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June 2007 - Terra Infirma

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29 June 2007

No posts for the next week...

...tune in the week after for more sustainable business news and views.

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28 June 2007

Terra Infirma sponsors CSR Forum

We are delighted to announce that we are now sponsoring the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Forum on

The sponsorship forms part of our own CSR commitment: to get sustainability issues discussed and disseminated as much as possible. Despite having only been established recently, the Sustainability Forum is proving an excellent resource for exchanging information on this wide ranging topic. We are very proud to be able to play our part in its future.

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27 June 2007

Legislation bites

It is a busy time on the legislation front with the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) directive coming into force on 1st June and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive's latter stages coming into force in the UK on 1st July.

I've been pretty impressed with the businesses I have visited over the last few months - most of them have understood the implications of both and have action plans in motion. I did however speak to one major highstreet retail chain who had an unrelated query about some electrical devices. The end of the conversation went:

Me: "You do realise they come under the WEEE directive."
Client: "Ah, but, we're not selling them."
Me: "Doesn't matter, you still need to dispose of them via an approved facility."
Client: (long silence) "Oh."

I'm not surprised he hadn't grasped this as most of the focus on the legislation has been on domestic WEEE and it is more difficult to find information on industrial WEEE. The moral of the story is to make sure you do understand exactly what the implications are for your business. Trade bodies are a good source of information and your regulator can help (certainly in England & Wales, the Environment Agency tries to be a coach as well as a policeman).

UK businesses can also contact Envirowise on any environmental issue relating to your business - the phone number is 0800 585794. The NetRegs website is also good, but seems to have become a little harder to navigate in the last couple of years.

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25 June 2007

9 out of 10 consumers don't believe your green claims

A survey by Consumers International last week made grim reading for those companies trying to prove their green credentials - only 10% of consumers believe industrialists when it comes to climate change, compared to 50% who trust green campaign groups and 60% who trust scientists.

Certainly many of the more radical green campaigners seem to be setting the pace. George Monbiot has spent many column inches criticising biofuels on the grounds they will compete with food production, and the next thing we see is 75,000 Mexicans on the streets protesting that they can't afford tortillas because US bioethanol production is driving up the price of vegetable oil.

Business needs get its voice back in regard to this debate, but the only way it can do this is to make sure what it says is backed up by what it does. For example, Shell organised a recent environmental summit, but ended up being publicly lambasted by most of the big environmental groups for boasting about their relatively modest green projects while quietly expanding their "carbon-intensive tar sands operations in Canada" and "failing to put out its illegal flares in Nigeria". Shell tried to talk the talk and ended up with egg on its face - they now need to walk the walk.

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21 June 2007

The Carbon Footprint of Offices

While there has been exhaustive analysis of the energy use of the manufacturing and transportation industry, there has been relatively little light shone on the service sector, despite the fact that it appears to contribute about a sixth of UK carbon emissions. Now Chris Goodall, author of 'How To Live a Low Carbon Life' (see my review here), has published a review of the carbon footprint of the service sector.

Goodall found that the average office based worker is responsible for about 2.26 t CO2 pa while at work. This is slightly more than the average British person emits lighting and heating their own home (2.21 t CO2 pa), despite the fact they only spend a quarter of their time at work. The main culprit is air conditioning - offices with aircon have twice the carbon footprint of offices without. The popularity of aircon is growing despite the fact that passive ventilation is cheaper both in terms of capital cost and (obviously) running costs.

This week I was contacted by the owner of a small business (SME) who wanted to make their offices 'green'. His frustration was that, like many small operations, they had little or no control over the services management in their workspace. This ruled out about half my standard 'quick wins', despite the fact none of them involved anything more substantial than changing a lightbulb. As the vast majority of companies are SMEs and few own their offices, this problem is widespread.

So while it is relatively easy to specify a low energy office new build (you just have to ask for "BREEAM Very Good" or "BREEAM Excellent"), the difficultly lies in all the existing blocks, and, importantly, influencing the person who has their hand on the temperature control.

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20 June 2007

Eco-Labelling: What Does It Mean?

Yesterday I was looking for the carbon footprint of shampoo for a client project and found that Boots were now using the Carbon Trust's new(ish) carbon label (right). One bottle of shampoo is apparently responsible for 148g of carbon dioxide. The other product that has been labelled in this way is Walkers Cheese & Onion Crisps - 75g a packet. While this is very useful for those of us who need this sort of information to calculate carbon footprints, it left me wondering what it will mean to the shopper in the aisle of their local hypermarket. Is 75g a packet high or low? Is 148g a bottle good or bad?

The main advantage seems to be pressure on the manufacturers. Walkers claim that they have reduced their footprint by a third before the label was published.

The EU Ecolabel (left) does show the average punter whether or not a particular product (ranging from mattresses to campsites) actually meets best environmental practice. But have you ever actually seen one on a product? And would you choose, say, your new shoes based on this label?

I also worry that the logo is a bit weak and fluffy - one of the basic principles of marketing a 'green' product to the mass market is to avoid anything that even hints at treehugging.

The most effective label is undoubtedly the A-G rating on white goods. These have transformed the market: the market share of A-rated white goods sold has risen from 0% in 1996/97 to 74% in 2005/06. There has long been talk of extending this scheme to consumer electronics such as TVs and DVD players and a similar scheme has started for windows. The label is bold, clear and the consumer knows exactly what they are getting - and who would want a product with a big 'D' on it?

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18 June 2007

Kalundborg, Denmark

A couple of months ago somebody gently criticised the choice of picture in the banner on the Terra Infirma website [update: long gone!] - saying that these 'dark satanic mills' were the wrong message for our company. But we've stuck with them as these aren't just any dark satanic mills, these dark satanic mills are in Kalundborg, Denmark and they aren't nearly as dark or satanic as you might expect.

Kalundborg is a sleepy little port of 20 000 people on the western coast of the Danish island of Zealand, famous for its remarkable five towered red brick medieval church which looms over the cobbled streets and red and yellow rendered houses of the old town. According to the tourist guides, that is pretty much all the town has to offer. But down at the waters' edge the view is dominated by two monolithic blocks of a huge coal fired power station across the fjord. Just to the left and beyond the older block of this plant, the flickering flames of two flare stacks mark the location of an oil refinery. Further left again is one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical plants. It is the story of these three industrial complexes, a number of smaller plants, the town itself, and their unique symbiotic relationship that brings environmentalists on pilgrimages from all over the world. Our party was predominantly from UK academia, but two Koreans had flown halfway around the world to hear the story of the Kalundborg Industrial Symbiosis.

In a meeting room in the swish Youth Hostel where we were staying, Noel Brings Jacobsen, CEO of the Kalundborg Symbiosis Institute, told us how it all began. In the sixties, the Government decided to attract some big dirty industries to Kalundborg as it had become an unemployment blackspot. Planning regulations were relaxed and land was provided practically free of charge. The only problem being that there was no source of fresh water needed for all three plants except for Lake Tisso, over 25km away. So the plant managers worked together to cascade wastewater from one process to another, starting where it had to be cleanest and working its way down through the less fussy processes, and recycling it wherever possible. The power station produced an excess of steam so it was piped the short distance to the other plants and then around the fjord to the town where it heats all the buildings. More companies turned up to take advantage of other opportunities: a plasterboard company which takes the gypsum from the pollution control to build into its products and a fish farm which uses (and cools) some of the warm wastewater.

On Earth Day 1989 a number of students were asked to study the environmental impact of the town's industries and they started to trace these connections. Using a pinboard and coloured string, they presented the findings to the companies' management teams. The industrialists hadn't realised just how integrated and interdependent their plants had become, so they set up a small Institute to co-ordinate the relationships and started investing heavily in further synergies. Links have come and gone, but with the habit ingrained and the benefits proven, the infrastructure has simply been adapted to exploit new opportunities.

Noel took us around the plants, showing us the relatively minor adjustments required to make the processes compatible. The steam and water pipes run alongside each road, painted green and surrounded by vegetation. On top of the power station we got to see just how close the plants are physically, looking almost vertically down on the fish farm below. At the pharma plant, Claus the public relations/security man showed us the fertiliser product made from the process substrate. It is trademarked, but given away free to local farmers. If the company had to pay for disposal to landfill, the plant would go bust and 2700 local people would be on the dole.

Of course this is not eco-nirvana, explained Noel. The power plant burns coal, the oil refinery provides fuel for planes, trains and automobiles, and fish farming is rarely seen as 'green'. But, given these processes are a fact of modern life, the environmental impacts have been minimised. Almost every last scrap of energy and water is used and waste arisings minimised. None of the individual links are unique to Kalundborg, in fact most are found somewhere in the UK with the notable exception of large scale district heating. It is simply that nowhere else in the world can you find such a compact example of the benefits of Industrial Symbiosis.

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15 June 2007

Big Push for Energy Efficient IT

The BBC is reporting that a consortium of big IT industry names: Google, Microsoft, Intel, HP, Sun, Dell and Yahoo, is working to radically reduce the amount of energy consumed in PCs and servers - "enough to cut [carbon dioxide] emissions by 54 million tonnes a year - equal to 11 million cars or 20 coal-fired power plants". The initiative is an extension of the WWF's Climate Saver's programme.

One worry about this is the "rebound effect" - the tendency for efficiency gains to get lost in favour of other benefits. For example, microprocessors' speed is limited by the amount of heat they generate. If the energy efficiency measures reduce the amount of heat given off by the chips, then the commercial pressure will be to increase processor speed rather than reduce overall energy consumption.
On the other hand, the involvement of so many software companies in the consortium, suggests that the focus may be on energy consumption during 'sleep' or standby modes. This approach would be less likely to be affected by the rebound effect.
Whichever way it goes, it will interesting to see what the actual energy benefits are.

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Posted by Gareth Kane 2 responses

14 June 2007

Environmental Skills Shortage

The ENDS Report's annual review of the environmental sector has revealed there is an acute shortage of environmental skills and salaries in consultancies are ramping up fast as a result. Waste management is the skillset that heads the 'in demand' list.

One of the problems I have found with recruitment in the past is that many people entering the sector are coming from a scientific background rather than engineering. This means they understand the effects of pollution etc, but lack the knowledge of how stuff is manufactured which is essential when trying to stop that pollution occurring in the first place. The Engineering Institutes have worked hard to bring environment and sustainability issues into the engineering mainstream (sometimes in the face of stiff opposition from a crusty old guard), but there is still a way to go before the development of these skills is seen as an invaluable part of a young engineer's training.

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13 June 2007

Al Gore loosens up

Apologies to those who have seen this on my personal blog, but I think it is worth posting here too for those who haven't seen it.

It is effectively a mini sequel to "An Inconvenient Truth". Funnier, less schmaltzy, more solutions-oriented than its big brother, this is definitely worth a look.

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12 June 2007

IKEA shine a light for the environment

It was announced yesterday that IKEA are giving away 9600 energy efficient lightbulbs to their UK staff to encourage them to reduce their ecological footprints. This isn't the first big staff giveaway from the Swedish interiors giant - they gave everyone a folding bike at Christmas to encourage them to cycle to work. 90 promptly appeared on ebay, leading to some snorts of derision, but a 1% unappreciative workforce isn't bad by anyone's standards.

IKEA first started down the environmental track in the 1980s. Their emergence as a lead retailer in Europe led to tall poppy syndrome as they started to get criticised for formaldehyde in their chipboard products, excessive packaging and use of PVC. Having initially flirted with an "eco-range", they decided it would be better to reduce the environmental impact of all their products. Adopting the "Natural Step"*, they started phasing out toxic materials, reducing formaldehyde and sourcing wood from certified sustainable sources. Their latest environment report is worth a glance as it is very honest about what they still have to achieve. This is obviously an effective approach as while researching this post I could only find positive comments, apart from anti-consumer/anti-globalisation groups complaining about the amount of product they sell.

* Terra Infirma doesn't recommend The Natural Step in general. The theory is sound, but in our opinion the methodology is over-complicated and difficult to communicate.

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11 June 2007

"First" Zero Carbon Home Unveiled

According to the BBC, the first house designed to meet level six of the UK's new Code for Sustainable Homes has been unveiled by Kingspan Offsite. It is insulated to such a high standard that it will lose two thirds less heat than a standard new home. It also features passive ventilation, biomass heating, solar PV and solar hot water.

The Code superseded the Building Research Establishment’s (BRE) Eco-homes Scheme in March 2007. As well as the points system that Eco-homes used, the new Code has minimum energy and water standards for each of its six levels, with level six meaning "carbon neutral". The Code is currently voluntary and administered by the BRE. Non-residential buildings are still covered by BRE's BREEAM scheme.

BTW, I've put inverted commas around the "first" in the BBC's title as "earthships" have been around for a long time and they are carbon neutral having no grid connection whatsoever. BEDZED was also intended to be carbon neutral, although some technical problems have been encountered. It is not clear why these two would not meet level 6 - perhaps they simply haven't been evaluated yet.

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10 June 2007

London 2012 - The Greenest Games Ever?

With all the furore over that logo, attention has been distracted from the business opportunities relating to the delivery of the 2012 Olympic Games. Well, if the Olympic Delivery Authority’s sustainable development commitments are anything to go by then it certainly will be a green games:

  • Aiming to minimise the carbon emissions associated with the venues through a 50% reduction in carbon dioxide by 2013.
  • 90% of demolition material to be reused or recycled and at least 20% of materials used to be recycled.
  • 40% reduction in the demand for potable water in permanent venues and a 20% reduction target for residential development.
  • Aspiring to transport 50% of construction materials, to the Park by water and rail.
  • Protecting and enhancing the biodiversity and ecology of the venue locations.
  • Maximising timber from sustainable sources with all timber used from known, legal sources, with clear supply chain evidence.

This sets a challenge for everyone looking for a slice of the action. And with £4bn of contracts going, these games will be the biggest single public procurement exercise in the world, ever.

In the bidding documentation, "the Environment" is listed as one of the five key criteria against which bids will be assessed, with particular reference to waste minimisation and energy use - and the criteria above will be expected to be read across into contracts as appropriate. Anybody wanting to bid will certainly need to get their environmental credentials in order.

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9 June 2007

A Greener Apple

I'm writing this on a three and a half year old Mac PowerBook. Us Mac users are notoriously sanctimonious and, often, downright snooty when it comes to our IT, so it came as a bit of a shock when Greenpeace launched a campaign against Apple for coming bottom in their scorecard of electronics companies for the second year running (see graphic).

Apple's brilliant, but notoriously brittle, CEO Steve Jobs reacted dismissively to the campaign at first, but something must have sunk in as he has now launched an impassioned defence of Apple's record, trailed on the front page of their website last month. The most significant part is a pledge to phase out some of the more controversial chemicals in its product range, such as Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), by 2008 - other computer manufactures have pledged to phase them out by 2009.

So I can go back to being smug about my Mac...

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8 June 2007

Welcome to the Terra Infirma Blog!

We've decided to go very Web 2.0 and publish a blog - you will find our latest news, views and case studies here, along with interesting information on environment and sustainability issues.

You can subscribe to this blog using RSS - if you're unfamiliar with RSS, the BBC has a useful guide.

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