Green is a form of Lean

Many of us are thinking through the implications of greener supply chains.

Al has been giving it some lately, for example, with his thoughts on the Carbon Added Tax. Over at SAP Research Andreas Vogel is leading the charge. IBM is doing some solid work here, as is BT. But we’re beginning to see a potential backlash, based on the Greens are Dreamers frame. The argument is that green thinking and approaches will be jettisoned as economic conditions toughen. But is that necessarily the case? Jason Busch from SpendMatters nails it in a post entitled How Will Green / Sustainable Procurement Play in a Recession?

While it would be easy to dismiss green and sustainable procurement practices as a luxury for companies to invest in when times are good, I actually believe that they could help organizations to buoy their top lines and pull up from a spiraling downturn or period of contraction. Whether it’s better marketing the benefits of green supplier practices to customers to spur pent-up demand or making investments in supplier development initiatives which reduce unnecessary packaging, supplier-focused sustainability initiatives have the potential to drive sales and reduce cost.”

I hold a similar line: it seems daft to argue, as the Bush Administration repeatedly has, that efficiency efforts harm economies. Efficiency can help you cut cost, even if (especially if?) its energy costs we’re talking about. Jason gets some great comments on his post. For actionable advice why not try Paul Gooch’s suggestion:

A former employer of mine ran an internal initiative called WRAP…waste reduction always pays. This applies as much to purchasing as any functional activity. The benefits go straight to the bottom line, and in the process you reduce your energy usage, carbon footprint, etc

But Lisa Reisman really distills the arguments to 100% proof: “green is a form of lean”. Thinking about carbon consumption is not just protectionist sabre-rattling: its an efficiency argument. It strikes me at the moment many economists and business commentators just aren’t thinking through their positions. We’re seeing rhetoric as the primary argument. Greens are luddites. Localisation means a return to the stone age. And so on. Green is a form of lean.

The implications for software and services companies are clear – keep investing in Green, recession or not. You can always change your marketing to read “cost-cutting”. If however you’re relying on a return to abundance as a primary planning assumption you could be in major trouble. Spend matters green or not.


Ban The Bag: First Modbury, Now London

What a heartening way to start the week.

Just yesterday I was thinking it was great that Modbury has now officially banned the plastic bag. BBC Nature’s Rebecca Hosking deserves all the plaudits she is recieving for leading the campaign. But it could never happen in London, I thought.

That was, until I read the Daily Telegraph this morning (its not my usual tipple, but I was on a plane) and saw a story on page 9, London Shops May Stop Giving Out Plastic Bags.

“Shops in London could be banned from handing out plastic bags under a new law.”

The initiative comes from London Councils, the umbrella group representing all local authorities in the capital: shoppers would have to bring their own bags or buy reusable ones at the till. To be fair, retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury have already made great strides in this regard, offering nice jute bagsand so on, but a legal restriction can help a lot to really drive a behavioural change.

For those that consider such schemes to be an “outrageous attack” on their liberty I would encourage them to consider the 4bn plastic bags a year that go to landfill in the UK each year. Perhaps a more encouraging thought should come from the smoking bans in major European cities. Arriving at Barcelona airport this morning was so much more pleasant and welcoming than usual. Smoke really has no place in public buildings. One day we may feel the same about using plastic bags. [So much for a new libertarian-minded bias… Ed.]

Its a shame the BBC doesn’t put its considerable weight behind the plastic bag campaign on a national basis, which would be an excellent use of license fee money, as far as i can see, tapping into grassroots concerns about the environment. Why not give Rebecca a show and a campaign?

But, you can’t always hope for top down support. As the Telegraph reports, another option would be to introduce a tax on plastic bags, “but such a move is likely to be rejected by the Treasury.”

As usual in the UK, leadership isn’t coming from the top. Well done London Umbrella. I hope you succeed.

Next… the world?

picture courtesy of polandeze, take on a Sheffield canal.

Technorati Tags:


How much automation is too much automation? Flushed Away

So you’re sitting there, relaxed, doing your own business. You don’t even have a wide leg stance, when suddenly the toilet flushes beneath you. Why did that happen? You aren’t finished yet, which means another flush is going to be needed. Did your elbow trigger the sensor? Trying to complete your paperwork the bloody toilet flushes again. Not only is the overactive flush mechanism wasteful of water but also of paper- you need extra to dry your freshly “rinsed” privates-a poor man’s bidet. You walk out of the cubicle and everything is automated – soap pump, hot water tap, hand drier, towel dispenser. One of these days you’re going to walk into the “john” and a disembodied American voice, with a relatively pleasant mid-West twang, is going to ask: “would you like me to hold that for you, sir?” i wonder which would be most disturbing- a male or female robot assistant, or one with no discernable gender?

Obviously hygiene is very important in our age of global travel, but isn’t water consumption? The sensors on the taps are evidently designed to conserve water, as well as keep your hands clean. The soap too. Hand towels-I am happy to use the “elbow crank.” All in all though toilet service automation strategies tend to confuse me. Perhaps someone familiar with Japanese toilet automation can tell – what’s up with that?

In IT we talk a lot about automating paper processes. But the hand dryer is a fine example, in my opinion, of unneccessary automation. i will take a paper towel (recycled of course) every time…

The real point I want to make here-cutting the deal, as it were, is that all automation decisions involve tradeoffs, not all of which are beneficial. The green lens is another one to consider when making process automation design decisions.


Weirdly, according to TedsBlog on Flickr this is a toilet at Google Corp. Deodorizer – enough said.



Working water twice

I’ve spent the past few weeks emerged in the water sector and the opportunities that exist to tackle the problem that 1.1 billion people lack safe drinking water and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

There are some fascinating people out there working to overturn assumptions and find new models of collaboration. There are also some great design ideas. Check out this system, or should I say cistern, which initially looks bizarre but is actually an astonishingly simple way of improving the efficiency of flush toilets. If we make toilets more efficient, they require less infrastructure.


Bill McDonough points out that to develop a strategy of change requires genuine humility. He follows on with one of my favourite quotes to use with naysayers:

“If anyone has any trouble with the concept of design humility, reflect on this: it took us 5,000 years to put wheels on our luggage.”

Stuff like this shows how much we can redesign even the most familiar things. Thanks to Juergen Kikuyumoja Eichholz for the link.


Eco leadership from China: Charging On

New ecobusiness tracker Greenbang has a classic post today. Apparently the Chinese government is mandating that all cell phone and device chargers are USB-based, to “cut waste and lower user costs”. I like this idea a lot. I am currently moving office, and the charger detritus is truly ridiculous. I know some people think all top down regulation is a bad idea, but this one makes a great deal of sense, especially from an environmental perspective. This is not green from the roots up, so much as from the top down, but its still a potentially useful step towards better resource utilisation.

cross-posting on MonkChips.

photo courtesy of arquera, under a CreativeCommons attribution license.