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April 2010 - Terra Infirma


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30 April 2010

We're back

The upgrade should be complete and we should be back on line. Full blogging service will resume next week!

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23 April 2010

I'll be back!

Just a quick note to say that this blog will be changing its underpinning software from Blogger to WordPress early next week. This is because Blogger is withdrawing its service that allows blogs to be hosted by users on 1 May.

The good news is that WordPress is a much superior system - so while you may not see a huge difference in the look and feel, there will be some cunning stuff going along side, include the ability to announce key blog posts on my Twitter feed.

The transfer is scheduled for Monday. The techies assure me that there shouldn't be any problems, but I've never seen a change in IT systems that doesn't incur the odd hiccup - you've been warned!

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21 April 2010

Waitrose's bags of milk flop


It was no surprise to me that Waitrose's "eco-friendly" bags of milk have not sold and, ironically, led to lots of wasted milk. Simple question for Waitrose "Who on earth would buy milk in a bag?". How do you open them without spurting milk over your kitchen floor? Why would someone put up with this to go a tiny bit greener? Just "why"?

Back to the drawing board...

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19 April 2010

Eyjafjallajoekull and all that

There are two types of natural disaster - the ones that we can cause like landslides from deforestation, sea level rises from climate change, or deadly smogs from air pollution, and the big geological disasters like volcanos and earthquakes that we have no control over. The former we have to mitigate their likelihood and adapt to their impacts, the latter we can only adapt to.

The newspapers here in the UK are dominated by the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajoekull volcano and its plume of ash which has grounded flights across northern Europe - much more coverage than the devastating earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and China, it should be noted. A detail that has passed many by is that while we do have a network of nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres around the world, we seem completely unprepared for how to deal with closed skies. Fruit and veg is rotting in airports rather than being freighted to Europe, manufacturers with Just In Time supply chains are tearing their hair out, and about a million Brits are stranded abroad.

Nature is famously resilient to short term shocks. Trees will survive explosions which demolish houses, by bending instead of resisting. We have the technology to build earthquake proof houses, yet continue to build rigid homes on earthquake zones around the world (often demolishing more resilient traditional constructions in the the name of progress). The only resilience we have seen in the face of the volcano has been a surge in video conferencing.

There is a story (possibly apocryphal) that the internet was designed to be resilient to nuclear strikes in the US, by automatically routing data through surviving paths. I think we need to design all our systems along similar lines rather than relying on a single route or a single style of housing working everywhere. And we need to get our adaptation to climate change started very soon.

Resilience. It's the future.

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15 April 2010

Sustainability in the Service Sector - video

Sustainability in the Service Sector from Gareth Kane on Vimeo.

Here's an extended clip from the Service Network event I did back in February. This will soon be on permanent display on this site.

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13 April 2010

Are you part of the problem...

...or part of the solution?

I've been working with a number of clients recently who were focussing on how they could reduce their impact on the environment, that they hadn't fully grasped that they could be part of a much wider solution. One, a major engineering firm, had already realised that they could have a role designing parts of the low carbon economy, but as we explored a little further, we realised that they could have a role in climate change adaptation as well - not just one new market but two.

I come across this again and again, whether it's legal firms specialising in low carbon investments or training companies delivering "green collar skills", the range of companies that can be part of the new economy is vast. Is there room in that economy for you?

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9 April 2010

Sustainability Model

I've uploaded clips from my presentation to the Service Network back in February up onto YouTube - here's me explaining the sustainability maturity model - you can check out the rest here.

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6 April 2010

Book Review: Confessions of a Radical Industrialist by Ray Anderson

This book seemed to take an age to get published in the UK, and I had it on pre-order as soon as I knew it was coming as, in terms of green business leadership, Ray Anderson is the Guv'nor. His company, Interface, is the least likely champion of green business that you could imagine - they are the world's biggest manufacturer of carpet tiles, made from oil-based chemicals using huge amounts of energy and producing tonnes of toxic waste - if they can do it, anyone can.

Anderson first wrote a book, Mid-Course Correction, in 1998 describing his decision to turn Interface into a sustainable company back in 1994 and this book, he says, is an update of that journey from the point of view of ten years later. The title of the first book comes from Anderson's epiphany on a flight reading Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce. He had been given the book after struggling with the question "What is Interface doing about the environment?".

The answer was the radical Mission Zero - the like of which I have seen nowhere else - to have a zero ecological footprint by 2020. Yes, zero. In order to achieve this, Interface developed the idea of "Mount Sustainability" which has seven faces - all of which have to be climbed:

1. Zero waste
2. Eliminating emissions and effluent
3. Renewable energy
4. Recycled or renewable materials
5. Making transport resource efficient
6. Sensitizing stakeholders
7. Redesigning commerce

There are too many examples of how they have progressed on these faces to list here, but here are a couple of my favourites:

• turning the perceived cost of installing solar energy in one factory - enough to cover the whole supply chain's carbon emissions - into a business opportunity. The result: a new product, Solar-Made carpet, which has won huge public sector contracts.
• developing a new carpet fixing tape, inspired by the tiny hairs that allow geckos' feet to cling to any surface, to eliminate the need for glue and make the carpet easier to recover.
• using landfill gas to heat one of their factories and cut methane emissions
• the "entropy" carpet tile, again inspired by nature - this time leaves on a forest floor, which can be laid in any direction.

Interface isn't afraid to fail either. Their much talked about "Evergreen" carpet leasing service (part of face 7) was a marketplace failure - mainly because their customer's financial systems and the US tax system couldn't cope with carpet being a revenue item rather than a capital item.

If I have to criticise anything about the book, it is that the writing itself is a bit clunky in places and threads sometimes get lost. For example, in the chapter "One small digression and six lessons" I could only count two lessons, and the biographical nature of the first few chapters suddenly disappears until the end, giving a slightly uneven tone. A very minor criticism, but a bit more polish would make the message so much more compelling.

But in summary, Interface is my No 1 green business and this book goes a long way to explaining how Anderson and his team did it - so, buy it, read it, buy a copy for your colleagues!

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1 April 2010

Ethical Questions

I've been working on a chapter of The Green Executive covering personal and corporate values. This is probably the trickiest chapter of all as personal values are by definition subjective. As corporate values flow from personal values, the subjectivity flows with them. I'm an engineer by education, so I like things to be objective and it takes me a while to frame subjective issues properly - many industrialists have the same problem.

Here are some ethical questions when it comes to going green:

• To what extent are you responsible for your staff?
• To what extent are you responsible for the well being of people working in your supply chain?
• To what extent are you responsible for the environmental performance of your supply chain?
• To what extent are you responsible for the well being of people using your product?
• To what extent are you responsible for the environmental or social impacts of your product in use?
• To what extent are you responsible for the safe disposal of your product?
• Are stakeholders in your product’s lifecycle treated equally well irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, gender, disability or income?
• Is it OK to make a profit from the impacts of climate change?
• Is it OK to make a profit from tackling climate change?
• Is it OK to make a profit from the poor?
• How ‘green’ or ‘ethical’ does a product or service have to be before you can sell it as such?

Tricky, aren't they. I can't give you the answer, either, you've got to decide for yourself!

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