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November 2008 - Terra Infirma


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30 November 2008

BBC Countryfile - blink and you'll miss me!

You can see me squinting into the sun and talking about energy security on BBC Countryfile for the next seven days - about 12mins in.

This was an interesting debate spoilt slightly by the production team thinking that environmental consultants only run consultations for major projects. I realised this while we were filming, stopped and explained and they seemed to understand, but unfortunately they've kept that line in which I think confuses the argument.

I don't see Prof Fells' point where he suggests that if the economy goes down the pan then we won't be able to do anything about climate change - a collapsed economy will have little in the way of carbon emissions. The trick is to do low carbon energy security.

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28 November 2008

Brown ditches clean tech for home insulation

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon Brown was trailing a big investment in green tech as part of yesterday's pre-budget report, but it seems to have been quietly dropped in place of a boost in home insulation. There is a certain amount of logic in this in the current climate - an investment in clean tech may only deliver in economic and environmental terms several years into the future whereas the insulation scheme, if done properly, will deliver economic and environmental benefits to the lower income sections of the community with a much quicker return on investment.

Barak Obama has made a similar promise on clean tech investment - it will be very interesting to see how this good intention manifests itself when the rubber hits the road next year.

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24 November 2008

Weekly Tip #35: Overcoming internal resistance

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

If key individuals in your organisation think that the environment is only for be-sandaled tree huggers, then don’t panic, you just have to take another tack. Don’t mention the environment. Ever. Instead you need to talk in purely business terms such as:
• “Do you know that we are wasting £20 000 on energy every year?”
• “Have you seen how much they’re charging us for Hazardous Waste? Do you think it’s time to phase out hazardous materials?”
• “Our biggest client has just sent a supplier’s questionnaire asking for our environmental policy.”
• “The Environment Agency are here and they want to talk to you.”

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21 November 2008

Yesterday @ LCIE Manchester

At yesterday's Low Carbon Innovation Exchange in Manchester I facilitated two sessions on staff engagement. Both sessions went really well, although like last month's event in Harrogate, there was a reluctance to move up the ladder of participation towards actually empowering staff to take action. The closest that participants had come to this was the use of suggestion schemes.

Most people started with simple 'switch it off' schemes. Using surprise tactics is increasingly popular - chocolate mysteriously appearing overnight on the keyboards of switched off computers with no explanation has been tried and tested. An interesting variation is an unexplained green sticker on 'off' computers and a red one on 'on' computers - it would take staff a few days to work out what was going on.

Other successful tactics included educating people about savings at home, providing cycle purchase schemes and holding one-off green fun events.

The groups concluded that effective communication requires a mix of channels (intranet, e-mail, newsletters and posters had been used) and careful understanding of culture and language. One multinational reported that their overseas HQ, obviously not understanding the sarcastic nature of the phrase in English, wanted to call their sustainability engagement programme "In Your Dreams"... they were quickly educated why a new name was required in the UK.

Interestingly there was a lot of grumbling about getting senior management to engage and show leadership on sustainability - an MD launching a sustainability campaign then choosing a gas guzzling company car was one example of not walking the walk. We got into discussing guerilla tactics to get things moving - mainly focussing on economic benefits of energy saving actions, or using the popularity of green schemes amongst staff to embarrass the higher echelons of the organisation.

A great event - the participative powerpoint-free environment leads to maximum learning and minimum boredom. I'm already looking forward to next year.

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19 November 2008

The Green Business Bible

It is here!

At long last I have managed to distil 11 years of experience into 212 virtual pages of the Green Business Bible eBook. The eBook gives a strategic approach to greening a business and is packed with over 200 hints and tips to help you on your way.
It is available for download for £17.99 + VAT from the Green Business Bible website, but please note that if you subscribe to the Low Carbon Agenda, you'll get 25% off.

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As seen on TV...

I spent yesterday lunchtime shivering my extremities off and squinting into the sun on Blyth Quayside while being interviewed for BBC TV's Countryfile programme. The gist of the programme was the trade off between impacts of energy projects in local habitats vs the need to tackle global climate change. My argument was that it wasn't that simple - if climate change goes unchecked, the local habitats will suffer anyway.

The previous interviewee was Prof Ian Fells, a well known media figure, who had recently written a policy paper on UK energy supply, which he had been discussing. The most controversial statement in this document is its first statement "Security of energy supply must now be seen as taking priority over everything else, even climate change." Interestingly the rest of report demonstrates a low carbon energy scenario based on nuclear which could go a long way to tackle climate change - in other words security vs climate is a false choice. I suspect this sentence is designed to grab the headlines. 

The central thesis of the paper is to change everything to electrical energy (road transport and domestic heating included) and use nuclear plus the Severn barrage and a bit of wind to supply that electricity. But the issue of uranium reserves is not tackled - other estimates of the security of that supply suggest that they could run out in less than a decade under a high-nuclear scenario (eg Paul Mobbs in Energy Beyond Oil). Overall it is a good read, but very partisan - wind is described as 'highly subsidised' but the levels of subsidy to the nuclear industry not mentioned etc. 

I made a few comments to this end, but I don't know if they'll make the final cut. The piece will go out on the morning of Sunday 30 November on BBC.

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17 November 2008

Weekly Tip #34: Blowing in the wind

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

Wind is currently the most cost effective source of renewable energy, but you should tackle planning permission and community concerns on wind before investment. The small microturbines are useless in urban environments.

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13 November 2008

Beware the old 'Bait & Switch'

I'm on the train back North having attended the Skillfair Consultants Conference in London - I go every year to learn from other boutique and solo consultants with a wide range of skills and services. One of the great grumbles at these sessions is the perception of the 'big name consultancies' as low risk compared to smaller operators, when the smaller operator will be cheaper, and, more importantly, you will always get the principal consultant working on your project.

The old trick of buttering up a client with senior staff until signing the contract and then appointing naive beginners to deliver the project is known in the trade as 'bait and switch'. I recently heard a first hand account (from the frustrated client) of a case where the client wanted to compare the carbon footprints of their numerous but similar sites. The well known firm they employed dropped a different team of juniors into each site (thus maximising fees in a short timeframe) and, lo, each team measured the footprint of their designated site in a different way rendering the comparison useless. Would a one-man-band have done the same? Very unlikely - it would be very inefficient to invent multiple methods - and they wouldn't stay in business for long if they were so incompetent to do so.

The moral of the story is that big isn't always better. Choose carefully...

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10 November 2008

Weekly Tip #33: Green driving

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

Train staff on fuel efficient driving techniques - the Department of Transport claims an average of 14 per cent fuel consumption improvement in its Safe and Fuel Efficient Drivers (SAFED) scheme which trained van drivers in good driving practice. In turn this resulted in an average £500.00 saving per vehicle per year.

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7 November 2008

Warning: Phoney Environment Agency Inspector

This came from BERR via NEPIC, so I assume it is not a hoax:

Dear All
The Environment Agency has alerted us that someone claiming to be from the EA has been trying to gain access to certain oil refineries and chemicals plants. The individual concerned has tried to gain access to installations regulated under PPC and COMAH. The person has used three names so far Barry Thorpe, Alex Ross and Keith Johnson but all with the same mobile number.

EA Regional Directors have been advised to make contact through their PPC teams with the sites that they regulate to advise them of these approaches and to inform them if others occur, so that we can hopefully track down the individual. The police have been informed.

Thanks
Chris Barrell,
Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

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The Environment Network

If you are in the environmental industry (consultancy, green products and services, recycling businesses, energy products etc), you might want to consider joining The Environment Network - an on-line social networking group set up by my good friends Jo Benison of Daxi Environmental and Graham Mills of GPM Network. It was initially conceived as a North East of England based network, but it has expanded rapidly to a global level.

It's free, so join up and ask me to be your friend!

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5 November 2008

Weekly Tip #32: Back up your claims

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

The worst kind of greenwash is the vague 'kind to the planet' type statement. If you want to present yourself as green, you must back up your claims. Your website is the ideal place for publishing data to back up slogans made elsewhere.

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2 November 2008

No Solace for the Fuel Cell Industry

I won't give away the plot, but a key, if clunky, exchange between two baddies towards the end of the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, goes:

Baddie #1: What's that sound?

Baddie #2: Oh, it must be the fuel cells - this whole place runs on them.

Baddie #1: Sounds unstable!

And guess what, ten minutes later the 'whole place' goes up as the 'unstable fuel cells' blow, creating fireballs left, right and centre. This is the technology that has been successfully and safely installed in schools and other safety critical applications and could form a key part of a sustainable future. The fuel cell industry will not be terribly pleased with how they have been portrayed. And quite rightly.

Oh, if you're wondering, the film's pretty good, but not as good as Casino Royale.

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