One of the largest areas under our direct control is how we get from our house to where we want to go. Travel utilizing a combustion engine automobile or necessitating an air-flight to get us to our final destination contributes mightily to our personal carbon footprints. All of the choices we make around how we travel and by what mode are critically important to consider given that 30% of our individual carbon emissions come from combusting fossil fuels. As we begin to plan and take adventures both near and far during this second pandemic summer and beyond, let’s consciously consider our approach to taking vacations, holidays, and get-aways that are sustainably-minded and lighter touch while still packing an adventuresome, fun and relaxing punch, when and how we need it.
Three Sustainability Travel Tips
1. Take a trip to Oregon’s Wine Country. Why not combine two things that Oregon is known for: natural environments and excellent wines. The husband-and-wife operated EcoShuttle Charters and Tours company brings individuals and groups to Oregon’s famous Willamette Valley AVA to take-in the rolling hills and verdant landscape, and to sip wine, worry-free, from more than 650 wineries all within 30 mile of downtown Portland. EcoShuttle is committed to green operations, employing buses and vans that run on the highest blend of biodiesel available throughout the seasons: B99/100 during the hot summer months, and either straight vegetable oil or plant-based renewable diesel (R99) from the fall to spring. Call EcoShuttle today to book your very own wine tour this summer and enjoy sipping wine and amazing views surrounded by clean, unpolluted air.
2. Commit to a Pacific NW eco-adventure. One of the many reasons Oregonians stay in their state for generations is because of all the natural richness and historical significance the Pacific Northwest has to offer: from skiing, rock climbing, surfing, paddle boarding, and whale watching to appreciating ancient volcanic flows, volcanic mountains, unique high-deserts, and Native American lands and peoples. Even more compelling is the fact that most of these adventures are within 90 miles of Portland downtown. Check out Ecotours of Oregon, a North Portland touring company that offers group, private and custom tours to Mt. Hood and the Columbia Gorge, tours of Mount St. Helens, whale watching on the Oregon coast, and historical tours of the Lewis & Clark trail and Native American tribal lands. If you’re new to Oregon or have been waiting for that closer-to-home grand adventure, this summer is the perfect time to book your Pacific NW holiday that won’t disappoint!
3. Ditch the plane and travel scenically. Flying is a carbon emissions buster for individuals and given the altitude at which planes cruise, a negative double-whammy to the environment. Try limiting the number of flights you take. If you must travel, pick nonstop whenever possible. A better (for the environment) way to travel? By train or bus. Take a weekend city jaunt to destinations such as Seattle, Bellingham, or Eugene. Amtrak offers a relaxing alternative to driving the stressful and crowded 1-5 Interstate. Head up to Seattle and enjoy views along the coast that you won’t see by car. Walk around, watch a movie and arrive at Union Station in the International District well-rested and ready for adventure. Bolt Bus has a pick up near Lloyd Center in NE and can take you to destinations located both North or South of Portland in a comfortable, clean bus that includes wifi.
Rose City Park Climate Communications Expert Amy Hall and Sustainability Consultant Kate Gaertner write this monthly column with ideas that neighbors can implement to live more sustainable lives and combat climate change. Hall is co-founder of THRIVE creative, and also works at TripleWin Advisory, a corporate sustainability consultancy founded by Gaertner. Gaertner has a book coming out this fall on personal sustainability titled, ‘Planting a Seed: Three simple steps to sustainable living.’
Are you considering a small-scale, intimate celebration for your wedding day? Perhaps a large gathering is currently not possible, or simply doesn’t appeal. The prevailing trend for micro weddings brings many benefits: they cost less money to organize, they’re more eco-friendly, you have more flexibility regarding your venue, and hosting a select celebration lets you really focus on the details to ensure your day is truly memorable. Here are some ideas to make your big day perfectly compact.
Invite your nearest and dearest
Honing your guest list may seem a challenge. Who do you speak to frequently? Who gives you great advice and reassurance, makes you smile when you think of them, and never fails to brighten your day? Invite those people you and your partner feel closest to, and who you feel most comfortable with. This way you’ll celebrate your day surrounded by loved ones who really matter in your life.
Make it personal
A smaller gathering gives you scope for a less orthodox, more personal venue. Perhaps hold your celebrations at the restaurant where you had your first date, or in the backyard of your family home. How about an outdoor theme such as a garden or beach wedding? You can obtain permission to get married in a national park, or in a beautiful public building or gallery.
You could rent a private property in a stunning location with room to accommodate your guests, such as a beach house or country lodge. Or perhaps hold your celebrations aboard a boat floating on a serene lake.
Instead of heading to the printers, make handwritten invitations for your guests. Everyone will appreciate the attention to detail, and they make beautiful keepsakes. After your wedding, you could send out a handwritten wedding announcement to your larger circle of friends who didn’t attend on the day.
Use local suppliers
Support local businesses, such as your local florist and bakery. Hire a chef from your favorite restaurant to do the catering. Local Ice cream company, fifty-licks, provides catering for a simple and sweet wedding treat. Book a small group of live musicians instead of a DJ – they’ll provide an instant atmosphere, and will happily perform your favorite songs. Oregon Bride magazine is a great source for local wedding related businesses. Source a reputable photographer to capture the key moments of your intimate and exclusive gathering.
All in the detail
A long banquet table or a U-shaped table layout will give you and your guests a feeling of inclusion and togetherness. Perhaps set up a lounge area with day beds and oversize cushions for everyone to relax and interact.
A smaller group will be cheaper to cater for. Will you indulge in a six-course meal, a sumptuous buffet, or a laid-back BBQ? If you want a tiered cake, ask your wedding bakery to make a scaled-down version. Alternatively, you can opt for individual cupcakes. You can present them in recyclable boxes for your guests to take away at the end of the celebrations.
Make personalized place cards. Be inspired by your surroundings and bring nature into your planning. Examples include writing the name of each guest on a leaf, a stone, or a seashell. You could also make handwritten menus using a gold pen and parchment paper.
Ensure your photographer captures everyone in a group shot. You can have this made into a thank you card to send out after the event.
Whether you want simple point to point transportation for your guests or you want to give your guests the Oregon experience, complete with wine tours, brewery tours, and scenic excursions, ecoShuttle has options for you. Our buses are meticulously maintained, our drivers are friendly and reliable, and our booking process is easy. Our wedding shuttle services include wedding party transportation, bachelorette parties, and tours of Portland and the surrounding area. You can have your cake and eat it too. Get a quote from ecoShuttle today! How groups travel Green in the Pacific Northwest.
Spring is looking very different this year as health officials continue to urge caution due to COVID-19 but that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck at home.
As daily coronavirus cases continue to fall and Oregon counties begin to gradually reopen, there are plenty of fun, local activities to try with the family. Check out these fun day trips you can experience this week!
1 – Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Take a drive out to McMinnville and check out the famous Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. It’s the largest wooden airplane ever constructed. General admission tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children (ages 5-16) and $15 for Veterans and Seniors. There is a 100 person occupancy limit per the state’s reopening guidelines so it’s worth buying tickets online beforehand.
2 – Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival
Credit: Jirapat – stock.adobe.com
An Oregon spring time tradition is back after being canceled in 2020. You can enjoy 40 acres of beautiful tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn, Oregon. The annual festival runs now through May 2nd. Tickets range from $10 to $25 depending on your age and the time of day you visit. Kids 12 and under get in free.
Important note: All tickets for this year’s festival must be purchased online here. Tickets will not be available at the gate.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, how about an aerial obstacle course? Climb, zipline and traverse your way through the Tree to Tree Adventure Park in Gaston, OR. The park recently opened for the 2021 season on March 13. Be sure to book online in advance as slots do fill up.
4 – Dinosaurs Revealed at OMSI
If you’re looking to stay in the Portland metro area, Oregon’s premier science museum (OMSI) is back open with a brand new feature exhibit. You can travel back in time and check out life sized dinosaurs at Dinosaurs Revealed. There are 26 dinosaurs in all and the exhibit includes real fossils and full skeletons. Tickets for the exhibit are $12 for adults (ages 14+), $8 for youth (ages 3-13) and $10 for seniors (ages 63+). OMSI members get in free.
Take a short drive up the Columbia River Gorge and check out the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon. It’s no secret to anyone visiting the Pacific Northwest, so be sure to go early in the day to avoid crowds. Last week, the Multnomah Falls Lodge restaurant reopened for the first time in months. The best part about visiting in the spring? The water will be near peak flow this time of year.
Unlike last year at this time, much of the Oregon Coast is now open for business. Take a drive along Highway 101 and stop at your favorite coastal town. If you find yourself in Pacific City, climb the giant sand dune at Cape Kiwanda. Or, drive a little further south to Newport and visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
However you spend your spring break, remember to mask up and socially distance. Different counties have different risk levels and not all businesses are open at this time. Whether you want to tour the aviation museum, hit the beach, or check out the tulip festival, ecoShuttle has an environmentally friendly solution to meet your needs.
In 2020, we’re all a lot more environmentally conscious than we used to be. There’s now so many different ways that we can adapt our daily lives to become more friendly to the environment, though there are still the odd occasions where it’s difficult to keep your carbon footprint as low as possible. With the amount of boxes, plastic, tape, etc. needed in moving – added to the amount of miles a moving truck will often have to travel – moving homes may feel like one of these occasions.
However, there are still things that you can do in order to keep your move as eco-friendly as possible!
Don’t Buy Boxes
While cardboard boxes are, of course, widely recycled, buying cardboard boxes still has its pitfalls where the environment is concerned. The best thing we can do to make our use of cardboard boxes as eco-friendly as possible is to try and buy as few new ones as we possibly can! Instead, call on family and friends – as well as local businesses – to donate pre-used cardboard boxes that are still in good enough condition to use again.
Choose Your Packing Materials Wisely
Rather than purchasing packs of packing peanuts or bubble wrap – neither of which are, in most cases, bio-degradable – wrap your more delicate belongings in newspapers. If you buy a daily newspaper or know someone who does, start collecting them to use as packing material in the weeks running up to your move.
Don’t Trash It, Donate It
Most of us have a big clear-out of our belongings before we move to a new house, but this does tend to mean lots of things are thrown away. Make a rule with yourself that if anything is in good enough condition to be used again, it should be donated, sold or given to someone you know. You may not want it, but it doesn’t mean you have to waste it!
Cut Your Journey Emissions
Try to get it so that you only have to hire the use of one truck for your moving journey. Whether that means cutting down the amount of belongings that you are taking with you or researching into moving companies who can provide a slightly larger truck, try to get it so that you only need to do one journey in one vehicle to keep your journey carbon emissions as low as possible.
Pay It Forward
Those packing materials we mentioned earlier? Don’t throw them away just yet! First, see if there’s anyone else who could use them. You could offer them for free on Facebook marketplace to anyone in the local area willing to collect them – there’s likely to be at least one person in your neighborhood who’s preparing for their own big move. You’ll be solving a problem for them and allowing them to make their own move that little bit more eco-friendly, too! In that situation, everyone’s a winner.
However you look at it, 2020 is a turning point for fleets.
Thanks to converging forces — including supportive policies, dropping battery costs and aggressive climate goals — transportation leaders at large and small organizations are increasingly turning to new zero-emission and low-carbon options that decarbonize fleets and in some cases save money.
Fleets are often the workhorses that toil behind the scenes: the garbage trucks that pick up your trash before dawn; the long-haul semi-trucks that move goods from the port; the bucket trucks that utilities use to fix power lines and keep your lights on; the delivery vans that drop off your packages and help you stay safe inside your homes.
The definition of fleet is evolving. Ride-hailing companies such as Lyft own vehicles, but they’re also working to help drivers that own their own vehicles move into EVs. The young e-scooter companies also own large “fleets,” although not in the traditional sense.
Fleet leaders are also facing increasing pressure. Policies such as California’s Advanced Clean Truck rule are forcing organizations in the state to phase in zero-emission trucks and phase out fossil fuel-based ones. Progressive cities, many in Europe, are building zones in downtown centers that are banning fossil-fuel vehicles and incentivizing zero-emission models. A global company that wants to deliver goods to residents in cities such as London, Paris, Madrid and soon Santa Monica, California, will need zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) fleets or it will lose business.
ZEVs are also an opportunity for fleets. Certain types of vehicles — including transit and school buses, delivery vans and light-duty cars — can save fleet owners considerable money when they’re switched to electric. Other types of fleets such as long-haul trucks will take a lot& longer to go electric.
One of the biggest concerns for fleet leaders is how to design, plan, deploy and manage the complicated infrastructure that sometimes can be required to charge or fuel various types of fleets. Investments in software and data, as well as building deep relationships with utilities, will be key to helping fleets navigate this daunting ecosystem.
Another chief concern is a lack of electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicle models from major OEMs in the U.S. that fit fleets’ needs. Time and again, fleet leaders say there just aren’t enough ZEV vehicles available for them to buy, and the ones that are available are just too expensive without incentives right now.
The pandemic has created unique challenges for fleets, including safety concerns for drivers, additional vehicle cleaning costs and the need to redesign operations around social distancing measures.
But the pandemic also has shone a spotlight on just how important many of these fleets are — in midst of the most aggressive lockdowns, trucks were running lifesaving groceries and personal protective equipment to communities and hospitals across the U.S.
So here’s our list, in alphabetical order, of 25 organizations taking important steps to decarbonize their fleets, buying (or planning to buy) new zero-emission vehicles and making the still-difficult choice to be an early adopter. The list includes public agencies, big corporations, small companies, school districts, utilities — it runs the gamut.
To hear from some of these fleet leaders — including Seattle’s Philip Saunders, Port Authority NY and NJ’s Christine Weydig, Anheuser-Busch’s Angie Slaughter, Walmart’s Zach Freeze, Amazon’s Ross Rachey, IKEA’s Angela Hultberg, FedEx’s Russ Musgrove, Genentech’s Andy Jefferson and Lime’s Andrew Savage — tune into VERGE 20 across the next five days. The keynotes are free, but you’ll need to buy a pass for the transportation deep-dive sessions.
Amazon’s domination of commerce and delivery means it’s got a lot of emissions from the vehicles that deliver orders to our doorsteps every day. But in early 2019, Amazon announced an industry-first for a delivery company: It pledged that half of all of its shipments would be net-zero carbon by 2030. The entire company (including transportation) will be net-zero carbon by 2040.
In true Amazon form, the company has written its own vehicle playbook and disrupted the status quo. While many fleet managers are challenged to find vehicles available that they can buy, Amazon routed around that problem by investing in — and planning to buy — 100,000 electric trucks from startup Rivian. Will Rivian eventually be a division of Amazon? Maybe: It would make sense for Amazon to bring vehicle production in-house in its constant bid for vertical integration.
But Amazon is also buying electric versions of the Mercedes-Benz sprinter van that dominates delivery markets. For now, we’re eagerly watching and waiting for more details about Amazon’s growing zero-emission and low-carbon vehicle fleet.
Beer giant Anheuser-Busch, the U.S. subsidiary of AB InBev, delivers about a million shipments of its beer per year, largely in trucks carrying beers such as Budweiser and Stella Artois to grocery stores and bars around the U.S. Of course, all that trucking delivers a big greenhouse gas footprint: 10 percent of Anheuser-Busch’s carbon emissions come from transportation.
But the beverage maker has a big sustainability plan and is taking a first-mover approach to decarbonizing its dedicated fleet of around 1,600 vehicles. The company has an order to buy up to 800 of Nikola Motor’s hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks and 40 Tesla Semi trucks. It could be one of the first fleets in the country to get long-haul zero-emission vehicles, and it has a plan to convert its entire long-haul dedicated fleet to ZEVs by 2025. At the same time, it’s already adopting renewable natural gas to power its natural gas trucks in its short-haul fleet.
Overall, Anheuser-Busch has a goal to slash carbon emissions by a quarter across its entire supply chain by 2025. Just a short five years away.
Antelope Valley Transit Authority
This summer, the Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) — a transit organization that serves the Southern California cities of Lancaster and Palmdale — hit a milestone: 3 million miles of zero-emission bus operation. The group’s fleet consists of 93 buses, 61 of which are zero-emission buses, and the majority of those are BYD-made electric models.
The transit authority was one of the first in the U.S. to make a major commitment to electric buses four years ago, partly thanks to its close proximity to the American headquarters of BYD in Lancaster. A former BYD exec even joined AVTA as its CEO and has helped lead the e-bus transition.
AVTA says in addition to slashed carbon emissions and local air pollution, it’s been able to save 769,231 gallons of diesel fuel, the equivalent of more than $1 million in fuel cost savings.
Denver International Airport
If you’ve ever flown through Denver’s International Airport, you know the city prides itself on its innovative design and customer-friendly amenities. But it’s also been aggressively adopting zero- and low-emission vehicles.
Our friends at 100 Best Fleetsnamed Denver International Airport the second greenest fleet in America. It’s got close to 300 alternative-fueled vehicles, including electric, hybrid and natural gas buses, sweepers and light-duty vehicles. The airport also incentivizes hybrid taxis and vans by reducing their access fees to the airport.
Airport shuttle buses are a key area where electric vehicles will be able to make a dent, given their dedicated and short routes. States such as California are mandating that its 13 largest airports move their shuttle buses to zero-emission operations by 2035.
Facebook might not be thought of as a fleet leader, but two years ago Facebook acquired 43 BYD-made electric on-campus shuttles that can carry employees across its sprawling complex. At the time, the social media giant leveraged a unique financing deal led by Generate Capital to lease the vehicles, lowering the upfront costs.
Facebook says it’s investigating how it can electrify its commuter shuttle buses. Facebook started testing out a double-decker electric commuter shuttle bus last year and had planned to test more out this year. However, the pandemic and remote work has thrown a wrench into many companies’ commuter ZEV bus plans.
Delivery trucks are a key type of vehicle ready for electrification. Bloomberg New Energy Finance earlier this year declared delivery trucks to be the “next segment to cross the tipping point” and an electric “killer app.”
FedEx, which has more than 100,000 vehicles in its Express division across the world, has been working on its zero-emission and low-carbon vehicle program for a couple of years. Two years ago, FedEx announced a partnership with startup Chanje to add 1,000 Chanje electric delivery vehicles to its fleet: 100 bought outright and 900 leased through Ryder. Chanje is also supplying FedEx with EV charging infrastructure
FedEx recently told the New York Times that it added close to 400 electric vehicles in its fleet internationally last year, which brought its total EVs to close to 3,000, including forklifts and airport ground service equipment.
Biotech giant Genentech is a surprising fleet leader: It’s got the most aggressive electric commuter bus programs around, in addition to its other EV fleet goals.
Two years ago, the company started running electric BYD-made commuter buses to move its employees across the sprawling San Francisco Bay Area — from as far north as Vacaville to as far south as San Jose — to its headquarters in South San Francisco. While many companies are hesitant to rely on EVs for such long routes, Genentech took the plunge. And the company says it is happy with the results. Today, Genentech is in the process of converting close to half of its 60 buses on batteries.
In addition to its electric commuter buses, Genentech has committed to converting its entire light-duty sales fleet of 1,200 cars to electric or plug-in hybrid by 2030.
Ingka Group (IKEA)
Inkga Group, aka IKEA, has its own unique take on a ZEV fleet. The company doesn’t own its own vehicles, but its products are delivered via 10,000 vehicles globally, owned by delivery companies such as DHL and UPS.
As a result, IKEA is using its large footprint to partner, push and pull its partners into ZEVs. IKEA says by 2025 all last-mile delivery of its goods will be done in electric vehicles. And by the end of this year (yes, 2020), IKEA says it will electrify its last-mile delivery in Shanghai, Paris, Los Angeles, New York and Amsterdam.
It’s already happened in Shanghai and other cities are well underway. Los Angeles is proving a little more challenging, IKEA Chief Sustainability Officer Pia Heidenmark Cook said recently during a session at Climate Week. But if companies don’t push themselves, they won’t make progress.
Netherlands-based LeasePlan is a large fleet management company that mostly operates in Europe but also has a solid presence in the U.S. We’re including the company because it was a founding member of the Climate Group’s EV100 Program and because of its first-of-its-kind ZEV fleet commitment.
The company has pledged to zero out its emissions for all of its customers’ fleets — at a whopping 1.8 million vehicles — by 2030. What’s more, it also plans to electrify its own employee fleet by 2021. These kinds of commitments are still unheard of broadly in the U.S.
Europe is moving at a much faster trajectory toward electric vehicles than the U.S., despite the U.S.’s being the birthplace to EV leader Tesla. Many European countries and cities are committing to provide incentives for electric vehicles and banning fossil-fuel ones from city centers.
Lime is our wildcard on the top fleets list. The electric scooter company operates a fleet of well over 100,000 electric scooters, as well as owned and leased trucks and vans that the company uses to move around its scooters.
Earlier this year, Lime pledged — as part of the EV100 — to transition its entire fleet of vehicles to electric by 2030. It’s already powering its scooters and operations with clean energy as well as buying carbon offsets to neutralize emissions. Recently Lime also announced a partnership with the World Wildlife Foundation, which include programs around education, advocacy and carbon innovation.
Next up for Lime? The scooter company is looking at new warehouse space where it can optimize charging infrastructure for an electric fleet. It’s also partnered with Ceres to help advocate for policies that will support a transition to electric fleets.
Electrifying ride-hailing will be tricky, given most ride-hailing drivers own their own vehicles. But this summer, ride-hailing giant Lyft announced it plans to transition to 100 percent electric vehicles — both for the vehicles it owns and driver-owned vehicles — by 2030.
It’ll take a big lift, a lot of outside-the-box thinking and major policy support to get there. But the time is now, and Uber set a similar goal after Lyft.
Some policies are moving the ride-hailing giants in that direction. Cities, many of them in Europe, are setting incentives and mandates to ban fossil-fuel vehicles and transition to zero-emission vehicles in city centers. States such as California are setting specific rules for the ride-hailing companies to track and reduce their emissions.
City of Oakland
The city of Oakland in California has a long history of setting climate and sustainability goals, and in 2003 adopted a green fleet policy. As a result of a holistic and innovative approach, the city — which uses 1,500 types of vehicles — no longer uses diesel-powered vehicles and is using a combination of low-carbon fuels, compressed natural gas and electric vehicles.
Its circular renewable diesel fueling system is unique in the country. It takes waste grease and oils from local businesses and its partner Neste converts them to renewable diesel, which then powers many of Oakland’s trucks. Richard Battersby, assistant director at Oakland Public Works, is a leader in the green fleet space for his work on Oakland’s fleet.
This summer, Oakland adopted an equitable climate plan with ambitious targets for 2030, calling for a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gases relative to 2005 levels. The end goal is carbon neutrality.
Northern California’s Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has spent the last few years building out an electric fleet of 1,360 electric vehicles to add to the thousands of other vehicles in its low-carbon fleet that use sources such as natural gas and biodiesel. The company uses vehicles such as pickup trucks, bucket trucks and light-duty vehicles for various operations.
PG&E’s goal is to electrify 100 percent of its light-duty vehicles, 10 percent of its medium-duty vehicles and 5 percent of its heavy-duty vehicles. There are particular challenges with battery range when it comes to electrifying heavy-duty emergency response vehicles and other work vehicles that don’t have unpredictable and lengthy routes.
In addition to transforming its own fleet, PG&E is supporting the uptake of EVs for its 23,000 employees and has installed more than 1,230 charging stations at its facilities. It makes sense for utilities to be early adopters of fleet electrification, given they are helping their customers make a similar transition and need to learn their customers’ experience.
Global beverage behemoth PepsiCo has an overarching goal to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2030. It’s got a lot of work to do across packaging, water, the sources for its products and — its fleet. The company runs vehicles such as long-haul trucks, yard trucks and forklifts to move its various products — from soft drinks to snacks to bottled water — across the globe.
PepsiCo is building out a pilot facility with various low-carbon and electric vehicles at its Frito Lay campus in Modesto, California. The site, leveraging state incentives, will use 15 electric Tesla Semi Trucks, six electric Peterbilt e220 straight trucks, three BYD electric yard trucks, 12 BYD electric forklifts and 38 Volvo natural gas trucks fueled by renewable natural gas. The facility also will deploy charging and fueling infrastructure as well as solar and onsite battery storage.
Portland General Electric
In September, Portland-based utility Portland General Electric announced that it plans to electrify large portions of its 1,167 vehicles. It already has 91 EVs in use, but the new commitment will deploy 600 electric vehicles and retire 600 fossil fuel-burning vehicles over the next 10 years.
The goal is for its fleet to be 61 percent electric within a decade. Like with Pacific Gas & Electric, the really heavy-duty trucks — bucket trucks and dump trucks — will be the hardest to electrify, and Portland General Electric plans to transition 30 percent of those.
Beyond fleet electrification, Portland General Electric has been a leader when it comes to trying to proactively find ways to enable the EVs on its network to be a net benefit. It’s been building out smart grid tech and testing out a virtual power plant. The company’s electric vehicles go hand-in-hand with its clean energy goals, and Portland General Electric expects to serve half of its customers with renewable-generated electricity by 2022.
Port Authority New York and New Jersey
Port Authority New York and New Jersey has the largest electric bus fleet on the East Coast, including 36 buses and 19 chargers, at the region’s three biggest airports. The organization recently said it had reached its goal to have a 100 percent electric bus fleet by the end of this year (close to three months early).
Beyond the bus fleet, 130 of the organization’s light-duty vehicles, used by employees and police officers, are electric. By 2023, Port Authority says over 600 — or 50 percent of its light-duty fleet — will be electric.
Port Authority’s fleet goals are all part of its overarching plan to reach a 35 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
Salt River Project
Tempe, Arizona-based Salt River Project (SRP) provides electricity and power to 1 million residents in central Arizona. The company has spent the past six years investigating and piloting electric vehicle tech for its employees, its fleet and its customers.
Today, SRP uses close to 200 electric vehicles, both on-road and offroad, including light-duty vehicles, bucket trucks, forklifts and utility carts. The organization also has the largest workplace EV charging program in Arizona, with close to 200 employees driving plug-in vehicles to SRP’s facility. SRP says this program is expected to grow to 450 employees (or 7 percent of its workforce) over the next five years.
Down the road, SRP’s goals are to electrify 100 percent of its sedan fleet by the end of 2021 and reduce 30 percent of its fleet emissions by 2035. In addition, SRP expects 500,000 customers using EVs by 2035, and it will build plans and programs to help charge 90 percent of those customers’ EV loads.
Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority
The Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority, which provides buses, light rail, paratransit and BART stations for greater Silicon Valley, has been an early transit group to codify sustainability goals, to implement clean energy technologies and, two years ago, to deploy electric buses.
In 2018, VTA put its first five electric buses, built by Proterra and using DC fast charging infrastructure made by Chargepoint, into service. The company has plans to procure 35 more electric buses over the next several years, on its way to meeting California’s mandate that says all transit buses must be zero-emission by 2040.
VTA closely tracks its energy use for its fleet. Its goals are to reduce its fleet’s energy consumption by 35 percent below 2009 levels by 2025 and 60 percent by 2040.
Earlier this year, energy company Schneider Electric announced that it’s joining the Climate Group’s EV100 program and will transition its entire 14,000 vehicle fleet to electric by 2030. The company is based in France but has operations across the globe.
The company sells EV charging equipment and software, among many other energy and grid products, so it makes sense for it to use this huge commitment to learn more about what its customers are experiencing. Schneider Electric is also installing EV charging equipment at its facilities for its employees.
City of Seattle
Over the last decade, the greater Puget Sound region has been looking to reduce its carbon emissions from transportation, which accounts for 60 percent of its total emissions. Alongside that regional issue, the city of Seattle has an aggressive and multi-pronged green fleet strategy for its over 6,000 vehicles, across departments such as police, fire and utilities.
Seattle’s future fleet goals include cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2025 and using only fossil-fuel-free vehicles by 2030. The fleet team, led by Philip Saunders, is looking to rapidly electrify, build out EV charging infrastructure, aggressively reduce fuel use, swap in low-carbon fuels for certain types of vehicles and pilot technologies that are not yet cost-effective or widely available.
The company uses a wide range of technologies including renewable diesel, biodiesel, propane and EVs.
Twin Rivers School District
Three years ago, Twin Rivers School District in California became one of the first school districts in the U.S. to deploy electric school buses. Today the organization operates 35 electric school buses, and over the next three years it plans to convert the bulk of its fleet, or 91 school buses, to electric.
In the interim, Twin Rivers has natural gas buses, some of which run on renewable natural gas, and is running all of its diesel buses on renewable diesel from Neste. Following the switch to renewable diesel, it’s entire fleet is fossil-fuel-free.
Twin Rivers Director of Transportation Tim Shannon told GreenBiz in an interview earlier this year that the organization is already using the electric buses to pilot the vehicle-to-grid technology with Sacramento Municipal Utility District. It’s not just about cool tech, though. Shannon explains: “Our green bus program is taking an area that is highly densely populated, we’re transporting a lot of kids, we’re a disadvantaged community and a high rate of air pollution. We’re lowering all that, and we’re making it an eco-friendly place to live.”
Following Lyft’s announcement, Uber revealed that it, too, plans to transition to an all zero-emission fleet. Uber says it will reach that goal by 2040. First, it will have 100 percent of its rides in the U.S., Canada and Europe, be electric by 2030.
Uber already has made progress in cities such as London, where it’s moving to an all-electric fleet. Uber says it will commit $800 million to help drivers on its platform move to EVs by 2025. The company also operates scooters and bikes, and its app encourages riders to use public transit.
The ride-hailing giants need to move to ZEV as cities and states pressure them with mandates. The California Air Resources Board recently found that the carbon emissions of Uber and Lyft’s vehicle fleet per passenger mile is over 50 percent higher than regular cars driving on the roads.
The consumer product company, based in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, says it will commit its entire global fleet of 11,000 vehicles to electric by 2030 as part of the Climate Group’s EV100 program. Its interim goals are 25 percent EV or hybrid by 2020, and 50 percent by 2025.
Unilever has broader sustainability goals beyond its fleet, which include becoming “carbon positive” in its operations by 2030; 100 percent of its energy will come from renewables.
For several years UPS has been operating its “rolling laboratory” approach to piloting and deploying low-carbon and electric vehicles. Of its fleet of 125,000 package vans, trucks, motorcycles and tractors, UPS has 10,300 alternative-fuels vehicles, and it’s done a substantial project in London with smart grid tech and EVs.
Earlier this year, UPS kicked its EV plans into overdrive. UPS announced it plans to buy 10,000 electric vehicles from partner Arrival, purpose-built for UPS. At the same time, UPS made an investment in the startup through its venture arm, UPS Ventures.
The strategy is similar to Amazon’s move with Rivian. The OEMs haven’t been producing the vehicles that these large fleets want and need, so the biggest companies are diving into the supply chain to help create their own.
So, a logger and an environmentalist walk into a forest together…
It sounds like a joke, because, at least historically speaking, loggers and environmentalists didn’t go anywhere in Oregon together. If they crossed paths in the forest, it was because they were on opposite sides of a road blockade or logging protest.
But not in eastern Oregon’s Grant County. Here, loggers and environmentalists have been walking in the woods together for years.
“So did this pencil out?” environmental attorney Susan Jane Brown asked during a tour of different logging treatments in the Malheur National Forest in August 2019.
“Yeah, easy logging,” responded Zach Williams, a forester for the company that cut the trees, Iron Triangle. “I don’t hesitate to say this was the best sale we’ve had in years.”
Brown and Williams are part of the forest collaborative group Blue Mountains Forest Partners. They’ve been so successful at finding common ground that environmentalists haven’t filed a single anti-logging lawsuit on the Malheur National Forest since 2003.
It might not seem like a big deal to see environmentalists and loggers working together in the woods. But in the Northwest, it is.
In the 1980s, environmentalists protested timber sales across the region, sparking what was called the Timber Wars. By the late ’90s, they had managed to severely limit logging in federal forests, which crushed timber-dependent areas like Grant County.
“I can’t even name the amount of kids I grew up with that: families lost jobs; the mill lost, you know, lost whole logging companies; businesses started to close down,” Williams said. “Slowly but surely, you start to wonder if you’re going to be a ghost town at some point.”
Williams’s family goes back five generations in the area. He watched his father close their sawmill, and he said locals blamed environmentalists for locking up the trees.
“At that point in our lives, ‘Susan Jane Brown’ were extremely dirty words to say around here.”
“I certainly was concerned about my safety at that time,” said Brown, who, as a lawyer at the Western Environmental Law Center, regularly appealed timber sales on the Malheur National Forest. “I had been run out of town before — had been tailgated by pickup trucks. I’ve had air let out of my tires.”
So how did these two groups go from enemies to tromping through the woods together?
What it took was a few locals realizing in 2003 that they couldn’t beat Brown in the courtroom. So they invited her to Grant County to see if they could find some way to manage the forest that would meet both their goals. And Brown agreed, bringing along other environmentalists she worked with.
They started meeting informally every couple of months in the back room of a local restaurant. And about the only thing they could agree on was a name for the group, the Blue Mountains Forest Partners (and even that was contentious).
“I’ll begin by describing some of those early meetings,” said Mark Webb, who was the county judge during the early years of the collaborative, before losing reelection in part due to his participation with the group. “Industry and community members are on one side of it. Environmental community’s on the other. And we have a third party, a facilitator, that’s walking back and forth between us, because we couldn’t talk to one another. It was that bad — almost that poisonous.”
Webb, who is now the group’s executive director, said he considered it a multicultural conversation, because it was like the two sides spoke a different language. When they said something like “healthy forest,” they meant two completely different things.
So to find common language and common ground, they made a fateful decision: they committed to follow the science. They invited ecologists, biologists, silviculturists and other scientists to tour the forests with them and talk about what exactly makes a forest healthy. And where there wasn’t clear science, they commissioned their own.
Such was the case for this tour on a hot August day. One of the most contentious issues for the collaborative over the years has been salvage logging, or the logging of trees that are dead or damaged from fire.
Loggers historically rush to harvest burned timber because, to them, leaving wood to decay is like watching money rot on trees — to say nothing of providing fuel for future wildfires.
But to environmentalists and scientists salvage logging is anathema, because these burned forests provide essential habitat for many animals, especially woodpeckers.
So, when more than 110,000 acres burned in the 2013 Canyon Creek Complex Fire, much of it on the Malheur National Forest, instead of seeing it as another thing to fight about, the Blue Mountains Forest Partners saw it as an opportunity. They invited Forest Service biologist Vicki Saab to create a study that would determine whether there was a level of salvage logging that could provide an economic benefit to the local community without compromising woodpecker habitat.
Saab’s study involved logging different test sites at different levels, ranging from cutting no trees to cutting most of them, and then tracking how woodpeckers fared over four years.
As they toured the test sites at the end of the study, Saab said that the preliminary results suggested that selective logging had minimal negative impact on Lewis’s and white-headed woodpeckers, but that it appeared to cause a slow decline in the nesting numbers of black-backed woodpeckers.
At the end of the tour, the group circled up around a charred, old-growth ponderosa pine that had housed one of the study’s woodpeckers.
“I definitely agree this was a success,” said Williams, whose company had logged in the study area. “Susan Jane detests salvage logging, and if I’m being honest, I look at this burn — 110,000 acres — and look at salvaging 5,000 of it and think: how is that really going to harm habitat? And I’m not going to say that I think any differently about that, but that’s the point of collaboration. And if this is the kind of process we have to go through, then it worked.”
“I agree,” Brown said. “And I don’t want this to be one off. And we can do salvage, and we can take logs to the mill, and people can earn a living wage, and we also don’t have to kill a bunch of birds in the process.”
Following the science gave them a shared language to talk about the forest. But it was also dangerous, because it meant both sides had to be willing to change their beliefs.
For environmentalists, that means not only accepting Saab’s research that some level of salvage logging might be compatible with woodpecker habitat, but that logging itself can be an important tool in forest restoration.
That’s because the scientists they’ve worked with argue that these dry, eastside forests, like many of the drier conifer forests in southern Oregon and throughout California, are now overgrown. The main cause is a century of putting out the low-intensity fires that historically burned through the forests on a regular basis, cleaning out the duff and small trees that now crowd the forest and make it ripe for much larger catastrophic fires. But the scientists suggest that the way to restore them to their historic state is going to involve both fire and logging, because logging gives more control over what trees are preserved and which are removed (for instance, keeping the old-growth ponderosa pine trees while removing the smaller, faster-growing fir trees that now crowd it out).
“The more time you spend out looking at this stuff and the more the science can inform what we’re seeing, the more willing many of us in the environmental community have been to having a conversation about, ‘OK, chainsaws, I think we’re going to need some chainsaws out here,’” Brown said. “And the other side of the equation, for the community, they’re getting more comfortable talking fire — prescribed and wildfire. Because you look at these forests, and they’re out of whack. And given climate change, it’s not going to get any better on its own.”
Perhaps the greatest test of this partnership came in 2012, when Grant County’s last sawmill announced it was closing for a lack of timber.
“I was like, this is not OK,” said Brown, who learned the news as she was returning home from a backpacking trip. “If the mill closes, this community just dries up and blows away. It’s really the mainstay of what’s keeping this community alive.”
But it wasn’t just the community. Brown realized the mill was also keeping the collaborative alive because it bought the timber they cut out of the forest during their restoration work, which in turn funded the work.
So she started making phone calls. She got Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s office involved. She roped in other conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy and Sustainable Northwest. And she got the mill’s president, Bruce Daucsavage, and the county’s biggest logging operations on board.
The result was what’s called a 10-year stewardship contract. It guaranteed that the Forest Service would pay for a certain amount of restoration work for 10 years, ensuring a sustained level of logging.
“I think that’s when I really looked at Susan Jane,” Daucsavage said. “She was putting her neck out on the line from her side, because she was actually being presented as more of a moderate. And I’m sure she had plenty of feedback from people that were winning the battle.”
Brown did get pushback. She still gets it. But she hasn’t been the only one.
“A lot of my friends in the industry said, ‘you’ve gone to the dark side, this will never work,’” continued Daucsavage. “And my response was, ‘I don’t think it’s the dark side. It’s a little gray. But what are my alternatives?’ And I got to tell you, I’m learning something more about the forest than just harvesting trees.”
Whatever shade of gray the agreement lived in, the economic results were black and white. The logging company Iron Triangle won the contract and doubled its staff from around 50 to more than 100. The Forest Service office also staffed up by dozens of positions. All told, the contract supported more than 250 jobs a year.
“Susan Jane, she’s my hero,” said Daucsavage. “She helped save a lot of jobs.”
For Brown, after years of collaborating with folks in Grant County, saving the mill was about a lot more than just ensuring the future of the Blue Mountains Forest Partners.
“When the mill was going to close, I was just like, my friends are going to lose their jobs. And just like any friendship, you want your friends to be happy and healthy and successful,” she said. “And now that these folks are my friends, that’s what I want for them. And that’s what they want for me. I have no doubt about that.”
Of course, not everything’s perfect. The 10-year stewardship contract has fallen short on some of its goals, both environmentally and economically. The collaborative is again at loggerheads with the U.S. Forest Service over how the agency is implementing restoration work and the new forest plan for the Malheur National Forest. And there are critics on both sides who feel their side has compromised too much along the way. But the process itself — the collaboration — is the kind of success that social scientists and policy makers fly out to study. Because it can provide a road map not just for how to approach forest management elsewhere, but for how to approach other deeply divisive issues, like climate change.
“We’re not fighting the old wars anymore,” Brown said. “There are new battles. We need to deal with climate change. We need to deal with putting more fire on the ground. And we can’t do that in the way that we used to.”
Long before corporations acknowledged Black Lives Matter, they championed the plights of specific endangered species. Corporate conservation campaigns used phrases such as “Save the [insert your favorite animal],” which have been catchy, effective and oddly similar to the language we’re now using to educate people about the status of Black life in America.
The Disney Conservation Fund protects lions, elephants, chimpanzees and thousands of other species. Ben & Jerry’s brings awareness to declining honeybee populations. Coca-Cola appropriately is the longtime ally of the poster child for climate change, the polar bear.
As a kid, I, too, was influenced by Coca-Cola’s messaging. At just 11, I thought I could stop global warming, so I created a blog with articles urging people, “Save the polar bears.” No one challenged me by asking, “What about the tigers? The tigers…matter, too! All endangered species matter.”
The fact is, polar bears were (and still are) drowning due to global problems. If we addressed the root causes of those global problems such as reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, in fact, all endangered species would fare better.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” works similarly to “Save the polar bear,” only that Black people are drowning in a sea of systemic racism instead of a rising sea of melting ice.
Want to know how well our society is tackling racial injustice? Look to Black people. If we’re doing good, we’re all doing good.
When someone says something such as “Save the polar bears,” they are also indirectly revealing other information about themselves. Perhaps they eat organic, use public transportation, recycle or take military-style showers.
Likewise, when we say “Black Lives Matter” we are actually making a declaration about our belief that injustice somewhere is a threat to justice everywhere. All lives truly matter when those that are the most marginalized matter.
Want to know how well our society is tackling climate change? Look to polar bears. If they’re doing good, we’re doing good.
Want to know how well our society is tackling racial injustice? Look to Black people. If we’re doing good, we’re all doing good.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how white people are just awakening to the systemic racism that continues to thrive in every aspect of American life and how this systemic racism continues to affect me daily. If so many people have gone so long without acknowledging the reality that people of color experience every day, it’s not surprising that these issues have gone on for so long.
Sometimes a watershed moment is needed to bring attention to a crisis. After all, no one cared about polar bears until Mt. Pinatubo’s 1991 volcanic eruption, which greatly influenced our scientific understanding of anthropogenic global warming and its impacts on arctic life. The catastrophic event was one of the most significant watershed moments for climate activism.
Now, the Black Lives Matter movement is amid a watershed moment. White people are awakening from their own hibernation and acknowledging that, yes, as the statistics suggest, racism still exists.
For example, Black people and white people breathe different air. Black people are exposed to about 1.5 times more particulate matter than white people. Give more than just a cursory glance to Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and you’ll discover its truisms: “Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east.” Researchers have found that toxic chemical exposure is linked to race: minority populations have higher levels of benzene and other dangerous aromatic chemical exposure. Lead poisoning also disproportionately affects people of color in the U.S., especially Black people.
A careful examination of our nation’s statistics reveals myriad racial disparities. The polarity of experiences is startling. This influenced many well-intentioned white people to examine numerous situations and ask, “Is racial bias truly at play here?”
I challenge that that’s not the question we must ask when we live in a world with such disparate statistics for communities of color. It’s much more powerful to ask, “How is racial bias at play here?”
Those who fail to confront how racial bias is often at play attempt to live in a colorblind world that does not exist.
When tipping service workers, when selecting your next dentist, when making employment decisions, when raising children, seriously consider that the world is not colorblind. And to create a more equitable world, we have to fight more aggressively to counteract the evil that already exists.
This is what it means to be anti-racist, or as the National Museum of African American History and Culture counsels, “Make frequent, consistent and equitable choices to be conscious about race and racism and take actions to end racial inequities in our daily lives.”
So, what can allies do?
Step 1: Take out a sticky note.
Step 2: Write out the words ANTI-RACIST.
Step 3: Put it on your laptop monitor and do the work. It’s a daily practice to filter your thoughts, communication and decisions through an anti-racist lens.
In the 21st century, a seemingly global prosperity masks an unequal distribution of benefits. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world’s cities, where extreme wealth can exist next door to concentrated poverty. In some cities, such as those in South Africa, well-meaning policies and investments in transit and housing actually have deepened the inequality and segregation experienced by low-income communities.
How does climate change fit into this picture? Leading urban experts think that the current path of cities far exceeds planetary boundaries of what is sustainable. In turn, climate change, one result of carbon-fueled growth over the last two centuries, is also a driver of urban inequality.
By 2050, an additional 2.5 billion people could be living in cities. As more people move to cities, they face rising housing prices, unequal access to employment opportunities and public amenities, and they also contend with the weather extremes of a changing climate. The result is deeply unfair: those who have contributed and benefited least from carbon-fueled growth are its frontline victims. Low-income groups are disproportionately affected, as they are more likely to live in less robust homes and be in the path of natural hazards such as floods and heat waves — not to mention, they have fewer resources available to respond when disaster does strike.
Projections by the world’s leading scientists say future cities need to have a near-zero-carbon footprint, eliminate their reliance on fossil fuels and be able to manage weather extremes such as heavy rains and heat waves. They also need to find ways to lift up already vulnerable and marginalized groups. What does this future city look like? Sadly, our collective imagination is failing us.
There are plenty of pop culture tropes of a dystopian future, ravaged by climate change. As Hollywood’s new supervillain, climate change is a common apocalyptic backdrop in sciencefiction. And there is good reason, as destructive bushfires, floods and heat waves are no longer just the stuff of fiction.
There are far fewer sunny versions of what cities of the future might be like. We do find stories about optimistic, technology-driven lives enhanced by automation in the renderings of architecture studios and engineering firms, cities where the sky is always blue. And we are nudged to imagine ourselves living in glass-and-steel high-rises covered with plant life or solar panels, delivered by self-driving cars, and directed by artificial intelligence.
While these may seem appealing solutions, the sanitized version of the city they portray is difficult to reconcile with the much messier reality of most cities across the globe. More than 1.2 billion people (PDF) — one in three people in cities — live in informal settlements today. Have we solved their plight in this gleaming future?
Often left underexamined in fiction and life is the close relationship between climate change and inclusiveness. But they are interrelated challenges that must be tackled together. If not, fundamental problems around access, informality and affordability remain unaddressed. The sustainability of one “smart city,” for example, can entail environmental degradation and social exploitation in another part of the world, as is the case with the mining of raw materials that go into making smart sensors, or the labor practices employed in the construction of some new eco-cities.
Ideas can be powerful drivers of transformation, but few mainstream storylines about living with climate change offer inspiration for what the future might look like and how we will get there. A lack of vision hinders our capacity for urban change. We need more approaches that lie somewhere between the noir dystopias and blue-sky renderings and help broaden the outlook on what it means to live and thrive in a climate-changed future city.
Insiders in the urban field have recognized this problem for a while. Negative trends, such as increasing air pollution, rising living costs, traffic congestion and inequality, indicate a widening implementation gap between what’s happening on the ground and ambitious commitments made at international levels, such as the Paris Agreement, the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. While there is widespread agreement that radical transformations are needed, numerous studies find little evidence of radical changes actually happening in cities. Experts think this is because cities are complex systems and urbanization cannot be easily steered.
That’s why the WRI Ross Center Prize for Cities is focusing this year on inviting submissions from initiatives that show how to live and thrive in a changing world by tackling both the climate crisis and urban inequality together. Through this global award, which celebrates transformative urban change, we will identify the leaders in urban transformation and amplify lessons learned so other cities can follow their lead.
The 2020-2021 Prize for Cities theme recognizes the year and decade ahead as pivotal for global climate action and seeks to help bridge the gap between fiction and reality and grow a much-needed repertoire of credible urban interventions and projects. As in its inaugural cycle, which received almost 200 submissions from across the globe, we hope the prize will broaden our understanding of what positive urban transformation looks like, how it comes about and how we can identify and nurture the seeds of change.
Trey Hill’s family has been working the land around Rock Hall, Maryland, since the early 1900s. Their company, Harborview Farms, now harvests corn, wheat and soy from thousands of acres. But something is different this year. The Hill family has a new crop: sequestered carbon, which they sell to individuals and companies across the United States.
Hill is doing his carbon farming in partnership with Nori, a Seattle-based startup that sells what it calls “carbon removals.” Hill deploys regenerative agriculture techniques, such as the use of cover crops, to draw carbon dioxide from the air and lock it into the soils he works. Nori then helps Hill verify the amount of carbon that he has removed from the atmosphere and sell the associated credit as a carbon offset. For $15, anyone can now fund Hill — and soon, many other farmers — to remove one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. (For comparison, a round-trip economy-class flight between San Francisco and London generates around a ton of CO2, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization).
The idea that companies can shrink their carbon footprints by paying other organizations to reduce greenhouse emissions is around two decades old. But Nori represents several game-changing trends, including the use of new technologies and an emphasis on removing CO2 from the atmosphere rather than reducing emissions. Together with the arrival of new buyers, most notably from the aviation industry, these trends will bring major changes to the market for carbon offsets in 2020 and beyond.
Until now, the bulk of the spending on offsets has gone to projects that avoid emissions. Some companies work with conservation organizations to prevent deforestation, for example. Others fund the development of renewable projects that displace fossil-fuel plants. This work remains essential, but recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made it clear that emissions reductions alone are not enough — we also need to remove billions of tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere if we’re to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
In anticipation of future demand for removal offsets, Nori has built a digital marketplace that connects buyers with projects that draw down and store CO2, starting with a focus on farmers using regenerative agriculture to increase levels of soil carbon. Another new marketplace, developed by the Finnish company Puro, is offering removal credits linked to the production of biochar (a charcoal-like substance used to safely store carbon) and construction materials made in part from greenhouse gases.
The arrival of these marketplaces looks to be well-timed, because a few first-mover companies have already announced plans to invest significant amounts in carbon removal. Last August, payment services company Stripe committed to investing atleast $1 million a year in carbon sequestration projects. A month later, Shopify, which develops e-commerce software, matched that target and declared that it would focus on industrial-scale solutions that involve capturing CO2 from theair and storing it deep underground. “Our goal is to kickstart the demand and predictability of this market so industrial engineering can scale and the price can come down,” says Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke.
When Stripe and Shopify make their investments in carbon removal, they will have the option of working with Nori, Puro and other more established offsets sellers, such as Natural Capital Partners. Many of these firms are likely to see a surge in business as the demand for offsets of all kinds increases.
In 2018, the market for voluntary offsets more than doubled in size to 98 million tons, according to Ecosystem Marketplace, which collects data on market-based approaches to conserving ecosystem services. “In the past decade, a good year was always old companies doing new buying,” says Steve Zwick, the publication’s managing editor. Now major new buyers are entering the market. Companies are learning they can’t reduce emissions as deeply as they want to, and so are investing in offsets as well as reduction, explains Zwick.
One significant new buyer is Shell, which in 2019 committed to spending $300 million on forestry projects and other nature-based solutions over the next three years, in part to offset some of the emissions produced by the aviation fuel it sells in Britain and the Netherlands. Airlines will also likely be buying large quantities of offsets in coming years. British Airways and Air France have committed to offsetting 100 percent of emissions from their domestic flights starting this year.
And the industry as a whole has committed to capping emissions from international flights at current levels, which is forecast to require purchases of around 150 million tons a year by 2025.
Any company purchasing an offset should be asking hard questions about the ability of the project to reduce emissions. Offsets are sometimes criticized as unreliable, a complaint that surfaced again recently after an investigation by ProPublica into one class of offsets — forest-protection projects — concluded that polluters often “got a guilt-free pass to keep emitting CO2, but the forest preservation that was supposed to balance the ledger either never came or didn’t last.” Proponents of forestry projects noted that while ProPublica highlighted real problems, it also ignored known solutions to those problems. Nevertheless, the reputation of offsets probably took a knock.
It will always be challenging to plant and protect forests in remote areas of the world, particularly in regions of political instability. But another trend may help matters. Over the past few years, the resolution and coverage of satellite imagery have improved while prices have fallen. These changes make it possible to monitor forests at a new level of accuracy.
“You can identify someone who’s cutting down a tree with one day of notice,” Diego Saez-Gil, an entrepreneur working in this space, told Fast Company. Saez-Gil’s startup, Pachama, combines data from satellites, drones and a laser-scanning technology known as lidar with machine learning to create a dashboard that estimates the amount of carbon stored in a forest.
The emergence of these technologies suggests that the market for offsets is going to grow both in size and impact. At a time when the governments ofthe world’s two largest emitters, the United States and China, are failing to recognize the magnitude of the climate crisis, that’s a welcome piece of good news — and a great example of how the private sector can help fill the gulf left by government inaction.