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March 2010 - Terra Infirma

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30 March 2010

We're coming over all web 2.0...

As part of the upgrades to the site, we're going deeper into the world of web 2.0. I now have a Twitter account and a 'professional' Facebook account (as distinct from the one where me and my mates banter over nonsense) as well as my existing LinkedIn account. Over the next couple of weeks these should be integrated to maximise the amount of free services we provide.

So, please, connect, follow, make friends, whatever!

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26 March 2010

Really Stupid Designs

You don't have to look far to see plenty of examples of designs that are really stupid from an ecological point of view. Take the humble hand-drier, here are some incredibly inept installations I have come across in recent years:

1. The drier being so close to the toilet door that you couldn't either enter or leave the room without setting it off, unless you were a contortionist. Result - the heater and fan motor kick in three times per visit. Good planning.
2. On a train, in one of these new-fangled all-in-one sink systems, I managed to get the tap and the drier to operate at the same time, so the latter was trying to dry a stream of water. Brilliant.
3. In a combined towel dispenser/drier/bin, you couldn't put a used paper towel in the bin without triggering the drier, drying your already dry hands. Genius.
I'm sure you could think of many more examples in other applications (post them in the comments if you do). We sometimes get caught up in a muddle trying to develop breakthrough new green products, but I can't help thinking there's a lot to be gained by simply eliminating really stupid design.

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24 March 2010

What's a Green Investment Bank?

With today's UK Governmental budget expected to be all doom and gloom, one green diamond in the murk could be Mr Darling's well trailed Green Investment Bank. If you, like me, are wondering what such a bank might look like and operate, the Guardian has a useful compendium of opinions here. We shall have to wait and see what Mr Darling has in his red box...

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22 March 2010

When does Greenwash start and end?

The word greenwash came up quite a lot during my various presentations and discussions last week. The Cambridge Dictionary definition of greenwash is:

"to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is"

The conversation came up because the conclusion of my business case model is that many organisations are trying to reap the 'higher level' benefits like winning more business using strategies that are designed for cost cutting. As an example I quoted a client who had turned down a project which would have been a great green marketing opportunity but had no economic return in favour of a backroom project which would have a much bigger environmental benefit and an economic return.

My point was that, if they had gone with the former project they would have engaged more of the public and communicated their message better than 100 sustainability reports. "Is that not greenwash?" they asked. "Is boasting about a project which gives an economic return not greenwash?" I countered, tongue in cheek.

The answer is you can pretty much accuse anything of being greenwash - and many people on the anti-capitalist fringe of the green movement do. So all green marketing is fraught with danger.

My advice is:

  • Never, ever overstate what you are doing.
  • Don't ignore the elephant in the room - if you produce persistent and bioaccumulative pesticides, no-one is going to be impressed with your office paper recycling system.
  • Don't tell people you are green, rather show them what you have done and let them make up their own mind.
  • Balance backroom projects with 'shop window' projects - so you can engage your customers/the wider public.
  • If you are really clever you can use the 'economic' projects to finance the 'non-economic' projects.

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19 March 2010

What a week!

Finally back in Terra Infirma Towers after a whirlwind week, particularly yesterday where I travelled from London to York, gave a presentation on the business case for sustainability and sustainability strategy to the Sustainability Committee of a major client, then got two hours at home before heading off to the business awards.

My hosts Muckle LLP were runners up in the CSR stakes - I was gutted for them as I thought they deserved to win and not just because I was sitting with them. Following the Service Nework event I did last month, I wrote a short piece on the business case for service sector companies to go green and featured Muckle as a case study. They're also featuring in the Green Executive.

The business awards themselves were very glitzy - all pounding music, video clips and sparkling, swirling lights. Keynote speaker was TV presenter Tom Gutteridge who told a fascinating anecdote about Jeremy Clarkson came within three inches of getting decapitated by a flying saw blade in the first series of Robot Wars (a guilty pleasure of mine - Robot Wars that is, not Clarkson dodging death).

Anyway, back to the grindstone - while I was away another project got the green light and I've pinned down another couple of interviewees for The Green Executive. Happy days!

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17 March 2010

Base 2010: Day 2

Unexpected pleasure last night - steady on - an organic/biodynamic wine tasting session hosted by Sommelier of the Year 2009, Laura Rhys. None of this swishing and spitting nonsense either - not a drop of this wine went to waste. With two young kids, I've got out of practice of handling drink on an empty stomach, so afterwards I had a quick dinner and retired to my room with a lemonade and a book...

No ill effects this morning, so I went running again, this time over to the Thames Barrier and its park before coming back over the Victoria Dock Bridge (see pic - and, yes, I did run up the stairs).

First up this morning was Ed Miliband MP, UK Climate Change and Energy Secretary. Like his brother before him, he was very clued up as to the issues and fairly honest about Government efforts. I say 'fairly' as I asked him how he squared his excellent Copenhagen "Martin Luther King didn't say 'I had a nightmare'" line (which he repeated here) with his department's 'nightmare fairy tales' TV adverts. He said it had been cleared by the Advertising Standards Agency when they had in fact criticised one or two elements. Tut tut. His answer was a bit evasive too, saying we needed to warn of both the dream and the nightmare.

Mid-morning I delivered the 'Three Secrets' presentation to a small-ish but very responsive audience - great questions (remember you can see a previous version of this here). I followed this with a lengthy discussion over coffee about the Green Executive with Earthscan, then some chats in the VIP enclave - I'm finding some of these conversations more rewarding than the formal sessions.

But I did break out again to go and see Vince Cable, Lib Dem shadow chancellor and the most respected politician in the UK. I knew he had worked for Shell, but I didn't realise he had participated in the Brundtland Report or an early international political investigation of climate change. He was very realistic on the impact the recession was having on sustainability and sketched out some ways of getting back on track, particularly making the EU Emissions Trading Scheme work as it should. But he had some gloomy things to say about the state of the economy and the consequences.

Another great day!

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16 March 2010

Base 2010: Day 1

The first thing I saw this morning was the sight of two swans skimming low over the Royal Victoria Dock outside my hotel window - the dock is so huge I at first assumed it was the Thames itself. I went for a jog and found that just outside the immediate and somewhat sterile bubble of the Excel conference centre and its cluster of hotels and restaurants, the real East End of London is alive and well - fishmongers unloading their vans, small chemical works and some old traditional mills - all with a rough around the edges charm.

The Base 2010 event itself is very well organised, but the organisers were dwelt a blow by the gods of transport, and the first session by Bjorn Stigson (of WBCSD) had about three times as many people in it at the end that at the start. There was a surreal moment jsut before kick-off where I realised I was surrounded by dozens of people all leafing through my book. Stigson gave a very clear view of the enormity of the task ahead of us.

I'm trying to ration the sessions I attend to avoid powerpoint overload, so I keep retiring to the funky little VIP area with its air-hostess hostesses (it's sponsored by Qatar Airlines), leather furniture and complimentary food and drink.

The second session I went to was about the business case for sustainable development. There were some great contributions from Paul Turner of Lloyds TSB, John Elkington (founder of SustainAbility), Stephen Howard of Business and the Community and Peter White of P&G.; Interestingly in the latter, when the executive in charge of sustainability, Bob McDonald, was promoted to CEO, he insisted on keeping the sustainability portfolio. There were so many quotable lines from this talk I can't put them all in this post, but several will be added to the Green Executive, but it was (guess who) P&G;'s "no trade offs" approach to sustainability that stuck in my mind - great product AND great environmental performance, never 'OR'.

After lunch I facilitated a round table discussion on, again, the business case for sustainability. We had a great conversation based around my model and how it applied in different cases - from finance to plastic bags by way of legal services. Who would have thought that there was a distinct market for legal advice on renewables?

After that I retired for a glass of red wine from the Qatar ladies (it's tough at the top) and to write this. More tomorrow!

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15 March 2010

London bound!

Shooting down the east coast of England once again before the Base 2010 show tomorrow. First class seat with plenty of space, so I've just been finishing this month's Low Carbon Agenda and sorting out a presentation for a client board presentation in York on my way back up on Thursday.

On Thursday night I'm a guest of lawyers Muckle LLP at the Tyneside & Northumberland Business Awards 2010 where Muckle are hoping to pick up the CSR gong. It's a black tie do, and I've only got an hour or two at home to get into the penguin suit and remember how to tie a bowtie (hint: there are some YouTube videos that are much more useful than the infernal line drawings you get with the things).

I will be rooting for Muckle on the night, not just because they've invited me, but because they're really good at making "green" in a smallish service sector business - I've certainly pinched a couple of ideas off them. Service director Julie Parr features amongst the interviewees in The Green Executive and I've used them as a case study elsewhere too.

Speaking of The Green Executive, the book proposal and two sample chapters went to the publishers last week and I've now got to get on with polishing up Chapters 3-18. I'm really pleased with how it is looking and the initial feedback is very positive.

Finally, the techies will be transferring this blog from Blogger to WordPress as the former is stopping the particular service we use. So if it all goes a bit off kilter in the next couple of weeks, fear not, all will be fixed in due course.

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12 March 2010

Low Carbon Business Seminar - feedback

It was a long trundle on the train down to Birmingham on Wednesday, and a longer one back, for the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange (bring on high speed rail!). But the environmental strategy session went great. I tried out my business case model on the participants and it did a really good job of getting the message across - if you want the higher benefits then you can't expect a direct ROI (you'll probably get one, but don't aim for one...). The message came back loud and clear from delegates - new business is the priority and you could see the penny drop about investment decisions (more on this in this month's Low Carbon Agenda).

In the second half of the seminar we looked at forecasting and backcasting approaches. I challenged the participants to create a vision of their business in 2020 - a tall order - and it really made them think. The best answer was a bit of a cheat as it came from the lady from Hilton hotels and it was pinched from their subsidiary Scandic - "if you stay in our hotel, you footprint will be smaller than if you stayed at home". Genius - relevant, understandable and clear. The great thing is that Scandic have already achieved it.

The other session I attended was about business opportunities in the Low Carbon Economy. It was a good discussion, but I broke my promise to listen 10 times more than talk...

Well worth the trundle!

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11 March 2010

Details for BASE 2010 sessions

The two sessions I'll be giving at Base 2010 show in London 16/17th March:

14:00 Tues Round Table:
">The Business Case for Sustainability

11.00am Wed: South Gallery Room 6, The Three Secrets of Green Business - presentation and book signing

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10 March 2010

Three Secrets Book Launch Video

The Three Secrets of Green Business from Gareth Kane on Vimeo.

Here's a lengthy extract from the Newcastle book launch for The Three Secrets of Green Business. We'll be upgrading the site this month to find this video and at at least one other a permanent home here. But in the meantime - enjoy!

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9 March 2010


If anyone has seen in the press that I'll be speaking at the Green Tourism event in Durham on 18th March, I'm afraid there has been a mix up - I won't be on the bill as I have to be elsewhere - crossed wires to blame...


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8 March 2010

People Power

I've just seen a quote on marketeer Seth Godin's blog, attributed to Carnegie:

"Take away my people, but leave my factories and soon grass will grow on the factory floors......Take away my factories, but leave my people and soon we will have a new and better factory."

There seems to be two approaches to sustainability - technology oriented and people oriented - and I always believe that the AND is important - you have to do both (hence my brainstorming tool).

But fundamentally everything is about people. People create technology, people implement technology, people operate technology. When a resource has a cost - that is a societal (peoples') value - you could argue that nature would put a higher value on a kilo of dung than a kilo of gold. So we always have to look at sustainability through the human lens.

I have a saying: the barrier to sustainability is six inches wide - the width of the space between our ears.

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5 March 2010

TED: The Science behind a Climate Headline

This TED talk was given last summer before the CRU/IPCC furore and it gives an insight into how painstaking the science behind climate predictions actually is.

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3 March 2010

Time for a change...

... if you've squeezed every efficiency out of a system, but you still aren't where you want to be, then you need to change the system!

Secret No 3 of The Three Secrets of Green Business is about making a series of huge leaps to align your systems and processes towards sustainability while making continual incremental improvements in between. The latter will only take you so far before you have to make another huge leap.

The key is in making sure each leap will lead to the goal and not up a cul-de-sac. I use 'backcasting' with clients to make sure all leaps forward take you in the right direction.

Backcasting will help you decide what to do. Another big strategic question is what are we not going to do? The best organisations kill off products, services and processes which are holding them back. That takes real guts.

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1 March 2010

Low Carbon Business Seminar - 10 March 2010

It is continuing to be a busy year for events and conferences.

Next week finds me at the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange in Birmingham leading a round table on developing a long term strategy.

The week after I'll be doing a round table on the business case for sustainability and a seminar on The Three Secrets of Green Business (with book signing session after) at the Base 2010 conference in London (if you want a 20% discount, check out TLCA #25).

There are also negotiations going on about another couple of events, but I'm having to balance client needs vs speaking to wider audiences.

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