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August 2011 - Terra Infirma

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30 August 2011

Classic Greenwash

I saw this refrigerated trailer at Stranraer while waiting for the ferry to Belfast last week. If you can't make it out, it is marked with a large green footprint shape proclaiming that it is 99% recyclable.

This is a classic case of green wash as:

1. Most trailers are made of steel and aluminium and will be almost entirely recyclable. So what's the big deal with this one? Trying to make normal look green is a classic form of greenwash.

2. At an educated guess, the significant components of this trailers' life cycle impact will the fuel use to move it around and the energy to keep the contents cool. So a green trailer would be lightweight, aerodynamic, very well insulated and have a very efficient compressor. These big issues seem to have been ignored in favour of a lesser factor - another form of greenwash.

Two greenwashes for the price of one. As users of twitter would say, #epicfail.

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Posted by Gareth Kane one response

26 August 2011

Michael Pawlyn on Biomimicry

I really like this TED talk by Michael Pawlyn - it's about the application of biomimicry principles to architecture, waste management and food systems. I love the scale of the ambition and the smart thinking - definitiely worth checking out.

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23 August 2011

Green Executive Review Round-up

When you read this I'll be off on holiday for two weeks visiting family in Belfast. So we'll be on holiday blogging routine - about twice a week rather than thrice - and the topics may reflect the holiday spirit.

First up, there have been quite a few reviews of The Green Executive since its publication, so I thought I'd do a quick round up.

Elaine Cohen on said:

"The Green Executive is an essential book for those who want a leadership view of how to make a business sustainable, from how to address the risks to how to exploit the opportunities. The book is nicely populated with models, frameworks and ways to advance, and is pitched exactly right to make it interesting without getting bogged down in academic texts. Using tools that include Gareth Kane's Sustainability Maturity Model or his summary of new and emerging green markets, green executives may just become a mainstream feature of business."

Jessica Shankleman on BusinessGreen said:

" his lively new book The Green Executive, a well written manual designed to help business leaders improve the environmental impact of their company."

Nick Smith in Engineering & Technology said:

"But it doesn't have to be this way, argues Kane in his well-informed and public-spirited new book. Why not, instead of tinkering around the edges of sustainability, go the whole hog and make it a pillar of your corporate DNA? There are, as he explains, sound commercial reasons for following this track."

Florian Kaefer on the Sustainable Futures Blog:

"only a few books really stand out from the crowd... One of those outstanding books comes from Gareth Kane... Sustainability leadership – what CEOs and business leaders need to know in terms of sustainability, is aptly summarized in Gareth’s new book The Green Executive."

And a couple of readers on have left comments (none yet on

"I would strongly recommend this book to any organisation"

"This book is a must read for businesses everywhere."

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19 August 2011

The Media and CSR: Actions and Words

After years of sitting on the fence, the UK's Daily Mail has lurched towards the views of the climate denialists, particularly when it comes to green taxation. According to Nicholas Schoon of the ENDS Report this followed a lunch between the editor Paul Dacre and Nigel 'just saying' Lawson.

But, as Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute pointed out in a tweet this week, the website of DMGT, owner of the Daily Mail, gives a quite different impression:

At DMGT, we know that to be successful in today's world, we need to respond appropriately to global challenges such as climate change, environmental damage and social and ethical issues. To us corporate responsibility (CR) and sustainability require that we manage our businesses and brands responsibly for the long-term success of our Group and the communities we serve.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation owns the spiritual home of climate change denial, Fox News, and the almost-as-hardline The Australian, but the old tycoon is on record as saying:

Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can't afford the risk of inaction.

We can set an example, and we can reach our audiences. Our audience's carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours. That's the carbon footprint we want to conquer.

Becoming carbon neutral is only the beginning. The climate problem will not be solved by one company reducing its emissions to zero, and it won't be solved by one government acting alone. The climate problem will not be solved without mass participation by the general public in countries around the globe.

Uh? If cognitive dissonance could kill, I would drop stone dead.

I uncovered a similar dichotomy when I challenged an executive from our local press. She had been boasting about the group's admirable "Go Green" campaign so I asked her how she squared that with their papers' anti-wind turbine and anti-airline tax stances. She didn't seem to understand that CSR could extend to the choice of words of reporters, sub-editors and columnists to the issues concerned, and just flannelled.

It's a big question - can media organisations claim to be responsible if they are taking an "irresponsible" editorial line?

To twist the old maxim, is it a case of "do as I do, not as I say"?

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Posted by Gareth Kane 3 responses

17 August 2011

CSR is the Law!

I still hear people trot out the old line that the sole responsibility of a business is to act in the best interests of its shareholders - by which they usually mean maximising short term profits at the expense of all else. Here in the UK, at least, this isn't exactly true. In the 2006 Companies Act, directors' duties are defined as:

S172 Duty to promote the success of the company

(1) A director of a company must act in the way he considers, in good faith, would be most likely to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members [ie shareholders] as a whole, and in doing so have regard (amongst other matters) to—
(a) the likely consequences of any decision in the long term,
(b) the interests of the company’s employees,
(c) the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others,
(d) the impact of the company’s operations on the community and the environment,
(e) the desirability of the company maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct, and
(f) the need to act fairly as between members of the company.

[Emphases are mine]

In other words company directors are obliged by law to consider long term issues, employees' welfare, communities, the environment and the company's own reputation when making decisions.

So CSR isn't just a like to have, it's the law.

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16 August 2011

Green Academy September Sessions

Here are the details of the two Green Academy on-line sessions on 7 Sept 2011:

11am BST: Basic level: Get off to a flying start


  • Putting a team together;
  • Gathering data while avoiding ‘paralysis by analysis’;
  • Identifying quick wins in energy, raw materials, waste & recycling, water and transport;
  • Building on initial momentum.

Cost: £45+VAT. To register for the basic level session click here (Paypal)


2pm BST: Advanced level: Green Marketing & Communications


  • Creating a compelling marketing message;
  • Beyond preaching – engaging stakeholders;
  • Avoiding eco-cliches;
  • Avoiding greenwash.

Cost: £45 + VAT. To register for the advanced level session click here (Paypal)


Each session lasts for one hour. You need access to a computer with sound or a computer and a telephone. You will receive a workbook to apply the learning to your organisation prior to the start of the session.

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15 August 2011

Get In Early!

A recurring theme from our clients is that great opportunities have been missed because sustainability wasn't considered early enough in a particular project. By the time anyone with environmental responsibilities gets to see the plans, momentum has already started and the best that can be done is a slight deflection in a greener direction rather than the radical rethink required.

The obvious solution is to make sure that sustainability is considered at the very earliest stage - right back when the need for any project is being debated, and certainly before any solutions are proposed. The bigger the project and the longer its impact (eg construction), the more important this becomes.

But fundamentally this is a symptom of a wider malaise - sustainability is still in a silo and not integrated into the DNA of the organisation. In good organisations, safety is seen as everyone's responsibility, and in TQM, quality is seen as everyone's responsibility. To be a true green business everyone must take responsibility for sustainability, rather than calling in the 'Green Team' towards the end of planning get a project rubber stamped or tweaked at the end. Then sustainability will never be an afterthought.

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10 August 2011

Wrestling with Olympic Dilemmas

Last night, I caught the BBC's mockumentary series Twenty Twelve about the arrangements for next year's Olympic games. There was a lovely scene where the Head of Sustainability was fighting tooth and nail to retain a huge wind turbine on site as a tangible symbol of "The Green Games". The two cynical engineers pointed out that they already had a biomass CHP powering the whole site with green energy and, in any case, wind speeds were low on site so the turbine would never turn. At one point someone proposes motorising the turbine using the green energy from the CHP.

While this is a wonderful satire on modern management thinking, it is actually a pretty accurate representation of the type of dilemma faced by sustainability practitioners. While many sustainability solutions are dull and hidden away (CHP, district heating, insulation, geothermal energy, smart grids etc, etc) there is always a desire to have something you can actually show off to people.

At the end of the day, I'm with my fellow engineers. Practicality and reality come first - symbolism a distant second. Going for a green white elephant just for the PR can rebound horribly disappointing enthusiasts and making cynics even more cynical.

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9 August 2011

A Tribute To Ray Anderson

It was with great sadness that I saw the news that Ray Anderson, Chairman of Interface, had died yesterday. I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr Anderson, and only heard him speak once at an Interface event. But I recommend his book, Confessions of A Radical Industrialist to every other person I meet, included an interview with one of his senior European directors in The Green Executive, and included Mr Anderson as the only industrialist (so far) on Green Gurus where I concluded:

Ray Anderson is in many ways an unlikely green guru. An industrialist, a Southern Gentleman, self deprecating and almost impossibly polite, he is as far from a tree-hugging tub thumper as you could imagine. But nobody else has delivered green business improvements on this scale. He has taken the theories of gurus like Amory Lovins and Janine Benyus and demonstrated that if done correctly they do make good business sense. By transforming an archetypal ‘dirty’ industry such as floor coverings, he has demolished the excuses from other sectors that it can’t be done. And he is committed to spreading the world, reportedly delivering around 150 speeches and interviews a year. When it comes to industry, Ray Anderson is the green guru.

I don't have many heroes, but Ray Anderson was one of them. One of a kind and an inspiration. I'll end with his words:

“If we can do it, anyone can. If anyone can, everyone can.”

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Posted by Gareth Kane 2 responses

8 August 2011

Never forget compliance!

Most of us in the green business world are very gung ho about "going beyond compliance", but I've started adding a caveat to that - "but don't forget about compliance". In my business case for sustainability model, compliance is the base of the pyramid - lose sight of that and everything else collapses - just ask BP.

You should note that "beyond compliance" and "compliance" often converge over time as the latter does not stand still. More and more gets added to the statute book every year and much which is there tightens automatically. Here in the UK, environmental permits for 'dirty' industries require the use of "Best Available Technology (BAT)" to prevent pollution - so the bar rises as technologies improve. For other large organisations, the CRC Energy Efficiency scheme is designed to tighten the screw on carbon emissions as the years go on. So incremental improvements may simply keep the wolf from the door for a year or two - another good reason to focus on step changes.

Another interesting recent development is business calling for increased legislation to punish environmental laggards - such as airlines calling for air travel to come under the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme. Far better to set the agenda than react to it.

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5 August 2011

Toxic Legacies

My first paid "green" job was researching techniques for the eco-design of "large made to order products" such as oil platforms, ships and process plant - anything very large and one-off. One of my philosophical ideas was to extend the tradition cradle-grave life cycle for such products to include a post-decommissioning "legacy" phase. The purpose was to encourage the designers, owners and operators of such facilities to think beyond the act of dismantling and consider long term residual issues. I was very pleased with this idea, believing it would encapsulate the sustainability idea of intergenerational equity, but after getting it published in the Journal of Engineering Design and including it in my MPhil thesis, it singularly failed to set the eco-design world on fire. One of my colleagues at the time uncharitably said it reminded her of musty old ladies.

So it was with some interest then that I read about Shell having its arm bent by the UN to contribute to the clean up of Ogoniland in Nigeria despite having ceased operations there in 1993. This is exactly the kind of issue that I wanted to encapsulate in my legacy idea. Designers would be challenged to design out such legacy problems on the drawing board, treating them with the same priority as issues in the traditional life cycle. Maybe I should resurrect the idea...

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3 August 2011

Delivering Corporate Sustainability

In sustainability maturity model (above) that sits at the heart of The Green Executive, one of the five key requirements to create a truly green business is the alignment of all processes and procedures to sustainability. This must be the easiest said, hardest to do parts of the whole book.

That's why all of part 3 and much of part 4 are dedicated to this topic - how to get "green" out of the environmental silo and embed it everywhere. And by "everywhere" I mean everywhere: operations, the supply chain, products/services, the entire business model and all the supporting processes like accounting and HR.

One of the trends picked up in the Green Executive is how the cutting edge businesses are going about this. Instead of just creating a green range of products, they are embedding sustainability into their entire product range, deleting those that don't make the grade. Instead of simply adding some green criteria to purchasing decisions, they are building the supply chains they need, discarding suppliers who don't make the grade. In some cases they are redefining the traditional producer/supplier distinction through industrial symbiosis (using other's waste as a raw material) and product takeback (using your own post-use product as raw material), or even the traditional business model through product service systems.

This approach doesn't ask "is X feasible?", but asks "how can we make X feasible?". That's a huge mental shift on both the individual and the organisational level, but to deliver corporate sustainability it's an essential one.

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1 August 2011

Happy Birthday to Us!

Terra Infirma is 4 years old!It is five years to the day that I cast off the chains of an institutional career and set up Terra Infirma. I still remember my outline plan - spend August building a dry stone wall in the garden, start marketing myself in September and hopefully get the first project going in October. In the event the wall took another 18 months to build - half way through the first week the phone rang and I had to put down the stone I was holding, go shower off the dirt and get my suit on for what turned out to be my first client meeting. Exciting times.

The last year hasn't been any less exciting. My second book, the Green Executive has been published, we've launched the Green Academy set of green business webinars and we've landed our first two FTSE 100 clients, which means our strategy of shifting from our early reliance on public funding to large private sector clients is starting to bear real fruit.

Looking forward, we will soon be launching a better registration system for Green Academy, starting to turn the webinar sessions into stand alone learning modules and starting a range of e-books. We are also in negotiation with a number of big name prospective clients. All our other services including this blog and The Low Carbon Agenda monthly bulletin will continue.

So, it just leaves me to thank all our clients, partners, friends, followers, subscribers and workshop participants for another great year. I'm looking forward to meeting more of you (online or offline), so don't be afraid to come and say hello!

All the best,


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Posted by Gareth Kane one response

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