Gareth's Blog

Recent Posts



November 2013 - Terra Infirma

Browse All

29 November 2013

Build the (green) economy you wish to see

Here's the latest in the Green Business Confidential podcast series. It's called "Build the Economy You Wish To See" - why we need to be outward looking and proactive, not insular and reactive.

Audio MP3

Or, you can download it here and listen on your MP3 player:GBC27 Build the Economy You Wish To See

You can get the whole podcast series here.


Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

27 November 2013

Talking Green Jujitsu with Nestle & Greggs

gk iema

On Monday, I addressed an IEMA event on Employee Engagement for Sustainability in Newcastle, sharing the platform with Andy Griffiths of Nestlé and Paul Rhodes of Greggs. We had delegates from across the North of England and record numbers for such an event which shows how important the topic is.

Up first, I started by parodying the standard me-too approaches to employee engagement from switch it off stickers to giving out jute shopping bags. I then went into how to do Green Jujitsu, using lots of client examples (you can see a similar presentation here).

I was followed by Andrew Griffiths of Nestlé. He explained that the company's factory in Newcastle was serving as the pilot for their sustainability programme. A couple of things he mentioned that I really liked were:

  • Nestlé's messaging principles are Positive, Immediate, Certain in contrast to the traditional green Negative, Future, Uncertain;
  • They organised a session where employees could try out electric cars to lower the fear of the unknown. By installing chargers, they now have a number of employees who have purchased EVs to commute to work;
  • They flow indicators down through the structure from KPIs to Process Performance Indicators to Activity Performance Indicators.

Paul Rhodes of high street bakers Greggs gave the third presentation, and I scribbled down the following:

  • It is very difficult to engage employees effectively in a fast changing, high-turnover environment such as retail, whereas the production and logistics parts of the company are much easier;
  • Instead of asking for voluntary energy champions, Greggs designated assistant managers as champions as that is the right level in the organisation to make sure corporate targets are implemented;
  • They use the sausage roll as an unit of measurement - "The energy we are losing here is the equivalent to baking X sausage rolls" - as everyone understands the sausage roll at Greggs.

It was a really great event and it was a pleasure to be part of it!

Photo by James Dixon


Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

25 November 2013

Business Ethics: Compliance vs Conscience

pencil figure checklistOn Saturday there was an interesting, provocative piece in the Telegraph by Charles Moore on the 'Crystal Methodist' Paul Flowers/Co-operative Bank scandal. He argued that the Bank's much lauded ethical stance is what got it in trouble - that by emphasising 'compliance' with ethical/corporate social responsibility systems, they took personal judgement, or 'conscience', out of the system, freeing individuals to act in an unethical way. He scales this up to claim "this obsession with Ethics is one of the great curses of our time."

Here's where I agree with Moore:

  • Some people do use ticking boxes as a shield to avoid taking personal responsibility.
  • That if the Co-operative were truly ethical, it would ensure that a qualified competent person was in charge of its customers' money (BTW: I am one of those customers & so is Terra Infirma Ltd).
  • Far too many organisations that have a CSR/ethical policy still screw up.

But on the fundamental point, that the bank was corrupted by an obsession with compliance with its ethical systems, I must disagree.

For a start, there is no evidence that the crash was due to Flower's political leanings or beliefs. Indeed, the first bank to go belly up in the 2007 credit crunch was Northern Rock, then chaired by Matt Ridley. Ridley is almost the antithesis of Flowers - right leaning, highly pro-market, a climate change sceptic and, we must presume in the absence of evidence to the contrary, clean living. The only thing the two of them have in common is that both were almost entirely unqualified and inexperienced to run a bank. It was incompetence that put both institutions in peril, not politics.

Then, imagine trying to run a large organisation in the absence of a compliance system and relying entirely on personal ethics and judgement? How could you ensure there was no slave or child labour in global supply chains without a system of audits? How would you ensure that your waste wasn't ending up in a lake somewhere without a duty of care process? How would you know that your recruitment process is not discriminatory without monitoring diversity? None of these things can be delivered simply by individuals in organisations acting spontaneously on their conscience - even if they all had spotless halos shining above their heads.

What Moore is guilty of is the classic newspaper columnist's false 'or', because you can have both compliance AND conscience. And of course you can have neither  as we see in so many organisations, and plenty of scandals there too.

I would go so far as to say the modern organisation needs both. You need policies so people know what is expected and the systems to make sure you are following through on your policies. But those systems should never insulate any of us from making the right ethical judgements. That's ethics.


Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

22 November 2013

Banking Bad: What The Co-op Got Wrong

co-op plus

So the latest big banking scandal involves my own bank - The Co-operative holds both my personal account and those of Terra Infirma Ltd. The company has had to sell huge chunks of equity to hedge funds after some spectacularly bad strategic moves. And now the Chairman, the Reverend Paul Flowers, has been exposed as a drug-taking, bungling klutz who can't even quote the bank's assets within the correct order of magnitude.

The reason why I switched my personal accounts over to the Co-op and opened the company's business accounts there was its ethical stance - pure and simple. Now I'm livid. Not because the Rev Flowers, aka the Crystal Methodist, has a rather florid lifestyle (porn, drugs, orgies et al), but because when it comes to financial services, he is a rank amateur.

How on earth did he end up running a bank? Did the board think a man of the cloth would ensure the ethical stance? Was it through his political connections? Who knows, but he certainly didn't get the role because of his business acumen. And that's what makes me cross.

Running an ethical business is usually more difficult than running one with a narrow financial outlook. That means you need to be even better at, say, running a bank as others, as you have to deal with often conflicting drivers and still make the business work. A strong ethical stance will not cover for poor management or poor business sense.

This should stand as a lesson to all ethical businesses. You need to get the business right as well as the ethics.


Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

20 November 2013

Chickens & Eggs: How to Build A New Green Supply Chain

chicken and eggIt's the classic supply chain problem - you want to switch to a more sustainable material/component/vehicle but the supply chain for that option is immature - featuring high costs, poor quality and/or low volumes. An example of a chicken and egg situation* if there ever was one - without demand, there is no supply, without supply, there is no demand.

So what do you do? Resign yourself to business as usual?

No, the key to accelerating the adolescence of a green supply chain is to create demand, which you can do in the following ways:

  • Forward commitment procurement: by saying you will buy a certain amount of that item several years in the future, suppliers will know the demand will be there and gear up the supply in anticipation - particularly if you are announcing you won't be buying any of their old product after that time;
  • Collaborate with others to create cumulative demand. The European Postal Services did this to accelerate the commercialisation of hydrogen vehicles by announcing a joint forward commitment;
  • Lateral thinking: find other uses of that item internally to create demand. Marks & Spencer started buying low grade recycled polyester fibre in bulk for uses such as cushion filling - this demand brought down the price of the high-grade recycled fibre they were after for clothing by getting material flowing through the loop in the first place.

A fourth technique is to invest directly in the supply chain to smooth out kinks and improve processes. While this can help speed up the process, the new supply chain will only survive if the demand is there. So at the end of the day, you must create demand.

* And, yes, I know the egg did come before the chicken in reality (think dinosaurs), in the same way as demand must always precede supply.
BASS C loresMy latest book, Building A Sustainable Supply Chain, is available from DoSustainability. Use the code BSS15 to obtain a discount before 6 December 2013. You can read an extract here and join in our free webinar on 27 November 2013 to celebrate the book's publication.


Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

18 November 2013

Is your supply chain a ticking time bomb?

timebombI own a 118 year old house. When people say "they don't build them like that anymore", my reaction is usually "thank, goodness" as the Victorian builders didn't bother themselves with trivialities like foundations, joists always meeting walls or, indeed, right angles. Add in the ravages of age and some questionable 'improvements' over the decades, and the place is like Pandora's Box - what other problems will emerge if you look too hard? When we did major refurbishments 10 years ago, we decided to grasp the nettle and do everything properly and, boy did we find problems - woodworm, dry rot, damp - and our bath was being supported by just half an inch of floor joist. Doing it properly was disruptive, expensive, but worth every penny.

I always think of my house when I meet people reluctant to deal with sustainability issues in their supply chain. It's almost a fear of shining a light into the dark corners because you mightn't like what you find. So most seem to sit tight and hope the problems don't bubble up and burst in their faces.

Apple tried to do this when Greenpeace targeted them for toxic waste problems in the supply chain back in 2006. Steve Jobs first dismissed the issues but performed an extremely rare u-turn once the issue threatened the company's hip image and produced an impressive environmental strategy. Then the Foxconn working conditions issue exploded and Apple was back in the mire again. As a result, the company has upped its supplier audits by a factor of 10 and publishes them online. It has also announced the re-shoring of some manufacturing to the States. The lesson has been learnt - the hard way.

Here are two quotes from Tom Smith of Sedex, taken from my latest book, Building A Sustainable Supply Chain:

It’s tempting just to scratch the surface, but you’ve got to go all the way down – it’s a dirty, nasty, difficult business, but that’s the only way of doing it properly.

As you go down, the risks are greater, you have less visibility is less and you have less influence. But how can you say you have a good quality, efficient supply chain when you don’t know where your goods are from?

Unfortunately too many still think that they can sit tight and hope any timebombs in the supply chain will never go off. But it's time to get the sniffer dogs out, shine a torch into those dark corners and defuse problems before they blow up in your face. Just ask Apple.


BASS C loresBuilding A Sustainable Supply Chain is available from DoSustainability. Use the code BSS15 to obtain a discount before 6 December 2013. You can read an extract here and join in our free webinar on 27 November 2013 to celebrate the book's publication.


Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

15 November 2013

Do we really need a single definition of sustainability?

dictionary page

There are said to be hundreds of definitions of sustainability and I often come across people who think this is a problem. But is it?

Firstly, there is a dictionary definition of the word sustainable (-ility): able to be maintained at a certain rate or level which gives the broad idea we are after.

Secondly, the 'agreed' definition of sustainable development, the Brundtland definition is hardly a role model, being so bland as to be almost meaningless in a practical sense:

"development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Thirdly, any other attempt to get a universally agreed definition will end up with a similarly lowest-common denominator result - hardly likely to inspire;

Fourth, setting a definition in stone will restrict thinking, not fire it up. Let people think freely, re-frame the question, innovate.

Fifth, don't we have more important things to do? Like making it happen. We need to be action-oriented, learning by doing, gaining understanding as we move forward, rather than disappearing up our own whatsits on a theoretical debate on semantics.

My advice? Pick your favourite one, or make up your own, and use that.



Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

13 November 2013

Interview with Tom Smith, Sedex

tom smith sedexThis is the last in my series of interviews with leading sustainability practitioners which I carried out to gain examples and pithy insights from the front line for my latest publication, Building A Sustainable Supply Chain.

Sedex is a not-for profit ethical supply chain management service with about 29,000 members in 156 countries. As Director of Insight and Planning at Sedex, Tom Smith lives, eats and breathes supply chain sustainability and he is uniquely placed to give vital insights into this most important issue.

Where did the idea for Sedex come from?

We were founded by a group of UK retailers back in 2004. They had gone off in the mid-90s to set up their individual ethical trading programmes – each with their own audits, questionnaires, certifications, processes etc. By 2000 they had come across two big challenges:

1. There was a huge amount of duplication in questionnaires between different companies and suppliers were spending more time responding to questionnaires than actually fixing the problems. There was also huge duplication in ethical audits and the expense incurred;

2. The sheer volume of data. As ethical trade became more complex and covered more issues right down the supply chain, the volume of data that could be managed by Excel and people’s inboxes became limiting.

So the retailers said, we may all interpret and prioritise data in a different way, but the data we are looking for is the same. So this group, companies like Marks & Spencer, Tesco and the John Lewis Partnership, decided to create an on-line platform where any supplier of goods and services can complete a common set of questions, upload anything they’ve got onto one place – all their questionnaires, audit reports and certifications etc and share that out with multiple customers.

Are suppliers obliged to use the service?

It was created to be a bottom up supplier driven service, not just first tier suppliers, but factories, farms, mines etc - the whole works - and to capture information at a site level, not the top line corporate reporting level.

So in 2004 it was launched as a not-for-profit member organisation to help drive practical ethical trading, not talking about the why, but about the how and helping the CSR managers view the data and make decisions, rather than spending 95% of their time collecting it. Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

11 November 2013

I need your sustainability pearls of wisdom!

The last four Christmases I have published "Pearls of Wisdom" - short compendia of wise words on CSR/green business/corporate responsibility from some of the best in the business. You can see the previous four volumes on our free resources page - really worth a peruse when you're in need of inspiration.

So I'm after your wisdom again. As usual I'm after real insights for readers - attitude not platitudes is my mantra - and again this year we're going to impose the ubiquitous 140 character tweet limit. They can be on any element of implementing sustainability in an organisation - strategy, objectives, employee engagement, supply chain issues, eco-design, marketing - anything.

Feel free to submit extracts from your wisdom published elsewhere as long as you own the copyright. Contributors who make the cut will see their wise words in a pdf document similar to previous years, along with their name, organisation and URL. Editor's decision is final (and power goes to my head).

So, clever people, get your thinking caps on and e-mail your entries here before 30 November.


Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

8 November 2013

Are we winning?

raceRegular readers may have noticed a rather upbeat tone to my posts here recently. And for good reason. Renewables starting to take big chunks out of the energy budget (15.5% of electricity in the UK last quarter), more renewables are coming on stream, electric vehicles starting to look like winners (sales up 447% in the US, Tesla sedan and Leaf hitting top of car sales in Norway), a semi-circular economy (waste to landfill falling) - the good news keeps on coming.

But I must admit I was worried I was overdoing it - surely the big picture is still worsening? Well, last week we got the news that the rise in carbon emissions is 'slowing down' due to "the use of less fossil fuels, more renewable energy and increased energy savings" in a way that the researchers involved believe is permanent, not a blip.

So, are we winning?

Not yet. Emissions are still rising (hitting a record last year), we are likely to have used our carbon budget by 2034 (according to PwC) and there is plenty of bad news about. But it does look as if the brakes are starting to come on carbon in particular and, in the economy, the momentum is swinging in our direction. And I think we should celebrate. Yes, celebrate.

Many people believe that there's a risk of people sitting on their laurels when good news come through and that we should keep up the doom-mongering (stand up, numerous NGOs and take a bow). But in my experience it is despair and feelings of helplessness that freeze progress, not success. We are competitive people - when we achieve a goal we tend to celebrate then press on with enthusiasm to do even better - otherwise nobody would ever start level 2 of any computer game.

Every win you, me or they make is a small step towards a sustainable society - a noble goal. So, yes, let's pat ourselves on our collective backs, smile, then psyche ourselves up to take on the next challenge with relish!


Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

6 November 2013

Interview with Tracey Rawling Church, Head of CSR, KyoceraDUK

trcThe Kyoto Ceramic Company Limited was founded in 1959 by Kazuo Inamori and renamed Kyocera in 1982. It has grown into a multinational electronics and ceramics manufacturer with over 71,500 employees worldwide. Here I interview Tracey Rawling Church, Head of CSR at Kyocera Document Services UK and a well respected figure in the wider CSR/corporate sustainability field.

How did you personally get involved in the sustainability agenda?

I was a PR consultant by profession and I found myself being asked to represent clients who did things like selling cigarettes in vending machines. I wasn’t happy about that so I decided to find myself a job where I felt good about what I was doing.

I went to some interviews with charities and NGOs and realised that, coming from a commercial background their culture wasn’t quite crisp enough for me. I realised I needed to be in a business, so I needed to find an ethical business. About the time I was looking, Kyocera was launching its range of Ecosys cartridge free printers and I’d never seen green B2B marketing before. I’d seen green marketing from brands like Ecover and Bodyshop, but green B2B was new.

My experience was B2B so I got myself a job as their PR manager. I worked my way around the whole marketing team in the ensuing seventeen years doing some product management and marketing communications. During all this period, the time I was spending on sustainability strategy was growing in proportion to the amount of time I was spending on marketing until it got to the point where the marketing bit was vanishingly small. So we acknowledged that and changed my job title.

What I decided to do on the back of the launch of these cartridge-free printers was to start embedding sustainability into our marketing. To start with it had its own channel because no-one was going to buy a printer or a copier just because it was sustainable back in 1993. We set up a network we called The Green Card network for sustainability professionals where we talked about green office practice. That was a separate network for 10 years from 2000 to 2010 and then we felt the adoption of sustainability by business had reached a point where we could embed it into our overall communications. So the Green Card network became the Green Light area of our website.  Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

4 November 2013

Building A Sustainable Supply Chain hits the shelves/ether!

BASS C loresI'm delighted to announce that Building a Sustainable Supply Chain, my second DōShort eBook/short book, goes on sale this week. If you haven't come across DōShorts before, the idea is to give readers a 90 minute high-impact read on critical sustainability issues.

And what could be more critical than the supply chain? It's where much, if not most, of the impact of your organisation lies, you have only indirect control of those impacts, you often have precious little visibility and, if an issue blows up in the supply chain, it is the big brand at the top that gets it in the neck either through reputational damage or soaring costs.

What I have set out to do in BASS-C is to show how building a sustainable supply chain requires going way beyond the plethora of frameworks that have sprung up to embed sustainability in purchasing decision making, and link it to strategic business planning - corporate philosophy, business model, product design etc. After all it is those functions that determine the shape of the supply chain.

To get some fresh case studies and perspectives, I carried out a number of interviews with leading sustainability practitioners, extracts of which I've been posting up here on the blog over the last few weeks (there's a couple more in the pipeline). As usual these uncovered some real gems, worth the cover price alone.

Here's the five pieces of advice with which I conclude the book:

  • Make sure you are dealing with the big issues in your supply chain – nobody will thank you for tinkering around the edges;
  • Be ambitious. Incremental targets lead only to incremental improvements; stretch targets lead to breakthrough solutions;
  • You won’t solve these problems on your own: bring everybody concerned with an issue on board, get them thinking in the right direction and ask for their help in generating solutions;
  • Be prepared to get tough. If a supplier won’t play ball, find another supplier;
  • Relish the challenge. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough. Perseverance is the key to success.

Do you need to know more? Then what you need to do is sign up to The Low Carbon Agenda, as on Thursday readers will get a smorgasbord of extracts, offers and insights.


Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

Free monthly bulletin:

Learn how to help your business go green from the comfort of your desk..

View events

By Gareth Kane

Everything you need to know to integrate sustainability into the DNA of your business.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

A highly accessible, practical guide to those who want to introduce sustainability into their business or organization quickly and effectively.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

The smart way to engage effectively with employees

View events