[1THING] Blog

[ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Martin Heinrich Receive National Conservation Awards ]

Michael Reinemer

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was presented with the Hubert H. Humphrey Wilderness Leadership Award for his service to wilderness conservation during his years in the House and the Senate.

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[ Senators Reid and Heinrich honored for leadership on wilderness ]

As Wilderness Week drew to a close, Sens.

[ Fascination With Chernobyl Inspires Surreptitious Visits ]

After the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, more than a thousand square miles were abandoned, inspiring the curious and adventurous to sneak into the exclusion zone.

[ New app will educate, promote citizen science at Cuyahoga National Park ]

A free mobile app is being developed for visitors to Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

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[ Wilderness Week success: House passes Nevada lands bill ]

This is encouraging news, especially given that the bill, the Northern Nevada Land Conservation and Economic Development Act (H.R. 5205), advanced in the midst of Wilderness Week, a national event sponsored by The Wilderness Society and partner groups to bring Americans to D.C.

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[ New Standard Aims to Certify “Responsible” Oil Sites ]

In the Orinoquia region of Colombia, two oil fields run by Toronto-based Pacific Rubiales Energy last week became the first to be certified as “socially and environmentally responsible,” according to a new standard. The two sites produce approximately 250,000 barrels per day, or 25 percent of Colombia’s total output.

That oil is being produced amid a complex web of natural resources, ecosystems, and indigenous communities in this region of the Amazon. That’s why the company Equitable Origin set out to create a standard that would define and reward best practices in oil and gas production, much in the way that the LEED standard has pushed efficiency and conservation measures in public buildings.

According to the “EO100 Standard” certification system, an oil company must meet criteria in  six areas including “Corporate Governance, Accountability, & Ethics” and “Climate Change, Biodiversity & Environment.” Equitable Origin certifies oil production sites that adhere to or exceed standards in each category. Every three years, third-party auditors set annual goals for site improvement.

But given its impact on both local environments and on the global effort to address climate change, can oil production ever really be “responsible”? National Geographic spoke with David Poritz, co-founder of Equitable Origin.

How did Equitable Origin come about?

From 2009 to 2012, we developed the EO100 Standard by bringing together oil and gas operators, academics, NGOs, and indigenous communities to develop a set of standards for best practice in oil production for the first time. This resulted in a comprehensive standard that embodied the views and needs of local communities as well as industry, which is important because the goal is to push environmental and social practices where stakeholders want them to go, but it also has to be economically viable.

How did you get Pacific Rubiales to agree to certification?

In 2012, after we finished developing the EO100 standard, we sought companies to implement it in the Andes-Amazon region because there’s an overlap in this area between indigenous people, sensitive ecosystems, and significant underlying natural resources. One of the groups was Pacific Rubiales Energy, who in the context of Colombia is a very large producer that was seeking to innovate and improve their environmental and social practices. The EO100 Standard creates a benchmark to measure progress on a site-by-site basis, so Pacific Rubiales started with their two biggest oil fields, and our vision is that they will take the changes made and scale it up their operation to other sites.

David Poritz, founder of Equitable Origin, says he sees his approach to oil as part of a transition to renewable energy. (Photograph courtesy David Poritz)

David Poritz, co-founder of Equitable Origin, says he sees his approach to oil as part of a transition to renewable energy. (Photograph courtesy David Poritz)

Pacific Rubiales received EO’s Bronze Leadership certification. What does this mean?

Like a LEED certification for buildings, there are different “levels” companies can achieve based on their performance. In order to communicate a company’s score to the larger public, we developed three performance targets. Pacific Rubiales met 100 percent of the Performance Target 1′s, and in certain areas they exceeded to Performance Target 2. Our system is designed to create a continuum of improvement with every audit, so companies are committing to not only meet certification but to continually improve their practice throughout the life cycle of their projects.

What kinds of things does a company have to do to get certified?

There are six key areas of focus in the EO100 standard. It’s approximately 50 percent environmental and 50 percent social issues, ranging from transparency and ethics to working conditions and local community-level social impacts of the project. For example, ‘Did workers understand the risks of their job?’ Or, ‘Did indigenous communities have the right to say ‘no’?’ We also have a principle on Project Lifecycle Management, where we look at the way all of these components are integrated, because we really want to emphasize indigenous rights. We believe that when an oil project ends, the community should be somehow better off than it was before.

As part of the system, you are also issuing tradeable certificates. Why is this important?

We want to support companies that are doing the right thing by connecting them to end users of oil and gas products. In order to facilitate that exchange, we created a certificate system: Every time a barrel of oil is produced at a location that meets the EO100 Standard, that producer is given a certificate. A consumer or a company can then buy these certificates, and the money goes back to the certified producer to be reinvested in local communities and innovation. As companies are increasingly concerned about the impact of their supply chains, this is an opportunity for big consumers of oil, like manufacturers, to directly engage in the improvement of the conditions under which the fuel they use is produced.

An aerial view of the Quifa-Rubiales site in Colombia (Photograph courtesy David Poritz)

An aerial view of the Quifa-Rubiales site in Colombia (Photograph courtesy David Poritz)

How often do you check in on each project?

The certification cycle is every three years. However, an auditor comes every year because there are certain areas where improvement always has to take place. Auditors review policies, speak with contract workers, and also spend significant time in the field interviewing representatives from the surrounding community, so they aren’t  just going out there and taking a water sample for the lab.

What happens if a certified company fails to meet the standards?

When an auditor finds a point of noncompliance, the company has a short period of time to fill that gap or show how they are taking steps to get up to standard. If they fail, their certification can be taken away, and that’s something we disclose publicly because it’s important to the credibility of our system. Reputation-wise, that’s a problem for a company that’s invested multiple years and a significant amount of resources towards obtaining certification.

Do you think that certification sends the wrong signal by suggesting to the public that oil production can be “green”?

Climate change has to be dealt with immediately, which means taking a nuanced, pragmatic approach to fixing the process of our transition to renewable fuel sources. Our main energy source is still primarily hydrocarbons. No one in our company will argue that oil is a sustainable product– but we can make oil more sustainable than it currently is. This issue is not going away; oil is all around us. It’s in the fuel we use to get to work; its in the fuel we use to go on vacation; its in the pharmaceuticals we use to save lives. Site management is also a universal issue: what we see in Ecuador and Colombia we also see in Mexico, North Dakota, Nigeria, and Colorado. There are challenges in oil production that need to be addressed, and this is just one tool.  I hope that the EO Standard can be a piece of the larger solution in the fight to mitigate climate change.

A copy of Equitable Origin’s certified site profile for Pacific Rubiales Energy is available for viewing here.

[ Wilderness Week brings opportunity to salute 50th, lobby Congress to uphold conservation legacy ]

Wilderness Week serves as an opportunity to salute the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in the most appropriate way: by asking Congress to w

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[ Outdoors Alliance for Kids to Congress: help get kids outdoors! ]

While spending time outdoors is important to the health of both adults and children, technology is leading us to spend more time indoors.

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[ Photos: happy 50th to gorgeous Canyonlands National Park ]

President Lyndon B.

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[ New Fridge Standards Take Effect Monday: How Refrigerators Have Kept Cool Over 40 Years of Improvements ]

One of the great inventions of our time – the modern refrigerator – will get an efficiency makeover when new national efficiency standards go into effect on September 15, reducing energy use of most refrigerators and freezers by about 20 to 25 percent.

The new standards take effect 100 years after the first modern refrigerators were mass-produced for general use. Before that time, consumers used iceboxes (literally boxes with ice) to keep their food cold, but food safety was an issue. When the ‘electric refrigerator’ was finally introduced it was more than just a convenience, it was an invention that saved people’s lives. (See this 1926 advertisement from the Electric League of Pittsburgh).

Refrigerators have evolved considerably since the 1900s both in appearance and function. The early units placed the cooling device on top of a small boxy unit, while today’s sleeker multi-door units place the cooling units unseen on the bottom.

The new efficiency measures are the latest in a series of standards over 40 years that have helped to significantly bring down the cost of running a typical refrigerator. A fridge that just meets the new standards will use $215 to $270 less per year in electricity than a comparable unit that met the first state standards set in 1978.

The refrigerator story is filled with intriguing plot lines – from the initial energy crisis in the ‘70s, to negotiations between disparate groups of stakeholders, to national legislation signed by President Reagan in 1987. It’s a good story packed with positive outcomes. The graph below gives a birds-eye view of some of the changes over the last 40 years. While energy use decreased more than three-fourths, refrigerator volume increased, and price (in $2010) decreased by two-thirds.

Graph courtesy ASAP/NRDC

Energy crisis sparked change: The energy crisis in the 1970s marked the beginning of the end for energy-wasting refrigerators. Between 1947 and 1974, average energy use of refrigerators had shot up from less than 400 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year to more than 1800 kWh per year, earning it the title of the “most energy-thirsty appliance in the family home.” When the energy crisis struck, California responded by passing forward-looking legislation. In 1978, the newly formed California Energy Commission (CEC) set the first-ever efficiency standards for refrigerators, requiring all units sold in the state to meet minimum efficiency levels. The CEC updated the refrigerator standards two times in the ‘80s. These standards, along with technological advances (blown-in foam insulation for one), reduced refrigerator energy use from its 1970s peak.

Early standards led to collaboration among stakeholders: Eyeing California’s success, other states, including Massachusetts and New York, adopted state standards. Manufacturers, wary of a patchwork of state standards, worked with efficiency advocates and consumer groups to come up with consensus standards that were eventually included in national legislation, adopted by Congress, and signed by President Reagan in 1987. Since that time, DOE has updated the national refrigerator standards three times. The collaboration between stakeholders continues—the standards taking effect this month are based on a joint recommendation that manufacturers and efficiency advocates submitted to DOE in 2010.

Standards spurred innovation: As several rounds of state standards and three rounds of national standards were adopted over the 40-year period, manufacturers met the efficiency levels with innovations and technological advances. To meet the newest efficiency levels, manufacturers will likely use additional insulation improvements, higher efficiency compressors, improved heat exchange in the evaporator and condenser, and more efficient fan motors.

As quality, efficiency, and number of features went up, the price went down: Along with the efficiency upgrades, manufacturers have maintained or improved performance and added many new features. An April 2014 Consumer Reports article called “ The Refrigerator Features You Can’t Live Without ” says, “We’re seeing more refrigerators that are excellent at maintaining consistent temperatures and saving energy.” The article also notes that the “future is in features” with such items as door-in-door compartments, pull-out drawers for deli meats and cheese, high-capacity ice makers, and even sparkling water dispensers. A 2012 ACEEE/ASAP report, Better Appliances: An Analysis of Performance, Features, and Price as Efficiency Has Improved, found that as standards were implemented, temperature performance improved, new features were added, annual energy use declined by 50%, and refrigerator price decreased by 35% between 1987 and 2010.

Consumers wanting to save even more than what is achieved by the new standards can select refrigerators bearing the ENERGY STAR® label to save another 10% or more. Buyers can consult the yellow Energy Guide labels affixed to products for an estimate of average product energy use.

The efficiency story does not end here. Energy savings from more efficient refrigerators will continue to grow as consumers replace their old inefficient products. DOE estimates that the new efficiency standards will save nearly 5 quads of energy over 30 years, or enough to meet the total energy needs of one-fourth of all the homes in the United States for a year. DOE also estimates CO2 emissions will be cut by 344 million metric tons over 30 years, an amount equal to the annual emissions of about 70 million cars. Over the same 30-year period, and taking into account up-front costs, consumers will save up to $36 billion.

The electric refrigerator has come a long way from its high-priced, energy wasting ancestors, thanks to cooperation between manufacturers, advocates, and government. Now that’s a story worth telling!

–Marianne DiMascio

This post originally appeared on the ACEEE website and was republished with permission.