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Concern Over Energy Usage

Sustainability consultant Alan Best looks at current industry moves to tackle the concern over excessive energy usage worldwide:

ENERGY used throughout the lifecycle of flooring products from raw materials through manufacture to retail, supply, installation and disposal and the associated greenhouse gas emissions are key concerns for all of us working in the field of sustainability and cost efficiencies in the industry.
This has come even more into focus following a recent report from the UN Panel on Climate Change insisting that governments the world over must ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are cut to zero by 2100 to limit risks of irreversible damage.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said global warming is causing rising sea levels, a warmer and more acidic ocean, melting glaciers and Arctic sea ice and more frequent and intense heat waves.
The leading cause of the problem is said to be the world’s dependence on fossil fuels and an addiction to the oil, coal and gas that power the global energy system while polluting the atmosphere with heat-trapping CO2, the chief greenhouse gas.
This information is hardly new and was met with some predictable responses accusing the IPCC of being alarmist and over-stating its case. However according to Global Climate Change, a NASA website, around 97% of climate scientists now accept the mainstream conclusion that climate change is linked to human activity.
However amid its grim projections, the report also offered hope by stating that we already have the tools needed to set the world on a low-emissions path. The IPCC also recognised that the development and adoption of new energy technologies would have to be affordable and would hopefully increase rather than reduce job opportunities.
However, the minority who refuse to accept the mainstream scientific view are noisy and their utterances are widely reported in the media. Minorities are not always wrong and it is important that scientists are not simply swept up in current trends and that they keep an open mind and a preparedness to consider conflicting evidence.
There are plenty of precedents for the majority scientific view being proved wrong particularly in fields such as medical research.
The main source of dissent is the USA which continues to be the chief offender due to the sheer scale of their industries and the CO2 emissions arising from them. The US also has an abundance of fossil fuel and a recent bounty of shale gas which it is hardly likely to give up particularly given a current pressing need to improve their economic fortunes and to retain their position as the number one global economy.
It is then perhaps no surprise that the American public doesn’t appear to be convinced by the scientific arguments. A 2013 survey by Pew Research showed that while 67% of Americans believed global warming is occurring, only 44% said this is due to human activity.
More recently, a New York Times poll said 42% of Republicans say global warming won’t have serious impacts which is a view also held by 12% of Democrats and 22% of independents.
There is obviously an ideological dimension to the argument and, from what you read, you could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much will happen in the USA to change the picture on CO2 emissions until public and political opinion swings significantly towards the scientific mainstream case.
This is important to us here in the UK given our legislative commitments to energy reduction to aid global efforts which now have to be balanced against our government’s commitment to the exploitation of shale gas reserves – some of which reside under my house!
The USA is, of course, a leading source of new scientific thinking and technology worldwide and, contrary to the perception of many, there is much evidence that the US Government is investing heavily to assist the development of sustainable technologies.
President Obama has repeatedly credited much of the recovery, albeit partial, in the US economy to the creation of so called ‘Cleantech’ jobs and investment in green building products.
There is a fundamental truth in all of the arguments for greener technologies that, in many cases, they are fully justified by market demand for greener products and technologies and for the financial benefits that many bring as well as for their more positive environmental impacts.
The generation of energy for use in buildings is around 40% of the total. There are numerous additional environmental impacts that buildings make over their lifecycle. According to BRE flooring contributes about 12% of these environmental impacts so improvements in flooring products and associated services will have significant benefits all round.
When considering alternative sources of energy for flooring manufacture we tend to focus on solar and wind power and initiatives like the recovery of methane gas from landfill and waste to energy projects. These are obviously key and will continue to grow in importance.
Major strides have also been made in the energy efficiency of modern manufacturing machinery and in particular the ovens which are used at many stages in flooring manufacture. There is a now a further significant source of energy savings through more efficient lighting for our factories and, in particular, for our showrooms where this is an important and costly element of product display.
Recent advance in lighting technologies such as LED can deliver significant energy cost savings and reduced maintenance requirements. (Although I speak here with some scepticism as someone who is constantly having to change the LED lights at home!)
This may be demonstrated by a recent case study reported by GreenBiz, the US sustainability website, describing changes to factory lighting systems now being implemented by Ford worldwide.
‘…. Ford will invest more than $25m (£16m) in LED lighting at its global manufacturing facilities — cutting annual energy use equivalent to running over 6,000 average-sized homes a year.
‘The LED fittings will replace traditional high-intensity discharge and fluorescent lights, and are expected to reduce Ford’s energy use at manufacturing facilities by 56m kWh a year. This equates to 70% reduction in lighting energy consumption compared to traditional technologies and is expected to cut annual energy costs by around $7m.
‘According to Ford the need for maintenance also will diminish, as LED lighting has a 15-year life expectancy and studies show LED light output remains steady at less than 1% degradation per year over the life of the equipment, while fluorescent and HID fixtures require re-lamping in as little as two years…..’
Advances in lighting and solar power technologies in the US were no doubt assisted by the Cleantech investment programmes referred to by President Obama.
These investments were made through tax credits schemes in which companies were invited to submit applications on a competitive basis.
The criteria for selection were as follows:
The greatest amount of direct and indirect domestic job creation;
The greatest net impact in avoiding or reducing air pollutants or emissions of greenhouse gases; and the lowest net energy impacts;
The greatest potential for technological innovation and commercial deployment;
The shortest project time from certification to completion. The following companies were among those successful in 2010, the year of their introduction, and are now reaping the rewards through installations such as the Ford factories mentioned above;
Cree Inc., received $39m in tax credits to assist in the purchase of new equipment to add capacity and capability that enabled them to lower production costs of chips, fixtures and other materials for its high-efficiency LED lighting;
General Electric Lighting Inc, received $19.8m in tax credits. The company re-equipped a lamp factory to make energy-saving T8 and T5 linear fluorescent lamps;
Dow Chemical, received more than $20m in tax credits for manufacturing advanced solar cell materials and coatings;
I believe that this is just the sort of programme that will assist industries such as flooring to adopt technologies to improve energy impacts and a move to a more circular economy which has huge potential for reducing energy, raw materials usage and waste creation.
Governments across the EU should I believe step up their efforts to support our industries in these ways. CFJ.
Alan Best, a sustainability consultant, is chair of the Flooring Sustainability Partnership, which he attends on behalf of Shaw Industries Group. He works with a number of construction related industries specialising in environmental certification, substitution of hazardous chemicals and waste reduction. Alan is co-author of the Croner ‘Essential Guide to REACH’. He also sits on a number of international bodies where he represents Shaw Industries Group.

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal. You can find them at