Category Archives: sustainable development

Reflections on Resiliency

Written by Chris Rohner

April 8th, 2018

In April 2018 I got a chance to speak at the The End of the World as We Know It: The Consequences of Extreme Climate Disruption for Business and Democracy, Conference with IGEL at the Wharton School at PENN.  It was a great opportunity to hear an interesting mix of academic and private sector speakers.  From many of the speakers the message was – “change is coming, embrace it, and maybe even benefit from what is happening.” This is a positive message that I try to encourage with my own clients.  I tell them, look at current conditions, this is not the world we lived in 10 years ago!  We need to think and plan differently.

As someone who has worked as a public sector emergency manager and a private sector emergency management/business continuity consultant the goal of my presentation was to introduce my profession to the attendees and participants and make the case that business continuity is an important element of resilience planning.  I also wanted to put some context to the world many communities and businesses are working within – I did this by highlight five “resiliency realities”:

Planning is Critical

The public and private sectors each bring important talents, experience and resources to the table. Coordination and collaboration are key to creating a resilient community and nation. Open dialog needs to start years before the next big event – last minute decision-making does not produce good outcomes.  Many cities have public-private planning coordinators within their Office of Emergency Management – this is a great place to start the conversation.

Personal Preparedness is the Foundation of Resilience

I tell this to anyone that will listen…. Personal preparedness for you and your family is critical – a shelter-in-place plan, a communication plan, a Go-Bag for evacuation (and a pet plan if needed) are the basis for community or business preparedness.  Look for county resources at your local Office of Emergency Management and visit www.ready.gov for straightforward advice and recommendations.

Our Physical Infrastructure is Fragile

Let’s remember that we live in a country with old, fragile and out-of-date infrastructure.  The bridges we need for evacuation are decaying; the schools we need for shelters are old and leak during an average rainstorm. To increasing our resilience, we need to plan smart, think about future climate conditions and rebuild our infrastructure to support our emergency response needs.

Social Justice Raises our Human Resilience

Along with our physical infrastructure the nation must work to increase the resilience of our citizens. We must raise the standard of living for Americans, pay a living wage and seek social equity.  We must have a health systems the promote wellness, fiscal education and financial institutions that help low income people promote savings, public and private organizations that teach and uphold civil discourse – these and many more idea create communities that can better withstand events and recovery more quickly.

Act When the Topic is Hot

And lastly, as we all look to promote the increase in resiliency we need to take every opportunity to push this agenda in public policy and budgeting, and when private companies are impacted.  Unfortunately, these pushes tend to come right after an event has affected the nation – after a hurricane, a wildfire, or earthquake.  While it may see opportunistic – we must seize these times and push the resilience agenda forward.  We know from experience that the public’s attention span is short, and unless action is taken quickly the public’s engagement and interest will fall off, as the news cycle moves forward.

About the Author:

0Chris Rohner is a business continuity program manager for General Dynamics Information Technology (formerly CSRA).  His 25-year background spans emergency management, planning, and response operations, public health, business continuity, community resiliency as well as transportation planning and policy development.  He has extensive experience working with local, city, state and regional government agencies and the private sector to find straightforward solutions to complex problems by focusing on clients’ specific circumstances. In the public sector he has held key management positions with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Bureau of Emergency Management; and the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  In the private sector he has worked as a program manager within the community resilience space at Ecology and Environment, Inc. and at CSRA, now General Dynamics Information Technology.

 

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Energy Policy Now: An EPA After Scott Pruitt

April 23, 2018

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has come under bipartisan fire for an array of ethical missteps that range from lavish spending on travel to the granting of illegal pay raises for select EPA staffers. Over the past week, staunch Pruitt supporters such as Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso have questioned the transparency with which Pruitt has run his office, and legislators from both sides of the aisle have suggested that Pruitt may not be fit to lead the agency.

Could Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA be coming to an end? And if so, what direction might the embattled agency take under new leadership, such as that of recently confirmed Deputy EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler?

In this special episode of Energy Policy Now, Penn Law energy and environment legal experts Cary Coglianese and Daniel Walters discuss the swirl of possible ethical violations that have led to the Pruitt controversy. They explore what Pruitt’s departure could mean for his efforts—and those of the Trump administration—to deprioritize environmental protection at the EPA and roll back environmental regulations.

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.

Celebrating Earth Day 2018

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April 22nd, 2018

Elena Rohner, Wharton IGEL Communications Coordinator

On Wednesday, April 18th, a fabulous group of interdisciplinary stakeholders came together on the 8th floor of Jon M. Huntsman hall for a day of knowledge sharing and thought leadership about how business and democracy will be impacted by climate change.  Our panelists ranged from a global manufacturer of consumer products, to a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, to one of the world’s largest utility providers, to experts in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, to Navy veterans and business continuity consultants.  Margaret Leinen, Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, concluded the day on an upbeat note – weaving together all of the key lessons from panelists and leaving the audience with the knowledge that, despite the enormous task in front of us, we have experts at all points of a complex system working to adapt, mitigate and build resilience for a future that often seems daunting.

Nothing changes overnight, nor does it happen in a vacuum.  Continued interdisciplinary collaboration and a systems-oriented approach are critical to making an impact.

Thus, today – the 48th celebration of Earth Day – we would like to thank all of our sponsors and stakeholders at IGEL for their commitment to making this world a better place for everyone and everything.

For more information on our 2018 Conference, visit this page of conference proceedings: https://igel.wharton.upenn.edu/2018-conference/

HAPPY EARTH DAY

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Energy Policy Now: Rising Seas and the Future of Coastal Cities

April 4, 2018

Jeff Goodell is a contributing editor with Rolling Stone magazine, where his writing focuses on environmental and climate issues. Last year he published his sixth book, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, which earned a Critics’ Top Book award from the New York Times.  

Billy Fleming is research director for the Ian L. McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. His research focuses on climate adaptation planning along the U.S. coast.

As sea levels rise, nuisance flooding is the first wave of assault on coastal cities. Can we protect our coasts from inundation, or is retreat inevitable?

Jeff Goodell, author of the New York Times award-winning book, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, talks about the impact of rising seas on America’s coastal centers in the decades to come. Will innovative engineering allow cities and towns to be protected, and at what cost? Or, will the seas prevail, leaving some areas abandoned? Billy Fleming, research director for the Ian L. McHarg Center at the Penn School of Design and an expert on climate adaptation planning, weighs in as well.

The U.S. government estimates that sea levels will rise by two feet by the middle of this century due to a warming climate. Already the impact of higher water is being felt in points around the country. In many coastal communities, nuisance flooding has become the predictable norm.  Miami Beach is spending half a billion dollars to elevate roads and install pumps in an effort to stay dry. And Houston, New York, and New Orleans, all cities that are just feet above sea level, have recently seen unprecedented and devastating flooding. Goodell and Fleming look at the political and human costs of taking action.

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.

 

Smart City Pioneers: Forging Solutions to Early Challenges

Collaboration between SUEZ, Wharton IGEL and Knowledge@Wharton

February 14th, 2018

Many share the hope that today’s troubled urban centers can be transformed into tomorrow’s smart cities. At a recent conference, “Smart Utilities: A Bridge to Smart Cities of the Future,” co-sponsored by Suez and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), some early pioneers in this effort shared their experiences and thoughts.

Laying the Groundwork: Philadelphia’s Strategic Approach to Becoming a Smart City

Rather than tackle individual projects piecemeal, as so many cities have done, Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) decided to create a roadmap that would guide and ensure long-term coordination of its wide-ranging projects.

Collect, Crunch, Collaborate: Fresh Approaches to Smart Cities’ Core Functions

Utilities are among those embracing the promise of smart technology by collecting and sharing data with customers. They — and others providing critical services to cities, campuses and industry — are using human and machine intelligence to capitalize on the data pouring in from these smart systems. And they are finding ways to save money by sharing resources and collaborating.

Smart Money: Developing New Funding Mechanisms for Smart Initiatives

Few of the methods traditionally used to finance infrastructure projects are of much help when it comes to funding smart city initiatives. Fortunately, creative new approaches are being pioneered by cities, utilities, investors and businesses across the country.

Read the full report here
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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

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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

A Sustainable Development Expert’s Take on the 10th Anniversary IGEL Conference

By Noam Lior, PhD, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania

The vital urgent challenge: with projected population increase of 30%, to 9 billion within the next 33 years, exponential increase in the demand for resources, the associated large scale of projects, the proven serious impact on the environment, all development must be done sustainably to prevent major deterioration of present and future life quality or even global disaster. For the utter skeptics: at the very least, prepare for damage to the business, and stricter government regulations, monitoring, and enforcement.

Education, for business or otherwise, requires, as much as possible, definitions, methods that are quantitative/scientific, correct data, and wide acceptability, standardization and uniformity. This is especially important for the complex highly multidisciplinary field of sustainable development which is of vital importance to humanity’s survival (or at least well-being), and thus also has a meta-ethical foundation. Education in business sustainability must increasingly and more rigorously address the role of sustainability as a business paradigm, including multi-generational and international/global considerations. Business education should consider and support the evaluation and substantiation of national and international sustainable planning policies, now for example the US new administration’s directions, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It should include a description of the dangers of Greenwashing and other sustainability fraud.

Sustainable development requires a scientific approach, close and honest cooperation between all humans, across any borders they drew, vision of the future, and much respect for the environment that we so temporarily occupy.