Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who is really really responsible for China's carbon footprint?

I've been amidst many discussions where concerns about reducing worlds carbon foot print are discussed. One aspect of this concern is how focusing on reducing only our own foot print or that of United States is not going to be of much help if China and India don't reduce their foot print too.

All that while I am thinking that who is really responsible for China's foot print? Most parts of their footprints are due to producing stuff not for their own consumption but for the western worlds never ending wants. The left over part is their own but, when we see the per person carbon foot print for an average Asian and compare it to the west we understand the real picture.

Carbon dioxide emissions per capita.
(This is a list of countries by carbon dioxide emissions per capita from 1990 through 2004. All data were calculated by the US Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), mostly based on data collected from country agencies by the United Nations Statistics Division.)

Now the interesting question is who should pay for the carbon emissions of China? According to an article in The Guardian - China thinks, consuming nations should.

"Consuming nations should pay for carbon dioxide emissions, not manufacturing countries, says China" - Tuesday 17 March 2009

The article goes on to say - " Several recent academic papers have noted how European nations have outsourced emissions and other forms of pollution to developing nations instead of tackling emissions at home. According to Oslo's Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, a third of all Chinese emissions are linked to exports, with 9 per cent caused by exports to the US, and 6 per cent from producing goods for Europe."

Another article in New Scientist "33% of China's carbon footprint blamed on exports " says -

"International policy at the moment tends to penalize the country which produces goods rather than the one that consumes them.

"In some measure, it makes sense if people buy goods and become liable for the emissions generated when the goods are produced," says Benito Müller of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, UK. "They will certainly be more choosy about what they buy."

How to fairly apportion the liability for China's exported emissions "is the million-dollar question", says Weber."

Image courtesy - Guardian

I personally am totally convinced that the responsibility of neutralizing the emissions lie with the consumer of the goods. After all if we didn't buy another toy or coffee maker, no one would feel the need to produce newer, smaller or more complicated stuff.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Series - Exploring small and not so small 'Concerns' - Carbon Footprint

Through this series I am setting out to explore some of the 'Concerns' that we have regarding the future of the environment we live in, conditions of our fellow human beings, our actions and in-actions, animals an our impact on their future and the subsequent vicious cycle.

I thought I will begin with Carbon Footprint- understanding it, calculating it and reducing it.

Carbon foot print is simply how much carbon is released into the atmosphere by a product, business, activity or a person. Here carbon means all the 7 green house gasses converted to carbon equivalent.

So, why is it important to consider carbon foot print?
Well, It's simple demand and supply. What's our demand on the earth's resources and what's the rate of replenishment of the earth's resources. And because the resources on this earth are finite we want to make sure that the supply never runs out.

In the calculations of carbon foot print we compare our current consumption and see how many earths ( resources) will we need if every one on this planet started living like us.

According to a 2005 study, our current total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.3 planet Earths - in other words, all of us together use ecological services 1.3 times faster than Earths can renew them.

Thus, our 'Concern' about sustainable lifestyle.

Following are some of the links to calculate your own carbon foot print.

So, after knowing how large the foot print is, the next thing is to see how to reduce it.

No brainers first-
1. Turn stuff off when not in use. Lights, appliances, taps, heating (when not in the house) and more.
2. Turn things down a notch. Heating 1 or 2 degrees less, water heating a degree or so less and so on
3. Run stuff on full load. Washing machine, dishwasher etc.
4. Recycle everything. Paper,cardboard boxes, plastics bottles, glass containers, aluminum cans and the likes.
5.Use less. Paper, water, energy, everything.

Now the things that need some effort.
1. Buy fruits and vegetables grown locally.
2. Don't buy out of season foods. They are flown or shipped from far far places and have massive carbon foot prints.
3.Invest in a water filter to stop buying bottled water, its also shipped from far far away.
4. Invest in energy saving light bulbs and appliances. Look for energy star logo.
5. Insulate doors and windows. Losing warm and cool air waste energy and money.
6. Kill the vampire load. Unplug cellphone chargers, coffee machines etc that suck in energy even when not switched off.

The top four things that you need to be thinking are -
1. Energy efficiency - Electricity production mostly derived from coal-burning power plants is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions, and efficiency is the least expensive way to cut down on your carbon footprint.
2. Buy local - Less travel less CO2 in the atmosphere.
3. Transportation -Cut down your commute, take public transport, carpooling and walking go a long way in reducing your foot print.
4. G0 green- buy green power, organic foods, no/ low chemical stuff.

The basics of reducing our individual carbon footprints are to do what Henry David Thoreau once said: "Simplify, simplify."


In the pursuit of a sustainable life there is always the question of which is the better choice, environment wise, purse wise, or simply as a matter of personal preference. And weather there is a legitimate reason to choose one over the other.

Lately paper consumption in any form is one of those areas of constant contemplation - using paper towels or cotton towels in the kitchen, tissue or handkerchief for colds, paper towels or wiping hands on trousers in public washrooms.

I felt installing hand dryers in public washrooms could be a good choice because it is -

  1. Good For The Environment - Paper towels cannot be recycled. Once they are used, they must go to the landfill, and we are all aware that America is facing a diminishing landfill issue. Converting to Hand Dryers is a great source reduction alternative. Many businesses and institutions are required by law to reduce non-recyclable waste.
  2. Promotes Hygiene - The use of hand dryers allows washrooms to stay cleaner and more sanitary. Picking up and disposing of bacteria-laden paper towel waste is one of the custodians' least favorite tasks.
  3. Labor Savings - Most Hand Dryers are virtually maintenance-free, except for a recommended annual cleaning. Paper towels, by comparison, require one hour of maintenance for each case of towels used.
  4. Reduced Vandalism- Hand dryers eliminate the vandalism often present with paper towels. Towels clog toilets and sinks, can be set aflame, and are thrown, wet, onto walls and floors.
  5. Always Ready For Use - Hand Dryers are ready to be used 24 hours a day. Say goodbye to customer complaints about empty or non-functioning paper towel dispensers.
So, in this study I set out to ascertain which of the two options – paper towels or third generation electric hand dryers, are better environmentally and economically.

I collected and analyzed consumption data from Company ABC Inc. (name changed), a San Diego based company with 800 employees.

Firstly, I calculated the total paper towel cost per year ($10,789) and total cost of hand dryer operation per year ($259). Then calculated the savings per year($10,530) and from the savings I subtracted the total hand dryer lease cost($10,530- $4320 = $5950). Thus, $5950 is net savings.

After this Net Present Value for both the hand dryer and paper towels was calculated.


The results of the analysis were a huge surprise. Third generation hand dryers, mainly Dyson and Xlerator win hand down. And the savings are huge. For ABC Inc it means making a gain of over $36,000 (NPV) as compared to over $66,000 (NPV) of loss over the next 10 years.

The switching costs are nil mainly because hand dryers are available on leases for a fixed monthly payment. The installation, maintenance, repair, and disposal are all taken care by the leasing agency without any extra cost.

And the number of trees saved because of the switch is unbelievable. One pine tree produces an average 80,500 sheets of photocopy paper1. Assuming one photocopy paper equals two hand towels one tree yields 116,000 sheets of hand towels. It means ABC Inc saves 9 trees per year, and 90 trees in 10 years!

Carbon foot print wise switching to hand dryers leads to 3 tonnes less CO2 in the atmosphere2.

For ABC Inc switching from paper towels to third generation hand dryers could be the very profitable low hanging fruit towards corporate sustainability.

Below are the spread sheets with detailed calculations. The first image is the Cost Analysis of both the options, and the annual savings realized by switching to electric hand dryers.

The second image is the NPV( Net Present Value analysis) of both the options, and the Net Present Savings realized by switching to electric hand dryers.
Any of you conducting similar analysis for your businesses or simply interested in details of the project can get in touch with me via email.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Big Belly: solar powered trash compactor

Meet BigBelly , a very cool solar powered trash compaction unit. It looks like ordinary trash cans, but can hold up to 4 to 6 times as much trash as ordinary units and is highly flexible and can be placed almost anywhere, reducing waste collection and energy costs. The cost per-unit at $4,000, but cost savings occur from less frequent collection.

The Big Belly is the brainchild of Jim Poss, a self-described gadget-lover from Needham, Mass. Poss was working on making electric cars when inspiration struck.

"The idea hit me probably about six years ago, when I was walking down a busy street in Boston," he says, "and I noticed that all the garbage cans were overflowing with mounds of garbage. And it just hit me that there's a better way."

In addition to the unsightly mess, Poss says he was also inspired by the diesel-devouring garbage trucks used to collect the trash: "They are the least efficient vehicles on the road…and they idle about 70 percent of the time.

BigBelly can be seen in some of these locations, Fenway Park , Boston's Faneuil Hall, Baltimore Inner Harbor, The Alamo in San Antonio Texas, Chicago Millennium Park, Harvard University and Walden Pond.