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November 2009 - Terra Infirma


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30 November 2009

Low Carbon Agenda: Jeers and Cheers

Thanks to everyone who has given feedback on last week's Low Carbon Agenda. Some found that the text wrapped strangely around the central diagram in their mail reader - it worked fine in my Apple Mail, but there appears to be a problem with some versions of Outlook. Apologies for this - the techies have been summarily executed say it has been fixed now. If you want to see how it should look, click here.

On the other hand, I have never had such a positive response to an edition of TLCA. Apparently many of you spent Wednesday afternoon using the Sustainability Maturity Model to discuss how ready your business is to implement sustainability. Well, that's why I developed it and I've found it very useful in client workshops - it will also form the basis of my second book, The Green Executive. Thanks for the compliments.

I'll also be using the model at the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange in Harrogate on Thursday during my session on Long Term Environmental Strategy. If you're going to Harrogate, please do say hello!

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27 November 2009

Geek Central: Virtualisation

The economy is fast becoming digitised - photos, music, newspapers, movies, books, shopping, networking. This is a good thing from a dematerialisation point of view, but it is creating a vast world of energy intensive server farms. And, it turns out that each server spends the cast majority of its day idle, wasting energy on its own innards and cooling.

The big new thing is 'virtualisation' which maximises the use of each server, slashing the number of servers required and thus the amount of energy required to run the new economy. For those who want to know more, the clever young man in the video will explain...

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26 November 2009

M King Hubbert & Peak Oil Theory

If anyone is interested in the background to the concept of peak oil, I've just posted a profile of the godfather of peak oil, M King Hubbert, on Green Gurus. The profile covers recent controversies.

A future edition of The Low Carbon Agenda will look at peak oil and its implications for the industry of the future.

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25 November 2009

Copenhagen's hotting up...

You can always tell when things are coming to a crunch when the game gets dirty. If you are reading this blog, then you are probably aware that the University of East Anglia's IT system has been illegally hacked and e-mails between the UEA's Climate Research Unit and other climatologists leaked onto the web. This has thrown the climate change sceptics into a frenzy of outrage/delight and boosted the conspiracy theories about international socialism creating the climate change hoax to enslave the people... but if you look at the e-mails objectively, in context and with a sense of perspective, it's a load of fuss over nothing.

The timing is of course important as it brings the sceptics and deniers back into the media just when they want to be there. The same thing happened with the first Earth Summit in 1992 and around the Kyoto Protocol discussions a few years later. These attempts to muddy the waters are deliberate to protect vested interests and are to be expected, but their influence has been waning as big business shifts away from the denial camp and starts to engage proactively with the issues. A shift to morally and legally dubious tactics such as hacking could be seen as a sign of desperation.

On the other hand, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the 'global binding deal' approach is the wrong one. It is very unlikely that such a deal could please people in Idaho and Indonesia, or Birmingham and Brunei. It also feeds the fears of those the deniers are trying to influence - people don't like being told what to do by some remote entity. There must be a model of flexible interlocking national programmes where each country can set, and vary, its own targets and programmes, with mechanisms to cover trade between them. Then we could have, in the words of Elvis, a little less conversation, a little more action.

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23 November 2009

Interface's socially sustainable product

I had a great interview with Nigel Stansfield of Interface on Friday. I met Nigel in 2002 on Schumacher College's now sadly defunct Business & Sustainability course*, but I didn't realise at the time that he had been given two year's (nearly) complete freedom to explore and understand sustainability. Nigel's role is Senior Director of new product development - covering both incremental improvements to existing products and big step changes in product/service concepts. Note that the word sustainability doesn't feature in his job title - it is a core role of everyone at Interface.

Interface's commitment to sustainability is astonishing - they have the corporate goal of a zero footprint by 2020. They have recently started to get stuck into the social side, developing a new product made from sustainable materials in India where all the actors in the supply chain are assured a fair price - it would be a FairTrade product if FairTrade had a protocol for floor coverings - it really is that cutting edge. The video below describes it better than I ever could!

FairWorks from Just Means on Vimeo.

* I am developing plans for a similar intensive residential course for senior sustainability practitioners, but with an emphasis on sharing experience rather than being lectured by a guru - if you would be interested in such a thing, get in touch and let me know what you would like out of it.

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20 November 2009

Interface interface?

Iā€™m back on the train again, this time to Halifax to interview Nigel Stansfield of Interface for The Green Executive. Interface is definitely one of the greenest companies on the planet ā€“ and it is the biggest producer of modular carpet in the world. The company's Chairman Ray Anderson is truly a green business pioneer and has written several books on the subject. I saw him speak a few years ago and he was inspirational. He's on my list as a future entry on Green Gurus.

It's been a busy week. I signed off the final proofs of The Three Secrets of Green Business (gulp!) and had to do four press interviews yesterday as Newcastle upon Tyne was declared to be the most sustainable city in the UK by Forum for the Future - when I've got my political hat on, I'm second in command of all things sustainable for the Council. A good day with some excellent press coverage. On top of that I'm scoping out new business opportunities for one client, developing another project around rural sustainability and working on The Green Executive. The new baby is invading my favoured 6am slot for this - normally the house is silent, but now I have to, sometimes literally, muck in with the little'un.

It's all great fun!

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18 November 2009

Understand Your Business Case

As I'm working through the interviews for The Green Executive, it is becoming clear that companies who lead on sustainability have a really deep understanding of the business case as it applies to them. If you look at many Green Business Support Organisations' literature, it tends to start and finish with the message "save energy, cut waste, save money". This is true, but very short sighted.

Most service sector organisations will not save an appreciable amount of cash compared with their turnover or profit margin. The benefit for these companies is in branding and winning new business. Cash savings are a distraction to these companies as they are miniscule compared to business benefits. Manufacturing industries and other resource intensive businesses can save significant sums of money and contribute directly to increased profits. But if they see this as the sole driver, they too will miss out on the wider PR and marketing opportunities. A recent edition of The Low Carbon Agenda dealt with how this type of narrow minded thinking can adversely affect budgeting decisions and some ideas on how to overcome it.

The other aspect of understanding the business case relates to how far you can move from your core business and still bring your customer base with you. Marks & Spencer tried selling worm bins, but realised no-one comes to to M&S; for a wormery. They do sell recycled polyester umbrellas - as a green consumer that's what I expect to find in their stores.

So, if you're going to go down this road, take some time to really think through what the business case is for you - both internally and for your customers. It will be time well spent.

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16 November 2009

Advanced notice - 20% off The Three Secrets of Green Business

So, I seem to have survived two of the three big events of this autumn - the birth of young Jimmy and the rebranding of the company. The third is of course the launch of my first book, The Three Secrets of Green Business on 18 December. If you want a discount on the purchase price then sign up to the Low Carbon Agenda (using the form on the right) as the December edition will have details of a discount, expected to be 20%. I am also in negotiations for a formal launch in January in Newcastle upon Tyne, but the details have not yet been finalised.

I am also doing a session on "Sustainability in the Service Sector" for the Service Network on 11 February - location and details to be confirmed closer to the time.

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13 November 2009

Low Carbon Business Seminar - 3 December 2009

The Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange is running in Harrogate on 3rd December - a whole day of round table discussions and one-to-ones - a delightfully powerpoint free zone. I'm leading two sessions on staff engagement and environmental strategy and there are loads more. I know I've said it before - these are probably the best events of their type.

To book your place, visit the LCBPE website.

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11 November 2009

Is there a peak oil cover up?

Until recently I've been agnostic about 'peak oil' - I've been in the "we'll only know when it happens" camp, but as the issue has moved steadily from the fringe to centre stage, I've started siding with the peak oil brigade. Last year International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol stated that production could "plateau" by 2020 and a recent report by the UK Energy Research Centre concluded that a peak could occur before 2020. But then yesterday The Guardian reported allegations that the IEA has been exaggerating the future reserves of oil under pressure from "the US". One insider stated "we've already entered the peak oil zone".

There is one good reason for this cover-up (if that's what it is) - to stop panic buying and even resource related conflict, but I suspect that denial and inertia are the dominant drivers. In particular, the oil industry has a massive vested interest in avoiding talk of a peak. If reserves are seen to be depleting then shareholders will dump their shares - the 2004 reserves scandal nearly did for Shell. The sensible thing to do would be to diversify quickly into new energy technologies. The sort of cash that Big Oil could pump into renewables and efficient technology could drive us quickly to a low carbon economy, resilient to both climate change and peak oil, but instead they seem wedded to pursuing expensive and destructive forms of oil extraction like tar sands. If I were an investor, I'd start backing a different horse - and indeed investment in renewables exceeded that of fossil fuel exploration in 2008.

There's a great political opportunity here. The resistance to cutting carbon emissions in the US and elsewhere is mainly based on a suspicion of the political motives of the green lobby ("an excuse to raise taxes", "eco-communism", "red-green alliance" etc). If the world wants to maintain its standard of living once oil has peaked, we'll need those low carbon technologies anyway, irrespective of your views on climate change evidence. John Kerry has been promoting the business opportunities green innovation to persuade reluctant US politicians to sign up to President Obama's climate change bill. Maybe he should ask them "what will your voters say if you let the pumps run dry?" instead.

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9 November 2009

Free waste consultancy for North East SMEs

If you're a small to medium sized business (<250 employees, not more than 25% owned by a bigger company) based in the North East of England and you'd like a couple of days free waste consultancy, then drop me a line in the next couple of weeks. There's a couple of forms to fill in, but that's all.

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1 November 2009

Mr James William Kane...

...aka Jimmy was born on Thursday at 8:30pm weighing in at 8lb 10oz. He's great, his Mum's recovering well and his brother keeps wanting to buy him presents, so I'm a very lucky man.

I'm taking a couple of weeks of semi-paternity leave so posts to this blog may be somewhat erratic until mid-November. I'm really enjoying it so far. Me & Harry (first son) are spending a huge amount of time together and once again a strange cooking instinct has kicked in - must be some hunter gatherer thing. Ask me again in 10 weeks when the sleep deprivation really starts taking its toll...

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