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February 2010 - Terra Infirma

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26 February 2010

The Opportunities Pyramid

I've developed the above model to communicate the levels of benefit that "going green" can deliver. Underpinning the whole thing is compliance - if you don't get this right then the whole thing can come tumbling down. One level above that is direct economic benefits - in particular cost cutting but also retaining value in assets and reducing the risk of non-compliance by providing a margin of error.

If you raise you sights above this level then you are in a minority, but a very wise minority. The first set of benefits in this rarified atmosphere are internal but intangible - recruiting, retaining and motivating the best staff for the business. Above that is all the new business you will win through beating the competition - as we have seen, companies who focus too much on the cost level (ie expecting a good direct ROI) could miss out on this level of benefits. The business people who understand this will be at a considerable advantage over their less enlightened competitors.

And lastly, at the very top, for a minority of businesses there are some rather large new and emerging markets to exploit.

BTW, in Tuesday's webinar, Deborah was explaining the cost and staff levels and I covered the branding/differentiation and new markets.

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24 February 2010

Tuesday's Earthcast

The Earthcast went really well yesterday with an audience of over 120 from all around the world. Deborah Carlson of the Suzuki Foundation kicked off with the case for cost reduction and staff engagement. I followed that up by looking at new and emerging business opportunities in the low carbon economy. Good questions too - some really stretching my geographical knowledge!

If you want to listen to the event again, click here.

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23 February 2010

Reminder - Webinar tonight

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

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22 February 2010

The True Cost of non-Compliance

I've long written, lectured and broadcast about the true cost of waste. Most businesses simply measure the cost of disposal, but to have something to throw away, you first need to have bought it, processed it and segregated it from non-waste - all of which costs. If it is waste product then you also need to factor in the cost of disruption to the production system to fulfill orders and the opportunity cost of not being able to sell it (or the cost of producing a replacement).

There are similar hidden costs to non-compliance with environmental legislation. The full cost can consist of many or all of:

1. Fines - for some companies these can go into 8 figures;

2. Remediation costs - then BP polluted groundwater in Leagrave, the remediation cost 40 times more than the fine;

3. PR/Brand damage - Union Carbide never recovered from the Bhopal disaster and DOW who bought the flailing company out still attracts flack from activists.

4. Disruption to business - Sony had a shipment of Playstations impounded by the Dutch authorities for having too high a level of cadmium. The resulting disruption has been estimated to be between $90-160m.

So, while I'm always urging clients to go way beyond compliance (which reduces the risk of non-compliance by removing hazards at source), I still emphasise - you'd better make sure you stay compliant too.

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19 February 2010

Audi Green Police Ad

This ad for the Audi A3 was shown during the Superbowl in the US and has kicked up a real kerfuffle. I can't decide whether it is reprehensible or genius. It has certainly got the green lobby's nose out of joint with its satire on the perceived self-righteousness of the "eco-police", but going back to John Grant's definition of Green Marketing - it's about making green look normal. This ad is aimed at people who are in the middle third of the green market segments - those who might buy green, but not as a default - by trying to persuade them that this green product is a good product full stop. From this point of view it works.

I still find it a little annoying though...


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17 February 2010

Tuesday Training

Yesterday I was on the trains again, this time down to York to train environmental champions for a public transport company. It was another beautiful early morning - this time misty where Monday was crystal clear, Durham Cathedral appeared lit golden behind the rising and evaporating trails of fog. The two sessions went well and the feedback good.

Since Monday, I've been mulling on an insight from Martin Blake of Royal Mail - what book value will high carbon buildings and infrastructure have in 5 or 10 years? Who will want to buy a 'dirty legacy'? This applies to today's client as well, although I'd thrown so much new stuff (ecological footprinting, carbon footprinting, climate change, sustainability, energy management etc) at the poor attendees that I thought this was one driver I would omit. As I write The Green Executive, I'm finding that sustainability is running deeper and deeper into the core of every organisation - everytime I think I've got it, there's another new angle. That's what I love about this job!

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15 February 2010

Beautiful Monday Morning

I'm on a fast train to Glasgow, streaking up the Northumberland coastal plain. We've just passed Holy Island, its castle and monastic remains beautifully lit across the bay by early morning sun and as I type we're rolling up to the spectacular viaduct at Berwick (whose claim to fame is being the answer to a hundred pub quiz questions). I'm off to interview Martin Blake of Royal Mail for the Green Executive - I'm now coming close to the number of interviews I need, so I'm having to choose carefully to cover all the main sectors and sizes of business.

The book is really coming together and I'm aiming to get a proposal to the publishers by the end of the month. The rationale behind it is that 'green' has now risen from an operational/managerial issue to a core corporate strategy. This angle requires a whole new skill set for corporate leaders and business owners. For example, the current section I'm working on is about complementing innovative new green products by killing off old non-green products - even if they are popular. Decisions like that have to made at the top and may go against traditional thinking. But if you are going to do 'green' you've got to do it properly.

Well I've crossed the border and the train has swung away from the sea, so I'd better get back to my edits.

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12 February 2010

The Office of the Future

It was a good session on Sustainability in the Service Network yesterday (apart from the techies losing my slide template between our run through and the real thing 10 minutes later...). It's always a little difficult to say exciting things about office based businesses and sustainability - most of them don't have control over their building and duplex printing is hardly earth shattering. So I tease them by trailing the picture above as "the office of the future".

I then have to caveat that I don't mean working outside per se (although it is lovely when I can do it), but working from home. I operate out of a well appointed home office. By doing this, I cut an hour's commute each way to work - less carbon, less stress, more time with the family. Also there isn't a heated/air-conditioned office building waiting for me somewhere (and the last building I worked in, the air con and the heat were often blazing away simultaneously but that's a long story). If I do put the heating on, that heat is used in the evening by the whole family rather than dissipating out of an empty office.

Wider than that are a whole range of other environmental and social benefits - contracted action space ie I use local amenities, those amenities are strengthened to encourage others to use them, I'm more likely to walk or cycle when I do travel, and I speak to my neighbours more leading to a closer community and reduced crime rates. A big shift to flexible working will kill the nightmare of the dormitory town.

Trust me, it's the future!

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10 February 2010

Bloody Toyota!

Toyota owners must be furious with the current recalls to fix serious problems across their range. I'm furious for a different (and non-life threatening) reason as in my talks I use Toyota as an example of:

1. An iconic green(ish) product - The Prius (now being recalled).

2. A green(ish) company beating the old GM (with their dirty Hummer) to the #1 motor manufacturer slot - triggering a green overhaul in GM. Do you think Toyota will be #1 next year?

3. The company's Total Quality Management/Toyota Production System as a model on which to develop into a sustainable company. And then they foul up on, you guessed it, quality.

The gist of the points I'm making hasn't changed, but it is harder to make the case when the company is under such disgrace.

There's a lesson in here for green companies - no matter how well you build your case and your brand, one slip and it can all come tumbling down.

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8 February 2010

London Book Reception (& other book stuff)

Another successful, if smaller, reception for The Three Secrets of Green Business in London last Thursday night. A slightly different mix of friends, colleagues, business folk, journalists and interested others showed up. Thanks must go to LBi for providing the venue, and publishers Earthscan for their contribution to refreshments and for tidying up afterwards (as I was dragged off for a celebratory Brick Lane curry).

Interesting questions again - the killer being "in what timeframe should companies act?" That's a really hard one to answer as some sectors can re-invent themselves in a couple of years if not months (eg smart phones, web 2.0) whereas others take decades to transform (eg the energy sector). I usually suggest to clients that they aim to transform themselves over a 5-10 year period, as I find this to be far enough in the future to consider major changes, but not so far ahead that people make unrealistic assumptions about technology. The guy who asked the question pointed out that in Japan 30 year planning is perfectly normal and suggested that's what we should be pursuing in the West. I'll have to mull on that one as it asks all sorts of questions about culture differences.

I also found time in London to interview Jim Hagan, CSR supremo at GSK, for The Green Executive, and have a meeting with the organiser of the Business and Sustainable Environment (BASE) conference in March. I'll be doing a couple of sessions at the latter and I hope to be able to offer a discount to partners and subscribers to The Low Carbon Agenda.

It was really nice to find 5 minutes to drop into Blackwell's on Charing Cross Road and see The Three Secrets on the shelves for the first time (although I had to remind myself that they didn't belong to me despite having my name on the cover). Blackwell's had 4 shelves of green business/CSR books, so the competition is heating up. As an aside, now I'm in the market, I've decided that it would be a conflict of interest to review similar books here in the future - particularly as I can be a rather harsh critic. So book reviews will be limited to books related to business and sustainability but which have a different focus.

Lastly, the local press did a nice piece on the book (and me) on Saturday.

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5 February 2010

USBCell Bunny Viral

Simon Daniel of Moixa Energy, an old college compatriot of mine, has invented these cool USB rechargeable batteries. Moixa's viral video gives you a flavour...

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3 February 2010


It seems that, by some sort of intergalactic law, every blogger on earth has to use Apple's new iPad as the subject of a blog post, no matter how tenuous the link. Well I'm not going to be buying an iPad anytime soon as my iPhone and MacBook Pro cover all my Applacholic cravings. But I do find that my iPhone in particular is a fantastic tool with many green attributes - and I'm not just talking about Apple's shiny new green image.

It's more the flexibility and adaptability of the device. When I started interviewing people for The Green Executive last summer, I thought "I'll need a voice recorder". No need - a cheap app covers all my requirements - no extra stuff required. Likewise the dictionary, maps, train timetables etc etc - never mind the fact that I don't need a separate iPod/MP3 player/organiser or anything else ever. And I rarely buy music in a physical format any more.

I had the opposite problem when my 3 wireless broadband 1st year offer came to an end. I had two choices - go on a monthly tariff with the existing dongle which would work out as £180, or, ditch the old one and get a new one (materials, embodied energy, packaging, documentation, SIM) with a year's free use for £80. What a stupid and unsustainable business model - more stuff costs 44% of the price of no extra stuff and encourages me to consider rival options.

From the sublime to the ridiculous...

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1 February 2010

Questions, Questions

My (soon to be) three year old is starting to assert his independence. This morning there was a big row because I forgot to let him carry the Weetabix box to the breakfast table. Howls of outrage resulted. How did I get him to calm down? I asked him "how many Weetabix would you like?".

The secret is in the very last character of that last sentence - the question mark.

It's not just children who respond to the calming effect of being asked a question. I use the technique to deal with all sorts of situations and it is great for dealing with recalcitrant staff when implementing environmental strategies. A question is non-threatening, flatters your companion, and engages them in conversation.

Look at these pairs to see how the question version is more persuasive than the declaration:

"We must go green! Everyone is doing it!" vs "How are we going to compete against green rivals?"

"We must cut waste!" vs "How can we cut our energy, waste and water bills? Any ideas?"

"Pollution incidents must be eradicated!" vs "What are the implications of a pollution incident?"

It works, doesn't it?

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