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SustainaAbility’s Rate the raters report

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SustainAbility published its second release of its Rate the Raters report.

Great report as always. I think they raise very good points like the lack of transparency or how the heck Halliburton makes the DJSI

But I think we shouldn’t bother with rating. It’s useless anyway. We shouldn’t bother with comparing companies. Competition between companies trying to be seen more sustainable is so 2000s…

We should compare products. Or services. We should compare products or services that perform the same function, that satisfy the same human need.

Let me tell you why comparing companies is so pointless:

  1. People buy products (or services), don’t buy companies.
  2. Most of the impacts of the products LCA are beyond company boundaries. Why would I car for the carbon emissions of BMW the company when what really matters is the gCO2/km of each car?
  3. Products perform a function, they are comparable. Companies might be very different, in size, product portfolio, geography, etc. Impossible to compare.

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Latest slides from Globlescan and SustainAbility about trust in companies, institutions and raters

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Globescan and SustainAbility presented an interesting report on Oct 12th in their latest salon, called ‘Measuring Responsibility and Building Trust – The CSR Ratings Game’.

 Sam Mountford presented a number of revealing points like this (my comments in brackets):

  •  Trust in religious groups decreased strongly from 2001 while trust in NGOs maintained fairly well.
  • The gap between expectations and perceived CSR performance from large companies is dramatically increasing. (It’s revealing to see that the more CSR noise out there, the more people expect and the less companies perform according to the public.)
  • There is a surge demand for transparency, trebling since 2005. (I really can only see transparency becoming more and more important as the trust gap increases)
  • Sustainability experts also recommend transparency as the key thing – 85% (it’s a shame no one is yet calling for full product transparency and many people are still talking about reporting like in the 90s…)
  • Interface cited as number 1 in transparency (that’s great to see us on the top, our efforts on EPDs probably helped)
  • Sustainability experts trust more NGOs judging companies than professional raters / rankings (that’s tells you how bad raters are, I guess people finally understood that ticking 700 boxes doesn’t equal CSR performance – but still keep on filling them though just in case)

 Please see the blog of the Salon from Globescan and Sustainability at

 Download the full deck of slides at

Redesign of products in the West is the key to cut carbon in developing countries

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On Wednesday I heard Friedrich Hinterberger from SERI speak. He had 54 slides with lots of world sustainability figures but one that got my attention was the net importers and exporters of carbon.

It shows clearly how the West is importing carbon emissions from countries like China. Most of these emissions relate to the embodied impact of raw materials that go into products. For example, around 70% of the LCA impact of a carpet tile is in the raw materials. This is more or less similar in most physical products.

So what is the best way cut carbon emissions in China then? No, it’s not transferring renewable technology there. It’s redesigning the products that we design in the West so that they have much less embodied carbon (for example by using raw materials less carbon intensive).

And is this difficult or costly? No, it’s not. The actual bottleneck is that people don’t bother to do the maths and use LCA.

Download the full deck from Friedrich here

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Selling services instead of products. Example of the airport

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If we want to move towards a sustainable world, we need to create an economy where we can satisfy peoples’ needs with services rather than physical products. Because right now we are a product society, we buy and sell products even to meet needs that are very indirectly related to the actual products. Let me give you an example.

You are in an airport. What is your need? To be entertained for 1 hour or a bit more, depending how much you risk to miss your flight. And what do we get offered to satisfy this entertainment need?

Shops!!! Yes, we can buy shoes, clothes, local delicatessen, discounted alcohol, chocolates, perfums, electronics, gifts and souvenirs in case you forgot, you name it.

And how directly related are those PRODUCTS with the basic human need of being need of being entertained for an hour and a half? Not that much…

Yes, at a basic level, we have some services at an airport. Restaurants (basic needs) or toilets (more basic and doesnt count because is free). In some airports even relaxation and massaging sofas (but they’re not that good and people dont use them). Mainly basic needs, very primitive.

What if we could entertain people so high added value without physical impact is generated? Music, movies, games? Yes, that’s why the internet and i-pods, etc are so successful but that’s not airport service, they don’t get any revenue from that (apart from the wi-fi). So what else could you think an airport could offer?  Knowledge-base services like a languages or guitar classes? What about the possibility to talk to an expert on a subject? It might seems far-fetched but in these higher human needs I really think is the money is (and with no physical product)

The hidden environmental impact of internet advertising

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The hidden environmental impact of internet advertising

A study from the university of Twente has looked into the hidden energy costs due to the presence of internet advertising.

It may seem counterintuitive but flashy banners and ads make the CPU work harder having an impact in power consumption or an additional 2.5W (a normal PC uses an average of 74W) so that means web ads increase power consumption by 3.4%.

They have calculated that the total energy consumption in the Netherlands for

displaying web advertisements equals to the total annual electricity consumption of 1891 Dutch households.

If you want to know which of the internet browsers is more efficient, you have to read the paper.

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European Union takes the ‘just the facts’ approach to electronics

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In this site the European Union is taking a strong ‘just the facts’ approach with some of the big energy suckers: PCs, laptops, monitors, printers, etc.

Just the facts means in this case tackling the big issue, which is power consumption at use phase, and providing the plain power consumption data at idle mode, standby and sleep. So that anybody can go there and access to the different power consumption of all devices in a simple manner, even sorting out by less or more power.

This is the right approach to sustainability, which enables consumers and companies to make the right choices. I certainly have already told my IT colleagues about this. How easy would be to use these figures as requirements for your IT suppliers.

If lots of companies would put requirements to all the IT they buy around power consumption (instead of the boring 700 questions supply chain box ticking questionnaire), we would accelerate innovation in energy efficient equipment.

My guest post on The rise in ‘greenwash’ – Let’s be clear

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Below is an article I have recently written for The Manufacturer

Transparency is needed. Ramon Arratia, sustainability director, EMEAI, at commercial flooring company InterfaceFLOR investigates why ‘greenwashing’ is hampering real progress with sustainability.

The rise in ‘greenwash’, the practice of making misleading or unsubstantiated claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service or company is damaging to both the environment and to industry. There are numerous organisations that are demonstrating genuine progress towards sustainability; however, according to Consumer Focus, two thirds of people are unsure about how to distinguish between true and inaccurate claims. Many people also think that companies pretend to be green as an excuse to hike up their prices. So how can manufacturers truly demonstrate that they are part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem?

The mask of green labels

The issue of greenwash is intensified by the number of varying green labels and self-declared claims that organisations can adopt. Labels are popular with manufacturers as they are an effective and accepted way to demonstrate sustainability, while for consumers they provide quick assurance on product sustainability credentials. However, there are too many labels to choose from, and many of them focus on a single issue, such as ‘carbon’ or ‘recyclability’, rather than assessing the full sustainability of a product.

Also, the methods of obtaining these labels are often unreliable. The schemes generally aim to attract wide participation from manufacturers and therefore set a low bar for qualification. Instead of differentiating between great and average products, most labels tend to lump them together in one category: mediocre. Many labels, especially national ones, also duplicate each other, confusing customers and forcing manufacturers to certify the same product several times.

Studies suggest that most people want claims to be backed by third party endorsements from recognised organisations such as Fairtrade or by an independent study. However, several labels lack independent validation, with some manufacturers opting to administer a label themselves. Unfortunately, some of the best marketed labels are often the least robust.

When choosing which label to use for your product, it is important to understand who is behind it, how it is validated, what aspects it covers and whether it conforms to ISO 14020, the international standard for environmental labels. A third party label will add credibility to any environmental claims you make; it will also have been produced by an independent entity that is responding to a public issue and so will focus on more detailed, technical aspects of environmental impacts.

A call for product transparency

In order to make true progress towards sustainable manufacturing and wipe out greenwash, we believe that any ‘labelling’ scheme must use transparent criteria and be based on scientific facts. Indeed, this seems to be the way things are going, with some industries already disclosing the full environmental impacts of their products. For example, it is now mandatory for manufacturers in the motor industry to display grams of CO2 emissions per kilometre in car advertisements. Furthermore, a web site set up by the EU now publishes power consumption data for all electronic equipment sold in Europe.

Companies and regulators are now recognising that the biggest environmental impacts occur during the various stages of a product’s life cycle, which are outside of the manufacturer’s control. Therefore, basing a judgement solely on manufacturing impacts can be misleading. By using a life cycle assessment (LCA) you can identify all the significant environmental impacts associated with the product, including water, air and land, throughout its manufacture, use and disposal.

Conducting an LCA is a hugely valuable exercise. It can show a manufacturer exactly which areas of production need the most attention in order to reduce environmental impacts. For example, for physical products such as a carpet tile, the main impacts tend to occur in the extraction and processing of raw materials. However, for machines that consume energy such as a car or a washing machine, the major impacts usually occur when the product is in use. The best product is unlikely to be one that makes claims such as ‘100% natural’ or indeed one that is made by a company claiming to be ‘100% carbon neutral’. Instead, it is likely to be one that is carefully sourced, manufactured and shipped to minimise its environmental footprint at all stages of its life.

A recognised method that supports transparency is the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). To achieve an EPD, manufacturers must be committed to full disclosure of what might be considered confidential information such as the product ‘ingredients’, manufacturing locations and location of the raw materials. They must also perform a comprehensive LCA.

Rather than just being a green claim or promise, an EPD requires information on products to be shared in a standardised format, comply with certain rules, certified to a public standard and validated by a credible third party. An EPD does not judge or rate products, it simply provides the information on its environmental impacts, similar to nutritional label for food.

Just the facts

It is encouraging that manufacturers are out to prove the environmental performance of their products, however there needs to be more clarity and standardisation on metrics, based on sound evidence and transparent benchmarking. Different approaches and varying methodologies for validation will only continue to hinder sustainable development and confuse purchasers. The EPD is certainly a step in the right direction and the supply chain must respond with consistent and reliable data. What is clear, however, is that manufacturers need to focus on the facts, and only the facts, to make sustainable progress.

Please note that InterfaceFLOR’s Senior VP Product and Innovation, Nigel Stansfield will be speaking at the forthcoming Manufacturer Directors’ Conference on the subject of sustainable innovation in manufacturing

To see the article please click here

How important is to choose the right metrics

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In this blog they talk about why the solar industry needs a new metric.

If investors and the whole industry focused on the rights indicators, then the acceleration in uptake would be higher because the more efficient technologies would get picked up quicker and the ones with lower rates would get exposed.

Now the trick is to make the link between the people who know the staff (the industry geeks and insiders) and the people who make the decisions (in this case investors), who usually don’t get the full picture.

It is absolutely the same with green marketing. The geeks are far too removed from the consumers. LCAs and EPDs too far from the decision makers who are the customers.

And in the middle we have too much noise from the geezers (advertisers, PR, marketers) who focus on simple messages but not necessarily the ones that related to the right indicators.

We’ll get there…

So by the way, what do I think the right indicators are?

  • For most physical products is about embodied carbon (and toxicity) during the raw materials and supply chain phase.
  • For machines it  is energy at use phase.

To read the blog article ‘Solar Needs a New Metric’ click the link:

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LCA and embodied carbon in buildings picked up by Rocky Mountain Institute’s principal architect

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Victor Olgyay, the principal architect within the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Built Environment Team tells the future of buildings and mentions not only profitable retrofits but also embodied energy and LCA.

These are two great phrases I liked:

  • Believable embodied energy data becomes available in a form usable by architects.
  • Widespread application of Life-Cycle cost analysis methods will make the business case for energy efficiency ubiquitous.

The danger of gains in efficient technology being translated into more performance rather than more efficiency

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The Economist has published an article worrying that solid-state lighting (including LEDs), which is more efficient than the usual lighting, might contribute towards more electricity consumption rather than saving.

They are based on a study from Jeff Tsao, who argues that the efficiency gained by the new technology will be outpaced by the growth in increasing luminosity. Because there is still a huge amount of room for increasing the level of lumens in interiors and night, compared to exteriors, LEDs will lead us to want more luminosity in interiors at at night, instead of the same amount of lumens but more efficiently.

I think this is a good point but rather than slowing the technology for being too good, we should take action to prevent that these gains in technology are only translated in performance rather than savings. Gains on efficiency that went against the environment have been common, like computer processors gains translated in more processing power rather in the same power with less electricity use.

How can we manage this?

I think the cheapest way of handling this would be higher prices of electricity because higher price of carbon. Failing that, any increase on electricity price would deal with it, again not popular for governments. Then you can regulate the amount of lumens in certain spaces (eg office, retail, supermarkets). The same sort of thing we should have done with temperatures. Going in summer to a supermarket or retail in hot countries and you get freezing temperatures, often much lower than needed. Why, because it is relatively cheap to waste electricity for your air-conditioning.

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