It’s no secret that humans are having a profound impact on the health of our planet. Case in point, the ozone hole—a weakening of the earth’s stratospheric sunscreen caused largely by chemicals in refrigerants and air conditioners. Without the ozone layer’s protection, the health of all living things is in jeopardy due to increased exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
However, some good news, according to a recent UN report is that the ozone layer appears to be recovering. Scientists predict ozone readings will return to 1980s levels by 2050, but nothing is guaranteed, and there will surely be ups and downs along the way. It only took half a century or so for humans to harm something that was nearly a billion years in the making, so clearly we have a long road ahead.
At the heart of the matter are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—a group of long-lasting ozone-munching chemicals that were widely used in air conditioners, aerosol cans, insulation foams, fire suppressants, and yes…refrigerators. Seeing as how Ben & Jerry’s is in the business of being cool and keeping “ice” in the ice cream equation, eliminating CFCs is a matter close to our hearts.
So what exactly is behind the recent signs of ozone healing? A little something called the Montreal Protocol. It was established in the late ‘80s to phase out CFCs and other harmful chemicals after scientists found they were linked to rapidly declining ozone levels. The treaty was signed by all of the world’s countries and to this day stands as one of the greatest examples of international teamwork to thwart ecological disaster.
However, the Montreal Protocol’s curbing of CFCs introduced a less-than-perfect substitute in the form of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—one of the most common and harmful greenhouse gases. So while HFCs are easy on the ozone layer, they are potent greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Environmental groups are now asking world leaders to revisit the Montreal Protocol and phase out HFCs in favor of chemicals that won’t hurt the ozone layer or contribute to global warming. Yes, such a solution does exist. They’re called hydrocarbons and they have no impact on the ozone and very low global warming potential. Hooray for hydrocarbons!
Ben & Jerry’s lead the charge away from HFCs by becoming the first company in the US to test hydrocarbon refrigerants (which were already widely used in Europe). It all began back in 2008 when Ben & Jerry’s teamed up with Greenpeace to launch the climate-friendly Cleaner, Greener Freezer. Not only do these Ben & Jerry’s freezers use hydrocarbons as a refrigerant instead of fluorinated gases, they are also more energy efficient than their HFC counterparts. It’s a win-win-win.
Continued global teamwork to find solutions that support both the ozone and global warming battles will be the key ingredient to future success. The success of the Montreal Protocol shows that countries can come together and limit global environmental pollution. We hope as negotiators gather in Paris next year to negotiate a global deal to limit global warming pollution, that they’ll be inspired by their counterparts in Montreal 27 years ago. And while it may seem like much of what can be done is in the hands of industry and world leaders, there are still things we can do in our everyday lives to support the cause. Check your car and home air conditioners and refrigerator for leaks and have them serviced by technicians who are certified to recover refrigerant as required by law. Also, check local regulations to learn the best way to dispose of old refrigerators and air conditioners. Spread the word…oh, and wear sunscreen!