Well, Greenpeace have done it again. Having successfully targeted Apple back in 2007 - forcing a rare about turn by Mr Jobs - they're now gunning for VW with this well crafted Star Wars spoof. VW are being targeted for having the worst emissions record amongst Europe's major motor manufacturers.
Where Greenpeace excel in these campaigns is the wit and craftsmanship that go into the content - note perfect to go viral in the social media age. VW have a real problem on their hands here - no matter what their plans for future vehicles are, the evidence speaks for itself. They now have three options - put on the tin hat and hope that it goes away, come out fighting or defuse the situation by acknowledging the problem and pledging to change their ways. Jobs tried the second one, but ended up taking the third.
I would strongly advise that anyone in this situation takes the "it's a fair cop" option first - turn a problem into a driver for improvement. Check out what Lexus managed after being criticised by the Advertising Standards Agency.
There's a big problem here - the aluminium produced by the smelter (and associated carbon emissions) will still be produced somewhere in the world, just not here. The global climate doesn't care where the emissions come from, so there is a strong possibility that the Government's commitment will simply push more industry and emissions overseas. If you don't believe me, figures from Oxford University show that, despite the official Government line for many years, the UK has not been cutting its carbon emissions, but has simply leaked them to other countries while our overall carbon footprint has continued to grow.
If I was a right-wing commentator I would now start harrumphing about the idiocy of carbon emission restrictions, how they're destroying our Great British Industry and how we should drop the whole bally lot. But that's a stupid argument - first of all it ends with The Tragedy of the Commons (ie we all lose through selfishness) and, secondly, in a globalised economy it is our Western consumption levels that drive global emissions and we can't duck responsibility for that.
What we need to do instead is develop a smarter way of dealing with each country's emissions - considering emissions from our consumption as well as our production. A few years ago I explained this to both the then UK climate minister, David Miliband, and the current one, Chris Huhne. Both listened politely, did some mulling on it and acknowledged my point, but I suspect both filed it in the 'too difficult' tray.
Business is way ahead of Government here. About five years ago many, if not most, major companies only considered emissions from within their factory fence (plus those from power stations producing their electricity). Most have now faced up to the fact that their carbon footprint does include that of the suppliers - it was crazy when say Tesco, whose purchasing power is driven by £1 in every 8 we Brits spend, didn't acknowledge responsibility for supply chain emissions. Now Tesco and the other big retail sheds, along with major consumer goods manufacturers like P&G and Unilever, are actively decarbonising their supply chain wherever that supply chain may be - national boundaries are no restriction. Some are looking the other way along the supply chain too and 'choice editing' for the consumer, such as when B&Q stopped selling patio heaters. I suspect the massive buying power of such powerful companies could have more impact than any Government targets.
Saw this Audi ad yesterday and thought it was all wrong from a green marketing point of view - click on it to see it in all its glory.
This just isn't a compelling message - the car is small and the CO2 is very large. Does "13% less" really motivate the man in the street to act? How does the fact that 3 out of the 5 main 'words' in the ad are 'scientific' (CO2, 129g/km, 13%) captivate potential buyers? Very weak, in my opinion.
If we compare this with the Fiat ad that I snapped a few weeks ago (below), the difference is quite noticeable - setting aside the more dramatic early morning lighting. This campaign associates green with fun, not just 'less'. The bold typography and colours reinforce the fun and the car is centre stage. Simple, but effective.
I've been writing up my interview with Nick Coad, Environmental Director of National Express, for my next book The Green Executive. He gave a wonderful example of how you need to look at the big picture. National Express started on their sustainability journey by looking internally - risk reduction, eco-efficiency and their branding and reputation management. However it became clear to them that they were part of the solution rather than part of the problem. A shift to public transport use could actually increase the company's carbon emissions, but the net effect would be a substantial cut when you look at the bigger transport picture.
So they started engaging with policy makers, other businesses and customers. But they found that the UK Government was more interested in improving the efficiency of each transport mode rather than modal shift - getting people out of high carbon transport modes and into low carbon modes. National Express's paper "More is Less" was proclaimed as visionary in the trade press and shifted the debate several steps forward to look at modal shift.
There is of course an even bigger picture to this. Why do we travel? The broadest definition of the reason is I can come up with is "to experience something that is geographically distant". But technology allows us to experience some distant things (conversations, sights, sounds, data etc) without moving. So the ultimate modal shift in this sector is towards teleconferencing and telecommuting.
And before anyone says it, I know there's yet another, quite enormous picture which is why do we want/have to do these things, but that's going a little too far into the realms of philosophy on a cold Friday morning in January!
...down to Watford to run a sustainability workshop for senior NHS staff.
I love the train - even going through as bland countryside as East Yorkshire. The early morning sun is casting warm light and long shadows across the fields and villages. And of course I can get on with writing this blog, continuing with the Green Executive and catching up on my e-mail action list using the convenient wi-fi internet access. And drink coffee. Who on earth would prefer to drive or fly?
Two people on the next row are discussing the difficulties of hitting their organisation's carbon targets. I'm not deliberately earwigging (perish the thought), but I've got a Pavlovian twitch anytime someone mentions 80% by 2050 in my proximity. From what fragments I've overhead so far I could make about half a dozen suggestions...
More than two years ago I blogged about Apple Computer's run in with Greenpeace and I continue to use it as a case study of the risks of being targeted by a pressure group. Well Apple have released a new site which makes the environmental impact of their products as transparent as possible.
As someone who is typing this on his sixth Mac in 20 years, I really chuffed that such a high profile company has realised that in the 21st century, hip = green and vice versa. Interesting too that my 2008 model Powerbook Pro has 60% of the carbon emissions in use as my old laptop.
This energy efficiency has wider importance too as the world becomes increasingly digitised. There is an interesting article in the latest edition of The ENDS Report on the carbon footprint of data centres. Incredibly the typical server only uses 10-20% of its capacity. A technique called 'virtualisation' is now being used to increase this to 50-70% - a massive improvement.
There are many benefits of the shift to a digital world - removing the information (photos, music, movies) from the medium (film, paper, CDs, DVDs plus associated packaging and distribution) - and it is great to see that the carbon footprint of each unit of digital activity is dropping so rapidly so we don't simply move the problem around.
Apple have announced, like Nike and several other large players, that they are resigning from the US Chamber of Commerce in protest at the latter's stance on Obama's climate change bill. Almost literally walking the talk.
There are reports today that the Copenhagen process to agree a post-Kyoto global climate change agreement will stall as China and India will not play ball.
I'm currently reading "The Solar Economy" by maverick German MP Hermann Scheer. A full book review will follow, but he argues that Kyoto style agreements are simply an excuse to delay action and end up with the lowest common denominator as a result of the inevitable compromises. Scheer argues that nations would be much better off acting alone, acting quickly and acting ambitiously. I'm beginning to understand his point...
This week I got to drive one of the first two Mitsubishi i MiEV plug-in electric cars in the UK. Like most electric passenger vehicles it is a sharp mover and a sharp stopper too as the regenerative braking kicks in, charging the batteries again.
According to Mitsubishi, its range is 100 miles on a full charge and its carbon emissions are about 30% of a petrol equivalent (presumably using the carbon intensity of Japanese electricity as a guide). A quick charge will take it to 80% of battery capacity in 30 minutes, but a full standard charge takes 7 hours.
This is quite a breakthrough - an electric car that you could imagine being seen (but not heard) in. The range would be a bit limiting for me - I'd like to see an extra 50 miles there as I often do a 80-100 mile round trip to clients on Teesside and I would want a bit of headroom in case of traffic problems etc. Tesla, makers of the impressive electric sports car, are working on a 300 mile saloon, which would be brilliant.
It is clear that electric cars are starting to evolve quickly and it will be very interesting to see how quickly they become a mainstream choice.
... unless you can guarantee the electricity comes from a 100% renewable source.
It frustrates me that much of the recent press coverage describes electric vehicles as zero-carbon as they are obviously not - their carbon performance should be rated as the average emissions from the mains electricity of that particular country. "Zero-emissions" is just greenwash and it should stop now before the inevitable backlash.
My second frustration is trying to get an accurate estimation of what those emissions are. Just this weekend I have seen quotes suggesting that they are roughly the same as the petrol equivalent, that they are 40% more efficient and in one case (the Tesla sports car) just 25% of a small petrol sports car. Not all of these can be right.
We need a proper method of calculating these emissions and we need it now.
I'm on the train back North having attended the Skillfair Consultants Conference in London - I go every year to learn from other boutique and solo consultants with a wide range of skills and services. One of the great grumbles at these sessions is the perception of the 'big name consultancies' as low risk compared to smaller operators, when the smaller operator will be cheaper, and, more importantly, you will always get the principal consultant working on your project.
The old trick of buttering up a client with senior staff until signing the contract and then appointing naive beginners to deliver the project is known in the trade as 'bait and switch'. I recently heard a first hand account (from the frustrated client) of a case where the client wanted to compare the carbon footprints of their numerous but similar sites. The well known firm they employed dropped a different team of juniors into each site (thus maximising fees in a short timeframe) and, lo, each team measured the footprint of their designated site in a different way rendering the comparison useless. Would a one-man-band have done the same? Very unlikely - it would be very inefficient to invent multiple methods - and they wouldn't stay in business for long if they were so incompetent to do so.
The moral of the story is that big isn't always better. Choose carefully...
Yesterday morning I visited the Southampton District Energy Scheme. It supplies not only heat (some of which comes from a geothermal source) but also cooling and electricity (through trigeneration combined heat & power). And the headline stats are impressive:
- over 40 customers
- 12 000 tonnes CO2 per year avoided
- reduced costs for clients
But what really interested me is how the scheme has evolved over the last 21 years from humble beginnings - just the Civic Centre to begin with (with geothermal only) and then spreading out across the city centre to other large users and adding CHP units as and when necessary.
There is a raft of evidence that this 'evolution, not revolution' approach for large distributed sustainability projects is the best way forward by a country mile, but yet again and again proposals come forward that try to solve all problems at once, but only if about 20 partners sign up and a huge wodge of public money is chucked in the pot. The evolutionary approach has made the Southampton scheme robust, effective and self financing - just like the famous energy scheme developed by Woking Council. Grandiose schemes which require a colossal injection of public funds more than often don't get off the drawing board and if they do, usually collapse under their own weight.
Yesterday I was on Teesside looking at the results of a remarkable project that I had a small hand in about 5 years ago. In a meeting with the management of a chemical company I asked why they didn't use some of their excess heat for horticulture. They got very excited about it and asked their engineers to look into it. The engineers pointed out they'd been proposing this for a long time... sometimes it takes an outsider to grab management's attention.
A couple of years later and Teesside now has a massive (90 000 sqm) set of glasshouses belonging to John Baarda Ltd holding about 300 000 tomato plants, which produce many millions of tomatoes every year for several major supermarkets. But the really interesting thing is they also pump carbon dioxide into the glasshouses to accelerate the growing - the atmosphere has about twice the concentration as the outside atmosphere. Talk about a greenhouse effect...
Bad puns aside, it goes to show that even the most notorious of our industrial emissions can be put to good use.
The scheme is due to begin in 2010, and will apply to around 5,000 large, non-energy intensive organisations that have half-hourly electricity meters and use more than 6,000 kWhr of electricity per year. Roughly speaking if you have a bill over £500k you'll be hit.
If so you will have to buy allowances from the government to cover all of their emissions - not just electricity. They are expected to cost around £12/tCO2. For the first 3 years there will be no restriction on the number of allowances, then a new Committee on Climate Change will set caps for 5 year phases. Organisations will then have to trade between themselves.
All the more reason to start cutting those carbon emissions back now. You may be able to profit from your tardy peers.
I've been meaning for some time to comment on the European Commission's Climate action and renewable energy package. The EU has committed to reducing its overall emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, which would be scaled up to 30% under a new global climate change agreement if other industrialised countries make comparable efforts. It has also set itself the target of increasing the share of renewables in energy use to 20% by 2020.
The proposed measures include:
an improved emissions trading system (ETS) covering more emissions and allowing firms in one EU country to buy allowances in any other;
an emission reduction target for industries not covered by the ETS (e.g. buildings, transport, waste) so that everyone is contributing;
legally enforceable targets for increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix – the targets will reflect each country's individual needs and its potential;
new rules on carbon capture and storage and on environmental subsidies.
Powerful stuff: hopefully this will give the renewables industry in the UK a shot in the arm, but there are also plenty of sticks to push industry towards a low carbon future.
In last week's Queen's Speech, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a commitment to legally binding carbon emissions targets for the UK - a 60% cut by 2050. Leaving aside the arguments over whether 60% is 'enough' or what "legally binding" actually means in practice, getting anywhere close to this target will require a huge shift in policy - particularly given the lack of action to date.
Up until now the Government has relied on providing support to businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon emissions through quangos such as The Carbon Trust, Envirowise, The Energy Savings Trust and WRAP. However the type of support provided by these organisations, while worthwhile, is unlikely to deliver 60% reductions in any one company. Therefore, if the Government is serious about this target, we can expect more and bigger sticks to back up these carrots, for example:
- I wouldn't be surprised if the Climate Change Levy is replaced by a tougher Carbon Tax and that obligations are made on waste heat to encourage its use in district heating.
To avoid being clobbered by such sticks, industry and businesses need to start planning a low carbon future now. Reducing energy expenditure is never a bad idea.
Measuring the carbon footprint of a business is an essential first step before reduction plans can be developed. At Terra Infirma we follow footprinting with the backcasting approach to develop low carbon future scenarios before tracing reduction pathways for a business to follow. This gives more radical solutions cutting right across the business, rather than simple quick fixes.
But, whichever way a company wishes to address the problem, it will pay to have a headstart.