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June 2010 - Terra Infirma

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30 June 2010

Green Behaviour vs Green Technology

Politicians love green technology - they can portray a bright new future, with millions of jobs created in high tech industries producing clean energy, efficient devices and low emission vehicles. Many green activists, however, are unconvinced, suspicious of "technofixes", and keen to point out the limitations of, say, first generation biofuels. Consumer culture is to blame for our predicament, they believe, and we can't buy our way out of our environmental problems.

Few politicians will enthusiastically play the green austerity card. Asking people to turn down the thermostat and put on another jumper is not a vote winner. Green taxation, the big behavioural change weapon in the political armoury, is widely seen as form of stealth tax, and other interventions as unwarranted meddling in our affairs. "£300 on the cost of a family holiday!" and "A slop bucket in every house!" are two recent lurid headlines from the UK press in response to perfectly sensible Government proposals.

So, what is the answer?

As is so often the case, the 'OR' argument - "technology OR behaviour" - is a false one. 'OR' arguments are usually framed in a very narrow way which obscures the really effective solutions. We require technology AND behavioural change. What's more, the two are synergistic - technology can facilitate and encourage green behaviour, but technology won't be a success unless consumers are prepared to embrace it.

For example, we could frame commuting options as "driving OR public transport". Our technophiles will say "buy a low emissions car" and the technophobes will say "take the bus". But the best solution is not to take the journey at all - telecommuting. Telecommuting, aka working from home, has become possible because of information and communications technology AND it is a massive change in normal work patterns and habits. Likewise it is a rapid uptake of technology that is driving the dematerialisation of media consumption as we increasingly get our music, books, films, games and newspapers electronically. In the era of Spotify, the 'OR' argument, "buy a CD OR listen to the radio", has become redundant.

So, the big challenge is to find the 'AND' solutions - where we readily change our behaviour because the greener technologies are not seen so much as "green", but as vibrant, sexy, cool ways to lead our lives.

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28 June 2010

Fear of Failure: Soccer & Sustainability

Another World Cup, another round of disappointment, anger and dismay as a group of individually talented English players fail to play to their potential and crash out. As a non-Englishman living in England, my diagnosis is that the England team have always feared losing too much to play properly and then, paradoxically, they do lose. No-one ever seems to want the ball and, when they get it, they seem desperate to offload it asap, often in a square pass to a team-mate who is in a similar or worse position. All too often, those passes are hit without conviction and fall short, giving the opposition a clear run at goal.

Of course, fear of failure pervades much human endeavour. One of the key challenges in sustainability is dragging organisations away from the comfort blanket of 'business as usual'. Despite what they claim in their glossy corporate reports, few businesses are truly innovative when it comes to tackling their environmental performance. Going back to our football analogy, instead of firing long, raking passes into space on the wings to give their side forward momentum (as the German team did so beautifully yesterday), they knock the ball back and forward in a congested midfield until they lose it. Business as usual may feel safe, but as BP are finding out just at the minute, it eventually becomes a liability.

Within organisations, it is really hard to drag people away from what they know - people keep doing what they have been doing for decades, many manufacturing processes haven't changed fundamentally in a century and we get the same old same old. What we need of course, is a whole raft of disruptive innovation - approaches that redefine the way we do business or even live. Apple's iPad could have been a complete flop - it was an innovative product, fulfilling needs people didn't know they had, but Steve Jobs and his team of wizards are bold, talented and confident enough to make it work.

Are there businesses out there that will step up to the plate on sustainability, providing us with clean energy, new ways of working, new ways of flourishing within natural limits? Yes there are, and, without fear of failure, they will be the winners.

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Posted by Gareth Kane 2 responses

25 June 2010

Chris Jofeh on Green Buildings

On Monday I interviewed Chris Jofeh of Arup for the Green Executive. This was a real milestone as it is the last of the 18 interviews for the book, some 13 months after the first one - it is also the last piece of the jigsaw. Now I've got to get 72,000 words polished up to publication standard - no inspiration, pure perspiration.

Chris was a brilliant interviewee and a true gentleman. He's a director of Arup with responsibility for refurbishing existing buildings. One of his key insights was:

"new [green] buildings just slow the rate at which things get worse: they don’t actually make it better. Tackling existing buildings makes it better."

It is often quoted that 80% of buildings in 2050 have already been built so there is a huge job to be done. Some of those are even more challenging than others - many, like the one I'm sat in as I type, are pre-1914 constructions with solid walls and an air-permeable design - if you stop up all the air flows, the building rots. Chris says he done the sums and such a mass refurbishment is affordable, but only if it is done at scale - the current piecemeal approach is making retro-fitting look disproportionately expensive.

Chris is a strong believer that sustainable design is just good design. This goes back to Ove Arup, the firm's founder and his concept of "Total Architecture":

“The term ‘Total Architecture’ implies that all relevant design decisions have been considered together and have been integrated into a whole by a well organized team empowered to fix priorities.”

Sir Ove Arup, 1970

He illustrated this with a wonderful piece of innovative problem solving. Arup was called in to look at a London building where traffic noise meant the windows had to be kept shut and air con used 24/7. Instead of redesigning the system, Arup simply put a decorative glass acoustic screen in which cut the traffic noise enough to allow people to open their windows. Cool.

If you want more, you'll have to wait for the book - probably next Spring.

BTW: speaking of books, I have now set up resources on LinkedIn and Facebook for The Three Secrets of Green Business - check them out - I'll be posting fresh content on a regular basis.

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23 June 2010

Free Green Business Workshops, July 2010

Gareth KaneNext month I'll be delivering two workshops on behalf of Business Link in the North East of England. Here are the details:

The Secrets of a Successful Green Business

Wed 21 July, 1.30-4.30 - Thistle County Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne

Thu 22 July, 1.30-4.30 - Wynyard Rooms, Billingham, Teesside

Participants will learn:

  • A thorough understanding of the real business case for going green
  • What a successful green business looks like
  • How to go green in organisational and technical terms
  • How to adapt to climate change risks*

As with all my workshops, the sessions will be highly interactive and practical. Every attendee with leave with an action plan for their business.

(* This session will be taken by Gareth Williams of BITC)

To sign up to either session, you need to register with Business Link's event organisers, BtoB, e-mail or ring 0191 2815777.

"That's the best workshop I've ever been on."

- participant feedback from a previous session

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21 June 2010

When the school run is just that...

I love working from home. I got up this morning, pulled on my running gear, had breakfast with the family, walked the two boys to nursery, ran 4.5 miles up and down the gorgeous Jesmond Dene, grabbed a glass of water, put 6Music on the radio and sat down to write this. As I crossed the couple of main roads en route, I saw visions of my old commuting self, hot and harassed behind the wheel, trying to beat the lights and tapping a finger impatiently as pedestrians use the crossings.

I've mentioned before how I tease audiences about the office of the future, but the question remains: why do we office workers still operate as if we are making pins in some 19th Century dark satanic mill? We have the technology to do everything we do in the office at home: broadband, laptops, mobile phones, home office phone systems, Skype, kettles. I have a view of the river valley out the back of our house, there's no air con, no presenteeism and no annoying office clowns. What's not to like?

The biggest complaints I hear from those who have dipped their toe in the water are loneliness and procrastination. For people living alone loneliness could be a problem, but easily solved. Facebook is my watercooler - and I get to choose who I banter with, likewise I can lunch with friends and family. Procrastination I don't find a problem - in fact I find it easier to waste time clock watching in a cube-farm than at home.

The big question is management. I'm my own boss, so that's not a problem in my case - but in bigger organisations, managers will have to a move from an hours-based management process to a results based one. It's the 21st Century -surely a world that can give us the iPhone can develop the skills to manage someone who happens to be out of their sight line.

Offices? They're so last century.

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18 June 2010

Terra Infirma News Round Up

It has been a busy and eventful week here at Terra Infirma Towers. Here are some of the highlights:

1. We are able to offer two days FREE waste consultancy to one (and one only) small/medium sized business (height restrictions apply). If you want to know more, get in touch asap as we are contacting a number of likely candidates directly.

2. I'm doing two FREE workshops on 21/22 July on behalf of Business Link - more details next week.

3. Don't forget the FREE Virtual Working Summit 28 June - 9 July. My slot on virtual working and sustainability will be on 6 July.

4. I'm probably doing two on-line events in August on aspects of a low carbon business. More details when I have them, but there will probably be a small charge.

5. I've been offered a book contract by the award winning environmental specialists Earthscan for my second book, The Green Executive. I'm flat out editing and tweaking - I've got about 70,000 words, I just need to get them into the right order. I'm doing the last of the 18 interviews for the book on Monday. Estimated publication date: April 2011.

6. UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman singled the company out for praise in a newspaper article.

Phew! Have a good weekend - I will!

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16 June 2010

Never Forget Compliance

When I put together my model of the business case for sustainability (below), I um'd and ahh'd for a long time whether to include "compliance" in the model. My argument for putting it in is that compliance underpins the whole rest of the pyramid - if you miss compliance, it doesn't matter how well everything else goes, the whole pyramid will collapse. With BP's share value plummeting and Union Carbide staff getting jail sentences for the 1984 Bhopal disaster, I'm now glad I put it in there.

The Business Case for Sustainability

No matter how much we preach going "beyond compliance", many businesses will only move when they are forced to. With legislation like the UK's CRC Energy Efficiency scheme and the EU's WEEE directive, businesses who traditionally thought they were outside the compliance net are finding they have to get their act sorted out PDQ.

Going "beyond compliance" does not mean ignoring compliance issues. It can mean insulating a business from certain compliance issues by, say, eliminating toxic materials from production processes. As legislation moves from limiting the worst instances (eg Bhopal, Gulf of Mexico) to driving all businesses towards a greener future (eg CRC, WEEE), everyone is in the net. I got a nice quote from Paula Widdowson of Northern Foods in an interview for my forthcoming second book, The Green Executive: "Legislation will never lead you, but it will push you."

So the lesson is: "never forget compliance".

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14 June 2010

On Leadership

Two giants of the world's retail stage are standing down: Sirs Terry Leahy of Tesco and Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer. The two are quite different in style - Leahy a modest, quiet man with a core of steel, Rose more the classic swashbuckler, never afraid to voice his opinions. But the two had one thing in common, apart from financial success: both are showing clear leadership in regard to sustainability.

In my experience, industry is largely stuck at the level of "environmental management" and it needs to make the vital leap to "environmental leadership". At last week's Low Carbon event, I had a table of delegates frustrated that they were being tasked to develop an "environmental strategy" at a middle-management level, but with no buy in from above. How can it be a strategy if the senior levels of the organisation aren't interested? Delegation is fine, but derogation of responsibility is not. Responsibility must be held at the top, with full ownership of any strategy.

It's funny how many people get to a leadership level and won't lead. BP boss Tony Hayward (in)famously said "he'd like to get his life back" during the early stages of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. Not only was this extraordinarily insensitive to all those who are finding their livelihoods ruined by the disaster, but it shows a complete lack of leadership backbone. This is what you get paid so much for Tony, buck up and sort it out. But Hayward isn't alone, I often get called in to talk to the boards of companies only to find the Chief Executive ducks out of that particular meeting, much to the embarrassment of the others. Leadership means being there in the thick of it, whether or not you want to, showing that commitment.

Leahy, Rose, Mike Duke of Walmart, Bob McDonald of P&G, Ray Anderson of Interface - leadership is the difference between the best and the rest.

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11 June 2010

Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange Round Up

Yesterday's Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange at Olympia London was superb. There are two things I like about these events, firstly the attendees tend to be end users of the advice flying about (as opposed to service providers), and secondly, the format favours interaction over death by bullet point. I was responsible for two sessions and here's my take on them:

1. Environmental Strategy Discussion Group

I covered my sustainability maturity model, the business case for sustainability, the components of a strategy and converting strategy to action (links take you to back issues of The Low Carbon Agenda - subscribe on the right hand side of this page). Maybe a bit too much info for 50 minutes, but the participants seemed to enjoy it. Some reflections on the discussion:

  • Most were being hampered by lack of leadership from above. No leadership, no strategy;
  • Most had targets, but not strategic principles;
  • Nobody was familiar with backcasting - but they liked it;
  • Adopting stretch targets is synergistic with backcasting, incremental targets with forecasting.

2. Staff Engagement

This was a panel discussion, chaired by myself, and featuring the stellar cast of Martin Blake of Royal Mail, Liz Lipton-McCrombie of WH Smith and Trewin Restorick of Global Action Plan. Most of the time I managed to keep my trap shut and let the panel do the talking. My fear of zero questions was unfounded, in fact we ended up with disappointed customers who hadn't been able to ask theirs after 50 minutes. To be fair, I had addressed the early arrivals and asked them to get their ideas together to avoid any embarrassing silences.

There were loads of great points:

  • You've got to understand what makes people tick;
  • If there is fear around (eg from redundancy), trying to get people on board with sustainability is a waste of time;
  • Speak people's language: talk finance with accountants, asset value with estates, carbon with environmentalists;
  • Ask questions;
  • You can't ask people for their opinion and then ignore it;
  • Middle management a key target audience - fighting with lots of other demands;
  • Competition is a great way of engaging people;
  • In a leadership vacuum, you can start a guerilla campaign, but at some point you have to mainstream it - not easy.

Great analogy from Trewin - employees are like a church congregation during the first hymn - the organ starts up and you get nothing, then two people start singing out of tune, followed by the bulk of the rest of the crowd. But there will always be some smart arses at the back, miming - that's life!

I summarised the discussion by pulling out three nested themes - the broadest issue was respect for those being engaged, within that, the issue has to be made relevant to them, and within that theme, careful language must be used to deliver that relevance.

Overall, a great day, enjoyed by everyone I spoke to!

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9 June 2010

Ask the bloomin' question!

I'm shooting down the East Coast Line for tomorrow's Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange in London Olympia. The drizzly weather means I'll be spending less time gazing out the window and more time working on book #2, The Green Executive. But I have been mulling on the event I spoke at yesterday hosted by ISPE (which is one of those acronyms that used to mean something but now just is, but it's the professional body for pharma industry engineers).

Engineers are a tough audience - I'm an engineer, so I can say that. Not because they heckle, but because they don't. They don't ask questions or challenge you in the same way as say, environmentalists, politicos, marketing people etc, etc. The other talks at the event were heavy on the engineering, so I decided to be provocative and challenge the audience that their focus on energy efficiency, returns on investment, value engineering etc, were holding their companies back from sustainable innovation and thus profit - actually I went further than that and accused them of murdering Rachel Weisz (somebody left at that point, but I think it was for unrelated reasons). I got nods, chuckles, smiles, some good feedback afterwards and even an approving tweet, but only one question. One. And that question was a technical point about how waste legislation can impact on industrial symbiosis - good question, but it didn't explore or challenge any of my main themes.

Questions are essential to the way we deliver on the environment. Imagine if BP or the US Government had challenged the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Deepwater Horizon which said the risk of spillage was negligible and the impact would be small if it did happen? No, there were lots of figures produced, so they must be right. Likewise my engineering audience were totally focussed on the how and not the why. One of the earlier speakers was asked whether energy efficiency improvements were dependent on the chemistry being undertaken - again a good point - but no-one went on to the logical next step - whether we should be changing that chemistry to deliver the energy efficiency rather than the  other way round.Engineers are essential to a sustainable future and we must start asking the questions that matter.

I like the idea of The Toddler Test - keep asking 'why' until the question cannot be answered. It might be annoying, but you won't innovate if you don't challenge the status quo - as Einstein said "we won't solve problems with the kind of thinking that created them."

Tomorrow, I'm chairing a panel session on staff engagement with some really great panellists. My biggest worry? That no-one will want to ask them a question...

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7 June 2010

We all must go Beyond Petroleum, not just BP

Finally BP seem to be getting a grip, quite literally, on the source of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But with its stock value plunging by a third, the threat of multi-billion pound clean up operation and talk of criminal charges, the company must be wishing that they'd lived up to their ill-fated "Beyond Petroleum" slogan from the turn of the millennium.

For the question remains, what on earth were they doing drilling almost a mile below the waves, anyway? Why, for that matter, are vast tracts of Canadian sands being dug up and squeezed for a few drops of oil? Is it because oil is becoming an increasingly scarce resource? Is this peak oil writ large?

And let's not forget climate change. I always say that in any environmental debate the laws of physics always win. And so, despite the relative disappointment of Copenhagen, the fuss of the UEA e-mail leak and a single rogue statement on glaciers in an IPCC report, the world keeps warming. In fact, the 12 months to April 2010 were the warmest 12 months as far back as we can reliably measure. This puts paid to all the nonsense talk of global cooling in the 'denialosphere' and puts carbon cuts back on the urgent section of the to do list.

The answer is obvious. We've got to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and onto clean, safe and reliable renewable energy. This will require efficiencies to deliver, and a whole new way of thinking about energy: smart grids, anaerobic digestion of organic wastes, wind farms, solar energy, and whole new ways of living and working: teleworking, teleconferencing, buying quality rather than quantity, buying services rather than 'stuff'.

There is a growing belief that business should not only respond to this agenda, but drive it forward. The opportunities for innovation are immense: new products, new services, new technologies, new business models. Those that grasp this will prosper, those that cling to the old certainties will flounder. It's decision time.

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4 June 2010

The Power of Positive Thinking

I love the story of how Ray Anderson and Interface turned the perceived cost of a solar energy system into a new product: Solar Made Carpet, and promptly sold enough of the new product to cover that cost many times over. It reminds me of a story that Gunter Pauli, founder of ZERI, told me about when he was CEO of Ecover. He wanted to build an "ecological factory" but the banks wouldn't lend him the money. For whatever reason, they would lend him money for a major branding/advertising exercise. So he took the money, built the factory and said "tadaa - there's our advert!". Gunter's a bit like that - a big man brimming with self confidence, enthusiasm and a contrarian nature - your bank manager's worst nightmare, but great fun over a couple of beers.

When I talk about positive thinking, it's not some new age-y "believe in it and it'll happen" fluff. What I mean is looking for solutions rather than problems. If you said to Gunter "we've got this acidic waste stream that's a problem" - he'd be straight back at you - "that's not a problem, it's an opportunity - what could you use acid for?" Diageo made a similar paradigm shift recently - instead of "treating" their wastewater at their distilleries, they're using it as a source of energy via anaerobic digestion.

The great thing about this kind of thinking is it enthuses everyone. From the layman to the biggest seen-it-all-nothing-impresses-me, there is nothing that will grab their attention like some examples of problems being turned into solutions. It really fires up workshops as people hunt for similar breakthroughs.

So next time you see a problem, whether technical, physical, societal or economic, why not take a step back and say "how can we flip this around into a solution". You may surprise yourself.

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2 June 2010

Tall Poppy Syndrome

What do Apple and BP have in common? Both are taking hits for something that's happened in their supply chain - BP for the gulf oil spill disaster, Apple for a series of suicides at a key supplier.

The responsibility in BP's case is pretty straightforward. The company selected the location of the drilling, appointed the contractors and signed the cheque. They should be offering the world a big mea culpa, but instead they appear to be trying to play down the seriousness of the spill when there are allegations that despite the technical difficulty of drilling at those water depths, a cheaper drill casing was used and safety warnings were ignored. This is the antithesis of corporate responsibility. Responsibility means that you do your utmost to do things right, and, if and when they go wrong, you hold your hands up.

In Apple's case, it really is a case of tall poppy syndrome. Many other big electronics names including Sony, Dell and Motorola use Foxconn - the biggest contract electronics manufacturer in the word - but they're not Apple and they haven't launched the world's most desirable electronic gizmo in recent weeks. So Apple gets it in the neck while the others keep their heads down. In truth, the responsibility to improve working conditions at Foxconn lies with all these manufacturers and their combined buying power should be sufficient to make whatever demands they please.

Apple have been hit by this before - when Greenpeace attacked them for their general environmental performance, so they should know what's coming. The same thing goes for other big brands - Nike, Coca Cola et al - if you stand out above the crowd, then the media, NGOs and public will hold you responsible for the sins of the multitude. The only sensible response is to use attacks and potential attacks as a spur and redouble efforts to clean up your supply chains, eradicating social and environmental issues before they hit the headlines. The kind of complacency that we have seen in BP will be fatal for any business trying to be green.

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