Look past the hype

Some may have heard of Radio 4's Roger Harrabin.  He's been reporting on the climate for nearly 30 years.  His reports have always been worth listening too because he is a sober sceptic, not just of the pronouncements of climate change (and human influence) deniers but also of ultra-green evangelicals and their unsubstantiated claims.

Sparked by the "Climategate" emails fiasco last year he's just presented two "Uncertain Climate" programmes in which he studied the current state of play within the scientific, political and media cummunities and two threads (amongst all the hot air) came through. 

Firstly that, even though the overwhelming scientific evidence is that global warming is taking place and we have had a large hand in it, climate modelling is still in its infancy and so scientific certainty over when something horrible is going to happen is an impossiblity.  And secondly that this uncertainty has prompted the growth of the 2 counter-cultures to the point where hundreds of scientists with decades of experience are spending more of their time repeating the message and battling counter-claims than actually exploring and testing the climate.

This battle is played out on this and other forums and not made any easier by government and regulatory bodies flying in the hot air layer with pronouncements over policy and how to count carbon leaving us, the punters, to try and settle on what is actully important and whether it's in our (personal & global) interests to do anything about it.

A good example of the hype blinding some basic commonsense is a recent exchange on Any Answers www.accountingweb.co.uk/anyanswers/bloomsbury-professional in which the poster made the point that, in order to save on environmental waste, they had tried to convince a publishing house to send only the CDs of their publication without the need for the books as well.

The mention of "environmental friendly" was enough to prompt the following response:

"Forget the "green" rubbish. You're starting out in business, you don't have the time or money to worry about "green" nonsense.  Besides what hapens if your computer goes bang?  I guarantee THAT will be the day you need to consult the manuals.  And if all else fails, they look good in a bookcase when clients come to your office. 

You're not going to save a rainforests, not even one tree, maybe a small branch - so dont worry about it."

I could write a book commenting on this however that would just perpetuate the hot air layer.  What gets missed in such an exchange is that of course it makes sense to get this sort of information from an electronic source rather than a "once off" paper source but the Green motive was the wrong way (for this person) to hear it.

But just in case the message is still lost: The author writes his or her commentary on Capital Alloawnces into the Word doc which is emailed to the publishing house that then arranges for it to be printed using paper and ink (that has been manufactured, processed and shipped to the printers) and transported around the country to warehouses and then via carrier to your door, by which time the author may well be correcting or adding to the commentary for the next print run in 3-12 months time. 

OR

The text from the word doc is copied & pasted onto a website and corrected/expanded tomorrow.

Whether running a home or business the abundance of resources in "The West" has made us lazy.  During war & famine we are forced to look at alternative more effecient ways of doing things and benefit from it but, during peace, we get fat but don't have to.

I come at this from the environmental side with cost cutting and effeciency as a by-product but, as an accountant, promote it to clients (and suppliers) from the cost cutting and effeciency side. 

Comments

Interesting post Paul.

Doug112 | | Permalink

 

It seems symptomatic of the short sightedness of the majority of human beings.

We all know we have to change what we do, stop destroying forests, wasting energy and such, but will anything be done about it? Probably not until it is too late.

Similar to smoking in that respect, people know the dangers of cigarettes but proceed to smoke 40 a day and only give up when they are at serious risk of illness or in some sad cases when it is too late.

I may be pessimistic in my viewpoint, but unfortunately I don't think people care enough about the planet on which they live to look at  it from a holistic perspective.

A case in point is the fact that we are on target to destroy all of the rainforests in the next 100 years. Deforestation will unfortunately continue  as we see these natural resources to have more value dead than alive.

It is painfully obvious that we as a species are using more resources than the world can produce and the eco system which we inhabit will not be able to sustain us for a great deal longer, unless we make some real changes, not only to our consumption but the way we look at the world .

Paul Scholes's picture

Hi Doug

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

Given the topic of the group I want to avoid slipping into the whole environmental debate, as I say above until something happens or doesn't happen or until science opens a new door, it's pretty much polarised and overblown.  This is the same situation that Richard Dawkins (he of "The God Delusion" fame) find himself with people "of faith", but at leaset climateologists are not being asked to prove or disprove god (yet!).

Given what I've written elsewhere I clearly get what you say but, as in an idication of the problem, will pick you up on the way in which you (and I) have put it across.

Saying that people in general are shortsighted will invite the response "I don't think I am; and how is it you think you have better vision than me?", although probably not as politely as that.  What's needed is a decent pair of glasses from the experts with evidence that they do, in fact, help see further than the end of next week, so back to square 1 and the waiting game (ie for something to happen).

Similarly, "we all know we have to change"......No "we" don't! etc etc.

This is why, in the meantime, those of us who believe that there really is something to do must find other ways of getting it going and for me, that's looking at commonsense stuff like "the country's in a mess so anything you can do to stop wasting stuff, cut costs, make life more effecient, feel better about what you do, today etc etc" will start it rolling and, as with reclycling and searching out local produce in Tescos, soon becomes habit.

When looking at business sustainability, there is no need for accountants  to know about, or even believe the science.  It is actually far more interesting and fulfilling than tax and accounts compliance to examine, as an outsider, how a business operates and make sensible or even "a bit out of the box" suggestions to clients over how they might do things better (any auditors recognise this stuff?). 

Most of my business clients are "micro" and even having a 30 minute chat about what they are doing and what they are planning (or not) is worth its weight in goodwill, after all who else can they chat to and get a valuable response?

Once that approach becomes a habit, we can look at the boring stuff that is coming, ie the number crunching of converting the use of electricity, gas, fuel, waste into KGs of CO2 and reporting it with the accounts. 

To whet everyone's appetite there's a great (?) spreadsheet to enjoy on: www.defra.gov.uk/environment/business/reporting/conversion-factors.htm

Finally, you think you are pessmistic, have you read any of James Lovelock's books?  The last one is pretty much the same as your smoking analogy where the doctor says "you have 6 months to live".  Depends on your outlook, some might see that as pessimistic, whereas others see it as a chance to enjoy life while it lasts.

 

Climate change proof

fionamcke | | Permalink

I'd say how can you scientifically prove climate change? As I understand it scientific proof requires numerous experiments, keeping conditions the same to replicate the same outcomes. We only have one planet and even if/when climate change occurs can it be proved that that is not a natural occurance?

My moral argument would be that actually we have no right to incur the risk. No-one alive now has a right to take actions for which future generations may have to pay the price.

The problem with individual action (as I tell myself whenever I use my car) is that if an individual alone takes action, and everyone else just carrys on as usual, then that one action can make no difference. lots of seperate individual actions are required.

Paul makes a very good point about couching 'sustainable' behaviour in terms of the common sense benefits to the individual. More 'micro' arguments may also be more easily understood and accepted e.g. keep the trees, they provide shelter, stabilise the soil, prevent flooding etc. Just don't mention 'climate change'.

PUREaccountants's picture

Late but may be interesting

PUREaccountants | | Permalink

 Paul, you're right I listen to Radio 4 all day and love the balanced opinions of those who aren't trying to peddle some theory or line their pockets.

Whilst at University I read Biology and Sports Science. I barely stayed awake during the Biology lectures due to early morning swim sessions. But one I did manage to keep my lids open for was the lecture on the "Mass Extinctions".

I remember it clearly, the planet has been through its period of extinction, Devonian, Jurassic, Tirassic etc. We are merely in a cycle of the planet heating up again, with the inevitable action. According to my lecturer at the time he estimated that the planet was due for the same fate today. Give or take 60,000 years.

So that was 10yrs ago, still a macimum of 59,990 years to go.

In my opinion as we inhabit this planet we all have responsibilties and duty of care. We extend this to our children, friends,  colleagues on a daily basis. Why not our very planet. I do not believe that what we do will impact or change the natural course, but by being responsible we pass this on to the next generation in a slightly better position then we found it. 

I will bet a substantial sum of money that the Woolly Mammoth did not get together in Davos to discuss what should be done.

SimonH's picture

What's going to drive business?

SimonH | | Permalink

I saw Roger Harrabin at the Economist's "After Copenhagen" conference last year where he was chairman. He was very good.  One of the interesting points that came out of the talks was that it is incredibly difficult to motivate businesses based on the "global warming" idea - it's just too abstract and doesn't really drive business.  It was the potential efficiencies and cost savings that really drove business to become more environmentally conscious and act on it. Of course, these were all corporates but talking to SME's, I think the same applies. It was interesting to hear one company say they were cutting emissions by 25% but planning to double in size in the next 10 years. Surely an increase in emissions?

Another interesting point was that for a lot of companies, the vast majority of energy use associated with their products is when it leaves them and goes to the consumer, so changing consumer habits was far more significant. Seems saving paper and turning down our radiators may not be "green rubbish" after all.

Paul Scholes's picture

You woke me up

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

Many thanks Pa (R?) & Simon, it has been lonely on this part of AccountingWeb, in fact, ironically, it feels like we are the site's ice cap and, like the Russians in the real world, people will only start to become aware of us when things get a bit hotter?

By nature I am a "doer" rather than a "sit back and watcher" and have to hold back my impatience when things just stand still however as the weeks and months go on I'm more convinced that the only way to influence change is a slow but persistant drip-drip, ie by practicing a sustainable approach without preaching it.  Given how many people and organisations I come into contact with in the real as well as the virtual world something will rub off.

The non-eco approach, ie cost cutting and effeciency, is the prime route however it can be obstructed quite easily by a comment such as "yes I know running a Smart Car will save me thousands and make city travel easier, but my Range Rover is one of the only pleasures I have left".  A clumsy example I know but there are many more that illustrate the desire people have for "more" even though they don't need it.

This inevitably leads on to the tricky subject of growth, well illustrated by Simon's example (remind me of the company).  There are ways to grow a business whilst reducing environmental and social impact but it all depends on what it is that's growing. 

A few months back Sainsbury's announced that they were to add 50% to the space in one store but, with the introduction of new, more effecient energy provision (onsite renewable power supply) they would actually reduce the overall carbon footprint of the site.  Great, that's more like it, a step in the right direction, except that my first thought was "why do they need to add 50% to the store size?"

They are a retail outlet and clearly feel that if they pack more stuff into each location there are sufficient people around who will be induced to buy more stuff.  Where does that stuff come from, what is the environmental impact of that stuff both in terms of buying and supplying it and then when it's thrown away? Did they count in the environmental impact on building the extra space, will the extra stuff they sell improve the lives of the customers?

Would they go out of businesss or suffer significanly if they decided to put a halt to any site growth over the next 2-3 years and, if environmental impact is so important to them, put more effort into running the existing stores more effeciently, adding the onsite renewable power supply to the existing store, dropping wasteful processes and retail lines and announcing their good deeds to their loyal customers?

I use the Sainsbury's case as an example and it may well be that all of the above was considered and taken into account by them but it's the headlines that I'm going on and what appears to me as "greenwash".

Given that us Europeans consume 3 planets a year and the US 5 planets a year we do not need "Growth" in this toxic form, but influencing business and people towards "sustainable inertia" is really difficult with "sustainable depletion" an impossibility but if we don't practice it then I fear it will be forced upon us in the coming decades.

One final thought on cunsumer use of products (Simon's comment above).  One of my main interests over the past few months has been the reduction in electricity use by more considerate use of lighting and IT kit (especially the beast of a server purring away in the corner). 

It was somewhat of a kick in the teeth to learn that the everage PC has done 85% of its environmental damage before it's even unpacked from the box, making the reduction in its use in my office a pretty meaningless exercise.  Better I've been told to buy a freezer, which consumes the same amount of juice as my PC but which saves 90% of it's environmental damage to running itself.....I'm looking into this but have yet to find a model with a USB port for the keyboard!

 

SimonH's picture

Global Warming is Dead. Long Live Energy Security.

SimonH | | Permalink

It seems a little ironic that you're feeling a little lonely in this section as it's clear, in my opinion, that the ICAEW believe this is an important issue. Their Business Sustainability programme is an excellent introduction to the subject and provides a 'sort-of' qualification, and they sponsored the Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Award at the Orange National Business Awards in November 2010. It was won by the Co-op Group. It seems they think Carbon Accounting is going to be an important requirment.

If I remember correctly, the company was Unilever, but I can't remember the exact reduction percentage. It was interesting to hear their justification about this...

Following on from the idea of Global Warming not being a big motivator for businesses, the buzzword was "Energy Security" and how this was at the heart of sustainability activities for big business.

Paul Scholes's picture

Yes but

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

Simon - This discussion group was sparked off following Gina Dyer's excellent post in April last year "Sustainability - Do accountants get it" http://www.accountingweb.co.uk/topic/business/sustainability-do-accountants-get-it/422041

As you'll see from my contribution I too acknowledged the ICAEW's & ACCA's pronouncements on this topic however it's all a pointless exercise if the peeps on the ground, ie their members, don't get it.  It's also comical to record that surrounding an ACCA monitoring visit this year they are anything but sustainable as far as resource use is concerned.

Similarly asking accountants to train up to ensure they and their clients are ready for recording these things is a pointless exercise if, again, accountants just don't get what it's all about and secondly if what or how they record & report changes every 10 minutes.  On another thread I made the point that the first organisation to start this whole recording of impact thing started nearly 20 years ago and we still don't have firm (and understandable) standards.

Energy security is now the name of one of the games but it wouldn't be if we used it properly.

SimonH's picture

It's a slow journey but...

SimonH | | Permalink

I don't think it's just a question of whether accountants get it; do any SME's get it? Apart from a tiny percentage?

I've mentioned reducing energy use to clients and the response has sometimes been "I don't believe all that Global Warming stuff!"

But it is changing...

What's going to be the key to even more change?

Taxation/Legislation
Fuel/Energy costs
Supply Chain pressure
Market Opportunities
Consumer pressure

It will probably vary for different people and how conservative their market is, but I suspect a new generation of consumers and business people will have a great deal of impact. I don't see any alternative but for sustainability to fundamentally alter the way we do business. "When?" is the key.

Like the "Hugh's Fish Fight", perhaps a change of how the issues are communicated is required before we see a shift in attitude? While the the Global Warming issue is centre stage and you get various papers rubbishing it and things like climategate, is the messgae getting across in a way people can relate to?

Will the only way it works for some people be when the costs get so high they can't afford to ignore it?

Personally, I think it is the most crucial business issue facing us. And the most interesting.

Made me chuckle about the ACCA monitoring visit though!

 

 

PUREaccountants's picture

Bigger companies do get it - because of cost

PUREaccountants | | Permalink

 I won a second company involved in a number waste management systems, the main part of this is waste water. having worked in food production chemical sales some years ago I formed a new company last year to supply environmentally friendlier solutions to food treatment. 

Out of our conversations with food producers we found that actually their main concern was water. They pay to have water taken away as it cannot be tipped down the usual drains. But it can be used to spread on farmers fields.

We have subsequently developed, with a number of partners, a filtration system that redues water usage by 2/3rds. In relation to this their requirement for tankers to take the waste water away has also dropped. by the same amount. We are saving them on average (1 site) £1.4m per annum. My client has 60 sites across europe.

If smaller companies could see the same kind of cost saving as these larger ones then we'd all be at it. But it is the scale of my client that astounds. 

As i've said before we are all responsible in some small way and although our cost savings will probably never reach that of those above at least we are doing our part.

SimonH's picture

A perfect example

SimonH | | Permalink

The response to the post "Do accountants get it?" cymraeg_draig was a perfect example of why the issue needs to be reframed. I can understand where he's coming from but there are some points that need to be made.

"And, supposing for one moment, that all the mumbo jumbo, pseudo-science, and dubious propoganda were correct - so what."

Well, let's just start burning MORE shall we? Hell, let's go turn ALL the lights on! Now that's clearly not what was meant and I totally understand the references to India and China etc. I've been to Cairo and the overwhelming smell there was of petrol. What's the point of me getting a smaller car when that's just one city in one developing country? I might as well stick with my Range Rover (no I don't have one!) Forget Global Warming - I think taxation and costs are the answer. Is this government or any future one going to reduce or increase the tax they can generate from Carbon. Do we think Carbon Reduction Committment thresholds are going to get larger or smaller? Are fuel prices going to drop? Has this country got a decent energy policy?

"We have to get through the recession, maximise profits for our clients, and minimise expenses." Quite right. Wouldn't cutting inefficient energy use and reducing waste costs help to do that? They all come off the bottom line. How much extra business needs to be generated to save £1000 a year in electricity costs?

There is also the assumption that being "green" is more expensive. Let's take a leaf out of the corporate book, whatever their other growth aspirations, and realise how reducing our emissions and other sustainability activites can improve business and save money. Yes it may require some investment but we do it in other areas of business. And consumers really are getting greener because they feel it's the right thing to do. Do businesses want to alienate them by actively saying they aren't going to be more environmentall friendly?

Global Warming is dead. Long live Energy Security. It might sounds over the top but the Global Warming issue is getting in the way of practical stuff like saving money that people can relate to.

 

SimonH's picture

Are examples the way forward?

SimonH | | Permalink

@PUREAccountants

That is a great example of how much companies can benefit from thinking in this way. And water is going to be the sleeping giant of sustainability, and not just shortages. Look at Brisbane. Half of the Environment Agency's budget is for preventing floods and they will probably create a whole new department to deal with it.

Will more examples of how "green" thinking can practically benefit business help to change the way people think. Case studies always seem to work well.

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