Eco-nomics

 

by John Reynolds.

Water sustainability report published

WATER FOOTPRINT CALCULATOR 140 LITRES = 1 CUP OF COFFEE:AS SEVERAL of Ireland's top companies faced criticism for their water consumption earlier this month, the University of Twente in the Netherlands has launched an online water footprint calculator.

The calculator tells consumers the amount of water used in the manufacture of various products, including clothes and electrical goods.

Amidst rising concerns about the effects of climate change on water supplies, the calculator's launch coincides with a report by a group of religious shareholders, the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR).

The group, which advises churches on up to €7 billion of investments, gave four of Ireland's top food and drink producers a "poor" rating in a report on water sustainability.

Out of a total of 15 top food companies surveyed in the report, C&C, Glanbia, Kerry Group and IAWS were singled out for criticism over their high levels of water consumption.

In contrast, Diageo, the manufacturer behind drinks brands such as Guinness, was deemed an industry leader.

The report states that the heaviest industrial water users are in the food and drinks sector, especially when irrigated agriculture is considered.

"Water shortage, resulting from rising demand, pollution and climate change is becoming a key environmental challenge. Water is also a global justice issue and in some parts of the world a cause of conflict,"said ECCR researcher Suzanne Ismail.

The availability of water could increasingly have a direct impact on companies' ability to do business, according to the report. Companies that act early to reduce their demand will improve their reputation, while those that are slow to address the issue may find that it becomes a significant material risk to their companies, the report adds.

For consumers concerned about their water footprints, the University of Twente's calculator (available at www.waterfootprint.org) reveals the amount of water used in small amounts of everyday staples such as a cup of coffee.

For example, it takes 140 litres of water - roughly the same amount used in taking a 15-minute shower - to produce one cup of coffee.

Going green online

SOCIAL NETWORKING:AS THE Government rolled out its €12.5 million change.ie campaign last month, an Irish social entrepreneur launched a social networking website to help people reduce their carbon footprint.

Two Dublin-based philanthropists stumped up the six-figure development costs for edenbee.com, which enables users to measure their carbon footprints, set goals, and exchange ideas and information on reducing the environmental impact of their activities.

An individual timeline - showing the actions they can take to reduce their emissions - can be compared with that of other users, creating an element of competitive tension.

The aim is to make it a more fun way of helping people to change their habits, through a peer-to-peer approach with friends, family and colleagues.

Edenbee's co-founder, Dubliner Peter O'Brien, is a former professional golfer, and has also worked in the music business and on other social enterprises.

A number of innovative new ideas will be announced in the coming months to drive the site's success, help it to grow and increase its profile.

Building on the green social networking model, a UK-based car-sharing website, isanyonegoingto.com, is attracting interest from a number of companies.

Its technology can be incorporated into an organisation's internal website, where staff can use it to share commutes and company car travel.

Saving energy when sending mail

IN THE POST/GREEN STAMPS:AN POST could get a whole lot greener if it adopts the "green stamp" idea proposed by Limerick-based carbon auditing and offsetting firm, Captured Carbon.

While the green element of Ireland's An Post extends to a large number of bicycles, it does not currently use electric or hybrid vehicles.

"The idea proposes to provide a certain number of hybrid or electric mail vans to distribute post. A green stamp could then help to pay for this fleet. Anyone who then receives post with the green stamp knows that the letter was sent without creating carbon emissions," says Carbon Captured founder Duncan O'Toole.

Further innovation in the everyday activity of posting a letter is being made by internet post firm Viapost.

By downloading Viapost's software, small businesses can encrypt and upload a letter, which will then be forwarded over the internet and printed out at a printing centre nearest its delivery address.

"A letter sent to Hong Kong could arrive tomorrow and only cost you the price of a local stamp," says Viapost's chief executive, Simon Campbell.

Ecological heat

POWERPLAN HOME HEATING SCHEME:SCANDINAVIAN-STYLE home heating has come to Ireland in the form of district heating, where steam and hot water are piped into every home in an area from a single, central supply.

Powerplan, a firm owned by Waterford-based brothers, Owen and Cormac Power, installed one of Ireland's first district heating schemes at Carlinn Hall (illustration above), in Dundalk, Co Louth. The €2 million system is fuelled by woodchips and will reduce carbon emissions by up to 90 per cent.

"Residents will save 30 per cent on home heating bills. Not taking into account any future carbon tax, they will save €50,000 over the next 20 years," says Owen.

His brother Cormac, a qualified design engineer, has the benefit of 13 years working for Planora OY, a Finnish district heating and renewable energy company with operations throughout Europe and former Soviet states.