Thursday, 25 November 2010

Buy Nothing Day this Saturday

On Saturday 27th November 2010 it is Buy Nothing Day! A fantastic chance to enjoy life without consumerism and have a little think about saving the earth’s resources with the minimalist lifestyle, even just for one day…

It has got me thinking back to when I was in Borneo earlier this year (yes, on my gap yah) and what little I lived off for an entire 3 months. My toiletries consisted of a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, 2 in 1 (shampoo + conditioner), a razor and factor 30 suncream. I had a pair of shorts, a pair of trousers, a skirt and 3 t-shirts, a pair of flip flops, tivas and walking boots. There wasn’t much more than that. Not only did I survive without the latest fashions in my wardrobe and hoards of make-up (and cleanser, toner, moisturizer, day cream, night cream, anything else cream), but I also had a whale of a time!

We didn’t have a TV or internet either so evenings in our jungle camp were spent playing cards, making up quizzes, chatting, getting to know each other, playing games together (and screaming and giggling at the giant insects attracted to our head torches).

…so, have a great day on Saturday and spend time together, not money!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


At the Leadership for Sustainability event, the next speech was by Ramon Arratia, Sustainability Director for InterfaceFLOR, a carpet tiling company with an excellent reputation amongst sustainability experts. Their whole concept is a sustainable way of carpeting- having it in tiles means that when an area of the flooring becomes warn down or has a spillage on it, only a few tiles need be replaced rather than the whole floor. This is particularly important as some of their main clients are cafes and large airports.

Perhaps surprisingly for some, they are making green waves with their Sustainability Policy ‘Mission Zero’: “Our promise to eliminate any negative impact our company may have on the environment by the year 2020”- another big claim similar to M and S, but without implying comparability to other manufacturers. A worldwide leader in flooring and with a turnover of $1bn, they have the potential to make a big impact in the sustainability of their operations. To do this, they have challenged everything they know, redesigning their products and the way factories operate. Most make judgements based on what is visible today, but InterfaceFLOR spends a lot of time looking at the future and to this end they defined early on what they set out to do.

There is only one institution on earth large enough, powerful enough, pervasive enough,
influential enough to really lead humankind in a different direction. And that is the institution of business and industry.”

One of Ramon’s opening quotes (above) led him to plug the book of Ray C Anderson- Founder of InterfaceFLOR- ‘Confessions of a Radical Industrialist’. Moving on from that, Ramon described that what InterfaceFLOR have deployed since the start of their business has made a real difference:

Our results so far (Dec 2009)
–80% reduction in waste sent to landfill since 1996 per unit of production
– Water intake in manufacturing is down 80% since 1996 per unit of production
– Total energy use down by 43% since 1996 per unit of production
– Non-renewable energy is down by 60% since 1996 per unit of production
– Actual reduction of Interface GHG emissions by 44% from baseline 1996
–30% of global energy is from renewable sources
–36% of total raw materials are recycled or bio-based materials
– Cumulative avoided waste costs totalling $433 million since 1994
– All factories in Europe operate on 100% renewable electricity
–99.7% of the products sold in Europe were manufactured in Europe

Let me just emphasise one of those points- $433 million waste costs have been avoided globally since 1994. Ramon was an upbeat presenter and joked that when people ask him ‘does efficiency pay?’ He replies with ‘now that’s the $433 million question’.

So how do they do it?

A lot of the technology that we need to make big changes in sustainability is already there. Taking inspiration from the aeronautical industry, they produced an ultrasonic cutting machine, and now reduce the waste produced from cutting the carpet tiles. They also ‘close the loop’ to ensure ‘cradle to cradle’ and ‘like for like’ recycling- carpet waste for example can be made into carpet backing.

They deploy resource efficient transportation, with 99.7% of the products sold in Europe being manufactured in Europe and with grouped delivery in theNetherlands, delivery trucks are now 85-90% full on average.

With their yarn, they reduce the impact on the environment as much as possible-
Step 1- reduce the yarn (less is more principle).
Step 2- recycle the yarn (close the loop).
Step 3- invent a new yarn (low-impact alternative).
With their most expensive yarn being nylon, which depends on oil, this makes total sense. Their Environmental Product Declarations (Life Cycle Assessment + Product Category Rules= EPDs) make what they are doing measurable.

One thing that Ramon said stuck with me: ‘CSR is dead’.

He went on to say that Corporate Social Responsibility is dead ‘because what is the point of reducing the impact of a company when most of the impact happens outside of the company’. The value of sustainability is in the product, because that is what consumers buy, they do not buy companies. If they do not encourage their customers to buy the lower carbon products or the government to reduce landfill allowances, InterfaceFLOR will not reach their aims, which is why stakeholder and shareholder engagement is so important here.

The people of InterfaceFLOR apparently know all about what is going on- bonuses are paid based on sustainability and efficiency in the factories and with the average length of service in Europe at 13.5 years, 68% of the 3500 employees think ‘my company’s mission makes me feel my job is important’.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Plan A: Driving Innovation and Significant Change in Property

At the aforementioned Sustainability Leadership event, Munish Datta delivered an informative presentation about what ‘Plan A’, the Corporate Sustainability strategy for Marks & Spencer, is doing for the environment and society. Munish opened with an impact statement: ‘Five years.
Five commitments. One world. And 100 things we want to change’.

A summary of these five commitments:
- Climate change: maximize use of renewable energy, help customers and suppliers to cut carbon emissions, use offsetting as a last resort, become carbon neutral in five years (and carbon positive by 2015-30).

- Waste: reduce amount of carrier bags, packaging and ensure none of their clothing needs end up as landfill.

- Sustainable raw materials: Sustainable sourcing from fish to forests.

- Fair partner: Help improve lives of thousands in their supply chain and communities.

- Health: Expand healthy eating ranges, have clear labeling.

That all sounds brilliant, but so far none of these admirable statements have been coupled with a clear quantitative target, although I am told that Ernst and Young independently audit M & S’ claims. M & S’ ambition to become ‘The World’s Most Sustainable Retailer by 2015’ has been thwarted by critics due to immeasurability and incomparability- no other retailer is making that claim and measurability is important for progression in sustainable development. According to Munish, Plan A has demonstrated that we can make a real difference in business if every one gets behind it (he also predicts that businesses with non-sustainable operations will decrease in value over time) and next, Munish provided the figures I had been waiting for.

This year alone, Plan A has helped M & S to:
- Cut carbon emissions by 8% (20% per sq.ft.)

- they have very recently signed a contract with a solar panel company based in Muswell Hill

- Offer free insulation to 70,000 UK staff

- Reduce clothing packaging by 36%

- Reduce carrier bag usage by over 80%

- Increase the % of electricity bought from green sources to 40%

- Use the equivalent of 27m 2 ltr plastic bottles to make recycled polyester

- Help over 700 disadvantaged people a year via Marks & Start programme

- Generate / leverage £25m for charities

- Increase the % of wood from sustainable sources to 72%

- Launch a Wellbeing website for our staff

Every effort here is helping to develop a strong business case for sustainability, as this year alone M & S have made £50 million savings. Their partnership with Oxfam (wherein one receives a £5 M & S voucher for taking an unwanted, used item from M & S to Oxfam charity shop) has increased footfall and less packaging is costing the consumer less.

Munish made the classic statement of ‘we don’t have just one or two employees working on Corporate Sustainability, but every single one of our employees is aware and has sustainability embedded into their day to day working life’. Despite what critics are saying, M & S are always stretching themselves and striving to do better.

The success of Plan A has been put down to good LEADERSHIP, speaking in a LANGUAGE that people understand, effective COLLABORATIONS, the recognition that the LEARNING process is important, an emphasis on VALUES and setting a PACE that is both achievable and aspirational. Munish reiterated that we do not need to look for the ‘holy grail’ sustainable solution, but innovation (‘that sexy thing that you go to workshops for’) will see that multi-faceted approaches are fruitful. In fact, we already have most of the technology and skills available to make a significant positive difference.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sustainable Leadership: more than an aspiration

During the afternoon of Wednesday 22nd September 2010, I attended a Leadership in Sustainability seminar, ran by the Construction Industry Environmental Forum (CIEF) (part of CIRIA), Sponge and Forum For The Future.

Martin Hunt, Head of the Built Environment at Forum and formally part of CIRIA, gave the opening speech. He stated that it is useful to consider the pressures we face today: increasing pressure on natural resources, demand for/cost of energy, a growing population, a widening gap between rich and poor, biodiversity loss and climate change.

He highlighted an article in the FT (‘Call for urgent infrastructure overhaul amid climate change’) in emphasizing that although there is a lot of debate over the carbon dioxide levels at which we can stabilize the climate (350ppm currently), there is no debate over the fact that we have to take action now. According to Paul McNamara, Head of Property Research at PRUPIM, property is the key sector to look to for carbon dioxide emissions reduction. The Low Carbon Review, however is currently being undertaken and looks to be a mandate for change in the construction arena and it involves ‘whole life costing’. Climate change mitigation and adaptation is a challenge for industry sectors, government, individuals and large corporations.
To meet these challenges, we need leaders who adopt this ‘whole life costing’ approach, who understand the risks and opportunities from both the public and business perspectives, who drive the adoption of innovative fiscal solutions, who encourage the development of skills and enhance our capacity to be resilient and who can communicate the value of acting responsibly now.

To follow was a presentation by a gentleman from Marks and Spencers Plan A and one by a gentleman from InterfaceFLOR to show how their businesses are taking sustainability into consideration not only at the level of their property, but throughout the whole business and supply chain.

The Nemesis

This Thursday evening I attended an event hosted by Ecotricity at Somerset House, for the launch of their new wind-powered electrical car and to promote their four-year Eco Bonds.
Ecotricity is an electricity supplier that invests all its profits into building more wind turbines.

Champagne, canap├ęs and celebrities made it a rather glamorous affair, which was only added to by the very sexy ‘Nemesis’ (which must be said in a very deep, powerful voice). The Nemesis is an electrical car, which, when the electricity is sourced from Ecotricity (produced by wind power), has no carbon emissions. The car was designed and created by a team of motorsports engineers who have previously worked with McLaren, Williams and Lotus. Damon Hill was there along with Dale Vince, OBE, the CEO of Ecotricity, with his long hair and friendly smile. An array of good looking women were also there, draping themselves over the car. I enjoy the way that that The Nemesis makes wind power sexy, which arguably needs to be done.

Signing up to Ecotricity, which Amida will be doing when we move into our new office later this month, gives you the opportunity to be part of the green revolution in subscribing to a renewable power source.

All in all it was an inspiring evening showcasing an exciting time for vehicles, wind energy and Ecotricity.