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18 April 2017

Will Sustainability feature in the UK General Election?

polling stationSo, first half day back at work (I'm semi-childminding) and UK PM Theresa May goes and calls a General Election. In some ways not a surprise with the official opposition AWOL, but quite a gamble nonetheless.

And it's a gamble because the campaign will be dominated by one issue and one alone: Brexit. Mrs May wants a mandate to do what she's not really keen on doing, Labour is trying to ride both horses at once and the pro-European Lib Dems are still crawling their way back into contention after their 2015 near-wipeout [Disclosure: I'm a Lib Dem Councillor]. Who knows how this will pan out, but it will be fascinating.

So, will Sustainability feature? Brexit has huge implications for environmental regulation and the Government's Great Repeal Bill, as it stands, could be a big threat to our current environmental regulation, most of which takes its cue from EU Directives. But I don't think The Environment will change many votes because, frankly, most mainstream environmentalists tend to be Remainers and the hard Brexiteers tend towards climate disinterest at best.

But I come back to a point I've been making for a long time. Regulation helps tilt the playing field towards a sustainable economy, but if big business decides it wants to be sustainable, Sustainability will happen whether we are in or out of the EU, whether we have a green-leaning Government or not.

As a consumer, you make a choice every time you open your wallet or click 'Buy Now'. As an employee, you can make greener decisions at work, whether it is switching off a light or redesigning a new product. Of course as a voter, you can back your greenest candidate – but the first two you can do every day and that's what really matters.


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20 July 2016

'Green Deal' damned – but what can we learn?

Tjurruset Competition

The UK Government's erstwhile domestic energy efficiency programme 'The Green Deal' has been damned by the Public Accounts Committee for having "abysmal" take-up. "It was too complex, with excessive paperwork, while people were also put off by interest rates of up to 10% on the loans - far more expensive than other lending" was the verdict.

The Green Deal was clearly one of those clever political ideas which makes sense logically but fails to survive first contact with the real world. As I said three years ago, expecting busy people to get their heads around the supposed benefits of the so-called 'Golden Rule' was unrealistic. I said then:

"Again and again we keep getting the same lesson - that if you offer a green option it must not only be better than the alternative, or the 'do nothing' default option, but be simpler and more intuitive as well. A walk in the park, not a slog through the mud, in other words."

The bigger point is pragmatism beats idealism hands down every time. Do what works, kill off what doesn't, and never, ever be distracted by purists. They never create anything, because the real world is not perfect.



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27 June 2016

Don't get too worried about Brexit just yet...

Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. UK Flag and EU Flag. British Union Jack flag.

Yesterday at a kids party, a neighbour of mine asked me "You must be even more furious about the EU referendum result than I am?" She was quite surprised when I told her I was "sanguine" about it, despite having actively campaigned for an 'IN' vote.

Why? The most pivotal moment since the momentous result was the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron refusing to pull the trigger on 'Article 50' which would start the Brexit process. This means that whoever takes over from him would have to actively pitch the country into the unknown. A poisoned chalice indeed.

If that is a Remainer Tory PM, what incentive is there to press the button and risk long term damage to our country? If it's the current favourite, Brexiter Boris Johnson, he's already signalled that there is "no rush", that initial negotiations with the EU should be "informal" and that he wants to maintain a close relationship with Europe – a statement which has been interpreted as swift back-pedalling. If a new PM went to the polls, there's a strong chance of a change of Government and the possibility of a party standing on a Remain ticket forming part of the Government. The EU referendum result is only advisory in law and could be trumped by an electoral mandate.

So there is no Brexit plan and no enthusiasm from anyone to make one. And my prediction is that, as the cold light of reality shines on the implications of walking away from the EU, Brexit will slowly but surely become Fudgit.

OK, but if I'm wrong, and we suddenly find ourselves on our own, what are the implications for Sustainability in the UK?

Well all existing EU environmental directives are enshrined in UK law during the implementation phase, so a post Brexit Government would have to actively dismantle what is there. Future directives would at least partly have to be adopted by UK companies to maintain trading links – and may be imposed as a condition of staying in the single market. The biggest downside of Brexit from this point of view would be our lack of a seat at the table when such directives are drawn up.

Also, we are a global economy. So if we want to sell to, say, Walmart, P&G or Unilever, our industry would be required to comply with their supply chain targets. These will only ever get more ambitious.

So, while I believe Brexit is the wrong path for our country, I'm not convinced that it will happen, or indeed that the drivers for sustainable business will diminish much if it did.


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23 May 2016

Britain Greener in Europe

Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. UK Flag and EU Flag. British Union Jack flag.

About 15 years ago, I was at an international eco-design conference. As I wandered around the poster displays during a coffee break, I came across a young US researcher presenting a study on the then forthcoming EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.

"Why are Americans so interested in European legislation?" I asked her.

"It's a massive market and if our brands want to sell there, we've got to comply with the legislation." she replied.

"Ahhhh..." I said as the penny dropped.

Fast forward to today and we in the UK are a month away from a referendum on whether to remain in the EU or leave. I have commented in the past that climate denial and Euroscepticism go hand in hand, and I'm sure that 'freeing' the UK of environmental legislation is one of the desires of the 'Brexit' crowd.

Except, as we have seen above, we wouldn't be free at all. If we want to export to Europe, we'll have to comply with all existing and future legislation, only we would have zero influence over the content of that legislation.

The environmental angle is probably the main reason that I'll be voting to stay in the EU. The history of the EU has been one of raising the bar on environmental issues, whether on water quality or climate change, rather than the 'race to the bottom' we see in other parts of the world. And that combined economic heft means that if the EU decides to ban a toxic substance or insist on recyclability built into products, then the whole world has to sit up and take note. On this at least, the EU is a powerful force for good.

I'm IN.


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9 December 2015

Adding friction to unsustainable behaviour

shopping plastic bag

Regular readers will know I'm a bit sceptical about the plastic bag tax – mainly because it's aimed at a minor environmental impact rather than a major one such as home insulation. But what I can't argue with is its effectiveness, with Tesco (the UK's biggest retailer) announcing that plastic bag use had fallen 78% within a month of the tax coming into force.

And I'm quite surprised at the change it has made in my own behaviour. I've endeavoured to take reusable bags to the shop with me for 25 years, but I all too often forget. Strangely enough, the thought of having to pay 5 or 10p for a bag has sharpened my memory and I go much better prepared. The proof is in the pudding – the once huge stash of plastic bags under the sink is dwindling fast.

The difference really hit me yesterday – I had to do an unexpected grocery shop between meetings as old friends announced they were visiting out of the blue. I ended up cursing myself for not having a reusable bag with me always in case of such a situation.

This goes to show the power of adding even small amounts of friction to habitual unsustainable behaviour. It's classic 'nudge'-style behavioural change – remove obstacles to desired behaviour and throw a few in the way of undesired behaviour. Very rapidly people will adjust their behaviour to the path of least resistance.



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26 October 2015

New technology vs old rules...

swegwayLast Friday, my partner, Karen, and I sat down to rewatch Back to the Future II, only to find a. we had never actually seen it before and, b. this wasn't a bad thing, given some of the acting, dialogue and plotting. There has been a big fuss in the old and new media about how accurate the movie's 2015 sequence turned out to be: the video communication system looked surprisingly close to a Skype/Facebook hybrid, but sadly we haven't got the hover boards, unless you count the rather earth-bound Swegway (above right).

I saw someone trundling along our local cycle path on one of these this morning. He was probably breaking the law as they can't be ridden on public highways according to the Highway Act of 1835.

Yep, you read that right. 1835.

OK, all the attempts at revolutionary personal transport from the Sinclair C5 onwards have been a bit pants, but that's how innovation works. Version 1.0 of anything is a bit pants (the original iPhone had no video capability, already standard on other phones), but version 2.0 generally starts to be useful. But we need to get demand going for those early versions in order to get to up the innovation S-curve.

If we are strangling innovative ideas at birth with legislation set down 180 years ago, no wonder we get stuck in the old, high carbon ways of thinking. Maybe the Swegway is the start of something useful, but we'll probably never find out.

If the rules don't work, let's change the rules!


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2 October 2015

Compliance, compliance, compliance

vwA long term mantra of mine is:

Go beyond compliance, but don't neglect compliance.

As the fall out from the VW emissions cheat continues, the car behemoth has set aside an initial $7.3 billion to cover the costs of the scandal, 30% has been wiped off the company's value and criminal investigations have begun. But the wider damage to the brand's reputation (which was built on dependability, after all) is much, much bigger. As one board member put it "The damage done cannot be measured."

Compliance underpins sustainability. If you get compliance wrong, it doesn't matter what absolutely fantastic things you do, the whole pyramid comes tumbling down. As my schoolteacher (and no doubt yours too) used to put it "You're only cheating yourself."


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12 June 2015

Staying one step ahead of legislation

Baltic view

Last Friday saw the 11th meeting of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group – the small group of sustainability managers from large organisations I facilitate. We were back at the site of the very first meeting, the Baltic Art Gallery in Gateshead with its fabulous views over the Tyne.

The topic was legislation and, in particular, what we can learn from wrestling with current legislation to anticipate the next wave. The Group focussed on three areas of legislation – Energy/Carbon, Supply Chain and Product Design. Here's a selection of the 60+ 'take home' points arising:

  • A compliance mindset means always playing catch up;
  • Need an early warning system to identify and screen forthcoming legislation;
  • Spending time to understand the true scope and depth of the requirements is a very worthwhile investment;
  • Use legislation to stimulate innovation;
  • Always assume legislation will tighten;
  • Suppliers may say ‘no’ if they are not directly obligated;
  • You can sometimes sell compliance to customers as added-value by de-risking their compliance;
  • Energy/carbon biggest opportunity for automating data collection;
  • Purchase plant, fleet and equipment on through life costing basis;
  • Care needs to be taken with data – trends may be due to changing collection process;
  • Energy management software needs to work for the business and not the other way around – take care with choice of vendor;
  • Reinvest a % of savings to generate a snowball effect;
  • Investment appraisal needs to be able to capture energy/carbon costs.
  • Knowing what’s actually in your product is a real challenge, yet legislation makes it your responsibility;
  • Further down the supply chain the harder it is to check, yet the bigger the risk to reputation;
  • Categorise suppliers to identify risks: strategic/tactical, single/replaceable, and by geography;
  • Giving priority to sustainable suppliers means unsustainable suppliers will lose market share ie you can transform the market with purchasing decisions;
  • LCA heavily dependent on assumptions and must be used with care;
  • Watch-list of chemicals/components is growing fast;
  • Designing out problematic materials is the best solution – and can provide extra value to customers.

As always it was the discussion that got us to these conclusions which gave the most value. This discussion continued over lunch in the fabulous SIX rooftop restaurant – 'no dreary buffets' is one of the three rules of the Group!


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28 November 2014

You can't push a circular economy

Green ThreadYesterday I went to the North East Recycling Forum (NERF) Annual Conference, which as usual, punched way above its weight when it comes to speakers. We had Steve Lee, CEO of CIWM, David Palmer-Jones, CEO of SITA, Roland Arnison of AEA Ricardo and Mark Shayler of Ape giving a wide range of views from the waste industry through to the whole nature of consumption.

The broad theme of the morning was the circular economy and Steve and David started with the EU circular economy package which was adopted this year. What bothered me though, and I said so, is the provisions in the package revolve predominantly around the waste end of the linear economy - with the headline target of a recycle rate of 70%.

As Dwight D. Eisenhower put it:

Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.

The one factor which will make or break the circular economy is demand or pull. Without demand, you can try and push as much stuff into the recycling pipe as you want, but it'll be like trying to push string - or a shop full of unwanted and unsold toys. And, even indirectly, recycling target based on quantity, not quality, is unlikely to attract much enthusiasm from the manufacturing industry - the cart is being put before the horse.

If the EU changed their focus to setting standards for recycled material in products then it would create demand for high quality secondary materials. This demand, and only this, is essential to create the pull which would bend our linear economy into a circular one, driving up quality and pushing down cost. It's that simple.



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1 October 2014

California is banning plastic bags. Big Deal.

shopping plastic bag

Have you read the headlines in the press that the State of California is going to ban single use plastic bags in large supermarkets?

Well, sound the trumpets.

Why my cynicism? Well, taking the average UK citizen  - plastic bags represent about 0.1% of our individual carbon footprint, whereas, by comparison, heating our homes represents 10% (I don't have the equivalent Californian data to hand, but I suspect it is similar but with cooling rather than heating). You don't have to a mathematical genius to realise that a very modest improvement in home insulation regulations would easily outstrip a complete removal of single use plastic bags from the economy.

Let's focus on what matters, shall we?


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12 May 2014

'Do Nothing' never looked so unappetising...

old oil pump

Industries fail. Big brands hit the rocks. Governments fall. Change is as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning.

The winners are those who can read the writing on the wall and embrace the new realities. The losers are those who sit tight and pin their faith in crossed fingers.

With climate change at the top of the agenda, resource prices remaining stubbornly at an historic high and environmental legislation tightening, sustainability pressures are building. On the other hand clean technology evolves, synergies emerge and business opportunities open up.

Change brings with it risk, yes, sure, but what people are less attuned to is the risk of 'do nothing'. A powerful 'Green Jujitsu' lever is to communicate 'business as usual' as the bigger risk - to tap into people's risk aversion to push them towards sustainability, not away from it. That takes a clever piece of reframing, but it does work when you get it right.


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3 March 2014

Rules are made to be...


I try and avoid the nitty-gritty of environmental legislation if I can help it, but occasionally I  dip my toe in the water to keep up with broad principles. For the latest on waste/resource I head to the North East Recycling Forum which really punches above its weight - one of the few events I attend as an audience member only. At the meeting last Thursday I noticed a worrying theme in the discussion - legislation which is trying to be helpful but ends up being prescriptive.

Exhibit 1: the waste hierarchy is actually written into some European legislation. While the hierarchy is a useful rule of thumb, it is just that and not a rule of Nature. For example, it is almost always better to recycle 100% of a waste stream than to reduce it by 20% and have to landfill the other 80% because it is not economically viable to recycle. The hierarchy cannot help you here.

Exhibit 2: the next update of the Waste Directive requires Councils to implement source segregation of recycles rather than co-mingled collection unless they can prove the latter is better. I know from my own experience as a Councillor that when we shifted from source segregation to semi-co-mingled, the amount collection collected shot up by over 50% as the system was much, much easier to use - it also cut litter, traffic congestion during collection and operative injuries. So why put the onus of proof on what is for many the obvious solution?

But this is not just about legislation - as human beings we have a terrible tendency to constrain ourselves by sometimes completely arbitrary mental rules. The green movement has its own shibboleths where, to take five examples, nuclear energy, biodiesel, GMOs, markets and carbon-offsetting are all clearly the work of the devil. This fundamentalism is not helpful when we face the scale of the challenge we face - we might just need some of these tools in our toolbox in some form or other. So it is important to challenge our own assumptions, listen to well reasoned dissenting voices and not jump to conclusions.


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29 January 2014

Red Tape or Green Light?

redtapeUK PM David Cameron gave a speech to the Federation of Small Business (FSB) on Monday where he lauded the Government's drive to cut regulation. He claimed that this would be the first Government in history to leave behind fewer laws than it found on taking office.

While as a small business owner myself, I hate unnecessary red tape, I bridle at the assumption that all legislation is bad for business. It is a constant refrain at my Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group that legislation can spur innovation and create value. In fact, one of my clients, FTSE100 precious metals giant Johnson Matthey, attributes over 75% of its turnover to helping others meet the requirements of legislation whether supplying catalytic convertors for cars or NOx-reducing systems for industrial processes.

I would go so far as to say it is not the quantity of legislation that is the problem, but the quality - if Mr Cameron really wanted to help small business, he would get HMRC to completely rebuild its website which is impenetrable to mere mortals who simply want to pay their tax on time. Make being responsible easy!


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28 June 2013

The Lesson from the Green Deal...

Tjurruset Competition

Yesterday, the UK Government released initial figures on the uptake of its flagship Green Deal programme. This was developed to help homeowners retrofit energy efficiency measures in their home, financed from their electricity bills, but under the 'Golden Rule' that repayments would never exceed savings from the scheme. Sounds good? Well, uptake has been slow.

According to the Guardian, over 40,000 assessments have been undertaken, but only 3 people have taken out a loan with another 200 in the process of doing so. 5000 having financed the measures themselves and got cashback from the Government. This suggests that the people the Green Deal is aimed at - those who can't afford that capital investment themselves - are not taking advantage of the finance - not yet, anyway.

Why not? They'd always get some cash in their pocket, get warmer homes, contribute to a greener future - why not?

Well, it's all a bit complicated, isn't it? I mean think of a harassed working parent, dashing from school gate to the office or factory and back again, feeding the family, getting them to bed and then slumping on the sofa. They've got a choice between watching the latest shenanigans on The Apprentice or getting their head around the Green Deal's Golden Rule. Which wins?

When I sat on the board of a WarmZone project, we struggled to give away insulation for free to low income households. Why wouldn't people take their arm off? Some people didn't believe it really was free, others saw clearing out their loft as too much hassle - despite the big economic, health and comfort benefits the insulation would bring. Add a relatively complex financing deal to that and it doesn't surprise me that people demur.

Again and again we keep getting the same lesson - that if you offer a green option it must not only be better than the alternative, or the 'do nothing' default option, but be simpler and more intuitive as well.

A walk in the park, not a slog through the mud, in other words.


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24 May 2013

Supply Chain Secrets of the Sustainability Masterminds

Crown Hotel Wetheral

Tuesday saw the fourth meeting of our Corporate Sustainability Mastermind (CoSM) Group. This time we went for a rural location - the Crown Hotel, Wetheral, Cumbria - with another great restaurant (one of the rules of the group is "no executive buffets").

The theme of the meeting was greening the supply chain. As the group operates under the Chatham House rule, I can't share the company specific solutions we discussed, but here's a sample of the three dozen or so generic lessons we recorded at the meeting:

  • Sustainability risks in the supply chain often exceed risks within the factory fence
  • Proactive anticipation is essential – reacting is usually too late
  • Need to continuously scan horizon for future legislation from around the world - legislation has impacts way beyond its immediate jurisdiction in a globalised world
  • The business model defines the supply chain – only incremental improvements can be made without rethinking that business model
  • Awareness days are highly effective ways of sharing good practice across silos and identifying synergies
  • Identify the ‘difference makers’ and make them your champions
  • Use competition to drive performance above standards eg allocate 15% of tender scoring to sustainability and let bidders compete for those points
  • Investment appraisals must be made on through life costs, not just capital costs
  • Joint research with suppliers on greener options can deliver synergistic benefits
  • There is plenty of scope for closed loops for certain materials, particularly metals
  • Small products can be very difficult to recover. Composting and energy recovery may be preferential routes
  • Widen tolerances on inputs to open up a wider range of raw material sources
  • Chicken and egg situation with closed loop business models and civic infrastructure (materials recovery/composting) – need to be proactive and lead

As always, the real benefit was how we got to these generic points and the examples of company specific challenges and shortcuts members threw in to the discussion.

The CoSM Group is for senior sustainability managers in large organisations which meets quarterly in great locations for open and frank discussion - and NO Powerpoint. The next meeting will be in September and will be themed around Sustainability Strategy: The Next Generation. If you'd like to learn more, please drop me a line.


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8 May 2013

What would you ban, if you could?

law"Hurrah!", shouted the green world, as the neonicotinoid pesticides blamed by everybody (except their producers and their political allies) for the worrying decline in bee numbers.

Bans work. Some major environmental problems have been pretty much fixed by banning the substances involved:

  • The Montreal Protocol banned the use of CFC refrigerants, leading to a stabilisation and slight closure in the hole in the ozone level.
  • The ban in leaded petrol has been credited for great improvements in local air quality - and even for the steady reduction in violent crime which has occurred since the ban.
  • Restrictions on DDT use have been attributed to the rebound in Bald Eagle numbers in the US (although eggs shells remain thin). A ban in lead shot fishing weights led to a massive increase in swan numbers in the UK.

What is inevitable, however, is that those threatened by a ban (and those who are against any environmental protection as a 'cost' to business) will resist, producing their own research to prove that, in the memorable title of a book on the subject, "toxic waste is good for you." This happened in response to the call to phase out DDT in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and it is happening in the neonicotinoid ban now.

This economic barrier is bunk as bans lead to innovation which is good for the economy. We still have fridges despite the CFC ban. Non-toxic 'sharkskin' anti-fouling paint was developed in response to a ban on toxic TBTs. So we shouldn't listen to the voices of 'no change'.

You don't have to wait until international authorities act, of course. Many organisations run black and grey lists of undesirable chemicals and other materials. Black listed substances must never be used, and whoever proposes a grey list chemical must make the case why it should be used over alternatives. This pre-empts legislation and makes sure the company is ahead of the curve. Some companies have added green lists of preferred chemicals too.

InterfaceFLOR deleted quite a number of carpet tile lines because of the flame retardants required by the other raw materials. The company sees ruling out toxic materials as a drive to innovate and maintain competitive advantage, so they're quite gung-ho about it.

So, over to you. What would you ban, if you could?


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4 March 2013

Environmental legislation - enemy or ally?

lawI've recently noticed a real gulf in the way top sustainability practitioners talk about environmental legislation and the way everybody else does.

When you read the press or listen to many business executives, these laws are said to be stifling growth, raising prices and putting people out of business (ignoring the fact that most of the energy price rise has been due to stubbornly high oil prices). Legislation = bad.

But when we touch on legislation in, say, my Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group, there is a completely different tone to the conversation. These guys believe that legislation is their ally - driving innovation, getting the attention of senior management and punishing those who don't invest in sustainability. Legislation = good.

As always it comes down to mindset. Do you want to surf the waves or let them knock you over in the shallows?


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15 February 2013

Wise Words from the Sustainability Mastermind Group

Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group

Yesterday I hosted another of our Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group at another fantastic venue, this time the Biscuit Factory art gallery in Newcastle, said to be the largest commercial gallery outside London. Membership of the Group is open to senior managers and directors of large organisations who want to take sustainability to the next level.

The theme of the meeting was Global Megatrends in Sustainability and we used my sustainability PESTLE analysis as a brainstorming tool (note the lack of Powerpoint in the picture above). Group members identified key opportunities and risks they perceive and used that to discuss ways forward.

Here's just a flavour of the take away points generated during the discussion:

  • Risk of unavailability of raw materials rising to be equal to or even above risks from, say, climate change to business;
  • This in turn is opening opportunities for circular business models;
  • Philanthropy can come in the form of advice as well as cash - and is often more effective in this form;
  • Gamification is an interesting new development, but need to be cognisant of company culture or it could backfire;
  • 'Base of the pyramid' markets ripe for Creating Shared Value (CSV) type investment;
  • 'Soundbite environmentalism' is a real risk to practical sustainability solutions - if people object, remind them of the alternative - the status quo - which they are effectively defending;
  • Legislation can be a boon - grabs attention of board members and drives innovation;
  • 'Lean' and other business process improvement programmes are a prime opportunity to embed sustainability into core processes;
  • Greening supply chain can be difficult eg when there is a narrow choice in suppliers and in the case of land use changes;
  • Flood and drought risks are not being taken seriously enough by business or authorities.

After almost 3 hours of intense discussion, we had a great lunch in the David Kennedy Food Social restaurant - and continued talking sustainability over the food.


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6 August 2012

Why I'm Not Calling for a Plastic Bag Tax

There's another big call out for a plastic bag tax in England and Wales. I'm not against such a tax per se, but it is far from the top of my list of priorities. OK, single use plastic bags cause litter, but nearly as much as, say, crisp packets (if you have ever been on a litter pick you will know what I mean), and can harm marine life (ditto), but they're said to represent 0.1% of the average person's carbon footprint, so if we wanted to make a 50% cut in humanity's carbon footprint, we'd need to find 500 such measures to do so.

"So what?", you may ask, "this is an easy win, a symbolic gesture, something we can do." Yes, but, have we not had enough symbolic gestures, enough pilot projects, enough green grandstanding when we really need to be delivering improvements at scale? This is no time to be lowering our sights down to something even the Daily Mail can support - we've got to raise them, challenge ourselves and make a real difference.

The same thing can happen at the organisational level - people pursuing "safe" incremental improvements at the expense of more ambition. The third "secret" in my first book, The Three Secrets of Green Business, was "take some huge leaps and lots of small steps." If you focus just on the latter, you'll soon come up against diminishing returns - you need the huge leaps to propel you you towards sustainability. My second book, The Green Executive, called for organisations to set themselves stretch targets, to escape "the tyranny of the present", change the mindset and make those ambitious changes.

So yes, let's have a plastic bag tax, but don't see it as a significant achievement and don't waste much time and effort on it - and for goodness sake don't rest on your laurels - but understand it would be a tiny incremental improvement and we need to be looking for those huge leaps.


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1 June 2012

Legislation changes. It's the law!

There's an old(ish) tech saying "Never buy version 1.0 of anything." The thinking is that the first version of anything hasn't been 'battle hardened' by use and is usually in need of immediate upgrade to make it work as expected.

I'm reminded of this when I hear discussions about changes to new environmental laws - the Carbon Reduction Commitment, the Feed-in Tariff, the Green Deal etc. Most of these descend rapidly into rants about the stupidity of politicians who just don't understand what it's like etc, etc.

As long as I've been in this line of work I've heard similar complaints. I remember a company who a decade ago invested in a waste electronic/electrical equipment (WEEE) recycling facility to get first mover advantage when the WEEE Directive came in. The Government of the day decided the industry as a whole "wasn't ready" and delayed implementation for a year. Frustrating for the company - who had done what the Government wanted - but a year or so before, new legislation on the disposal of ozone depleting substances had led to an embarrassing 'fridge mountain' as there was no capacity to process them, so the risk of delay was there.

One of the most interesting points made at last week's sustainability mastermind group was (I paraphrase) "markets change, legislation changes, that's the way of the world, get over it." I found this a really refreshing point of view - after all we are (largely) talking about for-profit businesses and the first rule of a business is that no-one owes you a living. We are used to working in uncertain markets, so we should be able to handle uncertain policy frameworks.

This isn't to play down the frustration of those affected by Government prevarication, but railing against the world won't help your business. Much better to prepare up front - identify the risk(s), assess potential scenarios and impacts and make the necessary arrangements to manage that risk. Trying to build a whole business model on the back of a forthcoming piece of legislation without considering potential changes, delays and even last minute cancelation is simply naive.

Unintended consequences, unforeseen loopholes, unexpected events, media campaigns, skittish politicians, changes in Governments - there is a whole raft of reasons why laws change, good and bad. But they change - get used to it.

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