Green reasons to be cheerful

Outside the Westminster bubble, the green economy is starting to motor

19 Oct 2012, 17:21

I must admited I am feeling a bit politics-ed out.

Three weeks of Party Conferences followed by the prospect of three more weeks of fighting over the Energy Bill is enough to leave even the most durable of green political junkies suffering from some kind of environmental policy ennui.

The problem is that the arguments are so circular and the opponents green businesses are forced to engage with so lacking in anything that can be called an evidence base that the entire endeavour can end up feeling a little futile. Add in the government's increasingly shambolic handling of issues that will determine the health of our economy for decades to come and it is easy to wonder whether the compelling case for a greener economy will ever make the breakthrough that is required.

So, in the interests of cheering myself up if nothing else, I thought it would be instructive to spend Friday afternoon trawling through what has happened outside the Westminster bubble in recent weeks. Here is an entirely non-comprehensive run down of the real world projects, initiatives, innovations, and successes that we sometimes risk forgetting when wrestling with the green policy jungle.

This, ultimately, is what people mean when they talk about green growth and sustainable economies:

- Levi's is taking old plastic bottles and using them to create fabric and stitching, which in turn can be used in jeans, cutting emissions and waste in the process.

- Rezidor, the giant hotel chain that owns the Radisson, Missoni, and Regent brands, is putting LED lights in over 300 of its properties, as part of a programme designed to save the firm €24m over four years.

- Investment firm Ingenious is launching a new £2m fund to take solar powered charging units to communities in Africa, accelerating development efforts by giving off-grid villages the ability to charge mobile phones and laptops.

- Cadillac has become the latest car giant to reveal plans for a plug-in hybrid, the ELR, vowing to start selling the car from late next year.

- Roman Abramovich, no less, has shelled out nearly £9m to take a stake in British fuel cell specialist AFC Energy.

- PwC has confirmed that it has reduced energy use from its UK operations by 29 per cent between 2007 and 2012, saving £7m on its energy bills.

- Tesco is pioneering a new six-day-a-week rail freight delivery route between Magor in Wales and its main distribution centre in Daventry, taking 40 lorries off the roads with each journey.

- Abundance Generation has launched a new debenture that allows people to buy renewable energy bonds as gifts, building on the success of a community funding model that is aiming to raise sufficient capital for a wind turbine in the Forest of Dean.

- London's Excel Centre has signed up for a new "negawatts" service that allows it to make money by simply turning off non-essential devices for short periods when requested by the Low Carbon London (LCL) demand response programme.

- Retailers and suppliers signed up to the Courtauld Commitment on waste cut product and packaging waste by 8.8 per cent between 2009-2011, far exceeding their five per cent target, while supermarkets slashed packaging waste by 8.2 per cent over the same period.

- You can now hire a Nissan Leaf by the hour as part of the UK's first electric car club in Milton Keynes being operated by UK start up E-Car.

- The Crown Estate has signed deals with three consortia working on plans to deliver 800MW of capacity from offshore wind and tidal farms off the coast of Northern Ireland - 40 per cent of the province's electricity is likely to come from renewables by 2020.

- Australia has opened a record breaking 10MW solar farm and is on track to have solar panels installed on one million homes by next summer.

- Unilever has unveiled a plan to reorganise its entire European logistics operations, optimising deliveries in a manner that will cut the distance travelled by around 200 million kilometres a year - that's enough to travel around the world 5,000 times.

- Thirty schools have been selected to take part in a Solar Schools programme that will crowd source funding to support solar installations.

- Bloomberg has secured the WindMade label for its US operations, after confirming that the media giant sources 58 per cent of its electricity from wind farms and a further 25 per cent from biomass projects.

- Puma is to expand its pioneering environmental profit and loss accounting initiative, requiring suppliers and partners to sign up to the new methodology for measuring their true environmental impact.

- Siemens, Hitachi, and Mitsubishi are all racing to make use of a new carbon capture and storage text centre in Norway.

- Kenco has teamed up with Terracycle to deploy dedicated coffee packaging recycling points across the UK.

- National Grid and E.ON have opened a cutting-edge combined heat and power system that will use waste heat from a gas fired power plant in Kent to support operations at a neighbouring gas depot, cutting emissions by 300,000 tonnes a year.

- Triodos Renewables has inked a deal to install four wind turbines at a sewage plant in Bristol, providing electricity for 4,500 homes.

- AT&T has placed an order for 9.6MW of zero emission fuel cells from pioneering US firm Bloom Energy, taking its total fuel cell capacity to 17MW.

- Coca-Cola Enterprises has announced a new €9m joint venture in France designed to replicate the success of its UK recycling efforts and construct a closed loop recycling centre.

- Three of the world's largest users of charter ships, agricultural giant Cargill, chemicals company Huntsman, and oil trader UNIPEC UK, have agreed to ban the use of ships that do not meet minimum fuel efficiency standards, ruling out around 15 per cent of the global fleet.

- Boeing has revealed that it is to train pilots at a new centre in Turkey that is 100 per cent powered by renewable energy.

- Consent has been granted for a new £250m waste-to-energy plant in Cheshire capable of providing low carbon electricity to 80,000 homes - the local MP, one George Osborne, was opposed to the plan.

- Asda is to launch a new campaign to help suppliers reduce their environmental impacts after an initial programme saved the company £13m over the last 10 months.

- Kings Cross station is now getting around 10 per cent of its power from renewable energy thanks to a newly-opened solar array on the roof.

- Over one million tonnes of food waste each year is being used to generate electricity and heat at anaerobic digestion plants.

I was originally intending to run this list all the way back to the start of the conference season, but I've decided to move the cut-off point forward to the start of the month - I reckon you get the idea.

None of these stories are about dubious reports, estimates, or projections. They are green investments, decisions, and projects that are happening now, demonstrating that a more sustainable way of doing business is both possible and desirable.

Moreover, the vast majority require little or no government intervention, and they are all becoming increasingly attractive to corporates and investors as clean technologies and business models mature.

The policy landscape remains critically important for accelerating the development of these projects and millions more like them. But as the green economy prepares itself yet again for an almighty row over both the Energy Bill and the general direction of the government's low carbon strategy, don't let anyone tell you green isn't working.

As those protestors who descended on the Treasury made plain this week, green is working, it's here to stay, and its success is inevitable. And that should be enough to cheer everyone up.

  
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Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray

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