This week I traveled the world digitally and dove into the environmental advancements and sustainability initiatives that are occurring in other countries.
EUROPE: Focus on Energy
I started off my tour in Europe and, unsurprisingly, the two countries that kept popping up as having advancements in sustainability were Denmark and Germany. While there are a variety of initiatives that the countries are looking into, there seemed to be a focus on energy. Recently, a new Danish wind turbine broke world records for energy production in a 24 hour period. This will allow for lower costs for wind energy as fewer turbines will need to be constructed. Wind energy is set to be a large part of Denmark’s plan to become fossil fuel free by 2050.
Germany has partnered with Sweden to install “electric roads.” These highways would allow freight trucks to transport goods long distances and still be fueled by electricity instead of gas. This would not only reduce the amount of emissions from these trucks but would also create an entirely sustainable process if the electricity is produced from renewable resources.
It will be interesting to see if these technologies can make it across the Atlantic to the United States. Think about how many homes the large windmill could provide energy. Imagine our interstates becoming electrified so that the transportation of goods becomes significantly more sustainable. The US should monitor the success of these innovative approaches and look for areas where we could one day implement these new technologies.
ASIA: Olympics have an Impact
I next moved onto Asia, and most information I found there in relation to sustainable business practices was about China and Japan. A common thread between the two is the upcoming Olympic Games to be held in both countries. China is focused on making as many sustainable choices as possible while Japan is collecting used electronics in order to make the Olympic medals.
China is reusing previous arenas in order to decrease the impact the Winter Olympics have on its environment. They also commit to building any new structures with sustainability in mind, using energy reducing technology whenever possible. In addition, any energy that is used for electricity, transportation, and operations will be solar or electric.
Japan’s innovative approach to creating the Olympic medals shows how creativity is important to sustainability. Most people would not look at an out of date cell phone and think it would one day become a gold medal, but someone did. This pioneering idea will hopefully remove 8,000 tons of used electronics from the waste stream.
This type of thinking, reusing what you already have, is the key to sustainability. Why build something new when something you already have will make do?
AUSTRALIA: Renewables for All
There are the same number of solar panels in Australia as there are people in Australia. This is one of the big reasons why 2017 is set to be a huge year for Australia in terms of renewable energy projects. They are set to increase their renewable capacity by 2,250MW by the end of the year. In addition to these projects, 50% of Australian households are currently considering solar energy and storage.
Australia is breaking into the renewables sector and is going strong. While they may not compare to Germany or Denmark’s success, they are showing improvement and are sure to catch up soon. What if 50% of American households were considering solar? How can we get our country to this spot?
AFRICA: New Tech, New Solutions
Africa is extremely diverse in its levels of sustainability, depending on which country you visit. Some are just starting out while others have a pretty solid footing in the sector. One of the countries that seems to be making strides in coming up with new environmental technology is South Africa.
Scientists from a South African university have discovered a low-cost, low-tech way to filter water. Charcoal made from Eucalyptus can successfully filter out a significant number of toxins from water runoff. While this solution does not necessarily make the water potable, it can be used on runoff from farms to decrease the number of chemicals and pollutants that enter the ecosystem. The beauty of this fix is the low cost. Many people think that technology is the future and that to have clean water you are going to have to come up with advanced systems to do so, but this process in South Africa proves that is not the case.
The country is also opening a plant to turn waste into energy. They are going to burn their waste to create electricity and reduce the amount that goes into landfills. While this is not a new idea, it tends to be looked down upon, as it is believed that it would cause more pollution to enter the atmosphere through burning than it would save. This was one of the main concerns when this idea was proposed to a Massachusetts neighborhood and was a main factor in the refusal of the project. Since then, the EPA has actually refuted this idea and says that for each ton of waste burned a ton of GHGs do not enter the atmosphere.
While they may not seem like the fanciest technologies, these two innovations have the chance to have significant impacts. If American farmers started using charcoal to reduce pollution from runoff it would have a great impact on our environment. Burning waste might be a bit harder to sell on a residential level and I do not believe American society is quite ready to accept this technology. If advancements in capturing the emissions from this tech occur we may be able to move it to America.
SOUTH AMERICA: Entering into the Fray
South America was my last stop for the week, making it full circle back to the Western hemisphere. A common theme when exploring sustainability here was that there is a lot of untapped potential in South America.
Brazil has a chance to be a global leader in carbon reduction as it is currently one of the major producers. Its economy is growing, so there is room for new technology and new initiatives to take root and help reduce Brazil’s carbon emissions.
South America is one of the continents most heavily impacted by deforestation and yet there is a $200 billion annual opportunity for deforestation-free investments. If the supply chains for beef, palm oil, soy, and paper can become sustainable, it has the chance to reduce the world’s GHG emissions by 10%. This is a huge area of potential growth for South America.
Americans should support South American countries’ sustainability initiatives and potentially learn from them as well. American companies could have a huge impact if they would trace their supply chains and ensure that materials are being sourced deforestation-free. This would not only decrease the impact on the environment but also improve the economy.
My biggest takeaway for the week was that while we might not all be on the same level, we are all moving forward in our sustainability goals, and that gives me hope for the future.