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May 2011 - Terra Infirma

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31 May 2011

Time to up our game!

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is fast becoming the scariest organisation in the world - almost every press release contains extraordinarily bad news - that peak oil probably occurred back in 2006, that the price of oil is going to undermine any global economic recovery and, now, that 2010 saw record carbon emissions making hitting the 2°C target almost impossible. While there's a strong temptation to hide our head in the sand in the face of such a stark warning, the only sane response is to up our game.

Here's a mini-manifesto for progress:

1. Stop finger pointing: sustainability is everybody's responsibility - Governments, business, the media, civil society and individual citizens. Playing the blame game just slows us down, waiting for others to act will get us nowhere, sitting on a high horse is for pompous fools;

2. Be practical: let's bin the political ideology, sacred cows and conspiracy theories that clog both sides of the environmental debate and do what works;

3. Be ambitious: for all the posturing, most environmental improvements are merely incremental. Let's stretch ourselves and use ingenuity, determination and vision to get us out of the hole we're digging for ourselves;

4. Be prepared to pull the plug. Face up to the fact we're going to have to stop doing some stuff - sustainability is not just about starting to do good stuff, but phasing out bad stuff;

5. Relish the challenge and enjoy the ride. If others see you enjoying making your household, your neighbourhood, your organisation or the whole world a better place, they're far more likely to join in.

This isn't going to be easy, but as the great philosopher Billy Ocean once sang, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

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27 May 2011

The Waste Hierarchy ain't carved in stone

I was at the North East Recycling Forum (NERF) yesterday - catching up with contacts and the latest in the waste industry. One of the interesting points coming out was that the new Waste (England & Wales) Regulations 2011 - to give them their full title - now enshrine the waste hierarchy. Whether this is a tick box exercise or not, what I always find interesting is that nobody ever subjects the waste hierarchy to the Toddler Test and asks "why?".

Let's get one thing straight. The waste hierarchy is simply a rule of thumb. It has no basis in science or economics whatsoever.

Some people look at me as if I have blasphemed when I say that.

Take nature. Nature is very inefficient - a birch tree releases 15-17 million seeds every year, but at best only a few saplings will result. What happens to all the millions of 'wasted' seeds? They are recycled as nutrients back into the system. The waste hierarchy says we should prioritise minimising waste over recycling, yet clearly nature does the opposite - preferring recycling over minimisation. And nature is sustainable, we're not.

I'm not just being a smart alec here - there are practical scenarios where religious adherence to the hierarchy will end up in a suboptimal result. Say you produce 11 tonnes of a particular waste a week and you can get any amount over 10 tonnes collected and put to good use by a recycling company, it makes no economic or environmental sense to invest in a new technology which only produces 9 tonnes if that 9 tonnes ends up being landfilled at a higher cost because no-one can afford to collect and recycle it. I have seen a similar situation happen in reality.

As with all rules of thumb, the waste hierarchy should always be used in conjunction with a dose of common sense. In fact the new legislation does have a caveat which allows companies to ignore the hierarchy if they can demonstrate good environmental reasons to do so. Very wise.

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25 May 2011

This isn't just any green packaging...

My partner bought this bottle of wine at Marks & Spencer at the weekend. If you look carefully at the pic, you'll see that the bottle is made of plastic.

This is great from an environmental point of view. Glass is heavy, leading to increased emissions during transportation. While it is recyclable, here in the UK we import huge quantities of green glass in the form of wine bottles, but we don't have the need for it in our own packaging industries leading to a geographical imbalance. The plastic bottle is made of 25% recycled content and could either be recycled locally into a different form or exported much more efficiently.

So what's the hitch? Well, frankly, it feels a bit odd pouring decent wine from a plastic bottle. It squeezes in your hand and you don't get the same impression of quality that the solid heft of a glass bottle gives. So it may take some time to get used to it.

Wisely Marks & Spencer have chosen to market the bottle as "shatter-proof" and particularly suitable for outdoor dining - turning the potential negative into a positive. This gives them a chance to get the product out into the market and get people used to the new way of doing things. A sensible tactic worth considering for any green product.

BTW: Marks & Spencer and their Plan A sustainability programme feature in my latest book, The Green Executive.

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23 May 2011

The biggest barrier to corporate sustainability

The Green Executive Webcasts went really well on Friday with lots of excellent questions. My favourite, partly because I had a response ready, was:

"What is the biggest barrier to corporate sustainability?"

To which my reply is:

"The biggest barrier is only six inches wide - it's the space between our ears."

This might sound a bit trite, but it doesn't make it less true. Much of the reason why we pursue unsustainable practice is attitude - lack of priority, busy-ness, ignorance, habit, shortsightedness, despondence, fear, laziness or combinations of the above. Of the 18 Green Executive interviewees, to my mind Martin Blake of Royal Mail puts it best:

“Don’t take no for an answer and don’t ever give up. People will often tell you that things are not possible when they actually are."

This is why staff engagement and culture change are so critical to delivering sustainability. You've got to understand how people think, what motivates them and how to tap into that. It's much more important than shiny new technology.


By the way, you can catch a replay of one of the webcasts by clicking here (you'll have to download a player) and we've a new white paper on fostering green behaviour at work.

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20 May 2011

The Green Executive hits the shelves!

Drum roll...

Today is the official publication date of my second book, The Green Executive. Needless to say, I'm extremely excited and proud - the book was started over two years ago it took a huge amount of effort to get the 76,000-odd words down and into the right order.

The central premise of the book is that 'green' is shifting out of its environmental management silo and onto the boardroom table. Survey after survey has shown that executives understand that it is a priority, but don't feel adequately equipped to deal with it. The Green Executive was written to bridge that gap.

The book has four sections:

1. The Business Case for Sustainability: doing nothing is not an option, the case for action, the moral case and green business risks.

2. Context: global problems, global solutions and the green economy.

3. Practical Action: ranging from sponsoring R&D through to redesigning your business model.

4. Making It Happen: integrating sustainability, leadership, strategy, engaging stakeholders, management processes.

At the end of each of the 18 chapters is a short interview with a leading practitioner in corporate sustainability - the big company names include Marks & Spencer, GlaxoSmithKline, Canon, National Express, Procter & Gamble and Arup, plus a huge range of others.

If you want some free extracts and some other goodies, then check out May's special edition of The Low Carbon Agenda.

Plus, I'm running two webinars about the book entitled The 7 Habits of Green Business Leaders at 11am and 2pm British Summer Time TODAY - e-mail me; before 10am if you want one of the last places.

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18 May 2011

Cutting carbon in a globalised world

Two pieces of news caught my eye yesterday: the big news that UK Energy & Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne announced that the UK Government was committing to a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2027 - the toughest target set in the world - and some local news that an aluminium smelter and its coal fired power station - both about 15 miles from where I'm sitting - might close due to the Government's new carbon floor price.

There's a big problem here - the aluminium produced by the smelter (and associated carbon emissions) will still be produced somewhere in the world, just not here. The global climate doesn't care where the emissions come from, so there is a strong possibility that the Government's commitment will simply push more industry and emissions overseas. If you don't believe me, figures from Oxford University show that, despite the official Government line for many years, the UK has not been cutting its carbon emissions, but has simply leaked them to other countries while our overall carbon footprint has continued to grow.

If I was a right-wing commentator I would now start harrumphing about the idiocy of carbon emission restrictions, how they're destroying our Great British Industry and how we should drop the whole bally lot. But that's a stupid argument - first of all it ends with The Tragedy of the Commons (ie we all lose through selfishness) and, secondly, in a globalised economy it is our Western consumption levels that drive global emissions and we can't duck responsibility for that.

What we need to do instead is develop a smarter way of dealing with each country's emissions - considering emissions from our consumption as well as our production. A few years ago I explained this to both the then UK climate minister, David Miliband, and the current one, Chris Huhne. Both listened politely, did some mulling on it and acknowledged my point, but I suspect both filed it in the 'too difficult' tray.

Business is way ahead of Government here. About five years ago many, if not most, major companies only considered emissions from within their factory fence (plus those from power stations producing their electricity). Most have now faced up to the fact that their carbon footprint does include that of the suppliers - it was crazy when say Tesco, whose purchasing power is driven by £1 in every 8 we Brits spend, didn't acknowledge responsibility for supply chain emissions. Now Tesco and the other big retail sheds, along with major consumer goods manufacturers like P&G and Unilever, are actively decarbonising their supply chain wherever that supply chain may be - national boundaries are no restriction. Some are looking the other way along the supply chain too and 'choice editing' for the consumer, such as when B&Q stopped selling patio heaters. I suspect the massive buying power of such powerful companies could have more impact than any Government targets.

(For more, check out our Green Academy session on Greening the Supply Chain on 1st June)

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16 May 2011

Whose carbon footprint are you part of?

The diagram above shows the different scopes of a carbon footprint:

Scope 1. The emissions from your operations and activities - typically from the fossil fuels you buy for heating and vehicles;

Scope 2. The emissions from the generation of electricity you use;

Scope 3. The emissions of your supply chain - all the scope 1 and 2 emissions from your suppliers. And their suppliers. And their suppliers... you get the picture;

Scope 4. The emissions from the use of your product or service once it is outside the control your organisation eg if you sell cars, this represents the emissions of the cars in use (this scope isn't usually considered part of a carbon footprint, but it should be).

Most of this is understood from the point of view of one particular organisation. But it is worth putting yourself in the position of your clients and customers. Your scope 1-4 emissions become part of their carbon footprint - your problem becomes their problem.

For example, the UK's NHS has a scope 3 footprint which is 50% bigger than its 'internal' scope 1 & 2 emissions. This means that, to hit the UK Government's target of a 80% reduction in footprint by 2050, even if they somehow managed to reduce the emissions from 1 & 2 to zero, they would still need to cut scope 3 by two thirds. If you're one of their suppliers then either you have to slash your footprint or they'll find someone else who will.

This is why 'green' is becoming a key source of competitive advantage. Big purchasers like the public sector and the big supermarkets are selecting greener suppliers - the former are typically awarding 10-15% of tender points to environmental performance. But don't forget you still have to compete on the other 85-90% to take advantage.

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12 May 2011

The Green Executive Launch Events

My second book, The Green Executive is formally published on Friday next week - 20th May. It seems like an eternity since I started it - I think the first of the 18 'View from the Front Line' interviews were done 2 years ago and the manuscript was pretty much complete last July.

The central premise of the book is that 'green' has shifted from a management issue to a leadership priority, yet research suggests that executives feel ill-equipped for the challenge. The book provides a roadmap for this new breed of Green Executives.

To mark the book's birth, I'm holding online and offline events.

20th May 2011, Webcasts: The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Green Business Leaders. I'm running two sessions at 11am and 2pm - e-mail us to register, making sure you tell us which session you want to take part in.

14th June 2011, Formal Launch Event, Newcastle University Business School, Newcastle upon Tyne, 17:00 for 17:30 with drinks and nibbles afterwards. Again, e-mail us to register.

BTW, this month's Low Carbon Agenda contains loads of content and free downloads relating to The Green Executive. Check it out.


Here's some of the kind words people have said about the book:

“There are too many out there making it up as they go along. Reading the Green Executive will help you see the opportunity amongst the bullshit.”

Dr Stan Higgins, CEO, North East Process Industry Cluster

“It is most refreshing to read a book in which opinions and advice are supported by facts and figures from authoritative sources.  As a practical handbook it deserves to be read and heeded by executives from across the spectrum.”

Professor Dermot Roddy C.Eng., FIET, FRSA
Science City Professor of Energy
Director, Sir Joseph Swan Centre for Energy Research

“A comprehensive, practical and up-to-date view of art of the possible in sustainable business. Built on the author’s insights and those of other practitioners it provides a superb reference for businesses. Doing nothing is no longer an option!”

Ted Shann, Practice Partner, Wipro Technologies


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11 May 2011

Are we done yet?

A delegate on this month's Green Academy webinar gave me very some insightful feedback. She said she valued the webinars because everytime her company thought they were "there", she learnt something new to try.

I occasionally come across people who are much less prescient than my wise correspondent. "We've done all that!" they declare, no matter what case study or technique you describe. The obvious rejoinder is "Oh, so you have a zero environmental footprint then, do you?"

Harsh, but fair.

These people have made the fatal mistake of confusing process and results. Yes, they can tick all the process boxes, but that's no guarantee that they are delivering results. The cutting edge of green business has gone way beyond commitments, beyond processes and techniques and is now focussed on delivering clear, demonstrable and impressive results.

The bad news is that you are never "done", never "there", never "finished".

The good news is that you are never "done", never "there", never "finished".

Life would be very dull if you were.

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10 May 2011

Green Academy session #5: Greening The Supply Chain

The fifth of our Green Academy Webinars will be held on 1 June at 14:00 BST. The hour long session will explain why you need to tackle the environmental impact of your supply chain and how to go about it. Contents include:

  • Don't buy trouble - the case for greening the supply chain;
  • Basic green procurement techniques;
  • Engaging with suppliers to find solutions;
  • Advanced techniques - industrial symbiosis, buying services rather than products, strengthening weak chains.

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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9 May 2011

Walking the walk...

The central theme of my forthcoming book The Green Executive (did I mention it comes out this month?) is that green/sustainability/csr has become a strategic leadership priority rather than a middle management issue. Leadership has been defined as power by influence, whereas management is power by position.

Leading by influence, as many political leaders will tell you, is incredibly difficult in comparison to simply pulling the levers of bureaucracy. You've got to attract people's attention, engender people's trust and inspire them to act - and then once you have achieved that elevated position, you've got to hold onto it. And your worse enemy is cynicism.

One of the big shifts in thinking is from "we will do" to "we have done". Green business leaders must get away from talking about their plans and commitments and start delivering achievements. Quick wins should be bagged, communicated and built on. Longer term programmes should be launched, but talked about modestly until they are delivering real results - only then should you go to town on the PR.

The other key issue is personal behaviour. One false note and the whole thing can come tumbling down. You can't declare a green dawn then order yourself a V8 gas-guzzler as a company car. It doesn't matter if the emissions from the car are miniscule compared to the carbon savings from your hyper-efficient new manufacturing process - people will see it as "do as I say, not as I do". Get a hybrid car, or better still, a bicycle. Make the statement. Walk the walk.

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5 May 2011

Sustainability goes strategic

Interesting research from KPMG saying that almost 55% US companies have a sustainability strategy. KPMG go on to say:

When asked to identify the key business drivers for implementing sustainability-related business objectives within their companies, the U.S.  executives cited enhancing brand reputation (37 percent), regulatory or legal compliance (35 percent), reducing costs (34 percent), product or service differentiation (24 percent), and increasing profitability and managing sustainability risks (both 23 percent). Other business drivers included: customer retention (20 percent), staying competitive (15 percent), generating shareholder value (13 percent), and recruitment and employee retention (8 percent).

This research backs up three of the main points from The Green Executive:

1. That instead of an issue to be "managed" by environmental managers with environmental management systems, sustainability is a strategic leadership issue;

2. "Go green, save money" is for amateurs - the real benefit is competitiveness in the marketplace (which in turn should inform your entire strategic approach);

3. While everyone gets excited about going "beyond compliance", never forget about compliance. Compliance is the base of the business case for sustainability pyramid - if you get it wrong then the whole thing comes crashing down.

By the way, I'm planning a load of freebies for this month's Low Carbon Agenda to celebrate the publication of The Green Executive - sign up here to make sure you get them!

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3 May 2011

Worried about Peak Oil? You might be 5 years too late.

In the last week, UK newspapers have been dominated by two pieces of news - the Royal Wedding and the death of Bin Laden - both picked over in meticulous detail plumped out with the filler that the press adds to abide to its 'bigger story => more ink' rule. As a result of all that attention, another much more important, if less sensational, story has been largely missed. The chief economist at the International Energy Agency told Australian TV last Thursday that we hit Peak Oil back in 2006 (source Irish Times).

Peak oil, for those who don't know, is when the maximum amount of oil is being extracted. After the peak, oil production generally declines quickly (following the bell shaped Hubbert Curve), pushing prices up, particularly if demand keeps rising. The impact of this cannot be understated. Our entire modern economy is predicated on oil being cheap. If oil prices rise, so do the prices commodities like plastics, metals and food, never mind the price of petrol at the pump. At a time the world is recovering from a massive financial jolt, this could hurt. A lot.

Peak oil will drive change in a way that a less tangible threat like climate change cannot. Soaring prices will push energy efficiency and low carbon energy production to the fore. Saudi Arabia is reported to have recently invested $100bn in low carbon energy technologies (source FastCompany) - a nation built on oil, now looking to the sun. Maybe the rest of us - society, governments and industry - should take heed.

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