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2 October 2017

Oiling the engine of Sustainability

GK St Anns Litter PickWith all the concern about ocean plastic of late, I've been revitalising my personal pledge to pick up at least one piece of plastic litter every day. In fact most days I pick at least a dozen, and I'm now getting weirdly obsessed with it. I seriously can't walk past a plastic bag without twitching to pick it up, but if I tried to get every piece of litter I saw, it would be a full time undertaking.

I know that my efforts are just a (inappropriate metaphor klaxon) drop in the ocean, but I find that the very act of picking up some litter makes me feel positive and, rather than making me think 'I've done my bit, now business as usual', it continually focusses my brain on this perennial drip, drip of plastics into our eco-system. Experience is always more visceral than anecdote.

Last month, I gave a presentation to one of my clients on the first phase of our Sustainability Champions initiation project. At the end of the initial training workshop, I had challenged each of the Champions to pledge to change one thing in their workplace to make it more sustainable. I then followed up on the pledges a month later to see how they had got on.

All the pledges were pretty mundane, incremental improvements which would hardly make a dent in the targets we had set in their Sustainability Strategy, but that was beside the point, I explained, it was the forward motion at the sharp end of the business that was important. I used a metaphor I coined a couple of years ago:

"Champions should be seen as the oil in the engine, not the fuel."

This was quoted back at me (approvingly!) during the discussion.

Identifying and implementing quick wins is a way of keeping that oil fresh. Of course it shouldn't be expected to, or distract from, the major changes required to deliver Sustainability; the knack is to do both.

 

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17 July 2017

Plastic isn't evil

Six pack rings

Every morning I walk up the hill to the newsagent for the morning papers and milk for breakfast. I try to pick up at least one piece of litter en route, just a tiny token effort towards keeping the neighbourhood and the environment clean. As I'm using my bare hands, I am rather selective about what I choose to pick, but I always go for six pack rings (usually four pack, but, hey...) as they are most likely to end up in our local river or green areas and strangle wildlife.

I've seen quite a few groups urging people to go 'plastic free' and individuals pledge to try to go 'plastic free' for a set period of time – by buying loose veg and drinks in glass bottles etc. We see beaches covered in litter and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a stain on the history of humanity. The message is clear – plastic is evil and we should get rid of it.

But, hold on just one darn minute.

OK, think about this. Glass bottles mean greater weight, means more carbon emissions in the supply chain. Loose veg means shorter shelf life, means more food waste, leading to more carbon and more land use to support the same population. If we went further in phasing out plastics, cars and aeroplanes would be heavier, less fuel efficient, and have shorter life spans. The very characteristics that make plastics an environmental problem – low density and durability – are those which make them part of the solution.

I think of plastic waste like the old gardeners' definition of a weed – a plant in the wrong place. As we shift to a circular economy, collection and recycling of plastics will be incentivised, meaning that litter will fall. That's not just wishful thinking – the UK's plastic bag tax incentivised the reuse of plastic bags, including heavier 'bags for life', and beach litter quickly halved. In other words, it's not plastic that's the problem, it's how we use it.

 

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23 November 2007

Brown admits 60% carbon cut may be inadequate

With all the furore over Northern Rock and the loss of 25m people's personal data, you may have missed a significant speech on climate change by the Prime Minister this week.

Like Tony Blair before him, Gordon Brown has never been accused of being particularly green. But, for the first time, he acknowledges that current targets may not be enough and says he will take soundings on a 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050. He also affirmed a commitment to Europe's target for 20% of energy to come from renewables - a pledge the Government had been trying to wriggle out of just a few months ago.

Apart from this, there was little to chew on - more carbon trading, more offshore wind, a home information service and various vague references to technology. In other words, plenty of commitment to action, without really saying what that action will be.

Oh, yes, for the headlines, he pledged to phase out single use plastic bags - well that will deliver 0.1% cut all on its own...

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