Gareth's Blog

Recent Posts



digital Archives - Terra Infirma

Browse All

15 May 2017

Digitisation, smart grids and cyberwarfare

digital clock

One of the basic principles of pragmatic environmentalism is to embrace digitisation as a way of managing resources much more efficiently and dealing with the intermittency of some renewable energy sources via the smart grid. Another trope of the green movement is the inherent safety of renewables – flying a plane into a wind farm isn't going to have the impact of flying a plane into a nuclear power station.

However, last week's cyber-attack on the UK's National Health Service is a harsh reminder that warfare, terrorism and crime have also embraced digitisation for nefarious purposes. While this attack was designed for financial gain, what would happen if a foreign power or terrorist group aimed an attack at an intelligent energy grid? After all, Iran's nuclear programme was targeted via the Stuxnet virus in 2010, destroying 20% of the country's centrifuges.

We cannot shy away from this threat, but on the other hand, we cannot afford to keep our energy, industrial and commercial systems in the 20th century while we are fighting climate change. In the same way the internet was originally designed to be inherently robust to a physical attack, all our digital systems need to have sufficient protection, firewalls and redundancy that if one link in the chain fails, the rest continues on regardless, working around the damage.

That's some challenge, and, of course, a massive business opportunity for somebody.


Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

2 March 2016

Peak stuff? Peak Carbon? It's happening, folks...

shipping containers

A headline in yesterday's Guardian stopped me in my tracks:

UK consumes far less than a decade ago – 'peak stuff' or something else?
From crops to energy and metals, average material consumption fell from 15 tonnes in 2001 to just over 10 tonnes in 2013

That's quite an incredible achievement, if the stats are credible (a criticism of how the consumption was counted from Prof Tim Jackson has since been removed from the article as the Prof seems to have got his facts wrong). But actually, I can believe it – the whole digital economy has boomed – ebooks, MP3s, Netflix, digital photos, online news etc, etc. Cars are getting more efficient, we shop online and my local corner shop owner complains he hardly sells any newspapers anymore (he only gets one or two copies of several titles). And yesterday, it was reported that an English plastic bag manufacturer had gone bust after the introduction of the plastic bag tax (a warning there will be losers as well as winners).

Add this to all the evidence that the clean energy revolution is also laying waste to vast tracts of the fossil fuel industry, despite low oil prices. Carbon emissions stalled in 2014. Clean Energy Canada reported yesterday that last year more money was invested globally in new renewable power than in new power from fossil fuels.

We are clearly moving into new territory – places of which many of us could only dream of a decade ago. Let us drive that wagon train onward to the promised land!


Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

23 July 2014

Mind the Credibility Gap

ants bridge

I'm continuing to plough my way through the background information from a sustainability training course I'm reviewing for a client and it's throwing up all kinds of interesting nuggets. One sustainability primer produced by a major NGO caught my eye.

The first section was a description of different sustainability definitions - the Brundtland definition, The Natural Step and the Forum for the Future Five Capitals Model. All very high level and philosophical.

The second section said the starting point of tackling sustainability was to engage stakeholders, with some good suggestions of who to consult and how to go about it.

And the third section said... um, well, no, there was no third section. That was it.

So this primer told us we face humongous, existential challenges and have to completely redesign the way we think about society, but the only tool it gave us to tackle them is a suggestion to talk to people we know about it.

I had an immediate flashback to the Live Earth concerts in 2007 where we were given apocalyptic accounts of the potential impacts of climate change - and then urged to turn of our phone chargers at night to 'do our bit.' Or all those books which describe the world's problems in great detail and then in the last chapter offer incredibly vague and untested solutions to actually solve them.

People aren't daft. If you tell them there's a huge problem but proffer trivial or ill-defined solutions, they simply won't believe you are credible - and rightly so.

If you want to tackle sustainability properly - whether at a global level or in an organisation - you not only have to describe the problem but to break it down into its constituent parts and sketch out solutions which are commensurate with the problem such as the circular economy, smart grid technology, the digital economy, etc etc etc.

It's good to talk - and I make a living out of it - but make sure you don't fall into the credibility gap by having nothing meaningful to talk about.


Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

30 June 2014

IKEA, fashion and sustainability


Last night I caught the first episode of the BBC documentary "The Men Who Made Us Spend" (if you live in the UK and you're quick, you can catch the who series on iPlayer). It was a fascinating (and balanced) history of the rise of consumerism from the 1924 Phoebus Cartel of lightbulb manufacturers (who agreed to limit the life of their products to 1000 hours when 2500 was the norm) through to those poor deluded souls who camp outside Apple Stores to be the first to get their mitts on the latest slightly better model iPhone.

The most painful moment in the episode was when presenter Jacques Peretti asked Stephen Howard, Global Head of Sustainability at IKEA, how he reconciled the company's claims of sustainability with their continued marketing of throwing away existing furniture from the famous "Chuck Out The Chintz" to the modern day "My Old Sofa is So Going to the Kerb". Poor Mr Howard could only stammer that he would ask the question of the marketing department.

This is a huge issue, not just one for IKEA - for at least 60 years the modern economy has relied on old products going out of fashion and being replaced long before they physically break, a kind of Faustian pact between consumer and producer with planetary limitations being the party pooper.

But while it is easy to deride such consumerism, the problem is that the modern capitalist model has brought fashionable clothes, furniture and vehicles to billions on low incomes - who wants to go back to the model where the moneyed classes can afford comfortable lifestyles while the majority scratch a living in homesteads and city slums? I love my tech as much as the next person, and it would be churlish of me to deny the process which has brought us huge leaps from my first computer, a BBC Model B, to my (not quite) cutting edge iPhone4.

Fortunately there are solutions. The circular economy has the power to keep materials being useful, just in different forms so function and fashion can keep moving forward. The digital economy means that we can consume huge amounts of information - movies, books, music, TV etc etc without consuming as much stuff. eBay has opened a huge market for secondhand goods, Freecycle one for freebies. And the technology which means at 210mph Porsche super car can have emissions less than that of a Prius show that planet friendly technology doesn't have to mean stuff made out of cardboard.

It's a big ask, but I think we can have our lifestyle and sustainability, if we really put our minds to it.


Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

29 March 2013

I Want My Presents!!!

birthday candlesToday is my 40-somethingth birthday.

Thank you.

My long suffering partner has decided she'd rent me The Killing as that would be much more environmentally friendly than buying me a set of DVDs which would only be watched once or twice.

Great - a good example of how businesses can provide us with the service we want (Sarah Lund) rather than the stuff (polycarbonate etc). The stuff can be sent off to entertain someone else rather than cluttering up our living room.


Deep in my brain, the voice of my inner spoiled child is shouting "Where's my presents?! I want my presents!"

This is the problem facing the collaborative/sharing economy - many of us, even those of us who think we 'get it', have been programmed from birth to relish stuff over experience. Even those 'experience' presents you can buy your loved ones come in a big box to satisfy some psychological need to give people stuff.

Funny, then, when reminiscing, it's the memories of experiences we cherish, not stuff.

I live in hope that the younger generation is shedding the stuff-hoarding habit - experiencing their lives and likes digitally as MP3s, JPGs, eBooks, Apps and streamed movies rather than the shelves groaning with once-watched DVDs that seem to be the badge of honour of my generation.

In the meantime I will put my inner child on the naughty step and tell it firmly "I want, never gets" but I fear it will mutter under its breath for a while longer.


Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

27 November 2009

Geek Central: Virtualisation

The economy is fast becoming digitised - photos, music, newspapers, movies, books, shopping, networking. This is a good thing from a dematerialisation point of view, but it is creating a vast world of energy intensive server farms. And, it turns out that each server spends the cast majority of its day idle, wasting energy on its own innards and cooling.

The big new thing is 'virtualisation' which maximises the use of each server, slashing the number of servers required and thus the amount of energy required to run the new economy. For those who want to know more, the clever young man in the video will explain...

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