May 24, 2013
February 12th, 2013 - Articles
by Erich V. Schwartz
Sustainability has been discussed for at least one full generation with various historical highlights along the way; however, no quantifiable progress has actually been made. Yes, it is good that there is greater awareness and many environmental groups and activists are beating the sustainability drum but that has not been enough. Greenhouse gases continue to concentrate and our emission rates steadily rise with. As well, our global economy is pumping out unprecedented amounts of pollution that’s causing increases in our health issues, and threatening our water supply, food supply, and standard of living. We know this and we hear the doom and gloom every day, so why aren’t we aggressively tackling the issues before the damage is so severe and our response is too late?
We know what we need to do, but it will require a massive and unprecedented transformation of ourselves as individuals and our businesses on a global scale.
What Must Be Done
We need to immediately transition to a Zero Carbon and a Zero Waste Conservation Economy while simultaneously embracing Global Social Equality.
Why Zero Carbon? Very simply, we’ve hit 400 PPM of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and the rate of concentration continues to increase with no signs of slowing down. The science is clear. We are rapidly heading toward run-away global warming which will trigger the demise of our civilization. Assuming we wish to continue to improve our quality of life and build upon all the gains we’ve made we need to stop emitting greenhouse gases. In fact, many argue we need to develop solutions that reverse the current concentrations down to 350 ppm. To achieve this we need to stop burning fossil fuels that we currently use for the majority of our transportation systems, our heating and cooling in our buildings, and the generation of electricity. In other words, all the energy we use needs another source for generation. This is monumental.
Why Zero Waste? Well, our current municipal and industrial solid waste management model is linear. We extract resources to manufacture the goods we want, which are then distributed and purchased by consumers. Once used (literally used once) they are thrown into the garbage and end up in landfills, incinerators, and the environment. This process pollutes our environment, depletes our resources, and negatively impacts human health. Zero Waste creates a cyclical pattern where our means of production conserve natural resources, and are designed for reuse, repair, recycling or composting. The materials that we used to throw away become local assets that benefit people, the planet and the economy.
Why Global Social Equality? It is clear that a relatively small percentage of humanity is living off the backs of the majority. Altruistically this is not fair and there is a rising swell of pressure to ensure the goods and services we receive are acquired ethically. The fight against ‘blood diamonds’ is one extreme example. But far more damaging than the ‘blood diamond’ market is the extraction of resources such as oil that devastates the local environment and citizens into ruin as demonstrated in the Nigerian delta. Informed and concerned people do not want this on their conscience. From a security perspective, developed nations are becoming increasingly under threat as those whose backs we live upon become better educated, more empowered, and are demanding and fighting for their rights. This has always been a key ingredient for the collapse of empires when the oppressed rise up. Signs of people rising up and throwing off their chains are more prevalent today than full scale wars, and are reaching into the hearts of developed nations through “terrorist attacks”.
The key question is if we know what we need to do, what is stopping us?
The Scale We Must Achieve
First, we are still in the denial phase as we have not accepted the magnitude of the challenge is like nothing we have ever encountered. Our global economy is based on a linear production process that leads to resource depletion, pollution, human health degradation, and threatening our water supply, food supply, and standard of living. We need massive change in all sectors that include retooling, behavioural changes, and leadership by our elected officials.
Why Retooling? Fundamental to all of our industrial/business activity is the dependence on cheap and abundant energy which is currently provisioned through the burning of fossil fuels. While we have experienced some energy shocks and much talk about diminishing supplies and threats like “Peak Oil”, the reality is we will burn off our atmosphere before we run out of fossil fuels. Meaning, we will pump so much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that we will create run-away global warming and energy supplies will be the least of our worries. More immediate issues will include food and water security and probable wars as nations fight for dwindling resources to maintain civil rest. As such, we need to get off the fossil fuel bandwagon and either find clean and abundant energy to serve our needs or significantly reduce our energy demands, or more likely a combination of both.
Why Behaviour Change? Bottom line is no one wants to be changed except a baby with a wet diaper. Further, the need for behaviour change is difficult to accept given the apparent abundance of food in grocery stores. Produce from around the world can be bought everyday of the year. For example people in India can purchase fresh blueberries from Canada that are delivered by air. This seems like the good life, but it can only exist because the true costs are externalized and hidden. That is, the actual cost is not paid by the consumer or the producer it is incurred by everyone. The release of greenhouse gases in the transportation of produce is a significant contributor to climate change. The true cost is being deferred and will be paid for in the future.
On an individual level, there is much push back against companies who are trying to implement some basic steps to reduce their impacts. For example, one way to reduce overall company related greenhouse gas emissions is to encourage employees to pursue commuting options such as public transit, riding bikes, or walking. One “stick” oriented way to reinforce this policy is to reduce or eliminate company parking stalls. The backlash by employees has led many companies to retreat from this idea, especially given some people’s perceived sense they earned the “right” to drive their car and park in a reserved stall. We have to change our sense of entitlement and balance it against our obligation to society.
Why Political Leadership? Fundamentally, governments play an important role in creating an environment for businesses to operate. Current policies at the international and national levels encourage the extraction of fossil fuels for energy and are often in conflict with other stated goals. For example, in British Columbia the government is pushing for a carbon neutral public sector, while at the same time courting the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) techniques. Fracking not only has significant demands for water and causes ground water contamination, it also releases greenhouse gases through its extraction, processing, and burning. However, it also delivers significant revenue for a “cash strapped” government. Clearly, these conflicting needs must be aligned for both to be successful. However, political leaders have yet to establish and enforce the policies necessary to meet the longer term goals against the immediate perceived need of cash flow. There is no vision or leadership.
So, how do we overcome our personal, political, and business dynamics to survive?
Fundamentally, we all must focus on the real priorities and assume responsibility for our individual, social, and institutional actions. We need to shift from being ‘smart’ to being wise. Many ancient cultures profess wisdom in statements such as “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”. In the articles to follow, we will explore in practical terms how this concept could become the cornerstone for our future. With an overarching theme of sourcing our goods, our daily behaviour, and the bi-products of our actions, how an individual, our society, and our businesses and institutions can create the future we want and avoid the future we are creating.
August 10th, 2012 - Articles
Ben Ingram/Staff Writer/Coast Reporter
Gibsons Recycling Depot and the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) have agreed to an 18-month deal valued at $297,000, meaning the recovery centre will continue to handle a portion of the SCRD regional recycling function.
“This contract is literally an at-cost contract. There’s zero fat on the bone,” said Buddy Boyd, owner of Gibsons Recycling.
Boyd and the SCRD had previously been operating on an interim agreement that paid the recycler $11,500 per month. Their new deal will see that increased by $5,000, retroactive to July 1.
The SCRD has budgeted more than $636,000 for regional recycling this year. The yearly value of the new agreement sits at more than 30 per cent of that amount.
The regional district operated two of its own drop-off locations before Gibsons Recycling took over operations in the Town.
The value of the deal is meant to reflect the SCRD’s portion of recycling in Gibsons. What that portion is worth has remained a mystery to both public officials and the private sector, but Boyd said “they’re getting a sickly insane deal.”
“They’re only paying us for the amount of stuff that was brought to the IGA mall, which means we were already handling 60 per cent of the community recycling,” he said. “We handle 100 per cent, but we’re only paid for the amount that went to the Gibsons part by the mall.”
Gibsons Recycling Depot offers recovery options over and above what the SCRD has specifically contracted them to provide, including electronic waste and glass.
According to Boyd, the contract also allows the recovery centre to keep deposits on recyclables. But combined with fuel, ferry rates and wages for the now 15-strong staff, “it’s mostly a break-even thing.
“We use our own trucks, we have everything, we do it all. We pay for the ferry,” Boyd said. “We’ve been doing this for nine years, can you believe it?”
As the SCRD moves towards its goal of zero waste, a decision between a public, private or not-for-profit operation — or some mixture therein — will likely depend on the cost.
Gibsons director Gerry Tretick described the new deal as the best temporary solution available while the SCRD matures its zero waste plans, a process he said should take about a year.
Negotiations between Gibsons Recy-cling and the SCRD experienced friction due to a lack of information, but the board wanted to see the service continued without disruption.
“There are a lot of unknowns with regards to that. When we get our permanent plan in place, then it’s time to have everything in order,” Tretick said, adding that curbside pickup remained a point of uncertainty. “Everybody agrees it’s still too soon to really decide.”
In the meantime, Boyd has sought to promote the recovery centre model in other communities. The recycler has been working with local sustainability consultants Greenomics to promote the private sector model.
“In addition to pursuing opportunities within Canada and the U.S., we are also presenting the solution to various cities in Africa,” said its president, Erich Schwartz.
Schwartz said he felt the contract signalled a brighter day for the Coast’s taxpayers, by bringing competition to the field of recycling.
“The reason this model saves taxpayers money is because it is partially paid for by the materials recovered and sold,” he said, adding that the materials would normally head to the landfill.
“Because our regional government is also in the landfill business, it causes a conflict of interest in supporting zero-waste goals,” he argued.
According to SCRD staff, there is not presently a way of knowing whether or not Gibsons Recycling is being subsidized by taxation under the current arrangement.
The agreement was made “by the seat of our pants,” according to Tretick.
But taxpayers shouldn’t fret, Boyd argued.
“People are incorrect if they think we’re making out like bandits here,” he cautioned. “We’re not. It’s labour intensive and cost expensive to manage discards properly.”
April 11th, 2012 - Articles
Coast Reporter – APRIL 8, 2012
BEN INGRAM/STAFF WRITER
A Sunshine Coaster was recently selected to represent Canada on two International Organization for Standardization (ISO) committees dealing with sustainability.
Erich Schwartz, president of Greenomics, will be lending his expertise to a committee on sustainable development in communities, as well as a subcommittee focused on smart urban infrastructure metrics.
“I’m delighted. I feel honoured and am very much looking forward to contributing,” Schwartz said. “It’s a big team, internationally probably about 120 of us. It’s an honour to be selected and hopefully I can add my two cents to it.”
Schwartz is a consultant who helps organizations meet their sustainability goals. His company, Greenomics, has an office in Gibsons.
ISO is a developer and publisher of international standards, recognized in as many as 163 countries. The non-government organization is headquartered in Geneva and it organizes committees composed of experts to set the standards for which it is known.
A referral and nomination process had Schwartz appointed to the Canadian committee. Once they complete their business, an elected chair will represent the nation in Europe along with other chairs from around the world.
“It’s kind of cool because ISO, as you know, has a huge breadth. But having said that, it will probably take about two years,” Schwartz said of the process.
The committees will work to set recognizable standards in the area of sustainable development.
“For example, Gibsons is the most sustainable community, but if you look at the criteria for getting that designation it’s more ‘did you fill out the form’ and ‘did you talk to the right people and make them feel good?’” he added.
Standardization will help to make comparisons of sustainability in communities a more measured process, an effort starting from scratch that will be tackled by around 20 experts from across the country.
Schwartz will likely join experts from areas like engineering and management, as well as professors from universities.
Whoever else might have been chosen to sit on the committee remains a mystery, however.
“Unfortunately, according to corporate policy, we do not make membership information publicly available unless the ISO standard is eventually adopted by a Canadian standards development organization,” wrote a spokesperson from the Standards Council of Canada.
March 16th, 2012 - Articles
This month, Small Business BC named BC’s #1 green business at the annual Successful You. The Best Green Business Award recognizes the business that best demonstrates an outstanding commitment to energy and sustainability through leadership and actions that proactively influence green practices with evidence of long-term commitment to energy conservation and waste reduction. We applaud our partner Gibsons Recycling Depot for being recognized as a Best Green Finalist for 2012.
Gibsons Recycling Depot is internationally recognized as leaders in Zero Waste. In operation since 2001, and employing 13 people in their community, Gibsons Recycling has created the first Resource Recovery Center in BC that looks at waste as a resource, generating new revenue streams by picking, scavenging and recovering the perfectly good things that others have thrown away.
Congratulations Buddy and Barb!
September 20th, 2010 - Articles
By Lorne Eckersley – GreenSpace British Columbia and Alberta Editions
Not so long ago, companies adopted sustainable practices if they promised economic payback. More and more, though, businesses are finding other reasons to value the planet’s limited resources. “I got a call out of the blue from a construction company. The guy said, ‘We don’t know much about sustainability – actually we don’t know anything about it – but we think it’s important. How do we get our arms around that?’” Erich Schwartz, president of Greenomics Corp., receives such calls with increasing regularity.
The Vancouver-based business works with companies that want to lower their environmental impact. “We sit down and establish baselines. Start off with a sustainability assessment – everything from greenhouse gasses to resources to energy use.”
Greenomics looks at the client’s culture and knowledge. “Then we make recommendations. Usually 80 per cent of the business is fine, and 20 per cent is where the culprits are. Some of it is behavioural, and some of it is physical or operational. And we say, ‘Here’s where the big scary things are, and here’s what you can do to address them in a cost-effective manner, and here’s the return on your investment.’ Our company focuses on how to make it affordable.” The surprising part? “They nearly always think it’s going to cost them money, but we usually figure out a way that they can become more profitable. “Sustainability is fundamentally just good common business sense,” Schwartz says. “Once companies understand that, they say, ‘Well, that’s obvious. Let’s do that.’
Schwartz wouldn’t get an argument from Cenovus Energy Inc., an Alberta company formed early this year when natural gas giant Encana Corp. divided….
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