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April 2011 - Terra Infirma

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28 April 2011

What are you going to do with all that data?

The old management aphorism "that which gets measured, gets managed" is all too true, but so is the old farmer's saying "a pig never got fattened by weighing it." In other words, yes, you should be collecting buckets of data, but that's the means to an end - acting on it is what counts.

Here's three things to do with your data:

1. Monitor progress

Choose metrics, set targets, monitor progress, act where necessary. Most data driven management works on this very simple loop. But care is needed to make sure that hitting short term targets doesn't distract from aiming for long term objectives - a good reason to eschew year on year targets (eg we will reduce carbon by 2% every year) in favour of stretch targets (we will be zero carbon by 2020).

2. Diagnose problems and find solutions

This is the fun bit for green geeks - you get to play detective. Analyse your data against time, against production output, against any other relevant variable. Compare sites, processes, teams and technologies. Do a material/energy/water balance to match inputs and outputs. Identify the big energy/water/material users for special attention.

Stuff will jump out at you - why is water use so high when the factory is shut down over Christmas? (answer: probably a leak), why does one site use more energy per unit output than another (potential answers: technology, control systems, staff culture). Why does one sales team have higher mileage per unit sold than another (potential answers: local ways of working, abuse/'jollies', different spread of customers).

3. Communicate and engage

Feedback to staff and external stakeholders needs information. But you have to choose your communication method to suit your audience. Engineers and accountants like graphs, pie charts and hard data. Creative types and the general public generally prefer more interpretative ways of expressing numbers - like the almost-ubiquitous infographic (check out this one from Fast Company on the impacts of climate change).

But here you must tread carefully or you'll end up in the greenwash mire. Make sure the data you use is accurate, up to date, relevant, representative and not misleading in anyway. Get an independent third party to check it and even endorse it for you.


Don't forget that numbers only provide part of the story. They can tell you about quantities, but are not so good at expressing qualities. A lot of important stuff (eg staff culture) doesn't get managed well because it can't be measured effectively. So don't just sit in front of your spreadsheets - get out there, walk about, talk to people and make sure what you witness and what you measure match up.


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26 April 2011

Don't preach to the choir

Amongst political interweb types is a phenomenon known as the 'echo chamber'. This is where a tribe of people get very excited tweeting, blogging and facebook-status-updating about an issue within their tribe, but all the retweeting, linking and liking is completely within that community. The message is crafted and refined for the audience who has already 'got it', rather than for people who are unaware, uninterested, or both. Despite the perceptions of the participants that the flurry of activity is of huge importance, it has absolutely zero impact on the wider world.

The environmental movement can be particularly guilty of this. Issues go into the echo chamber evolve and are reinforced, but rarely does anyone wade into the argument as devil's advocate, challenging the received wisdom, and the message starts going over the heads of anyone outside the circle. In fact you often get a meta layer of discussion of increasing self-righteousness, deriding those who "don't get it" and alienating the masses in the process.

If you want to change something - anything - whether in society or an organisation, this is suicide.

From a green business point of view, I have seen environmental committees where the agenda kept getting sidelined in favour of rants and moans about everyone else in the organisation who "doesn't get it". This is utterly dysfunctional and self-indulgent. If you're the change agent then you've got to realise that this is your problem, not theirs. You need to stop preaching to the choir and engage with (not preach to) the masses. This is a whole different ball game, with different language, different communication channels and different tactics.

So don't let an echo chamber form. Challenge others and challenge yourself: what is the message that will appeal to the masses?

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22 April 2011

How Stupid Is That? Green Business Blunders

Here's the sixth Green Business Confidential podcast, entitled "How Stupid Is That?", which is a bit of a rant about stupid green business blunders:

Audio MP3

Or, you can download it here and listen on your MP3 player:

GBC6 How Stupid Is That?

You can get the whole podcast series here.


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20 April 2011

Are brands really bad for the planet?

I'm not a mainstream environmentalist for one very good reason - like any tribe, you need to sign up to a set of beliefs that are taken as gospel, but are often over-simplistic when you're dealing with the real world. One of these beliefs is "Brands are bad" - brands are a symbol of consumerism and consumerism is killing the planet.

Well, yes and no. If you look the average Joe or Joanne's carbon footprint it is dominated by the mundane - heating our homes, getting around, cooking, eating, lighting. With the exception of booze and soft drinks, these markets aren't dominated by brands - no-one buys mains gas from one company because it has a better brand - and it's all the same gas at the end of the day. You get on the train that's at the station, rather than waiting for your favourite brand - you might specify a train provider because it is more comfortable or has wifi, but not because of the brand. The choice of petrol for your car is usually made on price and convenience factors rather than Shell, BP or Esso (unless you are actively boycotting one).

But let's go onto consumer goods and look a what a brand is. Why do companies develop brands? Because they add intangible value to the products. That value has no carbon footprint - it is ephemeral. That intangible value is an aspect of human nature - we want stuff that makes us feel good whether it's a designer label or an extremely expensive bicycle.

From an environmental point of view, it is actually better for a consumer to spend £300 on a pair of designer jeans (and look after them) than blow the same amount in a cheap highstreet clothing store and chuck the clothes when they get the slightest bit of wear and tear. Likewise, a posh champagne has roughly the same carbon footprint as a bog standard bottle of cava (and certainly less than the equivalent bottles you could buy for the same money), yet the former is seen as consumerism and the latter, not. It doesn't make sense.

Branding can be a force for good. Many of the companies that are leading the way in going green are doing it to protect and enhance their brand. Marks & Spencer, Timberland and Apple spring to mind. Others like Body Shop, Patagonia and Natural Collection are brands which were founded with green/ethcis in mind. So never feel guilty about working for, developing or purchasing a big brand - there's nothing immoral about it. Just make it a green brand and watch that intangible value grow even higher!

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18 April 2011

Green Marketing: Audi vs Fiat

Saw this Audi ad yesterday and thought it was all wrong from a green marketing point of view - click on it to see it in all its glory.

This just isn't a compelling message - the car is small and the CO2 is very large. Does "13% less" really motivate the man in the street to act? How does the fact that 3 out of the 5 main 'words' in the ad are 'scientific' (CO2, 129g/km, 13%) captivate potential buyers? Very weak, in my opinion.

If we compare this with the Fiat ad that I snapped a few weeks ago (below), the difference is quite noticeable - setting aside the more dramatic early morning lighting. This campaign associates green with fun, not just 'less'. The bold typography and colours reinforce the fun and the car is centre stage. Simple, but effective.

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15 April 2011

The Green Executive Extract: Replacing Products with Information

It was 31 September last year that I submitted the manuscript for my second book The Green Executive. Last night I finally submitted the final comments on the final proofs (just 9 typos!) and the glowing endorsements from the great and the good eg:

"If you want to become a green business leader, this book is essential reading.  Gareth Kane makes the business case most persuasively. This is a brilliant book full of practical advice showing the benefits of thinking beyond mere compliance." Lord Shipley of Gosforth, OBE

Writing a book is a huge undertaking, but this last phase is undoubtedly the most frustrating because you just want to see it out there and there's all this practical stuff to do. Anyway, to celebrate this little milestone (and help keep me sane), here's a short extract from the chapter on creating new business models.

BTW: The book is out on 20 May, but you can pre-order The Green Executive now from Earthscan or Amazon. If you want a 20% discount and some other goodies, then make sure you subscribe to The Low Carbon Agenda before 12 May.


Replacing Products with Information

The product-service concept still includes a product, but one that is leased as part of a wider service. The next step is to remove the physical product altogether, by shifting from atoms to bytes. As we have seen, the digital economy gives a huge opportunity for such dematerialization, in the process saving up to five times the carbon that it uses, but also eliminating raw material use and the need for hazardous materials in product production. Examples include:

  • Apple’s iTunes sells music in an MP3 format without that music ever becoming embedded in a physical object such as a vinyl record or a CD;
  • Most cable TV companies now offer ‘movies on demand’ – the entertainment is provided without becoming a physical product such as a video tape or DVD;
  • eBooks give you the information stored in a book without the paper, card and glue. On Christmas Day 2009, eBooks outsold paper books on for the first time;
  • Digital cameras remove the need to produce and distribute film and processing prints and slides. The user decides which pictures, if any, are worth printing. This eliminates materials for the film itself, photographic paper and hazardous printing chemicals;
  • Smartphones and downloadable Apps are allowing users to buy many functions without purchasing new products. For example, the interviews in this book were recorded using an iPhone App, iTalk, rather than a physical Dictaphone.

The nature of the digital economy means that many of the risks we saw in product-service systems are minimized for digital products. Investment in capital is minimal and many modern physical products (CDs, DVDs, books) go through a digital stage in any case, so the digital product has little or no marginal cost to produce. Customer pull is strong given the hip image of the digital product (for example Apple products), the emergence of the portable multi-functional digital lifestyle device (iPhone and iPad) and the undoubted convenience of purchasing by downloading.

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14 April 2011

Green Business Webinar #4: Good Housekeeping

The fourth of our Green Business Webinars will be held on 4 May at 14:00 GMT. The hour long session will cover everything you need to know to green your organisation internally:

  • Quick wins for different types of business;
  • Aligning processes to sustainability;
  • Housekeeping tools: auditing, balances, group work, brainstorming;
  • Financing green projects.

The webinar costs £45.00 + VAT per person - use the button below to pay by card or Paypal. Contact us to make a BACS payment.


This is just one in our series of 10 webinars - you can see the full list and terms and conditions here. All ten cost £330 + VAT - reserve your seat using the button below:

Here's what participants say:

"Gareth's webinars are smart, punchy and thought provoking. His approach shows how sustainability is about achieving commercial advantage and not simply an altruistic gesture. Highly recommended." Graeme Mills, GPM Network Ltd.

"[The webinars] are great value and I would recommend them to both CSR professionals and SME owners." Louise Bateman, GreenWise

"I consider this a must for organisations looking for practical help in improving their sustainability performance." Ted Shann, Wipro

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13 April 2011

Sexing Up Sustainability

Sustainability story of the day must be Marks & Spencer's launch of a carbon neutral bra, knickers and suspender belt set - certainly taking the hair shirt out of corporate social responsibility. Interestingly, the most popular news story on last month's edition of The Low Carbon Agenda was that the WWF had signed up a top lingerie model as an ambassador. One of my favourite quotes is from Ashley Lodge of Harper Collins who said their staff engagement strategy is "more stilettos than sandals". Has the sustainability world gone sex mad?

The oldest marketing maxim in the world is "sex sells" - and sustainability is no different. And why shouldn't sustainability be sexy? The industry has a tendency to fear that "sexy" can mean "sexist" and that all communications have to be worthy and dull.

But when you're trying to catch someone's attention - the average joe, not a treehugger - ranting at them doesn't work, being boring doesn't work, being smug doesn't work, and a pair of hands cupping a sapling certainly doesn't work. You have to really grab them - and sex is one way of doing that. Marks & Spencer know that carbon neutral suspenders will gain more column inches in the mainstream media than carbon neutral socks. WWF know that a top lingerie model will get more attention from non-greens than, say, Jonathan Porritt (no offence, Jonathan). It works, so why not?

Can you put a bit more va-va-voom into your sustainability programme?

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11 April 2011

The Oil Conundrum? The Answer Is Easy.

While I've been on holiday, oil prices have continued to rise - now over $125 a barrel and heading fast for its previous pre-global crash record of $147. What I find bizarre is the whole reactive stance in the press - "Oh, no! The economy is gonna crash!" - as if there is nothing that can be done.

Let's make it very simple for the hard of learning:

Energy bill = cost of 1 unit of energy x consumption

So there are two things we can all do:

1. Switch to a cheaper form of energy - not easy yet, but the rate things are going, renewables will soon be competitive with fossil fuels with the costs of the former falling and the latter rising, or,

2. Cut consumption. I have never visited a factory, an office or a home where I can't spy a couple of quick fixes within ten minutes. Proper energy efficiency takes longer, and possibly some investment - but huge savings can be made and, unlike redundancies, energy efficiency can improve the business rather than weaken it.

So why is nothing done on energy efficiency? Everyone likes blaming politicians, but Government intervention on energy efficiency has a checkered history - either broad sweeps like 55mph speed limits in the US, or advertising campaigns of doubtful impact. Only on social issues like fuel poverty do Governments really get traction and deliver results.

Captains of industry are meant to be able to see which way the world is going and adapt swiftly - but they often get this one wrong - witness how a couple of years ago the US motor industry didn't react quickly enough to a public looking for more efficient vehicles and kept churning out SUVs. More and more are opening their eyes, but the evidence is that many at the top do not see this as a strategic business issue and keep trying to 'manage' it.

And of course all of us as consumers can do our bit whether it is choosing a more efficient car (or a bicycle!), putting an extra layer of insulation in the loft or switching stuff off when it isn't needed.

We're all a little too wedded to cheap energy. And as Bob Dylan once said, back when he was still political, a change is gonna come. We can either do something about it or put our heads in the sand. The choice is ours.

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7 April 2011

Put a cork in it! - and protect sustainable agriculture

From an environmental point of view, the highlight of my trip to Gaucin has been walking in the oak forests that cloak the steep hillsides of the Sierrana de Ronda. These are of incredible ecological value as the cork and gall oaks support a huge number of species. You can see this most visibly in the number and diversity of butterflies - the most I've seen outside the tropics - as butterflies are a good indicator of biodiversity.

What I particularly like is how integrated agriculture is with this eco-system. The landscape is too steep for agri-business; instead a large number of small farmers have small-holdings where the traditional way still dominates. Pig rearing and cork production work in symbiosis - the oak trees having their bark harvested every nine years and in the meantime the pigs live off the acorns, producing the tastiest meat - which gets a premium price. Periodically the oaks are cleared for fuel - leaving a smattering of trees to prevent erosion - and the land regenerates.

Most eco-systems are under threat from over-use of resources, but the cork oak forests are under threat of falling demand - the shift to plastic corks and screw tops are putting this way of life at risk. I've been trying to think of other examples where falling demand could lead to ecological damage - recycled materials is the obvious answer, followed by finding uses for industrial by-products, but poles from hazel coppice was the only virgin material I could come up with.

Going back to cork, the question is how do we stimulate demand and keep this eco-friendly tradition in business? There are two obvious answers:

  • Stimulate interest in traditional uses: unfortunately asking consumers to go back to a less convenient product (those screw caps are very handy) or less fashionable uses (cork tile revival anyone?) are only likely to be partially successful at best;
  • Find new uses for cork: this is a huge opportunity for a business wanting to source a sustainable material. Not only would they be using a natural, low embodied energy material, but they'd also be supporting an important eco-system. There must by myriad opportunities too - anything that requires a shock-absorbing or insulating material.

So, material buyers, designers and product developers, get your thinking hats on and help these fantastic habitats and this traditional way of life.

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5 April 2011

The Green Graveyard - A Requiem

Back in 2002 I saw US green marketeer Jacquelyn Ottman give a presentation at a conference in London entitled "The Green Graveyard" - the place where clever but ill-conceived green products and services go to die. It was one of those rare moments that really blows your mind on a subject - and The Green Graveyard was such a powerful metaphor for me that I have quoted it in both my books (fully attributed of course). Thousands of people have seen me wave an early model (not so-) compact fluorescent lamp around as I speak - that case study is straight out of The Green Graveyard (with permission).

So when Ottman's latest book, The New Rules of Green Marketing, came out I ordered it right away and sat down to read with relish. One problem. No Green Graveyard. Not a whiff of it. I was going to review the book in depth here, but I can't objectively - it's like going to see Motorhead and them not playing The Ace of Spades - no matter how good the rest of the gig is, the omission is going to leave a deflated feeling. It's a fine book, very accessible, nice case studies, good summaries, comprehensive, particularly suitable for someone new to green marketing, but I would like to have seen a bit more on how and why the case studies work. I'll leave it at that.

But The Green Graveyard is/was an concept of genius - simple, powerful and memorable - and a stark warning to everyone and anyone trying to bring green products and services to market. The Graveyard is full of such products and services that have failed in their marketplace, usually because they assume that the customer will accept a compromise on price, performance, convenience, aesthetics or prestige in return for green credentials when only a tiny minority will. No-one wants an ugly light bulb in their living room - no matter how energy efficient it is - so to avoid the Graveyard, you must develop a bulb which is aesthetically pleasing as well as efficient.

I would love to have created such a metaphor - and I hope Ottman will resurrect it.

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