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August 2009 - Terra Infirma

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26 August 2009

Don't get left behind...

It is said that the advent of the transistor killed off all the old valve manufacturers. They stood still and got wiped out by the new upstarts with their fancy new technology. The same could, and probably will, happen with the Low Carbon Economy - FTSE 100 packaging manufacturer Bunzl is having to shift its focus away from single use plastic bags in light of the many attempts to phase them out. You gotta move with the times...

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24 August 2009

Netregs 2009 Small Business Survey

Here are the key points from this annual survey of the UK's small & medium size businesses and their attitudes to the environment.

  • Only 7% of SMEs thought their business undertakes activities which harm the environment. When prompted, 46% were found to undertake an environmentally harmful activity. The most common activities were storing waste (42%), storing chemicals, fuels or oil (38%) and producing, importing, selling or using packaging (29%).
  • 38% of SMEs had not heard of relevant environmental regulations, even when prompted by a list.
  • 55% of SMEs had introduced practical measures to prevent or reduce environmental harm – up from 48% in 2007.
  • Just 6% had a person responsible for environmental issues although 28% had made energy efficiency or water reduction improvements.
  • 4% had an Environment Management System in place (15% in 2007) and 23% an environmental policy (39% in 2007). Just 12% thought this would be useful to their business.
  • 80% were ‘very’ or ‘quite unlikely’ to invest money in improving their environmental performance over the next 12 months.
  • 24% had reduced operating costs, 20% reduced risk of prosecution/fines, 20% motivated the workforce, 18% improved customer relationships and 8% increased sales/profitability through improved environmental performance.

The first point is the most worrying. Do 93% of businesses really not switch on the lights in the morning, purchase raw materials or use transport ever? This was closely followed by the 38% who don't know any environmental legislation - this is way down on previous years but this year they appear to have been given a prompt list.

But the weird thing is the last two - some of those who had reduced operating costs weren't prepared to make any further investment, even though it is likely they would save even more cash. As we all know, businesses who have good green performance are doing better in this recession.

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20 August 2009

Whole Foods Boss Does a Ratner

Whole Foods Markets claims to be the world's leader in natural and organic foods. A look at their website shows a family, planet, people-friendly business extolling the benefits of their products and their values in a confident, engaging way. So far, so good - the sort of business paragon we like to use as examples to our clients.

But CEO John Mackey seems to have blown a hole in the ship below the waterline. An op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal attacked President Obama's healthcare plans and proposed a free-market alternative that some have described as 'Darwinian'. The reaction has been brutal - a Facebook group calling for a boycott of Whole Foods has over 19,000 members as of this morning and the story is all across the popular press. The last time we saw something like this was when UK highstreet jeweller Gerard Ratner brought down his business by joking in a speech that the company's performance was "not bad for selling crap".

Top management guru Tom Peter has commented that it would be a shame if CEOs couldn't give personal opinions in the future, but I think he his missing the point. The Whole Foods brand makes a big fuss over its progressive values and their core customer base is exactly the sort of person who would support Obama's plans. I can't see why the WSJ would have bothered publishing the article if Mackey wasn't CEO of Whole Foods. The gulf between the values being projected to those customers (we understand and care for you and your family) and the values expoused in the article (I think you're a bunch of loony socialists) makes the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the pavement. Result - potentially fatal brand damage, and all for what?

So, lessons to be learnt:

- customers really don't like feeling that they've been swizzed
- the press and the blogosphere thrive on perceived hypocrisy
- if you are going to expouse values, it's helpful if you really believe in them yourself
- if there is a gap between your personal values and your corporate values, don't use the business as a platform to promote the former (is that not really obvious?)

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18 August 2009

+++ IMF declares recession 'over' +++


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17 August 2009

Back in the Saddle!

Just back in Newcastle after a wonderful break in Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales - walking, cycling and lazing about in the sun (honest!) reading and drinking coffee. And the local beer. I got a chance to catch up on a few back issues of ENDS, finished EF Schumacher's classic Small is Beautiful and started on the works of the deep ecology founder Arne Naess - both of which will turn up on Green Gurus soon.

One of our walks was around the dramatic limestone pavements and cliffs of Malham Cove (see pic) and brought an important issue home to me. First we walked to the still waters of Malham Tarn then along a stream leading from it until the water simply disappeared into unseen subterranean tunnels. We then followed the dry stream bed down to the top of the cliffs where the stream obviously once spilled over the top in a spectacular waterfall. When you climb down, a river appears from the base of the cliffs. Given that we'd been following the route of the original stream, you would think that this was it simply re-emerging from its underground course, but it isn't! Somewhere in the unexplored depths of the limestone, that stream of water crosses another without ever joining forces. The complexity of such hydrogeological systems is one reason why groundwater is the most protected natural resource. Pollution and the impacts of over-extraction are extremely difficult to 'fix'. This in turn is a factor the heavily populated South East of England has a water shortage, whereas the North, which depends on surface water reservoirs and is much less populated isn't.

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1 August 2009

We are Three!

Terra Infirma is celebrating its third birthday today! In those three years, we've worked with hundreds of businesses and public sector organisations ranging from the third biggest organisation in the world (the UK's National Health Service) to micro-businesses and solo entrepreneurs. While I'd be lying if I said the recession hadn't made things frustrating sometimes, we're finding there are plenty of people out there who realise that sustainability is the future.

And there's an exciting and challenging year ahead. We're bringing new clients and partners on board as we speak, the Three Secrets of Green Business is out in December and I'm planning to have the manuscript of book#2 (working title "The Green Executive") finished by this time next year. We also have plenty of other exciting ideas working their way towards fruition.

I'm off on holiday to the (hopefully) sunny Yorkshire Dales for a couple of weeks, so things will go a bit quiet on the blogging front. If you want more to read in the meantime, check out Green Gurus which now features the godmother of the modern environmental movement, Rachel Carson. I'm taking books by EF Schumacher, Arne Naess and David Pearce away with me, so they're in the pipeline along with economist Herman Daly and climatologist James Hansen. And don't forget, there's always the back issues of "The Low Carbon Agenda"...

Wishing you a great holiday period, back soon,


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