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27 November 2015

Sustainable Stupidity


I sometimes read stuff on-line that makes me go all "why oh why oh why?"

This week it was yet another article from an employee engagement for sustainability 'expert' who suggested that you should try talking to employees about recycling/switching stuff off at home in order to get them better engaged in sustainability at work.

But why?

If I want to learn a tune on the piano, why would I pick up my guitar?

If I wanted to do a half marathon, why would I train on a bicycle?

If I want to visit Canada, why would I buy a USA guidebook?

Yes, in each case there is a degree of overlap, but tenuous at best. Why not aim at the bullseye rather than hoping for a lucky ricochet? If you want to get your colleagues to behave in a more sustainable way at work, then talk to them about how their work relates to sustainability. Is that not obvious?

Better still, ask them how they think their job relates to sustainability and how they would change things. It may be worth watching The Art of Green Jujitsu again to see why this works...

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25 November 2015

Who is the keystone of your sustainability programme?


The keystone of an arch is the one which completes it and lets the arch bear weight. Whether in a structural engineering sense it is as critical to success compared to the other stones as it is in figurative use is up for debate, but it is usually taken to mean the critical element in a system.

Who is the keystone of a sustainability programme? As a sustainability practitioner, it probably isn't you, I'm afraid to say. And the answer may not be as obvious as you think.

For example, I'm currently helping develop a sustainability strategy for a processor/distributer of perishable goods. In this case, from a technical point of view, the keystone is the guy in charge of the 'cold chain' – all the refrigeration whether in fixed locations or on wagons, plus the systems in place to ensure that the goods don't perish en route. This refrigeration is the biggest contributor to the company's carbon footprint and has a big effect on waste, too. We are going to have to do some highly targeted engagement to ensure that this individual and their team is fully on board and helping us with key parts of the strategy.

It's quite common that a small number of individuals in an organisation have disproportionate effect on sustainability (as the 80:20 rule suggests). Do you know who they are in your case, and what are you doing to engage with them?


Photo: G Dollardo, uploaded to Wikipedia

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23 November 2015

The last thing the planet needs is conspiracy theories

Crazy WomanI've had it up to here (holds hand above head) with climate conspiracy theories. First it was claims that the group behind the Paris attacks was funded by big oil to scupper the COP21 climate change talks that start in the city next week, then it was Naomi Klein, who has somehow grabbed the climate justice throne despite no discernible track record, claiming Francois Hollande has exploited the attacks to silence the oppressed, by banning climate marches during the talks.

Yes, that's right, it's all a conspiracy by the elite to maintain their feather nests, and nothing to due with the fact there are several murderous jihadis still on the loose and possibly looking for a nice soft target like a huge crowd of civilians. This level of idiocy is almost up there with the libertarians who think that climate change science is a mass conspiracy to sneak socialism in by the back door, or, my personal favourite, the socialists who believe that climate change science was fabricated by Margaret Thatcher to destroy the coal miners' unions in the UK.

The science is the science and it is as clear as it can be. We have to act. Multiple studies have shown that, with smart policies, we can bring carbon emissions under control. The Paris talks are an important step in that process and there are plenty of indications that momentum is finally moving in the right direction.

Success would not just be a threat to vested interests in the fossil fuel industry, but also radical greens who would rather sink under rising seas proclaiming "told you so!" Let's hope that neither group gets a chance to scupper it.


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18 November 2015

Cast off the recycling blinkers!


Yesterday I was at the North East Recycling Forum annual conference, which believe it or not is one of the very few events I attend as a punter (all those commercial conference promoters are wasting their time). Why? Because the speakers are uniformly great and there's always plenty of food for thought.

However, the focus of the 5 speakers was almost entirely on the supply side of recyclates. So I stuck up my hand in the Q&A and asked should we not focus on the demand side - after all in a circular economy, demand will have more influence over supply than vice-versa. The speakers agreed and gave some really good ideas, such as dropping recycling targets altogether and shifting them into producer responsibility legislation to drive the use of secondary materials.

Great, but why aren't we talking about this more? Well, because we still largely see recycling as a way of keeping material out of landfill rather than as a way of creating raw materials. For a circular economy, we've got to cast off those blinkers and see the bigger picture. Basic economics.

There were other, positive, examples at the conference where casting off a narrow focus produced great results. For example, Andrew Gadd of Link2Energy pointed out that while it was standard practice to turn Energy from Waste ash into building blocks, but nobody was extracting the precious metals therein first. So we're locking valuable material up in our walls. Why? Because we are obsessed with quantity over quality which encourages down-cycling (and ultimately impacts on quantity). Recovering those metals first not only boosts the economics of the recycling process, it also removes the need for all the environmentally destructive mining of those metals in the first place.

And such recovery is often cheaper than mining – yesterday the press was reporting that a Chinese municipality has found that its sewage sludge ash has 50-100 times the concentration of gold that you get in the most productive Chinese gold mine. Where there's muck, there's brass.

As we walked to lunch, another delegate was musing on why we don't do this stuff. It's the blinkers we decided, we need to cast them off and think differently about the material we currently call 'waste'.


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16 November 2015

When bad things happen...

durham tricolore

Checking social media early on Saturday morning, I started to get that dread feeling that something terrible had happened overnight. Flicking up the news, the horrors of what happened in Paris became all too clear.

But what did I do then? I made breakfast for the kids, took them to their karate class and then in the afternoon, we headed to the Luminere festival of light in Durham. If you haven't seen this, it is incredible, but somebody had been hard at work through the day as the artworks were interjected with tributes to Paris, including bathing Durham Cathedral in Tricolore colours. This was a poignant moment, completely unannounced, and you could feel the ripple of understanding cross the crowd. Then the fun began and we ooh'd and aah'd en masse.

I grew up in Belfast in the 70s and 80s under the shadow of sectarian terrorism. If you think the barbarity of IS/Daesh is anything to do with ethnicity or a particular religion, then google 'Shankill Butchers' – those depraved murderers were from exactly the same ethnic/religious background as me – white Protestants. (IS-style suicide attacks were pioneered by the avowedly secular Tamil Tigers, so us atheists cannot see ourselves as fundamentally above the brutality either).

I wasn't affected directly by 'The Troubles' but as my family and almost all my friends'/neighbours' families had in their midst at least one 'legitimate target' according to Republicans (the bar was quite low), the dread was always there – the elephant in the room. But we got up every morning and went to work and to school. Some had to check under their cars before they did so, but we went about our daily lives.

The aim of all terrorism is to disrupt the rest of us, whether violently or indirectly via fear. The best thing all of us can do to defy them is to keep working to make the world a better place.




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13 November 2015

The climate doesn't care if you're left or right

world brainIn the Telegraph this week, some sad sack 'controversialist' did a hatchet job on the talented comedian David Mitchell for being a "uniform Lefty bore". Amongst the evidence for this conclusion was Mitchell's 'belief' in man-made climate change. This was probably the most egregious piece of many I've seen recently which perceives climate change purely through the lens of the left-right political spectrum.

You know the kind of thing. Left wingers see climate change as evidence that capitalism is evil, and right wingers think the science has been fabricated purely to allow lefties to argue that.

But climate change is not about politics. It's about the laws of physics – simple thermodynamics applied to a complex system of feedbacks.

On top of that, I think the whole left/right/climate argument is flawed. Socialism/communism has proved just as effective at destroying the planet as neoliberalism. I was inspired to dedicate my life to sustainability by seeing the destructive legacy of the Soviet Union, China is hardly an eco-paradise and the Venezuelan economy is based on oil, to name but three. There is no evidence that a swing to the left will, in itself, lead to sustainability, whatever Naomi Klein tells us. In my opinion, the only thing hard left greens achieve is to give the right an excuse not to act.

My whole green jujitsu approach to engagement is to translate sustainability into the language of your target audience. For this reason, I find a good right-of-centre argument for tackling climate change much more exciting than than a left wing one as it is the right who we have to bring on board. There is little point in preaching to the choir.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond gave a quite brilliant right-of-centre speech on climate change this week. He evoked the leadership given by Margaret Thatcher on climate change in the late 1980s, and Ronald Reagan's action on the hole in the ozone layer before her. By co-opting the memory of the twin gods of neoliberalism to the climate cause, he pressed the buttons of every right winger. He then proceeded to make the economic case for tackling climate change, driving home the message.

The proof of course will be in the pudding. The one person that Hammond needs to bring on board is the UK Chancellor George Osborne who is busy switching subsidies for clean fuels to fossil fuels (despite the latter already enjoying a 4:1 advantage of Government largesse) and blowing public money on an over-priced nuclear reactor. If he can bring Osborne on board, Hammond will make himself a real climate hero.


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11 November 2015

Leadership, Sustainability & Visibility

bowlerI'm very proud to be working on a project with the world leaders on corporate sustainability, Interface. The results of this work will be made public next year, but it is very clear from my many interactions with Interface employees and stakeholders that Ray Anderson, the founder of the company and its Mission Zero sustainability programme, is still held in highest regard some four years after his death.

I follow a couple of twitter feeds who supply inspiring business and management quotes (I like a good quote, even if many are misattributed) and one caught my eye this morning:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves ~ Lao Tzu

Now I know I'm walking on thin ice criticising the (purported) author of the Tao Te Ching, but is this always the case?

On one level I understand the need to get individuals to claim ownership of sustainability issues, solve them and take credit for the results. But 'barely know he exists'? We look to our leaders to show us the direction of travel, for permission to act and for permission to fail. Otherwise every organisation could run itself.

I certainly don't think Interface could have gone through the radical transformation it has over the last two decades without Ray Anderson nailing his colours to the mast. And where Interface has led, competitors and other industries have followed. Visible leadership matters in sustainability.


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9 November 2015

Obama steps up, will the other world leaders?

ObamaLast week, Barack Obama sent out a clear message to the US and the world when he nixed the Keystone XL pipeline which would have opened up Canadian tar sands to international markets. I've long argued that the litmus test of a true sustainability leader is not so much what they start doing, but what they stop doing. in this instance at least, Obama has passed the test.

And what a timely fillip ahead of the COP21 climate talks in Paris starting on 30 November. Already being billed as "the last chance to save the planet" (wasn't that Copenhagen 2009?), the doom-mongers are out in force. I think we should be building on the fact that national commitments to cut carbon are rising fast. OK, they're not enough as yet to keep us to 2°C, but those calculations don't include industrial, regional or city-level commitments.

Speaking of Obama and Copenhagen, it was POTUS who saved the that meeting from complete disaster (a disaster precipitated by the destructive perfectionism of green NGOs according to my friend the environmental journalist Fiona Harvey who witnessed it unfolding first hand). With the other world leaders attending as well as Obama, I'm hoping for some constructive one-upmanship to drive forward commitments. Maybe even David Cameron, who loves striding the world stage with the big boys and girls, will get back into 'greenest Government ever' mode.

Yes I'm an optimist, but you know what they say optimists and pessimists have in common? Both their predictions tend to come true.


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6 November 2015

Milton Friedman was not only wrong on CSR, but dangerously wrong

1024px-Portrait_of_Milton_FriedmanThe continued fall out from the VW scandal has made me mull on the risks of ignoring corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the favour of profit. Milton Friedman, the late guru of the Chicago School of Economics and advisor to both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, had no time for CSR, famously saying:

There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.

Now you could argue that if the business case for CSR is as strong as people like me argue it is, then CSR is compatible with the Friedman Doctrine as it will lead to increased profitability.

There is some logic in that, but the problem is the mindset. As soon as you read the doctrine, your mind narrows down to a purely financial/economic frame. You start ignoring the fact that any business is completely dependent on society and the environment to survive. If you forget that crucial truth, you are putting the long term future of your business at serious risk.

We have to do business in the real world, not within the models of economic theorists.


Photo: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

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4 November 2015

How will the SDGs affect your business?

In this edition of Ask Gareth, I discuss how the brand new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may impact on an individual business.

You can see all editions of Ask Gareth by clicking here.

If you'd like to send a question to Ask Gareth fire away!



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2 November 2015

3D Storytelling for Sustainability


Two days of motorway driving just to spend a day queuing for rides at a theme park – my weekend couldn't have been designed more around my pet hates. The theme park was Legoland and, even though my expectations weren't that high, I was still disappointed. There were very few 'Wow!' moments and everything was aimed at kids.

You may be surprised at my surprise at that last bit, but if you think of last year's Lego Movie, it worked on different levels – the kids loved the crash bang wallops and the slapstick, the adults got all the quest-movie parodies and jokes about overpriced coffees. Just a soupçon of that wit sprinkled across Legoland would have lifted it from over-priced banality to something everybody could enjoy, not just the kids (especially those who were paying for it!).

Much 'green communication' is similarly one-dimensional – it assumes that everybody is interested in rather bland hand-wringing. People who aren't interested ignore it, people who are interested don't get anything extra out of it (they already switch the lights off) and people who may be suspicious of greenwash don't get the proof they need to allay their fears.

So how about designing you communications to handle 3 dimensions of interest from your target audience?

  1. Interest in green issues – ranging from tree-hugger to eco-sceptic;
  2. Learning – how does this apply to me, from simple efforts to step changes such as eco-design;
  3. Depth – ranging from punchy slogans to detailed data.

This can be done on websites and reports – you start at the shallow end and gets deeper and more involved as you explore further.

The wider the audience you appeal to, the more successful you will be – sustainability doesn't benefit from the pester power that Legoland does!


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26 October 2015

New technology vs old rules...

swegwayLast Friday, my partner, Karen, and I sat down to rewatch Back to the Future II, only to find a. we had never actually seen it before and, b. this wasn't a bad thing, given some of the acting, dialogue and plotting. There has been a big fuss in the old and new media about how accurate the movie's 2015 sequence turned out to be: the video communication system looked surprisingly close to a Skype/Facebook hybrid, but sadly we haven't got the hover boards, unless you count the rather earth-bound Swegway (above right).

I saw someone trundling along our local cycle path on one of these this morning. He was probably breaking the law as they can't be ridden on public highways according to the Highway Act of 1835.

Yep, you read that right. 1835.

OK, all the attempts at revolutionary personal transport from the Sinclair C5 onwards have been a bit pants, but that's how innovation works. Version 1.0 of anything is a bit pants (the original iPhone had no video capability, already standard on other phones), but version 2.0 generally starts to be useful. But we need to get demand going for those early versions in order to get to up the innovation S-curve.

If we are strangling innovative ideas at birth with legislation set down 180 years ago, no wonder we get stuck in the old, high carbon ways of thinking. Maybe the Swegway is the start of something useful, but we'll probably never find out.

If the rules don't work, let's change the rules!


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23 October 2015

The mentality of sustainability targets

Athlete compete in paul vault

The installation of a pull-up bar on my school run route last year started a "challenge Daddy" thing with my kids where they joyfully count reps as I huff and puff, lugging my beer gut into the air over and over again. As I could barely manage 10 when we started, I set myself a target of 20 by the end of 2015. I achieved that by March and slowly crept up to about 24 by the summer. Last month I decided to reset my target to 30 and managed 32 last week. This morning I was disappointed with 29.

The psychology fascinates me. I quickly met my original target and was then happy to coast until I set another target – unthinkable this time last year – and easily met it again, hardly noticing the extra effort.

A sustainability manager I was interviewing a couple of weeks ago (for an exciting client project you'll hear about next year) used a high jump analogy for this. You have to be able to see the bar to clear it. If the bar was replaced by a laser detecting how high you jump, you would never manage the same height. In the same way you need clear, ambitious sustainability targets, and, when you hit them, raise the bar or the organisation will coast.

That sounds obvious, but I've been reviewing the new UN Sustainable Development Goals for the next edition of Ask Gareth, and, of the 169 'targets' only a minority are quantified. "Substantially increasing the share of renewable energy" is highly unlikely to drive change (and provides plenty of cover to justify poor progress).

So set the bar, and if you clear it, raise it.


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21 October 2015

The People's Front of Sustainability? Splitters!

[Warning: this clip is much swearier than I remembered it - take care at work or in front of sensitive ears!]

This week, veteran Green Jonathan Porritt launched an extraordinary attack on pro-nuclear Greens, in particular Mark Lynas, Chris Goodall and George Monbiot, on the basis of UK Chancellor George Osborne's flawed deal with China to build a new nuclear plant.

Porritt's argument, which he comes close to admitting is ridiculous, is that, by breaking ranks with the green anti-nuclear dogma, these three individuals have freed Osborne from (clearly imaginary) shackles and destroyed any hope of a low carbon future in the UK. He blames them for everything from the Government's slashing of renewables subsidies to its crazy Hinkley Point deal (described as 'PFI on stilts' by one conservative commentator) and tells them to be ashamed of themselves.

I'm not particularly pro-nuclear, in fact I often call it out on its flaws, but I've come to believe that if we are to put our faith in scientific evidence on, say, climate change, then we must apply the same objectivity to other controversial topics such as shale gas or nuclear. Like Lynas, Goodall and Monbiot, this has opened me to accusations of hypocrisy when actually I'm trying my best not to be hypocritical.

I have found many times over the years that strict Green dogma is often a block to sustainability as naive idealism flounders in the real world. I have often told the story of my role in introducing a simple recycling system here in Newcastle, which was condemned as a sell out by the Greens, but increased recycling rates by 50% overnight because ordinary people liked it. When Porritt's Forum for the Future ranked Newcastle the most sustainable city in the UK, the local Green Party, instead of welcoming this success, wrote a lengthy piece on how Forum for the Future's methodology was flawed. Nothing is ever good enough. Success is failure. Let's sink below the waves polishing our halos.

So, hurrah for Lynas, Goodall and Monbiot, if only for their challenging of received green wisdom, and shame on Porritt for his self-righteous, one-eyed pomposity.


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19 October 2015

Hurrah for the sustainability doers!

The ThinkerThis morning, I came across this quote from John William Gardner:

An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher.

It resonated with me as we have a tendency in the sustainability field to lionise the thinkers well above the doers.

Years ago, I started a 'Green Gurus' blog with the intention of turning the text into a book once I had gathered enough material, but I started noticing a trend. Many of the those I held in high regard – William McDonough and Amory Lovins to name but two – were very good at condensing sustainability down to some easy to grasp principles, but had left a trail of failed projects in their wake. Others simply did nothing but write books, give speeches and react to the efforts of others. I started to lose interest in the project as I had to fight to keep it from going in a rather negative direction.

On the flipside, many of those who were getting stuff done such as the late Ray Anderson of Interface (full disclosure: Interface is a client of Terra Infirma), were using some relatively clunky analogies (eg Interface are climbing the seven faces of Mount Sustainability – to climb a real mountain you only have to climb one), but they demonstrated that step changes in sustainability could be used to drive business success.

Thinking doesn't cut carbon, doing does.

Maybe for sustainability we should re-write Gardner's maxim:

An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than a competent philosopher.



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16 October 2015

Capitalism, Obsolescence and the Planet...

rusty carAlas dear iPhone, I knew him so well...

I've finally bitten the bullet and bought a new iPhone which I'm picking up tomorrow. This came with a huge chunk of buyer's guilt as there is nothing technically wrong with my current 4-year old model, just a litany of problems with updating apps, the operating system, storing audio files and pics, and, I have to admit it, the lure of the new whizz-bang gizmos. I, dear reader, am a (semi-willing) victim of planned obsolescence.

Planned obsolescence is the backbone of the modern consumer society. Popularised in 1924 when Alfred P Sloan's General Motors embarked on a strategy of annual car design upgrades to make drivers want to ditch their current car in favour of a new model long before it breaks down, it is often held up by anti-capitalists as the epitome of waste and greed.

Up to a point I agree. But the flipside is that obsolescence represents a huge driver for the technical innovation we need to create a better world. Without creative destruction, we'd still have smog-choked cities, people stuck in hardscrabble subsistence farming, and the crudest of medicines. And, importantly, with a few Government incentives, it is capitalism and its attendant innovation which are giving us the current clean energy revolution. I'd rather live now than anytime in history, quite frankly.

I'm always bemused by those who believe that state socialism is the answer to our environmental and social problems. I was inspired to dedicate my life to sustainability by witnessing the colossal environmental destruction left behind by the Soviet-era in Russia in 1997 (the reporting of which was still leading to the harassment of journalists and activists). China is hardly the cleanest, greenest and open of the world's nations. Venezuela's socialism is powered by oil and intolerant of dissent.

Plus, there's nothing more ironic than seeing an anti-capitalist activist enjoying freedom of expression to tweet about the evils of consumerism on their smartphone via a 4G mobile phone network. Right on, comrade!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not an emotionally frozen free-marketeer either. The market can't be trusted to operate on its own, it needs a broad steer in the right direction. On top of basic state services, we need Government interventions: regulation on the most destructive activities, smart incentives for emerging technologies, the internalisation of externalities (aka the polluter pays), the funding of socially useful research, and the breaking up of vested interests locking us into destructive paths. Driving change for the good, in other words, but never smothering it.

It's probably quite healthy that I get a pang of guilt whenever I upgrade my phone. But I'd be lying if I claimed that I'm not looking forward to it too!


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14 October 2015

Getting more from third party sustainability services

CoSM WelcomeFriday before last saw the twelfth meeting of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group, held in the medieval Undercroft at the wonderful Live Theatre in Newcastle. Lunch was in the award-winning Caffe Vivo which is part of the Theatre complex. The third rule of CoSM is "No dreary executive buffets."*

The topic of the meeting was "Third Party Services" and members shared their experiences, positive and negative, of different services provided by private and public sector organisations. I'm not going to share the heroes and zeroes emerging from that conversation (that's for the members), but here's a sample of some of the wisdom emerging:

  • Selection criteria for services: compatibility, support, track record, ease of use;
  • Integration capability of software is critical, otherwise the tail wags the dog;
  • Data needs translating into the language of the stakeholder concerned before it can be used effectively for engagement;
  • Intellectual property concerns can stifle work with public bodies;
  • Energy Performance Contracts (EPCs) can give guaranteed savings with no capital outlay;
  • Carbon offsetting isn’t a big seller in todays’ markets, customers want to see tangible change;
  • Demand response electricity contracts can be very cost effective.
  • Waste contracts can be made more efficient by paying by weight/volume of material rather than per lift;
  • LCA can’t measure potential, just a snap shot, which discriminates against maturing supply chains;
  • LCA is only as good as the database behind it;
  • LCA quality can be improved using sensitivity analysis to identify key pieces of data for further analysis;
  • There are too many disclosure projects, some with dubious methodologies, fuelling suspicions that it has become a self-serving industry;
  • Sometimes people take part in schemes because ‘we’re scared not to’ rather than any internal or external benefit;
  • Some of those top ranked for disclosure in the past have since been shamed, so good performance in such schemes shouldn't be relied upon.

* The first rule is "No Powerpoint" and the second rule is the Chatham House Rule.

The Mastermind Group consists of sustainability practitioners from some of the world's leading organisations who meet quarterly to learn from each other through structured discussion. If you'd like to know more, please drop me a line.


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12 October 2015

Reasons to be cheerful (about green issues)

I had an old college chum over for dinner last week and we did a lot of reminiscing about our student days and the years of optimism post-graduation in the mid-90s - Brit Pop and all that. I made the comment that the period between the fall of The Wall in 1989 and the Iraq War in 2003 was a period of hope where everything seemed to be going in the right direction. Democracy was spreading and peace-processes were popping up in long term conflicts from Northern Ireland to the Middle East. Then I had to correct myself - except for Rwanda, of course. And the former Yugoslavia... and Sri Lanka. before long we realised that the 90s weren't that great after all – we were looking at the past through rose tinted spectacles.

I've made it a rule that I fact check my assumptions, so over the weekend I did some Googling and found that we were wrong about the 90s - despite the ghoulish terror tactics of ISIS/Daesh, the world has been safer in the 21st Century than it has been for decades (see the graph below from the Centre for Systematic Peace). The Rwandan conflict in particular was a huge spike in misery, yet I had shunted it to the back of my head.

annualdeathspv3sWhen we are dealing with a threat such as climate change, it is easy to get misty-eyed about the past and negative about the present. If you check the data, rather than the headlines, we are making steady progress. World carbon emissions have stalled, oil demand has plummeted (one of the factors in the falling price), and many nations are surging past significant renewable energy milestones. Even here in the UK, with Government support that could charitably be described as lukewarm, last quarter over 48% of our electricity came from renewables or nuclear, with coal falling to its lowest contribution ever.

Let's not get despondent by the negativity. Like a rugby prop forward we have to keep throwing ourselves a couple of yards forward into enemy territory, crashing into the opposition, then presenting the ball cleanly back for the next player to do the same, grinding our way towards the goal line. The gaps to dart through to score will open eventually – and often more quickly than we expect.

[Maybe I should apologise to all my English readers for a rugby analogy at this sensitive time, but those of us from the Celtic nations will appreciate it!]

Chin up!


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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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