Thursday, 5 May 2016

Is an environmentally sustainable economic transition possible? >>> "Full transition to a sustainable economy will not be complete until business performance is measured in terms of returns on natural resources rather than just returns on financial capital."

The UK's heavy industries continue to decline - and yet there other models in the offing:
Steel workers to be offered stake if management buyout of Tata Steel succeeds | South Wales Evening Post
Group planning buyout of tata steel's uk assets registers letter of intent | Daily Mail Online

Indeed, the models of industry could be said to be hopelessly out of date and in need of reform:
Another industry destroyed by the... - Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) | Facebook

In the mean time, East Devon does not have much in the way of declining heavy industry - but it might be about to have a quarry:
Futures Forum: Quarrying in East Devon >>> a new planning application for Straitgate Farm

There are widespread concerns about the impact of the extraction industries:
Futures Forum: The impacts of the mining industries

Although, much of this might be motivated by 'nimbyism':
Futures Forum: What motivates nimbyism towards the mining industry?

Nevertheless, to what extent should we be considering 'an environmentally sustainable economic transition' in this part of the country?

Aniol Esteban, head of environmental economics at the New Economics Foundation, made this comment a couple of years ago:

Making a full transition towards a sustainable economy

We need to focus on the forces that shape business rather than maximising profitability regardless of the environment

Facing energy instability and resource scarcity, governments and businesses will soon be forced to move into new directions. Photograph: Photonica

Aniol Esteban Wednesday 16 January 2013 14.03 GMT

The business sector is directly responsible for around 15% of all carbon emissions in the UK, while it sells products and services to markets responsible for much of the rest. It is clear that we need a fundamental change in the way we do business today if we are to deliver a low carbon economy capable of meeting economic and environmental goals.

While some companies have developed models to align sustainability and profitability, moving away from the notion of 'making' profits, many firms are in business explicitly to meet an environmental goal. But for a majority, the pressure to generate profits often inhibits a more fundamental shift towards sustainability which may adversely affect the bottom line – particularly in the short-term.

Most business models and strategies are designed to maximise profitability. In this context, environmental considerations will be taken into account only to the extent that they positively affect profitability, whether through positive 'branding' or more directly through the efficient use of resources. However, once the cost savings from these have been accounted for, it becomes increasingly difficult to improve in sustainability terms.

So how do we promote a shift in the business sector to adopt and scale up those models and strategies that will help make a more rapid transition to a truly sustainable economy?

There are clearly certain types of business models and business strategies that make it possible to deliver a low carbon economy, but if we want to achieve a transformation of the whole economy we should concentrate on the forces that shape those strategies and models in the first place.

Businesses are the product of a mixture of external forces: the markets they operate in, regulation that governs them, consumer demand. Ultimately too, the parameters of the natural environment.

Businesses adopt models that will assure viability within a particular context. But this context can change rapidly. For example, in terms of consumer demand, what technology can deliver, shifting patterns of ownership and control, and, climate change and the availability of natural resources.

It is not always the case that businesses need to switch to a particular model in order to address the sustainability challenge – rather that the balance of external forces needs to change to make these models and strategies more attractive. A variety of sustainable business models will then follow.

Today, the main approach appears to be to encourage businesses down a 'business as usual plus efficiency gains' route; there are fewer examples of companies undergoing a full transition towards sustainability.

Encouraging a more fundamental change will require a mixture of incentives, planning reforms and regulatory changes which can lead to a realignment of the forces influencing costs and revenues. Our challenge is to ensure this process leads to a sustainable economy that delivers human wellbeing and social justice within environmental limits.

Governments hold several levers for change and as such, play a key role in driving change in businesses and encouraging a transition towards a sustainable economy. For example:

• As procurer and major funder, using its own spending to create opportunities for sustainable businesses.

• As a key policy player, able to influence the development of EU and international policies, and advocating the implementation of new policy measures such as, feed-in tariffs and fiscal measures to support a rapid transition to sustainable energy.

• As a public-opinion leader, communicating that the transition towards sustainability strengthens the national and global economy.

• As an organisation, ensuring that its own economic analysis and methods take account of environmental and social costs.

Some will question whether this transition is affordable. Obviously it will require investment, and finance is critical to make this happen. There are already solutions, and more could be found if only we re-directed some of the creativity that we've invested in developing complex financial products into solving this problem.

In the current context of economic crisis, energy instability, and resource scarcity, governments and businesses will soon be forced to move into new directions. But full transition to a sustainable economy will not be complete until business performance is measured in terms of returns on natural resources rather than just returns on financial capital.

Aniol Esteban is head of environmental economics at the new economics foundation.

Making a full transition towards a sustainable economy | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian

Here are some examples of current projects:
International coalition formed to boost green city planning
Wyke Farms becomes first UK dairy to earn Carbon Trust triple certification
Michael Pollan's 'Cooked': A Recipe for Change
European Union - EEAS (European External Action Service) | Joint Statement: U.S.-EU Energy Council

Including this one from yesterday:

The Circular Economy: Butterflies and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

By Estrella Peinado-Vara on May 4, 2016

photo: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

A butterfly sums it up: It can be a symbol of biodiversity, fragility, the capacity for transformation, ora diagram of the type of economy that we should aim for.

Just over half (54%) of the world’s population of 7.3 billion people live in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050. The population is growing, and with it increased amounts of waste. If that is not managed well, it can produce serious environmental, health, and economic problems.

We discard too much because we consume too much, and how those products are manufactured does not allow for their best reuse or recycling. It is necessary to control both ends (production and disposal).

According to Armin Reller (University of Augsburg) and Tom Graedel (Yale University), if we continue with the average global usage rate of metals and other materials (aluminum, copper, nickel, phosphorus, etc.) that are manufactured into products that we use daily (electronics, vehicles, fertilizers, etc.), there are resources available for only another 58 years. If we consumed globally at half the rate of consumption in the United States today, we would have resources for only 20 years. This situation is not sustainable, and scary, to say the least. We need to rethink our model of linear economy—take, make, dispose—and transform it into a model of circular economy—reduce, reuse, and recycle, or the three Rs.

These three Rs are the basis for the circular economy. It aims to use renewable energy, to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals (which prevent reuse and re-entry into the biosphere), and to minimize waste through a redesign of materials, products, systems, and business models. The potential goes far beyond recycling of materials: the value is in reuse, maintenance, and remanufacturing. Therefore, it is essential to rethink and strengthen all aspects of the economy so these processes can happen. According to the World Economic Forum, the economic benefit of a transition to this circular model is estimated at one trillion dollars in savings of materials alone.

Innovation, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the role of the public sector

In this context, innovation plays an important role. It is necessary to innovate in the design of new materials and products, global value chains, networks of reverse logistics, and business models in which, for example, companies no longer sell products but provide services.

The circular economy combines economic development with environmental protection and the efficient use of available resources. The food and beverage industries, construction, industrial manufacturing, mining, and waste management have great potential to benefit from this model, but there are also pioneering companies in other sectors. Dell, Philips, eBay, HP, Nike, IBM, Veolia, Tetrapak, GM, Caterpillar, Unilever, and even WalMart are examples, each one with its own approach and in its own sphere.

In the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where much of the role and commitment lies with the private sector, companies see the circular economy as a stimulus for equitable economic growth, efficiency, and innovation, and an opportunity to face social and environmental sustainability challenges—all aligned to the SDGs.

The public sector and civil society will play an important role in the circular economy because of its implications for economic growth, job creation, and impact on the environment. The European Union saw its potential, and the European Commission approved a package of measures in December 2015 to stimulate global competitiveness, promote sustainable economic growth, and create new jobs. The study “Growth from within: A view of circular economy for a competitive Europe” quantifies the benefits that should result by 2030:

an increase of 11% in GDP
an increase of up to €3,000 ($3,434) per household in annual disposable income
a reduction by half of CO2 emissions
net job creation

All these benefits also could be applicable to developing regions, such as Latin America and the Caribbean. It is home to 630 million people, 80% of whom are concentrated in urban areas. However, the region would need to quantify its potential benefits, as the EU did, and change its patterns of production, consumption, and use.

Circular cities: Rethinking urban planning and infrastructure

Cities can benefit, but should integrate the circular concept into policymaking and urban planning. It is an opportunity to create more competitive, sustainable, equitable, and livable cities. And if the private sector has a key role in innovation in materials, processes, and business models, the public sector also has a role in updating and adapting policies, sharing knowledge, and fostering innovation.

Cities are more naturally able to host circular economy models because they have concentrations of businesses, workforce skills, and consumers of high tech. In cities, waste management is very important, but so are transport and mobility, the use of water and energy, and the need to rethink aspects such as infrastructure. What is the infrastructure that will allow a city (region or country) to move into the future? There are some examples of cities from all continents that are incorporating circular patterns in their urban planning: Amsterdam, Singapore, Melbourne, Detroit, and Brussels.

Although the urban environment seems best suited to host circular economy models, if we look at the “left wing” of the butterfly, it shows how the three Rs also are important in rural areas and agriculture.

The circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

While we talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with the current linear model, we have reserves for only a few years more of many of the materials on which technology is built. If we want to fully reach a Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must first pass through a circular economy model, and this requires reflection about issues ranging from industrial policy, to investment criteria, to new business models.

As the “diamond” model developed by Michael Porter was widely used in past decades, I hope that we will soon refer as naturally to the “butterfly” model created by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It will be a good sign. This butterfly represents the economic model we should be aiming for, which includes aspects of innovation, competitiveness, growth, employment, and environmental protection, plus public and private and urban and rural environments. A butterfly sums it up.

From the Multilateral Investment Fund Trends blog

The Circular Economy: Butterflies and the Fourth Industrial Revolution | EconoMonitor
Circular Economy System Diagram - Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Futures Forum: The promises of technological innovation >>> "The Fourth Industrial Revolution" and the future of work

Meanwhile, it might well be the 'end of coal':
Climate protesters invade UK's largest opencast coalmine | Environment | The Guardian
Futures Forum: Peak Coal: the end of coal?
Futures Forum: Climate change: "The lights are going out for coal"

As reported from the Appalachians by the Nation:

Just Because Big Coal Is Collapsing Doesn’t Mean Appalachia Has to Follow
Is an environmentally sustainable economic transition possible?

By Michelle ChenTwitter YESTERDAY 10:00 AM

A worker drives a rail car while conducting a tour of the Portal 31 coal mine that has been turned into a tourist attraction in Lynch, Kentucky. (AP Photo / David Goldman)

When Peabody Energy announced it was entering bankruptcy, environmentalists let out a collective cheer, hailing—perhaps prematurely—the death of coal power.

But while greens hailed King Coal’s downfall, the heart of coal’s empire shuddered: From North Yorkshire to Appalachia, where mineworkers fought and died for decent livelihoods in the mines, a way of life that sustained generations is evaporating. Paradoxically, these mining towns are also on the front line of the worst immediate impacts of coal pollution, but that doesn’t make the disruption any less painful.

Yet Appalachia’s funereal air does carry some notes of hope: In response to Peabody’s bankruptcy announcement, Carl Shoupe of Harlan County, former miner turned climate activist with the environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), proclaimed that the crisis “proves that the time to build a new economy that is good for all people—not just a wealthy few—is now,” and called for measures to transition the local economy away from coal while at the same time “keeping our promises to the coal miners who powered this country.”

Progressive labor advocates actually see Peabody’s turmoil as a potential turning point that could help fuse the seemingly divergent agendas of environmentalism and labor. For years, Labor Network for Sustainability (LN4S) has been pushing for a socially democratic energy system anchored by the principles of “just transition” toward “decent, dignified jobs” that support a healthier planet.

The first step toward post-coal transition, LN4S argues, is to “define a common vision” that puts workers at the center of energy transformation—not unlike the way labor has historically done, via its more radical formations, in the fields of civil rights, healthcare policy, and, lately, unjust international trade agreements.

Earlier this year the group convened a Labor Convergence on Climate Change, a grassroots analog to the Paris summit. The assembly of labor and community activists engaged in the kind of critical dialogue that is sorely missing from the short-term agendas of many unions. They hammered out a five-year plan for a “robust job and transition program” based on renewables and promoting “viable examples of worker ownership models that prioritize sustainability, both environmentally and economically.” Another priority is launching comprehensive reclamation programs and a Superfund-like remediation fund to help heal the damage mining pollution has inflicted on the regional habitat for decades.

According to LN4S co-coordinator (and Nation contributor) Jeremy Brecher, as Peabody seeks a bailout for its financial failure, the federal government should “intervene in the legal process and the political process” to protect workers’ interests while ensuring that corporate assets “be used to address the needs of the public and workers in the industry and communities that have been exploited by Peabody.”

Going forward, the long-term economic math works out clearly in favor of a just transition. According to one study: “A dollar invested in energy efficiency and alternative energy creates more than twice as many jobs as the same amount invested in coal or gas.” In terms of jobs per dollar, biomass, wind, and solar each produce more than twice as many labor opportunities as natural gas (the so-called “bridge fuel” that’s now busting after a short boom).

But even if they can find an economically fair way to transition, the political dynamics remain volatile: While Appalachia’s impoverished rural towns are economically devastated, they have also welled with racial resentmentand economic anxiety, which steel the resistance to climate change–driven interventions in their regional economy.

But if unions hope to build on the labor left’s tradition of proactively engaging social-justice issues, progressive labor groups may be the one grassroots force in coal country that can confront the challenges of civil rights, economic justice, and climate crisis, under a broader agenda of climate justice.

KFTC has pioneered this approach in mining towns, with community outreach both to acclimatize and educate communities about a climate transition that is ultimately happening with or without mining families on board. Several years ago, KFTC campaigned to pressure the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC), an electric co-op serving 87 local counties, to halt plans for a new power plant and instead invest in a long-term collaborative planning process to promote renewables. The collaboration has yielded plans for a localized solar farm, bolstered with transition credit for ratepayers.

Meanwhile, KFTC campaigns for cooperative governance reforms to promote more democratic decision-making, allowing more public input into coop boards’ process so that environmental voices can air climate-justice concerns. Those reforms may come in handy as the community runs up against local business and political pushback against the new federal coal power regulations now headed for a Supreme Court challenge.

KFTC activists, including a number of former mine workers, support national initiatives coupling immediate economic relief with a longer-term power shift: The proposed federal RECLAIM Act, for example, would direct $1 billion in federal funds toward localized projects to aid development “through the reclamation and restoration of land and water resources adversely affected by coal mining.”

LN4S also supports pro-worker climate legislation introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, providing reclamation projects and development of “water, broadband, and electric grid infrastructure investments.” A parallel measure, the Miners Protection Act, would enhance miner-retiree health benefits. It’s not an environmental measure per se, but it would, essentially, help restore the pollution that resides within workers’ bodies—another haunting reminder of how ecological health and workers’ futures are intertwined.

While the current focus is on Peabody’s collapse, the imperative set forth by the Paris summit—which was relatively silent on labor rights—stretches beyond any single bankruptcy. LN4S co-coordinator Joe Uehelin notes that emergency relief for front-line workers impacted by coal’s decline represents “really important triage and Band-Aids. But there’s a much bigger climate[-driven], forced energy transition underway that’s going to affect a lot of working people” involved in fossil fuels–based production, from mine to assembly line.

From mine workers’ healthcare to energy jobs for the next generation, Peabody’s crisis may be a harbinger of worse to come, but it reveals how working-class Appalachia’s struggles collapse the divide between social and environmental values: That intersection is what the labor and environmental movements have been talking about all along—sometimes talking past each other, but inevitably converging.

Just Because Big Coal Is Collapsing Doesn’t Mean Appalachia Has to Follow | The Nation

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