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January 2010 - Terra Infirma

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29 January 2010

Newcastle Book Launch Report

The launch of The Three Secrets of Green Business went really well last night. A nice mix of friends, family, clients, business partners and interested others in the audience - some of them bought copies too (see pic for a satisfied customer). We had some very intelligent questions in the Q&A; so all in all it was a great event. Thanks to Newcastle Business School for hosting and to Dr Ron Beadle for chairing - Ron stepped in at the last minute even though it was his birthday, so I was very grateful.

We've taped the presentation and will be putting excerpts up here in due course. Don't forget there will be another one in London on 4th Feb. RSVP if you would like to attend.

My other good news is that the BASE 2010 conference has made a bulk purchase of the book - one for every delegate. I'll be doing a signing there and possibly a seminar. If your organisation would like to make a similar bulk purchase (which can include a company logo), the details are here.

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27 January 2010

Making Green Look Normal...

I was quite harsh on John Grant's Green Marketing Manifesto when I reviewed it, but while I'm doing the zillionith edit to The Green Executive, I've been having a think about his main maxim:

"Green Marketing is about making green stuff seem normal, not about making normal stuff seem green"

The first part is really quite powerful and chimes with the need to aim green products at the mass market rather than the green niche to get any worthwhile impact from and environmental point of view. And the second part really skewers greenwash - that if you want to be green, you've really got to break from the norm, not put a green prism in front of what business does as a matter of course.

I like it. I like it a lot.

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25 January 2010

Indirect benefits outweigh cost savings for BT by a long, long way

I was doing some background research on BT's sustainability activity for the Green Executive and the Service Network talk I'm giving in two week's time. Their sustainability report says they've saved £400m between 2005 and 2009 and supported bids worth a potential £1.9bn in 2009. Which means:

• direct cost savings: £100m per annum
• indirect business benefit: £1,900m per annum
= indirect benefits are worth 19 times as much as direct cost benefits

So, please, don't be taken in by by the old "go green and save money" line - BT could have lost out on direct economic costs and still made a handsome profit on their sustainability programme. The prize is much, much bigger than just a few bob's worth of energy savings. The best of the best have their sights set much, much higher. Have you?

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22 January 2010

Better Place EV Battery Swap

While doing some background research on new low carbon business opportunities for The Green Executive, I came across a demonstration video for Better Place's automatic electric vehicle battery swap technology. The idea is that instead of having to wait a long time to charge your batteries, you simply swap your depleted battery pack for a charged one. This condenses recharge hours into a couple of minutes (it's slightly sped up in the video).

The business model will mean EV owners don't actually own the batteries, rather that they purchase a power service instead - a neat example of a product service system. It is exactly this sort of innovation which will thrive in a low carbon economy.

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20 January 2010

Free Webinar: Climate Change and Business Success

Date: 23 Feb 2010
Time: 5pm GMT
To register click here.

I'm co-presenting this Earthcast (hosted by my publishers Earthscan) with Paul Lingl and Deborah Carlson from The David Suzuki Foundation and authors of Doing Business in a New Climate. The webinar will focus on the challenges and opportunities that climate change poses for businesses of all sizes.

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19 January 2010

IPCC Red Faced Over Glacier Statement

I'm extremely angry with the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their job is to assess the state of the science across a wide range of aspects and provide a digest for policy makers and others. In general their analysis errs on the conservative side. Both the loss of sea ice and the rise in sea levels are happening much more quickly than the IPCC prediction. So it came as a great shock that a statement buried in their last report that the Himalayan glacier system could all but disappear by 2035, depriving 40% of the world's population of drinking and irrigation water, turns out to be very unlikely to be correct.

The actual mistake appears to have arisen in the World Wildlife Fund report which was being quoted by the IPCC - they accidentally attributed this to an expert group of glacier scientists when the 2035 date comes from a New Scientist interview with a single scientist. What makes me cross is:

1. why a statement of such impact was not sourced directly from a peer reviewed scientific paper? The WWF may have messed up, but they're a pressure group not a scientific body. I actually wonder if it was left in by mistake during drafting - if it had been reliable, the statement would surely have been a headline fact, not an obscure comment buried in the text.

2. why did the IPCC chairman dismissed the representations of the Indian Govt on this matter as 'voodoo science' rather than checking the facts first? I suggest he should seriously consider his position.

3. Of course the denial industry is having a field day, blowing it out of proportion, and trying to bring down the science as a whole. But for the rest of us, we should be able to trust the IPCC to get these things right and, as with the rest of their work, err on the side of caution where there is uncertainty.

4. While I've never personally quoted 2035, I've used the wider Himalayan case as an example in my talks and courses as it is a human story rather than one featuring polar bears. Given the resulting hoohah, I'm going to have to use other examples as I don't want to get bogged down in debunking myths and splitting hairs.

So what is the true situation? I've had a quick rummage through various documents, books and official websites and what I can gather is:

1. The Himalayan glaciers do appear to be retreating as temperatures have risen by 1°C in the region. This is in line with a serious reduction in glacier mass around the world, but, strangely given their importance, the Himalayan glacier system has not been well studied.

2. This melting is already impacting on the surrounding populations through flood risks and reduced flows in rivers - this is likely to get worse if temperatures continue to rise.

3. The ice sheet is so huge it probably won't disappear for a couple of hundred years.

I've updated the climate change FAQs on the resources page to substitute other, peer reviewed, impacts to avoid confusion. Looking on the bright side, if the 2035 prediction had been correct, it would probably have been game over.

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18 January 2010

Blue Monday (Tell me, how do I feel?)

It's that day of the year when scientists (whose evidence presumably comes under somewhat lighter scrutiny than that of climatologists) declare it is the most depressing day of the year in the UK - post Xmas slump, weather, illness, yadda yadda blah blah.

So what can you do? There seem to be three options:

1. Muddle through, complaining constantly.

2. Give up - go back to bed with a cup of tea and a magazine full of adverts for stuff you can't afford.

3. Take control - go for a run, start a new piece of work, read something inspiring.

There's an analogy here with your reaction to the environmental agenda - you can muddle through, hide under the duvet or take control of your destiny. It is clear from the businesses and I work with that the last option is the only way to do it properly. So why not take a break from the routine today and decide what this agenda means for you?


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15 January 2010

The Big Picture (and the one bigger than that...)

I've been writing up my interview with Nick Coad, Environmental Director of National Express, for my next book The Green Executive. He gave a wonderful example of how you need to look at the big picture. National Express started on their sustainability journey by looking internally - risk reduction, eco-efficiency and their branding and reputation management. However it became clear to them that they were part of the solution rather than part of the problem. A shift to public transport use could actually increase the company's carbon emissions, but the net effect would be a substantial cut when you look at the bigger transport picture.

So they started engaging with policy makers, other businesses and customers. But they found that the UK Government was more interested in improving the efficiency of each transport mode rather than modal shift - getting people out of high carbon transport modes and into low carbon modes. National Express's paper "More is Less" was proclaimed as visionary in the trade press and shifted the debate several steps forward to look at modal shift.

There is of course an even bigger picture to this. Why do we travel? The broadest definition of the reason is I can come up with is "to experience something that is geographically distant". But technology allows us to experience some distant things (conversations, sights, sounds, data etc) without moving. So the ultimate modal shift in this sector is towards teleconferencing and telecommuting.

And before anyone says it, I know there's yet another, quite enormous picture which is why do we want/have to do these things, but that's going a little too far into the realms of philosophy on a cold Friday morning in January!

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13 January 2010

Smart Grids for Idiots

This morning I was reading the usual batch of letters to my local paper on how terrible renewable energy is, how global warming is a myth, blah blah blah - the usual reheated zombie arguments. And this morning the old myth that renewables need 100% backup from fossil fuels reared its ugly head once again.

After reading The Solar Economy during the summer, I've become fascinated with how a solar powered economy would work in practice. I got an hint of how this works when I visited EAE Ltd this summer. They use power from their wind turbine directly by day and then at night use it to charge their electric forklift truck. This is a very simple form of energy management that spreads the peak of consumption across 24 hours - using the forklift battery to capture renewable energy when it is available for use during the day.

A smart grid would do this on a much larger scale. The grid would link lots of generators, large and small, using a range of generation technology - microhydro, solar PV, wind, biomass CHP etc - with lots of users - commercial, residential and electric vehicle owners. Some of those users would also have storage facilities - most notably electric vehicle owners. The smart bit of the grid would control the balance between generation, storage and use and manage the flow of money between them. When supply exceeded demand, the price per unit would drop and the storage facilities would charge up. When demand exceeded supply, those owners of storage facilities could opt to sell energy back to the grid at a premium. This optimisation of supply and demand would lower peak demand, so any backup required would only have to cover a much lower essential demand.

There are interesting proposals for how this could work in practice. You could be driving your electric car and the energy management system would advise you to charge up in the next hour at a certain charging point (identified by GPS) as prices were low. Later you could be sat at your desk at work and receive a text from your car outside advising you to sell some of its stored energy while prices were high, leaving enough charge to get home. Some estimate that, by selling such services to the grid, electric vehicles could become a source of income rather than a drain on your resources.


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11 January 2010

Clever green branding

On Friday I had a lovely, warming lunch in Blackfriars cafe in Newcastle. I was very taken with their placemats that showed the local suppliers they use. This is a fantastic piece of green branding.

First of all, it doesn't scream green which would be out of place in a mid-market eatery. But it gets across a key message - "we source locally and from a lot of organic farms".

Secondly, it demonstrates green rather than claiming green. It says "here are the facts - you make up your mind".

Thirdly, it grabs your attention in the time between ordering and being served, providing a conversation piece. Restaurants which put food sources on the menu are competing for attention when customers are trying to choose a dish.

Very clever indeed.

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8 January 2010

Where it all started

I've just been sorting through some old photos and slides (remember them?) for the presentation for my book launch. I came across this one of Monchegorsk in arctic Russia showing the cloud of acid rain lurking above the nickel smelter which dominates the town. Harder to see because of the contrast is the complete desolation that surrounds the town for miles and miles - a shaley desert with only a few scrubby plants clinging to existence. This land should be classic taiga - covered in birch trees - but there is nothing.

It was here in 1997 that I had my Damascene moment. It was seeing all at once the source, pathway and receptor of this pollution, and of course its enormous scale, that made me change careers. At that moment I dedicated my life to try and stop these things happening in the first place. Not by tying myself to a factory gate - I'm too much of a coward for that - but by leading people and organisations towards a sustainable future - a place where this does not happen.

So that's how it started.

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6 January 2010

London & Newcastle Book Launch Receptions

I'm delighted to announce that we'll be holding another reception to celebrate the publication of The Three Secrets of Green Business, this time in London. The event will be hosted by digital marketing/technology agency LBi, to whom we are very grateful.

The details for London are:

Time: 6-8pm
Date: 4 Feb 2010
Location: Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London, E1 6RU (click here for a map)

Don't forget the Newcastle event:

Time: 6-8pm
Date: 28 Jan 2010
Location: Newcastle Business School, City Campus East, Newcastle upon Tyne (click here for a map)

During both receptions we'll have some mingling and drinking followed by a short presentation by yours truly followed by more mingling and drinking! RSVP - you are welcome to bring a guest, but please let us know for the numbers.

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Interested in installing micro-renewables?

If you are a small/medium sized business in the North East of England and you want to know whether it is worth installing micro renewables, then a new programme can help. It is funded by our friends at Renew and delivered by our friends and collaborators Synergie. Here's the score:

Support available:

• Free site-based support across a range of micro-renewables including wind, solar hot water and solar photo-voltaics, hydro, heat pumps, biomass and micro-CHP.

• Free 3-5 days specialist consultancy support on micro-renewables at your business. This will include an objective and impartial site survey to assess the suitability of different micro-renewables at your premises, identification of the most appropriate technology, an outline assessment of the financial viability, planning requirements and identification of relevant financial assistance to support project development where this is available. This will be presented in a detailed feasibility report.

Eligibility – your company must:

• Be located within North East England
• Employ fewer than 250 staff
• Have a turnover of less than £44M per year and a balance sheet of less than of less than £37M

For more information and an application form see:


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3 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Looking back, 2009 was a brilliant year for Terra Infirma. We worked with some great new clients like the NHS, Aker Solutions Ltd, Middlesbrough Council and Innovation Scout, while continuing working with long term clients like the EU and the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme. We had our rebranding exercise to polish up our image and installed a new phone system. And our turnover kept growing, despite the ongoing recession (we also spent more on the business than ever before).

Personally, my big story was the birth of Jimmy, my second son. Coming a close second was the publication of book #1, The Three Secrets of Green Business and getting about half of #2, The Green Executive, written as well. I also launched the Green Gurus website and added profiles of 10 environmental pioneers. Hint: this could just possibly become book #3 - you read it here first.

Looking forward to 2010, we're starting with the book launch at Newcastle Business School on 28 Jan (e-mail us for details or to book a seat), and, to be confirmed, one in London soon after. As mentioned, I hope to have The Green Executive finished by June. Or July. Hopefully. Which means a publication date of Spring 2011. We are also planning to have some quality new content on the website in the Spring of this year. And of course, the Low Carbon Agenda will continue to provide unique insights, news and tips for free throughout the year - this month we'll be looking at peak oil before going on to low carbon strategy development and leadership.

The wider sustainability picture will almost certainly move on rapidly through 2010. OK, Copenhagen was a flop - or a 'Klimafarce' as the Danish press dubbed it - but it did show that the world was serious about taking on this issue - and at a Premier level, not just lip service from environmental ministries. Proactive businesses will continue to move ahead of the pack, green spending will continue to rise (as it has through the recession) and laggards will fall further behind as they lose business to greener rivals. The big questions that remain are whether the economy will be rebuilt as green as everyone claims it will be, whether green technologies will go mainstream (solar PV, electric vehicles, smart grids et al) and, here in the UK, whether the result of the general election will have any effect on this.

So what are your green goals for 2010? You could sign your organisation up to the 10:10 campaign, you could set up a staff committee, you could appoint a director level staff member to lead on green. You could set an ambitious target, develop your strategy or develop a new green product. Whatever it is, if you need some assistance, you know where to find us!

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