businesses become carbon neutral?

Yes, many smaller businesses can become carbon neutral, depending on their current carbon footprint and the infrastructure/technology alternatives available to them. Many more will be able to do so as better infrastructure and technology becomes available. (The individuals referred to are all interviewed on my podcast.)

The first step is almost always to become more efficient. For example, it’s amazing how many businesses are both heating and cooling the same space. Consider a commercial kitchen, which often becomes ferociously hot especially in the summer because conventional gas cooktops give off a lot of heat. Induction cooktops cook the food without cooking the cooks, and produce better indoor air quality which might support the health of the workers. In other spaces, old fashion lighting may give us a lot of heat, when LED lights can provide the same illumination without heat. On my podcast, Bruce Taylor’s interview describes other examples where he’s been able to save clients quite a bit of money by eliminating waste of energy, water and materials.  

The second step is to eliminate or destroy high global warming potential gases that are leaking into the atmosphere, such as refrigerants, anesthetics, methane. These gases can do an enormous amount of climate damage, and can be captured or destroyed comparatively inexpensively. In many cases, the captured gases have an economic value, e.g. anaesthetics can be cleaned and reused; methane can be burned for energy (see Audrey Mascarenhas interview).

Third, figure out the business’ remaining direct carbon footprint, and reduce as practical. In Ontario,  half of the average carbon footprint comes from just four things: driving, heating leaky buildings, flying (before Covid), and meat. Increasingly, there are good alternatives to each. Meat is the easiest part, because there are so many good meat substitutes available. Virtual technology makes it easier to dramatically reduce flying, though admittedly zoom is not the same as being there. For driving, electric vehicles increasingly have a lower total cost of ownership, especially for those who drive long distances, because of reduced maintenance, dramatic reduction in fuel cost, and the likelihood of increased durability because there are so few moving parts. EVs also tend to be more fun to drive. (And, as David Roberts explains, there are other business benefits from being a better neighbour; EVs are much quieter, don’t smell, therefore better neighbours than diesel buses, which is helping with their social license.) There are also lots of options for reducing fossil fuel use in buildings, including adding solar (Mike Andrade; Richard Sefton), and joining a district heating system where possible (see Catherine Thorn’s interview).

Fourth,  look for opportunities to sell low carbon services or products. Carbon Cure in Halifax sells technology that strengthens concrete by displacing some of the expensive cement with captured CO2. This saves their customers money and sequester carbon at the same time. Woodland Biofuels expects to sell the world’s cheapest liquid transportation fuel, by making it out of construction waste. Their plant isn’t even built yet and the entire product output is already sold. Brandon Moffat is  turning food waste into low-carbon fertilizer, electricity and natural gas.

Fifth step is to buy from greener suppliers. For example, Canada’s big banks are huge fossil fuel funders, but equivalent banking services are available from Desjardins Financial, which has made serious low-carbon commitments, and is steadily delivering them. Most smaller businesses can choose a lower-carbon financial institution. Similarly, there are lower carbon alternatives available for a huge range of goods and services that smaller businesses buy, from steel to cheese to trucking to electricity.

The sixth step, for those who want to be carbon neutral now, is to offset their residual emissions. This can be done by buying good quality carbon offsets from a certified source. (Please note that I can rarely support some of the cheaper offsets, such as treeplanting.) Some businesses can directly restore a damaged ecosystem. For example, Bryan Gilvesy made his cattle ranch more profitable and resilient by replanting native tall grass prairie, which his heifers happily eat in August when conventional pastures wither in the heat. It also allowed him to eliminate pesticides because the prairie attracts birds which eat the bugs, plus the deep roots of the prairie plants also sequester a lot of carbon.

The seventh and even more important step is for small businesses to speak up, individually and through their associations, to demand that governments take strong action to create the infrastructure and technology to support a low carbon transition.  The climate crisis is a collective problem and it cannot be solved by individual humans or by individual businesses. Individual action is an important place to start but a terrible place to stop.

Categories
Climate

Great conversations on climate podcast

I hope you have subscribed to my Green Economy Heroes podcast, also called my climate podcast. Every week, I interview a Canadian green economy business leader who is making a living building the green economy. I talk to people of all ages from right across Canada in many walks of life. It’s amazing and inspiring how many ways there are for business people to make a real difference in the climate crisis.

Please rate and review this climate podcast, and will you please tell your friends?

In October, I learned more about carbon capture and storage, including its controversial use to enhance oil recovery from ageing oil wells. Steve Oldham of Carbon Engineering makes a case for considering this Canadian innovation a blessing, not a curse. What do you think?

Categories
Climate Energy

Berkshire Hathaway- wind power saves money

Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report is always a revealing read. At page 9, they report that generating virtually all of the power demand of their customers in Iowa from wind has allowed them to charge electricity rates that are 70% less than the competing, fossil-based utility. https://www.berkshirehathaway.com/2019ar/2019ar.pdf

Categories
Climate Energy Environment

Clean50 calls for #CleanReset

I am glad to have been able to help the outstanding Clean50 (contributors to clean capitalism) deliver a compelling letter to the Prime Minister on Earth Day calling for a #CleanReset of our economy. Read it here. If you can, please send it on to your member of Parliament with an endorsement.

Categories
Climate Energy Environment

Canada’s murky bailout deal for oil and gas will cost us all

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with low oil prices, have created extraordinarily hard times in oil producing provinces such as Alberta, and unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. Quite properly, the federal government has promised to help. But it is shameful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using your tax dollars to bail out the oil and gas exploration and production industry, perhaps the wealthiest and most polluting industry in human history. For details, see my op ed in the National Observer.

Categories
Climate Energy Environment

Green Economy Heroes podcast

Looking for some hope in hard times? Don’t miss my new podcast on Green Economy Heroes.

Since 2015, I’ve talked with hundreds of audiences across Canada about the climate crisis. A few years ago, most audiences were just learning that we have a crisis. Today, you probably already know that. Now you are more likely to be wondering, is it too late? Where can we find some hope?

The only recipe I know for hope is to first look the facts in the face, and to then work with other people on concrete action. Because the climate crisis affects almost everything, there are a huge number of ways to take action. The good news is that there are amazing people in Canada who are making a living doing exactly that. They are building the green economy that we need to reduce our climate pollution, creating green jobs and helping us get ready for what’s coming.

Each Green Economy Hero podcast features someone you’ll enjoy getting to know. We will explore who they are, what their business are doing, and how it is making a difference. We will hear about their challenges, their successes, and their dreams. And we’ll learn their advice on how you too can start and build a green business.