Gareth's Blog

Recent Posts

Archives

Archives

zero waste Archives - Terra Infirma


Browse All

16 October 2017

The Joy of Composting

Compost recycling

On Saturday I started a garden job I love – plundering my multifarious (5!) compost facilities for brown gold. Normally I would do this in the spring, but a planned extension to our house means they've got to move. Unfortunately we will lose compost capacity in the new set up, but I don't think my boys would be happy if I told them they had to keep sharing a tiny bedroom because I needed a two garden compost bays, a food bin, a leaf mould bag and a wormery...

I love composting as it is the only true recycling that all of us with a modicum of outdoor space can do. And there's something fascinating about the processes involved – setting the right conditions for all those mini beasts, microbes and fungi working together to turn waste into, literally, a nutrient which is returned to soil from whence it came.

The downside, physically and emotionally, is the amount of plastic I have to sieve out of what should be in theory 100% biodegraded material. Small bits of polystyrene, baby wipes, envelope windows, errant bits of Lego, fruit labels – it's amazing what works its way into the compost.

For those of us who encourage organisations to go zero waste, there's nothing like a few hours of hands-on waste processing to remind ourselves of the practicalities. It's very satisfying to boot.

 

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

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.
 

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

3 July 2017

Sustainability doesn't get easier...

Eee, it's my favourite sporting event of the year, le grand boucle itself, the Tour De France. Setting off on Saturday from Dusseldorf, home to cycle-crazy electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, the next three weeks are going to involve a lot of me working with ITV4 in the background as the peloton trundles across Europe.

My own cycling has been limited to moderate coffee rides since my first century ride two weeks ago, so yesterday I decided to test the legs with a climb up into the North Penines to Blanchland. There was a pretty 'fresh' (always a meteorological understatement) headwind for the climbing and the moor roads, and I was a bit disappointed in how my legs felt.

But then when I uploaded and checked my ride data on Strava, I found that I had ridden a lot quicker than the last time I'd done it a month ago (and I don't remember grinding into the wind then). In fact on one of the early headwind segments (defined stretches of road on Strava), I not only set a personal record, but was fastest of the 41 Strava users who had been that way all day.

And then I remembered the wise words of three-times Tour de France winner Greg LeMond:

It doesn't get easier, you just go faster.

Last night, I was mulling on this quote and Sustainability. We Sustainability professionals have a tendency to dream of a day that we get to the top of the climb and freewheel downhill.

But, let's face it, that never happens. We run out of quick wins and then we start looking at the step changes. Legislation changes, technology emerges and previously unforeseen environmental/social issues suddenly bubble up in the press. Sustainable supply chains and market awareness take time to mature.

It always feels like a slog, but if we look around, we're also taking for granted what seemed so impossible just a few years ago. Just look at the UK's electricity mix where renewables are booming and coal collapsing. You can now propose 'zero waste' without other people's mouths dropping open. Some of the best cars in the world are powered by electricity.

We are going faster, it just doesn't feel like it!

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

12 May 2017

Zero Hazardous Waste?

waste minimisation recycling workshops

I had a meeting earlier with a Sustainability Manager earlier this week who is busy drafting a Sustainability Strategy for his company. His waste goal was "zero non-hazardous waste" and I mused that in the last ten years such a once-impossible target has become pretty much standard – which is a brilliant achievement by the Sustainability community.

But what about hazardous waste? The main reason why this is caveated out of zero waste targets is the tight regulation around such material reduces the opportunities for action. In sectors such as healthcare where human tissue or blood is involved, there isn't much room for manoeuvre, but for others my (blasphemous) alternative to the waste hierarchy still applies:

Design it out or find a good use for it.

The circular economy mindset sees the hazardous nature of a material as an opportunity rather than a problem. So if you have a highly alkaline 'waste' material, you need to investigate uses for alkalis, preferably those which result in pH neutral materials.

The design process offers exciting opportunities for innovation. In one of my favourite examples, Camira found that using a mixture of wool and bast fibres (e.g. sisal) led to a naturally flame retardant fabric, eliminating the need for hazardous chemicals and the resulting waste.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next decade – I expect to see 'zero waste' applying to all waste, not just the benign stuff. After all it was just a few years ago that people kept telling me that zero non-hazardous waste was physically impossible.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

3 April 2017

Zero waste/carbon vs the 80:20 Rule

world brainWhen it comes to targets, I'm a big proponent of zero: zero waste, zero carbon, zero persistent toxins. Zero focusses the mind in a way that, say, a 2% cut in carbon every year, never will. Zero simply demands attention.

On the flip side, I'm also a big fan of the 80:20 rule – focus on the small number of issues which will have biggest effect on the results (20% of inputs generally cause 80% of outputs), rather than sweating the little stuff. I've also been known to say 'perfection is the enemy of success'. A lot.

Yesterday, for the first time this year, I plonked a deckchair on my lawn and drank a cup of tea and thought. And I thought about whether these two mindsets are contradictory (not for the first time).

And there's an important difference. A goal of zero isn't really about absolute zero. 0.01% is definitely as good as zero, 1% is as good as zero, and, let's face it, even 10% isn't really a disaster. What really matters is the mindset change that zero drives through an organisation. With zero, you can't tinker endlessly with quick wins, you have to go for the big wins and that pushes you to the 80:20 Rule. Once you've got those balls rolling, you can go worry about whatever little stuff is left.

Zero means: 'no more business as usual, things are going to change around here.'

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

25 January 2017

Zero waste requires new thinking, not the same old, same old

wasted

Yesterday I downloaded the Carbon Trust's Zero Waste guide. As most of the content could have been written a decade ago, it was, frankly, a waste of electrons. Where was the aspiration, the innovation, the inspiration? We get a nod to the circular economy and design, but no more detail. Instead we get the 3Rs and talking to waste management contractors.

If you want zero waste, paradoxically you've got to stop thinking about waste. You've got to think about preventing resources being wasted instead (my mantra is "waste is a verb, not a noun"). You've got to think about loops, not linear processes.

Once you've changed your mindset, you've got to find quality uses for every stream of material or design it out of your system. You need to talk to suppliers and customers about closed loop business models and innovations. You've got to talk to other organisations who may be able to use unwanted material as a raw material. You, and plenty of other people, have got to do things radically differently.

We cannot face a challenge like zero waste with a linear waste minimisation mindset, it's like taking a pea shooter to a war zone. As Einstein said "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

18 January 2017

The Sustainability bar is rising – fast

Athlete compete in paul vault

There has been a raft of big Sustainability announcements from Corporations recently:

  • Ikea achieving zero waste last year;
  • Google saying they'll be 100% renewable-powered by the end of the year;
  • Unilever's pledge to make all its plastic packaging ‘fully reusable, recyclable or compostable’ by 2025.

These are BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) and a half. And what's more they're being delivered. That's because big stretch targets such as zero waste or 100% renewable energy make you think in a quite different way to incremental targets. Business as usual will not do the job, neither will Sustainability as a bolt on.

Go large or go home.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

9 November 2016

Is zero waste really possible?


The latest edition of Ask Gareth considers whether Zero Waste is truly possible. Having working for many years in this particular field, I give the lowdown on zero waste and its true importance.

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.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

16 March 2016

We need unrealistic ambition, but realistic expectation in Sustainability

Sustainability Targets

I'm a big proponent of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal in Sustainability – I've always held Interface's Mission Zero (disclosure: a Terra Infirma client) as the epitome of ambition. There's no way Interface would have delivered the sustainability achievements they have if they hadn't set that vision of success. But it takes real guts to go for broke like that – what if you fall short?

A idea that came up at last week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group was 'a threshold of realism'. In other words, if you set a zero waste target and you get to 99.9%, have you failed? Only a pedant would say 'No.', a reasonable person would say 'Wow! That's amazing!"

The real reason to set an 0%/100% target is not to meet it exactly (you've got the laws of physics against you if nothing else), but to inspire the organisation to think big and deliver the scale of change which will get you into that ball park. So have the guts to set ambitious goals, strive to meet them, but don't beat yourself up if you fall fractionally short.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

10 August 2012

Book Review: The Zeronauts by John Elkington

John Elkington one of the sustainability field's leading pioneers and in his latest book he looks at those at the cutting edge of sustainability thinking who he dubs Zeronauts - the people who are aiming for zero - zero waste, zero emissions, zero toxins. Zeronauts are people like the late great Ray Anderson of Interface who launched the groundbreaking Mission Zero programme to have a zero impact on the planet by 2020. Zero is of course the ultimate stretch target and a great motivator as Elkington reminds us throughout the book.

The structure of the book takes us through three quintets of concepts:

5Cs of scale: citizen, corporation, cities, countries, civilisations;

5Es of maturity: eureka, experiementation, enterprise, eco-systems, economy;

5Ps of examples: zero population, zero pandemics, zero poverty, zero pollution, zero proliferation.

So far, so good. But the big problem is, for me at least, the book just doesn't deliver on the central promise. Many of the examples are of bog standard sustainability efforts rather than the special case of zero, diluting the core message. In fact the most insightful critique of the zero approach in the book comes not from Elkington, but in a series of lengthly blog extracts on zero waste from Andrew Winston of Green to Gold fame. Beyond this, there was little about the implications of, say, a zero waste policy to a single company and no mention of key enabling concepts such as industrial symbiosis. The "How Zeronauts Tackle Pollution" box could be titled "How Everyone Tackles Pollution" so generic is the content.

I also found the presence of many on the 'Zeronauts Roll of Honour' to be debatable - for example James Hansen is a great scientist who has bravely stuck his head over the parapet to warn of the dangers of climate change, but I have never heard a proposal from him that fits the zero theme - and none is presented here to justify his inclusion. The list appears to consist of sustainability practitioners that Elkington admires rather than Zeronauts per se. And don't get me started on the five figure year format.

That's not to say there aren't loads of interesting ideas and nuggets in the book, which I have to say is beautifully presented, and the Zeronauts meme is brilliant in itself, but I was expecting a tautly drawn up manifesto for the zero movement, or a critique of it, and this falls well short of either. Zeronauts could and should have been an essential text, but it's more of a curate's egg. Frustrating.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane one response

Free monthly bulletin:

Learn how to help your business go green from the comfort of your desk..

View events

By Gareth Kane

Everything you need to know to integrate sustainability into the DNA of your business.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

A highly accessible, practical guide to those who want to introduce sustainability into their business or organization quickly and effectively.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

The smart way to engage effectively with employees

View events