16 Oct 2014
They line the pockets of an estimated 1.75 billion people worldwide. They double as cameras, mp3 players, organisers and an almost inconceivable variety of other portable devices. They have even begun to monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and other vital statistics.
However, the liberation by innovation associated with our much-loved smartphones, smartwatches and fitness trackers has begun to leave a distinctly sour taste in our mouths - and that taste, of course, is the lingering metallic flavour of lithium-ion and its rather lacklustre staying power.
Sadly, the onward march of progress within the smartphone world has not been matched by relative developments within the world of power cells. Battery technology is most definitely stuck in the technological dark ages and, as our devices become increasingly power hungry, a growing number of people are to be found tethered to the nearest wall socket as they impatiently wait to post their next selfie.
What's more, the growing pile of waste material created simply by the chargers alone is beginning to pose a problem in itself. Perhaps then, at least until battery capacities can be increased, it is time for a different approach to the problem.
Kickstarting Kinetic Energy
There have been a number of attempts to provide portable power sources to increase smartphone longevity; from the simplicity of hooking up to your laptop to the more convenient inclusion of an additional battery.
However, one area that is just beginning to come into its own is the idea of harnessing our very own kinetic energy - that is, the energy created by the everyday movement of our limbs. The idea is not necessarily a new one and there have been plenty of attempts to harness the latent source of human energy over the course of history.
Leonardo's flying machines (for a reminder of what they look like, check out these on Posterlounge) attempted to use the power of our limbs to reach the heavens. Of course they failed and unfortunately the conversion of mechanical energy created by walking, running or other movements into electrical energy has proven to be equally elusive.
However, most recently, the nPower PEG has enjoyed some success despite its large bulk and high cost. It was the first commercially available kinetic energy module to become available back in 2012. Sadly, perhaps due to its size and cost, it never really took off - leaving the stage free for the diminutive and suitably innovative Ampy to take the limelight.
Contoured to fit comfortably to your body and optimised to store a week's worth of physical activity, Ampy is the next generation in kinetic energy capturing device - giving consumers a chance to access the technology at less than half the price of the PEG. The creators of Ampy suggest that around 10,000 steps, 1 hour of cycling or 30 minutes of running will give you a full 3 hours extra charge once hooked up to your smart phone. That's completely free, clean and renewable energy each and every time you take a walk.
However, perhaps most importantly for the future of mobile devices, the creators of Ampy are confident that their technology can cross over to the devices themselves - meaning your smartphone could be powered exclusively by you and your movements without the need for an extra unit in your pocket or bag.
This then, has the potential to make all of our mobile devices completely eco-friendly in the foreseeable future. Check out Ampy on their Kickstarter campaign and join the kinetic energy revolution.
01 Oct 2014
Despite recent public commitments made by big businesses, the cotton industry is facing a struggle to increase its global production of organic produce. Organic cotton - which can be manufactured to the same texture and quality as standard cotton - is grown without the necessity of any pesticides or fertilisers, avoids a significant drain on water supply and soil, and increases the overall well-being of farmers and pickers. The eco-benefits are clear, but organic cotton still faces difficulties.
Top companies such as H&M and C&A are leading the charge for the organic cotton trade revolution by making stout commitments to use 100 per cent organic cotton by 2020. Swedish fashion giant H&M increased its use of organic cotton by 29 per cent in 2013, a rise from 7.8 per cent in 2012.The company has also invested US $2.7m, in the Better Cotton Initiative's Fast Track Program.
However it is not just these big brands making a change. There are a slew of smaller organic companies such as Zen Bedrooms, which offer sustainably resourced mattresses, clothes and pillow cases.
Increasing demand is one thing, but being able to meet that demand is quite another. In a document recently released by Textile Exchange, figures have shown that the overall production of natural fibres dropped by three per cent in 2013; standard cotton fell by 4.1 per cent last year.
The deficiency of good quality cotton suppliers that are producing cotton without GMO (genetically modified organism) is clear to see. Despite the fact that only approximately one per cent of the cotton manufactured is organic, demand will soon likely exceed supply. One hurdle to the rise in organic cotton is the fact that many farmers seemingly lack the business savvy and will required to go organic, as a significant amount of expert knowledge and verification of the organic status is required.
An aspiration for improvement
It is generally hoped that huge markets like China and the USA will step up organic cotton production, due to the continued efforts by organisations such as Textile Exchange and the Better Cotton Standard System. The overall aim is to equip farmers with the tools and know-how, reducing water consumption and eradicating the use of pesticides.
These efforts to increase the supply of organic cotton are of paramount importance, as Textile Exchange's Managing Director LaRhea Pepper states, "We are looking holistically at the organic cotton supply chain. Organic cotton farmers are the beginning of a long value chain and surveying the entire system is the best way to get an inclusive story." Whether the industry will be able to cope with a higher demand is, however, still to be seen.
While the astronomical figures bandied around the UN Climate Change Summit in New York may or may not suggest that world leaders are finally facing up to an era of global uncertainty, one industry lagging far behind the pledges made makes Franciois Hollande's billion dollar commitment seem like a drop in the ever-rising ocean. We are of course, speaking of the filthy-rich fashion industry and its multifarious malpractice when it comes to sustainability and ecological responsibility.
With an estimated 75 million workers and a worldwide market value of 1.7 trillion dollars, the fashion industry commands a huge part of the global economy and, as populations explode, creates a seemingly exponential quantity of waste. However, despite the litany of charges levelled against it - all the way from resource monopolization through worker exploitation to the unbridled consumerism inherent within the western world - this most facile of industries is beginning to face up to its stiletto-heeled carbon footprint.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an industry concerned with image and social hierarchy, rather than embrace the concept of eco-fashion, the industry has positively shied away from a perceived sacrifice to quality and design alongside the assumption that the term is in itself loaded with "worthy” attitudes. It seems that, unlike other industries, where owners of a Tesla S or an energy efficient Passivhaus may consider their purchases as contemporary status symbols, the fashion industry has been moving in the opposite direction – stigmatising eco-fashion to the point where designers are reticent to employ the term.
However, in the wake of London Fashion Week, and with the help of a few celebrity endorsements, it seems that this attitude is beginning to change. What's more, for the savvy entrepreneur who can combine the ever-growing popularity of sustainable living with the colossal profits of the fashion world, it seems that this sea-change could potentially be extremely lucrative.
Whilst haute couture may be somewhat off the eco-pulse, smaller companies and style movements have been making in-roads for years - often in surprising and innovative ways. Whether it is a simple commitment to using less water during production like BRAX at Peter Hahn, a re-evaluation of profit distribution and ethics found within the prisoner based workforce of Heavy Eco, or the more traditional act of recycling old tyres like Ethiopia's Sole Rebels, eco-fashion is alive and well with a number of independent manufacturers burning the torch.
Of course, the final decision about the future of eco-fashion lies with the consumer and their spending habits. However, if the fashion industry is successful in shedding this self-created stigma, the benefits both to the consumer, the industry and the planet will be truly remarkable.
Shoppers are more aware now than ever of the ethical and environmental impact of goods and services. With a new agenda that factors in the sustainability of businesses it's telling that, according to the Ethical Consumerism Report 2012, 50 per cent of consumers surveyed have avoided a product based on a company's responsible reputation. It's more noticeable than ever that organisations large and small have started using their environmental practices as a marketing tool so, from supermarkets to your local coffee shop, there are green claims everywhere.
Although it is not necessarily the case that well informed consumers will make the ‘right' choice, there is evidence to suggest that consumers are reacting more strongly to businesses that disregard environmental and ethical concerns.
Boycotts have gone up by 123 per cent over 2010-2012 and whether it's avoiding products containing unsustainable palm oil or refusing to use certain patrol stations, potential customers have been more proactive in ensuring their money goes into the pocket of a seemingly cleaner organisation. Charities such as Greenpeace and Amnesty continue to influence the way in which the public views ethically irresponsible business, however the growing availability of information online means that shoppers are more aware than ever before.
So how can businesses make the most of their environmental practices to attract custom?
Start sharing your green practices in a credible way. Your business may have a fleet of hybrid vehicles or source its energy from a renewable provider. You may have planted trees to offset your carbon or you endeavour to buy recycled and fair trade goods for office use. All of these actions are valid efforts to cut environmental impact but, while these claims may be true, be careful to avoid greenwash.
Terms such as 'natural', 'green' and 'eco-friendly' won't cut the mustard with today's savvy audience who will be looking for evidence. If you are serious about your green side then accreditation will serve as a simple reminder to customers that you are the real deal when making these claims.
ISO 14001 tends to be the standard for larger businesses looking to demonstrate their environmental management operations. This is accreditation that the consumer can trust and is particularly useful when bidding for contracts.
For SME's, ISO 14001 is often out of reach as a manageable and affordable form of accreditation. An alternative option is The Green Achiever Scheme - an initiative designed for businesses that are keen to market their environmental good practice and so are looking for third party certification. The scheme also offers higher level accreditation that acts as a stepping stone towards more demanding accreditation like ISO 14001.
Whatever route you decide to take when marketing your green side, be aware that the next generation of consumers will be more informed on environmental issues than ever before. Why not act upon the trend, get ahead of the curve and take advantage of your environmental credentials today?
There is not long to go before the rankings are announced for the 2014 Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). That may mean little or nothing to some people, but for AkzoNobel, it's a big deal.
The DJSI ranking is based on research by RobecoSAM, a renowned investment group based in Switzerland. They annually assess the sustainability performance of around 90 publicly listed global companies in the chemicals and coatings industries.
This involves carrying out detailed analysis of various criteria that relate to standard management practices and performance measures. We are measured against 86 chemicals companies, of which the top nine are included in the DJSI World Index. I'm proud to say we've been ranked number one in our sector for the last two years. But it's not necessarily about finishing first.
Let me explain. The DJSI is the most respected independent sustainability ranking system. It benchmarks our performance across the industry and enables us to assess what progress we are making in terms of achieving our strategic sustainability goals. And this is crucial, because achieving a high ranking is not an end in itself. The fundamental value of the DJSI is as a management tool, which helps to continuously improve the sustainability performance of our business.
Being ranked first means you are doing a lot of things right of course, but more importantly, the assessment also highlights areas for improvement. And you need to take action, because if you don't make progress and adopt a continuous improvement mindset, you'll drop down the list or fall off it altogether. For example, in 2013, operational eco-efficiency and talent attraction and retention were identified as areas where we could do better. So since last September, we've been working hard to improve in these areas.
In fact, we attach so much importance to a strong performance on the DJSI that our ranking is tied to remuneration packages for our top 600 executives. That's a clear indication of how sustainability is driving our business, and how our business is driving sustainability.
We have a clear vision for what we want to achieve and our DJSI performance is a barometer for measuring the level of our success. We are committed to delivering more value from fewer resources and have adopted a Planet Possible strategy built on three key pillars:
When this year's DJSI rankings are announced in early September, we will know if our ongoing efforts to intensify our sustainability initiatives are continuing to move us in the right direction. It's a process which actually began several years ago, because we've featured in the top three for each of the last eight years.
What this demonstrates is that sustainability has become an integral part of our business activities and our company culture. But it also shows that we haven't stood still. We've made improvements each year and used the assessment to critically identify areas that need attention.
Everyone likes to win, but the thing about the DJSI is that even if you aren't ranked first, what you learn is invaluable. So you congratulate whoever finished number one and set about making the necessary improvements to put you in contention next time. In some ways, everyone's a winner.
André Veneman is corporate director sustainability and HSE at AkzoNobel
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