Ranking the Top 10 Global Green Cities

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Gardens by the Bay, Singapore (Photo by Jean Baptiste Roux) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

 SINGAPORE, August 3, 2016 (Maximpact.com News ) – Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose city is the greenest of them all? The mirror held up by the corporate strategy consulting firm Solidiance reflects the answer in a new report  that compares the performance of 10 global cities and their green buildings.

To rank these cities’ green building performance, Solidiance developed a set of criteria across four categories. Three focused on the total number of green buildings, their performance and their initiatives, while one category examined each city’s supportive infrastructure, which has a lot to do with fostering a healthy green building movement.

After assessing the 10 Global Cities for green building performance, Paris was determined to be the leader, followed by Singapore and London

Sydney, Tokyo and Hong Kong came in the fourth, fifth and sixth positions, while New York, Dubai, Beijing, and Shanghai filled in the other four slots.

 “Singapore can certainly be considered a leader in the field of green building. The city target for 80 per cent of buildings to achieve BCA Green Mark standards by 2030 is ambitious but achievable, and the Singapore Green Building Council will play a key role in delivering this,” said Terri Wills, CEO of World Green Building Council, United Kingdom.

 Singapore is the “standout leader” in the Green Building Codes and Targets assessment Solidiance reports. While all the Global Cities have outlined city-level green building codes, only three cities have achieved their green building targets. Singapore, Beijing and Shanghai are the only cities with both a green building code and green building targets set out by the city.

Paris and Singapore took the top spots by excelling in all four assessment categories: city-wide green building landscape, green building efficiency and performance, green building policies and targets, and green city culture and environment.

They were the only cities that ranked within the Top Five in every category.

Both Paris and Singapore have strong building efficiency and performance, which shows that both local and international certification standards are yielding high-performance on green buildings.

 London benefits from high yield of green buildings in the city, which can be linked to the fact that the United Kingdom was the first country ever to introduce a green building certification system.

Paris fell just slightly short of Singapore in the absolute number of green buildings in the city, and by not setting out a clear city-wide green building target.

Although Sydney, Tokyo, and Hong Kong performed well on the green city culture and environment criteria, Sydney and Hong Kong were negatively affected with the poor results they achieved on their green building landscape and performance.

Sydney, with 67, had the fewest absolute number of green buildings in the city.

Finally, Dubai, Beijing, and Shanghai were the last cities on the Top 10 list. These three cities are among the most recent to join the green building movement, and Solidiance analysts expect that these rankings will change in the future as these newer ‘green building cities’ are setting ambitious targets in order to catch up to other cities’ levels.

Dubai launched its local green building standard last among these 10 Global Cities, in 2010, resulting in fewer locally certified buildings (8th), and only launched its green building regulations and specifications in 2012.

Despite the slow start, Dubai ranks 5th in internationally certified green buildings (104), and has a total of 147 internationally and locally certified green buildings erected on its cityscape. Dubai already ranks 6th for ‘green buildings as a percentage of total buildings’

The current green building development has been focused on new buildings but is shifting towards existing buildings,” said Vincent Cheng, director of building sustainability at ARUP, Hong Kong, an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists. “For significant progress, the focus of stakeholders in Hong Kong should shift from new to existing buildings which make up the bulk of the building stock. Potentially, more effort can be made to incentivize sustainability for existing buildings, promote microgrid/ renewable systems to reduce dependence on coal-powered electricity, and divert waste from precious landfill space.

When considering the limited number of years that Beijing, Dubai and Shanghai have been working to green their built stock, the achievements of these cities are profound, especially when considering the large number of highly internationally-certified buildings currently standing within these cities,” says Solidiance, explaining the rankings.

Saeed Al Abbar, chairman of the Emirates Green Building Council, United Arab Emirates, states in the study, “It is important to note that a building can be sustainable and incorporate green best practices without having a certification behind it. Certifications, however, are useful tools for measurement and can serve as guidelines for best practice. Nonetheless, Dubai does not have a specific certification or rating systems such as Estidama in Abu Dhabi, but the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system is used and recognised broadly.”

By contrast, Singapore stood out as a pioneer in the industry by setting forth a comprehensive and bold set of policies and targets for greening the city’s built block.

As a city that has committed to greening 80 percent of its built stock by 2030, Singapore proved to be one of the most ambitious on the list of cities evaluated.

Finally, the assessment of the city-level green initiatives established that both Sydney and Hong Kong have set higher than average carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction targets amongst the 10 Global Cities, and have also proven themselves as they perform noticeably well with low CO2 emissions city-wide.

 Paris, Sydney, and Singapore take the highest ranking spots with regards to each city’s green building efficiency. This is due to the three cities not only being very low CO2-polluting cities in general, but also because they each have a very low percentage of emissions which can be attributed to the city’s built-environment.

Roughly eight to 10 million new buildings are constructed each year, worldwide, and now more of them are greener than ever before. Solidiance finds that the number of green buildings is doubling every three years as a response to the current accelerating demand for sustainability.

 Michael Scarpf, head of sustainable construction at the Swiss building materials giant LafargeHolcim told Solidiance, “Singapore and London are the cities which have the highest green building activity, and Costa Rica, France, Singapore, and the United Kingdom are the countries that witness high demand for green building materials.

Buildings are the largest energy-consuming sector, accounting for more than 40 percent of global energy use and responsible for an estimated 30 percent of city-wide emissions, calculates Solidance, which points out that buildings also hold the most promise for global energy savings.


 Featured image: Montparnasse Tower views: Les Invalides, Paris, France (Photo by David McSpadden) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Firms Flock to Circular Economy 100 USA

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By Sunny Lewis

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 12, 2016 (Maximpact.com News)

“A circular economy is one that is restorative and regenerative by design,” says Dame Ellen MacArthur.

She has taken a special interest in circular systems. Four years after becoming the fastest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe, a 2005 record that still stands, MacArthur founded the UK charity that bears her name to advance the sustainability that flows from a well-functioning circular economy.

In the latest curve, in March the Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced the launch of a U.S. chapter of its popular international Circular Economy 100 (CE100) program.

CE100 brings together leading organizations such as Google, CocaCola and Apple, with the goal of innovating, developing and implementing circular economy opportunities.

The kick off event for CE100 USA members was a one-day workshop in San Francisco on March 31

Executives from SunPower, Tarkett and Walmart Stores were there. These latest corporate members of CE100 USA will share their expertise in implementing circular economy opportunities and learn from their new associates.

SunPower’s Chief Operating Officer Marty Neese said, “At SunPower, we are the first and only company to offer solar solutions that are as sustainable as the energy they produce by manufacturing Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Silver solar panels in facilities that are landfill-free and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.”

“We look forward to continuing our collaboration with influential organizations as a member of the international Circular Economy 100, and now here in the U.S. as a member of the CE100 USA, to create a truly regenerative economy,” said Neese.

That’s really what the CE100 does, wherever the chapter is based – member organizations enjoy unique collaboration, capacity building, networking and research opportunities to help them achieve their circular economy ambitions more quickly.

They can even learn from the world’s biggest retailer. Walmart’s senior vice president of sustainability Laura Phillips said, “Walmart is pleased to join Circular Economy 100 USA to share our learnings and learn more from other companies so that we can better engage suppliers and customers in these practices.”

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ECOR biogradable, infinitely recyclable advanced material can be engineered into curves or grids, among many other shapes. (Photo courtesy ECOR Global)

Noble Environmental Technologies is a San Diego, California company, a CE100 USA member and featured innovative technology partner that manufactures design-flexible building panels from the advanced green material ECOR.

ECOR solves waste stream problems by using the discarded cellulose fiber.

Developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ECOR can be made from cellulose fibers from a wide variety of materials: office paper waste, cardboard, recycled denim and other fabrics, hemp, jute, sugar cane bagasse, corn husks, wood dust and trimmings.

When retail giant Walmart decided to commit to zero waste to landfill by 2025, they turned to ECOR. There are currently 300 ECOR display units in Walmart stores across the United States.

Used by architects, designers, furniture and cabinetry manufacturers, ECOR is Cradle to Cradle® certified. Manufacturing, done in Shanghai, produces no waste, uses no chemicals and creates a biodegradable material made from 100 percent recycled content.

There are no adhesives, no chemicals, no formaldehyde, no petroleum – no additives at all.

It’s strong, structurally solid and 75 percent lighter than conventional panel product – an endlessly recyclable alternative to wood, particleboard, fiberboard, aluminum, plastic, cardboard and other composites.

Manufactured with a simple pressure and heat process, old ECOR can be broken down again to the cellulose fiber level and put back through the process to create another batch of the material in an endless circular loop.

This is the kind of company and product that Dame Ellen believes will have advantages in a resource-constrained future.

“The circular economy offers many quantified benefits, and provides a positive way forward for businesses wishing to hedge themselves from market volatility. Our 2013 report Towards the Circular Economy Vol. 2, featuring analysis by McKinsey & Co, highlighted the US$700 billion opportunity in global consumer goods material savings from adopting circular economy practices,” she said.

Take another new member of the CE100 group, Tetra Pak, which makes drinks packaging. The Swiss-Swedish company aims to offer packages entirely made of renewable materials and is already working towards this goal.

Tetra Pak packaging materials are made up of paperboard (73%), plastic (22%) and aluminium foil (5%).

The paperboard is primarily made of materials from sustainably managed forests which carry the FSC™-label. In 2014, Tetra Pak launched its first milk package made entirely from plant-based materials – paperboard and plastics derived from sugar-cane.

Tetra Pak CEO Dennis Jönsson said, “Joining the CE100 programme reflects Tetra Pak’s commitment to maintaining a leadership position in recycling and in the use of renewable materials from sustainably managed sources.”

“For organizations which embrace the opportunities offered by the circular economy, there are first-mover advantages available,” said MacArthur. “The CE100 USA program provides key insight to support organizations in their transition, and to help accelerate their rate of circular economy innovation.”


Featured image: CE100 USA logo from Ellen MacArther Foundation

Main image: Ellen MacArthur Creative Commons license via Youtube: Circular economy a massive opportunity – meet Dame Ellen MacArthur

Building in Many Shades of Green

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LEED Platinum Certified airlines office building, Schiphol, Haarlemmermeer, North Holland, the Netherlands, November 2015 (Photo by Jeroen P.M. Meijer) Creative commons license via Flickr

 

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 22, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – “When you ask me, ‘what is a green building?’ I don’t have a very good answer,” confesses Josefina Lindblom, European Commission Policy Adviser on resource efficiency in the building sector.

Speaking in the second episode of the “Construction Climate Talks” series released on YouTube March 15, Lindblom says, “The building sector is one of the biggest resource users in our society. It uses about 50 percent of our extracted materials and more than 50 percent of our energy. A third of our water use goes to buildings, and more than a third of our waste is construction and demolition waste.”

“A wider approach to the use of buildings is necessary,” says Lindblom. Not only extraction and production of materials, to construction and use of the building, she says, “but also the end of life phase and what happens then.”

The web video series is a project of the Construction Climate Challenge Initiative, hosted by Volvo Construction Equipment.

“We want to promote sustainability throughout the entire construction industry,“ says Niklas Nillroth, vice president, environment and sustainability at Volvo CE. “We are hopeful that our film series will work as a contributing factor in the matter of making people aware and to enhance cross-sector collaboration throughout the construction industry value chain.”

In November 2015, Construction Climate Talks premiered with the first episode, three minutes featuring Professor Johan Rockström. Executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, he teaches natural resource management at Stockholm University.

“If we continue with business as usual,” says Rockström on camera, “even a conservative assessment concludes that we are on an average pathway towards a four degree Celsius warming by the end of this century. We would have sea levels irreversibly moving beyond one meter of height, we would have new kinds of pandemics, heat waves, disruptions such as droughts and floods. Unless we have a good, stable planet, everything else would be unachievable anyway.”

But some still have “an obsolete, erroneous logic” that sustainability could threaten the economy,” he said. “Nothing could be more wrong.”

Even though many people still resist change, Rockström is optimistic that “the grand majority” sees that “sustainability is a vehicle for success, not an impediment to success.”

“We should move with the coalitions of the willing,” says Rockström, “and show by doing that this is actually something that benefits business, gets better profit, gets better reputation and is even more attractive.”

While energy use is only part of the green building equation, it’s an important part.

Across the European Union, energy efficiency regulation for greener commercial buildings is fast approaching, in line with the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement reached by 195 governments at the annual United Nations climate conference in December.

“A decree in France is expected in June for commercial buildings. They will be required to reduce their energy use by 25 percent by 2020. No question that most of European countries will follow in the coming years,” wrote Siham Ghalem-Tani, executive assistant and partnership relations officer with the French Institute for Building Efficiency (IFPEB) on March 14. This business-led coalition is intended to implement “an ambitious and efficient energy and environmental transition” in the European real estate and building sectors.

The European energy competition CUBE 2020, now in its third year, is serving as a catalyst for tenants of commercial buildings to meet the EU’s energy reduction objectives. This year, the 123 candidates, located in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, are on track for an expected outcome of 10 percent energy savings from July 2015 to July 2016.

Julien Cottin, manager of the Energy and Environmental Studies Centre of the Bordeaux metropolitan area, said, “Prior to our registration of four buildings in the CUBE 2020 competition, we had prioritized major works on our buildings, such as thermal renovation operations or improving energy efficiency. Our participation afforded us an opportunity to look at the uses of buildings and to adopt a new mindset.”

Cottin said, “The ‘competition’ aspect to CUBE 2020 provides a real dynamic for working on the behavior of the users of a building. The results are conclusive and motivating!”

Green building standards are becoming increasingly important to investors.

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Worker installs siding during construction of environmentally-friendly green barracks on Fort Eustis, Virginia, USA. All new construction in the Department of Defense must qualify for Silver certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard, 2009. (U.S. Army Environmental Command photo by Neal Snyder) public domain.

Last week, the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) survey, the first global effort to assess the environmental and social performance of the global property sector, announced the launch of a Health and Well-being Module.

This optional supplement to the GRESB annual survey for institutional investors evaluates and benchmarks actions by property companies and funds to promote the health and well-being of employees, tenants and customers. It features 10 new indicators, including: leadership, needs assessment, implementation and performance monitoring.

“The design, construction and operation of our built environment has a profound impact on individuals and populations,” said Chris Pyke, chief operating officer with GRESB, which has offices in Washington, Amsterdam and Singapore.

The GRESB Health and Well-being Module is now available in pre-release on the GRESB website and will be open for submission starting April 1.

“The GRESB Health and Well-being Module will make real estate companies and funds more transparent and make comparative information more accessible and actionable for investors. This represents an important step toward resolving long-standing market failures and making health an investible attribute of real estate,” says Dr. Matt Trowbridge, associate professor, associate research director, Department of Public Health, University of Virginia School of Medicine.

In the United States, green buildings abound, encouraged by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, co-founded by current CEO Rick Fedrizzi and partners in 1993. Fedrizzi also sits on the GRESB Board.

The U.S. Green Building Council pioneered the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification program, now used worldwide.

LEED offers four certification levels for new construction: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. These correspond to the number of credits achieved in five green design categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.

In addition to its many other activities, the U.S. Green Building Council is a contributing partner to the Dodge Data & Analytics World Green Building Trends 2016 SmartMarket Report.

Released in February, the SmartMarket Report, covers nearly 70 countries. It shows that global green building continues to double every three years.

New commercial construction was the top sector for expected green building projects in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Poland, Saudi Arabia, China and India.

The United States shared the lowest expected levels of green commercial building with Australia.

Still, 46 percent of U.S. respondents indicated they expected to embark on new institutional green projects in the next three years.

Across all regions, many survey respondents forecast that more than 60 percent of their projects will be green by 2018.

“International demand for green building, due in great part to the LEED green building program’s global popularity, has grown steadily over the years,” said Fedrizzi.

“Countries are looking for tools that support stable and sustainable economic growth. International business leaders and policymakers recognize that a commitment to transforming the built environment is crucial to addressing major environmental challenges,” he said.

The SmartMarket report shows that increasing consumer demand has pushed the world’s green building market to a trillion-dollar industry, a surge that has led to a parallel increase in the scope and size of the green building materials market, now expected to reach $234 billion by 2019.

It appears that the European Commission’s Lindblom is going to get the “wider approach” to green building she has been seeking.


Featured image: BMW Head Office, Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Designed by Hans Hallen, the building has recently been refurbished and modernized, implementing green principles. Thermal comfort and energy efficiency were addressed with lighting, ventilation, hot water supply and back-up solutions which required the construction of a satellite Energy Centre. The building achieved a 5-star As Built Green Star South Africa rating, December 2015. (Photo by Colt Group) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Building a Green Path Toward Sustainable Cities

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By Sunny Lewis

HONG KONG, China, November 6, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Green building is one of the best ways to combat climate change, since globally, “Buildings account for about a third of CO2 emissions, and these will continue to rise under a business-as-usual scenario,” Bruce Kerswill told delegates to the World Green Building Congress 2015 at the Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Kowloon East late last month.

In his role as chair of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), Kerswill said the Council is “galvanising the green building movement through a commitment to reduce 84 gigatonnes of C02 from the buildings sector by 2050.”

He explained that this effort is needed to limit global temperature rise to within 2°C above pre-industrial levels. World leaders agreed on this target as a matter of urgency at the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen.

At this year’s UN climate talks in Paris in December, where a universal, legally-binding deal to set emissions limits will be signed, the WorldGBC will hold the first-ever Buildings Day.

There, the WorldGBC will unveil the detailed commitments of Green Building Councils around the world to build green as a means of controlling global warming while creating social and economic benefits.

The Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC), and other green building councils around the world are determining their own targets ahead of the Paris talks, formally known as the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21.

At this year’s climate negotiations, there is a special focus on cities, writes Mark Ginsberg for the U.S. Green Building Council. “Many of us have long realized that cities are a logical place to address global issues. More people are living in cities than ever before in history, and urbanization is relentlessly growing. Cities consume two-thirds of the world’s energy and create more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions. Cities have also been leaders in innovation and problem solving.”

In Hong Kong, to an audience of green building leaders from 30 countries attending the Congress, the HKGBC proudly announced a milestone. Over the past five years, more than 200 million square feet (19 million square metres) of Gross Floor Area has been registered under the environmental accreditation system BEAM Plus New Buildings and Existing Buildings.

BEAM, the Building Environmental Assessment Method, is the Hong Kong rating tool for green buildings. This voluntary private sector initiative conceived in 1996, has developed into an internationally recognized suite of rating tools for green buildings including new buildings, existing buildings and interiors for shops, offices, retail.

BEAM Plus includes the six aspects of a project: site aspects, energy use, indoor environmental quality, materials aspects, water use, and innovations and additions.

Cheung Hau-wai, vice chairman of the HKGBC and a member of the Construction Industry Council, commented, “This is a significant achievement accomplished by the collaboration between private and public sectors in Hong Kong.”

“With the growing awareness of the public about energy efficiency and the benefits that the BEAM Plus system can bring to the users, we expect to see continued support from the private sector and other stakeholders to build more green buildings that meet the BEAM Plus standards said Cheung. “It will enable us to make further contribution in energy saving and CO2 emission reduction.”

Looking ahead, HKGBC has set its Green Building Targets for the next five years to:

  • Certify at least 150 million square feet (14 million square meters) of gross floor area under BEAM Plus
  • Accredit at least 350 new BEAM practitioners a year, and work with BEAM Society Limited to provide at least 12,000 man hours of training per year to existing BEAM practitioners
  • Support the creation of a building energy consumption database through BEAM Plus and other systems

“Asia has enormous potential to contribute to green buildings development as countries like China and India are undergoing rapid urbanization,” said Terri Wills, chief executive of WorldGBC.

China is adding nearly two billion square meters of floor space each year while in India, two-thirds of the buildings which will exist in 2030 haven’t yet been built,” she said. “In both countries, and in the region, we have the opportunity to build better and greener buildings.”

The head of the Green Building Council Indonesia (GBCI) told the Hong Kong Congress delegates that 140 registered buildings are about to receive a green building certification.

GBCI Chair Naning Adiwoso said that until July 2015, only 14 Indonesian buildings had been certified as green. The demanding certification process usually takes six to 12 months, depending on the building’s design.

Naning advised building management and property developers to pay attention to environmental issues as buildings account for 23 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

IndonesiaPublicWorksBldg copy

There are currently eight new green buildings in Indonesia and five developing buildings that have already received a green certification from GBCI. And, 15 more buildings have claimed to be eco-friendly.

One building that has earned the green label is the main building of Indonesia’s Ministry of Public Works and Public Housing. This building can save 43 percent of its former electricity usage, and also can save 61 percent of water in the dry season and 81 percent of water in the rainy season.

Kerswill said green building practices are here to stay. “WorldGBC, national Green Building Councils and member companies are deeply committed to mobilizing a global market transformation to advance the fundamental goals of achieving net zero carbon new building and deep refurbishment of existing stock by 2050.”


 

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: New buildings are often greener buildings in Hong Kong. (Photo by Philip McMaster courtesy McMaster Institute for Sustainable Development in Commerce under creative commons license via Flickr)
Main image: The Natural Resources Defense Council office building at 111 Sutter St. San Francisco, California. LEED Gold Certified, Energy Star Certified, this building is green because it has 14 green activities that achieved outcomes of energy efficient design, water use reduction, sustainable site selection and development and five more. (Photo by U.S. Green Building Council)
Image 01: The new Indonesian Ministry of Public Works office building in Jakarta incorporates a gubernatorial regulation on green building. It received a 2014 LaFarge Holcim Award for Sustainable Buildings at the International Awards for Sustainable Construction. (Photo courtesy LaFarge Holcim Foundation)

The Evolving Meaning of Sustainability

By Marta Maretich  @maximpactdotcombaby hands plant

Sustainability is a key concept for our times. For impact investors who want to put their capital behind better ways of doing business, it’s an important indicator of investability. But what exactly do we mean when we say “sustainability” or “sustainable”?

The dictionary sheds a little light.

Sustainability:
1. Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
2. Able to be upheld or defended.

Originally taken from the biological sciences, the term sustainability first referred to conservation of natural resources. Though it retains this meaning, sustainability today can mean different things in different contexts. Sustainability in its classic sense and new uses of the term are proliferating as sustainability goes mainstream in business and popular culture.

The mainsteaming of classic sustainability

The definition is changing as the movement goes mainstream. More businesses are taking steps to incorporate sustainability into their operations as well as their performance metrics; national governments are regulating and incentivizing it in a number of new ways. Meanwhile investors are increasingly making non-financial performance, including sustainability, a priority when choosing where to place capital.

All this means that “sustainability” is an evolving idea with increasingly diverse interpretations. Most sustainability efforts still focus on the environment, however, with an emphasis on maintaining ecosystems and conserving natural resources for future use.

Sustainable forestry: Saving forest habitats has been an active area for impact investors. Despite the collapse of carbon markets, organizations like Rainforest Alliance are expanding their activities. Certification schemes like the FSC are helping sustainably sourced wood to become standard in building and consumer goods.

IrrigationSustainable agriculture: Impact intermediaries like Root Capital and development organizations like OPIC have developed successful models for promoting sustainability in agriculture. Encouraged by government regulation and subsidies, big agribusiness companies like Monsanto and multinationals like Coca Cola, are now pursuing sustainability strategies.

Sustainable water use: With changing climate in places like California driving the adoption of more sustainable water policies, businesses and services are springing up to meet a newly-defined demands. Driven by regulation, large multinationals including Unilever are beginning to look at water sustainability from a number of angles: their own use, water use by suppliers, and the water needed to use their products.

Sustainable mining: Mineral extraction is a sector with a raft of social and environmental issues and has been avoided by many social investors. That may change as groups like the IIED work to build the commitment to sustainability across the industry.

Sustainable energy: The focus is on wind, water, solar and other forms of generation and storage, such as hydrogen cell batteries. A popular area for impact investors, even designer Vivienne Westwood has committed GBP£1 million to sustainable energy. Big fossil fuel companies are also putting money into it. Though their motives are often questioned, it is a sign of how far the notion of sustainability is becoming part of the fabric of corporate life in the developed world.

Sustainable consumer goods

Sustainability has taken on a new meaning in consumer markets as it has become a persuasive selling point for everyday goods and services. Public enthusiasm remains high for brands with sustainability credentials and sustainable practices, far from being unusual, are now what consumers expect of businesses.

Sustainable fashion: The fashion industry has been thriving in a throwaway culture, but the photograph of a lady in a dress of flowerssustainable fashion movement hopes to change attitudes and move toward sustainability. To keep up with this vibrant movement, follow top tweeters in fashion sustainability and check out the five top sustainable fashion stories of 2014.

Sustainable building: Changing the way we build and design cities could make a huge difference to our future and, increasingly, governments are regulating for sustainability in construction processes, materials and design. This is reshaping the construction industry, especially in the developed world. Construction companies are adapting the way they source and use products and materials and new education centers, like this one at Harvard, and this one in Edinburgh, are training the sustainable builders of the future.

Sustainable tourism: More people are taking vacations than ever before, but increasingly tourists want to avoid damaging the environment, squandering natural resources or hurting local communities. The global travel industry is waking up to this fact and offering sustainable tourism to the masses. Portals such as Sustainable Tourism Online provide go-to resources for the public and professionals who want tourism to be good for the planet and the communities in host countries.

Evolving meanings: Financial sustainability

Beyond its original, environmental meaning, sustainability has recently developed a financial meaning that applies in some sectors. Governments strive to make public services “sustainable”. Non-profit organisations try to create “sustainable” programs to deliver mission. In this context, sustainable can mean both environmentally sound or financially viable for the future or both.

Sustainable healthcare: Concerns about being able to afford healthcare for citizens in the future is driving innovation in healthcare delivery and finance models.In a bold move, the UK health service, the NHS, is embracing both environmental and financial sustainability.

Sustainable transportation: Concerns about climate change, contracting budgets and public pressure are encouraging many governments, including China’s,  to organize public transportation policies around sustainable principles, in both the financial and evironmental senses.

Sustainable finance: In a final evolution, “sustainable finance” seeks to apply the principles of sustainability to banking and investment. Impact investing and its sister disciplines across the spectrum of social finance including responsible investing, ethical investing, social investing and microfinance form part of this growing movement, which seeks to revolutionize the use of market methods to create better social and environmental outcomes.  Sustainable finance methods are now being put to use in a wide, and growing, range of contexts, with new techniques and approaches developing across the sector. For more on sustainable finance,  browse the top five stories in sustainable finance for 2014.

Conclusion

Sustainability has moved from the margins to the mainstream and is now a widely-accepted approach being incorporated into many areas of business, finance and the consumer marketplace. As it continues to expand its influence, sustainability will continue to evolve new meanings and serve as a paradigm for conservation and wise stewardship of the environment, human and natural resources and, now, capital. This movement is positive, but for impact investors seeking sustainable investments, it will mean taking a closer look at all claims for sustainability and determining exactly what is meant.

Want to comment? Tell us how you are innovating in sustainability? Tweet us @maximpactdot com

The New Energy Landscape: A Roadmap for Impact and Sustainable Investors

By Marta Maretich, Maximpact Chief Editor @maximpactdotcom

Energy is set to be a key global concern for the foreseeable future; and to continue to be an important focus for the impact and sustainable investing sector.

The reasons for this are familiar by now: fossil fuels are becoming scarcer, energy costs are rising, levels of industrialization are increasing, as is global prosperity, bringing increased demand for energy as well as unwanted side effects from its use, like pollution.

Climate change is another factor driving interest in energy. A series of reports from the IPCC are shining a light on the urgent need to change the way we use energy as well as the types of energy we use. According its recent report, energy is responsible for 47% of the increase in anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 emissions; fossil fuel byproducts linked to climate change. High carbon-intensity energy, related to economic growth in developing countries, is an important contributor. These statistics mean that energy use is set to become an important front in the battle against runaway climate change.

Whether or not you accept the idea of man-made climate change, there’s little doubt that the IPCC’s reports will affect the outlook for investing in the energy sector. Right now, the UN is using them to inform its process of forging a new international convention on climate change. When this framework emerges in 2015, this in turn will have implications as governments react by establishing new policies, setting regulation and, probably, funneling more public money into mitigation measures.

All these factors; plus the fact that new technologies and approaches are proliferating; are making energy a focus for investors of all kinds, despite the fact that some alternative energy markets have proven volatile in the past. Today there are more ways to invest in energy than ever before and everyone seems to be looking for the technologies that will replace fossil fuels in our investment portfolios as well as our economies.

A multitude of solutions

Developments recent years seem to indicate that seeking a single solution to the energy question is the wrong approach. It’s more probable that there will be a wide array of approaches that form a patchwork of solutions for different applications. Many of these will be local, rooted in culture and geography, and investors who know how to spot an opportunity at the local level will reap the benefits, as will those who know how to support energy businesses as they scale up and roll out products and services on a wider basis.

But there is much more still to do if we are to meet growing energy demands while at the same time cutting emissions. Fortunately, there’s also increased scope for investing as the clean and green energy market grows and diversifies. Here are some of the areas to watch:

Known values

Solar power, wind power and hydroelectric generation businesses have long been staples in impact and sustainable investment portfolios. Global growth in the uptake of these technologies has been significant overall, at least partly due to government subsidies and policy support, and the worldwide demand for solar and wind power continues to skyrocket. Since 2009, global solar photovoltaic installations increased about 40% per year on average, and the installed capacity of wind turbines has doubled.

Against this background, some investors, like Triodos with its renewable energy fund, have already garnered considerable experience in investing in diverse energy solutions including hydroelectric, wind and solar. Others, like the Global Environment Facility (GEF) have been instrumental in financing specific energy technologies to fit local needs in countries as diverse as China, Mexico and Egypt.

Impact capital has played a role in bringing these technologies forward and rolling them out into new markets, sometimes riding the roller coaster of a new investment sector, as in the case of solar power. As a result, renewables now represent an evolved market and continue to have strong returns. With future outlooks positive, especially in light of advances such as new approaches to managing existing grids and new technologies coming online to improve energy storage thus making wind power more viable, these sectors remain good bets as we move into 2014.

IPCC top energy picks

The IPCC weighs into the energy debate with a new report flagging its top picks for alternative energy sources to lead climate change mitigation measures. In it, zero-carbon technologies join low-carbon ones, with both seen as essential to success. The list of top technologies they cite is controversial (even deeply flawed, according to some critics), yet the IPCC’s recommendations may turn out to be influential as the global conversation about new energy sources evolves. Certainly, it pays impact and sustainable investors to consider how they could usefully engage with these sectors.

Nuclear power

In a post-Fukushima world, nuclear power is more controversial than ever. Germany, a global leader in greening its energy sector, is set to phase out nuclear power entirely by 2030.

Nonetheless nuclear power is central to the IPCC’s plans for climate change mitigation. Though certainly not a “renewable”, as the report claims it is, nuclear is nonetheless a zero-carbon source of power and may be an option in some situations. Despite its drawbacks of danger and waste, it appeals to countries worried about energy security as well as those trying to wean themselves away from using polluting coal as a main source of energy. For these reasons, worldwide nuclear capacity is increasing annually, with countries such as Spain and the USA stepping up production. New reactors are going up in many counties including Taiwan, China, South Korea and Russia.

All this activity may hold opportunities for impact and sustainable investors who believe that nuclear may offer the best hope for a carbon-neutral future; as well as those who are willing to back an unpopular industry as it develops better, safer technologies. The good news is that advances in technology may change the outlook for nuclear soon. Molten salt reactors; which so far exist only on paper; could produce 20 times more power per plant, cast half the price of existing reactors and consume, rather than produce, nuclear waste. It’s worth noting that China has pledged to build one before 2050 and western countries too fastidious to take the risk may miss an important opportunity here.

Energy efficiency

The drive toward greater efficiency in energy use is already underway as rising fuel costs push consumers in every sector to find ways to get more out of their energy spending. The search for energy efficiency will create business opportunities in a number of industries including construction, where energy-saving design is becoming the norm, and transportation, where more efficient vehicles are cutting fuel bills for individual consumers, companies and municipalities.

Manufacturing will be an important growth area when in comes to energy efficiency. According to a recent survey, energy use is becoming an issue for top managers who now see it as key to bottom-line success. The drive for efficiency will create opportunities for growing businesses in consultancy and service delivery, too, as companies seek expert advice on how to optimize their specific processes: just six percent would know where to turn for more tailored advice, a recent survey reveals, and this is seen by managers as a significant barrier to investing in energy saving measures.

Biofuels

Biofuels have come in for a lot of criticism in recent years and now the United Nations has released a report officially warning that growing crops to make “green” biofuel harms the environment and drives up food prices. Still, biofuels are central to the mitigation pathways proposed by the IPCC, a fact that some critics, like environmental groups Biofuel Watch and the Global Forest Coalition, have attacked as “false” and “confused”.

This may not be sufficient reason to exclude biofuels from a green energy future, however. Promising new technologies, particularly those that convert waste into biofuel, may yet put this sector back on the map for impact and sustainable investors. A recent study found that biofuels derived from paper, wood and food waste could provide 16% of fuel needed for road transportation in Europe by 2030. On the other hand, the report warns that the successful commercialisation of these advanced biofuel technologies now depends on political leadership and adequate policies, a scenario that industry insiders fear is a long way off.

BECCS

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS or Bio-CCS) is another controversial technology central to the IPCC’s mitigation measures report. The process involves power plants burning biomass to generate electricity with the carbon created being extracted and stored underground for “geological timescales”. BECCS could potentially provide large amounts of carbon-zero electricity, yet there are doubts about how viable, or safe, it would prove in practice and so far no working plants are up and running. It may be years before BECCS can prove its worth; but watch this space as the idea of carbon capture as a necessary measure for achieving carbon neutrality gains ground.

And don’t forget…

In many ways, the IPCC recommendations for the future are notable for the many technologies they leave out of their vision of a low- and zero-carbon energy future. A quick scan of the alternative energy sector reveals a wealth of new approaches and processes the report ignores: micro-generation, hydrogen fuel cells and smart grids, to name only a few. There’s evidence, too, that large public utility companies are starting to change the way they provide energy, making them justifiable investments for impact and sustainable investors. Lifestyle changes leading to reduced energy consumption will also create attractive business opportunities, for example in the areas of smart metering, transportation and green building.

The list is long; and, happily, getting longer. Impact and sustainable investors would do well to have a good look around before deciding where to put their capital.

How to pick a winner

With all of these opportunities open to impact and sustainable investors, the challenge may be finding an effective focus when investing in energy. Where should we invest for maximum impact and delivering the most benefit?

To answer this question, investors should review their core values, determine their appetite for risk, and keep in mind the definitions provided by bodies like the World Economic Forum and GIIN. Employing evaluative tools like ESG and SROI can help narrow the search for the right place to put your capital, especially when it comes to mainstream investments.

In a rapidly changing energy landscape, however, there is no substitute for keeping informed. New technologies are coming online almost weekly. Known technologies are evolving, as is the political and regulatory climate. Investors with their ear glued to the ground and their feelers out will have the best chance of making the impact they want to make.

But the point isn’t just to pick a winner. Regardless of how effective the social investing sector is in bringing needed capital to a new energy landscape, there’s a bigger problem on the horizon, one that should concern all of us.

Despite massive IPCC reports and high-profile efforts by international bodies like the UN, there’s concern that the political will to deal with the problems caused by our energy use just isn’t there. C02 emissions have risen since 2010 and, with the upturn in the world economy, it doesn’t look like they’ll be falling any time soon. Global surveys indicate most world citizens are more concerned about economic development than they are about climate change. And look what happened to the flawed carbon trading system and the now defunct Kyoto agreement, our last attempts to tackle this issue.

Clearly, business as usual will only result in the deepening of our shared crisis. If impact and sustainable investors really want to make a difference to our future, they will have to do their part to fundamentally change the way business and finance works; and to convince others; governments, businesspeople, the public; that our way can deliver sustainable development and a viable future for the planet. To succeed at this, we will have to demonstrate that impact and sustainable approaches to finance really work. Let’s just hope we can do it in time.

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Image credit: lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo

From Net Zero to Net Positive in Water and Energy Sectors: The Time is Now

By Ana LaRue, Digital Media Manager, Maximpact

The brightest minds in the energy and water sector gathered in San Francisco this past Tuesday and Wednesday for the Net Positive Energy + Water Conference, hosted by the International Living Future Institute.

At the center of discussion was application of net zero concepts to create productive, thriving communities by focusing on net zero energy and net zero water buildings that is, buildings that produce as much energy and water as they consume. Maximpact had the privilege to attend the event and we were inspired by the commitment of the green building community towards these most advanced measures of sustainability.

The conference shared the latest net zero water and energy ideas, technologies and applications from leading experts around the world. These advances showed that the field is ripe for expansion and full of innovative concepts and products, many of which represent attractive opportunities for impact investors. A lineup of inspiring speakers included:

– A memorable opening keynote by Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day and one of the great environmental leaders of our time, addressed the need to focus on performance in meeting the needs of modern society.

JasonMcLennan, CEO of the International Living Institute and an influential leader of the green building movement, discussed the need to create abundance in a constrained world. Our current relationship with water is dysfunctional, he said, setting the stage for a day dedicated to innovation and change in the water sector.

– Social justice advocate Maude Barlow made an impression on the audience with her ideas of water justice and the “New Water Ethics” needed to sustain our water supplies. She described the tough path toward winning recognition for the human right to water and sanitation. Understanding the importance of clean drinking water and sanitation to the realization of all human rights, she told us, is an important step for ensuring the long-term sustainability of our water supplies for the generations to come.

Keynote speakers were followed by education sessions, organized into three tracks: Energy Design, Water Design and Frontiers of Net Zero Energy. More brilliant speakers wrapped up a successful day focused on innovation in the sectors of water and energy.

The conference speakers frequently addressed the framework of the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most rigorous green building standard that includes revolutionary ideas such as prohibition of combustion. To join the challenge, projects must meet a series of ambitious performance requirements, including net zero energy, waste and water, over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy. At the moment, five projects have achieved this most stringent level of performance, with many more awaiting certifications.

Net zero and its extension, net positive, are powerful and evolving models that incorporate many different elements such as biophila, biomimicry, social equity, beauty, technology and innovation. And while many approaches to net zero and net positive energy and water are still emerging, new technological development is set to provide us with vast new opportunities; something that all of us in the field of impact investing are especially excited about.

Future exciting events in this sector include the 2014 Green Build conference, which will be held on October 22-24, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana and the Living Future Unconference, held on May21-23 in Portland, Oregon.

For more information on the event visit the event website or follow #NetPositive on Twitter.

Image credit: Maximpact, Future Living Institute