13 October 2010
I find it quite incredible that the Hungarian 'toxic sludge' disaster has only had a tiny fraction of the press coverage as, say, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A similar number of people have died, there remains an ongoing threat at the site itself, and one of the great rivers of the world, The Danube, is at great risk. The BBC has an incredible series of pictures here and here which brought home to me the scale of the disaster.
But the front pages of the paper have been largely sludge-free and I haven't noticed '#toxicsludge' trending on Twitter the way that the '#oilspill' hashtag took off. There was even a TEDxOilspill event, but no TEDxSludge. Why?
Is it because a big multinational was involved in the oil spill and not the sludge disaster? Do we mistrust big oil more than other primary industries? Or do we in the English speaking world simply care more about the US than Hungary?
In my opinion, the only legitimate factor that distinguishes between the two is that the oil spill was a warning of the challenges of pursuing a high carbon future, whereas the toxic sludge is a relic of Soviet-style indifference to the environment.
The two are representative of two very different but serious risks to business. The deep drilling in the Gulf is a canary in the mine telling us that business as usual is not an option. Sticking to a high carbon strategy will become increasingly expensive and risky. The toxic sludge is a reminder that industry needs to take a look at the legacy of its past, the obvious suspects including contaminated land, old oil storage tanks and waste dumps. But, as we move towards a low carbon economy, other 'assets' - inefficient buildings, plant and vehicles that are the norm now - could become liabilities.
A green business will have cleaned up any legacy, eliminated the storage of hazardous material and reduced its dependency on dwindling oil resources. It makes sense for the business and the environment.
Tags: environmental strategy, green business, oil spill, risk, toxic
Posted by Gareth Kane no responses
14 June 2010
Two giants of the world's retail stage are standing down: Sirs Terry Leahy of Tesco and Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer. The two are quite different in style - Leahy a modest, quiet man with a core of steel, Rose more the classic swashbuckler, never afraid to voice his opinions. But the two had one thing in common, apart from financial success: both are showing clear leadership in regard to sustainability.
In my experience, industry is largely stuck at the level of "environmental management" and it needs to make the vital leap to "environmental leadership". At last week's Low Carbon event, I had a table of delegates frustrated that they were being tasked to develop an "environmental strategy" at a middle-management level, but with no buy in from above. How can it be a strategy if the senior levels of the organisation aren't interested? Delegation is fine, but derogation of responsibility is not. Responsibility must be held at the top, with full ownership of any strategy.
It's funny how many people get to a leadership level and won't lead. BP boss Tony Hayward (in)famously said "he'd like to get his life back" during the early stages of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. Not only was this extraordinarily insensitive to all those who are finding their livelihoods ruined by the disaster, but it shows a complete lack of leadership backbone. This is what you get paid so much for Tony, buck up and sort it out. But Hayward isn't alone, I often get called in to talk to the boards of companies only to find the Chief Executive ducks out of that particular meeting, much to the embarrassment of the others. Leadership means being there in the thick of it, whether or not you want to, showing that commitment.
Leahy, Rose, Mike Duke of Walmart, Bob McDonald of P&G, Ray Anderson of Interface - leadership is the difference between the best and the rest.
Tags: anderson, bp, environmental strategy, hayward, leadership, leahy, oil spill, rose, sustainability strategy
Posted by Gareth Kane one response
3 May 2010
Most people reading this will know that the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last week, killing 11 people and releasing 6 million litres of oil (so far) from the sea bed. The resulting slick is threatening wildlife, eco-systems and fisheries along hundreds of miles of the US coast.
From a business point of view, the lessons we can learn from this are:
- Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are often not worth the paper they are written on. The Deepwater Horizon EIA suggested that the probability of such an event was minimal and, even if it did, the impact would be minor. While there is a tiny possibility that the first part of that conclusion was valid (because "stuff happens"), the second part is clearly nonsense.
- Oil reserves are running low - things are getting bad when we're having to pursue oil at such inaccessible depths. The peak-oil-is-bunk brigade say that technology will always deliver more oil - tell that to the good people of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. There are clear signals that it is time for all of us to start weaning ourselves off oil.
- If you are a multi-national, you will get the blame for problems in your supply chain. No matter that this rig was owned and operated by other companies, the US Govt, the media and the public are blaming BP as the sponsor of the operation.
- The old risk perception argument holds up - society will tolerate lots of little accidents, but not one big one. Maybe there are things we just shouldn't do and deep sea drilling is probably be one of them, and of course drilling in the Arctic is another.
- No matter how green your company is (and BP got ranked top non-US company for sustainability efforts in Green to Gold - one of the few false notes in an otherwise excellent book), a major environmental incident will kill your reputation stone dead.
You think we would have learnt from the Exxon Valdez, the Torrey Canyon, the Sea Empress etc, etc...
Tags: deepwater horizon, oil spill
Posted by Gareth Kane no responses