ISO, Standards & Climate Change

the-1999-NASA-Mars-Climate-OrbiterIt is hard to overstate the importance of standards. In many ways, they represent the essential ingredient that allows us to function. But famous disasters remind us that we cannot take this for granted. In 1999, NASA lost its $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft after a 10-month, 400-million kilometer journey to Mars because some of its engineers used the metric system while the others used the imperial measurement system. As a result, when the spacecraft entered the Mars atmosphere at an altitude of 60km, instead of the 150km required, it disintegrated. The disaster cost $330 million, caused major embarrassment to NASA and a serious blow to the American space program.

IMG_0830This is why the work of the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to develop and promote standards is so important and why I was pleased to learn about ISO’s growing commitment to climate change and why I am happy to join ISO’s NEXTGen Global Climate Change initiative for young professionals from around the world. This 6-week program is focused on what needs to be done, how international standards can help and how young professionals can get involved. The global kickoff took place last week (August 6, 2014) with an online Google+ Hangout that is available on YouTube for those who missed it.

While the project is forward-looking, a historical perspective on how standards can help reduce carbon emissions is useful and the success story of energy efficiency standards for household appliances is a case in point. Let’s look at refrigerators for illustration. Why? Because they are constantly on and typically represent the most energy hungry item in a home.

Between the 1950-70’s refrigerators have more then doubled in size but their energy use increased almost fivefold. How is this possible? Marketing departments wanting to increase the available inside space decided to cut down on insulation. A product “innovation” that caused skyrocketing energy consumption. Countrywide, this trend would have required 175 GW (gigawatt) of electricity today. But thanks to almost four decades of energy efficiency standards, America now needs less then 15 GW. The difference represents the equivalent of eliminating 400 large coal power plants.

Need for StandardsContext is important. The 1973-74 oil-crisis saw barrels of oil go from $3 to $12 and energy efficiency became recognized as critical for energy independence and national security. California introduced the first wave of mandatory efficiency standards in 1978 and over the years, efficiency standards became the driving force for innovation and continue to do so. Initial objections by industry of rising prices and adverse economic impacts did not materialize. To the contrary, prices fell by two-thirds and industry welcomed new standard as an opportunity to market improvements and boost sales. This process of continuous improvement has helped innovation, competition and profitability while creating jobs. The new products are not only cheaper for consumers they also offer a better environmental performance which is a win-win for everyone.

As chair of the ISO Climate Change Technical Committee (ISO/TC 207/SC 7), Tom Baumann is well aware of the importance of standards to help corporations manage their greenhouse gas emissions for environmental stewardship but also to manage risk and improve business performance. This is why over 3,000 corporations and 800 institutional investors with assets under management of $92 trillion are already partnering with the Carbon Disclosure Project for their carbon footprint management. Blackberry’s Kelly Killby agrees that ISO standards have helped improve environmental and business performance. Thanks to the implementation of ISO standards, Blackberry has reduced waste to landfills by 90% in 2013 and reinvested the cost savings into other sustainability initiatives.

Climate change represents the defining challenge of our generation and will require the cooperation of all sectors of modern society: private enterprise, government and civil society. Given that it is crosscutting, it will mean that all professions will have to work together with a common sense of purpose and a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved. We know that reducing emissions is possible at the individual, organization and community levels. According to Johnathan Fung, moderator of the ISO Climate Change Group, the challenge now is how to scale-up solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation for regional and global impact. A process in which standards will play a critical role. This will be one of the objectives of NextGen during the next six weeks.  Young professionals from around the world are most welcome to participate and contribute.

Find out more at: ISO NEXTGen, on Facebook and check out the Webinar.

More on this soon.

New Energy Law Announced in France

Segolene-Royal-invente-la-consultation-participative-pour-nommer-son-projet-de-loi-sur-la-transition-energetiqueLast week French environment and energy minister, Ségolène Royal, presented her energy law proposal to  put France on the sustainable low-carbon energy path ahead of the 2015 Paris climate talks and fulfill one of the key commitments of Francois Hollande for his presidency. The main targets of the package are to:

– reduce fossil fuel consumption by 30% by 2030 (versus 2012)

– increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix to 32% (versus 13.7% in 2012)

– reduce the share of nuclear for electricity from 75% to 50% by 2025

– reduce waste to landfills by 50% by 2025.

475px-DPE.svg80 measures are proposed to put France on the green path with energy efficiency set to  play a major role. So far, so good. Energy efficiency is the best way to reduce emissions, lower costs and eliminate waste in general. Improving energy efficiency will be mandatory during building retrofits and supported by a 30% tax credit and interest free loans for up to €100,000. Buildings are responsible for 43% of the total energy used in France, about a quarter of CO2 emissions and 30% of household budgets.

015200BE04272336-c1-photo-peugeot-ion-une-electrique-au-quotidien-solution-d-avenir-ou-solution-galereThe electrification of automobiles will receive a major boost with investments to install 7 million charging stations across the country by 2030 and subsidies of up to €10,000 for the purchase of an electric car when exchanging an old diesel one. Half the vehicles purchased by the State and State-owned enterprises will have to be electric. With 19 million diesel vehicles (61% of the 38 million vehicles in France in 2013) air pollution is a major problem in cities. During the pollution peaks in March, authorities made public transport free of charge in some 30 French cities including Paris, Lyon, Grenoble and even smaller and remote locations like Boulogne-sur-Mer. The electrification of vehicles in cities, especially taxis and postal vehicles will be most welcome.

Reducing waste to landfills by 50% by 2025 through resource recovery (recycling, circular economy, etc.) to reduce energy needs and costs while reducing environmental consequences of waste. Commendable objective but are the French ready for this? In recent years we have seen a surprising level of resistance by households to measures that would help reduce household waste. There seems to be a determination for many to oppose any form of recycling. Perhaps education efforts would be worthwhile. The need for collectivities to compost their organic waste is proposed. Organic waste typically represents one-third of the waste going to landfills and their incineration is energy intensive (expensive) given that they are mostly water (80%).

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Nicolas Hulot, Ambassadeur du Président pour la Planète (Photo Farouk Batiche. AFP)

Reactions to the proposal have generally been positive with the expectation that 500,000 households will be retrofitted by 2017 with significant savings on energy costs and the creation of some 100,000 jobs. The electrification of transport is expected to position  France for the future and reduce pollution from diesel vehicles. Questions have been raised however on the technicalities of financing the deployment of renewable energy and why other measures to mobility have not been proposed. Improving public transport, car sharing, biking and measures to improve fuel efficiency are  lacking.

Of course more could be done. There are many low-hanging fruits that could further help France reduce energy waste and costs and thereby improve competitiveness (and this is urgently needed). The priority remains energy efficiency and conservation. One suggestion to Ségolène Royal would be to make sure that energy efficiency measures implemented accomplish their stated objectives before paying out any tax credits. One example is the window retrofit scheme where the credit is provided as soon as windows have been replaced by ones that fulfill the new energy efficiency requirements but without making sure that they have been properly installed. As a result of poor craftsmanship many retrofits perform below expectation and the expected energy savings never materialize. Such measures are as good as throwing money out the window… but are unfortunately commonplace. More on this soon.