Tagged: sustainability

The ABC of climate change: Brundtland report

The Brundtland report is probably the most famous document regarding sustainable development. The report, officially titled “Our Common Future”, was published in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) under the lead of former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland.

The 300-pages long report coined and defined the term sustainable development for the first time as a broad economical and ecological concept. Although it had been used before with regard to sustainable forestry and fisheries, it was not until the release of this document that economic and ecological policies were linked in an integrated framework.

By now, the document’s definition has become famous, quoted in countless studies, reports and policy documents around the world. Chances are high you have come across it yourself already.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Personally I don’t think it’s the best definition to quote from the report, but it might have to do with the fact that it is the very first sentence of the chapter that introduces the concept of sustainable development. Less abstract is article 15 of that same chapter 2:

In essence, sustainable development is a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development; and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.

The famous Brundtland report was published in 1987 and meant a turning point in global ecological policy-making

The famous Brundtland report was published in 1987 and meant a turning point in global ecological policy-making

By using the first definition, all too often the focus shifts to the now-future relation; we have to live and consume now such that the future generations are not compromised. It is essential though that the document also stresses that sustainability demands equity among all within one generation.

A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises.

This is strikingly similar to what Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical Laudate Si last year. Ecological crises can simply not be seen decoupled from social and humanitarian wrongs. Everything is interconnected.

The Brundtland report laid the foundations for the famous Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro five years later. It became an environmental conference of unseen scale, with more than hundred heads of state present.  The conference was a major step forward, with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Agenda 21 and so on.

Since then, countries have been meeting yearly during climate conferences, also known as “COPs”, Conferences of the Parties. Soon those conferences turned into a diplomatic arena for developed versus developing countries. Finally, in December 2015 they reached an internationally binding agreement on how to tackle climate change.


On the future of chocolate

photo: Divine Chocolate

Wandering through the Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert in the heart of Brussels can be a torture for chocolate-lovers (and who’s not?). Many famous Belgian chocolateers have a shop in this 19th century shopping arcade. Think Neuhaus, Léonidas, Godiva… Behind the windows, chocolate in all possible forms and shapes are displayed to lure you inside. The shop keepers are keen to let you try some of this delicous good that the Incas called food of the gods. It becomes very difficult not to spent all the money you have with you -some indeed do. And apperently we don’t have to go to the temples of chocolate to be tempted to buy it. Global sales are growing rapidly now chocolate becomes increasingly popular in China and South-America. Is this growing demand for chocolate a big deal? As long as supply follows demand there’s nothing to worry about, right? But that’s exactly where the problem lies.



Photo of the Week: bins with Brains

photo courtesy: Getty Images

When I was walking trough the streets of Prague some months ago, I stumbled upon something interesting. I noticed that the wastebins in the old city centre have solar panels. It turns out that Prague choose an increasingly popular solution for waste management: the Bigbelly.

Historically, gut feeling and experience were used to figure out when to sent out teams for emptying the wastebins. With the Bigbelly solution, this has changed. The award-winning technology offers a novel and smart way of organising waste collection and recycling in cities, corporations and campuses. With a fleet of smart waste bins, it’s possible to optimise the collection schedule to asure wastebins are never overloaded, nor emptied too early. The smart wastebins are remotely connected with the cloud and deliver real-time data about their fullness. All the data is brought together in an online tool which helps to schedule the best collection timing and route. This saves a lot of fuel and labour time.

The BigBelly is a solar-powered and smart waste bin, revolutionising waste collection in cities and campuses (photo: city of Santa Clarita)

The BigBelly is a solar-powered and smart waste bin, revolutionising waste collection in cities and campuses (photo: city of Santa Clarita)

But there is more. The solar-powered wastebins also compact the litter so it can hold up to five times more garbage in comparison with a traditional system. The enclosed design keeps bad smell out and makes sure animals cannot get in.

The waste bins’ side panels are the perfect place to communicate with people about the benefits of recycling or other sustainable solutions in the community. This way, the ugly waste bin of the past is turned into a smart recycling station and communication platform. It’s a big win for everyone: it saves money, encourages recycling, conserves fuel, frees up labour, keeps out the pests and eliminates waste overflow. You see, building a smart city sometimes starts with the small things.




Analysis: a traveler’s footprint

If you’re only a bit like me, you love traveling. I love to explore new cities and cultures, meet new people, hear stories and challenge my view on the world. I believe traveling is one of the most effective and fun ways of self-enrichment. But what does our planet think about us flying/driving/sailing around? Now I got rid of the sand in my shoes, the backpack is stored away and I’m back at University, I thought it was the perfect time to present you the results of an experiment I undertook this summer. I wanted to find out what my travel footprint was and if I would be able to do better.

Living in the heart of Belgium, around 30 kilometers from the capital Brussels, I’ve always had the luxury of a broad range of options to go abroad. Brussels is a major international traffic hub, with a lot of international flights, high-speed train connections going in all wind directions and a lot of buses connecting cities all over Europe. Around 60 kilometers to the South, the airport of Chaleroi is the main hub for low-cost airlines — always tempting for the student with a small budget.

The idea to challenge myself to think more about the ecological impact of my journey arose from a discussion I had with one of the participants of a summer academy on sustainability I was attending in the beginning of August. Wasn’t it a bit ironic that a group of young people who are interested in sustainable living, came all the way to Istanbul, in most cases by plane? And many of us seemed to be fervent travellers. This got me thinking… what was my impact on the environment by attending this sustainability academy? And how could plan my travels in the future to limit that footprint?

So I did what you usually do when big life questions arise — I started googling. After half a day of searching the web, I ceased my attempt. Frustratingly enough, I didn’t find any satisfying calculator that could tell me how much greenhouse gases my trip had blewn into the atmosphere. The problem was this: or the available tools were too simple, or they were way too complicated. It was also difficult to track the data sources or to find out which assumptions were made to turn my input into the number the calculator spew out on the screen. My conclusion was clear: I would have to do the calculation myself.

After two days , mainly invested in digging for data on greenhouse gas emissions of different means of transport, I had a first version of the calculator ready in excel. Time for the test: how much did my trip from Belgium to Istanbul including local transport hurt the planet? The result was striking. I made an infographic to summarize the inputs and most important results.

Infographic of the travel footprint of my Istanbul trip

Infographic of the travel footprint of my Istanbul trip

It was quite shocking to learn that the transportation of this two-week trip alone took a bite of 20% out of my carbon budget. The carbon budget is what I can emit, according to the IPCC, to be on track for no more than 2°C global warming by 2100. I further found out that taking the taxi from the airport to the hotel was the most carbon intensive means of transportation, followed by the flight from Brussels to Istanbul. The difference is of course that I travelled around 4600 kilometers by plane and only 55 kilometers by taxi. The bus trips turned out to be the least carbon intensive way of moving around. But if Turkey would have had the same energy mix as France, the metro would have won that title — the carbon intensity of electricty is very low in France because of the nuclear power. During the research I made a graph of the carbon intensity per kilometer for some of the means of transport, which can serve has a first guiding tool in choosing your way of traveling.

Chart of greenhouse gas emissions of typical means of travel (based on data from DEFRA and LIPASTO)

Chart of greenhouse gas emissions of typical means of travel (based on data from DEFRA and LIPASTO)

The biggest lessons from playing around with the data were:

  • taking a taxi as a single passenger, or a car with only one person are most carbon intensive
  • taking a plane is devastating, since it is nearly as carbon intensive as being a single person in a car but you travel much longer distances
  • taking an electric train or metro is often a good idea, unless you are living in a country with a mainly coal-fired power generation (such as Poland)
  • taking a coach bus has a very low footprint

With this in mind, I started planning my next trip. I now wanted to travel with a minimal ecological footprint, but still fulfill the two remaining items on my bucket list for the summer of 2015: attending the Climate Launchpad competition in Amsterdam and doing a surf camp in France or Spain. To make things even more complicated, I had to remember my budget constraints. I used the Travel Carbon Footprint calculator to estimate the footprint of different ways to realize my plans. It was pretty clear that I had to avoid taking the plane. I finally choose to do everything by long-distance bus, because it had the lowest footprint, it was enormously cheap (especially because I was arranging everything last minute) and I didn’t have to worry about luggage restrictions. The final footprint is around 2,20% of my yearly carbon budget. If I would have chosen a less time-consuming alternative, e.g. taking the train to Amsterdam and a plane to the South of France, it was at least five times more carbon intensive. So for me it was worth the long hours on a bus.

If you are curious about your own travel footprint of last summer, I have good news for you. You can calculate your own footprint now as well, I made the first version of the calculator available for you on the Shift website! Be sure to first read the manual so you know what input is expected from you and what the results really mean. I plan to further upgrade the calculator in the future and keep the data up to date. You can always leave a suggestion for new functionalities as well, or leave a question.

And to assure you: I had an awesome time both in Amsterdam and during my surf trip in the South-West of France. For me, it was the proof that travelling and exploring can be cheap and good for the environment without compromising too much. I hope the calculator will help you choosing your transportation means during the planning of future trips! And don’t forget: transport often is a huge part of your travel footprint, but not the only one. Eat, shop, sleep and enjoy your destination without leaving traces…only good memories.


Photo of the week: first airport to go 100% solar

Last week Cochin International airport, the fourth busiest in India, inaugurated its 12 MegaWatt solar power plant near its cargo complex. This move makes them the first airport in the world to run fully on solar power. 46 150 panels spread over an area of around 26 football fields deliver enough energy to cover the airport’s energy demand. During the day surplus electricity is feeded in the national grid, at night the airport taps off what is needed — overall the production will be larger than consumption. The generated power would be enough to electrify around 10 000 households. When compared to a coal power plant, 300 000 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be saved during the next 25 years. That’s equivalent to planting 3 million trees or not driving 750 million miles.

This 12 MWp solar farm will produce enough electricty to make Cochin Airport grid neutral (photo: CIAL/REX Shutterstock)

This 12 MWp solar farm will produce enough electricty to make Cochin Airport grid neutral (photo: CIAL/REX Shutterstock)

The Airport Authority of India (AAI), which operates Cochin and 124 other airports in the country, is planning to build solar farms at about 30 of them. This would add up to 150 MegaWatt installed capacity when completed.

The airport may be the first to go 100% solar, it’s not the first one to go 100% renewable. For example, Baltra airport in the Galapagos Islands runs completely on solar and wind power and during the last rebuilding of the airport 80% of the previous infrastructure was recycled.

Cochin International Airport press release

Cover photo by Andrei Dimofte


Smart cities

I. Introduction

These days, everything is becoming smart. From our phones to our watches and even our fridges. The time has come to take the trend of making smart devices a step further. Let us build smart cities!