I 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.
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.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has a reputation as something of an inscrutable sphinx and we only get glimpses of what makes her tick. When she stepped up to the hot seat, there was none of the husky-hugging of her predecessor and she abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change to the dismay and anger of the green commentariat. However, I was less worried about that as DECC had been folded into the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy where arguably it could be better integrated into business as usual rather than being treated as a special case – and BEIS Minister Greg Clark is a champion of carbon reduction.
Delivering affordable energy & clean growth: We will keep energy costs down, build the energy structure we need for new technologies, and secure the economic benefits of our move towards a low carbon economy.
Added to this is various public statements by the PM and BEIS ministers over the last 48 hours singling out electric vehicles, battery technology, 'smart energy' and nuclear as areas they would like to boost. I'm very pleased with this as I've long called for Government intervention to accelerate the smart grid as a way of unlocking more, and greener, growth, than the usual road building.
So far, so good, but what's not there?
The big omission is the circular economy which as usual has to play second fiddle to low carbon energy. For as long as I've been in the sustainability trade, this has been the case – 'waste' is simply not seen as sexy enough. I think it is time for a rebrand, focussing on technologies such as bioprocessing, smart disassembly, automatic sorting technologies and using big data methods to facilitate reverse logistics. More white coats and coding, a bit less in the way of tipper trucks, in other words. A circular economy would also boost the robustness of a post-Brexit UK economy – a key way of selling it to the green-sceptic amongst May's backbenchers.
The other problem is that the industrial strategy launch has been overshadowed by news of another – a misfiring Trident missile last year which hit the headlines yesterday. Events, my dear boy, events...
I was born and bred in Northern Ireland, my 19 years living there coinciding with the bulk of 'The Troubles' – the Unionist/Protestant vs Nationalist/Catholic (delete as applicable) conflict which cost in the region of 3,500 lives over 30ish years. Since the Good Friday agreement of 1998, an elaborate power-sharing structure has just about held peace together and the province has returned to some state of normality.
The NI Assembly has been pitched into one of its periodic of crises, ostensibly by the revelation that the local implementation of the Renewable Heat Initiative has overspent by £400 million.
Now, I've semi-deliberately avoided keeping up to date with Norn Irish politics as I find the tribalism depressing, but I know enough to assume that the crisis is probably more than a failed renewable energy subsidy scheme. But I am very angry at just how inept the NI RHI scheme was. It paid users of biomass heating systems a staggering 150% of fuel costs. The safety mechanisms that prevent abuse in the rest of the UK were not implemented, resulting in a 'cash for ash' goldrush (Irish politics are notable for their memorable rhyming nicknames). Rumours abound of farmers heating empty barns and factories heating previously unheated spaces to profit from the subsidy. What did the scheme's architects think was going to happen?
Why does this anger me? Because bodged subsidy schemes, like the UK's original Feed-In Tariff scheme (which didn't take into consideration plummeting solar PV prices) or the Green Deal insulation scheme (which loaned householders cash at an interest rate higher than a standard commercial loan), give renewable energy a bad name. They create uncertainty and apprehension amongst the general public, anger amongst tax-payers, and feed into the clarion calls from the anti-renewable/climate change denying/pro-fossil fuels lobby. The RHI scandal has had far more press coverage than, say, the record levels of renewable electricity generated in the UK in 2016, even though the latter is in many ways a much more significant story.
Delivering on sustainability is hard enough without tying our shoe-laces together and falling flat on our faces. We can try and fail on technology or private-sector initiatives, but when it comes to spending public money, we must get it right first time.
Oh dear, who saw that coming? Actually I kind of did, not through any great political or empathetic insight I have to say, just that, as 2016 has been such a unpredictable year already, you couldn't rule anything out.
So what does Donald Trump's victory mean for the battle against climate change?
On the impact of Brexit on the low carbon economy, I was sanguine. The UK still has plenty of climate laws, particularly the little-discussed but powerful 'carbon price floor' to make progress, and, as we have have seen since, new PM Theresa May has committed the country to the Paris Agreement.
With Trump, I'm not so optimistic. While the US Government system, the Republican Party and the cold light of reality will no doubt curb some of his more clownish election pledges, on climate change he is at one with much of the Republican world – denial. Coal mines, fracking, shale oil – these are all easy ways of delivering on his promise of jobs and energy security that he made to blue-collar America. His isolationist stance suggests that international agreements will get short shrift.
Being of an optimistic bent, I think our best hope is that business talks business to the tycoon Trump. If the Walmarts of this world demand low carbon, then that's a big direct and indirect lever. If the Teslas can show how clean tech can create jobs, wealth and exports, that may hold some sway.
But at the end of the day, I can see nothing but a tough four years for our movement. Doesn't mean we should give up, though, let's keep fighting for a better future.
This brand new climate change documentary by Leonardo DiCaprio has been released just before the US goes to the polls to pick a new president (you can watch the whole thing above). While Donald Trump only makes a fleeting appearance, spouting inanities as always, I can't help but think the timing is far from coincidental.
The name 'Before The Flood' is taken from the central panel of a Hieronymus Bosch triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, a print of which hung over DiCaprio's 'crib' as a child (not sure I'd pick Bosch to decorate my kids' rooms but, hey...). In that central panel, the seven deadly sins start to corrupt humankind before the inevitable final panel of doom.
The movie follows DiCaprio as he travels the world talking to local activists, climate scientists and major figures such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the Pope. Here are the key moments that stuck with me: Read the rest of this entry »
If, as expected, this lunchtime sees political approval for the expansion of Heathrow Airport, there will be some serious political fall out – including the resignation of MP Zac Goldsmith. Much of the debate will be over local environmental issues – noise, air quality – but the carbon argument has been largely confined to green circles.
Basically, as this excellent piece by Carbon Brief from last year points out, expanding either Heathrow or Gatwick will take us over the aviation carbon 'budget' for 2050 (which should be capped at 2005 levels to meet our requirements for an 80% cut). When Lord Deben wrote to Davies about this, the latter claimed that a combination of biofuels, a (steep) increase in carbon price and efficiencies should deliver those requirements. Carbon Brief raises some serious doubts about Davies' assumptions.
Aviation is probably the hardest nut to crack in terms of techno-fixes. Biofuels are unlikely to provide sufficient quantities to make a dent without serious land use issues (unless there is a major breakthrough in, say, algae biofuel technology). Electric planes or nuclear planes have yet to make it past old episodes of Thunderbirds.
Policy changes are also difficult. I recall that over a decade ago, the PM's own Conservative Party mooted a frequent flyer levy – you'd get one flight tax-free each year, after that you pay through the nose – but this perfectly reasonable solution was shot down in flames by The Telegraph and other right-wing papers. The average family at the time took 0.75 flights per year, so the papers' argument that this would hit ordinary people's holidays falls a bit flat, but they won anyway and the proposal was swiftly dropped.
The alternative to Heathrow is expansion of Gatwick. This is regarded as 'less bad' in terms of all environmental impacts, local and global, but only just.
There is of course another option: no expansion, anywhere. I've often said the litmus test for corporation's sustainability commitments is not what they start doing but what they stop doing. So when B&Q refuses to stock patio-heaters on carbon grounds or Interface deletes product ranges with harmful chemicals, that's true commitment. Putting a real constraint on aviation would be the most powerful incentive for low carbon alternatives.
So this is a litmus test for the May Government, and everybody expects them to flunk it. We may, of course, end up with 'no expansion' whatever decision is made today, if the process gets bogged down in years of protest, legal arguments and political wrangling. We shall see.
Every year I sift through the leaders' speeches at the UK political party conferences so you don't have to. My theory is that, no matter what is discussed in the rest of the conference, the content of the leader's speech shows just how much of a priority is put upon green policies. Last year, I concluded the content was disappointing, this year makes that look like a low carbon bonanza. All the conferences were dominated by one word – Brexit – and most of the party leaderships where in something of a state of flux, but still, this was poor stuff. Here goes: Read the rest of this entry »
My regular paper is The Guardian, somewhat under sufferance ever since my previous favourite The Independent started to shrink in size and quality about a decade ago. One of the things that bugs me about The Grauniad is its insistence on turning to novelists for wisdom on the big issues of the day whether terrorism, migration or climate change. Why listen to experienced diplomats, politicians, soldiers, scientists or engineers when you can ask Hilary Mantel what she thinks?
Worryingly, Ghosh has few solutions to offer. “I am not sure there are solutions. The problem is of such a scale that we are dwarfed by it,” he said.
Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't worry me much at all that a novelist doesn't know how to solve climate change. We have plenty of people who know how to do that. They're beavering away at making it happen quickly enough while Mr Ghosh tours India in a self-appointed role as a prophet of doom.
As the second most populated country in the world, and developing fast, India is currently pivotal to the whole battle for climate change. The recent G20 communiqué on the Paris Agreement was diluted by the Indian Government worried about economic impacts. If the arts really can deliver change, it will have persuade the country's leadership that tackling climate change will also deliver economic and social benefits, if they do it right. That's going to take a positive vision from Ghosh and his colleagues.
The UK Government's erstwhile domestic energy efficiency programme 'The Green Deal' has been damned by the Public Accounts Committee for having "abysmal" take-up. "It was too complex, with excessive paperwork, while people were also put off by interest rates of up to 10% on the loans - far more expensive than other lending" was the verdict.
The Green Deal was clearly one of those clever political ideas which makes sense logically but fails to survive first contact with the real world. As I said three years ago, expecting busy people to get their heads around the supposed benefits of the so-called 'Golden Rule' was unrealistic. I said then:
"Again and again we keep getting the same lesson - that if you offer a green option it must not only be better than the alternative, or the 'do nothing' default option, but be simpler and more intuitive as well. A walk in the park, not a slog through the mud, in other words."
The bigger point is pragmatism beats idealism hands down every time. Do what works, kill off what doesn't, and never, ever be distracted by purists. They never create anything, because the real world is not perfect.
So, another momentous week in UK politics. We get our second ever female Prime Minister in Theresa May and a very new looking cabinet. Here's my quick guide as to who's who from the point of view of the green/Sustainability agenda.
Theresa May, Prime Minister
As with much about Mrs May, her attitude to green issues is a bit of a mystery. Her initial speeches were big on One Nation values when it came to socio-economic issues, but the environment didn't even get a token mention. This isn't encouraging, however BusinessGreen reports that a delegation of 'green Tories' including key lieutenant Amber Rudd sought and secured assurances that a May Government would pursue climate change goals. As always, leadership is key, so Mrs May will need to make her position clearer if the green economy is to thrive.
Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Predecessor George Osborne was regarded as a serious brake on the green economy over his tenure. Not quite a climate sceptic himself, the 'lukewarmer'/anti-renewables/pro-fracking lobby got a sympathetic hearing from Osborne. The 2010-2015 Coalition Government saw a whole series of pitched battles between the Chancellor and Lib Dem energy and climate secretaries.
Hammond may be seen as exceedingly dull, but in his former role as Foreign Secretary, he made a number of very important speeches on climate change. One in particular caught my eye as it made a case for action from a Conservative point of view to the American Enterprise Institute - using Green Jujitsu in the lions' den. I'm always more interested in right-of-centre arguments for cutting carbon than the traditional lefty case as we need to speak to the unconverted, not preach to the choir.
Overall, we should see the economic brakes easing as Hammond gets into gear.
Amber Rudd, Home Secretary
There's little in Rudd's new brief linked to the low carbon agenda, but given her commitment to the cause, the new Home Secretary will be a key supporter in Cabinet and importantly, as we have seen, she has the PM's ear.
As I type, the UK is in a leadership vacuum at one of the most critical junctures in post-war British politics. Following the surprise Brexit vote to leave the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron bailed out, and now two very different women, safe pair of hands Theresa May and more traditional but untested Andrea Leadsom vie for the top job. In the main Opposition Labour Party, left-wing members' favourite Jeremy Corbyn will today be challenged by the more centrist, and more experienced, Angela Eagle on the ground that the party lacks direction.
In both cases, the two Parties' members have a choice between direction and competence. Corbyn and Leadsom undoubtedly match more closely with the grassroots' preferred policies compared to their rivals, but both look seriously underpowered when it comes to the ability to do the job. It will be a tough decision, and those of us on the outside sit uncomfortably, but enthralled (in my case), on the sidelines watching.
I have long held that leadership is the difference between the best at corporate sustainability and the rest. The best sustainability leaders combine the vision to see the right direction to go and the capability to take the organisation in that direction. Or as the cliché goes: doing the right things and doing things right.
I emphasised the 'and' there because, as in politics, we cannot afford to make it 'or'. Can you do both?
[Update: 13:45: Leadsom withdraws from Conservative leadership race]
I'm down in North East London for a couple of days learning about the 'mini-Holland' project in Walthamstow – a substantial investment in making suburban streets cycle/walking/people friendly. I'm here with my local councillor hat on, but I thought some of you would be interested in both the design concepts and some of the change management 'issues'.
You see, the mini-Holland projects have kicked off some pretty virulent opposition, including organised demonstrations. Even when I tweeted I was on my way to see the project, I got two negative replies saying the changes had caused traffic chaos while doing nothing to increase cycling, with only one person being positive. So progress has been fairly gnarly despite the Council's extensive attempts at consultation and co-design.
For many people, me included, it is hard to see who would prefer to have thousands of cars rat-running through their street every day rather than a mini-orchard and wildflowers - see pic above. The project involves some really lovely design touches, such as the bollards/kids' obstacle course hybrid shown right and lots of other beautification.
While some of those who opposed changes have changed their minds, many others, as we have seen, have stuck to their guns. Unfortunately, the project manager could offer no magic wand to deal with this, other than a tin hat, and one of the team confided to us that he probably would turn down a similar project role in the future as it had been so tough.
This is a real shame as we could see benefits just pedalling around – the traffic restricted shopping streets were clearly much more vibrant than those with traffic. The dad cycling past with his 6 year old son on the roadway was highly symbolic of a better future. As with many elements of sustainability, we know where we need to be, but getting there is the challenge.
Yesterday at a kids party, a neighbour of mine asked me "You must be even more furious about the EU referendum result than I am?" She was quite surprised when I told her I was "sanguine" about it, despite having actively campaigned for an 'IN' vote.
Why? The most pivotal moment since the momentous result was the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron refusing to pull the trigger on 'Article 50' which would start the Brexit process. This means that whoever takes over from him would have to actively pitch the country into the unknown. A poisoned chalice indeed.
If that is a Remainer Tory PM, what incentive is there to press the button and risk long term damage to our country? If it's the current favourite, Brexiter Boris Johnson, he's already signalled that there is "no rush", that initial negotiations with the EU should be "informal" and that he wants to maintain a close relationship with Europe – a statement which has been interpreted as swift back-pedalling. If a new PM went to the polls, there's a strong chance of a change of Government and the possibility of a party standing on a Remain ticket forming part of the Government. The EU referendum result is only advisory in law and could be trumped by an electoral mandate.
So there is no Brexit plan and no enthusiasm from anyone to make one. And my prediction is that, as the cold light of reality shines on the implications of walking away from the EU, Brexit will slowly but surely become Fudgit.
OK, but if I'm wrong, and we suddenly find ourselves on our own, what are the implications for Sustainability in the UK?
Well all existing EU environmental directives are enshrined in UK law during the implementation phase, so a post Brexit Government would have to actively dismantle what is there. Future directives would at least partly have to be adopted by UK companies to maintain trading links – and may be imposed as a condition of staying in the single market. The biggest downside of Brexit from this point of view would be our lack of a seat at the table when such directives are drawn up.
Also, we are a global economy. So if we want to sell to, say, Walmart, P&G or Unilever, our industry would be required to comply with their supply chain targets. These will only ever get more ambitious.
So, while I believe Brexit is the wrong path for our country, I'm not convinced that it will happen, or indeed that the drivers for sustainable business will diminish much if it did.
I've just been to the polling station to vote in the EU Referendum. And I voted... drum-roll... IN!
But you probably guessed that, not just because I've blogged about it before, but because I'm a Sustainability Professional and Edie has found that 75% of us are voting IN (and 7% are unsure).
If you knew the area I live in, you'd probably guess correctly as it's a very middle-class-intelligentsia neighbourhood, never mind that RemaIN posters outnumber LEAVE by at least 5:1.
If you knew I'm a (sometimes reluctant) Guardian reader then you'd also put money on me being IN.
I'm a bit bloody predictable, aren't I?
On the other hand, if I was wedded to my car and a climate sceptic, you would put money on me voting Leave. And almost nothing would change my mind, certainly not the towering pile of economic statistics the RemaIN campaign has been throwing around with gay abandon.
This referendum, like most elections, will be decided by a relatively small number of people who do not fit neatly into a few rather big tribes. And we tend to listen to other people in our tribes - reading newspapers which reflect our values. In social media this is known as the echo chamber as you say something and just hear the same thing back (I've started trying to break this habit and seek out articles by journalists who are interested in why people who they disagree with don't think like them.) We are tribal.
This tribalism is exactly why most employee engagement fails. Sustainability practitioners talk to their colleagues using sustainability language, images and arguments – and then get a shock when it doesn't register with the intended audience. Green Jujitsu is all about acknowledging the obvious fact that people unengaged in Sustainability aren't (and maybe won't ever be) members of the Sustainability tribe. It's about understanding the other tribe and translating Sustainability appropriately.
The NHS experiment on engaging nursing staff on energy efficiency is a fantastic example. "Switch it off and save the planet" didn't work. "Switch it off and save the NHS money" didn't work. "Switch it off and your patients will get better sleep" did – because the nursing tribe values patient care above everything else.
About 15 years ago, I was at an international eco-design conference. As I wandered around the poster displays during a coffee break, I came across a young US researcher presenting a study on the then forthcoming EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.
"Why are Americans so interested in European legislation?" I asked her.
"It's a massive market and if our brands want to sell there, we've got to comply with the legislation." she replied.
"Ahhhh..." I said as the penny dropped.
Fast forward to today and we in the UK are a month away from a referendum on whether to remain in the EU or leave. I have commented in the past that climate denial and Euroscepticism go hand in hand, and I'm sure that 'freeing' the UK of environmental legislation is one of the desires of the 'Brexit' crowd.
Except, as we have seen above, we wouldn't be free at all. If we want to export to Europe, we'll have to comply with all existing and future legislation, only we would have zero influence over the content of that legislation.
The environmental angle is probably the main reason that I'll be voting to stay in the EU. The history of the EU has been one of raising the bar on environmental issues, whether on water quality or climate change, rather than the 'race to the bottom' we see in other parts of the world. And that combined economic heft means that if the EU decides to ban a toxic substance or insist on recyclability built into products, then the whole world has to sit up and take note. On this at least, the EU is a powerful force for good.
At the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange two weeks ago, a representative from the Tees Valley stood up and gave a presentation on a vision for low carbon economy for the region. Frankly, it was almost identical to all the presentations I sat through when I worked there 10-15 years ago. "Why hasn't it happened in the meantime?" was the question I asked. Lack of coherent Government policy was the reply.
This sounded far too familiar (not least in the Tees Valley a decade ago). There is pretty much universal agreement that the UK Government's leadership on a low carbon economy has been fitful at best. Sudden changes in policy and instruments create uncertainty and hold back investment.
But when is it going to be any different?
Do you really think there's going to be a day when sustainability is easy?
The true pioneers in Sustainability – Interface, Unilever etc – don't moan about Government policy, or if they do, they don't use it as an excuse to do nothing. They set their destination and create their own path to get there – there may be a few stumbles along the way, but that's how they learn.
So it's time to pick up a compass and a machete and hack a path through the jungle that is in the way to your destination. Enjoy the adventure!
One of the more notorious comments from UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne came during his speech at the 2011 Conservative Party conference:
"We're not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business."
Now, I'm no fan of Mr Osborne, but this actually has a grain of truth about it – if we simply offshore our emissions to countries with lower environmental controls, then any 'win' we get cutting emissions in this country is purely illusionary. This conundrum is known in the trade as 'carbon leakage'.
Carbon leakage is in the news in the UK with the perilous state of the steel industry – many are blaming its woes on green taxes pushing up costs. While that may be a factor, the main problem is China's state sponsored industries dumping too much steel on the market, possibly at below the cost of production.
Many of the 'solutions' being bandied about, such as cutting green taxes or UK state subsidy, will simply add fuel to the fire by increasing global production and driving prices further down. Carbon emissions will rise as well.
The best, maybe only, way to solve this problem is for China to stop subsidising over-production of steel. That would cut carbon emissions and allow other countries to compete on a level playing field. Otherwise we are on a race to the bottom.