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10 March 2017

Aligning Sustainability Incentives

org charts

I've long preached that there is a pressing need to align responsibility for Sustainability with authority. There is no point in delegating responsibility for Sustainability targets to environmental managers, or worse, volunteer sustainability champions, if they have zero power to actually make change happen. Instead appropriate sub-targets must be embedded in the personal objectives of key decision makers. Stands to reason, but often neglected.

During the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group on Tuesday (more on this next week), I realised that this alignment principle doesn't only within organisations but also between them.

If a landlord is responsible for a heating system, but the tenants pay the bills, the landlord will go cheap on the system as efficiency is not their problem. If the heating bills are split equally between tenants rather than individually metered, then there is less immediate incentive to cut consumption. If a purchaser is responsible for disposing of packaging, then there is little incentive for the supplier to provide recyclable or returnable packaging. And, as the Carbon Trust found with Walker's Crisps, if potatoes are bought by wet weight, then suppliers are incentivised to artificially hydrate the potatoes even though Walker then has to waste energy evaporating off that excess water during the frying process.

In all these cases, there are ways and means of changing the agreements between the different parties so those who have the power to change are fully incentivised to do so, either financially or contractually.

 

 

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10 October 2016

Supply Chain Wisdom from the Sustainability Masterminds

acklam-hall

The end of last month saw the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meet at the sumptuous Acklam Hall in Middlesbrough to discuss supply chain issues. Here's a baker's dozen of the many nuggets which emerged from the meeting for your delectation:

  • Many organisations have no idea about what’s in their supply chain which is an enormous risk as problems bubble upwards;
  • Poor supplier performance on Sustainability is often indicative of wider incompetence;
  • Need to keep an open mind regarding risks, eg slavery occurs in the UK as well as developing countries.
  • Write contract conditions to pass sustainability risks to the suppliers who represent those risks eg traceability;
  • Innovation should always be put into contract extension commitments to drive continual improvement;
  • Can be a tension between need to collaborate and get tough on suppliers – need to present carrots and sticks;
  • Get suppliers to solve your problems, rather than you trying to solve theirs;
  • Run award schemes for ‘supplier with best sustainability performance’ eg Johnson & Johnson;
  • Internally, need to align responsibility with authority so the actual decision maker is held accountable for the Sustainability implications of their decisions;
  • Consider using emotive words such as ‘Risks’ rather than ‘Sustainability’ on meeting agendas;
  • External speakers can sometimes bring gravitas that internal practitioners can’t;
  • Recruit people who have ‘been there, done that’;
  • Make suppliers compete on sustainability by having ‘open’ scoring system in addition to proscribed/box-ticking requirements.

The Mastermind Group meets quarterly in the North of England to discuss Sustainability issues under the Chatham House Rule. We are currently working on kicking off a South East branch with the first meeting pencilled in for 10 November. Contact me (gareth@terrainfirma.co.uk) for more details on either Group.

 

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3 October 2016

Activate your sustainability programme!

cosm7-template

At last week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group, I (re)used my 'monster truck' template (above). The analogy is that we are in the truck, transversing the boulders which are in the way of 'the new normal' - ie meeting our sustainability goals.

As we were packing up, one member, a chemist by background, referred to the pile of boulders as the 'activation energy' for sustainability. I can remember enough of my A-level Chemistry to remember that this is the energy required to get two reagents to react, even if the results are more stable than the ingredients you started with. So to light a wood fire, you need to light a match and set it to paper and kindling to give the main fuel enough energy to burn itself. In a way the wood is sat there waiting to be burnt, but if you just throw a match at it, nothing happens.

I thought that activation energy was a great analogy. One of the big frustrations of Sustainability practitioners is that a sustainable world is clearly more desirable than an unsustainable one. Who really wants pollution, an unstable climate or the destruction of natural habitats? So why do we allow those things to happen? Or why do our efforts to change things often flounder? The answer is the activation energy required to get from here to there.

What do chemists do if activation energy is too high? They find a catalyst to reduce it. Sustainability catalysts include policy changes, technological breakthroughs and facilitators – the last of which is where we come in.

Here are several ways that you, as a sustainability catalyst, can reduce that activation energy:

  • Focus people on defining 'the new normal' rather than obsessing about 'business as usual' (this is how we start with the template above;
  • Expand this into a backcasting approach to define intermediate steps;
  • Frame sustainability to match the culture of the audience (aka Green Jujitsu eg talk engineering for engineers, health for the health sector, cash for accountants etc);
  • Involve people in solutions generation to get enthusiasm and buy-in for change;
  • Get visible leadership buy-in;
  • Demonstrate progress;
  • Get people (employees, suppliers etc) to compete to be the most sustainable;
  • Remain upbeat, encouraging and cunning.

But don't just chuck matches at the fuel and complain when it doesn't light.

 

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22 August 2016

Do you want Sustainability or not? Lessons from the Olympics

Jess Ennis

The story has been told many times, but it's a good one if you're a Brit. Thoroughly embarrassed by GB's pathetic single-gold-medal showing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1994, Prime Minister John Major diverted National Lottery funding into British Sport. As the curtain drops on the (main) Rio Olympics 20 years later, we've just pushed China into third place on the medal table for the first time since the latter started competing.

Elements of the press are starting to react uncomfortably to this success, even likening it to the chest-thumpingly patriotic Eastern Bloc displays of the Cold War era. They fret particularly about GB's decidedly Darwinian funding formula – win medals and you get a shedload more dosh to win more (which buys the best facilities, coaches and kit), lose out and you get nada. Sorry, basketball, but we spent your cash on new cycling skin suits.

My immediate reaction to this soul searching is: do you want to win or not?

If not, that's OK, taking part is fine. But don't complain if we can't deliver top level sporting results with non-competitive thinking, because it's one or the other. Personally, I'm quite enjoying the winning.

I see a strong parallel with Corporate Sustainability. All too often people who claim their organisation takes Sustainability seriously tell me that they would never ditch a supplier on Sustainability grounds, never consider axing an unsustainable product, never invest in developing new sustainable technologies. They are uncomfortable at targeting key decision makers for engagement ("we believe it's everybody's responsibility"), putting sustainability targets into those individual's personal objectives (ditto) or moving them along if they're incompatible with the strategy (ditto).

In the wider environmental movement, we often see green activists campaigning against green solutions - witness George Monbiot's writings against the very solar feed in tariffs which are delivering a renewables revolution. I agree with Monbiot that FiTs aren't perfectly fair (they divert cash from all bill payers into the pockets of those who can afford to invest in solar), but doing nothing is much, much worse. Anti-capitalists such as Naomi Klein claim, conveniently, that we will only tackle climate change by replacing capitalism with an vague and untried alternative which may not actually exist.

So, we can get our hands dirty delivering on Sustainability now, messy compromises and all, or we can wait indefinitely for a perfect solution, because it's one or the other. I know which one I'm doing.

 

Photo: © 2012, David Jones, Creative Commons License

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18 April 2016

A Tough Sustainable Supply Chain Conundrum

questions

At last week's Sustainable Best Practice Exchange, Shaun McCarthy of the Supply Chain Sustainability School posed us a very interesting conundrum:

You have two options for your main raw material:

A. a high sustainability, high cost supplier;

B. a low sustainability, low cost supplier.

Which do you choose?

I'm sure most readers of this would instinctively plump for A. We should be rewarding those who make the effort to address sustainability seriously, and as that supplier increases its volumes, prices should drop.

Shaun, however, argued for B(-ish). His thinking is that going for A risks keeping sustainability in a high cost niche while everybody else goes for B and nothing changes. He would go for B but insert contract requirements for them to improve their sustainability over time. Then you - and the rest of the market - will end up with two sustainable suppliers who will compete on sustainability and price.

I've been mulling on this ever since and am struggling to go 100% for either argument. What do you think?

 

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18 January 2016

Yes, we CAN shop our way to sustainability...

shopping sustainability consumers

If there's one thing I hate more than zombie climate myths (eg "the world hasn't warmed since 1998"), it's daft green pronouncements taken as gospel when they're clearly nonsense. I say daft, but some are worse than daft as they close down the routes to sustainability.

My (least) favourite recent example is this one from Evgeny Morozov in the Guardian:

Big brands have been dabbling in practices such as “greenwashing”, convincing customers that buying their green products is the way to fight global warming.

Errr - how else are we meant to combat global warming? I buy renewable electricity and biogas from my energy supplier, I buy logs for my wood stove, I bought extra insulation for the attic, I bought a solar hot water system and an efficient boiler, I bought triple-glazed windows, I bought a bicycle from a bicycle shop, I try to buy seasonal veg and other low impact food – it goes on. As I don't actually produce any of my own stuff, bar a few herbs, I rely on companies providing such green products and services to reduce the impact of my lifestyle.

There's even more to it than that. Every time someone buys an electric vehicle, a solar PV system, or even hires a green taxi, it strengthens the supply chain for those options and weakens traditional, carbon-intensive markets, making the low carbon version more cost-effective for others.

Whether at home or at work, let's ignore the half-baked wisdom of people like Mr Morozov, spend the green pound with pride and do our bit to build a sustainable future for all.

 

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11 January 2016

Latest Wisdom from the Sustainability Masterminds

biscuit factory door
Just before Christmas, the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group met at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle. The topic was capacity building and engagement but as usual the conversation ranged widely and took in quite a few points about green procurement in particular. The group meets under the Chatham house rule so we cannot reveal who said what, but here are just some of the learning points arising from the discussion:

  • Think different – big carbon cuts require radical innovation;
  • Stretch targets give time for capital investment;
  • Only certify if and when required or there is unlikely to be a payback;
  • Analytics have progressed fast, but context hasn’t kept up (eg toxin limits are often set at lowest detectable levels);
  • Use ‘future-proofing’ as a driver to go beyond compliance;
  • Use fear of legislation (eg Reach) as a driver for action;
  • Use hardnosed sustainability consultants, many are too woolly;
  • “No demand” often means people don’t know what’s possible;
  • It is critical to change the pernicious ‘green = cost’ mindset;
  • Deliver people’s pet projects under guise of sustainability to improve acceptance;
  • Mandatory sustainability training can devalue the subject to ticking boxes;
  • Link behaviour to core of business and client satisfaction;
  • Output oriented procurement (letting suppliers write specification) can drive innovation in suppliers;
  • Forward commitment procurement can help get your supply chain ready for the future;
  • Contracts which ‘turn the screw’ on sustainability requirements can drive innovation;
  • Impact of green procurement is wider than one contract as it makes greener options available to others;
  • Contracts need to be cognisant of potential future regulatory changes.

I'm looking forward a fantastic 2016 for the group and so are its members - Colin Thirlaway, the global sustainability lead for Black&Decker, has described the group as "invaluable" - you don't get much better praise than that!

We have one place available on the group for a sustainability manager or sustainability director from a large organisation, preferably based in the north of England. If you would like to join a group or want more details then do not hesitate to get in touch.

 

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12 June 2015

Staying one step ahead of legislation

Baltic view

Last Friday saw the 11th meeting of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group – the small group of sustainability managers from large organisations I facilitate. We were back at the site of the very first meeting, the Baltic Art Gallery in Gateshead with its fabulous views over the Tyne.

The topic was legislation and, in particular, what we can learn from wrestling with current legislation to anticipate the next wave. The Group focussed on three areas of legislation – Energy/Carbon, Supply Chain and Product Design. Here's a selection of the 60+ 'take home' points arising:

  • A compliance mindset means always playing catch up;
  • Need an early warning system to identify and screen forthcoming legislation;
  • Spending time to understand the true scope and depth of the requirements is a very worthwhile investment;
  • Use legislation to stimulate innovation;
  • Always assume legislation will tighten;
  • Suppliers may say ‘no’ if they are not directly obligated;
  • You can sometimes sell compliance to customers as added-value by de-risking their compliance;
  • Energy/carbon biggest opportunity for automating data collection;
  • Purchase plant, fleet and equipment on through life costing basis;
  • Care needs to be taken with data – trends may be due to changing collection process;
  • Energy management software needs to work for the business and not the other way around – take care with choice of vendor;
  • Reinvest a % of savings to generate a snowball effect;
  • Investment appraisal needs to be able to capture energy/carbon costs.
  • Knowing what’s actually in your product is a real challenge, yet legislation makes it your responsibility;
  • Further down the supply chain the harder it is to check, yet the bigger the risk to reputation;
  • Categorise suppliers to identify risks: strategic/tactical, single/replaceable, and by geography;
  • Giving priority to sustainable suppliers means unsustainable suppliers will lose market share ie you can transform the market with purchasing decisions;
  • LCA heavily dependent on assumptions and must be used with care;
  • Watch-list of chemicals/components is growing fast;
  • Designing out problematic materials is the best solution – and can provide extra value to customers.

As always it was the discussion that got us to these conclusions which gave the most value. This discussion continued over lunch in the fabulous SIX rooftop restaurant – 'no dreary buffets' is one of the three rules of the Group!

 

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10 June 2015

Supply Chain Sustainability for SMEs

In this edition of Ask Gareth, I'm asked how a small, local shop can compete with larger retailers when it comes to supply chain sustainability. The ideas I respond with apply to any small business which wants to take sustainability seriously.

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

If you'd like to send a question to Ask Gareth fire away!.

 

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27 March 2015

When 'ethical' can be unethical...

business angel

A very interesting point was raised by a Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group member at last week's meeting:

The easiest ethical choices are often not very ethical, for example it is easiest to avoid buying conflict minerals by avoiding buying from the Democratic Republic of Congo altogether, but you’re actually hurting a country which desperately needs a stronger economy. You should be supporting the 'good' mineral sector.

Wow! That triggers a whole load of questions in my mind:

  • Where does the boundary of ethical responsibility lie?
  • How do you assess the ethical implications of what good things you could do, but aren't doing?
  • Is it ethically OK to wash your hands of an issue like this, or should you dive in and try and solve it?
  • Is there a responsibility for corporations to use their buying power for good?
  • The press and NGOs have a tendency to take a very simplistic black and white view of business ethics issues – ironically given their own ethical missteps – what's their responsibility to be objective and not chase a headline?
  • Can 'ethical' legislation do more harm than good?
  • When is it right to walk away?

Answers on the back of a postcard, please!

 

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20 March 2015

Green SME Interview: Alex Hurst, Phoenix Taxis

Alex Hurst PhoenixAlex Hurst is the CEO of Phoenix Taxis based in Blyth Northumberland which currently has the biggest operational fleet of electric cars in the UK. In this revealing interview he tells the story of the business and some important insights into running a green business in the real world. It includes the first case I've come across of a sustainable decision being made in response to supplier pressure, rather than customer pressure.

What’s the history of Phoenix Taxis?

Phoenix taxis was started in 1990 by my Dad. Since then we’ve operated within the licensing restrictions of what was Blyth Valley in South East Northumberland. From 1990 to 2009, the company steadily grew to 80 cars. Since then, when the restrictions were relaxed, we were able to expand to the rest of Northumberland and since 2010, when I joined the business, we’ve managed to more than double in size to over 200 vehicles.

And when did the shift to low carbon vehicles happen?

The first step was the Nissan LEAF being the first widespread consumer EV available on the market. We kept an eye on it as, before me, my Dad has always used alternative fuels – LPG instead of petrol or diesel because of the cost savings. When the LEAF came onto the market, the subsidies from the Government made it a cost effective option as a taxi. We then had to get it licensed as a taxi.

We had a lot of trouble as it is quite small – many Councils including Northumberland refused, but we got on to Nissan who persuaded them to grant a license – I’m exactly not sure how! We got funding for six charging posts to accelerate the process, but they didn’t work. That held us up for 6-12 months because we couldn’t get more cars – we were limited to the two LEAFs we had bought in 2012 until the infrastructure was sorted.

However it was about this time, with just a couple of EVs and a couple of hybrids, that we realised that there was a customer demand for sustainable transport particularly amongst large corporate clients. We now have 41 hybrids and 32 EVs – that’s the biggest operational fleet of EVs on the road – I don’t know how long that will last when people cotton on to it!

So, the business case evolved from cost saving to customer demand?

Yes, definitely.

And you’ve now got a Lexus Hybrid and a Telsa Model S – did that come from customer demand? Read the rest of this entry »

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9 February 2015

Unsustainable Suppliers: Stick or Twist?

downsizing 3One of the more controversial statements I make on sustainability is that you have to be prepared to drop suppliers who are not pulling their weight on sustainability. After all, their carbon footprint is part of your carbon footprint (and your customers') and their reputation is part of your reputation.

However, many companies - including some big names - tell me they would rather work with suppliers to improve their performance than show them the door. I can understand that sentiment, but I think the full implications of that approach have to be understood (see above).

Here's some thoughts on when to nurture suppliers and when to walk away.

  • Clearly, if the supplier shows no intention of improving, or they present a clear and present danger to your reputation, drop them as soon as you can find an alternative.
  • If you want to build a new supply chain (part of the circular economy, part of the hydrogen economy etc) and your current suppliers are sticking to their traditional technologies/business models, then no matter how well they perform otherwise, you've got to thank them and move on.
  • If a new entrant into the market can provide materials/technology which will revolutionise your ecological footprint, then you should challenge your suppliers to match that and, if they can't, move on.
  • If the existing supplier is enthusiastic about sustainability and keen to solve your sustainability problems (rather than you trying to solve theirs) then keep them - and work with them.

This might seem harsh, but we cannot create a sustainable economy while remaining faithful to suppliers who do not deserve that loyalty. We owe it to ourselves and the greater good to be firm but fair.

 

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4 February 2015

A bit of healthy competition in sustainability

 

race

We are competitive beasts.

Whether in business, sport, the arts, science or technology, there is a natural, human drive to be the best - the fastest, the strongest or the best selling. And we can harness this in sustainability:

  • League tables of sustainability indices to set business vs business, city vs city or even country vs country;
  • Making suppliers compete on sustainability as well as price and performance to win your business;
  • Setting up internal competitions to see who can cut the most carbon, save the most paper or develop the best innovation.

I've seen all of these deliver fantastic results. Yet many sustainability practitioners seem to think that this is against the spirit of the overall goal. I have no such qualms.

Of course, you have to make sure the competition is well refereed - if people can game the system, then you could end up in a mess cf the banking crisis, mid-90s professional cycling or a million and one accounting scandals.

Play on!

 

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26 January 2015

3 Ways to Use the 80/20 Rule for Sustainability

x

My new book, Accelerating Sustainability using the 80/20 Rule, draws heavily on The 80/20 Rule by Richard Koch. Koch takes the general idea of the 80/20 Rule – that 80% of outcomes are usually determined by just 20% of outcomes (and vice versa) – and illustrates it across a very wide range of applications, from investments to our personal lives. He proposes two different ways of using the rule, both of which can be applied to sustainability:

  • 80/20 Analysis: where you carefully collect and analyse data to find the 'vital 20%' of inputs to focus on. An example of this would be when Procter & Gamble carried out a life cycle analysis of washing powder and discovered that 75% of energy use from cradle to grave was down to a single factor – heating the water in your washing machine. They then made this their number one priority.
  • 80/20 Thinking: this is much more intuitive and based on experience. If you think about it, it is logical that the best place to start minimising waste is at the Goods Out end of a factory - this is where the product has maximum value and maximum environmental impact embedded in it. Likewise, it is perfectly clear that lengthy supplier questionnaires will absorb a huge amount of time and effort by both parties, but are unlikely to change much in practice - a more proactive approach is required.

To this, I would add a third - a combination of the two.

For example, on my intro video for the book (below), I use the case study of a company whose plans for employee engagement would have taken a huge effort to engage a very large number of people who have very little influence on the carbon footprint of the company. It took a combination of my intuition and their data to come to the conclusion that a different audience should be prioritised. By using 80/20 Thinking, the act of 80/20 Analysis can be streamlined, avoiding 'paralysis by analysis'.

For most, I think this combined approach will deliver best results.

 

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7 January 2015

Cut the Green Crap!

Scissors icon glossy green round buttonThere's far too much green crap around.

I'm not talking about the clean energy subsidies that PM David Cameron was (allegedly) referring to using these words. No, I'm talking about the real green crap that actually holds sustainability back:

  • Pointless 'green' giveaways - recycled plastic pencils that break your pencil sharpener, desk thermometers that get binned, bars of fair-trade chocolate that get eaten and forgotten. What's the point?
  • Green Champions - most networks of green champions I see are dysfunctional and a huge amount of energy is being spent desperately trying to keep the network going. Give responsibility to people with authority instead - and use the time freed up to do something useful.
  • Gimmicks like putting sweets on people's computer keyboards if they switch off their computer overnight. I'm forever surprised that organisations will pay consultants good money to spout nonsense like this.
  • Supplier questionnaires - many suppliers spend so much time responding to different customer's questionnaires, they don't have time to actually improve their performance - and then find the data provided rarely has any influence in contract decisions.
  • Awareness posters - when was the last time you saw a poster and changed your life significantly? I'm guessing never.
  • Regurgitating idiotic received wisdom - if you need to buy a drink, bottled water will almost certainly have a lower ecological footprint than all of the alternatives except thirst. Not all biodiesels are evil. Carbon offsetting is not immoral - no-one dies.
  • Talking woo-hoo eco-bollocks like 'eco-centric world views', 'endosymbiotic thrivability' or 'spiritual animistic reverence'. Just don't. No-one will listen anyway.
  • Hitching sustainability to the latest fad. "You can't have sustainability without mindfulness" someone told me recently. You know what? You can.

If you make one sustainability resolution this year, how about to cut the green crap?

 

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19 November 2014

Interview with Paul Taylor, Sustainability Manager, Camira Fabrics

paul taylorHere's an extract of an interview I did with Paul Taylor, Sustainability Manager of Camira Fabrics over the summer. Camira Fabrics is the biggest producer of commercial fabrics in the UK, producing 9 million metres of fabric per year, employing 600 people and turning over £70 million. Paul has since left the company, but there are some great nuggets of wisdom in here which we can all learn from.

How did you first get involved in sustainability?

You could say it started when I was five years old. I lived in Central London, surrounded by concrete, and I just felt claustrophobic. For one week a year we went to West Sussex to stay with a relative because the family couldn’t afford a holiday. But on the South Coast, when you are exposed for one week a year in the summer to coast line, marshes, sunsets, sky – it’s extraordinary the impact it has on you. Eventually I went off and studied environmental management and geomorphology – that was my passion to understand the world and to find a route where I could have a positive impact on it.

I started my professional life as a community development officer in Central London, because sustainability options weren’t open to me at that time. But those years taught me about how to have an impact on people and I decided that I had to find a career in sustainability. So it was apply for a job anywhere – pin on a map – and the first opportunity was at Middlesbrough Environment City. I had the opportunity to work on a project which was all about Agenda 21 and the world opened up. The path since has taken me through some dark days in the public sector, but nevertheless, it was a great, great experience. It was about realising you can’t just change the world from the bottom up, you have to have the policy from the top down as well – for a positive contribution you need to do both. And the path led me here, to Camira.

What’s the history of sustainability at Camira?

Camira has only been around since 1974. We started out as Camborne Fabrics, a textile supplier, and we began manufacturing here in Mirfield in 1987, and grew very quickly despite the perception that textiles production in the UK was declining. The big change happened when Camborne was bought by Interface in the late 1990s and became part of a company whose whole drive was around sustainability – and using sustainability to grow the business, not just as a bolt on. Camira was born in 2006 when there was a management buy-out from Interface. So we were born with a culture of sustainability, wholly owned by directors and investors who had seen what sustainability could do for a business. The turnover was £26m in 2006, now it’s £70m. And that’s been purely from a drive for sustainability- in terms of people understanding it, getting the processes right and the whole idea of leaving behind a better world than the one you found.

How do you induct new employees into the culture?

Well we have a new laboratory manager starting this week and on day 3 I have her for half a day informal discussion on sustainability. Every single new person who walks through the door gets that half day – and we learn from it too – what their previous experience of sustainability has been. Read the rest of this entry »

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3 October 2014

How Is ISO14001 Changing? Interview with Marek Bidwell

In this very special edition of Ask Gareth, I get to ask the questions! I have been asked about the forthcoming changes to ISO14001, and to cover up my ignorance, I invited my friend, colleague and ISO-geek Marek Bidwell to outline what will happen and when.

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

If you'd like to send a question to Ask Gareth fire away!

 

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16 June 2014

When it comes to supply chains, ignorance is risk

Admiral Lord NelsonInteresting report in Bloomberg Businessweek recently on industry's response, or lack of it, to the new US regulations on conflict minerals - the standard response sees to be a shrug and "I dunno..." Or as Charles Harris, an audit partner at PwC, is quoted as saying:

“It took some companies a little bit of time just to figure out what their supply chain was and where they needed to start to gain the information.” [my emphasis]

It seems quite extraordinary that in this day and age that so many major businesses are taking this lackadaisical attitude to the extent where they don't understand their own supply chain. The rules provide for a lack of knowledge, but you would have thought that the risk of this blowing up in their face would spur action not just to avoid a media storm, but also to ensure security of supply.

Businessweek also quotes Keir Gumbs, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP who advises companies on their disclosures, as saying:

“If suppliers are really unhelpful and just fail to respond in any meaningful way or with bad information, companies are just kind of stuck with that.”

Or they could go and find some better suppliers.

 

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19 March 2014

Interview with Andy Griffiths, Sustainability Manager, Nestlé UK

Here's the latest in a series of interviews I have carried out with key industrial sustainability practitioners. Andy Griffiths is Sustainability Manager at Nestlé UK's Newcastle site which is the test bed for sustainability across the business. You can see the rest of the interviews here.

 

Hi Andy, how did you personally get started in sustainability?

I’m an engineer by trade so I’ve always been interested in engineering and technology but also I’ve a strong interest in self build and off-grid properties and how it would affect us in terms of lifestyle and where we would sit in our local community. When I came into this role two years ago, it was my first formal environmental management job.

My role covers safety, health, environment and security. From an environmental perspective, because we identified our Newcastle site as a 'lighthouse' site for sustainability, we have been looking at how we could structure an appropriate model to deliver that. So a lot of my time and focus, particularly in the first 18 months, has been establishing that model and the core activities within it.

 

What does the lighthouse status mean?

The lighthouse concept was developed a few years ago to pick one site which we could use as a sustainability model. This could be blueprinted and shared across our other sites.

We’ve got six pillars within the model: energy, water, waste, biodiversity, value chain and, most importantly, people and community. We identified early on that different things float different boats for different people. So instead of having an overall environmental message for everyone to buy into, we have those individual pillars with an aspirational ambition against each one. This allows individuals to tailor their preferences, so if someone is particularly interested in biodiversity, for example, they can really get hold of that. Someone else may be much more interested in energy so they can work on that instead.

 

Why was Newcastle picked as a lighthouse site?

There were two very important reasons:

First the variety of processes. This is a very complex site and covers a wide range of confectionary so anything we do here is as transferable as possible to other sites.

Secondly, the age of the site. Some organisations have developed really good principles and protocols for green field sites but it is much more challenging on pre-existing sites. This site has been here 56 years so if you can do it here, there’s no reason why you can’t do it anywhere else.

 

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17 March 2014

Are you hard enough for Sustainability?

File-Chuck_Norris_(1976)

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility roles were traditionally filled by bright young things with shiny hair, clean fleeces and extraordinary niceness, but over the years I've noticed a distinct toughening up of the profession - several of my clients and industrial contacts are ex-military and a number of others talk as if they should have been!

So what's changed? Frankly, as Chuck Norris might say, if you are going to make an omelette, you gotta break a few eggs. Are you tough enough to:

  • Ditch a loyal supplier because their sustainability performance isn't up to scratch?
  • Lose a director because 'they don't get it'?
  • Kill off profitable product lines because they conflict with sustainability?

These are the questions where idealism meets harsh reality - and where others will expect you to show leadership. Sustainability is not just about partnership, mindfulness and worrying about the polar bear - sometimes you have to kick ass.

Photo © Alan Knight and used under Creative Commons Licence

 

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