Greetings and welcome to issue #18 of Valutus SustainabilityR.O.I., a Recap of things that caught our attention along with some Observations and Intelligence.
In it we Recap some interesting news and developments you may have missed from the field of sustainability. Observations this month is on a topic we're passionate about: a true, comprehensive standard for plastic neutral. Intelligence is the third installment of our Impacts Science series. We noted last month that Submerged Value is often the majority of the value of the sustainable project and this month we go into that in depth.
We hope you find this worthy of your time and, if so, please consider forwarding to your colleagues. Thanks for being part of making the world a better place.
The Value of Values
Cincinnati Reds Todd Walker slides into second base as Seattle Mariners
second baseman Bret Boone pivots to turn a double play. Photo by Rick Dikeman,
Cinergy Field in Cincinnati on June 19, 2002. Photo source: Wikipedia
Consider the term ‘pivot,’ meaning a nimble and graceful move to swiftly turn things in a new direction. This seems like a perfect way to think about where we all are with sustainability. The world has been plunging along a single course for a hundred-and-fifty years, and we have just a decade or so left to turn in a radically different direction. Looks like a little pivoting is called for, gracefully and nimbly for sure, but fast!
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán
We’ve selected a few stories for you in this issue, such as turbines that run on wind from vehicles (a nice little pivot right there!) to a move toward solar cookers in areas where biosolid fuels have been damaging the health of billions via indoor air pollution.
Photo by Mali Maeder / Pexels
We briefly report on a radical new way to make electricity using iron rust to capture the kinetic energy of saltwater…hey, it could just be the 'wave' of the future.
Standard Oil gasoline station. Photographer unknown. Photo source: Wikipedia
Observations delves into standards and how we can move — dare we say, pivot? — to a completely new standard for plastic neutral.
Trash bin in Pilchowo near Police and Szczecin, Poland.
Photo by MMich. Photo source: Wikipedia (CC 4.0)
Finally, Intelligence continues our series on Impacts Science, a method for measuring an organization or community’s total impact. As promised, we discuss the not-so-uncommon cases where ‘submerged value’ is even more than the known value.
We will need all these and more to turn around this giant ship we call the climate.
Yet if we can get that ship to ‘pivot’, perhaps we can turn it around in time.
Indoor Air Pollution: Solutions Abound
Rural aburo stove using biomass cakes, fuelwood and trash as cooking fuel in
Tamil Nadu, India. Photo by தகவலுழவன். Photo source: Wikipedia (CC 3.0)
Smog, miasma, London fog. There are many names for an atmosphere you can see, feel, ‘cut with a knife,’ and so on. The classic image of a cityscape choked with fumes is what we normally associate with air pollution.
A dense, toxic, “gas chamber” smog in New Delhi, India, November 2017.
Photo by Sumitmpsd. Photo source: Wikipedia. (CC4.0)
It turns out, however, that indoor air pollution (IAP) — affecting some three billion people — is just as problematic.
Photo by Luther Bottrill / Unsplash
In the developed world — which cooks and heats with clean-burning fuels like natural gas, electricity and propane — this usually means self-inflicted pollution, like tobacco smoke or household chemicals.
In the rest of the world, however, which has few such luxuries, it is the use of solid biofuels — wood, charcoal, dung, crop waste — for food preparation, heat, light, and electricity, that creates a very serious atmospheric issue. Even when more sophisticated fuels are involved, they tend to be hazardous and fumy liquids like kerosene or petrol.
Kerosene cooking stove.
Our last issue detailed how charcoal was decimating forests in developing nations. Serious, certainly, and the long-term consequences for our race will be felt for many generations. Indoor air pollution’s effects, on the other hand, are direct and personal.
It is estimated that in 2016, 2.6 million people “died prematurely from illness attributable to household air pollution,” and around 3 billion are affected, largely in poor and developing nations. That’s a lot of folks.
“There is consistent evidence,” says the World Health Organization’s (WHO) special bulletin on IAP, “that indoor air pollution increases the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and of acute respiratory infections in childhood, the most important cause of death among children under 5 years of age in developing countries. Evidence also exists of associations with low birth weight, increased infant and perinatal mortality, pulmonary tuberculosis, nasopharyngeal and laryngeal cancer, cataract, and, specifically in respect of the use of coal, with lung cancer.” Holy smokes!
Young girl strapping firewood for fuel to her back, Kebribeyah Refugee Camp, Ethiopia.
Photo by Chebychev1983. Photo source: Wikipedia
But there are consequences beyond illness itself. One submerged result of IAP is the gender inequity inherent in it. Women and children tend to be the solid fuel gatherers, which keeps them from earnings that might lift them from poverty. Girls tend to care for those who are ill due to IAP and other causes, and so miss school or other useful work. And of course, women and children tend to be in the home when the worst IAP is generated. Statistics also suggest the rate of rape is reduced when women do not have to forage far afield.
Women and children often must cook for hours with poor ventilation when using solid fuels
such as wood or charcoal. Photo by Chebychev1983, October 28, 2013
Part of the problem is that, “in a typical solid-fuel stove, about 6–20% of the fuel is converted into toxic emissions (by mass).” The smoke from such cooking contains, “both fine and coarse particulate matter (e.g., PM2.5, , PM10), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and a variety of organic air pollutants (e.g., formaldehyde, 1,3-butadiene, benzene,” etc.
Better stoves would solve many of these problems, as would solar panels for lights and electricity. Last issue we detailed a number of companies providing propane stoves, cell phones and solar chargers, and so on, using pay-to-own or pay-as-you-go models, making such items affordable for the average family in these areas. Propane has its issues but is far more clean burning than biosolids or kerosene.
 PM2.5 = particulate matter <2.5 micrometers (5.4 millionths of a meter)
Solar oven baking batter in Portugal, 2007. Photo by Xuaxo. Photo source: Wikipedia (CC3.0)
Solar cookers, which require only sunlight for fuel, are on the rise as well. This is a brilliant solution wherever there is ample sunshine, as there is no need for solid or liquid fuel of any kind, almost no cleanup, no cost beyond the materials for the cooker itself, no fumes and, therefore, no IAP — the cooking is, ipso facto, done outdoors, and as it is entirely solar, no carbon is involved.
Homemade solar oven using cardboard, silver foil and duct tape.
Photo by Hunter McNenny. Photo source: Wikipedia (CC4.0)
These stoves and ovens can be manufactured in many different designs and with varying uses, and can reach temperatures up to 550°F (288° C). They’re so simple they can even be made at home — from silver foil and cardboard — at almost no expense, and can bake breads, grill meats or boil rice almost as quickly as standard fuels — sometimes even faster.
Villager sterilizing water in a solar cooker in Ghana. Photo by Tom Sponheim. Photo source: Wikipedia
According to the World Wildlife Fund, a test conducted in South Africa found that solar cookers could save an average family “30 litres of kerosene, 30 kg of LPG and about 1 tonne of firewood per year, which comes to an estimated 1 tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction annually.”
A ton of CO2 per family, per year? If we assume four people in a family, that’s about three quarters of a billion households, ergo, about 750-million tons of carbon reduced each year.
Several of the above solutions, especially solar, fit nicely in the WHO intervention protocol, which reads, “Interventions should be affordable, perhaps requiring income generation and credit arrangements, and they should be sustainable.”
There is a long way to go on indoor air pollution, but at least there are a number of clean, simple, and affordable solutions available right now to deal with the issue’s main cause.
Tilting our Windmills: Vertical Turbines in the Fast Lane
Small vertical wind turbine atop Colston Hall, Bristol, England.
Photo by Anders Sandberg. Photo source: Wikipedia
The quaint windmills of yesteryear still dot the Dutch countryside. Huge white tower-and-tine jobs now pepper our global fields and plains. There are even small pinwheels on rooftops, capturing the uneven urban breezes.
Photo by Mr. Söbau / Unsplash
Yet all these rely on natural airflows to turn them. But anyone who’s ever changed a tire while semi-trailers cannon past or stood at the entrance to a subway tunnel as the train approaches, knows just how much wind — kinetic energy — these machines generate. Yet this force, powerful as it is, blows wastefully away, dissipating in some field or side-tunnel somewhere.
Traffic rolls past a median strip in Palembang, Indonesia. Photo by Ujuk Safar / Unsplash
Wait a minute! Wait just a doggone minute, what if we could harvest this energy into power to light our homes and run our machines? What has been lacking are specialized turbines, with blades small enough to harvest this energy along a busy road or a tight tunnel, feeding it to the grid for use in our other human endeavors. And, as vehicle-generated wind is inconsistent, “the design of a wind turbine must include the storage of energy and a system to distribute the generated power effectively,” notes Altenergymag.com.
There have been several attempts to interest the world in such turbines but currently, so far as we can determine, there are only a few companies actually doing so.
There is a startup in Turkey, testing their turbines on a busy Istanbul busway, while Capture Mobility, the brainchild of Sanwal Muneer, who formed the idea while standing at the side of an auto racetrack, has built a prototype near Dundee.
A vertical axis Twisted Savonius-type wind turbine. Photo by Popolon. Photo source: Wikipedia
These turbines stand vertically and do not need long blades in order to capture favorable winds. They take up a tiny footprint, standing just a few meters tall and spinning without horizontal blades, so they are appropriate for a sidewalk, a center median, or a highway shoulder. Turbines set in the center can capture airflow from traffic going in both directions, for even more efficiency.
Deveci Tech ‘Enlil’ vertical hybrid wind turbine as part of a pilot program in Istanbul, Turkey.
Photo by u/montemole
The Turkish model, Enlil, by Deveci Tech, stands in the median on a busy busway, and captures both natural and vehicle-generated wind. There is a small solar panel atop the unit to capture even more energy, while the storage battery is below ground. Further, the structure is equipped with smart tech, interfacing with the electrical grid of course, but also capturing seismic data, air quality, wind patterns, CO2 levels, and more. The design also contains a connection for driverless vehicles and a wi-fi emitter.
Each of the Enlil units is expected to generate more than a kilowatt of electricity each hour, enough, the company claims, “to meet the power requirements of two homes.” At scale then, along a highway or busy thoroughfare, there is vast power available from energy that is currently wasted, buffeting off buildings or whistling along avenues and open fields.
Turbine blades in Edenfield, England en route to the Scout Moor Windfarm.
Photo by Paul Anderson. Photo source: Wikipedia
This model is also an advantage in urban areas, where the thirst for power strains even the largest grid at peak, but where the huge, iconic blades of most turbines are problematic. Such turbines have wingspans up to 100 meters (325 ft.), a soccer pitch or so. When we consider that the broad Champs-Élysées in Paris is only 70 meters wide, it’s clear these behemoths are not meant for urbanites.
Champs-Élysées. Photo by Pedro Gandra / Unsplash
In addition, unlike offshore farms and mountain passes, city winds tend to be localized, with complex flows, vortices and updrafts due to the heights and shapes of a cityscape. Winds generated by traffic flows, however, are relatively constant, moving in a uniform direction each time a vehicle passes. The smaller turbines are also less vulnerable in hurricane-like conditions and are not problematic for birds or other flying creatures.
Photo by Luis Vilanova.
So far, the upright traffic-driven turbine is in the testing stages, but we hope to see this concept proliferate. It’s the kind of elegant solution we at Valutus like: simple, inexpensive, easily scalable, and easy for governments large and small to understand and to purchase.
Vertical wind turbine in Cap-Chat, Quebec, Canada. Photo by Christian T. Photo source: Wikipedia
The cost of the turbines is quite low compared to building a standard windmill. The cost of the wind? It’s something for nothing.
Rust and Saltwater: They’re Electric!
Rusted buoy with sealions aboard, at sea off San Diego, California. Photo by Cody Doherty / Unsplash
Take your rusty old car, drive it into the ocean, make electricity. Okay, don’t do that, but such is the essence of new research from Northwestern and Cal Tech that shows running saltwater over a nano-thin layer of iron oxide — rust — will generate electricity.
Leaking diode-anode battery. Photo by Túrelio. Photo source: Wikipedia
Now, it has often been observed that minerals create electricity in the presence of saltwater, the cathode-anode reaction typical in a battery. This is different, and in a very important way. This process employs the Electrokinetic effect, literally making electricity from the movement — as kinetic energy — of the saltwater as it flows over the iron.
Scanning probe microscopy of graphene. Photo by US Army Materiel Command.
Photo source: Wikipedia
The process has been observed by flowing saltwater over graphene — single-layer carbon atoms set in a hexagonal lattice — to capture the kinetic energy of the water.
A single crystal of graphene. “This one-atom-thick crystal can be seen with the naked eye
because it absorbs approximately 2.6% of green light, and 2.3% of red light. Photo by Rahul Nair.
Photo source: Wikipedia
Graphene itself is so unique we will be reporting on it in an upcoming issue. It is, according to Earthdate.org, “harder than diamonds, and 200 times stronger than the strongest steel. Its ability to conduct heat is 1000 times greater than copper. It’s also the best-known conductor of electricity at room temperature.” If it lives up to its potential, graphene could revolutionize everything from computers to energy storage. However, while it has come down dramatically in price since being perhaps the most expensive substance on Earth, is still costly and difficult to make.
Iron oxide. Photo by Benjah-bbm27. Photo source: Wikipedia
Iron oxide, on the other hand…well, remember when you left your little red wagon out in the rain? Let’s just say it’s easy to come by, and cheap. It takes a little tweaking — creating a condensate — in order to form an even layer of the stuff for maximum conductivity. Electrons moving from the iron portion of the oxide create the electric flow.
Rusty hooks on a fence. Photo source: Rawpixels
The upshot of this is obvious: inexpensive power generation from a completely renewable source. According to Tom Miller, Caltech professor of chemistry, who made the discovery along with colleague Franz Geiger, Dow Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern, “plates having an area of 10 square meters each would generate a few kilowatts per hour — enough for a standard US home.”
How could this be used? Glad you asked. For one thing, as we have, essentially, saline in our veins, this could be used to power implant devices.
On a larger scale, things like buoys and ships, which bob through moving seawater continually, could take advantage of this effect.
It’s unclear whether rust and saline will be powering our homes, cars, and pacemakers anytime soon, but it is certain there's an awful lot of saltwater flowing over rusted iron around the world. Perhaps this discovery is yet another brick on the long road to a renewable world.
OBSERVATIONS How Wi-Fi Informs the Need for a Plastic Standard
Photo by Carson Arias / Unsplash
Wired magazine’s Jeff Abramowitz recently took a look back at how Wi-Fi, the now-ubiquitous wireless internet system, came to be the way we all remotely connect. It’s a complex tale, as computers were still plugged into walls and cables, a lot of internet access depended on phone lines, businesses and consumers were working with different systems and so on. It was chaotic, to say the least.
Original Wi-Fi logo prior to the 1999 standard conference. Image source: Wikipedia
The industry players — the large manufacturers of hardware, software, chipmakers, and so on — hadn’t yet agreed on which system was best. The great VHS vs Beta battle for the soul of videotape had a similar ring — but nowhere near the impact — of this epic struggle. And this all happened only twenty years ago this September!
Abramowitz compares this period to a digital ‘wild west’ wherein “one vendor could build ‘standards-compliant’ products that weren’t fully compatible with ‘standards-compliant’ products from another. These weaknesses in the international specification led companies to support rival technology consortia, each aiming to become a de facto standard.”
Right. Exactly, there was a hole in the system. We needed a standard. A universal standard makes it easier to focus on real impact; to allow everyone to get on with manufacturing their next generations of goods and services. To allow the whole industry to move forward.
Wi-Fi logo rendering by Canopus49
By September 15, 1999, when the 17 major digital players finally got together in a room to back Wi-Fi, this was well understood and, as Abramowitz notes dryly, “there was no lack of enthusiasm in that room.”
It’s easy to see why, as we’re all still grappling with manufacturers using different types of screwheads. With Europe, Asia and the US wiring their electrical systems differently. With some countries driving on the left, some on the right. And with at least one major country continuing to resist universal adoption of the metric system. Mercy!
There is yet another major arena with an analogous situation: Plastic neutrality. Similarly, this is a new arena, one that is urgent for the world and that is struggling to find a meaningful standard in time for the big players to all get on board together.
Thus far, the standard has simply been pound-for-pound reclamation of any plastic in place of any type of manufactured product. But this is clearly flawed, just as Wi-Fi’s predecessors were.
Plastic in the wetlands. Photo by Masha Kotliarenko / Unsplash
What about plastics that are currently in a wetland channel, on their way to the sea…are they equivalent to a ton of the same material currently lying next to the highway in Montana? What about a ton of just-manufactured micro-plastic versus a ton of intact PET in the back room of a supermarket? There is more to the true impact than weight and volume.
Marine microplastic. Photo by M. Danny25. Photo source: Wikipedia
Type, condition, toxicity, likely destination, economic impact and probable longevity in the environment — all these go along with the amount of plastic to create a real, meaningful, useful standard that all can adhere to.
For almost two years now, Valutus has been grappling with this and we’ve been developing a plastic standard that includes all of these impacts, a standard we call True Plastic Impact (TPI).
Let’s take the condition of the plastic involved. Currently a company can manufacture a ton of pristine plastic objects that happen to shred easily into shrapnel-like particles in the environment. Perhaps they're designed for boats and generally end up in a waterway. And these fragments may complete their cycle in the digestive tracts of marine animals and, ultimately perhaps, in humans.
Photo by Daniel Aronson
Yet currently, as long as the company finds and recycles a ton of plastic somewhere, whether similar to the one they used or not, they are considered ‘plastic neutral.’
To accelerate actual, meaningful action on plastic, companies need to understand and manage the true impact of their plastic use.
For us the True Plastic Impact calculation looks like this:
Those reading this article are likely doing so using Wi-Fi because all agreed that it was the best, most workable and universal option. The existence of a standard makes more action happen faster. It helps create the acceleration of action we saw when areas such as DVDs and green buildings adopted their own widely used standards. (About a year after Blu-ray defeated HD DVD, Blu-ray player sales nearly doubled.)
Photo by Pressmaster
For this reason, we believe it’s urgent that we all get quickly to a workable, meaningful plastic impact standard.
For more detail about True Plastic Impact, or to join the companies who are already using it, contact us or go to www.plasticstandard.com.
Impacts Science: Submerged Value as Majority Value
Impact test conducted by Langley's Hydrodynamics Division, 08/05/1958
Original photo by NASA, digitally enhanced by Raw Pixel
Last issue, we discussed Submerged Value and made a point of noting how significant a chunk of the total value of sustainable actions it represented. We closed with the rather bold statement that often, submerged value actually rivals — or even exceeds — visible value.
Photo by Steve Halama / Unsplash
Well, we’re here now to back that up. Over more than two decades of working on measurement and valuation, we keep confronting a shocking result: submerged value isn’t just a nice add-on that rounds up the project’s visible benefits. Often, it’s the majority of the project’s value.
Consider the story of a hospitality company with tens of thousands of employees. They’d been active in sustainability and CSR for years, and the executive in charge was highly experienced and respected.
The company knew sustainability and CSR activities were something employees liked, but they’d never been able to quantify their effects. As a result, when looking at the business benefits of their initiatives, they tended to focus on things like energy savings, for which they had good numbers. That meant that the ROI of sustainability and CSR wasn’t huge (though it was positive).
Photo by Samuel Zeller / Unsplash
I asked the executive how much she believed the talent-related benefits of her sustainable activities were worth – that is, the value of these activities on things such as employee attraction and retention.
Now, I’ve asked this question of many, many companies over the years and had very few quantitative answers. The most common response, by far, is: “No idea. We’re not even sure how to answer that question.”
Unfortunately, because “we don’t know” can’t be entered in a spreadsheet, the ROI value of something unknown is assigned “the only value it can’t possibly have: Zero.”
But to her credit, this exec didn’t say, “I don’t know.” Instead, she estimated the value at about $3 million per year.
She made it clear, however, that the company’s C-Suite would put the value at about $300K, ten percent of her estimate. This was very instructive.
First, it wasn’t good if C-Suite execs thought sustainability and CSR activity was worth so much less than she did.
Second, the number she believed they’d support was very small. Her estimate of $3 million isn’t much for a multi-billion-dollar company, but $300K? That’s tiny for an organization that large, so small that many executives wouldn’t bother with any activity that size, let alone budget much money for it.
Third, this allowed us to determine the percentage of sustainability’s talent-related value that was submerged. Once we determined the full value of the benefits, we could subtract her estimates, and the difference would show us how much value was submerged.
We used conservative assumptions, which is our standard practice, since it shows we’re taking the analysis seriously, not just making up numbers that support our point of view. An added benefit: if we can make the case for sustainability or CSR using conservative numbers, any additional benefit is just a bonus.
As an example of our use of conservative numbers, published research has shown social responsibility leadership resulting in a reduction in employee attrition of 25%-30% or more. In our calculations, we went with 10%.
It is also our standard practice to do the calculations togetherwith executives, rather than doing the calculations and then trying to convince them our numbers are right. Using our interactive Talent Benefit ValuationTool, we sit with executives and help them enter numbers that make sense to them, so they’ll feel more comfortable with the results.
Photo by Jonathan Velasquez / Unsplash
Returning to the hospitality example, the result of calculating the true value of sustainability and CSR efforts for talent-related benefits alone was about $30 million per year, or ten times what the executive had estimated, and 100 times what she thought her C-Suite would assume. In this company’s case, the vast, vast majority of value was submerged.
When we get a result like that, the typical first response is, “Wow! That’s a lot more than we thought!” This is usually followed closely by, “we must have put an incorrect number in here somewhere!”
Both responses are legitimate. It’s often the case, with a result so dramatically different from expectations, that the calculation is wrong. Therefore, our approach is not to argue — at all. We simply go through the calculation and offer to change any number in it.
Once we do that, the tool updates its calculation instantly and executives see that, while the total changes, it’s not enough to change the obvious conclusion: that sustainability is being greatly undervalued. For example, in a case like this one, the value might drop from $30M to $28M. That’s less, but it is still enormously more than previously believed.
At this point, we’re often asked to change a second number, and again the total changes somewhat, but the conclusion does not. Perhaps we’re asked to make a third change, meaning we’ve now reduced three numbers (numbers that were already conservative) – but, just as before, while the final value goes down it’s still many times what was previously thought.
In the example above, even if the value dropped to $25M, that’s still more than eight times as much as the executive previously thought, and 80 times her estimate of what the C-Suite believed.
Photo by Evan Dennis / Unsplash
So, stepping back from this specific corporation for a moment, what general lessons can we take from this?
First, it’s certainly clear that surfacing and quantifying submerged value matters. If executives believe sustainability’s value is much lower than it really is, what’s the likelihood they are investing the proper amount in sustainability and CSR programs? Second, it’s also clear that using interactive tools and a we’re-doing-this-together approach matters too.
Third, we need to welcome the chance to talk about value. Sustainability and CSR are much more valuable than people believe because most of that value is submerged. Surfacing and quantifying that value matters. A lot.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this worth your time.
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