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August 2012 - Terra Infirma

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30 August 2012

Musings on a Green Economy pt4: What Needs Fixing And How Do We Fix It?

This is the fourth and last part of my holiday musings on a Green Economy - looking at what's stopping us achieve a sustainable economy and what I suggest needs doing to break down those barriers.

Last time we saw that the elements for a green economy are all available to us: radical ways of delivering experience without (so much) stuff, a shift to renewable energy, zero waste business models and the eradication of toxic materials.  However, unlike most technological advances, we can't afford to be laissez-faire as time is not on our side. This week arctic ice coverage plummeted to an all time low, disrupting weather patterns across the Northern temperate zones (not to mention my holiday plans). What is required is vastly accelerated maturation of these elements so innovation, synergies and economies of scale all kick in to deliver rapid change.

So what is holding us back?

I often say that the barrier to sustainability is just 6 inches wide - the space between our ears. And unfortunately it is human nature to think incrementally - witness current calls for a plastic bag tax. But, as someone else said - man didn't get to the moon by aiming half way - or 0.1% of the way in the case of the would-be scourges of carrier bags. We need to collectively raise our sights.

Politically, there is no doubt we need much stronger leadership across the board. The Rio+20 summit was conspicuously premier-free - with big names like Merkel, Cameron and Obama absent. This presents a big risk as political leadership gives the nascent technology developers confidence and bureaucrats direction. As the green economy requires creative destruction - we have to lose the old ways of doing things as fast as we gain the new ways - we need our leaders to be cheerleaders for the new. Otherwise the media will focus relentlessly on the loss of the old - we need that bright uplands vision thing desperately. Here in the UK, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has a decent record on green issues when in office but has been strangely silent on it since, could make much, much more of the green economy and force the Prime Minister to buck up his act.

On the global scale, a binding international agreement on climate change seems as far away as ever - and I find it hard to see how any agreement will satisfy Washington, London, Berlin, Beijing and New Dehli without being so weak as to be worthless. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has been widely condemned for saying there is nothing green about forcing polluting companies overseas, but actually he was quite right. Without an international agreement, such 'carbon leakage' will undermine moves in richer countries to cut their carbon. This is a classic 'tragedy of the commons' where it is in no-one's self-interest to act, yet everyone suffers as a result.

So how do we square that circle? I can think of two ways. First, forget the binding carbon targets, but challenge each country to publish their own targets and report against them in real time, creating an element of competition. This has the benefits of being really easy, fast to implement and avoids the dreaded lowest common denominator. The only 'penalty' is loss of national pride which of course won't have the oomph of binding targets, but this approach has the substantial advantage of being possible.

Secondly, big business controls global supply chains through buying power, irrespective of national boundaries. If countries, trading blocks and corporations co-operate to mandate whole-life cycle sustainability requirements on products and commodities (in a flexible way), then it won't matter whether a product is produced in Leicester or Kuala Lumpur, it will be low carbon and sustainably sourced. Developing countries would strive to implement higher green standards to remain competitive, rather than the race to the bottom we currently have. And Mr Osborne would get to sleep easy.

On a more local basis, many of the moribund economies of the world are looking for infrastructure projects to stimulate growth. Well, here's an idea. Instead of expanding roads and airports and all that old fashioned high carbon economy stuff, why not accelerate the development of smart grids. This hits so many buttons - high tech, long term, innovative, sustainable, and most importantly, it will unlock the long term uptake of renewables to the point where they can dominate electricity production driving down the country's carbon footprint. You can have that one for free, Chancellor.

Despite the doom and gloom. I remain optimistic that we can fix these problems - but we do need to, as Apple put it so ungrammatically but effectively, think different.

OK, so that's my view, what's yours?


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Posted by Gareth Kane 4 responses

28 August 2012

Musings on a Green Economy pt3: What's Working

Here's part 3 of my holiday musings on a green economy. Last time, we looked at two models of sustainability - eco-efficiency (doing more with less) and eco-system models (copying nature's solar powered loops). This time, we'll be looking at what moves to a green economy are genuinely making progress.

I haven't bought a CD for years. This is not an insignificant sign - I was the archetypal '£50 bloke' who would have felt strange coming back from my weekly shopping trip into town without a bag of those shimmering disks. About half of these I would love, the others would sit on the shelf after a play or two. Now I rarely bring such stuff into my house, yet my life is still full of music due to the wonders of t'internet, MP3s and iPhones. In fact I rarely 'go shopping' anymore.

When I considered eco-efficiency last time, I mused that the only way we would get step changes would be new models of consumption which sell us 'experience' rather than 'stuff'. Experience is the music, stuff is the CDs. Experience is the movie, stuff is the DVD. Experience is the picture, stuff is the film and the paper it used to exist on. Experience is the words in a book, stuff is the pages, glue and card, nevermind the packaging and transportation. Experience is a webinar, stuff is the fuel required to attend a training session.

And you can see the effect - two of the big purveyors of CDs and DVDs on the British highstreet, Woolworths and Zavvi (nee Virgin Music), have gone, and the survivor, HMV, is said to be struggling. Camera film has almost disappeared from the shelves and sales of compact cameras have plummeted as smartphones make them redundant. Many books' electronic versions outsell their paper'n'glue equivalents.

Of course this digital experience has an ecological price - but the carbon footprint of a downloaded music album is said to be 40% that of the physical equivalent. And now server farms are being relocated to the far north or powered by renewables to bring that burden down in way you simply can't do with a physical product. And the lightweight nature of home entertainment may be weaning us off our addiction to accumulating stuff as status symbol - witness the rise in other collaborative consumption models such as Airb'n'b and ZipCar. But more widely it shows us what we need to do to make such eco-efficiency gains: think different and make the new version so desirable that consumers willingly ditch the old.

Looking at the eco-system model, renewable energy is booming. Germany, the spiritual home of the feed-in tariff, hit 50% of electricity production from renewable sources for an hour in May. OK, that was just an hour, but it shows new energy sources are capable of biting significant chunks out of fossil fuel's dominance of the market. Here in the UK, solar panels are springing up all over the joint and capital costs have dropped 30% as a result. Renewables companies are often being paid not to generate - a bizarre state of affairs which shows their increasing contribution.

In terms of zero-waste, domestic waste collection and reprocessing is climbing steadily as local authorities and individuals suss each other out. Numerous companies have declared themselves as wanting to be 'zero waste' and some 'waste' companies are finding where there's muck there's brass, for example plundering street sweepings to recover platinum from catalytic converters. And toxic materials are being eradicated left, right and centre, mainly on the back of tough EU legislation which ripples out around the world.

More broadly, another interesting shift is the number of big retailers and public sector organisations which have taken on the mantle as gatekeepers for the citizen and are driving sustainability down through their supply chains. This has many advantages over the niche of green consumerism as these players can use their buying power to demand performance, price and planet from their suppliers - a pretty good deal for the consumer.

So is it all rosy in the garden? No, certainly not. There's plenty to be optimistic about, but a long, long way to go to sustainability. In Part 4, we'll look at some of the big sticking points and what can be done.


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Posted by Gareth Kane 2 responses

23 August 2012

Musings on a Green Economy pt2: Visions of Utopia

So, as discussed in pt1, we need to green our economy not only to make us environmentally sustainability (the medium-long term priority) but also to get the economy going again (so even if you hate the green movement, you should swallow your pride). But what would a green economy look like?

I like to split the various visions of utopia into two broad catagories:

1. Eco-efficiency aka "doing more with less"

Eco-efficiency is all about numbers, such as "we need to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050". It can be defined as the amount of use (utility) we can get out of each unit of resource - oil, raw materials etc with the hope that if we extract more use, we need less stuff. Estimates of what level of efficiency increases we might need range from a factor of 4 (in the famous book of that name) to over 100.

Why so high? Well, history tells us that the more efficiently we use stuff, paradoxically, the more we tend to consume - if driving becomes cheaper, we tend to drive more, or, more worryingly, use the money saved to buy a cheap flight, destroying any environmental benefit. This is known as the rebound effect.

And then there's the problem of how efficient we can make technology - hitting Factor 10 in a house is now straightforward, but try doing it for, say, flying.

To make eco-efficiency work, we have the following options:

  • Make massive efficiency gains to overwhelm the rebound effect (how many flights can one person take?);
  • Restrain consumption by either restraining affluence (try selling that politically) or population growth (another political humdinger);
  • Change the nature of consumption so we are consuming experience rather than 'stuff' - an MP3 gives you the music you want without the cardboard, plastics and metals needed to produce a CD (we'll look at this in more detail next week).

2. Eco-system models aka "copying the solar powered cycles of nature"

Nature doesn't do efficiency - think how many sperm a man produces over his life compared to the number of children he is likely to father (sorry if you're reading this over lunch) - yet nature has been pretty much sustainable for at least the last billion years. It does it by creating loops of materials (carbon, oxygen, nitrogen etc) which do not systematically poison the system, powered by solar and gravitational forms of energy.

To copy nature, we need to shift to a circular economy where all waste becomes a raw material for something else  - or where we can trade materials sustainably with nature. This all needs to be powered by renewable energy. And we need to eradicate persistent poisons. None of this involves numbers - it is all or nothing. The big question is: can we actually deliver this with the levels of stuff currently in the economy? In natural cycles, energy capture is usually the constraining factor and it is true of the eco-system model - can we capture enough renewable energy? If not, and it would be a steep challenge, we'd need to make genuine eco-efficiency gains to make it feasible.

The Paradigm Shift

The two paradigms are completely compatible - for example using recovered metals will reduce carbon emissions quantitatively and using materials more efficienctly will help make the circular economy more feasible. However, as the eco-system model is the only one that will guarantee sustainability, we need to pursue it as the end point and thus the priority. Unfortunately most policy makers see eco-efficiency as the priority, so there is a requirement to reframe the debate so we get a paradigm shift.

In Part 3, we're going to look at what's working, and after that, what needs fixing.


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21 August 2012

Musings on a Green Economy pt1: After the Crash

I'm officially on holiday for the next two weeks, but due to the size of the bump on my pregnant partner, we're holidaying at home - the dreaded "staycation". Because holiday is time for relaxation and reflection, I'm going to run a series of blog posts about how we get to a Green Economy. Here's the first.

When the run on Northern Rock bank started in 2007, signalling the start of the implosion of the over-inflated economy, I was in the South of England at a political conference. On the silent screens showing BBC24 around the venue, we watched images of queues outside Northern Rock branches in my adopted hometown of Newcastle and it was clear that something was very, very wrong.

About a year later, I was drafted onto a "task and finish" panel which had been tasked with drawing up a plan for what local Government could do in the North East of England to help rebuild the economy. In my opening remarks, I spoke about how I thought we should be looking at the crash as an opportunity not to put the economy back as it was, but as we'd like it to be - and I made the case for a green economy. This received appropriate murmurs of assent around the table, but as the panel listened to the invited 'experts' on economic recovery, I grew frustrated with the lack of any real ambition from anyone to change anything.

Five years on from the crash and the economy is, on the face of it, stagnating. However I am one of those who believes the UK economy is much stronger than the headline figures suggest and that we're just looking at what's left when you remove the debt-driven bubbles in the financial services and construction industries which gave us the illusion of wealth in the pre-crash era. But a big factor which most mainstream commentators seem to be ignoring is the price of oil. As I have argued before, it was probably the price of oil which forced up the cost of living and burst the debt bubble and according to Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency, the continuing high price of oil is a big contributor to that economic stagnation. So it is not a question of 'green or growth', so much as 'green or stagnation.'

Many of you will be reading my analysis and thinking "Aha, but he's still working in the old economic paradigm of 'growth is good'" and you'd be right. We do need to take a step back and ask the most important question you can ever pose - "Why?" The current economic growth paradigm is like the proverbial shark - if it doesn't keep moving forward, it dies. Economic growth may not increase our standard of living, but economic decline destroys it. And of course there is a close correlation between economic growth (in terms of GDP) and carbon emissions/other environmental strains. The alternatives are 1. switch our main measure of well-being away from GDP, 2. move to a 'steady state' economy which is designed not to grow, or 3. make the decoupling happen.

My concern about a steady state economy is no-one has any experience of how to make this work nationally or internationally. In fact you could argue we have a steady state economy, and Germany and Japan have gone through their own recent periods of stagnation, and nobody seemed to enjoy the experience. A revolutionary approach cold backfire in a time of great uncertainty and instability.

In terms of replacing GDP, a number of 'happiness indexes' have sprung up which try to combine a whole range of factors into a single figure. The problem with such indicies is their complexity makes it very difficult to link them to particular policy interventions. I suspect a simple 'GDP plus' (or minus as the case may be) measure which factors out 'harmful' economic figures might be more practical in the short to medium term for managing the economy, with the happiness indicies used to monitor the wider health of society. And going back to the link between growth and carbon emissions - I can't help thinking we have never really tried to decouple the two and that the price of oil is now forcing us to do so.

So, GDP plus and rapid greening of the economy is my recommended remedy to repair the economy - next time, I'll be ruminating on some visions of what that green economy might look like - click here for pt2.


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17 August 2012

Objectivity is Subjective

One of the most frustrating things about this business is the politicisation of environmental issues, and how difficult this makes getting objective analyses. Whether you want a view on climate change, acid rain or peak oil, objectivity seems in short supply. Distorted graphs, cherrypicked data and straw man arguments are plastered across the web and much of the media.

For example I read a piece on peak oil this week which described the concept as "idiocy" as oil "will never run out" because long before it did, prices would rise and force investment in alternative energy sources. Er, that's peak oil theory you're agreeing with there, pal, if you bothered to find out what it actually is.

Readers of my books will have seen a version of these perceptions of the environment (the red ball) in a slightly different format. The three here are:

  • Individualist: believes the environment is robust and there to be exploited - the red ball will always roll back to the safe centre - typical of free marketeers and those who 'disbelieve' in climate change;
  • Hierarchist: believes the environment can be exploited within safe limits - the red ball is OK unless you push it too far - typical of Governments and scientists;
  • Egalitarian: believes the environment is fragile and should be protected at all costs - the red ball is doomed if you move it even slightly - typical of green pressure groups.

The problem with the extreme mindsets is that people tend to develop them and stick to them tribally, exaggerating data which supports their position and ignoring anything that disagrees with it - a phenomena known as confirmation bias. Conflict happens when the hierarchists start to see society nearing one of the safe limits - then from the viewpoint of the individualists, they start to look like the destested egalitarians and all hell breaks loose.

I find all this tremendously frustrating, as I'm basically a hierarchist and I'd really like to know where exactly we are in relation to, say, peak oil. It takes too long to check out every 'sceptical' argument from individualists or wild claim from egalitarians yourself (and I've been through a hell of a lot of them on climate change), so it comes down to trying to find someone you trust to be objective. So I have these rough rules of thumb:

  • Never trust a think tank or pressure group - you can tell what the Adam Smith Institute and Greenpeace's position will be on renewable energy before you open the report, so why bother?
  • Dismiss any argument derived solely from commentators - if anyone validates an argument using either James Delingpole's or George Monbiot's words (to pick two from opposite ends of the spectrum above) then I stick my fingers in my ears and sing "la, la, la";
  • Peer reviewed science is more reliable than non-peer reviewed science, but peer review in itself doesn't mean it is 'right';
  • Consensus of evidence is more important than consensus of opinion. The important point about climate change science is not so much that 98% of qualified scientists believe climate change is real and manmade, but that they can validate the theory using lots of different methods and evidence;
  • Analyses which acknowledge their own limitations and provide error bars etc are usually more reliable than those which don't;
  • Watch out for University press releases which are increasingly often exaggerating the findings of 'controversial' academic papers to make them more newsworthy (which is a disgrace and undermines the whole idea of scholarship);
  • Any piece which contains personal abuse should be disregarded, especially if evokes the Nazis.

Well that's my (subjective) view anyway.


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15 August 2012

Are product lifecycles getting longer?

Some interesting anecdotal evidence:

  • I had to make a 'repair or upgrade?' decision on my 4 year old MacBook Pro a couple of months ago. The latest model had only marginally better performance stats, so I went for the repair. I can't imagine that happening 10 years ago.
  • My dad asked me how old my car was. Ten years I answered. Blimey, he said, think what a typical 10 year old car would have looked like 20 years ago - it would have been a bucket of rust.
  • There was a story in the press that PC sales are down, particularly bulk purchases. As tablets tend to be bought in addition to desktops or laptops, this was puzzling the journalist - maybe the economic downturn was to blame. My reaction was unlikely - did companies ever upgrade their IT on a whim?

Product life cycles are interesting things. Most products are disposed of long before they physically wear out, but rather when they fall out of fashion. This is the (in)famous "planned obsolescence" - a term coined  in 1954 by Brooks Stevens and defined as "instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary." It could be argued that planned obsolescence is at the heart of modern consumer driven society.

But is this changing? With smartphones now able to handle video conferencing and bog standard PCs able to do what used to be thought of as heavy lifting like video editing, what would you upgrade to do? My 10 year old car doesn't look very old fashioned the way a 70's car would have looked in the 80's. In the last few years Governments around the world have had to resort to stimulating new car purchases through scrappage schemes - effectively bribing people to buy a new car. Even in the building trade, old buildings are being 'repurposed' and classic facades are being retained in new developments.

I've done a bit of Googling, but can't find any hard and fast data on product life trends. But if they are lengthening then it is (usually*) a good thing for the environment, but it will require a different approach to business models. The real money could be found in maintenance, added functionality (eg Apps) and support rather than hoping your customer base will fall out of love with the stuff they have and buy something new.


* The only downside is that you stay wedded to with current technology - eg petrol cars when you may want a shift to zero emission vehicles.


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Posted by Gareth Kane 7 responses

13 August 2012

Weasel Words

I heard my least favourite weasel words last week:

"There is a green thread running through all the decisions we make."

This was justification for the removal of any reference to sustainability from the organisation's priorities. It is meant to make sustainability sound as if it is a priority when it is not - something cannot be a priority and not be a priority at the same time, although some people somehow manage to square that circle without questioning it. The speaker was just kicking an issue into the long grass while fooling themselves they're on top of it. As we used to get told at school, "you're only cheating yourself."

When I hear phrases like this, I despair. Other classics include:

  • We expect the highest ethical standards from our staff. (I'm sure you do (er...), but how do you communicate that and police it?)
  • We take our corporate responsibility very seriously. (So what do you do differently? What won't you do?)
  • This product was produced in accordance with ISO14001 (That doesn't make it a green product per se and your process could still be highly destructive)
  • Help us save the planet. (Yeah, right, you're that powerful)

Anybody got any more to add to the list?


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10 August 2012

Book Review: The Zeronauts by John Elkington

John Elkington one of the sustainability field's leading pioneers and in his latest book he looks at those at the cutting edge of sustainability thinking who he dubs Zeronauts - the people who are aiming for zero - zero waste, zero emissions, zero toxins. Zeronauts are people like the late great Ray Anderson of Interface who launched the groundbreaking Mission Zero programme to have a zero impact on the planet by 2020. Zero is of course the ultimate stretch target and a great motivator as Elkington reminds us throughout the book.

The structure of the book takes us through three quintets of concepts:

5Cs of scale: citizen, corporation, cities, countries, civilisations;

5Es of maturity: eureka, experiementation, enterprise, eco-systems, economy;

5Ps of examples: zero population, zero pandemics, zero poverty, zero pollution, zero proliferation.

So far, so good. But the big problem is, for me at least, the book just doesn't deliver on the central promise. Many of the examples are of bog standard sustainability efforts rather than the special case of zero, diluting the core message. In fact the most insightful critique of the zero approach in the book comes not from Elkington, but in a series of lengthly blog extracts on zero waste from Andrew Winston of Green to Gold fame. Beyond this, there was little about the implications of, say, a zero waste policy to a single company and no mention of key enabling concepts such as industrial symbiosis. The "How Zeronauts Tackle Pollution" box could be titled "How Everyone Tackles Pollution" so generic is the content.

I also found the presence of many on the 'Zeronauts Roll of Honour' to be debatable - for example James Hansen is a great scientist who has bravely stuck his head over the parapet to warn of the dangers of climate change, but I have never heard a proposal from him that fits the zero theme - and none is presented here to justify his inclusion. The list appears to consist of sustainability practitioners that Elkington admires rather than Zeronauts per se. And don't get me started on the five figure year format.

That's not to say there aren't loads of interesting ideas and nuggets in the book, which I have to say is beautifully presented, and the Zeronauts meme is brilliant in itself, but I was expecting a tautly drawn up manifesto for the zero movement, or a critique of it, and this falls well short of either. Zeronauts could and should have been an essential text, but it's more of a curate's egg. Frustrating.


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8 August 2012

Sustainability, Olympic Cycling and the Mission to Mars

Two things have been massively distracting me from work this week - Team GB's continuing amazing success at the Olympic Games and the Curiosity rover's descent onto the Martian surface. So, in order to justify this skiving to myself, I've been thinking about what lessons we can bring back to the field of sustainability from these achievements.

Like much of the country I've been paying particular attention to the Olympic track cycling. Team GB's domination of the Siberian pine boards in the Velodrome has been put down to cumulative incremental gains - tweaking absolutely everything to squeeze the last improvement out of it - after all you only need to beat your opponent by a thousandth of a second to clinch gold. So something that looks very normal to us - someone riding a bicycle - has been optimised to the nth degree.

The Mars landing is altogether a different proposition - although one wag on Twitter described it as "NASA takes gold in the 563 billion metres." It takes 7 minutes for Curiosity to pass through the Martian atmosphere, but 14 minutes to send a signal back to earth, so there's no way to control it in real time. It all has to be pre-planned and programmed before Curiosity leaves earth and once it goes into what NASA calls "the seven minutes of terror", it's on its own. The programme is costing $2.5 billion and 60% of past Mars missions have failed, so we're talking about really high stakes, high reward. And if you watch the video below, you'll see just how ingenious NASA have been with the innovative 'sky crane'.

On the face of it, aiming for sustainability is more like the Mars mission than the track cycling. We're not looking just to be fractionally more sustainable than last time, but to take ambitious leaps forward, thinking outside the box and taking risks - landing on Mars is the ultimate stretch target. But like the cycling, and unlike the Mars programme, we do have fine, real time control over how organisations and technologies perform - testing and tweaking to optimise performance in a constant search from excellence. And the idea of cumulative incremental improvements has applications to sustainability too - straightening a pipe in a process can mean smaller pumps are possible which in turn can lead to a lighter structure and so on - lots of synergistic increments can lead to significant improvements within the limitations of your overall approach. There are lessons from both.

So in answer the question I set myself, yes, there is justification for the amount of time I've spent in front of the TV. Now back to work.

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6 August 2012

Why I'm Not Calling for a Plastic Bag Tax

There's another big call out for a plastic bag tax in England and Wales. I'm not against such a tax per se, but it is far from the top of my list of priorities. OK, single use plastic bags cause litter, but nearly as much as, say, crisp packets (if you have ever been on a litter pick you will know what I mean), and can harm marine life (ditto), but they're said to represent 0.1% of the average person's carbon footprint, so if we wanted to make a 50% cut in humanity's carbon footprint, we'd need to find 500 such measures to do so.

"So what?", you may ask, "this is an easy win, a symbolic gesture, something we can do." Yes, but, have we not had enough symbolic gestures, enough pilot projects, enough green grandstanding when we really need to be delivering improvements at scale? This is no time to be lowering our sights down to something even the Daily Mail can support - we've got to raise them, challenge ourselves and make a real difference.

The same thing can happen at the organisational level - people pursuing "safe" incremental improvements at the expense of more ambition. The third "secret" in my first book, The Three Secrets of Green Business, was "take some huge leaps and lots of small steps." If you focus just on the latter, you'll soon come up against diminishing returns - you need the huge leaps to propel you you towards sustainability. My second book, The Green Executive, called for organisations to set themselves stretch targets, to escape "the tyranny of the present", change the mindset and make those ambitious changes.

So yes, let's have a plastic bag tax, but don't see it as a significant achievement and don't waste much time and effort on it - and for goodness sake don't rest on your laurels - but understand it would be a tiny incremental improvement and we need to be looking for those huge leaps.


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3 August 2012

Why Bradley Wiggins is wrong on cycle helmets

Bradley Wiggins is a hero. Winning the Tour De France and an Olympic Gold Medal in the space of eleven days and bringing a huge dollop of charisma and rock'n'roll attitude with it - wow! And then he goes and blots his copybook, in my, er, book, by appearing to call for compulsory cycle helmets - although he later back-pedalled (ha!) on this.

We can go into all sorts of arguments about road accident statistics and survival rates, but to me it comes down to a single factor - if cycling is good (good for us, good for others, good for the planet) then it should be encouraged, not discouraged. As with all sustainable behaviour issues, when it comes to the decision point we must always make the 'good' option easier to follow than the 'bad' option. Having to purchase and wear a cycle helmet is an obstacle and cyclists face enough of those already. If you prefer to wear one, then fair enough, but experiences in Australia and New Zealand suggest cycling will become much less popular if it is enforced.

As soon as post this, I'll be going out pedalling rather more sedately than Wiggins along the back roads and bridleways of Tyneside - visiting lots of tea shops - with the wind in my hair as it should be. Just hoping I don't meet an ironic and sticky end having tempted fate!

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1 August 2012

Happy Birthday To Us!

Terra Infirma is 6 years old!Terra Infirma is six years old today!

Six years. Blimey. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday that I invested the grand sum of £300.00 in some self-designed stationery and a (self-designed) website and declared the company open for business - other times it feels like another age.

And the last year has been another great one for the company despite the constant backdrop of economic doom-mongering. We are now firmly planted in the FTSE100 zone, continuing to work with clients like Johnson Matthey plc and BAE Systems plc, another two new FTSE100 clients in the project start-up phase, and other big names like the BBC and the NHS. The vast bulk of this work has related to culture change for sustainability.

Our on-line Green Academy continues and now has its own webpages and we continue to get a wide range of participants from micro-businesses up to corporate giants.

One innovation this year has been the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind (CoSM) Group - a small group of senior sustainability practitioners from top companies getting together every quarter for a facilitated exploration of the challenges that they face. I've not been making a big song and dance about CoSM as we are deliberately trying to keep the numbers low, but you can see my notes from the inaugural May meeting here.

And, while I'm not publishing a book this year, my first short e-book is due out in the Autumn. Its provisional title is "Green Jujitsu: The Smart Way to Embed Sustainability into Your Organisation". Needless to say you'll hear plenty about it when it's released.

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 ever be afraid to come and say hello!

All the best,



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