Archive for May, 2013

International Finance for Armstrong’s First Clean Energy Investment

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

Armstrong Asset Management’s South East Asia Clean Energy Fund has agreed to a strategic cooperation with energy developer Symbior Solar Siam to develop and operate a portfolio of solar-power-generation projects in Thailand’s Central and Northeast regions. This is the first announced project for the Fund which has also just received a commitment from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation for $20 million. The Fund is expected to have a final close of $150 million by August this year. In our last issue we referred to an Armstrong report which revealed that renewable energy is cheaper to produce in South East Asia than imported fossil fuels. Read more

IFC backs SE Asia clean energy fund

The development bank has committed $20m to Armstrong Asset Management shortly after the firm closed its first deal from the new fund.

Refer to report in last issue on Renewable being cheaper than imported fossil fuels to drive energy in south east Asia.

By Clare Burrows in Private Equity International (15 May 2013):

The International Finance Corporation has committed $20 million to Armstrong Asset Management’s Southeast Asia-focused clean energy fund, according to an Armstrong statement. Existing commitments come from global investors including European development institutions GEEREF and DEG, and an undisclosed Asia-based corporation.

Armstrong is the first private equity fund that IFC has backed which is dedicated to clean energy and focused purely on this region, the statement said.

Melissa Kang, head of East Asia Pacific private equity and investment funds at IFC, added, “The Armstrong Fund is meeting an ever growing need for climate change private equity in Southeast Asia, and we believe their investment strategy is well suited to these developing markets.”

Armstrong made a first close on $65 million in August last year and is now paving its way to a $150 million final close, expected in August 2013, Private Equity International reported earlier.

“Currently, we have further soft commitments of $63 million, which is a good indication of the continued level of interest to date, but this interest is subject to further due diligence and legal documentation, so cannot be announced yet. However, we will cap the fund size based on what we feel is a realistic quantum to deploy over the next four years,” Andrew Affleck, managing partner, said in the statement.

Additional commitments to the fund are expected from European family offices, European institutional funds and a number of other development finance institutions.

The firm has been actively pursuing deals in the region, revealing its first transaction mid-May into six solar plants in Thailand alongside Hong Kong-based Symbior Energy. Armstrong also has a deal in the Philippines undergoing due diligence, Andrew Affleck, managing partner, told PEI in an earlier interview.

In April, the firm hired Yasushi Ujioka as an investment director to bolster its capabilities in the sector. Ujioka was an investment director at Swiss-Asia Financial Services, the asset management firm of the China District Energy Fund.

“Over the last 12 months, the proposition for renewables in Southeast Asia has become even more compelling. Supply side costs have continued to decrease, meaning that in a number of project cases around the region, subsidies are not required in order to make the economics work,” Affleck added in the statement.

“The increasing cost of diesel fuelled power, translating into peak costs of over 50 US cents per kilowatt-hour, means that switching to solar and mini-hydro solutions is immediately more cost effective for long term sustainable supply.”

IFC has also been active in Asia recently. The $31 billion development finance institution typically invests in first time funds or sectors as well as geographies that need capital. Recent commitments include $25 million to private equity fund Lighthouse in India and a $20 million investment into a $250 million newly-established renewable and clean energy fund in India, which will be managed by Nereus Capital Management.



The Nation, Thailand (21 May 21 2013):

Armstrong South East Asia Clean Energy Fund has agreed to a strategic cooperation with energy developer Symbior Solar Siam, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Symbior Energy, to develop and operate a portfolio of solar-power-generation projects in Thailand’s Central and Northeast regions.

The six small-scale solar-power plants will deliver a combined capacity of 30 megawatts to the national grid.

Under the deal, the private-equity fund will invest capital into Symbior Solar Siam’s wholly owned subsidiary Symbior Elements, which holds development and operating rights for the solar projects including land-ownership rights, in return for a 60-per-cent equity interest.

The investment is the first from the newly established Armstrong fund focused on clean-energy infrastructure in Southeast Asia’s emerging markets.

The projects in the portfolio comprise an operational 1MW solar photovoltaic (PV) plant in the Northeast and five solar PV power plants in late-stage development totalling 29MW located in the central provinces of Chachoengsao, Prachin Buri and Nakhon Sawan.

The US$150-million (Bt4.5-billion) Armstrong South East Asia Clean Energy Fund, which is scheduled for final close by August, received committed capital totalling $65 million at its first close in August 2012 from European development institutions Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (GEEREF) and DEG, and an Asia-based corporation.

The 10-year Armstrong fund is investing in small-scale renewable-energy and resource-efficiency infrastructure projects in Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian emerging markets.


Unsung Little People

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

They laugh at me, these fellows, just because I am small.

They laugh at me because I’m not a hundred feet tall.

I tell them there’s a lot to learn down here on the ground.

The world is big but little people turn it around…..

These words kept going through my head – sung by young Gavroche in the wonderful, moving musical “Les Miserables” – as I’ve been meeting a lot of people of late. Little people.  People who matter. And big, important people. This came home to me when I attended the Carbon War Room’s “Creating Climate Wealth” two day event and when I was a participant at The Media Alliance’s CSR conference in Singapore. Lots of case studies, inspiring stories, achievements in climate change action and awareness, humanitarian work, people making a difference, doing good around the region and around the world. Much of it unsung and unheralded. We need to sit up and take notice of “little people” and “good works”. Pity the mainstream media doesn’t seem to notice or care. The two events I mentioned were practically ignored. I made sure two “caring” media – UbrainTV in the UK and ECO TV in Australia – got coverage from Singapore. Of course, we notice – and others do to – when “celebrities” like Sir Richard Branson throw their hats in the ring. It makes a difference. We report others who are more established – like Ralph Nader in the US and Ian Lowe in Australia. But we don’t ignore organisations which are doing good but get little attention. Remember: ‘the world is big but little people turn it around’. – Ken Hickson

Profile: Sir Richard Branson

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

“War is not a nice thing, but a carbon war is the right thing because it’s a call to arms… it is a war worth fighting,” says Sir Richard Branson, who was in Singapore to launch Carbon War Room’s “Creating Climate Wealth” event. He wants to spread the influence of the Carbon War Room to Asia and news too that it has linked up with the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All Initiative. Read More

Reports from Ken Hickson, Jessica Cheam, the Carbon War Room and news that the United Nations “Sustainable Energy for all” programme is joining forces with the Carbon War Room.

By the abc carbon express editor, Ken Hickson:

It was a pleasure to meet Sir Richard Branson in Singapore and talk to him. I’ve been an admirer of his from a long time. He is prepared to stick his neck out and do the extraordinary. To achieve things against all odds. To put his money where his mouth is.

He also recognises the business imperative and mobilises his own businesses and others to act. The Carbon War Room is a classic example of this. He admits – as do other industrialists and business people – that he is contributing to the problem  by adding fossil fuel derived CO2 to the atmosphere through his airlines, trains and businesses.  But he is doing all he can to reduce his business impact on the environment and getting others on board – not just his modes of transport!

For two days I joined about 200 others in Singapore to explore options and to come up with solutions. Things which would work to better manage waste for example. To see waste as a resource to be better managed and to produce energy instead of landfill.

Some great minds and some great business people got their heads together to look at shipping emissions and how to reduce them around the world. This is important for a country like Singapore with one of the busiest ports in the world.

Energy efficiency was uppermost in many minds – most importantly top of the agenda for Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan who said in his opening speech:

“Energy efficiency is, at this point of time, the only game in town. Given that every joule, every kilowatt hour of energy in Singapore comes from imported fossil fuels.”

The good thing about Carbon War Room is that it doesn’t organise talk-fests and waste people’s time and money discussing things. It organises itself and those it comes in contact with to come up with workable solutions. Some will proceed in Asia and some will continue to be activated around the world.

Of course it helps that Sir Richard puts his name and brand to it, but he’s assembled a formidable group of people around the world to address these issues and opportunities.

A business like approach to the problem.

We will continue to bring you stories – successful or otherwise – about the work of the Carbon War Room – and how people in every country are getting involved.

See also the reports I produced for UbrainTv and Eco Tv on Sir Richard and the Carbon War Room.

Read also what Jessica Cheam reported for Eco-business com and the report on co-oportation between the Carbon War Room and the United Nations Sustainable Energy for all Initiative.



Let’s do carbon-friendly, not carbon-dirty business: Richard Branson

Report from Jessica Cheam in

Carbon War Room, the non-profit backed by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, is looking to expand in Asia and use Singapore as its base.

The founder and chairman of the Virgin Group told reporters this week that the outfit, which seeks to accelerate investment into carbon-cutting technologies, was “looking for business leaders in the Far East” to fight this war on carbon.

“We want to find groups of people who can help us in this region…we’d like to see Carbon War Room based in Singapore but helped by countries all around here. There’s so much new business taking place here, and so many imaginative ways that we can do it in a carbon-friendly way instead of carbon-dirty way,” said Mr Branson.

Scientists have blamed the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere for worsening climate change.

Speaking on the sidelines of Carbon War Room’s Creating Climate Wealth summit – the first to be held in Asia on Monday – Mr Branson said the building industry is one area that Carbon War Room is looking into as dramatic savings can be achieved.

He conceded that his businesses “put out a lot of carbon” and this is why he started Carbon War Room in 2009.

“War is not a nice thing, but a carbon war is the right thing because it’s a call to arms… it is a war worth fighting,” he added.

Mr Branson also went to lengths to explain his latest venture – Virgin Galactic – which is introducing rocket-powered space tourism flights by the end of the year.

When he asked the 250-strong audience at the summit who wanted to go to space, almost everyone held up their hand.

“It’s an unusual business… but that’s the answer. Ninety per cent of the world wants to become astronauts. There’s nothing more captivating and enchanting and magnificent than to go up and look at our beautiful earth and have the experience of a lifetime,” he said.

“I’ve talked to the Russians.. and they said that with 50 million dollars, they’ll be happy to have me. With that money, I’d rather build my own,” he said to laughter in the audience.

When asked by Eco-Business later if this could be considered a ‘sustainable’ business, he said it would have a minor impact on climate change.

“We have reduced the carbon cost of someone going into space from something like two weeks of New York’s electricity supply… to less than the cost of a economy round-trip from Singapore to London,” he explained to reporters at Marina Bay Sands.

“New technology can dramatically reduce the carbon output and that is the challenge we have set ourselves,” he said.

More than 500 people have reserved seats on his space flight, and paid deposits on the $200,000 ticket price on the SpaceShipTwo (SS2). Its lightweight carbon-fibre body will also “reduce fuel burn dramatically”, he said.

The SS2 is designed to be launched by a transport plane called White KnightTwo and will be guided by a rocket motor before returning to Earth.

Speaking on the global climate crisis, Mr Branson said that the “problem with climate change is you can’t see it”. “Even though 98 per cent of scientists say we have a problem, the two per cent funded by the oil and coal industry have powerful voices and muddy the waters,” he said.

“We have to make it advantageous for people to use solar and wind and develop really clean batteries that the little shift could make an enormous difference,” he added.

Governments can play a role here by changing the playing field. Then, it’s about business leaders  “using our imagination, see how we can get our own house in order and save ourselves some money”.



Carbon War Room joins forces with UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative

Carbon War Room Founder, Strive Masiyiwa Joins Advisory Board

Washington DC, May 21 2013: The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, joined with the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, to convene the inaugural meeting of the Upper Level Advisory Board to the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4All). The SE4All Initiative is a multi-stakeholder partnership between governments, the private sector, and civil society.

Launched by the Secretary-General in 2011, it has three interlinked objectives to be achieved by 2030: provide universal access to modern energy, double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, and double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency. The Carbon War Room is proud to support this initiative through our founder Strive Masiyiwa, who has joined as a member of the Advisory Board.

“Poverty should not be a permanent state of being. Energy is a resource that can and should be available to all in order to alleviate them from poverty and to bring economic freedom to the world’s most impoverished places.” -Strive Masiyiwa, Founder of Carbon War Room, Econet Wireless

The Carbon War Room is completely aligned with the SE4All Initiative in the conviction that access to energy is fundamental to reducing poverty, increasing productivity, creating jobs, enhancing competitiveness, promoting economic growth, and improving health.

Masiyiwa, bringing his experience as the founder of EcoNet Wireless, a large African Telecommunications Group, emphasized in his remarks at the Advisory Group meeting that the SE4All Initiative must ensure that the expansion of energy services is done sustainably. The Carbon War Room is working to demonstrate that renewable energy is fundamental to both keeping energy affordable and ensuring low carbon growth in developing countries. The expansion of renewable energy services to the poor is a large business opportunity – the energy poor are an untapped market, and providing energy services will open huge new revenue streams for many sector actors.

To tap into this business opportunity, the Carbon War Room shares the SE4All Initiative’s dedication to leveraging large-scale investments and mobilizing multi-million dollars of commitments in order to expand renewable energy access.

Entrepreneurs with renewable energy access technology need public and private-sector partnerships to successfully scale their distribution. Multiple channels exist by which energy expansion could occur. For example, the 500 million energy poor who own cell phones could be targeted via a mobile billing structure, whereby entrepreneurs partner with mobile network providers to distribute and finance technologies such as solar lanterns, solar charging stations, and even renewably-powered micro-grids.

Additionally, in order to reach the poorest of the poor who may not yet be able to purchase energy even in the smallest of incremental payments, entrepreneurs could access existing social welfare channels, putting energy right next to food or medical assistance on the list of fundamental services.

Whatever the delivery channel, Masiyiwa noted that, particularly in Africa, national import duties and taxes currently represent a huge market barrier that is hindering the ability for entrepreneurs and their partners to responsibly and profitably enter the space. He added, “to support energy access – we need new investments and business models in the regions that need it most.”

The Advisory Board serves as the highest tier of governance to the Initiative, providing overall strategic direction to the Executive Committee, headed by Bank of America chairman Charles Holiday, as well as to the Chief Executive of the Initiative’s Global Facilitation Team, Kandeh Yamkullah, who is Director General of UNIDO.

About the Carbon War Room

The Carbon War Room is a global entrepreneur initiative set up by Sir Richard Branson that accelerates entrepreneurial solutions to deploy profitable, scalable clean technologies across industries, and is a registered US non-profit, incubated by Virgin Unite.


Ambitious Cap & Trade for China & South Korea

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

Industrial nations in the East are starting to take reins of their carbon dioxide emissions. China has proposed to set a cap to its greenhouse gas emissions from 2016, to meet its goal of a 40% reduction in carbon intensity by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. Meanwhile, South Korea will soon embark on what is deemed the world’s most ambitious cap and trade market, with the highest global price on carbon, in January 2015 and aims to reduce emissions by 30% compared to current trends. Read more

China agrees to impose carbon targets by 2016

Beijing’s thaw over greenhouse gases seen as major step in battling climate change

By Tom Bawden in The Independent (21 May 2013):

The battle against global warming has received a transformational boost after China, the world’s biggest producer of carbon dioxide, proposed to set a cap on its greenhouse gas emissions for the first time.

Under the proposal China, which is responsible for a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions, would put a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions from 2016, in a bid to curb what most scientists agree is the main cause of climate change.

It marks a dramatic change in China’s approach to climate change that experts say will make countries around the world more likely to agree to stringent cuts to their carbon emissions in a co-ordinated effort to tackle global warming.

“This is very exciting news,” said Lord Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics.

“Such an important move should encourage all countries, and particularly the other large emitters such as the United States, to take stronger action on climate change. And it improves the prospects for a strong international treaty being agreed at the United Nations climate change summit in 2015,” added Lord Stern, who, in his 2006 report for the UK government on the financial implications of climate change, produced what many regard as the world’s single most influential political document on the subject.

Nearly 200 countries around the world have pledged to agree legally binding targets to reduce their emissions at the next significant climate change summit in Paris in 2015.

Without a robust global agreement experts say there is virtually no prospect of keep global warming to 2C – beyond which most experts agree the consequences become increasingly disastrous.

Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s chief scientist, said: “This is a big shift in China’s position and should unblock the standoff between the US and China in the global climate change negotiations. Without an agreement between these two major players it is hard to see how an agreement can be reached in 2015.”

The US is the world’s second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, accounting for 17.6 per cent of the global total, while the UK makes up 1.6 per cent.

Climate and Energy Change Secretary Ed Davey told The Independent that China’s changing attitude to climate change has made him increasingly confident that a deal can be reached in 2015.

“At the end of last year the Chinese leadership changed and started talking about creating an ‘ecological civilisation’. This doesn’t mean they have signed up to every bit of the climate change talks, but it means they recognise that their economic model has to take account of pollution and the environment and that damage that it’s doing to people’s health,” Mr Davey said.

“I’m really much more confident than many people about our ability to get an ambitious climate change deal done in 2015. Obama in his second term clearly wants to act on this and there has been a fantastic and dramatic change in America’s position. Taken together with China’s change, the tectonic plates of global climate change negotiations are really shifting,” Mr Davey added.

Mr Davey said he wants the UK to take a leading part in the global climate change discussions as part of the European negotiating block. However, he said he was concerned that the rise of the climate sceptic Ukip party could drag members of the Tory right in that direction and damage Britain’s credibility in debate on global warming.

Elliot Diringer, of the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions think tank in Virginia in the US, said China’s move towards a cap was “encouraging news and definitely a move in the right direction” but said its true impact would depend on the level of the ceiling.

The proposal to introduce the cap has been made by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), agency responsible for planning the country’s social and economic development. Although the proposal needs to be accepted by China’s cabinet, the State Council, for it to be adopted but experts said the agency is extremely influential and is working with a government that appears to be increasingly committed to the environment. The agency also said it now expects China’s greenhouse emissions to peak in 2025, five years earlier than its previous estimate.

China has agreed to cut its so-called carbon intensity – the amount of CO2 produced per dollar of economic output – by about 40 per cent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. However, this still allows for a considerable increase in emissions, albeit it at a slower pace. The cap proposed by NDRC would represent the first time China has committed to cut its absolute emissions – something that the US has failed to do.

Lord Stern said the move was a further sign that the EU “is losing its global leadership position on climate policy through its vacillation”.


South Korea May Launch World’s Most Ambitious Cap And Trade Market

In The Energy Collective (19 May 2013):

With roughly 18 months until launch, South Korea appears ready to create the world’s most ambitious cap and trade market, with the highest global price on carbon.

These findings jump from a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) white paper analyzing how potential market designs could affect the nation’s carbon price and market efficiency, and are a reminder that global cap and trade could still be integral to combating climate change.

South Korea’s government is finalizing system design, set to launch in January 2015, but BNEF predicts it could ultimately cover 70% of national emissions and reach $90 per ton of carbon.

Criticism of the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) centers on if it actually forces industry to cut pollution, but that won’t be the case in South Korea. “If the government implements the scheme without any changes, it will have major implications for Korean companies,” said Richard Chatterton of BNEF.

Over 450 entities participate in the country’s existing greenhouse gas inventory, covering more than 60% of South Korea’s emissions. These entities are all large-scale emitters, and submit annual emissions and energy consumption data to the government, which then sets reduction targets for the subsequent year.

BNEF’s projections assume the same entities would be covered by the ETS, and are based on South Korea’s emissions reductions target of 30% below current trends by 2020. This goal will require a 19% reduction from 2010 levels, and compared to Australia’s 14% and the EU’s 5% reduction target, make the Korean system without equal.

In order to meet its goal, BNEF predicts South Korea would need to cut its emissions by 836 million tons (Mt) of carbon relative to business-as-usual between 2015 and 2020.

Demand for emission reductions would thus rise to 200 million metric tons per year (Mt/yr) by 2020 – almost double demand projected for the EU ETS, even though South Korea’s program is only 20% its size.

But Reducing Those Emissions Won’t Be Easy

However, BNEF expects South Korea will face challenges meeting these goals. The proposed system design restricts the use of carbon offsets to 28% of reduction requirements up to 2020, and starting in 2021 only offsets from domestic projects would be eligible for polluters.

This tight offset market means South Korea’s ETS could be painful for the country’s industrial sector as they’re forced to buy permits or cut emissions. 598Mt of emissions reductions – nearly 75% of total cuts – will need to come from the industrial and power sector, meaning the cost of electricity and manufactured goods would rise.

Further complicating matters, South Korea’s industrial sector is already fairly energy efficient as a result of historically high energy prices, exposure to international fuel price shocks, and national investment in energy efficiency programs.

Clean Energy Is A Clear Solution…But Not Short-Term

So if offsets are going to be at a premium, and much of the country’s energy efficiency potential has already been realized, where will South Korea’s emissions reductions come from? The clearest solution, as in most cases, is cutting coal-fired electricity generation.

BNEF sees the power sector offering the most abatement opportunities both short and long term. Short-term, the white paper estimates South Korea could reduce emissions in 2020 by up to 64Mt/yr by substituting natural gas for coal-fired power. This assumes natural gas generation utilization capacity rises from current projections of 27% in 2020 to 70%

South Korea has traditionally relied upon imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), but tight supply and volatile price swings lead BNEF to predict electricity generation will shift toward higher-efficiency fossil fuel or renewable generation, and overall energy efficiency measures will rise outside of the industrial sector.

In fact, BNEF predicts the ETS will feed into South Korea’s renewable portfolio standard to expand demand and boost renewable generation to 55 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2020 – a 700% increase from 2010.

Toward A Global Carbon Market Via South Korea

But the best way for South Korean polluters to comply with the ambitious reduction goals may not be within its borders – BNEF recommends linking to other functional carbon markets with an abundance of low-cost abatement options.

Two other mature markets will be operating in 2015 when South Korea’s system launches: the EU-Australian, and California-Quebec linked programs. BNEF predicts EU-Australian allowance prices will be below $40 per ton, and California-Quebec around $50 per ton in 2020.

Global cap and trade allocation demand forecast image via BNEF

Linking to these two systems would benefit all parties. South Korea’s ETS will create demand four times greater than California’s system, and 60% higher than the EU-Australia scheme. Thus, South Korea reduces abatement prices by accessing cheaper permits from other systems, while boosting demand and whittling away surplus permit supply in other carbon markets.

Perhaps most promising in this equation, BNEF’s estimates don’t even consider China’s fledgling market. Seven regional pilot programs began rolling out this year, and they will cover up to 1 billion tons of emissions by 2015 before the country launches its own national system in 2020. Remember China is by far the planet’s biggest emitter of carbon.

Of course, these rosy scenarios hinge on the ETS unfolding as originally proposed, and that’s far from a certainty. South Korea’s government is consulting with large emitters this month, and they have called for many revisions to loosen the strict allowance, offset, and reduction policies.

The ETS “Master Plan” is due to be published in December 2013, and it will provide the legal basis for emissions reductions until 2018.

So South Korea, it’s decision time. Stay on your ambitious path, and cut emissions 30% while helping create a truly global carbon market. Or, water down the system proposal, and watch your national emissions climb 28% by 2020, according to BNEF – no pressure.


Face up to Ecological Credit Crisis in Australia

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

After a summer of record temperatures, bushfires and floods, Ian Lowe asks what it will take for Australia’s leaders to see through the myth of endless economic growth and start to tackle the ecological credit crisis. Expect sparks to fly when the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation speaks to the National Press Club, in Canberra on 29 May. Read more

In recent years the world has seen what a crisis looks like. The GFC shook economies and prompted drastic emergency action from governments in Europe, the US, Australia and elsewhere.

Now we face an environmental crisis. Our natural assets – clean air and soil, healthy rivers and oceans, forests, reefs, wetlands and native species – are stretched and stressed as never before. We have “maxed out” our ecological credit card and are deeply in debt. But, even in an election year, the “solutions” on offer from our political leaders do not come close to matching the scale of the problem. In fact, our politicians seem determined to exacerbate the problems.

Multinational mining companies continue to get nearly $3 billion dollars a year so they can get their fuel cheaper than ordinary Australian motorists. The business lobby is pushing to have environmental approval powers handed from federal to state governments.

The Great Barrier Reef – already so degraded UNESCO is considering putting it on the ‘shame’ list of endangered world heritage sites – is under further threat from the massive increase in coal mining and coal exports, with more and more ships traversing the reef with cargo that will be burnt in China and India, adding to the world’s climate change problem.

After a summer of record temperatures, bushfires and floods, Ian Lowe asks what it will take for Australia’s leaders to see through the myth of endless economic growth and start to tackle the ecological credit crisis.


May 29, 2013

11.30am – 1.30pm

“Address to the National Press Club”


Professor Ian Lowe is President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University in Brisbane, and adjunct professor at Sunshine Coast University and Flinders University.

Professor Lowe has authored 20 books and more than 500 other publications.

Professor Lowe’s contributions to environmental science have won him a Centenary Medal, the Eureka Prize for promotion of science, the Prime Minister’s Environment Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement, the Queensland Premier’s Millennium Award for Excellence in Science, and the University of NSW Alumni Award for achievement in science.

Professor Lowe was named Humanist of the Year in 1988 and made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2001.

Professor Lowe has been ACF president since 2004.

To give some idea of how hard hitting, no hold barred, Ian Lowe will be, here’s just one reaction from the ACF to the recent budget:


One fossil fuel loophole closed, $10 billion worth to go

15 May 2013:

The Government has closed one loophole, but missed the opportunity to remove $10 billion of fossil fuel subsidies from the Federal Budget and limit further climate change, according to Paid to Pollute, the alliance of environment and community organisations.

The Paid to Pollute alliance has welcomed the change to the mining exploration deductions, which will save $1.1 billion over four years.  However the fuel tax credit subsidy remains the Government’s 14th largest expense, costing $5.9 billion in 2013-14 alone.  That’s half the entire Federal Government spend on schools. This massive subsidy undermines the carbon price and makes polluting cheaper.

The alliance has vowed to continue campaigning against these wasteful subsidies in the lead up to the Federal election and into 2014 when Australia will host the G20.  As Chair, Australia may find it difficult to justify providing the highest levels of producer subsidies of the G20 nations, given the group has collectively agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

Environment Victoria’s Campaigns Director Mark Wakeham said: “Only one of the five major fossil fuel subsidies has been cut, with taxpayers to save $1.1 billion over the next four years from the Government’s decision to reduce depreciation for mining exploration and prospecting.   Despite a few positive elements this budget has missed an opportunity to consolidate Australia’s transition to a low carbon economy and protect taxpayers’ funds by ending wasteful and polluting fossil fuel subsidies.”

WWF Australia’s Climate Change National Manager Kellie Caught said: “The Government has again missed the opportunity to phase out Australia’s biggest fossil fuel subsidies, including the business fuel tax credit scheme, worth $5.9 billion.  Ditching these perverse subsidies would help the planet and the budget bottom line.  The Government should stop underwriting carbon pollution.”

Leading international organisations, including the World Bank, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations, have all called for an end to government subsidies for fossil fuels, as has the G20, which Australia chairs from later this year.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Climate Change Program Manager Tony Mohr said: “The carbon price is pulling pollution down, but these handouts are pushing pollution up.  This contradiction needs to end before Australia can say we are cleaning up our economy.”

Polling conducted for Market Forces in January 2013 showed 64% of Australians were opposed to the mining industry’s fuel tax credits, with the highest opposition (72%) found in Queensland.

Market Forces Lead Campaigner Julien Vincent said: “Cutting the mining industry’s taxpayer-funded fuel discount was an opportunity for Treasurer Swan to make a multi-billion dollar per year saving that would actually be popular with the community.  Sadly, it appears the mining industry’s ‘hands off our money’ ads have worked, keeping their unnecessary handout at the expense of nation building projects that are still lacking funds.”

Throughout the Paid to Pollute campaign, people have stood up and made their voices heard. The $1.1bn savings from removing the tax break on exploration is a sign community pressure is working.  The alliance will be keeping up pressure on our politicians until Australia no longer pays those who pollute.

Source: and

Dark Clouds on Horizon for a country blessed by Natural Energy Resources

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

The recently announced Australia 2013 budget was met with dismay by environmentalists due to the harsh cuts in investments leading to a cleaner and more sustainable economy. Facing cuts, for example, are the renewable energy program, carbon capture research, and clean coal technologies. However, a silver lining lies in the acceleration of funding that allows manufacturers to be more energy efficient and reduce emissions. Read more

Budget: Stronger and smarter? Or weaker and dumber?

By Giles Parkinson in RenewEconomy (15 May 2013):

The Labor government described the 2013 budget as “stronger, smarter, fairer”. The Greens dismissed it as “weaker, dumber, meaner.” On the issues of climate and clean energy policy, the Greens were probably closer to the mark.

Given the inevitable decline in fossil fuel generation and fossil fuel exports, it seemed an opportunity to boost funds that would enable the transition to a cleaner economy. But the big picture message from the budget was heavy compensation for coal fired generators, the slashing of funds for ‘clean coal” technologies, and the deferment and trimming of fund for new renewable technologies.

On the plus side, the government actually accelerated funding that is allowing manufacturers to be more efficient and reduce emissions. The carbon price forecasts have been completely redrawn.

Here’s a quick breakdown:


The big ticket item was the cut in funding for the newly “independent” Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and the deferment of more funding beyond 2020. We go into detail here, but essentially $160 million of unallocated funds from an “education” program has been returned to the budget, reducing the overall financial muscle of the agency to $3 billion from $3.2 billion.

However, of the remaining money, $370 million has been chopped off from the years 2014/15 through 2016/17, and back-loaded after 2020. The scheme has been extended for two years. ARENA gets an extra $6.1 million to hire more staff.

The Greens, environment and clean energy groups were appalled, but ARENA said the “reprofiling” may actually suit the way it intends to allocate funds. Read here to find out why.

Clean coal and carbon capture

The Federal government slashed funding for the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships Program by $500 million over three years. The program, which was originally supposed to allocate $2.4 billion, now stands at $1 billion. “Even with billions of dollars of public money on the table that technology is dying a quiet death,” noted Mark Wakeham from Environment Victoria.

Industry insiders suggest that CCS needs a high carbon price, a high oil price, and industry support, to offset its huge up front costs. At the moment, it has none of those. Given that the IEA sees CCS as critical for reducing emissions over medium to long term, and to reduce impact on new gas generation, more will need to come from renewables.

Low emissions coal initiative

The Government has also cut $88.2 million over two years for the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative. The program, designed to support the development and deployment of technologies that aim to reduce emissions from coal use, has been cut by almost half.

Community and low income energy efficiency programs

The Government will not proceed with further funding rounds for the Community Energy Efficiency program and the Low Income Energy Efficiency program, cutting nearly $100 million, or more than one third from the total allocation. Funding for previously agreed and round 2 projects will continue.

Carbon price

The government has dramatically reduced its forecasts for the traded carbon price, inevitable given it is now tied to the EU scheme. Forecasts for the carbon price have been slashed from $29 in 2015/16 to $12.10.
As a result of this, a second round of tax cuts to offset the impact of the carbon price have been deferred. Labor suggests this will now be till 2018/19, when its straight line modelling of  the carbon price suggests it will move above $25.40. That prediction may now be a little academic given the likely change of government, although it is not entirely clear that an Abbott government can or would repeal the carbon price.

As a result of that carbon price forecast, total compensation for trade exposed industries has been reduced by $4 billion over the forward estimates. Coal-fired generators will get $279 million less from 2015, although this is entirely because the value of the permits will be reduced.

And now, the good news.

One welcome initiative was the decision to retain funding for the Clean Technology Investment Program and the pulling forward $160 million of those funds to 2014/15.  Jon Jutsen, from Energetics, who raised fears about the program being cut earlier this week, said the CTIP had been very popular with business and has started to release the large pool of undeveloped energy efficiency opportunities in industry, much of which can be attained at a cost of less than $20/tonne.

“Most industrial businesses can cut 20% from their energy use by implementing projects and business practice improvements that pay back in less than 3 years, and the CTIP program allows many projects with up to 5 or 6 years payback to be considered by businesses as well – in many cases doubling attractive savings,” Jutsen says.

“Our experience is that if this program, or other similar incentive programs can stay in place for say 3 years, they can change the culture of organisations – making energy efficiency a part of core business.  Continuity is key.  CTIP has been operating for barely 12 months and many companies are still in the stage of project identification. Another year or 2 and many of the initial projects identified can be drive to completion with a continuation of incentives.

“This is particularly important at a time when manufacturing is struggling and is about to be slugged with substantial natural gas price increases once the east coast LNG plants come on line.”

Ralph Nader & Worldwatch Institute Come Up with Sustainability Solutions

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

Is Sustainability Still Possible? A provoking question, nonetheless attempted to be answered by leading environmental thinkers in a collection of essays of the same name released by the Worldwatch institute. As the lifestyle needs of humanity exert its irreparable damage on the environment, the call for change cannot come any sooner. Ultimately, the answer to the question lies in the will of the people to work at it as a way of life. Read more

Seeking Sustainability

By Ralph Nader, Consumer advocate, lawyer and author, in The Huffington Post (10 May 2013):

“Sustainability,” the late Ray Anderson–founder and chairman of Interface Inc. –once told the New York Times, “doesn’t cost, it pays.” After his “conversion experience” on the harmful effects his modular carpet business had on the environment, Anderson redirected his corporate philosophy to focus on the noble goal of absolute sustainability. Through his efforts, the company’s industrial processes were improved to start making peace with the planet–all while continuing to run a profitable business. His dedication to a sustainable society is one that, ideally, all CEOs should share, but most do not.

There’s little to debate about the enormous impact our commercial culture has had on our planet and its costly toll on the environment. But there is much to debate about how our culture of excess consumerism and materialism can be transitioned into one of more efficient restraint and responsibility.

The Worldwatch Institute recently released their “State of the World 2013″–a collection of essays by leading environmental thinkers titled Is Sustainability Still Possible?

Indeed, this is a question we must ask, as the effects of our industrialized, commercial civilization causes more and more irreparable damage. When one considers the needs of humanity, compared with the vast cost of a first-world lifestyle and the comfort it provides, the precarious state of the planet is clear. This is summarized well by Robert Engelman, president of the Worldwatch Institute, who writes: “We are 7.1 billion sizable individual organisms, each requiring thousands of kilocalories of food energy and several liters of water per day. The vast majority of us are unwilling to share our private living space with wild plants and animals. We like to live in a temperature range far narrower than that of the outdoors, and we like to be mobile.” Engelman notes how so many of us “enjoy pleasures and comforts unknown to even monarchs in the past.”

A powerful statement–and quite true, particularly in the United States. Consider our use of electricity, our running water, our ample food production chain, our automobiles, our high-speed internet, our smart phones, our LCD TVs. The list of creature comforts, both basic and extravagant, goes on and on. It’s a daunting task to examine each link in the supply chain and what happens when natural resources are consumed. The many talented writers and essayists in Is Sustainability Still Possible? step up to this lofty challenge. It’s impossible to read their analyses and not be persuaded to think critically about how we can begin to transform the most harmful aspects of our throwaway culture into one that will stand the test of time.

One point is clear, something must change. It’s a question of whether that change will come from the people or be forced upon them when the Earth’s carrying capacity is irreparably breached. Legendary environmentalist Barry Commoner once wrote: “Our air, water and land weren’t polluted and filled with toxic waste by some evil demon. The destruction of our environment begins in our farms and factories–and that’s where we have to go to save it.”

For many Americans, change can start personally and locally. Consider the repercussions of one’s own consumer habits. What are the things one truly needs, how does one acquire them, what sort of waste do these products leave behind? The “Story of Stuff” project, created by Annie Leonard, does an excellent job through online videos, blogs, and other means, of analyzing our culture of “stuff” and the effect it has on the environment. (Visit to learn more.)

It is encouraging that more and more people are deciding to “go local”–rejecting processed foods and purchasing their groceries from spreading local farmer’s markets and participating in community gardens and crop shares (CSAs). Some U.S. cities–such as Washington, D.C. –have made it safer and easier to bicycle by adding bike lanes to major streets and successfully promoting bicycle rental stations throughout the city. Secondhand, reuse and material exchange programs are becoming popular alternatives to buying new. Such types of environmentally friendly alternatives are sprouting up in communities across America.

Despite all the “sustainababble” from greenwashing corporations, many companies continue on with their harmful activities, such as opposing a carbon tax and vital pollution control standards. And of course, selling disposable products is very profitable for those companies who want you to keep buying new.

There’s one motto that should be held above all as we look to the future of our planet and our society. It was the great Ray Anderson’s guiding standard. We must take out of the Earth no more than we put into it. Finding this balance is crucial. It’s time to start a serious discussion about the future of our corporate-dominated culture, our economy, our environment, and the world we leave behind. Is sustainability still possible? Only if the people will it and work at it as a way of life.

(My latest book The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future is available from Politics and Prose, an independent book store in Washington D.C.)

US$100 Million Global Disaster Relief Fund For Vulnerable Cities

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

With 75% of global population projected to be living in cities by 2015, a large proportion of humanity is increasingly vulnerable to environmental disasters. To handle these future disasters, the Rockefeller Foundation has announced a US$100 million global disaster-relief fund, with its centrepiece 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge offering money, expertise and technical assistance to selected cities world-wide. Read more

Rockefeller offers $100m climate aid

In The Age (15 May 2013):

The Rockefeller Foundation marked the centennial of its founding with the announcement this morning of a $US100 million ($US101 million) global disaster-relief fund aimed primarily at helping cities handle climate-related or man-made disasters.

The New York nonprofit said the centerpiece of the effort would be the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge, a grant- based plan to provide money, expertise and technical assistance to selected cities world-wide.

“With the amount of climate change that has already occurred and is already affecting people, we need to be building resilience so that we can rebound more quickly and more effectively,” said Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin by phone. “The prediction is that by 2015, 75 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities. So urbanisation and cities is a massive issue.”

The foundation will begin taking grant applications in August from city governments. Applicants must submit a detailed plan for better handling disasters that also serves the needs of the poor or vulnerable.

Cities will be chosen by an organisation the foundation will hire to administer the program. A panel of urban-planning experts will advise on the selection of candidates. Three rounds of winners will be announced in the two years ending December 2015.

“Applicants will have to show how they’re going to incorporate a wide range of constituents in both the planning and implementation, from academia to civil society to business,” Rodin said. “Our experience shows us that all sectors of the city need to be engaged.”

Resilience officer

The winners will get funding to establish a “chief resilience officer” who would develop and oversee a master recovery plan. The cities selected can decide which sectors of the community need the most assistance.

“This will cover not only climate change and environmental resilience, but also economic and financial resilience,” Rodin said. “We certainly saw in Hurricane Sandy the financial system grinding to a halt for two days. We’re now seeing that the financial and economic sectors need to make resilience plans.”

The program will also fund technical support and resources for the disaster-relief plan and help cities find additional private- and public-sector support.

In the 100 years since it was chartered in New York on May 14, 1913, the Rockefeller Foundation has funded Nobel Prize- winning researchers, helped stave off pandemics and assisted communities ravaged by natural disasters. It created the Green Revolution in the 1940s that fed millions.

Money given

Until World War II, the foundation gave more foreign aid than the U.S. government. Today, it awards about $US130 million a year to grantees and ranks 16th in assets among foundations, with about $US3.5 billion. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with more than $US33 billion, is the world’s largest charity.

For its second century, Rodin leads an organisation that sees climate change as a core issue affecting food production in the developing world. It has given millions to African and Asian communities to help them survive floods, drought and poor harvests.

“In the 21st century, we think that globalisation and urbanisation and climate change are the significant problems facing people and systems,” Rodin said. “We have two simple goals, to build greater resilience and economic opportunity. We are America’s first global foundation and we continue to take that global perspective.”

Katrina lessons

Rodin said the foundation’s experience with communities such as New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina will be an asset to those cities selected for the Centennial Challenge. Rockefeller helped bring together New Orleans community leaders, experts and politicians, which led to a recovery plan, she said.

“Rockefeller was among the organisations that founded the field of urban planning about 50 years ago,” Rodin said. “We’ve been hard at work on the research and practice of urban planning and actually working with cities to introduce the thought-leading ideas.”


Europeans Look to The New World to invest in New Cleaner Energy

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

The salad days for renewable energy companies in Europe are over – under-performing economies, low electricity demand, expiry of once-generous subsidies. This has pushed companies to venture beyond their traditional European market to more promising ones, especially in developing nations. This has helped build resilience in the sector, and make it less vulnerable to policy changes as well as increasing the share of clean energy in new markets. Read more

Clean Energy Learns to Compete

By STANLEY REED in International Herald Tribune & New York Times (16 May 2013):

LONDON — Europe used to be nirvana for companies in the clean-energy business, but in the past couple of years it has become a much tougher place. With economies anemic, electricity demand is down; and, not surprisingly, once-generous subsidies that encouraged installing swaths of solar collectors in sun-poor Germany or wind farms in relatively calm areas of France are either being reduced or look as if they could be.

But for some people and companies, the harsher environment is fostering a tough-minded approach that may be healthy for the effort in the years ahead to curb the greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming.

Europe’s struggles, for instance, pushed Enel Green Power, one of the world’s largest electricity generators from renewable sources like wind and solar, to explore markets like Brazil, Chile and Mexico, that may turn out to be a lot more promising than Europe.

The bulk of Enel Green Power’s investments used to be in Europe, especially in Italy, its home, and Portugal and Spain. Now the company is mostly putting its new capital into emerging markets.

It’s a no-brainer. In many emerging economies, demand for power is surging. These countries want to harness power sources like wind or solar — if only so that they can conserve their oil and gas for exports.

Contrary to the practice in much of Europe, where subsidies are used as a lure for renewables projects, developing countries like Brazil often award contracts to build new power capacity through competitions that sometimes pit clean energy against fossil fuels like natural gas and diesel. For instance, Enel Green Power recently won wind power deals in Brazil in bake-offs that included proposals for natural gas-fired stations.

“There was a competitive approach to renewables that we liked a lot,” said Francesco Starace, the company’s chief executive.

Mr. Starace especially likes long-term deals like the ones he has worked out in Mexico with Nissan and Nestlé to build wind farms to supply factories with power. He hopes to replicate this sort of arrangement across emerging markets, including east Africa. These private, one-on-one arrangements are more sustainable, he figures.

“You don’t run the risk of a regulator or a state coming back at you and saying, ‘Guys, the good days are over, now we have to talk about reducing this and that,”’ he said.

Tom Murley, who runs two funds with more than $1 billion in renewable energy investments at HgCapital, a private equity firm based in London, takes a similar approach but closer to his home base.

His great enthusiasm at the moment is building wind farms in Sweden anchored by a large €180 million, or $235 million, array north of Stockholm called Havsnäs that opened in 2010. Mr. Murley likes Sweden because it has very windy sites that mean his wind turbines spin faster and more often than those elsewhere, producing more electricity to help pay off their construction costs.

He also likes Sweden’s low-subsidy regime, which is less tempting for a regulator to cut.

“The closer you are to the wholesale price of power, the less you are at risk,” he said. He is also investing in onshore wind projects in Ireland, where the operating environment resembles that of Sweden.

Mr. Murley avoids offshore wind, which requires huge subsidies to make economic sense. He is also veering away from solar projects at the moment for similar reasons. Spain, where he made a large earlier commitment to solar, has cut its subsidies, sharply reducing returns and leading to lawsuits from operators, including HgCapital.

The goal of the renewables business, Mr. Murley said, should be to be competitive eventually on costs with other energy sources and not to rely on subsidies. He also believes in building businesses like his clusters of Swedish wind farms that have the scale to engage a team of managers and the clout to cut better deals with suppliers. His organization tries to buy turbines and other equipment that are reliable rather than cheap and does not skimp on spending money on maintenance.

Renewable energy, he said, “should be run like any other manufacturing business; it is best to be a low-cost producer.”

Both approaches seem to be working. Enel Green Power, which is 68 percent owned by Enel, the big Italian utility, has seen returns through stock appreciation and dividend of about 26 percent over the past year. The stock price had plummeted earlier, along with that of many other renewables companies.

As a private organization, Mr. Murley’s company has returns that are harder to divine, but he says he has sold projects, including a British wind farm business, representing about one-third of the investments by his first €300 million fund for about €225 million.

And both organizations are still investing. Enel Green Power in particular plans to spend €6.1 billion over the next four years. That is good news at a time when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached the highest levels in millions of years.

Sounding the alarm about greenhouse gases and global warming is fine, but money is required to do something about the problem. And it is not likely to be forthcoming without competitive returns.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 16, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune.


There’s Money in Clearing the Oceans of Waste

Posted by Ken on May 22, 2013
Posted under Express 191

The Plasticity conference will be held at Hong Kong this year. Organised by the non-profit Ocean Recovery Alliance, the conference will focus on plastic waste issues, from design and material, to re-use and waste reduction. Recycling of plastic waste has already been proven to be a winner for several brand leaders who have enjoyed substantial savings, while others are reaping lucrative rewards. Read more

By Steve Toloken, STAFF REPORTER / ASIA BUREAU CHIEF Plastic News (16 May 2013):

HONG KONG — Following its inaugural conference on plastic waste issues on the sidelines of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil last year, the Plasticity conference is coming to Hong Kong in early June.

The June 6 event, billed as an exploration of solutions to the problems of plastic waste, includes keynote speeches from Christine Loh, the undersecretary for the environment for Hong Kong, and Mike Biddle, the founder of Richmond, Calif.-based plastics recycler MBA Polymers and winner of the Gothenburg Sustainability Award.

The forum is organized by the Ocean Recovery Alliance, a non-profit with offices in California and Hong Kong. The alliance focuses on ocean pollution issues, including plastic waste. The American Chemistry Council is listed as a supporting partner on the event’s website.

“As of 2013, 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces were covered with some form of floating plastic trash,” the ORA said in a statement announcing the event. “The statistics are sobering, but a growing number of companies and organizations… are eyeing solutions to the burgeoning plastic waste issue.”

The event will also include addresses from Bayer Material Science and the Taiwan Plastics Industry Development Center.

The head of the conference said it aims to bring together retailers, government policy makers, manufacturers and others to discuss the problem.

“The brands that will win will be the ones which admit that the communities they serve have a problem with plastic waste; which take the lead in making improvements; and which are part of that solution,” said Doug Woodring, event organizer and a co-founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance.

More information can be found at


Plasticity Forum: Adidas and others find gold in plastic

By Rikki Stancich in Green (16 May 2013):

The issue of plastic waste has grown too large to ignore. As of 2013, 40 percent of the world’s oceans surfaces were covered with floating plastic garbage of some sort, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Instead of burying their heads in the sand, companies, nonprofits and governments are beginning to not only address the issue but also seize the benefits from doing so. An international forum next month will bring these stakeholders together and highlight solution-driven thinking about plastic waste, while promoting the material’s vast, untapped opportunity.

The Ocean Recovery Alliance is hosting its second annual Plasticity Forum on June 6 in Hong Kong to accelerate uptake of the sustainable plastics concept. Conventional plastic and bioplastics manufacturers, sustainable packaging and green branding gurus, waste management practitioners, NGOs, think tanks and government agencies will share at the event progressive thinking on new ways to harness plastic, both pre- and post-consumption.

Discussions will focus on design, packaging, materials, innovations, re-use and waste reduction.

The Plasticity Forum follows the success of its inaugural event at last year’s Rio +20 Earth Summit, which showcased a cradle-to-grave array of sustainable solutions and plastic alternatives. In addition to the Ocean Recovery Alliance, organizers included Republic of Everyone and Applied Brilliance. The forum attracted more than 130 industry delegates, government leaders, educators and innovators from more than 15 countries.

“There are many sustainable ways of dealing with the use and re-use of (plastic) compared with the prevalent one-way use today,” MBA Polymers founder Mike Biddle stressed after the 2012 event.

Addressing the end-of-life waste issue at the conference, MBA Polymers demonstrated how its new sorting technologies recover and return virtually any type of plastic to a pure feedstock stream. This creates significant value for companies seeking to capture post-consumer waste from their products.

A compelling plastic alternative showcased at the forum was Ecovative’s fungus-based home-compostable composite materials, designed to replace petroleum-based Styrofoam. Ecovative demonstrated how mushrooms and fungus are literally “grown” into products by using molds that the spores grow into.

“The brands that will win are the ones that admit the communities they serve have a problem with plastic waste; that take the lead in making improvements; and are part of that solution,” says Doug Woodring, event organizer and co-founder of the Ocean Recovery Alliance.

Leading the pack

By harnessing plastic waste streams, several brand leaders already have enjoyed substantial savings, while others are reaping lucrative rewards.

Major apparel brands, such as Adidas and Hagger, are winning the hearts of Gen Y consumers by weaving post-consumer plastic bottles into selected garments. Newer brands, such as Rethink, modeled their entire business model on the recycled plastic waste concept. Each Rethink garment is manufactured from 100 percent recycled PET. The garments, themselves 100 percent recyclable, are clearly labeled with a “bottle count.”

Novel startups have glimpsed gold in the plastic recycling trend. Italian design firm Ginko has exploited the recycling niche with an umbrella that is 100 percent polypropylene and completely recyclable. At the other end of the spectrum, companies such as Method and Ecover are harvesting ocean plastic trash as a plastic source for their packaging.

Closing the plastic loop yields significant benefits, in many ways. Consumer goods behemoth Unilever has realized savings to the tune of more than $256 million from efficient use of materials and plastic waste capture since 2008.

Kicking the plastic habit

Companies that market their products globally will come under increasing pressure to factor product and packaging recyclability into marketing plans for both developed and less developed countries, predicts As You Sow, a U.S. nonprofit.

“The link between poor recycling practices and ocean plastic has resulted in more than 60 cities in California and 100 cities in the U.S. banning or restricting use of expanded polystyrene food packaging, and another 28 California municipalities banning plastic take-out bags,” noted As You Sow Director Conrad MacKerron at last year’s Plasticity event.

Even major public utilities are taking a zero-tolerance stance. Chicago’s two international airports recently banned plastic altogether.

The pressure from consumers and governments for plastics to become more sustainable is growing daily, be it through closing the life cycle loop, switching to bio-based and degradable plastics or opting out of plastic altogether. In response, several initiatives have been launched to address global dependency on plastic.

Both the Plastic Pollution Coalition and the Plastic Disclosure Project, which formed an alliance during last year’s Plasticity event, encourage companies and organizations to measure, manage and reduce their plastic use, and to channel any waste into a resource opportunity. The former targets education institutions and policy-makers, while the latter leverages the investor community to broaden transparency in reporting to include their plastic use and waste profiles. This shows good management, community engagement and brand value.

“Now is the time to scale-up new technologies, products and processes,” Woodring says, “to the benefit of the brands, companies and municipalities who understand where the improvements can be made in a new world of resource management thinking.”


Rikki Stancich, founder of Write Impact Communications, has worked as a business journalist and editor for 14 years covering sustainability, corporate ethics and renewable energies.