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Your meals are speeding up climate change, but there’s a way to eat sustainably

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Your supper last night may have generated as many greenhouse gas emissions as driving to the next town in your car. At best, it was probably the equivalent of a couple of kilometres.

The good news is that it’s quite easy to eat more sustainably. Science shows there are lots of ways to reduce your dietary carbon footprint without going vegan — or even giving up any foods you enjoy.

Bonus: They’ll probably save you money, too.

Food production is responsible for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. A recent blog post from the World Resources Institute, a global sustainability think-tank, warns that agriculture alone could raise the Earth’s average temperature more than 1.5 C above that in pre-industrial times if we don’t change our eating habits.

Many everyday foods generate a surprising quantity of greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a breakfast sandwich with bacon, sausage and egg that you picked up on the way to work would have generated the equivalent of about 1,441 grams of carbon dioxide, reports a recent study by University of Manchester researchers Namy Espinoza-Orias and Adisa Azapagic. That’s about the same as a Honda Civic sedan driving nine kilometres.

Food production is behind up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)

You see, a lot of energy went into making that sandwich, from feeding the pigs and harvesting the wheat to refrigerating the finished product until you can buy it.

It all adds up, little by little, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Azapagic, a professor of sustainable chemical engineering. “So that when you put a sandwich together, with all the ingredients, plus the packaging, plus the transport, plus the preparation of the sandwiches, of course, then you get a relatively high carbon footprint.”

Things get worse if your meal contains red meat — a seven-ounce steak is equivalent to driving 50 kilometres, based on calculations by the non-profit Environmental Working Group.

And it adds up. Using a 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey of more than 10,000 people, a recent University of Waterloo study looked at the “global warming potential” of different types of diets. It found that in a year, omnivores generate emissions equivalent to driving nearly 15,000 kilometres (that’s more than three times the distance between Vancouver and Montreal). That’s more than double the amount generated by vegetarians or vegans.

Eating more locally produced and organic foods — advice given by some environmental groups — won’t necessarily make a difference, studies show.

But here are five simple things that research shows can reduce your carbon footprint from food.

1. Waste less food

That’s right — you don’t even have to change what or how much you eat to make a difference. Just throw less away.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste is responsible for about eight per cent of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions — almost as much as road transportation.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste is responsible for about eight per cent of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions — almost as much as road transportation. (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

Not only are emissions generated from growing, processing and distributing food, but when it decomposes, food generates methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The recent University of Waterloo study found that avoidable household food waste was responsible for 9.5 to 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from food. Lead author Anastasia Veeramani, who conducted the study while she was a graduate student, said she was astonished by the amount of food waste.

She comes from Siberia, where food is relatively scarce, and said seeing how food waste affects the environment “was quite a revelation.”

Reducing food waste wouldn’t just help the environment. It could also save money.

The average Canadian household wastes about $1,100 worth of food (about 140 kilograms) per year, according to 2017 research by the National Zero Waste Council.

Veeramani, who now runs Nu Grocery, a zero waste grocery store in Ottawa, recommends being more aware of what you consume, only buying what you need and using up the leftovers. Careful meal planning can help, as can freezing food such as bread, sliced fruit or meat if you know you won’t be able to eat it before it spoils, recommends the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

2. Prepare your own meals at home

Not all sandwiches are made equal, and the ones you grab from the fridge at the corner store may be significantly increasing your emissions.

“If you make a sandwich at home, you will normally halve the carbon footprint of your sandwich,” said the University of Manchester’s Azapagic.

A prepared sandwich has about double the carbon footprint of a sandwich prepared at home. (Neil Hall/Reuters)

That’s largely because of increased food waste. Twenty per cent more food is thrown out in the preparation of a commercial sandwich, the study found. And then there’s the energy needed to refrigerate the ingredients and the finished sandwich, along with operating the sandwich assembly line.

If you don’t have time to prepare your own food all the time, Azapagic recommends going to the deli counter and buying a freshly prepared sandwich.

3. Eat less

Many Canadians eat more than they need to. In 2014, 20.2 per cent of Canadian adults were obese, and 40 per cent of men and 27.4 per cent of women were overweight, Statistics Canada reports.

Many people are eating more food than they need. ( Trent Penny/The Anniston Star/Canadian Press)

Veeramani found that omnivores, who made up 30 per cent of the population in her study, ate 20 per cent more calories on average than the amount considered “optimal” by Health Canada.

“Reducing overconsumption of calories” is the top recommendation in a 2016 report from the World Resources Institute on how to shift diets around the world for a “sustainable food future.”

Veeramani recommends that people make a conscious choice to eat the amount that they need, rather than the amount that they want.

“It’s better for health, it’s better for the environment.”

4. Eat less meat, dairy and eggs

Worried you’re not getting enough protein? Unless you’re vegan, you’re probably worrying unnecessarily.

Veeramani’s research found that people eating all other diets — including vegetarians — were consuming 150 per cent to 250 per cent of the recommended level of protein, and 60 to 80 per cent of it was dairy, eggs, fish and meat.

That’s been backed up by other studies. According to the World Resources Institute, the average person in more than 90 per cent of the world was eating more protein than they needed in 2009, and the proportion of animal-based protein in people’s diets has been growing dramatically.

Producing beef uses 20 times the land and generates 20 times the emissions as producing beans, per gram of protein, according to the World Resources Institute. (Enrique Marcarian/Reuters)

This is a problem, because animal-based proteins consume more resources and generate more greenhouse gases than beans, nuts and other plant-based proteins. Producing beef uses 20 times the land and generates 20 times the emissions as producing beans, per gram of protein, the World Resources Institute reports.

Veeramani said you can make a difference by eating smaller portions, fewer meat-based meals per day or week, or even switching from beef to other meats like pork or chicken.

“Any reduction will improve your carbon footprint,” she said. “It doesn’t always have to be a full switch to a completely new diet.”

5. Avoid greenhouse-grown veggies

While meat and cheese might be bad for the environment, veggies aren’t totally off the hook, either.

The sandwich study found that whether or not you include tomatoes between your bread slices can have a big impact on emissions. That’s because most tomatoes grown in the UK, where the study was done, are grown in greenhouses that use lots of energy for heating and lighting.

Locally grown greenhouse tomatoes generally have a much higher carbon footprint than imported field tomatoes. (Dawn J. Sagert/The Sioux City Journal/Associated Press)

In that case, one kilogram of tomatoes generates 10 times its own weight in emissions, Azapagic said.

Canadian tomatoes are typically greenhouse-grown as well.

That’s one reason buying local isn’t necessarily better for the environment — imported field tomatoes have a much lower carbon footprint, even when transportation is included.

But tomatoes aren’t the only questionable vegetable. U.S. food writer Tamar Haspel recently argued that we should be rethinking how much lettuce we eat. That’s because it has almost no nutritional value, but requires lots of energy to be grown, shipped and refrigerated.

“I think maybe we should start thinking about it as a resource-intensive, and maybe a luxury food,” she told CBC Radio’s The Current.

Veeramani’s study also flagged greenhouse-grown lettuce as having a big carbon footprint, not just from the way it’s grown, but also because it spoils easily. Based on waste amounts in Canada, the study reports, well over half a kilogram of lettuce is thrown out for every kilogram we eat.

Veeramani said “there’s no universal solution” to lower your carbon footprint from food.

Her top recommendation? “Just being conscious of what you consume.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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