Author: Amy Haddon shares her expertise in communications and corporate sustainability.
Earth Week is a special time of year for the Renewable Choice-Schneider Electric team. The values that embody Earth Day—conservation and climate action—are the same values that power our drive to make a difference in the world with the products and services we provide. This year, we celebrated Earth Week by challenging ourselves to make an impact in a different way each day.
Teams across the world participated in: Meatless Monday, Alternate Transportation Tuesday, Zero-waste Wednesday, Low-Light Thursday, and Community Clean-Up Friday. There are many reasons these challenges matter to us. Below, we highlight the impact of each daily activity for the environment and people across the globe.
Why Meat Matters:
The worldwide production of meat is extremely environmentally intensive. It accounts for massive deforestation, water consumption, land use (and resulting soil destruction), pesticide & fertilizer dispersion, climate change-causing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, and overfishing.
A life cycle analysis conducted by Environmental Working Group found that red meat, like beef and lamb, is responsible for 10-40x as many GHG emissions as common vegetable and grain crops. These emissions come from a variety of sources, including destruction of carbon sinks, release of carbon stored in soil, petrochemical-based fertilizers, energy use to grow/process/ship meat, destabilization of oceanic ecosystems, and the animals themselves. Meat consumption also contributes, globally, to poverty and poor health outcomes.
Both NRDC and WRI are doing a lot of work on curbing worldwide consumption of meat. A helpful blog from WRI describes how one man reduced his food footprint using their new guidelines without becoming vegetarian or vegan. For more ideas on reducing your own meat consumption, visit www.meatlessmonday.com.
Why Transportation Matters:
In the past year, and for the first time since 1979, transportation emissions surpassed power generation emissions to become the #1 source of GHGs, about 30% of our overall emissions. The vast majority of these emissions(61%) come from light-duty vehicles, like the passenger vehicles we drive to and from work daily.
While electric vehicles are steadily on the rise, estimations from the EIA indicate that combustion-engine vehicles will continue to predominate for much of the next 30 years. The combustion of a single gallon of gas produces nearly 20 lbs. of CO2. In addition to CO2, burning gasoline releases nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons that contribute to air pollution, the formation of smog, and the detrimental impact on human health (particularly respiratory related illnesses, such as asthma). By biking or walking to work just one day a week, you can make a significant direct personal impact on these emissions.
Why Waste Matters:
Waste is more than just an eyesore—waste is a climate issue. Organic waste that is trapped in a landfill anaerobically decomposes and produces methane. While many studies concentrate primarily on CO2 emissions, methane is a highly potent, short-living greenhouse gas that causes considerable atmospheric destruction and global warming. While various agencies differ on this point, methane is believed to have a global warming potential of 20-80x that of carbon dioxide. Landfills are the third largest source of methane in the U.S.
Virgin production of recyclable goods—including glass, paper, plastics, and aluminum—are also environmentally intensive. Aluminum is the most energy intensive manufactured product, in fact, whereas recycling saves 95% of the energy required for virgin production. Even better, aluminum, PETE plastics (#1 and #2), and glass can be safely and indefinitely recycled.
Why Electricity Matters:
Although climate change mitigation and a reduction in carbon is what drives our vision, conventional electricity generation has a lot of other damaging impacts. Many people don’t realize that fossil generation relies heavily on freshwater, which is used to generate the steam that turns coal & gas turbines, as well as cooling the process down. Coal-powered generation produces many harmful byproducts, like nitrous oxides and particulate matter that result in respiratory illness throughout the world.
Access to electricity is also a major social justice issue. For example, in India alone, more than 300 million people—equivalent to the entire population of the United States—lack access to electricity and are therefore denied many of life’s opportunities for growth. People in developing nations must rely on carbon-intense wood and candles for light and heat, and 4.4 BILLION people—more than half of the planet’s inhabitants—do not have internet access.
Our tagline, #LifeIsOn, is a point of pride for our team. ‘Life is On’ means improving access to electricity for all, but particularly for those living at the “bottom of the pyramid.” Electricity creates opportunity—and if we can help developing countries get access to clean, renewable electricity by leap-frogging conventional generation, all the better!
One thing that is important to remember: the work that we are doing together as a clean tech and sustainability industry to reduce climate impact and educate along the way is changing the world. This Earth Day, join our team in making your community a better place. Get out, get involved, and do something for the Earth.