Australia urgently needs real sustainable agriculture policy



Australia must invest in sustainable agriculture.
Author provided

Jacqueline Williams, University of New England

Australia has made a global commitment to “sustainable agriculture”, an endeavour seen as increasingly crucial to ending world poverty, halting biodiversity loss, and combating climate change. A recent report from the UN found land use – including food production – is responsible for around one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, Australia has something of a sustainable agriculture policy vacuum, after years of a fragmented, stop-start approach.




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UN climate change report: land clearing and farming contribute a third of the world’s greenhouse gases


To honour our international obligations and respond to growing sustainability markets, Australia urgently needs a contemporary definition of sustainable agriculture, including agreed on-farm metrics.

Good policy abandoned

Australia spent more than a decade developing promising policies that defined sustainable agriculture with broad indicators for measuring progress.

In 1997 Australia passed federal legislation defining “sustainable agriculture” as:

agricultural practices and systems that maintain or improve […] the economic viability of agricultural production; the social viability and well-being of rural communities; […] biodiversity; the natural resource base [and] ecosystems that are influenced by agricultural activities.

The following year, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management published a broad set indicators.

During the early 2000s a national framework of Environmental Management Systems was developed, and national pilots were conducted across Australia up until 2006.

Between 2004 and 2006 the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded farmers’ investment in natural resource management. However these surveys have not been replicated in more than a decade.

In 2005, the states and territories formed a joint working group to create a national approach to property management systems. This group met with industry representatives and regional land managers throughout 2006, and in 2007 the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry planned a pathway for a national policy. There was much hope and enthusiasm it would soon become a reality.

However, since 2008 there has been no progress and little, if any, explanation for why this important sustainable agriculture policy initiative was shelved.

Current policy vacuum

It is concerning that Australia’s first progress report on implementing the sustainable development goals contains the words “sustainable agriculture” only once in 130 pages, as part of the heading for the goal of ending hunger.

The definition arrived at in 1997 is far too broad and simplistic, and can’t be used at the farm level.

When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture reiterated their commitment to improving sustainable food production, and said:

Australia is involved in global discussions about how best to measure sustainable agriculture performance […] However a globally agreed methodology has not been set for [agricultural sustainability].

Australia’s only substantial sustainable agriculture policy mechanism at the moment appears to be grants available through the National Landcare Program. This is reiterated by searching through key Coalition policy documents and the recent budget.

The budget allocation to the overall National Landcare Program is around A$1 billion from 2017 to 2023. New programs announced in the 2019 budget that build on this commitment include:

  • A$100 million over four years for the environment restoration fund,
  • A$34 million over four years for a new biodiversity stewardship program,
  • A$28.3 million for a new communities environment program for 2019-20, and
  • A$2 billion over 15 years for the climate solutions fund.

These programs combined equate to some A$354 million per year. But a coherent sustainable agriculture policy cannot be delivered through grants alone.

And even though these grants are substantial, past ABS surveys found that farmers invest at least A$3 billion a year in natural resource management. The Indigenous on-country contribution is currently unknown, but likely to be substantial.

Caring for country fund

Around 10% of Australia’s population lives in rural or remote areas. These comparatively small communities – largely farmers and Indigenous land managers – currently steward most of the country.

A review released in late July on how conservation laws affect the agriculture sector has recommended the federal government create a A$1 billion fund for farmers who deliver environment benefits from their land.

This mirrors calls from farmers for an ecosystem services fund.

If our 13.9 million taxpayers contributed some A$60 each per year in a “caring for country” levy, urban and rural Australians could more fairly share the costs – as well as the advantages – of sustainable land management.

We could start with revisiting the good work undertaken more than a decade ago in developing a national framework for property management systems.

Underpinning such a system, we need an independent and trusted source of metrics for farmers, land managers and agricultural industries. To this end, the University of New England is establishing a research hub to help develop just such a harmonised approach.




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There are many good news stories of sustainable agriculture around Australia, however our ongoing biodiversity crisis requires transformative policy change and federal leadership.

One bold first step would be addressing the current paradox of sustainable agriculture in Australia.The Conversation

Jacqueline Williams, Senior Research Fellow & Lecturer, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia must embrace transformation for a sustainable future



File 20180618 85845 1xi7qyi.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Judy van der Velden/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Shirin Malekpour, Monash University

Last Friday, the Australian government released its first report on our progress towards meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

These 17 goals are a call to action to ensure economic prosperity and social inclusion, while protecting the planet. They cover issues ranging from health to reducing inequalities and clean energy.

According to the report, Australia has made some steady progress towards most of our goals.




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However, to achieve the goals in just 12 years from now, we need transformative actions. These are missing in the report. Without a strong vision and new models of partnership between government, industry and communities, we will not meet the 2030 deadline.

What the report says

In 2015, most of the world’s nations signed up to the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda. In July this year, Australia will present its first voluntary review of progress towards the goals at the UN. These reviews are a crucial component of accountability.

Australia’s Voluntary National Review (for which I facilitated a consultation workshop to give input from the university sector) is a showcase of policies, actions and initiatives from across different sectors that are, in the report’s language, “relevant” to achieving the goals.

The report highlights that Australia is a prosperous and generally healthy country. But it also acknowledges significant challenges, such as improving the health and prosperity of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and helping workers in the resources or manufacturing sectors who are facing technological and industrial transitions.




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Climate action is the key to Australia achieving the Sustainable Development Goals


The report highlights that local councils, statutory authorities, businesses and universities are taking actions that are explicitly aligned with the global goals. For example, a number of Australian universities have signed a commitment to the goals and are including the 2030 Agenda in their curricula.

However, no sector has fundamentally changed its practices in response to the Sustainable Development Goals, nor embedded the goals into its core business.

At the national level, there has been limited specific engagement with the goals. Most of the national policies outlined in the report were developed for other reasons, and some have been around for years or decades. Examples are the National Disability Strategy, which dates back to pre-2010, or the National Drought Policy, which began in 1992. In other words, at the national level, the report emphasises what we have already been doing – not new initiatives explicitly related to the goals.

Notwithstanding success stories from across different sectors, the reality is that we will not be able to meet the goals in just 12 years on a business-as-usual trajectory. Instead, we need transformative plans across all sectors.

What is transformative change?

Sustainable development, as opposed to conventional development, involves big systemic transformations. Let’s use the example of clean energy.

Taking carbon out of our energy system is not simply about using wind and solar instead of coal. It involves big changes in how we consume energy, in manufacturing technologies and in the ways governments help (or hinder) the adoption of new technologies and practices. It requires systemic transformation, rather than incremental improvements.

Research into systemic transformation has identified a range of factors for making change happen. Two critical factors are creative decision-making and strong partnerships across disciplines and sectors. If we are serious about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we need to act now.

Transformative decision-making

Conventional decision-making favours the status quo and is largely risk-averse. It can cope with small incremental changes, but not big ones. In transport, for instance, we often tend to augment or replicate existing infrastructure – building another highway, for example – rather than innovating by trying to get people out of their cars.

Conventional decision-making also prefers to react: we often wait for a crisis situation and then quickly respond. This almost always favours short-term over long-term benefits.

Transformative decision-making, on the other hand, is proactive and takes deliberate actions to shape a desired future. It works toward a long-term vision and doesn’t shy away from uncertainty and complexity along the way.

As Australia’s review correctly acknowledges, the Sustainable Development Goals are all about “longstanding, complex policy challenges with no simple solutions”. Solving complex problems requires a great deal of innovation and experimentation. We need governments, businesses and communities to be willing to try new things, even if they occasionally fail.

Developing partnerships

Improving the lives of people and the planet requires myriad skills, tapping into various networks and reaching out to all segments of society.

Universities, for instance, often play a key role in analysing problems, developing new solutions and providing the evidence base that a solution actually works. But it is only through partnering with communities, businesses and policy organisations that they can put these solutions into practice.




Read more:
Universities must act now on sustainability goals


The Voluntary National Review has highlighted the role of cross-sectoral partnerships. What is missing is a plan for fostering the partnerships that can enable substantial change in just 12 years.

The ConversationAs Australia prepares to present our progress report at the 2018 UN High Level Political Forum in July, we need more critical assessment of our performance. How can we start doing things differently to be able to celebrate achieving these ambitious global goals in 2030?

Shirin Malekpour, Research Leader in Strategic Planning and Futures Studies, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: where to find a puffer jacket that doesn’t warm the Earth



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Puffer jackets and vests have become the popular choice of winter coat for many, but at what cost to the environment, ducks and factory workers?
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Alice Payne, Queensland University of Technology

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Our Sustainable Shopping series asks experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.


A good winter coat is an investment, and puffer jackets are a timeless classic that speak to the mountaineering, outdoor lifestyle of Patagonia and Kathmandu, whose names alone evoke wintry wildernesses and wild geese in flight.

If you’re looking to replace your old winter coat, there is every possibility that one of the Michelin-man-looking puffer jackets has caught your eye for its warmth, lightness and associations with trekking through the wilderness.

However, the environmental, ethical and social impacts of your puffer jacket might not leave you feeling so warm and fuzzy. Here is a guide to the considerations you should keep in mind when looking for your winter jacket, and where to find the best options.




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Quality of materials

The most common fibres for winter coats are wool or its synthetic imitation, acrylic. For puffer jackets, the outer shell is typically made from polyester. Polyester is a synthetic fibre derived from a non-renewable petrochemical origin, the use of which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Materials Sustainability Index, recycled polyester is a better environmental choice than virgin polyester, and its use is becoming more common. Emerging recycled fabrics from used coffee grounds are also in use in outdoor wear – see Mountain Designs.

The fluffy interiors of puffer jackets also need to be considered. A top ethical concern is the treatment of the birds whose down and feathers are harvested for jackets. Reports have emerged of geese and ducks being live-plucked for down and feathers.

Certifications such as the Responsible Down Standard and the Global Traceable Down Standard are a means by which companies can assure consumers that the down in their puffer jackets was ethically sourced, using the best practice of animal care. Each standard ensures there are no live-plucking or force-feeding practices, and that the animals providing down and feathers are humanely treated according to the five freedoms of animal welfare.

However, buying an expensive coat does not automatically mean that a company has its house in order, just as buying cheaper “fast fashion” puffer jackets need not necessarily mean that the down is unethically sourced. Whatever the price of the jacket, check first whether the company has signed up to the Responsible Down Standard.

The main alternative to down is polyester filling, such as the recycled polyester ECOdown. Unlike duck or goose down, ECOdown does not lose its insulating qualities when wet. The flip side is that polyester down is slightly heavier than duck or goose down. Brands that use ECOdown include Trenery and HoodLamb.

There are also other natural alternatives, such as batting made from merino wool, as used by Icebreaker, or the recycled goose down used by Patagonia.

Manufacturing processes

The long supply chains through which our garments arrive can mean that labour abuses continue to occur. The 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide was released this month, so have a look at how local brands have fared in terms of supply-chain transparency. Throughout April, Fashion Revolution Day aim to connect and inform the public about the issues facing the estimated 60 million garment workers worldwide.




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Well Made Clothes is a website that allows you to choose clothing that aligns with your values, be they environmental, social, ethical treatment of animals, or all three.

Coat care

The final choices are those you can make as a wearer. For the workaday, bundled-up commuter, choose a high-quality garment in a hard-wearing fabric in a classic style and it will last you many seasons (real seasons as well as fashion’s artificial ones).

Again, fibre matters in longevity. Wool coats have a natural insulating quality. Acrylic, a synthetic substitute for wool, can develop pilling and does not have wool’s natural advantages.

Selecting a brand that will repair your damaged coat ensures that you remain motivated to care for your garment. Finally, in terms of disposal, brands such as Kathmandu and H&M offer a take-back service at the end of the garment’s life (although effective recycling of these garments remains a wicked problem for retailers). High-quality coats will always be in demand at op shops.

Why not wear what you wore last winter?

Retailers might not like this, but you should ask yourself whether you even need a fresh coat and, if so, whether it needs to be bought new. The most environmentally friendly item is the one we already own. Increasing sales of second-hand clothing result in savings in carbon emissions, waste, and water usage per tonne of clothing (see page 38 of this report).

Despite the supposed vagaries of fashion, winter coats are an excellent example of a garment that need not require constant refreshing, but rather can be worn for many seasons if cared for correctly.




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However, if you seek a winter wardrobe refresh, the enjoyment of rugging up in a new coat can be experienced at a lower cost economically and environmentally by buying second-hand, whether through eBay or op shops, or swapping or buying informally through friends in your social network. Engaging in the sharing economy through clothing renting platforms such as Lána can allow you to rent a show-stopping coat for a special night out.

The ConversationGiven the many considerations involved in the choice of coat – whether concerns over workers’ rights, cruelty to animals, or environmental impact – all we can do is make informed choices according to our individual values. For this reason, my first stop when doing some “sustainable shopping” will always be my existing wardrobe.

Alice Payne, Senior lecturer in Fashion, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: tap water is best, but what bottle should you drink it from?



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The greenest option might be to get a disposable bottle but never dispose of it.
Shutterstock.com

Trevor Thornton, Deakin University and Simon Lockrey, RMIT University

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Our Sustainable Shopping series asks experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.


We have many options when it comes to how we drink water, given the large range of consumer products available, and Australia’s high standards of tap water.

But which option is the smartest choice from an environmental perspective?

According to the waste management hierarchy, the best option is one that avoids waste altogether. Recyclable options are less preferable, and landfill disposal the worst of all.

For water bottles, this suggests that keeping and reusing the same bottle is always best. It’s certainly preferable to single-use bottles, even if these are recyclable.




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Of course, it’s hardly revolutionary to point out that single-use plastic bottles are a bad way to drink water on environmental grounds. Ditching bottled water in favour of tap water is a very straightforward decision.

However, choosing what reusable bottle to drink it out of is a far more complex question. This requires us to consider the whole “life cycle” of the bottle.

Cycle of life

Life-cycle assessment is a method that aims to identify all of the potential environmental impacts of a product, from manufacture, to use, to disposal.

A 2012 Italian life-cycle study confirmed that reusable glass or plastic bottles are usually more eco-friendly than single-use PET plastic bottles.

However, it also found that heavy glass bottles have higher environmental impacts than single-use PET bottles if the distance to refill them was more than 150km.

Granted, you’re unlikely ever to find yourself more than 150km from the nearest drinking tap. But this highlights the importance of considering how a product will be used, as well as what it is made of.

What are the reusable options?

Metal bottles are among the most durable, but also require lots of resources to make.
Flickr CC

In 2011, we investigated and compared the life cycles of typical aluminium, steel and polypropylene plastic reusable bottles.

Steel and aluminium options shared the highest environmental impacts from materials and production, due to material and production intensity, combined with the higher mass of the metal bottles, for the same number of uses among the options. The polypropylene bottle performed the best.

Polypropylene bottles are also arguably better suited to our lifestyles. They are lighter and more flexible than glass or metal, making them easier to take to the gym, the office, or out and about.

The flip side of this, however, is that metal and glass bottles may be more robust and last longer, so their impacts may be diluted with prolonged use – as long as you don’t lose them or replace them too soon.

Health considerations are an important factor for many people too, especially in light of new research about the presence of plastic particles in drinking water.

Other considerations aside, is may even be best to simply buy a single-use PET plastic water bottle and then reuse it a bunch of times. They are lighter than most purpose-designed reusable bottles, but still long-lasting. And when they do come to the end of their useful life, they are more easily recycled than many other types of plastic.

Sure, you won’t look very aspirational, but depending on how many uses you get (as you approach the same number of uses as other options), you could be doing your bit for the environment.

Maintaining reusable options

There are a few things to bear in mind to ensure that reusable bottles produce as little waste as possible.

  1. Refill from the tap, as opposed to using water coolers or other bottled water that can come from many kilometres away, requiring packaging and distribution. Unsurprisingly, tap water has the lowest environmental impacts of all the options.

  2. Clean your bottle thoroughly, to keep it hygienic for longer and avoid having to replace grotty bottles. While cleaning does add to the environmental impact, this effect is minor in comparison to the material impacts of buying new bottles – as we have confirmed in the case of reusable coffee cups.




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The verdict

To reduce your environmental impacts of a drink of water, reusing a bottle, whether a designer bottle or a single-use bottle you use time and again, makes the most sense from a life-cycle, waste and litter perspective.

The maintenance of your reusable container is also key, to make sure you get as many uses as you can out of it, even if you create minor additional environmental impacts to do so.

The ConversationUltimately, drinking directly from a tap or water fountain is an even better shout, if you have that option. Apart from the benefit of staying hydrated, you will reduce your impacts on our planet.

Trevor Thornton, Lecturer, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University and Simon Lockrey, Research Fellow, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: save the world, one chocolate at a time


Robert Edis, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; Kanika Singh, University of Sydney, and Richard Markham, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Our Sustainable Shopping series asks experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.


Cocoa is probably the most sustainable of all internationally traded commodities, so there are several “feelgood” reasons for eating the chocolate made from it this Easter – at least when the cocoa is grown by smallholder producers and traded by processors that are committed to equitable sharing of profits.

Here are some ways to tell if you are onto a good thing.

Environmental impact

As a wild species, cocoa (Theobroma cacao) originates from the rainforest of the Amazon basin and the foothills of the Andes. In nature, it grows as an “understorey” species, shaded by the rainforest canopy. Much of the world’s cocoa crop is similarly grown in the shade of taller trees in mixed plantings.

Unlike many plantation crops, like rubber and oil palm, cocoa can be grown with a diverse mixture of other plants. Of course, not all growers produce this way, so if preserving biodiversity is a priority for you, look for Rainforest Alliance certification.

Healthy cocoa, grown in an agroforestry system with minimal chemical inputs, in Fiji. The cocoa beans are in the yellow pods.
Richard Markham

Cocoa needs a lot of water to survive, so large irrigated plantations have a high water footprint. On the other hand, almost all smallholder cocoa is grown without irrigation in high-rainfall areas, so the water used in production of the cocoa is close to zero (apart from a small amount of water used in processing).

Another environmental aspect is the use of fertilisers and pesticides. When cocoa pods are harvested they take a lot of nutrients with them, out of the ecosystem. On average, a kilogram of dry cocoa contains 36 grams of nitrogen, 6g of phosphorus, 72g of potassium, 7g of calcium, and 6g of magnesium.

This means maintaining soil condition is critical. This can be achieved with careful application of fertiliser, though this rarely occurs and soil depletion has become a major problem prompting aid groups to encourage more fertiliser use!.

However, research in Sulawesi, supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and chocolate giant Mars Inc, has shown that using a judicious combination of nitrogen-fixing shade trees and compost (ideally produced with the help of goats) can maintain soil fertility – and even reclaim depleted speargrass savanna – for cocoa production.

Trials by Indonesian and Australian researchers in Sulawesi suggested that a combination of compost and inorganic fertiliser gave the best results.
Richard Markham
Research trials on sustainable cocoa production at the ‘Mars Academy’ research station in Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Richard Markham

Finding good chocolate

The good news is that there are plenty of chocolate producers who avoid all of these problems. There are two ways to find it: look for certifications, or seek out small operations in our region.

Fairtrade certification means that smallholder producers in developing countries are getting a fair share of the price you pay.

Rainforest Alliance certification, meanwhile, ensures that rainforest hasn’t been cleared to make way for unsustainable plantations.

If you’re concerned about fertiliser and pesticide use, UTZ (who have recently merged with the Rainforest Alliance) has built sustainable productivity into their certification systems.

All of these certification schemes are largely available to multinational companies. Some of the biggest chocolate companies in the world, including Mars, Ferrero, Hershey and Nestlé, have committed to sourcing 100% certified cocoa, so it’s possible to buy sustainable cocoa without even realising it.

On the other end of the scale are smallholdings, which are likely to lack these kinds of certifications. That doesn’t always mean they are bad for the environment, or that the growers aren’t getting a fair price. It may simply be that the expense of formal certification is not worth it for many small operations.

Much of this chocolate is organic more or less by default, as many smallholders, especially in the Pacific region, simply do not use agrochemicals. It’s also more likely to be grown in heavily rainforested areas, with almost zero water footprint.

In their search for high quality and unique flavours, several Australian boutique chocolate makers have started to source their beans directly from cacao growers.

For instance, Bahen & Co. in Margaret River, Western Australia, purchases beans directly from communities on Vanuatu’s Malekula island, while Jasper & Myrtle in Canberra buys beans from growers on PNG’s previously troubled island of Bougainville.

These programs mean that these growers have been able to taste chocolate from their own beans for the first time, and thus understand how their own processing of the beans – through fermentation and drying – affects the quality of the final product.

Australian chocolate maker Mark Bahen evaluates samples of beans from individual growers in Vanuatu.
Conor Ashleigh for ACIAR

Even more value can remain with the local growers and their communities if the chocolate itself is manufactured in-country. Visitors passing through duty free shops as they leave PNG may have picked up Queen Emma chocolate, made by Paradise Foods in Port Moresby, while those leaving Nadi may have bought Fijiana chocolate made by local company Adi’s Chocolate.

Australian shoppers will soon be able to buy Aelan chocolate – single-origin bars from four different islands of Vanuatu, made in Port Vila by ACTIV, a Victorian NGO founded and operated on fair-trade principles.

At the furthest end of the fine-flavour chocolate trend are chocolate bars with no artificial additives of any kind. A favourite recipe among discerning chocolate-tasters is simply to mix 80% cocoa “nibs” (coarsely ground beans) with 20% sugar and “conch” it gently until smooth and delicious.

Drying cocoa beans in the sun helps to develop the best flavour (in this case Kerevat, PNG)
Yan Dicbalis

What about food miles and the carbon footprint?

The typical cocoa bean from the Asia-Pacific region is bought by the local representative of a global commodity trader. It is shipped to Singapore, or directly to Indonesia, which has the capacity to grind some 600,000 tonnes of cocoa each year. The ground or whole beans then travel onward to Europe.

Belgium has a well-established reputation as the world’s preferred provider of “cocoa liquor”, and some of this is shipped back to Australia as the raw material for local chocolate manufacture – now with a sizeable carbon footprint.

Other beans will be shipped to France, Italy, Switzerland (or will remain in Belgium) for manufacture into delicious chocolates, and some of these too will be shipped back to our region for retail sale. If fossil fuels and global warming are among your concerns, consider seeking a chocolate product that was grown and processed nearby.

The big players are Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia, with small amounts of smallholder-dominated production in the Pacific.
ICCO, 2017. Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics. Vol. XLIII, No. 3. Cocoa year 2016/17. International Cocoa Organization, London

The ConversationIn sum, with a bit of attention to the back story, you can enjoy a whole range of delicious new chocolate experiences this Easter – and feel that you are contributing at the same time to the equitable and sustainable development of the planet.

Robert Edis, Soil Scientist, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; Kanika Singh, Research Fellow, University of Sydney, and Richard Markham, Research Program Manager for Horticulture, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Greenwashing the property market: why ‘green star’ ratings don’t guarantee more sustainable buildings


Igor Martek, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Deakin University

Nothing uses more resources or produces more waste than the buildings we live and work in. Our built environment is responsible for half of all global energy use and half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings consume one-sixth of all freshwater, one-quarter of world wood harvests and four-tenths of all other raw materials. The construction and later demolition of buildings produces 40% of all waste.

The sustainability of our buildings is coming under scrutiny, and “green” rating tools are the key method for measuring this. Deakin University’s School of Architecture and Built Environment recently reviewed these certification schemes. Focus group discussions were held in Sydney and Melbourne with representatives in the field of sustainability – including government, green consultancies and rating tool providers.

Two main concerns emerged from our review:

  1. Sustainability ratings tools are not audited. Most ratings tools are predictive, while those few that take measurements use paid third parties. Government plays no active part.

  2. The sustainability parameters measured only loosely intersect with the building occupants’ sustainability concerns. Considerations such as access to transport and amenities are not included.

Focus group sessions run by Deakin University helped identify problems with current sustainability ratings.
Author provided



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That’s the backdrop to the sustainability targets now being adopted across Australia. Australia has the highest rate of population growth of any developed country. The population now is 24.8 million. It is expected to reach between 30.9 and 42.5 million people by 2056.

More buildings will be needed for these people to live and work in. And we will have to find ways to ensure these buildings are more sustainable if the targets now being adopted are to be achieved.

Over 80% of local governments have zero-emissions targets. Sydney and Canberra have committed to zero-carbon emissions by 2050. Melbourne has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2020.

So how do green ratings work?

Each green rating tool works by identifying a range of sustainability parameters – such as water and energy use, waste production, etc. The list of things to be measured runs into the dozens. Tools differ on the parameters measured, method of measurement, weightings given and the thresholds that determine a given sustainability rating.

There are over 600 such rating tools worldwide. Each competes in the marketplace by looking to reconcile the credibility of its ratings with the disinclination of developers to submit to an assessment that will rate them poorly. Rating tools found in Australia include Green Star, NABERS, NatHERS, Circles of Sustainability, EnviroDevelopment, Living Community Challenge and One Planet Communities.

So, it is easy enough to find landmark developments labelled with green accreditations. It is harder to quantify what these actually mean.




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Ratings must be independently audited

Government practice, historically, has been to assure building quality through permits. Planning permits ensure a development conforms with city schemes. Building permits assess structural load-bearing capacity, health and fire safety.

All this is done off the plan. Site inspections take place to verify that the building is built to plan. But once a certificate of occupancy is issued, the government steps aside.

The sustainability agenda promoted by government has been grafted onto this regime. Energy efficiency was introduced into the residential building code in 2005, and then into the commercial building code in 2006. At first, this was limited to new buildings, but then broadened to include refurbishment of existing structures.

Again, sustainability credentials are assessed off the plan and certification issued once the building is up and running. Thereafter, government walks away.

We know of only one longitudinal energy performance study carried out on domestic residences in Australia. It is an as-yet-unpublished project conducted by a retiree from the CSIRO, working with Indigenous communities in Far North Queensland.

The findings corroborate a recent study by Gertrud Hatvani-Kovacs and colleagues from the University of South Australia. This study found that so-called “energy-inefficient” houses, following traditional design, managed under certain conditions to outperform 6- and 8-star buildings.

Sustainability tools must measure what matters

Energy usage is but the tip of the iceberg. Genuine sustainability is about delivering our children into a future in which they have all that we have today.

Home owners, on average, turn their property around every eight years. They are less concerned with energy efficiency than with real estate prices. And these prices depend on the appeal of the property, which involves access to transport, schools, parks and amenities, and freedom from crime.

Commercial property owners, too, are concerned about infrastructure, and they care about creating work environments that retain valued employees.

These are all core sustainability issues, yet do not come up in the rating systems we use.

The ConversationIf government is serious about creating sustainable cities, it needs to let go of its limited, narrow criteria and embrace these larger concerns of “liveability”. It must embody these broader criteria in the rating systems it uses to endorse developments. And it needs an auditing and enforcement regime in place to make it happen.

Igor Martek, Lecturer In Construction, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Lecturer in Construction, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: take the ‘litter’ out of glitter


Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Welcome to our Sustainable Shopping series, in which we ask experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.


Scientists often get a bad rap as party poopers. As a case in point, my colleagues and I have provided data on the impacts of balloon releases on marine wildlife.

So when glitter – a highly visible and easily obtained microplastic – comes under the microscope, you might be tempted to groan. The good news is that we’re not out to ruin the fun: with Mardi Gras around the corner (bringing a ubiquity of sparkling Instagrams), here’s how to find ecologically friendly glitter.




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All glitter goes to the ocean

When something fun or common is revealed to be destructive it should be a point of pride in our society that we adjust, adapt and move on to safer alternatives.

It therefore makes sense to investigate what data exist for glitter, and to consider whether it’s time for a change in attitude. So, what is glitter?

Glitter is typically made from polyethylene, the same plastic found in plastic bags and a host of other products. Despite glitter’s popularity in everything from cosmetics and toothpaste to crafts and clothes, remarkably little is known about the distribution or impacts of glitter on our environment. As a scientist, that worries me. Glitter is incorporated into consumer products without any real knowledge of its safety.




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In contrast, there are dozens of scientific papers on micro-bead scrubbers (tiny plastic beads), which originate from many of the same products (such as cosmetics and toothpaste).

Research on micro-beads suggests that around 8 trillion beads are released into aquatic habitats every day in the United States alone.

Data for glitter are not available, but given its widespread use the situation is likely to be similarly alarming. It’s far too small for waste treatment facilities to capture, so glitter goes straight into your local river and out into the ocean. Because glitter particles are typically 1 millimetre in size or smaller, they can be ingested by a range of creatures, including mussels.

Again, data on micro-beads can tell us why we should be worried about this: a recent study from Australia showed that toxic chemicals associated with micro-beads can “leach” into the tissues of marine creatures, contaminating their bodies. If mussels, fish and other animals are ingesting glitter and micro-beads, these contaminants likely also pose a risk to humans that consume them.




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Thankfully, science is here to help. A range of compostable, vegan, 100% plastic-free “bio-glitters” have been created and are readily available online. So, at your next event, you can celebrate in glorious, sparkly style while also educating passers-by about ocean conservation. (I assure you, this is very popular; I do it all the time and I’m the life of the party.)

What to look for

Mica, a naturally occurring sparkling mineral, is often offered as a non-plastic alternative to glitter. However, some brands, such as Lush, are now using “synthetic mica” (made in a lab) because mica mining has been associated with child labour, especially in India.

Some plastics labelled “bio-degradable” will only break down in industrial composting units, at temperatures over 50℃. This is very unlikely to happen in the ocean, so look for terms like “compostable” and “organic” instead. (For more information on the difference between bio-degradable, compostable and everything in between, this United Nations report is very comprehensive – just read the summary if you’re in a hurry).

Fortunately, eco-friendly glitter is becoming much easier to find around the world, and more suppliers are turning to cellulose and other plant-derived bases for their product. Wild Glitter‘s founder, like many in the industry, cites “watching a weekend’s worth of plastic glitter wash down the plughole after a festival” as the impetus to sell an “ethical, eco-friendly, cruelty-free way to sparkle”.

Eco Glitter Fun is a member of the Plastics Ocean Foundation, a global non-profit; Glo Tatts makes beautiful temporary glitter tattoos; and, for an Australian twist, Eco Glitter make their product from Eucalyptus cellulose.




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Bio-glitter can be incorporated into any product. Tasmanian soap maker Veronica Foale switched to bio-glitter last year and hasn’t looked back – if a small business in a rural area can do it, you can too!

The ConversationThis is the key to success in the battle against litter: not all changes are difficult and affordable alternatives do exist. Once you’ve mastered bio-glitter, embrace the next challenge – a bamboo toothbrush perhaps, or reusable Onya produce bags? Never stop learning. Go forth and sparkle responsibly.

Jennifer Lavers, Research Scientist, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.