Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Pale Blue Dot

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Sometimes you read something that says things so much more clearly and beautifully than one could ever hope to do oneself.  And I have recently read one of those – it comes from Richard Dawkins‘ brilliant anthology of science writing called “The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing” and it’s a passage by Carl Sagan called “Pale Blue Dot” from “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space”. 

For me, it sums up so much better than I can ever explain why I think that we should all come from the stewardship angle regarding our relationship with the earth and nature rather than to exploit it for the here and now.  It comes from a deeply-held philosophy that stems from earth as my home and everyone else’s home, as well as the home of all creatures and plants and microbes past, present and future.  We are but briefly passing through for the tinest fraction of time and we must be careful of our impact as the world is a unique, beautiful and very blue place in a universe full of cold, dark, black and dead nothingness.

“Look again at that dot.  That’s here.  That’s home.  That’s us.  On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you have ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.  The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.  Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.  Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.  Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.  In our obscurity, in all its vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life.  There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.  Visit, yes.  Settle, not yet.  Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.  There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.  To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

First Impressions On UK Political Parties From Green Agenda

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

As promised, I have started the process of looking at the main political parties from the perspective of the environment and international development.  I think I may have bitten off a bit more than I had expected with this, but I will continue.  Yesterday, I wasted an idle hour of my time looking at the websites for the Conservatives, the Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP, and downloaded background information about their policies on these two areas.  Here are my first impressions – I have not looked at a single policy yet so this is more about websites and general look, feel and philosophy taking into account the environmental agenda.

Firstly, the SNP.  Well I couldn’t find anything relevant on their website as regards the general election or environmental policies; their most recent Westminster manifesto is from 2005.  The best I could come up with was their section on Government, ie Scottish Government.  Unfortunately, this means I will not be going back to their website to get any more information; in this day and age, you need to have all the information up there all the time and it’s just not good enough to be waiting until a full official manifesto is launched.

Next, the Green Party.  Firstly, it would seem clear and bleeding obvious that central to the Green Party’s political philosophy is “taking into account the environment in all policy decisions”, but I was surprised that when I went to their policy section that there were no environmental policies.  Now I know where they are coming from being that everyone knows we are green but what they don’t believe we can deliver on is basic policy areas like Health and Housing and the Economy, so we’ll major on these areas, however why hide the Green Agenda?  Or as they say “We are not just an environmental party. Our policies extend across all areas of life.”  When Steenbergs first set up our website, our bank manager said to us that he was surprised that we never mentioned that we were focused on organic spices and herbs, so we realised that what’s obvious to us/them is probably less obvious to other people, so you need sometimes to keep on stating the bleeding obvious.  I did eventually find more detail about policies within the main website in the About the Green Party section hidden in a side bar, but to get those policy statements you keep needing to go back to this side bar.

To find the Green Party’s information on the Environment, you need to go to another website called Green Party Policies and download various pdf files across a range of topics.  Now this web site is truly horrible – it’s clunky, slow and really hard to work out what and where to get information.  Also, because of it’s structure, you end out having to print out loads of paper to actually read the policies because the pdfs are really hard to read.  While the web site had errors all over the place – the Policy Statements page comes up with a 404 Error Page Not Found.  As for detailed policies, I was surprised to find that many of the Policy Downloads were offline pending revision although they will be up in a few days.  So all in all this was fairly hard work to trudge through and really difficult to find stuff  about the environment and international development, which meant that you really had to want to find the detail to want to use the website.  Were I a teacher I would have to say “Could do better”.

Next, I am going to lump together the Conservative and the Liberal Democrats – that’s probably a first.  Both of their websites are clean looking and easy to use, and have a similar structure, so you can find the general policy stuff about the Environment and other policies by clicking on information bars on the left hand border.  All the information is there with detailed policy statements and backgrounders dowloadable quickly from links embedded in the relevant areas.  I liked both sites and found them similar in style.  As for general feel about the seriousness of the Environment to these parties, the Liberal Democrats give higher prominence for the Environment sitting at the top of their “What We Stand For?” section, while the Conservatives do not put the Environment or International Development in the “What We Stand For?” section but they do have a vast amount of detail as Consultation Papers and detailed policy papers – so the Liberal Democrats weighed in at 520g of papers when printed out and the Conservatives a whopping 940g (and I hadn’t even printed out their long report on “Rebuilding Security”).  As a negative for the Liberal Democrats, I couldn’t find anything within the main website about International Development and had to get to it via a search where I found a consultation paper for download, so that wasn’t great.

Now, for the Labour website.  Its structure is completely different to the other major parties.  They do not include the Environment within their Pledges on the Home Page, but it does come as a subsidiary pledge under “Ed’s Pledge“, which is all about Climate Change.  The Labour website is structured as a highly functional blog or social networking site, which means you can go from the Environment and then onto “Further Reading” or “Related Policies” in the right hand pane.  This gives you the ability to move around the website and through policy ideas and threads, but I quickly got lost and then would need to get myself back to the start and follow another line of thought.  Also, I struggled to find detail on any of the policies, and was (I assume) expected just to believe what I was being told on the website and that I wasn’t allowed to question and query, nor want to delve deeper into the philosophy and reasoning for the resultant policies that Labour is proposing. 

Now, I have to be honest here – I am 42 years old and don’t live in London and I am not massively computer literate and I hate social networking sites, nor do I have a mobile phone.  Also, I like to question and query things and am by nature a sceptic, and am very, very dubious about anything politicians say – unfortunately, I come from a viewpoint that all politicians are going to promise you the earth, feed you a load of cock and bull, then do something else when they get into power.

So while I get completely what Labour is doing with their website, I loathed it.  I want to find the information about policy areas in a simple format saying “Environment” or “Community Relations” or whatever area interests me.  Also, I want to be able to print out stuff and read it, rather than post it to Twitter or view it on by Blackberry (I don’t have one you’ll be pleased to know), or some other gizmo.  I am not interested in politics per se nor am I in the Westminster Village; similarly, I am not in the 18 – 30 year old bracket that has been brought up on Facebook or Twitter.  Hence, for me, the Labour website was a horror story, but I reckon it will appeal to lots of people who like that style of thing and it is really, really well orchestrated and controlled, which I assume will go for the whole Labour compaign – the Labour site is without a doubt an awesome website and the best party political campaigning tool of the three major parties.

So here’s my initial impression and order of success in giving me the right feel about their Environmental and International Development credentials:

  1. Liberal Democrats
  2. Conservatives
  3. Labour
  4. Green Party
  5. Scottish National Party

But as I have said, the Labour website is really effective, but just not conceptually for me.

Note to all political parties, none of you (and that includes the Greens) have a button to enable you to print the information on a page, so you get all the side bars and rubbish around the edges.  The result 3 or 4 pages of print, where most goes straight into the bin.  Yes, I could read it on screen, but I am too old for that – I like to read paper and scribble on it etc.

And now I will start looking in more detail at the individual party’s policies and statements on the Environment and International Development…

Global warming – reworking out the actual changes

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

As already discussed, I have become sanguine about the global warming information that I have been reading and hearing from the media – lots of noise and jumping up & down by all sorts of people.  And perhaps, I have taken too much on trust and should have looked in more detail at the raw information from scientists rather than listened to politicians and journalists, who don’t always know the detail but like the spin of a story; some of my earlier blogs specifically take the line fed to me in the media, which I am now thinking could have been a rash way to go – see for example

Hence, the next stage of my quest was to hunt down some raw data that was simple enough for me to process and see what the results came up with.  That was actually harder than I thought, so while The Met Office in the UK has data linked into The Hadley Centre, I couldn’t understand their data at all – there was too much and not enough explanation.  I did try and contact them and an email was sent via The Met Office to The Hadley Centre, but I never got any response. 

Note to UK Climate Scientists – you have got to be much more open about what you’re doing as this lack of openness really increased my scepticism, and as a publicly funded body, I think you have no right to secrecy on this one.  Allied to issues of leaked emails etc, you’ve got some serious work to do on your PR and credibility!

So, as often seems to happen in life, the USA came up trumps.  I have often been very surprised by how helpful, open and progressive America can be, when at times it still sometimes is stuck in the Dark Ages (on things like good food and packaging waste and energy consumption etc).  I got useful data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis which is available at; ironically, this data incorporates the Hadley Centre Data that I never was given when I enquired direct.  I then downloaded the information which is at the bottom of the web page on “Combined land-surface air and sea-surface water temperature anomalies” and used the Global Mean Analysis.  This comes with some caveats as does the alternative data which is also available on that page – “Means based on Land-surface air temperature anomalies only”.

I spent a merry time copying the data from the hard copy – I am sure some whizz could have automatically downloaded this and got it all pretty in spreadsheet, but as I have said before computers really are a bit of a mystery to me.  Next I sorted the data so I could represent the data graphically and I did this for monthly, seasonal and annual data.  Finally, I got a ruler and pencil out and worked out some best fit lines to come up with my own views on global warming.

The result: yes, it does appear that global temperatures have risen over the last 100+ years, BUT (and it’s a big BUT) not by as much or as quickly as all the media and political hype has been telling me, us and the world.

The data shows that global warming is running at about 0.7oC every 100 years with a maximum of about 2oC and a minimum of about 0.4oC, but it is definitely in line with my original blog that said 0.5oC – 1.8oC every 100 years.  The particular data used comes with a caveat that it might be understating temperatures, however I reckon that this will be a consistent error over the period so the trend should be the same.

Well that’s not the 3 – 4oC imminent global catastrophe that I had been led to believe with everyone being flooded away in a biblical onrush of melting land-ice drowning all of coastal Britain.  It does not mean that I must rush off down to Jewson’s to buy lots of timber and build an ark to save the planet, or at least not quite yet.

I come from eco viewpoint so I am not especially happy about my conclusions, so as I am not yet 100% with this result, I will be cross-checking the information with some specific country data if I can come by it.  But I do have to say that the data came via a web site that promotes better understanding of Climate Change and is for the issue as opposed to against, so if there is any bias it will be to promoting the likelihood of global warming rather than the skeptical position –

The graphs that I got out from the data are below (if you want better detail just email and ask):

Graph of Average Annual Temperature Anomalies (10 x degrees celsius)

Graph of Average Annual Temperature Anomalies (10 x degrees celsius)

Graph of seasonal temperature anomalies (10x degree C)

Graph of seasonal temperature anomalies (10x degree C)

Global warming – what’s the fuss all about?

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I have to admit to becoming more skeptical about global warming since I began studying at The Open University on an Environmental Studies and Science Course.  I doubt that becoming less convinced about much of the stuff written about global warming was the expected result from being fed more information on climate change. 

However, by nature and training, I am a scientist (I did Biological Science as a Degree in the 1980s) and scientists are skeptics, therefore the more someone tells me that a particular idea is correct, and the louder they shout it, the more I want to find a quiet space and think about it myself – basically, I hate always being told to take things on trust and like to do my own thinking and understand things myself, and then if they are too complex and cannot be explained in basic, simple english or maths then I reckon it’s got to be a load of hoolley.

So there’s the background to why I have started looking in some more detail at global warming & climate change.  I am going to stick with global warming as that means we can focus on temperature whereas climate and weather is so much more complex.  Perhaps we can look at weather at a later stage.

My journey began in the most obvious starting point – the information published by the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which slightly spookily was an idea of and set up by Ronald Reagan when he was President of America.  Here’s a short paper in the Frequently Asked Section of their website on how temperatures are changing: Now, the key data, that comes from the pretty graph at the bottom is that, depending on which time period you use, and also whether you start a period in a dip going to a peak in temperature, you can get a wide range for the rate of growth in global temperatures.  Their published range shows warming of 0.5oC – 1.8oC every 100 years. 

Now I have to admit I didn’t like their graph as I think you cannot take artificial time periods and force those onto the graph and felt a bit as though it was all being neatly calculated to fit a preconceived viewpoint.  Just like when you did maths at high school, you need to look at the graph and visually work a best fit line for the data, so I printed the sheet out (I am sure someone clever can do this on a computer but I am not that skilled with them but I can use a ruler and pencil!).  Now the graph is pretty small so accuracy is not going to be great but based on 150 and 100 years of data, global warming seems to be growing at about 0.45oC – 0.75oC every 100 years.

Now there are bits of the graph that can show much faster growth, however these are over really short time periods and appear to be picking rates, or periods, when you’re going from a low temperature to a high temperature that may be the result of normal cycles in sun temperatures etc, so I think you should look over longer periods that can remove some of the noise of other factors. 

That’s my view and everyone will have different thoughts on that, but this does highlight one of the contentions against “climate science” in that it is some ways “climate art” and becomes a matter of representation and debate rather than fact and science.

I was still not satisfied, in fact I wanted to look more closely at the data, so I started the hunt for some data to plug into an Excel spreadsheet and see what the answers would be, which will explain in a blog in the next week or so.

How We Are Reducing Our Family Environmental Impact – Insulating the Loft

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

One of the major users of energy in a house is for heating the building.  Space and water heating in homes gives off about 20% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, which is about 5 tonnes CO2 per home every year.

However, one of the key issues for old houses, and in our case very old house, is that they have not been built with the benefit of modern technology that has invested much time, effort and legislation to make housing more heat efficient and so retain much of the heat within the building rather than to radiate it out into North Yorkshire – it’s a godforsaken task to heat up Northern England.

So as a start, you need to keep as much heat in as possible.

So my theory has been simple work down from the roof to the ground floor slowly but surely insulating the house.  We will work from the top downwards, as hot air rises so you want to capture it as it tries to escape upwards first rather than worrying about the ground levels at the outset.

The first thing, we felt, was to get insulation laid in the roof between the joists.  This had been done using old fashioned roof insulation over 10 years ago, insulating to 100mm in depth.  But we decided to insulate again with a cross layer of 200mm recycled glass mineral wool blankets.  For the first attempt at this, we bought recycled mineral wool – each pack of this Knauf Insulation Space Blanket contains 2.4 wine bottles (it was a 200mm thick roll of 1.48m2) and has a R value of 4.50m2K/W.   Government advice is to get insulation to about 300mm.

I liked this because it comes in a roll and encased in fire retardant polyethylene film, so does not need all that cutting and special equipment that normal loft insulation needs, and even more important it’s currently subsidised by e.on under some Government scheme to mitigate climate change so it was half price at Homebase, costing just £5.74 per roll.

It has got a metallic coating which Knauf Insulation claims reflects heat and so keeps more heat in – I think this sounds a bit spurious!

That means that the 35 rolls that I bought cost £143.50; this should mean that we recoup the energy savings within 2 – 3 years (assuming that we will save 10% of our fuel bills and that we had covered the whole roof void with the same insulation, i.e. multiply cost by 3/2; 25% of heat loss in total is through the loft and we already had 100mm in place, so I reckon 10% would be a good estimate for additional savings).

It was pretty easy to lay it and took me about 5 hours over the other weekend to buy the kit and lay it over two-thirds of the roof void.

Typically, however, when I got into the roof, I discovered that the heating engineers (or plumbers as I would have known them) never completed the lagging of the pipes nor the insulation of the water tanks, which was okay as they never relaid the insulation so the heat from the house kept the area around the tank warm – so muggins here had to finish that off as well.

Now feeling a bit good about myself, I bought something last week that’s a bit less simple to lay but definitely a greener alternative.

There are two main alternatives: one from newspapers (Warmcel) and the other from British sheep’s wool and recycled polyester (Thermafleece).  These both have the same levels of insulation capability as mineral wool, but I chose Warmcel and bought 15 bags of this from £165.27, costing £11.02 per bag inclusive of transport to us.  The Thermafleece is roughly double Warmcel again for the same price per m2 for the same depth, i.e. four times as expensive roughly as the recycled mineral wool insulation and so tripling the payback period.

So going back to my payback calculations – Warmcel has a payback of 4 – 6 years, which I am happy about, but Thermafleece has a payback of 8 – 12 years, which is too long for me.  Basically, I think for the cost-reward, it’s probably best to go with either the Space Blanket or (to give you a greener feeling about life) go with the Warmcel.  I cannot see the point with going for Thermafleece unless you feel romantically attached to lining your house in a woolly jumper.

But you do need to put the insulation down yourself as it’s pretty simple, and if you get a builder to do the work, you will blow any meaningful chance at getting a payback.

To buy these greener insulation materials, try these to web sites:

How We Are Reducing Our Family Environmental Impact – Getting Started

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

I thought we could share how we have tried to reduce our carbon footprint and what we are still looking at doing.

To start with, I need to give some background about us. 

We live in an old three bedroom cottage in a rural location.  The house is built of brick and the core of the house was built between 300 and 400 years ago, so (to repeat what was unhelpfully said in the survey when we bought the house) the house does not meet modern building standards, which (of course) was one of its key attractions to us.  It is also grade 2 listed which creates additional problems.  We are a family of four – two adults and two children who are not yet teenagers.  Both Sophie and I work together in our own small business 9 miles away.  Also, I absolutely hate doing DIY so we were never going to cleverly improve our house all by ourselves.

As a household, we now have total estimated greenhouse gas emissions as 9.2 tonnes CO2e per year, compared to the UK average of a total of 12.4 tonnes CO2e per year,  based on a carbon calculator provided by The Open University and stats that they use – different methods give different answers. 

The first thing we did was tackle all the easy things that we were terrible at.  Here are some of our howlers and some of those things that we have improved on very quickly:

  1. Changed the timing on the central heating from all day to 2 hours in the morning and the evening;
  2. Reduced temperature on thermostat by 3oC from 18oC to 15oC;
  3. Putting curtains up in every room and started closing the curtains at night or (in this cold winter) upstairs during the daytime;
  4. Changed all our light bulbs from old fashioned incandescent bulbs to low energy lamps;
  5. Switched off electrical appliances at the plug when not in use, especially computers, TVs and radios, i.e. no standby and computers and TVs are not on when no-one is around;
  6. Reduced, reused and recycled more of the packaging we get and unwanted  stuff like clothes, toys and books – friends and our local Oxfam have been very happy about this;
  7. Halved the number of fridges and freezers we had – we used to have two of each and have reduced that down to one of each.  Both were given to friends of friends rather than being chucked;
  8. Put low energy plugs onto the fridges and freezers reducing the general levels of electricity being used by the remaining appliances – not sure that these really work but they sounded neat;
  9. Share car journeys whenever possible, which as we work together means five days out of seven can be done in the same car – this reduced our car movements by ten every week.

And that’s about all we did.  We do not have a tumble drier and only iron rarely (a karate gi and my shirts but only so very rarely); we do not use mobile phones (I don’t actually have one, but Sophie does have one for emergencies) or similar things like Blackberries.  We already cooked most of our food from scratch, buying organic & Fairtrade, as well as local where possible.

For more on saving the world, there’s good information at:

What have other people done when getting started on being green?

New Information About Global Warming

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

I’ve been reading New Scientist this week (6/2/2010) and there were 2 interesting articles on climate change this week:

  1. Water vapour fingered in climate change:  this reported that a rise in water vapour in the atmosphere fuelled 30% of global warming in the 1990s, while a 10% fall in 2001 has slowed down global warming in last decade by 25%;
  2. Imports mean UK emissions are up not down: this is a report commisioned by defra that they are now sitting on that shows that while national carbon dioxide emissions are down by 148 megatonnes between 1992 and 2004, this was outweighed by a 217 megatonne rise in embedded carbon dioxide emissions from imported products over the same period. 

A fuller report is found at Environmental Science and Technology but in essence all this says is that the fall in greenhouse gas emissions in the UK is mainly due to the fact that we have exported our greenhouse gasses to India and China, together with all our manufacturing capability and much of our social and health and safety issues.

What do you reckon – is the UK Government seeking to hide an embarassment that actually undermines its supposed adherence to the Kyoto process?

Carbon Offsets and Steenberg Carbon Footprints

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Every year on slightly ad hoc basis, I sit down and try and calculate our carbon footprint and then offset for the greenhouse gasses that make up our carbon footprint.  It’s a guesstimate because it does not include all aspects of the Steenbergs business, but we cover a much wider proportion of Steenbergs’ impact on the planet than most other people get round to doing.

Firstly, let me explain the things that we include and those that we exclude:

Carbon costs that are included: transport of raw materials and packaging from most recent supplier to Ripon; transport of Steenbergs goods from our Ripon factory to customers; transport of Steenbergs staff on business; and carbon cost of paper used in marketing and office functions

Carbon costs that are excluded: energy (as it is 100% from renewable sources via Good Energy, but see my note i below); staff travel to and from work; embedded carbon within Steenbergs raw materials and packaging (this is something we are still trying to collect all the data on)

We have used the Climatecare model for carbon costs and the total annual cost for 1 January – 31 December 2009 was 3.75 tonnes CO2 which is actually below (and I mean way below) the minimum that Climatecare will offset, which is an annual minimum of 10 tonnes.  So we pay the minimum of £75 + VAT to offset this rather than the actual cost of roughly half that.  Basically we are a carbon minnow, treading pretty lightly on the planet, but I do accept that this excludes the embedded carbon in our packaging materials, which may be horrible!

What is interesting and very shocking (at least to me) is the breakdown of our carbon costs, which shows that the cost of our paper is astronomic comprising half of our carbon costs.  We use even in our small business about 500-600kg of paper a year on stuff – I am going to get this figure down but it will be painful as everyone seems very attached to their own particular piece of paper for processing and/or recording our operations.

Our carbon costs from transport are actually quite low because we do not have our own transport and through using consolidated carriers from the Royal Mail to Palletline we optimise space utilisation on transport vehicles rather than inefficiently running our own vans at below full capacity.  In addition, we do next to no mileage for business purposes – we hardly do any direct face-to-face selling or account handling which perhaps we should do but is just not part of Sophie or my inner psyche.

As part of my Open University course, I also had to do my personal carbon footprint last year using their Quick EYE-OU greenhouse gas emissions programme.  This came up with a personal score of 9.2 tonnes CO2e per year which is actually 3.2 tonnes (-25.8%) below the UK average.   This comprised direct CO2e from home energy, personal food and travel of 6.0 tonnes CO2e and embedded carbon of 3.2 tonnes CO2e from indirect goods and services (such as goods and services purchased and my share of governmental CO2e).

To put it into perspective, the US average is 19.9 tonnes CO2 per person, but the Indian average is 1.2 tonnes CO2, the Brazilian 2.1 tonnes CO2 and the Chinese 4.8 tonnes CO2  per person (see Timesonline article).  The article also shows UK’s carbon to be 9.3 tonnes CO2 per person, which does not match the information above, because this study does not include all greenhouse gas emissions or non household carbon.  So even if my contribution to climate change is low compared to the UK average, it is a big clumpy footprint stamping down on our planet.

It is interesting to see that my personal totals are much higher than Steenbergs as a business.  This is partly because we have ignored the embedded CO2e at work from goods and services purchased, as well as in packaging materials.  But also, we are much more profligate with energy at home than at work, plus travel is less efficient than the consolidation carried out at work.

One of the conclusions I came to when I did calculations for work back in 2007 was that personal travel is the real swinging factor.  Energy will eventually be tackled via nuclear power (whether you approve of it or not, and I don’t, but Professor James Lovelock is probably correct on this one).  More CO2e is generated by staff travelling to and from work than the business as a whole; similarly, more CO2e is probably generated by shoppers going to and from the shops than the embedded carbon in the products and/or services that they purchase in those shops. 

Basically the cost of our personal freedom through the car is hugely inefficient and as a nation we must come to terms with reconfiguring our relationship with transport if we ever want to really grapple with climate change. 

But I suspect the price of this will be too hard to bear and it just won’t be tackled by any MP or Minister in any UK Government, of whatever political persuasion.

Note i: if you did include office and factory energy, we used 2572kWh which equates to 1.36 tonnes CO2 and would add another £20.17 in offset costs.  So while I exclude this from our calculations, it is actually covered by the minimum carbon cost per reporting period that we have bought carbon offsets for.

Trying To Build A Better Spices Business

Monday, February 1st, 2010

When Sophie and I set up Steenbergs, we were very clear in our own minds about what Steenbergs as a business wanted to offer as products – the widest and most exotic range of great spices, herbs, seasonings and teas from around the world that are grown under organic agriculture and ethically sourced.  But we also wanted Steenbergs to be run as a different sort of place to those that I had been asked to expect since I entered the corporate world.

We didn’t want a one dimensional pursuit of money to the exclusion of everything else  – I remember being interviewed for a job at Lazards in the City when I was maybe 25 years old and being told in that interview by an American gentleman when asked “why do you want to work in corporate finance?” that my waffly answer about “interesting, intellectual work” was wrong and that he wanted people that wanted money, were turned on by money and were motivated by greed, so luckily I did not get a job there.

Steenbergs also needs to be a fun, happy place to work where no-one blames people for mistakes and that when things go wrong we all muck in and clear up the mess, sort it out and get on with life.  Firstly, we all make mistakes and secondly, you need to make mistakes to learn.

We hope that we have created a decent place culturally to work rather than one driven by profit and fear.

Finally, we are following a middle path, one that is decent, fair and reasonable to all people within and outside the business that come into contact with Steenbergs as an entity, and that we need to carefully consider Steenbergs impact on the world, on Gaia – our planet, and try to ensure that we make as small an impact as possible on the world.

It’s a middle path that accepts we must make compromises and so will not please everyone, but we will try and improve what we do, while also striving to make a small profit.  Without being profitable, it would be impossible to earn any income and to generate cash to re-invest in our business – we do not have the private wealth or big income to have the luxury of running Steenbergs as a loss-making entity without the need to consider how to grow sales, where to scrimp and save to keep costs down nor where to make pragmatic choices that may not always be the best choice for the environment (especially in packaging).

Recently, I have come across the the concept of the triple bottom line concept (“TBL” or “3BL” or “the three pillars”) which means that a business should think about “people, planet, profit” in its business dealings, rather than just to be in it for a quick buck for ourselves.  I like it as an idea as it encapsulates more rigorously what we have been trying to do in our own haphazard style.

We see the triple bottom line model as a better way to run a business, being a virtuous circle of slow but constant improvement in our business operations and the impact we have as a business on the world environment and people within Steenbergs and those who become involved with us, such as suppliers, buyers or just interested people.

So I thought it worthwhile to be very open about some of our thoughts and start explaining ways we think about and address certain key social and ethical questions within our business.  These can now be found at the following links on the web site:

Over the next few months, I hope to address packaging as an issue area and embedded carbon costs, so I will keep you informed of when I get somewhere there, but the information available to small businesses on these things is limited and the advice on how to look into it almost no existent.

Christmas Eve And It’s Still Snowing

Thursday, December 24th, 2009
Let it snow

Let it snow

It’s slightly eery at work today.  No-one else is here as we have completed the stock-take and all the Christmas orders have been dispatched.  Also, the snowy weather and the fact that it’s Christmas Eve means that the business park is almost deserted.  Other than Wolseley Centers (which never closes), Nidd Transport and Masham Sausages who are busy trying to get their last Christmas deliveries out, I think I am the only person on this estate.

It started snowing again in the night and we have had at least 3 inches since about 4am and it’s still snowing away.  There’s a muffled, silencing quality to the snow which meant that as I drove in this morning – with the odd skid for excitement – I felt as if I was cocooned in my own little space, a warmed personal ecosystem stolidly driving through a wintry landscape.

As I drove into Ripon, I pondered on the fact that the elements have been reminding us of who is in control, really; we have had floods and now snow in the last 3 months, which is quite something for the temperate British climate.

We have done a pretty good job in getting all the many Internet orders out into the delivery networks, but unfortunately the weather has played havoc with some of the parts of the country.

Parcels to Aberdeen and Cumbria have been hit especially badly, as has Aylesbury.  Checking with Fedex today, no trucks have got through to Kendal since last week so a couple of parcels have got delayed but it looks as though the trucks have now got to Aberdeen and some of the parcels are now out for delivery.

All the other missing parcels with Fedex are out for delivery again today as quite a few have been delayed by weather problems, but then again they have been out for delivery 2 or 3 times this week already, but fingers crossed and many apologies to those few people who may not get their packages prior to Christmas due to the weather.

I will sign off now for a few days to enjoy a turkey Christmas dinner, my homemade Christmas pudding and some Christmas cheer.

God bless you all, Merry Christmas and I hope Santa Claus / Saint Nicholas brings you all the things that your hearts’ desires.