The Natural Edge Project The Natural Advantage of Nations Whole System Design Factor 5 Cents and Sustainability Higher Education and Sustainable Development




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Principles and Practices in Sustainable Development for the Engineering and Built Environment Professions 


Unit 1 - Redefining Roles

 

Lecture 3: Broadening the Problem Definition

         

Sustainability has major implications for society and engineers. Engineers are involved in all aspects of resource use, from resource extraction through to technology and product design, manufacture, operation and even management of wasted resources and products. The increasing use of resources in the manufacture of technology and products raises serious questions regarding the sustainability of that use. For every kilogram of final product, kilograms of material are moved, energy is consumed and pollution is released which contaminates soil, water and air… Overall, our use of resources needs to be reduced significantly, by factors of 10- to 50-fold, in order to achieve sustainability and this reduction will only occur through cleaner production, recycling, servicising and, most importantly, through sustainable technology design. This will require engineers to better understand the services technologies and products provide and find new ways of providing those services.

Dr Ir Ron McDowall FIPENZ New Zealand Society for Sustainability Engineering and Science, 2006[1]


Educational Aim
 

To discuss the scale and speed society needs to work at to reduce its negative impact on the global environment and improve resource productivity to prevent further overshoot of ecological thresholds. To also define the types of performance targets engineers will need to help society achieve in order to ensure development is sustainable.

 

Required Reading

Hargroves, K. and Smith, M.H. (2005) The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century, Earthscan, London:

  1. Chapter 3: Asking the Right Questions (9 pages), pp 43-52.


Learning Points

* 1. Current development paths are not ecologically sustainable. In many areas current levels of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and exploitation of renewable resources have already overshot natural ecological thresholds and limits.

* 2. Environmental pressures from global warming, acid rain, toxic pollution, algae blooms are combining with deforestation, over-fishing and mass species extinction to reduce the resilience of ecosystems around the world. There are numerous examples of environmental surprise across the planet where ecosystems are crossing over ecological thresholds and in some cases genuinely collapsing; fisheries, the bleaching of a significant part of the world’s coral reefs, and loss of biologically diverse forests to name a few.[2]

* 3. Global population continues to rise and western consumption patterns continue to spread. In Lecture 2 it was shown (with the wisdom of hindsight) how unwise technological design has also been adding to the environmental load of the planet, especially in the last century. Now in the 21st Century countries like China and India are achieving significantly higher economic growth rates than they have in the past. This also is adding significantly to the environmental load on the planet.

* 4. There are many factors therefore responsible for environmental impact. Building on the base of the Ehrlich and Commoner formula,[3] and building on from the work of Bill McDonough as highlighted by Ray Anderson, in his book ‘Mid Course Correction’[4] we present a formula to reflect this:


I = A x P x T1 / T2


where,

I = Total environmental impact of humankind on the planet
A = Affluence: the number of products or services consumed per person (i.e. for economists the annual Gross National Product per capita.)
T1 = Negative Environmental impact per unit of product/service consumed
T2 = Positive Environmental impact per unit of product/service consumed (Note that Ehrlich and Commoner did not include T2)


This formula can help us to gain clarity on the magnitude of the change needed in engineering design to meet society’s needs and services, and the change needed to meet those needs sustainably.

* 5. Because of rising global population and affluence forecast for the next 50 years, this formula shows that T1, expressed as a function of the negative environmental impact per unit of product or service consumed needs to be reduced by at least 10 fold, Factor 10, but potentially as high as 50 fold by 2050 if economic development is to return within the ecological limits of the Earth’s ecological life support systems. Also new technologies that actually eliminate impact and regenerate systems need to be innovated, T2.

* 6. The goal of reducing the environmental impact per unit of product or service consumed by factors of 10 to 50 is to allow a ‘decoupling’ of the economic trends such as GDP from the environmental pressure trends of 20th Century development.

* 7. Many people today are now talking about sustainability and beginning to seriously ask what does it mean to engineer a sustainable solution? How can technology be used to reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of our global development? Will it be too expensive?


Brief Background Information
 

So how can we say that current development paths are not ecologically sustainable? What criteria can be used to make this case? In 2004, the OECD nations of the world agreed that the following conditions need to be satisfied to achieve sustainable development:[5]

  • Regeneration: Renewable resources shall be used efficiently and their use shall not be permitted to exceed their long-term rates of natural regeneration.

  • Substitutability: Non-renewable resources shall be used efficiently and their use limited to levels which can be offset by substitution by renewable resources or other forms of capital.

  • Assimilation: Releases of hazardous or polluting substances to the environment shall not exceed its assimilative capacity; concentrations shall be kept below established critical levels necessary for the protection of human health and the environment. When assimilative capacity is effectively zero (e.g. for hazardous substances that are persistent and/or bio-accumulative), a zero release of such substances is required to avoid their accumulation in the environment.

  • Avoiding Irreversibility: Irreversible adverse effects of human activities on ecosystems and on biogeochemical and hydrological cycles shall be avoided. The natural processes capable of maintaining or restoring the integrity of ecosystems should be safeguarded from adverse impacts of human activities. The differing levels of resilience and carrying capacity of ecosystems must be considered in order to conserve their populations of threatened, endangered and critical species.


In many areas current levels of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and exploitation of non-renewable resources have already overshot ecological thresholds. There is real concern in the science community that due to uncertainties inherent in modelling complex ecosystems many have overestimated their resilience and now face the risk of unknown consequences. This is outlined in new databases such as the Resilience Network’s thresholds database.
[6]


Many people have assumed that humankind can pull back once humanity’s environmental pressure pushes ecosystems beyond their ecological thresholds and start to collapse, but by then it may be too late. By then the ecosystem has already passed the ecological threshold and the collapse is irreversible unless the environmental pressure is reduced by at least 90 percent; a factor of ten or more to allow the ecosystem to recover. This phenomenon is known as Hysteresis.


How is it that the resilience of so many ecosystems has been reduced to the point that collapse on a massive scale is possible in our lifetimes? This is caused by many factors but one of them is the fact that humanity has based its management of renewable natural resources (fisheries, water quality, forests) on flawed assumptions. Take for instance the strategy of ‘maximum sustainable yield management’ of the worlds fisheries. In most cases the maximum sustainable yield in the short term was actually very close to the thresholds for collapse of that ecosystem in the medium to long term.


There are numerous examples of environmental surprise already across the planet where ecosystems are genuinely collapsing, such as fisheries, the bleaching of the world’s coral reefs, biodiversity loss, and the loss of forests to name a few. These are reported in detail in the 2000 State of the World report.
[7] Added to that, rising global population and spreading western consumption patterns. In Lecture 2 we showed that unwise technological design has also been adding to the environmental load of the planet in the last century. Now in the 21st Century countries like China and India are achieving significantly higher economic growth rates than they have in the past. This also is adding significantly to the environmental load on the planet. In 2006 China was the world leading user of resources in every area other than oil, where the US still leads China.


‘Scaling-up’ current Western patterns of development and consumption as the basis of development for, say, China or India – adding another two billion ‘Western style’ consumers – is simply not a realistic option unless the risk of catastrophic collapse of the global ecosystem is considered acceptable. If China were to match the USA for levels of car ownership and oil consumption per person it would mean producing approximately 850 million more cars and more than doubling the world output of oil. Those additional cars would produce more CO2 per annum than the whole of the rest of the world's transportation systems. If China were to consume seafood at the per capita rate of Japan, it would need 100 million tonnes, more than today's total catch. If China's beef consumption was to match the USA's per capita consumption and if that beef was produced mainly in feedlot, this would take grain equivalent to the entire US harvest.

UNEP, Global Status 2002: Sustainable Consumption & Cleaner Production, 2002[8]


There are many factors therefore responsible for environmental impact. Building on the base of the Ehrlich and Commoner formula,
[9] and building on from the work of Bill McDonough as highlighted by Ray Anderson, in his book ‘Mid Course Correction’[10] we present a formula to reflect this:


I = A x P x T1 / T2


where,

I = Total environmental impact of humankind on the planet
A = Affluence: the number of products or services consumed per person (i.e.: for economists the annual Gross National Product per capita.)
T1 = Negative Environmental impact per unit of product/service consumed
T2 = Positive Environmental impact per unit of product/service consumed (Note that Ehrlich and Commoner did not include T2)

This formula can help us to gain clarity on the magnitude of the change needed in engineering design to meet society’s needs and services, and the change needed to meet those needs sustainably.


Because of rising global population and affluence forecasts for the next 50 years, this formula shows that T1, expressed as a function of the environmental impact per unit of product or service consumed needs to be reduced by at least 10 fold, Factor 10, but potentially as high as 50 fold by 2050 if economic development is to return within the ecological limits of the Earth’s ecological life support systems. Also new technologies that actually eliminate impact and regenerate systems need to be innovated, T2.


To actually achieve sustainable development will involve significantly reducing the environmental impact of today’s levels. Numerous studies are finding that to achieve a sustainable future we will need to reduce the year 2000’s negative load on the environment by roughly ten times, achieving Factor 10 improvements. This has been backed up by leading government studies, i.e. the Netherlands Government in their Inter-ministerial Sustainable Technology Development Programme (Sustainable Technology Development Programme). The programme is one of the first to both work out the scale and speed of change required to achieve nationwide ecological and social sustainable development over the next 50 years.


In setting a time-horizon of 50 years – two generations into the future – it was found that ten to twenty-fold eco-efficiency improvements will be needed to achieve meaningful reductions in environmental stress. It was also found that the benefits of incremental technological development could not provide such improvements.

Leo Jansen, Chairman, Dutch Inter-ministerial Sustainable Technology Development Program, 2000[11]


Such a finding is also backed up by leading European sustainability expert Paul Ekin in his book, Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability.
[12] For instance, he reports that the IPCC recommends CO2 to be at least 60 percent of 1990 levels by 2050, and three other gases N2O, CFC-11, CFC-12 needs to be cut by at least 70 percent by 2050. Friends of the Earth calculated that the desirable reduction in the European Union’s use of cement, pig iron, aluminium, chlorine, copper, lead and fertilizer was in every case 80 percent or more by 2050. Ekin, having brought all these targets together, then used the Commoner-Ehrlich[13] Equation to show that technologies needed to reduce humanities negative impact on the environment need to be a factor of 10 or more to achieve ecological sustainability by 2050.


The governments of Austria, the Netherlands, Western Australia and Norway have publicly committed to pursuing Factor 4, or 75 percent efficiencies. The same approach has been endorsed by the European Union as the new paradigm for sustainable development. Austria, Sweden, and OECD environment ministers have urged the adoption of Factor Ten goals, as have the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The concept of Factor 10 (a target of reducing environmental pressures by a factor of 10) is not only common parlance for most environmental ministers in the world, but such leading corporations as Dow Europe and Mitsubishi Electric see it as a powerful strategy to gain a competitive advantage.


Such targets seem quite unachievable but scientists and engineers working effectively with industry and government have managed to achieve Factor 4-10 type reductions of negative environmental impacts in a number of sectors. Already scientists and engineers have shown through their work with government and industry to stop using asbestos, decrease ozone depleting chemicals, reduce SO2 emissions, reduce urban pollution and phase out leaded petrol that it is possible to achieve close to 90 percent reductions in pollution with negligible negative effect on economic growth.


Efforts over the last 30 years to reduce acid rain through reducing sulphur dioxide pollution in Europe and the USA are a great example of this. The program of emissions control adopted by the Second Sulphur Protocol is an example of what could be done for all major pollutants. The environmental objective of the Second Sulphur Protocol - to eventually bring sulphur depositions in Europe within the critical loads of receiving ecosystems - is a fundamental principle of ecological sustainability. The emission reduction required was of the order of a factor of ten, as is the estimated order of magnitude reduction required for other pollutants like CO2. Initial perceptions were that it would be incredibly costly, but the removal of subsidies from coal industries and the arrival of cost effective low-sulphur fuel and technology changed the cost situation such that the sustainability standard was attainable for significantly less cost than anticipated. When the costs of sulphur to health and the environment are taken into account, this phase out has had negligible net impact on economic growth.[14]


OECD countries like the Netherlands have made significant progress on reducing dramatically a range of environmental pressures (see Figure 3.1).


Figure 3.1. Progress in achieving decoupling in the Netherlands 1985-2010
Source: Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (2005)[15]


When engineers and scientists with government and industry commit to addressing and reducing environmental pollution, innovation from engineers can dramatically reduce the costs first predicted by industry. There is now a great history in engineering of seeking to dramatically reduce environmental pressures that can be utilised today to more confidently tackle issues such as the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2050 as recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Pollutant Ex-Ante Estimate Ex-Post or Revised Ex-Ante Estimate Overestimation as a Percent of Actual Cost
Asbestos $150 million (total for mfg. and insulation sectors) $75 million 200%
Benzene $350,000 per plant Approx. $0 per plant Infinite
CFCs 1988 estimate to reduce emissions by 50% within 10 years: $2.7 billion 1992 estimate to completely phase out CFCs within 8 years: $3.8 billion
-
CFCs-Auto Air Conditioners $650-$1,200 per new car $40-$400 per new car 63%-2,900%
Coke Oven Emissions OSHA
1970’s $200 million – billion $160 million 29%-1,500%
Coke Oven Emissions
EPA 1980s
$4 billion $250-400 million 900%-1,500%
Cotton Dust $700 million per year $205 million per year 241%
Halons 1989: phase out not considered possible 1993: phase out considered technologically and economically feasible
-
Landfill Leachate Mid-1980’s: $14.8 billion 1990: $5.7 billion 159%
Surface Mining $6-$12 per ton of coal $0.50-41 per ton 500%-2,300%
Vinyl Chloride $109 million per year $20 million per year 445%


Table 3.1. Industry original estimates of the cost of particular forms of environmental protection versus the actual costs.
Source: Eban Goodstein (1999)
[16]

 

Key References


- Boyle, C., Te Kapa Coates, G., Macbeth, A., Shearer, I. and Wakim, N. (2006) Sustainability and Engineering in New Zealand Practical Guidelines for Engineers. Accessed 5 January 2007.


- Factor 10 Institute (n.d.) Systemic Fiscal reforms for a future with future. Available at www.factor10-institute.org/seitenges/Factor10.htm. Accessed 5 January 2007.


- Factor 10 Club (1994) Declaration of the Factor 10 Club. Available at www.techfak.uni-bielefeld.de/~walter/f10/declaration94.html. Accessed 5 January 2007.


- Smith, M.H., Elliot, F. and Stephen, S. (2003) ANU Factor 10 Symposium Booklet. Available at www.anu.edu.au/factoroften/assets/factor10background.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007. An Introduction and Background to the call for the achievement of Factor 10 reductions in environmental pressures.


- UNEP IETC (2003) Environmentally Sound Technologies for Sustainable Development. Available at www.unep.or.jp/ietc/techTran/focus/SustDev_EST_background.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007.


- Weaver, P., Jansen, L., van Grootveld, G., van Spiegel, E. and Vergragt, P. (2000) Sustainable Technology Development, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, UK. Available at www.greenleaf-publishing.com/pdfs/stdch1.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007.


- Weizsäcker, E., Lovins, A.B. and Lovins, L.H. (1997) Factor Four Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use, Earthscan Publishing, London.

 

Key Words for Searching Online


SustainAbility, Factor 4, Factor 10, WFEO ‘Engineering for Sustainable Development’, RMI, Wuppertal Institute, Environmentally Sound Technologies. Product Life Institute.

 

[1] Boyle, C., Te Kapa Coates, G., Macbeth, A., Shearer, I. and Wakim, N. (2006) Sustainability and Engineering in New Zealand Practical Guidelines for Engineers, IPENZ. Available at www.ipenz.org.nz/ipenz/media_comm/documents/SustainabilityDoc_000.pdf. Accessed 3 January 2007. (Back)

[2] Bright, C. (2000) State of the World Report, Anticipating Environmental Surprise, Worldwatch Institute, Washington D.C. Available at www.worldwatch.org/node/1065. Accessed 5 January 2007. (Back)

[3] Commoner, B. (1971) ‘The Environmental Cost of Economic Growth’ in Shurr, S. (1971) Energy, Economic Growth and the Environment, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore/London, pp 30-65. (Back)

[4] Anderson , R. (1998) Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: the Interface Model, Peregrinzilla Press, Atlanta, GA., p.19. (Back)

[5] OECD (2001) Environmental Strategy for the First Decade of the 21st Century, adopted by OECD Environment Ministers 16 May 2001. Available at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/33/40/1863539.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007. (Back)

[6] Resalliance Network (n.d.) Network Database. Available at http://resalliance.org/ev_en.php. Accessed 5 January 2007.(Back)

[7] Bright, C. (2000) State of the World Report, Anticipating Environmental Surprise, Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C. (Back)

[8] UNEP (2002) Global Status 2002: Sustainable Consumption & Cleaner Production, UNEP TIE. Available at http://www.uneptie.org/pc/pc/gs2002.htm. Accessed 5 January 2007. (Back)

[9] Commoner, B. (1971) ‘The Environmental Cost of Economic Growth’ in Shurr, S. (1971) Energy, Economic Growth and the Environment, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore/London, pp 30-65. (Back)

[10] Anderson , R. (1998) Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: the Interface Model, Peregrinzilla Press, Atlanta, GA., p.19. (Back)

[11] Weaver, P., Jansen, L., van Grootveld, G., van Spiegel, E. and Vergragt, P. (2000) Sustainable Technology Development, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, UK, Foreword, p 7. (Back)

[12] Ekins, P. (2002) Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability: The Prospects of Green Growth, Routledge Publishing, London. (Back)

[13] Commoner, B. (1971) ‘The Environmental Cost of Economic Growth’ in Shurr, S. (1971) Energy, Economic Growth and the Environment, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore/London, pp 30-65. (Back)

[14] Ekins, P. (2000) Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability, Routledge Publishing, London, Chap 10: Sustainability and Sulphur Emissions: The Case of the UK, 1970-2010. (Back)

[15] Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (2005) Environmental Balance 2004. The State of the Dutch Environment, Summary. Available at http://www.mnp.nl/en/publications/2004/Environmental_Balance_2004.html. Accessed 4 December 2006. (Back)

[16] Goldstein, E. (1999) The Trade Off Myth: Fact & Fiction About Jobs and the Environment, Island Press, p 29. (Back)

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