This piece was featured on GreenBiz.
In 2008, the US Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that the Arctic region contains “90 billion barrels of oil and 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas."1 For relative context, these natural gas estimates are more than six times US domestic reserve estimates.2 Put another way, one third of global undiscovered, potentially recoverable natural gas reserves lie in the Arctic.3
As Arctic ice coverage shrinks, industry is expanding exploration in this region, asserting that extraction and accident response technology is appropriate for this environment. Advances include production rigs that operate on the sea bed and reinforced tankers that break through ice. As put by Geir Utskot, an Arctic executive for Schlumberger Oilfield Services, "Technology will not hold up Arctic resource development.”4 (See Shell’s video presenting their Arctic preparedness, though note their containment systems are conceptual designs, not existing technology.)5
However, exploring unchartered territory is arguably a situation that warrants caution, not haste, and requires more than technology to get it right. Recent oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and Yellowstone National Park—supposedly mature operations—illustrate the importance of examining the presumed norms of industry operations, not just technology, in order to avoid undermining culture, reputation, perceived capabilities, and, potentially, license to operate.
A short while ago, GreenOrder welcomed Professor Michael Gerrard to our New York office as the speaker for our weekly seminar series. Professor Gerrard, Director of the Columbia Center for Climate Change Law, is an accomplished environmental lawyer with over 30 years of experience under his belt. Needless to say, he is a thought leader on all things environmental law and policy-related, with an incredible understanding of the policy landscape, and a keen sense for upcoming policy trends.
Professor Gerrard spoke to the GreenOrder team about 15 significant new or upcoming environmental policies we should watch out for, covering everything from on-bill financing for residential energy efficiency projects, to changes in flood plain mapping practices.
We noted that some of these policies might be particularly important for business leaders to understand and prepare for. These policies fall under three main buckets: more disclosure, regulation of green claims, and requirements for disaster planning. The following policies -- which are at various stages of fruition -- could fundamentally change the way we do business in the coming years.
Focusing solely on compliance is so 1990s, or at least pre-BP Deepwater Horizon. That’s why I was surprised by the official statements from MAL Rt. immediately following the “red sludge tsunami.”
By way of quick background for those who haven’t been following this, nearly 200 million gallons of what is euphemistically described as red sludge – noxious industrial byproduct of the aluminum-making process – escaped its containment reservoir at an aluminum factory in Hungary, killing nine people, hospitalizing more than 100, rendering 100s of homes uninhabitable, and potentially contaminating the Danube river ecosystem for years to come.
As the story broke, company officials said that “the red sludge waste is not considered hazardous waste” according to E.U. standards and that the company had “conformed to all safety standards.”
Much of my work at GreenOrder focuses on working with clients to uncover innovative sustainability opportunities. But we always caution not to lose sight of environmental fundamentals.
The FTC’s long overdue update of the Green Guides announced last week will help protect consumers from vague green marketing claims. Among other proposed changes, summarized by the FTC here, the Guides will bar unqualified claims of “green” and “eco-friendly,” further clarify how companies can use “compostable” and “recyclable,” and require specifying what attributes of a product an eco-label applies to.
There are shortcomings in the proposed revisions. For example, they do not offer guidance on claims involving a product’s life cycle or hidden tradeoffs (e.g., a product that saves consumers 50 gallons of water but consumes 5,000 to produce). They also don’t address claims relating to Cradle to Cradle design or green chemistry, as Joel Makower points out.