Energy Policy Now: The Future of the EPA and Clean Power

Featuring Gina McCarthy, former EPA Administrator

October 7th, 2017

This week the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy honored former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy with its annual Carnot Prize in celebration of her contributions to environmental policy and to securing a sustainable energy future during her tenure with the EPA.  While visiting the Center McCarthy sat down with the Energy Policy Now podcast to discuss the direction of the EPA under current Administrator Scott Pruitt, likely legal challenges to Pruitt’s effort to roll back the Clean Power Plan, and the larger issue of climate denial in Washington.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts, industry and policy leaders on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society. 

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Economic and Health Benefits of Sustainable Innovation in Health Care

By Philip Susser and Govind Mattay; Posted October 2nd, 2017

With the devastating impact of climate change beginning to hold a more tangible space in the global consciousness, there is an ever-pressing need for the healthcare sector to innovate and adapt to a new era of environmental accountability. While accounting for 17% of the GDP, the US health care system is also responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, 12% of acid rain formation, 9% of criteria air pollutants. The population health impact of these perverse environmental contributions are staggering. A 2016 study found that 470,000 disability adjusted years of life (DALY’s) were lost associated with health care related pollution. To put that in context, preventable medical errors resulted in a similar number of DALY’s lost – a source of mortality that has historically received much negative press, and was consequently addressed in the Affordable Care Act.

The major challenge that stems from this particular source of morbidity and mortality is that the health care system is inherently complicated, with a supply chain that includes many different products coming from a wide variety of producers. Other industries have had an easier time adjusting due to the greater simplicity of their production processes. These industries have successfully addressed issues of supply chain management by creating certain “indexes” to track the impact of their products on the environment. The Higgs index, developed in 2012, is used by fashion and footwear companies to track a product’s environmental impact. Mindclick, a supply chain sustainability company, is working to develop a similar system for the healthcare system.

A culture shift in medicine requires hospital executives to recognize the immense health, environmental, and surprisingly, economic benefit of moving towards more sustainable health care delivery. Hospitals have begun to take steps to incorporate sustainability into their models by lowering anesthetic gas waste, minimizing food waste, single use reprocessing devices, and reducing operating room packaging. A 2012 commonwealth fund showed that up to $15 billion in savings could be achieved by taking measures such as these. It will be increasingly important to eliminate the commonly held misconception that these types of measures increase costs — and are only meant for brand image —, and solidify that they in fact dramatically reduce operating costs.

The reprocessing of single-use medical devices has proven to be very successful in both reducing environmental footprints and operating costs for hospitals. Single-use medical devices include surgical instruments such as scalpels, forceps, and scissors, as well as cardiac catheters, pulse oximeters, and tourniquet cuffs. The disposal of these devices is highly regulated and incurs costs that are up to 10 times greater than the disposal of regular waste. Instead of disposing single-use devices, many hospitals are deciding to send them to third-party vendors that reprocess the devices by sterilizing, testing, and repackaging them. The reprocessing process is also highly regulated by the FDA, which ensures the safety of using the reprocessed devices. Many devices can be reprocessed multiple times. Once reprocessed devices can no longer be used, most are recycled instead of being sent to a landfill. The beneficial effects of this practice are enormous. For a 200 bed hospital, reprocessing can eliminate up to 15,000 pounds of landfill waste and cut costs by a million dollars per year.

Hospitals have also begun to focus on reducing energy consumption, as current estimates indicate that hospitals use about 8% of the nation’s energy. Since lighting contributes to a significant portion of hospital’s energy costs, many are beginning to look toward alternative, efficient options such as LED lighting. Hospitals have also invested in annual infrared scanning inspections to identify faulty electrical circuits, which can unnecessarily consume energy. Up-front investments such as these can significantly reduce energy consumption to both reduce costs and improve sustainability for hospitals in the long-term.

The Healthcare Sustainability Club aims to educate future leaders in healthcare about the detrimental environmental effects of current practices and to introduce potential methods to improve the environmental impact of the healthcare industry. Our goal is to get students from a variety of backgrounds to begin to discuss the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable practices. We want future physicians and hospital executives to prioritize environmental sustainability and to innovate new ways to improve our environmental impact.

 

 

IS THIS THE FINAL GOODBYE TO MY CHILDHOOD?

By Saloni Wadhwa, September 25th, 2017

On a bright Sunday afternoon, a long time ago, a young girl, about 10 years old, jogged along a quiet street with a robust and large Labrador retriever leading her. Her father walked behind laughing merrily at the duo’s silly antics. “Scruffy!” she yelled in desperation, praying that her arm wouldn’t pop out of its socket with the leash strapped on to it. The large dog halted and started sniffing a patch of green grass, just as he always did. She quickly handed the leash to her father and slipped her hand into his warm, loving one. The little girl loved this routine; especially the cool shade that the trees on the street provided her. She loved the perfect arch that the trees made, creating a tunnel of lush green in a myriad of hues. The spectacle of the Gulmohar tree during summer engulfed by fiery red flowers which would later fall, creating a “red” carpet, of sorts was indeed a sight to behold!

That perfect story was my childhood. I grew up in a quiet, peaceful city called Mysore (Mysuru now). Mysore: with its awe-inspiring Chamundi Hills, its historic architecture in the form of the Mysore Palace, and its renowned zoo: the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, is a world-famous heritage city. The city has always had an old-world charm to it. It is a mix of the colonial world with the architecture of the Rajas of India. It is surrounded by National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries and is very close to the famous Western Ghats. Among all of the things that I admired about this city, the one thing that I prized was its weather. Of course, like any normal city, there was monsoon, summer, winter, autumn and spring. However, none of these seasons had extremes and thus we always enjoyed a pleasant climate all through the year.

Fast forward to today: I have read articles almost every summer of “The Highest Temperature” being recorded through the history of summers. I have seen the KRS Dam Reservoir: Mysore, the nearby Mandya and Bangalore’s major source of water, plunging into oblivion due to delayed monsoons. So much so, that the headlines in local newspapers were pictures of an omelet being made directly on the scalding tar roads of the city! Most importantly, I too have personally felt the changes: I have seen the extremes that I prided Mysore for never having. With all of these changes that are slowly and subtly occurring, I wonder if it is our fault. My beautiful tunnel of trees, one that I cherished as a child, and one that I knew had the supernatural ability to secure and protect me, the one that was the reason my parents bought our house, “Blossom” now just remains a pocket of trees outside my house. All of the other trees have vanished; brutally chopped because they were causing problems with overhead communication signals. The birds that flocked my street and filled the air with their musical sounds have been silenced. Scruffy does not pause to sniff anymore. The street increasingly looks barren, as do other parts of the city. Does development mean a goodbye to nature? Can development not occur sustainably, hand-in-hand with the environment? And most importantly, is this the end of my childhood?

Smart Air, Smart City

By Julie Spitkovsky, Netronix, Inc., September 24th, 2017

Smart Air, Smart Cities.png

Internet of Things (IoT) platform provider Netronix, Inc. and Airthinx Inc. a leader of indoor air quality monitoring, are working together to provide cities around the world with a low cost cloud based solution designed to monitor air quality across schools, universities, hospitals and work spaces. The advantages of cloud based solutions are mapping, tracking, identification of pollutants, measurement of pollutants, data analytics using historical trends, and data mining. Cities stand to benefit from ubiquitous long term monitoring and management of air quality, in real time with instantaneous data available for quick city wide propagation, like geo-mapping incident reports of high pollution areas.

Conventional Methods

Municipalities are hard pressed to find low cost solutions. Conventional methods for collecting indoor air quality data relied heavily on expensive stationary devices. In the United States, for example, the federal government has a network of sensors on towers monitoring particulate matter. The cost of each sensor is $100,000. While in Edinburgh, the city had a single station monitoring PM 2.5 as of 2013. Thus data is collected from only a few instruments but is representative of a broad geographic area.

Interim Solutions

Moving away from conventional methods, many cities are implementing short term initiatives as first steps towards smart city transformation. In 2014, Chicago deployed 50 nodes mounted on lampposts developed with Argonne National Library and the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology. Barcelona deployed a smart lighting system with embedded air quality sensors that relay information to city agencies and the public as part of their smart city initiative costing in total $230 million. Boston, Los Angeles, and Miami installed park benches equipped with a solar panel that channel electricity via USB ports to charge. Denver in partnership with Google and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) attached mobile sensors to cars throughout a city, collecting 150 million data points over 750 hours of driving time, creating a street level air quality map of the city. Dublin fitted 30 bikes with air sensors measuring carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, smoke, and particulates.

Last year, London attached air quality sensors to ten pigeons to monitor air quality over three days of flights. Louisville gave 300 local residents a sensor that fits on top of their inhaler, tracking locations of inhaler use to help residents manage asthma, collecting 5,400 data points over the 13 months, and identifying hotspots with high inhaler use in order to pinpoint areas with particularly bad air quality.

Philadelphia Transforms

Philadelphia begins the smart city transformation process with its most recent initiative to release open data from city departments. Mayor Kenney also points to ownership and accessibility of light poles and city buildings which can accommodate sensors and wireless access points spread throughout the city. With institutional players like Drexel, Penn, Wharton, CHOP & Comcast, the infrastructure to implement smart city solutions is in place.

Dr. Nasis, founder and CEO of Netronix, Inc. and faculty member of electrical & computer engineering at Drexel, shares insight into the transformation process. “A smart city is a segment of IoT. Many have looked at the smart city as a vertical market on its own, when actually it is a horizontal market with many verticals below it, such as safety, environmental, healthcare, energy, and transportation.”

In the environmental vertical, cities can monitor air quality, water quality and weather. Across the safety vertical, meters already exist that detect gunshots to determine the precise location of the incident helping address crime prevention. Energy, another vertical, can be optimized in street lighting and power plants to keep consumption down. And in the transportation vertical, parking, bus, and traffic can be monitored to enhance quality of life.

‘Many have looked at the smart city as a vertical market on its own, when actually it is a horizontal market with many verticals below it.’

A significant challenge of smart cities is having the tools to address compatibility within and between each vertical. Dr. Nasis cites a “holistic approach, rather than filling in the holes.” The smart parking meter experiment is an IoT solution but also an example of ‘filling in the holes.’ Without an overarching smart city horizontal in place, the initiative did not work. Dr. Nasis concludes, “for a successful smart city, each vertical and the needs of each vertical must be defined, and that requires systemic planning.”

Netronix Ventures, LLC, a subsidiary of Netronix, based out of Philadelphia, aims to start up 100 companies in the next decade using Netronix’s IoT platform. Smart city solutions can be developed in record time, saving 75 percent of the time and costs associated with the development and production of devices and services using conventional methods.

Information Gap

The IoT is about sharing things, interacting, and learning. An information gap leads to a certain kind of decision making. A smart platform creates opportunities to make more informed choices when investing in the city. The smart part is how you collect and make use of the intelligence. By breaking the information gap, the result is a better understanding, more thorough assessment of exposure, heightened awareness, and a complete picture of the data.

Today, the means for large scale and rapid deployment of tens of thousands of devices transforms air quality monitoring and facilitates the collection of quantitative data in any infrastructure. As a direct result of the IoT, a new paradigm emerges in air quality monitoring leading to the much-needed democratization of air quality data. Knowing about the quality of the air you breathe or the water you drink pushes people to take social responsibility.

Financial Feasibility

A significant cost to a smart city transformation is the installation process. 70 percent of city officials say budget constraints are the greatest barrier to adopting smart city solutions. In many cities, a complete overhaul poses a lofty price tag associated with the redesign of buildings and infrastructure. A cloud based solution with deployment of IoT enabled devices eliminates the once costly installation, configuration and calibration associated with industry reference instruments.

Such a significant reduction in overhead and cost per unit lowers the price of the device to a fraction of industrial reference instruments. Cities benefit from investment because there is no need to redesign infrastructure in order to adopt IAQ solutions as part of a widespread smart city plan. One incentive is real time data that anticipates future needs. For example, with built in GPS, the locations of sensors take into account the points in the city with the most exposure to air quality hazards, protecting city dwellers and workers. The data can also be reviewed by a team to determine appropriate next steps. Monitoring air quality becomes financially feasible at room level in any infrastructure.

Smart Sensors

But even with such advancements, few sensors produce reliable enough data to be used in studies or by regulations. In comparison to static monitoring, continuous monitoring enhances high temporal-spatial resolution and variability of air pollution, which so far has been difficult to address. These characteristics, the level of accuracy, precision and identification of microscopic particles in the air, are distinguishing characteristics of air quality monitors in the market. The ability to continuously monitor air quality levels in any infrastructure while preserving the integrity of the measurements, and producing never before seen analytics and information, creates better indoor environments, everywhere in the world.

 

Dr. Vasileios Nasis will be presenting at the Wharton IGEL & SUEZ Conference – Smart Utilities: Bridge to Smart Cities of the Future on September 27.

 

 

Energy Policy Now Podcast: Where Coal Mining Brings Environmental Benefits

September 19, 2017

Coal2

Can tightly regulated coal mining help undo decades worth of environmental damage caused by the coal industry?  A Pennsylvania DEP official, and a mining executive, discuss efforts to remediate water and land in the state’s Anthracite coal region.

Pennsylvania’s economy has long been tied to its coal industry.  In the 19th century the state’s pioneering coal companies fueled America’s industrial revolution, and thousands of mining sites opened over the decades that followed.  Yet, over a century later, many of Pennsylvania’s coal mines have closed as the resource’s primacy has waned.

John Stefanko, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations at Pennsylvania’s DEP, and Greg Driscoll, Chief Executive of Blaschak Coal Company, look at the environmental damage that remains after mines have been abandoned, and on cooperation between today’s coal industry, and regulators, to clean up some of that damage.  The focus is on the Anthracite coal industry of Northeastern Pennsylvania, where the remains of a once large coal industry attempts to find profits, while bearing costs for cleaning up the damage of past decades.

John Stefanko is Deputy Secretary for the Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations at Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. 

Greg Driscoll is President and Chief Executive Officer of Blaschak Coal company in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

Current trends in green and healthy real estate

By Joyce S. Lee

September 9, 2017

“Both nationally and internationally, GRESB has not only changed the conversation about investment reporting but also helped start many conversations by giving visibility to a relevant set of data not previously assembled for investors,” says Andrew McAllan, Head of Real Estate Management of Oxford Properties Group based in Toronto, Canada.

MNP Tower, Vancouver, Canada

Image 1: MNP Tower entrance, credit: Oxford Properties Group

The global property and infrastructure sectors are at the heart of many major investment decisions, including urbanization, demographic change, resource constraints, environmental impacts, political climate and emerging technologies. According to the World Bank, the urban population has reached 54.3% of world population in 2016. The design, construction and operation of current and future assets reflects, drives and potentially mitigates the impact of all of these issues on individuals, communities and society at large.

GRESB assessment started in 2009 with a healthy uptake of large pension funds and their fiduciaries. This portfolio level assessment has become a global benchmark for sustainability performance used by leading private equity firms and listed property companies. GRESB has grown to define Environmental Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) concepts for the real asset sector. The assessment systematizes information for analysis and furthers the understanding across investment portfolios. The GRESB assessment collects information from funds and assets, including data on performance indicators, such as energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste.

The latest year of reporting (2017) reflected 850 funding entities (up from 759 last year) in 63 countries and a total of US$3.5 trillion in assets (up from $2.8 trillion last year). In 2016, even a small single digit percentage reduction of an immense portfolio in each of the reporting areas is significant: carbon reduction is equivalent to 90,197 cars off the road, water reduction is equivalent to 1,200 olympic pools, and waste reduction is equivalent to 14,963 truckloads. This transparency of the real asset portfolio could factor into the investors’ risk assessment and overall financial performance projection.

In 2016, GRESB initiated the Health and Well-being Module in response to rising healthcare costs and increased interest in productivity. The ten survey questions were developed among a global working group of experts: It focuses on needs, strategies and access. One snapshot of the 2016 result is already giving new insights to companies: greater impact could be achieved when the leaders in sustainability, real estate and corporate wellness are in good communication internally. The current year results will be discussed in an upcoming article.

While top level changes or grassroot initiatives are critical, actual implementation are often realized by facility managers who intimately understand the pulse of their physical assets like a living organism. An organization that fully engages this group of professionals is the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). Several BOMA members echo that survey frameworks like GRESB are essential to moving the industry forward as each evaluation garners new motivation and opportunities for reflection and improvement. Many forward looking managers have day-to-day oversight of waste generation, energy and water consumption,. The opportunity to collaborate effectively with human resources to promote health offers yet another upside.

In a recent luncheon with Building Owners Managers Association (BOMA) Philadelphia’s leaders, including its co-chairs of the Sustainability Committee, the conversation circled around education and engagement. As Benjamin Franklin had said, “Tell me and I forget; Teach me and I remember; Involve me and I learn.” Before the formation of this Committee, green cleaning was a leading edge concept. Today, one has to alter a standard template to purchase “non-green” cleaning products. Benefits of green cleaning are accrued to all levels of staff, especially to those who perform cleaning tasks coming in regular contact with these products.

While every sustainability task force has checklists of energy and air quality, BOMA Philadelphia also notices the growing popularity of yoga classes and walking clubs that are initiated by building occupants. Building managers that are forward looking even host stair climb charity events to not only increase physical activity of their employees, but also further engage the local public safety departments, such as fire and police, to enhance public relations and build community trust. Incidentally, these are all pathways towards achieving WELL certifications which place a major focus on health and well-being.

Is health and wellness pervasive enough among building owners and managers? “We see that after providing hand sanitizers and high efficiency filters, building managers are actively seeking all good ideas that are both implementable and have a positive impact on tenants and occupants,” says Kristine Kiphorn, Executive Director of BOMA Philadelphia.

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Image 2: CBRE Vancouver Office, credit: CBRE

At CBRE, a global real estate services firm, in Vancouver, a stunning view of the water and a biophilic design feature in its lobby together make an inspiring arrival. In order to raise the indoor quality level, CBRE chose only furniture reaching Green Guard Certification gold level. The risers in the company’s internal stairs, a physical activity feature, read “There is no elevator to Success. You have to take the Stairs”. Inside the base building, the MNP Tower in downtown Vancouver, the fire stairs are equally animated with paint colors to make stair climbing a pleasurable experience. On a sunny day, building tenants could be seen on the property premise competing in intramural games of hockey with many happy onlookers from the sidewalk. This Oxford Properties Group building is managed by active BOMA members.

It is not hard to see a larger trend unfold. As trillions in assets move from the current generation to younger, more sustainably oriented investors, an increased attention to environmental social responsibility and governance reporting measures has incentivized companies to revisit strategies and to boost performance in areas deemed important by this generation. This trend is particularly relevant for business school graduates who plan to work in private equity, real estate investment trusts (REITs) or public companies with physical assets.

Business school students and graduates are investors in their own future. In an ESG report of a potential employer, the performance metrics can speak loud and clear of the companies’ priorities and missions. Other policies towards transparency, travel, sleep, exercise, and nourishment could affect stress level on the job. If the quality of the workplace matters, look for those telltale signs of green and healthy real estate, such as LEED and WELL certifications.

The concept of creating a sense of place in companies and offices becomes a new paradigm to attract the best talents. In the age of connectivity, business school graduates can truly work anywhere. The workplace of choice is entering a brave new world.

 

 

JoyceLeeheadshotAuthor’s bio

Joyce Lee, FAIA, LEED Fellow, is president of IndigoJLD providing green health, planning and design services on exemplary projects. She is among a group of 300 LEED Fellows worldwide. In addition to being on the Penn faculty, Joyce has affiliations with Penn Center for Public Health Initiatives and the Penn Urban Health Lab. Joyce served under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, as Chief Architect at the New York City OMB. The Active Design Guidelines, a publication she co-authored, had won recognition from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as well as the Sustainable Building Industry Council., She has been a subject matter expert in the development of a GRESB module..  Her practice continues to assist cities to establish 2030 Districts and assist companies to reach sustainability and wellness goals.

 

Hurricane Harvey – More exposures in the mix than just water and wind!

The full damage and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey is not yet known and will likely be felt for months to come. While the most pressing issues facing Insureds at this time are the devastating impacts of water and/or wind damage, we all learned some unfortunate lessons from Hurricane Sandy and Katrina specifically caused during storm surges and/or flooding (and after the water recedes) which lead to unexpected clean-up costs and/or pollution legal liability issues (including but not limited to):

  • Historic/Pre-Existing Contamination – Properties having historical or pre-existing contamination could be disturbed and, subsequently, carry pollutants to multiple locations resulting in the cross-contamination of various parts of the property and/or neighboring properties.
  • Landfill Containment Breaches – Heavy water infiltration can cause landslides carrying with it pollutants and/or contaminated waste water into nearby waterways or sensitive third-party receptor areas.
  • Floating Drums of Chemicals and Storage Tanks – Drums containing hazardous waste and storage tanks containing oils and other chemicals could be raised afloat and damaged during transport from their original locations, thereby distributing pollutants downstream.
  • Sewerage Authorities System Back-ups – Sewerage authorities have limited storage and processing capacity, therefore, large unanticipated volumes of water could result in the overflow and/or release of raw untreated sewage.
  • Mold Damage – Mold can grow at alarming rates given proper moisture, temperature range and food source (cellulose-based substrate) following a saturation event.

While property policies may include some pollution-related coverage, it’s imperative that insureds, if they have environmental insurance policies, place their carriers on notice, carefully follow the environmental claim reporting instructions and fully understand any “emergency response” coverage provisions and policy nuances.

It’s prudent for insureds to report their environmental claim to their carriers immediately. If cost estimates for remedial activities are available, they should be sent to the carrier for approval. When submitting proposals, request that the carrier approve the costs as “reasonable and necessary” pending a coverage determination.

 

This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for the Willis Towers Watson Wire. That article can be found here.

 

35611dba53fbc67f528efedc5630ec43Anthony Wagar

Anthony is a Executive Vice President and the National Sales Leader for Willis Towers Watson’s Environmental practice based in New York. He has close to 20 years of experience from a regulatory, underwriting and brokerage perspective. He blogs on matters relating to environmental risk, exposures and insurance.

Energy Policy Now Podcast: Electric Vehicle Market Trajectory

By John Paul MacDuffie
September 5th, 2017

The electric vehicle market has become the center of attention for the automotive industry, with overwhelming demand for Tesla’s new, more affordable Model 3 EV as just the latest sign of market enthusiasm.  Yet many perennial EV challenges remain, notably high costs and scarce charging infrastructure.  And nationally, support for EV’s has become more fragmented and, quite possibly, politicized.

In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center’s Energy Policy Now podcast, Wharton management professor and automotive expert John Paul MacDuffie offers insights into the EV market’s growth trajectory, and talks about the likelihood of the market reaching a tipping point.  In the process he tells what recent developments, such as recent announcements from France and the UK to ban gas and diesel car sales within a generation, could indicate for global EV market growth.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

 

The Mushroom Farming Industry: Transforming Environmental Risks into Positive Environmental and Economic Outcomes

By Max Laufer
September 5th, 2017

A little known fact about Pennsylvania is that it is the single largest source of edible mushrooms in the United States.1 The vast majority of mushroom production in Pennsylvania is concentrated in the 759 square mile 1 Chester County in the southeast of the state. Chester County alone has over 60 mushroom farms 2 harvesting over 400 million pounds of mushrooms per year, nearly 50% of the entire U.S. supply.3 Mushroom production is Pennsylvania’s second largest industry in its agricultural sector 3 and shows no signs of slowing down as demand for mushrooms in the U.S. continues to increase.4

Mushroom production has substantially less negative environmental impact than other agricultural industries and, as such, receives little to no criticism from the concerned public. In Chester County, PA, however, mushroom farming happens on a larger scale than anywhere else in the country and thus its aggregate negative environmental impact is greater than one might expect. Therefore, it is important to analyze the impact that exists and devise approaches toward decreasing it. This report will first look at the practice of mushroom farming and the ways it can affect the environment. Secondly, the report will propose specific solutions for mitigating the environmental impacts, while also considering the economic demands of the agricultural industry.

Mitigating Environmental Risks: At what Economic Cost?

Typical discourse about mitigating the environmental impacts of farming centers on minimizing both economic and environmental risk. Much discussion, for instance, has taken place about the imposing of certain economic sanctions on corporations that engage in practices that result in a substantial amount of carbon emissions. These discussions occur on the basis of environmentalists’ hopes for decreasing the frequency of use of said practices. Traditional discourse about the balancing of economic and environmental success, however, is not necessarily applicable to the mushroom industry. In fact, one’s environmental concerns need not be compromised in ensuring a balance of positive environmental and economic outcomes,. What is fascinating about the mushroom farming industry is that its harmful environmental impact actually holds the potential to be transformed into both positive environmental and economic outcomes.

Environmental Risks of Mushroom Farming

Environmental concerns over mushroom farming are almost entirely centered around the refining and disposing of its by-products. This potential environmental harm manifests itself in a couple of ways. The process of growing mushrooms entails the fungal bodies converting compost into nutrients. Carbon from said compost undergoes a conversion process initiated by the mushrooms into useable carbohydrates.5 Such a process results in a by-product known as “spent compost.”5 Spent compost is not intrinsically harmful to the environment (and, in fact, can be highly useful: a concept that will be expounded upon later). There are two aspects of spent compost that have the potential to affect environmental harm, each multifaceted in and of themselves. The first concern is that mushrooms are often commercially grown in recycled organic matter containing pesticides. The problem with this is not related to the pesticides themselves, per se, but rather with the methods of disposal of spent compost containing said pesticides. Or, perhaps, the fact that it is disposed of at all. When spent compost containing pesticides is disposed of instead of being reused for other purposes (a concept that will also be explained later in greater detail), it can pose a significant environmental threat. This threat primarily manifests itself in the form of runoff.5 Runoff from disposed spent mushroom compost can contaminate local water supplies and natural, water-based ecosystems.5

Aside from the issue of pesticide pollution, spent compost also potentially harbors harmful viruses and diseases. These diseases pose risks parallel to those caused by pesticides. They have the potential to contaminate water supplies and disrupt ecosystems. The risk of spent mushroom compost containing diseases can be easily decreased through a pasteurization process.6 Pasteurizing mushroom compost also maximizes its potential for reutilization,6 which one might predict would decrease the tendency of mushroom farmers to dispose of it in the first place.

The disposal of spent mushroom compost can pose numerous environmental risks. It does not, however, have to be disposed of. In fact, it can also be reused in several ways. Spent compost has water-retaining properties as well as the potential to retain nitrate levels of its water due to the presence of high amounts of carbon.5 As such, spent compost has the potential to be highly useful as an addition to soil for commercial farming. Further, there is also promising research that shows the efficacy of spent mushroom compost for increasing the quality of turfgrass. According to a study conducted by the Department of Plant Science at Penn State, spent mushroom compost “can improve the structure of clay soils, reduce surface crusting and compaction, promote drainage, increase microbial activity, and provide nutrients to turfgrasses.”7 Spent compost also has the potential to be reused for further mushroom harvesting. According to research also done at Penn State, “phosphorous availability may be a limiting factor” in terms of the reusability of supposedly spent compost.5 Their research has shown, however, that phosphorous availability can be increased in the substrate “by controlling the ionic activity of calcium and potassium.”5 Through this process, there lies a potential for spent mushroom compost to not actually be as “spent” as previously thought in regards to its ability to be reused for its original purpose.

If spent mushroom compost is not truly spent, however, then why is it so often disposed of? The answer appears to be simpler than one might assume. There is not widespread knowledge of the potential reusability of spent compost. According to the same research implicated earlier, mushroom farmers “must try to educate not only the community but also all possible users about the value of post mushroom substrate.”5 Ultimately, the problem appears not to be that the spent compost itself lacks uses, rather that its uses are not at all adequately considered. More widespread reuse of spent compost would not only be positive for the environment by reducing rates of environmentally harmful disposal, but it could also benefit the mushroom industry in a very positive way. In addition to producing and selling mushrooms, the mushroom industry now also has a farming substrate with remarkable potential for use in various industries. Ignoring the fact that reusing the spent compost would substantially mitigate the environmental risks associated with it, spent compost also poses a fascinating economic opportunity for the mushroom industry. The mushroom industry has the potential to repurpose its by-products for commercial sale while simultaneously mitigating the environmental risks associated with said by-product’s disposal. Investing in consumer education could prove to hold substantial economic benefits for the mushroom industry and environmental benefits for Chester County and other areas where the industry flourishes.

It is apparent that spent mushroom compost can be reused for a variety of purposes. Further, however, it is also important to note that disposal is not necessarily a terrible option if creating demand for spent mushroom compost fails. In order to minimize the environmental harm of the disposal process, though, two steps would have to be taken. The first and most obvious step would be to eliminate the use of growing substrate containing pesticides. Doing this would result in a rather innocuous by-product rather than one that poses risk of runoff. In fact, spent mushroom compost itself appears to pose no environmental risk if it does not contain pesticides (and if it has undergone a process about to be elaborated on). According to research at Penn State, the spent compost simply “decomposes to an unobjectionable soil.”5

The second step that would have to be taken to reduce environmental harm resulting from spent mushroom compost disposal would be to put in place a pasteurization process. This process involves heating the substrate to a temperature high enough to eliminate harmful bacteria and diseases.6 The primary reason why the pasteurization process is not widespread despite its apparent efficacy in minimizing environmental risks is, simply put, the cost associated with it.6 The process is not legally required and thus little incentive exists for commercial mushroom farmers to implement it.

Two potential solutions to this quandary exist: the first is for environmental regulatory agencies to legally require a pasteurization process. This, however, would likely have a negative economic impact. It would increase the costs associated with mushroom farming, potentially making the endeavor less profitable and/or driving up the price of mushrooms. Given that mushroom farming plays an integral role in the economy of Chester County, such policies might appear untenable to those fiscally-minded. Another solution, and one with less potential economic impact, would be establishing tax incentives for implementing a pasteurization process. Such a tax incentive would inevitably shift some amount of a tax burden onto taxpayers or on other industries to compensate, though it would have benefits that would not exist if a legal requirement for pasteurization was put into place. It would give mushroom farmers more ownership over their process, while still increasing pasteurization rates in the industry. Increasing pasteurization rates, of course, is highly important in regards to controlling the spread of disease resulting from disposal of spent compost. While it is unclear exactly what the economic impacts of the aforementioned policy recommendations would be, they are certainly steps worth taking if environmental risk is wished to be minimized. Economic risks from the aforementioned policies, however, would not have to be assumed if demand for spent compost meets the supply. This would, of course, be the optimal solution to the problem. What is clear, however, is that there are ways to mitigate environmental risk even if the demand never meets the supply. As such, the aforementioned policies are important considerations.

It is remarkable how much potential exists for the process of mushroom farming to be refined and realigned with common environmental goals while also providing new possible economic opportunities. By using organic material containing less pesticides, implementing a pasteurization process for spent compost, and encouraging more widespread reuse of spent compost, environmental risks can be nearly completely mitigated. Economic benefits may lie in the potential for repurposing spent compost for commercial sale. The primary barrier to overcome to realize this potential is the lack of industry knowledge about the reusability of spent compost. If such a barrier cannot be crossed, however, policy changes exist that hold the potential to still substantially mitigate environmental harm. Disposing of spent compost has little environmental risk if the mushroom industry operates under regulations either requiring or incentivizing pasteurization and lower pesticide use.

 

About the Author:

Max Laufer is a rising sophomore at Haverford College. Max was one of the co-founders of the Ideas for Action 14-18 program at Wharton. Max is passionate about problem solving and how young people can affect positive environmental change.

 

Bibliography:

  1. The One Tiny Region That Produces Nearly Half of U.S. Mushrooms – Modern Farmer. (2014). Modern Farmer. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://modernfarmer.com/2014/05/welcome-mushroom-country-population-nearly-half-u-s-mushrooms/
  2. Facts About Chester County | Chester County, PA – Official Website. (2017). org. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://chesco.org/892/Facts-About-Chester-County
  3. NSTATE, w. (2017). Economy of Pennsylvania including Pennsylvania Agriculture and Manufacturing from NETSTATE.COM. com. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://www.netstate.com/economy/pa_economy.htm
  4. Mitchell, D. (2015). Mushroom demand grows across board | The Packer. Thepacker.com. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/marketing-profiles/Mushroom-demand-grows-across-board-288830551.html
  5. Impact of the Mushroom Industry on the Environment (Mushrooms). (2017). Mushrooms (Penn State Extension). Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://extension.psu.edu/plants/vegetable-fruit/mushrooms/mushroom-substrate/impact-of-the-mushroom-industry-on-the-environment
  6. (2017). Pasteurization of Mushroom Substrate and other Solids. Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380281604_Kurtzman.pdf
  7. Using Spent Mushroom Substrate (mushroom soil) as a Soil Amendment to Improve Turf (Center for Turfgrass Science). (2017). Center for Turfgrass Science (Penn State University). Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/turf/extension/factsheets/mushroom-soil

Allen Hershkowitz on Ten Years of Sustainability at the US Open

Today marks the start of the US Open, the annual tennis bacchanal that draws 700,000+ fans to the National Tennis Center in New York over its two week run. Seeing compost and recycling bins throughout the 46.5 acre campus is now second nature for those fans as the US Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) greening efforts, among the most comprehensive in the sports world, are now ten years old. It’s been quite a journey to get to this point and there’s no one better to tell the fascinating history of the US Open’s sustainability program than today’s guest GreenSportsBlogger, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and a founding director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI). 

 

By Dr. Allen Hershkowitz

Ten years ago, in the Fall of 2007, I walked into my office at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and found a note from NRDC’s President: “Allen,” it read, “I met Billie Jean King at a dinner last night. She would like to speak with you. To reach her, please call Pam at …”

Billie Jean King wants to speak with me? Seriously? A few calls followed and the request to speak was clarified: The year previous, on August 28, 2006, the US Tennis Association (USTA) National Tennis Center was rededicated as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (BJK NTC). Now that the venue bore her name, Billie wanted to assure it was a model for environmental stewardship. She wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world.

We arranged to meet at the BJK NTC shortly after the 2007 US Open. I was ushered into a conference room to await Billie’s arrival, along with Joe Crowley, the USTA’s Director for Operations, and other USTA officials.

Billie arrived with her partner Ilana Kloss, Commissioner of World TeamTennis and a world class tennis star in her own right. With the introductions behind us, a partnership was formed between the USTA and NRDC. As Billie requested, our goal was to create the most environmentally intelligent tennis event in the world. I told Billie that doing so would take years. “Great,” she said. “I’m in. Let’s do it.”

In 2007, not one recycling bin existed at the NTC. Today, recycling and composting bins abound and ninety percent of all waste is thus diverted from the landfill. More than twenty thousand pounds of uneaten meals are donated to charities, reducing hunger and greenhouse gas emissions. We pioneered recycling the 17,000 tennis ball cans used at the Open. Tennis ball cans are complex products, comprised of four different materials, (three types of plastic and an aluminum lid), making them impossible to recycle, until we figured out how to do so in 2008, while donating the 45,000 used tennis balls to community organizations.

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Compost bin (foreground) and recycling bin (blue band in the rear) along the plaza at the National Tennis Center. These are two of many such bins dotting the NTC complex that demonstrate the USTA’s commitment to sustainability to the 700,000 fans projected to attend the 2017 US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

In 2007 all of the 2.4 million napkins used at the US Open were made from trees. By 2008, all napkins had at least 90 percent post consumer recycled content, an environmental achievement that protects forest habitat and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the Open’s daily Draw Sheet, tickets, media guides, bathroom tissue and paper towels have at least 30 percent recycled content, while paper use in general has been reduced through electronic options.

In the spring of 2008, after agreeing on a logo and a tag line for the US Open’s new environmental program (“Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green”), we decided to produce public service announcements (PSAs) to educate fans about environmental stewardship. Billie introduced me to tennis legends Venus Williams and Bob and Mike Bryan, arguably the greatest men’s doubles team of the modern era. Together we produced the first environmental public service announcements ever broadcast at a major sporting event, and it was the first time pro-athletes were engaged for this purpose. Billie, Venus, Bob and Mike all appeared in videos encouraging fans to recycle and buy recycled paper products, use mass transit, and buy organic food. The PSAs are broadcast on the jumbotron at Ashe Stadium to this day. Discussing global warming with Venus Williams is one of the highlights of my career and I like to think that I encouraged her to become the environmentalist that she is today. We also pioneered using the Open’s daily Draw Sheet to share money saving “Eco Tips” each day, and that too is still in use at the Open. And we engaged fans directly: During the 2008 Open sixty volunteers from NRDC spanned the grounds distributing free New York City mass transit MetroCards to fans who answered an impromptu environmental question (“Name one thing you can do to help protect the environment…”).

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Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

This week, the US Open Tennis Championships begin anew and the USTA’s greening program has lived up to Billie Jean King’s original vision: The entire event is powered by renewable energy. All energy use is measured, as is waste generation and recycling, paper use, and employee and player travel, and these impacts are converted into measurements of greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past decade the Open has avoided tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Unavoidable greenhouse gas impacts are offset for the approximately 9,000 people who travel to work at the event, including the 850 players.  Mass transit is promoted and last year more than 55 percent of fans arrived by public transit, making it the most transit friendly professional sporting event in the nation. Cleaning products are Green Seal Certified, paints are zero-VOC, water is conserved, and two LEED Certified structures have been built — the newly constructed Grandstand Stadium and the transportation building — and the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, slated to open at next year’s tournament, is expected to attain LEED designation as well.

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The 8,000 seat Grandstand stadium at the National Tennis Center (NTC). It opened for play in 2016 as the first LEED Certified stadium at the US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

Since 2009 the US Open’s greening program has been expanded and led at the USTA by Lauren Kittlestad-Tracy, now recognized as one of the most influential environmental leaders in tennis, with support from MIT-trained PE Bina Indelicato, co-founder of eco evolutions and one of the top sustainability experts working in the field.

At the time we started the USTA’s greening program, 90 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution was being pumped into the atmosphere each day. Today, that has grown to 110 million tons daily. This past July was the hottest month on record. Given those grim metrics, the USTA’s work — building on Billie Jean King’s noble vision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage others to do the same — is even more important. All businesses should follow its lead.

This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for GreenSportsBlog. That article can be found here.