May 25, 2013
December 6th, 2012 - Newsletter
As we embrace the holiday season we generate more garbage than any other time of year. Many of us live in a place where the waste is taken to the magic land of “away”, and we don’t have to worry about it. However, as we shift toward a greener economy, is this the best way to serve our communities and to stimulate local economic development? What if we looked at waste as a resource that can be mined to make products we want and create jobs locally? By strategically rethinking the waste stream, politicians, governments, citizens, and businesses can work together to generate wealth from what is currently a financial, environmental, and social cost.
Strategic thinking from a business perspective can be quite simple. Crystal ball future needs and get positioned to meet those needs. For example, a clear strategic decision was made by the Bush family (former US presidents) wherein they acquired approximately 100,000 acres of farm land on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. While running a ranch may be part of the plan, the purchase sits on top of significant natural gas reserves as well as one of the largest underground water resources in the world. It is projected that both will be in high demand in the coming years, and now the Bushes are positioned to provide those resources once the price point tips to profitability. Is it possible that garbage dumps can become strategic resources too? We think so, and it appears some businesses and governments are positioning themselves to be players in this emerging resource industry.
While buying a 100,000 acre garbage dump might not seem as lucrative as the above deal, it depends on what the demands of the future really will be. Typical urban waste is around 50% organics, which if composted becomes soil enriching fertilizer. Given our need for rich soil to grow food, by extracting the organics out of the waste stream we enhance our food production capabilities, and reduce our ‘garbage’ and demand for landfills by 50%. We also save money by reducing how much we pay to have our waste removed and fertilizer is bought. But what about the other 50% still in the landfill?
As we move into an increasingly resource constrained world, the solid waste stream will become more important as a source for resources to produce the various products we demand. In most cases, the current perspective is simply to get the waste out of sight and out of mind as quickly and as cheaply as possible. This view will change and savvy businesses are starting to lead the charge in mining the waste stream profitably. For example, there is Urban Ore in Berkeley, California, Gibsons Resource Recovery Centre in British Columbia, and Kretsloppsparken in Gothenburg, Sweden. And this is just the start of the “gold rush” since studies by the World Bank indicate the potential annual production of solid waste to reach 27 billion tons/year by 2050. This is roughly the equivalent of 50 times the number of passenger cars in the US, which means there are plenty of opportunities for other players to enter the arena. We know that some companies have already figured out how to “mine’ the marine plastic in the Pacific to make packaging.
In Canada and the United States there is a movement by some large companies to form or support not-for-profit organizations (NFP) to introduce or administer recycling programs currently offered by local governments. In this case we are talking about the creation of NFP Producer Responsibility Organizations to start managing recycling programs under the auspices of increasing recycling rates typically to 75%. In BC, participating businesses are primarily in the food services industry such as restaurants and grocery stores and are supporting Multi-material British Columbia. While in the US, Reinventing Recycling is being supported by significant players such as Nestlé Water North America.
To solve our current challenges related to waste diversion, we need to engage the business community, but the critical question is “What is the best way to achieve success”?
There is much discussion in the waste management industry about moving to an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) model. The concept is to decrease the environmental impact of a product making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product including disposal. Given the costs of waste removal are covered through taxes, the idea of transferring those costs onto the producer and those who purchase their products sounds like a good idea. However, it is the implementation that will determine who benefits.
Which brings us from thinking strategically to thinking tactically. EPR has been mandated in British Columbia by the Ministry of the Environment, and in response Multi-material British Columbia (MMBC) was formed as a not-for-profit organization to implement EPR across the province. Their mandate is to reclaim 75% or all packaging identified in the regulations. So, from a tactical business perspective, if something cannot be stopped, then it should be managed. A perspective that became clear when Alan Langdon, chair of the MMBC board, stated “From a producer point of view, if we’re going to have full financial responsibility, we want to have a say in how efficient it is.” So what changes are afoot?
First, there will be a management shift away from local governments and to a Command and Control model driven by producers and retailers through MMBC and the Recycling Council of British Columbia. This becomes a philosophical perspective with implications for the economy, society, and the environment. A shift to a command and control (CnC) structure for recycling can actually stymie local creativity in addressing waste issues because of the one model fits all approach. Meaning if an enterprising individual identifies a business opportunity that uses the waste stream as a resource, such as Eco-flex in Alberta, they would have to compete with the provincial entity for that resource. Such a scenario is likely and would lead to lost opportunities for local economic development.
Second, there will be a financial infusion from industry into recycling. BC’s Minister of Environment Terry Lake, claims the EPR program will reduce the financial burden to general taxpayers by $60-million to $100-million a year. However, the costs of an EPR would still be passed on to the consumer, and most likely disproportionately given many of the products and packaging we get comes from outside of BC. Further, additional environmental issues are likely to arise as the waste that was distributed through the province would then have to be recollected and centralized for processing, which will increase transportation costs and associated greenhouse gas emissions.
The third big shift will be the management of waste from government (i.e. municipalities) to Producer Responsibility Organizations such as MMBC. While the stated intention is to increase recycling rates, it also undermines a local community’s abilities to use the waste stream as a resource for local job creation and as economic stimuli.
As an advocate for cultivating the green economy and having the private sector provide the products and services we want and need, I am not suggesting we prevent the private sector from taking over the management of the waste stream. However, the old management style of CnC that is being developed for managing the EPR program is as likely to damage the emerging green economy as it is to address our waste stream challenges. We need to be more creative by developing a distributed solution.
In the true spirit of sustainable business practices, the program must be 100% transparent and accountable. This means the need to have government safe guards in place to ensure the interests of the public are protected. Will a centralized organization located 100s of kilometers and in some cases over 1,000 km away be able to ensure the best interest of local municipalities? Are local authorities giving up local autonomy and the opportunity to cultivate the green economy? Time, of course, will tell.
October 30th, 2012 - Newsletter
, The Green Eye
Guest blogger, Erich Schwartz, raises questions about the sudden availability of great quantities of certified organic products by reviewing the facts.
What if the organic certification process is inadequate and many products displaying certified organic labeling are not in fact organic? What if large companies and even countries were falsely labeling their products to reap the profits of higher prices people pay for organic products? What if these products were distributed through large retailers like Costco, Walmart and Safeway?
A client of ours kindly suggested we read a book to help us understand “what is really going on” in the Organic Food Industry. Having read the book and then going through our process of due diligence, we concluded that consumers of organic food and beverages need to start asking more questions about what’s behind all certified organic labeling and who is really benefiting.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture are responsible for certifying the certifiers in Canada and the United States respectively. There is big money to be made in labeling products as being organic, and in some industries it is the only area for growth and profit. We discovered that many businesses and countries are driven by the profit motive and are misleading consumers in their claims of offering organic foods. We have been duped, and in the interest of consumers and businesses that are pursuing organic production ethically, we need to demand action.
The recommended book is called “Is it Organic” whose author Mischa Popoff argues for the need for organic certification to be science based rather than bureaucracy based. Meaning, testing and surprise inspections should be conducted to ensure compliance rather than just the proper completion of forms. This eye opening book led us down the research path wherein we discovered numerous legal actions being pursued in the United States against companies making false claims of producing organic products.
From a business perspective, perhaps the largest corporate culprit to blatantly disregard their customers and the reputation of the organic industry as a whole is Aurora Dairy that runs industrial-scale operations in Colorado and Texas. Aurora’s activities were first flagged in 2005 by the Cornucopia Institute when it filed a legal complaint with the USDA alleging the company was using giant feedlots with over 4,000 confined cows rather than grazing as required to be certified organic. While the complaint was summarily dismissed, and even though Aurora was later noted for willfully violating 14 tenets of the organic standards, it continued to sell its non-organic milk to large chains such as Safeway, Costco, Walmart and more under an organic label.
The good news is finally, 7 years later (enough time to raise a child from birth to grade 2 on non organic milk without knowing it) Aurora is brought to justice by agreeing to pay plaintiffs $7.5 million dollars. What’s worthy of noting is that this settlement was brought about through consumer action, NOT government regulations which supports some of the assertions in Mr. Popoff’s book.
On a country wide basis, evidence suggests that China leads the way for not being in compliance with CFIA or USDA regulations. While verifiable numbers do not seem to be available, some estimate that as much as 20% of the food shipped out of China is claimed to be organic. However, in conversations with various individuals such as Keith Schneider, Senior Editor for Circle of Blue, it’s more likely that next to none of it is actually organic, knowing the condition of water and soil in this country.
“We toured one of the first authentic organic farms near Chengdu in December 2010, and there are few others in the country. In 2010, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, China applied 55.6 million metric tons of chemical fertilizer to its paddies, fields, and orchards. That’s three times more fertilizer than US grain and crop farmers used on roughly the same (300 million acres) of cultivated land. Insecticide, herbicide, and other pesticide use in China amounts to around 1.5 million metric tons annually, three times the U.S. pesticide use of just under 500,000 metric tons annually.”
This ties back to Mr. Popoff’s argument that our certification needs to be science based not form based. At Greenomics, we use the most up-to-date scientific data available when providing Sustainability Strategies and road-maps that deliver quantifiable and verifiable results. Our clients expect it of us. We should expect the same of our government regulators particularly when it concerns the health of our citizens. It is also needed to protect our growing organic industry from being under-priced by unscrupulous businesses driven purely by the profit motive without concern for society and the environment.
October 29th, 2012 - Newsletter
The internationally established Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol essentially establishes three types of emissions. Those that companies are:
- directly responsible for producing such as CO2 emissions from manufacturing
- indirectly responsible for such as emissions from purchased electricity, and
- those created by service providers such as airlines.
Many companies are measuring the first two; however, there are substantial gains to be found by looking at the third type, which some forward thinking companies are starting to do to gain a competitive edge.
This shift is due to the realization that measuring GHG emissions also identifies where and how you are dependent upon fossil fuels and your vulnerability to their unpredictable price fluctuations. We also know fossil fuels will continue to become more expensive as conventional supplies are depleted, so the sooner alternatives are found the better.
By conducting a comprehensive review of your organization’s GHG emissions, you can identify areas most at risk and develop solutions to minimize those risks while at the same time reducing costs and improving customer experience. This cannot be done by spending hard earned money on carbon offsets or purchasing “green energy”. Invest that money in:
“Assessing GHG emissions over your business’ entire value chain to mitigate risks, realize savings, and improve customer experience.”
By assessing the entirety of our client’s value chains we have been able to identify ways to achieve GHG reductions by as much as 60% while significantly reducing costs and improving product delivery times to their customers. This macro view provides the strategic perspective necessary to be more competitive.
Today’s supply and distribution patterns are global and a sophisticated understanding of GHG emissions can minimize risks associated with fluctuating but steadily increasing energy costs. Fuel surcharges and eco-taxes are now part of daily business. If your suppliers are located around the world and your customers are significantly distributed, chances are your vulnerability comes primarily through the transportation costs of your supplies and products.
In today’s rapidly changing global dynamics, forward thinking businesses are strategically positioning themselves geographically to reduce their emissions and the associated costs of transporting their goods. If you would like our White Paper “Using Greenhouse Gas Management Strategies for Manufacturing and Distribution to Reduce Costs and Risks, and Improve Customer Experience”, Click Here.
Note: The GHG Protocol, is the result of a partnership between the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
July 17th, 2012 - Newsletter
20 years ago, I was a financially challenged graduate student and very much involved in environmental and political issues. A cohort of mine, Joan Russow, was also short on cash but was able to gather enough to fly to Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, also known as the Earth Summit. We had such hopes that we were on the path to effecting positive changes that would ensure an inhabitable environment for future generations. It was an amazing time filled with hope, as tens of thousands of people representing 172 countries gathered to address the mounting environmental challenges resulting from human activity.
The outcomes were encouraging as many countries signed legally binding agreements. These included the Convention on Biological Diversity which sought to protect biodiversity, use natural resources sustainably, and ensure equitable sharing of genetic resources. There was also the Framework Convention on Climate Change which focused on stabilizing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that would not threaten life.
In other words, we acknowledged the damage we were doing to the foundations of life, decided to face up to this fact by assuming responsibility, and actually take concrete steps to address the issues. Heady times indeed!
Now, here we are in 2012 and we have just witnessed the results of 20 years of efforts at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio +20. In the lead up to Rio +20, in 2011 we heard the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon state “The old model of economic development and growth “is a global suicide pact.” So, he seems to understand the need for changing how we do business. As well, the number of countries participating increased to 190, suggesting greater awareness and interest. Now let’s look at the results of 20 years of negotiations, countless meetings and conferences, and uncounted amounts of money to fly, accommodate, feed, and pay people from around the world to participate.
Let’s start with the ticking time bomb of GHG concentrations which scientists argue need to be stabilized at approximately 350 part per million. In 1992 the concentrations were at around 360 PPM. Now we are hovering around 400 PPM and rising, and the rate at which we are contributing GHGs is increasing. This is due to most developed countries not seriously addressing the issue and developing countries rapidly growing economies.
So, the Framework Convention on Climate Change has failed.
But what about the Convention on Biological Diversity doing, or some of the other ideals expressed in 1992? Well, their evolution is captured in the document entitled “The Future We Want”, which resulted from Rio +20. This 49 page document is filled with statements such as “We reaffirm”, “We recognize”, “We acknowledge”, “We express deep concern”, and so on.
Perhaps most disturbing is:
“We recognize that the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions and we note that some countries recognize the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development. We are convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environment needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature.”
This paragraph, which has been translated into multiple languages, highlights the almost 24,000 word document, which can be summarized as being absolute fluff. There are no goals, objectives, timelines, milestones, deliverables, or anything one typically maps out when genuinely striving to achieve results.
I can only conclude that we are now 20 years further behind than we were in 1992.
As a recovering academic, I can understand the allure of debating the meaning of words, how they are structured, and discussing abstract constructs ad infinitum until summarizing the experience in the form of a report. That is what we were trained to do in university, and many of those trained people continued these practices into their professions, and in particular governmental organizations. After all, it is argued it is the journey that’s important not the destination, right?
As a business person, I focus on getting results. With GHG concentrations at 400 ppm and rising, environmental degradation increasing, resources dwindling, and quality of life declining we need action now.
Over the next series of articles, I will be arguing key solutions that will increase our quality of life, restore the environment, and drive our economies so we get “The Future We Want”, not “The Future We’ll Get”.
June 12th, 2012 - Newsletter
Erich Schwartz explains that in order to make change happen, organizations must take a structured approach when embedding sustainability with employees. Here are 4 steps to take.
This article was also posted on 2Degrees Network which is also offering more on embedding sustainability in employees, in their upcoming webinar: Embedding Sustainability: Ways to Win Over Your Employees.
I do not know anyone who wants to be changed except babies with wet diapers; yet, this is what we are asking people to do when moving a business toward sustainable business practices. Accepting this basic premise is foundational to developing policies and programs that effectively facilitate the transition from the existing state. Simply because senior management has identified the benefits to be gained by becoming more sustainable is not enough, especially when conditions on the sofa are quite comfortable. Employees need to understand and adopt behaviors that support the vision, and this requires transition time. It’s important to recognize that when changes are introduced, particularly ones that people have not chosen for themselves, there will be an impact. William Bridges, a world renowned authority on managing change states; “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”
To be successful, an organization must take a structured approach and a concerted effort to make change happen. People need carrots and sticks to help in the transition from lying on a comfortable couch and going for a walk. This can be achieved by engaging individuals, honouring the “as is”, identifying obstacles, and creating a compelling reason “why”.
1. Engage People Being Impacted
Involve as many stakeholders in the change process as early on as possible to increase their ownership in the change, identify the leaders, and support them through incentives and recognition, then sustain the effort. For example, one of our clients wanted to promote alternative commuting options to the private automobile. There were already a handful of bicycle commuters, and they were identified as the change agents. By supporting them through the provisioning of proper facilities, rewards and recognitions, and helping them develop programs to support their bicycle commuting culture; they were successful in increasing the number of bike commuters from 2% to 15%. The programs not only emphasized the social, environmental, and cost benefits. It also emphasized the joys and obstacles to overcome that lead to greater happiness.
2. Honouring the “as is”
People have become successful based on their past and present activities, and this needs to be recognized. Through their hard work, they have been rewarded through various means such as the ability to buy cars, homes, and even go on vacation. Now they are being asked to change and possibly lose something from the old way of doing things. By honouring the “as is” provides context for the need to transition toward a better future. In one case where this approach proved particularly effective was in moving a company toward a “paperless” environment. People in the office had developed their own methods for filing paper, keeping themselves organized, and meeting their workload. By focusing on the benefits of the new way, such as saving time finding files using search commands, and showing how it frees them up for more important tasks, the majority embraced the transition and became advocates.
3. Identifying Obstacles
Designing interventions that surface the resistance and then create understanding through two-way dialogue leads to the opportunity to create effective change. Ignoring people’s reasons for resisting the change simply leads to resentment and negatively impacts the transition to the new way of doing business. The resistance can be almost anything, ranging from sense of loss of prestige to fear of not being able to perform. For example, we were trying to implement a customer/sales management solution within a very successful business that would drive all contacts and leads onto a central server and place mobile devices into the hands of the entire sales force. Not only would this eliminate the need for paper transactions and reduce travel costs and related GHG emissions, it would help streamline the entire communications process. The biggest resistance to this change was fear by the sales force that they would lose control of their client base to corporate and become redundant or replaceable. By meeting this concern head-on, the adoption of the new solution increased significantly, though admittedly some people decided to move on or even retire.
4. Creating a Compelling Reason “Why”
It is challenging when people are expected to ‘get on board’ with a change they have not chosen and requiring them to let go of what is familiar. However, even when there is little room for participant contribution, there are always ways to create opportunities to empower people. This is best done to appealing to an inner sense or reason “why”. Focusing on the ‘bells and whistles” of sustainable practices may not be enough. What is the “why” for the individual needs to be identified and leveraged to effect change. For example, in implementing a workplace composting solution to achieve a 50% reduction in waste and associated garbage removal costs was better embraced when people realized the composted material was to be used in a community garden. In this case, the “why” was this helps our community.
To truly embed sustainable practices into the DNA of any organization begins and ends with its people and their willingness to engage. For those of us who have already embraced the need for sustainable practices, it seems obvious why everyone should get engaged; however, it is still change. Ask any fitness instructor who is helping people lose weight and get fit. The benefits may be obvious, but getting off the sofa and going for that walk can be tough. Accepting that people need help to change is the first big step, and using the four principles discussed can increase your success.
"Garbage Gold Rush"
Where our Newsletter is Read