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November 2007 - Terra Infirma


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30 November 2007

"Ethical" consumer spending doubles to 5%

The Co-operative Bank is reporting that ethical* consumer spending in the UK has doubled to 5% of our total since 2002. Food in particular is one sector where consumers are choosing fairtrade, organic and sustainably sourced products, breaking through the 5% 'glass ceiling' to hit 7%. Energy efficient white goods continue to grow ever more popular, up 44%, aided by easy-to-understand energy ratings.

This clearly shows that the opportunities in green markets are real and fast growing. However it still bothers me how rubbish some 'green' products are. Normal people (ie outside the treehugger niche) will only buy green if they think they're getting reasonable quality/performance in particular and that they aren't being ripped off on price. It is that simple.

* "ethical" covers choices informed by human rights, social justice, environment or animal welfare

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28 November 2007

Google Searches for Cheaper Solar Power

Google's reputation as a corporate goodguy (motto: Don't be evil) took a big hit recently with charges of complicity in political censorship by the Chinese Government. So the cynical may think that their massive investment in solar photovoltaic technologies is a desperate attempt by the search engine giant to claw its way back to the moral high ground. But I'm not so sure this is a cynical ploy - the company's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin drive modest hybrid Toyota Priuses (Prii?) despite being worth gazillions, and earlier this year they announced $11m donation to further develop hybrid technologies.

According to Page, "Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades." I think this is the first time I have heard someone set such an ambitious target, and, even if this proves impossible, they've certainly got the cash to have a damn good try to get close.

Tree hugging greens have long quoted Nobel prize winner George Porter's statement "If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago." to reflect the difference in investment between the defence industry and sustainability. Well maybe philanthropists like Page & Brin can succeed where Governments have failed...

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26 November 2007

CBI Members Make Climate Change Commitments

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has released "Climate Change: Everyone's Business" the report of its Climate Change Task Force. The task force consists of representatives of BT, Shell, npower, Barclays, Ford, bp, Tesco, Corus, British Airways, Rolls Royce and loads of other big businesses.

Most of the findings of the task force are pretty run of the mill, but there are three things which make this report interesting:

  • The CBI has traditionally taken a reactive approach to the environmental agenda, seeing itself as a defender of business against restrictive environmental legislation. This is a significant shift to a more proactive, forward looking agenda.
  • The task force acknowledges that the UK's carbon footprint is larger than the 2% of global emissions coming directly from the country. The misleading 2% figure has been used by many people (including leading politicians) in the last year to justify inaction and point the finger at China amongst others.
  • The task force members are pledging to take action themselves, including working with their 2m employees to help them reduce their total carbon footprint - at home and at work. Businesses are usually reluctant to use their influence any further than the factory gate.
These three factors suggest a quantum leap in intention, understanding and, hopefully, action from the CBI, and by extension, UK industry.

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23 November 2007

Brown admits 60% carbon cut may be inadequate

With all the furore over Northern Rock and the loss of 25m people's personal data, you may have missed a significant speech on climate change by the Prime Minister this week.

Like Tony Blair before him, Gordon Brown has never been accused of being particularly green. But, for the first time, he acknowledges that current targets may not be enough and says he will take soundings on a 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050. He also affirmed a commitment to Europe's target for 20% of energy to come from renewables - a pledge the Government had been trying to wriggle out of just a few months ago.

Apart from this, there was little to chew on - more carbon trading, more offshore wind, a home information service and various vague references to technology. In other words, plenty of commitment to action, without really saying what that action will be.

Oh, yes, for the headlines, he pledged to phase out single use plastic bags - well that will deliver 0.1% cut all on its own...

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21 November 2007

Green Dragons?

It was great to see Max McMurdo get some cash backing for his Reestore eco-design business on last week's Dragons' Den. The funny bit was Peter Jones, he of the towering ego, slating the Bin the Bin product for using plastic carrier bags and thus being 'un-green'. This is coming from a man whose hi-carbon lifestyle, and that of his moneyed buddies, is displayed in all its glory in the opening credits. Plastic bags are thought to contribute 0.1% of the average person's carbon footprint - and probably 0.01% of Mr Jones'.

I'm being a little hard on Peter Jones (revenge on behalf of all the hapless entrepreneurs he's toasted over the years) as this sort of misconception is pervasive. Survey after survey suggests that the general public think that recycling more will stop climate change - few understand that the food they eat and heating their homes are their biggest direct contribution.

Reestore isn't the first attempt at green investment from the Dragons. Last season, all five dragons invested in the Standby Saver which allowed TVs and other household goods to be switched on and off at the mains, avoiding the temptation to leave them on standby. However the deal floundered after the show on the security of the patent on the device, but another investor stepped in and the inventors apparently never need to work again. Just goes to show there is money in green entrepreneurship after all.

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19 November 2007

Uncertainty over Carbon Intensity of Electricity

Like the rest of the carbon accounting/footprinting industry, we've always used DEFRA's published figure for the carbon intensity of electricity of 0.43 kgCO2 per kWh. DEFRA has now released figures showing that the actual carbon intensity of the UK's electricity is about 0.53 kgCO2 per kWh. Some members of the Association for Environmentally Conscious Building think the figure should be even higher at about 1.0 kgCO2 per kWh.

Why is this an issue? Well if you are comparing, say a Ground Source Heat Pump to a gas fired condensing boiler, and if the Heat Pump is working at a co-efficient of performance of 3.5 (that's 3.5 units of heat out for each unit of electricity in), then, under the new DEFRA figures, the GSHP will produce 70% of the carbon dioxide of the boiler, whereas under the old figures it would be just 58%. That's quite a difference and could seriously affect a decision on whether to spend the extra cash required for the Heat Pump.

So why did we use 0.43? Well, we always try to source our data from reliable, published and transparent sources and this was the industry accepted figure. DEFRA is going to continue to use 0.43 until 2010, but from now on we'll be using 0.53 and be keeping an eye on the debate over 1.0.

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16 November 2007

New Green Taxation Commission Starts Work

Source: edie

The new Green Fiscal Commission was launched on Wednesday and brings together leading politicians from all major parties, academics, industry experts, regulators and consumer watchdogs and will be chaired by Robert Napier, chairman of the Met Office and former chief executive of conservation NGO WWF.

The commission will look at ways to reward positive behaviour with tax breaks while penalising actions which have a negative impact on the environment.

It will not seek to increase tax revenue overall, but rather to shift the existing system to encourage environmentally, and economically, beneficial behaviour in business and amongst the general public.

While it will advise Government, it will be independent of it and has been funded by charitable trusts.

At first I thought that this may just be another well meaning think tank, but a look at the commissioners suggests otherwise - there are some seriously big hitters in there. I'm sure their recommendations will be taken seriously by Government and this represents another significant step to a greener economy.

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14 November 2007

Watch out for green conmen!

Like any sector of industry, the environmental sector has its fair share of con artists and cowboys.

At one end of the scale is dodgy green claims. The big guys can be as guilty of this as anyone - Shell was recently criticised by the UK's advertising watchdog for an advert featuring a drawing of flower heads emerging from refinery chimneys, implying the oil company used all its waste carbon dioxide to grow flowers.

More seriously, I've had more queries from people who have received dodgy literature from waste companies using scare tactics about the new waste treatment regulations. I've discussed this before, but here's the Environment Agency view on the new regs. You do need to check your waste company is treating your waste, but you aren't expected to do it yourself.

Finally beware of green shysters trying to sell immature or useless technology as the great new saviour of the planet. These guys run from the self-deluded through the dodgy Del-boys to the full-on criminal. The technologies can range from magnets which magically improve fuel efficiency through to full scale waste treatment facilities. My advice is always to treat environmental issues as you would any other business decision - get the facts straight, get third party references and, if it appears too good to be true, it usually is.

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12 November 2007

UK Commits To Legally Binding Carbon Reductions

In last week's Queen's Speech, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a commitment to legally binding carbon emissions targets for the UK - a 60% cut by 2050. Leaving aside the arguments over whether 60% is 'enough' or what "legally binding" actually means in practice, getting anywhere close to this target will require a huge shift in policy - particularly given the lack of action to date.

Up until now the Government has relied on providing support to businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon emissions through quangos such as The Carbon Trust, Envirowise, The Energy Savings Trust and WRAP. However the type of support provided by these organisations, while worthwhile, is unlikely to deliver 60% reductions in any one company. Therefore, if the Government is serious about this target, we can expect more and bigger sticks to back up these carrots, for example:

- The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) is coming in 2009.

- We can expect tougher Building Regulations to push new houses up the levels set out by the Code for Sustainable Homes.

- I wouldn't be surprised if the Climate Change Levy is replaced by a tougher Carbon Tax and that obligations are made on waste heat to encourage its use in district heating.

To avoid being clobbered by such sticks, industry and businesses need to start planning a low carbon future now. Reducing energy expenditure is never a bad idea.

Measuring the carbon footprint of a business is an essential first step before reduction plans can be developed. At Terra Infirma we follow footprinting with the backcasting approach to develop low carbon future scenarios before tracing reduction pathways for a business to follow. This gives more radical solutions cutting right across the business, rather than simple quick fixes.

But, whichever way a company wishes to address the problem, it will pay to have a headstart.

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9 November 2007

Can biofuels be sustainable?

ENDS is reporting that the Department for Transport has set up a watchdog, the Renewable Fuels Agency, to help ensure that biofuels used in the UK come from sustainable sources. This is timely with the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) coming into force in April 2009, which will require 5% of all vehicle fuels sold in the UK to be biofuels.

Biodiesel seemed to go from eco-saviour to eco-demon in record time. Originally held up as a carbon neutral solution to transport emissions, the pressure that growing the crops will have on food prices or pristine habitats. Uber green George Monbiot is particularly critical of the industry and his comments are worth reading.

Paul Mobbs, in his rigorous analysis of the global energy situation, calculates there simply isn't enough land area in the UK to convert to 100% biodiesel. However, Peter Kendall, president of the UK's National Farmers' Union (NFU), says that there is enough agricultural land to deliver the 5% biofuel target without reducing food production. So maybe the new agency could ensure that the 5% target can be met in an environmentally sustainable way.

Of course, as everyone agrees, making biodiesel out of old cooking oil is AOK. I've never seen an analysis of how much fuel could be produced from this source, but if you can get it, take it!

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7 November 2007

New CSR Training Course

We're pleased to announce our new one-day Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) course. Aimed at businesses who want to understand the most pressing driver in the world today, the course explores the CSR and its underlying concept, sustainable development.

We deliver our courses at our clients' sites or at a mutually agreed venue. Roughly speaking, the morning is spent on theory and the afternoon on application.

This course is based on our "An Introduction to Sustainable Development" course, but the theory, case studies and exercises are applied to the business world.

Previous Delegates’ Comments:

“Great day! Touched on the right issues in the right way. Thought provoking exercises – would recommend.”
Government Office attendee

“Facilitator very knowledgeable and confident.”
Local Authority attendee

Contact us to book a course or for more details.

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5 November 2007

Terra Infirma goes corporate

Last month we decided to put Terra Infirma on a more established footing and created the corporate entity Terra Infirma Ltd. You may notice small changes to our website and stationery over the next week or so to reflect this.

We believe that this is a great step forward for the company and will be following it up with more new training products and services. We look forward to working with you to deliver a more sustainable future.

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