Thursday, 30 October 2008

PAS2050 standard published

Businesses can from today assess the carbon footprint of their goods and services and play a greater part in fighting climate change, thanks to a new standard launched by BSI British Standards, the Carbon Trust and Defra.
The standard – called PAS2050 – is a consistent way of counting the greenhouse gas emissions embedded in goods and services throughout their entire life cycle – from sourcing raw materials, through to manufacture, distribution, use and disposal.
The aim of the new standard is to help businesses move beyond managing the emissions in their own processes and to look at the opportunities for reducing emissions in the design, manufacture and supply of products. This will then help businesses make goods or services which are less carbon intensive and ultimately develop new products with lower carbon footprints.
The Carbon Trust has already piloted PAS 2050 with 75 product ranges across a wide range of companies including PepsiCo, Boots, Innocent, Tesco, Cadbury, Halifax, Coca Cola, Kimberly Clark, The Co-operative Group, Scottish & Newcastle, Coors Brewers, Müller, British Sugar, Sainsbury’s, Danone and Morphy Richards.
Some of the results include:
For its Botanics shampoo, Boots has redesigned its logistics network so that products could be delivered direct to stores, reducing road miles and packaging. This alone has reduced the carbon footprint of making the shampoo by 10 per cent.
By working with one of its suppliers, Innocent helped identify an opportunity for the supplier to set up a group of employees to look at how they could increase the amount of waste materials being recycled throughout the factory. In the first month, waste to landfill was reduced by 15 per cent, and within six months the reduction reached 54 per cent.
Defra has also carried out research testing of the PAS on up to 100 food products through their production, manufacture and distribution and is studying the greenhouse gas impacts of food preparation and consumption in the home.
Critics say that the PAS2050 standard is unneccessarily complex and that this will make it uneconomic to apply across the entire range of a company's product output. If you want to assess the benefit of PAS2050 to your own organisation, you can dowload it free of charge here together with a guide to its use.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Staff skeptical about green

According to a recent survey of 1,200 staff by recruitment firm Office Angels, most office workers don't believe that the small green steps they take themselves will make any difference to global warming. The research also found that only a third of UK offices have green policies in place, and 25% have appointed green crusaders among their staff. Marketing workers are the most likely to become involved in environmental initiatives at work, and HR staff the least likely.

Is the enthusiasm of marketing staff driven by their awareness of the commercial benefits that can be gained by publicising the green initiatives once they have been carried out, or their closer connection to the media and the hot topics of the day? Either way, it's good to see that marketers are leading the way.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Zac Goldsmith at the launch of EcoConnect

A good showing at tonight's launch of cleantech network EcoConnect, encouraged no doubt by the presence of Zac Goldsmith. His address was brief, witty and to the point - and, by his own admission, less depressing than the editorial content of The Ecologist. Departing from the political convention of grouping ideas in threes, he began by highlighting two key points about sustainable technology. The first was, rather surprisingly, that it's not really about climate change, but rather the depletion of resources, from fossil fuel to food, which should be compelling even to those who remain unconvinced by the science. The second was that this represents an unparalled opportunity, a point which has clearly not escaped those present.

Moving on, he offered four solutions. Our economic systems must learn to value the environment. Our leaders must match rhetoric with action. Taxation must be relevant and transparent - and here he cited the futility of vehicle duty changes that penalise people for historic purchases rather than taxing gas guzzlers at the point of purchase. And finally we must recognise that sustainability is about more than carbon, we need to reconnect with the natural environment in order to understand our relationship with it and address our impacts on it.

His closing point was that far from being overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, we should be encouraged by the fact that if we take best practice in each sector now and make it the norm tomorrow, we're half way to success. Judging by the buzz at EcoConnect, that seems a realistic aim.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Turn it off, Honda!

It's a little thing but it's really bugging me. Honda has a new showroom that has just been built between my office and my home. It's all finished but still empty and has been for weeks. Yet every evening when I drive past all the lights are on. What a waste of energy!

Now, it's probably not Honda's fault - I'm guessing the contractors or property agents have left the lights on by accident. But their brand is not visible and the building has Honda emblazoned on it - so it's their brand that is being damaged by association with this act of environmental negligence.

Either nobody has told them yet, or they don't care. Anyway, I'm off to find a contact from their website and see if I can get the lights turned off.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

In praise of libraries

I rejoined our local library today. I'm ashamed to say it was my son's idea - his drama teacher had sent him there to find a script. I used to use the library all the time but somehow got out of the habit. It was great to rediscover the joy of browsing the shelves looking for titles that might appeal - and the fact that you can borrow makes you far more likely to take a chance and discover a new author or genre that you would never have considered if you had to buy. Ebooks are all very well, but I find there's something very satisfying about handling books, which ebooks just don't deliver.

If, like me, you tend to read a book just once, borrowing from the library makes much more sense than buying, both financially and environmentally. Go on, check out your local library - I'm definitely a convert.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Do we still need a Green party?

Amid all the chaos and uncertainty caused by current global economic troubles,
energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband yesterday committed the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, overturning the previous target of 60%. Miliband also stressed that the government would not be distracted by current economic conditions: "In tough economic times, some people will ask whether we should retreat from our climate change objectives. In our view, it would be quite wrong to row back, and those who say we should misunderstand the relationship between the economic and environmental tasks we face".

Miliband also announced an amendment to the energy bill to allowing small-scale energy producers such as homes with wind turbines or solar panels to sell electricity to the grid at a guaranteed price. A similar strategy has helped Germany to create a huge solar industry. A full report of Miliband's speech is here.

So, as the establishment finally embraces the need for urgent action to combat climate crisis, is there still a place for a Green party in British politics?

Commentators at recent green events I've attended have emphasised the importance of mainstreaming green issues if we are to achieve the critical mass required to achieve the required reductions in greenhouse gases. Having a separate political party dedicated to green issues can only perpetuate the misconception that somebody other than the population at large is responsible for addressing the problem.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Melting ice caps threaten arctic foxes

A recent study by researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks has found that arctic foxes may be just as threatened as polar bears by reduced access to sea ice. They tracked fourteen foxes as they endured their first arctic winter, and only three survived - by spending five months travelling for 3,000 miles across frozen sea ice and scavenging seal carcasses left by polar bears. None of the 11 foxes that remained on the mainland survived.

The researchers were surprised that the foxes spent so long on sea ice but concluded that their odessy is essential to find food to sustain them through the winter. Sea ice is expected to reach record low levels this winter, making it harder for the foxes to travel and potentially leading to lower survival rates. There is also the risk of increased conflict with humans, as the foxes search for food near settlements.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Solar pioneer in the heart of oil country

The heart of the oil-fuelled middle east is an unlikely place to find a solar pioneer, but the tiny emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah is just that. Through collaboration with Swiss engineering company CSEM, RAK (as it's known by its residents) is planning a remarkable project which could have major implications for global energy supplies. The idea is to create floating islands of solar panels, and an 87m-diameter prototype is already under construction. Due for completion in 2009, the prototype is the first step towards a 1.6km-diameter solar island capable of generating 360GW hours annually.

The concept employs a plastic membrane stretched over a floating pontoon, resembling a giant trampoline. Banks of solar mirrors track the sun to reflect its rays onto pipes where water is superheated to create steam and thereby generate energy. With 350 days of guaranteed sunshine and calm coastline, RAK is considered an ideal site - raising the unlikely prospect that this tiny emirate could become an exporter of renewable energy.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Something old, something new

I loved the story in Metro this week about the bride and groom who paid for their honeymoon flight with rubbish. They spent three months picking up 60,000 items of litter and taking it to their local Tesco store to claim one Club Card point for every four items they recycled. By converting the Club Card points to 36,000 air miles they paid for their BA flight from Atlanta Georgia to Gatwick at the end of their honeymoon touring the United States - having sailed there on Queen Mary 2.

I wonder if they offset the carbon for the flight?

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Richard Barrington on scale

The final keynote at October's Green Monday was Richard Barrington, ex Sun, who began with the intriguing revelation that the reason Sun initially engaged with climate change was because its HQ is only 1m above sea level and the business deemed that global warming presented a corporate risk. The close proximity of the San Andreas fault, however, is not considered to pose an equal threat.

Richard's view is that seismic shifts are needed to effect the changes we need in global consumption patterns. They key to this is dematerialisation, with products giving way to services, and new business models along these lines are already being developed. But conventional thinking on intellectual capital won't allow us to achieve sufficient scale quickly enough.

An "open source" approach is needed to create the momentum for a new technology to spread with sufficient speed, similar to how Java has become so ubiquitous that Richard estimated every member of the audience had 3 pieces of Java on them.

There are already some good examples of the power of open source - Curriki being one. This online information resource (another project which originated at Sun) provides disadvantaged teachers and students around the globe with open access to high-quality educational materials, challenging the vested interests in education. This collaborative approach, with people freely sharing their knowledge, is rare in the commercial world, but in my experience the one place it's currently thriving is in sustainability circles. It's heartening to see how willing people are to share their knowledge and expertise on this topic.

But to really effect the change we need, the new technologies we develop must be substitutional, not additional. As Richard pointed out, commentators feared that the emergence of Amazon would kill books because we'd all download the texts. That didn't happen, and book sales are higher than ever.

His ultimate conclusion was that we have no choice but to embrace the new world order because our challenge is about survival of the species; the planet will take care of itself, and may do a better job without us.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Sir David King at Green Monday

The second keynote at this month's Green Monday provided much food for thought. Sir David King agreed with Jon Williams that population growth is a key challenge, fuelled by life expectancy increasing from 45 to nearly 80. Not only that but urbanisation means that these people will have increasingly higher aspirations, and that has to be balanced against the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. An 80% reduction is needed on average, so the change must be transformational, not incremental.

Energy is seen as a basic freedom but decarbonisation of the economy is essential, and necessity is the mother of invention. We will find ways but it will proably be the private sector that seizes the opportunity. As an example, if we only converted one 10,000th of the sun’s energy to power we would have enough to sustain a population of 9billion.

If we fail to accept the challenge of decarbonisation, the great powers will battle for resources. Sir David King considers that the Iraq war may have been the first example of this. The cost of that conflict is estimated at $3 trillion. It’s estimated that the global emissions trading scheme which emerged from Kyoto will be worth $1 trillion when it first goes global. If the US government had invested in finding alternative energy sources rather than going to war over oil, then we could be in a very different place now.

We need visionary leadership from the great powers, and we need them to mainstream climate issues. It's not about making freestanding speeches about climate change, but making climate part of every speech as a key part of government strategy.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Jon Williams on living beyond our means

Three great keynotes at this month's Green Monday, the first from Jon Williams, former partner for sustainability and climate change at PwC and now a consultant on such matters. His provocation was that both the credit crunch and climate crisis arise from living beyond our means; in one case economically and the other ecologically. We simply don't have the resources on our planet to live in the manner to which we have become accustomed. Even less so when you take into account the effect of population increasing to 9 billion by 2050 and the additional pressure placed on natural resources by urbanisation and wealth creation. In fact, he posited that climate change could the next sub-prime crisis.

The problem is that when global warming reaches the same degree of crisis that provoked this global economic meltdown, there will be no prospect of recovery. Economic cycles are relatively brief and, whilst many may suffer genuine hardship, we all understand that if we can weather the financial storm it will pass in a few years and equilibrium will be re-established.

Somehow we need to harness the kind of hysteria which is generated by current financial fears and transfer it to climate and population issues. Because once the planet is bankrupt, there really is no going back.

Shame on Starbucks

Funny how things happen. I was sitting on the tube, reading John Grant's appraisal of Starbucks' Welcome to Evergreen campaign in The Green Marketing Manifesto when I looked up and saw the headline of the newspaper being read across the aisle. The lead story was about Starbucks wasting millions of gallons of water every day by leaving taps running as policy in its coffee shops. Worse still, staff don't seem to be aware of the reason why this should be necessary - which is allegedly something to do with preventing a build-up of bacteria in the tap.

How can a big brand like Starbucks make such a massive misjudgement, that risks undermining all the other apparently credible social and environmental projects it's undertaking? Its a perfect example of how the activities of one department can conflict with those of another if care is not taken to ensure that policies on key issues are not communicated clearly and consistently throughout an organisation.

Friday, 3 October 2008

First Friday

I was asked to give a brief address at a new networking event called First Friday. Nerve racking for me, but I'm keen to accept any invitation that allows me to raise awareness of green issues in business. Luckily they were a friendly crowd, and it seems my attempt to generate some debate actually stimulated some genuine concern.

Most of the people I spoke to had no idea that initiatives like the Carbon Reduction Commitment would cause them financial pain if they didn't get their houses in order, and were still thinking that an environmental policy is largely about demonstrating to customers that they're doing the right thing. But in today's difficult economic environment, the potential savings to be gained from cutting waste present an even more compelling argument.

Some days it really does feel like I'm making a difference.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Government buildings come bottom for energy efficiency

In a survey published today, two of London's most famous landmarks were exposed as some of the least energy-efficient public buildings in the country. From this month, all public buildings over 1,000 square metres have to display an energy certificate recording their annual CO2 emissions. Rankings between A and G are awarded for energy efficiency, in the same way as for white goods.

The Houses and Parliament and the Bank of England both score G, and between them emit over 21,000 tonnes of CO2 per year - the equivalent of 14,000 people flying between London and New York. In fact, only 1% of buildings achieved A rating, and the Department of the Environment's headquarters only scored E.

This initiative should be useful as a means of highlighting the issue of carbon emissions from public buildings, but I hope it doesn't lead to calls for old, wasteful buildings to be bulldozed to allow new, energy-efficient buildings to take their place. Quite apart from their aesthetic value, conserving an old building is usually more sustainable than replacing it with a new one. And modernity is no guarantee of sustainability either - City Hall scores E despite having opened only in 2002. The Guardian has the full story here.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Sustainable procurement

A big talking day for me today - a one hour talk, repeated twice, to the Sustainable Procurement Conference. My topic was employee engagement and how it's not sufficient to purchase environmentally preferable equipment; you also need to change working practices to ensure that it delivers the maximum environmental gain. Changing habits, of course, is not an easy thing to do.

A very satisfying day, as it turns out - we had to bring in extra chairs for the morning session and both audiences displayed a very gratifying level of engagement with the topic. Some very animated and productive conversations took place at the end of each session, and overall there was a great deal of positive energy. I really think this would not have been the case only a year ago - the people I was talking to then were a lot less receptive. If we can keep this momentum going, we have a really good chance of making the changes that are necessary to mitigate the effects of climate crisis.