Wind turbine recycling breakthroughs and energy-efficient building taskforces: The sustainability success stories of the week

Published every week, this series charts how businesses and sustainability professionals are working to achieve their ‘Mission Possible’ across the campaign’s five key pillars – energy, resources, infrastructure, mobility and business leadership.

Across the UK and the world, leading businesses, cities, states and regions are turning environmental ambitions into action. Here, we round up five positive sustainability stories from this week.

ENERGY: Australia blocks coal mine on environmental grounds for first time

Australia’s Government moved on Thursday (9 February) to refuse plans for a new coal mine, both on climate grounds and on the grounds of its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef (pictured).

Central Queensland Coal had proposed a mine 700km north-west of Brisbane, just 10km from the reef, which is a World Heritage area. The firm was seeking to extract both thermal and coking coal for two decades.

The Australian Government received more than 9,000 responses to a consultation on the project within just ten days, with almost all of them opposing the mine on environmental grounds. It had also received evidence from the Queensland State Government recommending the mine be rejected.

In heeding this warning, Environment Minister Tanya Pilbersek has become the first in her post in Australian history to block the creation of a coal mine.

RESOURCES: Vestas touts breakthrough in wind turbine blade recycling

It has been stated that around 85% of the components of a typical wind turbine, by weight, can technically be recycled. But, due to a lack of recycling capacity, developers have typically sent the blades to landfill. WindEurope expects around 25,000 tonnes of blades to reach the end of their operational life annually by 2025, so this is a growing waste mountain.

This week, Vestas presented a new solution to recycle epoxy-resin-based turbine blades using chemical processes. It has worked with epoxy maker Olin and Stena Recycling to develop and test the solution, which it claims is appropriate for blades that are already operating around the world.

Epoxy resin is notoriously challenging to recycle using mechanical processes. However, Vestas claims its innovation can chemically break this material down into “virgin-grade” materials. It will now work with industry, academia and policymakers in a drive to scale the solution.

Vestas’ vice-president and head of sustainability Lisa Ekstrand said: “Once this new technology is implemented at scale, legacy blade material currently sitting in landfill, as well as blade material in active wind farms, can be disassembled, and re-used. This signals a new era for the wind industry, and accelerates our journey towards achieving circularity.”

MOBILITY: Barcelona offers free public transport to residents scrapping old, polluting vehicles

This isn’t technically a new story which happened this week – but it’s one that’s getting a lot of social media attention, given Barcelona’s decision to lower public transport prices for a second time this year, following initial reductions last September, due to the rising cost of living.

Sustainability professionals are this week praising Barcelona’s decision to reward motorists who participate in its scrappage scheme for old, polluting cars with benefits beyond an initial payment. Motorists are paid a one-off payment relating to their vehicle type, but they are also given a transit travel pass. The pass entitles them to free public transport use within the city, and on some public transport options in the wider region.

This could discourage residents from simply going and buying a newer, more efficient petrol car. It could also help them consider whether they need their own hybrid or electric model at all. While electric cars produce no tailpipe emissions, they still contribute to traffic. Moreover, replacing all petrol and diesel cars, one-for-one, with electric options, would lead to a surge in demand for critical minerals. As such, modal shift is an important part of the low-carbon transition for transport.

THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT: UKGBC assembles new task group on retrofitting

The UK is home to one of the least energy-efficient housing and building stocks in Europe. The ongoing energy price crisis has only served to highlight the scale of the challenge.

While new standards are in the works to ensure that new buildings are more energy efficient, the UK Government is being called upon through the Net-Zero Review to increase energy efficiency targets for homes and commercial buildings that already exist. Meeting these targets will enquire more rapid and concerted efforts on retrofitting.

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has this week announced a new ‘Task Group’ of more than 30 experts, on a mission to accelerate action on retrofitting commercial buildings including offices. The group will map out the carbon and cost benefits of different retrofit measures. Members will also assess common industry challenges and present solutions. The Task Group is expected to produce its first publication this summer.

Members of the Task Group include corporate sustainability managers, mechanical engineers, consultants, investors and strategists for developers. All parts of the building value chain are covered, including construction, building materials, architecture, consulting and finance.

“Improving the energy efficiency of our commercial buildings has the potential to deliver significant carbon savings across the built environment, and with demand for sustainable office space surging in the UK, this is an opportunity we can’t afford to waste,” said UKGBC’s head of climate action Yetunde Abdul.

“Collaboration across this sector is key to accelerating the pace of action towards our common climate goals. That is precisely why UKGBC has assembled a team representing the breadth of the built environment to assist us on this timely and important piece of work.”

BUSINESS LEADERSHIP: Ad Net Zero launches in the US

Back in November 2020, the Advertising Association trade body partnered with IBSA and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) to launch a collaborative initiative to support the UK’s advertising industry to reach net-zero within a decade.

The initiative, Ad Net Zero, has proven to be a success, providing guidance to some of the UK’s biggest advertising agencies and associations, plus corporates advertising products and tech giants carrying advertisements, like Google and Meta.

This week, the Ad Net Zero team are celebrating the launch of the initiative in the US. They have already garnered the support of more than 50 US-based organisations for the initiative. One of the first pieces of work will be developing a US-market-specific version of the Ad Net Zero online training course.

Ad Net Zero USA director John Osborn said: “The time is now to unify the advertising industry to solve one of the toughest challenges facing our industry and the world. The advertising industry has proven time and again the power of collective creative thinking and innovation which are essential in reducing carbon emissions across the entire advertising ecosystem.”

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