Foreign biofuel defeating Bord na Móna sustainability plans
The oil palm tree grows in some of the world’s most biodiverse countries, the ones that feature in nature programmes such as David Attenborough’s Planet Earth, filled with images of luxuriant growth and rare creatures.
The tree’s high-yielding fruit produces two versatile and cheap oils – palm oil and palm kernel oil – used in foods, cosmetics and cleaning products. Both, too, help to fill growing demand in Europe for biofuels. In December, the United States department of agriculture estimated that global palm oil production for 2016/2017 would be 64.5 million metric tonnes.
The industry behind palm oil continues to be plagued by charges that it has laid waste to natural paradises, encouraged illegal logging and spurred abuse of lowly paid workers.
Between 2000 and 2012, 16 million hectares of virgin Indonesian forest fell, owing in large part to palm-oil plantations. Once the plantation matures, oil is extracted from the fruit, and the kernel husks left behind are sold internationally as biomass to fuel power stations in the West.
Since 2010, semi-State company Bord na Móna has bought more than 150,000 tonnes of these husks – known as palm kernel shells (PKS) – to burn at its Edenderry, Co Offaly power station. So far this year, it has bought 36,000 tonnes. Three-quarters of it came from Indonesia.
In a recent YouTube video, Bord na Móna director of marketing and communications Gerry O’Hagan says that the company’s strategy is based on three pillars: people, profit and planet. Bord na Móna’s “core DNA” is built around the “whole area of sustainability”, he said.
Responding to questions from The Irish Times, Bord na Móna defended its conduct, insisting it obeyed all Irish regulations, even though a universal “single comprehensive certification code” for sustainably produced PKS does not exist.
In a report, however, sent to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in March 2013, Bord na Móna was most concerned not about the emissions risk posed by burning PKS but rather what would happen if it was stopped from doing so.
The report, seen by The Irish Times after a Freedom of Information request, highlights concern about EU plans to review the renewable energy directive and limit the use of biomass from high biodiversity areas.
“Many of the palm oil plantations in southeast Asia are grown on former peatlands,” it stated. “They have very high carbon dioxide emissions . . . and the use of palm kernel shells from these plantations would be ruled out by the sustainability criteria.
“Edenderry therefore faces a considerable risk that PKS, and other agro-industrial residues arising from crops that are grown on organic soils, or that have displaced high biodiversity habitats, will not be permitted in the future.”
In a statement following questions from The Irish Times, the company said that, although details of the new rules are not yet known, it intends to “enforce and adhere to the new EU standards once they are enacted”.
Bord na Móna now says it will “cease to source and use” PKS in 2017 once it has “alternative, domestic and imported, sustainable supply chains in place”.
The decision follows a review of the company’s biomass supply chain, and, in future, biomass used will “all be independently verified as sustainably sourced”. The new supply chain will, the company says, meet all national and EU standards.
The statement does not explain how it will find replacement supplies for the Edenderry power plant and warns it will be a “significant challenge”, adding that the company would not be in a position to be making any further comment on this matter.
In a reply to an Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) request in August for documents to show if the shells were bought from sustainable sources, Bord na Móna said this information was provided on a “voluntary basis by third parties” and it would seek consent before releasing.
The company later acknowledged that this information was not in its possession when the request was sent and it only sought to obtain documents from suppliers after the request was made. It was also not able to provide the names of growers and millers, stating that this is due to the operation of the industry where PKS from various mills are stockpiled at ports to be sold to traders.
Bord na Móna also stated that, as PKS is classified as a byproduct of the palm-oil industry, it is not required to purchase sustainable kernel shells.
“PKS are a byproduct of this industry and, as such, no certification is required and in most cases is unavailable,” the reply states. “In the palm oil industry, it is the production of palm oil itself that may be certified and not the residue, ie PKS.”
Bord na Móna was able to provide some sustainability certification, but only for the shipment of PKS to Ireland from Nigeria in 2013, backed up by a letter from the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC).
Responsible for promoting Nigerian non-oil exports, the NEPC said the company which shipped the PKS to Ireland works according to the “sustainable biomass production process”.
“This process does not include child labour, does not degrade the forest, does not involve deforestation and has positively affected the social environment of the local community,” the letter continues.
Prof Matthew Hansen, an expert in mapping changes in land use who has documented Indonesia’s large-scale deforestation, criticised Bord na Móna’s performance as “super lazy” and showing “a lack of goodwill”.
“The industries are just telling us to trust them, ‘trust us, we are doing the right thing’,” the University of Maryland scientist said. “They should really prove it. We know from the satellites that that trust is not warranted.
“If you’re going to fuel green energy, [the] supposed green energy of palm kernels, you should know where they’re coming from,” added Prof Hansen. “They’re looking at the bottom line and not doing due diligence. It’s irresponsible.”
Bord na Móna’s behaviour is quite common, according to Philip Jacobson, a Jakarta-based journalist for Mongabay, a conservation news group which has written extensively about the palm oil industry. However, it could be doing more to find out where its supplies come from: “It sounds like a bit of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ arrangement, wherein the company simply imports the kernels, neither knowing nor caring about the origin,” Jacobson added.
High conservation value
An industry-led sustainable standard, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), does exist, though it has been criticised as lacking power to enforce its guidelines, allowing some major multinationals to wrap PR fig leaves around unacceptable practices. Formed in 2004 to encourage industry commitment to protect workers’ rights and “high conservation value” areas such as peatlands, the non-profit organisation says that 20 per cent of global palm-oil production is now RSPO-certified.
Following checks by the RSPO and another global certification programme, the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification System, none of the traders and shippers used by Bord na Móna were found to be registered as members of either programme.
Danielle Morley, the RSPO’s European director of outreach and engagement, said accredited mills can supply RSPO-certified kernel shells, adding that Irish businesses serious about finding sustainable supplies should join the group.
However, there are questions over whether it can ever make sense to bring palm kernels from the other side of the world to burn in Edenderry in a bid to comply with Ireland’s international obligations to cut CO2 emissions.
Experts warn that the European Union’s policies to use more biomass – such as wood, miscanthus and PKS – are flawed, masking the true emission figures from biomass-generated electricity.
In Ireland’s case, it has committed to ensuring that a minimum of 30 per cent of the fuel burned at Edenderry will be biomass. Currently, it is ahead of target, hitting 37 per cent. In time, Bord na Móna plans to use more than 1.5 million tonnes of biomass per year there. According to the company, emissions of over 1.1 million tonnes of CO2 have already been avoided between 2008 and 2015 by using biomass in place of peat, but critics strongly disagree.
Dr Fionnuala Murphy of University College Dublin is one of them: “There’s a big policy problem with all of this biomass being automatically considered carbon-neutral,” she said, echoing warnings from the European Environment Agency (EEA). Writing in 2011 about the dangers of the accounting rules, the EEA warned that the EU rules to encourage bioenergy, irrespective of the biomass source, “may even result in increased carbon emissions – thereby accelerating global warming”.
The EU rules lay down that biomass is carbon-neutral because the carbon lost through burning is recaptured through replanting and growing replacement biomass, but this does not take into account the likes of emissions from land use change and cultivation.
“All of those aspects need to be taken into consideration to ensure that the biomass we’re using actually achieves carbon reductions compared to fossil fuels, rather than increasing emissions elsewhere,” said Dr Murphy, who specialises in full lifecycle analysis of biomass emissions.
Although originally well-intended, the EU carbon accounting “loophole” is exposing countries to an “enormous emissions risk”, according to Sasha Stashwick, senior advocate for energy at the US-based Natural Resources Defence Council.
Bord na Móna says that a well-managed biomass process will lead to emissions reductions of more than 80 per cent, even when using imported biomass. Dr Murphy disagrees. Using the example of PKS imports from Southeast Asia, she found that they produce an average of 256kg of CO2 per gigajoule of energy produced at Edenderry.
Half of the emissions in her own estimate of the real CO2 numbers come not from the burning of the shells, but rather from the C02 emitted by the decision to turn peatlands and forest in Southeast Asia into palm oil plantations.
Bord na Móna’s own C02 figures are “very low” in comparison she found, equal to the value estimated for shipping the shells to Ireland alone.
Meanwhile, said Ms Stashwick, there is the issue of the large subsidies required by biomass-fuelled power stations: “You’re really locking into a perpetual fuel cost and the fuel costs are highly uncertain.”
Subsidies for peat-generated electricity in Ireland through the Public Service Obligation (PSO), a levy charged to all electricity customers to support energy policies, was phased out at Edenderry in December 2015. However, the station is now guaranteed a tariff price until December 2030 through the PSO-funded Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff (REFIT) for electricity generated by co-firing up to 30 per cent of its 128 megawatt installed capacity.
The Commission for Energy Regulation, which determines the PSO levy, says there are no checks to verify the sustainability of imported biomass when it calculates subsidies: “This is a very expensive way to ostensibly shift to renewable electricity,” Ms Stashwick said.
For Dr Murphy, the solution, or part of it, to high C02 emissions from imported biomass is to grow more Irish energy crops such as miscanthus and willow: “We can fully produce indigenous biomass to the gate of the power plant at lower greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.
However, Irish biomass production has stalled, despite a significant push from the government through bio-energy establishment schemes. In 2009, three-quarters of all biomass burned at Edenderry was Irish. Two years ago, imports made up half of the biomass used.
Last year, the Government offered farmers more support to grow willow, offering to pay 40 per cent of the costs of planting up to 50 hectares. Just four applications were received for 53 hectares. The scheme is now under review.
Effective March 16, 2017, Mr Ahdout is no longer a partner at Lucid Markets LLP, thus becoming “inactive”, according to the UK FCA register.
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When we launched the Facebook Opportunity Calculator last summer, we knew two things:
That Facebook advertising is growing in leaps and bounds (they more than DOUBLED their number of advertisers in the past 18 months).
That organic reach on Facebook is dwindling.
What we didn’t know is exactly how much running Facebook ads can do for your business page. We dug into the data from our calculator to see what the real relationship between organic Facebook marketing and paid Facebook advertising is. And we were shocked by what we found. Shocked!
What we found is that the Facebook pages of advertisers (and we’re using this term loosely: you only need a handful of active campaigns to reap the rewards) have dramatically better engagement metrics across the board than those who invest nothing in paid social.
Per our research, Facebook advertisers outperform businesses that aren’t advertising to the average tune of:
77% more page fans
96% more page clicks
126% more page impressions
225% more post impressions
90% more fans reached
111% more friends of page fans reached
Let’s dig into the data in a little more detail.
Chart #1: Running Ads Increases Facebook Page Fans By 77%
Advertisers on Facebook tend to see a massive increase in page fans.
Users with active ad campaigns saw their number of Facebook fans increase by an average of 77%, from 107 to 190.
Fans are apparatuses with rotating blades that create a current of air. We aren’t talking about those fans.
Fans are also the metric by which popularity is judged. The New England Patriots have fans. I have fans. At one point, even Nickelback had fans. We aren’t talking about those fans today, either.
We’re talking about fans of your Facebook page.
What are Facebook Page Fans?
In short, fans are the people who have liked (and follow) your Facebook page. By default, users who like your page also follow your page (meaning they are eligible to see your posts based on myriad factors including time and previous engagement with your content).
There's also another kind of users, though, a hyper-valuable subset of your audience called “See First Followers.”
See First Followers are those who have actively chosen to prioritize what you share. These are the people who adore your content, the ones who engage with your posts, boosted or otherwise.
These folks are your bread and butter, current and future brand evangelists. In fact, Facebook takes the “See First” designation so seriously that it overrides Edgerank (Facebook’s feed-management algorithm). This allows your content to take precedent over what other businesses (including your competitors), organizations, even your followers’ friends post.
It goes without saying that you want as many page fans as possible. Here’s where being an advertiser comes in.
Why should you care?
Because by running a handful of ads you can almost double your organic reach!
The boost in Facebook Page Fans you receive by running paid ads is akin to the gift card you receive when you drop a chunk of loot at an Applebee’s during the holiday season. You know, if that gift card was interactive, could make you money, and knew other gift cards that’d like to make your acquaintance as well.
It gets even better…
If you run Facebook ads and your total number of page fans increases, the size and quality of your lookalike audiences improve, too. Your ads are served to more qualified prospects even if you don’t increase your spend.
Chart #2: Running Ads Increases Facebook Page Clicks by 96%
You read that right: users with active Facebook ad campaigns saw an average increase in page clicks of 96%!
Now, the relationship between paid and organic here is obvious: if more people are visiting your page (see benefit number one) when you advertise, it makes sense that clicks increase, too. And while Page Clicks are nowhere near as valuable as, say, a conversion, they are an indicator of engagement.
Facebook fans are great.
But if your legion of page-likers isn’t engaging with your content (organic or paid) after the initial follow, their usefulness to your business begins and ends with their ability to form new lookalike audiences.
So how do we measure engagement? One way is with the Page clicks metric.
What are Facebook Page Clicks?
Facebook page clicks refer to the number of times people clicked on any of your content outside of more nuanced, format-specific metrics like link clicks and video plays. If your content incites a user to take some “other action” on your page, like clicking a person’s name or the like counter or time, that's a page click.
Clicks are a way for businesses to measure engagement in a broad sense.
If a post encourages a page visitor to click anywhere else on your page, your content may not have done the job, but it did a job. Page clicks are an easy way to see how your posts perform without digging into overly complicated insights that probably mean nothing to the average advertiser.
Why should you care?
Because knowing that your organic Facebook posts are inciting activity of any kind is indicative of an engaged audience.
It can be easy to see low engagement metrics in more obvious categories (video plays, for example) and think your content is underperforming or, worse yet, going unnoticed. Page clicks gives you an aggregate of “other” actions taken by your fans that can provide insight into the types of content that work best with your audience.
If your image-centric posts incite more page clicks than your videos, post more images. Simple.
You can extrapolate further and leverage Page Click data from organic Facebook posts to influence your ad creative.
Chart #3: Running Ads Increases Facebook Page Impressions by 126%
On average, Facebook users with active ad campaigns see a 126% increase in page impressions.
While that number just sounds impressive, when you look at how that 126% increase in impressions works it verges on mind-meltingly neat.
Here’s where, semantically, things get tricky.
What are Facebook Page Impressions?
They’re called “page impressions” but it’s better to think of them as “content impressions.” That’s because page impressions refer to the total number of impressions seen of any content associated with your page.
Per Facebook, “Impressions are the number of times a post from your Page is displayed. People may see multiple impressions of the same post. For example, if someone sees a Page update in News Feed and then sees that same update when a friend shares it that would count as two impressions.”
Page Impressions can be confusing because they’re not indicative of the number of fans your page has but rather, the number of times those specific individuals have been exposed to your content.
So why are they valuable, you ask?
Because more page impressions mean a) people are seeing your posts and b) they’re seeing them often. They’re becoming familiar with your brand and beginning to perceive your value.
Why should you care?
If you have higher-than-average page impressions, it could mean a handful of things:
Your fans share the hell out of your content
You’re got a ton of “See First Followers”
You’re boosting your posts
Now, in the event you have a relatively small number of fans but a ton of impressions, you likely fall into the second group: you’ve got an active audience. This is great for you, and for your paid efforts, because if people actively seek your free content, there’s a good chance they’ll gobble up what you’re paying to put in front of them, too.
Conversely, if your audience is large but page impressions aren’t particularly high, this could mean that your content simply doesn’t resonate with your followers. If this is the case, rethink your strategy and develop a new strategy for your Facebook offerings (both paid and organic).
Chart #4: Running Ads Increases Facebook Post Impressions by 225%
That’s right, people. A TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE PERCENT INCREASE.
Using the averages in the graph above, we can see that, while the average user who isn’t running Facebook ads has about 922 post impressions, those who have some semblance of a paid presence on Facebook see their post impressions leap to more than 3,000.
Knowing how many people see the content you post on Facebook matters. When it comes to measuring results from your paid efforts this is obvious, right? If you’re directly investing hard-earned greenbacks into campaigns (no matter the size and scope), understanding how many people are seeing those ads is a foundational component of your optimization efforts.
The same holds true for your organic Facebook posts: measuring their reach is key.
If you’re unsure of how many people are seeing your organic posts, and how those people interact with said posts, and if they derive value from said posts, why post in the first place?
What are Facebook Post Impressions?
Simply put: the number of people who saw any of your Facebook page posts.
Post Impressions is a valuable reach metric. It gives you an idea as to the number of individuals who have seen what you posted.
If your post appears as an update in a user’s news feed and then they see it again shared by a friend, that’s still just a single post impression (whereas it would count as two page impressions).
Notice that I said “people” and not “fans.” This is an important distinction (more on that in a minute).
While fan-centric data is valuable, understanding how all people, including the ones who don’t know your business, engage with a piece of content, can provide insight as to how to optimize future organic (and paid) content on Facebook.
Why should you care?
Right out the gate, let’s be real with one another for a second: Who doesn’t want a 225% increase in any metric (outside of cost)?
As I mentioned before, Post impressions are a reach metric; they allow you to understand how many induvial, fan or otherwise, are seeing your organic posts. When it comes to your existing fans, this is helpful .But it’s with those additional viewers that you’ll glean real value.
When non-fan users see and engage with your posts, you’re ostensibly using your organic content on Facebook to function like the Google Display Network. You’re building brand awareness and providing value to potential prospects at no cost to you.
Free clout with your future customers ain't a bad thing, people.
Chart #5: Running Ads Increases Unique Facebook Fans Reached by 90%
We just focused on overall reach, how your organic posts on Facebook are seen by more individuals when you advertise on the channel, too. Now we’re going to focus explicitly on the subset of people your organic content reaches who are already fans of your business page.
Simply advertising on Facebook will give your organic posts a 90% increase in unique fans reached, even if you don’t boost them after posting.
The only thing better than an engaged fan is a boatload of engaged fans you didn’t have to pay for.
What are Unique Facebook Fans?
Unique Facebook fans are, well, individual fans of your page who are exposed to a given piece of content.
These are your people, the ones who see and share everything you post, from cat memes to product demos.
Kindly direct your attention to the actual and maximum free audience components in the image below:
As you can see, there’s a massive disparity between the two and, per Facebook, boosting your posts is the only way to close the gap, right?
Why should you care?
Because the data we’ve gathered clearly indicates that, by advertising on Facebook, you can close the gap between your actual audience and your maximum free audience, without spending money to boost your posts.
In the same way that advertising across multiple networks improves performance, Facebook advertisers see a lift in organic performance when compared to businesses that don’t advertise.
If you actively post on your business’s Facebook page and aren’t advertising, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. By running just one simple campaign, you stand to enhance key organic metrics by upwards of 100%.
On the other side of that coin, if you’re currently advertising on Facebook but do little or no posting outside of what you’re already paying for, you’re losing out on significant brand-building opportunities and, more importantly, new, qualified Facebook users to whom you can advertise.
If Zuck and co. are willing to give a little extra ju ju to those folks who pay (even just a little) to play (including but by no means limited to your direct competition), your business can’t afford to miss out!
A note on the data
We based our findings on the analysis of 6,439 unique Facebook pages. Some were advertisers, some simply had active pages but no discernable paid presence. Now, perhaps the most important caveat here is how we chose to define “advertiser.” An advertiser is someone with at least one active campaign within the last 90 days. Most of the Facebook accounts we analyzed and labeled “advertisers” had fewer than 5 active ad campaigns.
With Facebook, thanks to the relationship between organic and paid performance, to reap the overwhelmingly positive benefits all you need to do is get started.
You don’t even have to be a successful advertiser (though it certainly helps): you just need to be running Facebook ads and the boost to your organic reach metrics will materialize.
Your business’s reachable audience on Facebook is drastically impacted by advertising: it amplifies the hell out of your content, improving reach. But while the caps for “Actual Audience” and “Maximum Free Audience” in the example above are exponentially lower than the “Paid Audience Potential” (611; 28,975; 1,920,000 respectively), there’s still a ton of value on the organic side of things.
About the Author
Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what's good for you, you'll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.