Friday, May 29, 2020

Talking to the Other Side

Talking to the Other Side

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 29th May. I’m Anthony Day.
The theme of this episode is Talking to the Other Side. How do we talk to the other side about the climate emergency? How do we find common ground? How do we get everyone working together?  I spoke to Kevin Wilhelm CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting in Seattle.
Anthony Day: I’m talking to Kevin Wilhelm, who with Natalie Hoffman is joint author of a book called “How to Talk to the Other Side: Finding Common Ground in the Time of Coronavirus, Recession, and Climate Change.” Now, I know the coronavirus and recession are very much at the forefront of our minds at the moment, but the climate emergency has not gone away. We really need to be able to talk to the other side because there are people who have vested interests and there are people who are dogmatically opposed to the idea that climate change is a problem. So, how do we talk to the other side, Kevin? 
Kevin Wilhelm: Well, I think the biggest issue that most people have is they’ve already set their mindset that they can’t agree with somebody who may disagree with them, so when we talk about issues like climate change, the economy, this has been going on for decades. All the way back to, in the United States, at least since 1987, but even if you think of the first Earth summit in Rio and the second one in South Africa, both times there was economic uncertainty that was going on globally. Politicians and business groups came together and said, we can’t take action on this because it’s going to hurt the economy, and the same mindset is starting to happen now. 
Kevin Wilhelm
Through my consulting work and what we laid out in this book, is dozens of examples of businesses that have made more money by leaning into the climate change efforts, because they’ve saved on energy, they’ve saved on water, they’ve saved on transportation costs, they’ve innovated new ways of delivering products and services. You’re even seeing it in the financial markets, we’ve seen record growth of the stock market for the last 10 years up until, say, February of this year, and even during that time, those companies that were on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index or the S&P 500 Environmental and Social Index outperformed traditional indices which were performing at record highs. There’s this myth that you have to give up money or sacrifice to do the right thing environmentally, and from a climate perspective, what we wanted to do was really flip that notion on its head and show the examples of where it’s win win, regardless of your perspective. That’s one thing that we’ve used as an example to bring people from opposite sides, because we feel money is a nonpartisan issue. If you can make more money and I can make more money, then ideology somehow falls away a little. 
AD: Yes. Then you have the very big players, particularly in energy, you know I’m going to talk about oil, talk about coal. There’s not a lot you can do to change your business to be environmentally responsible. You can’t mine coal in an environmentally friendly way, or at least, if you do, burning coal is not environmentally friendly. Those are the sorts of pressures that we have to find common ground with or at least we’ve got to convince them that we need change. 
KW: Yeah, absolutely. Coal is a really difficult one. I like to look at the entire fossil fuel industry as one area and then each of them a little separately. If you think about it, we used to call them oil companies, now we call them energy companies, and that’s because BP, Shell, even Exxon Mobil realized that there was going to be a finite resource and the costs of getting to some of these places was going to be really difficult. As you’ve seen, oil prices have come way down, the more extreme places like the tar sands or the deep ocean off of Brazil no longer make financial sense. They had to shift because wind and solar power have become cost competitive. You’ve seen what were traditional oil companies become energy companies because they realized they can still provide energy in a different way. We’ve also seen a number of energy companies who have switched from coal to natural gas, because natural gas is cleaner but mostly because its cheaper right now with all the fracking that’s been going on. So there’s been this shift and it’s been mostly market driven, even though it’s been played out like the environmentalists are the ones killing the coal industry. 
Natalie Hoffman

The coal industry in itself, it’s a dying breed and it’s a dying beast. One of the things that we go out of our way in this book to make clear is that you can’t just let whole communities and ways of life just die. You need to reach out and find ways to make their lives better. There’s a couple of examples in our book where in the coal country in the United States there’s been movement by organizations to go into these communities and find them higher paying jobs, taking their skills they use as miners and retraining them to be solar technicians or wind power technicians, so you’re automatically giving them a job, so they have their livelihood, the tax base is the same, it goes to the community, but all the black lung disease and all the health problems can melt away. So it’s a generational shift, so that’s a hard one, but we’ve seen it happen in the aerospace industry in the 90s when the cold war ended, they took defense contractors and retrained them, and then you had explosions in DirecTV and the Dish Network and GPS and all these commercially viable companies grew out of it by training defense contractors and I think we can do the same thing in the fossil fuel industry. 
AD: Do you see the market doing that or do you think the government is needed to actually push this forward? 
KW: I definitely think the government needs to help. I think the market has already made its decision on coal, its not coming back. There’s been over 85 different coal companies just in the United States that have gone bankrupt just in the last 3 years. You’re in the UK, there are probably more people that work in McDonalds in the United Kingdom than work in the coal industry in the US. There’s actually a stat I have in the book that there’s more people who work at the Arbys fast food restaurant chain than the coal industry in the United States but we’re not giving bailouts to Arbys. Government does need to be at play, and like any transition, you have to find a way where you can’t just abandon a community and a way of life and just expect things to get better because then you’re going to have the societal costs that you’re seeing of opioid addiction, unemployment, crime, and everything that can happen, so they have to lean in and play that temporary role during that transition to attract the market for regrowth for that area in the economy. 
AD: From where I’m standing, your national government certainly doesn’t seem to be doing much in that direction. But then again, you have a different structure, maybe it’s just your state governments which are leading this sort of initiative. 
KW: Some of the states and a lot of nonprofit organizations. I know the reach of your podcast is international, and as someone who has been a proud American their whole life, these last three years have been extremely difficult to talk to my international friends, because we’re not leading anymore. We’re doing the opposite of leading, we’re making things so much worse at the federal level. But what you’re seeing is states and businesses are leaning into things. When the Trump administration announced they were going to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, states and big businesses came stepped up and said we’re still in, and there were enough big businesses and states that would be able to reduce emissions and committed to reducing emissions, so it doesn’t matter if the federal government isn’t aligned because the emissions from the United States can still meet the Paris Climate Accords. It’s one of those things where we’re all having to find ways around where the blockages, and it actually would be a good model for developing countries or other countries where they may not be seeing the ideas around the opportunity on climate change, only the negative aspects of it. I think that if a country like the UK decided overnight, we’re going to be the leader in green technology, and we’re going to massively change our whole way of life, there would be an economic explosion on that because somebody is going to win that race, it’s just no one has really committed to it. 
AD: Yes, I’d certainly like to see that happen. Tell me, who is your book aimed at? The general reader, business, government, or what? 
KW: You know, that’s a great question, Anthony, because its really put out for the general public, but its got multiple audiences. Basically, because in our country and I think in every country, there are “sides,” you’ve got labor, you’ve got conservatives, in our country you’ve got Republicans and Democrats. You can also break it down by religion, by geographical location, by rural vs. urban. So what we tried to do was pick six different examples of “other sides” where you hear about it in the popular media or social media where people are at odds. We tried to write a very neutral book, right down the center, where we tried to say here are opportunities for common ground with people who you might think are on the other side but are really just like you. You know, everyone wants to be healthy, their kids to grow up safe, better education, better opportunities, they want to have a good job and want to be able to retire. So by starting these shared aspirations for where you can find common ground, what gets everyone caught up is how they’re doing it, and that’s where the politics, the media craze messes it all up, so what we try to do is show the win-win examples that work for both sides and ways to lower the temperate of the conversation so that you can have a productive path forward. 
AD: Right. We are living in difficult times at the moment, to say the least. But taking an overall view, would you then say that you are optimistic? 
KW:  I’ll put it this way, if you had asked me in February, before the global pandemic, I would have said yes. Right now, I’m cautiously optimistic because I think one of the reasons we wrote this book right now to be very contemporary with the pandemic and the recession, was we wanted to be very real. We didn’t want to put out something that would be pie in the sky, well that would be great, but for 25% unemployment, what are you going to do. We’ve really leaned into that, and even in these economic times, what you’re seeing is people are longing for community, they’re longing for connection, their busy rat race day-to-day lives that they had been doing, they’re now taking a step back and asking, where do I want to be spending my money, where do I want to be spending my time, how do I want to be living. I think there’s been a cultural awakening of people who want to buy local, to shop from local restaurants, to save their money and if they’re going to spend it, spend it on something that’s going to help their neighbor or friend who has a small business. That gives me optimism. 
My firm, Sustainable Business Consulting, we’ve been consulting for 15 years with 160+ global clients, and the idea that telling someone that all their employees tomorrow are going to work from home and they’re going to stop all business travel and its going to be great for the planet, that would fall on deaf ears. What we’ve seen is now, in a matter of 2 months, companies who would have never changed their mindset have been forced to change their mindset. We’ve already seen global carbon emissions to come down 17%, but for a lot of our clients, a lot of their emissions may have come from business travel, if this pandemic continues for another couple months, people are going to be so used to virtual conferencing and doing things remotely, it gives us a fighting chance to do these things. Same thing with commuting, I literally was having a conversation with a client the day before COVID-19 hit in Seattle, and I was telling them, 33% of your emissions come from your commuting, if you try to work from home one day a week, you could cut those emissions by 20%. They were like, we can’t do it, that’s not how our business works, and within two weeks, 100% of their workforce is working remotely. That gives me optimism because it breaks the mindset of what is possible, and if we could come out with some lessons learned and some new ways of doing things, I am actually a little bit optimistic. 
AD: Well, that’s great, its great to have a positive message, it really is. Kevin, your book is out now. 
KW: It’s on sale on Amazon and also on Kindle. 
AD: Well, thank you very much for sharing your ideas. It’s interesting and its always great to have a positive message on a Friday, so thank you very much indeed. 
KW: Alright, thanks so much, take care. 
That was Kevin Wilhelm, CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting in Seattle, Washington. 
As he said, "How to Talk to the Other Side: Finding Common Ground amongst COVID, Recession, & Climate Change”, is now available at your favourite bookshop.
If you’ve already listened to this week’s other episode you’ll know that we have  a new patron. Welcome to newest patron Pamela McAllister, over there in Queensland, Australia. I was going to say you’re our first patron in Australia, but in fact that distinction goes to Colin Clarke who’s near Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. Many thanks to Pamela McAllister, Colin Clarke and all other patrons who help to make the Sustainable Futures Report possible. And a special mention to Imogen Littlejohns, my longest-standing patron. Special thanks to you.

And that’s it…

…for this week. That’s the fourth episode in two weeks, so I make no promises for next week. Although given that Friday 5th is World Environment Day I suppose I should do something.
Anyway, you can be sure that I’m Anthony Day, and there will be another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report…

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Shooting for a Green Recovery

Shooting for A Green Recovery
Hello and welcome to an extra Sustainable Futures Report for Wednesday 27th May. There’ll still be one on Friday!
Making the headlines, some politicians, activists and commentators are calling for a green recovery. A changed world as we come out of COVID lockdown. There are endless arguments over what that actually means, how we do it, when we do it and whether we can do it. Meanwhile, some fossil fuel companies are accused of failing to meet targets, some are agitating for targets to be dropped and some politicians are quietly dropping them anyway. The word in the markets is that green investment is a success story and elsewhere the sun is shining on renewables, even if some of them are all at sea. (Oh, all right, it’s a lake.) And then there’s net zero. What does it actually mean, and could BECCS help? And we have a new patron. 
(Oh, and there's nothing about cats, although I do mention CAT later.)
Welcome to newest patron Pamela McAllister, over there in Queensland, Australia. I was going to say you’re our first patron in Australia, but in fact that distinction goes to Colin Clarke who’s near Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. Many thanks to Pamela McAllister, Colin Clarke and all other patrons who help to make the Sustainable Futures Report possible. And a special mention to Imogen Littlejohns, my longest-standing patron. Special thanks to you.
What’s in the news?
It’s the Green Recovery. Transform, the journal of IEMA reports that more than one million citizens have joined forces with 100 environmental NGOs to urge the EU to launch the biggest green investment package the world has ever seen in response to the coronavirus crisis. The Green 10 coalition of environmental organisations has launched an appeal urging lawmakers to invest hundreds of billions into home renovations, scaling up renewable energy, restoring natural habitats, boosting public transport and zero-emission mobility, and greening agriculture.
The EU recovery fund can be used to unlock an estimated €1.8 trillion opportunity by 2030 by making better use of materials and reducing waste, according to Patrick Schröder and David McGinty writing on France and Germany first proposed a €500 billion recovery fund to help eurozone economies affected by the coronavirus, followed by a separate proposal from the so-called ‘frugal four’ – the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden.
While there are some significant differences between the plans, they both refer to the need for a green transition. This unprecedented economic stimulus provides the EU with the opportunity to go even further, and accelerate the shift to a circular economy. This all depends, they say, on
  • First, using the green stimulus to ensure progress on the circular economy is not further reversed by the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Second, promoting more resilience to safeguard against resource shortages and supply chain risks.
  • Third, promoting the EU’s global leadership on the circular economy through international cross-sector cooperation to support a recovery, which is also just and inclusive.
Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?
That’s the title of a paper by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, Dimitri Zenghelis published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy. 
Joseph Stiglitz is a former chief economist at the World Bank and a Nobel Prize-winner; Nicholas Stern is professor of economics and government and chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE), and 2010 Professor of Collège de France. He was author of the Stern Review which urged the then government to act promptly on climate because the cost of inaction would rise year by year. That was in 2006.
The paper says:
The COVID-19 crisis is likely to have dramatic consequences for progress on climate change. Imminent fiscal recovery packages could entrench or partly displace the current fossil-fuel-intensive economic system…
Nicholas Stern is quoted as saying that stimulating new jobs in heavily emitting sectors was short-sighted. “The jobs of the past are insecure jobs,” he said. “[To create future jobs] we need the right kind of finance in the right place at the right scale at the right price.”
Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England and now a finance adviser to Boris Johnson for Cop26, the UN climate conference to discuss progress towards the Paris Agreement, called for all companies to disclose their plans to reach net zero emissions. “Every company in every sector, every bank and every insurer, every pension fund, should be expecting to develop and disclose a transition plan to net zero,” he said.
The UK can seize the opportunity as president and host of the crunch UN climate talks to lead the way on an international green recovery, leading economists said, in a briefing to ministers to accompany the Oxford study results.
Many of the projects that could create new jobs in the UK are “shovel-ready”, compliant with social distancing requirements and could be started quickly, said Cameron Hepburn, director of the Smith School of enterprise and the environment at Oxford University and lead author of the study.
He cited energy efficiency programmes to insulate the UK’s draughty housing stock, the building of electric vehicle charging networks, redesigning roads for more cycling, flood protection and planting trees. “These all need large-scale deployment, offer low to moderate skilled work and will have benefits in terms of climate change as well as boosting the economy,” he said.
The Oxford study compared green stimulus projects with traditional stimulus, such as measures taken after the 2008 global financial crisis, and found green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per pound spent by the government, and lead to increased long-term cost savings.
Clean energy infrastructure construction is one example, generating twice as many jobs per pound of government expenditure as fossil fuel projects around the world. Others include expanding broadband so more people can work from home.
“Tackling climate change has the answer to our economic problems,” Prof Hepburn told the Guardian. In their stimulus packages after the 2008 financial crisis, governments largely failed to capitalise on the carbon-cutting potential of their spending, partly because there was a lack of “shovel-ready” initiatives.
Greenpeace is complaining at the news that the British government is apparently giving a major role in the presidency of COP26 to oil major BP, following discussions with Andrea Leadsom, minister for energy. That is the same Andrea Leadsom who has in the past voted against wind power, supported fracking and admitted that when she took office her first question to her officials was, “Is climate change real?” 
Ed Miliband, the UK’s shadow business secretary, has called for green recovery plans to include creating a “zero-carbon army of young people” doing work such as planting trees, insulating buildings and working on green technologies.
S&P Global Market Intelligence reports that executives from more than 150 companies around the world that have a combined market capitalisation of more than $2.4 trillion have signed a statement calling on governments to plan a green economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
Calling All Governments
"As countries work on economic aid and recovery packages in response to COVID-19, and as they prepare to submit enhanced national climate plans under the Paris Agreement, we are calling on governments to reimagine a better future grounded in bold climate action," said the statement, which was organised by the Science Based Targets initiative. The SBTi is a collaboration between CDP (The Carbon Disclosure Project), World Resources Institute (WRI), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). 
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has calculated that the green economy contributed a third of the UK’s economic growth in 2010-11, following the financial crisis, while Britain’s traditional economic engines floundered. At the time they said that the choice between “green or growth” was a false one. 
Earlier this month the CEOs of some 60 organisations, including Barratt Developments, Good Energy and the RSPB, wrote to the UK prime minister saying, “It is now clearer than ever before that the health of humanity is inextricably bound to the health of our planet. Your government has the opportunity to show global leadership, forging a path out of this crisis by putting a resilient economy, healthy communities, and a thriving natural world at the heart of the relief and recovery effort.”
They called for:
  • A more resilient economy
  • Increased space for wildlife and people 
  • Strengthening Nature’s protections
  • Building global ambition in the run-up to COP26
More Letters
And they weren’t alone. The Committee on Climate Change also wrote to the government in a letter headed “Building a resilient recovery from the COVID-19 crisis”. Their key recommendations were that the Government should prioritise actions according to six principles for a resilient recovery. These are:
  1. Use climate investments to support the economic recovery and jobs.
  2. Lead a shift towards positive long-term behaviours.
  3. Tackle the wider ‘resilience deficit’ on climate change.
  4. Embed fairness as a core principle.
  5. Ensure the recovery does not ‘lock-in’ greenhouse gas emissions or increased climate risk.
  6. Strengthen incentives to reduce emissions when considering fiscal changes.
The Lancet Planetary Health warns that we need to inspire climate action without inducing climate despair. Author Christie Nicole Godsmark reports, “Recently, in assisting [such] a class with a climate–health learning activity focusing on solutions, one student commented to another that she just could not see a way out of the present situation.
“Comments such as this can bring the ethical safeguarding responsibility of educators into focus. Should educators be providing support to students who consciously and internally engage with the devastation of the climate and its impacts on health, and so might be susceptible to experiencing solastalgia, ecological grief, eco-anxiety, or pessimism? There appears to be a fine balance for educators between safeguarding the mental health of students who might feel climate despair on the one hand, and inspiring students to take personal climate action on the other by presenting the facts of this unprecedented and existential threat to humanity.” 
Of course it’s not just students who are likely to suffer from eco-anxiety, and this may be exacerbated by more fragile mental health due to the COVID lockdown. An issue that we maybe should explore in more detail in a future episode.
Carbon Down
Meanwhile Business Green reports that carbon emissions have fallen dramatically as a result of lockdown. As I’ve commented previously, the total annual reduction depends on how long lockdown continues and how far we go back to business as usual afterwards. 
Action This Day
We’ve heard myriad voices calling for things to be done better, but this could mean policies at odds with the beliefs of many governments, like a reduction in inequality, a universal basic income, fairer taxes, public infrastructure investment and public management of natural monopolies like water, health and railways. 
No amount of earnest entreaties will change anything, unless governments all over the world take action.
On the Fossil Fuel Front…
Australian and Canadian governments are working hard to promote their local fossil fuel industries - something else for a future episode.
We’ve mentioned that BP has been asked by the government to play a role in COP26. Why not, when the company has committed to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and BP’s new chief executive has said that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has deepened his commitment to shrinking the oil giant’s carbon footprint to zero? Well a report from the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) states that BP, along with most other oil companies, is not doing nearly enough to meet its stated target. Quoting other research by TPI, IEMA’s Transform says that the mining industry is not aligned with its own climate goals either.
One solution to this dilemma is of course to move the goal posts. Australia's electricity grid operator wants the power to remotely switch off or constrain the output of new rooftop solar systems, as it finds ways to manage South Australia's world-leading levels of "invisible and uncontrolled" solar output. It complains that the runaway success of solar power poses serious challenges for the security of the grid, because it operates "behind-the-meter", out of control of the authorities. It’s estimated that up to 85 per cent of South Australia's power demand could be met by solar by 2025. There is no coal-fired generation in SA. Apart from wind and solar, the main source of electricity is natural gas - a fossil fuel - with some hydro and some diesel - a dirty fossil fuel - backup. There are two battery storage installations. No doubt balancing the grid will be a challenge, but surely the more urgent challenge is reducing emissions from power generation.
Looking at other regulations, a recent article in The Lancet looks at public reporting of the use of fracking chemicals the USA.
And now some more positive news…
The Rockefeller investment fund divested from fossil fuels five years ago and reports that the strategy was a success. BlackRock, the US investment manager which managed $6.5tn (£5.3tn) in assets at the end of March, found that investments in organisations with with better records on social issues and good governance were more resilient than others during the recent coronavirus market crash. And the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) wrote to the governments of the G20 nations urging a sustainable recovery.
On the renewables front we learn that Britain's largest solar farm is poised to begin development in Kent while Dutch engineers are building the world's biggest sun-seeking solar farm. In Kent 880,000 solar panels will be installed at a cost of £440m to generate 350MW on a site covering 364 hectares (900 acres) of farmland.
In northern Holland 74,000 solar panels will be installed on islands floating in a reservoir. This will enable them to move to track the sun.
Net Zero
Net zero is the holy grail that every country is trying to achieve, or at least promising to achieve. The Lancet reports that New Zealand has been way ahead of the game, but seems to have slowed up in recent years. Instead of looking for reductions from transport and agriculture the government is relying on offsets from forestry. And the article claims that the recent climate legislation does nothing to control methane.
Moving across the ocean, I’ve had a question from another listener in Australia, Carol Dance. She says, “As a layperson, I couldn’t find the answer to my key question, Does Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) emit as much or similar amount of carbon into the atmosphere as natural gas?
“I understand that RNG would reduce fracking and other destructive methods of acquiring fossil gas. That’s fine.  But does it still emit destructive gas? Isn’t it basically the same gas with perhaps different proportions of the various hydrocarbons?”
This was my answer:
“Yes, the question of RNG is a vexed one, and I have to speak as a layman too. I think that RNG, which is mainly methane, probably emits as much CO2 as natural gas, which is mainly methane. The supporters of bioenergy are putting their trust in BECCS, which I discussed with James Dyke in “Game Over” on 20th May. The simple argument for bioenergy, from woodchip to waste, is that the organic material that is burnt is replaced by new growth which absorbs an equivalent quantity of CO2 to that which is emitted. There are problems with that, in that growth takes far longer to recover the CO2 than it takes for the emissions to be made and there are emissions involved in constructing the bioenergy plant, harvesting the fuel and transporting it. In theory the process is carbon-neutral, but in practice that can never be the case because of these overheads.
“Along comes BECCS - BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage. If the CO2 from the bioenergy plant is captured then it is physically removed from the atmosphere and there is a reduction in the global total. Organic growth continues and that also removes CO2 from the atmosphere, so even after the plant. harvesting and transport emissions, the operation could be net negative. This all depends on how the RNG is used. If it ends up as road fuel there is no way the CO2 can be captured and stored. On the other hand, if it is all used in one location like a gas turbine for power generation or a hydrogen production plant, then capture and storage should be possible. But as far as I know, no carbon capture is operating successfully at a commercial scale anywhere in the world. I may be wrong. If you know different, please let me know.
And Finally…
Let’s talk about a cat. No, not that cat - that's a very fetching picture - this CAT is the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. I went there once and they have these devices where you wind a handle and it tells you about the exhibit in front of you. Turn it one way and it tells you in English. Turn it the other way and it tells you in Welsh. Fascinating. Anyway, if you’ve never been to visit, you can’t at the moment. But you can visit their website where they’ve developed webinars and online activities and training courses. Worth a look. Find it at
And very finally,
There’s a report from McKinsey on the need for a Green recovery. You’ll find a link to the article on the blog. It includes cows in face-masks to control the methane they produce. Presumably they won’t get COVID either. Or should the be COWVID? Sorry, I’ve been doing this too long!
And that’s it!
The reason for two episodes again this week is that I have another interview that you’ll hear on Friday and I’ve had all these stories stacking up. I thought if I put them all together the episode would just be too long. Let me know what you think - should the Sustainable Futures Report be longer, or shorter - or is it just right? Let me know at about this and any other ideas. And don’t forget this blog. You'll find that there are several pages of links to the stories I’ve covered this time. The blog is at .
So that’s it.
I’m Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
There’s another one on Friday, but I’m not making any promises about next week.

Green Recovery

How renewable energy could power Britain's economic recovery



Fossil Fuel industry

Fracking Chemicals
Investment success

Sun Shines on Renewables
Britain's largest solar farm poised to begin development in Kent

Dutch engineers build world's biggest sun-seeking solar farm

Net Zero


Friday, May 22, 2020

Designer Outlet

Designer Outlet

A designer solution providing an environmentally responsible outlet for your industry's waste. Peter Ettinger of Bioenergy DevCo explains how an anaerobic digester plant tailored to specific waste streams can produce biogas and soil improvers - and pay for itself.

Welcome once again to the Sustainable Futures Report. I’m Anthony Day and it’s Friday 22nd May.
I’m talking again about clean energy, and shortly I’ll introduce Peter Ettinger from the Bioenergy Development Company. There is still so much going on that I’m in a quandary. I know the length of the Sustainable Futures Report varies from episode to episode but I do try and keep it below 30 minutes because I want to keep your attention. Today’s interview will account for most of that, so what about the rest of the news?  And I’ve already published one interview this week. I’ve decided that I’ll have a general news round-up early next week and then another expert interview is scheduled for Friday 29th.
I’ve heard that some people are bored with nothing to do during lockdown. I wonder what that’s like.
And so to this week’s expert.
The Sustainable Futures Report Podcast
Interview with Peter Ettinger, Bioenergy DevCo. on May 15, 2020

Anthony Day (AD): Well, today, I'm talking to Peter Ettinger, who is Chief development officer of Bioenergy DevCo. – that's BDC – based in Columbia, Maryland in the United States. Now Peter, welcome. 

Peter Ettinger (PE): Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.

AD: All right, Peter, we've been talking on The Sustainable Futures Report about clean energy for some time – most recently about nuclear fusion, which is a technology some years off. But today you're going to talk to us about anaerobic digestion, which is very much with us today. Can you just start off by explaining to us or reminding us what anaerobic digestion is? 

PE: Sure. It's really a good question. And the best way to think about it is we're a cow on an industrialized scale. If you think about it, a cow does a couple of things. You know, cow eats grass, a cow actually then creates gas. The difference here is that it's all through a four-chamber stomach, nothing goes out to the exposed air but the cow, in creating gas. The difference for an anaerobic digester is, in fact, we collect that gas. We own that gas. We manage that gas. A cow also does something else. It creates manure. Well, what we do with that manure in the anaerobic digestion process is we create a high organic soil amendment. So, instead of using an oil-based fertilizer or some pesticides, you can directly land apply this product to ensure healthy soils. So, if you think about it, anaerobic digestion is a great example of the circular economy at work. We take stuff that was in the ground – fresh fruits, organics, meats, other byproducts – and we go all the way through the cycle without odors or anything being exposed to air – materials being exposed to air. And then we start the whole process over again.

AD: OK, ok. So, you have two outputs, you have gas – tell me in a minute a bit more about the gas – and then the residues, which is leftover can be used as a fertilizer. 

PE: Yes, absolutely. We call it a soil amendment because, by nature, fertilizers have other things associated with it. But here in the States, for example, OMRI is an organization that certifies organic qualities. So, the materials that we work through are digested through the heating process. It essentially takes out all the bad stuff. So, it meets what they call PFRP standards when at the end of that process, it's known as an EPA – our Environmental Protection Agency – Certification for classic compost. So, that material can be put on a field. It can be used in schools, in the horticulture work or just general horticulture by consumers. It can be used in certain stormwater management. It has a variety of uses directly applied to the land. So, in this country and throughout the world, the concept of the healthy soil movement is really taking shape. And we just serve it an integral part of that process. I can certainly talk to you about. Sorry, my phone is beeping like crazy now. 

AD: That's what it is.

PE: Oh, I can certainly talk to you about the gas side of things as well – 

AD: Before we get onto that, just tell me a bit more about the raw materials that you're working with and how should you be sure that they are completely clean? I mean, you know, heavy metals or other contaminants in them.

PE: So, I'll take even a half step backwards. If you don't mind. I'd give you a bit of history about our company. We're 22 years old. We've been doing this for a long period of time. So, one of the things we know better than anybody in our technology company is called BTS Biogas. So, it's an Italian based company who's built 220 anaerobic digesters throughout the world. They range from very small to very… call it industrialized scale. More than three hundred thousand MMBtus of renewable natural gas. Our experience in in building these facilities is very much focused on feedstock and analyzing feedstocks, looking at feedstocks, making sure their purity, understanding its contents. So, for example, we take anything in the organic world. So, think of it – fresh fruits and vegetables, pre-consumer processed materials. The kind of work that we do with our clients – such as Coastal Sun Belt or a Demonte – is we work within that process. We know how it's clean. We know what materials are being used. We know the processing side of that. And we consistently test those materials to ensure there are no heavy metals, that there isn't anything associated with the better part of the protection and that. And then I would say the other thing we do better than any is this concept of co-digestion. Typically, co-digestion means taking a variety of products, mixing them appropriately, using the right kind of microbial agents inside of that process to ensure gas performance and better healthy digesting. So, it takes a lot. We call it, “how do we make a great soup?” Easy to throw stuff in a crockpot, you know, might not taste so bad. But to be a chef, truly a chef, you have to understand the spices. You have to. And in our case, you have to understand what microbes work, to what degree and how do you manage that product? We have a major I think actually the only laboratory in the world dedicated to anaerobic digestion in this microbial mix. We're going to try to replicate that and bring it to the states. But right now, that lab has 20,000 thousand plus inputs of materials here and basically can tell you… if I take a little bit of poultry waste and I combine that with fats, oils and greases, I know that this is the right mix, very similar to what you we as humans do when we take probiotics. There’re thousands of strains of a probiotics. But the right one is hard to define and develop.

AD: Okay. Right. So, as I understand it then your business is actually creating bespoke digesters and constructing them for your particular clients’ requirements. Now, this is a technology which is widely available. What makes your company different? I mean, is it. You mentioned on the website artificial intelligence. Is that something which locks you out to a couple of things?

PE: We have a couple of versions of what we do now and how we do it. So, we might work for a major municipality, for example. So, the issues associated with waste are clear cut. Organics do nothing for landfills other than create greenhouse gases. Organics do nothing in the world of incineration. Other than being a wet wait. Municipalities are now looking at innovative ways to deal with waste, because the cost of actually opening up a new landfill is hundreds of millions of dollars. Environmental justice issues. Obvious ones are not really allowing new incineration. So, we work with municipalities and we say, look, we have a better way. We are, in essence, a sustainable landfill. And we can take those organics, create more room in your landfills so you can use materials, you know, package materials, other materials that you can actually sell and gain revenue from. And then the same time, we can then go manage this product, creating an environment and call it an economic development asset for your city. Same time, second kind of project we work with is this bespoke model. So, a major poultry facility, for example, who has a consistent amount of waste, has controversy around landfills, controversy around land application. We can actually take that waste work on their facility, not only manage it at a constant cost. So, the margins don't flip all times for them, but also provide them with energy is as well. So, in that in that model, what makes us different is one is history. You know, we've done this over the past 20 some idea process, our understanding of the microbial process, understanding what mixes together to make a plant performance. A result about doing that is we actually ensure and guarantee the performance of the plant. So, of one of the hundred and fifty we actually operate, I can look to you and say, I know you will get two hundred seventy-five thousand MMBtus every day, every year. I mean, so we can ensure that as well. And then I would say the telemetry side of what we do. You know, I'll go to technology, the older digesters and many other people, when small ones and farms have no way to communicate not only internally to define the activity of the microbes, but also no way to communicate with the folks who are operating the facility. We've added this, the sense of technology, this sense of sensors, telemetry so that at a moment's notice you could be looking at your phone today and be able to tell me, you know, the digester in Jessup, Maryland looks like it's going to foam. You know, you need to be looking at this and understanding. You know, you need a counterbalance next to it. So very, very, very important for us to see that on a proactive basis versus simply a reactive basis.

AD: OK. Now, you clearly are installing this technology across the United States. Are you doing this in other parts of the world? Are you licensing the technology, or do you have a global outlook?
PE: Oh, absolutely. We're very, very much so. You know, I think I mentioned that our BTS Biogas company has built 220 of these digesters as far away as Japan, a number in England, a number we own, the largest market share in Italy. We're building in France; we’ve built in South America. Really, I'm leading the U.S. invasion here, along with Sean Kreloff, our CEO, to take this readily adaptable and very valuable technology from Europe and introducing it to the United States in a new, improved view of how do you manage typically organic waste creating these kind of renewable and sustainable products. So, we're doing great in Europe. We continue to do great in Europe. We're building, in fact, hiring throughout that part of the world. But we want to take this European success and basically bring it to the United States.

AD: OK, just tell me a bit more about the gas. Tell me exactly what the gas is, methane or what? 

PE: Yes, absolutely. It is. So, we…. We do. Woops, I'm sorry. Know what I what I did there? Well, I can still see I hear you. OK, that's perfect. You know, I apologize. Then the methane itself. So, we create a biogas, a brown gas, which is around 50, 60 percent methane. So, our abilities here, what we do with that is we scrub that gas, we manage that that product, and then we actually have an opportunity to work with a larger utility or with a larger energy company. So, think of it as a regulated utility here in the U.S., Chesapeake utilities, a Con Edison. And by managing that gas, cleaning that gas either through a water, a membrane process, we actually have a product that can be directly injected so that our typical plant that takes in a hundred thousand tons of a hundred thousand tons of organic waste. Well, in fact, actually produce somewhere in the tune of 275,000 to 300000 MMBtus per year. So, that as transition from brown gas or call it raw gas to an actual RNG product. And that is even us through the grid. It can be compressed and become renewed, compressed natural gas. Or in fact, we're in early discussions here to transition that to hydrogen as well. So, think of it. Sustainability in a broad scale. 

AD: Yeah, well, that's what's really interesting because there are a lot of advantages to hydrogen. There are also problems with hydrogen, as far as I can see as well. But OK, so you’re using this gas as far as industrial processes. You've got that. Oh, no, I'm here. Oh, that's just the pictures change. I can see you now. I'm sorry. What was I saying? Yeah, the use for the gases. You were saying that it can go into the grid. So, it sounds as though some of your plants are pretty large to justify connection to the grid because presumably it might in some cases be quite some way away from the grid. You link with the pipeline, or you tanker it out, or what do you do? 

PE: Couple of things. And that's a great, great question. And it really is around the type of plant we're creating. So, for example, in a municipality, our plant in Jessup, Maryland sits on five acres of land, sits in the center of a food and food distribution hub. There were about 11 hundred feet from a from an interconnection point. And we deliberately picked that land. That plot of land, not only because of its waste and its access to roadways, but because we're next to a grid, a grid connection. We then are able to then talk to our various clients and their end goal uses of that, whether they want to simply sell it for transportation use and using the California markets, or, for example, many electric utilities here are now using renewable natural gas as part of their renewable energy credit and their responsibility to consumers. Alternatively, we also work in with a utility who's mostly focused on trucking of gas. So, they like some of our more remote locations where we have lots of organic waste from the agricultural field, but not a whole lot of connection to the gas grid. So, they economically say, well, we'll let us begin to almost milk-run your gas. You know, think about it is picking it up and depositing it within cities or within a grid mark, that is at its most acceptable. So, we work in a couple of different ways in in in that area. It really depends on the client, really depends on the goal and objective and how much gas we're producing out of each one of our facilities.

AD: So, some of this gas will be used for road transport then? 

PE: Absolutely. The move in this country is to compressed natural gas. We believe diesel will go the way of the dodo and particularly for long haul trucks. You know, I mean, if you think about it, people coming up and down the eastern seaboard. Diesel is too expensive, and it certainly doesn't it's not as effective in terms of its environmental quality. So, we're now working with a couple of companies on an Eastern Seaboard CNG compressed natural gas filling station primarily for long haul trucks. We also work… we have a project now with a university where that university is looking to take and transition all their vehicles to compressed natural gas. So, the vehicles that go in and around the university. Again, a smaller digester, but enough gas for them to meet their carbon reduction requirements. So, again, a lot of what we do is… well, let me say this. A long time ago or a while ago, people got very measured and very thoughtful about technology. And they said this is the coolest technology in the world. And they tried to find a way to go and solve somebody’s problem with. We work with our clients. Understand their challenges in the waste field. There are challenges in terms of the use of renewable natural products or to use where soil amendments. And then we, based on a performance, based on a mutually transparent view, say, look, here's the technology that seems to work. And if we do it this way, it's a benefit for all parties. I don't want to be selling a tech-to-tech. You know, it's cost me two cents with this screwdriver, three cents for that screwdriver. It's really a goal, an objective. Since we're in a community for twenty-plus years, you know, in building these facilities and we actually take on the financing of these projects. So, it's important for our audience to know is that when you look at this from a performer base, there is a real commitment to this local community. There is a real commitment to stay within this local community and be very successful. So, from our perspective, on projects where we have enough waste and we actually work closely with our clients, we actually finance the project. Come in and then build it in association with the municipality and or the bespoke client. 

AD: Right. Well, I was going to ask you as my next question, how does this compare on costs? But I think you more or less answered it, because if you're going to cite the financial risk on a project, you clearly are confident that it is going to pay for itself and therefore the fuel, all the feedstock or whatever it is, sorry, the fuel or the gas that you're producing must be competitive in the market. 

PE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we're willing to, you know, based on that perform as I said, ensuring guarantee or performance makes sense for us, then we're very, very… we feel very confident about that.

AD: OK. Now, looking to the future, you mentioned briefly something about hydrogen, and I said there are problems with hydrogen. The problem I'm aware of is that if you get hydrogen out of natural gas, you're left with CO2. And so, while you might go away and burn the hydrogen and it's perfectly clean, what happens to the CO2 that was extracted as part of the hydrogen production process?

PE: Well, I think that that's a very good point. I think there are new innovations that are being introduced every day, either in CO2 capture. So, for example, we take CO2 and we do a number of things with it. Now from working with large growers in greenhouses who are using CO2 on a regular basis to creating an industrial scale CO2 for use in beverages as well. I not as aware as I should be probably at the innovations in the hydrogen world. But groups like Bloom or Toyota and others are finding ways to scrub that CO2 making in ensuring that it is an inert gas and not doesn't maintain its properties. So, it's now goes through either a scrubbing technology and it's actually being disposed of, or it's actually being incorporated in a secondary or tertiary part of the technology. And I wish I knew more about it, but I'm way over my skis in terms of my technology, my technology understanding.

AD: Okay, well, you've given us a very interesting roundup of the technology on your place in promoting anaerobic digestion. Apart from hydrogen, what do you see as the future – more of the same and less and less diesel?

PE: I believe we believe very strongly that we deserve – the world of anaerobic digestion deserves a place at the renewable table. Electric has solar. They have wind. The only true renewable natural gas is one that comes from anaerobic digestion. It's the only true example of the circular economy at work. And it is the only thing that I believe that can succeed without necessarily a government subsidy, enabling this to enabling this to be implemented in cities and towns around the world. So, we believe a couple of things. One, we'd like a seat at the table. Two, We want to be able to have a holistic view of renewable natural energy, whether it be electricity or gas. And that we strongly think that in your in your hometown near you and that farm near you or the town near you. Don't be surprised to see it. Anaerobic digester become part of your community and can't become part of the long-term success in the renewable fields.

AD: Yeah, I think I prefer to have that in my community rather than one of these back-of-the-lorry nuclear power stations that are talking about developing, just feel a bit more comfortable with your technology, I think, than that, 

PE: I think so. You know, I think the impact of this technology is really quite amazing. Our plan to are a typical 275,000-ton plant. I'm not sorry, a typical 100,000-ton plant that produces 275,000 MMBtus, you know, creates enough renewable natural gas for us to power 6,600 homes. In terms of electricity, I mean, that’s 5,500-5,600 cars off the highway and that's 26,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. So that's, that's a big impact. That's a couple of small natural parks working successfully, particularly in a local community. So as big companies are trying to figure out what to do with waste, as communities are trying to find ways to work with those large companies, ensuring economic development in the community itself. We believe we have a role there to support these towns long into the future.

AD: Peter, thank you very much. It's been a really interesting roundup of the situation and I'd like to thank you for taking the time to talk to us here at the Sustainable Futures Report. Thanks again. 

PE: Thank you very much, Anthony. It's a great, great, great, great podcast and we enjoy it very much.

Well that is very nice to hear. I was talking to Peter Ettinger, Chief development officer of Bioenergy DevCo. ( Apologies for the bongs from Peter’s phone. Despite my best efforts I was not able to edit them out without editing him out as well.
And that’s it for this week. That was the second episode of the Sustainable Futures Report this week. Last Wednesday I published a conversation with Dr James Dyke of Exeter University. He was a co-signatory to a recent letter to the Guardian newspaper which said, “It’s game over for preventing dangerous climate change.” I asked him where we should go from here. Do listen if you’ve not already heard it and let me know what you think. And feedback about this episode and any other aspect of sustainability is always welcome. You could even send me an audio clip to
By the way, last week I mentioned that Dr Kate Lancaster of the University or York had made a presentation recently on fusion energy. It’s on YouTube and the link is . 
That was the Sustainable Futures Report. There’ll be another episode, possibly even two, next week.
I’m Anthony Day.

Until then.