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31 March 2016

The British Steel Industry & the Carbon Leakage Conundrum

carbon footprintOne of the more notorious comments from UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne came during his speech at the 2011 Conservative Party conference:

"We're not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business."

Now, I'm no fan of Mr Osborne, but this actually has a grain of truth about it – if we simply offshore our emissions to countries with lower environmental controls, then any 'win' we get cutting emissions in this country is purely illusionary. This conundrum is known in the trade as 'carbon leakage'.

Carbon leakage is in the news in the UK with the perilous state of the steel industry – many are blaming its woes on green taxes pushing up costs. While that may be a factor, the main problem is China's state sponsored industries dumping too much steel on the market, possibly at below the cost of production.

Many of the 'solutions' being bandied about, such as cutting green taxes or UK state subsidy, will simply add fuel to the fire by increasing global production and driving prices further down. Carbon emissions will rise as well.

The best, maybe only, way to solve this problem is for China to stop subsidising over-production of steel.  That would cut carbon emissions and allow other countries to compete on a level playing field. Otherwise we are on a race to the bottom.


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4 November 2011

Sustainability in Broadcasting @ the BBC

I spent yesterday at the BBC's Productions That Don't Cost the Earth seminar. My role was to run a workshop to train the Beeb's sustainability reps in culture change techniques. The session went very well - it generated about a hundred ideas in a 25 minute exercise (out of a 60 minute workshop), driven by the impressive knowledge and enthusiasm of the attendees.

But, as well as the 'work' element, I thoroughly enjoyed the plenary sessions which were open to production staff from across the industry. This is a sector in which I have little previous experience, so I learnt a great deal. The BBC has done a lot of work on behalf of the whole industry, most notably developing "Albert", a carbon footprinting tool for broadcasters which is now hosted by BAFTA. The reason why it is called Albert is the source of much debate and conjecture...

The keynote speech was given by yachtswoman/sustainability campaigner Dame Ellen MacArthur. My sailing experience is limited to the occasional jaunt around Strangford Lough as a boy, so the tales of derring do in her various solo around the world triumphs had me on the edge of my seat. One thing I could relate to was her evoking the glorious feeling when the wind first catches the sails and tugs, then you are off, skimming along the surface, working with nature.

Dame Ellen has now given up professional sailing to run the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which promotes the design of products for a circular economy. As you can imagine for someone who has spent a huge chunk of her life racing solo around the world for months without catching a glimpse of her competitors, when she sets her mind to something, she really goes for it. I was extremely impressed by both her passion and her depth of understanding.

Here are a few things I picked up from the rest of the plenary sessions:

  • In TV, 20% of the carbon footprint is in production, 80% is from the rest of us watching at home with all our widescreen TVs and set top boxes (remarkably similar to the manufacture/use ratio of, say, a car);
  • The production itself (cameras, set lighting etc) is a small part of that 20% - the bulk of the BBC's carbon footprint is in office accommodation and travel;
  • Albert means the industry has a standard footprinting methodology, so different broadcasters can compare their performance directly (some other sectors such as fast moving consumer goods are also working to do this);
  • The BBC is striving to rationalise overseas filming, so when Liz Bonnin went to Hawaii to present from the observatories there for Stargazing Live, she hung on to do a piece on volcanos for Bang Goes the Theory, rather than flying two different presenters and crews to the same location;
  • Not to be outdone, Sky has just moved into the most energy efficient broadcasting building in Europe (25% less energy than before), they're recycling 66% of their waste (with the aim of zero waste next year) and they're working to reduce the energy consumption of their set top boxes;
  • One of the challenges for the industry is that a huge number of production staff are now freelancers which means it is more difficult to embed a culture of sustainability;
  • On the other hand, the nature of the industry is that people are fiercely driven, intelligent and creative, which makes communicating sustainability easier.

And that last point concisely sums up my feelings about the day - the delegates and speakers had that blend of passion, intelligence and creativity that finding and delivering sustainability solutions requires. Inspiring.

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16 May 2011

Whose carbon footprint are you part of?

The diagram above shows the different scopes of a carbon footprint:

Scope 1. The emissions from your operations and activities - typically from the fossil fuels you buy for heating and vehicles;

Scope 2. The emissions from the generation of electricity you use;

Scope 3. The emissions of your supply chain - all the scope 1 and 2 emissions from your suppliers. And their suppliers. And their suppliers... you get the picture;

Scope 4. The emissions from the use of your product or service once it is outside the control your organisation eg if you sell cars, this represents the emissions of the cars in use (this scope isn't usually considered part of a carbon footprint, but it should be).

Most of this is understood from the point of view of one particular organisation. But it is worth putting yourself in the position of your clients and customers. Your scope 1-4 emissions become part of their carbon footprint - your problem becomes their problem.

For example, the UK's NHS has a scope 3 footprint which is 50% bigger than its 'internal' scope 1 & 2 emissions. This means that, to hit the UK Government's target of a 80% reduction in footprint by 2050, even if they somehow managed to reduce the emissions from 1 & 2 to zero, they would still need to cut scope 3 by two thirds. If you're one of their suppliers then either you have to slash your footprint or they'll find someone else who will.

This is why 'green' is becoming a key source of competitive advantage. Big purchasers like the public sector and the big supermarkets are selecting greener suppliers - the former are typically awarding 10-15% of tender points to environmental performance. But don't forget you still have to compete on the other 85-90% to take advantage.

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4 November 2010

Whose carbon footprint are you part of?

My workshop, "Go Green, Win More Business!", at the Newcastle Winning Business conference went well yesterday with some really enthusiastic contributions from the participants. I'm constantly finding that more and more business people "get it" and the elicitation elements are rarely if ever met with baffled silence as they were a few years ago.

One of the points I kept reinforcing is "whose carbon footprint are you part of?" A few years ago, many organisations ignored the supply chain element of their carbon footprint, but this is now the exception rather than the rule.

If your customers, or indeed their customers, are in the public sector then they will have stiff carbon reduction targets to meet. Take, for example, one of my clients, the NHS. 60% of their footprint is in their supply chain. So they either have to get their suppliers to cut their carbon footprint, or find new suppliers.

If you supply to retail, or to customers who do, then Amazon, M&S, Tesco, Wal-Mart, IKEA and many other big sheds have aggressive supply chain sustainability programmes. You are part of their footprint and you'll be expected to shrink that footprint or take a hike. Lots of other big manufacturers and service providers have their own carbon reduction targets.

Traditionally we think of the business case for sustainability being about "what's in it for me?". Perhaps a more pertinent question to ask is "what's in it for our customers?"

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27 September 2010

Quick wins

If your organisation is new to the whole idea of going green, then the best thing to do is get started and quickly show some early wins. Every organisation has some easy-to-fix but significant environmental opportunities, so before you get bogged down in analysing, strategy writing and designing systems, get out there and get stuck in.

The benefits of this approach over building a bureaucracy are:

1. You get tangible good news stories to show other stakeholders (senior management, other staff, cynics);

2. You get the big mo' - people can see what's happening and may join in;

3. You learn about your businesses, how it really operates and what the real problems and barriers are;

4. You have freedom to try lots of approaches, make a few mistakes and learn practical lessons.

The carbon footprinting, environmental management systems and strategy can come later or, better still, worked up in parallel, so you can incorporate the lessons learnt from the quick wins. But get some momentum going and sustain it.

If you want to learn more about how to get started, plus dozens of practical hints and tips, I'm running a webinar on Quick Wins in Cutting Carbon tomorrow at 14:00BST - there's a nominal charge of £45+VAT to take part - a bargain for what you will learn!

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29 July 2009

Glen Bennett, EAE Ltd

Yesterday I interviewed Glen Bennett, founder and MD of EAE Ltd, a Scottish leaflet marketing business. This video, made by young people as part of a wider project, shows some of the achievements he has made on his objective of making the company zero carbon.

What the video doesn't show is the trials and tribulations Glen went through. The wind turbine took them 2½ years to get installed - they had to work with 22 different organisations to do it. Many were clearly not up to the job - one planner asked what ‘kWh’ stood for, another tried to kill the project at the last minute for (unnecessary) noise testing.

Then, as soon as it was installed, EAE were hit with a business rate increase as the turbine counted as a business improvement! That levy has now been removed, but only after Glen ran a media campaign to point out the stupidity of the situation. Excess electricity from the turbine is simply dumped onto the grid for free as the current set up for charging would cost more than it would generate.

Why is this not easier? Why should pioneers like Glen have to go through the modern day equivalent of the 12 tasks of Hercules to cut his company's carbon footprint? The recent Government strategies will lower some of these bureaucratic barriers, but Glen's story shows that it ain't always easy being green.

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31 October 2008

New Product Carbon Footprinting Standard

The BSi, along with the Carbon Trust and DEFRA, have just released the PAS2050 carbon footprinting standard for goods and services along with a guide to its use. You can download it for free from the BSi website.

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15 October 2008

Low Carbon Business Strategies White Paper

You can now download our new Low Carbon Business Strategies white paper for free from the resources page. This tells you what to do once you have calculated that carbon footprint and are unsure of how to tackle it. Strategies range from simple carbon management through to developing low carbon business opportunities.

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12 September 2008

Low Carbon Products & Services Seminar - 22 October 2008

I'm giving another seminar on developing, marketing and selling low carbon products and services next month, this time in lovely Harrogate. The seminar is part of the Low Carbon Innovation Exchange event which is certainly the best of its kind that I've ever attended.

At my midday seminar you will:

  • learn the business case for going beyond compliance.
  • discover what makes a product or service a low carbon product or service.
  • find out which markets are booming and why.
  • learn how to market and sell low carbon products & services.
  • identify the risks, and how to avoid them.
  • Plus you will benefit from all the other seminars, panel sessions, one-to-one meetings and round table discussions in the Exchange. Oh, and there's a great lunch included.

    Here's The Deal

    If you register for my seminar, you will also get:

  • The reduced entry fee of £295 + VAT for the whole event.
  • A FREE copy of my eBook "The Green Business Bible" (RRP £24.95+VAT).
  • A FREE 30 min telephone coaching session (normally £150.00+VAT).
  • 50% discount on my full day "Building a Low Carbon Business" Seminar (full price £295.00+VAT).
  • A Certificate of Attendance for CPD purposes.
  • But, to get these offers, you must register via this link. You can see the whole programme for the day here, but you must use this registration link to get the freebies.

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    8 September 2008

    New Resources - Free White Papers

    We've just started publishing a series of white papers for organisations, environmental consultants and students. The first, A Quick Guide to Carbon Footprinting, can be downloaded now from the resources page. More are under development and will come on-line in the next few weeks.

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    9 July 2008

    The unrecognised recycling sector

    On Monday I gave a seminar on carbon footprinting and carbon management (using the Terra Infirma brainstorming tool) at the Association of Charity Shops Annual Conference in Keele. I learnt a lot, as I always do in this trade (I've worked with everyone from multi-national pharmaceutical companies through to a crazy golf course - you pick up all sorts of weird factoids). The sector is a huge, professionally run, and very competitive retail operation, a huge chunk of the reuse industry and a huge source of materials for recyclers. This was not lost on the three recycling companies who sponsored the event.

    The seminar went to plan and was well received - despite some shock when we spent half the time actually doing some work. Solutions we generated included checking tyre pressure of vehicles, better use of steamers, buying translucent kettles and even screwing down the thermostat dials. The big contentious issue is open/closed door. As with all shops, open door = more sales but massive energy loss. We didn't resolve this one, but if anyone can think of a solution, post it in the comments.

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    5 March 2008

    Greenwash Abounds!

    I finally got around to reading the February edition of the ENDS report yesterday and was disappointed, but not surprised, to find four major stories on Greenwashing.

    - Two of these (mastic asphalt companies and British Gas) were claiming that their products had no carbon footprint as they were offsetting their carbon emissions. While I (somewhat controversially) believe in offsetting as a CSR strategy, it is very unwise to use it as a claim in this way. In my book, you can say "we offset our carbon emissions", but not "our products have a zero carbon footprint". Obviously the Advertising Standards Authority agrees with me.

    - Another is a compost company, William Sinclair, putting a 'cradle to gate' carbon label on their peat products. This is a bit naughty as peat is a fossil fuel and will decompose in use to produce 5 times as much carbon dioxide as the figure on the label. A bit like saying petrol has a carbon footprint of X as long as you don't actually use it.

    - The last story is about 'ethical' investment funds. These have been found to be sort-of ethical in that they avoid certain industries (such as the arms industry) but some only have 1% of their stocks in 'green' industries, despite the image they portray.

    All of these examples show that green claims are a minefield and that you're better not doing it at all if you're not going to do it properly. As my primary school teacher used to say, you're only cheating yourself, you know...

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    15 February 2008

    How not to employ an Environmental Consultant...

    I recently requested tender documents from a large organisation who wanted a carbon footprint. They had a huge raft of different properties, a big fleet of vehicles and a complex supply chain. When I read the tender I was aghast. They wanted:

    - a "comprehensive report" on their carbon footprint.

    - 3 ways they could reduce this by a stipulated amount.

    - all this within 4 weeks (the same time they had given themselves to evaluate the tenders).

    - the consultant to quote a daily rate.

    I wrote back and told them this was unrealistic. I didn't explain why in detail, but here are the reasons:

    - Daily rate: if you pay by the hour/day then frankly you are paying for the consultant to type slowly or hang around your premises chatting. It's the only way consultants can make any money out of selling their expertise by the hour, other than lying to you about the hours they've put in. The tight timeframe just encourages a larger team of consultants to work even more inefficiently - team meetings rack up those hours.

    - Prescriptive methodology: if the person writing the tender has expertise in environmental consultancy, why don't they do it themselves? If not, and they need an expert, why not let that expert suggest their own methodology?

    - 3 ways: what happens if it is 2 or 4 or 6?

    - Comprehensive report: they must have some space on the dust collecting shelf to fill. Of course, given the daily rate, you'll make the slow typing consultant happy!

    - 4 weeks: how does the client know how long a good piece of work will take? Will the client really be able to provide all the information in this timescale? Will all key staff be made available? Would a better study in 8 weeks not be, well, better? Given the complexity of the problem, it will take a reasonable amount of chronological time (as opposed to billable hours) to build an organisational model, collect data, interpret it, interview staff and develop solutions.

    How about this as an alternative:

    - Fixed fee: the incentive is for the consultant to work efficiently, not rack up billable hours.

    - Flexible methodology: I like to engage the client's staff in solution development as a. they know much more about the business than I will learn in a few weeks, and, b. the recommendations are much more likely to be implemented if the staff have ownership. There was no scope for this in the Tender above as the client probably hasn't thought of it. I'm not expecting them to have either - I'm the one who's meant to know what I'm doing!

    - Appropriate deliverables, discussed and agreed between consultant and client.

    - Unless there is a very good reason for the tight timeframe, why not let the consultant suggest how much time they will need to deliver the project (the engagement strategy I mentioned above will take more time to organise).

    This is not a rant against that one organisation - virtually every tender I look at has a similar approach. Which is one reason I've ditched tendering for work except in a few special circumstances. If I were buying consultancy I would ask consultants to send in a project proposal to address the highest level requirements (we want to cut our carbon footprint by X%) the way they think is best, shortlist and interview before appointing.

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    10 December 2007

    Bleak News from Bali

    UK political orthodoxy has two main tenets when it comes to climate change: "yes, we can fix it, if only the Americans/Chinese/this month's scapegoat do their bit" and "technology will be the answer". The first of these has been holed below the water by two eminent sources:

    1. At the Bali conference, the UK's Chief Scientific Advisor David King saying that some climate change is inevitable as we have acted too late.

    2. A study has shown that the UK's Carbon footprint is much bigger and rising faster than the Government has claimed. This is because much of our footprint is from overseas sources providing for our lifestyles which the Government doesn't count.

    Neither of these should be a shock. Almost every national climate change strategy recognises that adaptation (to the effects) is as important as mitigation (stopping the next lot happening). Issues such as flood defences/drainage, health provision and emergency response plans come under the adaptation banner. On the second point, I've been banging on about this for a long time - just because we've offshored most of our dirty industries and much of our leisure industry, doesn't mean we can neglect their carbon emissions. I've personally made this point to a number of top politicians including David Milliband (when he was Environment Sec), Chris Huhne and John Gummer.

    As for technology, we need some immediate step changes in take up to make any difference.

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    26 November 2007

    CBI Members Make Climate Change Commitments

    The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has released "Climate Change: Everyone's Business" the report of its Climate Change Task Force. The task force consists of representatives of BT, Shell, npower, Barclays, Ford, bp, Tesco, Corus, British Airways, Rolls Royce and loads of other big businesses.

    Most of the findings of the task force are pretty run of the mill, but there are three things which make this report interesting:

    • The CBI has traditionally taken a reactive approach to the environmental agenda, seeing itself as a defender of business against restrictive environmental legislation. This is a significant shift to a more proactive, forward looking agenda.
    • The task force acknowledges that the UK's carbon footprint is larger than the 2% of global emissions coming directly from the country. The misleading 2% figure has been used by many people (including leading politicians) in the last year to justify inaction and point the finger at China amongst others.
    • The task force members are pledging to take action themselves, including working with their 2m employees to help them reduce their total carbon footprint - at home and at work. Businesses are usually reluctant to use their influence any further than the factory gate.
    These three factors suggest a quantum leap in intention, understanding and, hopefully, action from the CBI, and by extension, UK industry.

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    19 November 2007

    Uncertainty over Carbon Intensity of Electricity

    Like the rest of the carbon accounting/footprinting industry, we've always used DEFRA's published figure for the carbon intensity of electricity of 0.43 kgCO2 per kWh. DEFRA has now released figures showing that the actual carbon intensity of the UK's electricity is about 0.53 kgCO2 per kWh. Some members of the Association for Environmentally Conscious Building think the figure should be even higher at about 1.0 kgCO2 per kWh.

    Why is this an issue? Well if you are comparing, say a Ground Source Heat Pump to a gas fired condensing boiler, and if the Heat Pump is working at a co-efficient of performance of 3.5 (that's 3.5 units of heat out for each unit of electricity in), then, under the new DEFRA figures, the GSHP will produce 70% of the carbon dioxide of the boiler, whereas under the old figures it would be just 58%. That's quite a difference and could seriously affect a decision on whether to spend the extra cash required for the Heat Pump.

    So why did we use 0.43? Well, we always try to source our data from reliable, published and transparent sources and this was the industry accepted figure. DEFRA is going to continue to use 0.43 until 2010, but from now on we'll be using 0.53 and be keeping an eye on the debate over 1.0.

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    12 November 2007

    UK Commits To Legally Binding Carbon Reductions

    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:

    - The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) is coming in 2009.

    - We can expect tougher Building Regulations to push new houses up the levels set out by the Code for Sustainable Homes.

    - 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.

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    29 October 2007

    Whose Carbon Is It Anyway? Part II

    When carbon footprinting, the allocation of carbon between different companies is a tricky issue as we've discussed before. Does the carbon produced by a gas-fired power station 'belong' to the power generator, or the power consumer?

    Well, the British Standard Institute (BSi) has just released a draft of their forthcoming PAS 2050 carbon footprinting standard and it is interesting to see how they approach the problem. The standard is based roughly on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology to estimating the environmental impact of products, rather than taking a company by company approach. This means that if your company is part of a supply chain, your products' embodied carbon will count against you and your customers' products, rather than being divvied up between you. So in the example above, carbon emissions from the power station would count against the generator and the consumer. This is a sensible approach as long as everyone understands there is double counting involved - and no-one adds them together to get a 'total'.

    Many of the criticisms I've levelled at LCA apply here too. In particular, it will be interesting to see how rival companies' footprints compare and what assumptions they use to get there. I'm sure there will be some robust debates!

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    24 October 2007

    1 in 6 SMEs know their carbon footprint?

    The 2007 SME Climate Change Survey found that 1 in 6 Small & Medium Size Enterprises (<250 employees) have measured their carbon footprint, but that 40% intend to do it rather soon. I must say I'm slightly suspicious of these figures, not just because I had some trouble tracking down a website for Explomarket, the PR company that carried out the research (these surveys are often done for marketing purposes rather than scientific endeavour). Few, if any, SMEs I have visited in the last couple of years could quote you their energy bill, never mind a carbon footprint. I recently did a footprint for Leaf Hairdressing, an independent salon, which gave some interesting results and lead to some employees changing their mode of transport. Katie, the owner, is both committed to the environment and sees being an "eco-salon" as a business differentiator. Certainly I struggled to find any other hairdressing salon or chain, including all the big names, who even mentioned the environment on their websites. It will be interesting to see if it makes a difference over the coming months.

    Today I'm talking at the Environmental Technology Transfer Club (ETTC) at the University of Teesside about this and other carbon footprinting projects we have been involved with. If footprinting is as big as the survey suggests, I fully expect to be inundated with offers of lucrative work...

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    22 October 2007

    I'm now "The Carbon Coach"

    One of the more interesting projects I'm involved with at the minute is 'acting' as "The Carbon Coach" for two Tyneside teenagers for a DVD on climate change for schools. The DVD is being produced by Digital Voices for Communities, a Tyneside based Social Enterprise. I like to think I'm the Trinny & Susanna of the low carbon economy, but in truth my performance is hardly going to trouble the BAFTA judges.

    What is remarkable is the enthusiasm of Grace and Ryan, the two youngsters. They're ordinary kids, not stage school overachievers, yet their understanding outstrips that of most adults.

    My role is to set them two challenges: to look at where their food comes from and to collect their food packaging for a week. I'll keep you up to date with how we get on.

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