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26 January 2015

3 Ways to Use the 80/20 Rule for Sustainability


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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17 June 2013

Why is the sky blue and other difficult questions

jim jam spainAt three and a half, my middle boy, Jimmy, has hit the golden age of the killer question - why?

Daddy, why do we have ceilings?

Daddy, why do cows moo?

Daddy, why is the sky blue?

Actually that last one really threw me as I assumed I knew the answer but found out I didn't have a clue (the answer is here). I look at the sky every single day - and sometimes it is blue, even in the UK - but I've never queried its colour. This is what kids like Jimmy can remind us - never to take anything for granted and never, ever be afraid to ask "why?"

Engineers talk about 'The Toddler Test" or "The 5 Why's" - keep asking why until you get to the fundamental truth. It works for sustainability practitioners as well, to take a simple example:

Why are we producing this amount of waste?

Because it comes from offcuts of sheets of raw material.


Because of the shape of our product's components means we can't avoid creating lots of big offcuts.

Why are the components that shape?

Um. Because they always have been...


Because no-one ever thought about waste when the product was designed 10 years ago, OK?

Obviously, like a kid who won't stop asking questions (naming no names...), you run the risk of being thought to be a right pain in the backside. But you won't cut through layers of institutional inertia and implicit assumptions to get to underlying truths without asking difficult questions. And without getting down to those underlying truths you won't be able to make the fundamental changes required.

It's a risk worth taking!


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14 November 2012

Your Waste Problem is NOT In Your Skips

I spent another thoroughly enjoyable day yesterday delivering waste awareness sessions for the employees of one of our clients. We used my waste template to develop a simple model of the production process, identify waste streams and then apply ‘The Toddler Test’ - keep asking ‘Why?’ until you can't answer – to trace those waste streams back to source.

Here are some of the results (translated into generic terms and which you will hear in any manufacturer):

  • The quality of suppliers' components is impacting on our production process and leads to waste.
  • Our procurement people are making false economies – bulk buying supplies with short shelf lives which end up getting binned before they are used.
  • If we purchased components in the dimensions we need, it would save us money on purchasing, the cutting process and waste disposal.
  • Our process needs a redesign to take waste into consideration.
  • Our product designs need to take waste into consideration.

You will notice that all of these root causes are some distance (in organisational and, often, geographical terms) from those responsible for filling and emptying skips. We need to see the material in those skips as a symptom of a deeper problem, and not as the problem itself.

Which takes us back to the basic principle that everybody in an organisation - designers, production engineers, buyers etc - needs to understand the impact their job role has on sustainability.


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17 October 2012

An Understanding of Waste

On Monday I ran a waste awareness session with one of my large clients' employees. I used a range of green jujitsu techniques to properly engage with the participants: the session was designed to appeal to the attendees (engineering/manufacturing), getting them involved in generating solutions, and using questions rather than statements.

And no Powerpoint, just flip charts and the template you can see above. The main exercise was to join the dots between Goods In and Goods Out, plot waste streams from the manufacturing process to the three main disposal routes, and then think of ways to move these streams up the waste hierarchy.

It all went jolly well and the feedback was 100% positive.

At the end of the session, as I do, I asked participants what they had learnt and thought I would share the results in generic terms as they nailed the key issues:

1. An appreciation of  the true cost of waste - including costs other than disposal, such as processing of materials up to the point they became waste, energy, labour, storage, documentation and raw materials. (It was the last one which took the longest to drag out of them.)

2. To challenge implicit assumptions - waste isn't inevitable but is within the control of the company. The problem isn't in the skips round the back of the factory, but in the design process, procurement decisions and production management.

3. The need to communicate this awareness to everyone.

The important meme to communicate here is "waste is a verb not a noun" - resources are wasted, rather than being waste in themselves.


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12 October 2012

Why forklift drivers are crucial to environmental performance

If you want to get the feel for a manufacturing, logistics or packaging company's sustainability performance, take a wander along to Goods Out and watch for a while. You may not realise it, but in terms of cradle-to-gate environmental impact, this is a critical point.

Think about it, if you damage product here, you are not just creating some physical waste, but also wasting all the embedded resources for those goods: the raw materials, the processing of those materials through the supply chain, auxiliary materials, the energy involved in all the processes up to that point etc, etc. In financial terms you also have to factor in the opportunity cost of not being able to sell the product and make a profit. For many products, the rework also disrupts the rest of the production system, adding further costs and the risk of upsetting even more customers.

This means that the humble forklift driver has a disproportionate influence on the environmental and economic performance of your business. In far too many businesses I see a stack of damaged goods at the side of the loading bay, often with a forklift sized dint in the side. In some Goods Out sections, the forklifts are driven like a dodgem ride at the fairground.

Clearly the employee engagement process you use for frontline staff like these needs to be quite different from that you use to engage the board of directors. My Green Jujitsu approach says that, as far as practical, you need to tailor the message for each audience, but you must also make sure no-one is left out. The critical people may not be who you think they may be.


My new eBook, Green Jujitsu, is now available from Dõ Sustainability. Register for our free Green Jujitsu webinar on Friday 12 October at 3:30pm by clicking here.


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14 April 2011

Green Business Webinar #4: Good Housekeeping

The fourth of our Green Business Webinars will be held on 4 May at 14:00 GMT. The hour long session will cover everything you need to know to green your organisation internally:

  • Quick wins for different types of business;
  • Aligning processes to sustainability;
  • Housekeeping tools: auditing, balances, group work, brainstorming;
  • Financing green projects.

The webinar costs £45.00 + VAT per person - use the button below to pay by card or Paypal. Contact us to make a BACS payment.


This is just one in our series of 10 webinars - you can see the full list and terms and conditions here. All ten cost £330 + VAT - reserve your seat using the button below:

Here's what participants say:

"Gareth's webinars are smart, punchy and thought provoking. His approach shows how sustainability is about achieving commercial advantage and not simply an altruistic gesture. Highly recommended." Graeme Mills, GPM Network Ltd.

"[The webinars] are great value and I would recommend them to both CSR professionals and SME owners." Louise Bateman, GreenWise

"I consider this a must for organisations looking for practical help in improving their sustainability performance." Ted Shann, Wipro

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8 December 2010

Bundling benefits (and little people)

We've had two weeks of snow here in the North East of England and everyone is getting fed up with it. I assume this will bring guffaws from those of more Northern climes, but these conditions are rare for us, so no-one has snow tyres or chains and it makes no sense to have an arctic-scale snow clearance set-up as it would sit idle most years. Anyway, at least the heavy falls have stopped, so people can get out and about a bit more - and we were delighted that the good people of the Tanfield railway (the world's oldest) honoured our tickets from last weekend when the going was treacherous. So we bundled up the kids and went to see Santa and a ride on the North Pole Express (and saw how carbon emissions used to come about).

The press loves making a fuss at times like these about how much the weather is costing business. While some companies can't operate in the snow - a neighbour of mine is a roofer for example (although he'll be kept busy with wrecked guttering for most of the spring) - many can if they embrace virtual working technology - using teleconferencing and telecommuting to avoid travel disruption. Promoting such technologies for carbon reductions, no matter how effective they are, is unlikely to be such a strong driver as the resilience argument. So if you are struggling to get heard on the carbon side, the approach could be "if we invest in virtual working then we will be resilient to bad weather & rogue volcanos, save some money AND cut carbon emissions". You can arrange the order or prominence of the three benefits to match your audience.

Such bundling of benefits applies elsewhere, for example if you are selling/buying water based paint then the argument is "safer, no odour and no nasty solvents". For waste minimisation the argument can be "we'll save on raw materials, waste costs, disruption to orders AND deliver against our environmental strategy".

It's like getting the kids ready to go out in this weather, the more layers the better!

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3 December 2008

The myth of the environment and recession... that the environment and sustainability can only be addressed when there is plenty of money about.

Let's be blunt - the current economic situation is good for the environment - we are driving less, insulating our houses more, and are likely to buy less tat with which to disappoint our loved ones on Christmas Day. But saving the world shouldn't be about living in poverty.

On a business level, there are two proven ways of surviving an economic downturn. One is to cut unnecessary costs, the other is to innovate.

It constantly staggers me that companies immediately try to cut staff costs. OK, if you have far too many people standing about doing nothing, then you should have already got rid of them. But if you cut your workforce, you cut your ability to respond to the inevitable upturn when the recession ends. The same people see waste and utility costs as a fixed cost of doing business which is complete nonsense. And with the true cost of waste being about 10 times the cost of disposal, there are massive cost savings to be made which will make your business more productive, not less. We found an average of £175k pa savings in 26 businesses in a raft of industries - and you don't have to make redundancy payments for waste.

Turning to innovation - it is well known that markets for green products are expanding fast and, in some - say white goods or baby food - the eco- end of the market dominates the 'conventional' by a factor of 3-4:1. Other sectors will follow, if they get the quality and labelling issues right more than anything else. Is it a surprise that the new electric Mini has just been launched when the big 3 US car companies are staring the grim reaper in the face?

The sustainability agenda does have the scope to help a business through the economic downturn. It's a pity the myth makers don't understand that!

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15 August 2008

Terra Infirma saves companies £175k each

Until March, Terra Infirma carried out environmental healthchecks on behalf of Envirowise, looking at waste, water and energy. We've just been reviewing the files of the two dozen or so visits we carried out under this scheme - in sectors as diverse as steel stockholding, pharmaceuticals and catering - and the average savings were a whopping £175 000pa.

Imagine what that means to a medium sized manufacturing company in these tight financial times - they could keep 4 members of staff on for that money, making them even more competitive as things start to pick up. Makes you think, doesn't it?

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2 July 2008

A good time to go green

Things have settled down here a little at Terra Infirma Towers after the most busy (and it has to be said lucrative) month in our history. I've said before that with companies feeling the pinch from falling orders and soaring oil prices, this is not a bad time to be offering cost-cutting services. The great thing about cutting material resource use, as opposed to human resources (hate that term), is that it doesn't cut your capacity to deliver products and/or services so as the economy recovers you're not floundering behind.

Of course companies can go beyond simply reducing environmental costs and start exploiting environmental business opportunities. Now you might think that this is a risky time to do so, but both the Guardian and the Times are reporting a surge in green investment and I hear the same from contacts in the banking industry.

Just don't think you can stick a green label on a duff product and expect it to succeed. Plenty have tried and failed. And I keep meeting more of them.

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30 June 2008

Weekly Tip #20: with waste, start at the end

This is the latest of a series of tips extracted from the forthcoming Green Business Bible e-book:

When carrying out a waste minimisation exercise, focus your attention on the end of the process. This is where your product has most added value - I've seen finished high-value products ranging from furniture through lubricants to pharmaceuticals destroyed after a lot of time and money has been invested in making them, and before they can be sold to customers to realise that value. Packing machines and fork lift drivers are the main culprits...

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16 June 2008

Weekly Tip #18: Waste Not, Hand Out Nowt

This is the latest of a series of tips extracted from the forthcoming Green Business Bible e-book:

Use overhead projectors and powerpoint at meetings to present data rather than handouts. Make the presentations available on-line instead using an intranet or similar.

Another tip next Monday.

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25 April 2008

Packing Up Your Troubles!

Once again this week I was in a high value business looking at how they could cut waste, energy and water costs. Everything was rosy until we got to the packing lines, where bins were filling up with discarded product because of a raft of issues with machinery, packing materials and, possibly, the operators.

This is not untypical and wasted product at this point is costing you its sale value. If your turnover is £10m then every 1% of product you lose at the end of your process is costing you about £100kpa - because you are paying to produce it and yet can't sell it.

I've seen this in a whole raft of industries - food, pharmaceuticals, lubricants and interiors to name but a few.

And it makes me cross, so stop it!

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16 April 2008

Don't be blinded by recycling!

Once again recently I was proudly told by a factory manager "We don't have a waste problem - we recycle 95% of it - isn't that fantastic?". Recycling is great, but your fantastic achievement may be hiding waste reduction opportunities.

Taking a manufacturing business as an example, there are three types of waste:

1. Unavoidable process waste - waste that is intrinsic to your business. If you produce, say, chocolate flavouring from cocoa beans, then you will have cocoa residues left over no matter what. This should be recycled where possible and, if you are really clever, you can adjust your process to maximise its value for recycling/reuse.

2. Avoidable process waste - for example, offcuts, packaging of materials/components, solvents etc. Here you have a choice - eradication, recycling or normal disposal. Soaring landfill taxes are starting to rule out the latter for all but 'difficult materials', so you effectively have a choice of whether to reduce or recycle - that largely comes down to practicalities and economics.

3. Off-spec product (or components) - this is the worst kind of waste as you have added value to it only to throw it away. This waste should be terminated with extreme prejudice - particularly towards the end of your process where the value lost is the highest - I've seen far too many horror shows of good product being sprayed across factory floors by packing machines or careless forklift drivers.

I once heard waste described as "stuff you buy that you can't sell" - a brilliant summation of the economic driver to reduce waste.

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22 February 2008

Back(casting) to the Future

On Tuesday I took the role as facilitator for the Durham Waste Awareness Partnership annual creative day. The Partnership consists of waste officers from Durham District and County Councils. It was felt that previous creative days had started getting repetitive, so they wanted someone to come in and shake it up a bit. Enter Terra Infirma.

I decided to do a bit of backcasting, that is, designing an idealised future and working out how to get there. This contrasts with the normal approach of forecasting where you start from the current situation and try and think of things that will improve it. The advantages of backcasting are:

- it frees the mind to think the unthinkable;
- you don't focus on current barriers;
- it is participative;

and, not least,

- it is good fun.

The process is:

1. Decide the endpoint you want to achieve: in this case, zero residual waste in wheelie bins.

2. Draw up a number of future scenarios which demonstrate this future: in this case we looked at two households, both time poor, but one cash rich and one cash poor. For each we did two scenarios - one where the household consumed roughly the same stuff as today but did things better (like recycling) and one where we could radically change their consumption patterns.

3. Think up clever ideas of how to achieve those scenarios.

The day was a success - we did come up with a (small) number of things that no-one had considered before, plus a huge raft of stuff that some councils were doing and could be applied to members of the Partnership.

If I could go back and change one thing I would have been stricter on following the backcasting process 'rules'. There was a tendency to fall back into the habit of forecasting when we got to stage 3.

Overall, feedback from the attendees was very positive and they really enjoyed the opportunity to think differently - hopefully they can take some of that back to their jobs even when they're back in the world of full e-mail in-boxes, voicemails and intrays.

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15 October 2007

A Trillion Pages of Waste A Day

Despite having spent ten years working in the environment and sustainability field, the sheer volume of our consumption of natural resources still has the capacity to leave me speechless. And it happened again yesterday as I read the Sundays. The Observer had a piece on the world's consumption of printer paper - 2.5 and 2.8 trillion worldwide of which 45% is binned within the day - a cool trillion pages of unwanted e-mails, cover sheets, drafts, accidental prints etc. Of course the economic cost of this is not just disposal, but the whole cost of ordering, purchase cost, storage, distribution, loading the printer, maintaining the printer (more printing = more wear & tear), emptying the bins and then finally disposal.

Some solutions to this are easy - use 2-sided (duplex) printing, don't print cover sheets (you should really know what paper is yours) and don't print e-mails unless there is a commercial/legal imperative etc. I also find, provided your eyesight is OK, drafts and some large documents can be printed 2 pages to each side of A4 - so you get 4 'pages' to one piece of paper. The main difficulty I have is I still like to scribble over draft reports with a red pen, so I now try to restrict myself to printing a draft every other time I get the urge to!

In the wider organisation, information, directories etc can be stored on an intranet, inessential handouts can be banned from meetings and individual departments can be given paper/printing cost reduction targets.

Unfortunately, despite this, we seem further from the 'paperless office' than where we were 32 years ago when the term was coined.

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