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11 May 2018

Reasons to be Cheerful part 514

Well, the good news just keeps coming. Zero carbon aluminium smelting, coal-free-energy days, too much solar energy in the summer (so how do we store it?), plastic-eating enzymes, a reduction in plastic bags littering beaches, more proposed bans on single-use plastic items... What's really interesting here in the UK is that we have near-universal political backing for these moves, and in plastic litter even the notoriously reactionary Daily Mail has found an eco-cause to champion.

As Sustainability practitioners we need to capitalise on this enthusiasm and momentum, not play the doom-monger. Yes, it's not enough, but it is accelerating faster than anyone expected. We need to press harder on the pedal, not reach for the handbrake of helplessness.


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6 April 2018

Inspiring yourself on Sustainability

The other day my eldest was watching the news with me and asked "Why isn't there a good news channel to cheer us up?" He was right – the news was unremittingly bleak or frustrating with hardly any moments of cheer. And it really can wear us down.

I know I'm not the only one in the Sustainability world who occasionally hits that slough of 'are we really making a difference'? And then you read a headline that the UK's plastic bag tax has led to a reduction in plastic bags in marine litter while other plastic litter increases. Or you read that wind power alone was providing over a third of the country's electricity one day during the recent 'Beast from the East' freeze.

Stuff we do does make a difference – provided of course you are picking the right stuff (check out how the 80:20 Rule can help). And we've got to keep reminding ourselves and others about this. I try to tweet out at least one Sustainability good news story everyday. That small action reminds me that there is a constant stream of good news and hopefully a few other people too.


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16 January 2017

Happy Monday! Or why it's too easy to be Blue

the end is nigh

Before I had kids I used to see myself as a bit of a songwriter. One of my enduring insights from that time is that is much more difficult to write a good happy song than a good sad song. For the latter, you only need to reach for a minor key, a slow tempo and some pseudo-intellectual phrases and you're away. I could never get it right with an upbeat, positive song, so I used to fall back on scathing satire to make it work.

I find the same happens with sustainability news (or any news for that matter). It is very easy to  create a headline from a negative story, much more difficult to be impactful with a positive one. So you get articles like this one from the Guardian's Robin McKie which includes the line

"The trouble is that very little has been done in the past decade to trigger changes that might wean us off [the UK's] fossil fuel addiction."

That is utter nonsense. We have seen a renewable energy boom and a collapse in the coal-fired industry. OK, so the domestic heating/insulation sector and transport are proving harder nuts to crack and the Government should be putting this much higher up the agenda, but the picture is encouraging. Of course we need people like McKie to keep the pressure on, but the context is important or people will get despondent.

You can scale this up to the global level. Carbon emissions are stalling, as is population growth, and extreme poverty is falling fast, but you'd never know it from the press. The war isn't won yet by any means, but our front lines are moving forward. Let's keep the troops motivated!


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14 August 2014

It's not about who YOU can trust, but about who THEY can trust...

oil pricesI'm thoroughly enjoying the first phase of our family summer holidays visiting my parents in my home town of Belfast. My dad has become something of an investor, and I'm starting to dip my toe into clean tech investment, so it was a good opportunity to get some hints and tips.

The only slight tension was he's an archetypal Telegraph reader who invests in traditional blue chip companies and I'm looking at the much riskier emerging green markets. To bridge this gap, I made sure that data I showed him came from sources he would trust rather than sources an environmentalist would naturally reach for first.

This is a classic green jujitsu move. If you want to sell sustainability to a Telegraph reader, then use Telegraph-type sources rather than, say The Guardian. If you want to sell sustainability to an economist, use analyses from major business schools or respected economic sources. And so on...

It's good discipline to challenge yourself in this way anyway. If you use sources that will almost always agree with your gut instinct, confirmation bias is a serious risk.

So, while ignoring the climate change denying lunatic fringe, I deliberately seek out well argued opinion and analysis that I wouldn't naturally gravitate towards. It broadens my mind, challenges my assumptions and keeps me on my toes.


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4 August 2014

Sustainability Strategies in an Uncertain World

screamI'm a news and current affairs junkie, but the news is so unremittingly grim at the minute, I'm trying to ration my intake for my own sanity. Whether it's Ukraine, Gaza, the Ebola virus, Boko Haram or ISIS, we seem to be in a swirl of instability where one small event can pitch us into a crisis.

Sudden disruption is a feature of corporate social responsibility too. The 24 hour news beast needs constant feeding and social media means allegations, legitimate or otherwise, can spread across the globe like wildfire, unfiltered by the reality checks a traditional NGO would be expected to apply. This can turn into a self serving cycle where the mainstream media finds itself reporting on a 'Twitterstorm' which in turn feeds the rumour. All this using a technology which is only 8 years old.

As one of the Sustainability Mastermind Group Members put it ten days ago "Instability is the new business reality." So how can you deal with the beast?

  • Make sure your strategy is separate from your action plans. A strategy should tell you where you want to get to, but you need to be flexible on how you intend to get there. Action plans need to be flexible - remember the old military adage 'a plan never survives first contact with the enemy';
  • Dump liabilities overboard. If you've got a product which you think could get you in trouble in the future, develop a replacement. If you use a chemical of concern - find an alternative or design it out of your process. GM got rid of Hummer after its Government bail out for a very good reason;
  • Open up: Apple has defused much of the bad publicity around its Chinese subcontractors by publishing all its audit reports. This incentivises Apple to deal with problems, incentivises the subcontractors to deal with problems and removes the sting from the NGOs.

But the bottom line is, instability is here to stay, get used to it!




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28 February 2014

Ask Gareth: The Hard Yards of Sustainability

As a sustainability practitioner, have you ever found yourself wondering if you are making a difference or even getting really down about the environmental pickle we find ourselves in?

In the second edition of Ask Gareth, I reflect on progress, the challenging situation we are in, and suggest 3 simple habits which will help you keep your enthusiasm up. What's your view? Do you agree, disagree or do you have a completely different perspective? If so, please add it in the comments below.

You can see all editions of Ask Gareth by clicking here.


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3 May 2011

Worried about Peak Oil? You might be 5 years too late.

In the last week, UK newspapers have been dominated by two pieces of news - the Royal Wedding and the death of Bin Laden - both picked over in meticulous detail plumped out with the filler that the press adds to abide to its 'bigger story => more ink' rule. As a result of all that attention, another much more important, if less sensational, story has been largely missed. The chief economist at the International Energy Agency told Australian TV last Thursday that we hit Peak Oil back in 2006 (source Irish Times).

Peak oil, for those who don't know, is when the maximum amount of oil is being extracted. After the peak, oil production generally declines quickly (following the bell shaped Hubbert Curve), pushing prices up, particularly if demand keeps rising. The impact of this cannot be understated. Our entire modern economy is predicated on oil being cheap. If oil prices rise, so do the prices commodities like plastics, metals and food, never mind the price of petrol at the pump. At a time the world is recovering from a massive financial jolt, this could hurt. A lot.

Peak oil will drive change in a way that a less tangible threat like climate change cannot. Soaring prices will push energy efficiency and low carbon energy production to the fore. Saudi Arabia is reported to have recently invested $100bn in low carbon energy technologies (source FastCompany) - a nation built on oil, now looking to the sun. Maybe the rest of us - society, governments and industry - should take heed.

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2 August 2010

We are four!

Terra Infirma is 4 years old!As of 1st of August, Terra Infirma is four years old!

The last year has been an exciting ride - the publication of The Three Secrets of Green Business, the rebranding, the launch of our YouTube channel, our first venture onto Twitter and getting praised by a Government Minister. That's not to mention working with some great new clients like Aker Solutions, the National Health Service and East Coast Main Line, and some old friends like NISP North East, Business to Business Ltd and the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange. It hasn't always been easy, given the recession, but it is clear that sustainability isn't going away.

So what's the next year got in store? We're already limbering up for some events including some webinars in August and the Low Carbon Best Practice exchange in Harrogate in November, the first draft manuscript of the Green Executive has gone to the publishers - estimated publication date April 2011, and we've got some new product developments going on in the background. Of course you'll get all the usual support from this blog, The Low Carbon Agenda, YouTube and Twitter.

We hope you will join us - stay in touch!


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3 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Looking back, 2009 was a brilliant year for Terra Infirma. We worked with some great new clients like the NHS, Aker Solutions Ltd, Middlesbrough Council and Innovation Scout, while continuing working with long term clients like the EU and the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme. We had our rebranding exercise to polish up our image and installed a new phone system. And our turnover kept growing, despite the ongoing recession (we also spent more on the business than ever before).

Personally, my big story was the birth of Jimmy, my second son. Coming a close second was the publication of book #1, The Three Secrets of Green Business and getting about half of #2, The Green Executive, written as well. I also launched the Green Gurus website and added profiles of 10 environmental pioneers. Hint: this could just possibly become book #3 - you read it here first.

Looking forward to 2010, we're starting with the book launch at Newcastle Business School on 28 Jan (e-mail us for details or to book a seat), and, to be confirmed, one in London soon after. As mentioned, I hope to have The Green Executive finished by June. Or July. Hopefully. Which means a publication date of Spring 2011. We are also planning to have some quality new content on the website in the Spring of this year. And of course, the Low Carbon Agenda will continue to provide unique insights, news and tips for free throughout the year - this month we'll be looking at peak oil before going on to low carbon strategy development and leadership.

The wider sustainability picture will almost certainly move on rapidly through 2010. OK, Copenhagen was a flop - or a 'Klimafarce' as the Danish press dubbed it - but it did show that the world was serious about taking on this issue - and at a Premier level, not just lip service from environmental ministries. Proactive businesses will continue to move ahead of the pack, green spending will continue to rise (as it has through the recession) and laggards will fall further behind as they lose business to greener rivals. The big questions that remain are whether the economy will be rebuilt as green as everyone claims it will be, whether green technologies will go mainstream (solar PV, electric vehicles, smart grids et al) and, here in the UK, whether the result of the general election will have any effect on this.

So what are your green goals for 2010? You could sign your organisation up to the 10:10 campaign, you could set up a staff committee, you could appoint a director level staff member to lead on green. You could set an ambitious target, develop your strategy or develop a new green product. Whatever it is, if you need some assistance, you know where to find us!

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12 February 2009

UK Govt Announces Green Home Makeovers

Today the UK Government announced a package of green measures for every home in the UK. For some reason this will not start until 2013, which would be after at least one general election, but as the other two main political parties are proposing similar measures, this is unlikely to go away.

Very welcome, but maybe a little more haste would be in order.

There's plenty of work to do too, with the Energy Savings Trust estimating there are 7.3m cavity walls that could be filled with insulation, 7m solid walls that could be insulated, and 12.9m lofts which do not have the recommended depth of insulation, and 4.5m G-rated (the least efficient) gas boilers.

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28 November 2008

Brown ditches clean tech for home insulation

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon Brown was trailing a big investment in green tech as part of yesterday's pre-budget report, but it seems to have been quietly dropped in place of a boost in home insulation. There is a certain amount of logic in this in the current climate - an investment in clean tech may only deliver in economic and environmental terms several years into the future whereas the insulation scheme, if done properly, will deliver economic and environmental benefits to the lower income sections of the community with a much quicker return on investment.

Barak Obama has made a similar promise on clean tech investment - it will be very interesting to see how this good intention manifests itself when the rubber hits the road next year.

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7 November 2008

Warning: Phoney Environment Agency Inspector

This came from BERR via NEPIC, so I assume it is not a hoax:

Dear All
The Environment Agency has alerted us that someone claiming to be from the EA has been trying to gain access to certain oil refineries and chemicals plants. The individual concerned has tried to gain access to installations regulated under PPC and COMAH. The person has used three names so far Barry Thorpe, Alex Ross and Keith Johnson but all with the same mobile number.

EA Regional Directors have been advised to make contact through their PPC teams with the sites that they regulate to advise them of these approaches and to inform them if others occur, so that we can hopefully track down the individual. The police have been informed.

Chris Barrell,
Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

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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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18 July 2008

Bits & Pieces

There's all sorts of news at Terra Infirma...

1. We've set up the 'Green Business Club' on the business networking site Ecademy for those who see environmental performance as a competitive advantage.

2. The long trailed e-book "The Green Business Bible" is in the very last stages of completeness (cover design, final proofing) and will be launched by the end of the month. Low Carbon Agenda subscribers will be eligible for a substantial discount, so make sure you are signed up - it's free and officially "awesome".

3. We're in negotiation with a number of very prestigious organisations for new 'Lean, Mean & Green' programmes - the effective way of improving your environmental performance.

4. We're getting a make-over in the design and branding front - although it'll be a couple of months before you see the results.

And, it's the start of the holiday period, so if you're off somewhere nice, have a good'un!

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