05 Aug 2015, 15:21
President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan offers concrete evidence that the US is serious about getting to grips with its greenhouse gas pollution. Unveiled to great media fanfare at the White House, the regulation is designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from US power plants 32% below their 2005 levels within the next 15 years. It is certainly an ambitious move by Obama, keen to be remembered for doing more to save the planet than any president before him when he leaves office next year. And it must give some hope for the Paris climate talks later this year.
There are also other signs that the tide is turning in the global effort to tackle climate change.
When Norway's US$890bn (796bn euros) government pension fund - the world's biggest sovereign wealth fund - recently announced plans to sell off most of its investments related to coal, it continued something of a trend for de-risking portfolios with a low-carbon future in mind.
The previous year, the heirs to the fabled Rockefeller oil fortune, who control around US$860m (€769m) in assets, set a precedent when the Foundation withdrew its funds from fossil fuel investments as part of a wider divestment movement involving 800 global investors promising to remove US$50bn worth of support over the next five years.
It is a situation - reinforced by the Bank of England investigating whether or not fossil-fuel industries pose a threat to the stability of the capital markets - that is forcing companies to re-think their longer-term business strategies. Despite the politics of climate abatement slowly showing signs of alignment, it is this focus on corporate risk - rather than political promises - that seems to have captured the imagination in driving carbon reduction in the business world.
However, a renewed consideration for the long-term might well be in vogue, but progress by companies to address their environmental and social impact is still slow. In a post-two degree world, certain crop yields in the US, India and across Africa are expected to decrease by up to 30 per cent; up to 30 per cent of animals and plant species could face extinction; and 30 per cent of the annual sea ice could be lost in the Arctic. If you think about what's required to avoid these scenarios (as described by the likes of the World Bank and National Research Council), we not there yet - not by a long way.
It's time for companies to look beyond their own operations and consider the wider impact of their business and look at the entire system that sits beyond their own boundaries. By looking along the value chain of suppliers, manufacturers and raw material providers at one end, and customers and consumers at the other, businesses can get a broader view of the risks - and work towards addressing the materials, water and energy being wasted across sectors.
Just 15 per cent of AkzoNobel's total environmental footprint lies within our direct control. So, through our Planet Possible strategy, we aim to work more closely with both our suppliers and customers to find new ways of reducing our overall impact. By 2020, we want our entire value chain to be between 25-30 per cent more efficient.
Central to this is helping our customers be more efficient. For example, our biocide-free coatings prevent organisms from clinging to the hulls of ships, helping shipping companies travel faster, use less fuel and produce less emissions. Our Rediset additives enable asphalt to be laid without the need for high-temperature (high carbon impact) mixing. And our Dulux Weathershield KeepCool, an exterior paint which can reflect up to 85 per cent more infrared radiation than traditional exterior paints, is helping to reduce energy use in buildings by up to 15 per cent.
By working in partnership with others, it's a lot easier to unlock some of the solutions that are required in this emerging low-carbon, resource-constrained world. Right now, as part of the Together for Sustainability initiative, our chief procurement officer - along with his contemporaries from BASF, Bayer, Evonik, Henkel, Lanxess and Solvay - are exploring ways to build a chemicals industry standard for sustainable supply chains based on current best practice across the sector.
Elsewhere, we are part of a major Dutch consortium exploring how we might use household waste as a feedstock for our chemical plants. We're even looking into the possibility of producing chemicals from beet-derived sugar feedstock - again, working with others.
But enhanced collaboration demands new types of relationships that move beyond the traditional, purely transactional supplier relationships that companies are most familiar and comfortable with. These new partnerships must be based on transparency and trust - and the sharing of costs, risks and benefits.
AkzoNobel, and other leading companies, are proving that limitations to the world's resources and a changing climate do not have to limit ambition and imagination as we strive to do more with less. We have also realized that many of the world's biggest challenges cannot be solved alone. But working with others doesn't have to be daunting. After all, you never know where innovation will come from - even the White House.
Chris Cook is AkzoNobel's Planet Possible Programme Director
30 Jul 2015, 13:04
As career highlights go, July 1st ranks fairly highly for Andrew Wordsworth, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Sustainable Venture Development Partners ("Sustainable Ventures"). Not only was Andrew the recipient of BusinessGreen's coveted ‘Entrepreneur of the Year' award, but that same day he completed the exit of Sustainable Venture's first start-up, E-Car, to Europcar - in what is now recognized as the UK's first successful crowdfunding exit.
Four years since inception in 2011, the sale of E-Car represents a significant milestone for Sustainable Ventures. From the confines of an underground office near Kings Cross with just Wordsworth and his co-founder, Chris Morris, Sustainable Ventures has transformed into a growing portfolio of six low carbon ventures. And now, the expanding team (more than 40 at the last count) has set up a distinctive new workspace, ‘Sustainable Bridges', to further facilitate entrepreneurial endeavour.
Led by insight into customer demand rather than the traditional technology-push approach, Sustainable Ventures identifies new revenue opportunities in the sustainable space and exploits them by bringing together the required investment, management teams, strategic partners and proven technologies to form new subsidiary companies. These companies then aim to rapidly scale to become the leading independent players in their emerging market segments. "We don't have anything involved in renewable development", comments Wordsworth, "just too many players and too much political risk - most of the rest of the landscape is fair game."
And E-Car is not the only portfolio company making headline news. Powervault, a leader in energy storage, is disrupting the domestic market with its ‘plug and play' capabilities, thereby earning itself a reputation as the UK's answer to Tesla. Enabling households' increased use of their microgeneration sourced electricity, Powervault is redefining the UK's electricity market by facilitating greater levels of gird independence.
Yet, common across Sustainable Ventures' portfolio, Powervault is not only a game changer in its own technological domain, but challenges the very way businesses are being created. In early 2015 Powervault raised £750,000 in less than four days on equity investment platform Crowdcube. Crowd-sourced investment has repeatedly proven instrumental for financing ‘green' innovation at a time when traditional venture capital is scarce.
And herein lies Sustainable Ventures' real strength; an approach based on problem solving. Each venture is created in response to a defined social and/or environmental problem. The portfolio has collectively received investment from social investment sources, such as Ignite Social Enterprise, and grant support from Innovate UK, Climate KIC and NESTA. Venture development remains open-minded to alternative means of financing, exploiting new opportunities as they arise. Ultimately, Sustainable Ventures challenges the conventional approach to venture development, frequently creating solutions that are leaders in their field, appropriating business models from other sectors (particularly ‘technology' and "Internet of Things"), and demonstrating that social and environmental benefits can be delivered without compromising investment returns.
Sustainable Ventures' most recent creation, Sustainable Bridges CIC, now aims to extend the lessons of Sustainable Ventures' experience to support other, like-minded pioneers. Sustainable Bridges champions sustainability entrepreneurs, who it believes are crucial to unlocking the innovations radical enough to address the unprecedented challenges of climate change. Having renovated four railway arches near London Bridge into vibrant co-working space, Sustainable Bridges is an exemplar of bottom-up entrepreneurial collaboration. With 40+ members working from the site, ranging from Green Running's tech-heavy energy management systems to Clotho, a sustainable fashion exchange, Sustainable Bridges, encapsulates under one roof, ‘sustainable innovation' in its broadest sense. Defined by the ventures it houses, Sustainable Bridges remains true to the Sustainable Ventures' philosophy; entrepreneurs getting their hands dirty and making positive change happen.
With a sister fund in the pipeline and several other concepts in early stage development, Sustainable Ventures' looks set to continue re-drawing the boundaries. "DECC have just delivered a once in a decade change in policy so there's going to be an explosion of opportunities in the sector", notes Wordsworth. To mimic Wayne Gretzky, it appears that Sustainable Ventures are already ‘skating to where the puck is going to be.'
Andrew Wordsworth is the co-founder and managing director of Sustainable Ventures
17 Jul 2015, 12:03
Globally, waste management remains a complex issue with no straightforward solution. According to a 2014 Waste Atlas Report, almost 40% of the world's waste needlessly ends up in rubbish tips.
Much of this waste sits near vastly populated urban areas and cities which are struggling to balance how they deal with the rubbish produced by high levels of consumption.
Former World Bank urban development specialist Dan Hoornweg predicts global waste production will have tripled by the end of this century without significant changes in our approach to waste management.
Based on these figures and the wider threat of global warming - of which waste production is a direct contributor - it is imperative for individuals and companies to act now and ensure their waste is properly managed with a minimal impact on the environment.
Fortunately, industries are becoming increasingly aware of these environmental issues. Numerous companies are now aiding the waste management process along with others who simply put eco-friendly measures in place to ensure their carbon footprint is either extremely low or negative.
Recycling consumer goods
In an effort to combat plastic waste, a project developed in Canada is allowing people to trade in their plastic trash for recycling purposes and receive useful goods and tools in return.
In addition, Plastic Bank - the company behind it - offer recyclers entrepreneurial incentives. Customers can access 3D printers and print their own goods using salvaged material and sell them back to their community.
As well as empowering smaller, disadvantaged communities, Plastic Bank also buy plastic materials from corporations to encourage big businesses to be more conscious of where and how they obtain their materials.
Salvaging construction materials
Figures from a 2015 government report show that since 2000/2001, incineration and landfill disposal of UK local authority waste (incl garden waste, beach cleansing waste, commercial or industrial waste, and waste resulting from the clearance of fly-tipped materials) fell by 42 percent, down to 14.2 million tonnes in 2013/2014.
Although these figures are a positive sign that the country's waste is being managed in a more efficient eco-friendly way, the UK's local authorities do not take care of the majority of construction waste. Construction waste accounted for 50% of the 200 million tonnes of waste generated in the UK in 2012.
Thanks to the innovative waste management techniques of the UK's private contractors however, much of this waste is being treated, recovered and reused.
By working in accordance with the Waste Resource Action Programme, waste collection specialists like OCS Environmental Services and Veolia claim to be increasing the use of recycled and secondary aggregates taken from construction and demolition projects.
Roof tiles, steel sections, structural timber, timber floors, masonry, concrete cladding panels, profiled metal cladding sheets, steel frame buildings and concrete arisings are all materials listed by OCS Environmental Services as recyclable construction waste.
Work such as this will help to improve on the UK's impressive 2012 86.5% construction waste recovery rate. This was already 16.5% higher than the EU's target for the UK to meet by 2020.
Reusing unwanted goods
The rate of UK household recycling was at 44.2 percent in 2013/2014, an increase from 43.7 percent in 2011, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
While it remains to be seen if the EU's recycling target for the UK of 50 percent can be met by 2020, there are companies that have established themselves through their unique focus on reusability over recycling on the premise that reuse is more environmentally friendly.
London-based Clearance Solutions outline the benefits of reuse as: saving energy that is used to manufacture products, providing quality goods at affordable prices, decreasing the demand for raw materials, reducing pollution and preventing items entering the waste stream. They take care to ensure any reusable items they clear are either sold or donated, rather than recycled.
The European Commission is planning to propose a new circular economy strategy by the end of 2015. This is a hopeful sign that we could be heading towards significant ‘green growth' which has benefits far beyond the environment.
If companies adopted more environmentally friendly ways of dealing with waste, we could see an overall increase in pioneering green manufacturing and groundbreaking technical progress in waste management that will attract investment and create jobs.
Sean Fitzsimons is the content editor at Go Up Ltd
21 May 2015, 11:30
14 July, 11 Cavendish Square, London
The global business community is heading towards a perfect storm of challenges and opportunities. The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment's (IEMA) conference aims to upskill the global workforce to face the threats head-on.
By 2020 the worldwide economy will be facing a supply deficit driven by global mega-trends around population growth, increasing demand for natural resources, soaring costs of energy and escalating impacts of climate change. All are combining to pose significant challenges to the long-term success of business and the global economy.
The transition to a sustainable economy presents significant opportunities that business needs to grasp - and yet, according to IEMA research only 13 per cent of companies are fully confident that they have the skills to successfully compete in the sustainable economy. With the evidence building that a sustainable economy can deliver significant opportunities for business (research has shown that businesses can save between £5,000 to over £1m per year through improved use of resources), businesses cannot afford to delay action on arming their organisations with skills for a sustainable economy.
"In the new business world, environment and sustainability can no longer be a bolt on; it needs to be part of businesses' DNA. IEMA is seeking to shine a light on this issue and catalyse action to address the skills deficit," said Tim Balcon, chief executive of IEMA. "Businesses need to urgently turn what is a growing and prevailing list of challenges into opportunities. The most effective way of grasping this opportunity is by ensuring that all businesses have access to a new set of skills - environment and sustainability - to ensure that UK plc and businesses globally can transition and survive in this new economy."
The opportunity to implement the right skills and capabilities lies not only in the hands of environment and sustainability professionals but also with professionals from across the business; those in sustainability, human resources, recruitment and leadership roles have the right combination of knowledge, foresight and influence that enables them to embed the right skills framework. An upcoming industry-wide conference aims to enthuse and empower all professionals to drive optimal sustainability performance.
Delivering Sustainability: Culture & Capability will demonstrate the latest practical approaches to up-skilling individuals, organisations and value-chains to meet the sustainability challenge. This one-day conference is all about what can be achieved through capable people and the right culture. Delivering a sustainable business is a journey that involves people within, and beyond, the organisation; this conference day will help many to begin that journey by learning from leaders in the field.
With leading edge keynote speakers, a workshop and plenary programme led by the industry's best and invaluable networking opportunities, Delivering Sustainability: Culture & Capability will help delegates to refresh their thinking on sustainability and skills and establish a stimulating link between the two.
Book your place today - while spaces remain - and you'll secure your seat in front of experts including:
Mike Barry, director of sustainable business for Marks and Spencer, leader of the Plan A journey and Guardian Sustainable Business Innovator of the Year 2011.
Jane Davidson, director of award-winning sustainability institute #INSPIRE in University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
Tony Juniper, campaigner, writer, sustainability advisor, environmentalist, former executive director of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and current president of the Society for the Environment.
This one day event in July has the potential to completely transform your organisation's skills profile and drive future business resilience and prosperity. Ensure you are there to be the catalyst for change.
Visit http://www.iema.net/bg to find out more and book your place today.
20 May 2015, 14:34
Environmental labelling and management schemes first appeared in the 1970s and many corporations now see green labelling as a key part of marketing strategy. But are environmental labelling and information schemes driving eco-innovation - and better business?
SMEs leading eco-innovation
Research shows that eco-innovative companies of all sizes are growing, on average, at a rate of 15 per cent a year, at a time when their respective markets have remained flat. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are particularly responsive to eco-innovation due to their adaptability and flexibility.
More than 99% of all European businesses are SMEs, providing two out of three of private sector jobs in the EU. Nine out of ten SMEs are actually micro enterprises with less than 10 employees. These micro enterprises are in fact the mainstays of Europe's economy - and clearly have a key role to play in transitioning to a resource efficient economy. What can eco-labelling do for them?
According to Victor Vázquez at the Andalusian Institute of Technology: "One of the most relevant benefits of environmental management schemes (EMS) is improved legal compliance and the capability of continuously monitoring compliance. In addition, some studies demonstrated that EMS support rationalization in the use of resources (such energy and raw materials) and, at the same time, reduction in CO2 emissions. Of course, the adoption of an EMS improves the image of a company and, consequently, its relations with customers and local communities. Companies that adopt an EMS also show increased employee motivation. All of these are factors affecting the competitiveness of SMEs."
Compliance and green public procurement
With environmental legislation set to increase in the coming years, compliance will be a recurring issue for many businesses. At European level, a legislative package for a ‘circular economy' was controversially withdrawn at the beginning of this year; however it is promised that a new, even more ambitious plan for enabling the circular economy and resource efficiency will be reintroduced later this year. Consultation begins this month with the European Commission launch of the roadmap for its revised Circular Economy Package.
In the meantime, green public procurement - a voluntary process whereby public authorities can include environmental criteria when tendering for goods, services and works - is providing opportunities to environmentally-credentialed companies.
Italian-based company, Mobilferro supplies furniture to schools in Europe, Central America and North Africa. In business for over 50 years and with 60 employees, Mobilferro's sustainability credentials include ISO 14001 compliance, Forest Stewardship Council certification and SA 8000 compliance. Mobilferro decided to apply for the EU Ecolabel in 2013 after assessing their clients' needs; the majority of their clients are from educational institutions participating in the EU's Green Public Procurement scheme.
Family business Gomà-Camps first started manufacturing paper in the mid-eighteenth century. Today this Catalan company produces 60,000 tons of paper and tissue products per year and has an annual turnover of EUR 170 million.
Half of Gomà-Camps products carry the EU Ecolabel; environmental manager Emma Mariné Ortiz explains why: "The key drivers are sales and marketing. The fact is that green procurement is becoming compulsory, not only in public service contracts but also in b2b (business to business) commercial agreements. This of course has a positive impact on the number of suppliers willing to obtain an official environmental accreditation such as the Ecolabel."
Support for business
Despite the potential business advantage, companies may shy away from going green due to upfront costs.
Laboratorio de Eco innovación opened last year in Barcelona to promote eco-innovation amongst Spanish companies. Jordi Oliver, Executive Director at Inèdit, the environmental consultancy managing the lab, said: "The main barrier companies face today while considering implementing eco-innovation measures is basically the long term return on investment of eco-innovation in comparison to other investment considerations. Nowadays private companies seek profitability in a time as short as six months. While an eco-innovation investment might have a fairly reasonable ROI, other priorities take the lead in the very large majority of decisions-taking processes in business."
However, there are a number of European public funding programmes available to support eco-innovation.
On 21 May at the 18th European Forum on Eco-innovation in Barcelona, Lana Žutelija from the European Commission's Directorate-General for Environment will present the funding opportunities for innovative business from European programmes such as Horizon 2020, LIFE+, COSME, ESIF, EFSI. (You can watch the event online - at http://live.ecoapforum.eu/18th-forum/live_en.html)
Guillermina Yanguas, Director-General at the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture is unequivocal on the value of environmental management schemes and labelling as drivers for eco-innovation: "Environmental management systems such as EMAS and Ecolabel are key tools for analyzing the life cycle of products, identifying new materials, reducing consumption and enabling closed production cycles by applying the principles of the circular economy.
"Reinvigorating the traditional sectors of our economy in terms of sustainability, processes and more efficient services, and identifying new business niches with eco-innovative and sustainable products are important strategies for the transition to a low carbon economy," concluded Yanguas.
• On 20 and 21 May in Barcelona, the 18th European Forum on Eco-innovation will focus on the role of environmental labelling, management and information schemes. #EcoApForum @EU_ecoinno
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