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December 2011 - Terra Infirma

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22 December 2011

'Tis the Season...

Well, that's just about it from me for 2011, so all that's left is to thank all our readers over the last twelve months and to wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Take care & enjoy yourselves,


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20 December 2011

A Festive Fifteen For You

After an incredibly hectic November and early December - I interacted with some 750 individuals over this time - things are finally winding down here at Terra Infirma Towers. This is the last full day of operation until the New Year.

So, here's a little reflection of the fifteen most important things I've learnt/had reaffirmed over the last 12 months:

  • Despite "the current economic climate", the big players are doing more on sustainability, not less;
  • Partially as a result, sustainability is becoming an issue of life and death for small/medium size businesses;
  • Expecting a direct return on investment on your environmental programmes is like driving on a motorway in second gear;
  • You should be 'farming' rather than 'hunting' sustainability;
  • There is a big shift from worrying about outputs (emissions, pollutants) to inputs (materials energy);
  • Learn from the Feed In Tariff hoohah - beware subsidies;
  • The main barrier to sustainability is only 6 inches wide - the space between your ears;
  • Culture change is more important than shiny new technology
  • Chip & Dan Heath's "Switch" model of culture change works well for sustainability;
  • Participation is an effective method of engagement;
  • To ensure sustainable change you must hunt down and eliminate perverse incentives with extreme prejudice;
  • If you're going to appoint sustainability champions, make sure they have a well defined role, not just vague words like "ambassador";
  • Questions are the most powerful weapon in the sustainability practitioner's armoury;
  • Responsibility must be aligned with authority and vice versa;
  • Sustainability must be integrated into everything, by everybody, everytime.


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16 December 2011

The Three Big Challenges of Green Business

If going green is a Herculean task in itself, it is one with three massive challenges, just like Cerberus the three headed dog (who looks a bit of a poodle in this classic woodcut, but never mind). Those three slavering jaws that could wreck your efforts are:

1. The Supply Chain

For most organisations, the supply chain is the biggest part of your carbon/ecological footprint. With complex, global chains, it is very hard to trace where materials and components come from. For example, huge number of big brands have black-listed paper giant APP for their destruction of rainforest, but the company hasn't gone bust, so it is almost certain its products are finding their way to the consumer through some circuitous route. Likewise if you want to develop greener products or install greener technologies, you will often find the supply chains are weak - low quality, high prices, low reliability. This will change over time as demand rises, but it is currently a serious brake on progress.

2. Company Culture

It is very telling that at least 80% of my work this year has involved engaging with clients' staff to get their buy-in to sustainability. Without that buy-in - from the boardroom table to the guy sweeping the yard - green programmes will stall. This is where real leadership and hard graft are required - it is not easy. (Don't forget to check out my guide to fostering green behaviour at work.)

3. Consumer Behaviour

Whether you are selling houses, kettles or washing powders, the biggest factor that will determine their environmental impact is how they are used by the consumer (or other end user). Proctor & Gamble may have developed Ariel Excel Gel (aka Tide Coldwater) which will wash clothes at 15°C, but all their work will be in vain if the consumers' dials drift back up to 40°C. A zero carbon house won't be a zero carbon house if the doors are left open in mid-winter with an electric fire blazing in every room. Persuading those people to buy your green product and then use it correctly is a function of marketing, product design and clever messaging.

Big challenges indeed - worthy of a true superhero. Hercules used strength, guile and determination to complete his tasks - virtues required of the successful green business leader, too.

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14 December 2011

Growing a sustainable economy at home

About 15 years ago I lived in Hanger Lane in West London. One weekend I was left unsupervised, so I tootled off on my bike to a hill I could see in the distance and looped back around home via a river. Suddenly a magical sight appeared before my eyes - a traditional shopping street with a butcher, a baker, no candlestick maker, alas, but the independent bookshop, fishmongers and deli more than made up for that. Not a chain store in sight. Wow!

I haven't been back to Pitshanger Lane (for that was the name of this retail Narnia) since, so I don't know how it has fared, but that's what I immediately thought of when I read The Portas Review on revitalising the highstreet by the eponymous TV retail guru Mary Portas.

The Review is part of the UK Government's attempt to get the economy going again, by getting people back into town centres. There's some good stuff in it too - all designed to open up the high streets to smaller, more specialist retailers.In my view, the very dominance of big retail on the highstreet has made it vulnerable to e-commerce - why trudge around identikit big sheds if you can find the same stuff online?

To me the world economy looks like one of those cheesy sci-fi movies where an alien disease threatens to wipe out mankind, but medical science is stumped for an answer. Robert Peston's brilliant The Party's Over: How the West Went Bust on BBC2 demonstrated that debt-fuelled consumerism and financial Ponzi schemes are unlikely to get us back to the boom of the mid 90s to the mid 00s. Added to this are determinedly high oil prices and rise wages in the countries to which we have outsourced much of our production, which makes cheap tat much less cheap than it once was.

So can we harness this situation as an opportunity? Can we use the perilous position of the highstreet as an opportunity, not just for a revival of small shops a la Portas, but as a revival of small scale, local, sustainable supply chains? The modern cottage industry can be high tech and lean, able to offer quality and uniqueness, selling products that people cherish, rather than the semi-disposable cheap rubbish of yore. Loops could be closed, creating local supplies of sustainable materials.

There is still space for big shed in my utopian vision, but as actual sheds - warehouses for e-commerce, reaping the sustainability benefits of this type of business and using the local "Post Office" points Portas suggests could store deliveries that come while you are out.

Who knows if it will work, but as in those sci-fi movies, the hero usually just tries lots of stuff before he stumbles on what saves the day.

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12 December 2011

Musings on Durban

So something has finally been agreed. Governments have agreed to make an agreement by 2015 which will come into force by 2020. Ministers are jubilant. Pressure groups say it is not enough. Plus ça change!

Here's my thoughts:

  • Global agreements will always suffer from a degree of lowest common denominator - keeping Washington, Beijing, Brussels and New Delhi happy is an almost impossible task;
  • Agreements, agreements under negotiation, or lack of agreements should not be seen as an excuse for lack of domestic action (are you listening George O?);
  • That doesn't just go for Governments - there's nothing to stop organisations and individuals acting either;
  • The main purpose of international agreements should be to put a brake on 'carbon leakage' (ie migration of 'dirty' industries) from one country with high standards to one with lower standards - this is the only risk of a country going it alone;
  • Governments are best placed to decarbonise through the markets - particularly using their own colossal buying power. If you want industry's attention, make low carbon a prerequisite of doing business - you then stimulate innovation and cut emissions;
  • Business is better placed to cut carbon than Government. If captains of industry decide they will, say, go zero carbon, you will see a lot of change happen very quickly - they don't have to worry what the Daily Moan will say about it. Supply chains are global, so one big buyer in the West can affect emissions around the world.

So I am neither excited nor depressed by the news from Durban. Those of us working to cut emissions will just keep on doing so!

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9 December 2011

Green Academy Pages Go Live!

Regular readers will have seen posts on the blog here for our Green Academy series of environmental training webinars - dozens of people have taken part at one time or another in 2011 and the feedback has been fantastic. Well now we've completed a successful single cycle of the programme, we've launched new pages here on the website. You can peruse all the sessions and book into those you fancy.

If you haven't come across Green Academy yet, I explain how it works here:

And, wait, there's more!

To celebrate, we've decided to run a Christmas special deal. If you book over the festive period, we'll give you a whopping 33% off the Advanced Series (10 webinars, normal cost £330.00+VAT, deal £220.00+VAT - click here to get the discount) and the Introductory Series (4 webinars, normal cost £150+VAT, deal £100+VAT - click here to get the discount).

We have to receive payment by 6 Jan, so get your skates on!

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7 December 2011

Shopping for sustainability?

I was perusing the always excellent ENDS Report the other day and noticed that there were three consecutive articles covering big sustainability ventures by big retailers: John Lewis, Sainsbury's and Boots. Big retail has long had a bad press, often justified, for killing high street diversity, driving down producer incomes and globalised, high carbon supply chains.

But while all that buying power can be a bad thing, it can also be a force for good. When these big buyers say "jump", suppliers shout "how high?" If they say "we want environmentally friendly products at top quality and competitive prices", they will get them. In the Green Executive we saw how retailers like Marks & Spencer have the power to build whole new supply chains for sustainable materials.

The other twist for the big sheds is, unlike smaller retailers, they suffer from tall poppy syndrome. The fear of damaging their all important brand by being accused of greenwash drives them to do things properly. Similarly they don't want to be seen to fall behind their competitors.

Interestingly at the same time, environmental concern amongst consumers is said to be falling - probably due to short term financial worries.

So with the power and the motivation, there is a strong argument that the sustainability revolution will be driven by shops, rather than shoppers.

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5 December 2011


It was a crucial workshop for an high profile new client. I got to the venue in good time, found my seminar room, tweaked the layout, set up my laptop, checked the presentation, stuck my A0 brainstorming sheets to the walls and distributed Post-Its around the tables. All set and ready, so I headed off for a coffee.

After the initial plenary sessions, I walked briskly back to the seminar room to be there before the first delegate. I walked into the room and my heart sank - I had left all the lights blazing, projector on, and my laptop plugged in for two hours in an empty room. I thanked my lucky stars that no-one had noticed, acted like nothing had happened and ran the workshop - on how to persuade fellow staff members to behave in a greener way. All the time, a little worm of guilt wriggled away at the back of my mind.

They say cobblers are the worst shod, but there is no excuse for saying one thing and doing another. Apart from the sheer hypocrisy of it, "do as I say, not as I do" can hole your sustainability efforts below the water - cynics will justify their cynical stance, enthusiasts will feel betrayed, and the rest will say "why bother?"

I've certainly learnt my lesson. I make a point of double checking seminar rooms at break times and switching off everything I can before leaving. I've also started reusing my brainstorming charts for as long as they stay semi-presentable. On the rare occasions I have to fly, I offset the emissions (better than nothing).

So, if your role involves spreading the green message, it is worth spending taking few minutes every so often and thinking - "how can I behave 'greener'?". Don't fall into the trap of giving yourself a pass 'cos of all the good work you do. You must be an exemplar.

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2 December 2011

A Green Business is not a Charity

Here's the latest in my Green Business Confidential podcast series. It's called "A Green Business is not a Charity" which is one of the most important rules I have learnt in my business.

Audio MP3

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

GBC11 A Green Business Is Not A Charity

You can get the whole podcast series here or subscribe on iTunes.


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