If you'd like to make a small symbolic gesture of your commitment to tackling climate change, just switch off your (non-safety related) lights for an hour on 28th March. Millions of others around the world will be doing the same.
Beware. There is a small but significant number of sharks out there trying to sell immature or ineffective technologies. This is the case in any economic bubble, but the green imperative has provided additional sentimental weak points for the unscrupulous to exploit. I have personally met several of these crooks in my time and I suggest you keep an eye out. A con man’s business is to trick people so be careful -before parting with hard cash, always ask for references (and follow them up), do a credit check and maintain a healthy cynicism.
This is more evidence that 'green' is a key opportunity to beat these economic conditions - and many people are taking it. Cutting costs, boosting productivity, future proofing against legislation, avoiding prosecution, creating strong PR stories, empowering employees and creating/exploiting new markets. What's there not to like?
Maintain your equipment and plant properly. I've lost count of the number of times I've pointed out the thousands (or tens of thousands) of pounds that a company is wasting in energy and waste costs through bad maintenance, only to be told "We don't have the budget". Sort it out!
Very welcome, but maybe a little more haste would be in order.
There's plenty of work to do too, with the Energy Savings Trust estimating there are 7.3m cavity walls that could be filled with insulation, 7m solid walls that could be insulated, and 12.9m lofts which do not have the recommended depth of insulation, and 4.5m G-rated (the least efficient) gas boilers.
Nicholas Stern, he of the UK Government's report on the economic impacts of climate change, has called for a $400bn investment in green technologies and home insulation to restart the economy along green principles. Given the warm welcome his original report had around the world, Stern's entry into the green recovery debate is extremely welcome. Maybe, just maybe, the dream will become reality.
I spent yesterday in Birmingham looking at the Utilicom District Heating Scheme which is growing fast organically like their Southampton example. The initial scheme for Broad Street proved the principle, another cluster is under development with a hospital and Aston University and they are now planning to build a network around every rebuilt school in the city. The schemes are gas CHP with biomass being added soon.
The generic lessons you can take from this example to apply to any large scale environmental project are:
1. A reinforcement of the "evolution, not revolution" principle – grandiose schemes will usually collapse under their own weight. Start small and stable and grow.
2. Build a flexible business model – Utilicom sell heat, coolth and electricity, but each client gets what they need – some get all three, others get just one etc.
3. If you want to work with a Local Authority, take as much risk out of the equation as you can (Utilicom take 100% of the risk in this case). No matter how good your scheme is, gambling with tax payers’ money is not in the Local Authority psyche.
I attended an excellent seminar at Newcastle University last Friday. Professor Tim Jackson was the keynote speaker and the reason why I was there – reading his 1996 book ‘Material Concerns’ on the problems of and solutions to unsustainable production was a turning point in my understanding of this subject. The book is now out of print, but is well worth tracking down on the second hand market.
Prof Jackson has now moved on to the consumption side of the sustainability equation. He presented ‘the economic dilemma’:
Economic growth in GDP is related to ecological damage, but, below a very low threshold, is not related to quality of life;
Falling or unstable GDP is related to a drop in quality of life.
He demonstrated that there has been no global decoupling of resource use and economic growth (any national decoupling is simply due to the offshoring of resource use). His conclusion was that we needed a new economic system of zero growth.
In the Q&A;, I asked him whether this would be more difficult than decoupling as in my view we hadn’t really tried to decouple the two. His view was that some decoupling was possible, but probably not to the degree required. I'm still not convinced that inventing a new economic system would be any easier.
Just a quick note about comments on this blog - they are moderated and if you add something relevant and business-like it will be approved whether I agree with your point of view or not. The whole point of these posts is to stimulate debate, so the more the merrier!
On the other hand, posting blatant adverts/spam, however relevant to the topic, will not be approved, so it's a waste of time. I don't do link exchanges either...
Every political leader from Barack Obama to the head of the smallest district council appears to agree on one thing - that we should be taking advantage of the current economic downturn to build a new green economy. Saving the planet, rebuilding the economy and creating jobs at a single stroke is a very attractive goal, but it will take much more than words to make it happen. Here's a five point plan to make this dream a reality:
1. Bold Leadership Leadership is setting an objective and sticking to it through thick and thin. Saying one thing and doing another creates cynicism and distrust - Gordon Brown has made much of the green job revolution then approved the third runway at Heathrow, losing all credibility at a stroke. It remains to be seen whether Barack Obama will be able to deliver the very precise promises he has made to boost the green sector.
2. Provision of Incentives Financial incentives for the green sector are currently fitful and bureaucratic in the UK eg complex grant applications and enhanced capital allowances. We need simple incentives to ease development and uptake of technologies. Germany's famous Feed In Tariff makes it easy for anyone to connect renewables to the national electricity grid and receive a preferential rate. It has boosted the amount of energy from renewables to 12% and created over a quarter of million jobs.
3. Removal of barriers On the other hand, there are plenty of legislative barriers and 'perverse incentives' in place which slow the development of green industries. Connecting small scale renewables to the UK grid is a bureaucratic nightmare, the Animal By Products Order makes composting of food waste extremely difficult, and airlines do not pay tax on their fuel unlike other, greener modes of transport. These barriers have got to go.
4. Provision of Information The public cannot be expected to make environmentally favourable choices without sufficient reliable information on which to base their decision. Experience shows that third party accreditations are required to avoid vagaries and greenwash. The EU energy label is undoubtedly the most successful eco-label in the world being clear and simple. Since the label was introduced for white goods in 1996, A-rated products have soared from 0% to 76% of the UK market.
5. Building Markets The public sector and the enlightened private sector can use their buying power to build and strengthen green industries. The public sector can and should demand the highest environmental performance in buildings, vehicles and sources of energy. Local foods and recycled materials should be given preference while toxic material is phased out. This is a great opportunity for leaders to put their money where their mouth is.
Use rainwater harvesting for a sustainable source of water but avoid grey-water recycling until technology improves.
Grey water-recycling is the use of water from sinks, showers and baths, although many people use the term erroneously when they mean rainwater harvesting. The main problem with recycling grey-water is the other material (eg soap and faecal matter) that comes with it which can cause odours, safety issues and other problems.