Thursday, 26 February 2009

Greenwash fails to cover ethical cracks for Britain's consumers

The Times
February 26, 2009

Marcus Leroux
The ethical and environmental reputations of leading DIY, furniture and garden retailers has fallen across the board, according to a Populus poll for The Times — despite a veritable blitz of green initiatives.
Every home or gardens retailer featured in the poll suffered a fall in how ethically aware consumers rated their behaviour.
The findings come amid fears of a “greenwash” in companies' marketing of their environmental credentials. The Times recently reported that the Advertising Standards Authority, the advertising watchdog, was cracking down on spurious green claims regarding, for example, carbon neutrality.
David Lourie, an analyst for Good Business, the ethical consultancy, said that the decline in ratings by concerned consumers of their social and environmental conduct is a symptom of the economic climate. He said: “Consumers are more nervous and less trusting of companies. People are withholding their belief until they have sorted out what is greenwash and what isn't.”

He added that the desperation of retailers to be on-message on environmental and social concerns, such as the use of child labour, meant that they were saying what “sounded right”, even if it was some way from the truth, and the cloud of mistrust obscures even the activities of well-meaning companies. “As customers become more suspicious, companies need to be more careful about how they talk about their environmental or social standards,” he said.
Industry “kitemarks”, such as the Forest Standards Council, which guarantees that timber comes from a sustainable source, can help to restore trust — yet the survey found that awareness of the FSC had stalled. Slightly less than a third of consumers had heard of it, the same figure as last year.
Mr Lourie said: “A universal standard that is recognised by the industry is a good way to go, as it informs consumers and forces the laggards to buck up their ideas, while allowing the market leaders to push the whole area forward.”
Information is also a critical factor. Nearly 80 per cent of concerned consumers do not believe that they have sufficient information on the environmental and social impacts of goods to make an informed choice. More than 90 per cent would find it useful to have more information on recycling — a demand that may be difficult to meet because of the variance in rules on what can be recycled between different councils.
Mr Lourie said: “Customers lack information that would help them to make an informed decision. Lots of environmental measures have been taken already, but are not communicated well.
“Value is the No 1 factor for consumers at the moment, but at the same time, if you can deliver value, your differentiator can be the environmental and social factors that are already inherent. That will help you to stand out.”
About 80 per cent of concerned consumers believe that companies have some responsibility for the disposal of old furniture. Homebase provides such a service, but, after the imposition of European regulations, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, there is likely to be growing pressure for others to follow. The directive obliges producers to finance the collection, treatment and recovery of products.
Among the top concerns for consumers was the use of child labour — even though the home and garden category, unlike the clothing trade, has not been struck by controversy on the subject.
Mr Lourie said: “This shows that issues that are affecting other sectors or industries, like the fashion industry or whoever else has been tarred with that brush, are of concern to consumers, even if they have not arisen. It means that if an issue does crop up, it could do extraordinarily serious damage.”
In 2007, home and garden centres were at the centre of the controversy over outdoor heaters, which were attacked for their energy use. This year, B&Q stopped selling wind turbines, which allow homes to generate their own energy, thanks to concerns they did not work well enough.
David Cameron, the Tory leader, installed one. B&Q had hoped that the law would be changed to allow the windmills to be installed without planning permission.
B&Q recently opened what it said was its greenest store in New Malden, southwest London, which features Britain's largest building-mounted wind turbine and ground-source heating. Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q, said that it hoped its features would reduce the store's emissions by half.
It sells loft insulation for £1 a roll, a fraction of the normal price, which is subsidised by British Gas under the Government's carbon emissions reduction target scheme.
Separately, nearly 75 per cent of concerned consumers said that packaging on an Easter egg was one of the main factors in a purchasing decision. In recognition of this trend, Nestlé said last week it had reduced packaging on its Easter eggs by 30 per cent, saving 700 tonnes of waste.
Make the most of what you have Giles Gibbons: Viewpoint
When times are tough, make the most of what you have. Companies must extract every iota of value from existing assets, rather than investing in the acquisition or creation of new ones. It is the corporate equivalent of finding forgotten goodies in the attic — particularly pertinent to many of the home-and-garden companies that are the focus of our survey this month.
B&Q is a case in point. It has a significant untapped asset. Here is a company that has been investing seriously in its social and environmental performance for years. It spearheaded the move towards sustainable timber use that has become widespread. Initiatives such as B&Q's One Planet Home moves it closer to the attic door, but for many it is still in the attic.
It is about time that stories such as these saw the light of day. Of course, when times are tough, consumers' primary focus is on value, but this does not mean that they immediately cease to care about anything else. As they consider each purchase decision more carefully, it becomes ever more important for the retailer to remove any factors that could tip the balance into a decision not to buy.
And this includes ethical qualms and doubts. In the survey this month 80 per cent of consumers said that they were concerned about the use of child labour in the production of home-and-garden products.
It would not take much. These times do not lend themselves to the loudspeaker approach, even if the marketing budgets were there to fund it. Much more appropriate, and eminently cost-effective, would be for companies that have values to start making them evident to consumers at the time and place of the purchase decision. This means making the most of in-store space and existing brochures and mailouts, thus providing added reassurance to consumers that not only are they getting value, but they are also getting values to which they adhere.
In these frugal times, every asset should be made to count.

Boris Johnson could introduce London electric car hire scheme

Mayor considers initiative as part of attempts to make city 'electric capital of Europe'
Hélène Mulholland, Wednesday 25 February 2009 17.41 GMT

Boris Johnson is considering the introduction of an electric car hire scheme in London as part of his attempts to make it the "electric capital of Europe".
The London mayor today told the London assembly that the working group he has set up to look at electric vehicles was considering the autolib scheme being planned for Paris for 2010.
The plan is based on the French capital's Velib bike hire scheme, which is already in place, and will see cars available for hire from bays around Paris.
Asked whether he would consider a similar scheme, Johnson confirmed his working group was already examining it.
The mayor – who has already set plans for a bike hire version of the scheme for London in motion – said he wanted the city to spearhead the revolution in electric cars.
He told the London assembly his environment chief was already "on the case", and that the issue was also being considered by the electric vehicle working group.
"I think this [electric vehicle technology] is something we should be really leading on," he said.
"I think we should be making London the electric capital of Europe, and that's why we are going to be greatly expanding our support for charging points around London.
"We have been talking to manufacturers about the possibility about switching to, or indeed creating, electric vehicles in this city."
Johnson said he was hoping to to persuade the transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, to give London at least a "sizeable chunk" of the £250m government money put in place to support electric initiatives.
Johnson said he wanted to see at least half the 8,000 vehicle fleet owned by the Greater London Authority replaced by electric vehicles as soon as possible.
However, he warned that considerable sums were necessary in order to invest in a technology that is "almost there ... but not quite".
"I want to see real progress towards us identifying London as the electric capital by June, but we have to be clear this is something we can't do without government assistance and we have to do it jointly with central government, " he said.
"It would be very sad if central government decided London wasn't suitable or wasn't the prime area for support."
While backing electric cars to reduce emissions, Johnson defended his decision, announced earlier this month, to drop the third phase of London's low emission zone, which would have penalised the highest polluting vans entering London through a £100 daily charge.
The Conservative mayor said it was "not right" to ask van drivers to spend £2,000 on making their vehicles compliant or £15,000 on replacing them with fuel efficient engines during a recession because the costs involved could tip many small businesses into closure.

China builds a green dream machine

The Asian country is known more for its pollution than environmental credentials – but a hybrid carmaker is winning the global eco-race

Helena Iveson
The Guardian, Thursday 26 February 2009

The Chinese government supports the production of hybrid cars such as those built at the BYD plant in Xi’an.

China's horrific air pollution is hardly a state secret, causing about 656,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organisation. But what is more of a surprise is the arrival of a new, local car manufacturer with breathtaking ambitions, supported by a government seeking to become a world leader when it comes to green technology.
BYD Auto – short for Build Your Dreams – was only founded in 2003, yet it has pulled off a global coup by mass-­producing the world's first plug-in, petrol-­electric hybrid, the nifty-looking BYD F3DM ( Under the bonnet, the car is more of a purely electric car than any similar hybrids on the road today, and has made its debut at least a year ahead of similar models from the US and Japan.
This year's model
The car, which does not need a specialised electric charging station and can be charged using a normal household supply, is now on sale in China, where it costs just under 150,000 yuan (£15,000), a similar price to a mid-range petrol-powered sedan and a bit more than half the 250,000 yuan it costs to buy a Toyota Prius. BYD has come from nowhere to sell 24,107 vehicles in January alone, an increase of nearly 80% from the previous year, and aims to sell 400,000 models in China this year.
BYD aims to tap into the world's fastest-growing auto market as China's emerging middle class – now estimated to number between 100 million and 150 million people – swap their bicycles for four wheels. While the economic crisis has sent vehicle sales tumbling around the world, Beijing alone is still adding more than 1,500 new cars to its gridlock every day. "The use of alternative types of cars could really make a contribution to the reduction of pollution in large Chinese cities," says Karl-Thomas Neumann, chairman of the carparts manufacturer Continental.
A survey by Continental shows that Chinese consumers are much more interested in hybrids than their European counterparts, with 53.7% of those surveyed happy to buy a hybrid and 73.4% who would consider an electric car – decidedly more green than the UK's respective 30.2% and 37.1%. Chinese drivers are more open to hybrids as "more than 90% drive in urban centres and travel less than 60 miles a day", says Paul Lin, BYD Auto's marketing manager. Hybrids come into their own in cities because of their limited range and top speeds. In queues, the car's electric engine shuts down before restarting when the car moves again.
While the auto company is a newcomer, its parent company, BYD – which itself has only been around since 1995 – is the world's biggest supplier of rechargeable batteries, giving them a huge jumpstart when it comes to the production of hybrid and electric cars. And the company has audacious ambitions – it aims to be China's No 1 car firm by 2015, and world No 1 in 2025. BYD vehicles will be launched in Europe – provisionally Denmark, because of its friendly tax policies towards green technology – in 2011.
"We respect our competitors abroad," says Lin, "but we are aiming to show that we can not only compete on the world stage, but dominate."
Environmentalists and Chinese commuters frustrated at the rising price of fuel aren't the only ones with their fingers crossed that the car takes off. The US investment guru Warren Buffet has bought a 10% stake in the firm for $232m.
In China, electricity is cheap, though this is produced by burning coal. The company decided to avoid building expensive charging stations. "Most Chinese live in apartments and don't have their own garages, so instead, drivers unplug the battery and charge it in their homes overnight," says Lin. The car has a range of 62 miles on a fully charged battery, and once the battery runs out, the car switches into hybrid mode. Lin claims the batteries will not degrade until they have been fully charged 2,000 times, which should take seven years, and even then, the battery's capacity only drops to 80%.
Communist revolution
Of course, one company alone won't change China's dirty habits, let alone those of the world, says Bradley Berman, editor of "BYD deserves credit for producing plug-in hybrids. But to make a real dent in auto pollution, these plug-in cars will need to scale up to hundreds of thousands per year. So, it's not who's first with the first models. Environmental and economic success will come with high-volume production sustained over many years," he says.
An analyst with IHS Global Insight Auto, Duan Chengwu, says China's advances in green technology have come about because of backing from its most dominant power source – its Communist government. "The government firmly supports these companies producing hybrids and electric cars," says Duan. Measures to stimulate the ailing car industry include the halving of sales tax on certain cars, subsidies for owners of high-emission vehicles who exchange them for more fuel-efficient vehicles and a 10bn yuan fund to promote new technology. Thirteen cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, offer subsidies to hybrid buyers.
While combating pollution problems is one incentive, the Chinese government has another reason to push green technology: pride. "The government wants to leapfrog western countries and become a global leader in the field," Duan says. "The country is years behind its competitors in the auto industry as a whole, but when it comes to green technology, everyone is starting from scratch. In this scenario, China has a great opportunity."
Four wheels good
The most famous hybrid car of choice is still the Toyota Prius, the first mass-produced model. The car is essentially petrol-fuelled but has an electric engine that propels the car at low speeds and assists the main engine when accelerating. First launched in Japan in 1997 before going worldwide in 2001, more than 1m Prius hybrids have been sold. There will be a plug-in version of the Prius for fleet customers by the end of the year, and the company also recently announced they will produce a commuter battery-electric vehicle by 2012.
General Motors won't be joining the electric car fray until 2011, when it says it will launch the Chevy Volt in the US. The car will have a lithium-ion battery with a petrol-powered engine that drives a generator to provide electricity when you drive beyond its 40-mile battery range. The Volt is expected to cost around $40,000 (£27,500).
Here in the UK, the independent car company Lightning wins the award for the most stylish option – their swish-looking fully electric Lightning model looks like something an eco-friendly James Bond would drive, and should be available from late 2010. The catch? An estimated asking price of £120,000.

Windfarm approval can't lift SSE shares

Published Date: 26 February 2009

SCOTTISH & Southern Energy eased almost 2 per cent yesterday despite having another offshore wind farm approved in the Dutch area of the North Sea. Perth-based SSE said Breeveertieen II, the second Dutch wind farm it has been given permission for
, will have the capacity to produce some 350Mw from 97 turbines situated about 60 kilometres off the coast of Ijmuiden. But despite high values being placed on consented wind farm assets, SSE's shares dropped 19p or 1.7 per cent to 1,108p.Oil shares rose on the back of a rise in crude prices, with Dana Petroleum extending gains made on Tuesday when it announced another significant discovery in the North Sea. Its shares jumped 69p to 1,025p, while, elsewhere in the sector, Venture Production climbed 2.9 per cent to 496p and Melrose Resources rose 4.5 per cent at 189.75p.FTSE-100 explorer Cairn Energy climbed 45p to 1,916p despite reports that it had surrendered some exploration rights in Bangladesh.On Aim, Clyde Process Solutions was unchanged at 21.5p, after it warned in a trading statement covering the year to 28 February that economic conditions had been "challenging" but it had continued to pick up orders.

Canada brushes off oil sands article

The Associated Press
Published: February 26, 2009

TORONTO: Canada's Conservative government and the country's main opposition party defended Alberta's massive oil sands operations on Wednesday following the release of a 20-page critical photo-essay in this month's National Geographic magazine.
The article details the environmental and social problems around the oil sands.
The magazine has glossy photographs of sludge-filled toxic ponds and the grey, muddy moonscapes of the massive open pit mines around Fort McMurray, Alberta.
"In northern Alberta the question of how to strike that balance (between economics and the environment) has been left to the free market, and its answer has been to forget about tomorrow. Tomorrow is not its job," says the article.
The spread is the latest in a series of public-relations challenges for the Canadian and Alberta governments as they struggle to deal with the enormous carbon footprint of the oil sands. Environmentalists have mounted a campaign in the U.S. portraying the oil sands as an environmental catastrophe.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice dismissed the feature as "just one article." He emphasized the work Canada and the U.S. agreed to do on carbon reduction technologies for the coal and oil industries in North America.
President Barack Obama's remarks on Canada's polluting oil sands industry and an agreement to begin a clean-energy dialogue between the countries last week reassured Canadians worried the new U.S. president would restrict oil imports.
"The answer to all of this is technology, investments in technology, and that's why we'll be working together with the United States to that end," said Prentice, who heads to Washington next week to meet environmental advisers.
Opposition Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who recently positioned himself as a supporter of the oil sands, was emphatic in his disdain for the National Geographic story.
"National Geographic is not going to teach me any lessons about the oil sands," he said.
"This is a huge industry. It employs Canadians from coast to coast. We have oil reserves that are going to last for the whole of the 21st century. We are where we are. We've got to clean it up, and we've got make it a sustainable place to work and live."
Industry officials estimate the oil sands in northern Alberta could yield as much as 175 billion barrels of oil, making Canada second only to Saudi Arabia in crude oil reserves. But the extraction process produces a high amount of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.

RWE Npower secures land at Sellfield

By Rebecca Bream, Utilities Correspondent
Published: February 25 2009 23:25

Energy group RWE Npower has stepped up its campaign to be a leading developer of new nuclear reactors in the UK with the securing of farmland near the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria.
The company has secured the right to buy land at two locations near Sellafield, as well as potential connections to the national grid for up to 3,600 MW of new power generation capacity.
Sellafield is best known as the location for most of the UK’s nuclear waste, but it is also home to the Calder Hall reactor, the world’s first commercial nuclear power station, which started generating electricity in 1956 and closed down in 2003.
Local politicians and unions are keen to see Sellafield revived as a site for nuclear power generation. So far RWE has focused most of its nuclear efforts on Anglesey in Wales, where it has also secured options to buy farmland and install grid connections. Last month it formed an alliance with rival power supplier Eon to look at jointly building new reactors at Wylfa and at Oldbury in Gloucestershire, both locations of ageing reactors owned by the government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
The NDA is in the process of auctioning its sites at Wylfa and Oldbury, as well as Bradwell in Essex, with the successful bidders to be announced by the end of March.
The NDA’s land at Sellafield is expected to come up for sale at a later stage, and RWE’s decision to secure land there indicates that it would be interested in bidding, potentially in partnership with Eon.
RWE and Eon plan to jointly build around 6,000 MW of nuclear generation capacity in the UK, which represents between four and six reactors depending on which technology is chosen. They hope to have the first new reactor completed between 2018 and 2020.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

The truth about recycling

With stories of old TVs ending up in Nigerian landfill sites, the collapse in demand for recycled materials, and claims that incineration is a better way to dispose of waste, there's a growing backlash against recycling. So should we still be washing up those baked beans cans? Leo Hickman finds out

Leo Hickman
The Guardian, Thursday 26 February 2009

Several times a year, without forewarning or invitation, inspectors representing the Chinese government make their way to the Black Country, the geographical and, some would argue, industrial heart of England, to rummage through the recycling collected from the region's streets. They pass through Walsall and on to neighbouring Aldridge where they visit a former foundry that was recently converted - "recycled", according to its owners - into the country's largest "materials recovery facility"(MRF, pronounced "merf").
"We had them here again just a few weeks ago," says Mick Davis, the business development director at Greenstar, the site's owners. From a gantry high up above the loud confusion of conveyor belts, thrashing bag splitters and giant spinning magnets below, he points to a towering pile of bales being stacked by a forklift truck in the corner of the hangar-like building. The sweet, acidic stench of rotting refuse attacks the nostrils.
"The inspectors reserve the right to split open any of those bales containing plastic bottles and check for quality and contamination," says Davis. "They are very fussy about standards. They will also closely inspect our 'soft mix' paper bales, too. We now have to take a photograph of every bale before it gets shipped to China. It's all about traceability and quality control. But it's their right to be fussy: they pay us good money for these materials. We're getting about £50 for a 300kg PET [polyethylene terephthalate, a thermoplastic polymer resin] bail at the moment."
This is the vision of recycling we all want to hold dear in our heads as we wash up baked bean cans and sort wine bottles from plastic milk cartons ready for collection: confirmation that as much of our waste as possible is collected, sorted and sold on for a profit.
But the reality - somewhat at odds with the evidence to be found in Aldridge - is that recycling is undergoing a crisis of confidence. Amid stories of old televisions being sent for recycling but instead heading for Nigerian landfill sites, and popular revolts against "bin taxes" and fortnightly collections, many householders say they are beginning to lose confidence in a system that has only been in existence for the last decade. (It's easy to forget that as recently as 2000, as much as 90% of waste in England was still being sent to landfill: in 2008, it stood at 59.9% of household waste.) Compounding this sense of anxiety is the news that the international market for recyclable commodities has taken a dive alongside the rest of the global economy, sparking headlines about piles of unsold recycled materials across the country.
And hovering over this are longer-term questions about the direction our waste management strategy is headed, with an increasing push towards incineration as landfill is slowly squeezed out of the equation by ever-tightening environmental directives, regulations and taxes. Would it, in fact, make more sense both environmentally and economically, as one government waste adviser controversially suggested recently, to be burning some of our recycling to generate both electricity and heat instead of, say, exporting it?
Inside the warmth of the boardroom, away from the noise and hurry of the machinery, Ian Wakelin, Greenstar's CEO, offers up a passionate defence of recycling: "Yes, there is a backlash against recycling at the moment, but there is also a real lack of balance in the debate. Is recycling being landfilled, as some are claiming? Beyond the contaminated matter that we have to extract from the recyclate we receive [about 5-10% of the total weight], I think this is nonsense. I haven't talked to anyone in the recycling industry who has landfilled anything that is recyclable. The economics just don't stack up. Why would they when landfill gate fees are so high? [Currently, about £50-60 a tonne.] They can give it to me and I will readily take it off them."
Wakelin feels that the UK still has a long way to go before it feels at ease about how it deals with its waste. "We are such a nimby culture here in the UK," he says. "Would you rather have a landfill or an incinerator on your doorstep? Look at Vienna, where they've built an incinerator right in the centre of the city that is so beautiful that it now attracts tourists. The danger is that public perception is bloody difficult to change. We need more positive education programmes about what we do with our waste. For example, it's immoral not to ship our recycling back to India and China if it's helping them to grow their economies and develop. Who are we to deny them this resource?"
Wakelin believes that one of the tricks to winning over a sceptical public is to make recycling far easier for the average householder. "I always get asked the same questions at dinner parties," he says. "Why do I have to have so many bins at home? And why can't I recycle more plastic?"
The solution, says Wakelin, is to "leave it to the machines", rather than have "Mr and Mrs Average sorting it all at home". His company's philosophy for waste is that "co-mingled" collections (where all dry recyclables are placed by householders into just one bag ready for collection) are the way forward, as opposed to kerbside collections (where householders are expected to separate their recycling at home for refuse workers working "kerbside" to then put these sorted materials by hand into separate containers on their vehicle) which, he says, are less efficient, both environmentally and economically. The MRF at Aldridge processes 500-600 tonnes of municipal recycling (collected from households, restaurants, small businesses etc) a day, serving 15 local authorities, some as far away as London and North Wales. This represents 3-4% of the UK's dry recyclate.
"The traditional argument against co-mingled is that it gets more contaminated than kerbside," he says. "That was the case five to 10 years ago, but the technology is much better now. The industry is going through a revolution right now, from the rag-and-bone man through to the machine. We are seeing a rush by councils towards co-mingling. Nine out of the 10 best-performing local authorities, when it comes to recycling rates, use co-mingled collections. When they switch over, they typically see a 20% leap in recycling rates overnight."
Back out on the shop floor, Davis edges past the 40-strong team of "pickers", who are all intently scanning the recycling as it flashes past them on the conveyor for any contamination missed by the machines. "We see all this as a commodity, not waste," he says. "We then process it into soft-mix paper, glass, aluminium, metal cans and soft plastics by polymer type and colour. About 10-15% of our materials go to China, but the majority stays in the UK. All our newsprint, for example, goes to a processing site in Aylesbury.
"Steel cans used to go to the steel firm Corus, but they have currently abandoned this due to the downturn in the car industry. Last year we were getting £60 a tonne for steel, but that's down to £30-£50. Yes, this has hurt us. But we are tied to the global economy and we think the sharpest shocks are over. People had been running down their stocks of recycled materials, especially in China, but now that they've exhausted those supplies they are coming back into the market and prices have strengthened again. It's a total myth that we can't sell this stuff. The main problem is that there's a real shortage of processing facilities like this around the country."
Chris Allen is one of the reprocessors waiting keenly "downstream" for these materials to turn them back into "useful stuff". As CEO of Smurfit Kappa Paper UK, he oversees a firm that produces 450,000 tonnes of 100% recycled brown paper at two paper mills, in Kent and Birmingham, for use by corrugated box manufacturers across the UK and Ireland. "We turn things such as newspaper, old cardboard boxes and cornflake packets into quality brown paper," he says. "The UK produces 2m tonnes of cardboard boxes a year. We should do our level best to produce these with locally recycled materials. At the moment, I'm paying £50-55 a tonne for mixed waste paper and card, whereas I'm selling it as brown paper for £280 a tonne. This is a viable business, believe me. The fibres from those trees that get cut down have a bloody good life."
Allen has strong views about media reports that some local authorities and collection companies have been stockpiling paper, and other sorts of recycling, as market prices have collapsed: "The Chinese buy paper in huge volume and have been outbidding us. They had been buying like hell and paying incredible sums for it. But the downturn caught up with China at the end of last year and they suddenly stopped buying the expensive stuff from far-off Europe. But they are now coming back into the market and we are seeing prices rise again. There's always been ups and downs in the market, but it was the collection companies who had been exclusively selling to the Chinese that were bleating at the end of last year that the market had collapsed. I hate to say, 'I told you so,' but if they had had a balanced supply portfolio they wouldn't have been in that pickle. The quiet, sensible ones just got on with selling to buyers like me. Look at Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in the country. They didn't have one single problem, because they sell paper that is well sorted and of a high quality. It's the shit-quality paper that you saw being stockpiled on the TV."
Tom Freyberg, editor of Recycling and Waste World magazine, agrees there are signs the market is recovering from its trough in December 2008. "Problems started in October when the prices of materials such as paper and plastics fell dramatically," he says. "However, prices are now climbing. For people to lose faith now in recycling would be disastrous."
But it's not just the availability of buyers that has helped to depress prices, say some prominent voices within the industry. There is a problem with quality, too. The Campaign for Real Recycling, which is made up of some of the UK's largest materials reprocessors, in addition to community recycling representatives and Friends of the Earth, argues that the overall quality of recycled materials in the UK just isn't as high as it should and could be, and that this is largely down to the trend for co-mingled collections.
Earlier this year, the campaign group sent an open letter to Jane Kennedy MP, the minister for farming and environment at Defra, urging the government to reverse this trend. It lamented the fact that the recycling system in the UK was producing "extremely low-grade mixed materials masquerading as paper, aluminium, glass" and, as a result, many reprocessors were having to import materials from abroad unnecessarily.
Caught in the middle of this debate is the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), the not-for-profit company set up as part of the government's waste strategy published back in 2000. Phillip Ward, as director for local government services, has the task of advising local authorities on what types of collection systems they should opt for.
"We are going through a large transitionary period," he says. "As recently as 2000 we were largely putting all our stuff in the ground. But we're now at 35% recycling rates. Local authorities had to invent a new system but no one knew the best way to do it. That's why we now have a patchwork solution across the country. It's not a finished system yet."
Yes, he says, we must all aim to produce cleaner, better quality recyclate, as well as aim to "narrow the variations between the local authorities", but he adds that a patchwork of collection and sorting methods will always be necessary to some degree due to the rural/suburban/urban split across the country. Co-mingling better suits the often cramped "internal logistics" of people living in built-up city centres, whereas kerbside collection suits those out in the leafy suburbs with enough space to sort everything into neat, tidy piles.
Psychology plays an important role in public engagement, says Ward. "Surveys have shown that most people have fairly mundane criticisms of recycling: 'Nobody explains to me what happens next to my waste', or 'Nobody says thank you for my efforts'. People do respond to this, rather than a punitive atmosphere."
Ward accepts that the media backlash ("propaganda by papers with an agenda," as he describes it) against "pay-as-you-throw" schemes, which aimed to impose an extra charge on householders who produced excessive waste, means that these are now politically untenable. Give people the right signals, as well as the right collections, he says, and most people are only too happy to "do their bit". "Our research has shown that giving people two 55-litre boxes for recycling, collected once a week, is the ideal combination. We have also found that if you get plastic recycling right it triggers further engagement. This is now a key area for us, alongside increasing food waste collections. [According to Wrap, we still throw out about one-third of the food we buy.] The next frontier is getting plastic items such as yoghurt pots and margarine lids collected. It has to be shown to be viable. For example, a new plant called Closed Loop has recently opened in Dagenham, Essex, processing plastic milk cartons and clear drinks bottles into food-grade packaging."
But Ward also wants us all to ask some broader, deeper questions about our whole "cradle-to-grave" waste economy. The waste industry has been talking about the so-called "waste hierarchy" for decades - the mantra that places waste prevention as the first goal followed, in descending order, by minimisation, reuse, recycling, energy recovery and, finally, disposal - but it has still not yet fully met these words with deeds. After all, it is now almost 50 years since the US social critic Vance Packard wrote about the excessive waste produced by western consumerism (principally, how we are all encouraged to buy things we don't need) in his landmark bestseller The Waste Makers - the Silent Spring of the waste world - and still we have yet to fundamentally heed his warnings.
"We need a manufacturing system that uses far more recycled materials," says Ward. "We need to tackle planned obsolescence. At the moment it's still hard to make the economic case to mend something, but, as we have already seen in places such as Japan and Taiwan, the labour pool in China will become less and less cheap as their standard of living rises. This should lead to the return of the repair man for items such as broken dishwashers, kettles and washing machines. We can do this by getting the manufacturers together. That's how we tackled standby power. Ten years ago, standby used 25-30 watts; now that's down to 1-2 watts."
Ask most householders what their No1 irritant is when it comes to waste and the response is immediate: excessive packaging. Why is the onus placed on householders and consumers to dispose of it dutifully and correctly, they ask, when the problem could be more readily tackled upstream? The Local Government Authority also recently weighed into the debate saying that supermarkets should contribute towards the costs of recycling, adding that almost 40% of the packaging used by supermarkets still cannot be easily recycled.
Ward shares this frustration, but he doesn't have a word of comfort for those who express concern about the slow creep towards incineration as opposed to, say, waste minimisation or greatly increased recycling. "Incineration is going to be inevitable," says Ward. "[But the] cleaner we can get our waste, the less of it we'll need to burn. That's why we always plead for people to keep their recycling as clean and well sorted as possible. Curry sauce all over your recycling will render it useless."
There are those, though, who believe that recovering energy by incinerating waste is better, by and large, than recycling it. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers, for example, has recently urged the government to invest in heating and energy projects with local waste being used as the fuel resource, much like the schemes found in countries such as Germany and Austria. "The government should abandon its focus on recycling as the only way to rid us of landfills," it says, "as this is quite unachievable and is clearly deceiving the public about what is really happening to their waste. Recycling should only be for waste products that cannot be more sustainably converted into electricity, heat and/or transport fuels."
Adam Read, a former professor of waste management at Northampton University, believes that the industry is still in the foothills when it comes to understanding the full environmental implications of each form of waste treatment. "We certainly need to understand our waste-flow better," he says. "We need a better grasp of the calorific values, water content, market values and the like of each waste source before pushing ahead. Yes, it sometimes will be more economical to burn waste, but the environmental impact is always going to be less when recycling. However, incineration will always be better environmentally than landfill because of the methane generated when organic waste rots underground."
On the site of a former quarry at Allington in Kent sits a facility that is squarely at the heart of the debate about whether we should be burning more of our waste, especially the portions of our waste that some argue could and should be recovered for recycling. The Enviropower energy from waste (EFW) facility, with its 80m-tall chimney, is the country's newest and largest incinerator. It also operates a MRF and, as a result, can now claim to be Kent's one-stop-shop for waste. The Waste Recycling Group, the Spanish-owned company that built the site, says the UK can expect to see more and more combined "waste management facilities" such as Allington Quarry being built in the coming years.
"We burn 1,500 tonnes of waste a day - 24/7, 365 days a year - at temperatures of 600-650C," says Paul Andrews, Enviropower's managing director, as a huge mechanical claw swoops down, grabs several tonnes of black bin bags from a concrete bunker below, and lifts them up into a shredder in preparation for entering the combustion chambers. "Doing so provides us with 43 megawatts of electricity - easily enough to power the whole of Maidstone."
As much of the recyclable material as possible, he explains, is recovered from the black bins as they pass through the shredders, but this only amounts realistically to any ferrous metals that manage to be caught by magnets. The vast majority of what Kent now puts into its black bin bags - chicken bones, bottle tops, cling film, nappies - ends up being burned inside Allington Quarry's fluidised-bed combustion chambers (ovens with 120 tonnes of sand at the bottom that is blasted with air to help increase the "burn efficiency" of the materials that pass over it). It's a one-way ticket, but Enviropower says by burning this waste it helps to divert almost half a million tonnes of Kent's waste from going to landfill each year. For every black bag that passes into the system, 85% of the weight will be vapourised and the remaining 15% will be extracted, either as an anaerobic sludge or a dry ash. The sludge is sent to landfill, whereas the ash is either landfilled or used as aggregate for roads.
But what most of the surrounding residents want to know is what is coming out of that tall chimney. When the site was going through planning, for example, local campaigners opposing its construction said they were fearful of being exposed to soot, heavy metals, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) and cancerous dioxins. Paul Andrews makes a pretty remarkable defence when probed on this matter: "It would take 25 years for this facility to produce as much pollution as is emitted by vehicles on the M25 in just three days. The legal limit for dust particles from a coal-fired power station is 160mg per cubic metre, where as for us the limit is 10mg per cubic metre. Proportionally, fireworks throw up far more in the way of dioxins. So does cooking bacon. We have even reached the limit of detection with some of the gases, but we could still go further with nitrogen oxides. The regulations on emissions are incredibly stringent now and, to be honest, we would welcome even tighter rules."
Andrews says that when most people think of incinerators now they think of the ones dating back to the postwar period. But today's incinerators, he says, are many orders of magnitude cleaner because they go to "extraordinary lengths" to clean up the gases as they leave the combustion chamber, including passing them through a lime and carbon bath to remove the acidic gases and through filter bags to remove dust particles.
"We have this Englishman-and-his-castle attitude here in the UK," he says. "Zero waste is just not possible. We live in a society where some waste streams just don't have a home other than disposal. As a country, we need to work out where we are ultimately heading with waste. The government needs to set out clearly what our waste vision is."
Recycling as much of our waste as possible is still the goal, says Andrews, but we must accept that some of it will need to be either incinerated or landfilled. But the wider, as yet unanswered, question is what happens when incinerating waste is seen to be more convenient than going to the cost and bother of recycling it? Do we block this from happening with regulation and taxes, as we are doing with landfill, or do we slide into a society that predominately incinerates its waste? The way Liz Parkes, head of waste at the Environment Agency, sees it, we are going through some inevitable growing pains as we move from a nation that once unthinkingly threw its waste in the ground and buried it to one that attempts to make as much use of it as it can.
"Yes, it is taking time to turn this around, and it's a shame that the current debate could turn attitudes away from recycling, but there is a demand out there for our materials," she says. "We have to keep building up public trust with things such as open days and school visits. We must keep the message simple. Recycling has to be normalised and socially acceptable. Just look at what happened with issues such as smoking and drink-driving over the years. It takes time as this is really all about public behaviour. We just need to move as a society from one that says 'not there, not there' to one that asks, 'Where do you want it then?'"

Miliband denies clash over 'clean coal'

Allegra Stratton, political correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 26 February 2009

The climate change secretary confirmed yesterday that he was "hopeful" more than one "clean coal" power station would be piloted, despite the government running a competition to fund only a single demonstration plant.
As revealed in yesterday's Guardian, Ed Miliband admitted he wanted an expansion of carbon capture and storage projects to bury the greenhouse gases emitted by coal plants. But a parliamentary committee forced him to deny reports that he was locked in a battle with the Treasury over the funding of a wider roll-out.
Substantial government funding is seen as crucial to developing the as-yet unproven technology, as energy companies are unwilling to bear the full cost, estimated at between £250m and £1bn for each plant.
In his first evidence session to the newly created energy and climate change committee, Miliband denied there had been any disputes or delays, but confirmed he wanted more pilots of clean coal. Yesterday a spokeswoman for the department said an announcement on further CCS plants was due in coming weeks.
Setting out his department's thinking, Miliband said: "What we're not going to do with this process is have a policy which essentially has a moratorium on any coal-fired power station. We've got to drive carbon capture and storage, and we've got to find a way which is properly funded as well; that's what we're working on."
Committee member and Conservative MP Charles Hendry said Miliband's comments that "there are no delays to the project and no in-fighting with the Treasury is completely at odds with everything we are hearing from other sources".

It's not easy being green

EU recovery plans are focusing on environmental investment and manufacturing, but the road is strewn with obstacles

David Gow in Brussels, Wednesday 25 February 2009 12.20 GMT

The British government turned down £30m for vanmaker LDV, but Sarkozy and Berlusconi will push for substantial aid for industry.

This week the British government revealed its true colours: yes to £1.3 trillion for failed banks, no to £30m for Midlands vanmaker LDV, which happens to be owned by a failed Russian oligarch. New Labour remains in thrall to the financial sector and the City.
Forget Labour's talk about rebalancing the economy to give a greater countervailing weight to manufacturing and green technologies. Empty words. But over here, in mainland Europe, it's beginning, albeit falteringly, to be meaningful. On Sunday, at an emergency EU summit on the toxic asset crisis and protectionism, we may just see how much.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, will push for substantial aid for industry. "Industrial policy is not a swear word," the Sarkozy said in Rome. "There must be competition to build big European groups, not to make all our industries delocalise." If the Yanks can do it, so should we – and Sarko, after controversially bailing out Renault and Peugeot Citroën with €7.5bn (£6.64bn), has taken a fresh stake in component maker Valeo, via the new French strategic investment fund.
His policy has not gone unchallenged. Sweden, always ranked among the top five most competitive economies globally, has refused to rescue Saab; Germany is struggling to find a way of saving Opel, the biggest European unit of near-bankrupt General Motors. Sarkozy's brand of Bonapartist protectionism and state dirigisme (direct intervention) arouses fierce criticism. Many fear it will pave the way for the second great global depression in 80 years.
There are alternatives. Green MEPs, led by Claude Turmes, a Luxembourger who co-drafted the EU's climate change policies, are pressing for a genuinely eco-friendly economic recovery programme for the post-crisis era. Turmes has warned that, unless Europe gets its collective act together, it risks being left behind by Obama's America, China and even Japan.
A similar message has come from Nicholas Stern, author of the British government's agenda-setting report on climate change. And from Avaaz, the internet-based campaign, which is telling this weekend's summit via millions of emails that the US is moving with more clarity and purpose than the EU and that China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, is committing a third of its huge stimulus programme to green investments.
At the core of the Turmes programme, which commands critical support from socialists and liberals in the European parliament, is a greater role for the European Investment Bank (EIB). The under-staffed EIB is overwhelmed by government requests for backing for short- and longer-term investments, with a greater share going to green technologies. But it is not classified as a bank, and so has no access to European Central Bank (ECB) facilities – something Turmes and others would like to change.
The Greens argue that current EU recovery programmes such as the €5bn scheme to promote "clean" coal, wind power and green power grids are old-fashioned and unviable and offer aid almost exclusively to energy and telecoms oligopolies. They argue that such schemes don't have an immediate impact and that state aid does little to leverage sorely needed capital.
But the EIB has won an increase in its capital to €232bn, so it can increase lending by 30% this year. Turmes and his supporters want the EIB to back investment in renewing buildings (a sector employing 26 million people in Europe), renewable energy technologies, green-tech companies and public transport in cities such as London, Paris and Milan. This would potentially trigger job creation (Obama's plan has promised 5m US jobs), reduce carbon emissions and enhance Europe's energy independence.
Fanciful or even phantasmagorical? Well, the omens for a new kind of economy are not bright. Earlier this week, 27 foreign ministers rowed openly about how to share out the €5bn eco-recovery programme and where to place the projects. Europe's squabbling, small-minded political class as a whole lacks vision and purpose. Bring back Jacques Delors …
Still having a ball
Waltz away the crisis. That's what around 5,000 "guests" including Nicollette Sheridan from Desperate Housewives, did last week at the annual Vienna opera ball.
Paris Hilton turned up two years ago as the star guest of 76-year-old business executive Richard Lugner and found it boring (even after being pelted by cigarettes and lipsticks by angry onlookers). Sheridan, however, told state broadcaster ORF: "This is like a fairytale come true."
But for Austria's banks and manufacturers it's more like a nightmare come true. And several stayed away, balking at the €17,000 they normally shell out for a box at the Staatsoper and the €42,000 needed to actually guarantee one.
Hardly surprising given that the banks have loaned the equivalent of 80% of the country's GDP to emerging economies, most of them over the border in eastern Europe. They're sitting on losses of some €230bn and asking for €150bn to bail them out.
"Hardly the time to appear here in public, quaffing champagne in front of the TV cameras, just as the government is injecting capital into the banking system," one banker said.
The ball, the 53rd of the series, was ausverkauft (sold out) even so. But attendees were told to leave the bling at home, refuse to talk about the financial crisis and even wear modestly chic evening dress. And that's the motto for the 450 forthcoming balls in the former Hapsburg empire capital and crossroads between ex-capitalist west and ex-communist east.
The ball's organisers, reportedly, insist that the opera ball, highlight of the carnival season held on the Thursday preceding Ash Wednesday, is a serious contribution to the Austrian economy, raising €65m for suppliers of gowns and the like. One observer said the Viennese, who fork out €230 each for their tickets, would spend their last cent on attending. "We'd still be dancing in a complete catastrophe." Hey ho, Europe.

Droughts 'may lay waste' to parts of US

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 26 February 2009

The world's pre-eminent climate scientists produced a blunt assessment of the impact of global warming on the US yesterday, warning of droughts that could reduce the American south-west to a wasteland and heatwaves that could make life impossible even in northern cities.
In an update on the latest science on climate change, the US Congress was told that melting snow pack could lead to severe drought from California to Oklahoma. In the midwest, diminishing rains and shrinking rivers were lowering water levels in the Great Lakes, even to the extent where it could affect shipping.
"With severe drought from California to Oklahoma, a broad swath of the south-west is basically robbed of having a sustainable lifestyle," said Christopher Field, of the Carnegie Institution for Science. He went on to warn of scorching temperatures in an array of cities. Sacramento in California, for example, could face heatwaves for up to 100 days a year.
"We are close to a threshold in a very large number of American cities where uncomfortable heatwaves make cities uninhabitable," Field told the Senate's environment and public works committee.
The warnings were the first time Congress had been directly confronted with the growing evidence that the impact of climate change will be far more severe than revealed even in the UN's most recent report, in 2007.
The hearing was also the first time senators had been permitted to hear testimony about the dangers to human health from climate change. In 2007, the Bush administration censored testimony from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the rise in asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as the increasing occurrence of "tropical" parasites.
"The CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern," said Howard Frumkin, the director of the centre for environmental health at the CDC.
Yesterday's gathering of climate scientists, led by the head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, RK Pachauri, was designed to give momentum to efforts by the Democratic leadership to press ahead on energy reform.
"If we don't do it people are going to die. They are going to get sick and they are going to die," said Barbara Boxer, who as chair of the Senate environment and public works committee is key to securing the passage of climate change legislation.
But even with the new administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress now united on the urgency of acting on climate change, there were still signs of battles ahead.
The hearing saw a steady stream of bickering between Boxer and her Republican counterpart, James Inhofe, renowned as a climate change sceptic.
Republicans argued that Barack Obama's proposed carbon cap legislation would be costly. "I will certainly oppose raising energy costs on suffering families and workers during an economic crisis when the science says our actions [to combat climate change] will be futile," said Kit Bond, a Republican senator from Missouri.
The Republican minority on the committee also invited testimony from Professor William Happer, a physicist at Princeton University, who is a well-known climate change sceptic. "It's still not as warm as it was when the Vikings settled England," said Happer.

Official funding for coal-burning stations

By Ed Crooks
Published: February 25 2009 23:31

More than one “clean coal” power station could receive official funding, energy secretary Ed Miliband said yesterday, changing the government’s policy on backing for the new technology.
The move is good news for Powerfuel, owned by mining entrepreneur Richard Budge, which hopes to build a clean coal plant in Mr Miliband’s Yorkshire constituency that has not previously been eligible for government support.

However, other energy companies said they feared changes to the government’s plans could further delay the development of clean coal in Britain.
Until now, policy for developing coal-fired power stations that can capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions has been based on a competition, in which companies bid for funding for a demonstration project. Three consortiums have entered the competiton: one led by Eon UK and another by RWE Npower, both part of German energy groups, and a third led by ScottishPower, owned by Iberdrola of Spain. The aim was to have a commercial scale pilot plant operational by 2014.
The competition has slipped well behind schedule, however. When it was launched in 2007, the government suggested a winner could be picked by September 2009. Mr Miliband said yesterday he planned to come to a decision next year.
Speaking to MPs on the energy select committee, Mr Miliband said the policy would be changed to support more than one project. He also suggested there would also be support for “pre-combustion” plants, where the coal is gasified and carbon dioxide is removed before the gas is burned, as in the Powerfuel project.
The competition is today open only to “post-combustion” projects, where the carbon dioxide is extracted from the exhaust gases from coal burned in the usual way.
Mr Miliband told the MPs an announcement on the government’s plans for carbon capture would be made in “weeks”.
The statement could be linked to wider strategy for coal-fired power stations. The government is balancing the competing pressures of environmental campaigners and industry executives warning that new power stations will be needed to keep the lights on.
Mr Miliband said it was “important to get the policy right”, adding: “Hopefully it will be worth waiting for.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Whitehall departments could trade carbon, says Ed Miliband

Low-carbon departments could one day help those in danger of busting their target, minister suggests
Allegra Stratton, political correspondent, Wednesday 25 February 2009 16.34 GMT

Ed Miliband, the climate change minister. Photograph: David Levene
Individual government departments may be allowed to trade carbon allowances when new carbon budgets come into force in April, the climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, said today.
Miliband said arrangements under the plans – which will require all Whitehall departments to consider the carbon cost of policy decisions – were still being finalised, but it was possible low carbon departments could one day help those in danger of going over their targets.
In his first session in front of the newly created energy and climate change select committee, Miliband said: "There will inevitably have to be a process whereby, if a department breaches its carbon budget, then there will have to be implications."
He said this might include finding "space elsewhere".
When asked to explain where this would come from, he said: "The other departments coming in under their carbon budgets", adding that a form of carbon trading was one of the options being considered.
Miliband made clear that he expected all departments to "step up" to the task of trying to meet their targets and that it must be an "exacting discipline".
He said his department was "pushing at an open door" when dealing with the drive to low carbon policies in certain Whitehall departments, singling out the existing zero carbon schemes run by health and education for mention.
Anne Main, the Conservative MP for St Albans, said the idea would lead to "horse trading" between Whitehall ministries.
"What will happen is that, in the months before a carbon budget is due, a carbon intensive department will scrabble around trying to buy a bit more from a better department," she said.
"That's just not in the spirit of the thing and will not change the behaviour of those poorly performing departments."
The five yearly "carbon budgets" will be announced next month and will be policed by the climate change committee, which will report to parliament on the progress made annually. Ministers may ignore its recommendations.
Miliband told the committee he would like to see more than one "clean coal" power station piloted.
He is understood to be pushing the Treasury for further funding of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology after being warned that private energy companies would not fund the unproven technology – which could possibly cost as much as £250m-£1bn for each power plant.
Miliband said the government should be more ambitious in the development of technology that captured and stored the carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power stations.
He added: "We've got to go beyond carbon capture and storage. I personally don't think that's adequate.
"I also think we should have more than one demonstration."
At the moment, there are three groups hoping to win the contract to become the demonstration site.
He said officials were looking into the European Investment Bank funding further CCS plants, but denied his department had fallen out with the Treasury over the funding model.
He said the nature of the technology required government support.
The energy secretary will visit the US next week to meet Barack Obama's climate change advisers, Todd Stern and Carol Browner.
His brother, the foreign secretary, David Miliband, met Hillary Clinton in early February.

Economic crisis complicates California's goals on climate

By Felicity Barringer
Published: February 25, 2009

COLTON, California: Only a few years ago, CalPortland planned on keeping its plant here operating as long as Mount Slover's limestone held out. For more than a century, Colton's kilns and crushing machines have been churning out cement for the streets and buildings of Los Angeles.
But the company says the plant's future is now uncertain. The recession has sent cement prices plunging, lowered profits and forced CalPortland's drivers to cut back on hours. And the company says it faces new expenses: the cost of meeting California's new requirements that manufacturers take steps to curb emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming.
State regulators have projected that retrofitting the state's 11 cement plants would cost $220 million and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12 percent per ton of cement. But CalPortland's executives say it would cost more than that to retrofit the Colton plant alone.
"We don't have enough limestone left to invest $200 million," said James Repman, the company's president.
California was one of the first states to enact legislation to tackle global warming, with legislators passing a 2006 measure to curb carbon dioxide emissions in all economic sectors, including manufacturing, transportation and real estate development. But the state is also providing a lesson in how contentious carrying out such a law can be, especially at a time of economic crisis.

What happens in California — and in other states that have taken steps to reduce emissions — is being closely watched in Washington, where lawmakers will soon debate federal climate legislation. The Obama administration has said it plans to push for a cap-and-trade bill this year.
California's law, like federal proposals, has stirred intense fighting over whether its benefits outweigh its costs and what those costs will actually turn out to be.
"We're talking about a transformation of the way of life," said Greg Freeman, an economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Commission. "There's going to be transitional costs. We can't have the debate about whether the cost is worth paying unless we have a realistic idea of what the cost will be."
State regulators predicted in an economic analysis last fall that the climate law would create 100,000 jobs in the state and increase per-capita income by $200 annually by 2020. The upfront cost for the first five years after the law takes effect, they estimated, would be $31.4 billion, about $8.5 billion more than the savings in those years. But if carbon-control costs were spread over the lifespan of the new equipment, the $25 billion in annual costs in the year 2020 would be more than offset by $40 billion in savings.
The state's plan includes a cap-and-trade model, in which polluters would have to either reduce emissions on their own or buy credits from more efficient producers.
At the time of the analysis, Mary Nichols, chairwoman of California's Air Resources Board, called them "good-news numbers."
But the projections were strongly criticized as unrealistic by the affected industries and by independent economists who reviewed the analysis — including two from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which supports the emission reduction goals.
In one withering review, Matthew Kahn of the University of California, Los Angeles said the analysis unconvincingly portrayed the law as "a riskless free lunch." Another economist, Robert Stavins of Harvard, said the regulators were "systematically biased" in ways "that lead to potentially severe underestimates of costs."
Now, with the recession deepening — unemployment in California is 9.3 percent — manufacturers like Repman say the recession will make carrying out the state's plan, the first stage of which goes into effect in 2010, even more difficult and could make the economy worse.
Repman said "2006 was a boom like I'd never seen," and "2008 was a bust like I'd never seen."
With profits and Mount Slover's supply of limestone both dwindling, Repman said, he cannot justify the expense of upgrading the core of the Colton plant, its coal-burning kilns, where 2,000-degree heat turns limestone into a building block of cement.
If he closes the plant when the new rules take effect, Repman said, 140 jobs will disappear.
State regulators say new jobs in renewable energy and green technologies, created as a result of the law, will more than make up for the jobs that are lost. And the law's supporters note that less economic activity means reduced emissions of heat-trapping gases, making the law's goals — cutting carbon-dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — easier to meet.
In an interview, Nichols, of the air resources board said she thought the study's cost estimates fell within an acceptable range. The models used, she said, "showed the effect of fully implementing the plan on the California economy is minimal — it could be plus or minus, but it would be minimal."
She said the critiques by the economists, who were chosen by the state, might have contained some harsh words, but were "very typical of the kinds of things you would see in peer review of an academic study."
A new group of economists — academics and experts from the business world — is being assembled to guide planners in the next round of decisions about the rules set to take effect next year.
Chris Busch, a climate economist with the Center for Resource Solutions, an environmental group, also defended the Air Board's work.
"The excuse that more study is needed," Busch said, "has been a standard excuse going back to the earliest" discussions about combating climate change.
He added that, "now that the science is increasingly clear," opponents of climate change measures are shifting the debate to economic models "which are easier to manipulate."
Yet until the models used by economists estimating the costs and benefits of the legislation can be tested by reality, the debate is likely to continue unresolved.
"There will be job gains — there will also probably be job losses," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "It's not a black and white picture. Those who don't want to do something will focus on the negatives and those who do will focus on the positives."

Report questions viability of flagship 'ecotown'

By Jim Pickard, Political Correspondent
Published: February 26 2009 02:00

Campaigners against Gordon Brown's proposed "ecotowns" said yesterday the plans were doomed after an independent report suggested a flagship project was no longer financially viable, writes Jim Pickard.
Six local councils hired CB Richard Ellis, one of the world's biggest property agents, to assess the viability of the Middle Quinton scheme, near Stratford-upon-Avon. With property prices in freefall, the agent reported, the £1.63bn scheme would make a loss of nearly £400m, even before obligations to pay for roads and other infrastructure.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England said the report sounded the death knell for the entire programme of up to 10 green communities.
"The report demonstrates clearly that building an ecotown here is not viable without a huge level of public subsidy," said Kate Gordon, a senior planner for the group. "A better alternative would be to use public funds to pay for affordable homes within existing settlements alongside measures to 'green' existing property and bring back into use empty homes."
St Modwen, the company behind the scheme, disputed the report and said the project was still viable.
The CBI will urge the government today to impose temporary changes on planning laws. The employers' group wants an extension to the three-year life of planning permits to avoid even longer delays as companies are forced back to the drawing board.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

‘Green buildings’ will mean more savings

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: February 25 2009 02:27

Refurbishing office buildings to a higher environmental standard would create around 30,000 new jobs and save companies more than £700m ($1bn) a year, according to a study.
The construction industry is taking a renewed interest in “green building”, which could provide the sector with a much-needed boost as it struggles with the effects of the recession.

Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has leant his weight to efforts to raise the environmental standards of homes through a widespread programme of insulation, but this has focused on the domestic market.
Non-domestic buildings, including offices, public buildings such as hospitals and factories account for nearly a fifth of the UK’s emissions, according to a study from the consultancy Caleb Management Services, commissioned by Kingspan, the insulation manufacturer. About £27bn is spent a year on average in refurbishing such buildings, but many refurbishments devote little attention to improving the efficiency and environmental performance of the buildings.
The study concluded that spending 7 per cent more on refurbishment would cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of taking 5m cars off the road, and would lead to the creation of between 30,000 and 50,000 jobs.
Alan Whitehead, chair of the parliamentary renewable and sustainable energy group, said: “If the government’s emissions reduction targets are going to be met, then energy efficiency has to be the place to start. [There is] huge scope for emissions savings in buildings such as schools, hospitals, factories and warehouses.”
Buildings must now be rated for their energy efficiency, receiving an Energy Performance Certificate graded A to G according to their performance. But few buildings meet the higher standards, and the government’s own building stock are among the worst offenders: about three quarters of the UK’s public buildings were graded at D or below in a recent test.
The report found that many of the measures, such as enhanced capital allowances, put in place by government to help companies to cut emissions from their buildings were difficult for businesses to access.
In recent years, the construction industry has been reluctant to embrace “green buildings”, seeing them as an extra cost which would cut into their margins and discourage buyers. But the precipitous decline in the industry’s fortunes owing to the recession has encouraged companies to look to new areas of potential investment, such as low-emissions homes and offices, many of which qualify for some form of government support.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009