Sustaining the Earth for Future Generations
By Kurt Repanshek
At present the human race is confronted by the question of its own global legacy. Whether the current generation chooses to live sustainably — conserving its natural resources, nurturing the Earth’s biodiversity and protecting the air and water — will define the quality of living for future generations.
In the case of our collective impact on the environment, it has become clear that we must follow a path toward sustainable development, minimizing the human ecological footprint and producing meaningful, measurable change. And many entities worldwide are taking this responsibility to heart. The issues are manifold, and require manifold solutions.
For example, many people take for granted the availability of fresh water. A twist of the faucet instantaneously delivers a flow of water. It quenches our thirst, helps us clean and cook, and fills our pools and hot tubs. But a large portion of the world’s population doesn’t have access to safe, pure water on a daily basis.
And biodiversity — an issue we often hear discussed on radio and television, or read about in periodicals — increasingly strikes close to home. The plight of polar bears in the Arctic or giraffes in Africa may move us, but beyond that, the loss of biodiversity has an impact on the ecosystem that we are just beginning to understand, with consequences for us as a species.
Then there’s climate change, a topic that’s headline news these days — and one that generates ongoing controversy over its extent, its consequences, and its susceptibility to our efforts to alter its course.
Fortunately, we’re not starting from scratch in dealing with these problems, and we have a wealth of human resourcefulness on our side. Across the world, individuals, foundations and corporations are taking the lead in making a difference.
Across the world, individuals, foundations and
corporations are taking the lead in making a difference.
You might say that working for a healthier environment is in the genes of Prince Albert II of Monaco. Not only did his father, the late Prince Rainier, transform his small country into Europe’s most environmentally sensitive during his 56-year reign, but his great-great-grandfather, Prince Albert I, was on the forefront of understanding how ecosystems operate. A global explorer, Prince Albert I traveled the oceans and trekked to the Arctic, pioneered oceanographic science, and studied botany, paleontology and archaeology. This legacy of environmental consciousness flows not just from Monaco’s royal family, but from the entire country:
• Monaco ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2005.
• It offers public charging stations throughout the principality for electric vehicles, treats and reuses waste water and produces energy for municipal needs from garbage.
• Traffic lanes dedicated to public transportation have reduced traffic jams and automobile emissions.
• The country worked with France and Italy to create a sanctuary in the Mediterranean for whales and dolphins.
Monaco’s efforts on behalf of the environment are not solely restricted to the tiny Mediterranean country’s borders. To draw attention to the impact of climate change, Prince Albert II led an expedition in 2006 to the North Pole, where he highlighted the threats to the polar cap and its flora and fauna. Retracing his great-great-grandfather’s steps brought the prince to the same Lilliehook Glacier in Spitzberg that his ancestor visited in 1906 — except that it wasn’t the same anymore. Climate change had stunted the river of ice, pushing its snout back an estimated 40% over the preceding 99 years.
Not long after his return, Prince Albert II launched the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation with hopes of spreading his country’s environmental ethics across the globe. No other head of state has taken such a step to raise concern and work toward solutions in the areas of climate change, biodiversity and water use. The prince minced no words a year ago when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly about the threats that climate change poses for the Earth and its inhabitants.
“We already know that the future of humanity is at stake. This is a collective responsibility,” Prince Albert II told the assembly. “To tackle this urgent matter, it is necessary to raise awareness, mobilize capacities and revolutionize our lifestyle. This is how we will forge a new relationship with nature.”
By offering his name and determined support to the cause, Prince Albert II is not just raising the awareness of global issues, but also working to underwrite projects to benefit the world’s environment, ecosystems and developing countries.
“Because of his position as a head of state, there is definitely a high level of recognition on the world stage. He himself is involved — he’s not just lending his name and attending some meetings — he goes to the North Pole, he went to Sumatra, he goes and sees firsthand what is happening,” explains the Hon. Maguy Maccario Doyle, Consul General of Monaco and vice president of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation-USA.
“Monaco may not be the biggest country in the world, but I am determined to show
it can be among the most innovative when it comes to dealing with the environment.”
— Prince Albert II
The Foundation has chapters in the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland. In September, the United States chapter will be brought into the fold. Partnering with Conservation International, the Aspen Institute, the United Nations Foundation, the One Drop Foundation and others, the Foundation so far has provided more than $17 million to 70 projects around the globe that, in one fashion or another, aim to bolster biodiversity, improve water resources or combat climate change.
In Niger, Foundation funding went toward protecting and enhancing the habitat of the last giraffes in West Africa. Long threatened by poaching and habitat fragmentation, the animals benefit the region by drawing ecotourism. Along with working to prevent poaching and protect the giraffe’s main food source, tiger bush, the project also is studying the animals’ behavior in order to better manage them.
At the top of the world, Arctic researchers underwritten by the Foundation are studying not just how climate change is affecting polar bears, which are threatened with extinction within the coming century due to loss of habitat, but also what impact pollutants are having on the species. The research could shed light on behavioral changes and food adaptations brought about by climate change.
In the Republic of Mali, Foundation dollars helped develop four mountain springs for the use of villagers. In this West African country, where inhabitants obtain 90% of their water from open wells or catch pits, such improvements are invaluable for improving sanitation and ensuring the access of more than 6,000 villagers to clean, uncontaminated water for drinking as well as farming and stock-farm operations.
Though not massive or wide-ranging, these projects offer three examples of how the Foundation can step in, have an impact and demonstrate how to make a difference.
“Monaco may not be the biggest country in the world, but I am determined to show it can be among the most innovative when it comes to dealing with the environment,” says Prince Albert II.
In an instant, with just the slight touch of your finger, an image is captured, possibly forever. The setting, perhaps of a meadow of colorful wildflowers, a golden sunset or a beaming wedding party, has not been disturbed, while a memory has been preserved. And if you used Canon’s EOS Rebel XSi camera to take that picture, few resources have been used in its creation.
Being as environmentally benign as possible these days is everyone’s responsibility. Canon strives to achieve that goal throughout its entire product lifecycle, whether you’re taking pictures or making copies. The company approaches this challenge from the three perspectives of produce, use and recycle, searching for and employing the best environmental and product efficiencies. Those responsibilities begin with the initial stage of product design for Canon’s cameras, copiers, printers and industrial equipment and continue through to reuse or recycling wherever possible.
This isn’t anything new. Six years ago Canon established an Environmental Logistics Working Group with the intent of reducing the company’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a key greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. One step the group suggested and which Canon took was to shift how it delivers and receives its materials, components and products. Shipments via trucks and aircraft were switched, as much as possible, to railroads and cargo ships due to their comparatively lighter environmental impacts. In Japan, the company uses regional ports to shorten the distance imports and exports must travel, while on the west coast of North America it promotes direct delivery to outlets rather than relying on intermediaries.
The greater reliance on rail transportation has led to Canon being one of the first Japanese companies to attain corporate “Eco Rail Mark” certification, a designation bestowed by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on companies whose efforts to ship products by rail contribute to a reduction in global warming. By shipping nearly 8,500 truckloads of cargo via rail in 2007, the company reduced its CO2 emissions tied to transportation by 3,840 tons. These efficiencies led to a 24% reduction in CO2 emissions per unit of net sales in 2007, compared with the 2000 result.
Changes in transportation are just one approach Canon uses to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions. It also achieves environmental savings in how its products function in the hands of consumers. For instance, its color multi-function products rely on a proprietary on-demand fixing technology to reduce warm-up time to 38 seconds for its Color imageRUNNER C3480/C3480i and enable recovery from sleep mode in just 15 seconds. These improvements, along with making happier customers, enable the machine to achieve a weekly power consumption reduction of roughly 75% from Canon’s conventional printers that rely on roller-fixing methods.
Canon has greatly reduced its environmental impact by saving resources in component production, reducing power consumption and CO2 emissions. From the development and design stages, Canon strives to attain 65% recyclability and 75% recoverability for its products, as stipulated by the European Union’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive). Additionally, the company has continued to reduce the use of hazardous substances in its products. While the use of mercury in fluorescent lamps for printers and lead in scanner lenses currently is not banned under the EU’s RoHS standard, which pertains to the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, Canon already substitutes parts and materials in its products that do not contain either substance.
Combined, these manufacturing advances have led to easier and more successful recycling of Canon products. Not only does the company utilize a global network of recycling centers, with locations in Europe, the U.S., Asia and Australia, but it also promotes “inverse manufacturing.” Through this process, products at the end of their lifecycle are disassembled and the parts and even products refurbished and reused whenever possible. In Japan the company has been remanufacturing used copiers since 1998, and in 2007 it added color multi-function printers (MFPs) to that line.
Canon’s commitment to recycling extends at least to 1990, when it began collecting used toner cartridges. Since then it has collected 190,000 tons of toner cartridges globally. All collected cartridges are employed as reused parts in new products, and Canon now achieves 100% recovery. This accomplishment has reduced Canon’s use of new materials by 110,000 tons and cut its CO2 emissions by 310,000 tons since 1990.
Canon’s environmental efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2007, Canon was honored with the Chairperson’s Award from the Eco-Products Awards Steering Committee in Japan. Furthermore, Canon U.S.A., Inc. received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® Award for Excellence in Product Labeling. The award recognizes Canon’s high percentage of products qualifying for the ENERGY STAR® labeling program.
Since 1996, a year before the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, Canon has concentrated on reducing its environmental footprint with an eye on cutting global warming. Through its most recent improvements in the company’s policy of produce, use and recycle, Canon reduced its overall 2007 greenhouse gas emissions by 12% per unit of net sales compared to 2000 levels. Additionally, the company cut its waste outsourced for recycling by 40%.
As with pictures captured by the EOS Rebel XSi camera, Canon’s efforts to be a corporate leader in environmental stewardship are just the latest in a series. Moving forward, the company expects further refinements and efficiencies across its operations that will enable it to continue to lower its cumulative impact on the environment.
Trees just might be the perfect poster children for sustainable development and an antidote for global warming. They siphon carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and sequester it in their woody grains. When replanted as they are in a managed forest, their byproducts are carbon neutral when burned as an energy source, making trees and their kin elsewhere in the vegetative world potentially significant contributors to alternative fuels. On top of all that, they cool us with their shade and are wonderfully renewable.
Weyerhaeuser Company has been in the tree business since 1900, when Frederick Weyerhaeuser and a handful of investors founded the company in Washington State. Today Weyerhaeuser owns or manages nearly 22 million acres worldwide and, along with growing trees, works to see that its operations are as sustainable as possible. Tree-growing is a fine science at Weyerhaeuser, where foresters know the composition of soils on their lands, what trees will grow best in what conditions, and even what genes will produce the straightest trees with the best limb structure.
Weyerhaeuser only cuts 2% to 3% of its forests annually and has practiced sustainable, high-yield forestry since the 1960s. The company works with growing calendars that dictate when to harvest and when to replant with seedlings nurtured in company tree nurseries. Those nurseries produce 120 million seedlings a year — they might be loblolly pines, longleaf pines or any of a dozen hardwood species — that Weyerhaeuser uses to replenish its forests and sell to others. Both the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management standard have certified these practices, designed to ensure that the company never runs out of wood. In the Southern Hemisphere, the company, in a bid to slow deforestation and protect biodiversity, operates tree plantations rather than cutting natural forests.
Strategic efforts to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption while conserving energy complement these tree husbandry practices. In Uruguay, where Weyerhaeuser’s plantations grow eucalyptus and radiata pine, the company recently opened a plywood mill and fitted it with electrostatic precipitators to reduce air emissions. Water usage at Weyerhaeuser’s pulp plants also is on the decline — 25% to 27% in the last decade alone — thanks to better recycling practices. Waste disposal also has gone down as the company directs more of its biomass wastes such as bark, tree knots and even sawdust into cogeneration plants that help power the facilities. By 2020, the company hopes such cogeneration will make its pulp plants self-sufficient in terms of energy.
This increased reliance on carbon-neutral, biomass-generated energy is a major driver in the company’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and its corporate carbon footprint. Weyerhaeuser is targeting a 40% drop in GHG emissions (1.8 million metric tons annually) from 2000 levels by 2020. Through 2007 it had achieved a 15% reduction. At the same time, the company’s mills are becoming more productive. Thinner saw blades mean less waste, and engineered-wood products use wood pieces and species that once had no commercial value to produce planks perfectly suitable for construction applications.
Strategic efforts to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions
and water consumption while conserving energy complement
Weyerhaeuser’s tree husbandry practices.
While working to shrink its own carbon footprint, Weyerhaeuser is looking for alternatives to fossil fuels to help the country reduce its footprint. In partnership with Chevron Corp., the timber company has formed Catchlight Energy, a joint venture that is investigating the use of switchgrass and forest residuals as a biofuel. In Weyerhaeuser’s North Carolina and Mississippi forests, the 20- to 25-foot-wide gap that runs between rows of trees offers plenty of room to grow other crops, which hold promise as a green fuel for generating electricity. Not only can switchgrass be harvested twice a year, but it enhances utilization of the company’s land and reduces energy producers’ reliance on potential food crops for biofuels.
“One of the main things is this idea that we’re not diverting croplands from food crops,” says Weyerhaeuser spokesman Frank Mendizabal. “It’s existing land that’s between tree rows. It’s another example of good utilization of the resource — in this case the land. To us, growing a crop that’s not displacing anything else has a lot of promise.”
Across its operations, Weyerhaeuser tries to balance its impact on the land in a manner that best sustains forest resources by protecting some areas for biodiversity, recreation, and other social and environmental values; managing other areas intensively to produce as much wood as possible without harming the environment; and managing the remaining lands less intensively while also contributing to the global need for wood and sustaining local communities.
“We understand the multiple uses that are part of the land,” says Mendizabal. “Even though in the states it is private land, we understand it is public resources that we are managing.”
Change is in the air — and in the water, and all around us. Technologies are evolving to tackle global environmental issues head-on. People, nations and businesses are stepping up to the plate, determined to alter society’s potentially self-destructive course and achieve a sustainable future.
Human society has continually evolved, moving through the first agricultural revolution of at least 10,000 years ago, the Bronze Age, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. Today, we are on the cusp of the Age of Sustainable Development. Historians may eventually mark 1987 as the beginning of this period — the year when the World Commission on Environment and Development published the “Brundtland Report,” defining sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Not restricted solely to environmental issues, but also encompassing social welfare and economic development, successful sustainable development provides a broad, overlapping and multifaceted mission intended to preserve the health of the planet for the future. Although navigating this new age is not without its technological and economic challenges, the long-standing benefits to businesses that focus on sustainable practices — and to society at large — will be far greater.
Photos: ©Patrick Pagnano / Shot with Canon’s EOS Rebel