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4 January 2016

Looking forward to a (more) sustainable 2016!


Well, I'm sitting here, steaming gently after my first exercise of 2016, and pondering the year ahead. 2015 was the best year in Terra Infirma's history, however you measure it, and it's going to be a real  challenge to raise the bar in 2016. I've got some very exciting plans in store, along with the results of some fab client projects, at least one of which will be publicly available.

If you want to join us to make the sustainable business revolution happen in 2016, we have a whole load of ways to accelerate progress in your organisation:

  1. First up, make sure you're subscribed to The Low Carbon Agenda (see right), our free monthly sustainability bulletin. We're going to hit edition 100 in a couple of months and I'll be putting together some really great stuff for then.
  2. Secondly, try out our Green Academy on-line training, for free, by signing up to 16 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2016 on 20 January. I guarantee you'll get more than a couple of inspirational ideas out of it to kick off your year.
  3. The Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group hits its fourth birthday this year. It's my favourite thing that we do – a small group of sustainability leaders from some of the world's greatest organisations putting their heads together to learn from each other. One member who joined in 2015, Colin Thirlaway, Global Sustainability Lead for Black & Decker, described the group as 'invaluable' to his work. We have one seat free – contact me if you are interested!

Here's to a truly brilliant and sustainable 2016!


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12 August 2014

The problem with One Planet Living...

world brainIn the latest edition of my monthly e-mail bulletin The Low Carbon Agenda, I made an aside that an organisation should not have more than 7 top-level sustainability goals. I immediately got an e-mail from a sustainability practitioner saying she was being asked to use the One Planet Living system which has ten objectives and was this a problem?

The problem was illustrated by the fact that, even though I have read the One Planet Living objectives many times, I still had to look them up to remember what any of them were. OK, you could argue I'm going senile early, but if you go over more than 5-7 objectives, they all just become a haze.

For the record, here are the ten:

  • Zero carbon: Making buildings more energy efficient and delivering all energy with renewable technologies.
  • Zero waste: Reducing waste, reusing where possible, and ultimately sending zero waste to landfill.
  • Sustainable transport: Encouraging low carbon modes of transport to reduce emissions, reducing the need to travel.
  • Sustainable materials: Using sustainable healthy products, with low embodied energy, sourced locally, made from renewable or waste resources.
  • Local and sustainable food: Choosing low impact, local, seasonal and organic diets and reducing food waste.
  • Sustainable water: Using water more efficiently in buildings and in the products we buy; tackling local flooding and water course pollution.
  • Land use and wildlife: Protecting and restoring biodiversity and natural habitats through appropriate land use and integration into the built environment.
  • Culture and community: Reviving local identity and wisdom; supporting and participating in the arts.
  • Equity and local economy: Creating bioregional economies that support fair employment, inclusive communities and international fair trade.
  • Health and happiness: Encouraging active, sociable, meaningful lives to promote good health and well being.

Some of these could clearly be sub-objectives of the others. Sustainable transport could be a sub-objective of zero carbon. Local and sustainable food - local should be a possible subset of sustainable, but overall this objective could be covered by zero carbon, sustainable water and land use. (One could also ask where phasing out persistent organic pollutants fits in... Oh, I do get very pedantic...)

Anyway, my point is that One Planet Living, like all such systems, is a framework developed to help you, not ten commandments carved in stone. If you find yourself struggling to match your efforts to the framework, then the tail is wagging the dog and you should adapt the framework to your needs, find another one or generate your own. And, whichever you do, if you go over 7 objectives, you will find other people struggling to remember them - not just me!


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1 August 2011

Happy Birthday to Us!

Terra Infirma is 4 years old!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!

All the best,


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3 January 2011

Happy 2011!

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!

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    1 December 2010

    Getting ready for Xmas...

    1st of December is traditionally the day that I stop grousing about it being too early to even mention the C-word. Instead I ritually put on the Phil Spector Christmas Album, kick back, and start into the Christmas cake, mince pies and port. Actually that might have to wait to the 2nd as, weather permitting (see above), I've got a really busy day scheduled today with environmental policy workshops.

    Going back to the festive season, to thank my friends, followers, subscribers, clients and everyone else, I'm working on a Xmas special Low Carbon Agenda with unique free downloads, a low carbon prize quiz and a special offer. You can subscribe to the Low Carbon Agenda using the box on the right hand side (check out the past issues if you don't know what it's all about).

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    4 October 2010

    Brought to Book

    Phew! Last Thursday I finally submitted the manuscript for The Green Executive after the most intense week I've had since my final exams at Uni. Every spare minute was taken up checking, changing and tweaking the text. Getting the 220 references into shape took over 17 hours alone. And it's done - but it will be 11 May before it hits the bookshelves, so you'll have to do with a sneak preview of the cover  in the meantime(right).

    On Friday I took myself off to Wensleydale for some walking and to attend a friend's wedding in a castle - alcohol, silly helmets and archery make a much better mix than you would think. Hence the lack of Friday blogging - I was busy slogging through a bog in the fog. And now I've got a tonne of slightly delayed end of month admin to do.

    Looking forward I will be out and about a lot over the next few months with speaking/facilitating appearances in Newcastle, Southampton, Harrogate, Cambridge and Teesside already in the diary. As these are firmed up I'll be publicising them here and in The Low Carbon Agenda.

    Also, I've starting writing pieces on a more regular basis for Management Issues and the Sustainability Forum. The former focuses on Leadership/HR/Organisational issues, on the latter I write about sustainability outside the green business line I stick to on this blog.

    So, must go, the to do list awaits...

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    2 July 2010

    Hooray, hooray...

    ... I'm off on my holidays tomorrow. We're spending a fortnight in Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales - same house as last year as we enjoyed it so much. If the weather's as good as last year we'll be laughing, as the walking, cycling, scenery and lazing about is fantastic - I hope the bakery is still serving freshly baked croissants at 7am.

    It's not a complete break, though. I've just printed off the complete manuscript for The Green Executive for the first time ever having slotted the interviews into place. This needs to be finished by the end of July, so I'll be putting in a couple of hours work every day.

    Through the wonders of technology, I'll still be posting on Twitter, you might get a few posts here as well, and of course it's my day on the virtual working summit next Tuesday.

    Also, if you haven't noticed, we've revamped the Free Resources section of the website, splitting it into three separate pages, one holding two videos which haven't had a permanent home before, one with the back issues of The Low Carbon Agenda and one with the white papers and downloads. And lastly, I've created a page for The Three Secrets of Green Business on Facebook - join up and take part in the debates!

    See you when I get back.

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    16 December 2009

    So now I'm an author

    Yesterday I got my consignment of my first book, The Three Secrets of Green Business. So now I'm officially an author - something I have wanted to achieve since I was about 12 years old - although back then it would have been derivative swords and sandals nonsense rather than trying to save the world. I am genuinely chuffed with it and am glad to see it pulling away from a major rival in the Amazon rankings.

    If I was going to sum up this book in three words, I would say punchy, practical and provocative. Personally I get bored with business books which are just a compilation of theory and case studies - I want advice, guidance and hints and tips that tell me how to do what I want to do from someone who has been there and done it. I brought these principles to The Three Secrets and I hope readers will appreciate them.

    BTW, if you're not a subscriber to The Low Carbon Agenda, then check out the Free Resources page here this afternoon as this month's issue has a whole load of goodies relating to the book.

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    30 November 2009

    Low Carbon Agenda: Jeers and Cheers

    Thanks to everyone who has given feedback on last week's Low Carbon Agenda. Some found that the text wrapped strangely around the central diagram in their mail reader - it worked fine in my Apple Mail, but there appears to be a problem with some versions of Outlook. Apologies for this - the techies have been summarily executed say it has been fixed now. If you want to see how it should look, click here.

    On the other hand, I have never had such a positive response to an edition of TLCA. Apparently many of you spent Wednesday afternoon using the Sustainability Maturity Model to discuss how ready your business is to implement sustainability. Well, that's why I developed it and I've found it very useful in client workshops - it will also form the basis of my second book, The Green Executive. Thanks for the compliments.

    I'll also be using the model at the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange in Harrogate on Thursday during my session on Long Term Environmental Strategy. If you're going to Harrogate, please do say hello!

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    29 October 2009

    We're almost there...

    ...apologies if your access to this blog has been disrupted. We were trying to sort out a couple of techie things which had knock on effects and so on - but we should be about there now. This has also delayed this month's edition of The Low Carbon Agenda which should be out later today or early tomorrow.

    I'm also on semi-paternity leave as we thought new child was on his way yesterday, but it looks as if he's taking his time. It's given me a good chance to catch up on some admin, answer the final proofreading queries on The 3 Secrets of Green Business and keep our projects tapping along. My plan to spring clean the office hasn't really materialised - I could ask imminent mum-to-be to help, but she's upstairs, hanging precariously off a step ladder with a power drill in her hand. I know better than to interfere!

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    12 October 2009

    Forthcoming new arrivals...

    I'm taking break from doing the final proof edits on The Three Secrets of Green Business. This is extraordinarily tedious, but I have found one big clanger so it is necessary. Despite the tedium, I'm getting really excited. I'm organising a launch event in January - more details when I have them. In the meantime, the Green Executive is really starting to shape up and I hope to get the first draft to the publisher early in the new year.

    Also coming soon is the new branding, website and Low Carbon Agenda. Just the final tweaks to go, but looking very good indeed.

    Part of me worries that all this excitement is displacement activity to distract me from yet another impending new arrival. My second child is due on 1 November, although his mother's maternal vibe is that this one could be early. So if this blog suddenly goes quiet, it probably means I'm up to my elbows in nappies again and/or taking no 1 son to the park. I intend to take two weeks semi-paternity leave - keeping things tapping along but not running any workshops or intensive pieces of work.

    It's all so exciting!

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    2 September 2009

    The summer's gone...

    Well it's September, it's wet and we are extraordinarily busy. As well as our existing projects and clients, we've been employed to do some very exciting new work for the Design Council and Innovation Scout. The latter is a new venture by entrepreneurs Nick Devitt and David Townson to identify unmet business opportunities to stimulate innovation and we're contributing opportunities in the Low Carbon Economy.

    On top of this, I've got edits to do for The Three Secrets of Green Business and I've got some exciting new interviewees for its sequel, The Green Executive. And then of course I'm still working on new entries for Green Gurus - deep ecologist Arne Naess is likely to be the next profile. The rebranding process continues and the new website is looking really good - it will makes much easier to find what you are looking for than at present.

    If you've been on holiday and haven't read the last edition of The Low Carbon Agenda, then I advise you do - it's called Low Carbon Jujitsu and is about how to deal with difficult people. These are probably the most powerful techniques I've revealed on TLCA - and you get them for free!

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    13 October 2008

    Low Carbon Agenda snags

    Update 14/10/08 6pm: Normal Service resumed


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    1 August 2008

    We are two!

    Happy Birthday, Terra Infirma, two years old today!

    This is a key milestone as most businesses do not get this far, so I'm sure you'll excuse the self indulgence.

    And it's been quite a year - many new clients, some of them very big (the EU...), many exciting projects, becoming an incorporated company and launching The Low Carbon Agenda.

    And it's going to be an interesting year - we have a number of clients lined up to start on the Lean, Mean & Green Programme, have been booked to deliver some more workshops at the Low Carbon Innovation Exchange and the Green Business Bible is definitely on its way!

    But, with the economic situation, it is going to be a challenge. I believe that spending on environmental issues is not discretionary but essential to cut costs. Many of the problems we solve are hardnosed issues like "why are you throwing away £00000s worth of product?" rather than hugging trees. It has to be said that it is much easier to get this message across these days.

    Lastly, I'd like to thank all of you - the readers of this blog (especially those who comment). We'll be raising a glass tonight and I hope you'll raise a metaphorical one with us.

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    7 July 2008

    Weekly Tip #21: Use the Terra Infirma Brainstorming Tool

    This is the latest of a series of tips extracted from the forthcoming Green Business Bible e-book*:

    If you want to do effective brainstorming, then use the Terra Infirma Brainstorming Tool. You can see it in the latest edition of the Low Carbon Agenda along with instructions. It is set up for Carbon Emissions, but substitute 'Waste' or a more specific problem eg 'Product Loss in Goods Out' and it's hot to trot for any environmental issue. You can also use it for other applications, even frying an egg.

    * It really is very nearly ready. Honest!

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    29 May 2008

    Carbon Trust 'could do better', but can they?

    The UK's Committee of Public Accounts has criticised the Carbon Trust's ability to cut emissions as 'pretty small beer'. The committee has listed a number of reasons why the Trust can't be more effective (reluctance of senior executives, EU rules), but, in my opinion, they miss the big one.

    The Carbon Trust, along with Envirowise and other similar business support organisations, works on the model of an 'expert' walking into a business, spotting a number of potential improvements, writing them up with some signposting to other help and sending the business the results. This is bound to fail for the following reasons:

    1. The 'expert' spends most of the visit trying to understand the operations and has limited time to get under the skin of the business. As a result, savings opportunities tend to be drawn from a generic list.

    2. The 'expert' is given no opportunity for trial and error, pilot projects or doing anything particularly innovative.

    3. The business has little or no ownership of the solutions and is unlikely to implement them.

    This doesn't just go for Government backed schemes, but much traditional consultancy. So what can be done differently?

    OK, how about:

    1. The 'expert' carries out a baseline assessment of the business's operations.

    2. The 'expert' and the client put together an team drawn from the client's staff.

    3. The 'expert' briefs the team on the baseline and trains them on what a low carbon business would look like (check out this month's Low Carbon Agenda for a generic model).

    4. The team meets over an extended period of time to develop solutions, piloting them and monitoring their implementation.

    5. The 'expert' gradually hands over the process to the team so it becomes self sustaining.

    Trust me, that would beat the old model hands down. If you want to try it, give me a shout on 0191 265 9850.

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    26 February 2008

    New! Low Carbon Agenda Newsletter

    This week we're very proud to launch "The Low Carbon Agenda", a new, free, monthly newsletter which will explain what the Low Carbon Economy is and how to make the most of it. Topics include:

    - Carbon Footprinting
    - Carbon Management
    - Low Carbon Processes
    - Low Carbon Supply Chains
    - Low Carbon Products & Services - what they are and how to sell them

    To subscribe, simply complete the form here on the Resources Page. Back issues will also appear on this page.


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