Why 2023 Is (Finally) The Year of the Sustainability Pivot

15 05 2023

Image: Sustainable Brands

Four key trends are converging this year to create a permanent shift toward sustainability across industries — with implications for tech innovation, the planet and companies that have yet to start their sustainability transformation. By Jeff Herbert from Sustainablebrands.com • Reposted: May 15, 2023

Despite economic uncertainty, tech industry woes and a tightening VC market, money and talent are flowing into climate technology development at an unprecedented pace. This is accelerating progress and offering hope for meeting global decarbonization targets to mitigate temperature rise. We’re also seeing renewable energy solidifying its status as the “world’s cheapest source of energy.”‌

Why is all of this happening now, after many years of underinvestment in and debate about climate mitigation? Four key trends are converging this year to create a permanent shift toward sustainability across industries — with implications for tech innovation, the planet and companies that have yet to start their sustainability transformation.

4 trends driving the sustainability pivot

Workers seeking work with purpose

The first trend is a desire to make a positive impact and find meaningful work. The pandemic gave many of us more time to consider what we’re doing with our lives and with our technology. During the Great Reshuffling, as many as 90 percent of people in the labor market “changed roles in some way” in response to the pandemic. Gallup data confirms that workplace engagement plummeted and stress surged during 2021 — with most workers saying “they don’t find their work meaningful, don’t think their lives are going well or don’t feel hopeful about their future.”

Now, as the pandemic shifts from an acute crisis to a chronic issue, people are seeking work they feel has demonstrable value in the world.

Broader acceptance and understanding of climate change

Another trend is widespread awareness of climate impacts. With more time during the pandemic to ponder our life paths, a lot of us also had the opportunity to pay closer attention to the effects of the ongoing climate crisis — many of which we’re experiencing firsthand. For example, the wildfire proliferation in the western USdecimated many lives and properties; it also made the COVID situation worse for people living in areas polluted with smoke. Elsewhere, hurricanes are becoming more powerful and causing more damagethrough storm surges and flooding when they reach land.

What used to feel like an academic debate in the public sphere about climate change is now a conversation about what we’re going through today — and what we can urgently do to stop or slow the processes that are driving climate change. Consumers are reacting with more conscious purchasing behaviors, a willingness to pay a premium for more sustainable products, and votes for political candidates who promise to pursue climate solutions. Companies are responding, with increasingly bold climate commitments (including those from Microsoft and Google) and more Chief Sustainability Officers being hired in 2021than the prior five years combined.

The Inflation Reduction Act

The desire for meaningful work and the growing concern over climate change are intersecting with a third trend: A massive investment by the US in climate technologies through the Inflation Reduction Act. The tens of billions in federal loans offered through various IRA programs are projected to result in hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of investment by the private sector.

In particular, the IRA has accelerated the rate of investment in and development of carbon-capture and -removal technologies. For example, tech giants Google, FacebookStripe andShopify recently partnered to form Frontier — a $925M fund for carbon removal.

Tech layoffs

The fourth trend fueling this year’s sustainability pivot is the reversal of the big tech hiring boom. Instead of drawing in most of the talent, now the traditional tech sector is undergoing rounds of layoffs and hiring freezes. Over 130,000 workers in US-based tech companies have been laid off in mass job cuts so far in 2023 — giving emerging climate tech innovators access to the kinds of engineering and project management talent that were “once thought un-poachable” from tech giants such as Twitter and Meta.

An urgent need for more climate tech deployment

This pivot is resulting in new and expanded use cases for a variety of climate-mitigation technologies. For example, carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) tech prevents carbon from escaping industrial processes into the atmosphere, transforms it, and sequesters or eliminates it. CCUS has applications across energy-intensive domains including utilities, manufacturing, food production and food-waste management. Additionally, an increasing number of companies are pursuing direct air capture (DAC) and the associated carbon-credit market through a wide range of processes — from scaling natural carbon sinks such as kelp to chemical processes to scrubbing carbon straight from the air. Other technologies can help companies improve their operational efficiency and reduce their energy usage to reduce their carbon footprint; still others are behind new forms of renewable energy production and storage, as well as the growing electrification of vehicles ranging from bikes to 18-wheelers.

Climate tech innovations are happening at legacy companies such as fossil fuel producers, as well as at small startups. That’s crucial, because the International Energy Agency estimates that in order to reach net-zero carbon emissions globally by 2050, we need to be capturing 1,286 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. Currently, we’re capturing about 45 metric tonnes per year.

Beyond carbon-capture initiatives for industry, the sustainability pivot also hinges on another goal: reducing the carbon footprint of basically every product and process. There are opportunities for companies to reduce the impact of existing products by creating circular pathways such as resalerefurbishment and recycling. Products in development must also be made as sustainable as possible, considering everything from their raw materials and manufacturing to transport, use and end of life. These improvements not only address consumer preferences for sustainable products, they create other kinds of business value. For example, Forrester lists enhanced innovation, employee retention, regulatory compliance and revenue growth among the benefits of optimizing for sustainability.

Pivoting toward a sustainable future

As exciting as these developments in the climate tech space are, the pivotal changes we’re seeing this year are just the beginning of a longer-term sustainability transformation. By 2045, annual investment into CCUS technology is projected to exceed $150 billion — and that’s just one domain within the array of climate technologies now on the market and in development. For employees, investors, business and governments, this shift to a focus on sustainability offers meaning, purpose, the potential for value creation and a healthier planet; this year’s trends are bringing together the awareness, talent and capital to make it happen. As a result, there’s never been a better time for organizations to lean into their sustainability goals and accelerate their progress toward them.

To see the original post, follow this link: https://sustainablebrands.com/read/defining-the-next-economy/2023-finally-year-sustainability-pivot


6 things to know about heat pumps, a climate solution in a box

3 04 2023

James Tucker got an efficient heat pump for his home near Oakland, Calif., last year. Now homeowners can get new credits for heat pumps from federal climate legislation. Photo: Julia Simon/NPR

By Julia Simon from National Public Radio •  Reposted: April 3, 2023

Sales of super-efficient electric heat pumps are rising, now overtaking sales of gas furnaces in the U.S. But what are heat pumps? And why do some call them a key climate solution? Here are the answers to your most burning heat pump questions.

What is a heat pump and how does it work?

The name “heat pump” is a bit of a misnomer, says Kevin Kircher, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University who works with the Center for High Performance Buildings.

“A lot of people dislike the name ‘heat pump’, right? ‘Cause it doesn’t really convey, you know, the full range of what the machine can do,” he says. 

Heat pumps can work for both heating and cooling. Kircher says you can think of a heat pump as an air conditioner that can also work backwards. The highly efficient machines use electricity and refrigerants to cool air on hot days.

In the winter, even if the outdoor air is cold, it’s still normally warmer than the refrigerant inside the heat pump, Kircher says. So the refrigerant can absorb bits of heat from the outdoor air and bring it inside to warm your home.

What are the climate benefits of heat pumps?

The fact that heat pumps use electricity is a big reason why governments around the world see them as a key climate solution, says Yannick Monschauer, energy analyst at the International Energy Agency in Paris. That’s because heat pumps can replace gas furnaces, and the electricity they run on is increasingly powered by renewables, Monschauer says. Reducing gas usage in homes also reduces leaks of methane, a potent planet-heating gas.

Fossil fuel-based heating still accounted for 45% of global heating equipment sales in 2021. But if governments like the US and the European Union meet the targets laid out in climate legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act and REPowerEU, heat pumps could significantly slash planet-heating fossil fuel use in buildings, Monschauer says.

“We see that heat pumps could bring down global CO2 emissions by half a gigaton by the end of this decade,” he says. “So that is comparable to the annual emissions of Canada.”

James Tucker with his heat pump that replaced his old gas furnace.
James Tucker with his heat pump that replaced his old gas furnace. Photo: Julia Simon/NPR

Will the government help me pay for it?

Last year’s federal climate legislation offers new economic incentives for homeowners to install heat pumps, says Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a research organization working on saving energy. An IRS spokesperson tells NPR that the new credits can translate to up to $2000 for efficient heat pumps bought after January 1, 2023. If you buy a new heat pump, Nadel says to keep your receipts for reference for next year’s tax season. If you bought a heat pump in 2022 you can get credit for this upcoming tax season, but the previous incentive was smaller, up to $500, the IRS says. 

Some states and some utilities also give rebates for efficient heat pumps. Nadel says you should check with your utility to see if there are programs available in your area. 

As for renters, it’s also possible to get credits for appliances like efficient heat pumps according to the IRS. 

Do heat pumps actually work in cold temperatures?

Earlier generations of heat pumps didn’t work as efficiently in freezing temperatures, but Monschauer says there’s been great improvements in technology.

“In the coldest parts of Europe we also have the highest shares of heat pumps. So in Norway, for example, 60 percent of the households are equipped with heat pumps. And in Sweden and Finland it is also 40 percent. So it’s definitely proven that it’s possible.”

The heat pump systems commonly found in Scandinavian homes do not need to run on backup fossil fuels, Monschauer says. 

Not all heat pumps sold in the U.S. work well in the coldest weather. It’s important that you consult with an installer who is familiar with heat pumps, and make sure to find a machine that’s most efficient for your weather, Nadel says. 

“In a cold climate that gets below 20 degrees Fahrenheit fairly often, you should look into getting into an Energy Star cold climate certified heat pump,” Nadel says, referring to a U.S. government program that makes markers for efficiency.

Heat pumps can work for both heating and cooling. You can think of a heat pump as an air conditioner that can also work backwards.
Heat pumps can work for both heating and cooling. You can think of a heat pump as an air conditioner that can also work backwards. Photo: Julia Simon/NPR

Can heat pumps save money?

Because heat pumps move heat around instead of burning fossil fuels for heat, they are more efficient than gas furnaces. And while heat pumps are typically more expensive on the front end, the savings come over time when you end up spending less on gas, says Brian Rees, a heat pump installer at Bryant Air Conditioning & Heating Company in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Rees says the cost savings are what attract his customers to heat pumps, “It’s more about hitting their pocketbook,” he says. “It’s more about what’s going to save them money in the long run, and heat pumps will do that.”

Kircher says you can also save money if you can buy a heat pump for both your heating and cooling needs. “It’s typically cheaper than buying a gas furnace plus an air conditioner,” he says. 

Are there downsides to heat pumps?

Like refrigerators or air conditioners, heat pumps use refrigerants. The primary refrigerants commonly used in heat pumps are called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, says Duncan Callaway, associate professor of Energy and Resources at UC Berkeley. These HFCs have high global warming potential if they’re released into the atmosphere, Callaway says.

That’s why it’s critical that heat pump installers make sure that those refrigerants don’t leak and are disposed of properly, he says. 

“We need well-trained technicians that sort of understand the importance of collecting that refrigerant and not letting it emit into the atmosphere,” Callaway says.

Kircher also notes that researchers are currently working on developing refrigerant substitutes for HFCs that can drastically reduce climate impacts.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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