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May 2010 - Terra Infirma

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31 May 2010

Events, my dear boy...

I'm presenting/chairing/facilitating at a few events in the coming weeks:

1. 8 June, Sustainability in the Process Industries, Newcastle University

2. 10 June, Low Carbon Best Practice Programme, Olympia, London

3. 28 June - 9 July, Virtual Working Conference, erm, Cyberspace

And I'm hoping to be able to announce a couple more in the coming days (contractual negotiations...).

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28 May 2010

Recycling Industry PESTLE Analysis

On Tuesday I was facilitating a workshop on "closing the loop" in the North East of England. To stimulate ideas in the 'future landscape' session, I created the above PESTLE analysis (Politcal, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental). Thought it might be of use to some users (click on it and it should expand).

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26 May 2010

Setting targets - lessons from a mediocre cyclist

I'm not a hardcore cyclist - covering 60 miles on a loaded bike in a day is about my limit. But something I mulled about while cycling on Mull (ha ha) is why distance isn't always related to pain. One day I covered a modest 25 miles - and 5 miles from my destination I hit a bit of a wall and struggled for the next couple of miles. The next day I did 45 miles over terrain which was, if anything, slightly tougher, and again 5 miles out I had a bit of a wobble. So on day 2 I only felt the strain when I had covered twice as much ground as where I felt it on the first day.

The answer is obviously psychological. Day 1 I expected to be easy - a quick couple of hours dawdling along before I got some lunch in and set up tent, and was disappointed when my legs started to say "this ain't easy" before I got there. Day 2 I expected to be hard, so I prepared myself for a full day's effort, set my sights high, and sailed past the 20 mile mark with ease. By the time it started to hurt at 40 miles, I could tell myself "you've come so far already, you've done well, just these last few miles to go."

This is why I emphasise to my clients that they must stretch themselves with sustainability targets. I've seen many people set apparently easy targets and struggle to meet them - mainly because they expect success to be almost effortless (so they fail to make the effort required). If you set tough targets, you will struggle the same amount, but achieve so much more. The ambitious approach puts you and the organisation in the right frame of mind to do things properly - to make the changes you know you need to make, to budget appropriately, to target problems at source rather than at end of pipe (or, better still, turn them into opportunities).

So are you going to stretch yourself or just dawdle along?

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24 May 2010

Back again...

I had a fantastic week cycling around the Inner Hebridean Isle of Mull. I love the West Coast of Scotland - rough, tough and beautiful landscapes and wildlife combined with a really arty culture - I had my first sighting of a real iPad in a cafe in Tobemory as well as seeing a Sea Eagle taking a fish back to its nest. The weather was, um, variable - heavy rain when you're living in the world's smallest tent is not fun! (see pic right)

On the other hand, pedalling up through a beautiful glen in the sunshine with eagles overhead can't be beaten. And it was great to practice some camp craft after (too) many years of creature comfort - although I'm still no Ray Mears it has to be said.

Anyway, it is great to be back and I've got a full agenda - facilitating a recycling workshop tomorrow, giving a presentation on Sustainability in the Process Industries to IPSE in Newcastle on 8 June and a strategy workshop in London on 10 June. Plus I'm trying to get The Green Executive finished off by the end of June.

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20 May 2010

10 More Classic Sustainable Business Pitfalls

Following the first ten pitfalls, here are ten more ways to mess up your sustainability programme:

  1. Paralysis by analysis - at some point you have to close the spreadsheet and do something
  2. Put too much faith in formal processes like LCA and EIA - they often give the 'wrong' answer
  3. Ignore the elephant in the room - you need to address the big issues relating to your business
  4. Forget your business sense - you still need to make money
  5. Focus on end of pipe solutions - you need to eradicate problems at source or turn them into opportunities
  6. Assume you are immune from the sins of your supply chain
  7. Use weak, clichéd  eco-branding (no more hands cupping saplings please!)
  8. Ignore your staff - they are crucial to success
  9. Get too evangelical and switch people off
  10. Think you have 'finished'.

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17 May 2010


I'm taking a week off.

Very low carbon, you'll be glad to hear - I'm taking the train up to Oban and thence to the Island of Mull where I'll be cycling around the island and taking in some (hopefully Killer) Whale watching, doing a bit of walking etc. Weather permitting, I'll be camping too.

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13 May 2010

Does blue + yellow = green business?

This week the UK has entered unfamiliar political territory with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats forming the first coalition Government since the war. As a Lib Dem myself, I felt extremely worried at first, later moving to a state of mere wariness, but in the clear light of day now I am very pleased with the sheer number of LD policies which are heading for the statute book.

So, how does the deal stack up from a green business point of view?

Firstly, Lib Dem Chris Huhne as energy and climate change secretary is a very good thing. There are many climate change sceptics in the Tory ranks who may have tried to dilute their Leader's green tendencies - instead the balance of power has flipped the other way. Chris may appear a little grey at times, but he is hugely capable, committed and as tough as old boots.

Secondly, given the low profile that green issues had during the campaign, there is a huge list of green business-friendly policies in the Lib-Con agreement, namely:

  • The establishment of a smart grid and the roll-out of smart meters;
  • The full establishment of feed-in tariff systems in electricity – as well as the maintenance of banded ROCs;
  • Measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion;
  • The creation of a green investment bank;
  • The provision of home energy improvement paid for by the savings from lower energy bills;
  • Retention of energy performance certificates while scrapping HIPs;
  • Measures to encourage marine energy;
  • The establishment of an emissions performance standard that will prevent coal-fired power stations being built unless they are equipped with sufficient CCS to meet the emissions performance standard;
  • The establishment of a high-speed rail network;
  • The cancellation of the third runway at Heathrow and the refusal of additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted;
  • The replacement of the air passenger duty with a per-flight duty;
  • The provision of a floor price for carbon, as well as efforts to persuade the EU to move towards full auctioning of ETS permits;
  • Mandating a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles;
  • Continuation of the present government's proposals for public sector investment in CCS technology for four coal-fired power stations
  • A specific commitment to reduce central government carbon emissions by 10% within 12 months [ie the 10:10 commitment].

This is all really good, meaty and specific stuff, which many environmentalists (eg Monbiot, FoE) are praising as better than under the previous Labour Government, who always had a tendency to undermine their green proposals with an anti-green movement in the same breath (eg Low Carbon Strategy/Heathrow Expansion). Beefed up FITs, the ETS and the Green Investment Bank should really make a difference, along with the investments in particular technologies.

So the march towards a sustainable economy and society goes on. Recession or no recession, the strength of any business is increasingly going to rely on their sustainability performance. And my question, as always, remains, do you see this as an opportunity or a threat?

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12 May 2010

10 Classic Sustainability Pitfalls

Here are 10 easy ways to mess up your sustainability programme:

  1. Cause a big environmental disaster (ahem, BP...)
  2. Overstate your case and end up being accused of greenwash
  3. Expect your customers to take the pain
  4. Rely on an immature supply chain
  5. Leave 'green' in a ghetto/silo
  6. Give your sustainability staff responsibility but no authority
  7. Set no budget
  8. Expect a direct ROI on all projects
  9. Expect incremental targets will deliver more than incremental results
  10. Inconsistent and contradictory messages from the top

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10 May 2010

Of coalitions, co-operation and strange bedfellows

Here in the UK, we are in uncharted political territory. An electoral system which we are told will deliver strong Government has given us a hung parliament for the first time in decades. Negotiations are taking place between the big three parties and the smaller parties are praying for a slice of the action. The problem of course is that, while there is some common ground between them, and much more between any two of them, there remains clear disagreement on key issues like taxation, immigration, defence, civil liberties and electoral reform. The compromises that would be required to deliver a stable Government will inevitably lead to anguish and recriminations.

There is a similar position between the players in the sustainability debate. Business, green pressure groups, the media, the academic community, the general public and Governments often find themselves on different sides of a hotchpotch of different fences. We see the media going to town on recycling systems ("Nine bin nightmare" was one recent headline) and the anti-capitalist end of the NGO spectrum would see even speaking to a businessman as selling out. But there have been a number of cases of where coalitions have delivered more sustainable results.

To take one as an example, Coca-Cola and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) are working together on watershed management in the third world. This was a direct response to criticisms that Coke were depriving local communities and farmers of drinking quality water. The presence of WWF ensures that Coke does the job properly and gives the outside world confidence that Coke are serious about it. If WWF lets Coke off the hook, their own reputation would be diminished. If WWF walks away in disgust, the headlines will be terrible for Coke. So the co-operation forms an armlock on both partners to deliver results.

As UK politicians are now finding, working together ain't easy. But the Coca-Cola example shows it can not only be done, but that the whole can be much more than the sum of the parts.

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5 May 2010

Where does the environment feature in the election?

We're on the brink of a UK General Election which has been more uncertain than any in recent years. I must declare an interest here as I'm actually a candidate (a Lib Dem standing in what is on paper a safe Labour seat), but I'm not going to pitch for votes here - this blog has always been strictly non-partisan.

What is shocking however, is the almost complete lack of environmental debate in the run up. We had one question on green issues across all three televised debates. And, frankly, the pledges of the big three parties are almost interchangeable - insulating homes, electric vehicles, green collar jobs etc, etc - all good stuff, but it would nice to see some more innovation - where is the push for home working, or the priority of cycle routes in inner city areas? Even the Greens, who might have a sniff of their first seat in Brighton, have spent most of their time talking about electoral reform, cleaning up politics, public spending and other 'mainstream' topics - and even their green policies fit the same template as above, with the exception of swinging aviation taxes.

The answer is of course the same as why the budget deficit is being sidelined by the parties - no one wants to vote for pain, or anything that could be construed as pain. And with much of the media still sceptical about climate change theory, they're not exactly pushing the parties to answer the tough questions either. So it goes.

Well, I've got doors to knock on...

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3 May 2010

Lessons from Deepwater Horizon

Most people reading this will know that the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last week, killing 11 people and releasing 6 million litres of oil (so far) from the sea bed. The resulting slick is threatening wildlife, eco-systems and fisheries along hundreds of miles of the US coast.

From a business point of view, the lessons we can learn from this are:

  1. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are often not worth the paper they are written on. The Deepwater Horizon EIA suggested that the probability of such an event was minimal and, even if it did, the impact would be minor. While there is a tiny possibility that the first part of that conclusion was valid (because "stuff happens"), the second part is clearly nonsense.
  2. Oil reserves are running low - things are getting bad when we're having to pursue oil at such inaccessible depths. The peak-oil-is-bunk brigade say that technology will always deliver more oil - tell that to the good people of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. There are clear signals that it is time for all of us to start weaning ourselves off oil.
  3. If you are a multi-national, you will get the blame for problems in your supply chain. No matter that this rig was owned and operated by other companies, the US Govt, the media and the public are blaming BP as the sponsor of the operation.
  4. The old risk perception argument holds up - society will tolerate lots of little accidents, but not one big one. Maybe there are things we just shouldn't do and deep sea drilling is probably be one of them, and of course drilling in the Arctic is another.
  5. No matter how green your company is (and BP got ranked top non-US company for sustainability efforts in Green to Gold - one of the few false notes in an otherwise excellent book), a major environmental incident will kill your reputation stone dead.

You think we would have learnt from the Exxon Valdez, the Torrey Canyon, the Sea Empress etc, etc...

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