Water Scarcity and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Environmental Aspects Worthy of Management System Attention

Two of the most successful International Standards of the last 25 years are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. ISO 9001, a quality management system standard now used by more than one million organizations, first gave international prominence to the “systems approach” to management. It has become one of the all-time best-selling standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Its success helped launch ISO 14001, an environmental management system based on the “plan-do-check-act” virtuous cycle of policy-driven planning, managing to meet objectives, establishing operational control, and monitoring and measuring progress towards meeting identified objectives and targets. Several hundred thousand organizations around the world have adopted ISO 14001, usually as an enhancement of a quality management system which has the goal of managing processes for delivering quality goods and services and satisfying customers.

Fundamental to an environmental management system is the identification of the environmental aspects of an organization. These are the “elements of the organization’s activities, products and services that have or can have an impact on the environment,” whether adverse or beneficial. Identifying environmental aspects is key to the successful implementation of the management system, because it helps organizations proactively manage “those that can have a significant impact on the environment.”

Many early adopters of ISO 14001 environmental management systems reaped major benefits from their efforts. Energy efficiency, waste reduction, prevention of pollution, improved compliance with environmental legal requirements, all paid returns that contributed to the organizations’ bottom line while improving their standing among stakeholders, driving improvements through the supply chain, and augmenting workforce morale. Alas, the more the environmental management system standard became commonplace, the greater was the tendency of some later-adopting organizations to use the system as a regulatory compliance management tool and for little else.

In such cases, the true potential of the environmental management system is shortchanged. Properly implemented, ISO 14001-based systems should identify all environmental aspects that have the potential to create significant environmental impacts, whether they are currently regulated or not. Two prominent issues that fall in this category are water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

With the world population approaching seven billion, water scarcity is a growing concern. Organizations fortunate enough to be located in water-rich regions can ill afford to be complacent. Although “water wars” have not broken out recently in the United States, regions not normally considered water constrained have experienced some skirmishes. The contested northern boundary of the state of Georgia comes to mind, where claims of a flawed early nineteenth century survey that demarcated the boundary with Tennessee recently were raised. Why the sudden interest on behalf of the state of Georgia in a small strip of land that for nearly two centuries had been recognized as part of Tennessee? The explanation is access to the Tennessee River, which could have been tapped to relieve a drought that recently afflicted northern Georgia.

Another example is public opposition in Minnesota, the land of ten thousand lakes, to commercial development of the state’s water resources to feed an ever-expanding consumer thirst for bottled water. No thank you, say Minnesotans, who much prefer to keep their water for themselves.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is another issue that concerns many stakeholders. Regulation of greenhouse gas emissions is now occurring in California and has become an important consideration for the siting of new power plants across the country. For many companies, however, regulation of carbon dioxide is an issue for some time in the future, not today.

However, US companies ignore greenhouse gases at their peril. Aircraft operators landing in Europe or taking off from there face regulation from 2012 as part of an expanded European Union Emissions Trading System. This includes all US transatlantic carriers, and even some general aviation. France and other EU countries have proposed legislation that would mandate disclosure of the “carbon footprint” of products sold in that country from as early as January 2011. Imports from the US would be affected.

Identifying water consumption and greenhouse gases as potentially significant environmental aspects in an ISO 14001–based management system makes good business sense today, in advance of regulations. Doing so helps organizations take early actions to tackle critical issues before the mandates arrive.

© 2010, Futurepast: Inc.

Sustainable Biofuels Key to Reducing Aviation Carbon Emissions from Flights to the EU

The decision of the European Union last year to include aircraft operators in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) has given a sense of urgency to the development of sustainable aviation biofuels. In 2013 operators will be required to surrender allowances equal to their carbon dioxide emissions in 2012. Allocated allowances will be capped at 97% of historical aviation emissions taken as an average of the base years 2004, 2005 and 2006. In the period 2013 through 2020, the cap declines to 95% of the historical aviation activity emissions.

Starting this year, regulated aircraft operators flying within or to Europe are required to monitor their carbon dioxide emissions. Monitoring data provided to the member state of the EU with regulatory authority over each aircraft operator will be used in 2011 to make applications for allowances under the EU ETS. Certain small aircraft, some commercial operators with a low volume of flights, and a number of defined categories of aircraft operators are exempted under the regulation.

Aircraft operators included in the regulation will be able to offset up to 15% of their emissions by submitting Certified Emission Reduction credits verified under the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Emission Reduction Units from the Joint Implementation program of the UNFCCC also can be used to supplement allocated allowances.

However, the long-term growth trends in commercial aviation could result in limits on air travel to and within Europe if additional means for reducing aviation carbon dioxide emissions are not found. Already the industry is improving aircraft fuel efficiency in order to limit the impact of annual air traffic growth that is projected by the Air Transport Action Group to rise at 5% per year through 2050. And within Europe, greater use of high speed rail could shift some passenger traffic from airplanes to more fuel-efficient trains and therefore ease constraints imposed by the cap.

Improved efficiency is not the only answer the aviation industry has in mind. It is also pursuing “carbon neutral growth” by embracing biofuels called “synthetic paraffinic kerosene” (SPK). Bio-SPK can be made by refining oils derived from plants like Jatropha and Camelina, and from algae. Test flights by Air New Zealand, Japan Airlines and Continental Airlines have already demonstrated the performance of this new biofuel, and ASTM International and the UK Defence Standards Agency are working on fuel certification standards. Certification of a 50% blend of Bio-SPK with petroleum-based Jet A-1 fuel could be ready by the end of 2010.

Already the performance characteristics of Bio-SPK look promising. In early tests, Bio-SPK outperformed petroleum-based Jet A-1 on two key parameters, freezing point and energy density. The first is a key safety metric for the fuel, the second means that less fuel by volume is needed to deliver an equal payload over the same distance. With these kinds of results, the aviation industry has high hopes that Bio-SPK will help reduce carbon emissions while increasing the diversity of fuel supplies.

In embracing Bio-SPK, the aviation industry has also recognized the importance of demonstrating that the biofuels of the future are sustainably developed and deployed. To this end it participated in a multistakeholder consultation process, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB), hosted by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland). RSB published “Indicators of Compliance for the RSB Principles & Criteria” in December 2009. This document provides a variety of environmental, social and economic indicators applicable to the entire biofuel supply chain, from feedstock producers and processors to biofuel producers and blenders.

By embracing a rigorous standard for biofuel sustainability, the aviation industry is seeking to avoid the negative unintended consequences associated with corn-based ethanol. That product has been criticized for not reducing total life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions, soaking up scarce water supplies and diverting agricultural lands from food to fuel production, thus contributing to rises in food prices. Instead, the aviation industry intends to make meeting sustainability criteria a requirement for the new biofuel industry that is just beginning to take off.

© 2010 Futurepast: Inc.