Tuesday, 30 September 2008

New tidar power project for Scotland

Massive new tidal turbines could be operational at three undersea sites around Scotland by 2011, according to a report in The Times. ScottishPower Renewables has identified the Pentland Firth, the Sound of Islay, and the North Antrim coast off Northern Ireland as the most suitable sites for the underwater turbines. Each location will have between five and 20 1MW machines which could lead to a combined output of 60MW - enough to meet the energy needs of 40,000 homes.

Tidal turbines are described as similar to wind turbines but with much shorter blades which turn more slowly. They are anchored to the sea bed and aligned to the tidal flow. The UK has almost a 10 per cent share of the global tidal power resource, representing 13bn kilowatt-hours. More than 80 per cent of the potential is located in Scottish waters.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Tracking carbon footprints by phone

A fascinating story in today's Guardian about an application that automatically tracks your movements via your mobile phone and uses the data to calculate your carbon footprint. Carbon Diem's inventor, Andreas Zachariah, a graduate student of the Royal College of Art in London and chief executive of the appealingly-named Carbon Hero company.

Carbon Diem is the world's first automated carbon calculator. It uses GPS to measure the speed and pattern of movement, using an algorithm to identify the mode of transport being used. It can therefore calculate the amount of carbon dioxide that a journey has emitted and keep a constantly updated diary of a person's carbon emissions, without any need for input from the traveller. As a result, a user can easily track their environmental impact and, if they choose, modify their behaviour to lower-carbon alternatives.

It's a great idea, but I wonder how it tells the difference between walking and crawling along in a traffic jam? And it may be difficult to track journeys made by tube when no signal is available underground. But anything which makes monitoring environmental impact easier for the user can only be a step forward.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Largest consumers of electricity

According to the Guinness Book of Records 2009, the United States is the biggest consumer of electricity in the World. The USA used over 3.7 billion KWH in 2005, almost a quarter of the total 16.3 billion KWH consumed Worldwide that year. This equates to 12.343 KWH per person.

Surprisingly, though, the Americans aren't the biggest per capita users of electricity - that "honour" goes to Icelanders, who used an astonishing 26,101 KWH per person in 2005.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Greening the city

The 39th floor of a glass tower in docklands is perhaps not the most obvious venue for a debate on sustainability but it was quite an eye opener. For example, it was sobering to hear that the price of carbon is widely expected to reach 40 Euros within the next few years - resulting in bills of billions for large businesses. But that's not nearly so alarming as the view that the current economic meltdown has pushed sustainability off the radar for most blue chip companies.

Economic crises come and go, but irreversible changes in the planet's balance are happening now and will continue to happen irrespective of share prices and interest rates. And companies without carbon abatement programmes are simply burning money - increasingly so, as energy prices rise. This is no time to take our eye off the ball.

For the most part, though, the speakers at the Boardroom Edge-backed event presented compelling and well-formed arguments to support the greening of business, not merely for altruistic tree-hugging reasons but because it makes good commercial sense. It helps us to run leaner businesses, attract the best talent and compete more effectively. It finally seems that carbon is firmly on the corporate agenda, and this time for sound commercial reasons. Now the challenge is to dismantle the conventional business structures so we don't have to occupy huge glass monoliths in order to demonstrate the size and stability of our businesses.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Greening the channel

I work for a technology company and our channel to market is through IT distributors and then resellers. It's an ongoing dilemma for us that our whilst our product is designed to offer sustainability benefits, it might be resold by companies which don't have a carbon abatement policy. But to restrict our channel only to resellers with green credentials would not be commercially sustainable. Today, I had the opportunity to meet with resellers at the Reseller Leadership Forum run by CRN magazine.

First observation is that the interactive session on sustainability was not so well attended as the others running simultaneously with it - perhaps an indication that the channel's engagement with the issue is lagging behind that of the organisations they supply. Second observation is that if this is the case, the resellers who do engage with the issue stand to benefit hugely because they will little competition. And final thought is that if refresh cycles for hardware become longer - as many of us expect - then resellers will be forced to face up to the fact that they need create new revenue streams to replace this lost income. Services around balanced device deployment, energy management and paper-free document solutions are natural choices.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Simple carbon calculator

We made a simple carbon calculator to work out how much CO2 we saved by not bringing our cars to work on Monday - this could be useful to others so if you'd like a copy, leave me a comment or drop me a message. It's just a simple excel sheet with some average carbon values set up; you enter the number of miles against the intersection of the relevant modes of transport and it works out the CO2 saving.

Monday, 22 September 2008

In Town Without My Car Day

My company took part in In Town Without My Car Day today, organised by our local council as part of European Mobility Week. The idea is you try to avoid bringing your car to work and explore alternative means of transport. Bus fares have been reduced for the day to encourage more people to use public transport, and buses from the "park and ride" scheme are free.

I have been impressed by the number of people who have entered into the spirit of this, especially one colleague who spent more on a train ticket than she spends on petrol for the entire week normally, to make a journey which started and 6.30 am and took twice as long as driving! There are plenty of bikes parked in our lobby, too. Altogether, half the 48 people who came to our office today did so without using their car - and we saved as much CO2 as a 32inch TV would create if used for two hours per day for three years, about 75Kg.

Today's event is a great way to draw attention to the fact that it is possible to leave your car at home, but I'm not sure that anybody found their journey either quicker or cheaper by public transport. Bus fares here are pretty high and the service fairly patchy. I doubt whether many people will continue to travel in the way they did today - but at least it gets the debate going.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

No, seriously, I don't want a bag!

Taking the train to London today for a conference, I found the coffee machine broken at the snack bar on the platform and had to buy coffee on the train. I refused a bag but the buffet manager refused to let me take the coffee away from the counter unless it was in a paper bag - his reasoning being that "if you spill it on somebody, we'll get sued". This kind of response is very frustrating when you're trying to reduce the amount of packaging you use - and doesn't make a whole lot of sense either. Nobody minds you bringing the coffee you buy from the platform snack bar on to the train without a bag - or, indeed, drinking it standing up (because of course you can never get a seat). I would prefer to be served fairtrade coffee in a china cup, but you're a captive audience on public transport. And I've yet to find a single-serving coffee-to-go container that doesn't leak.

On the plus side, though, my cranberry and pecan nut flapjack from the quaintly-named Honeybuns came in a package where the printed inner was designed to be re-used as a bookmark. Nice touch.

So, that's Honeybuns 1, First Great Western 0.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Wells for India

I was fortunate yesterday to be invited to Ufton Court, an educational resource near Reading, for an open evening on the subject of education and sustainability. Among the many excellent exhbits, I was touched by the work of Wells for India. It's a tiny charity, with just one and a half full time staff supported by volunteers, yet in its last financial year it raised and invested around £400,000 in projects to bring water to the people of rural Rajasthan.

Water poverty is already a serious problem in areas like the Thar Desert, but could be greatly exacerbated by the effects of climate crisis. The actions of groups like Wells for India make a real and lasting difference, by giving people the tools and resources to create solutions that will secure their water supply for years to come.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Free cash for UK greentech SMEs

Shell Springboard is offering grants of up to £40,000 for small UK businesses with viable carbon-busting technologies. Closing date for applications is 7th November 2008.

Since 2005, Shell Springboard has attracted over 500 applications from small business owners throughout the UK. 75 businesses have meet with regional judging panels and 25 of those have been supported with funds. You can read some of their stories here.

Shell comes in for a lot of criticism, much of it justified, and we could be forgiven for labelling this activity window-dressing. Certainly the investment is a drop in the ocean compared with Shell's annual profits. But without their support, some of these small businesses would not have had the funding to grow, and might not have survived the first difficult years of trading. So, credit where it's due - and the best of luck to all those competing for this year's award.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Prof. John Beddington at Green Monday

I spent a most enjoyable evening at Green Monday, the monthly networking event organised by the 2degrees network and Green Business Events. Keynote speaker was Professor John Beddington, the goverment's Chief Scientific Advisor. Surprisingly, he talked less about green issues than about urbanisation and food security, although it soon became clear that these issues are closely connected with climate crisis.

Currently, 47% of the World's population lives in an urban environment, and this is expected to increase to 60% by 2030. Meanwhile, the population is increasing by 6 million people per month and migration from rural to urban areas is increasing fastest in the developing world (in fact, migration from urban to rural is the rule in many developed countries). This is partly driven by changing rainfall patterns, which have caused a 20% reduction in agricultural output according to the Hadley Centre.

Efforts to alleviate global poverty are working - which is, of course, a good thing. But there's a trade-off. The World Bank calculated that in 2005 250 million households had an income greater than the equivalent of £8,000 sterling per annum - not a massive amount but well above the poverty line in most developing countries. It predicts that the number in this income bracket will be 2 billion households by 2050. And as these people acquire more disposable income, they will increase demand for certain products.

So what does all this mean? Well, the arrival in the cities of these newly affluent individuals will put increasing pressure on the food and water supply. Water is currently a free good in these areas, but increasing scarcity and demand will make it a tradable commodity and cities will compete against farmers - and the wealthier cities are likely to win. Without sufficient water for irrigation, food production will be compromised in currently fertile areas, accelerating the rate of decline in food production. Demand for food is expected to increase by 50% over the next 20 years; the conflict is clear.

Climate crisis is now a widely accepted phenomenon and the debate has moved on from whether or not it exists to what we should do about it. But even if we fail to prevent global warming, the full consequences could take decades to manifest themselves. Meanwhile, subtle changes in the weather pattern are being exacerbated by urbanisation to create food security issues which are already being felt and which will become critical within our lifetime.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Everyclick search engine

Everyclick.com is a great way to raise money for charity by doing something you would have done anyway. It's a search engine, but with a difference. Every search raises money for your nominated charity, and it's already raised over half a million pounds. To celebrate its 100,000th registered user it's awarding an extra £100 to every 10,000th new user's charity of choice until it reaches 200,000 registrations. Everyclick also hosts fundraising pages for sponsored events, with Gift Aid support so that the charity you pledge to receives your donation grossed up to its before tax value. Evouchers are available which you can give your friends to enable them to make a donation to a charity of their choice (and the charity receives more cash than it would do if the same donation was made directly with a credit card). There's even a shopping channel, with top high street brands. Better still, charities don't have to pay a fee to get included.

It's a fantastic concept, which has already earned its founder Polly Gowers the Triodos Bank "Entrepreneur of the Year" title at the Women in Ethical Business Awards 2007, a place in the Semi Finals of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year and a BlackBerry Women in Technology Award in 2008. Is this the idea that could finally topple Google as the search engine of choice?

Friday, 5 September 2008

Energy cash handout

I'm not sure how to react to the news that the PM has failed to secure a £1bn cash handout from energy companies for families to help defray the impact of rising energy costs. Whilst I sympathise with families who are experiencing genuine hardship as a result of the recent price hikes, all but the most disadvantaged should be able to recoup most of the increase through energy saving measures. In fact, as far as climate crisis is concerned, increasing fuel costs is probably a good thing - if ecological arguments have failed to motivate us to cut energy consumption, then economic arguments surely will.
Offering handouts to compensate for rising energy prices would have sent entirely the wrong signals to a generally affluent nation which urgently needs to curb its consumption. Yet the replacement of the proposed fuel poverty package with an energy efficiency programme was announced almost apologetically. I'm not saying that we should not provide state support for those whose income is insufficient to sustain them, but support should be provided holistically, not focused on a single category of expense - and especially not on a commodity on which our disproprotionate reliance could prove to be our downfall.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Acme Climate Action

Thanks to the nice folks at Ethical Junction, I just found Acme Climate Action. It's an appealing project that takes a lighthearted - dare I say irreverent - look at climate crisis and what we can all do to address it. It's a book, reviewed here by Ethical Pulse, and also a website which adopts a retro newsprint look and feel and a "howdy partner" tone of voice to create an environment which is both engaging and informative.

Acme Climate Action is the brainchild of an agency called Provokateur which displays a heady mix of ideas and ethics and is also behind the We Want Tap campaign. A great example of the ongoing shift from the worthy, earnest but boring approach to important issues towards fun, mischief and mayhem. Long may it continue.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Kiva microfinance

Just made my first loan on Kiva, a great site which provides interest-free loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. It's a beautifully simple business model, offering a (more or less) cost-neutral way to do some good. Profiles of the entrepreneurs seeking funding give the impression of a more personal relationship than just writing a cheque, and the involvement of field agents provides assurance that the loan will be monitored so you have at least some confidence of repayment. In fact, most supporters reinvest when their funds are repaid, and a "my portfolio" page builds up a history of who has benefited from your original stake.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Don't ask why - just switch it off!

I was interested to hear on Scottish radio ads from the fire service urging people to turn off and unplug all their electrical appliances at night in order to reduce the risk of fire. Of course, this will also stop them drawing power when not actually in use - but how many of us actually do this? Is the risk of fire a bigger motivator than the risk of climate crisis? And if so, how many other environmentally preferable actions could we be persuaded to take if they were presented to us under the guise of an entirely different benefit?