Interested in writing sustainability, CSR and environmental guides for us?

Posted November 13th, 2012 by The Environment Site with No Comments is looking for people that are interested in writing guides on a wide range of Sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental topics.

We currently have around 20 guides on environmental topics from all walks of life. But over the next months we are interested in expanding this range to include more topics in the Sustainability and CSR field.

So if you are interested in providing us with a guide on a topic of your choice why not get in touch and let us know what you want to write about. Please contact us.

Sustainable Business Systems: Stop Killing Kittens!

Posted July 21st, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

A little bit of full disclosure here: one of my previous professional lives was in IT and business operations.  In short, it was part of my job to ensure there was enough technical robustness built into companies’ operations to ensure that if there was an IT failure business could continue uninterrupted.

In other words, if one server crashed another would be able to take its place; if an ISP or telephony supplier went out of business another would be able to take over .. etc etc.

In other words, it’s about making the system robust enough to take external shocks.

Which is why I find the current “discovery” of systems thinking a bit of a laugh.  Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.  What the world’s now waking up to is, in fact, the biggest flaw in our commercial and financial systems.


It’s the system, man!

So, let’s start at the top of system theory.  It’s not rocket science, in fact it’s pretty obvious and straightforward stuff.  Everyone relies on everyone else and we’re all happy together.  Join hands, dance around, and sing “Ring a ring of roses”.

That’s not to say that these individual nodes are all homogeneous clones.  Office IT systems have all sorts of weird and wonderful beasties within it, from mail servers to gateways, printers to iPhones.  They all unite to create a whole.  You wouldn’t have all of these systems hosted one one server, that would be madness!  And for every server you had running live, you’d make sure you had at least a bare bones backup in case it went down.

The same goes for systems of business in general and subsectors specifically.  Different companies provide different services and products within a unified whole.  When one company or sector becomes dominant it works against the system as a whole because you are introducing a single point of failure … a company (or server) which is so large and important that it’s failure could bring the entire economy down.

Only the very smallest companies have al their IT systems hosted one server and one server alone.  Why is it that we think it’s the mark of a mature and developed economy to allow such points of failure to flourish?  Seems more than a little odd to me.

“OK OK,” I can hear you cry.  “I’ve got it and you’re right.  But you promised us Kittens …”

What about the kittens?

This morning, after dropping the kids off for school, I stopped off at my local shop to pick up a few supplies for the day.  We’ve lived in the area for over 10 years so they know me pretty well and before long the shopkeeper and I were chatting about old cats and how she had to put two of hers’ down within a matter of weeks.

“I’m amazed,” she said (paraphrase!), “How many people don’t think and don’t care for their pets.  The trouble is when you take them to leading animal welfare charities (the RSPCA and Blue Cross) they have to put them down.  They’ve simply got too many to cope with now.”

This, I realised, is a travesty.  There is a whole kitten and puppy producing industry out there, yet so many are produced and found to be surplus to requirements.  Is this any model for a business .. to produce something you know is not needed?

But then I thought, well this is a wonderful sustainability metaphor.  Over supply leading to waste.  You couldn’t put it in a more fluffy, anthropomorphic way.

Then I had another thought and it struck right at the roots of what we believe business to be.

Stop Killing Kittens!

There’s a myth in business that companies welcome competition.  On the whole, they don’t.  What most companies try to do is dominate and then eliminate the opposition.

This is commonly called “the buy out”.  So if you’re selling widgets and a company comes along which has an innovation which threatens you you have one of to options: compete with them, or buy them out.

The thing is that there are entrepreneurs all over the country with bright ideas about how to make a newer and better widget.  Many of these ideas should be allowed to flourish full maturity.  On the whole they don’t because those businesses are then bought by bigger companies.

Such buyouts are, in effect, killing kittens and destabilising business systems by introducing single points of failure.

The second point is more easy to understand.  If no small businesses are allowed to grow and thrive then how is resilience supposed to be built into the marketplace?  All that’s happening is that the older, stronger companies are killing off potential competitors in order to eliminate their competition.

This actually increases the likelihood of a single point of failure being created.  So our economic model encourages us to create unsustainable businesses.

The first point is just as salient.  In order for pet owners to have cats in their homes, hundreds if not thousands of cats are put down every year.  In the same way, hundreds or thousands of businesses are bought up in order to eliminate competition or acquire new technologies, services or customers.

Is this a sensible or sustainable way of doing business .. to kill the kittens in order to ensure the old, flea bitten tom cat survives?  I don’t think so.

 A new monopolies and mergers law

So I’d like to propose a new twist to corporate law, one which I hope will bring a new resilience into corporate activities.  The proposal is very simple … to allow new companies to register as independent companies which may not be bought out for a given period (say, 5 or 10 years).

The principle is sound.  Some US states already allow “B corps”, businesses whose corporate governance can take more into account than just shareholder value.  This is just an extension of the principle and says a company, on establishment, may be protected from predatory action for a number of years.

To be clear, I have no problem with entrepreneurs nor do I have an issue with those who wish to set up a business to be sold to a larger concern in the future.

But I do question whether this should be the norm for a small or micro business.  why can’t these enterprises survive and flourish in their local communities .. why should the norm be that they become an arm of some huge Murdochian (TM) empire?

That helps no-one .. it doesn’t help the social community and it doesn’t help the business community.  If we want a sustainable business environment we have to face one simple fact … we have to let the kittens live.

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The Market, News International, and Ethics

Posted July 7th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

We’ve had a little bit of a hiccup in the serene progress of our family life.  One of our children has had to spend several nights in hospital: nothing serious I’m happy to report, but the docs are puzzled over what caused the illness.  Good to know Homo Superioris knows so little when compared to Nature

Anyway, long and short meant that I bought The Guardian to keep me company (laptop’s useless without a WiFi data signal) .. and boy did my blood boil!

The article in question was about University tuition fees.  The UK has recently introduced fees for students and allowed universities to charge students up to £9,000 per year for their higher education (the debt to be repaid once they’re earning enough money).

The Guardian was shocked and surprised (gasp!) that most universities have opted to charge the full whack of £9,000 where the “normal” market expectation is that only the very best charge the highest and the rest undercut and compete on price.

Apparently (still according to The Guardian) this is because having a lower price gives the impression that the education is substandard, so you have to have the highest possible in order to compete. Double Gasp!!

Not for the first time I have to wonder which cloud cuckoo land The Guardian in living in.  We’re talking branding here, pure marketing.  It’s the reason you pay more for a VW than you do for a Skoda, more for an Audi than you do for a VW.  It’s nothing to do with the MANUFACTURE COST and precious little to do with the QUALITY of the product .. but EVERYTHING to do with the brand.

Thousands of everyday products are affected by this.  For example, one of those non-food essentials of life: batteries.  Over the years I’ve got used to paying up to £5 for 4 AA Duracell batteries .. you can imagine my surprise when I walked into a store and found I could buy a pack of 12 for under £3.  Needless to say, we bought several packs and counted our lucky stars.

Yes, Duracell is a brand, and yes I know I pay a premium for that brand.  But I also know that this store would not be selling these assets at a loss .. which means the mark up on the product from wholesale to retail (let alone manufacture to wholesale) must be huge.

This is the flip side of the market economy which I’m astounded that The Guardian is apparently innocent about.  Yes, it allows companies to compete and undercut one another on price; but it also allows companies to **charge as much as they can get away with**.

In other words it’s not just about the needs of the consumer but also about the greed of the supplier.  Once you establish a market in education (or healthcare) then that greed is what you’re encouraging.  So of course universities across the land ar charging as much as they can for their courses … in a society where monetary income and brand kudos is everything, wouldn’t you?

This article is not intended to be a hatchet job on the market economy or consumerism.  It is human instict to compete and strive to survive and nothing will change this.  However the way this has shaped our societies and economies does the majority of people no favours whatsoever.  As a recent report from the Austrian Society of Financial and Asset Managers puts it:

The financial, economic, and debt crisis, the nuclear catastrophe in Japan, and the crisis in the Arab region highlight the fact that we need to demand comprehensive global (investment) responsibility. We cannot carry on like this.

No, we cannot.  We cannot tolerate an elite making other peoples’ lives a misery to further their own ends.  We cannot tolerate the acceptance that because you are more wealthy you are more important.  And we cannot tolerate an economy which fleeces consumers and leaves them destitute and vulnerable to profiteering.

And yet .. we have a political class which refuses to challenge Rupert Murdoch because his owns over 20% of the country’s media (greater than the monopoly threshold), even when it is shown that his agents not only acted immorally but also interfered in a police investigation and may even have corrupted law enforcement officers.

So I invite you to choose your own word to describe this scene. Corrupt? Decedent? Fascist?  Either which way you have to accept this just isn’t working and we (WE, not the politicians) need to change things.

It’s not about The Environment, stupid

Posted June 27th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

As I’ve mentioned before, a significant part of my childhood was spent watching black and white silent comedies on BBC2.  Oddly enough though, I never really liked Charlie Chaplin.  This is probably because he’s alot deeper than justa slapstick merchant: the emotion and pathos is all his work is truly amazing.

Recently I came across Charlie Chaplin’s “Look up” speech from the end of The Great Dictator.  I’ve never seen the movie let alone this climax before and it really struck a chord.  Here’s one passage:

Greed has poisoned men’s souls – has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.

We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in: machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little: More than machinery we need humanity; More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me I say “Do not despair”.

(My thanks to The Clown Ministry for the transcript)

The Great Dictator, released in 1940, is a very thinly veiled condemnation of Nazism.  Yet there is little if anything in this speech which is not relevant today.  This set me thinking about comparative history.

Rewind a century ago or so and all the main European countries were engaged in military struggles with one another around the world.  Militarism, the philosophy of protecting your nation’s interests through armed conflict, was fashionable and all sides kept and maintained huge standing armies.

The idea that we’re now in an era of economic imperialism is nothing new but when you compare the old idea of a military industrial complex with today’s financial services structures, you realise we haven’t really come that far in the last 50 to 100 years.

So while we all stomp around doing our bits for environmentalism, CSR, sustainability and whatever gets you going, let’s just remember that it’s not *really* about that.  This is all about man learning to actually treat himself and his neighbours with respect and compassion, and not letting anything get in the way of that.

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The Demand for Business Development and Sales Professionals in the Waste Industry

Posted June 16th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Our visit to Sustainability Live in May confirmed our views that an increase demand for Waste Sales and Business Development professionals exists.  Having spoken to several exhibitors at the event, including leading Waste Companies, we found the waste industry to be nicely adjusting from the recession.  In line with this, the UK government is focussing attention on the development of the waste to energy sector, specifically within anaerobic digestion; which could generate up to seven per cent of the renewable energy required in the UK by 2020.

The waste industry is keen to attract people with a Sales and Business Development background in order to sell more; with the expanding markets of EfW, Recycling and Confidential Waste – there is also an increasing opportunity to sell more; more sales staff are required to capitalise on these opportunities according to Irfan Lohiya, Waste Recruitment Specialist at Allen & York.  These roles not only exist within Europe, as turnkey projects begin to unfold, such as Europe’s largest ever PFI recycling and waste project in Greater Manchester,  but this same trend is also occurring in the Middle East.  Rapid economic and industrial growth and an expanding population have been the major forces driving up the amount of waste generated by Gulf states.  Countries in the region produced over 22.2 million tons of municipal solid waste and 4.6 million tons of industrial solid waste in 2009, reflecting the need for more efficient waste management strategies.


By Vicky Kenrick at Allen & York

The Curious Case of Debenhams’ CSR

Posted June 6th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Somewhere in the last month or so I’ve been exceptionally privileged to have found myself chatting to a true institution in British broadcast media.  Someone like John Craven, but as this conversation was in confidence so I cannot tell you who.

To make life simple, let’s call this person John .. and let’s clarify that it’s NOT John Craven!

John has a Debenhams credit card and he’s recently moved house.  Like any good credit card holder he a) is always on top of his credit card obligations, and b) informed Debenhams of his change of address.

Then suddenly the person living at the old address starts receiving letters from Santander demanding payment on an outstanding credit card.


After a bit of digging about, John discovered that Santander was the bank which underwrote his Debenhams credit card and that there’d been a bit of a mix up with his payments.  Debenhams refunded the late payment charge which had been taken from John’s account in error but there, it appears, is where the buck stops.

Crucially, when John asked what had gone wrong he was referred by Debenhams to Santander and when he asked for an apology Debenhams were not forthcoming.

A righteous mess and, you may think, Debenhams did well to refund quickly once the error was pointed out.  True .. but….

So often in corporate responsibility reports and policies you see a statement saying “we will always act within the regulatory framework of the country of our operations”, or some other phrase.  In other words “we won’t break the law”.

It’s always astonished me that companies feel it necessary to put this is black and white.  This anecdote from Debenhams shows why.

Debenhams acting illegally?

That Debenhams took money for a charge which was not owed was not in itself illegal, although some minor infraction of Direct Debit regulations may have made it so.

However Debenhams’ refusal to apologise is certainly unethical, and their treatment of John is definitely illegal.

The crux of both issues is that John had a Debenhams card, not a Santander one.  His contract was with Debenhams, and it’s of no concern to him to whom Debenhams sub-contract the service to.  This is basic contract law.


John has passed on details of his change of address to Debenhams.  From his point of view it is Debenhams’ responsibility to get his address changed, not Santander’s.  That demand letters started turning up at John’s old address is a breach of the Data Protection Act and although the letters were coming from Santander it was Debenhams’ responsibility to ensure the address was correct.

Continuing on, Debenhams referred John to Santander once they’d refunded the money.  This they are not allowed to do.  Debenhams are contracted to John to provide a service.  Should that service fail they don’t have the option to refer John to the subcontractor : they have to explain and make good themselves.  So this too was illegal.

As a side note, the new occupier of John’s old house was so upset by the whole affair they threatened legal action against John!

So two illegal acts and a distraught third party threatening legal action because of Debenhams (not Santander) failing to fulfil their basic responsibilities.  I’m still lost as to why Debenhams believe an apology isn’t necessary.

So let’s Argos it

John, understandabily, is not a happy bunny but he tells me he’s run out of steam and probably won’t be persuing the matter any further.  I know John has done some time as a consumer affairs champion .. that he feels exhausted by the whole thing tells you something of the battle which has had to be gone through just to get the refund.

The sad thing is that this case is by no means unique.

A few years ago I bough an electric heater from Argos. The heater had a three year warranty and about 3 months short of the three years it broke down.  So I took it back to Argos to demand a refund.  “Oh no,” said Argos, “You have to contact the manufacturer.”

Rather than get into a protracted arguement about contract law, I pointed out that the manufacturer’s own instructions said that I should return the item to the retailer in case of breakdown.  At this they folded, and I’m immensely grateful to that manufacturer for putting my rights into black and white rather than allowing Argos to give me the run around.

I remind you again of the common “we will abide by the laws of the country in which we operate” statements in CSR policies and reports.

It’s rubbish.

If CSR means anything it should mean that companies take responsibility for the contracts they enter into with their clients and customers.  However, it appears most appear to want to shift the blame if possible, whether it’s legal or not.

This is deceitful, illegal and wrong.  So forget all about Carbon Emissions and Human Rights .. let’s at least have companies who are prepared to stand up their statutory duties.

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Challenges of Recruitment in the Waste Management Sector

Posted May 19th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

The challenges facing waste and resource management over the next five years can be encapsulated within three convenient categories of economic, sustainability and technological issues.


The UK Government has a 2020 vision of resource efficiency, pollution reduction and atmospheric clean up.


International Sustainability Recruitment Consultants, Allen & York explore current challenges and the future of recruitment within the waste industry, including identifying the skill shortages; current recruitment trends and how recruitment will be affected but also have a positive impact on addressing these challenges.


Addressing the Economic Challenge

The pressure within the UK to provide cost-effective environmentally sustainable waste management has never been so great.  Traditionally local authorities have relied on landfill as a cheap and local way of getting rid of waste but the supply of landfill sites is finite and unsustainable in the long-term. Due to increasing pressure from the European Union and targets set by the new Waste Framework Directive, an economical and sustainable waste management policy is needed to avoid heavy penalties for not complying with these EU Directives.  The Waste Framework Directive requires that 50% of all household waste is recycled and in order to achieve this target the UK needs to build and operate specific large-scale recycling units and update its waste management infrastructure.

Significant inroads have been made into this recycling and waste reduction already, as every household with curbside collection will confirm, however more initiatives are required to hit these ambitious targets.  The launch of a multi-million pound waste infrastructure fund was announced by Boris Johnson at the beginning of climate week on March 21st and is one of many pioneering schemes that will help make London and the UK as a whole, a world leader in finding new ways to manage waste.

The fund aims to provide investment for projects that will help utilise the massive value of the UK’s waste through initiatives such as power plants to convert waste biomass to clean energy and facilities for recycling waste products such as food and plastics.  Interestingly this initiative focuses particularly on how to exploit the cash value of waste and use it to generate green energy whilst creating jobs and developing valuable exportable skills.

With this move towards more economic ways to deal with the worlds waste, comes a heightened demand for waste management and energy from waste professionals (EfW).

‘There is a £2 billion-a-year building boom in EfW plants nationally over the next 15 years’[1]

In terms of the effect that this move will have on the recruitment sector – International Sustainability Recruitment Consultancy, Allen & York witness an increase in candidates with transferable skills gaining successful employment.

For example, experience and skills gained from landfill, power plant and engineering projects are able to be put to use within these newly created EfW opportunities including EfW Project Management roles. Whilst chemical engineering and chemical processing skills can be transferred to Bioenergy roles, providing the candidate with a move towards the sustainable, renewable energy area of waste management.

Energy from waste could provide a fifth of the UK’s electricity needs

It is crucial that the UK invest in alternatives to fossil fuels. Using waste as fuel can have important environmental benefits.  It can not only provide a safe and cost-effective way of waste disposal but can also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

As waste management climbs the political and environmental agenda, industry experts respond with other innovative ways of processing waste, for example anaerobic digestion, the latest method of in-vessel treatment of waste.  One of the most recent commissions is the farm-scale anaerobic digestion plant at Reaseheath College Cheshire, which is based on two small scale, low capital systems and can be replicated commercially on farms or in horticultural businesses.

Waste professionals with a plant design, construction or an operations background may be able to benefit from these new opportunities says Irfan Lohiya, Waste Recruitment Specialist at Allen & York. In addition, waste management opportunities within the clean tech and clean energy areas are also likely to increase as the UK becomes armed with the funds that can greatly increase the move to a low carbon economy.   Simon Brooks, European Investment Bank Vice President for the United Kingdom said: ‘Using waste to generate clean energy can be an important element to the contribution to climate action.’

The management of waste is one of the key themes of ‘sustainable development’[2]

The UK is making significant steps towards making the waste industry more sustainable.  Major improvements have occurred in the UK; in 1997 only 7% of England’s household waste was recycled. It has almost quadrupled to 27% in 2010 – a tremendous achievement by the public and local authorities.  94% of households now receive a doorstep collection service from their local council for recyclable materials and there has been a 50% expansion in kerbside recycling services in just one year, from 2009 to 2010. The UK EfW sector is undergoing unprecedented changes, with stakeholders having to constantly adapt to new legislation and evolving market forces. The concept “zero waste” is gaining prominence as the Government seeks to encourage waste prevention.


The Chartered Institution of Waste Management (CIWM) claims that the sector is expected to almost double its workforce by 2017 in recycling alone.

Employment opportunities in waste management have traditionally been within the public sector at local and national government, regulation within the Environment Agency, and the industrial land fill sector within waste disposal companies, says Lohiya.  However, with the development of sustainable waste management strategies, focusing on better uses for resources by collecting, sorting, recycling, remanufacturing and refurbishing materials, new opportunities have arisen for employment in the recycling and consulting arena. Research undertaken by the Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory (WAMITAB) identified a total of 65,000 jobs in waste management, and recycling is one of the main sub divisions continuing to show growth.

Reflecting the waste management industry’s drive to enhance standards of skill and training across the sector, a major initiative is already under way at WINTO – Waste Industry National Training Organisation, with the development of a workforce development plan for the waste sector.  It highlights relevant priorities for the area and specifies how to achieve greater success for employees and employers.


Future Opportunities in Waste


Europe maintains a strong position in the global recycling market. The UK’s first fully integrated plastic packaging sorting and recycling facility has launched this February 2011, which demonstrates not only the environmental benefits, but also the commercial and technological viability for mixed plastics recycling.

Germany has also been a key contributor to Europe’s strong position due to its technological leadership as well as strong commitment to addressing environmental concerns such as waste management through active legislation, it is anticipated that recycling in the region will get a boost from 2011 onwards.

The next three to five years is a critical period in the evolution of waste and resource management and if you are looking for a new role with this industry, Allen & York are ideally placed to help.

Our aim is to provide all those seeking to work within the waste management industry with as many options as possible, by partnering with international waste management contractors and waste consultancies, as well as local authority departments concerned with waste and recycling activities.

You will discover a selection of waste jobs within; Recycling, Landfill, Energy from Waste (EfW), Waste Management and Wastewater.

By Vicky Kenrick from Sustainability Recruitment Specialists, Allen & York.


[2] Williams P, 1998. Waste Treatment and Disposal. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester

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EU Mandatory CSR Moves Closer

Posted May 13th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

I wanted to headline this “EU Mandatory CSR Confirmed” .. but the trouble is I can’t confirm it.

The European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ) released this statement last week:

Last week, (the EU) confirmed in the Single Market Act that they would address non-financial disclosure by private companies through a legislative proposal, due before the end of the year.

(my emphasis).

This is the clearest sign yet that the EU is preparing to make non-financial reporting mandatory.  The trouble is, I cannot find a source closer to the EU than the ECCJ for the story.

At the beginning of April the EU released 12 priorities for the Single Market Act (which is due to be issued by the end of the year).  This didn’t directly address non-financial reporting … instead it contained this intriguing priority:

8. Social entrepreneurship
As well as legitimately seeking financial profit, certain businesses also choose to pursue the general-interest objectives of social, ethical or environmental development. This sector generates growth and employment. To encourage this, we need to take full advantage of the formidable financial tool which is the European asset management industry. We will propose a European framework for mutual investment funds, so as to amplify the effect of the existing national initiatives by offering these funds the opportunities provided by the Single Market.

… which brings us pointing more in the direction of SRI and sustainable stock exchanges than disclosure rules.  However, another priority also catches my eye:

11. Regulatory environment for business
Businesses still too often view the Single Market as an area of constraints, not of opportunities. Their lives must be simplified by reducing regulatory and administrative constraints. To achieve this, the Commission is therefore proposing a simplification of the accounting Directives as regards financial reporting obligations, and a reduction of the administrative burden, especially for SMEs.

Now, I wonder whether the EU is preparing the way for integrated reporting proposals; lifting the burden of financial reporting but broadening the scope to include non financial metrics?

To be honest, this would surprise me.  I favour integrated reporting as an end goal, but I don’t believe non-financial reporting is anywhere near mature enough yet.

However, this appears to be the way the EU is thinking.  It’s probably motivated by this consultation on non-financial disclosure (PDF) which found that only companies and standard setters supported the status quo and EVERYONE supported integrated reporting.

In other mandatory CSR news, it appears India hasn’t quite given up on its proposal that a mandatory minimum of 2 percent of corporate profits be spent on CSR .

This was it’s intention at the start of the year, but in the face of overwhelming business opposition it had to retrench and opt for a “pay or explain” model under which companies who don’t spend at least 2 percent of profits are obliged to explain why not.

Now the Indian government has introduced new proposals which will force the mining sector to spend at least 2 percent of its profits on CSR projects.  This is ontop of proposals which demand that mining companies share 26 percent of their profits with a mine’s local community!

Quite where India is going with this I’m not sure (and am not the best person to comment).  However, it’s clear that there are moves afoot in some of the world’s largest economies to make CSR mandatory.  And that can only be a good thing.

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What is Regulation on environmental issues for?

Posted May 13th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

What is Regulation for? This question is clearly of some interest to the current Government – you could be excused for thinking that their answer is “nothing useful – it’s all a burden on business and is holding back economic growth”. The PM has launched the Red Tape Challenge - on the website there is a very large banner saying “it’s time to fight back and cut red tape” and “we need your help.”I’m surprised they haven’t wheeled out the picture of General Kitchener – “your country needs you” to cut red tape.

This is interesting in itself, but there’s more. The Govt have announced they are going to use “crowd-sourcing” to choose which Regulations (by which they mean Legislation as well as Regulation) to keep and which to ditch.

Gone are the days when double firsts from Oxbridge vied with each other to rise through the ranks of the Civil Service so they could put their finely tuned, classically-trained minds to the tricky task of devising brilliant solutions to the nation’s problems, through – you’ve guessed it – legislation and regulation. All that’s in the past now, a hopelessly out of date, fusty and outmoded approach. Now it’s the “wisdom of the crowd”, via Twitter or whatever, that will determine how things get done, how problems get solved etc. Tweet me if you think this is madness.

Back to the Red Tape Challenge! Here’s the letter from the PM: he lays out it in plain English. Regulations are bad for you and your country needs you to help identify into which category each and every Regulation (and Law) will be dumped, I mean put – here are the categories to put them in:

Regulations (and Laws) that:

  • should simply be scrapped;
  • have the right aim, but one which could be achieved without regulation;
  • could be made simpler, better designed, or consolidated with other regulations
  • could be implemented in a less burdensome way, or
  • are well-designed, good ones that should be kept.

Do see what they’ve done? The implication is that all Regulations and laws are bad, the first 4 bullet points can be paraphrased as: 1) scrap 2) scrap 3) simplify 4) don’t enforce. Only the fifth point relates to laws etc that are doing well and should be kept.

But hold on a minute. Aren’t there some laws (and regulations) that aren’t strong enough, or are in theory well-designed but inadequately enforced? YES! I have a good example here, the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) Regulation 2006 (number 2).

Only just last week I was informed of a farmer in Herefordshire who had bought some nice wildlife-rich meadows in 2009 and he has been busily destroying their wildlife, making them more productive. You might think there was a law to stop this sort of environmental destruction. There is, it’s the EIA (Agriculture) Regulation – it’s supposed to protect semi-natural or uncultivated areas (say a nice wildflower meadow) from significant effects ofintensive agriculture. But it doesn’t work – it’s too weak and poorly enforced. There’s another case going on at the moment in the Peak District – a large area of wildlife-rich meadow. The EIA (regs) cannot help there either – so the meadows are getting damaged. Oh and there’s another case in Warwickshire where a county wildlife site is threatened with destruction – can the EIA (Agriculture) Regs help? Sorry, no.

Despite the inadequacies of the EIA (Agriculture) Regs, all the evidence points towards the fact that the environment has benefited from legislation to protect it; all the way back to the clean air acts, which saved thousands of lives. When Sites of Special Scientific Interest were first created in 1949, they had no protection – they were literally just lines on maps. Many many wonderful wildlife sites were tragically destroyed in the 1950s, 60s 70s and 80s because the legislation was ineffectual. It was only with the introduction of European legislation such as the Birds and Habitats Directives, which had to be enshrined in UK law, that SSSI protection was strengthened and the destruction started to slow down. Even into the mid-90s SSSI grasslands were still being ploughed up – it was the ploughing of Offham Down SSSI that led directly to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000, which further strengthened the protection of SSSIs. Just the existence of well-designed legislation acts as an effective deterrent, without cases being taken to court.

The truth is most of us are generally well-behaved, most of the time. Even if everyone was well-behaved all of the time, there will still be occasions when the weak or those without voices, need to be protected, by law. The environment has no voice, and is too often taken for granted or exploited – it needs to be protected, by laws. It’s just the same as laws that protect children, or vulnerable adults, from exploitation or cruelty.

So – what’s to be done? We could join in the crowd-sourcing, and that would probably be a good idea, otherwise it is likely that the main source of suggestions will be from libertarians claiming all legislation is bad. But we also need to point out that for the environment, legislation is good – it protects the environment when other approaches (education, advice and incentives) do not work.

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Chevron tries to shaft The Amazon .. again

Posted May 2nd, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Have you heard?  It’s despicable.  It’s what gives corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability a bad name.  It’s a travesty.  It’s bloody minded.  It should be condemned.  It MUST be condemned.

I’m talking about Chevron’s decision to drop its lawsuit against Steven Donziger, the lawyer who represented the Amazonian indigenous people in their long running pollution suit against Texaco (now part of Chevron).  You still don’t know what I’m talking about? OK, here’s a big brief synopsis…

Texaco goes into the Amazon. Drills for oil. Makes a huge, ecologically damaging mess.  So far there’s nothing controversial in what I’ve said, but then comes the next bit.  Texaco pays money to the Ecuadorian government to clear up the mess on their behalf and considers its hands washed clean of the issue (1992).  Then Texaco is bought by Chevron (2001).. so the issue becomes Chevron’s.

Sitck your fingers in your ears and go laa laa laa.  Years of twists and turns leave Chevron and the Amazonian population still slugging it out and finally in 2010 an Ecuadorian court determines that Chevron ought to pay $9 billion to clean up the mess.  Case settled? No .. not yet…

Chevron filed papers in a US court alleging a massive racketeering conspiracy against the Amazonian people.  The papers name several people as masterminds of this conspiracy, including Steven Donziger, their attorney, who was supposed to be the conspiracy’s mastermind.

And now Chevron drop their allegation against Donziger.

So we’re left with a conspiracy without a mastermind!  To ordinary person this would be ridiculous.  Like carrying on a government without a Prime Minister or President, or a company without a CEO.  But not to Chevron.  Oh no.  They can allege a massive conspiracy without saying who was creating the conspiracy. Weird, but true.

To cut a long story short, Texaco played games about the pollution they created for a decade and then Chevron played games for another decade after they bought Texaco.  We’re now around 25 years since they issue was first raised.  Yet Chevron take no responsibility for their actions.  Or rather, they say they’ve paid money to the Ecuadorian government and when it’s suggested they didn’t pay enough, they shrug and say “that was the deal”.

This is not responsible behaviour.

What’s more, when you look at Texaco and Chevron’s behaviour in the courts it’s perfectly obvious that they’re trying to avoid responsibility through all possible legal means.  Which bit of that sentence do you want to give emphasis to.. AVOID RESPONSIBILITY or ALL POSSIBLE LEGAL MEANS ?  Ultimately, the company’s strategy is about protecting the board’s collective arse and maximising profits for the shareholders. Stakeholders are nothing. For Chevron, these are still fuzzy coloured people with feathers in their hair ….

While this cloud hangs over Chevron they can never be considered a responsible company, and the more they protest the greater their sin (ahem!) becomes.  Their PR firm should have told them to fold long before now, because all they’re doing is damaging their reputation.

But reputation is another story entirely.

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