Are we really doing our bit for the environment?

The actions of British Geological Survey (BGS) and others on environmental sustainability are to be applauded (21 September), although, in at least one instance, they illuminate the potential for confusion and the complications that can surround this issue.

A milk float will undoubtedly provide quiet and fumeless transport around a work site, and using a second-hand vehicle makes an important contribution to recycling (including the prevention of the early release of lead and acid into the environment).

However, unless the electricity is generated from hydroelectric, nuclear or wind turbine plants it will merely transfer pollutants to the power station. In fact, it is a lot worse. It will generate more CO2 and NO emissions per mile compared to a conventionally engined vehicle, as 65 per cent or more of the energy value of the fuel will have been wasted by converting it to electricity (which is why natural gas heating is cheaper than electricity).

Some experts believe that the much touted solar panels are only just reaching a point where in the UK climate they produce more electricity over their lifetime than is expended in their manufacture (mainly because of the large amounts of electricity required to purify the silicates used in them). When the additional carbon-based energy used in maintaining thermal plants on standby to kick in during periods of cloud cover is factored in, each kilowatt of supposedly “green” power they produce has probably contributed more greenhouse emissions to the atmosphere than a thermally produced one.

If organisations want to become environmentally sustainable they must be clear about the total impact their actions will have on the global environment and not just consider their worksites. I have no doubt that BGS is aware of these issues and has ensured that the energy supply for its vehicle is from an appropriate source. But it is a point that should be made to others seeking to emulate the company.

David Kreikmeier-Watson
Senior HR consultant
The Corporation of London, Personnel & Management Services

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