Friday, 2 October 2009

BA wages new class war on climate: fly or watch your business nosedive

Aviation industry is using the recession to frighten businesses into flying to keep clients instead of using videoconferencing
You could be forgiven for thinking the aviation industry was giving out mixed messages about climate change. Last week they announced that they would halve emissions by 2050, but as the targets rely on offsetting, the plan was described as a "huge get-out". Meanwhile, the industry is still planning to expand which would wipe out any planned efficiency savings anyway.
Then British Airways appeared to undo all their good work this week with a new luxury service and a business-class service called Face to Face. UK short-haul specialists FlyBe have also launched their Business is better face to face to wage war on the upsurge in videoconferencing in the name of saving the planet.
FlyBe spouts a host of dubious data on the importance of "in the flesh" meetings for building better business relationships and winning new clients and contracts.
They say, for example, that face to face meetings will turn 40% of potential customers into customers, compared with only 16% without face to face contact. But they fail to mention that this figure comes from an non-peer reviewed US study sponsored by two industry groups, the US Travel Association and the Destination and Travel Foundation. The latter's website says it exists to "bolster the destination marketing profession and travel industry".
What about the numbers though? Well the 40% figure comes from an online survey of 500 US business travellers and it doesn't specify what they were comparing face to face meetings with — sending an email perhaps? In any case, it begs the question how many customers you could rake in via videoconferencing while you are stuck at Heathrow check-in and squashed next to the fat bloke in row 56 of cattle class half way over the Atlantic.
And that's the point. Both campaigns ignore the fact that videoconferencing has come of age. Gone are the days of stuttering, pixellated images, out-of-synch audio and visuals — like a badly dubbed foreign film, and unreliable connections. Hyperspeed broadband and new technologies like HP's Halo and Skyroom allow such effectively intimate, eye to eye, literally across-the-table communications between participants it's hard to see what other advantages actually being physically in the same room might bring (what do you want to do? Smell your client?).
The airlines have also had some highprofile support from climate contrarians such as Boris Johnson, who recently popped over to New York in business class courtesy of BA to promote business travel. Though this might have been a clever strategy by BA to get back in the mayor's good books after refusing to upgrade him on a flight to Beijing for the Olympics last year, forcing poor old BoJo to fly cattle-class. And this is all before considering the disproportionate carbon impact that business class seats on planes have, as BA's latest luxury transatlantic service demonstrates.
The BA and FlyBe campaigns both deploy scare-mongering by playing on struggling businesses' anxiety during a world recession: that either their clients won't take them seriously, or their competitors will outflank them unless they rock up in person to a pitch or meeting. I wonder whether this is really the case. My personal experience would suggest otherwise.
I have "spoken" at conferences in the US by using the cost of my flight and hotel to pay for making a film of my speech and then doing Q&A via teleconference. I've also pitched for and won contracts in both Montreal, Canada and Inverness in Scotland via video-conference and on all these occasions the very fact I didn't fly not only reinforced my company's own environmental commitment and responsibility but also impressed the client and arguably gave us a competitive advantage.
Wider use of videoconferencing could generate truly dramatic carbon and financial savings, generating a robust business case for change. It's good for employee wellbeing too, putting an end to those red-eye/sleazyjet trips away from home, loved ones and the team back at base. I think intelligent, strategic use of videoconferencing over business travel full stop is an increasingly sensible and enlightened option, but over business aviation it is a no-brainer.
The FlyBe campaign aims to collect and collate people's stories of "video-conferencing disasters" and good news stories about why flying to that supposedly crucial meeting won new business.
I'd love to hear your experiences of positive video-conferencing benefits, or tales of when not making that dubious business trip by plane turned out to be a blessing in disguise!
• Ed Gillespie is a director at communications agency Futerra and has travelled the world without planes for his Slow Travel series

Nike said to be quitting Chamber of Commerce post over climate controversy

As Exelon becomes the latest energy firm to quit the business group over its anti-climate legislation stance, pressure mounts on Nike to follow suit.
From, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Thursday 1 October 2009 12.58 BST

Nike 'We Run Together' advert: reports suggest Nike will no longer run together with the US Chamber of Commerce because of its stance on climate change.
The US Chamber of Commerce's controversial calls to put the latest climate science "on trial" as part of its campaign to block proposed carbon legislation could yet prompt another high-profile walk out, after reports emerged that Nike was to quit it's post on the trade group's board.
According to reports on the Politico blog, the company is to release a statement relinquishing its board position at the Chamber in protest at the group's lobbying against tougher US climate change legislation. However, it will stop short of leaving the group altogether so that it can "advocate for climate change legislation" from within the group.
The news comes after shareholder groups yesterday wrote to Nike calling on the sportswear giant to quit the trade group.
According to reports, three socially responsible investor groups - Green Century Funds, Newground Social Investment and the Basilian Fathers of Toronto - have written to the company arguing that it is no longer in the firm's interest to be associated with a group that is lobbying to block US climate change legislation.
In an open letter to Nike chief executive Mark Parker, Kristina Curtis, president of Green Century Equity Fund, said that the investment firm was "dismayed that Nike has not taken a more aggressive stance" against the Chamber, particularly given that it has been a vocal supporter of tighter climate change legislation through its position as a founding member of the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy group.
Curtis added that the decision last week by US energy firms Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG &E) and PNM Resources to leave the Chamber of Commerce over its climate change stance had set a "new standard for corporate responsibility in the face of profoundly unsustainable actions" that Nike should now follow.
Earlier this month, the Chamber's vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times in which he called for a series of public hearings on the science the EPA used to justify its recent decision that carbon dioxide represents a health risk and can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Likening the proposed hearings to the 1920s Scopes Trial on evolution, Kovacs said that the hearings would represent the "science of climate change on trial" .
The Chamber has since tried to soften its stance slightly, arguing that the analogy was "inappropriate" and that it is simply calling for hearings on the extent to which global warming poses a threat, rather than on climate science itself.
But the move has still prompted a flurry of high-profile walk outs from firms lobbying for more ambitious action on climate change. In the latest development, US nuclear energy giant Exelon this week announced that it will join PG&E and PNM Resources in not renewing its membership.
Speaking at a meeting of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Exelon chairman and chief executive John W. Rowe said that the company had left the chamber as a direct result of its "stridency against carbon legislation", adding that putting a price on carbon emissions through a national cap-and-trade scheme was "essential" to tackling climate change.
• This article was shared by our content partner, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Unbridled Energy: Predicting Volatile Wind, Sun

Utilities Ramp Up Focus on Forecasting When Renewable Fuel Is at a Peak to Avoid Squandering Power That Still Can't Be Stored
For more than a century, producing power has been a matter of flipping a switch. Need more electricity? Fire up some fuel. Need less? Dial the flame back down.
Things won't be that easy in a world that gets much of its energy from renewable sources, which come and go at nature's whim. Wind tends to blow hardest at night -- a problem, since people use electricity mostly during the day. Sunshine can lose its intensity in seconds if eclipsed by a cloud -- inconvenient for people who like their air conditioners to run steadily on summer days.
Many states and countries are pledging to produce 20% or more of their electricity from renewable sources within about a decade. That will be a major stretch. But amid the attempt, the search for ways to accommodate the vicissitudes of wind and sun is shaping up as one of today's great technological quests.
To harness renewable energy more reliably, some companies are experimenting with ways to story energy when the output is high and then distribute it when output is low. WSJ's Jeff Ball reports on the efforts to build a better battery.
A convenient solution would be to overcome wind and sun's intermittence by storing the energy and then dispensing it later, on windless or overcast days. But storage technology is still embryonic.
So the power industry is having to change the way it operates. To adapt its fossil-fuel-dependent infrastructure to renewable energy's ebbs and flows, it is trying to forecast them better. Knowing how nature is likely to behave will help the industry better balance different sources of renewable energy, scientists and utility executives say. The goal: maximizing wind, sun and other natural sources when each is at its peak.
Currently, every wind farm and solar installation has to be backed up by a nearly equivalent amount of conventional fuel to keep the power grid running. That raises costs.
"We're putting renewables into a system that wasn't designed for renewables," says Paul Denholm, an analyst for the federal government's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Colo.
Wind power is the fastest-growing renewable source of electricity. Buoyed by government mandates and subsidies, wind farms accounted for more than half of all net electricity-generating capacity added in the U.S. in 2008, according to the Department of Energy.
Largely due to the unpredictability of the heavens, the thousands of wind turbines across the country collectively produced 1.3% of actual electricity in 2008.
But capacity to produce is not actual production. Largely due to wind's unpredictability, the thousands of wind turbines installed across the country collectively produced only 1.3% of actual U.S. electricity in 2008, the department's figures show.
At any moment, the problem can be either too little wind or too much. The Bonneville Power Administration, a government-owned utility based in Portland, Ore., taps one of the biggest collections of wind farms in the country. Between January and August, average wind-power production accounted for 12% of average electricity consumption in Bonneville's service area.
From hour to hour, though, wind power swings wildly depending on how things blow at the Columbia River Gorge. That stretch, which separates Oregon and Washington, is where most of the wind turbines in Bonneville's service area are located.
This Tuesday was typically erratic. At 1 a.m., wind farms in the Bonneville service area were cranking out about 1,550 megawatts of power. By 7 a.m., that fell to about 800 megawatts, just as people were waking up and turning on their lights and toasters. That night, once most people were asleep, the wind picked up again. By 11:45 p.m., wind power topped 2,000 megawatts.
Most of the electricity in Bonneville's service area comes from hydroelectric power. To compensate for the volatility of wind, Bonneville tweaks the amount of water it lets through the dams. But that doesn't work for the most extreme shifts in wind. Sometimes, when the wind is blowing hard, Bonneville releases extra water over the tops of dams without using it to generate electricity. Otherwise, electrical wires might get overloaded. And when the wind is so strong that Bonneville can't ditch enough water, the utility orders wind turbines shut off.
Related Reading
A major difficulty in harnessing the wind to generate electricity is that the wind is unpredictable. The Bonneville Power Administration, a utility in the Pacific Northwest, provides a continuously updated readout of wind-power generation in its service area. The readout shows how erratic the wind can be.
Texas, one of the nation's top wind-power-producing states, unexpectedly lost a massive amount of electricity when a cold front blew in on the afternoon of Feb. 26, 2008. The Department of Energy explains what happened that day in this report.
America's capacity to generate electricity from renewable sources, such as the wind and sun, is growing fast. But renewable energy remains a tiny slice of the overall energy pie, as the Department of Energy shows in this July report.
Wind power now provides just 1.3% of U.S. electricity, but it could provide as much as 20% by 2030 if "significant challenges" are overcome, the Department of Energy said in 2008 in a report.
"Everything changes with wind," says Bart McManus, a wind expert at Bonneville.
Sudden doldrums can be as troublesome as sudden gusts. That was the problem on Feb. 26, 2008, in Texas, which produces more wind power than any other state.
At 3 p.m. that afternoon, Texas' wind farms, concentrated in the western part of the state, were throwing off about 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to serve about one million households. Then a cold front blew in. By 6:30 p.m. -- when electricity demand typically peaks -- wind production in Texas had cratered to about 360 megawatts.
Exacerbating matters, Texans began turning up their heat -- much of which, in rural parts of the state, comes from electricity. So, just as wind power unexpectedly plummeted, demand for power spiked.
The operator of Texas' electrical grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as Ercot, scrambled. It cut off power to various industrial customers that, in exchange for payment, had agreed to let Ercot pull their plugs in emergencies.
To avert situations like these, Ercot has hired a company to provide, every hour, a forecast of how the wind will blow at every wind project on the Ercot grid. It requires wind-power producers to install gauges that feed into those forecasts.
The forecasts look not just at temperature, but also at wind speed and direction at the height of wind turbines, an altitude that until now hasn't attracted much interest.
If there were a viable way to store large amounts of renewable energy, Ercot might have been able to tap it on that February afternoon. Investors and the government are backing efforts to develop storage ideas. One hope is to build a better battery. Other ideas include systems that would store water in uphill sites or compress air underground, for later release when electricity is needed.
So far, these options are largely experimental. But Mr. Denholm and other scientists say they are optimistic that renewable energy one day will be a major contributor to the world's power supply. Many recent studies suggest that would require a combination of approaches, all of which are under way to some extent: investment in high-voltage transmission wires to carry renewable electricity from remote areas to cities; policies to encourage energy efficiency; and coordinated construction of renewable facilities so that one form of energy can fill in when others are dormant. In many places, wind is calmest at midday, when solar power is most available.
Until these measures are widely adopted, utilities say better forecasting is their best bet for taking advantage of renewable energy. But the forecasts remain frustratingly inexact. Just after midnight on Christmas morning 2007, an unexpected wind surge hit in Colorado, a state with a lot of wind turbines. It sent power production soaring on the system operated by Xcel Energy, a utility that is trying to improve its wind forecasts.
"We were walloped," says Tom Imbler, vice president of commercial operations for Minneapolis-based Xcel. To compensate, Xcel scrambled to dial down some of its fossil-fuel power plants. Those plants "were never designed to ramp up and ramp down at the level we're asking them to" in the age of renewable energy, he says. "We're learning as we go."

France Backs Battery-Charging Network for Cars

PARIS -- The French government Thursday said it plans to spend €1.5 billion (about $2.2 billion) on creating a battery-charging network for electric vehicles as part of a broader state plan to encourage the development of clean vehicle technology and battery manufacturing.
It also said it would seek financing of €900 million for its €1.5 billion plan from a state loan that's planned to be launched next year.
The government will make the installation of charging sockets obligatory in office parking lots by 2015, and new apartment blocks with parking lots will have to include charging stations starting in 2012.
A group of public and private fleet operators has already identified a need to purchase 50,000 electric vehicles through 2015, Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told a press conference, and the government reckons that by pooling purchasing there is potential to reach a fleet of 100,000 vehicles by that date.
The plan involves setting up a battery manufacturing factory at a Renault SA facility at Flins, west of Paris, at a cost of €625 million, of which €125 million will be contributed by the French state's strategic investment fund.
The plant will have an annual production capacity of 100,000 batteries and will supply other French electric vehicle manufacturers, including PSA Peugeot-Citroen.
Peugeot-Citroen chief executive Philippe Varin said his company will have four small electric vehicles ready for sale in 2010, including two small city cars, one of which will be based on a vehicle that Peugeot-Citroen will be buyin from its Japanese partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp., as well as small utility vehicles for both brands.
Renault's chief operating officer Patrick Pelata said Renault will have four mass-market electric vehicles on sale in 2011 and 2012.
He reaffirmed that Renault and its alliance partner Nissan Motor Co. together plan to invest a total of €4 billion in developing electric vehicle technology.
Write to David Pearson at

The global north-south carbon divide

Climate change talks must not be allowed to degenerate into a blame game: we need imaginative solutions for all economies

Jayati Ghosh, Thursday 1 October 2009 09.30 BST
The global discussion on climate change has quickly degenerated into a north-south confrontation, for perhaps obvious reasons. On average, carbon emissions per capita in the developed world are about five times those in developing countries. Between some countries the differences are even starker: in 2006, the US per capita emission of tonnes of CO2 equivalent was 15.2, compared with 1.1 in India.
Obviously, the developed world has been and continues to be the basic cause of the problem. In the developing world the conclusion is obvious: rich nations must take on the basic burden of mitigation, consume less of the world's resources and reduce their contribution to global warming absolutely. That is why attempts to declare common goals of emission reduction across all countries are seen not only as unequal and unfair but even imperialist.
But the issue cannot be treated in simplistic terms. While they did not create the problem, the negative contribution of developing countries has been growing recently. Between 1980 and 2006, per capita carbon emissions declined slightly in developed countries (even the US), but they doubled in developing countries as a group, and nearly tripled in China. And the people of developing countries have a real stake in global action on this front, for they are already the worst affected by climate changes, as shown by the growing incidence of climatic shifts, especially in tropical and semi-tropical zones.
The problem is that the development project, in terms of ensuring basic needs to all the population, is still far from complete in many parts of the world – and certainly in India. Even without trying to replicate western standards of living, just to provide every citizen with the minimum decent standards of living that contemporary technology can offer, such as permanent housing, electrification, access to clean water, sanitation and sufficient food, will necessarily require more natural resource use and result in more carbon emissions.
To deal with this problem we need more imaginative responses in both north and south. First, GDP growth should not be an end in itself, since it is now widely recognised that it does not necessarily create more life satisfaction. It is not really clear why rich countries with falling populations need to increase their GDP, and why they should not focus instead on internal redistribution and changing lifestyles – which could in fact improve every citizen's quality of life.
Second, in the developing world, and especially in India, which is still a very low carbon emitter, there is now an opportunity to reorient growth in cleaner and greener directions: not just by changing energy sources at the margin, but also by emphasising cleaner and more public rather than private-based transport systems, better urban and regional planning and protecting and nurturing water and other natural resources. This also requires income distribution shifts and changes in socially created aspirations. This cannot be left to the market, because since the international demonstration effect and the power of advertising will continue to create undesirable wants and unsustainable consumption and production.
A dimension that is often missed is that CO2 emissions account for only about half of the global warming story. Ground-level ozone (from transport and biomass burning), black carbon (from motor vehicles) and methane production (from agriculture, cattle and wood burning) also play roles. And these are much easier to deal with in an overall growth framework using available technologies; indeed, reducing these should be an integral part of the development project because they are also human health hazards.

Emissions reductions are misleading, says government's new science adviser

UK's true energy footprint is twice as big as on paper, according to Professor David MacKay
David Adam, environment correspondent, Thursday 1 October 2009 13.28 BST
Britain's reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases are misleading, according to the government's new chief scientist.
Professor David MacKay told the BBC that greenhouse gas emissions created by Britons are probably twice as bad as official figures suggest. The figures are distorted because developing countries now made the goods that Britain buys, he said.
"Our energy footprint has decreased over the last few decades and that's largely because we've exported our industry," MacKay said. "Other countries make stuff for us so we have naughty, naughty China and India out of control with rising emissions but it's because they are making our stuff for us now."
MacKay, a Cambridge University physicist who starts his new job at the Department of Energy and Climate Change(Decc) today, was speaking unofficially in a previously recorded interview. His comments come as talks on a global climate deal continue in Bangkok. The issue of allocating emissions has been highlighted by developing countries including China, whose top climate change negotiator Li Gao earlier this year said developed countries should take responsibility for the emissions generated in making goods.
Mackay added: "It's been estimated by Dieter Helm from the University of Oxford that roughly half of our energy footprint actually lives overseas so our true footprint is twice as big as it looks on paper."
The Helm study, published in December 2007, showed that rises in pollution from aviation, shipping, overseas trade and tourism, which are not measured in the official figures, means that UK carbon consumption has risen significantly over the previous decade.
Under the Kyoto protocol, Britain must reduce its greenhouse gas output to 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2012. According to official figures filed with the UN, Britain's emissions are currently down some 15% compared with 1990.
But the analysis by Helm's team said that UK carbon output has actually risen by 19% over that period, once the missing emissions are included in the figures.
The report said: "This is a dramatic reversal of fortune. It merits an immediate, more detailed and more robust assessment. It suggests that the decline in greenhouse gas emissions from the UK economy may have been to a considerable degree an illusion."
Decc said: "While some emission reductions have resulted from the trend for manufacturing to move overseas, it's internationally accepted that emissions from manufacturing are counted by the country of production."

Carbon neutral guidance is 'greenwash'

The Government has been accused of 'greenwash' for issuing new advice to companies that suggests carbon offsetting can be used to improve environmental credentials.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 6:46PM BST 01 Oct 2009
The Department for the Environment published guidance to help businesses go green through installing insulation, encouraging employees to walk to work and recycling more.
It also issued a definition of carbon neutral companies as those that "through a transparent process of calculating emissions, reducing those emissions and offsetting residual emissions – net carbon emissions equal zero".

Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, said companies could be doing a huge amount to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by working more efficiently.
"Businesses have an opportunity to lead the way on the UK's climate change agenda and this guidance helps them do that. Measuring your GHG emissions is an important first step in addressing the UK's contribution to the UK's total emissions," he said. "By reducing them, organisations can save money on energy costs and resource efficiencies – as well as maintaining a competitive edge through strengthening their green credentials"
But Mike Childs, Head of Climate Change at Friends of the Earth, said the definition of carbon neutral was "greenwash".
He said carbon offsetting is not necessarily good for the environment as the tree-planting schemes and renewable energy projects that are sponsored by buying "carbon credits" would be happening anyway and therefore do not take carbon out of the atmosphere. He also said it was unfair on companies genuinely trying to go carbon neutral by ensuring all energy is from renewable sources in the UK.
Mr Childs said the advice issued to businesses may help but without financial incentives and practical help few companies would bother.
"The definition of carbon neutral is greenwash and the guidance on its own will not help business," he said.

India challenges US over 'measly' climate change efforts

Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister, says the US must move more forcefully to reduce emissions
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 1 October 2009 18.48 BST

India demanded today that America step up its "measly" efforts to combat global warming – or risk jeopardising an international deal to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The challenge from Delhi's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, and recent moves from China, mark a deliberate ratcheting up of the pressure on Barack Obama to move more forcefully to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions.
It comes barely 24 hours after Democratic leaders introduced a climate change bill in the Senate which – they hoped – would convince the international community that America was prepared for to take strong action.
But Ramesh dismissed the bill, which proposes to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. He said it was too little to persuade India to make serious commitments of its own at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen that aims to seal a global treaty.
India – like other major developing countries – has been demanding that rich, industrialised countries pledge cuts of 25% to 40% in Copenhagen in December.
"The bill that was with the Senate yesterday talks about a 20% cut on 2005 levels, which is really only a measly 5% reduction on 1990 levels," Ramesh told a US-Indian energy conference in Washington, put on by Yale University and The Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi.
He added that America and other developed countries had to commit to deep emissions cuts in the next decade – not by 2050 – if they wanted to see India and China take serious action to contain the rise in their future emissions, as their surging economies expand.
"If we are serious about climate change we should stop talking about 2050. I laugh when countries put up numbers for 2050," Ramesh said.
However, he was almost immediately rebuffed by Obama's climate change envoy, Todd Stern, who said that such a narrow focus on 2020 actions could wreck the prospects of reaching a deal at Copenhagen. "We can talk about that all the way to Copenhagen and for the next two or three years and get nothing done," Stern said. "We have to be practical."
Ramesh's comments were the most forceful expression of a new diplomatic push by India to avoid being cast as the spoiler of the Copenhagen process. Ramesh insisted, however, that India was well aware of the threat posed to its own people by the change in rainfall patterns and rising sea levels brought by climate change. This summer saw the worst monsoon since 1972, a major setback for a country which remains heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture.
India sees its economic growth as non-negotiable, given the large number of citizens it wants to lift out of poverty. In the past fortnight, India has offered to undertake a series of measures that would see it embarking on a less polluting course of future growth – but these are firmly tied to action from America.
Ramesh spelled out some of those commitments in an interview with the Guardian last week. They include: legislation on fuel efficiency for cars by 2011 and new building efficiency by 2012, getting 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020; and expanding forest cover. India also plans to get 15% of its electricity from nuclear power by 2020.
But Ramesh ruled out any possibility that India would agree to an absolute cap on emissions in the future. "N-O, No," he said. The position was endorsed by RK Pachauri, who heads the IPCC. "Obviously you are not going to ask a country that has 400 million people without a lightbulb in their homes to do the same as a country that has splurge of energy," he told the conference."