If you have ever used a refrigerator, flicked on an air-conditioner or strolled the freezer aisle in a grocery store in the U.S., you are guilty-by-unavoidable-association of helping to warm the world through F-gas-driven cooling.
It is a very big deal. F-gases account for 17% of the world’s global warming impact, says Larkin. “That’s not annual emissions. That’s cumulative impact.” In other words, they tend to hang around in the atmosphere. The story gets even more jaw-dropping when when you learn that not only are there alternatives, but they been tested and used by hundreds of millions of people in other countries for the last 20 years.
Never ones to sit on their hands, in 1993, Greenpeace activists in Germany set about getting a prototype refrigerator built to prove there was another way around the problem using “natural refrigerants” such as isobutane. Then they tried to drum up some interest from manufacturers. Nada. Remarkably undaunted, they then pre-sold70,000 non-existent refrigerators. As Larkin notes, this was way before Facebook and Twitter were even a glimmer on the cyber-horizon (indeed, Mark Zuckerberg was still in diapers…). Greenpeace went back to the manufacturer of the prototype, who was now happy beyond happy to ramp up a production line. The technology was open-sourced, so now all the major manufacturers make them, too.
Today, hundreds of millions of “Greenfreeze” refrigerators have been sold. Although comparable in cost to HFC models, they are much more efficient, so cheaper to run, too. Still, they remain illegal in the U.S. “The natural refrigerants do not have lobbyists,” explains Larkin. “The chemical industry does.”
But the rules may change soon, due in large part to Greenpeace-mediated industry pressure. Coca-Cola, Unilever, McDonald’s, Carlsbad Group and Pepsico banded together with Greenpeace and UNEP to form Refrigerants, Naturally!, to promote the use of climate-friendlier technologies, including regulatory and political frameworks to encourage investment.
Wal-Mart is also sold on the technology, even making improvements improvements and sharing its data. After electricity, refrigeration and cooling rank #2 on the company’s carbon footprint list. Says Larkin:
Large businesses like to have certainty, like to plan, like to see where they’re going to make a profit, like to see where they’re going to get hammered, like to see the regulation down the road and if they can, avoid a regulatory problem or a big, costly mess that they didn’t anticipate… (If they can make) a product that is more efficient, less costly in terms of energy for themselves or their customers, generally, they will be on our side.
…Part of the reason that businesses like to share this is that when all of the retailers and all of the ice-cream makers transfer their technology at the same time, you can achieve economies of scale.
- update: 11/29/10: “Greenpeace’s 20-year campaign catalyzes groundbreaking climate commitment on refrigeration by 400 companies” & “Almost a Home Run for Climate”
NOW, WHAT TO PUT IN THE FRIDGE….
Another of our favorite stories here at TrackerNews is fast becoming a favorite story with everybody: Sweet Water Organics, the Milwaukee-based aquaponics start-up inspired by Will Allen’s urban agriculture work. They were recently featured in the New York Times (“Fish Farms, with a Side of Greens”) and on NBC’s Nightly News:
Today, every surface is bursting with life. The crops—mostly lettuce—are thriving, as are fish, by the tens of thousands. Staff and volunteers bustle about, while a steady stream of visitors tour the operation, eyes wide, taking notes. The learning curve has been both steep and, delightfully, endless. Tilapia are being phased out in favor of perch, which turn out to be more in tune with Wisconsin palates. New filters and bubblers are being tested to reduce sediment levels, while keeping water a nice perch-preferred degree of murky. Hoop houses are under construction in the courtyard. New vertical planting pots are being put through their paces. Even mulch has gone artisanal in this unique workshop / lab.
There is a palpable sense that something important and potentially world-changing is happening here. It is a story we will continue to follow closely. Stay tuned…