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February 2008 - Terra Infirma


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29 February 2008

Clean Energy Investment Booms

New Energy Finance is reporting that "Clean" energy investment almost hit $150bn last year - up 60% on the year before.

Their press release states:

Among the key factors pushing this numbers sharply upwards in 2007 were government policies around the world to promote renewable power and cleaner fuels, oil prices approaching $100-a barrel and rising corporate and investor awareness of the opportunities in clean energy.

One of the themes of 2007 was geographic diversification. Western Europe and North America continued to enjoy sharp increases... but the momentum spread out to include other developed economic regions such as Eastern Europe and Australia.

Even more significant was the pick-up in activity in emerging economies, with China moving strongly ahead with projects in wind, biomass and energy efficiency, Brazil seeing huge investment interest in its sugar based ethanol sector, and Africa starting to see renewable energy and efficiency as partial answers to its power shortages.

Interesting stuff. Obviously the Low Carbon Economy is still in its infancy, but if investment continues to rise at this scale, markets will stabilise and the uptake of renewables and energy efficient technologies will start to become the norm, rather than the exception.

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27 February 2008

SWMP threshold lifted to £300k

Thanks to those who have pointed out that DEFRA has raised the planned threshold for construction Site Waste Management Plans from £250k to £300k.

Yesterday's inaugural Low Carbon Agenda newsletter contained the previous figure. I had checked the threshold on the Government's NetRegs website as I assumed that, as it is meant to be the guide to legislation for industry, it would be up to date. Silly me.

Apologies...

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26 February 2008

New! Low Carbon Agenda Newsletter

This week we're very proud to launch "The Low Carbon Agenda", a new, free, monthly newsletter which will explain what the Low Carbon Economy is and how to make the most of it. Topics include:

- Carbon Footprinting
- Carbon Management
- Low Carbon Processes
- Low Carbon Supply Chains
- Low Carbon Products & Services - what they are and how to sell them

To subscribe, simply complete the form here on the Resources Page. Back issues will also appear on this page.

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25 February 2008

Weekly Tip #3: Provide cycle facilities

This is the third in a new series of tips extracted from the forthcoming Green Business Bible e-book:

Many staff are put off cycling to work because of poor facilities. Decent covered cycle stands*, lockers and a shower will go a long way to help. You could also provide maps showing local cycle routes.

* Avoid the 'wheelbenders' that you put the front wheel of the bike into - their nick name says it all. 'Sheffield stands' - an inverted U - are best.

Another tip next Monday!

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22 February 2008

Back(casting) to the Future

On Tuesday I took the role as facilitator for the Durham Waste Awareness Partnership annual creative day. The Partnership consists of waste officers from Durham District and County Councils. It was felt that previous creative days had started getting repetitive, so they wanted someone to come in and shake it up a bit. Enter Terra Infirma.

I decided to do a bit of backcasting, that is, designing an idealised future and working out how to get there. This contrasts with the normal approach of forecasting where you start from the current situation and try and think of things that will improve it. The advantages of backcasting are:

- it frees the mind to think the unthinkable;
- you don't focus on current barriers;
- it is participative;

and, not least,

- it is good fun.

The process is:

1. Decide the endpoint you want to achieve: in this case, zero residual waste in wheelie bins.

2. Draw up a number of future scenarios which demonstrate this future: in this case we looked at two households, both time poor, but one cash rich and one cash poor. For each we did two scenarios - one where the household consumed roughly the same stuff as today but did things better (like recycling) and one where we could radically change their consumption patterns.

3. Think up clever ideas of how to achieve those scenarios.

The day was a success - we did come up with a (small) number of things that no-one had considered before, plus a huge raft of stuff that some councils were doing and could be applied to members of the Partnership.

If I could go back and change one thing I would have been stricter on following the backcasting process 'rules'. There was a tendency to fall back into the habit of forecasting when we got to stage 3.

Overall, feedback from the attendees was very positive and they really enjoyed the opportunity to think differently - hopefully they can take some of that back to their jobs even when they're back in the world of full e-mail in-boxes, voicemails and intrays.

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20 February 2008

Oil exceeds $100 mark for the first time

The Guardian is reporting that the trading price of oil on the futures market has tipped $100 a barrel - the first time since trading began in 1983. This is obviously going to put further upward pressure on energy prices to the consumer and industry.

It is well understood that energy efficiency is the most cost effective way of cutting bills. Certain UK organisations can get a free visit from the Carbon Trust who will identify some quick wins. However, I recommend setting up a staff committee to brainstorm solutions and filter suggestions from other employees will deliver you a wide range of low or no-cost measures and better motivated staff to boot.

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18 February 2008

Weekly Tip #2: Don't sweat the little stuff

This is the second in a new series of tips extracted from the forthcoming Green Business Bible e-book:

I'm a great advocate of 80/20 thinking when it comes to measuring environmental performance. The uncertainties in the natural world and in the economy are so high that more precise analysis is a waste of time. Focus on the big impacts: space heating, air conditioning, compressed air, use of vehicles etc.

And don't forget the old farmers' saying: "a pig never got fat by weighing it".

Another tip next Monday!

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15 February 2008

How not to employ an Environmental Consultant...

I recently requested tender documents from a large organisation who wanted a carbon footprint. They had a huge raft of different properties, a big fleet of vehicles and a complex supply chain. When I read the tender I was aghast. They wanted:

- a "comprehensive report" on their carbon footprint.

- 3 ways they could reduce this by a stipulated amount.

- all this within 4 weeks (the same time they had given themselves to evaluate the tenders).

- the consultant to quote a daily rate.

I wrote back and told them this was unrealistic. I didn't explain why in detail, but here are the reasons:

- Daily rate: if you pay by the hour/day then frankly you are paying for the consultant to type slowly or hang around your premises chatting. It's the only way consultants can make any money out of selling their expertise by the hour, other than lying to you about the hours they've put in. The tight timeframe just encourages a larger team of consultants to work even more inefficiently - team meetings rack up those hours.

- Prescriptive methodology: if the person writing the tender has expertise in environmental consultancy, why don't they do it themselves? If not, and they need an expert, why not let that expert suggest their own methodology?

- 3 ways: what happens if it is 2 or 4 or 6?

- Comprehensive report: they must have some space on the dust collecting shelf to fill. Of course, given the daily rate, you'll make the slow typing consultant happy!

- 4 weeks: how does the client know how long a good piece of work will take? Will the client really be able to provide all the information in this timescale? Will all key staff be made available? Would a better study in 8 weeks not be, well, better? Given the complexity of the problem, it will take a reasonable amount of chronological time (as opposed to billable hours) to build an organisational model, collect data, interpret it, interview staff and develop solutions.

How about this as an alternative:

- Fixed fee: the incentive is for the consultant to work efficiently, not rack up billable hours.

- Flexible methodology: I like to engage the client's staff in solution development as a. they know much more about the business than I will learn in a few weeks, and, b. the recommendations are much more likely to be implemented if the staff have ownership. There was no scope for this in the Tender above as the client probably hasn't thought of it. I'm not expecting them to have either - I'm the one who's meant to know what I'm doing!

- Appropriate deliverables, discussed and agreed between consultant and client.

- Unless there is a very good reason for the tight timeframe, why not let the consultant suggest how much time they will need to deliver the project (the engagement strategy I mentioned above will take more time to organise).

This is not a rant against that one organisation - virtually every tender I look at has a similar approach. Which is one reason I've ditched tendering for work except in a few special circumstances. If I were buying consultancy I would ask consultants to send in a project proposal to address the highest level requirements (we want to cut our carbon footprint by X%) the way they think is best, shortlist and interview before appointing.

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13 February 2008

101 Ways to Save the World Trailer

One of the most interesting pieces of work I've been involved with was starring as 'the Carbon Coach' in "101 Ways to Save the World". The video is aimed at schools and youth groups; if you know of anyone who would be interested, let me know and I'll pass the details on.
I hope the BAFTA judges are reading...

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11 February 2008

Weekly Tip #1: Environmental Policy

This is the first in a new series of tips extracted from the forthcoming Green Business Bible e-book:

Before you write an environmental policy, collect plenty from other businesses to get some inspiration. Make sure you get policies in the same sector as you, and from businesses with the same ethos. Whatever you do, keep it to one side of A4. Any more is a strategy, not a policy.

Another tip next Monday!

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8 February 2008

Avoid Eco-clichés!

Before Christmas I mentioned  that I hated the 'hands cupping a sapling' image used by so many green businesses. Then I admitted our corporate Christmas cards featured a polar bear rolling in the snow (v. cute - drop me a line and I'll send you one next year). Well, Getty Images has done some research that suggests these eco-clichés are a turn off to the average punter.

This is a perennial problem for promoting green businesses - what images manage to use to communicate their ethos and values without the sappiness of the clichés. For the Terra Infirma masthead, we went for a picture of Kalundborg, the home of industrial symbiosis because a. we work with industry, b. Kalundborg is an exemplar of the type of solution we present to clients (waste is a resource), and c. we had a picture of Kalundborg. Of course few people recognise the picture and its significance and one reader described it as 'dark satanic mills'. Ho hum. I'll keep looking.

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6 February 2008

EU's climate action & renewable energy package

I've been meaning for some time to comment on the European Commission's Climate action and renewable energy package. The EU has committed to reducing its overall emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, which would be scaled up to 30% under a new global climate change agreement if other industrialised countries make comparable efforts. It has also set itself the target of increasing the share of renewables in energy use to 20% by 2020.

The proposed measures include:

  • an improved emissions trading system (ETS) covering more emissions and allowing firms in one EU country to buy allowances in any other;
  • an emission reduction target for industries not covered by the ETS (e.g. buildings, transport, waste) so that everyone is contributing;
  • legally enforceable targets for increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix – the targets will reflect each country's individual needs and its potential;
  • new rules on carbon capture and storage and on environmental subsidies.

Powerful stuff: hopefully this will give the renewables industry in the UK a shot in the arm, but there are also plenty of sticks to push industry towards a low carbon future.

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4 February 2008

What is Heat?

An interesting juxtaposition of headlines on edie last week:

On Thursday: Academic blasts Government's green construction rules

On Friday: Government wants tips on 'renewable' heating

Maybe Jo Williams, the academic in question, had an extraordinarily fast response to her 'blast'! Joking aside, if you do want to contribute to the Government's heat query you can at the BERR website here. I may just point out that the total heating demand is roughly the same as the amount of waste heat from electricity generation (although unfortunately the UK's population isn't concentrated around Drax, Ferrybridge etc).

Fortunately you don't have to answer the rather tricky question at the top of the BERR webpage: "What is Heat?". Answers on the back of a postcard/in the comments, please - the winner will be the wittiest, not the most pedantic.

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1 February 2008

Come on 'Boro!

I'm on the road again, this time at the Renew Tees Valley Energy & Environment Fair in Middlesbrough. Before setting up Terra Infirma, I was Centre Manager of the Clean Environment Management Centre (CLEMANCE) at the University of Teesside and it was great to catch up with the old team and see so many of the businesses we/they have supported get recognised in the awards at the gala dinner last night.

I was particularly glad to see Walltransform get recognition - a family run business who have developed a render impregnated with insulating material from 'waste' sources - polystyrene packaging and tyres amongst others. This can be applied to the outside of solid wall properties and is particularly aimed at people in fuel poverty. Sustainable in so many ways: reducing heating fuel consumption, using recovered materials and with a social benefit too (improved health and well being). It is also a great sound insulator. Congratulations to Glenn and Rosalind!

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