Monday, October 31, 2005

Jobs for the boys

I'm not a big tabloid fan. When they try to play with real news I believe their self-serving agenda does way more harm than good to society.

If they just stuck to celebrity issues it would be fine. A blond soap star 'forgets' her knickers as she exits a car bum first and gets 'outraged' by the consequences being splashed across the front page (well, suitably bepixelled... fiull story inside). A whole industry has in short order been created to serve the careers of talentless singers, actors and... er... people (silicon balloon transporters, etc), and the broadcast and print media who get paid to exist in their expensive worlds and 'report' upon them. And they all work together to keep themselves in business. No harm done, apart from the odd  bit of fodder that falls off the rails and finds this is one industry whose health plan only kicks in if they get the exclusive on the Priory stay.

Which leads me to CSR, about which I was reading just now. It was a an opinion piece in the Telegraph Online by the/a Director of Policy Studies. So it was I suppose not too surprising that she was less than positive on the burden a bunch of of moral duties were being dumped on businesses by a range of folks, from the press through interest groups right on (up?) to Government.

And her main point was a good one. In many cases, why on earth should they? More precisely, why should their shareholders be obliged to pay for all this?

My views on the motivations and hence effectiveness of most not-for-profit and in many cases charities are already outlined in my blogs, so I have a certain sympathy for anyone who is striving to make a profit.  And to quote part of her conclusion: 'business's most socially responsible act is to continue making [this contribution - goods & services, jobs, taxes, etc] by being profitable and successful. The irony of much of the corporate responsibility agenda is that it can undermine business's vital contribution to society by imposing costs and burdens for frequently ill-defined social and moral objectives.'

With which it is hard not agree, though in some cases what goods are being made is one that I may wish to keep an eye on. I'll also plug here by saying we have a pretty neat model that enables one to do good AND turn an extra profit if done in the right way.

But you know what really stuck me? It was in the Google Adwords column on the left of this piece. 

All manner of folks advertising CSR consultancies, conferences or jobs in CSR.  I just have to wonder how many of these guys will ever actually do anything to make a real difference. We've approached more than a few to pitch our tale, and never been given the time of day so far. Probably because they are at a CSR conference in Bali, meeting with the very folks from the media, interest groups and government who have managed to create an industry to keep them all in the business of... what? I which way they exit taxis?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Statistics, damn statistics... and reports.

As a bit if Sunday fun, I was reading a report on the United Nations' Official Day of Disaster Preparedness, the title of which attracted me more to find out what happened on the other 360-odd days of the year: unofficial preparedness?
Actually it was some cerebral get-together, and the piece involved an interview with a senior environment-type dude, Janos Bogardi.
The top line was/is that if nothing is done to cushion the blow of natural disasters, by 2010 50 million could be driven from their homes annually.
Though by no means definitive, there are apparently compelling statistics to show natural disasters are getting worse. Don't know if the dinosaurs, ancient Pompeians or anyone with a turn-of the century condo on Krakatoa would agree, but we are 'experiencing 2.5 to 3 times as many extreme events of climatic em4rgncy as we did in the 1970s’.
Now that kinda of knocks one of my notions on the head, because in the 1970s we certainly had a pretty fair global communication network. I was there. Admittedly not 'as it happens' satellite uplink images from a mobile, but you could get a concerned reporter with a radio to kick some food and water off a rescue chopper and on the scene then just as easily as you can now. So bang goes my theory that a lot of this is just perception because we get told about it immediately. Though I still think there is a difference between hearing about it on the radio a few days later and watching it live.
Now as my title may indicate, I'm not a big fan of reports. For one they seem to consume a lot of effort and introduce a lot of delays to actually doing something, and also can be pretty much made to say anything anyone with an agenda likes. Which is a shame, because it's hard to have a balanced opinion if you have ceased to trust a major avenue of information. A sad consequence of our byte-sized society, I guess.
For instance, one thing that was not mentioned in the piece, though it may have been in the report (if not high on the PR agenda), was that it may be that natural disasters are having more impact simply because there are lot more of us, with a lot more stuff, upon which it can impact. I don't think there were too many Swedish sunbathers on Thai beaches back in the 70’s.
At least the fact that there being a lot more of us was acknowledged as maybe taking its toll on the land upon which we are living. But there was no mention of what to do about that rather significant fact, concentrating instead on efforts to preserve them. Different department, I guess.
The piece was titled 'Preparing for the worst', which may have been the publication's title rather than the aims of the report, but it did seem to focus more on solutions to these disasters, rather than prevention of them, or at least their scale.
There was a nice quote, 'we are always arming for the last battle', which is all too true, but it seems to me they are equally guilty of cherry-picking with the same convenience they are trying to label short-sighted politicos.
Of course we need to do all we can to prepare and protect, but perhaps now is the time to concentrate every bit as much effort on tackling, with all the complex 'ical' nightmares it would entail, on one of the major the causes of such disasters and the costs they create, and that is overpopulation. Before nature does it for us.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Saving what, exactly?

At, we tend to pretty much wear our heart on our sleeves.
We're trying to do the right thing 'for the future', but at the same
time we're like most normal folk and have various pressures of life,
career and the pursuit of happiness that can cause us to either
transgress enviro-nirvana practice through ignorance, or even suffer
the odd twang of guilt when we do it knowingly. Hence we have tried
to avoid setting ourselves up for any egg on face scenarios by not
seeking to set ourselves up as paragons of the 'only way'.

However, we do want to represent, as much as is possible, accurate
information. So I'm trying to figure a way to create aspects of the
site that are 'as good as we can figure... unless you know
different', that will encourage those who know better to share their

This, then, allows me to at least pose some pretty daft questions and
pop off on some pretty odd tangents, all in the genuine hope of
finding 'a better way' (environmentally, that is) , but which I have
to accept may turn out not to be so. I just think we all have to
accept that some issues are so complex a definitive answer is not
possible, so on balance doing something that 'feels right' may be
better than doing nothing because it might not.

This train of thought has been inspired by an article I was reading
about GPS systems for cars. Now, being a man and not afraid to stop
and ask directions, I have always thought these things to be pretty
way out on the wrong side of the 'making more stuff' vs. 'making
stuff better' debates I am engaged upon with various experts in
various fields (and usually losing, because they spend all day on
their stuff, when I kinda have a passing interest and can't match
their killer facts). And that doesn't include the jam-avoiding bits.

But for the first time I came across a bit of blurb that pointed out
that by making sure you don't get lost, these things actually offer a
genuine environmental benefit. I really don't know the e-consequences
of making the things and selling them to us, but I am prepared to be
persuaded that throughout their lifespans, they may actually result
in less gunk in the atmosphere than if they didn't exist.

So... great! Another possible advertiser for Unless you
know different.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A token thought.

Like HRH the Prince of Wales, I have more than a passing interest in the environment. Unlike him (apparently), I do not have a Toyota Prius, nor do I intend to wear mine with pride.

The reasons are varied. For one, I have a perfectly good car (two in fact, for altogether justifiable reasons I won't go into here), though I do confess they squeak out a few more atmospheric nasties as they do their bit, despite my best efforts on regular servicing, etc. And as my wallet is a potent force in my decision processes, I am looking at converting them to LPG, though there are certain issues yet to resolve before that happens. Like money. Which brings me to reason number two. In fact that is reason number two: I can't afford one, much as I may like to. I say may, and will stop the whole 'reason trail' here and now, by also still needing to get to grips with a few facts that keep cropping up in the, possibly, more cynical zones of the motoring press. Like the fact that it may actually not be any better on the kind of run we do from our country retreat. But as the first two make the whole thing academic, we'll leave me out of it. For now, and the foreseeable future, we are not getting one. 

But a lot of fine folk are. And telling us. Like HRH. And half of Hollywood. Which is all tickedy-boo. Now, as we at hate to wag a finger, and anything is better than nothing, I'd just like to let that eyebrow twitch again and wonder why these much-trumpeted purchases seem to be in addition to the Astons, Range Rovers, Humvees, etc. And even if these fine fellows do no more than sit in the air-conditioned garage block, they did consume a fair old few resources and generate a few gases in the making, no? New stuff does. Even Priusess (what is the plural?).

Hence I remain a little concerned about the messages going out, which remain, at best, mixed. I've got a bee in my bonnet about this whole issue, which I just know is going to sting me on the rear when our TV needs replacing with a digital thingie and (if I can afford it) I get a wall-mounted LCD/plasma (though I believe there are enviro reason for one vs. the other we're looking at soon, so maybe my e-conscience may end up clear) effort. But we tend not to trumpet our, limited, efforts. We just do what we can, want, and afford to.

It all started with a letter I wrote to a Sunday Times architectural journalist in response to a small debate stirrer he'd lobbed out into the public domain, which was something about getting rid of planners and building wherever we fancy. At the risk of coming over all Nimby, I'd erred in favour of some kind of 'protection' (though whether our planners and their political masters provide this function is open to another debate), if only because of one, simple, inescapable set of... colliding... facts: there is finite space on this planet (especially that devoted to sustaining us), and an ever-increasing number of us trying to occupy and live off it. 

So my bee is/was that we should pretty quick-smart devote a fair amount of our creative energies to making the most of what we have and not encroaching any further on nature. Stuff needs making to be sure to keep economies afloat and innovation alive, but I'd simply advocate focussing more on making more of things than making more things.

For sure a Prius is better, environmentally at least, instead of an Aston when you're going from A to B. But I do question whether the required example is being made when it is as well as

Thursday, October 20, 2005

You can call me 'Al

I just 'invested' half an hour answering a question posed by The
Times Online. Based on an article regarding the woeful response to a
BA initiative (basically voluntarily buying off your eco-guilt for
flying - check it out here:,,2-1833936,00.html )

they asked if airplane fuel should be taxed

(see here:,,564-1834561.00.html )

, to which I replied as follows:

"Probably, yes. This despite working for a 'change through incentive
rather than penalty-based methods’ planet-saving organisation. AND
being married to a Singaporean, and hence having 50% of annual family
obligations 12,000 miles away. IF (it's a biggie) climate change is
due to greenhouse gasses out of exhaust pipes, then no Prius purchase
will match the consequences of annual jaunts to Klosters or Barbados.
And of course those who do probably still will carry on doing so no
matter what (don’t see too many Notting Hillbilly, chattering class
eco-champions opting to camp in Kent or having their conferences in
Cardiff), and hence punts us straight into ‘them and us’ territory.
As does any fuel tax. Now, who is the politician – especially one who
is seeking re-election in a few summer holidays’ time - to tell us we
can’t fly unless we pay? Or stand up to the airline lobby and its
global employee base that faces serving only a minority elite. Fuel-
cell powered Jumbos anyone?"

It's why I like blogs. Even if they don't include me, or worse they
do and I miss it when they do (got a few better things to do than
live on every online forum in case I get featured), or much worse,
flamed by those who do have such time, at least I can get my point
'out there' on my own terms.

What's interesting is that in the short time between starting this
and looking back, the posts are up there and on balance agreeing with
my point(s).

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Talking with Emma we
were projecting to a point where she would not be able to afford to
drive to work here (there is no alternative method) or I could not
visit my UK relatives in Scotland, simply because driving was priced
out of our reach and into the province of an elite.

So can taxing or levies on travel be the answer? It would seem to be
political suicide to try.

Then we debated a non-means-based method. How about we are allotted
so much leisure miles a year by road, sea, train and air? Madonna
gets the same as us. Her call on how she uses it. But then, how about
she really, really wants to go somewhere nice and hence gets to buy
our allotment off us? Woooo. Carbon-trading anyone? I am feeling a
headache coming on just trying to grasp with the social,
environmental and all other 'al' consequences. Good job a bunch of
selfish, self-interested empire builders are doing the thinking on
this for us.

Interesting notion. Soon we'll all be stuck in our villages and can
only communicate virtually unless permitted to travel by those who
know better. Glad we have swans outside our window. At least until
John Prescott concretes them over.

Energy Deficiency

I'm depressed. And I don't even read the Daily Mail (at least not
unless it has a classic DVD I must have, but will never watch). It
certainly doesn't help that the nature of our work here at
involves trawling through masses of information and opinion from
every worldwide media source imaginable. Thanks to these it becomes a
toss up if we'll get to the end of the day before being consumed by a
climatic catastrophe, bird flu, Iranian nukes or pillaging and raping

But my more immediate concerns surround mathematics, and if you end
up agreeing with me by the conclusion of this piece, you can at least
be reassured that I wasn't too terrific at it and hence may be wrong.

I have already broached the inescapable fact that, while the earth's
surface area is finite, there has to be a collision point in the
future between this and the expansion of our population and the
demands of each individual's needs throughout their lifespan.

And it is the individual which again concerns me in playing with my
sums again.

Because there are fewer and fewer people 'making' (I have to put that
in quotes as it's a broad definition) anything useful.

Yet the numbers of people 'feeding' (ditto) off them, and in fact
dependent on them for their existence, is growing exponentially.

So I'm afraid I just can't make the numbers add up.

As an example, some very nice working colleagues in the charitable
sector have just found that money they were promised (and spent) on a
worthy project has basically been sucked into a black hole as a
result of the quango that was to disseminate the money creating a sub-
quango, with the net result (I'm guessing) that a bunch of money was
consumed in the creation of this new entity. Now each quango is
pointing at the other as the reason for the shortfall, with the
result of course of the amount not being honoured.

Where is it going to end? We have legions of folk meeting,
researching, administering, assessing, reviewing, legislating,
policing, fining, taxing, building offices, creating empires, going
to courses, giving time off, ticking boxes, meeting targets, paying
salaries and guaranteeing pensions... but who the heck is going to
pay for this? In the short term I just mean financially, but in the
longer term simply by creating useable resources that these ever-
multiplying drains consume every second?

It doesn't really matter if our various future challenges are natural
or man-made, but we're the only race currently in much of a position
to do anything about them.

So by my assessment of the numbers, the most urgent efficiency we
need to address is in how we deploy our own energies. Make something,
or at least make it better.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Curse of the Council Bugbear

The continuing saga of the missing recycling bags continues. This week, we were actually left with bags. Two white ones, and three black bags. To share between FOUR FLATS.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to start a thread on the Environment Site Forum, to share my fustrations, and to find out if other people had similar problems. It is becoming quite a popular thread, which you may find of interest. Click on the link below:

Happy reading.

Friday, October 07, 2005

No Waste Like Home, No More

Last night was the last in the series of No Waste Like Home. The family featured used a lot of electricity. Everything from lights, televisions, and hair straightners, to the spa was left on 24/7. They consumed enough electricity in two weeks to power a football stadium for an entire football match. To help reduce consumption, light bulbs were changed to energy saving ones, and the spa was put on a timer. Cleaning products were replaced with old favourites such as vinegar and lemon juice. A wood burner was also installed, but again, who paid for that? Did the family themselves stump up, or was it the BBC?

Overall the programme has given us an insight into some attitudes of the general public. People are becoming more and more aware of the environment they live in, and the damage that is being caused. As this show has demonstrated, people do need to be shown what to do to reduce, (repair) reuse and recycle. Many people are aware that it is a good thing to do; they just don’t know how to do it. Hopefully No Waste Like Home has inspired a few more people to think their impact on the environment.

We look forward to seeing a second series.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Council bugbear

This is just an extra quick one today. My partner and I had a bet on at the weekend about the recycling bags. He thought that I wouldn't get my bags delivered to me on Monday, even though the Council did promise in an email. I had a little more faith (suprisingly) and thought that I would get my bags. He has gone away on a business trip, so will hopefully forget by the time he gets back - because he was right. :(