Monday, 21 November 2011

Eco-Friendly Sushi

Tips for Staying Sustainable When Eating Out, from guest blogger Brittany Lyons

Making healthy choices when eating out can be challenging, but many diners find that sushi fits the bill nicely. But many diners worry about the environmental impact of this delicious snack, which is why it's important to choose your fish wisely.

There are many species of fish and seafood popular in sushi that are not being fished responsibly, but you don't need PhDs to tell which are worth buying—just the menu. Here are a few to avoid, with both their Japanese and English names:

1. Freshwater eel, or “unagi”

2. Red Snapper, or “tai”

3. Bluefin tuna, or “hon maguro”

4. Yellowtail, or “hamachi,” that has been farmed in Australia or Japan

5. Shrimp, or “ebi,” caught in the wild

It's important to know what kind of fish you're eating and where it comes from. This information may not be on the menu, but a reputable sushi restaurant should be happy to tell you if you ask.

Good fish to order include:

1. Sea urchin row, or “uni,” caught in Canada

2. Striped bass, or “suzuki,” which is fine both farmed and caught in the wild

3. Black cod, or “gindara,” from Alaska or British Columbia

4. Abalone, or “awabi,” from a U.S. farm

5. Spot prawn, or “amaebi,” wild caught in British Columbia

Choosing fish caught locally is another way to help the environment. Fish that doesn't need to be shipped has a smaller carbon footprint. And you don't have to go to a sushi bar to eat sustainably; the next time you go to the deli, see if they carry these:

1. Farmed channel catfish

2. Pacific cod from Alaska

3. Pacific halibut from Alaska

4. Mahi mahi from the U.S. Atlantic

5. Wild Pacific salmon from Alaska

To find out more about what fish to eat, and what to avoid, take a look at's helpful Seafood Search. By making responsible choices, you can eat fish without hurting the environment.

Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

Monday, 31 October 2011

A brief summary of the FiT changes published 31st October 2011 by DECC

Feed in tariff reduced by up to 50% for all new solar PV installations with an eligibility date on or after 12 December 2011 (sliding scale applies, you can find it here).

From April 2012, energy efficiency measures will have to be taken before a property becomes eligible for FiT payments.

New multi-installation tariff of 80% will apply to aggregated solar PV schemes.

Those already receiving FiTs will not see a reduction in their payments.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Energise Barnet

Energise Barnet is a shining example of how just one person can influence others to take action. Aware that his borough had the highest emissions in London, and that no group was taking ownership of the problem, Nigel Farren decided to act. He has brought together an impressive and diverse coalition to make low carbon technologies more accessible and affordable for his local community. And he doesn't plan to stop there. Once Energise Barnet has proved itself, he plans to extend it across the UK to become the Groupon of the community energy sector. He works full time and unpaid on the project, but to scale it up he needed an injection of capital. Enter 1010 and The Funding Network. At 1010s Pitch Pledge Party, Energise Barnet was granted enough funds to fund a modest office space and some administrative support to enable it to move forward with its plans.

Amazing what you can do when you gather a few like-minded people together!

Monday, 10 October 2011


Watching Jonathan Ross's interview with Jamie Oliver, two facts stuck with me. Firstly, Jamie has sold over 100 million books Worldwide. Secondly, on the night he was "discovered" working in a restaurant by a TV crew, he shouldn't even have been there. He was covering for a friend who wanted to skip his shift to be with a new girlfriend. So in a sense Jamie's entire career - his books, his restaurants, the Fifteen Foundation, his campaigning work on school dinners and family nutrition, all derive from that single act of friendship. Perhaps Jamie would have achieved those things anyway. After all, he is great at what he does: genuine, engaging, passionate. He certainly took full advantage of the opportunities that came his way and you can imagine that he would do so in any situation. But it's hard to see how he could have risen so far and so fast without the extra amplification that early TV exposure provided.

For those who remember the movie, Jamie's presence at the restaurant that night was his "Sliding Doors" moment - a single accident of fate that determines somebody's entire future from that point on. We all have them, and they are difficult to recognise except in retrospect. But the more challenges we accept, the more favours we perform, the more opportunities we embrace, the more likely we are to be present when our own moment arrives.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Too Good to Waste

Top London chefs are backing a campaign to encourage diners to take home leftover food. The Too Good To Waste campaign, organised by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, aims to cut the 200,000 tons of food estimated to be wasted each year. Although American diners are more than happy to ask for a bag to take home uneaten food, it seems the British are just too reticent. In a recent survey, although 90% thought restaurants needed to do more to cut down on waste, a third had never thought to ask for a doggy bag and another quarter were too embarrassed.

Now, restaurants that support the campaign will stock “doggy boxes” and train staff to offer them to diners who don’t finish their meals. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is leading the campaign, says “Food waste in restaurants is a massive problem and doggy bags are an excellent way of cutting waste. There’s no need to be shy.”

Having tried, and failed, recently to get a suitable container to take home untouched cakes from a recent afternoon tea at a top hotel, I’m delighted by this move. Just like the serving of tapwater, I’d like to see this become standard practice at all restaurants.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Musings on values and world views

I spent today at an event hosted by the fantastic Forum for the Future, which featured a truly inspiring session on the significance of World views. A key takeaway was that while many of the CSR concepts like social justice gain general agreement, different points of view about the detail lead to uncertainty and conflict.

Arriving home, I was greeted with a request from my 11-year old son to help him with his homework. Coincidentally, he had been asked to present me with three views held by him that we were to debate. Rather touchingly, his views were:

There is no excuse for war
Everything is limitless
Every living thing is equal

Initially, I had no problem agreeing to the first one - but there followed an interesting debate on whether retaliating to an attack constitutes a state of war if you do no more than defend yourself. I felt that if active defence was acceptable, this view might be more accurately defined as "there is no excuse for aggression", but my son held that the term war applied only to an act of attack.

I took issue with the view "everything is limitless"; I am acutely aware that the resources of our planet are limited and that we are consuming beyond those limits. It turns out that my son's view is that the cosmos is limitless and that more planets probably exist, maybe in different dimensions, that could meet our needs. Perhaps, but who is to say that a) we will discover them in time and that b) they won't contain people who need our resources to make up for limitations in their own.

We struggled quite a lot with "every living thing is equal". In general terms it seems reasonable, but delving into the detail caused quite a few disagreements. We explored dilemmas around choosing whether to save an animal or a human from danger, and my son modified his view to "every living thing has an equal right to life". This, he felt, made a distinction between the right to kill something because it's not human and the right to prioritise saving a human life over the life of another species. Then I introduced the example of a mosquito infested swamp next to a village, where children were dying from malaria - would it be acceptable to eliminate the mosquitoes? Sadly, it was bedtime so we never really resolved this one. But it's reassuring to see that at 11 my son is already wrestling with some of the moral issues that my generation has failed to get to grips with.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Dematerialising Christmas

Money saving Martin reminds us today that it's only 100 days to Christmas, and has published tips on avoiding overspending during the festive season. Here are mine, approached from the angle of reducing the level of consumerism.

Why not agree a gift anmesty with your family and friends? Mutually decide that you won't buy for them and they won't buy for you. Perhaps you could exchange something else instead - a card with an extended personal message, perhaps? Or you could agree to spend a minimal amount, or buy gifts only from charity shops, or re-gift something you own and they have admired.

If you don't want to cut down on what you spend, consider buying activities rather than goods - tickets to concerts, pamper days, meals out - either for your friend and you, or given as a voucher for your friend to share with whoever they choose? Or choose an antique or vintage item you know they would like.

Leading on from the Unicef report that says children are stuck in a "materialistic trap" in which they are unable to spend enough time with their families and instead are bought off with "branded goods" by their parents - could you buy your kids a little less and instead spend a little more time with them? Or invest in a shared experience like a trip to a theme park, theatre or activity centre?

We all tend to buy a little too much food at Christmas, so invest a little time planning menus and making a shopping list of the quantities you actually need - including some ideas for cooking your leftovers, too. Try to source ethical and local ingredients; they may cost a little more but if you also cut out the waste you probably won't spend any more.

Last year I left it too late, and by the time I spoke to my family about cutting down on the consumer goods, they had already started their shopping. So with 100 days to go, I'm starting now.

Friday, 5 August 2011

News International - a failure of culture?

The hackgate scandal and the subsequent repercussions in the News International empire have provided a graphic demonstration of what can happen within a company with a toxic culture. It's quite possible that the various executives were telling the truth when they sat before the select committee and professed their ignorance of phone tapping, but that doesn't mean they were blameless. Accounts of journalists working there at the time of the alleged events describe a workplace where there was overwhelming pressure to get the story at all costs. It's quite understandable that under these conditions some might feel compelled to resort to illegal methods of getting the scoop. The leaders of a company set the vision and values that drive its culture, and in doing so create a kind of moral framework that informs the decisions made by its staff.

This kind of culture is a hangover from the Gordon Gecko "greed is good", "win at all costs" mentality of the nineteen eighties that has mostly been left behind by today's more enlightened businesses. In its place, we are seeing a new approach to doing business where social capital is valued alongside financial capital on the triple bottom line. These organisations have a "win/win" mentality and aim to beat their competitors not by undercutting on price (and, as an inevitable consequence, quality) but by being more trusted as business partners. So as consumers - of goods, media, services, whatever - we now have a new benchmark for judging the desirability of a brand. Integrity, respect and honour are becoming the new currency of business, and the cynical and exploitative companies will find themselves outmanoeuvred in a way they quite possibly won't fully understand until it's too late.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Embedded sustainability - an idea whose time has come

I have been struck recently by the possibility that business may finally be grasping the concept that corporate environmental and social responsibility needs to be embedded in the organisation and, furthermore, that it might actually bring commercial benefit. This point is made convincingly by a new book - Embedded Sustainability: The Next Big Competitive Advantage, by Chris Laszlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva (Greenleaf Publishing, 2011). There's an executive summary of its contents, and a discount code (although sadly not valid on the ebook), on the Defra Sustainable Development website.

The book argues that the companies who will succeed are those who choose to embed sustainability into their DNA, incorporating environmental, health, and social value into core business activities with no trade-offs in price or quality. But unlike the ubiquitous bolt-on approaches, embedded sustainability requires a fundamental paradigm shift across every dimension of the business. The writers believe that most organisations have yet to discover how to meet both shareholder and stakeholder requirements in the core business – without mediocrity and without compromise – creating value for the company that cannot be disentangled from the value it creates for society and the environment.
This point of view is taken still further by another author, Carol Sanford in her title The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success (Jossey-Bass, 2011). Carol argues that the most successful and profitable businesses, over time, will not be those that "practice CSR" but instead those that rethink their purpose, reorganize themselves to draw upon the creativity and passion of all, and integrate responsible behavior into the way they do everything they do. And, as she told, that goes beyond embedding sustainability into the business; taken to its logical conclusion, it could mean the end of CSR as we know it.
These are familiar concepts to me, after almost 20 years working for a subsidiary of Kyocera Corporation, which could be the poster child for responsible business. Kyocera's founder, Dr Kazuo Inamori, established the Kyocera Philosophy in the early 1960s, shortly after the company was founded, and at its heart is a single, simple promise: to do what is right as a human being. Almost 50 years on, and with over 60,000 employees across the World, Kyocera employees are still trained in the Kyocera Philosophy and refer to its guiding principles in their daily decisions. All well and good - but it provokes another dilemma. We simply don't have the vocabulary to describe this alternative approach to business in a way that is concise and easy to understand. As with sustainability, the lexicon for ethical and responsible business is littered with terms that fail to convey effectively the commercial and social benefits that accrue from this approach.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

On Mandatory GHG Reporting

A new report by The Aldersgate Group has found that Defra has overestimated the cost and underestimated the benefit of mandatory GHG reporting for businesses. The Aldersgate Group supports option 3 in the government's consultation on this issue, mandatory GHG reporting for large businesses. But the report by Adelphi concludes that the Impact Assessment conducted by Defra overestimates the cost by £4,600m and underestimates the benefits by up to £980m. The consultation closed on 5th July, but the government's decision won't be published until the autumn.

My personal view on mandatory GHG reporting is that it makes good sense, both as a valid metric for evaluating company performance and also as a mechanism for sensitising CFOs to the issue. But it needs to be made simple to comply, and not add significantly to an organisation's costs or administrative overhead. Scope 1 and 2 emissions should not be too difficult to report on: the data is readily available from fuel bills, the financial value of which are already factored in to the financial accounts. Extrapolating the emissions data should not add significantly to the reporting burden.

However, scope 3 emissions are an entirely different matter.For the vast majority of organisations, scope 3 emissions relate to services for which the energy consumption constitutes a scope 1 or 2 emission for the supplier of the service, therefore double counting is a significant risk. And the most common origin of scope 3 emissions is public and outsourced transport. The huge amount of effort involved in collating emissions data for these journeys is entirely disproportionate to the value of the data, since the carbon efficiency of the transport operator is outside the organisation's control.

In my view there is no reason why any publicly quoted company, public sector body or organisation that submits financial accounts to Companies House should not be required to report, but only on scope 1 and 2 emissions. It may not be sophisticated, but it is sufficient - and the less burdensome we can make the reporting, the more positively businesses will look upon the insights the data delivers.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The loss of personal, unique and local

In a recent heartfelt blog post, Seth Godin bemoaned the loss of his favourite local store to the relentless expansion of the Walgreen drugstore empire. We don't have Walgreen in the UK, but you could substitute any of the big supermarket brands or clothing retailers. Seth's local store was one where the staff were engaged and committed, the transactions personal and friendly, the produce locally and lovingly sourced and the store a real part of the local community. There's nothing wrong with what the big store chains do, but on the whole there's nothing enriching about it, either. It's all about economies of scale and maximum profit per square metre, geared up to meet the needs of their shareholders rather than their customers. Their ubiquity and proliferation narrow our experience as a shopper and consumer and remove much of the humanity from the transaction.

There's a place for this in our economy, but do we really want to sleepwalk into allowing it to become the only commercially sustainable buisness model for retail? If we don't support the local independent retailers, they won't survive -  and we'll mourn their loss without acknowledging that we were the architects of it. Put simply, every shop needs shoppers and it's up to us to find time in our busy lives to visit the local butcher and discuss our dinner party menu or sample the exotic, hand-churned cheeses at the specialist delicatessen. Not every day, but often enough to give them a fighting chance against the relentless march of the mega-retailers.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Ethics in the news

I caught 5 minutes of Radio 1 Newsbeat this lunchtime. Leaving aside for a minute how Radio 1 dumbs down the news, I was struck by the fact that both items I heard centred on ethics. The first item reported the case of a professional footballer who has been put on the sex offenders register after grooming two under-age girls on the internet. Astonishingly, Hearts is backing Craig Thomson and has refused to sack him, although drinks sponsor macb has already withdrawn its support for the club as a result of his conviction. I wonder what a footballer has to do these days to get fired?

The next story concerned allegations that insurance companies are selling to personal injury lawers the contact details of customers who have made claims, so that they can be offered "no win, no fee" legal services. Since the escalation of such claims has been cited as the main reason for a 30% hike in insurance costs in the last 12 months, this is a double deceit. The reporter claimed that the insurance companies were not breaking any laws by passing on the data to a third party, so I'm off to check the small print of my insurance policy to see where they hid the clause that says I waive my rights under the Data Protection Act when I enter into a contract with them.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The thin green bottom line

A timely reminder from Lord Stern, via that businesses ignore the threat of increasing carbon legislation and increasing energy prices at their peril. It has long been my contention that one's personal view on the existence of climate change and the extent to which it is - or isn't - created by humans is irrelevant. The indisputable facts are that:

  1. governments are legislating to reduce carbon emissions which makes increasing taxation on emissions as inevitable as, well, death and taxes
  2. fossil fuels are no longer being made and will therefore run out, so we need to find alternative energy sources if we wish to retain all the trappings of society to which we have become accustomed
  3. scarcity of said fossil fuels will drive price escalation on an epic scale
  4. industrialisation and urbanisation of developing countries escalates these issues by increasing demand for energy and consumer goods
  5. world population is growing at a rate which will increase competition for food and water to unsustainable levels
Any company that is not planning for these eventualities will not be fit for purpose in the commercial environment of the future. Resource-efficient operation is not an act of altruism, it's a commercial imperative.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Last competitor completes the London Marathon after 50 days

Former stunt-rider Eddie Kidd has completed the London Marathon almost two months after the event formally finished. Mr Kidd, who suffered brain damage in an accident in 1996 has walked for up to a mile every day since 17th April using a specially-designed walking frame, finally completing the course at 6.30pm today, 6th June. In the process, he has raised more than £72,000 for the charity Children with Cancer UK.

What an inspiration. If you'd like to acknowledge Eddie's achievement with a donation, you can do so here.

Rich countries to subsidise drugs for developing world

The BBC has reported that several major drugs companies have announced big cuts to the amounts they will charge for their vaccines in the developing world. For example, GlaxoSmithKline will cut the price of its vaccine for rotavirus (which kills more than half a million children per year) by 67% to $2.50 a dose in poor countries. Since GSK remains a commercial company, and nothing is ever free, this means the vaccine will be subsidised by higher prices being charged in richer countries.

I'm comfortable with this concept. As a parent, the idea that my child could die from an easily preventable bout of diahorrea is unthinkable. And I live in a country where nobody is prevented from receiving healthcare by lack of means. But since GSK has admitted that at the reduced price it will still make a profit on each dose, there has been an outcry over its "excessive profits".

The main cost in the pharmaceutical industry is not the manufacture of the drugs themselves, but the research and development that goes into developing them. And this needs to be recovered during the life of the product in order for the business to remain commercially sustainable. It seems perfectly legitimate to me that this R&D investment should be recovered from the countries which can afford to pay it, enabling those with limited means to acquite the drug for the cost of manufacture alone.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Innovative water purifier

Appropriately on World Water Day, I learned of the Midomo - a water filtration and storage system powered by the kinetic energy produced by its wheels. The device was a hit with the Dragons' Den investors three years ago but talks about funding broke down. Undeterred, inventors Amanda Jones and James Brown raised £200k of private investment and the first 50 units have now been delivered to villages in Zimbabwe and Kenya.

Currently, funds for additional units are being raised through sales of a limited edition silver bracelet designed by Alex Monroe. Each £275 bracelet covers the entire cost of sending a Midomo to an African community. And they're gorgeous!

Monday, 21 March 2011

A nation's suffering in 20 pictures

National Geographic is rightly renowned for the quality of its photo-journalism and its collection of 20 photos documenting the Japanese earthquake and tsunami lives up to expectations. If you need reminding of the need to show solidarity and support for the survivors and the bereaved - especially now that events in Libya have pushed Japan off the front pages - then take a look at the photos at this link. Heartbreaking.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Responding to adversity

How nations respond to natural disasters tells us a great deal about their national psyche. The harrowing scenes from Japan following the earthquake and tsunami can only provide the smallest of insights into the hardship and distress suffered by its people, but their stoicism is truly remarkable. Most impressive of all, though, is that law and order seems to be more or less completely intact. The  queues for food and essential supplies are peaceful and orderly, and there have been no reports of looting. Yet this is not the result of an oppressive regime or heavy policing, but entirely self-directed. I wonder how many other nations would respond in such a positive way to such a devastating event?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Report evaluates 21 sustainability ratings

Thinktank and consultancy SustainAbility has evaluated 21 sustainability ratings and found significant weaknesses in terms of both methodology and transparency. It was particularly critical of ratings systems that treat their methodology like a "secret sauce", preventing the companies rated from using the data to improve their performance. Ironically some of the companies criticised for this declare their objectives as helping the rated companies to improve their own performance and disclosure. Others were singled out for relying too much on external sources and placing too little emphasis on quality control, running the risk that they recognise the companies that spend the most on promoting their sustainability achievements, rather than those that achieve the most.

As a sustainability professional, I have personal experience of this problem and would endorse SustainAbility's findings. Two specific examples spring to mind. One is the uninvited rating where an organisation relies totally on public domain information and publishes a report which fails to uncover some of your organisation's achievements. Once the unjustifiably low rating is out there it's hard to overturn perception. And secondly, the paid-for rating system which relies on a long obsolelete standard as a key criterion, thereby preventing a new candidate from achieving maximum score even though it comfortably achieves all the other criteria.

With 80% or more of contracts for IT equipment including sustainability in their supplier evaluation (in our experience, anyway), there is increasing emphasis on sustainability ratings as a quick way of benchmarking environmental credentials. But buyers understand the limitations of the various schemes to avoid being misled. The Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Research Voluntary Quality Standard aims to provide a seal of approval, which looks promising.

The schemes commended by SustainAbility for disclosure of methodology were: CDP, Climate Counts, FTSE4Good, GS Sustain, Global 100 and the Access to Medicine Index. Those showing good validation practices were CSRHub, FTSE4Good and Trucost.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Give to charities before April 2011 and they receive more

Thanks to the ever-helpful Martin Lewis at for spotting that a Gift Aid bonus of 3p per £1 conated ends on 5th April 2011. When the basic rate of tax was cut from 28% to 25% in 2008, the government said that Gift Aid would be maintained at the old rate until April 2011. So if you're a taxpayer making regular donations, it's worth making your payment early so maximise the benefit to your chosen charity.

If you donate to Oxfam, it's also worth noting that during February 2011 Paypal will cover all Oxfam's running costs on all donations that they transact, so 100% of your donation goes directly to support their work. There's a useful guide to charity giving here.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Return to BASE

Sustainability professionals converged on The Brewery this Wednesday for BASE (Business and A Sustainable Environment) 2011. Sub-titled “where business meets sustainability”, the conference featured a plenary programme with high profile speakers, interspersed with a varied selection of interactive workshop sessions.

Keynotes were delivered by Tom Burke CBE, the government’s advisor on sustainability, and Dame Ellen MacArthur, whose Foundation works with education and business to inspire people to re-think, re-design and build a positive future. Inspiration was provided by the CEOs of Cisco, GE, Coca-Cola, BSkyB and notably InterflaceFLOR, whose founder Ray Anderson pioneered floor coverings that are recycled and recyclable, as well as introducing the concept of flooring as a service. In keeping with the sustainable ethos of the event, Ray joined by videoconference from the States and Coca-Cola streamed the proceedings via the internet to its staff around the World.

From inspiration to perspiration, and the struggle to choose between the numerous workshop sessions: such a wide range of highly credible organisations, all offering valuable insights and know-how. To single out just a couple, there was a useful model for developing a business case for sustainability from Forum for the Future and Global Action Plan introducing a helpful tool called EMS Easy to help SMEs plan towards ISO14001 accreditation. BASE also hosted the launch of the ET UK 100 Carbon Rating scheme, which aims to highlight the leaders and laggards in the fight against climate change.

Events like these are invaluable for providing time out from the nitty gritty of daily business to ponder the bigger issues of how to combine commercial success with respect for people and planet. Plenty of food for thought here, but as always it’s putting ideas into action that will make the difference.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Coming first by putting the customer second

I spent an inspiring day yesterday at Happy, learning what makes it such a great place to work. Some of the ideas were familiar, being inspired by Semco, a company I have long admired. But one insight especially stood out for me.

One of the Happy mantras is to put customers second; whereas most comanies claim to put customers first. But Happy's founder Henry Stewart reasons thus: if you hire good people and treat them well, they will demonstrate pride, passion and commitment that will result in exceptional service that delights customers because it is sincere and authentic. Happy's frequent awards for customer service and training are testament to the success of this approach.

Happy is no holiday camp; its staff work hard but they enjoy a democratic and inclusive management structure that invites ideas, accepts failure as an essential element of learning and development and trusts them get on with what they were hired to do, free of too many rules and policies. And it shows.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Cost efficiency = energy efficiency

The Route Map for Sustainable Health has been published laying out some of the measures the NHS needs to take to meet the government's greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The NHS Sustainable Development Unit consulted opinion leaders including Forum for the Future to build intelligence for the report, which was published on 1st February. According to a report by Fiona Harvey in The Guardian, the NHS has emissions similar to Croatia. No wonder, then, that it has been tasked with cutting them by 10% by 2015.

Just a couple of days later, the BBC reports that overspending on basic supplies costs the NHS £500k annually. The National Audit Office examined how English hospitals purchased 66,000 products, uniforms and dessings to office stationery. It concluded that despite buying power of £100bn, the NHS is missing opportunities to leverage its buying power to gain economies of scale - a criticism similar to that levelled at central government in Sir Philip Green's Efficiency Review. It is tasked with finding up to £20bn of annual savings by 2015.

Leading private sector organisations are deriving commercial benefit from the link between efficiency and carbon emissions. When responding to the challenges in these reports, the NHS could do worse than examine best practice there.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Embedding sustainable development across Government

A report published by a parliamentary select committee has warned that Defra is not best placed to ensure that other government departments embed sustainability in their operations and policy making. The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee has called for the Cabinet Office to take more responsibility for driving improvements in sustainability across Government, and has recommended greater support from the Treasury and the Prime Minister.

Next year funding will be withdrawn from the Sustainable Development Commission, the government's watchdog on green issues. The committee raised concerns that the loss of its experience and resources will threaten the government’s green agenda and the sustainability of its policies.

It argues that embedding sustainable development into the policy-making of all departments will help tackle long-term environmental, social and economic issues. In addition, increased resource efficiency can save the government millions towards reducing the budget deficit. But it claims that the government is not set up to capitalise on these potential benefits.

The report recommends creating a new minister for sustainable development, based in the Cabinet Office, whole role would be to hold departments to account when they fail to deliver on green targets. Financial sanctions are also proposed for departments that deliver poor sustainability performance. Without such measures, the committee warns that the government will not be able to keep the commitments made in the Climate Change Act.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The dawn of the paperless book

With the publication of its Q4 results, has announced that it is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. In 2010, for every 100 paperback books Amazon sold, it sold 115 Kindle books. During the same time period it sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. These figures relate to's entire U.S. book business and include sales of books where there is no Kindle edition but exclude free Kindle books, so they are conservative.

I love my Kindle - the reading experience of the Pearl e-ink display is pleasingly like paper and it consumes very little energy - with wifi switched off the battery life is remarkably long. The device is lighter than all but the thinnest paperbacks, too. Acquiring a new title requires no paper and ink to be consumed, incurs no transport burden and creates no waste. There's the embodied energy in the e-reader to consider, of course, but I plan to keep mine for a very long time and I'm a voracious reader, so that should mean the carbon payback won't take too long.

I've been in the office equipment industry longer than I care to admit to, and all that time I've been hearing about the holy grail of the paperless office. Yet in a single year, Amazon has made real the dream of the paperless library.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Reversal of fortune - how Kutch turned an earthquake to its advantage

Don't get me wrong - I am not for a minute suggesting that an earthquake can be a good thing. But in one region of India it seems that it has been a catalyst for sweeping economic reform that in the end has brought enormous benefit.

In 2001, the Kutch region was devastated by an earthquake that killed around 15,000 people and injured more than 150,000. Houses, schools and hospitals were destroyed in an area which already suffered from poor infrastructure and lack of employement opportunities. But 10 years on, Kutch is enjoying a boom. The city of Anjar has become a global pipeline hub, with capacity of 1.5 million tonnes per year and expected to double. Steel mills have sprung up to cater for the pipe industry and the area's plentiful supplies of limestone and lignite have led to the establishment of cement plants. It is home to Welspun India, one of the largest textile factories in India. And at Mundra a new port has been established that rivals Mumbai.

The road network is excellent, and there is finally a railway station at Bhuj. The ports at Mundra and Kandla enjoy links to the Delhi-Mumbai line. Shops, restaurants and service industries have come up to serve the new industries and wages are high enough to attract migrant workers into the area. Arid farmland has become attractive real estate, turning impoverished farmers into wealthy men who have invested their new-found wealth in shops and other businesses.

The industrialisation of the area may not be an improvement from an environmental point of view, but it has brought previously unknown levels of opportunity and prosperity for its residents. What seems to have brought about this transformation is a five-year exemption from excise duty and sales tax, announced by the Central and State governments for new industrial investments in Kutch commencing production by July 2003. It was initially claimed that the tax breaks could bring in Rs 25,000 crore ($ 5.5 billion) of new investment, a figure that was first dismissed as wishful thinking, but is now estimated to have exceeded Rs 20,000 crore.

Kutch suggests that providing tax breaks for a disaster-hit district can instigate a virtuous circle of investment and growth that is sustainable, with the potential to not only rehabilitate victims but improve their quality of life.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Resource scarcity could hamper business growth, says Defra

Defra has conducted research to determine how scarcity of materials and resources could affect the viability of businesses in the future. Its Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Evidence Programme concluded that the depletion of some materials and resources might lead to price volatility as well as restricting their availability. The consequences could affect both the viability of businesses and their ability to deliver on policy goals.

Resource efficiency is a key focus for Defra. It considers that awareness of the threats is patchy and as a result not enough businesses are taking action to conserve limited resources and to find alternatives. This is very much a commercial issue: Defra has calculated that UK business could save over £6 billion by adopting resource efficiency measures that cost nothing or would pay back within a year.

Defra has already begun to tackle this issue with the ‘Saving Money, It’s Your Business’ campaign and the  ‘Can You Afford Not to?’ booklet. This new report identifies the resources posing the greatest risk to specific business sectors because of anticipated threats to their availability, providing data that will enable Defra to engage efficiently with individual sectors to mitigate the risk, as well as highighting opportunities for new markets and technologies.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Ethical url shortener

To be honest, I hadn't really considered the ethics of url shorteners until I heard about In fact, the thing that first appealed to me was the opportunity to use a url shortener that can't be used by the people who distribute the kind of material I wouldn't want to be associated with. But having visited its website I've discovered a whole host of reasons why it's better than most - and here they are. is the brainchild of Memset, which offers carbon neutral hosting and has a strong reputation in sustainable IT circles. Memset promises that will be ad-free and free to use forever, and is clearly a safe pair of hands for your data.

And if you were wondering, the .gd url extension is owned by the island of Grenada.