greenfutures No.78 Oct 2010
COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE THROUGH ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
Optimisation today & transformation tomorrow: Competitive wins in a new economy
SHOPPING MONEY SEX
10TH NOVEMBER 2010 DEXTER HOUSE, TOWER HILL, LONDON, EC3N 4QN
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Ethical sex: contradiction in terms – or the new frontier? Something ventured: surfing the next wave with the cleantech VCs Brands and behaviour, nudge nudge… plus Terry Leahy – consumer revolutionary?
Contributors to this issue include:
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Enjoyed a fairly traded lapdance lately? Or watched some ethically certified porn? No, me neither. And not just because that kind of thing doesn’t really float my boat. With a few notable exceptions – a Coco de Mer Fairtrade, handcrafted leather paddle anyone? – you just can’t buy sustainable sex. Why? Because the ‘adult entertainment’ sector has been left blissfully untouched by the world of sustainability and CSR. Many a consultant who happily trumpets their ‘positive engagement’ with oil, arms or even tobacco companies, would shrink from the thought of cosying up to the sex trade. And they wouldn’t be alone. For many people, the very idea of engaging with something of such dubious moral, let along legal standing, would be a sick joke. But as Anna Simpson points out (p16), this is one of the world’s oldest, largest and most ubiquitous professions – and, however much some might wish, it’s not about to go away. In ‘Sex: the next ethical industry?’, she makes a courageous and compelling case for the sustainability profession to enfold it in a “warmer embrace”. Plenty of environmentalists wish that Tesco, too, would just go away. But love it or loathe it, it’s a fantastically successful company which has undeniable power to shift the whole economy down a more sustainable track – if it chooses to do so. In an exclusive interview (p31), CEO Terry Leahy reveals why he’s decided to set his sights on a zero-carbon future – and put his faith in a consumer revolution. There’s no mistaking the power of brands like Tesco and other iconic market leaders to shift individual behaviour, too – a very topical concern. With everyone from Downing Street downwards in search of the perfect nudge, it’s timely to ask just how brands can do so for maximum sustainability benefit. In ‘Fire brands’ (p26), we find some answers. And in ‘Clean horizons’ (p20), we spot some promising candidates for the iconic brands of tomorrow (my bet’s on Better Place), as thrown up by the latest wave of cleantech venture capital. If that all feels too breathlessly businesslike, you can always take refuge in the promise of Slow Money. As Judith Schwartz reports (p28), the unlikely combination of high-tech crowdsourcing and a strong sense of community is opening up whole new investment models. As yet, it’s small-scale, slightly quaint stuff: a farm here, a village shop there. But it’s already demonstrated that there’s more than one breed of savvy green investor: VCs are not the only suits... So, from sex to Tesco to a slow money farm… this issue’s definitely a case (as Mao would surely say if he were with us today), of letting a hundred business models bloom. A positively polygamous approach to saving the world, in other words. It could even be quite sexy.
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greenfutures Editor in Chief MARTIN WRIGHT Deputy Editor ANNA SIMPSON Editorial and Marketing Coordinator KATIE SHAW Contributing Editor BEN TUXWORTH Design Art Director: Buckley Design Design and Production: HEATH’S CREATIVE Founder JONATHON PORRITT Green Futures would like to thank: Michael Ashcroft, Emily Braham and David Tubby (interns), Helius (proofreading), Shelley Hannan (web)
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Green Futures October 2010
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Anna Simpson worked as a journalist and editor in Delhi and London before joining Green Futures in 2009. She graduated with a First in English and French from Oxford and an MA in Gender and Development from SOAS. In less intellectual moments, she runs marathons, plays first violin in Fulham Symphony Orchestra and bribes colleagues with cakes.
David Eagleman is something of a 21st century polymath. A highly respected neuroscientist specialising in perception, he’s also the author of a fictional bestseller. Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives was lauded by critics as having “the unaccountable, jaw-dropping quality of genius” and as “teeming, writhing with imagination”. For more of the same, see p44.
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Terry Leahy spent his school holidays stacking shelves in Tesco. It obviously didn’t put him off for life. Thirty years later he became CEO, overseeing the supermarket’s dizzying growth from third to first place in the UK rankings – an achievement yet to be matched by his beloved Everton FC – and earning him the dubious accolade from The Guardian of “most influential non-elected person in Britain”.
Judith Schwartz “lives, works, gardens, and contemplates a green future with her family in Southern Vermont”, writing about economics and the environment for Time, Yes! and the Christian Science Monitor. She’s also published a “cautionary tale” of her experience of training in psychotherapy – The Therapist’s New Clothes.
Green Futures October 2010
Number 78 October 2010
13 20 28
Features 16 Sex: the next ethical industry? Few sectors rival the global economic importance of sex, but so far sustainability professionals have left it completely untouched. Anna Simpson makes the case for a warmer embrace. 20 C lean horizons After the shock of the credit crunch, venture capitalists are once again pouring funds into clean technology. So what does it mean for green innovation? Martin Wright takes the pulse of leading VCs. 26 Fire brands Can labels lead a shift to sustainable behaviour? Anna Simpson reports on a new spirit of brand activism that’s reigniting the debate around green consumption.
Green Futures October 2010
28 S low money – smart money? As crowdsourcing comes to the world of finance, Judith Schwartz tracks a trend that could transform the way individuals and communities invest for the future. 31 I nterview: Terry Leahy The CEO of Tesco talks to Martin Wright about zero-emission supermarkets, carbon as currency, and the search for a consumer revolution. 44 “If Pompei had the internet”… From Minoa to the Mayans, successive societies have risen and flourished, only to collapse. Are we next? No, says David Eagleman – because we have a safety net.
Dispatches from the front line of green innovation, including:
4 Weak Signals Peter Madden on wired wealth plus sensory cities, shared insurance and LED walls
41 Limited edition Digital print takes us back to the future Pureprint Group 42 Waste not… Food is for eating, not sending to landfill Food and Drink Federation
6 Good vibrations The return of the dynamo – AAA sized 8 Spain snares the sun CSP in Europe set to soar
24 A thousand words Whitewashing the peaks of Peru
11 The bill not to drill Ecuador leaves its oil in the soil 12 Plastic land rises from the waves Ocean waste offers new habitat 13 The hanging gardens of Japan Greening the roof, walls and all
34 In the know Anne MacCraig, CEO, Café Direct 35 Forum update Sustainable cities, positive deviance and a greener choice of phone 47 Feedback Readers respond online and in print
15 The juice Latest electric vehicle breakthroughs
48 Jonathon Porritt Learning to love natural limits
43 Don’t know what you got till it’s gone The business case for biodiversity WWF
Green Futures October 2010
WeakSignals ‘Weak signals’ are ideas, trends and technologies that are as yet unrecognised by mainstream society. They might have a big impact or they might disappear. Monitoring them helps challenge assumptions about
the future, navigate risk and seize new opportunities. Forum for the Future’s blog tracks weak signals from the future: www.forumforthefuture.org/weak-signals
A network of sensors planted throughout a city and connected to a central ‘brain’ keep energy and water use to an all-time low. More sensitive than a granny to a draught, they see the weather coming and send a message to adjust the thermostat or close the windows. And when a dry spell’s on the way, they trigger the wastewater harvesting systems under your sink and on the roof. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s planned for Parades, near the Portuguese city of Porto.
What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine’s my own – the Yorkshire saying goes. But, however little some like to share, private ownership is becoming passé. California’s set the precedent, with new legislation to make car insurance transferable. So, next time your friend plans a grand day out in your car, an apologetic shrug about the risk of a scrape may not be enough to deter her. Still, maybe she’ll take you along for the ride, knowing you’re both fully covered.
Now open plan comes with options. Interior designers no longer scratch their goatees and soliloquise about the shape and scope of a given space. They simply flick a switch and ribbons of LED light send a soft glow through translucent fibres, creating an instant partition between you and the next room. The goingson of the other side are as thinly veiled or darkly masked as you deem appropriate in this day and age. – Anna Simpson
Green Futures brings you snapshots of the latest innovations in design and technology for a sustainable world – from developments in clean energy, food and transport to trends in fashion and tourism.
Concept island reservoir offers clean energy on demand
Green Futures October 2010
Peter Madden is CEO, Forum for the Future.
Photo: Gottlieb Paludan Architects; wheatley / shutterstock
In a couple of decades’ time, money as we know it may no longer exist. Banks and bills could be a distant memory; national currencies may no longer hold sway; and bartering – of products, services and time – may be back in fashion. Hard cash is already giving way to digital credit. One sure sign is the steady closure of bank branches on our high streets. Pop into
for credit-crunched companies? Or will the exchange of old wares and private services wean us off our love of shopping? These new transaction trends could prove impossible to regulate, their future dependent on our readiness to take a leap of faith. But given the behaviour of major financial players over recent years – and their seeming inability to learn from mistakes – people may well opt to place their trust in other forms of exchange.
Photo: Thecreativeeyes / istock
Peter Madden tracks our future transactions
a pub for a pint these days, and you’ll find another: regulars flashing credit cards, not tenners, at the busy bar staff. Meanwhile in Japan, you only have to wave your mobile at a vending machine to get your favourite can of fizz. Digital payment systems might start to pawn virtual currencies, independent of dollars, euros or pounds. The seeds are already being sewn. Who needs cash when you can spend credits from cyber schemes like Beenz and I-points, use your air miles, or trade in your loyalty bonuses? Just how long before Amex or eBay issue their own currencies? We are already seeing a boom in bartering, thanks to peer-to-peer sites like Swaptree, where you can exchange books and CDs, and Swop2Shop for clothes. So what does virtual money mean for sustainability? Will it pave the way for more local currencies – taking the lead from towns like Totnes? Will it loosen up some liquid
Island clusters – from the Florida Keys, to the archipelago of Bahrain, to Denmark – are being eyed up as prime sites for an ambitious grid-connected green energy generation and storage plan. The idea is to make the islands home to
significant renewable power plants – such as wind farms and concentrated solar power (CSP). During periods of low demand, the energy will be used to pump seawater into an elevated central reservoir. At times of high demand, when more electricity is needed, the water will be released, driving turbines on its way back to the sea. Once demand falls, the wind or solar power will be used to pump
water back into the high reservoir. Danish architectural firm Gottlieb Paludan calls its island scheme “a blue battery for green energy”: a way to ensure a constant stream of renewable energy to the grid, despite the intermittency of sources such as wind and solar. Gottlieb Paludan has designed a concept island near the city of Tampa, Florida, featuring a 9.4 square kilometre reservoir, capable of generating up to 7.8GWh of electricity – enough to meet the domestic consumption of Tampa city over a 48-hour period. The reservoir not only stores the energy but offers a site for eight large floating CSP plants, which, coupled with 33 wind turbines, give the island a total installed capacity of 253MW. The plan echoes proposals to combine a major wind farm with pumped hydro storage on the west coast of Ireland (see GF77, p8). George Aggidis, a pumped hydro expert at Lancaster University, says the idea has considerable potential, but that finding a location to tick all the boxes could be tricky. “Obviously, finances would need to be looked at in detail to ensure it is feasible and viable,” he adds. Gottlieb Paludan is currently seeking funding for an international project with Dutch energy company KEMA and consulting engineers Lievense. – Emily Braham
Graduate puts turbines in drainpipes It worked for Archimedes – and now for young designer Tom Broadbent. The graduate of De Montfort University, Leicester, had his ‘Eureka!’ moment while watching bathwater rush down the plughole in a high-rise hotel. “It seemed logical that this energy should be harnessed in some way to generate electricity,” says Broadbent, 23, who went on to develop a prototype water turbine dubbed HighDro Power. Designed to sit in the wastewater pipes of tall buildings, the fourblade turbine would harvest the force of falling water from every bath, shower and flush. Broadbent claims that a single unit installed in
a drainpipe in a seven-storey building, typically serving two flats per floor, could generate electricity to the value of £900 a year. This would allow the cost of installation to be recouped within the first year of operation. The bathroom brainwave has impressed architect Bill Gething of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ sustainability group. “It is a great example of someone exploring another aspect of our conspicuous consumption to see where there’s waste and how it can economically be reduced or eliminated,” he says. Broadbent plans to improve his prototype with a view to patenting the product for commercial use. – Julian Rollins
Wastewater to save energy
Green Futures October 2010
Good vibrations Japanese replace standard battery with dynamo The simple coil and magnet dynamo is stepping up to rival the sophistication of piezoelectronics (generating energy through motion – see GF77, p9). Japanese company Brother Industries has taken the technology – first developed in 1832 and commonly used to power bicycle lights – and repackaged it (quite literally) as a battery replacement by fitting the coil into standard AA and AAA casings. The prototype Vibration Energy Cell, unveiled at the Tokyo technology exhibition in July, can be used to power a range of low-energy devices that do not require a constant stream of electricity, such as an LED torch or a television remote control. Shaking the Cell causes the magnet to slide through the coil and back, inducing an
alternating current. According to Brother, ten shakes of the unit installed in a remote control would generate enough electricity for up to 30 channel changes. Inevitably, it has also raised the prospect of harnessing all the cut and thrust motions of Wii games to produce something useful. By replacing the need for batteries, it could lead to significant resource savings, Brother claims. This battery-alternative could be a “significant breakthrough”, according to electronics business analyst Carl Telford, of Strategic Business Insights. “It’s a fantastic use of packaging and opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities if they can get it right,” he says, adding that the challenge will be to make the moving parts robust enough for long-term use. The project is still in its trial phase and Brother has not yet confirmed plans for commercialisation. – Julian Rollins
This is the largest transformative development since industrialisation; what we have to do over the next 40 years is much more dramatic and more exciting than what we have done to move into the position we are in today. Science indicates that yes, we can achieve a prosperous future within a safe operating space if we [collaborate] at a global level.
“Shake it like a Polaroid picture...”
Johan Rockstrom, Executive Director, Stockholm Environment Institute and the Stockholm Resilience Centre
Smart design best for domestic behaviour change When a group of Swedish designers looked into the failure of some energy monitors to cut householders’ energy use, they deduced that – with all their figures and graphs – they are just too complicated. So they came up with a simple, stylish ‘Energy Aware Clock’ which uses attractive patterns to convey real-time consumption levels. It’s a design principle that’s catching on, if the touring Visual Voltage Exhibition is anything to go by. Power-conscious cables illuminate to point out any appliances left on standby when the lights go out for the night. And a Flower Lamp uncurls its petals and blooms when domestic energy usage is low, but closes into a tight cylinder – plunging the householder into (relative) darkness – as consumption increases. – Lorna Howarth
Green Futures October 2010
Photo: Grimshaw / Wind Power Ltd
A new data centre in Helsinki is using the waste heat from its machines to warm the local community. The site, installed for Finnish company Academica and based in an empty bomb shelter, uses the cool waters of the Baltic Sea to regulate the temperatures of its 2MW server. The water, heated by its passage through the centre, is then fed into an existing district heating system and circulated around up to 1,000 neighbouring homes. The system saves Academica around €150,000 a year in temperature regulation costs. Data centres are traditionally the energyintensive flipside of internet communications – and as ever more computing activity goes
online, the impact of central information stores is rising. As James Taplin, an expert in sustainable ICT at Forum for the Future, explains, “ICT now accounts for around 2% of global emissions, making it as significant as air travel, and companies realise they have to do more.” The Helsinki site joins a growing number of purpose-built centres looking to shed the stigma. Other smart centres include the award-winning Intel building in Haifa, Israel, which captures the heat from its servers, saving the company $235,000 a year in energy costs, and the server of Indiana’s University of Notre Dame, purposefully situated to provide heat to a historic botany centre, saving around $35,000 a year. – Alex Johnson
Three green bottles UV bottle gives clean water on the go A wind-up bottle that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to sterilise water for human consumption could spell the end for chlorine and iodine tablets. The ‘Pure’ bottle, brainchild of Loughborough University graduate Timothy Whitehead, uses UV rays to kill 99.9% of bacteria, making water potable in just two minutes. And, unlike the chemical sterilisation tablets, it leaves no unsavoury flavour behind. The bottle won the UK round of the James Dyson Award for design that solves a problem. It features an internal plunger to
filter out debris and sediment particles as small as four micrometers. An integrated wind-up lamp sterilises the filtered water, destroying the DNA of 99.9% of bacteria or viruses with short-wave UV rays. The whole process takes just 90 seconds. The challenge, according to Dax Lovegrove of WWF, “is to ensure these innovations are affordable and accessible to the poor and that they are ecologically sound in their design – avoiding petrochemicalbased plastics and enabling end-of-life recycling. Such design would be a true game-changer.” – Sam Jones
Out of the trees, into the wind
Photo: Interactive Institute; Aleksi Markku / Shutterstock
Seawater cools servers, warms homes
Sycamore turbine defies gravity, promises power Strolling down a breezy autumnal lane, you’re sure to spot sycamore seeds spiralling
groundwards. Wind power engineers have noticed them too. The result? A biomimetic turbine design based on the sycamore principal which could revolutionise the UK’s offshore wind industry.
The Aerogenerator X is designed to circumvent the weight constraints of conventional wind turbines, which experience high fatigue loads on each rotation cycle. With a vertical axis turbine mounted at the base, the design comprises two slim arms forming a wide-angle ‘V’, with rigid sails mounted at each tip to catch the wind, causing the whole structure to rotate. It is approximately half the weight of a standard turbine. With a tip-to-tip span of over 270m, the turbine would only execute a full turn three times a minute, but could generate up to 10MW of electricity – enough to power 5,000-10,000 homes. In short, a 100-strong cluster of Aerogenerators set in the North Sea could outperform the sum of the UK’s current operational wind farms. And future designs could be larger still, perhaps even doubling the turbine’s current capacity. As yet, it’s only at prototype stage, but research and development for a commercial version is underway at Cranfield University, with support from Eden Project architects Grimshaw and funding from industry heavyweights BP, Shell, Rolls Royce and Arup. A working offshore model is expected by 2013. – Sam Jones
Green Futures October 2010
Spain snares the sun Made from concentrate
CSP gets bigger, smarter While schemes to tap the power of the Saharan sun attract increasing interest (see GF76, p26), it’s worth noting that two industrialised countries, Spain and the US, are the current world leaders in concentrated solar power (CSP). Spain’s latest installation, the 550,000 square metre La Florida plant at Alvarado, Badajoz, can generate 50MW. This takes the country’s solar generating capacity to 432MW – just a shade more than the US can claim at present.
This national total, for CSP and photovoltaics combined, is currently only broadly equivalent to the output of one nuclear power station, but it is growing fast. Spain’s solar industry association Protermosolar projects a six-fold increase over the next three years, a growth rate far outstripping other modes. La Florida’s plant uses sun-tracking trough-shaped parabolic mirrors to focus reflected sunlight on to a central tube. The fluid in the tube heats up, turning water into steam to drive the turbines. Over in Italy, meanwhile, a new CSP
plant claims to be the first in the world to use molten salt as its heat transfer fluid. Sicily’s Archimede plant, recently opened by energy company Enel, is little more than a twentieth of the size of La Florida, and can generate only 5MW of electricity. But its technology has attracted attention because the mixture of sodium nitrates and potassium is particularly good at retaining heat. The ability to ‘store’ solar power in this way, and deliver it outside peak sunshine hours, would give CSP the added value of flexibility. Another ‘first’ for the Archimede plant is its integration with the adjacent gas-fired power station, where the solar-powered steam shares the task of turning the turbines with steam heated by fossil fuel. Feed-in tariffs (FiTs) have been the force behind solar installation in Spain and Italy, with both countries now reducing the initial generous subsidies. The US has yet to implement a national incentive for renewables, but progressive states like California are leading the way, with a new FiT for small-scale solar introduced this year to complement its renewable portfolio standard. The UK’s newly introduced FiT, meanwhile, has yet to reach its potential, but initial signs are that it’s encouraging rapid growth in solar PV. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers published in June, two months after the scheme was introduced, predicted a 30-fold increase in capacity to a total of 1GW by 2015. – Roger East
Turbines going in Seine?
Green Futures October 2010
producing up to 1kW of hydrokinetic power. Deniz Erkan, Li Jiang and Ned Stuart-Smith claim their turbine would work even in a river flowing as slowly as one metre per second. The students are marketing the prototype as best suited to off-grid applications such as home lighting in developing countries, as it requires no special equipment or skills to install. But a year’s work is required to improve the turbine’s efficiency before commercialisation. – Roger East
Flywheel to store New York’s excess Stephentown, New York, is set to become home to the world’s first grid-scale flywheel energy storage plant, after Beacon Power Corporation secured the final $43 million needed to complete the project. The 20MW plant is currently under construction. It is expected to provide approximately 10% of New York’s total frequency regulation capacity on a typical day, storing energy when there is too much in the grid and releasing it when demand rises. The flywheel will draw electricity from the grid and stores it as rotational energy, by
accelerating a cylinder to speeds as great as 16,000rpm. The cylinder sits in a vacuum to minimise energy loss from friction. When demand on the grid is high, the motor is switched into generator mode: the cylinder drives a turbine, creating electricity that is then fed back into the grid. The US Treasury’s Federal Financing Bank has put up the $43 million loan, which covers 62.5% of the plant’s estimated $69 million cost. Beacon Power has invested the remaining $29 million. The flywheel has obvious environmental advantages over the conventional coal or gas power stations typically used to maintain
the ‘spinning reserve’ required for frequency regulation. Ian Welch, National Grid’s Head of Research and Development Strategy, has seen Beacon Power’s flywheel demonstration technology in action. He calls it “a unique low-carbon solution for good short-term – as in seconds and minutes – frequency control”. “However,” he adds, “in the longer term [hours], we require other [high capacity] solutions.” One suggestion is pumped hydro storage, where electricity is used to pump water to a high reservoir; when the grid requires more power, the water is released to drive turbines. – Flemmich Webb
The number of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations Shanghai plans to install by 2012, according to an investment plan worth 30 billion yuan ($4.47 billion). The city is aiming to establish itself as one of the world’s largest hubs for EVs, producing “100,000 new energy vehicles every year” by 2012, according to government official Wang Zhe. An HSBC report predicts that the global market for low-carbon vehicles, including EVs and hybrids, will be worth $678 billion by 2020 – up from $113 million in 2009.
Photo: Beacon Power
Could Parisians be getting power out of the Seine by next spring? As part of the city’s 2020 Climate Plan, the Mayor’s office wants to raise awareness of all possible sources of renewable energy. So, while no one’s thinking of damming the iconic river for hydro, a call has gone out for proposals to install eight small underwater ‘hydroliennes’, or hydrokinetic turbines, in its flow. Quite what they’d power is still a moot point, though Deputy Mayor Denis Baupin freely admits that “we’re not expecting the moon and the stars” – more likely just a few street lights, sceptics say. The identification of possible sites, under four of the city’s famous bridges, has helped raise the scheme’s profile. Not unlike mini wind turbines in shape, hydrokinetic turbines need their support structures tethered to the river bed; the water flows through, turning the blades to generate power. The technology is in its infancy, and nobody’s making any money out of it yet, though US company Free Flow Power has ambitions for commercial-scale hydrokinetic river turbines. Its plan for a 1.6GW power scheme involves hundreds of thousands of turbine units at 59 sites in the Mississippi. The application of similar principles for
underwater tidal turbines is becoming a bit more familiar. In the US, tidal power company Verdant has been running a 5MW pilot project in New York City’s East River since 2007, and there are plans to run a similar project beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Meanwhile, three students used Cambridge University’s Manufacturing Engineering Design Show this summer to exhibit their FloDrive Turbine, a ‘portable’ device they say would be capable of
Photo: HGE; Pronone / istock
River flow could be a source of hydrokinetic power
Big Apple, big wheel
Green Futures October 2010
Introducing rainwater harvesting systems alongside ground source heat pumps (GSHP) can drastically reduce carbon emissions and running costs. That’s the finding of a practical new study by the Sustainable Drainage Applied Research Group at Coventry University. In one trial, the car park of a three-storey office in Bedford was fitted with a permeable pavement system (PPS) to harvest rainwater. The water is directed into five 130kW GSHP which warm (or cool) the
An idea full of holes
building to comfortable levels. The reduction in heating, cooling and water from off-site led to a 50% reduction in utility bills, and a 70% fall in the building’s carbon emissions. Combining rainwater harvesting and ground source heat pumps can also cut installation costs. One of the obstacles to the take-up of GSHP is the cost of drilling deep boreholes to install heat exchanger loops. But, according to a paper by the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, using rainwater storage tanks as a source of heat can cut out the need for these loops altogether. Where a PPS system is already in place, the extra cost of installing electric pumps to form a GSHP system could be as little as £1,000. Commercial systems would be able to partially finance such a system through the Government’s Enhanced Capital Allowances scheme, making them eligible for 100% tax relief on the purchase and installation. The UK lags behind Europe when it comes to rainwater harvesting, with just 400 systems installed each year compared to 100,000 on the Continent. Germany is leading the way, with grants of £1,000 towards installation costs helping create a £280 million industry, employing over 5,000 people. The beauty of the system lies in its simplicity. As Elizabeth Khaka, a rainwater harvesting expert at the UN Environment Programme, notes, “PPS rainwater harvesting is viable with any paved surface”; something the West has in no short supply. – Sam Jones
Sun plane conquers the night
Diverting waste from landfill yields impressive savings Businesses could save an average of 4-5% of their turnover through avoided landfill costs, according to the UK’s environmental regulations advisor NetRegs. Among those quick to cash in on the savings have been United Biscuits, PepsiCo and InterfaceFLOR, using techniques such as recycling, composting and waste-to-energy incineration. Leading snacks manufacturer, United Biscuits, achieved its target of zero food waste to landfill in 2009, and in the same year cut non-food waste to landfill by 44%, on track to cut out landfill altogether by 2012. There’s no single magic bullet: rather a mix of tactics including improving recycling facilities across all sites, making packaging out of recyclable materials, printing boxes in house according to demand, as opposed to buying them in pre-printed and quickly out-dated bulk, and working closely with suppliers to eliminate inefficiencies right down the chain. PepsiCo’s Walkers factory in Leicester, the largest crisps and snacks manufacturing site in the world, now sends zero waste to landfill. Any non-recyclable waste is incinerated and recovered as useable energy. Carpet tile manufacturers InterfaceFLOR, meanwhile, has achieved an 80% reduction in waste to landfill since 1996, contributing towards a saving of US $433 million in avoided waste costs. Its latest trick is to use thermoplastic technology to weave fibres from waste into the carpets themselves. Carrots aside, the UK’s landfill tax offers a sturdy stick to drive the change, with planned increases of £8 per tonne each year until 2013, from the current rate of £48 per tonne. – Katie Shaw
Leaving out the jet plane ‘Perpetual flight’ shows off solar energy potential The Swiss pioneers who set out to prove that solar planes are possible recently logged a 26-hour flight for designer Bertrand Piccard’s innovative Solar Impulse. They’d already got the inspirational idea off the ground (see GF74, p8), but this time pilot Andre Borschberg took it up to 8,700 metres and got more than enough of a charge from 12,000 solar cells to keep running on battery power until sunrise.
Green Futures October 2010
Theoretically, then, there’s nothing to stop it staying in the air indefinitely – though the pilot might feel differently. But as a plane, it’s scarcely practical, needing a wingspan the size of an Airbus to transport a single person at average speeds of little over 40km an hour. Piccard continues to stress that the real point of the project is less to do with aviation, more to do with showing what new energyefficient technologies can achieve. He does not see solar as a real rival to conventional jet-powered aviation, although others will doubtless be alert to the possible commercial
and military attractions of ‘perpetual’ solar flight. Meanwhile, this project won’t be grounded. Design work has begun on a second plane. The wing, with its solar cells, may stay the same, but for the next planned flight across the Atlantic, and a round-theworld bid in 2013, they’ll be improving the aerodynamics. They are also planning to give the pilot a cockpit better suited to five days in the air, and install sufficiently sophisticated gear to be able to land anywhere in the world. – Roger East
Ecuador extracts funding to leave its oil in the soil Ecuador may have set an important precedent in rainforest conservation by signing an agreement not to exploit the oil reserves of the Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) field in the Yasuní National Park. The 2.5 million acre park, one of the most bio-diverse regions on earth, sits on an
estimated 846 barrels of heavy crude. But the Ecuadorian Government is to issue certified guarantees not to exploit the reserve in exchange for financial contributions – from governments, private and public entities, NGOs and individuals – to a trust fund, administered by the UNDP. Each contributor will receive a Yasuní Guarantee Certificate showing the quantity of avoided CO2 emissions, in metric tonnes, as a direct result
of the donation, according to the Leipzig Carbon Market. Critics question whether any emissions will in fact be avoided as a result of the scheme. The certificates do not prevent Ecuador from drilling for oil elsewhere, and it’s possible that demand for the Yasuni oil will simply be met elsewhere. Simon Counsell, Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation, is among the skeptics: “Yasuní is very important, but there are vast areas of rainforest elsewhere that could be protected much more cheaply than this. Also, one wonders how long it will be before all the major oil producers start demanding money to keep their oil in the ground.” However, if the scheme does prove the value of doing so, it could set an important precedent for governments looking to move away from a fossil-fuelled economy. Already, Guatemala and Nigeria are said to have asked Ecuador for advice on how to follow its lead. Ecuador, which depends on oil for more than half its export earnings, expects to receive at least US $3.6 billion as a result of the agreement – roughly half the sum it will be forgoing in profits. Some $1.5 billion has allegedly been promised to the Yasuní ITT Trust Fund already, including a “concrete offer” of €650 million over 13 years from the German Government. The Fund will support reforestation initiatives, the development of renewable energies, social programmes and scientific research. – Huw Spanner
Money grows on Ethiopian trees Local economy boosted by reforestation projects in Ethiopia
Photo: Robert Brown / photolibrary
Rainfall feeds heat pumps, slashes costs
Photo: Solar Impulse EPFL; Christopher Elwell / Shutterstock
Just add rainwater
The promise of potential income is driving a reforestation programme in Ethiopia, after the Government granted ownership of the land to cooperative groups. Locals have planted cash crops such as Spanish apple seeds for orchards and fast-growing Australian eucalyptus for wood and fuel – alongside native species – in an attempt to replace lost forests in the southern state of Oromia. Oromia had been the site of an intensive forestation programme in the late 1980s as part of the communist junta’s regime. The scheme obliged locals to plant trees in exchange for food – a top-down approach to land management that caused many locals to see reforestation as a punishment, as opposed to an opportunity. Mass deforestation in the region for short-term economic gain followed the overthrow of the regime. The success of the present cooperative effort, managed by the Environment Development Society, is as much about empowering people to improve their long-term economic fortunes as it is about environmental conservation. The Government
Nursery slopes handed control of the land to a new body, the Farmers Forestry Development Corporation, with each member given 2.5 acres of land on which to plant trees. According to farmer Ade Zaude of the Development Corporation, members have seen their incomes rise: “We now have a lot of resources... We have trees in our compounds, a lot of money in our savings account, and other farmers are coming to us
to seek the knowledge.” The programme not only encourages increased tree-planting, but has enabled those involved to attract investment in pigand poultry-raising projects and beekeeping. Ethiopia has been hailed by the United Nations Environment Programme as the world’s top tree-planting country, with 1.4 billion saplings springing up as part of its Billion Tree Campaign. – Sam Jones
Green Futures October 2010
From wasteland to wetland in Iraq Innovative irrigation techniques restore the lost marshes of Mesopotamia “Stars reflected in dark water, the croaking of frogs, canoes coming home at evening, peace and continuity, the stillness of a world that never knew an engine. Once again I experienced the longing to share this life,” wrote Wilfred Thesiger, documenting the years he spent among the ‘Marsh Arabs’ of southern Iraq in the 1950s. The way of life he describes was almost completely wiped out in the early 1990s, when the Mesopotamian marshes – which dwarfed the Florida Everglades at their peak – were drained under Saddam Hussein. Considered a refuge for insurgents, they were reduced to just 5% of their original size; villages were burnt down, the water poisoned. As soon as Saddam fell, local communities breached the dikes to restore the wetlands. And now, a series of innovative conservation efforts by Nature Iraq are having remarkable results. Techniques include a cyclical irrigation channel whereby water is diverted back to rivers for reuse. Meltwater is stored upstream and then released to create controlled floods that flush through and desalinate the marshes each spring. Waste
Hanging gardens of Japan Bird of good omen
PV-powered tablet set for sale at just $35
agricultural water from the central Euphrates region is also reused. These stringent efficiency measures are not without good cause, with Turkish dams upstream diminishing water flow. “The marshes receive as little as 12 billion cubic meters of water annually, compared to 60 billion before regulation upstream,” says Azzam Alwash, CEO of Nature Iraq. “But with the measures in place, our models predict
Fukuoka sets the bar high for green roofs, walls and terraces
we can recover up to 75% of the original marshes.” The displaced people are now returning to grow rice and dates, raise water buffalo and fish – creating important economic opportunities for the nation. The region’s biodiversity is also being restored, as populations of Sacred Ibis, Basra Reed Warblers and Iraq Babblers return and thrive. – Sam Jones
If you require a little inspiration of the green roof kind, stop ogling the neighbour’s sedumtopped shed and start Google Earthing the ACROS building in Fukuoka, Japan, instead. While the ‘elegant urban façade’ of the building’s northern face has a formal entrance opening out onto bustling city streets, its southern side is altogether earthier. Lush green vegetation extends from ground level over multiple one-storey terraces, right to the very top. And under the building’s 14 terraces is more than one million square feet of space. When designing a building to be located in the city’s only remaining park, architect Emilio Ambasz knew what he must do. “A plaza was taken away and I wanted to give them a plaza back,” he says. Using a range of local species
Plastic land rises from the waves
Green Futures October 2010
Enzyme could catalyse fumes into fuel
Photo: Emilio Ambasz
An ambitious new scheme has been launched to turn islands of rubbish into useful new living space. Recycled Island is a project with a triple mission: to clear the ocean of
plastic waste, create new land and construct a ‘sustainable habitat’. The concept was born two years ago. “I was flying over the ocean, looking out at the huge sea surface and at the same time reading an article about plastic pollution,” says Ramon Knoester, founder of WHIM
Exhaust potential Photo: Mudhafar Salim, Nature Iraq; WHIM architecture
‘Recycled Island’ turns ocean waste into new habitat
architecture. “It was that combination which made me come up with the idea.” With the project still in its research phase, the priority is deciding how the plastic will be gathered. One promising proposal, Knoester says, is to use an electrostatic charge to sift the plastics from other organisms and debris. The plastic would be recycled on location. “You take a recycling factory and put it on top of a ship,” says Knoester. “Then you go to the areas with the biggest concentrations of plastic and start to gather and recycle it. Once you have a building block, you can put it straight into the water and then make the next. Finally, you bind them all together.” Knoester insists that an island would be buoyant enough to support a population and infrastructure, complete with solar and wave power, seaweed cultivation and compost toilets “to make the island fertile”. Financial support for the project has yet to be confirmed, but Knoester believes it offers the best solution for locations such as the North Pacific Gyre, where underwater currents whip up a ‘plastic soup’ that stretches from the Californian coast almost to Japan. The American oceanographer Charles Moore, who dubbed it the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, estimates that the region contains 100 million tons of flotsam. – Claire Baylis
– short-trunked to withstand typhoons – he began work on the green roof as soon as the shell of the building was finished, and well before anyone moved in. The roof is irrigated using a traditional dripping system, with blackwater recycling at times of drought. “Otherwise the plants just prosper like any plant under the sky,” says Ambasz. “It’s very simple.” In addition to the environmental benefits of replacing lost green space, there are aesthetic ones – with panoramic views of the bay from the top – and commercial ones, with all space rented out in advance of completion. Ultimately, says Ambasz, ACROS demonstrates that: “You can have the building and the garden, not just the building in the garden.” – Claire Baylis
The iPad may be dominating the headlines and billboards, but a different kind of touchscreen tablet might prove more revolutionary in the longer term. Backed by the Indian Government, the $35 solar-powered Sakshat could bring affordable computing to Indian schools and villages across the country. Scheduled for roll-out to higher education institutions in 2011, the Sakshat runs on the open-source software Linux, freeing it from the shackles of high-spec computer systems and driving down cost. It includes all the standard basic applications, including word processing, web browsing and video conferencing. Designing it to be powered by a PV panel ensures it’s viable for use in rural communities miles from the electricity grid, so helping connect them to the global economy without the need for larger infrastructure. The Sakshat was developed by the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Technology as part of a government programme aimed at supplying all of the country’s 25,000 colleges and 500 universities with a broadband connection. At $35, it’s already much cheaper than the $100 XO-1 device by One Laptop Per Child, first unveiled at the World Summit on the Information Society in 2005. The long-term aim is to sell the Sakshat at just $10 – with competition
Scientists have found an enzyme that could be used to catalyse the conversion of polluted air to create synthetic fuels, according to a report published in the journal Science. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, isolated a particular enzyme, vanadium nitrogenase, in the bacteria, Azotobacter vinelandii, commonly found in soil. Markus Ribbe and his team found that the enzyme – which converts nitrogen into ammonia to build some of life’s essentials, such as DNA and proteins – can also convert carbon monoxide (CO) into short chains of carbon two or three atoms long, such as propane – the blue-flamed gas used in kitchen stoves. Research is ongoing, with the long-term goal of refining the process for industrial applications, such as the production of fuel
from polluted air, Ribbe told Green Futures. The challenge is to convert CO into the longer chains of carbon atoms that make up petrol. The development builds on a reaction known as the Fischer-Tropsch process, first developed in the 1920s to produce liquid fuel from coal. Concerns over peak oil have seen a revival of interest in the technology (see ‘Air Supply’, GF76, p32). But despite a long history of interest in the conversion process, commercial viability remains some way off. Chris Goodall, author and Carbon Commentary blogger, cautions: “This technology is right on the edge. There are lots of people at the moment looking at different ways to turn short carbon molecules into long ones and exploit the energy gain, but we are 10-15 years away from this being achieved.” – Flemmich Webb
anticipated from the XO-3, a tablet expected to retail at $75. The market for it is unquestionable; PC sales in India are expected to exceed 100 million a year in 2013. However, Harish Hande, energy and development expert and CEO of solar entrepreneurs Selco, has doubts about its efficacy as an educational tool. “It needs to have the right applications, providing good education content to students in an attractive way. If they don’t get this right, it will just be a toy.” – Sam Jones
Green Futures October 2010
The juice: the latest on EVs House proud
Green plant low down The east London plant will process 500,000 tonnes of waste biomass a year, yielding 16 million gallons of liquid biofuel. Gas, a by-product of the conversion, will be sold back to the grid, or used in a district heating system.
Biodiversity and the health of ecosystems is neither an abstract scientific concept nor the pet project of a green elite. [They] are the vital underpinnings of human society. Edward Norton, actor and UN goodwill ambassador for biodiversity
Green Futures October 2010
Racing ahead The love of speed is driving technological advances for electric vehicles (EVs), just as it has for fuel-powered cars. The KleenSpeed WX10, a Formula One car with 1,600 lithium batteries on board and a 200-horsepower engine, set a new road record for EVs by averaging 94 miles per hour at time trials this summer in Monterey, California. WX10 wirelessly transmits pertinent driving information to, for example, the pit, allowing engineers to continually monitor and tweak performance. KleenSpeed’s CEO Tim Collins said the company is using its experience with the WX10 to design a consumer car for market. Meanwhile, the Buckeye Bullet 2.5 broke a record for off-road speed, by an EV, on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, reaching 307mph in an August run. The vehicle’s designers, from Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research, now hope to set a new record of 400mph with version 3.5.
Smooth landing Navigation technology brings planes in on less fuel Under constant pressure to cut carbon – and fuel costs – the aviation industry won’t have missed the significance of a recent ‘smart flying’ test. Alaska Airlines is setting an industry first by equipping its entire fleet with a new flight guidance technology which, it claims, has enabled it to bring a plane into Seattle airport with a 35% reduction in carbon emissions, as compared with a standard landing. The Required Navigation Profile (RNP) technology allows the engines to idle for more of the time during a smoothly graduated reduction in altitude. The landing is also quieter than
traditional step-by-step trajectories which use the engines in repeated bursts. The system first entered the company’s repertoire as an aid to landing at tricky sites, but is now seen as its smart route to greenhouse gas emission cuts of some 22,000 tonnes a year. American low-cost flight provider Southwest Airlines has followed suit, with a $175 million investment to equip its airports with RNP. Jeff Martin, Senior Director-Flight Operations, explained the business case for the changes at Washington’s Eco-Aviation Conference: “With RNP/NextGen procedures designed at 13 of our airports, we project savings of $16 million a year once we begin flying RNP in January 2011.” The airline anticipates a 100% return on investment in fewer than ten years. – Roger East
Photo: kleen-speed; Buckeye Bullet
Aviation’s thirst for low-carbon fuel has created a market opportunity for waste processing in east London. US-based biomass energy company Solena plans to have its first facility up and running by 2014, producing synthetic fuel gas for planes from municipal waste. Significantly, the company has had no problem with finding customers. British Airways has signed a ten-year agreement to
buy all Solena can produce at a pre-agreed (but undisclosed) price. Mindful of its pledge to halve its carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, the airline has also put a call out to other suppliers of possible alternatives to kerosene, either neat or as a blend, for a joint programme of lab, test rig and full engine tests with Rolls Royce. But it is counting on Solena to deliver at least as much fuel as it needs for a 50-50 mix with standard aviation kerosene, to power all its flights out of nearby London City airport. But will the new fuel achieve the carbon
A spark in the desert: Buckeye Bullet on the Utah Flats
Photo: Alaska Airlines; Llja Masik / Shutterstock
British Airways buys jet fuel from biomass waste
reductions that BA is looking for? David Fulford, renewables expert and Ashden Awards judge, is hesitant: “Energy from waste is definitely attractive, as it saves on landfill. Whether the process reduces carbon emissions is another matter.” It partly depends on the composition of the waste, he explains. If it’s made up of plastics from oil, the system recovers the carbon dioxide locked in the plastics, but then releases it as a fuel. Biomass waste also releases CO2 back to the atmosphere. Rupert Fausset, transport expert at Forum for the Future, agrees: “BA will have to be completely open about where this ‘waste’ comes from, if it is to show that it is making real, additional emissions cuts.” Solena and British Airways used this year’s Farnborough International Air Show to publicise their new fuel initiative. The final site choice for the planned east London plant, dubbed ‘GreenSky’ by the partners, is to be announced soon. – Roger East
One minute miracle EV infrastructure company Better Place is extending the trial of its battery swap scheme in Tokyo after initial data revealed an average switch time of just 59.1 seconds over more than 2,000 exchanges. (The idea behind Better Place is to avoid the need for lengthy recharging by offering a ‘hot swap’ battery service, roughly equivalent to stopping at a
filling station for refuelling. This should help overcome one of the main obstacles to wider EV take-up: that of limited range – see GF73, p31). The company hopes to gain further insights into battery performance and consumer behaviour in preparation for the commercial launch of schemes in Israel and Denmark next year.
Renault has developed the first vehicle to be fully compatible with both the Better Place battery swap scheme and conventional plug-in charge systems. It expects to sell 100,000 Fluence Z.Es in Denmark and Israel before 2016. Better Place looks set to become a global phenomenon, with another EV infrastructure scheme to launch in Canberra, Australia, and a memorandum of understanding signed with China’s largest independent auto producer, Chery. Better Place and Chery will co-create switchable-battery EV prototypes, with the goal of securing regional government funding for pilot projects.
The group plans to convert 30 phone cabins by the end of this year, with more dependent on public take-up of EVs. Somewhat ironically, drivers can use their mobile to switch on the juice at the new stations, by sending a coded text message. Charging takes between six to eight hours for a full-sized EV, and is free during this initial trial period, though expected to cost a single-digit euro sum once the scheme is rolled out. Takasago-go-go Meanwhile, Takasago, a subsidiary of Japanese IT group NEC, has developed a Rapid Charging Station capable of taking a lithium-ion EV battery from flat to 80% in less than half an hour. Portland General Electric, Oregon, has snapped one up for public testing in the garage of the Portland World Trade Center. The station is currently free to use, but drivers pay for parking. “Quick-charging stations are an exciting advancement in our effort to bring electric vehicles to Oregon,” said Governor Ted Kulongoski. “By making charging convenient and available for public use, we are telling car manufacturers that Oregon is ready for the next generation of electric vehicles.” The Takasago station far outstrips the charge times of other new models, such as General Electric’s attractive WattStation (below), and Frog Design’s Blink, both of which take four to eight hours. – April Streeter
Phone charger The once ubiquitous public phone box has been quietly disappearing from your average urban landscape. But it could be about to make a come-back. Telekom Austria is converting some of the 13,500 cabins still standing in Austrian cities to electric charging stations for bikes and cars.
Green Futures October 2010
Few sectors rival the global economic importance of sex, but so far sustainability professionals have left it completely untouched. Can they really afford to? Anna Simpson makes the case for a warmer embrace.
Is there really any fundamental moral difference between paying for food in a restaurant and paying for sex, freely sold?
Charlotte gently closes the door and slips into the adjoining room, where her colleagues are having a giggle over a cup of tea. She flicks on her phone and scans her account. All the tabs are green: earnings high, health risks low, working hours reasonable, carbon footprint tiny, client feedback off the scale… All that’s left for her to do is rate her own wellbeing. She thinks of the baths, massages, cuddles and caresses she’s given that week; the sweet, serene expressions breaking through from behind weary frowns – and gives herself a discreet pat on the back: she’s a do-gooder, and it makes her feel great. It’s a far cry from the view most people have of sex work. According to the more familiar narrative, it is the industry which dare not speak its name, consigned to dark streets and seedy districts; rarely regulated, often criminalised. Women of low means and lower self esteem shrink under its stigma. Their clients are aggressive and abusive, and they’re desperate for a way out. Any job would be better, wouldn’t it? There’s certainly an ugly side to the sex industry. Exploitation and trafficking play a part – but evidence suggests to a much lesser extent than is widely thought. “Horror stories happen”, says Catherine Stephens of the International Union of Sex Workers, “but they are a minority. Some people take a very strong ideological view around this, seeing all prostitution as violence against women. The implication is that a sex worker’s consent is fundamentally invalid.” The latest evidence challenges the view that brothels are full of trafficked women living in fear of violent pimps. A study by the UK Human Trafficking Centre in 2009 found that the largest police raid to date on brothels, flats and massage parlours failed to find a single case of forced prostitution. It’s not only inaccurate to suggest that the majority of sex workers do not choose their profession, says Stephens: it’s patronising and disempowering. “Neither having sex nor getting paid is inherently
Green Futures October 2010
dangerous or degrading.” According to stereotype, men who pay for sex are on some power trip. But in the vast majority of cases, says Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Reader in Psychology and Social Policy at Birkbeck College and author of The Price of sex: Prostitution, policy and society, the reality is very different. She asserts that, for many punters, “mutuality is part of the attraction… Sex workers [actually] get bored by constant interrogation [from clients] about their wellbeing”. Meanwhile, the public mood appears to be shifting. A recent BBC poll found 71% in favour of greater social acceptance of prostitution. Individuals selling sex to others is, of course, just a small part of the sex economy. Far from being underground or taboo, many aspects are legal, even glorified (think high class courtesans or beautifully crafted lingerie). It’s a trillion dollar cross-sector industry spanning live entertainment, pornography, pharmaceutical products, clothes and accessories. And, as hackneyed clichés about the ‘oldest profession’ remind us, it’s been here forever. It’s certainly proved almost impossible to regulate out of existence. Though that hasn’t stopped us trying. Laws against selling sex litter the statute books of almost every country down the ages. There have been countless endeavours to keep erotica out of sight – from the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, to the prosecution of Penguin for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1960, to the X-rating for sexually explicit films. Today, the web makes a nonsense of any attempt to restrict who sees what. The number of people with access to porn has rocketed. (Ironically, the porn industry effectively encouraged a whole range of innovations now part and parcel of everyday internet use – from online payment systems to chat rooms to video streaming.) A quick Google search cuts out altogether the need for embarrassing trips to the pharmacist, sex shop or red light district. It’s easier than ever before to buy sex. Demand remains stubbornly high, despite the
Photo: Krivenko / Shutterstock
Sex: the next ethical industry?
Green Futures October 2010
Green Futures October 2010
It all begins to sound rather obvious. We already have organic food, low-carbon transport, fair trade clothes and renewable energy. Why not apply the same logic to all basic human needs and desires? Is there really any fundamental moral difference between paying for food in a restaurant and paying for sex, freely sold? If we’re really honest, we all pay for sex already. Take advertising. There’s the woman on the billboard with creamy yoghurt slipping over her tongue; the classic car with the 1950s model, all lipstick, cleavage and polka dots; the man rubbing foam gel over his rippling muscles in the shower… “Advertising promotes the sex industry all the time,” says Sam Roddick, founder of London’s high end sex shop, Coco de Mer. “But it’s the one industry where all our standards go out of the window. I’d like to see people selling sex at a genuine level – rather than using it to sell something else.” Of course, engaging with this particular sector isn’t as simple as a board-level partnership with Tesco or Shell. I’m not suggesting we call up the World’s Chief Pimp and ask for a meeting. But, in many instances, the same broad principles can apply, says Sally Uren. “A sustainability framework would allow an honest evaluation of social, environmental and economic impacts, and perhaps find new ways of tackling old issues.” So if we shake off the stigma of selling – and buying – sex, how does it rate in sustainability terms? Sara Parkin, Founder Director of Forum for the Future, suggests a ‘Five Capitals’ analysis of the natural, social, financial, manufactured and human value of sex. What would that look like? As far as natural capital is concerned, sex is an admirably low-carbon, low-impact activity. (“Probably more sustainable than a trip to your local National Trust property”, chuckles Sue Miller, Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.) On the social side, our desire for intimacy is so great – and mental and physical closeness so good for us – that some argue sex should be regarded as a human right. Tuppy Owens, Chair of the Sexual Freedom Coalition, cites countless instances in which disabled people have benefited from sexual services – from a stroke survivor left unable to speak in need of close non-verbal companionship, to a tetraplegic man enjoying sensual head massage from a tantric specialist. In manufactured capital, Parkin playfully points out, the heat generated can help keep the electric blankets off... And sex products, from online porn to toys and clothes, all lend themselves to thoroughly sustainable production (and consumption) methods. As for finance, Catherine Stephens argues that one great benefit of the sex industry is that it “puts money in women’s pockets”. It arguably puts money in the pockets of lots of men too – but some at least of this could be channelled to meet other needs. Take the Berlin-based non-profit group, Fuck for Forest. It sells access to erotic photos and films – all made by unpaid volunteers and fans – and donates virtually all the proceeds to conservation. Since 2004, it has raised over €180,000 for a range of causes, notably rainforest protection projects in Ecuador and Brazil. And when it comes to human capital, it’s hard to imagine an industry meeting a more universal, basic human need – or at least, desire.
Photo: The Trustees of the British Museum
Buying the right sort of porn, as opposed to downloading it for free, could even be an act of solidarity
best educational efforts of everyone from Christian fundamentalists to feminist activists. Like it or not, this is an industry that’s here to stay. Attempts at regulating it, from licensed brothels to ‘toleration zones’, have proved patchy at best. The most effective framework, says Stephens, is New Zealand’s – precisely because it’s extremely light. But, as we know, regulation isn’t the only way to make things better. The whole basis of corporate responsibility is that businesses don’t need laws to make them behave. For the most part, they want to have sustainable supply chains and minimal environmental and social impact because it makes business sense, and it’s what their customers want. Recent years have seen huge improvements in the way we consume food, fashion and travel – partly thanks to positive engagement from sustainability professionals. But, as Solitaire Townsend, Chair of sustainable communications consultancy, Futerra, puts it: “Whenever people talk about sex, they seem to forget what they know about sustainability.” It’s a theme echoed by Sally Uren, Deputy Director of Forum for the Future. “Even some unsavoury sectors, from arms to tobacco, have been given the CSR treatment”, she says, “but the sex industry has slipped under the sustainability radar. Yet, guns and smoking kill – and if we can have sustainable bullets, surely there can be sustainable sex?!” So why isn’t there? Is it because we’re embarrassed by it, ashamed even? Is it because we feel we have nothing to add? More likely, perhaps, that we have difficulty imagining what a sustainable sex industry would look like – or have never even tried... So let’s have a go. Feel like watching the latest Fairtrade-certified porn film? The actors all enjoy decent pay, health insurance and pensions. The carbon impact of the set lighting and travel is offset through investment in clean, efficient cookstoves sold at affordable prices to women in rural Africa. Perhaps you’d rather a spot of ethical lap-dancing? You can be sure the performers are all willing and well-paid: it’s certified by Care & Consent, the highly reputable international certification body for ethical sex. You tip generously, knowing that 50% of the profits are covenanted to the local women’s community centre. Or, maybe best of all, you opt for an evening in with your sweetheart. You’ve got everything you need: condoms made from rubber tapped sustainably in Brazil (see Sol e Sombra, p31), hand carved FSCcertified sex toys, delicious fair trade dark chocolate body paint (70% cocoa solids, 100% lust)... Tempted? You’re not alone. Brooks-Gordon’s research has convinced her that there is huge latent demand for an ethical sex industry. Not only do most clients want to feel wanted, she says; many would be hugely relieved to know that the sex workers starring in their favourite porn film, on stage at their club, or on offer through their escort agency, are there by consent, paid a decent wage, and have access to services that promote health and welfare. Potentially, she says, it offers a pretty progressive working model: “Self-employment, flexible working hours, the option of working from home – what more could you want?” If you’re after a vision of a really sustainable job, sex isn’t a bad place to start.
We might conclude that sex is, potentially, eminently sustainable. And yet, “CSR professionals aren’t exactly queuing up to work in one of the biggest industries on the planet,” says Townsend. Part of the problem, she acknowledges, is that the criminalisation of organised prostitution makes it impossible to set up the necessary mechanisms for traceability and accountability – something of a catch-22. But, Townsend argues, we could start by engaging with mainstream porn. “I’d love to see integrated environmental reporting by a porn company…” Sam Roddick agrees. “The porn industry has to be challenged: it’s so formulaic, it’s not even funny. It’s gagging for something creative. We need to challenge its content, distribution channels and monopolies. We need to make sure that those who create new content are abiding by laws, and are traceable. Everyone needs clear and good boundaries within which to work.” This is one sector where consumers have more influence over the supply chain than they sometimes care to admit. As long as people are prepared to pay for erotica, there is a degree of accountability that can be leveraged. Certification schemes – monitoring anything from condom use to consent – are viable as long as people pay to peep. Buying the right sort of porn – as opposed to downloading it for free – could even become an act of solidarity. There are no shortages of parallels here with the music industry’s faltering embrace of an online model. Meanwhile, it’s not just about making the best of a bad egg. Porn is perhaps the most effective vehicle out there when it comes to promoting safe sex. As Anne Philpott, founder of sexual health campaign ‘The Pleasure Project’, puts it: “We have to put ‘sexy’ back into sex education”. Which is where, in theory, Government might come in. Sam Roddick thinks it’s about time it did. “We need to challenge the Government to support [sex workers] with the same mechanisms that any industry has: healthcare, pension schemes, and so on. It’s really
basic stuff, but it would legitimise the business, first Japan: no false modesty behind the fan of all, and then we could challenge it.” Tapping into new markets: mobiles bring cash as well as conversation For Syon Khan, an escort based in Birmingham, it’s a simple quid pro quo. “I pay income tax on the sex work I do, so I should be entitled to the same benefits as any other tax-paying professional.” But any politician seeking to take on such a cause wouldn’t exactly be trampled in the rush. As Baroness Miller ruefully admits, MPs tend to avoid sex like an expense scandal. “Very few MPs are even willing to debate the issue… It doesn’t exactly play well with your electorate”. Interestingly, there is much more ready discussion around drugs – which can pose far greater risks to our mental and physical wellbeing than (safe) sex, and cause far more disruption and distress up the supply chain… So why is the sex industry so difficult to discuss? Why do so many of us in the sustainability world feel we would be tarnished by association? Some cite the subordination of women, others the 21st century’s weird mix of prurience and prudery. Philosopher Antony Grayling traces it back all the way to the Judaeo-Christian obsession with increasing the flock. “So anything that doesn’t result in reproduction is regarded as aberrant.” The shame of Onan has a lot to answer for… Other civilisations don’t share the same anxieties, Grayling argues, citing Japan as an example. Sure enough, in Japanese art you’ll find prostitutes are depicted with as much dignity as aristocrats. Take Kitagawa Utamaro’s kimono-clad beauty gracefully concealing her sex with a painted fan. Now try imagining a giltframed portrait of an elegant whore in action on the wall of one of England’s stately homes... Whatever the reasons behind it, our reluctance to engage with the sex industry is doing no one any favours. If we refuse to recognise the value that sex brings to our society, environment and economy, we certainly can’t add anything to it. Anna Simpson is Deputy Editor, Green Futures.
Green Futures October 2010
Where Warren Buffet ventures, others are sure to follow
For a few heady years in the mid-zeros, clean technology was the new dot com. Venture capitalists (VCs) poured funds into everything from solar power to smart IT. Growth rates were positively vertiginous. During 2003-07, solar investments made by firms trading in the City of London alone grew at an annual average of 250%... And then came the crunch. Investments stuttered, confidence waned. There were inevitable comments about bubbles, and unflattering comparisons with the worst excesses of the dot com frenzy. But just as that proved to be the birth, rather than the death pangs, of the digital revolution, so the cleantech surge might just be the start of something truly transformational. The first six months of 2010 saw VC investments into cleantech hit new highs [see box, ‘Follow the money’]. As recoveries go, this bouncing cat is very much alive. And it’s lapping up a growing share of all VC funding. This is hardly surprising, says Alice Chapple, who as Director of Sustainable Financial Markets at Forum for the Future has been tracking this trend for a while. “Cleantech investment is [not just] an environmental imperative. It is … vital for future
Green Futures October 2010
competitiveness.” Others are positively bullish. “Cities, regions, provinces and countries are now … competing to brand themselves as hubs of clean growth”, writes Cleantech Group Chairman Nicholas Parker. “It’s no longer about trading our way out of the carbon crisis: it’s about inventing new industries. [This]”, he concludes, “[is] the new space race.” It’s a race which will be fuelled by rising resource prices – in metals, food and oil – as economies emerge from recession. But this in turn will trigger growing competition for cleantech’s feedstocks. Like oil before it, the raw materials of the new economy will enrich some states, while feeding geopolitical tensions, too. In South America, the ‘Lithium ABCs’ (Argentina, Bolivia and Chile) are already cashing in on the spiralling demand for this essential constituent of electric car batteries. And anyone concerned about China’s growing clout won’t sleep easier knowing that it controls 95% of the rare earth elements used in a wide range of clean technologies. So the race will be anything but a smooth ride. Meanwhile, though, a close look at where the money’s going reveals a lot about the direction it will take
Photo: Better Place
Clean horizons “ ”
Photo: Ace create / istock
After the shock of the crunch, venture capitalists are once again pouring funds into cleantech. So who’s going to reap the fruits of their largesse? Martin Wright takes the pulse of some leading VCs.
in the coming years. Some of it is familiar territory. Take solar. After a year or two in the doldrums, it’s enjoying a resurgence. Boosted by government support schemes such as feed-in tariffs (FiTs), it attracted over $1 billion in VC funding during the first half of 2010. According to George Coelho, MD of venture capital partnership Good Energies, FiTs have spawned a wave of investment in PV panels and accessories too, like inverters. (These transform the DC current produced by the panel to the AC widely used in domestic appliances). Even if some cash-strapped governments follow Spain’s lead and roll back on the more generous subsidies, he says, the market’s unlikely to cool overnight. There’s growing interest, too, in distributed generation, particularly in developing countries, says Steve Mahon, Chief Investment Officer at Low Carbon Investors and fund manager for AIM-listed Low Carbon Accelerator Ltd. He is launching a fund for Asia aimed at mini-grids of 5MW and under, typically provided by a mix of wind, solar or hydro: meeting local needs without all the expense and inefficiencies of a large transmission network. Along with other VCs, he sees considerable potential in combining small-scale renewable with sophisticated IT to run local energy service companies (ESCOs). But it’s electric vehicles (EVs) which are for now the fastest growing cleantech sector – pulling in $704 million in the first three months of 2010 alone. If EVs have a pin-up boy, it’s Shai Agassi. His Better Place start-up (see GF71, p12) is promising to revolutionise electric motoring, by enabling batteries to be ‘hot swapped’ in less time than it takes to fill up with petrol. He’s attracted the largest single slug of VC funding – over $550 million – so far this year. Legendary financier Warren Buffet, too, has joined the EV party, piling in to China’s BYD carmaker (see GF73, p22). Intriguingly, he’s also a large-scale investor in railway firm Burlington Northern Santa Fe – anticipating a modal shift in freight transport, from road to rail. And where Buffet ventures, others are sure to follow. His substantial presence reassures potential investors, says Parker, and makes cleantech look less like a leap in the dark. Indeed, some of the big players’ investment arms, including Intel Capital, GE Capital, Shell, Alstom and Cargill Ventures, have all been involved in 2010’s major deals, while George Soros and Richard Branson, too, are dipping their toes into the market. Meanwhile, Parker sees the rush to EVs pure and simple as being succeeded by city-wide ‘smart mobility’. This will rely on sophisticated IT systems to optimise the way people and goods move around urban centres. Not everything’s going electric, though. Biofuel crops may have wilted in a storm of bad press lately, but there’s renewed excitement in so-called third generation versions, such as fuels derived from crop waste or algae. Food security issues are also sparking VCs’ interest, especially around sustainable aquaculture. Concerns about over-fishing and unsustainable fish farms are driving a lot of “new thinking and technologies”, says Parker. ”Areas such as Hawaii and Oman are emerging as hubs of acquacultural innovation. The Scripps Institute in California, for instance, and corporations such as Unilever are doing important work in the area. It’s poised to become a real breakout agriculture category”, he concludes. But the best contender for the Next Big Thing is boring old energy efficiency. Long seen as relatively unsexy compared to the glamour of renewables, this
An app for a better place? Shai Agassi’s hot swap solution is pulling in the cleantech millions
is finally attracting serious attention from VCs. It’s not surprising: since being more efficient usually saves money, it has an obvious attraction to companies at crunch time. “I was talking to a guy recently”, Woods recalls, “who developed a product that controls energy usage in fridges [which he’d sold to Coca Cola]. The payback time is around eight months, so it makes complete economic sense for Coke. I saw him a year ago, he was turning over $15 million; when I met him a couple of weeks ago he was turning over $30 million…” Boring old efficiency gets a lot more interesting when you look at the bottom line, says Woods. On the same theme, Mahon sees a shift away from large capital-intensive projects such as wind and solar schemes, to smart energy management. He’s particularly interested in ‘grid-balancing’ technologies, which can even out the peaks and troughs of supply and demand – essential if a greater proportion of electricity is going to be generated from intermittent sources such as wind. This includes sophisticated demand-side management controls on everything from fridges and air conditioning to lighting. “It’s about putting enough intelligence into the system to make it really efficient”, says Mahon. “It’s not too capital-intensive, and you can scale it up very quickly. It’s the really high-growth area of the next few years.” Rob Wylie of WHEB Ventures agrees. “Remote sensing, monitoring and control approaches will take off”, he says. And it’s a perfect example of the way in which
Green Futures October 2010
Martin Wright is Editor in Chief of Green Futures.
Green Futures October 2010
Follow the money Cleantech cleans up
• Cleantech investments by VCs hit record levels in the first half of 2010 – $4.04 billion, narrowly beating the previous high of $4.02 billion in 2008.
Four top cleantech investments by VCs after the crunch: • Smart energy management and ICT • Electric vehicles and associated transport • Solar power • Biofuels
• 43% of all new VC investments are now targeted at cleantech.
Picking winners Leading recipients of VC funding in 2010 include:
• Investments in cleantech industrial products and services – mainly in electric vehicles – grew by 490% year on year to Q1 2010.
Better Place – Shai Agassi’s ‘battery hot swap’ EV venture: $550 million Solyndra – Californian-based thin-film solar pv specialists: $175 million
• Solar PV investment – boosted by government support schemes such as FiTs – rose by 233% in the same period.
• Californian investors accounted for 50% of the world’s total VC cleantech activity in the first half of 2010 – but China is the fastest growing source of new investment in the area.
Landis+Gyr – Swiss-based smart metering company: $165 million (and $100 million in 2009) Fisker Automotive – Californian EV company: $55 million Nualight – Irish LED company, specializing in low-energy lighting for retail fridges: $11.4 million
Sources: The Cleantech Group; New Energy World Network; Clean Edge Report
Photo: Bravajulia / istock
if less spectacular, ‘later-stage’ investments. In the past, many such profitable, growing companies would have gone to their bank to fund expansion. Now that bank lending has been squeezed almost to extinction, says Wylie, VCs are starting to fill the gap – getting into some promising, profitable ventures “at what is actually a quite reasonable valuation”. The shift away from start-ups may take some of the dot com-style glamour out of cleantech venturing, but that could also be seen as a mark of maturity – replacing the “irrational exuberance”, as Douglas Lloyd, Chief Executive of VB/Research, calls it, of a few years back. Some still see a danger of over-optimism, among them Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures. He worries that too many companies “under the green banner” would go public, “[raise] expectations [and then] miss them”. Jim Woods agrees: “I see a lot of parallels with the [worst excesses] of dot com, when investors piled in and lost huge amounts of money… They were just desperate to get in there; it was all about market share, doesn’t matter if it’s profitable. [But as] the likes of Warren Buffet said at the time, you can’t throw conventional business models out of the window, just because there’s been a paradigm shift.” The old rules still apply, in other words – no matter how revolutionary the technology. And that means something as unglamorous as basic functionality and cost-saving should be to the fore, says Wylie. “A classic example is Via Optronics, in Germany. They’ve addressed one of the great problems that you have with mobile phones or your laptop, [which] is that you can’t see what’s on the screen in sunlight. They’ve found a way of overcoming that problem whereby you get total clarity even in bright sunshine. It answers another problem as well – that of energy loss through the screen – which means longer battery life. So you’ve actually answered two questions in one technology: you’re solving a consumer problem and reducing energy use. And of course, you’re saving money. It really is as simple as that.” “I was at a Green Monday [networking] event in London the other day”, Wylie goes on, “and the audience were mainly sustainability managers. So I asked them: ‘How many of you have ‘cost reduction’ in your job description? Because surely that’s what it should be.’ And very few put their hands up. Which is really quite odd, because one could argue that in times of a credit crunch [sustainability] is one of the few areas where you should be investing – because you’re actually saving people money.” But you need the courage to look at the long term, he adds. “There was a parallel back in the 90s, when the German chemical industry was faced with very tight EU legislation on air emissions. It threw up its hands up in horror and said: ‘It’s going to cost so much money, we’re going to go off to Asia where it’s much cheaper and we don’t have all these [regulations]’. What actually happened, of course, is that none of them went off to Asia. They looked at their internal processes and became incredibly efficient, and that put them in a very competitive position later on.” “Hard times”, concludes Wylie, “can actually mean an opportunity to invest, as long as you choose carefully. And when big institutions aren’t investing, that could be a signal that now is absolutely the right time [for the venture capitalist] to do so.”
Photo: Better Place
Never invest in a business which requires government support
ICT companies are, as Forum for the Future calls it, “gatecrashing the energy sector” (see p36). Coelho, too, is an enthusiast. Like Mahon, he’s looking at everything from LEDs to control systems, and even improved ways of ‘harvesting daylight’ via advanced versions of sun pipes and similar technologies. “The key is to provide just the right amount of light precisely where and when required.” All of this activity isn’t just the product of a free market red (or green) in tooth and claw, of course. Governments trying to spend their way out of recession have played their part too, dangling carrots as part of the various ‘green deal’ stimulus packages. As analysts Gigaom Pro put it: “Perhaps more than any other industry, cleantech has the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to thank [for coming through the recession relatively unscathed].” In Britain, Alice Chapple sees huge potential in the planned Green Investment Bank. “It’s not yet clear just how it will be deployed to support venture capital”, she says, but if the Government gets it right, it could “be a massive opportunity for the public sector to catalyse greater investment … by sharing some of the risk.” Not all policy initiatives necessarily deliver, of course. But as Jim Woods of Malthus Capital points out: “We’re getting to the point now where [there’s been a lot of experimentation in different countries], so we know which sort of policies work, and which don’t. We know for example that Renewables Obligation Certificates don’t work, but FiTs do.” Rob Wylie sounds a cautionary note. “Never invest in a business which requires government support” to survive, he warns. “You love it when it’s there, but you’re left high and dry if it suddenly disappears – and politicians do change their minds!” Maurice Gunderson, Senior Partner at CMEA Capital, draws a fine distinction between businesses “that are propped up by [government funding] … and those that are incubated by it”. If the funding ends, the former will fold, the latter survive. There’s one striking difference between pre- and post-crunch ventures. Today, a much greater share of overall VC funds is going to companies which are already established, such as major solar or electronics firms, and in need of fresh funds to expand. It’s come at the expense of ‘early stage’ investment in start-ups, which is lagging well behind pre-crunch levels. This is partly a sign of a maturing market, but also a sign of the times. “It’s been the worst fundraising environment for VCs for ten years”, says Rob Wylie, “so investors [are tending] to conserve the cash they’ve got, to support their existing portfolio… [Our] natural investors are institutions like pension funds and so forth, and they’ve become very risk averse.” Hence the preference for what are seen as safer,
Landscape artist Imagine painting a mountain white, to reflect the sun’s rays, and so slow global warming. Sounds absurd? Not for Eduardo Gold – or the World Bank. One of 26 winners of the Bank’s “100 Ideas to Save the Planet” competition, Gold and four assistants have set out to whitewash three Peruvian peaks with a mix of lime, industrial egg white and water. It won’t quite look as grand as this natural version, but perhaps it’s a start. Albeit a very strange one. Photo: John Berry/photolibrary
Fire brands Can labels spark a shift to sustainable behaviour? Anna Simpson reports on a new spirit of brand activism that’s reigniting the debate around green consumption.
Take Ariel’s ‘Turn to 30’ campaign. By telling people about one tiny change to their weekly washing routine, Ariel helped its customers save money, feel informed, and gave them the warm glow of getting something right. Of course they went back for more. Saving 60,000 tonnes of carbon over five years was almost beside the point. Another example was Sainsbury’s waste-cutting initiative, ‘Love your leftovers’. Shoppers were handed a Tupperware box and recipe card to give them ideas on how to serve up food that they might otherwise have thrown away. It all makes for a stronger relationship between consumer and brand. The brand is no longer just a name: it’s a mentor, a helping hand, someone with your wellbeing in mind. It’s a key reason – says Andrew Jenkins, Sustainable Development Manager at Boots – that his company survives in the face of tough competition on both range and price from supermarkets. Customers already go to Boots for healthcare and beauty advice, so the brand’s better placed than most
You don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Life would be better with an aloe vera loo roll’
Everyone knows a brand is out to make money. That clarity of intent wins trust
Photo: Berekin / istock
Brands create desire. That’s how they work. Not just the desire to have and to hold that soft leather handbag or slick shiny laptop – but to be the swish lady or creative type in the ad. But can they make us desire a more sustainable world? Can they make us want to be the person in that picture? For Sally Uren, Deputy Director at Forum for the Future, we absolutely need them to do just that. “It’s naïve to believe that mainstream consumers will suddenly start demanding sustainable products” off their own bat, she says. “They don’t wake up one morning and decide that they need to integrate their camera with their phone, or that life will be better with aloe vera loo roll.” If anyone can make using less energy, or even buying less stuff, appealing to the mainstream (and not just the bean-munching, hempclad few), it’s brands. But why would they want to? Because it’s a great excuse to engage with consumers, says Uren. When brands talk about sustainability, they don’t just talk about their own future. They talk about the consumer’s future: what they do when they leave the store, how they take care of the things they buy, how they take care of themselves. Effectively, it’s a chance to go home with them...
Green Futures October 2010
to offer information about sustainability. “But it’s not something we can shout about,” says Jenkins: “They expect us to be doing it already. People aren’t interested in corporate messages,” he explains. “They want advice on what they can do themselves.” More brands are taking up this mentoring role. Dorothy MacKenzie of Dragon Rouge cites the US cereal company, Nature’s Path. It offers The Ultimate Eat Well Do Good Resource Library – with links to books, films, consumer guides, information on how to grow your own, and the contact details of various organic farms and certification schemes. It’s far more effective than assurances about the quality and sources of its grains – and it makes the consumer feel part of a wider movement towards the same goal. According to Annie Longsworth, Managing Director at the global PR company Cohn & Wolfe, consumers are more willing to trust brands than government. “Republicans and Democrats meet at the checkout,” she argues. And it’s not just in the US. “Consumers tend not to trust what government is saying,” says Jenkins: “They think it has another agenda.” And the same goes for non-profits. “People resist moralising statements”, says MacKenzie. “But everyone knows a brand is out to make money – and that clarity of intent wins trust.” But what makes brands really effective vehicles for change, she adds, is their “power to normalise” new trends and ways of doing things. Consumers are suspicious of change. Take tablet computers. However easy they are to use, it’s hard to imagine that anyone other than Apple could have got away with being the first to drop the keyboard. Without the backing of a trusted brand, your average shopper wouldn’t take the risk. But within the safe space of their reputation and established aesthetics, novelty is more palatable. Of course, the most direct way for a brand to create change is to build it into their products, without asking the consumer to do anything at all. So, instead of prompting people to adjust the dials in their fridge, sell them a more efficient model. Rather than explain how this particular TV will save so much money over so many months, take the other sets off the shelf. That’s just what eight major UK retailers did. With the support of the Energy Saving Trust and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, they ditched the least efficient TVs (see GF77, p13). More brands are editing the choice available to us. Think of
B&Q’s decision to end their entire line of patio heaters (see GF76, p36). But, Uren insists, the language around such ‘choice-editing’ has to change. “Retailers go into a cold sweat if you talk about offering less choice! That’s not the point,” she says. “It’s about promoting the sustainable option.” The question begs: what can a brand do when the really sustainable option is a shift away from sales altogether? “If we take a serious look at sustainable consumption,” says MacKenzie, “we have to look at radical innovation, including the fundamental shift from products to services.” For brands, leasing a product or offering a service makes the consumer much more likely to come back for more. It’s a major new business trend, and one that could send profit margins through the roof. Imagine. Instead of spending time, money and sweat on making more stuff, offer consumers the same product again and again. Service-based brands are cropping up in every sector, from media (LOVEFiLM, iTunes) to transport (Streetcar). Start-ups like WhipCar are even encouraging consumers to put their own vehicle up for rental. It’s a significant shift, and one that threatens to outmanoeuvre brands that cling to more traditional models. “I’m still waiting for a major brand to have a serious conversation – with its consumers – about limits to consumption,” says Uren. “There’s no point holding back on this. Timidity never built trust.” Anna Simpson is Deputy Editor, Green Futures.
Smart consumption Forum for the Future is working with leading businesses, including as M&S, Unilever, Sainsbury’s and PepsiCo, to promote a future where: • • • •
Sustainable products and services are mainstream, not niche. People want to buy these products, as they are both affordable and desirable. The retail sector contributes positively to wellbeing. New business models deliver both commercial success and wider sustainability.
Green Futures October 2010
Slow money smart money?
Money zips around the globe so quickly it hardly touches the ground
Imagine your investment portfolio, a decade or two from now. A solid tracker fund, perhaps; a sober pension plan, no doubt. But you might also have substantial shares in a nearby restaurant, along with the farms which supply it; a bondholding in a neighbourhood solar plant; and a clutch of other investments in a wide range of local enterprises. Each of them run by people you know, or who come strongly recommended by a network of friends, colleagues and experts steeped in the area. Each contributing to a thriving, resilient local economy – helping create a sustainable future from the ground up. Such is the vision painted by a loose alliance of enthusiasts gathering under the banner of ‘Slow Money’. The name is a deliberate echo of the Slow Food movement, and shares the conviction that real value lies in the local and the long term, rather than the global and ephemeral. Sounds a little naïve? Then consider the alternative. Money now zips around the globe so quickly it hardly touches the ground: more than 95% of currency shuttles from screen to screen in short-term speculation and never sees the inside of a pocket. “Today’s transactions are complex, opaque and anonymous, based on short-term outcomes”, says Slow Money enthusiast Don Shaffer, CEO of San Francisco-based RSF Social Finance. “Better [for them to be] direct, transparent and based on long-term [personal] relationships.” If Slow Money has a founding father, it’s Woody Tasch, former Chairman of Investors’ Circle, a network of ‘angels’ backing social enterprises, from farms to IT companies, across the US. Tasch’s book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms,
Green Futures October 2010
and Fertility Mattered, serves as a kind of manifesto for the movement. It’s at once a critique of how capital flows over the world, and an incubator for strategies to drive funds to sustainable, socially responsible businesses. It’s spawned an organisation – the Slow Money Alliance – whose initial goal is to have one million people invest 1% of their assets in local food systems within ten years. That may sound a modest sum in individual terms, says the Alliance’s first Executive Director, Ari Derfel, but “cumulatively, we’re talking billions”. The money would be used to fund community-based food entrepreneurs – the farmers, butchers, and bakers striving to bring healthy goods to the community, but who can’t offer the quick, high returns that appeal to conventional investors. A realistic return for investment in such enterprises may be somewhere between 1-5% per annum, says Derfel. A paltry sum in a Wall Street context, but those affiliated with Slow Money emphasise the words realistic and sustainable. The era of soaring stock indices with high returns year after year is over, says Tasch. “Yet our belief system hasn’t caught up. The investor part of ourselves is still waiting for those days to come back.” Many are not willing to wait. “Last year [the Slow Money Principles] had 400 signatories”, says Tasch. “Now 11,000 have signed. We’ve had a steady stream of people sending $1,000 over the internet for the start-up NGO, 50 to 60 within the last six months.” It’s still early days, but regional initiatives have sprung up in cities throughout the US, including New York, Vermont, Santa Fe, Seattle and Madison. Slow Money Texas, with five chapters throughout the state, has started a ‘greenhouse’ programme to provide mentoring from lawyers, accountants and other professionals to help
Photo: Zsolt Biczo / Shutterstock
As crowdsourcing comes to the financial world, Judith Schwartz reports on a trend that could transform the way we invest for the future.
prepare entrepreneurs to present to investors. The Slow Money Project in Pittsboro, North Carolina, has raised nearly $30,000 from local people to offer low-interest loans to two small food businesses. And it’s not just happening in the States. Slow Money initiatives are emerging right across Europe, too. In the UK, Exeter Local Food Ltd is well on the way to raising £135,000 from around 200 people to set up a ‘Real Food’ store, bakery and café in the city, sourcing produce from local farms. It’s one of several such schemes emerging from the Transition Towns movement, a grassroots campaign aimed at helping local economies prepare for a low-carbon, post-oil future (see GF70, p26). Just how Slow Money investments will work in practice is a much debated area. Ari Derfel says that “we are exploring the myriad forms money can take: guarantees, co-investment, loans, ownership, and so on”, working with the likes of Calvert, Mission Markets and Portfolio 21, as well as RSF. He conjures up a vision in which Slow Money groups will identify parts of their local food economy which need fixing, and convene entrepreneurs and potential investors with a view to arranging partnerships in everything from farms and delivery networks to retail outlets and restaurants. The Slow Money Alliance could weigh in as a co-investor or loan guarantor, he adds, to give other investors the confidence to chip in without feeling they’re taking an undue risk. It is already developing wholly new investment products, including “Slow Munis” [sic], which will function like municipal bonds, but specifically support the local agricultural infrastructure. Other ideas bubbling around include mutual fund-style equities,
fund-to-fund lending and even local stock exchanges. The rise of Slow Money comes against a backdrop of growing interest in ethical investments in general – and it’s not just driven by philanthropy, either. “There’s a sense that the era of being able to trust the [large financial] institutions is over,” says Alice Chapple, Forum for the Future’s Director of Sustainable Financial Markets. For most people, she says, the reaction stops at “‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’, as opposed to actually moving their investments”. But a growing number are doing just that. James Niven, Programme Director of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV), which groups 11 of the world’s leading ethical banks (see GF77, p39), reports “a marked increase in the take-up of sustainable savings and investments”, among its members, “from Europe to South Asia … large numbers of individuals have moved away from the high street names in search of an approach to using their money that’s transparent, straightforward and whose benefits for people and the environment they can see and understand easily”. That’s not quite the same as investing in a business directly, on the Slow Food model. But there are signs of a convergence underway. Triodos Bank, one of the GABV members, has launched a ‘Know Where Your Money Goes’ tool that allows customers to track how and where their investments are allocated. And in an echo of Woody Tasch’s rhetoric, Triodos’s Will Ferguson writes: “Fast money, like fast food, is full of empty calories. It takes little time or thought to opt for the highest interest rate, but in the long term it could harm both you and the planet, leaving an unpleasant taste in your mouth.”
It’s funding farmers, butchers, bakers…
Green Futures October 2010
“Make it easy… make it desirable” The Green Futures Interview: Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco, talks to Martin Wright. Fighting talk – but even with the recent wobble in big banks’ confidence, isn’t there a danger this will stay trapped in a niche inhabited by all the usual well-meaning suspects? Ari Derfel is defiant. This isn’t “liberal, leftist, head-in-the-clouds” stuff, he says. “This movement is beyond political ideology: it’s attracted an incredibly diverse following ... far beyond the usual grouping of people.” It’s deeply practical, he insists. “Too many of us have worked for too many years in these fields to waste our time with unrealistic dreams. It
truly is not a question of ‘if’ this will happen. It is simply a matter of ‘how’ and ‘when’. We have the experience to figure out these solutions and we will only take yes for an answer!” Judith Schwartz writes about economics and the environment for a variety of publications, including Time and Christian Science Monitor.
Mention Tesco to your average environmentalist, and then watch them blow a fuse. In the last few years alone, it’s been accused of everything from destroying local shops and stifling diversity to trashing the climate. It even has its very own anti-fan club – Tescopoly – to rail against its power and influence. For some critics, it epitomises everything that’s wrong with corporate power in Britain today. So here I am in the lair of the Prince of Darkness. Though to be honest, sat in a seventies office block in a nondescript business park in the quiet London suburb of Cheshunt, it doesn’t exactly feel like Global Megalopolis plc. Some corporate HQs these days – all primary colours and chill-out corners – look like a cross between a daycare nursery and a yoga retreat. Tesco’s looks like an office.
Additional material by Martin Wright.
Think local, act global Hugh Knowles tracks a new trend in crowdsource finance
Green Futures October 2010
they had received $200,000. That seems an awful lot of money to give to four unknown programmers without much of a guarantee that they will deliver, and it is unlikely they would have raised that money from traditional sources. Yet thanks to crowdsourcing, they were able to raise 10 times their initial target. Over 6,000 people worldwide invested an average of $33 each. While not exactly negligible, this is the sort of sum which many of us would be willing to risk to back a venture we’re keen to see succeed. If it works, we’ll be delighted to have been a part of making it happen. That can be enough motivation in itself, even without the prospect of a financial return. If it fails, well, we haven’t exactly bet the farm… What is fascinating about these examples is that they require a high level of trust, but that this trust is distributed throughout all the donors. So, as a donor, I had to trust that at least some other members of the community would know enough about programming to detect a scam – and would be quick to publicise it. This would severely damage the reputation of the founders – making it much less likely that they’d try to pull a fast one! So crowdsourcing not only makes it possible to accumulate a significant investment from large numbers of small donors, but also offers those donors a degree of security which simply wouldn’t have been available before the net. Hugh Knowles is Principal Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future.
Photos: BanksPhotos / istock
In the last six months I have backed a rooftop farm in Brooklyn (brooklyngrangefarm.com), an open source alternative to Facebook (joindiaspora. com) and a renewable energy pilot in Malawi (unreasonableinstitute.org/ventures). I have joined thousands of people giving money to projects that do not have charitable status and, unlike peer-to-peer microfinance initiatives such as Kiva.org, don’t offer a guaranteed return. I also have no certainty that my money will be well spent either. What is happening? The idea that people will use the internet to develop new methods of collaboration is not new. But we now have the functionality to make it happen swiftly and seamlessly, with secure payment systems, like PayPal, and geolocative technology which enablines you to ‘see’ where your money goes. The key elements in all this, of course, are trust and risk. And this is where crowdsourcing seems to come into its own. Take the Diaspora example. In April this year, four young programmers from New York University’s Courant Institute announced that they wanted to build an alternative to Facebook. Concerned by privacy standards and ownership of personal data, they suggested building an open source version with encrypted data and a distributed hosting model. They put the project up on Kickstarter.com, a website that helps people crowdsource money for interesting ideas, and asked for $20,000 to cover their time and expenses as they programmed over the summer. Barely a fortnight later,
It fits well with Sir (not that he calls himself that) Terry. A down-to-earth Scouser – Liverpool born and bred, with accent intact – he’s hardly your typical celeb CEO, partying on down with the catwalk models. He’s on the board of his beloved Everton FC, but prefers to sit with the fans rather than in the directors’ box. One day each week, he turns up unannounced for a low-key visit to a Tesco store (less than 600 of them when he took over, nearly 2,500 now). It’s fair to say that for much of his career he enjoyed a reputation for self-effacement. Until, that is, he stuck his head way above the parapet at a Forum for the Future event in 2007, when he announced that Tesco would become a zero-carbon company by 2050, with a series of stretch targets en route, starting immediately [see box]. And all without a single tonne of carbon offset. Ambitious stuff. So what brought this on? “We’d been doing our bit on environmental issues for a while, enough for some, not enough for others. But climate change felt very different. When science showed incontrovertibly that the world was warming up, that it was due to man’s activities, and that if it carried on it would have disastrous consequences – well, that was pretty terrifying.” In effect, Leahy says, it put a great big question mark over everything Tesco was about. “Mass consumption, of which I am very proud – because it has made life for ordinary families in the West immeasurably better – is built on fossil fuels… And we used them. Which is fine, until you find out that they have this huge externality which is potentially catastrophic.” For many staff, he goes on, this produced an awkward dissonance. “People come here and work incredibly hard every day, whether it is to fill up the shelves or drive the lorries or serve on the checkouts. And when they help people it puts a smile on their face... But how could you do all that”, he continues, putting himself in their shoes, “and then have hanging over you the prospect that your work is actually doing far more harm to those people, or to their children, than all the good that you had ever done? How could you do it? You just can’t walk away from that.” “After I made that speech, a lot of people [within Tesco] came up and said, ‘My god, you are actually doing something about it!’ They were delighted, because [privately] they knew something had to be done… but were waiting for someone to take the lead.” Unsurprisingly, there were some sceptical voices. After all, Tesco wouldn’t exactly be the first company
Green Futures October 2010
Climate change is terrifying... You just can’t walk away from that
to succeed at market domination only to take an embarrassing tumble over some high-profile green ambitions. Leahy acknowledges that achieving total carbon neutrality will need innovation on a massive scale. “Obviously you ask yourself, is this going to distract you completely from the main purpose of the business? Will it just become an unaffordable cost?... But I am a big believer in the audacious goal. It gets the best out of individuals and organisations. As a piece of management, it works.” In an effort to convince any doubters, he brought in Nicholas Stern to talk to senior colleagues. But one of his greatest allies in winning the argument internally was the price of oil. “Most of our [business] model has been built on $20 per barrel”, he says. “$20 that was headed for $12.” Conveniently enough, the price was rising sharply to around $70 at the time Leahy made his climatic cri de coeur. “This made it much easier”, he acknowledges, citing the new zero-carbon store which opened in Cambridgeshire earlier this year. “It cost 30% more to build, but it uses 50% less energy. With oil at $70 a barrel, that’s a business case in itself.” It’s one which will see Tesco become “a big user, buyer and generator” of renewable energy in coming years – and, via its £100 million green fund, an investor in it, too. Only the most implacable of Tesco’s enemies would dismiss its environmental goals out of hand. But anyone hoping that Leahy’s Damascene conversion on climate would extend to questioning the environmental impact of consumption itself will be disappointed. “The one thing I have come to understand is that people have this universal desire for a better life, and you are not going to stop that. The only chance we have got is to let people fulfil that desire, but in a sustainable way... You have got to work with the grain of human nature.” And that, he says, means using carrots, not sticks. “We must make green easy, fashionable, affordable and desirable.” It’s Leahy’s running theme. Trust the consumer, educate and incentivise them, take them along with you. In some respects, it makes Leahy himself sound rather unfashionable. Take carbon labelling. Many question whether the average shopper actually bothers to read product labels about anything, let alone carbon. Leahy is adamant that it’s the way forward, anticipating the day when every product in the store is labelled, and people automatically consider the carbon footprint of everything they buy, or do. He believes carbon should
Green Futures October 2010
be seen and eventually used as a currency, and suggests customers could trade in it via their Tesco Clubcards. Nothing epitomises his views better, perhaps, than the war on the humble plastic carrier bag. Some retailers discourage use by charging for them; Tesco, by contrast, offers bonus Clubcard points for shoppers who do without. “It’s far better to incentivise people”, argues Leahy, “because then you’ve got them actively engaged; it is a decision they have made. Whereas if you tax them they are passive, they have not changed anything out of their own choice, and they’re potentially resentful.” It seems to be working: carrier bag use has dropped by 50%. Leahy’s also deeply sceptical about choice editing, where retailers act to remove unsustainable options from the shelves. “It’s a rather loaded phrase, which at the extreme end means, ‘People have got to learn to deal with less’. I fundamentally don’t believe that.” Take light bulbs. It’s fine for Government to set a date for phasing out inefficient varieties, says Leahy: that’s its job. But business should work on solutions. “When you look at why people weren’t buying low-energy bulbs, you find that it’s because they were too expensive, and they didn’t actually fit the lights people had in their homes. [For example], every home in Britain had gone through a love affair with spot lamps, but there were no low-energy versions… [So] we worked with suppliers [to develop one], we set a price to make it affordable, provided information to customers. And in that way we made dramatic progress.” Helping consumers be sustainable by choice, rather than imposing it on them, actually does politicians a favour, Leahy argues, because “it mandates Government to take difficult decisions… Politicians are surprisingly tentative at doing so, because they’re always worried about the next election.” Tesco doesn’t have to be elected – and that, says Leahy, has allowed it to be “far more bold than most politicians.” The single most thing helpful Government can do, he says, is create certainty by saying: ‘This is what we have to do as a society, and we are not going to divert from that’. The more Government can create frameworks to encourage that, such as carbon pricing and [green fiscal reform], the better. Because then everyone can invest against that certainty.” Meanwhile, Leahy’s initiatives are starting to pay dividends in terms of reputation. A recent Brand Green
poll listed Tesco alongside Marks and Spencer, the Co-operative and British Gas as the leading UK brands in tackling climate change. He insists that there’s no question that successor Philip Clarke will take his foot off the green pedal – the business logic is overwhelming. For some, though, Tesco will always be seen as environmental enemy number one. So how does it feel to be head of an organisation which draws such flak? “Well, it is inevitable that some people won’t like what you do… Even if we keep 95% of people in Britain happy – which is more than any political party achieves – that’s still three million who don’t like us… But remember, our customers are citizens too, they’re members of communities. They want us to do the right thing.” Leahy talks of work with councils to introduce stores into ‘food deserts’ (deprived areas where no one’s willing to open a shop) and of other ‘good neighbour’ initiatives. But he’s impatient with the argument that Tesco’s relentless expansion epitomises the worst aspects of globalisation. “We sometimes gets caught up in that, as other successful companies do”, he said in an earlier interview. “But you can’t get your iPod made in the local village; Toyota don’t manufacture their hybrid just down the street. And I’m afraid the IT system wasn’t bashed up in the local car mechanic’s yard ... You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have safe little village England where nothing has changed for 50 years, but also expect to be a society that leads the world in science and medicine and everything else.” Leahy steps down in March 2011, after which… well, he’s been touted as everything from Chairman of the Football Association to an enterprise ‘Tsar’. It’s one subject on which he won’t be drawn. As far as environmental issues are concerned, Tesco has put £25 million into a new Sustainable Consumption Institute at Manchester University – Leahy’s alma mater – and he says he hopes to “make a contribution” to the debate through that. But couldn’t he wield more clout on behalf of sustainability in a higher-profile role? He hesitates, then says: “I don’t think I will have a high-profile role in anything, to be honest. I have had a very good career here, and that’s high profile enough for me.” Martin Wright is Editor in Chief of Green Futures.
Big, hairy, audacious... Tesco’s green goals include: • • • • •
Zero-carbon business by 2050 Reducing emissions of products sold by 30% by 2020 Helping customers reduce their carbon footprint by 50% by 2020 Stores built between 2007 and 2020 to have half the average carbon footprint of one built in 2006 Reducing use of plastic carrier bags by 70% between 2006 and end-2010
Meanwhile, it’s: • • •
Investing £100 million in green businesses Launching domestic solar water heating and electricity offers Replaced ‘Buy One Get One Free’ deals with ‘Buy One Get One Later’
Zero carbon superstore • • • • • • • • • •
Opened in February 2010 in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire Intended as a model for future stores Powered by CHP plant burning renewable biofuels such as vegetable oil, exporting surplus to the grid Timber framed Sun pipes and roof lights for natural lighting Rainwater harvesting for toilets and car wash Hydrocarbon refrigerants for chill cabinets and air con Solar-powered LED lighting for car park Cost 30% more than standard store to build Consumes 50% less energy
Tesco under Leahy Stores Pre-tax profits Market share (groceries)
1997 568 £750m 20%
2010 2,482 £3,176m 30%
Curriculum Vitae • • • • •
Born: Feb 28, 1956 Educated: St Edward’s College, Liverpool, and UMIST – the first member of his family to stay at school after 16 Stacked shelves at Tesco in his summer holidays, and applied to the company after university, only to be rejected and work for the Co-op instead Finally joined as marketing executive 1979; appointed to the Board 1992; CEO 1997 Will hand reins over to Philip Clarke in March 2011
Green Futures October 2010
Anne MacCraig, CEO Café Direct
Newcastle scoops top slot in latest Sustainable Cities Index
I can just pick up the phone to Kenya and ask, ‘What’s happening at your end?’
It all started with the world coffee crisis. There had been a global agreement which provided a sustainable level of income for coffee growers, and in 1991 it collapsed. Suddenly, small-scale growers were in deep trouble, experiencing extreme volatility and low prices. So a group of organisations, including Oxfam, got together and started to sell coffee in church halls and markets. That was before anyone had heard of fair trade, but it was out of this that the movement grew, three or four years down the line. Rather than being a niche, ‘open-toed sandal’ kind of business, we expanded. When we became sizeable, a number of larger businesses started to notice us – even the likes of Starbucks. They saw that we had something which they didn’t, and that was a real understanding of natural resources, combined with direct access to people up the supply chain. For instance, I can just pick up the phone to somebody in Kenya or Peru and ask, “What’s happening at your end? Why is the price of coffee going up or down?”
Green Futures October 2010
I went to one village in Kenya, and the women tied me up in rope. They wanted to show me how much wood they used to carry every day to meet basic needs. I’m talking about a community that’s right on the frontline when it comes to climate change: their tea productivity has declined by 30-40%. But there’s also some great innovation going on. These women had been involved in building and selling over 2,000 energy-saving stoves, and have a new income stream as a result.
So what’s Toon Town got right? For a start, it’s got ambition
Back in the UK, the big trend is ‘grow your own’. The demand for allotments has shot up: everything from gastropubs to celebrity chefs has created an interest around it. Even Tesco has started providing allotment-type services. I’m all for it, because people who know that home-grown vegetables taste great are probably going to be more interested in the kind of brand Café Direct is, and choose it above producers that don’t know who their growers are. And the reality is that you’re going to find it pretty difficult to grow tea and coffee in the UK, so there’s no threat! At the end of the day, ethical consumption can only drive so much. Businesses are good at picking the low-hanging fruit, like energy efficiency: anything that cuts costs. But the Government has to put the resources and infrastructure in place to make it easy for people to do the right thing – setting carbon prices, for example. Anne MacCraig was in conversation with Anna Simpson.
Photo: Sirimo / istock
When I was growing up, I had this weekend job in a shop in Bristol. What fascinated me was the way all the different chocolate brands would fight for space on the shelf. I started to learn about brands and people: how consumers work, what they choose. People are becoming more and more aware of their impact on the world around them, and looking to make small changes through what they buy.
In the UK, around nine in ten people live in towns and cities, drawn to their vibrant lifestyles and dynamic economies. But cities face growing challenges, too: ageing housing stock, clogged-up transport systems, not to mention the need to ‘future proof’ themselves against a changing climate. And all this at a time of a prolonged spending squeeze… So how are they measuring up? Forum for the Future’s fourth annual Sustainable Cities Index, sponsored by GE, takes the pulse of Britain’s 20 largest urban centres, charting their performance against key social, economic and environmental indicators. And for the second year running, Newcastle has taken the top slot, ahead of rivals Leicester, Brighton, Bristol and London. So what’s Toon Town getting right? For a start, it’s got ambition. It has placed itself at the centre of a growing cleantech industry, aiming to become a world class hub of science and innovation. With 580 electric vehicle charging points in the pipeline, it’s on the way to becoming the UK’s EV capital. And it’s backed the local economy right through the recession, supporting start-ups and investing in infrastructure. Peter Madden, the Forum’s Chief Executive, wants to see others follow its lead. “Cities are having to count every penny, so it’s essential that they invest wisely for long-term success.” London is top of the table when it comes to future-proofing, with strong plans to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. It also boasts the highest
level of business start-ups. But it falls down on air quality and has one of the fattest ecological footprints. So, given the variety of ingredients that go into healthy lifestyles and happy communities, what’s the best strategy for our urban leaders? The key, says Tony Gale, General Manager GE City Infrastructure, is to de-couple quality of life from high levels of consumption and waste, and that – he concludes – should be “a fantastic opportunity”. – Anna Simpson
Top cities The British cities best dressed for the future:
Newcastle Leicester Brighton Bristol London
2010 1 2 3 4 5
2009 1 4 3 2 5
2008 4 8 2 1 9
2007 8 14 1 3 10
New partners Since the last issue of Green Futures, eBay, Hannaford and Rexam PLC have joined Forum for the Future as partners. www.forumforthefuture.org
Green Futures October 2010
Which phone’s greenest?
Tomorrow’s leaders Since 1996, Forum for the Future’s Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development has been training the sustainability leaders of the future. Each issue, we track the career of a Forum alumnus.
Fiona Parry Class of: 2003-2004 Currently: Community Development Manager, Lend Lease Europe Why I chose the MProf I graduated in Geography, which qualifies you for everything and nothing! It wasn’t just the topic [sustainability] that I found appealing. It was the work-based learning – the opportunity to sample all these different sectors within the space of a year. And then there’s the alumni network. It’s hugely important and valuable. What I learnt The first thing I learnt was how connected everything is. This helped me to realise that I wanted to work in the built environment. There are challenges in all the sectors, but for me the obvious starting point is the actual place where people live and work. Focusing on a geographical location gives you real scope for holistic thinking. You can bring all the different parts together. Career to date My first job after the course was with the consultancy Upstream, which was founded by Forum alumni (including Julie Hirigoyen – see GF77, p36). During my two and a half years there, it was clear that sustainability was becoming a big focus at board level – and there were many property
Ilka Weissbrod reports on a new eco rating scheme for mobiles. Whatever it may be – your calendar, camera, road map, sports watch, portable stereo or news portal – it’s unlikely to be just your phone. As more of us look to our mobiles for information, entertainment and advice, choosing the right handset gets trickier. Alongside something stylish, user-friendly and at the cutting edge of smart technology, we want something to fit our values and priorities. Now British buyers can add green credentials to their handset checklist. Forum for the Future has partnered with Telefónica O2 UK to develop the country’s first sustainable rating scheme for mobile phones. ‘Eco rating’ was launched this summer in O2 stores across the UK, and Telefónica is working on plans for roll out across the group. It scores handsets on a scale of one to five, according to three criteria:
companies that wanted to know how to report it, measure it and make a strong case for it. After Upstream I went to work in Dubai on the sustainability framework for property company Nakheel – the people behind the Palm Deira and Palm Jumeirah islands. It was a huge challenge to find ways to make sustainability count in a context seemingly without limits. Of course, since the financial crisis this would be very different and it will be interesting to see how this will influence future development. I left consultancy in 2007 to work for leading property developer Lend Lease. What I plan to do next At the moment I’m working on community development for a large residential project in East London. I’m really enjoying working in the social side of sustainability, and being based on site means I see the project taking shape every day. Having worked on this since the planning stages, I’ve learned that it’s never too early to think about sustainability, so I hope in the future I will be able to bring this experience to other regeneration projects.
• • •
Advice for future leaders It’s important to know what it is you want to change. During the course, we constantly had to take a step back and reflect on what our goals were. Often, when you do this, you realise just how far you’ve come.
With over a billion handsets sold worldwide each year, the phone industry is rife with creative competition. Eco rating will, its developers hope, drive up standards in design and manufacture, encouraging the industry to see itself as a creator of sustainable solutions. It’s a great example of how a robust measurement approach can promote the development of more sustainable products and services.
Fiona Parry was in conversation with Katie Shaw.
Green Futures October 2010
Ilka Weissbrod leads Forum for the Future’s engagement in the Eco rating project.
Sara Parkin seeks leadership in a perverse world
Sparks fly with smart IT
An overwhelming 96% of UN Global Compact company chief executives believe sustainability should be integrated into strategies and operations, according to the latest survey. But nearly half of this ostensibly committed group says the complexity of putting it into practice is the biggest barrier to actually doing it. More immediate pressures from turbulent markets make it hard for them to behave, day to day, as if they were managing their businesses for the long term. When one senior executive complained after a course that she “still didn’t know what to do differently on Monday”, I could only agree with growing criticism of leadership training in general, and MBAs in particular. It doesn’t help that there are precious few reinforcing mechanisms for anyone who does put sustainability first, with the rules of the game for business, governance and life in general perversely stacked against sustainability
Photo: Fishwork / istock; lisegagne / istock
Current favourites include a community-based smart grid (why wait for utilities to roll out smart meters?), how electric vehicles could be used for load-balancing and a shared, web-based resource to help community-owned energy projects, like Tresco and Ovesco, get off the ground. The five most promising ideas will be developed by project teams in the next stage, and then submitted to an expert judging panel. The winner – to be announced in January – will be awarded £4,000 to spur its development. – Ruth Harwood Photo: Dizzo / istock
As history shows, significant change rarely comes from those winning out in the current system. Now, with climate change and security concerns, we need a radical shift in how we generate, distribute, store and use energy. So Forum for the Future has launched a project to shake it all up from the outside. ‘Gatecrashing the energy sector’ offers support to fresh thinking that could set the UK energy system on a more sustainable path. The project kicked off in September with a call for people to submit ideas at a series of events and through an online crowdsourcing platform.
environmental impact throughout the whole life cycle how the handset can encourage sustainable behaviour the ethical performance of the manufacturer.
Sony Ericsson’s Elm tops the rankings, with a score of 4.3; a further nine handsets score above four. But none have yet merited a full five points. “It’s an honest reflection of the fact that there is no truly sustainable handset on the market,” says James Taplin, Forum for the Future’s telecommunications expert. “Despite the technology and know-how we have today, creating the first sustainable phone remains a challenge. Hopefully, the prospect of achieving the highest Eco rating will spur developers to up their game.” Smart phones are credited with facilitating sustainable lifestyle choices – encouraging the user to walk more, for example, with GPS to guard against the stress of getting lost. But whether such applications can outweigh the environmental impact of the handset, from manufacture through consumer use to disposal, is up for debate. Eco rating is the first industry-wide initiative to reflect this trade-off. O2 is already looking ahead to the 2011 assessment process, preparing to convene an advisory panel. And future rounds of Eco rating are expected to reach across a wider product range. Research in Motion (RIM) – the Blackberry manufacturer – didn’t feel ready to participate in the first launch of Eco rating, but is fully committed to doing so in the future. O2 is keen to support RIM to make this happen, an example of how sustainability schemes like Eco rating can instigate closer working relationships between industry players.
outcomes. My new book, The Positive Deviant: Sustainability leadership in a perverse world, addresses these widely echoed laments. It shows you how to recognise unsustainable development, and sets you off on a journey to become the sort of leader who can create the change we need. The title reflects the sad fact that, for now, the only practical strategy is to do the right thing for sustainability despite the obstacles. This is what positive deviants do. They work around perverse policies and rules, bringing others along with them. And they are out there. Forum scholars have even identified a few at work in their placement organisations! Sara Parkin is Founder Director, Forum for the Future. Order The Positive Deviant at a 20% discount from: www.forumforthefuture.org/positive-deviant-offer
Green Futures October 2010
Advantage West Midlands Tom Anderson, 0121 380 3500
The Co-operative Group Chris Shearlock, www.co-operative.coop
AkzoNobel Elizabeth Stokes, 01928 511695
Ecotricity Matt Thomas, 01453 756111
Alliance Boots Andrew Jenkins, 0115 968 6766
Ecover Mick Bremans, +32 3 309 2500
Arup Chris Trott, 020 7636 1531
EDF Energy David Ferguson, 07875 119978
Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy Jane Howarth, 020 7410 7023
Energy Saving Trust 020 7227 0398, www.energysavingtrust.org.uk
Aviva Investors Steve Waygood, 020 7809 6000
Entec UK Ltd Francesco Corsi, 0191 272 6128
AXA Insurance Truska Angel, 07974 833109
The Environment Agency Brian Francis, firstname.lastname@example.org
Balfour Beatty Jonathan Garrett, 020 7216 6837 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Matt Hale, 020 7996 2054 Benchmark Software Simon Harvey, 01458 444010 BCME Ailbhe O’Reilly email@example.com
Eurostar Louisa Bell, 020 7922 2442 Fife Council Neil Gateley, 08451 555555 Finlays Michael Pennant-Jones, 020 7802 3239 Firmenich SA Neil McFarlane, +41 227802435
Birmingham City Council Sandy Taylor, 0121 303 1111
FirstGroup Terri Vogt, 07799 885171
Bottletop Cameron Saul, firstname.lastname@example.org
Food and Drink Federation Julian Hunt, 020 7420 7125
British Council www.britishcouncil.org
Sandra Latner, 08452 683135
British Waterways Jim Stirling email@example.com BT Environment Unit, 0800 731 2403
Friends Provident GSH Group Maxwell Segal, 01782 200400 Halcrow Group Nick Murry, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Green Futures October 2010
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Long before tinned beans, the printing press was responding to demand for mass production. Everyone wanted to read from the same page – whether it was the news, the novel or the gospel. Today, we take the cost and energy economies of mass production for granted, and yet still find an irresistible charm in the idea of something unique: the carefully crafted one-off. Think of the particular appeal of the limited edition, the signed copy… What we really want is to have it both ways. Impossible? Far from it. Digital (as opposed to traditional litho) printing technology means you can mass produce a page while incorporating small changes into each copy. The result is highly targeted communications, with significant savings in energy, resources and cost. As Richard Owers, Development Director at Pureprint Group explains, customers typically order more (litho) printed material than they need, to cash in on the immediate savings of a lower cost per unit. But this can be a false economy, with payouts further down the line to store and dispose of unread copies. It’s estimated that 20-30% of the average print run goes from store room to recycling plant, without ever having reached a reader. Digital print technology, on the other hand, does not require fast and furious print runs to drive costs down. Instead, you just print the quantity you require, with additional copies updated and reordered at any time. The University for the Creative Arts (UCA) is one convert. Each year, it puts together a prospectus to attract the brightest and best postgraduates. It used to be 168 pages: a comprehensive introduction to every course. Any student with a fair idea of their interests would lug it around with just a couple of page corners overturned. UCA recognised how wasteful this process was, and consulted Pureprint, who offered smaller digital print runs as a solution. Now, students select the sections that interest
them online, and request a bespoke copy – typically 60-80 pages. The savings on paper, ink, postage and energy use are significant, with the original print run cut by 80%. And the result is a made-to-measure marketing tool. “The ability to amend details as and when necessary is essential in ensuring we provide the most up-to-date and targeted information to our prospective students,” says Eleanor Shotton, Marketing Services Manager at UCA. “It has streamlined our processes.” Oxfam found similar benefits in offering a personalised gift and card service. As Owers puts it: “Digital technology has turned printing from a mass commodity product into a much more effective communication tool. Our clients can use information they have collected about consumers and then target their individual needs and consumption habits.” Savings are also made at the print preparation stage. Last year, 24% of paper bought by Pureprint – for use in litho printing – did not reach the end-client, used instead for checking print quality, plate registration and machine start-ups. That compares to around 8% used to set up digital print runs. Change was in the air at this year’s IPEX, the global technology trade exhibition for print, publishing and media. For the first time, Xerox, HP and Kodak – all leaders in digital print technology – occupied the biggest stands. Digital print is unlikely to ever completely replace litho, which remains the most efficient way to produce large quantities of identical material. But, argues Owers, with social media driving change in how messages are produced and consumed, printers must be ready to adapt. “They will need different technical skills, and they will need to speak to their customers in a different way. With both UCE and Oxfam, we played the role of advisers, helping them find a solution.” – Flemmich Webb Pureprint Group is a Forum for the Future partner. www.pureprint.com
Green Futures October 2010
Don’t know what you got till it’s gone...
Andrew Kuyk reports on a new initiative to divert surplus food from landfill to the plates of those who need it most.
Green Futures October 2010
The Food and Drink Federation is a Forum for the Future partner. www.fdf.org.uk
As a new UN report puts a high price on biodiversity, Dax Lovegrove asks how we can best value nature.
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during transit to retail outlets, or exceed requirements due to late changes to orders of short shelf life products, such as dairy. Given the sheer volumes of food manufactured, even a tiny percentage can equate to a lot of potential waste. One fruit juice producer, for example, has succeeded in diverting to FareShare its entire surplus production. Although this is only 0.04% of its total output, that still equates to 300,000 litres of fruit juice per year – as the company’s annual production is 800 million litres. FareShare’s message is simple: “no good food should be wasted”. That chimes with the aims of the FDF. Under its Five-fold Environmental Ambition, launched in 2007, its members – comprising many of the UK’s major food manufacturers – aspire to send zero food and packaging waste to landfill from 2015. Partnerships with FareShare are helping them reach that goal. For example, the charity has helped Nestlé to reduce the amount of its product entering the waste stream by over 90%, slashing its waste costs. The company has now adopted FareShare as a lead charity partner, funding projects such as FareShare 1st. This is a new a social enterprise, set up to help make the charity more self-financing. It will provide the food and drink industry with a ‘one stop shop’ for handling surplus (at a competitive but commercial rate). This will then be provided to local community organisations in return for an annual membership fee. It’s part of an ambitious plan to double the number of people receiving food each day to 60,000, and increase the meals provided each year to 14 million. To date, FairShare is working in partnership with 14 FDF members, and the organisation’s Director of Communications, Julian Hunt, sits on the charity’s board. Though as an industry we cannot dictate what consumers do in their homes, our members are committed to finding ways to help them reduce the amount of food that goes to waste. At FDF we strongly believe that good food, well made, deserves to be eaten and enjoyed, not left to rot in landfill.
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It doesn’t take an environmental guru to work out that sending any kind of food into landfill is the worst possible sustainability outcome on all counts – environmental, economic and social. Recent research by WRAP (the Waste Resources Action Programme) estimates that UK households throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food every year. Food redistribution charity FareShare estimates that at least 10% of this is ‘fit for purpose’ – in date and edible. So we are wasting over 800,000 tonnes of perfectly good food. On environmental grounds alone, this produces a double whammy of impacts. First, it wastes all the considerable resources, including energy, that went into producing, protecting, distributing, storing and preparing it. Second, as food decomposes, it produces methane – a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2. From a purely business perspective, it simply does not make sense to invest in raw materials to create edible food just to see it thrown away – especially at a time when commodity prices are volatile and businesses are recovering from the recession. And that’s not to mention the morality of wasting food when many people don’t have enough to eat. I was struck recently by a comment from a Food and Drink Federation (FDF) colleague, who had spent an eye-opening day volunteering at FareShare. He was amazed by the sheer amount and range of different foods, all of them perfectly fit to eat, sitting in its distribution depot. Although in the industry we are constantly made aware of the waste issue, seeing it in real life really brought home to him the relationship between the food we manufacture, and where far too much of it ultimately ends up. FareShare helps provide a solution. Everything from sandwiches and chocolates to bread and fruit juice, which are close to their ‘use-by’ dates – all deemed as ‘waste’ and unsuitable for sale in the food chain – are sent to FareShare’s depots around the country. Here, they are packed up in lorries and distributed to community organisations such as shelters, hostels and breakfast clubs, helping feed around 29,000 people each day. No company wants to waste food. But some ‘surplus’ is almost unavoidable. Food can be damaged
Can Pavan Sukhdev do for biodiversity what Nicholas Stern did for climate change? The Deutsche Bank economist is leading a UN-backed study on ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ – TEEB for short. And its first report has already sent ripples through both the policy and business worlds. Simply put, TEEB warns that we are failing to factor in the value of vital services – from flood protection to crop fertility – which are currently provided free by nature. That failure could prove extremely costly. Speaking at the Global Business of Biodiversity symposium, Pavan gave a couple of chilling examples. In Honduras, it had seemed good business sense to convert ‘unproductive’ mangroves to shrimp farms, so creating jobs and boosting the local economy. But that ignored the essential role mangroves play in preventing floods and saline intrusion, and feeding nutrients into food chains. Far from being unproductive, these and other vital services are provided free by the mangrove belt – and so their overall value to the local economy is far greater than the transient profits from shrimp farms. Insect pollination is another vital service. We take it for granted, Pavan warned, until we discover it’s no longer there. This happened in the Chinese province of Sichuan, where excessive applications of pesticides have wiped out pollinating insects. As a result, food crops have to be pollinated manually – a hugely costly and cumbersome operation. Such examples impressed the audience at the symposium, which included a number of CEOs and government
ministers, among them the UK Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman. The challenge is to tip this kind of thinking into the mainstream. It’s something in which WWF is very much involved, not least through its One Planet Economy work, which emphasises the economic and financial case for acting on biodiversity loss and climate change. Efforts to tackle biodiversity loss have one clear advantage over climate negotiations: the local benefits of doing so – as in Honduras and Sichuan – are often very clear. Now that the economic costs of inaction have been so starkly demonstrated by the TEEB study, positive action to protect natural services might happen faster, and go further, than that around climate change. Of course, it’s not a question of “either/ or”. Take forest destruction. When you burn a rainforest, you not only lose its vital role in sustaining the water cycle and preventing soil erosion. You also release a huge amount of carbon – deforestation is responsible for more than 20% of CO2 emissions. And climate change in turn increases the likelihood and severity of forest fires. So action on biodiversity and climate change have to go hand in hand. They also have to happen at both local and international levels. The production and consumption of goods in different countries depends on a complex web of natural resource use and ecosystem services which stretches across the globe. All of which makes for complex discussions when deciding who benefits most from such services – and so who should pay for them. They include
everything from local pollination by insects, to regional water purification by wetlands, to global carbon sequestration by rainforests. The wider question of how exactly we value nature also came up at the symposium. An economic framework is clearly essential for business leaders and policymakers, helping them ‘future-proof’ current decisions. But as one speaker commented, it was hard to put an economic value on the way in which his holidays were vastly enhanced by nature’s beauty. Many of us inspired by natural wonders, whether in distant landscapes or our own gardens, would share this essentially emotional, even spiritual, motivation for action. Others reject a utilitarian approach completely, arguing that safeguarding nature is paramount regardless of whether there is an economic or emotional benefit for humans. This is the juggling act environmental advocates face. At WWF, we make use of all the available drivers in our search for a One Planet Future, where nature is protected while society flourishes. These include economic thinking, local and global political instruments, green game-changing business innovations (see wwf.org.uk/innovation) – and the inspiring, emotive stories we can bring from the field. One thing is certain. Whether nature is cost-effective or priceless, we need it more than it needs us. Dax Lovegrove is Head of Business and Industry Relations at WWF-UK. WWF-UK is a Forum for the Future partner. www.wwf.org.uk
Green Futures October 2010
From Minoa to the Mayans, successive societies have risen and flourished, only to collapse. It will be different this time, argues David Eagleman, because we have the technology to save us...
“If Pompei had the internet...” celebrity mansions, so Californians changed their tack: they uploaded geotagged cellphone pictures, updated Facebook statuses, and tweeted. And the balance tipped: the internet carried news about the fire more quickly and accurately than any news station could. In this grassroots, decentralised scheme, there were embedded reporters on every neighbourhood block, and the news shockwave kept ahead of the firefront. In the right circumstances, this headstart could provide the extra hours that save us. If the Pompeians had the internet in 79CE, I calculate they could have easily marched ten kilometres to safety, well ahead of the pyroclastic flow from Mount Vesuvius.
1. Epidemics can be deflected by telepresence One of our more dire prospects for collapse is an infectious disease epidemic. Viral and bacterial epidemics precipitated the fall of the Golden Age of Athens, the Roman Empire, and most of the empires of the Native Americans. The internet can be our key to survival, thanks to our ability to work remotely – or ‘telepresently’. This can inhibit microbial transmission by reducing human-to-human contact. In the face of an otherwise devastating epidemic, businesses can keep supply chains running with the maximum number of employees working from home. This won’t keep everyone off the streets, but it can reduce host density below the tipping point required for an epidemic. If we are well-prepared when such an epidemic arrives, we can fluidly shift into a selfquarantined society in which microbes fail due to host sparseness. Whatever the social ills of isolation, they bode worse for the microbes than for us.
3. Discoveries are retained and shared Historically, critical information has required constant rediscovery. Collections of learning – from the Library at Alexandria to the Mayan corpus of literature to the entire Minoan civilisation – have fallen to the bonfires of invaders or the wrecking ball of natural disasters. Knowledge is hard won but easily lost. Moreover, information that survives often does not spread. Consider smallpox inoculation: this practice was underway in India, China and Africa for hundreds of years before it made its way to Europe. By the time the idea reached North America, the native civilisations who needed the knowledge had already collapsed. The internet addresses the problem of knowledgesharing better than any technology we’ve had. New discoveries latch on immediately: the information spreads widely and the redundancy prevents erasure. In this way, societies can optimally ratchet up, using the latest bricks of knowledge in their fortification against existential threats.
2. News can outpace danger We are witnessing the downfall of slow central control in the media: news stories are increasingly becoming usergenerated nets of up-to-the-minute information. During the recent California wildfires, locals watched their televisions to learn whether their neighbourhoods were in danger. But the news stations appeared most concerned with the fate of
Green Futures October 2010
4. Tyranny is mitigated Censorship of ideas has been a familiar spectre in the last century, with state-approved news outlets ruling the press, airwaves, and copying machines in the former USSR, Romania, Cuba, China, Iraq, and elsewhere.
In all these cases, censorship hobbled the society and fomented revolutions. And in many cases, such as Lysenko’s agricultural despotism in the USSR, it directly contributed to the collapse of the nation. Historically, a more successful strategy has been to confront free speech with free speech – and the internet allows this in a natural way. It democratises the flow of information by offering access to the newspapers of the world, the photographers of every nation, the bloggers of every political stripe. Some postings are full of doctoring and dishonesty, while others strive for independence and impartiality – but all are available for the end-user to sift through for reasoned consideration. Given the vigorous attempt by some governments to build nationwide firewalls, it is clear that this benefit of the internet will require constant vigilance.
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Knowledge is hard won but easily lost
Many great civilisations have fallen, leaving nothing but cracked ruins and scattered genetics. Although the number of collapsed nations is high, the underlying problems which provoke their demise tend to fall into only a handful of categories: disease, natural disasters, poor information flow, political corruption, economic meltdown or resource depletion. We arguably face similar threats today. But we are luckier than our predecessors, because we command a technology that no one else possessed: a rapid communication network that finds its highest expression in the internet. I propose there are six ways in which the internet has vastly reduced the threat of societal collapse.
5. Human capital is vastly increased Crowd-sourcing brings together massive groups of people to solve problems. While this method has proven itself fruitful, far less than 1% of the world’s population is ever involved in such projects. We need to expand human capital if we want to be prepared against a future of existential threats. The problem is that most of the world does not have access to the education afforded to a small minority. For every Albert Einstein, Yo-Yo Ma or Barack Obama who has the opportunity for education, there are uncountable others who never get the chance. This vast squandering of talent translates directly into reduced economic output and a smaller pool of problem-solvers. The internet opens the gates of education to anyone who can get her hands on a computer. This is not always a trivial task, but the mere feasibility redefines the playing field. A motivated teen anywhere on the planet can walk through the world’s knowledge – from the webs of Wikipedia to the curriculum of MIT’s Open Course Ware. We are finally in a position to actualise the brains available in our worldwide population.
6. Energy expenditure is reduced Societal collapse can often be understood in terms of an energy budget: when energy expenditure begins to outweigh energy return, collapse ensues. Historically, this has taken the form of deforestation or soil erosion; currently, the worry involves fossil fuel depletion. The internet addresses the energy problem with a kind of natural ease. Consider the massive energy savings inherent in the shift from paper to electrons – as seen in the transition from the postal system to email. Or to take another example, consider the way e-commerce reduces the need to drive long distances to browse and purchase products. Surprisingly, delivery trucks are more eco-friendly than individuals driving around, not least because of tight packaging and optimisation algorithms for driving routes. Of course, there are energy costs to the banks of computers that underpin the internet – but these costs are less than the forests and coal beds and oil deposits that would be spent for the same quantity of information flow. The tangle of events that trigger societal collapse can be complex, and there are several existential threats the internet does not address. Nonetheless, it appears that vast, networked communication can serve as an antidote to several of the most fatal diseases of civilisation. Almost by accident, we now command the capacity for self-quarantining, retaining knowledge, speeding information flow, reducing censorship, actualizing human capital, and saving energy resources. So the next time your co-worker laments about internet addiction, the banality of tweeting, or the decline of face-to-face conversation, you may want to suggest that the internet – even with all its flashy wastefulness – may just be the technology that saves us.
If they’d told him in time, he could have got away.
David Eagleman is Assistant Professor, Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, and bestselling author of Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives www.eagleman.com
Green Futures October 2010
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Renewable Google While I whole-heartedly support renewable energy and laud Googleâ€™s wind farm initiative (see â€˜Winds of change for Googleâ€™, GF77, p6), I would rather see them invest in the smart grid, which we need to distribute energy more efficiently from renewable resources. Tossing up a bunch of wind farms will do no good unless we have the proper infrastructure in place to get the electricity to homes and businesses. This infrastructure currently does not exist. What we really need is to start at the beginning and revamp the North American grid to handle renewable sources, something it currently cannot. Weâ€™re moving too fast without considering our past (which is still haunting us), and that past is our antiquated electrical grid. Alien Alda
Backyard biochar In â€˜Buried treasureâ€™ (GF77, p10), you write about sequestering carbon in the soil. I should point out that this can be done at the
household and community level even in the UK. Backyard â€˜Biochar BBQsâ€™ will soon be available that will allow people to use their yard trimmings to cook a meal, while making modest amounts of biochar that they can then put onto their garden to improve the soil. There have already been a number of trials of these types of stoves in many developing countries [Editorâ€™s note: see â€˜Burn the trees to save the worldâ€™, GF72, p26], but there is no reason why they canâ€™t also be used in the developed world, too. Lloyd Helferty
Pregnant pause Thanks to Sara Parkin for her excellent article on population (â€˜Pregnant pauseâ€™, GF77, p35). I believe there may be a case for restricting child tax credits on population grounds. A report from Bristol University, Does Welfare Reform Affect Fertility?, found that their availability was related to a 15% rise in birth rate among recipients. Can the UK do welfare without accidental pronatalism? At the least, limiting child-related benefits to the first two offspring would help. John McKeown There are too many homo sapiens. It is that simple. You can produce as many academic reports as you want, but there are too many humans and not enough Earthâ€Ś The only way to change othersâ€™ behaviour is to change your own, and that means setting a good example: reduce your carbon footprint and have no children (or one child at most). We made a conscious decision not to have children for this reason; it also liberates one from the excuses not to achieve your dreams and make a real difference. creekwhore
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This is the future, but they donâ€™t have to be architectural masterpieces. Old multi-storey car parks and tower blocks could easily and quickly be adapted. Huge commercial vertical farms could also be designed to produce oil from rapeseed or even genetically modified algae. They would have the added benefit of conditioning the air, reducing carbon dioxide and providing biosecurity and food security. Vertical farms operated robotically and situated in deserts could also make use of unproductive land. bitterantwisted Itâ€™s a quaint idea and one which Iâ€™m sure will work a treat in Holland or somewhere similar:
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On the surface, vertical farms sound like a good idea (see â€˜High rise horticultureâ€™, GF77, p26). They minimise environmental impact, and make for more efficient agriculture, produced closer to the consumer. But building high-rises, complete with all the vast technological equipment needed, will, I suspect, not come cheap. For a low margin product like food, a huge increase in production might be needed to justify the investment. Higher prices for vertically-farmed food are unlikely, since the additional benefit for the consumer is minor. The breakthrough will also be held back by the farmersâ€™ lobby, and the cost advantage of their subsidised products. As soon as the first vertical farms appear there will be wild accusations and fake health concerns. You read it here first. Robert Schuman
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Farming on skyscrapers
urbanites getting their cool right-on food grown right at the end of the street. Fine, but meanwhile I really do think the problem is just a little more far-reaching than this. The world already produces enough food to feed 12 billion people a year â€“ double the global population. It is all about distribution, distribution, distribution. The sheer scale of wasted, unused and discarded food is just staggering â€“ not to mention the excessive technical requirements and sell-by-date obsession that sees thousands of tonnes of food being thrown away daily in Britain alone. Centralised food distribution aided and abetted by the IMF has wiped out local farm production on a massive scale. Manipulation of crop production around the world to cater for futures markets just doesnâ€™t bear thinking about. And donâ€™t get me started on farmers forced to buy transgenic seeds produced thousands of miles from the country where they will be grown... Pescasalada
Green Futures October 2010
What is it about the concept of limits that induces such cornucopianism? Too strict a childhood?
It’s a fair bet that someone who chooses ‘Ferraris for All’ as the title for their book is going to be a bit of a wind-up merchant. And I’m pretty sure that Daniel Ben-Ami (author of said book) would be perfectly happy to be thought of in that light. Indeed, if he wasn’t winding up people like me, I am sure he would be crestfallen to have produced such a literary failure. Daniel Ben-Ami really hates environmentalists. We’re not just risk-averse Enlightenment-deniers who have lost faith in progress, but the principal source of today’s prevailing scepticism (as he sees it) about economic growth and material prosperity. Worse yet, we’re people-hating elitists: “defenders of their privileged lifestyles against what they see as the plague of popular consumption”. But if you have got the patience to steer round the manufactured rage and somewhat juvenile polemic, there’s a really interesting book trying to get out here. Although he avoids any explicitly theological arguments, Ben-Ami clearly subscribes to the view that humankind stands at the pinnacle of creation, and that it is our destiny to subjugate nature so that everyone can go on getting richer indefinitely into the future. Within that philosophical framework, the concept of physical limits is seen as nothing less than heresy. What is it about the concept of limits that induces such extreme cornucopianism? Too strict a childhood? Too many teachers telling us what we can’t do rather than what we can do? Or perhaps it’s our genetic inheritance? Having survived hundreds of thousands of years of wretched constraints at the hand of Nature, no one is going to spoil today’s postscarcity party by re-introducing the concept of limits by the back door. In Ben-Ami’s surreal world, resources remain largely limitless. Technology will rescue us from any temporary shortages or constraints on economic progress, and as long as we “more-effectively manage the externalities”, there’s no reason why the 4 billion people who don’t enjoy our way of life shouldn’t be able to do so in the future. If not Ferraris for all, then Ferrariproxies for all! If that sounds a bit bonkers, then ask yourself why it is that Ben-Ami’s overall philosophy still resonates so much more powerfully with contemporary politicians than any of our ‘sustainability stuff’. Indeed, I often wonder where we would be (politically) without the pressing threat of climate change. Nearly 40 years on from the publication of the Club of Rome’s seminal report Limits to Growth, how
much of the rest of today’s sustainability thinking would have any traction at all with mainstream politicians around the world? I’m afraid my own answer to that question is a rather gloomy one: not a lot. I know I should be feeling more upbeat than that, but it’s getting harder when the single most important precept behind the very idea of sustainability – that we have to learn to prosper within nature’s limits, not beyond them – is still set aside by almost all and sundry as an irritating irrelevance. Even our politicians’ gathering concern about climate change hasn’t entirely overcome that problem. The Copenhagen Accord (which has now been signed up to by more than 120 countries) commits those countries to ensuring that average temperatures will not increase by more than 2ºC by the end of the century. This is a broad but explicit limit (from which all sorts of other limits regarding the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, for instance, can then logically be derived) – and we must be thankful for it. But as of now, it has had near-zero impact on the way those nations set about securing further economic growth. The 2ºC isn’t yet a real lived limit. But at least we know it’s out there, and that we’ll have to deal with it someday soon. Which is more than can be said for biodiversity. Here there is no simple number to guide us, no hard and fast threshold to stay the right side of. This probably explains the despair in the recent words of Ahmed Djoghlaf, Secretary-General of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity: “What we’re seeing today is a total disaster. No country has met its targets to protect nature. We are losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate, amounting to a mass extinction of life.” And with an estimated 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird or mammal becoming extinct every 24 hours, according to UNEP’s latest assessment, you can sort of see what he is getting at. Biodiversity is not mentioned once in Ferraris for All. Nor is soil. Fresh water merits a couple of tokenistic references. And whilst climate change is hesitantly accepted by Ben-Ami as a bit of a problem, the answer to it is obvious: more economic growth! There are none so blind…
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM The global GREEN AWARDSTM are now taking bookings for tickets. This year’s ceremony promises to be extra special as it will be held at the magnificent Natural History Museum, London, on Thursday 2nd December. Ticket prices start at £250 pp and can be purchased at www.greenawards.co.uk
Jonathon Porritt is Founder Director of Forum for the Future. Jonathon’s blog is available as a podcast at: www.jonathonporritt.com Listen to Jonathon at: ipadio.com/phlogs/jonathonporritt
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Green Futures October 2010
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Published on Apr 10, 2012