Limits…the baby in the bathwater?

One just has to reflect on the anxiety evoked by the word “recession” to confirm how strongly we associate the concepts of “growth” with our collective and individual well-being. Understandably then, anything that seeks to limit growth is, almost by default, resisted.

Sustainability, when honestly and correctly framed, lays bare the inherent conflict between our growth-based concepts of business success on the one-hand, and the need to limit economic activity to within the boundaries of a finite biosphere (our “one planet” problem), on the other. As a result, business-minded people will very often interpret sustainability’s call for the application of limits, as being anti-growth, and therefore inherently, anti-business.

Yes, sustainability does most definitely call for restraint…for limits…but as we shall see, the negative default response that is evoked tends to prevent a deeper reflection on the concept of “limits” and the inherent gift that they are to a business and an economy…I would argue a classic case of the proverbial baby being thrown out with the bathwater.

The word “limit” is defined as “a restriction on the size or amount of something permissible or possible”. It is not a big leap to associate the idea of “limits” with “curtailment” of one’s activities, or “restriction” on ones’ freedoms, or a “reduction” of ones’ rights & privileges, etc.  All fearful concepts to us individualistically-minded citizens of capitalistic societies.

But we also know that, conceptually and in reality, limits can also have very positive connotations and outcomes. We know, for example, that carefully imposed and respected limits are essential to a well-functioning and ordered home, community and nation (in South Africa we are increasingly aware of the negative impacts of disregarded limits!). But, perhaps even more importantly, that they are also the key catalysts for innovation –  it is this aspect of limits that I want to illustrate through examples of three types of limits that can be imposed on a business and/or economy: regulatory, self-imposed and natural.

Regulatory limits

In July this year President Macron of France announced the introduction of a total ban on petrol and diesel cars, with the sale of internal combustion engines in France to be outlawed from 2040[i]. The fact that almost 95% of France’s current national fleet are petrol or diesel underlines the magnitude of this regulatory “limit”. The target has an air of impossibility about it:  The current technological paradigm is so entrenched; the motor industry is one of the most powerful industrial sectors on the planet with deeply vested interests in current technologies; while the needed alternative technologies and infrastructure are still in their infancy, relatively.

While the immediate reaction of the motor industry has been one of shock, disbelief and even anger, what Macron has done is given it the most powerful of gifts: a catalyst for radical innovation.  Research and Development teams in motor corporations around the world will undoubtedly already be at work, unleashing their creative energies in response to these newly imposed design parameters. France will no doubt hit its target and we, as a result, are to be witness to the transition to a new mobility age.

Self-imposed limits

Perhaps one of the more famous examples of a leader imposing limits on his own business is that of Ray Anderson of Interface Carpets. Ray had an epiphany in 1994 while reading Paul Hawken’s book the Ecology of Commerce[ii] and understood for the first time the toll his business and industry was taking on the environment. After reading the book he gave a speech to his immediate staff, stating that his company was a polluter and a destroyer and from that moment forward, Interface was to integrate sustainability into every facet and aspect of the company.

Stunned silence was how Anderson described their response. A strategy was formulated – Mission Zero – to eliminate all negative impacts on the environment by 2020. In Ray Anderson’s words, the mission is to create a “new industrial revolution” where “extractive must be replaced by renewable; linear by cyclical; fossil fuel energy by renewable energy – sunlight; wasteful by waste-free; and abusive by benign”[iii].

The gift of limits, self-imposed, had been unleashed. The impact of the resulting innovation and fundamental redesign of Interface’s products and processes are legendary. Interface, far from limiting itself to the negative sense of the word, is established as the largest manufacturer of modular carpets in the world with a radically innovated range of products based on recycled materials (primarily re-use of its own carpets), all done while achieving massive reductions in energy-use, emissions and waste. Interface is well on its way to operating within the limits imposed by Ray Anderson.

Natural limits

With the Western Cape in South Africa facing its worst drought in more than one hundred years, residents in this part of the world are beginning to more fully appreciate natural limits and their impacts. While there has been a flurry of innovations in response to our local water crisis[iv] the most famous example of water-scarcity-driven innovation can be found in the country of Israel.

To put Israel’s water scarcity into perspective, average natural water replenishment is only half of Israel’s annual water consumption – requiring almost a billion cubic metres per year of water to be secured from other sources to meet the nation’s water needs[v]. That is equivalent to two full Theewaterskloof Dams per year[vi]. Despite this fundamental natural limit, average annual sustainable natural water consumption has been achieved.

Innovation on a grand scale is the basis of this achievement:  Inspired and spurred on by this naturally imposed scarcity, extensive engineering, biological and logistic challenges have been overcome. Innovations include the invention of drip irrigation and precision moisture-management in the root zones of crops, a ground breaking national water conveyance system, unparalleled scale of treatment and reuse of domestic waste water (grey water) for irrigation (over 85% of Israel’s waste water is recycled for agricultural use), pioneering work in drilling exceptionally deep wells, large-scale desalination of seawater and brackish groundwater and the effective control of algae blooms in reservoirs for reused water.

Israel is today the undisputed global water technology leader and known as the country that made the dessert bloom – all on the back of limit-inspired innovation.

Conclusion

As the above examples illustrate, the imposition of limits, whether arising from within our legal or organisational systems, or from the natural world, serve as powerful catalysts for innovation, adaptation and flourishing. Conversely, it could be argued, that the absence (or ignorance) of limits runs the risk of breeding complacency, stagnation and ultimately decline.

Sustainability advocates regulatory and self-imposed restraint as well as the moderation of our activities to within our planetary limits. As the above examples illustrate, contrary to “cramping the style” of business and economic progress, sustainability achieves the opposite:  It unleashes the innovative and creative potential within individuals, organisations and nations. As opposed to being something to be resisted, sustainability and its advocacy of limits is something to be embraced.

References

[i] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/06/france-ban-petrol-diesel-vehicles-2040/

[ii] Hawken, Paul. The Ecology of Commerce Revised Edition: A Declaration of Sustainability (Collins Business Essentials) (pp. 69-70). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition

[iii] http://www.interfaceglobal.com/Sustainability/Interface-Story.aspx

[iv] http://ventureburn.com/2017/05/cape-startups-aim-tackle-water-crisis-innovative solutions/

[v] http://oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/4819/Israel:_Innovations_overcoming_water_scarcity.html

[vi] Theewaterskloof Dam is the largest and most important water reservoir in the Western Cape with a maximum volume of 480 million cubic meters.

How to reduce your carbon emissions: Practical case-studies

Confronting Climate Change has for a number of years provided a freely available carbon calculator tool.  Apart from supporting the fruit-and wine industries of South Africa with the use of the tool through training opportunities and direct support, we would also like to assist the users of the tool to move forward from the measurement of their carbon emissions towards the reduction of these emissions.

Although each organisation has its own structures and limitations or opportunities, a few logical steps are provided to guide you through the process of managing and reducing your carbon emissions.

First steps:

Please keep in mind that to reduce your carbon emissions is a long-term process, which should be approached in a step-by-step manner.

  1. Find a reputable service provider to compile an energy audit for you. What is an energy audit? It is a systematic approach that will tell you: What you are using; where you are using it and how much you are using?  Then an assessment is needed to identify the appropriate options to reduce your energy usage.
  2. Reduce your energy consumption by implementing energy efficient practices as recommended in your audit report. This may take place over time as it will have both cost and operational implications.
  3. Use renewable energy

What can we learn from others?

There are a number of technologies and energy efficiency measures that you can implement on your farm, packhouse or winery.  What works for one business does not necessarily work for another and that is where the importance of an energy audit lies.  However, we can learn a lot from others.  Short case-studies are presented below that represent a selection of either green energy technologies or energy saving measures.  Please note that there are a myriad of options available and that this information piece is only presenting a summary of a few technologies.

It is very important that before you consider the installation of alternative energy, that you consult with an independent energy consultant rather than a supplier themselves.

Solar PV

An investigation conducted by GreenCape listed a number of solar PV case-studies that are presented below.

 

Business Technology Return on investment
Ceres Fruit Growers
  • 986 kWp system installed by SolarWorld Africa and  African Technical Innovations (ATI) in Ceres
  • 4 060 SW250 SolarWorld polycrystalline panels
  • 58 x 17 kW three-phase Sunny Tripower inverters
  • Generating 1 690 MWh per year
  • 6% reduction in annual electricity             consumption
  • 1 622 tonnes CO2 e avoided per annum
Ceres Koelkamers
  • 908 kWp system installed by SolarWorld Africa and African Technical Innovations (ATI) in Ceres
  • 2117 SW240 polycrystalline PV panels
  • 3 800 m2 surface area
  • Generating 848 MWh per year
  • 11% reduction in annual electricity costs
  • 839 tonnes of CO2 e avoided per annum
Stellenpak Fruit Packers
  • 420 kWp system Installed by Energyworx in Paarl 1680
  • SolarWorld SW250 polycrystalline modules
  • 2 744 m2 surface area
  • 21 Steca 20 000 TL3 grid-tied inverters
  • Generating 600 MWh per year
  • 15% reduction in electricity costs
  • 25-year guaranteed lifespan of the system

 

ArbeidsVreugd Fruit Packers
  • 450 kWp system installed by Renewable Energy Design Engineering in Villiersdorp
  • 1876 x 240 Wp Trina Solar modules
  • 26 SMA Tripower 17000 three-phase inverters Online data of power production
  • Generating 743 MWh per year
  • R38 million savings over 25 years
  • 733 tonnes CO2 e avoided per annum
  • Estimated payback of six years

Variable speed drive (VSD)

This is a device that can adjust the frequency to regulate and adapt motor speed to match the actual demand required by the system or application it is driving, resulting in reduced energy consumption.  Reducing a pump or fan speed by 20% can reduce energy consumption by more than 50%. Installing a VSD will regulate the speed and rotational force – or torque output – of the motor to match actual demand so that it doesn’t work faster than it needs to.  A VSD improves power factor correction and has a soft starting function. When a VSD is not feasible, soft starters or power factor correction can be considered instead (ESKOM Integrated Demand Management, 2015).

A VSD can optimise your irrigation system when:

  • movable pipe systems and micro- and drip irrigation are used
  • Distances between the blocks of land and the pump stations are different, causing a variation in friction loss and power requirements.
  • Irrigation blocks are uneven in size and a different number of sprayers or drippers are required.
  • Irrigation blocks are on sloped topographies, requiring different pressures and power.
  • Pumps and motors are designed to deliver water to the irrigation block that requires the most pressure
  • The pump and motor are oversized and water delivery needs to be throttled.
  • A second-hand pump and motor are used for the application and water delivery needs to be throttled (ESKOM Integrated Demand Management, 2015).

Lighting

A case-study on energy efficient lighting at the Kromme Rivier Poultry Farm, South Africa was available on the ESKOM Integrated Demand Management website.  It provided useful information on the savings that can be achieved through the replacement of mercury vapour lights with LEDs.

Technology description Cost Savings
Replace two 125W Mercury vapour floodlights with 20W light LEDs. Approximately R70 700
  • 51 226kWh less energy used per annum
  • Saved R60 053 per annum.

 Hydro electricity

Problem: High electricity bill of R360 000 and power outages resulting in a major impact on electrical equipment.

Solution: Water on the farm is obtained from springs in the Witzenberg Mountain Range and was ideal for hydro-electric generation.

Savings: The farm saved 50% of their electricity bill during the fruit season (demand 124kWh) and is entirely self-sufficient during winter.

Technology:  The hydro-electrical unit can deliver at least 29kWh.  They have installed four small turbines in parallel so that they can run the system on one or two turbines when the water flow is low.  A turbine can also be services without having to switch off the entire system.  Electricity is also stored in a battery bank with a total storage capacity of 30kWh.

To generate electricity from water you need a water source and a height of about 100m.  Water flows from a top reservoir to the bottom reservoir and generates electricity during the high-tariff period, then it is pumped back to the top reservoir during the low-tariff period.

Payback:  It is estimated that they system will take approximately 5 years to pay for itself, through savings on electricity bills and repairs (Kriel, 2015).

 

Who can we contact for help?

National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC):  They conduct subsidised energy assessments to identify savings based on usage, and provide recommendations for energy saving options.  They can also link you to government incentives that can help you to reduce costs.

You can visit their website at www.ncpc.co.za and complete an application to undergo an assessment.

Tel: 012 841 3772

Email: ncpc@csir.co.za

ESKOM’s Energy Advisory Services

Tel: 08600 37566

Email: AdvisoryService@eskom.co.za

Useful tools and information portals:

Confronting Climate Change: Carbon footprint calculator: www.climatefruitandwine.co.za

GreenAgri: www.greenagri.org.za

Funding opportunities: Contact GreenCape Green Finance Desk for more information.  Please see their website for more information.  www.greencape.co.za

 

References:

Janse van Vuuren, P. 2016. GreenCape Industry Brief 01/2016.  Solar PV on packhouses.

ESKOM Integrated Demand Management, 2015. Variable Speed Drives: Reducing energy costs in horticulture.

ESKOM Integrated Demand Management, 2013.

Kriel, G. 2015.  Farmers Weekly. http://www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-business/agribusinesses/hydro-electricity-all-the-power-half-the-cost/

Agribusinesses: Where do we stand with future Water Legislation?

The Western Cape, and South Africa, is in the midst of the worst drought in a long, long time. With much less to go around, responses have included increased monitoring, demand management, and the imposition of restrictions. Still we are far off the mark with an incredibly tough summer ahead.

But with increasing variability in supply and increasing competition for water resources, what of the future – what are the planned legislative reforms by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and how are these likely to impact agribusinesses?

The Blue North team attended a very valuable presentation by James Brand and Stephen Levetan of ENS Africa law firm in August. Some of the main points from the presentation include:

  • The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has indicated that the allocations to agriculture will remain capped at the current 67%.
  • There will be a focus to redress past imbalances in allocations to Historically Disadvantaged Individuals (HDI’s).
  • Irrigation regulations published on 17 February 2017: “the taking of water for irrigation will be measured, recorded and reported to the authorities, if directed to do so.”
  • Approximately 65% of South Africa’s water use is through land ownership as Existing Lawful Uses (ELUs). Verification has commenced by the DWS throughout the country to validate and verify ELUs.
  • In time, all ELUs that have not been verified will need to reapply for their water use entitlement by way of the compulsory licensing provisions. If refused or granted a lesser use than the ELU, compensation may be claimed for any financial loss suffered in the process, subject to the fulfilment of specified criteria in the National Water Act.
  • A water use licence or verified ELU is subject to review every 5 years and may be reduced if:
    • Necessary to prevent deterioration of the quality of the water resource
    • Insufficient water for all authorised water uses after allowing for the ecological reserve
    • Necessary to accommodate demands brought about by changes in socio-economic circumstances, and it is in the public interest to meet those demands.
    • Other similar licenses are also reduced.
  • The irrigation sector currently receives a significant subsidy, due to sector-wide caps on various charges. Importantly, the agricultural subsidy will be removed in phases, with a proposed 20% annual reduction over a period of five years.

As highlighted by Brand and Levetan, “physical, regulatory and reputational risks relating to water use can cause disruption of supply and, in worst cases, termination of business operations”. It is important for agribusinesses to gain absolute clarity on what their water use entitlements are; measure and benchmark water use; and, implement water use efficiency measures wherever possible.

 

Blue North has developed a series of comprehensive Water Risk Management solutions. These entail a combination of desktop water risk profiling, operation-specific water footprint calculations and benchmarking; and the development of a detailed and comprehensive operation-specific water risk management plan.

If you would like more information on Blue North’s Water Desk, please contact Myles Oelofse on myles@bluenorth.co.za.

 

References

Brand, J., and Levetan, S. (2017). Agribusiness: Water Law. ENS Africa Law Firm. [Presentation attended 15th August 2017]

One of the lowest levels at which I have seen the massive Theewaterskloof Dam (4th largest capacity in South Africa) close to Villiersdorp in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Drones and Agriculture 101

A new “buzz” word in agriculture is “drones” (pun intended). But what are they and how do they actually work?  Most importantly, how can they help me, the farmer?

A drone is an unmanned aircraft, also known as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)1. If you like a bit of drama you can refer to them as a “flying robots”.

Being unmanned, drones are controlled by a person on the ground, or more likely in the agricultural context, the drone is programmed with a flight path over a specific field or orchard block. It uses the flight path in conjunction with onboard software, GPS, and other sensors to navigate.

When you add a camera to the drone it becomes really useful. Besides having a bird’s eye view of your fields or orchard blocks, the camera can take pictures with infrared sensors (humans cannot see infrared light). When combined with the right algorithms, these images can be super useful as they can show plant stress from disease, pests, over or under-irrigation and nutrient deficiency.  Drone images can also be in high definition, so a farmer can zoom in on a specific tree, or even a specific part of a tree!

The drone imagery can then be displayed on a GIS (Geographic Information System) platform or a satellite imagery interface like Google Earth.  It is then possible to zoom in or out and view images over time, to see how the stress manifested or how the stressed areas are reacting to specific management decisions.

There are numerous case studies of farmers using remote sensing data (obtained either through drones or satellites) to reduce water use, increase yields and nip pests in the bud before the damage is done.

Satellite remote-sensing data is different in that data is obtained from a slightly different unmanned vehicle, but the data is typically of a lower temporal frequency (e.g. once a week), and with a lower resolution. Fruitlook is a great example of a useful remote-sensing data platform, where data is currently provided for free. This is a good way for farmers to get a feel for the technology, and figure out specific opportunities within their operation.

 

  1. http://internetofthingsagenda.techtarget.com/definition/drone
Smallholder Agriculture

Smallholder farmers and their participation in global value chains

Recent estimates suggest that there are more than 570 million farms in the world. Of these, more than 475 million are smaller than 2ha, commonly referred to as smallholdings. Even though these smallholder farms only utilise approximately 12% of global agricultural land, smallholder farms are estimated to directly and indirectly support a population of more than 2 billion people (Lowder et al. 2016; Goldman et al. 2016), whilst IFAD (2013) estimate that about 2.5 billion people are employed, partially or entirely, in 500 million small farms worldwide. Smallholder farms therefore play a critical role in food security, poverty reduction and sustainable development for a very large proportion of rural populations, globally. Read more

Fruitlook

Managing your farm with Fruitlook

We all know South African farmers operate within a challenging environment, where the short and long-term viability of an operation entails picking a path through a multitude of production pressures. Some of these include rising input costs; competition for scarce water resources; and the challenges associated with a changing climate. Fruitlook, an online remote-sensing platform, can make the management of these pressures easier and more effective. Read more

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Louis Loubser’s ‘Tree Hog’

Earlier this month I visited Louis Loubser’s farm just outside of Robertson in the Breede Valley. Louis is the man behind the ‘Tree Hog’ – a simple, but extremely effective invention that can bring about considerable reductions in on-farm water and energy use! Read more

Management intensive grazing

The Passion behind ‘Farmer Angus’

Angus McIntosh – the previous London-based finance professional turned livestock farmer. Not a ‘gewone’ farmer, but a razor sharp and enthusiastic farmer that has steadfastly plotted his course against the grain of convention. For those of you that don’t know, Angus is the man behind Spier’s pasture-raised livestock and the ‘Farmer Angus’ name.   Read more

Agroecology

Agroecology – the who’s who

What is agroecology? Agroecology is defined as “the application of ecological concepts to the design and management of sustainable agro-ecosystems” (Silici, 2014). The principles of agroecology are increasingly gaining traction as a means to building agri system sustainability and resilience, reducing dependence on costly chemical inputs, and building productivity at the farm level through the production of a diverse range of products (Silici, 2014). Read more

JD Kirsten's recycling collection igloos

JDK’s interesting household recycling initiative!

Arguably the most important step to driving any environmental initiative is to change behaviour. As with recycling, it is simply difficult to increase recycling rates without increasing  the rate at which recyclables are collected at both the household and company levels, requiring a change in behaviour by both you and I. JD Kirsten, realising the potential wider gains from improved rates of recycling, have adopted a novel approach to onboard its farm workers. Read more