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April 2008 - Terra Infirma


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30 April 2008

Congratulations to Stone Homes!

Congratulations to one of our first clients, Stone Homes, who have won the Best Small Builder category of the 21st Century Living Awards.

Terra Infirma carried out an environmental scoping study of Stone Homes' Adderstone Mains development which resulted in Ground Source Heat Pumps being installed in the buildings, plus better waste management and procurement during the building phase.

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28 April 2008

Weekly Tip #12: Last Rinse = First Wash Next time

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

If you're a business which does a lot of washing (food, pharmaceuticals etc), why not keep the last rinse water from each wash to use for the first wash the next time around? You'll save on water and effluent costs.

Another tip next Monday!

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25 April 2008

Packing Up Your Troubles!

Once again this week I was in a high value business looking at how they could cut waste, energy and water costs. Everything was rosy until we got to the packing lines, where bins were filling up with discarded product because of a raft of issues with machinery, packing materials and, possibly, the operators.

This is not untypical and wasted product at this point is costing you its sale value. If your turnover is £10m then every 1% of product you lose at the end of your process is costing you about £100kpa - because you are paying to produce it and yet can't sell it.

I've seen this in a whole raft of industries - food, pharmaceuticals, lubricants and interiors to name but a few.

And it makes me cross, so stop it!

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23 April 2008

Facilitation is not for wimps...

One of the services Terra Infirma offers is facilitation. I'm just about to change the entry on this site for it as it sounds a bit flowery and, well, wimpy. Most people have a picture of do-we-have-to away days and token public consultation. Well it can be used for these, but it is a powerful weapon with applications way beyond that.

Facilitation really means group working using an outside agent to guide the process from problem definition to solution. We're starting to integrate it into our projects where we can as it gives the client ownership of the solution, rather than the traditional consultant's report/dust trap/shelf filler. I've used facilitation in the past to help large rooms of industrialists come up with solutions that have diverted many thousands of tonnes of 'waste' into useful and lucrative uses.

But like many people facilitating, I was winging it, frankly, using common sense, trial and error, and no little charm ;-). So, last week I went on an excellent course run by Resource. The course has confirmed my approach was broadly good, and it has given me a whole new armoury of tools, techniques and skills. These will be available either for stand alone sessions, or as an enhancement to our 'Lean, Mean & Green' and 'Low Carbon Business' programmes. So if you want to create sustainable change (in both senses of the word sustainable) in your organisation, get in touch.

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21 April 2008

Weekly Tip #11: Green Marketing

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

When promoting green products to a mass market, resist the temptation to go overboard on the ‘green look’. Focus on cost & performance benefits first, environmental performance second, and use third party accreditation where possible for those green claims.

Another tip next Monday!

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18 April 2008

Green office pet peeves

Every week I get a couple of PR pieces sent to me. I normally ignore them, but I quite liked this 'survey' from Xerox about what people get peeved about in the office:


The Full List

The top ten environmental pet peeves among U.S. office workers:

1) Mindless printing resulting in increased waste (40%)
2) Leaving lights on (37%)
3) Lack of recycling bins (33%)
4) Excessive air conditioning in summer and heat in winter (29%)
5) Excessive use of paper products, like cups, plates, etc. (27%)
6) Coworkers not recycling (27%)
7) Coworkers not printing double-sided when they can (24%)
8) Too many cover sheets when faxing or printing (24%)
9) Having to store paper copies of existing, electronic files (24%)
10) Leaving computer on and not powering down when going home (23%)


Interestingly number 10 would be no 1 on my list. What do you think?

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16 April 2008

Don't be blinded by recycling!

Once again recently I was proudly told by a factory manager "We don't have a waste problem - we recycle 95% of it - isn't that fantastic?". Recycling is great, but your fantastic achievement may be hiding waste reduction opportunities.

Taking a manufacturing business as an example, there are three types of waste:

1. Unavoidable process waste - waste that is intrinsic to your business. If you produce, say, chocolate flavouring from cocoa beans, then you will have cocoa residues left over no matter what. This should be recycled where possible and, if you are really clever, you can adjust your process to maximise its value for recycling/reuse.

2. Avoidable process waste - for example, offcuts, packaging of materials/components, solvents etc. Here you have a choice - eradication, recycling or normal disposal. Soaring landfill taxes are starting to rule out the latter for all but 'difficult materials', so you effectively have a choice of whether to reduce or recycle - that largely comes down to practicalities and economics.

3. Off-spec product (or components) - this is the worst kind of waste as you have added value to it only to throw it away. This waste should be terminated with extreme prejudice - particularly towards the end of your process where the value lost is the highest - I've seen far too many horror shows of good product being sprayed across factory floors by packing machines or careless forklift drivers.

I once heard waste described as "stuff you buy that you can't sell" - a brilliant summation of the economic driver to reduce waste.

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14 April 2008

Weekly Tip #10: The Toddler Test

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

Go through everything your business does - every process and activity - and apply "The Toddler Test" to each part of it. That is, keep asking 'why?' until you can no longer answer. This will help identify any wasteful and unnecessary processes that can be eliminated saving money and physical resources.

Another tip next Monday!

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9 April 2008

Can carbon dioxide be a resource?

Yesterday I was on Teesside looking at the results of a remarkable project that I had a small hand in about 5 years ago. In a meeting with the management of a chemical company I asked why they didn't use some of their excess heat for horticulture. They got very excited about it and asked their engineers to look into it. The engineers pointed out they'd been proposing this for a long time... sometimes it takes an outsider to grab management's attention.

A couple of years later and Teesside now has a massive (90 000 sqm) set of glasshouses belonging to John Baarda Ltd holding about 300 000 tomato plants, which produce many millions of tomatoes every year for several major supermarkets. But the really interesting thing is they also pump carbon dioxide into the glasshouses to accelerate the growing - the atmosphere has about twice the concentration as the outside atmosphere. Talk about a greenhouse effect...

Bad puns aside, it goes to show that even the most notorious of our industrial emissions can be put to good use.

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7 April 2008

Weekly Tip #9: Compressed Air

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

If you have compressed air on site, buy an ultrasonic leak detector. It will cost a couple of hundred quid max and, providing you use it regularly, will save you many times that every year. One small leak could be costing you £600pa and most factories I visit have plenty of them.

Another tip next Monday!

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4 April 2008

Acronym of the Month Award goes to...

DRAM, or Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple pollutants, is a project at Aberdeen University and uses, yes, whisky by-products to remediate contaminated soil.

How many late nights in the bar it took to dream that one up is not mentioned.

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2 April 2008

Chemical Companies Cool on Communications

Worrying headline on this months ENDS Report: apparently chemical companies are backing off their former approach of publishing annual environmental and sustainability reports. Only a minority of UK companies in the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) Responsible Care programme now do so, preferring to present reports as an industry as a whole. The stats are:

- 60% have no report since 2005
- 60% of those that do report do so at their parent company level
- 17% do not have an environmental policy on their website

I was quite shocked by this. When I got into this game over a decade ago, Responsible Care was held up as the great eco-saviour of the chemicals industry. Transparency and stakeholder engagement were the watchwords of the day but now that seems to have fallen by the wayside. I can only assume that the companies are now a little red-faced about what progress they have or haven't made.

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