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8 October 2015

Sustainability and the The UK's Conference Season

cam huskie splitEach year, I analyse the UK political leaders' conference speeches to gauge their party's commitment to green issues. My theory is that the leaders' speeches are a much better indicator of the priority the parties give sustainability than those of their environmental/energy spokespeople. In my analysis I have disregarded any glib statements and attacks on political rivals. Instead I try to focus on positive proposals and/or visions for a sustainable future.

So, in chronological order:

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrats

Given the beating the Lib Dems took at this year's General Election, new leader Tim Farron had to make an impact and certainly surprised a few with his oratory (usual disclosure: I'm a Lib Dem and I know Tim quite well). While most of the green elements of the speech involved knocking the Tory Government for dismantling policies the Lib Dems put in place in the previous coalition, he put sustainability at the centre of his economic vision:

The heart of [the future] economy will be green industries: renewable energy, low-carbon transport, green finance – all areas in which Britain is already a world leader.

There are more offshore wind turbines around our coasts than everywhere else in the rest of the world put together.

These industries are making products and technologies which a decarbonised world will want to buy. They will bring jobs, exports and prosperity and at same time reduce emissions and tackle climate change.

Natalie Bennett, Green Party

As you would expect, the environment featured widely in the Green Party leader's speech, but most of it concerned either what the Green Party was against (fracking, coal bed gasification, nuclear power) or how rubbish everybody else was at tackling green problems. In terms of policy, Bennett pushed addressing fuel poverty and a 'small is beautiful' vision for the economy:

The Green Party has long championed treating our homes as the critical national infrastructure that they are – a plan to lift nine out of 10 households out of fuel poverty, to create at least 100,000 jobs, and cut carbon emissions. Not bad for just one Green policy!

The Green Party has long demanded investment in public transport, not the botched, illogical HS2, but local and regional schemes that help to rebalance our economy, linked to local bus services under the controlling hand of local councils. Such a transport policy would not only tackle congestion and air pollution, but also help to cut the NHS bill for dealing with obesity and diabetes. Not bad for just one Green policy!

And we've long understood that the only secure, sustainable economic future is based in strong local economies, with local needs met by local suppliers, with a rich ecology of farming, manufacturing and services businesses supporting each other.

Nigel Farage, UKIP

Following a general election where they racked up millions of votes yet only won a single seat, the UKIP conference was the most combustible with public shouting matches between major figures. UKIP have never pretended to be green and the sole reference to climate and industry in Farage's speech was "[The EU's] climate change obsession has destroyed industry across Europe." Moving swiftly on...

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party

The new leader of the Labour Party was a surprise (not least to himself) – a 30 year veteran of the left. Never known as an orator, Corbyn's ramshackle delivery was rescued by the fact that we knew he genuinely meant every word he said. However, his sole green policy proposal was a rehash of an old, recently ditched one, and didn't come with any detail attached.

A Green New Deal investing in renewable energy and energy conservation to tackle the threat of climate change.

David Cameron, Conservative Party

The Prime Minister gave a quite extraordinary speech to his party faithful, driving his tanks not just into the centre ground, but arguably into the centre-left. However, this didn't include what would be to me the obvious target, climate change and the green economy with the former getting an oblique reference and the latter nothing. As one pundit put it, plenty of 'hug a hoodie', no 'hug a husky'.


So, from a sustainability point of view, the leaders' speeches were rather depressing, with only Farron and Bennett having anything of substance to say and them having but 9 MPs between them. The choice between those two is the 'small is beautiful' idealism of the Greens and the 'green growth' vision of the Lib Dems.


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7 October 2015

Getting Green Stuff Done

In the latest edition of Ask Gareth, I advise Stephen (a pseudonym) on how he can break free of the 'green tape' – ISO14001 documentation and reporting requirements etc – and deliver some meaningful change in his organisation.

Is this a problem you suffer from? If so, do you have any suggestions for Stephen on top of my three ideas? Put it all in the comments below the video.
We are always after fresh questions for Ask Gareth. If you have one, please check out the past editions in case it has already been covered, and, if not, fire it through by clicking here.


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5 October 2015

New! Workshop Facilitation Masterclass

workshop lo res

I'm really, really excited because, following months of work, my new workshop facilitation masterclass is now available on Udemy. Clients and regular readers will know that the workshop is the key weapon in my sustainability arsenal. This is for three reasons:

1. You get more brains working on the problem;

2. If you are an outsider, those brains know their day job much better than you do, so using that knowledge for sustainability gives better solutions;

but most importantly...

3. You get buy-in. Psychologically, if you propose something new to someone, they exaggerate the downside and are lukewarm about the upside. However, if they work it out for themselves, they exaggerate the likely benefits and downplay the risks. Your playing field tilts from uphill to downhill.

So I've done getting on for 100 workshops ranging from board level strategy development to external stakeholder engagement. This course means you can learn how I do it for yourself! Just click here for more.

Note that subscribers to the Low Carbon Agenda will get a 50% off code on Thursday 8 Oct. Fill in you details in the box on the right to make sure you get your discount.


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2 October 2015

Compliance, compliance, compliance

vwA long term mantra of mine is:

Go beyond compliance, but don't neglect compliance.

As the fall out from the VW emissions cheat continues, the car behemoth has set aside an initial $7.3 billion to cover the costs of the scandal, 30% has been wiped off the company's value and criminal investigations have begun. But the wider damage to the brand's reputation (which was built on dependability, after all) is much, much bigger. As one board member put it "The damage done cannot be measured."

Compliance underpins sustainability. If you get compliance wrong, it doesn't matter what absolutely fantastic things you do, the whole pyramid comes tumbling down. As my schoolteacher (and no doubt yours too) used to put it "You're only cheating yourself."


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30 September 2015

Why don't people 'get' climate change? Because we're only human...

George_Monbiot_(cropped)I like George Monbiot – he's decent, principled and thorough – but I often disagree with the tenor of his arguments. Today he complained that there was more TV news coverage in 2014 of the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann than the whole range of environmental issues.

This doesn't really surprise me.

As animals we are programmed to react to immediate risks to our family. What happened to Madeleine McCann taps into our deepest fears. As a parent, the idea of losing a kid to a stranger while taking a minuscule risk – eating on the same premises while the kids sleep in a locked room (which I've been known to do) – haunts me. And never knowing their fate... it makes me shiver.

By contrast, climate change is a creeping, gradual, sometimes distant threat. We can look at graphs of plunging Arctic sea ice, but they don't hit that primal chord in the same way because we can't relate to the risk. Boris Johnson famously questioned how the world could be warming when he could see snow outside his window – a silly argument on an intellectual level, but it illustrates the mountain to climb.

[BTW, in 2014 'Maddie' hit the headlines for a particular reason (which both Monbiot and the study he quotes fail to mention) – the Portuguese Police and Scotland Yard started digging wasteland up in the hunt for the young girl. There was a very real chance the mystery would be solved at long last. Studying 2012 or 2013 might give a more realistic comparison.]

What I'm trying to get at here is people aren't stupid as the title of Monbiot's article – "There may be flowing water on Mars. But is there intelligent life on Earth?" – implies. But they are human, and if we are failing to communicate the risks of climate change, then maybe, just maybe it's our fault, not theirs.


Photograph by Adrian Arbib, used under Creative Commons License.

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28 September 2015

There's no silver bullet in CSR

business angel

For those of us searching for ways of making business more responsible, it is all too easy to call for simple solutions. Unfortunately recent scandals have torpedoed many of the broad brush solutions held up as panaceas:

  • The German approach to business: VW;
  • Family owned business: VW;
  • Worker representation and strong unions: VW;
  • Co-operatives: The Co-operative Bank/Paul Flowers;
  • Nationalised industry: the NHS and Jimmy Saville's abuse of kids therein;
  • A higher calling: child abuse in the Catholic Church.

That's not to say that any of the above things are wrong or are not better than unfettered capitalism, just that they are in themselves no guarantee that unethical behaviour (or turning a blind eye to such behaviour) won't happen.

People are people. We take shortcuts and we chance our arm - some more than others, but we all do it. We are tribal, so we tend to defend our own – sometimes defending the indefensible. Simply changing business models or management structures won't weed out millennia of human evolution.

Culture is key – people need to stand up for what is right, whether the CEO or the software programmer who is asked whether they can they code a cheat into an emissions control system. Those who transgress need to be held accountable, those who blow the whistle on transgressions need to be cherished not shunned.

Nobody ever said it was going to be easy – and the examples above show us that it's more difficult than many of us thought. Me included.



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25 September 2015

A surfeit of -isms? Eco-modernism, new environmentalism, pragmatic environmentalism

world brainThis week saw the launch of 'Eco-modernism' the brainchild of Mark Lynas and a host of other green thinkers. It pretty much fills the same space as BusinessGreen editor James Murray's New Environmentalism concept and my own, completely ignored, idea of Pragmatic Environmentalism – viz we need to reclaim the environmental movement from leftwing politics and place it square in the centre so people of left, right and middle can relate to it and not fear it is creeping communism in disguise (the old 'watermelon' trope).

Under eco-modernism/new/pragmatic environmentalism, the anti-science of parts of the green movement (GM, fracking, nuclear are all EVIL*) are challenged as hard as the anti-science of right-wing neoliberalism (climate change denial). We do what works, what science indicates, what technology and society permits, not what dogma dictates.

The seeds of my pragmatic environmentalism were sown when I was part of a political team bringing in a new recycling system here in Newcastle. We proposed moving from a source separated system to a semi-mixed collection of recyclates to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to participate. The local green movement went apeshit, to put it mildly, accusing us of betraying our principles and screaming that the whole thing was doomed to failure. We decided to ignore them, and rightly so, as the already good recycling rate jumped by 50% overnight.

You could argue that most of the big wins in sustainability have come from pragmatic environmentalism. Last quarter the UK produced a record 25.3% of power from renewables, up from 16.9% last year and beating down coal for the first time. Add in nuclear and low carbon sources produced just short of 50%. That's been achieved by harnessing rather than smashing capitalism, using market levers to create a virtuous cycle of volume and economies of scale (sorry, Naomi, but that's how it is). Despite the UK Government sending out all the wrong signals, this rise is likely to continue for a few years at least.

My only worry about eco-modernism was the strange bedfellows at its launch. Ex-environmental minister Owen Patterson and shamed banker Matt Ridley used the event to explain that everything was alright really. That's not the point. The threats are real and they are coming thick and fast. We have no time for either neoliberal complacency or anticapitalist utopianism – we've just got to knuckle down and get the job done.


* Note: I have reservations about all 3 technologies, but I try to base those on science rather than gut instinct. This annoys the antis more than it annoys the pros.


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23 September 2015

Al Gore, the CBI & Greenpeace: which big gun will make a difference?


The heavy artillery of the climate movement parked its tanks on the (metaphorical) lawn of the UK Chancellor this week. Al Gore, John Cridland of the CBI and John Sauven of Greenpeace lambasted his approach to clean energy at a Green Alliance conference. Each took a different tack and I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast.

Gore appealed to the UK Government to show leadership:

"The UK’s historic legacy of leadership on the most important moral issues faced by humanity, including the climate crisis, is long and has been recognised with respect by the community of nations,” he said. “It is time for the UK government to honour and live up to that legacy, and return to its global leadership position, domestically and abroad, by supporting an ambitious international agreement in Paris that unleashes the power of the private sector to create a global clean energy economy."

Cridland looked at the risks of inaction and economic benefits of action:

"Supermarket chain ASDA estimates that 95% of its supply chain could be at risk from changing weather patterns and increased extreme events – which are both accelerated by climate change. And we’ve already seen how global technology companies in the US – in particular - had to stop trading when flooding in Thailand shut down the factories they relied on.

But besides the ‘costs’ of inaction, the ‘benefits’ of seizing the opportunity and growing the green economy are also clear. We know the UK’s green economy has sales of over 120 billion pounds a year. And whilst people might describe ‘China’ or ‘India’ as ‘emerging markets’, the green economy is a high-growth ‘emerging market’ in its own right. Between 2010 and 2013, the green economy grew at more than 7% a year, compared to less than 2% a year over the same period for the UK economy as a whole.

Today, 164 countries have renewable energy targets. That’s 164 potential markets worldwide for the UK’s renewable industry – for example."

Sauven took a more combative approach:

"From Britain’s business leaders to the government’s own advisers, the chorus of opposition against George Osborne’s ideological assault on clean energy just keeps growing. His increasingly erratic and capricious policies are not only harming UK businesses and ripping off consumers but are also isolating Britain ahead of a crucial climate summit.

When Al Gore ironically remarks that Osborne is not the prime minister, he makes a very good point. David Cameron should take heed of it and start wresting back control of energy and climate policy from the chancellor’s hands."

My assessment is that, in the short term, the Government will be embarrassed most by Gore's argument – every politician likes to think of themselves as showing leadership. However, Cridland's cost-benefit analysis may have more long term effect on a business-loving Chancellor, particularly if it is followed up with some invitations to see that burgeoning green sector in action (Osborne likes nothing more than swanning about a factory in hi-viz). I'm most disappointing in Sauven's line – he should know by now that experienced politicians have an inner noise-cancelling switch which is activated by insults and words like 'ideological'. You've got to preach to the congregation, not to the choir.


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21 September 2015

Is there any mileage in unethical business?

vwIt's well known that car makers use all kinds of tricks to bump up the apparent fuel efficiency of their vehicles (surely easily sorted by the authorities with a little effort), but the revelation that VW had engineered their diesel cars to only switch on emissions controls when they are being tested beggars belief. The company faces fines up to $18bn in the US, an expensive recall programme and untold reputational damage.

As an engineer, it pains me that (presumably) a whole bunch of engineers were in on this scam. They would've been much better off putting all that effort into creating engines which meet standards and give great performance.

The VW boss Martin Winterkorn has ordered an 'external investigation' into the scandal, but the question he needs to ask himself is how he let a culture develop where this kind of thing was deemed acceptable.


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18 September 2015


plan b

Something I missed earlier in the year was the discovery that when we sit on the toilet, we are literally sitting on a goldmine. US researchers found that the amount of gold in our faeces is about the same as that in mineral deposits. Another study estimated that, by extracting all metals, the annual excrement of a million Americans could be worth $13 million. There are over 300 million Americans, and a further 900 million plus living in OECD countries whose consumption patterns are broadly similar. You do the math.

In addition, extracting toxic metals such as lead would make it more viable to use composted human waste as fertiliser – maybe extracting gas first – turning a waste material into a potential product.

I love this kind of thinking – urban mining in the true sense of the word where everything from road-sweepings to our own poo is seen as a potential goldmine. Where there's muck indeed...


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16 September 2015

Who is going to champion the UK's green industry now?

Lisa_Nandy_MP_addressing_the_NCVO_Acevo_fringe_(6192110384)As the details of new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet trickled out this week, I became increasingly depressed. Carolyn Flint, the existing Energy & Climate Change shadow minister and Ed Miliband, who was once DECC minister, refused to serve Corbyn. So new face Lisa Nandy (right) was announced in their place.

Whereas many on the left cheered due to her opposition to fracking, I did a quick Google of her name and 'climate change' and found nothing of substance. The 'They Work for You' website ranks her voting record on climate change as 'ambiguous'. She has no prior front bench experience. Her boss's position that we should open the coal mines again and tackle climate change is hardly a coherent position.

With the Conservative party busy dismantling the subsidy system for renewables, while boosting those for oil and gas, investor confidence in the renewable industry has plummeted. On the blue side, only maverick MP and London Mayor wannabe candidate Zac Goldsmith is pushing for the green economy.

Of the traditionally pro-environmental parties, the Greens only have one MP and the Lib Dems eight.

This is not good.

My only optimism is that history tells that politicians have generally followed the green economy, not led. It is up to business to deliver.


Photo by NCVO London used under creative commons licence.


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14 September 2015

Being right isn't enough

Angry managerYou'd have to have the heart of Katie Hopkins not to be moved by the refugee crisis – a humanitarian disaster unfolding in front of our eyes. The reasons for this huge movement of people are many and some commentators have linked the mass movement of people to the impacts of climate change.

To me, this is wrong. Not wrong as in factually incorrect, but the wrong argument to make at the wrong time. It comes across as opportunistic bandwagon jumping when emotions are high – and will make the general public, the people we need to win over, less likely to hear the warnings on climate, not more – "There they go again..."

One of the reasons I don't join pressure groups is this kind of one-eyed hectoring. It frustrates me when I hear it from all parts of the environmental movement from cycling lobbyists to anti-fracking militants (for the record I'm very pro-cycling and moderately anti-fracking). It's fine if campaigners just want to feel good about themselves, but if they really want to make a difference, they need to be much better attuned to the public mood.


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11 September 2015

Thinking Fast and Slow about Sustainability

KahnemanYears ago, I got into a lengthy, but pretty pointless e-mail argument about climate science. On paper, I had no chance. My opponent was a pre-eminent chemist with a lengthy publication list and a reputation for debunking bad science in his field – including exposing a high profile 'breakthrough' which made the mainstream media. But, the debate soon settled into an unexpected pattern, the inverse of what you would expect.

He, the scientist, would challenge me using unsupported 'evidence' copied and pasted from right-wing libertarian US websites (his own politics were firmly left of centre) and I, the layman, with much needed signposting from, would come back with peer-reviewed research which debunked his debunking. Eventually, he half-backed down with a much caveated admission that maybe, just maybe, carbon emissions were driving long term climatic trends.

The question that has bugged me ever since is "How could someone so clever be so dumb?" Reading Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman's superlative book Thinking, Fast and Slow this summer has answered my question – and it's all about how our brains really work.

Sciences such as chemistry are carried out under very controlled laboratory conditions. After years of working in a particular field, practitioners build up a strong intuition for what is probable and improbable (the 'fast' thinking of the title). They can generally trust their intuition as long as they keep to what they know.

More unpredictable, real world, highly complex issues like economics and politics (and, almost certainly, climate) cannot be judged by hunches – 'expert' pundits in these fields are wrong in their 'off the top of the head' predictions far more often than they are right. Kahneman argues that in such disciplines even the simplest mathematical model based on data from past experience (ie slow, analytical thinking) will comfortably out-perform expert intuition.

My colleague had got himself into a vicious cycle of trying to back up his intuition by grasping at anything, no matter what its provenance, that supported it. This is classic 'confirmation bias' – where instead of the analytical part of our brain keeping the intuitive part in check, it tries to find evidence to justify the hunch. His biggest mistake was backing his scientific intuition over the knowledge of others (those climatologists I was quoting) in a field he knew little about – a little humility would have saved him a lot of embarrassment.

I've believed for a long time that psychology is the missing piece in the sustainability. Nothing will change unless people start making different decisions – whether that's choosing to recycle a cardboard box at home or setting ambitious national climate targets. And if you want to encourage people to make different decisions, you have got to learn more about how they make those decisions and what can possibly change them.

I can't adequately summarise Kahneman's book here, except to say that it will change the way you think about how other people think. For example, if you try to force change on someone, their brains will exaggerate the downside and ignore the benefits. However, if people come to that conclusion by themselves, that flips around – they exaggerate the benefits and downplay the risks. I have made a career out of doing this – facilitating change rather than proposing it – and now I know why it works!

Highly recommended.


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9 September 2015

The Circular Economy Rules

In the latest edition of Ask Gareth, I consider the Circular Economy concept and propose some rules of thumb for success.

We are always after fresh questions for Ask Gareth. If you have one, please check out the past editions in case it has already been covered, and, if not, fire it through by clicking here.


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7 September 2015

One photo beats a million statistics

me and charlie IILast Thursday morning, with a lump in my throat, I finished the newspaper and folded it carefully. I didn't want the kids to see the pictures of the lifeless body of three year old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi lying in the surf on a Turkish beach. Later in the day, I came into our living room to find Charlie, our three year old, snoozing on the sofa in almost the same position, bum in the air, one arm along his body, the only difference his thumb stuck firmly in his mouth. I lifted him up and hugged him close, tears in my eyes.

Many people have asked why it took these pictures to make so many sit up and take notice when the refugee crisis has been building for so long. Countless other little kids have drowned in the Med, out of sight, their parents trying to get them to physical and economic safety, yet it is only now that the on-line petitions have started, charitable donations have surged and politicians have started to do something more than mouth platitudes.

The answer is human nature – we relate emotionally to individuals, not numbers. We cannot comprehend the six million-plus who perished in The Holocaust, so we focus on Anne Frank. By all accounts, Anne Frank was a perfectly normal little girl, who happened to keep a diary, caught up in one of the blackest periods in history. Her posthumous fame doesn't detract from the suffering of the millions of others, it simply helps us get out heads around it by scaling it down to the personal level we can engage with.

I've been aware of the refugee crisis for a long time, but the photos of little Aylan made me act - if only to sign petitions and pledge some cash. I feel guilty that I didn't made these small efforts months ago, and I'm certainly in no position to criticise others for 'jumping on the bandwagon' now. At the end of the day, we're just being human.


If you'd like to make a donation, The Guardian has a list of appropriate charities here. The petition to the UK Government is here.



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4 September 2015

Digging an ethical hole...

sustainability climate CSR

Interesting example from Daniel Kahneman's excellent psychology book, Thinking, Fast & Slow:

A hardware store has been selling snow shovels for $15. The morning after a large snowstorm, the store raises the price to $20.

Is this Fair, Acceptable, Unfair or Very Unfair?

A whopping 82% of participants in the experiment rated this as Unfair or Very Unfair, despite the fact it is a simple case of supply and demand – the economic principle which determines everyday vital commodity prices such as oil or grain. Kahneman concludes that a basic rule of fairness is that you shouldn't use market forces to impose losses on others (the price hike was voluntary).

To me, there's a wider implication. Milton Friedman-style thinking says that the only social responsibility of the hardware store is to maximise its profits. However, this assumes that the consumer will accept such thinking as fair and yet it is clear from many real-life examples as well as psychology experiments like this one that they don't.

Fairness matters to people, and customers are people.


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2 September 2015

If it looks like a SUV...


We've just bitten the bullet and bought a new family car. Having three kids needing car seats/boosters limited our options massively – few 5 seaters have enough space across the back seat, so, after much head-scratching, we settled on a Ford S-Max 7 seater (above).

Despite being a much bigger beast, the S-Max has slightly lower CO2 emissions per km than our old VW Golf (138 g/km compared to 143 g/km). That salved our carbon consciences somewhat (along with the fact our annual mileage is low and much of what we do do offsets flying).

One option we didn't consider was a spacious SUV – for obvious reasons.

Hold on. For 'obvious reasons'? What are those?

Er, that SUVs destroy the planet with their gas-guzzling and their carbon-belching?

Do they? A Nissan X-Trail SUV emits 129-138 g CO2/km depending on whether you go 2WD or 4WD. The lower end of that is not far off the average for the UK and better than our S-Max.

If I'm honest, I didn't check whether the received wisdom on SUVs was correct until it was too late. If I'm really, really honest, the more powerful motive was that I didn't want to be seen to be driving an SUV no matter what.

Over the summer, I've been reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman's brilliant treatise on decision making. The central premise is that we generally make decisions on intuition based on previous experience, rather than careful, objective analysis. And, it seems, the 'SUV = evil' meme was more deeply embedded in my mind than I'd ever realised.

I'll be musing more on Kahneman over the next few weeks, but, in short, every sustainability practitioner should read it.


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31 August 2015

Solar subsidies must go... eventually

Man installing solar panels

Just weeks after promising to "unleash a solar revolution", UK Energy & Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd has announced the Government is considering a massive 87% cut to Feed in Tariffs (FiTs) for solar energy,  leading to a predictable paroxysm of outrage from the industry and environmental activists. The Government's argument is that it is ahead of its targets on renewable energy, capital costs have plummeted so subsidies are no longer needed, and the budgets are vastly overspent.

While this is strictly true, it is coming at the issue with the view that the target is a maximum, rather than a minimum. There is no such thing as 'too much renewable energy' until we get to grips with climate change. The other big issue is these sudden, colossal changes create uncertainty for investors – not just in installation, but those investing in technological advances.

You can trace the source of this problem back to a certain Miliband, Ed, who held Rudd's post before the 2010 General Election. When Miliband drew up the plans for Feed-in Tariffs, the tariffs were fixed, no matter what happened to the capital costs of solar panels. This meant that, as volumes rose and capital costs plummeted, investors would make a killing, snaffling up the FiT budget at an unsustainable rate.

This flaw wasn't spotted by the incoming coalition Government either who took the reins of a month-old scheme in May 2010. In 2011 they slashed the subsidy as inevitable economic forces took hold, and caused similar outrage to the present one. Before his silly downfall for trying to dodge a speeding offence, DECC Secretary Chris Huhne proposed adopting the German system – where  FiTs track average capital costs – but as far as I am aware, this never happened.

This was a big shame as it would have taken short term politics out of the equation, FiTs would be gradually phased out as solar energy hit 'grid parity', yet investors and innovators would have a predictable economic framework to work in.

A big question is why do mature and declining energy forms such as conventional oil and gas require so many Government subsidies - and why these aren't targeted as well? Maybe these highly inefficient subsidies are a source for topping up the FiT budget? Just saying...


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28 August 2015

Your Sustainability Thought of the Week

Go Green Save Money

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25 August 2015

When we need constancy on Climate Change, we get inconsistency

ObamaA slew of dissonant news items have hit our eyeballs in recent weeks:

  • President Obama launching tough carbon reduction regulations for power stations, then approving oil drilling in the Arctic;
  • Shell's signing up to a climate change resolution to report on how its activities will contribute to reducing temperature rises to 2°C, then starting oil exploration in the Arctic;
  • UK, Energy & Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd making a fine speech on the economic impact of climate change (gist: the right should be as worried as the left), while dismantling many renewable energy/energy efficiency incentives in favour of shale gas.

I have long argued that leadership is key to sustainability. If our leaders aren't acting, then a majority of us won't act. According to academic leadership guru Warren Bennis, one of the key elements in whether we trust our leaders is constancy – "the quality of being faithful and dependable" (see my book The Green Executive for more). Contradictory actions lead to cognitive dissonance which in turn leads to confusion and dismay.

Whether we are leading the free world, a mega-corporation, a start-up or a community group, people expect constancy from us. And, crucially, they will judge it by gut instinct, not by an intellectual argument. Constancy isn't easy, and you'll never manage it 100% of the time, but you need to get the big calls right.


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