Chances are you may have been reading about conserving energy in the wake of prolonged load shedding exercises by the government. Blame the think tanks for overlooking this critical utility for business and households alike and curse the KESC for coming up with power cut plans every now and then. To top it all, you must be wondering why the summers become hotter every year.
The Ministry of Water and Power maintains that “the power crisis in the country was primarily a crisis of investment and not a rises of planning.” While we are at it, there is no denying that we are hit by the worst power crisis ever. Electricity shortage, natural gas resources depletion and looming increase in petroleum prices calls for collective careful efforts by all stakeholders.
With capital investment, we can develop new dams, nuclear power houses and adopt alternate bio-fuel technologies. The subject matter is too vast to be discussed here, however, to sum it all up the United Nations says: “Human activity – particularly the burning of fossil fuels – has made the blanket of greenhouse gases around the earth thicker.” The resulting increase in global temperatures is altering the complex web of systems that allow life to thrive on earth, such as cloud cover, rainfall, wind patterns, ocean currents, and the distribution of plant and animal species. It is crucial to use our resources conscientiously as fuel and energy technologies have multitude effects on the climate. Global warming and climate change are a rising threat to everyone.
The Australian government plans to gradually phase out incandescent light bulbs and replace them with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs across the country. Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says that this could help reduce carbon emissions by 4 million tons by 2012 and cut household power bills by up to 66%.
A commercial Jumbo Jet has recently been tested by Virgin Atlantic to fly on a mixture of bio-fuels extracted from the nuts of babassu tree and coconut oil, in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. The initiative has been praised by some analysts as a potentially useful experiment. It takes great commitment and perseverance to launch such an experiment amidst contradicting views by environment experts and scientists about the environmental benefits of biofuels.
Nonetheless, such experiments and initiatives give a big boost to efforts to find environmentally- friendly energy and fuel resources.
One might argue that countries such as Australia and companies like Virgin Atlantic can afford to engage in such experiments because they are a part of the developed economy. However, let us not forget that Cuba’s Fidel Castro launched a similar programme whereby youth brigades were sent into homes to switch off regular bulbs in an effort to save energy and help battle electrical blackouts around the island.
The responsibility of sustainable development does not lie entirely with the government; it requires collective efforts and collaboration to bring about a significant positive change and the state plays a key role as a facilitator to organizations and other stakeholders. The corporate sector, with its resources, has an important role to play by adopting eco-friendly ways of doing business.
Lighting accounts for 19% or nearly one-fifth of all electricity usage in the world. That is because much of the lighting currently installed is technology that dates back over a century. On March 29th, ‘Earth Hour’, an annual event to symbolise collective efforts to make a positive impact on climate change, was observed. ABN AMRO bank, Pakistan observed the day by sending out prior email communication to all employees to shut down their PCs, monitors and all office lighting except for critical lights, across all branches and departments.
Shaiza Aslam of ABN AMRO bank says, “This is a great cause and effort, and if as a bank we can make a difference towards the safety of our environment, then we can do wonders as a nation. Hence, a message for all professional and working people: we can, and should promote such initiatives and actively participate as a team, group or an industry.”
Irfan Saeed, who works at a technology firm in Maidenhead, UK says, “When I was in Pakistan, I never knew such initiatives existed. When I received a communication from my office that some of the servers and lights would be switched off, I was taken by surprise. In fact, my colleague was telling me that she had been anxiously waiting for this event to train her daughters about conserving energy and she made them switch off all the lights in their house. I now realize the importance of such initiatives as being critical to spreading awareness. I hope that more and more organizations back home participate in such much-needed initiatives.”
With inefficient lighting, 95% of energy is wasted in heat, with a mere 5% generates light. Some 75% of all lighting is used in professional applications like street lighting and buildings, while 25% is used in homes. The initiative taken by the government to promote the use of “Energy Savers” and to educate the masses through media campaigns about proper utilization of electricity is a step in the right direction. The ‘Turn the Tide’ project of the New America Dream captures this by replacing four standard bulbs with CFLs; one can prevent the emission of 5,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and reduce electricity bill by more than $100 over the lives of those bulbs. If only a thousand of us each replace four standard bulbs with CFLs, collectively we can prevent the emission of five million pounds of carbon dioxide and reduce our electricity bills by more than $100,000 over the lives of those bulbs.
Having said that, most people are unaware of the precautions which need to be taken for the disposal of CFLs.
CFL lighting fixtures, like all fluorescent lamps contain small amounts of mercury. Broken CFLs pose a threat to health and environment as they release mercury content in the environment. That is why it is critical that these bulbs are properly disposed of and recyclyed. The Environmental Protection Agency, United States maintains that landfill and “disposal methods can lead to a release of elemental mercury into the environment through breakage and leakage and ultimately contaminate the food chain”.
The good news is that virtually all parts of a CFL can be recycled after its commercial usage life. Its metallic end cap, glass tube, mercury and phosphor powder can be separated and recycled. The metallic portion can be used as scrap metal, glass can be reused for making other glass products and the mercury can be utilized for new bulbs or other devices. The need however, is to create a recycling mechanism through which domestic and commercial users can easily get rid of the diffused bulbs. One thing that comes to mind instantly is utilizing the ‘raddiwalas’ (junk and wastepaper collector). An incentive discount scheme should be launched by the companies to promote purchase of new CFLs for a deposit of used CFL bulbs. The corporate sector makes bulk purchases and should liaise with vendors for proper disposal of used bulbs.
Organizations should train their maintenance staff about proper handling of CFL’s. If a CFL bulb breaks, it is important to follow a proper procedure to avoid inhaling or being in contact with the mercury.
The lighting solutions have improved with tremendous energy savings. Philips Pakistan gives an overview of the solutions available to buyers for making sensible purchase decisions (see illustration).
Energy conservation goes beyond just lighting solutions with longstanding environment effects. Organizations as responsible citizens have a major role to play by being the early adopters of eco-friendly technologies and standards which have a positive impact on the environment. A solid commitment by organizations to environmental standards can go a long way in benefiting the organizations and sustaining the environment.
At present, the Pakistani market offers ENERGY STAR products to buyers. These products use less energy and prevent greenhouse gas emissions by meeting strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. While buying electrical appliances for offices and homes, one should consider and support products that offer the ENERGY STAR rankings. Philips Pakistan offers a range of green products in Pakistan, including lighting solutions and televisions built with Eco-Design and Sustainable Technology at subsidized rates to encourage consumers to buy products bearing environmental labels.
Initiatives to conserve energy have merit, but they only address the tip of the iceberg. To begin with, companies must invest in the development of human resources with the necessary set of skills and development of long-term strategies to encourage research and development of efficient, environmentally-friendly energy alternatives.