Drawdown Insights

Perspective  |  May 7, 2021
Opinion: New EPA coolant rule is a no-brainer for addressing the climate crisis
by Paul West
This article originally appeared on The Hill. The EPA’s new rule to phase down the manufacturing and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — the coolants used in air conditioners and refrigerators — will likely be a drop in the bucket for consumers but a huge step forward on global climate action. The move is a critical step toward the Biden administration’s larger goal of reducing 55 percent of emissions by 2035. What you might not know: The climate impact of this rule could be more than doubled if it’s coupled with efforts to properly dispose of the refrigerants in the appliances already in people’s homes and businesses. Project Drawdown, the non-profit where I explore science-based solutions to the climate crisis, ranked switching to alternative refrigerants one of the top 10 climate solutions we have in-hand today. The EPA estimates that phasing down HFCs globally can avoid 0.5 degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century—a large feat with real-world benefits to every community. However, using alternative coolants in new appliances is only half of the potential benefits, as a focus on proper refrigerant disposal is critical to maximizing success. HFCs became widely used after researchers in the 1970s discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the main refrigerants used at the time, were causing a hole in the ozone layer and leading to more people getting skin cancer as a result. In a 1987 response, nations around the world created The Montreal Protocol, a global agreement to phase out the production and use of ozone-depleting substances like CFCs. Substituting HFCs for CFCs helped heal the ozone layer, but still warmed the planet. Although HFCs and other fluorinated gases cause “only” about 2 percent of Earth’s current warming, each molecule of HFC can trap between 1,000 to 9,000 times more heat than a molecule of CO2. In short, a little bit has a big impact. The challenge continues to grow. As temperatures warm and more of the world’s population accumulates additional wealth, demand for cooling increases. There are currently 3.6 billion cooling appliances in use today, and that number is increasing at a rate of 10 devices per second. Energy demand for powering these appliances has increased three-fold since 1990 and is projected to double again by 2040. The good news: Alternative, climate-friendly coolants already exist and the transition to using them is already underway. In 2016, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol created a legally binding agreement to phase down the production and use of HFCs, with developed countries committing to an 85 percent reduction between 2019 and 2036. Despite the U.S. failing to ratify the amendment, many American manufacturers endorsed it and began phasing out HFCs to stay competitive in the global market. The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM), enacted in December 2020 as part of a COVID-19 relief package, gave the EPA new authority to phase down HFCs in accordance with the Kigali Amendment. The U.S and China indicated in April that they will join the more than 120 nations and island states that have already signed amendment. Meeting target reductions is certainly within reach—the European Union is on track to phase down HFCs by 2030. Changes in the U.S. will accelerate the global shift through our manufacturing and imports of cooling appliances.  This new EPA rule puts us on a path to reduce damage caused by future appliances. But what about those 3.6 billion cooling devices that are currently in use? Or the countless more that are in salvage yards? Building a cleaner tomorrow is great, but we can’t move forward without taking care of today’s mess. Coupling the next generation of refrigerants with proper disposal and high-efficiency appliances will further advance climate benefits. In the U.S., 16 million refrigerators, freezers, window air conditioners and dehumidifiers are thrown out each year, yet only a little more than 600,000 were properly discarded through the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program. Project Drawdown estimates that removing or destroying the coolants in these appliances could more than double the impact of using alternative coolants in new appliances. Groups like Tradewater show that a market can be created for eliminating (by collecting and incinerating) the emissions in discarded appliances. Further, additional gains are possible by incentivizing high efficiency air conditioners. High-efficiency appliances are available today and there are promising new options in the near future. The Global Cooling Prize recently awarded two residential-scale air conditioner prototypes that offer five times lower impact than the standard ones used today. This policy change will make it easier for people to purchase appliances that use alternative coolants. One of the best things we as individuals can do to further reduce our energy used for cooling is to purchase Energy Star-rated appliances, using smart thermostats and insulating our homes. This carries a cost not every renter or homeowner can bear, but it’s important to keep in mind when changes can be made. Perhaps most important, proper disposal of old cooling appliances through the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program will ensure that HFCs are captured or destroyed and don’t leak into the atmosphere. Although systemic and equitable change is needed across all sectors to address the climate crisis, targeted policies like this one are necessary and will have an immediate, outsized impact. Destroying existing HFCs — the current mess we can’t avoid — and using more efficient appliances will transform this rule from good to great in a moment where big climate wins deserve fast action. Paul West is an ecologist exploring science-based solutions to help people and nature thrive on a warming planet. He is the director of Special Projects at Project Drawdown and a researcher at the University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter: @coolfireecology.
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News  |  March 16, 2021
Sunrise over the Earth
Climate Solutions 101, presented by Project Drawdown—free online!
by Haley Bowling
Your climate solutions journey begins now. Climate Solutions 101 is the world’s first major educational effort focused solely on solutions. Global challenges require hearts, minds, and hands to dig-in on meaningful change. Project Drawdown is committed to sharing—at no cost—the science and inspiration behind the safest, fastest, and most equitable climate solutions available today. Filled with the latest need-to-know science and fascinating insights from global leaders in climate policy, research, investment, and beyond, this video series is a brain-shift toward a brighter climate reality. Rather than rehashing well-known climate challenges, Climate Solutions 101 centers world-changing climate action based on its own rigorous scientific review and assessment. This course, presented in a six-part video series along with in-depth conversations, combines Project Drawdown’s trusted resources with the expertise of inspiring thought leaders from around the world.   Listen to weather expert Marshall Shepherd, paleoclimatologist Lisa Graumlich, food and agriculture scientist Navin Ramankutty, transportation specialist Ryan Allard, climatology scientist Marcos Costa, global change pioneer Jessica Hellmann, climate and environmental politics expert Leah Stokes, angel investor and energy advocate Ramez Naam, renowned venture capitalist Ibrahim AlHusseini, and air quality scientist Tracey Holloway detail their vision for the climate road ahead.   Climate solutions become attainable with increased access to free, science-based educational resources, elevated public discourse, and tangible examples of real-world action. Explore this course free of cost, and embrace a sense of hope, action, and purpose for our climate future.   Collaboration is core to Project Drawdown’s mission and ambitious, publicly-available resources. Climate Solutions 101 Presented by Project Drawdown is generously supported by Trane Technologies, Chris Kohlhardt, and Intuit. For press inquiries, please contact press@drawdown.org.
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Video  |  March 15, 2021
Angel Investor’s Guide to Changing Our Climate Stories
Explore climate solutions with Ramez Naam, a pioneering thought leader focused on energy. From the experience of climate refugees to the importance of government buy-in and positive climate messaging, Naam discusses the path to a brighter climate future. This interview is part of the Project Drawdown video series Climate Solutions 101. Filled with the latest need-to-know science and fascinating insights from global leaders in climate policy, research, investment, and beyond, this video series is a brain-shift toward a brighter climate reality. Climate Solutions 101 is the world’s first major educational effort focused solely on solutions. Rather than rehashing well-known climate challenges, Project Drawdown centers game-changing climate action based on its own rigorous scientific research and analysis. This course, presented in video units and in-depth conversations, combines Project Drawdown’s trusted resources with the expertise of several inspiring voices from around the world. Climate solutions become attainable with increased access to free, science-based educational resources, elevated public discourse, and tangible examples of real-world action. Continue your climate solutions journey, today.
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March 15, 2021
Photo of Erin Meezan, Interface
Erin Meezan on the need for bold corporate climate action
by Aiyana Bodi
The flooring industry isn’t a typical bastion of bold climate action. And Erin Meezan, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer of Interface—the world’s largest carpet tile manufacturer—knows it. “It’s not Tesla,” she says. “It’s maybe not the most exciting place to save the world.” Because flooring companies aren’t usually expected to set the bar for innovation, Interface’s climate aspirations are especially compelling. Through its ambitious targets and innovative engagement strategies, Interface is setting a high climate action bar for the corporate world. Interface began its sustainability journey in 1994, far sooner than most corporations. And while many businesses publicize mediocre climate goals—like reducing “X” amount of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by “Y” date—Interface takes a new approach, moving beyond “doing less harm” to making measurable positive impacts on people and the planet. Interface’s restorative approach to climate change means eliminating its carbon footprint, but also promotes carbon removal and protection of natural carbon sinks as well as engaging employees, other businesses, and policymakers. Through its first major initiative, dubbed Mission Zero®, Interface dramatically cut impacts on the environment in its operations, raw materials, and products over a span of 25 years: globally, it cut 96% in GHG emissions, 92% of waste to landfills, and 89% of water usage per unit of production. The company charged beyond its goals faster than expected (meeting its Mission Zero targets in 2019, one year ahead of schedule), and in 2015, Interface leaders knew they were ready for the next steps in their sustainability journey. This is the moment, Meezan says, Interface chose to deliberately transform from a company looking to reduce its impact, into a place that works towards the type of future the world deserves. Their goals were framed around the Climate Take Back initiative, a plan to create a “climate fit for life” by reversing global warming, restoring the planet, and making a positive impact. Part of this plan mandates that the company has a negative carbon footprint. As a bare minimum standard, all of Interface’s products are carbon neutral. In 2020, the company went a step further with the release of a carbon negative carpet tile, a manifestation of their “climate fit for life” initiative in product form. This carpet, made from recycled content and bio-based materials, stores more carbon than it releases and proves businesses in every sector can push their goals beyond do no harm. “It's possible to offer [these types of] products worldwide...and still make money and still grow,” says Meezan. “If we can do it, our competitors can do it.” Interface understands the power of people and smart policy, and extends its climate activities to employees and other institutions. On the policy front, Interface is working to expand the Buy Clean program in California, so that government procurement of interior finishings takes into account global warming potential. Hand in hand with advocacy, Interface also works to ensure the proper tools and infrastructure are in place for a policy to be successful, like the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3). This requires constant education and awareness building for state and local governments, customers, and other stakeholders. Sometimes, Meezan says, it’s as simple as getting others to “understand the link between making a carbon commitment and how they can live up to that.” It also means collaborating with other pioneering companies to advocate for change together. In 2018, Interface co-created the Materials Carbon Action Network (materialsCAN), a group of manufacturers pushing for the consideration of embodied carbon in building projects. Inside company walls, every employee is needed to implement Interface’s mission, and so company leaders use both learning and celebration to weave climate advocacy into employees’ day-to-day lives. There are many internal learning opportunities for staff, including  Carbon 101 classes that cover the basic science of climate change and give employees tools for how to communicate the importance of climate action to customers. “It’s real, deep investment that's perpetual,” Meezan says, emphasizing the need to meet each employee where they are in terms of their climate literacy and providing a suite of ways to get involved. And in fact, as Interface continues to engage its staff across all departments, it finds that employee desire to push the company beyond its goals has grown.    By approaching climate change with a holistic perspective, Interface sets a corporate example for what’s possible. It shares its knowledge with others through radical transparency—an obligatory part of leading a private sector transformation. Fundamental change lies at the heart of Interface’s mission, with an understanding that meaningful action requires an open, flexible approach to business. Meezan notes that in the century following the American Revolution, businesses were originally given the right to operate because they provided benefits to their communities, and if we are to fully address the climate crisis, we need to return to this narrative in a way that mirrors the broader natural system. “Saying we're here to make money and that's our primary [goal] is not good enough anymore,” Meezan says. “We need to serve a higher purpose.”
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