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September 2009 - Terra Infirma

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30 September 2009

I'm on the train...

...down to Watford to run a sustainability workshop for senior NHS staff.

I love the train - even going through as bland countryside as East Yorkshire. The early morning sun is casting warm light and long shadows across the fields and villages. And of course I can get on with writing this blog, continuing with the Green Executive and catching up on my e-mail action list using the convenient wi-fi internet access. And drink coffee. Who on earth would prefer to drive or fly?

Two people on the next row are discussing the difficulties of hitting their organisation's carbon targets. I'm not deliberately earwigging (perish the thought), but I've got a Pavlovian twitch anytime someone mentions 80% by 2050 in my proximity. From what fragments I've overhead so far I could make about half a dozen suggestions...

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28 September 2009

Green Apples not just a fad

More than two years ago I blogged about Apple Computer's run in with Greenpeace and I continue to use it as a case study of the risks of being targeted by a pressure group. Well Apple have released a new site which makes the environmental impact of their products as transparent as possible.

As someone who is typing this on his sixth Mac in 20 years, I really chuffed that such a high profile company has realised that in the 21st century, hip = green and vice versa. Interesting too that my 2008 model Powerbook Pro has 60% of the carbon emissions in use as my old laptop.

This energy efficiency has wider importance too as the world becomes increasingly digitised. There is an interesting article in the latest edition of The ENDS Report on the carbon footprint of data centres. Incredibly the typical server only uses 10-20% of its capacity. A technique called 'virtualisation' is now being used to increase this to 50-70% - a massive improvement.

There are many benefits of the shift to a digital world - removing the information (photos, music, movies) from the medium (film, paper, CDs, DVDs plus associated packaging and distribution) - and it is great to see that the carbon footprint of each unit of digital activity is dropping so rapidly so we don't simply move the problem around.

Update 9/10/09
Apple have announced, like Nike and several other large players, that they are resigning from the US Chamber of Commerce in protest at the latter's stance on Obama's climate change bill. Almost literally walking the talk.

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25 September 2009

Book Review: Strategy for Sustainability by Adam Werbach

Adam Werbach was the youngest ever president of the Sierra Club and now heads up sustainability consultants Saatchi & Saatchi S having worked with many businesses including Walmart, so I had high hopes for this book. Unfortunately it does not get off to a good start, when Werbach lists ten of nature's rules for sustainability:

1. Diversify across generations.
2. Adapt and specialize to the changing environment.
3. Celebrate transparency.
4. Plan and execute systematically, not compartmentally.
5. Form groups and protect the young.
6. Integrate metrics.
7. Improve with each cycle. Evolution is a strategy for long-term survival.
8. Right-size regularly, rather than downsize occasionally.
9. Foster longevity, not immediate gratification.
10. Waste nothing, recycle everything, borrow little.

Problem is, two of these are demonstrably nonsense. Nature is not transparent, but has armfuls of beasties that rely on decidedly non-transparent tactics such as camouflage, mimicry and traps. If a fly knew what a Venus flytrap was, it would steer well clear. Likewise the idea that nature is 'obsessive' about protecting the young is disproved by watching any nature programme - just watch the annual slaughter of the innocents on BBC's Springwatch and you will see what I mean. I would also suggest the 'integrate metrics' rule was tenuous to say the least. Werbach also omits probably the most important sustainability lesson from nature - "Use Solar Energy". The other strange thing about these rules is that many are never or only briefly mentioned again, particularly number 1.

Werbach drops another clanger when he describes 'cradle to cradle' as the concept of eradicating toxics and improving energy efficiency at every life cycle stage from raw material extraction to disposal. Wrong. Cradle to cradle, as the name suggests, is about making products endlessly recyclable - there is no 'disposal' stage. There is also a somewhat unnecessary comparison of sustainability requirements with the famous business book 'Good to Great'.

This is a really great shame as the guts of the book, Werbach's TEN cycle of transparency, engagement and networking is a strong model for the human side of business sustainability (although why it has to be a cycle is not clear - why not three parallel activities?). Transparency is interpreted as both opening up available information to everyone and collecting all possible information. In engagement, Werbach advocates getting individuals to choose their own 'personal sustainability plan' to get them really engaged, and in the networking chapter he demonstrates a limited number of advantages of engaging with external stakeholders. All of this activity should be aligned to the business's sustainability 'North Star Goal'. Werbach omits any discussion of technological solutions, management structures or innovative business models.

In summary, I found the book really frustrating. The North Star Goal and TEN concepts are excellent, but I was constantly distracted by clangers, tenuous logic and clunky use of language. Werbach needs a really tough editor to cut the book down to the good 50% which could then be developed further. A deeply flawed gem.

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23 September 2009

Press Release: The Three Secrets of Green Business


Embargo: Immediate
Contact: Gareth Kane, Terra Infirma Ltd, 0191 265 7899,

Publication Date Confirmed for The Three Secrets of Green Business

A new book, The Three Secrets of Green Business, by leading Green Business expert Gareth Kane will be published by Earthscan on 18th December. The book presents a framework for companies to proactively prepare themselves for the low carbon economy, ready to exploit the new opportunities and avoid the pitfalls.

“It is clear that a new industrial revolution is starting” said Gareth “the question for every business leader is whether they want to surf the green wave or be left floundering out of their depth.”

The Three Secrets of Green Business contains guidance on everything from simple waste minimisation measures to advanced product design techniques. It is packed with hundreds of hints and tips to make green business a reality.

The book is available for pre-order from Amazon or the Earthscan website.

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21 September 2009

Monday Morning Training Tips

I'm taking a coffee break between client meetings on Teesside. I've just been with a world class engineering company, mapping out the content of two training seminars I'm doing for them, one on CSR and one on Sustainability & Design. While they're fresh in my mind, here are three top tips on sustainability training:

1. Sell the course to delegates

Many people are cynical about training. Many people are cynical about sustainability. You need to sell the purpose of the course to the delegates, both at the start and at points through the session. In this case I'll be pointing out how 'green' can win tenders and the business opportunities for this company in the low carbon agenda.

2. Mind the gap

If you leave a gap between the content of the course and the implementation of those ideas back at the desk, most of your hard work will fall straight through it. I always get delegates to apply the knowledge and skills they are learning to their day job during the session - closing the gap up before it occurs.

3. Make it thought provoking

Challenging your delegates is more effective than lame attempts to make the session fun. Ask questions, puncture myths and put people on the spot. If you can do fun too, then do it.

I think these are the most important three. Do you have any more?

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18 September 2009

The last wilderness

On Tuesday night I was invited to a fundraiser to send a young man, Joe Spedding, on an expedition to the Antarctic as part of the 2041 campaign to maintain the continent as the Earth's only untouched wilderness and draw attention to climate change. 2041 is the year when the international agreement to preserve the Antarctic is up for renewal.

The talk was by Robert Swan, the founder of 2041 and the first man to walk to both poles. The tales of derring do, determination and hardship were at times overwhelming, and Swan got rather brutal first hand experience of two global environmental issues. On his South Pole trek in 84/85, the walkers' faces blistered and peeled far more than had been expected. It was only while they were there that the hole in the ozone layer was discovered. On the walk to the North Pole five years later, they found sea where they expected ice - evidence of climate change - which as a scientific phenomena was only just emerging at that time from academic studies into the public arena. Amongst his myriad other claims to fame, Swan now owns the only private building on Antarctica - an educational building powered entirely by renewables. His life is now dedicated to the global environment.

Joe Spedding saw Swan talk about these experiences when he (Joe!) was just 11 years old. 11 years later and he is fulfilling his dream to travel to Antarctica - the aim of the trip is to train him and others as environmental ambassadors and leaders. As one of my formative environmental experiences was an expedition to the Ecuadorian rainforest in 1993, I'm a sucker for this sort of thing and was happy to make a contribution. Pity I can't go too!

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16 September 2009

New! Executive Coaching Service (with Free Trial)

Are you responsible for delivering sustainability in your organisation? Are you finding it difficult to get momentum started? Do you feel lonely, frustrated and unappreciated?

Our coaching programme will give you the support you lack by providing a sounding board, helping you set personal targets to improve your performance and providing you with a smorgasbord of hints, tips and techniques to overcome your particular problems.

For a one-off annual fee, you will receive a personal one-to-one coaching session by telephone every month, but you can contact your coach at anytime by phone or e-mail should the occasion arise, subject only to availability. This is an extremely cost-effective way of benefiting from our skills and experience without having to fashion a project to justify it. The constant reinforcement of learning and reflection on past performance is much more effective than attending a simple training course.

Even better, we're offering a free trial session:

1. E-mail your details to with three times during UK office hours on different days when you will be available for 45 minutes.

2. We will contact you to confirm one of those times or suggest another.

Please note this service is aimed at those with a genuine business need and we retain the right to discretion over who can participate in the trial.

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14 September 2009

It's amazing what you can do when you really try...

A year ago, Lexus were censured by the UK Advertising Standards Agency for running ads for their hybrid SUV, claiming it was a planet saving breakthrough. The ASA ruled that as the car emitted 192 g/km CO2 compared to 158 g/km CO2 for an average European car (of all classes), it could not be portrayed as green and banned the ad.

Lexus have now bounced back with the 2010 model which emits 148 g/km CO2 - a big luxury car which emits less than the average vehicle. It's amazing how a little public humiliation can drive a technological breakthrough.

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11 September 2009

Brrrm, brrrm (or not as the case may be...)

On Wednesday I was in Bedford at the Low Carbon Vehicle exhibition as part of the work we're doing with Innovation Scout to identify business opportunities in the low carbon economy. There was a real buzz about the place and some extraordinary vehicles including a hydrogen powered Morgan, and, getting most attention, the £87,000 electric sportscar, the Tesla. According to the nice lady on the stand, they've sold 1200 of these worldwide and are moving into profit.

I was working unfortunately and couldn't get a test drive. We were picking experts' brains to spot gaps in the market - OK if you're going to have electric cars, who is going to maintain them? Who provides the breakdown service? Who trains the emergency services in not getting an electric shock when they attend a road traffic accident involving an electric vehicle? While some experts could let this kind of idea flow freely, it was interesting how many found it difficult to think around their area of expertise. The conclusion was that there were dozens of opportunities around any one emerging technology for anyone with entrepreneurial spirit and, importantly, an inquisitive mind. Many of these are essential enabling products and services for the core product (the car).

Yesterday I interviewed Vic Morgan, founder of the Ethical Superstore for the Green Executive (my second book). His view is that if you take an ethical/green stance, you have to overcompensate with commercial attitude. He finds it easier to employ people with a passion for commerce and then interest them in the ethics later rather than the other way around.

Both these insights chime with the first secret of the Three Secrets of Green Business:

"Treat the environmental agenda as an opportunity, not a threat. Grasp it with both hands but, whatever you do, don’t forget you are still running a business."

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9 September 2009

Denial is a funny ol' game...

I'm currently in mid-spat with a industrial trade organisation I'm a member of. In their regular Friday mail-out, the 'Did You Know?' section appeared to be a cut'n'paste job on the blurb from a climate change denial book by mining geologist Ian Plimmer. Plimmer's book has been ripped to shreds for repeating some of the oldest and most discredited climate change myths while ignoring the science, but it keeps bouncing back to the public arena.

After sleeping on it, I decided to stand up for science. So I complained and asked for a retraction. I was offered a chance to put my own view across in next week's edition, so I thought "fair enough" and wrote two paragraphs ripping into Plimmer's work and contrasting it with the scientific consensus. This was rejected as being a retraction - which I thought was the point. I sent off a strongly worded response and they've gone quiet.

So why am I bothering? Is it really that important?

Well, yes, it is.

1. OK, I'm a pedant - I hate people mindlessly repeating nonsense in a work context (if another trainer tells me communication is 93% non-verbal, I'll try out a made up language on them...).

2. This industrial sector contains many companies at threat from the shift to a low carbon economy and many who could flourish in that low carbon economy if they are nimble and prescient enough to change. If these people take a business as usual approach thinking climate change is just a political fad, they're sunk.

So can't these eminent business people think for themselves? That's a difficult question to answer. No valve manufacturer flourished in the transistor age, few people foresaw the current financial crisis and our newspapers are wilting under attack from cyberspace. Clever people do fail to see the road ahead. The reason is denial - "it will never happen to me". I am seriously concerned that the continued oxygen of publicity given to professional climate change deniers will make industrialists sit back and say 'we'll wait until the smoke clears' when they need to act now.

But it may be more complicated than that. There is a description in today's Guardian of a 2004 psychology experiment which presented CIA documents which showed there were no WMDs in Iraq to pro-war conservatives. Strangely the evidence made the subjects more, not less, convinced that WMDs existed. In other words confronting people who are wrong about an issue with evidence that they are wrong pushes them into denial. So maybe it is right that my response is not published... who knows?


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7 September 2009

There's more to it than money...

Last Friday I was editing the nine interviews I have carried out with CSR/environment executives for book#2, The Green Executive. Reading through all nine in quick succession, it struck me how few of them were driven primarily by cost savings. While cost is a factor, the majority say that an overriding factor is company image. Building a trustworthy, progressive and friendly image will enhance sales, win contracts and attract and retain good staff. All of this will improve the bottom line. But there's more than this - the interviewees talk about bringing their values to the workplace and greater personal satisfaction that they are doing something for the greater good.

So we have to remember two points:

1. The financial benefits to going green are much wider and greater than cutting utility and raw material costs. This has to be understood and factored into investment decisions (the next edition of The Low Carbon Agenda will address this in more detail).

2. We should not forget the deeper, philosophical questions about who we are and why we do what we do as soon as we enter our workplaces. We should not feel, or be made to feel, guilty for doing the right thing.

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4 September 2009

Has hydrogen had its day?

I've been doing some research into the current stage of the hydrogen economy for Innovation Scout. Back in the late 90s and early 00s, hydrogen was the fuel of future - and on Teesside, where I was working in that period, it was held up as the saviour of the chemical industry. In fact, any project that might get in the way of the march of hydrogen was simply brushed aside (including one of mine, but I'm not bitter. Well, not much).

But then what? Some major motor manufacturers brought forward concept cars and there were a number of fuel cell systems installed in buildings and road signs. But not much more has progressed as technical and economic issues have hindered the commercialisation of the technology. President Obama's Energy Secretary Steven Chu pulled the plug on hydrogen research and everybody seems to be focussed on the electric vehicle. Honda alone seems to have stuck with the hydrogen model with its FCX Clarity model (lauded by the Top Gear petrolheads) and there the open-source Riversimple hydrogen car was launched this summer. The latter will be leased in cities where the hydrogen infrastructure is provided by industrial gas giant BOC.

So there may be life in hydrogen yet, the only question is, with huge distribution networks required for both, can it compete with the upsurge in interest in electric vehicles? Looks like a classic battle along the lines of Betamax/VHS and, like that videotape war, it will probably won on entrepreneurial ability rather than technical prowess.

BTW, if you are interested in the current state of affairs in the electric car industry, check out this interesting BBC Radio 4 programme which includes an interview with Shai Agassi who is launching a distributed network of charging points and automatic battery exchanges.

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2 September 2009

The summer's gone...

Well it's September, it's wet and we are extraordinarily busy. As well as our existing projects and clients, we've been employed to do some very exciting new work for the Design Council and Innovation Scout. The latter is a new venture by entrepreneurs Nick Devitt and David Townson to identify unmet business opportunities to stimulate innovation and we're contributing opportunities in the Low Carbon Economy.

On top of this, I've got edits to do for The Three Secrets of Green Business and I've got some exciting new interviewees for its sequel, The Green Executive. And then of course I'm still working on new entries for Green Gurus - deep ecologist Arne Naess is likely to be the next profile. The rebranding process continues and the new website is looking really good - it will makes much easier to find what you are looking for than at present.

If you've been on holiday and haven't read the last edition of The Low Carbon Agenda, then I advise you do - it's called Low Carbon Jujitsu and is about how to deal with difficult people. These are probably the most powerful techniques I've revealed on TLCA - and you get them for free!

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