29 July 2011

Green SmartPhone Apps

There are hundreds of "green" iPhone apps. Many of them are junk. Some of them actually can help you live more sustainably. Here are a few I think are cool.
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"Find a walkable place to live." Of course it is good for that--enter any address and see how convenient it is for walking to the things you need. Great for house- or apartment-hunting. It can use your current location, or you can enter one. My favorite use is to enter the addresses of companies that say they are "green" and see whether their offices are in walkable neighborhoods. Usually they are not. 

Seafood Watch
When purchasing or ordering fish and seafood you don't want to support harmful harvesting or environmentally destructive practices, do you?  With this app you can either enter a specific fish or seafood, or browse the guides. Also has crowdsourcing feature that lets you add restaurants that serve sustainable seafood, etc. Based on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.

Transit helpers
If you are green you are using public transit, right? Nextbus is fantastic, where it is available. It depends on your local bus company or transit agency participating--some do and some don't. There are many apps that use Nextbus-like technology to help you arrive at the bus/tram/rail stop just before the bus/tram/train does. Never miss the bus again! Explore the App Store for apps that apply in your town. Search for "nextbus". In the SF Bay Area try Transporter.

You may not have an EV or PHEV (yet), but PlugShare is ready when you are. It's "a community-powered electric vehicle charging network that includes an up-to-date listing of all public charging stations compatible with the newest generation of electric vehicles like the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt." The coolest feature for non-EV-owners (EV-nonowners?) is that you can list your outlet as a shared resource for EV drivers who need a charge. This vastly increases the availability of charging and helps keep EV drivers from getting stranded.

Skeptical Science
You don't want to get into arguments with climate skeptics--You can't win, and it is just too discouraging. But if you ever want that warm glow of self-satisfaction that comes from having those arguments literally at your fingertips you can get this comforting app. The app summarizes peer-reviewed climate science and helps you learn about what the science says, even if you can never use that information to convert climate skeptics (they can't be convinced by facts).

The Google Maps app for the iPhone doesn't offer the bicycling route technology that the web-based Google Maps has, unfortunately. And I can't find any other free cycling apps that I'd recommend. Any readers know of any?

Find nearby places to recycle all kinds of stuff. Old car battery weighing you down? Busted NES? Mushrooming cloud of plastic grocery bags? Moldy mattress? Mountain of Styrofoam™ packing peanuts? Tangle of wire clothes hangers? This app uses your location to query Earth911.com's database and tell you where you can get rid of them where they will be properly recycled. (Some places charge to take some things off your hands, but phone numbers are provided.)

Any other suggestions?

All of these are free. I am sure there are some nice apps that cost something, but you will have to check those out yourselves. 

Many of these apps are available for other platforms too, but I tried them on the iPhone.

Seafood Watch image from the Seafood Watch site.

PlugShare image from this GigaOM article.

This is also crossposted to the SAP Community Network.

21 July 2011

Move to Cloud Can Save $ Billions, C Millions of Tons

A new report from the Carbon Disclosure Project, prepared by consultancy Verdantix, finds that there are significant savings in energy costs and carbon emissions for large companies that shift IT functions from dedicated servers to the cloud.
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The findings suggest that as large U.S. companies move a significant fraction of their IT functions to cloud platforms the total reduction in CO2 emissions could be in the range of 100 million tons per year by 2020.

Although that is a Big Number, it is only about 1.5% of current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Cloud computing isn't going to save the world. But it can make the dollar cost and the environmental cost of business computing grow more slowly.

The corresponding projected annual savings in energy costs is $12.3 billion by 2020, with widespread adoption of cloud computing. That may be more interesting to companies than the emission reductions.

Case Studies

Verdantix used a case study approach, collecting data from 11 global firms which have used cloud computing for at least two years. The findings from the case studies were used to build models to estimate savings. They looked at both private and public clouds. Both had very significant energy and carbon savings over traditional IT platforms, though public clouds were better. They also assert that there were other non-financial benefits found in their case studies, from improved business flexibility, rapid implementation, greater process efficiency and the like.

The case studies came from such firms as Applied Materials, Boeing, Dell and Deutsche Bank. They also got input from cloud computing suppliers AT&T, CloudApps, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

There were some barriers to switching to cloud-based services. For instance financial firms felt they couldn't move customer information to a public cloud because of the strict data security requirements of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and other regulations. Similarly, drug companies were concerned about the security of intellectual property in the cloud.

The study's business model calculates that a typical large food and beverage firm could move its HR functions to a public cloud with a payback of less than one year, and to a private cloud with a payback under two years. The financial attractiveness of switching to cloud systems was so strong that their analysis suggested that 69% of the IT spend of large firms in the U.S. might be on cloud computing by 2020.

This study might be interesting to anyone interested in the future of enterprise IT, and it is relatively short and clear.

(Of course the notion of projecting cloud adoption to 2020 is a bit comical, since the rapid technological advance of IT may mean that "cloud computing" will be a quaint and old-fashioned concept by then, when technologies we haven't anticipated will be having significant impact.)

CDP's page on the report is here. The full report is in PDF here.

This has been cross-posted to the SAP Community Network here.

17 July 2011

Carmageddon: Short-Term Pain to Prolong the Agony

This weekend's disruptive construction event on the I-405 freeway through the Sepulveda Pass in Los Angeles will, theoretically, increase the capacity of this vital artery. More cars will use it to take advantage of that increased capacity until it is as crowded and choked as it was before. The result of this expensive project ($1 billion in direct cost, plus the costs imposed on society by the delays and inconvenience of having the road closed for 53 hours) will be to encourage more people to make more automobile journeys, measurably increasing the consumption of petroleum and the emission of greenhouse gases.
"There's nothing wrong with you that an expensive operation can't prolong." -- Surgeon (Graham Chapman) to Mr. Notlob in Monty Python sketch.
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Making More Pollution Possible

When highway construction is undertaken "to ease congestion" the additional capacity is always absorbed by additional usage. Congestion stays the same, but there are more cars traveling and thus more pollution. (This L.A. Times piece has some good info on this well-known effect.) (For more detailed analysis see "The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion" by Gilles Duranton and Matthew A. Turner here.)

This billion-dollar multi-year construction project will enable more people to commute to jobs far from where they live. This is what causes global warming, among other problems.

A substantial part of such a project's environmental impact comes from the larger and more isolated homes that people commute from when they have more highway capacity. These homes require cars for every errand, have thirsty lawns, and are larger and more energy-intensive than city dwellings. So the carbon impact of such lifestyles goes far beyond the gasoline burned during the commute. (This is why Leafs, Volts and Priuses don't reduce their owners' carbon footprints very much--they still live in the suburbs.)

13 July 2011

Telecommuting's Carbon Footprint: Not As Green As You Think?

Experience shows that telecommuting can save companies piles of money (hot-desking means they need less real estate, so they can save millions in rent). And it can save workers piles of money (not driving means not buying gas). And it is sometimes asserted that telecommuting reduces a company's carbon footprint. But is that really true? As usual, it depends.
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The purported savings in greenhouse gas emissions (see endnote for one such assertion) are based on the gas not burned by not commuting by car. But in estimating net emission reductions a lot depends on where the telecommuter works when he or she is not in the office, on how he or she commutes to the office, and on the climate.
  • If the worker would have commuted by shared transportation (carpool, bus, subway or the like) then his or her commute might have virtually no carbon footprint. The marginal emissions from one more rider are essentially zero. If he or she would have walked or bicycled--same answer.
  • If the worker would have commuted by private car the footprint of the commute could be substantial, but would depend on the vehicle and the distance. (The average U.S. auto commuter travels about 15 miles to work, and so probably burns less than two gallons of gas per day commuting.)
  • If a worker has to heat or cool his or her workspace when he or she does not come to the office (for instance if there would be no one home if the teleworker were not there and the heat or air conditioning needs to be used when the teleworker works from home) then there is probably a net increase in energy use for heating or cooling compared to when the worker is in the office. This has to be balanced against the carbon footprint of the worker's commute.
    • A lot depends on where this telecommuting is taking place. In Boston in the winter heating an apartment for 10 hours might create significant emissions. In Oakland it might create virtually none. Air conditioning depends both on the climate and on the telecommuter's budget.
  • If the telecommuter works from a coffee shop or other shared space, then there is no incremental heating or cooling emission, but there are some transportation emissions.
So a Manhattanite telecommuting from his or her apartment would have essentially the same carbon footprint as a colleague who went to the office (if the office was also on Manhattan). Most residents of Manhattan travel to work by public transportation.

But if the teleworker avoided a 50-lbs-of-CO2 round trip commute (50 miles at 20 miles per gallon--see previous post) and doesn't have to additionally heat or cool his or her home while working there, the overall carbon (dioxide) footprint of the day's work might be reduced by 50 pounds. This could easily happen in the Bay Area. Or in Los Angeles if the worker didn't use air conditioning at home.

Elsewhere the net carbon footprint would be influenced by the time of year and local climate.
  • In general the carbon cost of running a room air conditioner is several pounds of CO2 per day (1,000 Watt air conditioner running four hours = 4kWh, at about one pound CO2 per kWh--almost 2 lb in some places but only about 0.7 lb in California).
  • The carbon cost of heating a home is higher. A home heated by natural gas could easily cause the emission of 20 or 30 pounds of CO2 per day during the heating season.
Another factor to consider: When the worker is in the office his or her carbon footprint is somewhat under the control of the employer. When he or she is at home who knows how much carbon is being burned? How many lights are on? By letting the employee control the environment, you may be increasing your carbon footprint.

In Summary
  • Telecommuting in mild climates with long commutes reduces CO2 emissions.
  • Telecommuting when it is hot or cold (and the worker lives in a home that is otherwise vacant during the day) with short commutes or public transportation increases emissions.
  • Telecommuting when it is hot or cold with long commutes might result in little change in emissions.
So claims that telecommuting is going to green your company are probably false. If you want to make such an assertion please do the math.

1.  The recent report The State of Telework in the U.S. (pdf here) says "The existing 2.9 million US telecommuters save 390 million gallons of gas and prevent the release of 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gases yearly." But it cites no source for this assertion and doesn't support it in any way. I have contacted the authors at Telework Research Network to see if they can clarify.

2.  Considerations are different for the economy as a whole. If enough users of public transportation telecommute, for example, perhaps fewer trains would have to be run and savings could be significant.

This has been cross-posted to the SAP Community Network here.

11 July 2011

Timberland Puts Sustainability Management Under CFO

In a previous post ("How Big Is Green?") I speculated that eventually sustainability issues would be managed under companies' Chief Financial Officers, since sustainability management has so much in common with financial management. Now two years later we see an example of this actually happening at Timberland.
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Green Counting and Bean Counting

A recent article in Sustainable Life Media discussed Timberland's hiring of a new VP for Social Responsibility. Interestingly, this new position will report to the Chief Financial Officer.

HaraBara has been following the structure of sustainability management for several years, and this is the first sustainability officer reporting to the CFO that we have seen. (There are instance of the CEO acting as Chief Sustainability Officer, CSOs reporting to the CEO, and many cases of CSOs or the equivalent reporting through corporate communications, marketing, environmental health and safety, and facilities management.)

Most sustainability actions of firms are basically dollars-and-cents decisions (energy savings, cost reduction, waste reduction, supplier behavior, building management, transportation efficiency and the like). To date they have been focused on minimizing waste (and thus reducing costs). Accounting systems essentially similar to financial accounting and control systems have to be set up. ("If you don't measure it you can't manage it".) Why not create these systems within the finance department, where the expertise for such systems resides?

As trading of carbon allowances under cap-and-trade or other regulatory programs becomes more common, the connection between environmental health and safety (EHS) information and corporate finance will become ever more explicit. This is already a fact of life for European companies, and may become so for Australian ones if recent proposals are carried through. California is haltingly developing a cap-and-trade system, and generating plants in the U.S. Northeast already buy allowances under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

All of these schemes, and many other regulatory obligations, require quantitative analysis and detailed tracking of many environmental parameters and product components. The data collected must have an audit trail back to the underlying transactions, sensor readings, or event logs. All this sounds like bookkeeping to me.

An obvious byproduct of such environmental accounting is potential business information analysis to assist managers. SAP and many other providers of enterprise sustainability software and services already offer many BI tools for sustainability management. Could carbon, water and other sustainability accounting become as big as financial accounting?

This has been cross-posted to the SAP Community Network here.

03 July 2011

Is There Scientific Consensus on Climate Change?

Research Shows Scientists Agree on Global Warming

Researchers at Stanford and the University of Toronto noted that some people dispute whether there is "scientific consensus" on the reality and causes of climate change. They decided to find out how much consensus there really is.
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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for "most" of the "unequivocal" warming of the Earth's average global temperature over the second half of the 20th century. But how many scientists who study the subject really believe that? And which scientists disagree?

They tried to "examine a metric of climate-specific expertise and a metric of overall scientific prominence as two dimensions of expert credibility in two groups of researchers", that is, those who agree with the IPCC's conclusion and those who do not.

They "compiled a database of 1,372 climate researchers based on authorship of scientific assessment reports and membership on multisignatory statements about ACC [anthropomorphic climate change]. We tallied the number of climate-relevant publications authored or coauthored by each researcher (defined here as expertise) and counted the number of citations for each of the researcher’s four highest-cited papers (defined here as prominence) using Google Scholar. We then imposed an a priori criterion that a researcher must have authored a minimum of 20 climate publications to be considered a climate researcher, thus reducing the database to 908 researchers."

Of those climate researchers, only a few percent were unconvinced of the IPCC's conclusion. The other 97-98% agreed with the IPCC that climate change is real and is mostly caused by human activities. The study also found that those researchers who published more and were cited more often in the field were more likely to be convinced by the evidence, and that those unconvinced by the evidence were generally those with fewer publications and citations.

"Not all climate researchers are equal"

They concluded that "the expertise and prominence, two integral components of overall expert credibility, of climate researchers convinced by the evidence of ACC vastly overshadows that of the climate change skeptics and contrarians. This divide is even starker when considering the top researchers in each group. Despite media tendencies to present both sides in ACC debates, which can contribute to continued public misunderstanding regarding ACC, not all climate researchers are equal in scientific credibility and expertise in the climate system."

The abstract of the PNAS paper is here, with access to the full paper as PDF. (Bless scientists and their grant providers who pay so that their papers can be open access, not restricted just to the academic community and other professional researchers.)

Dueling Experts

Often debates about climate policy come down to "My experts can beat up your experts". This research shows that there are objective measurements that can reveal which experts are more expert, and therefore should be given more weight in guiding policy. (Not that policy is driven by experts--it's politics.)

Science, after all, is substantially about measuring and quantifying. Even scientific expertise can be measured and quantified. This particular method is not the last word in such analysis. It is true that the lonely dissenter, out of step with the general consensus, who can't get a grant and therefore publishes less, may have a useful contribution to make. In fact she may be right and all the experts may be wrong. But this is not likely. When the skew is 881 to 27, the consensus is clear.

Cross-posted from Science In Action, from a post dated 23 June 2010.