'Get Real Day' and other Earth Day alternatives: Hamblen

It’s easy to be cynical about Earth Day, or at least about all the different ways corporations, nonprofits and governments pat themselves on the back for all they are doing in the name of sustainability.

For those who really care about green achievements and goals, perhaps the best that can be said for Earth Day is that it attempts to raise awareness, even though there will continue to be naysayers.  The back-patting for Earth Day initiatives starts in March every year and peters out when hurricane season hits the U.S. East Coast and Gulf regions, another reminder weather patterns are getting more savage.

One of the silliest trends with sustainability goals is how their authors will pick a date to achieve a set of goals set sometime in a few years or many years’ off.  If by 2030 we want a certain number of new cars to be electrified but find it is too difficult, why not just pick 2035? Or, really, let’s up that date to 2040 just to be safe. By then, who knows what will happen with the world economy or the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on the supply of materials or workers and the subsequent impact on financial markets?

President Biden wants half of new U.S.  vehicles sold to be electric vehicles by 2030, but it should be apparent that he can’t be president by then, even if he runs and wins in 2024.  So much of that goal is going to depend on the political makeup of Congress between now and then, and –oh—what China decides or what Russia decides or even what India does. Thankfully, major U.S. carmakers seem on board as do many in China (for separate reasons) and even Europe. If anything, that EV trend shows the value of capitalism or at least the influence of the private sector (even a government-backed private sector, as in China) on public policy.

To be really safe, let’s pick 2050 for our horizon for sustainability goals because by then the current crop of aging yuppies and boomers won’t be around to criticize or lobby, or at least to remind everybody that in 2022 some goals had been set.   Maybe what we really need is special day designated “Get Real Day” where we find some data scientists and English or history teachers who explain how ridiculously interconnected politics and economies and sustainability goals are.  Courses should be taught in “Goalsetting 101.” Another required course might be, “China: why we need to pay better attention even though it is a big polluter.”

Plant a tree, listen to a podcast, follow tech initiatives

To be fair, it is really easy to be cynical about Earth Day. That’s why it is probably smart to find a sixth grader to invite to go out and plant a tree-- actually almost anywhere—just to demonstrate there is environmental value in trees.   Even a long walk amid trees would be worthwhile. (They call some of them forests still.)

In that vein, it might be worthwhile to consider sustainability in technology more directly, since that’s partly what Fierce Electronics is about after all.

One unusual entry comes from a special Earth Day podcast by the Federal Aviation Administration. Topics include battery-powered aircraft, lead-free aviation gas and more.  It is the latest edition of “The Air Up There” podcast, scheduled to drop at 2 p.m. ET on April 22.

On the podcast, the FAA chief technical officer for the environment talks about the U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan, which seeks to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. aviation by 2050.   (OK, no more wisecracks about setting goals.)

Also, Harbour Air CEO Greg McDougall is on the podcast talking about the company’s tests of seaplanes for battery-powered flight, gliding from city to city in the Pacific Northwest.  The podcast also includes insights to FAA research and testing of alternative fuels.  Sustainable fuels could come from wastes, residues, biomass, sugar, oils and gaseous sources of carbon.  Transportation sources produce the most emissions (but you knew that already).  More on the FAA’s 2050 goals can be found online.

That’s just one U.S. government agency.  It is arguably more important that the private sector embrace sustainability initiatives, if not exactly defined goals or Earth Day zeal. One of the world’s biggest chipmakers, Intel, recently set 2040 to reach net-zero GHG emissions, (and did so without even mentioning Earth Day!) One of Intel’s coolest ideas is its work with Submer on liquid immersion cooling for data centers, which burn up electricity that turns to heat.

Indirectly, this effort puts on notice cryptocurrency mining operations cropping up everywhere with their hot, noisy, energy-sucking compute factories.

RELATED: Can cryptocurrency become more environmentally friendly?

In another example, Itron recently shared how it is using technology to better control energy and water consumption and increase use of renewable energy. The company makes intelligent networks, devices and sensors and offers services to utilities to increase the efficiency of delivery systems for electricity and fuel.

Itron recently collaborated with Duke Energy Florida on its EV charging program to monitor and optimize grid reliability.  Duke will be able to collect home EV charging session data nearly in real-time for insights about home charging behavior that will help Duke, in turn, increase grid resiliency and dependability, according to Itron’s Stefan Zscheigner, vice president of product management. 

That’s just one example of the many things companies are doing to up the sustainability game, even when their efforts are not tied to a special day.


Matt Hamblen

Editor’s Note: What Earth Day hopefully means for all us cynics and skeptics is that there is always a chance to learn more about how tech is being used to improve sustainability.  To that end, it is worth noting that a busy group of Fierce producers at Sensors Converge, running June 27-29 in San Jose, have put together a number of sustainability initiatives, including reduced use of print collateral and more:

• Cleantech Startup Review presented by the Cleantech Council

• A keynote on tech for sustainability

• A conference track dedicated to Environmental Sensors & Sustainability

• A showcase of companies who are solving for sustainability through technology on the Expo Floor

Early bird registration rates end tonight (April 22)!