I launched my Ask Gareth sustainability agony uncle series.
Not bad, given that I also got myself re-elected to Newcastle City Council in May - and had to deal with the loss of my dear Mum in October. It's been a roller coaster of a year and I'm eternally grateful to family for always being there for me. I am blessed.
That's why this blog has been largely quiet for the last week - I've been in that weird bereavement hollow zone where only family matters and everything else - news, entertainment, work - just seems irrelevant, not to mention irritating. But we gave her a great send off last Thursday - it was standing room only at the funeral service - and I'm getting back into my normal routine.
My Mum was a nature lover and it definitely rubbed off on me. I remember her running the Nature club at my primary school and we went on many nature hikes along the Lagan in Belfast where I grew up. In her later years her passion for the birds which visited the garden meant that there was only one option for charitable donations in lieu of flowers - the RSPB. Her passion also inspired my kids, particularly my eldest, Harry, who would trade bird lists on a regular basis on our Sunday morning phone calls.
The closing stanza of Mum's funeral service went like this:
You can remember her and only that she is gone,
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
And that's what I intend to do - not only work for a better future for the next generation and the one after that, but to inspire them to take up the torch themselves. Not that kids need much encouragement!
I'm into phase II of my summer holidays - back in our favourite spot of Askrigg in Wensleydale. In the past, I've always refused on principle to holiday in the same place twice, but we love this old croft house so much, this is our third visit. First time we had one child, second time two, this time three. And no, we won't be continuing that particular trend...
You can't miss the Tour de France paraphernalia still adorning every house from the Grand Depart almost six weeks ago. I've been pedalling up hill and down dale a couple of times already, giving the old muscles a warm up before I hit the 'Côte de Buttertubs' that Nibali, Froome, Contador et al made look like a speed bump. Unlike them, I'll be stopping for tea and cake or a pint halfway around my circuit.
Naturally, I like to seek out local sustainability efforts when I'm on holiday. The amount of rooftop solar installed had increased once again, but the biggest permanent change I noticed was this fantastic archimedes screw on the river Bain in nearby Bainbridge - capable of powering 45 houses and generating £35,000 per annum for the community group which installed it - once the investors are rewarded, the profits are being invested in the local environment.
I remember reading an article in New Civil Engineer about a decade ago suggesting that hydro-projects at this scale are very cost-effective and avoid the impacts of large scale hydro. Nice to see a good, (presumably) successful community energy project too.
Another thing I like about Askrigg is the local produce, whether Wensleydale Cheese, local bread and honey, and, of course, the eponymous local ale. Don't worry, I'll have one on you!
Last Thursday, on the last full day of my Cumbrian holiday, I took the elder two boys back to Hodbarrow nature reserve and, after an hour's Biblical battering of wind and rain, the clouds parted for a few moments and, lo, the Walney Wind Farm appeared on the horizon. The sheer scale of the installation was breath-taking - and we could just make out two other distant farms, all turning, all generating clean power.
It is very easy to get caught up in the hurly-burly of the sustainability debate and forget that we are winning, if only by a nose. But seeing is believing - and it was a scene of ecological devastation that drove me into this career and it is the sights of such progress that drive me on. Let's do it!
Half term holiday and our family - extended to include my parents - are staying in a farmhouse in the South West of the Lake District. We're pretty much off the tourist trail here - the towns and villages have something of a Wild West feel. The weather hasn't been too kind so far, but I've got some short cycles in and a fantastic if wind/rain beaten trip to Hodbarrow Nature Reserve (above) - featuring a huge brackish lagoon created by old ironstone mining. For the birders: Slavonian Grebe, Goldeneye and more Red Breasted Mergansers than I could shake a stick at.
On the way here, we got a fantastic view of one of the new wind farms off Barrow. I'm not quite sure which one as there are about three or four in that area, but if it was the Walney Wind Farm then it was the largest in the world when commissioned in 2012 but its title has already been usurped a couple of times by bigger British installations. That just illustrates how fast renewable energy is expanding in this country.
The least eco-friendly thing we've seen so far is the outdoor hot tub here at the farmhouse - who on earth would want to sit in a hot tub when it's 6°C and pouring with rain? Apparently it can't easily be turned off, but I have asked for it to be turned down to salve my conscience...
My eldest son Harry came home a couple of weeks ago and announced that he wanted to collect money for "poor people in Africa." This gave me a wee bit of a dilemma as I worry that much of our 'charity' locks developing countries into poverty by undermining the very local markets they rely on for that development, but I wanted to encourage my young son's philanthropy, so choosing the right charity was paramount. I put a request for suggestions out on Facebook/Twitter for suggestions and my good friend Neil Bradbury suggested SolarAid.
SolarAid distributes solar powered lamps to villages without electricity to allow school kids to study in the evening without relying on highly polluting kerosene lamps. The lamps go out via a network of local entrepreneurs and they have to be purchased at a subsidised price which allayed my fears that a donation could be damaging in the long term - plus the renewable energy angle rang my bell.
Anyway, Harry collected £24.00 and we sent it off to SolarAid with a note from the man himself. Yesterday a card arrived with delightful personal messages to Harry from the SolarAid team thanking him for his efforts. Cue misty eyes from his parents.
So if you do want to make a contribution to those less fortunate this Christmas, my whole hearted recommendation would be SolarAid!
I've got an exciting new resource for you coming next year - Ask Gareth - a sustainability agony aunt, for want of a better term.
Here's how it works. You send me tricky questions regarding implementing sustainability/corporate social responsibility, I pick those I think will appeal to a wide audience and answer them. Simple as that.
I'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.
Yep, it was 7 years ago today that we metaphorically smashed a bottle of champagne (the smashing was metaphorical, not the bubbly) on the hull of the good ship Terra Infirma and set sail into unknown seas. And with the great financial hurricane of 07/08 hitting us soon after, we learnt our seamanship the hard way.
Dropping the half-baked nautical metaphor, and pushing modesty aside, here's some of the highlights over the last year:
Bringing on board some great new clients such as Viridor, News International, Innovia Films and the Natural Resources Research Council;
Continuing to work with established clients such as BAE Systems, Johnson Matthey and the NHS;
The publication of my ebook/short book "Green Jujitsu" and the development of the associated animation The Art of Green Jujitsu;
The continuation of our ever-popular Green Academy webinars, attracting attendees from around the world, and the first full year of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (CoSM);
And to crown it all, getting shortlisted as Green Consultancy of the Year 2013 at the prestigious Business Green Leaders awards.
Not bad in a year which also saw the birth of my third son, Charlie - who seems dedicated to eating us out of house and home.
Looking forward to the year ahead, I'm predicting a steady development of these themes rather than any radical new departures - although I've said that before! One thing I can announce is I am working on a greening the supply chain ebook which will out in the autumn.
So it just leaves me to say thanks to all our readers - especially those who comment on and share my posts here. Splice the mainbrace!
I'd like to introduce the new member of the Terra Infirma team who joined us at half past midnight yesterday morning. His name is Charlie Kane and he'll be Vice President for Noise Pollution and Organic Waste. It may take a bit of time for us to get him up to speed, so there may be service disruptions for the next two weeks. But we're very proud of him and think he'll make a great addition to our burgeoning team.
Six years. Blimey. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday that I invested the grand sum of £300.00 in some self-designed stationery and a (self-designed) website and declared the company open for business - other times it feels like another age.
And the last year has been another great one for the company despite the constant backdrop of economic doom-mongering. We are now firmly planted in the FTSE100 zone, continuing to work with clients like Johnson Matthey plc and BAE Systems plc, another two new FTSE100 clients in the project start-up phase, and other big names like the BBC and the NHS. The vast bulk of this work has related to culture change for sustainability.
Our on-line Green Academy continues and now has its own webpages and we continue to get a wide range of participants from micro-businesses up to corporate giants.
One innovation this year has been the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind (CoSM) Group - a small group of senior sustainability practitioners from top companies getting together every quarter for a facilitated exploration of the challenges that they face. I've not been making a big song and dance about CoSM as we are deliberately trying to keep the numbers low, but you can see my notes from the inaugural May meeting here.
And, while I'm not publishing a book this year, my first short e-book is due out in the Autumn. Its provisional title is "Green Jujitsu: The Smart Way to Embed Sustainability into Your Organisation". Needless to say you'll hear plenty about it when it's released.
So, it just leaves me to thank all our clients, partners, friends, followers, subscribers and workshop participants for another great year. I'm looking forward to meeting more of you (online or offline), so don't ever be afraid to come and say hello!
I'm away with family in Budle Bay in Northumberland - just south of Lindisfarne or Holy Island. Budle Bay is part of the Lindisfarne nature area and the estuary is a delight for birders - even my mediocre skills identified curlew, black headed gulls, greater black backed gulls, common gulls, red breatsed merganser, shelduck, mallard, widgeon, redshank, oyster catcher, pochard, kestrel, wheatear along with gazillions of plover-sized waders which are beyond my ken. We had some glorious, if windy and cold weather on Wednesday, but on Tuesday we had a blizzard - so we headed to the worlds best second hand bookstore, Barter Books at Alnwick, then to a soft play facility to let the kids work off their adrenaline.
We're staying in a rebuilt mill cottage at Waren Mill at the head of the bay, which, as the name suggests, had a number of mills dating from the 12th Century onwards. At the back of our garden the old mill race that fed water into the mills has been converted into a water feature which periodically kicks into life, creating a small waterfall. The bigger, more recent mill has been converted into holiday apartments too.
As I mentioned last week, I'm currently reading Jeremy Rifkin's Third Industrial Revolution which about the democratization and distribution of energy systems for a modern low carbon economy. It struck me that in the days of water power, this was very much how the economy worked - industry went where the energy was rather than the other way around. Of course Rifkin's vision is for a 21st Century version of distributed energy generation - creating a hi-tech internet of low carbon energy to get us out of the fossil fuel doom loop. But one interesting part of such a system is the potential for micro-hydro in locations such as this - tapping the same sources of clean energy that our forefathers did. So maybe, just maybe, places like Waren Mill will be going back to the future.
It is five years to the day that I cast off the chains of an institutional career and set up Terra Infirma. I still remember my outline plan - spend August building a dry stone wall in the garden, start marketing myself in September and hopefully get the first project going in October. In the event the wall took another 18 months to build - half way through the first week the phone rang and I had to put down the stone I was holding, go shower off the dirt and get my suit on for what turned out to be my first client meeting. Exciting times.
The last year hasn't been any less exciting. My second book, the Green Executive has been published, we've launched the Green Academy set of green business webinars and we've landed our first two FTSE 100 clients, which means our strategy of shifting from our early reliance on public funding to large private sector clients is starting to bear real fruit.
Looking forward, we will soon be launching a better registration system for Green Academy, starting to turn the webinar sessions into stand alone learning modules and starting a range of e-books. We are also in negotiation with a number of big name prospective clients. All our other services including this blog and The Low Carbon Agenda monthly bulletin will continue.
So, it just leaves me to thank all our clients, partners, friends, followers, subscribers and workshop participants for another great year. I'm looking forward to meeting more of you (online or offline), so don't be afraid to come and say hello!
By the time you read this, I'll be on one of four trains to Seville in Spain before heading by car to Ronda in Andalucia. So Terra Infirma Towers will be closing for a couple of weeks while the family and I get used to the fact I'm four decades young over many bottles of Rioja.
Blogging here will be on holiday frequency - once or twice a week depending on whether the villa's wi-fi works. Full service will re-commence on 11 April.
So the Christmas decorations are coming down, the cards heading for the recycling bins and life starts returning to normal. I hope you all had a great festive holiday and that Santa Claus brought you what you wanted. For the first year ever, I really did want, and got, new socks. I also managed to be fast asleep by 23:55 on New Year's Eve - what a lightweight I have become!
But I'm extremely excited about 2011. Last year was challenging for me personally with the new baby and two elections (local and general) requiring a lot of my energy, but it was all a lot of fun and the business did pretty well regardless.
Here are some of the reasons why I'm looking forward to 2011:
My second book, The Green Executive, will be out on 20 May (part of the reason I'm working today - a bank holiday in the UK - is to review and approve the copy editor's work). The book covers the strategic and leadership requirements of a green business and features 18 interviews with leading corporate sustainability experts.
We're launching our Green Business Webinar series on 2 Feb. These 10 sessions will provide a cost-effective, time-efficient and low carbon way to develop your skills. More details next week.
We're developing a diagnostic tool for medium/large businesses and expect to be trialling it in Feb/Mar for launch thereafter.
There is a whole raft of client projects in the offing including developing industrial ecology/symbiosis links in the forestry/wood/pulp industries and lots of training courses.
So, I hope you will come with us into this thrilling period - by subscribing to these blog posts (hit the big orange button) and/or The Low Carbon Agenda. By the way, the first edition of the latter will feature a planning process for 2011 and the answers to the fiendishly difficult low carbon quiz (nobody got all six questions right). Keep it green!
Terra Infirma will be on holiday from tomorrow until the New Year - I'm really looking forward to 2011, more excited than my kids are about Christmas. We're launching a set of webinars (details tbc), we'll be trialling then launching our new diagnostic process and I've got the publication of The Green Executive in May.
So all that remains for 2010 is wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
I've become a bit addicted to Twitter - I find it very useful for keeping up to date with news and views from a very wide range of sources and it has become the glue that holds my various social networking profiles together.
Just like this blog, I also use Twitter to disseminate the green business message. The 140 character limit is a brilliant anvil against which to beat these ideas down to their fundamental message. The nature of Twitter is ephemeral, so I thought I'd trawl my back catalogue of tweets for my favourite 10.
Going green will help a good business but not save a bad one.
"Go green and save money" is for amateurs.
No business ever went green by ISO14001 alone.
Sustainability needs to be embedded into the DNA of each organisation - need green equivalent of the TQM revolution.
When I find organisations trying and failing to go green, the prognosis is usually lack of leadership.
One of the toughest tests of CSR is to kill off products and activities incompatible with sustainability.
Beware: middle management is where green projects go to die.
Green business leaders must show commitment, not just in what they say, but in what they do... and in what they spend.
Life's too short for Life Cycle Assessment! Avoid paralysis by analysis and learn CSR by doing.
Key question for any green product/service: can it compete on performance, quality and price as well as green?
I try to write one of these every day, so if you want more you can follow me on @GarethKane.
It's been about 4 months since I signed up to Twitter, but it's only been the last two that I've really got my head around it. I find it fantastic for keeping up with a range of news sources, thought leaders and my broader network of clients and associates. On the broadcast side, most if not all of my blog posts now go out on Twitter, along with one line pieces of advice and comments on news stories.
Some things I've learnt:
1. For every two followers who follow me, one is genuine but the other is trying to get an automatic follow back from me - and will evaporate in a couple of days. I find this annoying, pointless and cynical, so I don't play that game.
2. Some people are obsessive retweeters. If I look at my Twitter feed and there's two dozen retweets from the same person, they get unfollowed. Flagging up interesting tweets is one thing, creating noise is quite another.
3. Overall, it's all very well mannered and there's a huge amount of good value information, despite old media's lazy stereotyping of it as a swirl of self-obsessed introspection.