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June 2013 - Terra Infirma

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28 June 2013

The Lesson from the Green Deal...

Tjurruset Competition

Yesterday, the UK Government released initial figures on the uptake of its flagship Green Deal programme. This was developed to help homeowners retrofit energy efficiency measures in their home, financed from their electricity bills, but under the 'Golden Rule' that repayments would never exceed savings from the scheme. Sounds good? Well, uptake has been slow.

According to the Guardian, over 40,000 assessments have been undertaken, but only 3 people have taken out a loan with another 200 in the process of doing so. 5000 having financed the measures themselves and got cashback from the Government. This suggests that the people the Green Deal is aimed at - those who can't afford that capital investment themselves - are not taking advantage of the finance - not yet, anyway.

Why not? They'd always get some cash in their pocket, get warmer homes, contribute to a greener future - why not?

Well, it's all a bit complicated, isn't it? I mean think of a harassed working parent, dashing from school gate to the office or factory and back again, feeding the family, getting them to bed and then slumping on the sofa. They've got a choice between watching the latest shenanigans on The Apprentice or getting their head around the Green Deal's Golden Rule. Which wins?

When I sat on the board of a WarmZone project, we struggled to give away insulation for free to low income households. Why wouldn't people take their arm off? Some people didn't believe it really was free, others saw clearing out their loft as too much hassle - despite the big economic, health and comfort benefits the insulation would bring. Add a relatively complex financing deal to that and it doesn't surprise me that people demur.

Again and again we keep getting the same lesson - that if you offer a green option it must not only be better than the alternative, or the 'do nothing' default option, but be simpler and more intuitive as well.

A walk in the park, not a slog through the mud, in other words.


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25 June 2013

Obama steps up on climate change (at last)

It was the big speech everyone concerned with climate change was waiting for. Barack Obama, leader of the world's biggest economy and second biggest carbon emitter (in terms of sources), was going to address tackling climate change head on in a speech to students at Georgetown University.

The omens weren't great. The Pres' Climate Action Plan was released hours before the speech and, while it said a lot of the right things, it consisted of a mishmash of worthy but unambitious proposals rather than a coherent strategy. So how would the speech go?

It wasn't Obama's oratorial highpoint. Wilting under (appropriately) high temperatures and competing (ironically) with aircraft flying overhead every few minutes, it was half an hour of hard slog for the man they call POTUS. But the content, oh the content, the content was spot on.

  • He demolished the case of the climate change deniers - deriding them as "the flat earth society";
  • He reframed a low carbon economy as an economic opportunity for the US, not a threat;
  • He played humble - noting that individual States were leading Federal Government and that the latter had to step up;
  • He tackled controversial issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline and shale gas head on - saying the former would not go ahead unless it reduced carbon emissions and presenting the latter as a stepping stone to a low carbon economy (controversial but honest);
  • He wisely wrapped the whole issue in the Stars and Stripes - making tackling climate change a patriotic duty for a country that takes patriotism very seriously.

The impact of such leadership was instant with shares in coal companies tumbling before he'd started to speak. There was a marked contrast with the situation here in the UK where the plans are arguably much more ambitious, but the leadership is nowhere - and industry is unsure which way to jump.

I've long preached that leadership is the key issue in delivering sustainability - and it was great to see a national leader finally step up and lead. Bravo.


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24 June 2013

Sustainability frustrations? Don't get mad, get 'umble

Regular readers will know that I get bemused by the amount of anger on t'internet, especially when it comes to sustainability issues. The killer question is, does anger do any good? I mean, it might make us feel better in ourselves - let out that frustration - but does it help or hinder us in reaching our goal?

When I was storyboarding The Art of Green Jujitsu (above), I made anger a theme of the first half of the story when our protagonist Barry Greene is failing to bring people on board. He blames them, and just tries to shout louder at them via posters and instructions when they don't take any notice. This kind of passive-aggressive anger does no good whatsoever, creating a gulf between you and your colleagues and at worst it can spill into self-righteousness which is fatal.

The lightbulb moment in the animation is a moment of humility. The humility to realise that what you believe isn't important, but what your colleagues believe is. Humility is the essence of Green Jujitsu and I don't think you can do humility when you're angry.


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21 June 2013

Book Review: The Burning Question, Mike Berners-Lee & Duncan Clark

Burning QuestionThe central thesis of The Burning Question is that all our wonderful solutions to the climate crisis - renewables, nuclear, population control, energy efficiency - come to nowt unless about half of fossil fuel reserves remain where they are - underground.

That might seem a statement of the bleedin' obvious, but all too often we ignore the obvious in favour of the complex. For example, many have called for the exploitation of shale gas to drive down emissions from coal burning. But use of shale gas in the US has simply driven down the price of coal, leading to generators in other countries such as the UK switching from conventional gas to coal and increasing emissions. This type of 'rebound effect' suggests that, if fossil fuels are in the game, they will be used.

As the authors point out, financial markets are clearly assuming that identified reserves will be exploited at a similar or faster rate than they are today. This means they have rated the risk of those reserves being written off in favour of a low carbon economy as zero. It is worth noting that the markets have been wrong, very wrong, recently on the dotcom boom and the subprime mortgage market with quite spectacular results, but it would be more reassuring if they saw a clean energy revolution as something worth investing in.

After discussing the reasons why this might be, the authors take a slight, but interesting and potentially crucial, tangent. By moving swiftly to tackle non-fossil fuel greenhouse gases, such as methane from landfill and nitrous oxides, we could relatively painlessly buy ourselves some time to tackle the more ingrained problem of fossil fuels.

The longer term solutions put forward for our fossil fuel addiction are:

  • Waking up: facing the facts;
  • Capping the carbon: a global cap and trade scheme and divesting in fossil fuel companies;
  • Pushing the right technologies hard: carbon capture, renewables, nuclear - we'll need them all;
  • Dealing with land and smoke: protecting forests, dealing with methane and black carbon;
  • Making a plan B: geoengineering;
  • What can I do - personal interventions such as speaking up and eating less beef and lamb.

This is a short, punchy, provocative book. However, it suffers from the problem that most such books suffer - that the solutions provided at the end are rather vague compared to the precision with which the authors analyse the problem. In this case they briefly cover the pros and cons of different options but rarely nail their colours to any particular mast (with the notable exception of the need to tackle non-fossil fuel sources of greenhouse gases.)

That grumble aside, The Burning Question is definitely worth a read, if only to remind ourselves of that key central truth - that about half of the world's fossil fuel reserves must remain untouched, or everything else we do will be in vain.


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17 June 2013

Why is the sky blue and other difficult questions

jim jam spainAt three and a half, my middle boy, Jimmy, has hit the golden age of the killer question - why?

Daddy, why do we have ceilings?

Daddy, why do cows moo?

Daddy, why is the sky blue?

Actually that last one really threw me as I assumed I knew the answer but found out I didn't have a clue (the answer is here). I look at the sky every single day - and sometimes it is blue, even in the UK - but I've never queried its colour. This is what kids like Jimmy can remind us - never to take anything for granted and never, ever be afraid to ask "why?"

Engineers talk about 'The Toddler Test" or "The 5 Why's" - keep asking why until you get to the fundamental truth. It works for sustainability practitioners as well, to take a simple example:

Why are we producing this amount of waste?

Because it comes from offcuts of sheets of raw material.


Because of the shape of our product's components means we can't avoid creating lots of big offcuts.

Why are the components that shape?

Um. Because they always have been...


Because no-one ever thought about waste when the product was designed 10 years ago, OK?

Obviously, like a kid who won't stop asking questions (naming no names...), you run the risk of being thought to be a right pain in the backside. But you won't cut through layers of institutional inertia and implicit assumptions to get to underlying truths without asking difficult questions. And without getting down to those underlying truths you won't be able to make the fundamental changes required.

It's a risk worth taking!


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Who has the power to green the supply chain?

Greening the Supply Chain Constraints

One of the issues we explored in our recent Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting on supply chains was who in the organisation has the power to drive or constrain the greening of the supply chain. I've been developing that line of thinking since for an exciting new project (watch this space), and I've come up with a hierarchy of constraints that you can see above.

  • Trying to green the supply chain by simply choosing the greenest option available is the easiest place to start, but it will only ever lead to incremental improvements.
  • By setting a procurement policy which, say excludes certain substances or certain suppliers, you will have more influence, but you are still constrained by the way the rest of the organisation operates as that is where demand comes from.
  • The design of operations - whether that's manufacturing, logistics or even office processes - will determine which materials you need and in what quantities.
  • Above that, the actual design of your product and service will drive operations and the levels below. Will this product be designed to be made out of recycled materials? Does it require rare earth metals?
  • The business model is the next influential - are you going to produce a physical product at all or a digital product or a product service system where you lease rather than sell?
  • And overarching everything else is your corporate philosophy - are you prepared to invest in the supply chain you need? Do you want to be a pioneer of the circular economy? Or collaborative consumption? Are you going to use your buying power to effect change on a transformational level?

Of course in practice, the boundaries blur and they may not all apply to all organisations. But the overall principle is that the higher in the hierarchy you effect change, the bigger the impact on your supply chain footprint.



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14 June 2013

There's nothing green about a crap product

socks holesI really liked these bamboo socks when I saw them in TK Maxx, but they barely lasted a couple of weeks before they wore through. Maybe I should have been alerted by the overt green marketing that I was probably buying a substandard product 'for the cause'. But I'm forced to add them to my depressingly long list of crap 'green' products.

A waste of resources, a waste of money and a reinforcement of the prevailing belief that green = poor quality. It doesn't have to, of course - as the late, great Ray Anderson of Interface said:

"There is no need to compromise either aesthetics or functionality for the sake of sustainability."

Or as I've said many times:

"You've got to compete on performance, price AND planet."




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12 June 2013

What do (some) Greens and Climate Change Deniers have in common?

Admiral Lord NelsonOh, the UK's new energy bill. Otherwise much lauded by green industry commentators, the bill put off setting a 2030 decarbonisation target until 2016 - a compromise between Energy Secretary Ed Davey and the Chancellor George Osborne. An amendment to the bill to set the target now was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons. You'd think the world had ended from the Twitterstorm that followed.

For interest, I challenged a couple of people who were venting off, asking what they thought the problem was with delaying that target. Nobody could give me a clear answer apart from it would be better to have it sooner than later. In fact many tweeters seemed to think the target had been rejected outright rather than delayed, and some seemed to think the whole energy bill had been voted down. Few seemed to actually have investigated what they were tweeting about before hitting that blue button. One resorted to personal abuse for daring to ask.

All of this reminds me of the dank underworld of the climate change denier. Keyboard warriors hunched over their screens, repeating the mantra in BTL article comments without ever stopping to ask key questions - or check the evidence. People who don't automatically agree are clearly inferior and should be put in their place with brutal efficiency.

At worst this is groupthink - repeating the myths 'cos the rest of the tribe is doing so it must be right. Often it is confirmation bias (which we all suffer from to some degree) where we exaggerate the evidence that suits our argument and ignore that which contradicts it.

The commentators I really respect are those who think for themselves, considering the evidence and coming to their own conclusions. Mark Lynas has proposed that GM and nuclear are required to saving the world, going against the green grain. Uber-greenie George Monbiot has considered the relative impacts of coal-power and nuclear power and concluded that the latter is preferable by a country mile - again upsetting the green doctrine. James Murray at BusinessGreen has made his name by objective analysis of the pros and cons Government policy rather than the kneejerk and predictable condemnation of the NGOs. I might not agree 100% with everything these guys say, but I always find their arguments valid and thought provoking.

Let's be clear, if we are going to shift towards a sustainable future, we need to be pragmatic. That means concentrating on what is possible and getting that done quickly, rather than getting all holier than thou. This may involve, dare I say it, compromise and certainly requires objectivity.

We expect rabid nonsense from the deniers, but what we need from the green community is a little more signal and a lot less noise.



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10 June 2013

Fear of a Green Planet II

screamI was fascinated to read that when BMW wanted to develop its new electric car range, they set up an arms length division to prevent "sabotage". Uwe Dreher, head of marketing for the car, told the Guardian,:

"What would have happened is when technical development has been concentrated for 40 to 50 years on the internal combustion engine, it gives everyone security. It's a human condition to be afraid when people face new things and have no experience out of their comfort zone.

So we had to create a new platform. We got the power from the board and they told us to come to them if we were having problems, if people in the business wanted to kill it. It has been sitting aside as a separate structure in the company to protect it."

I heard this concern previously from GlaxoSmithKline when I interviewed their then Vice President of Sustainability, Jim Hagan for The Green Executive:

We have a huge amount of sunk cost in existing technologies – not just the capital sunk cost in physical plant, but also the personal sunk cost – many people in the organization have developed expertise in the technologies that define the company. If we move into innovative approaches, their expertise may no longer be useful and may become obsolete which can make people anxious.

So fear is clearly a real problem if two huge but different manufacturers have identified it as a major risk. While BMW's approach will work in product development in the short term, it is a bolt-on solution that won't serve to align the whole company to sustainability - unless they start sacking the "traditional minded" employees en masse - hardly ethical and a great loss of talent. In practice I've seen quite a few such arms-length divisions either get closed down or sold off in the name of focus, usually after a change in leadership.

The Green Jujitsu approach would be to tap into the engineering mindset at the company and train up the existing engineers in EV technology and insert them into the emerging EV teams. A mixture of peer pressure and technical curiosity is likely to bring most people along. Above this, clear leadership is required to set the overall direction of travel with the ultimate threat of "this way or the highway".

But fundamentally, sustainability must be centre stage in the business, not lurking in the wings. That's where you get stage fright.


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7 June 2013

We've Got the Certificate, What More Do You Want?

Here's the latest in the Green Business Confidential podcast series. It's called "We've Got the Certificate, What More Do You Want?" and it's given by our occasional guest presenter Hugh Jim Pakt of DirtyCorp Ltd.

Audio MP3

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

GBC23 We've Got The Certificate, What More Do You Want?.

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



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5 June 2013

How to deal with a climate sceptic

rantWhen I originally came up with the concept of "Green Jujitsu", it was in the context of 'dealing with difficult people' in The Green Executive. Difficult people from a sustainability practitioner's point of view are those who reject the whole idea that man is having a negative impact on the planet.

Now the natural habitat of the climate sceptic is blogs and below the line comments on newspaper websites. And as long as they stay there, repeating their zombie arguments ad infinitum, they're not doing any harm.

But it can be a real nightmare if you get one in your organisation trying to obstruct your sustainability efforts, throwing half-remembered snippets of rubbish they've read about where the Romans grew their grapes into the conversation. As soon as you knock one argument down, they'll bring up another and another until they land on something you can't answer on the spot and then they'll triumphantly say "See?" You can't win.

So how do you deal with sceptics? The Green Jujitsu way is...

  1. Get highly visible buy-in from the leadership - sceptics will have to feel very confident to go up against the CEO;
  2. Design the process to get people involved in the development of the strategy - then lots of people will have a stake in the results and peer pressure will sweep sceptics along;
  3. Ask people why (not whether) they think the business should take sustainability seriously - they end up selling it to themselves;
  4. Ask sceptics directly for help if possible. If they're an accountant, ask for help on carbon accounting etc;
  5. Choose your language to suit your audience. A sceptic may respond better to "risk management", "cost efficient" or "brand enhancement" than to "save the planet";
  6. Don't try to explain climate change science to employees - you're just asking to get bogged down in "How come Mars is warming?" type nonsense;
  7. Don't preach. Ever;
  8. In your employee engagement, ask teams of people to think of ideas to green their area of business. This makes it directly relevant to their day job and resistant to "none of my business";
  9. Create peer-pressure by running competitions between departments or teams;
  10. Make sure everything (language, imagery, tone, process) is aligned to the prevailing culture in the organisation, so the sceptic can't denounce it as tree-hugging.

In my client engagements I have worked with a couple of thousand employees, but because I use Green Jujitsu I have only ever had a couple of sceptics try to cause trouble - and they failed to disrupt the process.


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3 June 2013

The Resource Crunch IS Crushing Growth

Yesterday I was perusing The ENDS Report (possibly my last edition, but that's a different matter) when I saw this from Tom Burke:

Nearly a third of profit warnings by FTSE 350 companies in 2011 were attributed to rising resource prices. An EEF survey found 80% of senior manufacturing executives thought limited access to raw materials was already a business risk. For one in three it was their top risk.

That is shocking - particularly in light of the need to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing.

oil prices
Added to this is the energy situation (data taken from the EIA). The spike in oil prices probably burst the debt bubble in 2013 and, according to the EIA, the continuing high oil prices (three times what they were 10 years ago) are crushing economic recovery. Shale gas might be giving some light relief in the USA, but is clearly having little impact on global oil prices - the two usually relate. Unconventional sources rely on high prices on conventional reserves to make them viable, so we are very unlikely to go back to the days of cheap energy.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the choice is not "green or growth" but "green or stagnation". We must reframe every argument in this way to meet this challenge head on. Lip service and/or burying our heads in the sand will get us nowhere.

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