EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Sustainable Materials – with Both Eyes Open

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Sustainable Materials – with Both Eyes Open

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 10:30am

CAMPAIGN: Climate and Energy

CONTENT: Article

This interview with Dr. Julian Allwood is made available in partnership with the  Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that global greenhouse gas reductions of 50–85 per cent will be needed by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change, representing a radical shift away from today’s fossil-fuel-derived economy.  This begs the question: is such a reduction achievable, and if so, how? This is one of the key challenges tackled through the research of Dr Julian Allwood and his Low Carbon Materials Processing Group (LCMPG) at the University of Cambridge.

Allwood believes that we need to face the facts and find scalable solutions, rather than token gestures that make very little impact. In the opening chapter of his new book, Sustainable Materials, Allwood cites plastic grocery bags in the UK as a case in point. He notes that plastic accounts for about 1 per cent of the UK’s CO2 emissions, and plastic carrier bags make up 1 per cent of plastic use. Hence, even if all plastic bags were scrapped – and assuming their substitute were carbon neutral, which is unlikely – we would only be addressing 0.01 per cent of the UK’s carbon footprint.

By contrast, says Allwood, “our aim is to look for solutions, and our number-one guiding principle is about scale – we want to make sure that we identify options for change that are big enough to make a big difference.”  Allwood’s research team starts by quantifying which economic activities generate the most emissions. It turns out that 64 per cent of global CO2 emissions are energy – or process related (the rest are from deforestation,agriculture or decay); and 35 per cent of these emissions are from industry, 31 per cent from buildings and 27 per cent from transport.


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CATEGORY: Environment