Saturday, March 31, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


...being a gear tester for Patagonia. I've mentioned them before (here and here) and I'm gonna do it again.

Last week Fortune Magazine wrote of Patagonia's "Blueprint for green business" (hat tip The Piton). It's an easily digestible and thoroughly inspiring wrap-up of much that's in Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's brilliant book "Let my people go surfing".

In the same Fortune edition there's a piece on the Arnie and the environment, one on the corporate green agenda, and a snapshot of 10 big businesses that have taken a plunge. If the benefits of incorporating an environmental ethic into your workplace are of any interest here's a great chance to get the basics.

If you're a business owner or manager let this be the one mag you buy this month. If you're an employee do your boss a favour. Email them the link to this blog post (using the mail icon below).

Oh, and speaking of "my ideal job", I'm currently looking for work...

Friday, March 23, 2007


Of late there's been significant carbon disclosure announcements from Britain. Last year the Tesco CEO announced significant investment into "a revolution in green consumption".

The British staple that is Walkers cheese and onion crisps now has carbon footprint labeling (hat tip Celsias). US footwear maker Timberland have a footprint disclosure in each shoe box.

Giving customers the information they need is crucial - carbon disclosure is exactly the type of info the expanding conscious consumer market is after. It's a significant step along the road toward genuinely open business. Consumers can only make truly accurate decisions about the quality of goods and services when all relevant info is available.

In December the EU trade commissioner called for free trade on green goods that will enable carbon emissions reductions. Clean power generation equipment came in for specific mention. It is in this global trade context that the Kiwi push to highlight the true carbon cost of our production system is important.

New Zealand goods stack up when competitors disclose their full carbon contribution. For our exporters carbon accounting is crucial. The fact that "growing" a pack of Walkers crisps accounts for 44% of its footprint and transporting it contributes 9% is indicative of the primary production intensities required to produce in Western Europe.

Will knowledge of this lead the average consumer choosing "disclosed goods" over non disclosed? Probably, because the average consumer is becoming more aware. But only when we get to choose between "disclosed goods" are we getting somewhere.

The market has guarded profit formulae (and secrets in general) for so long that non-disclose for all sorts of wider community impacts is the norm. Or alternatively, the fact that businesses have no need to disclose means they can lay costs on the community in order to create more private profit. It's simply profiting from free use of the commons.

Suggestion that the neo-liberal economic model needs reigning in is not uncommon, countered of course by calls of "nanny state" over-intervention. There is a genuine and quite serious push toward a more open way of doing business. This extends down to the individual and is especially common for online trading - TradeMe or eBay ratings.

The concept of open humanity has been aired at the Half Bakery. I caught up with the chap who suggested the idea last year. His motives were much the same as what drives the conscious consumer - people do care. Ultimately this is why more consumer goods will be carbon labelled.

Just as open source software has enabled development beyond what a single entity could manage, carbon disclosure will open business practices on an unprecedented scale.

With open business there is opportunity for finding solutions faster. Sharing the load and sharing the benefits. If it's only carbon disclosure that is initially opened so be it - joint discovery of lower carbon profiles may well lead to open-ness throughout business.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


On Monday Wellington was confirmed as host for a New Zealand franchise in the A-League football competition. Terry Serepisos fronted up with NZ$1.2m at the last minute recognising that he will "lose some money in the first year".

The Herald quotes Serepisos: "[m]ost of this is coming from the heart... [a]nd it's for the children of New Zealand, because I think if the A-League wasn't in place it would be a big loss".

Serepisos' company is no stranger to sport sponsorship. But is his contribution a form of sponsorship, investment, or philanthropy?

Clearly most of the answer will lie with his accountant, but the implications of securing A-League action for Wellington are vast.

It's great to see that a civic asset (the cake tin) will be utilised more often than every second weekend, and I'm looking forward to a genuine diversification beyond rugby rugby rugby this winter. Further, football fans coming to the city are likely to have greater economic impact than netball and basketball combined.

These positives can genuinely be seen as community benefit - and given that there will likely be a cash loss for one of the three years the positives are substantially altruistic. This then seems to satisfy a definition of philanthropy.

There are certainly elements of sponsorship and investment (the sub-franchisee is called Century City Football). Labour and later National have accepted that charitable donations need to be more favourably taxed than they are now. Maybe Serepisos sees this "investment" as a means of circumventing the presently onerous charity tax regime.

Community benefits aside, New Zealand may now have a better chance of repeating 1982, maybe we'll even witness something as significant as Pele wheeling away from goal a-la 1970.

This is something we Wellingtonians must get behind.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Electronic goods are some of the heaviest resource wasters in the consumer market. About time someone gave the industry a slap.

It just so happens that the largest industry player have slapped themselves. From 2008 Wal-Mart "will ask electronics suppliers to fill out a scorecard that will assess the sustainability of their product". Nice work - for US consumers at least.

When the time comes to upgrade your old kit you'll know where to go. Having cornered the US organics market the big boys are to offer the eco pledge of hundreds of electronics companies under one roof. End of life disposal, packaging, durability, upgradability and energy efficiency will all be addressed.

The British National Consumer Council have also hit out at electronics and energy efficiency this week. They propose a system similar to the EnergyStar ratings for washers and fridges. The NCC report advocates better consumer information - it can be downloaded here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


The weather's rubbish outside. But surely not as bad as some have it. Just ask the the Four Yorkshiremen. Our Saturday Sensitivity series continues:

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Costa Rica is drafting plans to become carbon neutral. Not that the boss said New Zealand would do it first, but it does steal her thunder a little. Other nations are neutral - but they're not the most productive contenders.

Comparing NZ and Costa Rican potential for carbon neutrality initially seems like comparing apples with underpants.

But we do have similar populations, a similar proportion of GDP from services, and we each have about a quarter of our land area protected as parks.

Significantly, New Zealand consumes about three times more oil than Costa Rica and although we're both rich in hydro power we still use fossil fuel for a quarter of our electricity generation. For Cost Rica it's 1.5%.

CO2 emissions per unit of GDP is lower in Costa Rica and per capita emissions in NZ are six times higher.

So are Helen's CO2 neutral aspirations indeed pure rhetoric? Costa Rica certainly have a more likely carbon neutrality ambition without offsetting. We're a spread-out country with fossil fuel dependency.

For me the most telling stat is oil consumption per unit of GDP. Costa Rica uses 44,000 bn barrels per day to generate GDP of $49bn. That's a ratio of 0.9 - ours is 1.4. We're more than 50% more oil thirsty than Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is famous for constitutionally abolishing its army in 1986 - probably why they're the third happiest country on the Planet. Happy punters are more likely to accept policy measures necessary to achieve carbon neutrality. Or maybe it's as simple as having a little more at stake...


Getting ahead in the motoring emissions game will often get people thinking hybrid cars.

For one chap up Kapiti Coast the lure of a $5,000 hybrid had him salivating. Until he was warned of 1st generation hybrids that can cost as much to repair as they cost to buy. His decision to switch from rail to road was based on the shitty Paraparaumu train service.

And of course Auckland have seen a boost to their train service with the re-opening of the Onehunga line. A little Wellington discussion on this Auckland issue can be found here.

Over on Frogblog there was a little post about the AA giving their car of the year award to a big Volvo. They also have a post about the shipping vs aviation emissions debate which was aired earlier on Gristmill.

Update: 15 March - They're gonna build a train tunnel between Morocco and Spain (hat-tip Gristmill).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


This is no piss-take of the Kiwi accent. It's a practical environmental message with yoof in mind.

It's seriously good. Eric Prydz doesn't really do it for me, but the theme and the delivery are superb. I've certainly seen one of the brick tricks before - but the first one here was new to me!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Container deposit legislation (CDL) has hit the headlines again. I've posted about it reasonably frequently - most recently in December when I highlighted the Great NZ Bottle Drive campaign.

The Packaging Council have replied to the latest CDL push - citing their own research findings that CDL would cost up to $121m p.a. They state that this cost far outweighs the cost to councils for kerbside recycling.

In my opinion this is a cost to the environment that the "containered" products themselves should bear. At the moment we as ratepayers (directly as property owners or indirectly as tenants) pay for the cost of recycling yet large amounts of packaging that could be diverted still get landfilled.

Any increase in cost will probably be passed to the consumer. But as I say, these are the real costs. Producers that are able to implement the most efficient means of collecting their returned packaging will be more price competitive. It's a classic example of efficiency through economic incentive.

Aside from cost, much of the industry criticism of CDL is founded on logistics. "Shops have insufficient space to store returned material" - I agree. "Food standards mean that containers wont be re-used" - I agree. But these arguments are based on looking at business as usual. CDL is yet another example of attempts to change the way business is conducted.

Much external infrastructure exists that can be utilised by those that will need to process the extra material. Councils contract out recycling services. Why can't industry do the same?

It's simply not good enough to accept sending usable "waste" to landfill. Voluntary mechanisms such as the Packaging Accord have been very limited in their success. Mandatory measures backed with an accurate economic framework make sense.

Update: 15th March - Business NZ say the "Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill [is] an overreaction to the issue of waste. And that "Industry-led solutions for specific waste management issues and improved education are better alternatives." Yeah right.

Friday, March 09, 2007


As our Kiwi summer thinks of drawing to a close those northern monkeys are preparing for another scorcher. And naturally, it's the season of music festivals.

Imagine taking the bare essentials and flying from London to Valencia (offset and during daytime of course), hopping on a ecofuel shuttle to nearby Bennicassim festival, lapping up four days of the Animal Collective, Peter Bjorn & John (etc etc), crashing in a recyclable tent, then heading back to recuperate in Hyde Park in your underwear.

It's possible to do with a light eco footprint - the flights being the only bummer.

Ecofuel being the logical next step for Valencia - a region that grows and processes oranges by the megaton. They're to turn the pulp waste into vehicle fuel.

Cardboard tents are the brainchild of a British design grad. He's commercialised the idea after talking to festival organisers and finding that the "biggest [waste] problem was the number of tents that are discarded" following events like Glastonbury.

The tents are conceived to be rented at festivals - the punter arrives, dances, sleeps in and leaves the tent which is recycled by the organisers. Its designed to withstand five days rain. Allright.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A browse through Orion Magazine is hugely rewarding this month. Continuing with my (increasingly unhealthy) "numbers" tendency is an interview and extra with US photographer Chris Jordan.

Jordan currently has a brilliant exhibition (click thru to Running the Numbers) highlighting "contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics". His approach is somewhat similar to the Yann Arthus-Bertrand sustainable development exhibition you saw at the Waitangi Park opening last year.

Jordan brings consumption numbers to life through a brief story and image. eg. Plastic Bags, 2007 "[d]epicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds."

It's scary stuff, but strangely beautiful in an other-worldy fractal kinda way.

But a word from the artist: "My only caveat about this series is that the prints must be seen in person... their scale carries a vital part of their substance which is lost in these little web images." I'm guessing this wont be in New Zealand any time soon, so view online.

Another Orion mag article hits squarely on a post of mine from last year highlighting the importance of "wild nature play" for kids. It's an exposure of the tendency of residential land developers to close off nature, and it's also a plug for the intriguing Leave No Child Inside movement.

Not only does the article touch on themes from my earlier piece, it is all but a direct reflection of key themes from The End of Suburbia. "They market their subdivisions by naming their streets after the trees and streams that they destroy." But overall it's a story of hope.

Read the entire online copy of Orion. It'll be fun!

Monday, March 05, 2007

A new wad of research has hit the headlines illuminating the strength of public opinion toward sustainable shopping.

New Zealand has traditionally lagged the key Western European and North American ethical consumer markets, but we're not too far behind.

Moxie Design has released updated findings (86kb pdf) in their Solution Seekers research. The Kiwi ethical consumer market has grown 23% in the last 18 months.

This builds on a couple of key previous posts of mine; most recently in calling for government legislation, and some important analysis (IMHO!) back in November. It also works with the concept I wrote about in the Capital Times a few weeks back.

National Radio reported (audio link) on the Moxie findings this morning - the bottom line is that one third of Kiwi consumers actively shop with an ethical mindset. It's been driven largely by increased climate change awareness with Moxie determining that 83% of us are aware of the issue.

Moxie research comes following last weeks release of less robust research from NZBCSD indicating that for 70% of Kiwis "a company’s environmental practices have a big influence on whether [they] buy their products".

These two results indicate the level of procrastination I wrote about in Capital Times - and also covered by the Guardian last week. For Kiwis, an "apples with apples" analysis says that 83% are aware of the issues but only 32% act accordingly. That 83% may be 80% or indeed 70% - regardless we're a little slow off the mark.

As that exquisite scene in Life of Brian shows us, there's no use "gabbing on about it. It's completely pointless and it's getting us nowhere", although slow, we're increasingly getting "off our arses" and putting money where our mouth is.

It's time to have the wee chat with your barista (and your grocer, your barman, your bookseller, etc). As the illustration above implies - it's pretty simple. In fact, here's a good idea: you chat away, in the meantime we'll talk to a whole lot of retailers for you... roll on ShoppingFix!