Category Archives: Industry

Window dressing vs reduced business risks and impacts – which to choose?

Companies have impacts – on people, on the environment – some positive, some negative. Sometimes the negative impacts become very obvious and very negative – for example when a textile factory in Bangladesh collapses. Sometimes the impacts are less visible, displacement of people from their land, discharge of toxic chemicals, or exploitation of fossil fuels.

There are many way of addressing these impacts, including direct legislation, standards & labelling. One approach that sounds promising at first sight – but is yet to really deliver – is company reporting: Continue reading

We need to change – but to what? and how fast?

“cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

We are living in a time of cognitive dissonance – on the one hand, many people (particularly in business) now realise that the economy can’t go on the way it is – with increasing climate changing emissions, pressure on resources and biodiversity – while at the same time taking the view that it’s not politically practical to do anything about it. Continue reading

Land – so important, yet so ignored….

People have been talking about resource use for years – we use too much, we don’t distribute it equitably, things are getting more expensive, running out, etc etc etc.

The thing that puzzles me is that these conversations tend to be about materials – in general, or specific materials (oil, metals, rare earths etc) – and most of the time a key natural resource is ignored – land.

It’s blindingly obvious that land is a limited resource – as Mark Twain said “Buy Land, they’re not making it anymore”. Across the world the pressure on land is increasing – from increasing demand for food (particularly meat & dairy), from the increasing use of biofuel and biomass as an energy source, and from growing urbanisation.

Land is obviously crucial to biodiversity – but it is also intimately  linked to people’s rights, history and incomes. The growing demand for land – combined with financial speculation – is creating a massive increase in land disputes, as companies and governments try to gain control of land.

This is leading to deaths and imprisonments of local people, for instance 17 people were killed in June 2012 during a police-led eviction of peasant farmers in Paraguay. This was followed by the arrest of a local person who was working with Friends of the Earth, though he was later released following international pressure  (see Friends of the Earth International news story)

And yet, land just doesn’t seem to be front of mind when many people talk about resource use. For example, the UK Environment Ministry DEFRA has just launched a consultation on “Guidance for Business on Key Environmental Performance Indicators“. As you might expect, this includes measuring climate emissions, waste, material use, even water – but what about land?

Well, land use change gets a mention in the section on biodiversity, but not beyond this, in spite of the fact that scale of land use is so important as companies make decisions on bio-based materials and feedstocks – or even what to food to serve. Yet measuring impacts on biodiversity is much more difficult than measuring scale of land use.

There is a straightforward way to measure and manage the amount of land required by a company, an economy, or to produce an individual product – it’s called Land Footprint. This is a really straightforward measurement of  the real area of land required, in hectares. It doesn’t tell you everything, but it does work very well as a top-level metric, which facilitates further analysis (e.g. looking at where the land is, why we are using that land etc). If you want to know the land footprint of EU countries, see our report on “Europe’s land import dependency”.

For more about land footprint, see this talk I gave to a conference organised by the European Commission on soil sealing in May 2012.

We’ll be asking DEFRA – and indeed the European Commission – to make sure that future policies on environmental reporting & resource use do include land. We’d welcome the same message coming from other people and organisations too!!


Resource Efficiency for Engineers

This morning I gave a presentation on “Resource Efficiency policy for Europe” as part of a ‘sandpit’ on “Engineering Solutions for Resource Efficiency” organised by the UK’s Engineering & Physical Research Council (EPSRC).

The EPSRC  is working to generate innovative ideas for research on resource efficiency, and they issued a call for people interested in getting funding to participate in a 1 week ‘sandpit’ to generate research ideas. The ‘sandpit’ is happening this week – starting with opening up the discussions through external speakers (including myself), and then developing specific proposals by the end of the week, with initial decisions made on funding.

From my brief experience it looks like a good process, encouraging new thinking & innovation – hopefully there will be some good ideas by the end of the week!

My presentation focussed on the work we are doing to standardise resource use measurement at EU level (focussing on land footprint, carbon footprint, water footprint & overall material use) & then encourage policies that reduce resource use (like phasing out residual waste, not setting biofuels targets etc). It generated an interesting discussion, particularly on land footprint, which emphasised the way in which this indicator in particular starts people thinking in more depth about the crucial land issue & its complexities.

My talk also highlighted a few key questions for engineers who are proposing new ideas:

  • Is what you are proposing solving a problem, or just displacing it?
  • Is your approach part of a long term vision of a sustainable society?
  • Is it just an intermediate ‘solution’? If so, how will it be phased out?
  • Are you being realistic about how your approach will be used?
  • Is the solution new technology or better systems? (e.g. separate collection vs separation plants for recycling)
  • Does your approach help in creating greater equity, as well as resource efficiency?

Chemical industry lobbyists claim that they don’t lobby..

The European Chemical industry is represented by a lobbying organisation called CEFIC in Brussels. CEFIC employs more than 170 staff and claims a yearly budget of 37.9 million Euros. It’s a big operation, with a large office just a few minutes walk from DG Environment, the European Commission’s environment department.

CEFIC basically exists to lobby European institutions – yet, strangely it has declared on the new voluntary register of EU lobbyists that “its costs directly related to representing interests to EU institutions, in 2007, were less than 50,000 Euros

Friends of the Earth Europe spotted this, and complained to the European Commission – and the Commission has now suspended CEFIC from the register for 8 weeks, due to their concerns about the registration:

“Following the submission of a complaint regarding an alleged violation of the code of conduct related to the information provided by CEFIC in the register of interest representatives, the Secretariat general has received some information from CEFIC which have led it to consider that the declaration of CEFIC may indeed raise problems as regards its estimation of expenditures which appears to be underestimated, therefore breaching rule N° 4 of the code of conduct.”

See the Friends of the Earth Europe press release for details.

I’ve had a lot of personal experience of CEFIC lobbying during my time working for Friends of the Earth and then WWF on the formulation of REACH, the EU’s new chemicals law. CEFIC do a lot of lobbying – and spend a lot of money on it….

Lobby companies view new parliament as more pro-business – with caveats

The free EU news site Euractiv has a story in which they’ve interviewed people from Public Affairs companies in Brussels about the new Parliament. If you work in Brussels you soon realise that there are a lot of these companies about!

Corporate Europe Observatory – a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) that focusses on exposing corporate lobbying – do an excellent tour around the offices of some of the big lobby companies in the streets around the European Institutions in Brussels.

The Euractiv story shows that the lobbyists generally think the new parliament will be more pro-business, but some believe that the increased awareness of climate change may make the Parliament greener than expected.

They view the Eurosceptic group in parliament – ‘Europe of Freedom and Democracy’ – as not very important in legislative terms, given that it is still small (only 30 MEPs).

The UK Conservative party – who have left the main centre-right group – are also viewed as weak. They have reduced their influence by creating a small new group, European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR), rather than staying in the biggest group in the Parliament.

They also comment on the importance of the new MEPs:

There have never been as great a number of new MEPs as after this year’s election,” CEO of Hill and Knowlton‘s Brussels office Elaine Cruikshanks told EurActiv in an interview. “

Naturally, this means a lot of work for consultants (some 40% of MEPs are new). It is part of our day-to-day job to closely observe these MEPs and assess their interests and attitudes, so as to make validated recommendations to our clients as to which ones are relevant to their issues,” Cruikshanks said.

Hill & Knowlton has a colourful history (see this Sourcewatch article), as one of the oldest public relations firms in the US, including lobbying for the tobacco industry for many years. The most remarkable example of their work, in my view, is their reported involvement in creating the fake news story that Iraqi soldiers had taken babies out of incubators after invading Kuwait – see the Sourcewatch article on the case for more shocking details.