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20 November 2017

Michael Gove, Eco-warrior

The environmental movement let out a groan of exasperation when Michael Gove took over the reins as UK Environment Minister earlier this year. A long list of anti-greens or time-servers had filled the post since 2010 and the only environmental thing we knew above Gove was that, in his divisive stint as Education Secretary, he had apparently considered taking climate change off the national curriculum. So when he stepped up to the podium at the Conservative Party Conference, expectations were rock bottom. But then he said: Read the rest of this entry »

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15 November 2017

Sustainability Signal vs Noise

Fascinating piece of research by Sustrans which found that 78% of city-dwellers would like to see more segregated cycle lanes even if it meant losing road space for motor vehicles. This flies in the face of the raging media battles where you would think lycra-clad cyclists were a widely detested menace to society.

I was asked to comment on the research as a local Councillor and gave it a full-throated welcome. In a way I'm lucky as the patch I represent is very liberal and generally pro-walking and cycling –we're 20 minutes walk from the city centre, which also helps. Colleagues in the suburbs often feel under more pressure as there is nothing noisier than the anti-cyclist and leaving the car in the driveway isn't as easy. A recent court case where a cyclist on a road-illegal bike fatally collided with a pedestrian hogged the headlines for a week; 35 people died in car-related accidents in that same week and didn't garner a mention.

Such noise obscures other Sustainability trends such as the strong public support for renewables. In fact the climate change denial movement relies on noise in environmental trends to detract from the worrying signals. But the left can be as guilty as the right: I often read about soaring inequalities in the UK when inequality measures haven't changed significantly for 30 years and are actually lower than just before the financial crash and the subsequent austerity. That's not a political statement, that's simply a fact.

I have made it a rule to do some simple fact-checking on anything before I comment in public – I even check the provenance of oft-used quotes before using them in this blog which can be very interesting... Let's look for the signal, rather than the noise.

 

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8 November 2017

Prince Charles and the green investment conundrum


One of the more intriguing revelations from the 'Paradise Papers' – a leak of documents relating to offshore tax schemes – is that the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles's private estate, had invested in Sustainable Forestry Ltd  which lobbied politicians to amend global agreements to allow the trading of carbon credits from rainforests.

Eyebrows were raised at this revelation as the prince has also made speeches in support of such a change. The Duchy says the prince has no direct involvement in investment decisions, but, if he wasn't aware of the company's position on this, the co-incidence is remarkable.

The Prince is not alone, Al Gore has been attacked for both having investments in green technology (by the right wing climate change denial movement) and for having investments in other technologies (from the hard left). He can't win: if he invests in green then he has a vested interest; if not, he's a hypocrite.

While my investments in green energy schemes are decidedly small beer (understatement klaxon!) compared to the fortunes of the prince and Mr Gore, I decided that I'd rather use my limited spending power in the pursuit of a sustainable future than worry about perceived conflicts of interest. If I saved for my future through 'business as usual' investments, then I'd be helping sustain business as usual. That's a no brainer.

Where Prince Charles has fallen down is not declaring, or possibly being unaware of, a conflict of interest in a specific policy intervention. This is a basic transparency principle for politicians and it should apply to royalty as well.

 

 

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13 October 2017

Sustainability Bites 13/10/17

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites where I really struggle to find anything to criticise in the UK Government's Clean Growth Strategy, so I turn to Donald Trump who never fails to disappoint.
 

 

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10 October 2017

The State of Sustainability in UK Politics

As a political geek, I've been following the UK's party conference season as avidly as usual. My theory is that the content of the Leaders' speeches are the true measure of commitment of each political party to the Sustainability agenda. After all, it doesn't matter what is discussed earnestly on the fringes, if it doesn't penetrate the Leader's speech then it can hardly be a true priority.

The problem with this theory is that the shadow of Brexit has dominated these speeches over recent years, so I thought I'd add in a brief summary of other notable conference commitments. As usual I will try my best to be non-partisan, but I must declare my membership of the Liberal Democrats. Speaking of which, first up was:

1280px-Official_portrait_of_Sir_Vince_Cable_crop_2Vince Cable, Liberal Democrats

Cable talked quite a lot about climate change and green issues; most of it expounding the Lib Dems' achievements in the Coalition Government, expressing fears for some of those achievements under Tory rule and concerns over Brexit (noting the significant overlap between Euroscepticism and climate change denial in UK politics). He made a clear forward commitment – "Liberal Democrats will always fight for the green agenda" – but the speech lacked any more concrete proposals.

This was an opportunity missed, as the Lib Dems had earlier agreed at target of net-zero emissions by 2050 and adopted a plan which would take us 93% of the way there. A simple reference to this policy would have lifted Cable's speech way up the green-o-meter.

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Read the rest of this entry »

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6 October 2017

Sustainability Bites 6/10/17

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites, covering the Sustainability elements of the Conservative Party Conference (more than you'd think), the latest green energy record and some of the exciting things that I've been doing this week. Comments in the comments!

 

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29 September 2017

Sustainability Bites: Labour Conference, UK Green Summer, Demise of GSB


Here's my hot takes on the week's big Sustainability news - join us each Friday (unless I'm away) at 10am on Facebook. Comments in the comments, please!

 

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22 September 2017

Sustainability Bites: #ClimateOptimist, Cause for Optimism and Theresa May

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites. I covered the Climate Optimist campaign (again), the Nature Geosciences paper on progress towards Paris Agreement commitments and Theresa May's speech to the UN. Comments in the comments please!

 

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6 September 2017

The biggest truth in Sustainability...

Framing Sustainability

On Monday I spent a total of 7 hours going to and from Birmingham by train for a project close presentation to a client. This always gives some time for thought, background reading and poking around social media – all soundtracked by the Rolling Stones live in Brussels '73 or some other classic live album of the 1970s.

One tweet from another sustainability practitioner caught my eye; roughly speaking it went:

We have #Brexit and the #McStrike and all people can talk about is the #RoyalBaby 😡.

Now let's deconstruct this a little. The Brexit jalopy has been spluttering along for 15 months since the referendum without a dun-dun-DAAAAAH moment. I'm politically active, campaigned for Remain, would love a second referendum, and yet I am bored stupid by Brexit – I now skim read the newspaper stories and I guess most do the same.

I am not surprised that MacDonald's employees are striking given their poor wages and insecure contracts, BUT, let's put it into perspective: there were 2 restaurants striking out of 1249 in the UK – hardly Hold the Front Page stuff no matter how much you or I might support the cause.

Lastly, the royal baby has all the ingredients of public appeal – celebrity, gossip, glamour, happiness, impending cuteness etc, etc. It hasn't captured much of my attention, or that of the tweeter above, but it is not surprising it has caught the public mood.

Because here's the rub. Not everybody thinks like me, the tweeter, or you. Or should do. Just because I'm not that into the royal baby news, it doesn't mean that millions of people aren't - or shouldn't be.

My biggest realisation is Sustainability was that to engage people for whom Sustainability is an alien concept, we've got to stop talking about Sustainability from a practitioner's point of view. If they haven't 'got it' already, they won't 'get it' by being preached at. Instead we've got to put ourselves in the audience's shoes, see the world from their perspective, and reframe Sustainability to resonate with that worldview. I call this Green Jujitsu.

If you haven't checked out our new Green Jujitsu Employee Engagement training yet, then click here for details.

 

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4 September 2017

Sustainability Bites Ep1: Harvey & Climate Change

Here's the pilot episode of a new series of short, sharp, lo-fi Sustainability snippets I've decided to launch. I've called it Sustainability Bites as a. the episodes are bite-sized, and b. it's all about how Sustainability is starting to bite – we've gone way beyond chin-stroking and are now making different decisions to make things happen.

This edition is about whether natural disasters are the right time to raise climate change.

At present, these will appear as and when I feel like it rather than on a regular basis, although it may find it's own niche naturally. The best way to keep up is head over to my Facebook page and send me a friend request!

 

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14 August 2017

Ignore Lawson et al, get on with the job in hand

Opening eyes

You can't have missed the furore. Al Gore was touring the British media last week promoting his new climate change movie, An Inconvenient Sequel. After his interview on Radio 4's Today programme, the BBC (disclosure, a Terra Infirma client) let climate sceptic Lord Lawson spout a few climate/clean energy zombie myths by way of 'balance'.

Twitter went into meltdown. Scientists, environmentalists and environmental scientists tore into the BBC for 'false balance' (presenting a minority view with equal weight to the consensus). Carbon Brief did their usual methodical debunking of Lawson's claims which forced Lawson's Global Warming Policy Forum to withdraw his erroneous claim that global temperatures were flatlining. Everybody else, huffed and puffed as if it was the end of the world.

Now I agree with the frustration, but I think the sound and fury is misplaced. Why?

  1. You ain't gonna stop Lawson. He's invested too much personally in this bunkum to back down, he is/was a significant political figure, and we have free speech in this country, which means hearing what you don't like as well as what you do. He will get on the media whether we like it or not.
  2. When was the last time you changed your mind on a subject because you heard a politician say something? The listeners probably came away with the view that Lawson didn't agree with Gore rather than believing Gore was wrong. I would be very surprised if anyone changed their minds.
  3. If people are susceptible to Lawson's message, then we're not going to bring them back on board by screaming at either Lawson or the BBC. It just creates more noise and plays into the sceptics' claims that environmentalism is a religion rather than based on sound scientific evidence. We need cleverer ways to sell sustainability to those people (I would of course recommend Green Jujitsu).
  4. Lawson, along with Monckton, Ridley, Lomborg et al, have been spectacularly unsuccessful at slowing the shift to a low carbon economy (see graph of the UK's renewables growth as an example). Yes, it could always go faster, but I would suspect that institutional inertia, the planning system, the immaturity of supply chains, and short termism are all more potent brakes than a few smart arses writing newspaper columns, tweeting or getting a few seconds on the wireless. UK_renewables_generated
  5. We each have limited time, energy and cash. We can choose to spend those resources moving our society to a more sustainable footing, or we can jump up and down in rage. I responded to Donald Trump's election by making a modest investment in renewable energy as it was the only thing I could think of which would make me feel better at that moment. It did, and it will have a much more positive effect on the planet, and my sanity, than spending the same time raging ineffectually on social media.

When I made this point on social media, a colleague responded that we had to "remove ALL barriers to climate action". This is not the case: perfectionism is the enemy of success. Some barriers are insignificant and should be ignored as they are a waste of energy. We need to focus on the significant barriers, remove those that can be removed, and work around those that can't.

Let's do it!

 

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21 June 2017

Neutralising anti-green attacks

bike lane westminsterNewspaper-cutting-2-1024x993

 

 

 

 

 

Between the horrific series of recent terrorist attacks and the shocking disaster that was the Grenfell Tower fire, the UK has been hit with some pretty grim news recently. For me, these horrors are exacerbated by the distasteful use of such events by commentators to further their tangential ideological aims – from people across the political spectrum, I have to say.

A sizeable chunk of this jumping to convenient conclusions is aimed squarely at the Sustainability agenda. Cycle lanes have been blamed in the Westminster Bridge attack for no better reason than they were there (a kerb is a kerb, after all) and the Daily Mail has pointed the finger at 'green targets' for the deaths at Grenfell.

As Carbon Brief has pointed out, the main reason for the suspect external cladding on the tower block was to tackle fuel poverty, with carbon reductions a subsidiary factor. The main aim of the public inquiry must be whether the cladding was responsible for the deaths (as it first appears), whether the material and its installation was compliant with fire regulations, if not, who was blame, and, if so, how those regulations need to be changed. Read the rest of this entry »

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12 June 2017

What does the election result mean for Sustainability?

what can I do

Well, that was weird, wasn't it? The winners lost and the losers won.

The whopping Tory majority everybody expected (me included) didn't happen, and PM Theresa May now has a minority Government supported by an agreement with 10 Northern Irish DUP MPs. 'Unelectable' Jeremy Corbyn's much mocked (by me amongst others) rallies turned out to have struck a chord with the public, particularly the younger voter, and he gained rather than losing seats, although too few to form any kind of Government.

So what does this mean for the Sustainability movement? Here's my take: Read the rest of this entry »

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5 June 2017

A Call to Arms on a Sad Day

tombstone

It's only a couple of weeks since I wrote on the Manchester bombing and here we are again with blood on the streets of the UK. I was in Manchester last week on business and I was very taken with the defiance mixed in with the grieving.

I grew up in Northern Ireland during 'The Troubles when more than 3,000 died, many in indiscriminate attacks (the only difference is the terrorists had an escape route planned). Many acts of barbarity were carried out in the name of one cause or another, but in the pre-social media age, you rarely got to see gory detail. But the vast majority of us got up in the morning, went to school/work, came home, had our dinner, watched telly and went to bed. The threat was always there in the background, but that defiance, a refusal to be bowed, was always the best answer to the men and women of violence.

As in Manchester, I have been astonished and reassured by the many acts of courage during the London Bridge attack: the two unarmed policemen who tackled the terrorists, the Romanian chef who hit one over the head with a crate, the woman who lay down and blocked a doorway so the other cafe patrons could make their escape. Then of course there were the armed police who neutralised the terrorists with calm professionalism, and all the paramedics, nurses and doctors who saw to the wounded. So many awesome people.

So the big question for the rest of us is: what awesome thing are we going to do this week to make the world a better place?

Here in the UK, voting in the General Election on Thursday must be a priority (I despair at the calls for a postponement). But what else? Will you kick off that new Sustainability/CSR project you've been putting off for weeks? Will you invest in a renewable energy scheme? Will you do a litter pick in your local area?

Whatever it is, let's each do something really great and show the nihilist losers that they will never win.

 

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8 May 2017

At last, some political leadership on climate change

Emmanuel Macron Ministre de l'Économie, de l'Industrie et du Numérique

Emmanuel Macron

If you're of a liberal bent, then Emmanuel Macron's election as President of France is a welcome relief from the global political contraction into populist nationalism. And, if you care about the future of the human race and the natural world, then Macron mentioning climate change twice in his victory speech is a feast for the ears.

Twice. My rule for political speeches is once is a nod to an IMPORTANT ISSUE, twice is a significant commitment.

Regular readers will know that I believe that leadership is the critical issue for Sustainability. Obama understood this, but Obama is gone (well, Barack anyway), and most political leaders of the centre ground - including almost every UK Prime Minister I can think of - will say the right things, but do a little less than everybody hopes. The recent rise in right-wing populism threatened even that half-baked progress.

There is far more leadership on climate change coming from business at the minute than politics. That's not a bad thing as business is our supply chain where most of our carbon footprint lies. But imagine a world where political and business leaders vied for who could make the most difference. That truly would be something to behold.

But in the meantime: félicitations Macron, en marche!

Photo: Ecole polytechnique Université Paris © creative commons license

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24 April 2017

Oh to be back in the Bad Ol' Days

pollution

Nostalgia is natural. I love the nostalgia section in our local newspaper, even though I'm not a native of the city. And it is always tempting to hark back to the past – very rarely do you hear anybody say "well, it's much better these days." Personally, I think it comes from evolution – in a natural eco-system the creatures that fear unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells will live longer than those who don't.

C-FL6WuWsAAsK3SBut sometimes nostalgia can reach a level of self parody. While most of us marked last Friday's coal-free day in the UK as a remarkable achievement, the Telegraph published a bizarre lament for the days of smog, smut and "the tang of sulphur" (right).

In my view, coal is fast becoming the litmus test for progressive/conservative split in politics with Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Tony Abbott backing coal. Prominent 'lukewarmer' Matt Ridley's inherited family fortune came from coal (and still does). Often 'clean coal' is invoked to deflect criticism, but coal is always a theme.

The far left dabble in this pool of fossilised nostalgia too, with the UK's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plugging clean coal to bring back mining jobs. One of my favourite bonkers conspiracy theories is that Margaret Thatcher 'invented' climate change to kill off the UK's coal industry. Yeah, right.

It is easy to sneer (as I just have), but we have to remember the power of nostalgia and the lure of 'it could be like our childhood again'. The renewables revolution may seem like a miracle to the readers of this blog, but change always threatens someone. And it is those people we need to engage with – on their terms – rather than preaching to the green choir.

 

 

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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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30 March 2017

Let's build the Sustainable future we want to see!

Half empty or half full - pessimism or optimism

It was my birthday yesterday, so I went off on a very gentle bike ride with Mrs K involving lots of coffee and cake, burgers and beer, and pretty much ignored the news. However, my twitter feeds were filled with howls of liberal despair as Theresa May triggered Article 50 and the formal start of Brexit, and across the pond, Donald Trump started tearing up Barack Obama's climate change legislation.

So where are we?

We are where we are. Now that might sound as empty a phrase as 'Brexit means Brexit', but it is true. There's not much we can do about the events of the last few days.

But we can decide what we are going to do tomorrow. Or where we want to be in 10 years time. And neither Theresa May or Donald Trump can stop us (10 years presents a couple of electoral cycles in most democracies).

So let's do it!

In January's Ask Gareth, I went into this in a bit more detail – maybe an apt time for a recap.

 

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8 February 2017

Preaching to the unconverted

keep left rightI gave a talk last night to the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers about behaviour change in building users. One of the themes was the need to get out of the green echo chamber and speak to the unconverted in a way that will appeal to their worldview aka Green Jujitsu.

For this very reason, I am more interested in politically right-of-centre arguments/solutions for tackling climate change than centrist/left-of-centre arguments because on that side all but the very far left have accepted the need for urgent action. Bringing those who are uncertain for that need is much more important than virtue signalling to those who already get it.

So this morning's reports that a group of US Republican old guard are proposing a carbon tax as a conservative approach to climate change really pricked my interest. If left, right and centre want to tackle climate change in their own way, then that's much more viable and robust than trying to persuade one side to adopt the views of another. Progress is always better than no progress.

As I said last night, finding the sweetspot of overlap between Sustainability and the views of key stakeholders is the road to success.

 

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6 February 2017

Will Sustainability get Trumped?

A very topical question for this month's Ask Gareth – what will happen to Sustainability in the age of Donald Trump? I offer three important principles to make sure short term political upsets don't derail your Sustainability programme.

Ask Gareth depends on a steady stream of killer sustainability/CSR questions, so please tell me what's bugging you about sustainability (click here) and I'll do my best to help.

You can see all previous editions here.

 

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