Episode #53 - Ridding the world of dirty kerosene, one slum at a time

Show notes

Globally, there are more than 1.3 billion people that do not have access to electricity – 300 million of those people are in India, a country so often talked about as being in the midst of rapid economic development. Yet, 25% of people there still cannot get on to the electricity grid.

As a result, kerosene fuel still dominates, particularly across slum communities. A breakthrough discovery when it was invented by Canadian physician and geologist, Abraham Pineo Gesner, Kerosene was cheaper and cleaner burning than its existing counterparts and far easier to source. That was in 1846, almost 170 years ago.

Today kerosene has been rightly displaced by modern energy services, which provide far superior heating and lighting. However, hundreds of millions of people across India still rely on kerosene as their primary source of light.

Burning kerosene for light, particularly in the poorly ventilated confines of a tent home, contributes to indoor air pollution. This pollution causes respiratory illness, which is the second largest cause of premature death in women and young children in Indian slums.

When kerosene is burnt, it releases particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and various nitrogen oxides – seriously bad news for our health and wellbeing.

It is not just the fuel source, but also the quality of light which is important to a person’s well-being. Quality of light greatly effects the type of activities that can be performed with the available light.

A typical kerosene lamp delivers between 1 and 6 lux of light (lux is measured as 1 lumen per meter square). In contrast, typical western standards suggest a minimum of 300 lux for tasks such as reading.

To make matters worse, the flickering quality of a kerosene lamp affects the ability to read by such light, and over time, blacking of the outside of the lamp’s plastic container further reduces the effective light output.

With hundreds of millions of people across the globe relying on kerosene as a fuel source, many millions of tonnes of carbon are emitted into the atmosphere every year. As with any combustable fuel, the efficiency with which they are burnt largely dictates their emissions intensity. The typical kerosene lamp found in a community is inefficient, which means that for every litre of kerosene burnt, around 2.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide is produced.

Kerosene is also somewhat unique in that a relatively large percentage of emissions, around 7 to 9%, is in the form of black carbon. Green house gases (GHGs) are often described in terms of their forcing effect, which relates to their ability to trap heat when suspended in our atmosphere. The higher the forcing, the more potent the GHG. Black carbon has a significantly higher forcing than regular carbon, and it is estimated that 1kg of black carbon in the atmosphere for a month contributes as much warming as 700kg of CO2 in the atmosphere for 100 years.

So, what can be done to turn the tide on the use of kerosene and dirty cookstoves in slums across the world. Our guest this week believes she has at least part of the answer.

Pollinate Energy’s mission is simple – to improve the lives of India’s urban poor by giving them access to life-changing affordable products. With a focus on sustainable solutions, such as solar lights, water filters and improved cookstoves, people are able to reduce indoor smoke, have better quality light, use less fuel and save money.

Of course, it is no walk in the park, as co-founder and CEO of the organisation Alexie Seller tells me.

Episode #51 - This technology business is revolutionising the way we think about waste carbon

Show notes

Jennifer Holmgren, the CEO of pioneering green fuels business LanzaTech has been hunkering down at the beautiful Cedar Lakes Estate, some 70 miles outside of new york city. For two weeks of limited access to the outside world, she, along with 11 other business leaders have been put through some serious mentoring and business strategising as part of the Unreasonable Impact programme in the US – an initiative orchestrated by Barclays and the Unreasonable Group.

And it was for good reason. 

LanzaTech was selected as one of just 12 businesses from, let’s face it, a gargantuan list of innovative companies out there, because it is on the cusp of greatness, demonstrating through its unique business model that it can scale up marvellously, creating some 500 new jobs in the emerging green economy within the next five years.

Founded in 2005, LanzaTech has found a way to commercialize carbon capture and reuse technology.

Sean Simpson, chief scientific officer and co-founder, LanzaTech

It converts carbon-rich waste gases (which contain carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen) and turns them into high-quality biofuels and chemicals. So, taking the waste carbon in gases and residues coming out of steel manufacturing plants, for example, and sequestering them into a new product – fuels that can power our cars, our planes – and the future. “Everybody knows about the fermentation process used in beer-making, where microbes turn sugar into alcohol,” says co-founder of the business and chief scientific officer, Sean Simpson (pictured). “Well, in our process, the microbes turn gases into alcohol.”

In this week’s Better Business Show, Simpson explains how the business plans to shake up the renewable energy sector with its fuels which reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by more than 70% compared to conventional gasoline – and by using waste as a feedstock, LanzaTech is operating wholly outside the food value chain, with no impact on land or water.

Enjoy. And, as ever, let us know what you think.

How the LanzaTech gas fermentation process works

How the LanzaTech gas fermentation process works

Friday Five #1 - 30 September 2016

Tom and Viks here. Welcome to the very first Better Business Show Friday Five, our brand new show coming to you at the end of every week.

This is your dedicated 10-minute news round-up, digesting the very best stories from across the world of sustainable business in the last 7 days.

This time, we're talking:

- Palm oil giant IOI and a tough new campaign from Greenpeace
- Brooklyn's new rooftop winery, Rooftop Reds
- BMW's new energy storage facility built from used EV batteries
- How the most sustainable dress in fashion was created
- And why Patagonia is getting involved in the US election


Don't miss our two Better Business Show episodes a week by signing up to our weekly newsletter.


Episode #36 - Why I left my €100k CEO job aged 26 to launch a start-up to save the planet

Show notes

What makes somebody give up their 100k euro salary and CEO position to launch a start up at the age of 26?

Well, that’s what our guest this week has done. His company is HomeTree, a UK based tech start-up focused on alleviating the hassle too often associated with purchasing boilers and other energy saving home improvement categories once and for all. 

The ambition: to be the go-to place for homeowners looking to install and finance a range of products which drastically reduce their reliance on the grid and to live more comfortably, cheaper and in a more sustainable way.

At just 20, Simon was given an incredible opportunity when he was selected by the New Entrepreneurs Foundation as one of the top young potential entrepreneurs in the UK in its inaugural program. The programme placed him with Jon Moulton, the famous private equity investor, on a one-year contract, which ultimately turned into a permanent role. 

By the age of 23, Simon had been sent to his home town of Dublin, Ireland to set up a €100m joint venture fund with the Irish Government. 

By 25 he had made Simon CEO of one of his major investments.

However, inspired by the likes of Elon Musk, Simon felt increasingly compelled to work on what he believes is “my generation's greatest problem”: climate change. Aware of Musk's mission to accelerate the advent of sustainable transportation with Tesla, Simon wanted to do something similar. But as an environmental engineer by training, he was keen to concern himself with the fact that the largest greenhouse gas contributor by far – electricity generation in residential buildings – was not seeing the same type of innovation. 

HomeTree is his response.

Enjoy the show.

Simon Phelan and Andreu Tobella (chief product officer), Hometree's co-founders

Simon Phelan and Andreu Tobella (chief product officer), Hometree's co-founders


This week's news round-up with Vikki Knowles (aka Susty Girl) features:

1. Nike's distribution centre that uses sheep instead of lawnmowers for maintenance
2. Vogue's take on sustainable wool
3. The Union of Concerned Scientists new scorecard on the 13 biggest good companies – most of which aren't doing enough to safeguard tropical forests
4. Management Today's exploration of the impact of executive pay on corporate reputation.


Episode #32 - Adaptavate: Creating healthy buildings with a new set of lungs

Show notes

Now, the construction sector has it's problems, certainly when it comes to the negative impact it can have on our dear planet.

In the UK, the energy from fossil fuels used to build and run buildings accounts for about half of our carbon dioxide emissions. Half of that pollution comes from domestic properties and half from commercial buildings, like offices, schools, leisure centres and hotels.

And there is a direct correlation between non-green buildings and climate change. Unsurprisingly, 98 per cent of the world’s megacities – many of which are jam-packed with inefficient properties – are already experiencing climate risks, such as flooding and dramatic weather events. If developers continue to create buildings in the way that they have done for decades, the planet is heading for a 6°C of global warming. That is certainly the view of the World Green Building Council, which has been looking into these things.

And to stick to within a 2°C rise in average global temperatures – a target most scientists believe is our best chance of avoiding catastrophe – the buildings sector will have to reduce 84 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050 – the equivalent of eliminating 22,000 coal-fired power plants.

It is only when you start looking at the individual facets that make up our built environment that you begin to realise just how big a task lies ahead.

Our subject this week is plasterboard. Of course, it is only a small part of the larger constituent, but improving the performance of this ubiquitous material that can be found in properties everywhere could make a big difference. That’s certainly the view of our guest this week. Tom Robinson is the founder of Adaptavate, a company that has created a bio-composite alternative to traditional plaster and plasterboard, giving buildings everywhere a new set of lungs, as he puts it.

Enjoy the show.

You can find out more about Tom and the Adaptavate team on their website.

Tom Robinson, founder of Adaptavate

Tom Robinson, founder of Adaptavate

Tom has won many awards and plaudits for his Breathaboard product

Tom has won many awards and plaudits for his Breathaboard product

The Breathaboard up close

The Breathaboard up close


This week's news round up with Vikki Knowles featured:

- Management Today's piece on whether it is right governments are naming and shaming non-compliance
- The edie.net Premier League sustainability quiz
- Rio's environmental Olympic legacy
- Waitrose's new pasta packaging


Episode #30 - We bought an off-the-shelf ethical supply chain

Show notes

I was delighted to have Rob Drake-Knight on the show this week.

He is one of the two brother co-founders (along with Martin, pictured together on the right) of Rapanui, an ethical clothing business taking supply chain traceability to another level. You can read more about the story here.

With a few hundred quid in their pocket, a garden shed as premises and a box of t-shirts, Rob and Martin set about creating a new brand whose power could influence customers to think more carefully about where the clothes they wear come from.

Eight years later and that is exactly what Rapanui is doing – and much much more.

As well as exploring the intricacies of running the business from the Isle of Wight, we also talk extensively about Teemill, a new feature of the business which allows anybody, anywhere to tap into the Rapanui factory, supply chain and back-end operations and start their own t-shirt business – with matching ethical, organic and fully traceable product credentials.

And as I rather excitedly explain at the end of this week's show, we decided to play around with Teemill ourselves and ended up setting up our very own t-shirt business. You can visit it here.

This is what the home page looks like....

 

This blog explains a bit more about the premise of the store and the range of products we have created. But essentially, if you’re a green geek and get excited about the words and wisdom of environmentalists, pioneers and innovators across the world of sustainable business, then you will hopefully love the t-shirts I have in the store.

Each is emblazoned with a great quote from the great and good of environmentalism – from the late great Ray Anderson and Jonathon Porritt, to Nick Stern and Peter Drucker.

Happy (ethical, conscious) shopping!


Episode #21 - The world's first zero carbon brewery

Show notes

This week, we are in the mountains of Austria with global beer maker Heineken, to meet the team behind the world's first zero carbon brewery.

Reducing the pollution associated with its more than 160 breweries worldwide is a key priority for the business. In fact, by 2020 carbon emissions coming from its beer production will be cut by 40% should it meet internal goals. Michael Dickstein, the company's global director for sustainable development, explains how the impressive project at the Goss brewery in Austria sets the bar for what is to come as the business continues to prove its worth as a responsible company, fit for the 21st century.

Enjoy the show.

And don't forget to sign up to our weekly newsletter and pick up this month's Better Business Show Cheat Sheet, presenting all of the great insight, advice and tips garnered from our show guests thus far. Just head to the home page at betterbusiness.show and give us your email.

Michael Dickstein, Heineken's global director for sustainable development

Michael Dickstein, Heineken's global director for sustainable development

The Gosser brewery in the heart of the Austrian town

The Gosser brewery in the heart of the Austrian town

Heineken's range of #BrewedByTheSun brands

Heineken's range of #BrewedByTheSun brands

Episode #13 - Tumalow, saving you energy like never before

Show notes

Talking about energy efficiency is the least sexy of all sustainable business subjects. And, frankly, its a hard sell.

But then you start talking numbers and suddenly operators of mid-size companies start to pay an interest. That's certainly the case for William Gathright, CEO of Tumalow (right) (I'll let him explain what the name of the company actually means) – a company that is trying to shake up the way it helps companies reduce electricity costs and earn extra revenue for commercial properties through an intelligent battery energy storage system (BESS) software.

With most energy firms billing companies on both their consumption and their load (demand), commercial properties pay hundreds of times more than needed for electricity. In fact, the demand charge can account for 70% of a properties’s electric bill. Gathright and his team want to change all that.

"Commercial solar PV systems alone cannot reliably reduce demand charges, because a property's peak power usage frequently occurs during times the sun isn’t shining," says the company's website. That's where Tumalow’s BESS software comes into play.

You can find out more about Tumalow on the website, or follow the company on Twitter.

This video offers a useful introduction to the business too:


Elsewhere on this week's show, we chat with Jake Backus, the former customer sustainability director at Coca-Cola in Europe – a man who knows a thing or two about how you should talk to Joe Public about sustainability issues. You can find out more about Jake here.