Thursday, 31 May 2012

Bristol's Big Green Week

Aside from the fact that its organisers clearly have no idea how many days there are in a week (!), this looks like an entirely admirable event. Imagine, if you will, 9 days of environment ideas, art and culture - at the very least it's an appealing antidote to the hand-wringing and doom-mongering that surrounds Rio+20. Bristol's Big Green Week is the UK's first ever international festival devoted to inspiring and empowering people to act on sustainability. Its action packed programme includes lectures, markets, parties, playgrounds, performances, debates, films, acts of worship, workshops and interactive exhibits - something for everyone, in fact. It even has a fringe.

Just one word of caution - there's so much going on that if you print the entire 7.5MB, 25 page pdf file of the programme you'll consume the equivalent of a reasonably-sized seedling, so save it or download the handy app. Go, enjoy and be the change you want to see!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Ray Anderson - A True Pioneer

At last night's Guardian Sustainable Business Awards, I was delighted to see Ray Anderson of Interface honoured with a posthumous Outstanding Achievement Award. Ray was one of the best-known pioneers of sustainable business and his influence was certainly a factor in getting sustainability onto corporate agendas. So what made him so successful? In the citation, reference was made to Ray's charm, courage and truthfulness, but accepting the award on his behalf Interface's John Bradford added a fourth vital ingredient: competitiveness.

There is no doubting Ray's genuine motivation to stop his business robbing future generations of the right to a bright future but in my view what made him so influential was that he understood the power of sustainability for competitive advantage. He knew that by doing right, Interface could also perform better as a business, thereby shifting the focus of the green debate from the sandal wearers to the suits. His book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, should be essential reading for all executives. His contribution will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Down to Zero

Today The Prince of Wales’s UK Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change (UK CLG) launched a new initiative in partnership with BIS. Called Down to Zero, the project champions Joint Public Private Low Carbon Procurement Compacts as a way of forcing the pace of transition to a low carbon economy.

Initially, the project has been restricted to three specific areas: transport, biomethane for heat and power, and catering. But the aim of the initiative is to convince potential suppliers that there is demand for low carbon goods and services and to provide a blueprint for a new model of collaborative procurement that can be applied to progressively reduce carbon emissions.

According to Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the project addresses a paradox that is holding back the commercialisation of low-carbon technologies: because low-carbon products and services are not available – or not available at realistic cost, - customers don’t specify them. And because there is no apparent demand, suppliers don’t invest in low-carbon innovation.

This may well be the case, and UK CLG is right to address it, but it’s by no means the whole problem. Sophisticated technologies often carry a higher price tag but pay back quickly by consuming less, requiring less maintenance or increasing productivity. Until public sector procurement professionals are measured and rewarded on cost and carbon savings across the product lifecycle, instead of cost savings at the point of purchase, they will continue to buy the products with the lowest capital cost. And this puts at a disadvantage the innovative suppliers that invest in the development of low-carbon solutions and need to recover that investment. The e-auctions used for the final stage of the tender process perpetuate this problem and it's hard to see how lifecycle costs could be integrated. 

The Down to Zero project will fail if it doesn’t also embed the concept of whole life costing, factoring both direct and indirect lifecycle costs into the procurement process right up to the point the contract is awarded.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A good week to go green?

Looks like the 2nd week in May could be the best week of the year to begin the process of greening your business. Three great initiatives coincide today, here's how you can find out more about them:

Green Office Week - now in its 4th year, Green Office Week is the brainchild of Avery labels and offers fun and simple ideas to make your office greener, based on a different theme for each working day. You can find out more at

Walk to Work Week - does what it says on the tin! Living Streets, Walk to Work Week encourages people to get to work on foot, and is part of the month-long Great British Walking Challenge.

7 Days to Sustainability - a free programme from Planet Positive, 7 Days to Sustainability is designed to help SMEs green their business and doesn't just apply to this particular week although it was launched today.

Campaigns like these can provide a great kick-start to organisations that are just starting out on their sustainability journey, and they also provide a boost for those for those who have programmes in place by offering free tools and resources that can help with employee engagement. Kudos to all three organisations involved.