Monday, November 21, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
- Rather than just bin the rubbish, spend a day asking people not to send paper marketing – you can offer your email address as an alternative
- Revisit the organisations that are sending you magazines. Ask them to keep it to one for the whole organisation or none at all and read it on line.
- Talk to the people who send you catalogues. In some cases the paper catalogue is useful but often it is much easier to search and buy on line. Again, cut the number of catalogues received from each supplier to one or none at all.
- Make sure that the residual paper is recycled.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
Friday, September 30, 2011
There are some fascinating waste facts here.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Alison has been reading again. This time it's government policy, a thing we should all keep our eyes on. Here is her response:
So the Communities and Local Government Department have recently issued a Draft National Planning Policy Framework. They state that it is a “key part of our reforms to make the planning system less complex and more accessible, and to promote sustainable growth”. All good so far.
There definitely seems room for improvement in the planning system and the ability of it to react to a changing economic, social and environmental landscape.
We use the existing Planning Policy Guidance and Statements (PPG/PPS) considerably as part of our work. For example, we carry out Environmental Impact Assessments of large scale developments and renewable developments (e.g. onshore wind), and the PPGs/PPSs provide information on the requirements that the developments have to meet in order to be agreed. Further to this we do a lot of work with clients at the pre-planning stage, such as carrying out ecological and contaminated land surveys and putting together sustainability statements.
So any updates and changes to policy seem important to keep up with the times. However, although this is only a draft framework, some concerns are already being raised. The report starts off by clearly defining sustainable development to include the economic, social and environmental impacts on society. But it quickly moves on to start talking solely about ‘sustainable economic growth’. It also states “There is no necessary contradiction between increased levels of development and protecting and enhancing the environment, as long as development is planned and undertaken responsibly.” Some critics have highlighted the final part of this sentence to be the most worrying. They feel, that the problem is that it is often NOT undertaken responsibly.
Whilst we are remaining neutral on our judgment a quick search of the 65 page report highlights that the words ‘climate change’ and ‘natural environment’ only appear 7 times each in the main text. It will be interesting to see how influential this document will be to the planning system once it has been through consultation. I think the consultation responses will make good reading over a glass of red wine….
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
I do not apologise for being a little obsessive about carbon. I tend to think of myself as being a little ahead of a trend that everyone will, sooner or later, have to accept.
I use the word ‘carbon’ as shorthand for two linked issues. When we look at environmental issues there are usually linked problems, resource and pollution. Resource is to do with the tendency to take so much of a commodity that it is driven into scarcity. Pollution is the effect on the wider environment caused by the waste products of this overuse. When we look at ‘carbon’ the resource issue centres on the fact that we are using astonishing amounts of a finite resource, fossil fuel, to maintain our lifestyles. The pollution issue is the vast amount of greenhouse gases we are releasing into the atmosphere as a result of this.
In my job I talk to lots of people about environmental concerns. Everyone is aware of climate change but awareness of the fossil fuel depletion is almost non-existent. Last week I spoke to a group of a dozen young men in the construction industry, a sector that must be fundamentally involved in the movement towards a lower carbon society. They were bright and focused on doing the right thing environmentally but both completely unaware of the fossil fuel issue and suspicious of the reality of climate change. This week, unprompted, fossil fuel depletion was nominated by a delegate as the single most important sustainability issue at a workshop I was involved in and I was more than a little surprised. I’ve spent quite a lot of time wondering why people seem to be unaware of our predicament. People are naturally aware of the high petrol prices at the pump and increasing energy prices and yet seem not to connect this to a fundamental supply difficulty. George Monbiot recently pointed out that despite being very aware of the issue the last government was not publicizing it at all. The original document is also well worth a look bearing in mind that the IEA have since suggested that peak oil occurred in 2006. I haven’t seen a major change in emphasis with the coalition.
I wonder whether the government is also grouping the two issues as ‘carbon’. There is, potentially, a major resource crisis looming. Our energy security in the UK is falling. Last year we imported over 40% of our natural gas having been very comfortably self-sufficient until recently. This information can be found on the DECC website but is certainly not ‘in your face.’ In addition, making money from commodities has increased over recent years as the financial industry has pushed for and obtained (dangerous) levels of deregulation, so any increase in public awareness could escalate the problem – fossil fuels taken out of circulation to be used as money substitutes resulting in higher prices resulting in even more fuel taken out of circulation.
The results of the reluctance to talk about ‘peak oil’ and the public’s perception that climate change is a government scam perpetrated to justify taxing us at higher rates is that these linked emergencies don’t seem to be being addressed openly. Conspiracy theories abound on the internet but I do suspect that the government is trying to do the right thing (tackle the linked carbon issues) by introducing seemingly random pieces of a jigsaw of legislation. The reason conspiracy theories are so popular is that we all hope that there is someone somewhere who is competent and knows what they are doing. This is what I am hoping for here.
I recently wrote about the government’s Green Deal, which is a glimmer of hope, and this week I would like to mention the Defra consultation on measuring and reporting GHG emissions by UK companies, closing on 5th July. In the report, ‘The contribution that reporting of greenhouse gas emissions makes to the UK meeting its climate change objectives: A review of the current evidence’ the authors note that the ‘reporting of GHG emissions is considered an important part of the GHG management cycle and a tool for embedding sustainability into a company’. I think that the hope is that a clear awareness of their emissions will remind organizations that, in a time of escalating prices, they are throwing away money on inefficiencies in their energy use and that should translate into a desire to minimize those costs with the desirable knock-on effect of a conservation of resource and a minimization of pollution.
If this is to be an effective measure the best of the four reporting options on the table would be the one that captures the largest number of organizations. For this reason alone I will be ‘voting’ for Option 3: Mandate under Companies Act for all large companies, as it will capture information on between 17,000 and 31,000 public and private companies. Option 2, Mandate under Companies Act for all Quoted companies, would pick up around 1,100 companies but not large private companies and Option 4: Mandate under Companies Act for all companies whose UK electricity consumption exceeds a threshold, would capture 4,000 or up to 15,000 with a lowered threshold. Option 1, Enhanced Voluntary Reporting, would have the disadvantage of all voluntary schemes; there is no level playing field and those who need to do it most will be most reluctant. In addition, if we appear to be taking the softly, softly approach to the issue there will be no apparent urgency to reporting.
My preference, when discussing anything at all, is to get as close to reality as possible. Philosophically, we cannot ever know what reality is. We attempt to understand what is actually real by building models, telling stories or, as they say these days, framing. Given that absolute reality is unknowable I still prefer not to have the ‘facts’ obscured. I don’t want anyone to reassure me that everything will be fine when it won’t. I want to be treated like an adult, someone who will recognise her responsibilities and act on these. Trying to make decisions based on incomplete information is part of life but having information ‘hidden’ from me does not reassure me at all and makes me distrust those who are supposed to be representing me. It would work far better for me to have our government say something along the lines of, ‘We have put too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we are having to use more and more expensive (in terms of money, pollution and energy input) fuel which is in increasingly short supply and we must cut back on our use of fossil fuels hard and urgently.’ Of course this would probably be political suicide and so I suppose I support what any government will be prepared to do, the slow piecing together of the carbon control jigsaw. If only it were more comprehensive and quicker coming into force.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Yet again, sorry for the hiatus in publishing. There seems to have been an awful lot going on here, mostly training, mostly about waste. This is great. Waste is one of our biggest issues as a society. It costs a lot of money to waste as much as we do.
- Decarbonise the business throughout the supply chain
- Provide new and refurbished buildings allowing energy efficiency
- Provide infrastructure to enable the supply of clean energy
They also identified a number of barriers:
- Information overload
- Industry structure
- The need for up-skilling
- The gap between the design spec and the actual performance of buildings
- The continued focus on initial capital costs rather than lower operational costs
- The need for workable methodologies for carbon accounting**
- Providing drivers to increase customer demand
- A need to address the current old and draughty building stock
So one of the clever ideas that has emerged is the government’s Green Deal. Work on energy efficiency for new builds is pretty much covered by increasingly tight Building Regulations, planning and, often, funding requirements through Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM, but in the UK we have large quantities of older properties. How do we encourage homeowners, landlords and business owners to improve their properties? Given that no-one has huge quantities of available cash at the moment, the upfront costs can constitute a major barrier together with long payback periods. The government has also identified lack of awareness, information overload and lack of confidence in information and a fear of being taken for a ride. There is an abiding fear of small contractors who will ride into town, bodge a job and disappear without trace.
*One of the major problems the gvt have with tackling climate change and resource depletion is that the economic model they (we all) use requires growth to provide us with prosperity. This means that the treasury and the environmental sections of the government are psychotically permanently at odds. They need to see a psychiatrist or, at the very least, a marriage guidance counsellor. And this is even before we look at the other issues embedded in the very idea of coalition.
** There is a consultation out at present looking at how to best report carbon for UK businesses. It can be found on the Defra pages here.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Friday, May 13, 2011
We’ve been in the new office for almost two months now We’re well settled in. One of the most exciting things about the new office is that it is open plan and all the departments sit together. It has given me a real insight into the workload of the ecologists at this, their most hectic time of the year. The late night newt surveys, in particular, leave them exhausted by the weekend. Yet again I failed to have time to join in as I’d hoped but Catherine and Amanda have helped out. It makes a great difference from our normal work of legal compliance audits, training and EMS assistance but they seem to have enjoyed it.
We hear much more of what is going on outside work as well. I bullied everyone into sponsoring me to ‘Live Below the Line’ and we all spent the first ten minutes of every morning discussing what I had brought in as part of my food for a pound a day. I’m very glad to be back to being able to have my morning mug of coffee (Tom is running the new coffee club as well as the office lottery) and waking up to my favourite caffeine jolt. The same week that I was eating frugally Amanda and Rob were preparing for the Sheffield half marathon. Amanda achieved her best ever time and Rob raised £570 for Dreamflight to take terminally ill children on an exciting holiday. For some reason he ran dressed as a nun. He hasn’t given us a clear explanation for this which can only have added to the pain of the run.
The current subject for discussion is how we all make it in to work. A majority of us lived on the other side of the city, most of us within walking distance of the old office. Walkit.com tells me it would take two hours at a fast pace to walk to the new place from home, and somewhat longer back. Amanda can run it, and is doing so regularly to train for her next marathon. I contend that I am too old and, as my father always said, built for comfort not speed. The solution to those of us who take being low carbon seriously turns out to be a combination of public transport (we chose the office near to the Meadowhall Interchange for its PT connections) and bicycle. Alison, Amanda and I all cycle the complete distance there and back most days as do Claire Browne, our principal landscape architect, and Andrew Lake, our new geoscientist. Rob, our half marathon running graduate ecologist has bought a bike but he’s spending so much time newt
bothering surveying at the moment that it’s locked away. We compare notes about the latest short cuts we’ve found and what time we set out to avoid the last-minute-idiot-drivers who fail to notice our high visibility vests. My preference is to cycle in along the canal path, which is delightfully quiet if bumpy. It also gives me a remarkable opportunity to see the backsides of the industrial units lining the canal and their activities. I cycle back along the Five Weirs walk, which is much smoother but crosses a fair number of roads.
We’re currently debating what to do if everyone who cycles turns up on the same day, potentially seven of us including Paul, our FD, fighting for four bike spaces. I’ll let you now
Friday, April 15, 2011
Sunday, April 10, 2011
The following is a legal update from Catherine:
The Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (finally!) came into force at the end of March, and implement changes to waste legislation made by the Revised Waste Framework Directive, as well as making long-awaited changes to the waste carriers and brokers regime. If you have any sort of dealings with waste as a producer, carrier or treatment/disposal facility (so pretty much everyone!), then read on, and make yourself aware of the changes:
The waste hierarchy has now been given legal effect, rather than merely being a principle. From October 2011 there will be a declaration on WTNs and HWCNs that companies have applied the waste hierarchy.
SIC codes will have to be included on WTNs as well as HWCNs – again, this won’t take effect until October 2011.
For new environmental permits, they will contain conditions which state that operators will have to apply the waste management hierarchy (such conditions will be added to existing permits when they are reviewed).
New category of waste “dealer” = those who use an agent to buy and sell waste
New 2 tier system of registration for carriers, brokers and dealers:
Upper tier carrier or broker:
If you carry/broker/deal in other people’s controlled waste (unless you fall under a lower tier)
If you carry/broker/deal in your own construction and demolition waste
Existing carriers and brokers won’t have to do anything (and dealer will be automatically added to existing registration)
Lasts for 3 years as existing registration does
Fee for registration
Lower tier (referred to in the Regs as “specified persons”:
If you carry/broker/deal in animal by-products, waste from a mine or a quarry or waste from premises used for agriculture
If you carry/broker/deal in other people’s controlled waste and you are a waste collection, disposal or regulation authority or a charity or voluntary organisation (i.e. charities are no longer exempt) – those that are currently registered as exempt will automatically be transferred to the lower tier
If you normally and regularly carry controlled waste produced by your own business (other than construction or demolition waste) by end of December 2013
Registration lasts indefinitely
A single registration will cover carrier/broker/dealer. In order to simplify the transition, the EA will automatically consider all registered carriers as carriers and dealers and all registered brokers as brokers and dealers.
Some changes to hazardous waste = a new category, H13 Sensitizing, will be added to the list of properties defining waste as hazardous (the former category H13 now becomes H15). This means that some previously non-hazardous wastes may be reclassified as hazardous wastes e.g. ecotoxicity added to the properties that can define a leachate as hazardous.
The Regs explicitly state that transfer notes can be provided electronically.
From January 2015, a duty is placed on anyone collecting waste paper, metal, plastic or glass must ensure that where these waste streams have been separately collected, they are not mixed with other waste or other material with different properties.
Friday, March 25, 2011
I’ve just spent the last three days presenting the IEMA approved Internal Auditor course to seven delightful delegates from various sectors. I love presenting in-house courses where everyone knows each other and they have lots of experience and requirements in common but courses based in ECUS with randomly selected delegates can be wonderfully enlightening. They may sometimes be more difficult because you may be trying to meet the needs of a delegate from a major manufacturing company whilst not neglecting the needs of a delegate from an office based company but the synergies you get can be marvellous. On this course we had some real experts in their fields who were very generous in sharing their knowledge and not only was it enlightening, it was fun.
I’m often surprised by how much people already know but I’m also occasionally disconcerted about what they are not aware of. On most of our courses we link waste and resource use, and sometimes quality as poor quality management can lead to a lot of waste.
On this particular course we talk about major resource issues that we are or will soon be facing. Some resources are, of course, renewable, but only if we manage them sustainably. Examples might be timber, soil, fish and so on. Some things are not renewable except in geological time scales, for example, metals and minerals. Some are not renewable at all and will eventually be exhausted, for example helium, oil and coal. All of these things, to one extent or another, are essential to our way of life. Rare earth metals, for example, are used in tablet computers, hybrid cars, wind turbines, catalytic converters and the more efficient solar PV panels.
Many of the resource issues are exacerbated by where the deposits of the materials are and the environmental impact of their exploitation. The vast majority (~97%) of rare earths are now sourced from China and with this effective monopoly comes increasing concerns for availability. Every time I have googled ‘China, rare earth’ in news over the last several months there have been stories about this issue. Today the news is of a huge increase in taxes making the cost per tonne more than $100,000. The availability and price of oil is also very much affected by the location of most oil reserves.56% of world oil reserves are in the Middle East, currently suffering from a period of unrest.
My big surprise was that when I asked my training group who was aware of the idea of peak oil no-one said yes. Resource depletion is a massively important issue that will affect us all in many different ways and peak oil is one of the most urgent and important. With reference back to my resilience post of a few weeks ago, imagine how we would live without cheap fossil fuels. Our whole complex society depends on each complicated component being sourced from wherever it can be made most cheaply and delivered Just In Time to wherever it is needed. This can only work in an era of cheap oil. Currently oil is not as cheap as it was, bouncing around $100 per barrel.
At the same time that there is a global problem with oil, there is a national problem. The UK was, for a good amount of time, energy self sufficient thanks to the North Sea oil and gas fields. This is no longer the case. Last year we had to import more than 40% of our gas. 40%!! No wonder the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) produced The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan in 2009. It wasn’t just about climate change. To a large extent it was about keeping the lights on for all of us.
I spend a fair amount of time keeping up with what is happening with resource issues and I occasionally read through the comment threads as well. When I’m feeling strong. More often than I care to remember there are major skirmishes about how best to deal with these, whether governments should try to legislate to bring down consumption and hence protect out current comfortable lives for longer or whether the market should be allowed to operate without control. The argument is that as prices increase due to scarcity the almighty market will step in and cause the production of more of the important commodity. This only works if there is more of the commodity available to be extracted within a workable timescale. With oil it takes around ten years from discovery of a resource for an oil well to become fully productive. Oil wells are also no longer being drilled in easily accessible places where the return on investment is high so prices have to be consistently high for a long time for new well to be worth developing. If this does not work then the market is supposed to rush out and produce hyper-efficient vehicles, power supplies and the associated infrastructure. Also, presumably, people will be induced, by the cost, to look at minimising their own energy usage.
This is a wonderful idea as was the idea of taxing pollution sources with a tax escalator on fuel prices. The recent UK budget has, again, dealt a blow to the theory. Oil prices are rising so the chancellor has stepped in and instead of raising tax by the expected 3p/litre has reduced it by 1p/litre. I know that all drivers and transport companies are struggling at the moment with high prices but how is the omnipotent market supposed to save us all if the government steps in whenever we reach a level where it should start to work?