Tackling future challenges of mobility

14 Apr 2014

Johan Widheden AkzoNobel

The world is changing at a rapid rate and so is the ability of our planet to withstand these changes. In fact, it has been estimated that we have already breached the safe operating space of humanity in three out of the nine planetary boundaries that define the resilience of our planet.

One of the most important boundaries that has been crossed is climate change. Yesterday's IPCC report warned that carbon emissions grew nearly twice as fast from 2000-10 as compared to the previous 30 years, despite the economic slowdown.

A major contributor to this process has been the transportation sector's growth which now accounts for 11 percent of all global emissions. Looking forward, the sector will have to address both the public and the policy responses to climate change. Also, shortages in resources will intensify this pressure - from oil scarcity, rising energy prices and the competition between biofuels and food production, to the scarcity of rare metals needed for batteries.

At the same time, a fast growing population as well as urbanisation are driving major changes within business and society. These changes can be seen visibly in our transport systems - our roads, train stations, ports and airports are busier than ever as populations grow and urbanize and as we demand ever-increasing mobility.

Change is rapid and the challenges ahead are many and varied. While politicians often struggle to deal with these challenges, scientists and engineers are busy getting on with designing the technologies and systems which will eventually meet them.

For example, in the automotive industry, average CO2 emissions of new vehicles are over 20 per cent less than in 2007. Meanwhile, Norway is expected to become the first country where one in every 100 cars is purely electric. There is also a strong trend in younger generations away from ownership toward car sharing schemes. In a few years we may start seeing autonomous or "driverless" cars, which could revolutionise personal travel forever.

Looking further into the future, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's (WBCSD) Vision 2050 report, we can expect universal access to low carbon transport in 2050. An 80 percent reduction in energy use by light-duty vehicles is also forecast, along with a 50 percent drop in energy usage within shipping/freight transportation.

Are countries and companies prepared for these rapid changes; do they have enough resilience?

At AkzoNobel, the ‘Vision 2050' report is used to inform our long-term innovation strategy and to help us adapt to the changes in the market such as the need for drag reducing coatings, which can offer enhanced efficiencies and protective properties for our customers. Two-thirds of our research and development are purely focussed on meeting sustainability related challenges.

Ultimately, the ability to adapt successfully to changing circumstances requires some strategic longer-term thinking. Without this, businesses will always miss the threats and opportunities presented by major technological, economic and societal changes.

Electronic cigarette brands target green production

12 Mar 2014

Electronic cigarette

Electronic cigarettes are becoming almost as controversial as their tobacco brethren with endless conflicting news reports emerging about their perceived benefits and downfalls.

Opposition groups are now questioning whether the products truly are the beneficial to smokers' health. However, progressive e-cig brands are moving to ensure that their devices are undoubtedly healthier for the environment.

One of the most notable differences between electronic cigarettes and traditional cigarettes is that the former offers a refillable option that is not available to tobacco smokers unless they own a pipe. This immediately cuts down on waste. A staggering 200 million cigarette butts are dropped every day in the UK (this equates to roughly 122 tonnes).
These butts take roughly a quarter of a century to decompose and can spend much of that time contaminating bodies of water and being swallowed by dogs. So prominent are cigarette butts they accounted for 38 per cent of worldwide litter in 2010.

As the number of smokers decrease thanks to the boom in electronic cigarette popularity, the amount of butts will surely fall. Electronic cigarette brand TECC is currently working on making all of their products 100 per cent recyclable, making it possible for people to enjoy their nicotine fix without so many negative environmental effects.

Furthermore, this pattern will surely decrease the number of trees that are cut down for cigarette production. At the moment, up to 600 million trees are chopped and used to manufacture cigarettes. Even where trees are replaced when felled, this operation exerts huge amounts of energy on the part of the manufacturer, leading to significant carbon emissions.

On the topic of emitting dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere, cigarette smoke can be 10 times more damaging to the environment that the exhaust fumes of a diesel car. Eschewing the health and nicotine replacement argument, top brand Totally Wicked has produced extensive literature demonstrating the monetary and environmental benefits of electronic cigarettes.

The brand has further demonstrated their dedication to producing long-lasting and energy-efficient electronic cigarette devices by offering a five year guarantee on their flagship Totally Wicked Odyssey model. A 20-a-day smoker may buy and discard 1,825 packs of smokes during this five year period - increasing production costs and filling tipping sites.

While cigarettes emit smoke that contains upwards of 4,000 potentially environmentally damaging chemicals such as benzene and carbon monoxide, the emissions from electronic cigarettes are water vapour making them more comparable to a steam cleaner than a tobacco product.

A Joyetech spokesperson explained: "Streamlining the production process to be more energy efficient and environmentally responsible has become a major factor for us. Not only does it reduce overall production costs, but allows us to act in an ethical and beneficial manner."

The clamour to electrify the nation's cars may soon stretch to their cigarettes as well.

Turning towards alternative lending resources in the UK

26 Feb 2014

Calculator and piggy bank

Short term loan providers have faced a lot of criticism in recent months, but not all providers are the same. What if you could offer a more responsible approach to short term lending that made sure loans were not offered to those who could not afford them?

Unfortunately, heading down the ‘standard' borrowing route of personal loans and credit cards is not a viable option for everyone living in the UK. In a post-recession climate, UK borrowers may lack the credit rating needed to finance purchases via the usual avenues.

One financing option in the UK is short-term loans. By borrowing before their wages come in, those who take out short-term loans can meet immediate financial needs, such as covering unexpected bill before payday. Short-term loans are open to those who have a regular source of income who may find it difficult to access other forms of borrowing, like a credit card or overdraft. Customers should only apply for short-term loans if cheaper forms of borrowing are not available to them, such as an arranged overdraft or credit card.

Responsible lending

While consumers with low credit scores can successfully apply for short-term loans, lenders do undertake credit checks to ensure borrowers aren't over-indebted. This includes MYJAR, who perform affordability checks to determine how much existing debt an applicant has. Should they find that the prospective borrower has too much outstanding debt, they will refuse their application. Policies like these ensure that the short-term loan market meets the needs of responsible borrowers and encourages healthy lending practices.

Loan amounts available vary from lender to lender. With MYJAR, consumers can only borrow £100 the first time they apply. This amount may increase if they choose to borrow again. Re-borrowing is possible on the basis that borrowers meet their repayments on time and in full.

Supportive lending networks

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to borrow from companies that support their financial needs in more ways than one. Recognising this, short-term lending companies are now choosing to work with charities that encourage healthy borrowing habits. One of these charities is StepChange, the UK's leading debt charity and MYJAR supports their debt advice work.

How social media has changed the way we find a career

14 Feb 2014


The explosion of social media over the last decade has completely changed the way we connect with the world around us. What started out as a somewhat informal way of communicating with friends and acquaintances has evolved into arguably the most popular way for businesses to interact with consumers, and for people to air their opinions on hot topics in real-time. The potential reach on networks such as Twitter and Facebook is huge, and it comes as no surprise that workers have taken to social media in order to source new jobs and find out about new opportunities.

Green marketing

In recent years, social media has become the marketing method of choice for many environmentally conscious companies intent on reducing their carbon footprint. Social media practically eliminates the need for direct marketing campaigns, which equates to producing much less printed material. As a matter of fact, growing numbers of recruiters specialising in green jobs are turning to social media in order to source candidates via every conceivable social media platform. Even a cursory search for "green job vacancies" on Twitter can produce a wealth of results regarding sustainability-focused positions available.

Finding your ideal job via social media

When looking for new jobs online, it makes sense to utilise a social network created with the sole purpose of facilitating day-to-day business. LinkedIn offers precisely this, and is routinely used by both professionals seeking work and companies looking to fill vacancies. LinkedIn is also a valuable tool for connecting with colleagues, affiliates, freelancers, industry alumni and a host of different business-related groups and individuals.

Keeping up appearances

It's worthwhile considering how you present yourself on your LinkedIn profile. Whilst other social networks may be an informal way of communicating, many employers prefer a professional approach on LinkedIn. Dress smartly in your profile picture, and keep your information as detailed and meticulous as you would on your CV. Remember, first impressions count - even in the online world.

Perhaps the biggest advantage LinkedIn has over standard social networking sites is that it provides users with a chance to allow potential employers to see their credentials. It's possible to upload your CV and relevant work experience to the site, allowing prospective recruiters to find you based upon their vacancy criteria.

Likewise, employers are also using social media to advertise their vacancies. With millions of people using dedicated business networks as well as general social media such as Twitter and Facebook, recruiters can reach millions of potential applicants, resulting in record numbers of people finding employment through social media.

Twitter users spark new hump day

Although it's never wise to directly badmouth your employer via social media, a recent study suggests that increasing numbers of people are taking to sites like Twitter to vent their frustrations about working life. Perhaps the most interesting piece of data extrapolated from the study suggests that workers are most likely to feel dissatisfied in their job on a Tuesday - not on a Wednesday, as previously thought.

Wednesday has been traditionally known throughout the workplace as "hump day" for some time - partly because it's the furthest day away from both the previous and forthcoming weekends, and can therefore seem to drag in - although with new information available, it seems that Tuesday may in fact be the most frustrating day of the working week. The study, using the social media tracking tool, Topsy, suggests that the number of negative work-related tweets begin taking a sharp incline on Monday mornings before peaking on Tuesday and gently sloping off as the weekend nears. It's now official: Tuesday is hump day.

People aren't simply letting off steam during hump day, though - they're actively searching for better jobs, and for ways to improve their job prospects. Recently released figures from Computeach have revealed that the majority of enquiries regarding enrolment on IT-related courses tend to peak during the hours of 12 and 2pm every Tuesday - or hump-day break-time. This idea is also supported by web psychologist, Nathalie Nahai who agrees that ‘after a Monday slump workers perhaps have more resolve on a Tuesday'.

How social media has become the career people want

The continued exponential growth of digital marketing is something which many companies are keen to capitalise on. Whereas it may have been important to have an online business presence a number of years ago, we live in an age where it's now crucial, and the demand for social media marketing experts has created an unprecedented demand for workers to fill these skilled jobs.

A new government-funded social media course is proof positive that the number of jobs in the digital marketing industry is set to rise. Although a large number of those searching for new jobs or courses during hump day might feel like they're too old to return to education, or that tuition fees are too expensive, the good news is that there are plenty of opportunities out there for people of all ages, regardless of their current income or financial history.

Help for mature students

The 24+ Advanced Learning Loan is a government-backed initiative which aims to help people aged 24 and over to fund their studies, and is set to help thousands to access 6-month long IT courses such as Computeach's Social Media for Business City & Guilds (Level 3).

With qualifications in social media marketing set to become even more sought after in the near future, there's never been a better time for those feeling the hump day blues to consider a change of career, and what's more, it's possible to gain three major industry-recognised qualifications in just six months with Computeach.

There is no such thing as waste

13 Feb 2014


In this world of constrained resources, businesses across the globe are working hard to become much more efficient and to minimize waste. Although progress is being made by some, the reality is that the world is still terribly inefficient.

We have become very good at working efficiently within silos, in very specialist processes but we fail to spot opportunities across different systems. We simply don't ask ourselves the right questions - would someone else want this waste product? Could we harness it as a power resource? Could it be used somewhere else in the cycle?

Unfortunately, because our economy has been built on the false notion that there is an endless supply of cheap materials these questions often go un-asked. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the adoption of circular business models in the EU manufacturing sector could realize net materials cost savings worth up to $ 630 billion p.a. towards 2025-stimulating economic activity in the areas of product development, remanufacturing and refurbishment.

Our current model of becoming more efficient incrementally will not be enough to realise these savings. Furthermore it is anticipated that rare earth materials, such as indium needed for smartphone touch screens, europium used for light bulbs and erbium, which is essential for fibre optics, are all due to be exhausted within five to 10 years. A radical change in mindset is therefore required.

We need to dismiss the whole concept of waste and think about entire operating systems. Every litre of water can be re-used; every vegetable leaf can be used as food or as biomass for energy. Ultimately it's not about using less and less but about thinking in a completely different way to find a new cycle that works. This requires us to see value in every material that we use. This is not about corporate social responsibility but about good business sense as a scarcity of raw materials, combined with a rapidly growing global middle class, puts pressure on our current linear model.

Moving to a more circular model allows a company to keep the value of its stock of raw materials within its own system. For example Desso, which makes carpets and artificial grass, is already experiencing the benefits of this through a combination of leasing out its products and making them easily recyclable.

A circular model also provides incentives to create products that are longer lasting. At AkzoNobel because we supply coatings as a service, we design for longevity. Our outdoor and indoor paints are designed to last to reduce both maintenance costs and environmental impact. Furthermore, our coatings work hard to protect the integrity of the original substrate to ensure it can be reused effectively.

This circular thinking can't just be restricted to a company's own operations. Due to the complex nature of global value chains it needs to run across to customers, suppliers, business partners and communities. If our customers want to produce products that can be 100 per cent re-used and recycled we should think how we can help our customers to design these. Ultimately if this approach is to reach scale, we will need to take a systems-based approach.

What all companies who support the circular economy are certain about is that the current system will at some point have to dramatically change - and so those companies which find early solutions, will stand to benefit.

At AkzoNobel we know only too well that our future hinges on our ability to do radically more with less. But our story is an optimistic one - we are determined to turn what is an obvious challenge into an opportunity and bring more value to our customers and society in general. We call this approach Planet Possible - it's our commitment to finding opportunities where there don't appear to be any.

André Veneman is corporate director of sustainability & HSE at AkzoNobel

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BusinessGreen's Industry Voice blog offers experts from across the low carbon economy the opportunity to present their views, opinions and analysis on the latest green business developments

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