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Part 2. How sustainable can we be?

June 17, 2016 in General

In the meantime, many of us have come to understand that most of our current sources of energy are not sustainable. But a European Sustainable Energy Week remains largely untapped. Fossil fuels are not only running out in the long term, but already endanger our climate, health and environment in a big and unavoidable way. Our needs for heating, cooling, sanitary comfort, transport and in order to provide all from food to products that make life enjoyable, have been industrialized mostly in a unsustainable way except for some real traditional, local solutions that still stand or are incubating right now. Because or therefore they are sustainable?

Nothing goes without energy


Globally, transport (road, rail, sea, air) takes up about 27% of all energy used, with industry taking a similar stake according to the  International Energy Agency (IEA). Buildings however, eat up almost 35% of that pie and that is not even counting the construction of those buildings. Can that be true?

During our lives, for so many of the things we do, buy and enjoy, there is some form of energy impact. On the short term, but often also in the long run we commit ourselves, our family, our suppliers and even those who come after us to a certain kind and amount of energy demand to fulfil our needs. Most products and services we buy have an energy content between 10 and 90%, but using these products however, can generate more than 10 times that initial energy cost during their lifetime, how long that may be before we have to replace it, again, and again…

The true cost


Over the last decade, enormous efforts have been made to quantify and label the efficiency or sustainability of our main energy uses (or their lack of). Nowadays, most of our domestic electric appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, freezers, air-conditioners, even light bulbs carry an energy label. Yet, when we purchase one, we still hardly seem to realize that the yearly energy consumption of an air-conditioner for example, can easily cost more than the initial price we paid for our purchase of the equipment.

Strangely enough, 80% of the energy spent on cooking and washing is heated up with cold tap water running at 10°C or less to the 40°C degrees or more that is needed. Why not feed this with hot tap water? Why not use the (too) cold tap water for the base cooling of our fridge and freezer first? This would considerably extend the lifetime of the appliances too.

The importance of an energy label is often still heavily underestimated. Especially when seen in the total expected lifetime of such appliance; the energy cost far outweighs the purchase price. There is also some serious doubt whether the labels are always a fair representation of the energy consumed in practice compared to the comfort obtained.

Same goes for our cars. Nobody was really shocked when it appeared that so many car producers were fooling us (and themselves?) on CO2 and other emissions, as we already accept that a car uses far more gasoline than what is indicated in the brochure. Also here, the energy consumed making the car and using it over its lifetime will outweigh the investment cost of the car itself. 

Although with the recent introduction of hybrids, electric cars and public transport this is changing, these still represent only a very minor (and expensive) part of the car market, especially considering to the total transport we require. Biofuels and their seeming competition with food are not going to change that drastically either. As pointed out in an earlier publication, it’s probably our preferred choice of car and driving habits that could make the biggest change in the short term.

The same applies to our houses and buildings. Also here, performance labels were introduced. Although it gives an indication, they say very little about the real energy consumption when living in that specific building, in your specific way. As with appliances and cars, they say nothing about the amount of energy used to build it. As with cars, up until now most buildings cost more in energy consumption over their lifetime then what their total cost of construction was in the first place. Today, with the introduction of low or no-emission buildings, this is changing. But it will take at least 50 years before all our buildings today will be replaced. Most of us will never live or work in such a building in our time…

Changing the pace


So, even after we save all we can (see also my  previous blog), how do we fulfil the remaining need in the most sustainable and affordable way? Do we realize that the average income earner works at least 2 to 3 months a year to pay for all the energy he/she consumes? Electricity, gas, gasoline, oil or wood being the most common sources. Our comfort, our appliances, our needs being the common denominator. And do we have all the right information to make better choices? Can I trust my installer, supplier, government, news agency, internet or this blog?

And I’m still only talking about energy. What about safety? Toxicity? The environmental or social toll?

At Thermaflex, we develop solutions that help to save energy and lower the access barriers to renewable energy sources. We now also make a total analysis of our own footprint and strive to reduce it. Through our raw materials, throughout our processes, buildings and all the materials, appliances and cars that we use, and the suppliers we work with. Also with regards to  environmental and social impact. With our integrated Cradle to Cradle approach, we’ve started to certify our products and how we make them, and bring them to our markets. Today, already 50% of the products we sell are Cradle to Cradle certified. We hope to reach 75% by next year and 100% in the near future.

So, if most of our energy providers and industrial leaders are not making the necessary changes soon enough, what can we do ourselves to turn our own footprint into something more responsible? Tap the renewable sources that are around us. How leading is the market, how leading can we be? How difficult is it really? Read about it in my next blog.

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