In this podcast from edie, Chris Smith, Environment Agency Chairman talks to the Environmental Industries Commission. Unlike the usual blandishments you get from the 'great and the good', there is some greath stuff in here, including a brief review of the Climate Change Committee's recent report detailing the ways the UK can meet a 80% cut in carbon emissions.
Speaking of the CCC report, I have only had a chance to quickly scan through the 500 plus pages of dense analysis, but I've copied the graphs showing proposed cuts below. What I find strange is the lack of contribution from industry given that so many of our industrial processes are incredibly energy inefficient. The report puts this down to limited 'low or no cost options', but given the costs of the massive decarbonisation of electricity generation required to fulfil this scenario, I believe that some of that money might be better spent driving down demand.
1. Why would a hard pressed business be bothered with the environment?
I reviewed 26 environmental health checks I carried out over the last two years for companies whose activities range from catering to pharmaceuticals. The average financial saving identified from waste minimisation, water conservation and energy efficiency measures was £175 000 per annum. Next question.
2. Would your clients reduce waste if it didn't save them money?
Frankly, I don't care. My job is to improve my clients' business performance by addressing their waste, energy, raw material and water issues either for direct economic/legislative benefit or to improve their environmental reputation. I don't expect them to start hugging trees or wearing sandals.
3. Are you not rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?
My priority as a consultant is to meet my clients' needs rather than save the planet, but from an environmental point of view, in my career I have diverted at least a half million tonnes of waste from landfill into further economic use. Energy/carbon-saving benefits have been delivered on a similar scale. And there are thousands of other environmental consultants out there…
4. Is this not just a fad?
No. Environmental legislation has been tightening since the Clean Air Acts of the 1950s. They said it was a fad in the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and this decade too. It ain't going away.
5. Should you really be profiting from the environment?
Why not? I'd rather make profit from preventing damage to the environment than causing it.
One trap that many fall into when working with stakeholders is to raise expectations too high. If stakeholders start to believe that they have ultimate say, they will get very angry if and when they are told they can’t have what they want. Tell them clearly:
We are listening to you, but at the end of the day we have to make the decisions, and sometimes we will disagree.
A perverse incentive is an economic driver that encourages 'bad' behaviour. Examples in the sustainability field include the lack of tax on airline fuel (how do you think those cheap flights are so cheap?), the lack of VAT on building materials for new build when you pay VAT for refurbishment materials and the fact that, despite all the belly aching from the trucking industry, lorries do not pay road tax commensurate with the damage they cause.
Well, when I had to adjust the VAT rate on the Green Business Bible on Monday, it struck me as odd that ebooks are regarded as 'software' by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and thus attract VAT when paper books don't.
...is that the environment and sustainability can only be addressed when there is plenty of money about.
Let's be blunt - the current economic situation is good for the environment - we are driving less, insulating our houses more, and are likely to buy less tat with which to disappoint our loved ones on Christmas Day. But saving the world shouldn't be about living in poverty.
On a business level, there are two proven ways of surviving an economic downturn. One is to cut unnecessary costs, the other is to innovate.
It constantly staggers me that companies immediately try to cut staff costs. OK, if you have far too many people standing about doing nothing, then you should have already got rid of them. But if you cut your workforce, you cut your ability to respond to the inevitable upturn when the recession ends. The same people see waste and utility costs as a fixed cost of doing business which is complete nonsense. And with the true cost of waste being about 10 times the cost of disposal, there are massive cost savings to be made which will make your business more productive, not less. We found an average of £175k pa savings in 26 businesses in a raft of industries - and you don't have to make redundancy payments for waste.
Turning to innovation - it is well known that markets for green products are expanding fast and, in some - say white goods or baby food - the eco- end of the market dominates the 'conventional' by a factor of 3-4:1. Other sectors will follow, if they get the quality and labelling issues right more than anything else. Is it a surprise that the new electric Mini has just been launched when the big 3 US car companies are staring the grim reaper in the face?
The sustainability agenda does have the scope to help a business through the economic downturn. It's a pity the myth makers don't understand that!
Develop ‘grey’ and ‘black’ lists for your business to filter out materials and chemicals which are not ‘safe’. Black list substances should never be purchased and those on the grey list should only be used where no alternative exits. Black and grey lists are highly industry specific, so you will need to research toxic materials in your business and determine which can and can’t be replaced.