Responsible Business: Jeans & the Circular Economy – Automobiles & the Old Economy

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I was interested to read that several of the world’s leading jean brands have been working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to lay down a set of Jean Redesign Guidelines based on circular economy principles.  The new redesigned jeans will enter the shops next year.  The new principles, in addition to focussing on the health, safety, and rights of workers in the fashion industry present minimum requirements for:

  • Recyclability: Jeans made with greater than 98% cellulose fibres, designing out or minimising metal rivets, and all additional materials should be easy to disassemble.
  • Material Health: Jeans fibres sourced from regenerative, organic or transitional farming methods; free of toxic chemicals and conventional electroplating; the banning of techniques such as stone finishing, potassium permanganate, and sandblasting.
  • Durability: Jeans able to withstand a minimum of 30 machine home washes while still meeting minimum quality requirements and have labels with clear information on product care.
  • Traceability: Confirmation of how elements of the guidelines will be made available, compliant companies will be able to use the ‘Jeans Redesign’ logo, and an annual review of the logo annually based on compliance with the reporting requirements.

Participating ‘denim’ organisations in the scheme currently comprise

Brands:  Bestseller, Boyish Jeans, C&A, Gap, H&M Group, HNST, Lee, Mud Jeans, Outerknown, Tommy Hilfiger, and Reformation

Manufacturers:   Arvind Limited, Hirdaramani, Kipas, and Sai-Tex.

The initiative represents an interesting case study of organisations adopting a responsible leadership approach to address unsustainable supply chain practices, build trust and co-operating in advance of any need for governmental regulation.  It also demonstrates how even a long existing product such as your pair of blue jeans can be redesigned to add new value & continued economic growth within an existing industry, and ultimately recycled back into new jeans at their end of use.

In contrast this week, it looks as if the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a political lobbying trade group (motto – Driving Innovation!) representing 12 of the world’s largest car manufacturers (BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo USA) have been lobbying the Trump administration to rewrite existing laws to lower fuel efficiency and fines for missing emissions targets.

Three interesting issues struck me in this case:

  1. Jaguar Land Rover whose range is almost 80% diesel powered have been lobbying the UK government hard for aid to help switch their range over to electric vehicles and to maintain jobs in the UK, but who seem to aspire to other ethics abroad.
  2. The absence of Honda from the group – who are well on with their fleet conversions towards mileage efficiency, lower air emissions or electric power, and finally
  3. The lobbying groups concern for the harm that non-compliance fines for fuel inefficiency would have on auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers – as opposed to the harm poor urban air quality already has on innocent members of society – which when last checked also included auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers!

In the wake of the VW-emission rigging scandal and under President Obama, The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was on track to effectively treble the cost of fines levied against vehicles that did not achieve their claimed mileage efficiency.   In February, the Trump administration broke off talks with California’s clean air regulators, and last Friday, the administration said that NHTSA would be issuing final rules suspending these regulations.  Eighteen US states, including California, have responded by vowing to sue the Trump administration if the vehicle emissions requirement freeze becomes finalized.  Now the Trump administration seems to be trying a different tack by rewriting the rules to lower fines for missing emissions targets.

The two scenarios represent two very different approaches to the challenges that signal whether these companies have a strong enough organisational culture to demonstrate to the marketplace that they are modern responsible businesses and responsible players within their respective marketplaces. 

It has been clear for many years concerning the global impact that cheap non-recyclable clothing and fossil-fuel based power-train automobiles have been having on our world.  The evidence has been there for years, and companies have had time to prepare their responses to the social and environmental challenges faced.  Whilst it looks as if the clothing industry is now actively waking up to the challenge of new economic models and consumer values, the automotive industries within the western world, still reliant on their technologies of the past and unable to effectively manufacture many of the future components of tomorrow’s vehicles , still exhibit a worrying tendency to remain in the past.  

Two trends I can see myself being affected by in the future:

  • Within 10 years effectively ‘hiring’ my clothes from a trusted retailer who will take them back for recycling at their end of life
  • Within 3 years obtaining an electric/hybrid vehicle whose parts and technology primarily originates from the Far East.

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting and training encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals.  Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.

Gesture Politics and Climate Change

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83% of UK citizens are worried about climate change – and it now appears that Mrs May is also one of them!

69% of Americans are worried about climate change, and equally it appears that President Trump is now one of them!

In the month that Mrs May prepares to leave office, and in which Donald Trump ramps up his re-election campaign. It has come as a surprise to many of us that both have stated action on climate change and environmental action after several years of active political silence, climate change denial or the dismantling of environmental protection laws. 

Could it be that they are now worried about their political legacies or is it a sudden burst of conviction after finally sitting down and reading the evidence of their own scientists?  

On Monday, whilst extreme flooding in Washington, D.C. flooded the White House basement (no joke intended), the ‘coal is good’ US President spent 45 minutes delivered some “remarks on America’s environmental leadership” and touting his efforts to preserve the US environment.  Even taking personal credit for the emissions reductions that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan delivered, whilst berating Obama’s climate legacy, calling it “a relentless war on American energy.”

However, he still seems unable to utter the words “climate change” which were omitted from the entire environmental address.  Instead he set out his strategy for how he might talk about the environment in the lead-up to 2020 – focusing only on how he might talk about conservation, clean air and water, marine litter, and the impacts of the red algal tide on Florida’s businesses that have originated from a relaxation of US agricultural laws,  leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff over the last few years!

Just days from leaving office, Mrs May also took time out to leave her climate change legacy – legally committing to ending the UK’s contribution to global warming by 2050.  A bold stroke if she also leaves no wriggle room for a get-out clause by her successors.  The announcement was also accompanied by the complete lack of a detailed action plan, suggesting that the whole initiative may have been last minute attempt to create a legacy achievement for a PM forced out of office by her Brexit failure.

Like many people who have worked for most of their career in the responsible leadership and environmental management professions, the brazenness of these cynical gesture politics when politicians know their time is up or are seeking re-election is sickening – and demonstrates their lack of leadership!

Is it time to retire ‘climate change’ for ‘climate crisis’?

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I spent a lot of time reflecting on this article and how the emotive language surrounding climate change and other environmental topics is being altered more and more within media reports. 

In respect of the global IA climate change community, what struck me most was not the language we use in EIS or Environmental Reports but whether our own behaviours as a professional community has failed to alert others to the significance of what our words are conveying.  If it takes a 16 year old Swedish student two years to activate the global population on the crisis we face regarding carbon emissions, then it is only fair that we hold up a mirror to our own activities and ask ourselves – ‘What have we been doing individually and collectively for the last 3 decades in comparison?’     

Whilst I am not advocating the use of such emotive language in our work or debates with society, perhaps our resolve to lead on climate change in our work, how we communicate or emphasis our views within the institutions we support, and how we could have placed greater emphasis on challenging substandard polies, plans and programmes needs greater consideration and to become part of a more general debate on professional leadership traits within our IA standards of conduct. 

If we as IA professionals agree it is a global crisis, then surely the first steps for that community in general is for others to see that we are treating it as a ‘crisis’ in our work and words.  I would value your insights, views and feedback?

Carbon Capture – but with a difference

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Occidental Petroleum (Houston USA) has released plans disclosing the company’s intention to construct the world’s largest direct air capture facility in Texas oil.  What makes this investment stand out to Leading Green is the fact that it will be in partnership with Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company backed by Bill Gates.

Unlike other forms of carbon capture technology for carbon storage which I have worked on in the UK, this claims to extract CO2 directly from the environment.  The technology claims to capture CO2 from atmospheric air, converting it into a purified form for use or storage.  It achieves this within a closed loop system, adding only water and energy, with the output taking the form of a concentrated stream of compressed CO₂ gas.  This captured CO₂ offers a range of potential environmental & chemical opportunities from industrial CO2 use, urea yield boosting, beverage carbonation and food processing, the production of low-carbon liquid fuel, carbon storage with or without enhanced oil or gas recovery.

In this case Occidental Petroleum would use the captured carbon to help pump hard-to-reach oil out of one of Texas’ shale oil field.   I am usually cautious when the words ‘shale gas’ and ‘carbon storage’ are concerned, but in the move towards climate change adaptation there has to be transition points along the graph between high carbon use – low carbon use and zero-carbon technologies.  Industrial & societal transition to a low carbon economy cannot be achieved overnight.   

In this case Occidental Petroleum & Carbon Engineering claim that the plant once on stream will remove over 500,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year – this it is claimed will offset the drilling and eventual burning of the shale oil that will be extracted — potentially bringing the overall operation towards a zero carbon balance in emissions.

What is often ignored in climate adaptation strategies is the requirement not only to significantly cut emissions across various high CO2 sectors, but also to move towards zero/low carbon emissions where it is achievable in partnership with significant carbon capture to remove the CO2 that has (and will be still be) entering the atmosphere.  Increased atmospheric carbon capture through natural or industrial chemical routes will be key to dropping, and dare I say, managing future global temperature rises.

So I wish this project well, as it takes us into new territory and a new way of thinking both about new energy technology but what needs to be achieved where industry and societies seek to continue to exploit fossil fuels and live within carbon-controlled economies.  However, the goal across all components of human life must be negative carbon release. 

The facility is due to be completed in 2023, and I hope that Occidental Petroleum, under its CSR or ESC policies places the environmental impact assessment statement on line for the global climate change community to examine (we expect a very comprehensive and waffle free section on climate change!).  In truth, this technology is still in its early stages.

Here at Leading Green we hope it is a success and that it is commercially viable in meeting its zero carbon claims, but it does raise some interesting regulatory & land-use planning questions if the technology proves successful:

  • The willingness of civil councils to actively promote within land planning, zoning and other social regulatory policies the ‘political’ presumption in favour to develop carbon neutral technologies.
  • The technological ability and capacity of environmental regulators, environmental health officers and environmental consultancies to undertake and verify the mass balance carbon calculations that will form the beneficial claims of these plants.
  • The regulatory control to ensure net-zero or net positive C-capture within these plants’ over thier commercial life; and
  • Clarity on other carbon-demanding elements within the technology & plant, its components and feedstocks that back up the claims of carbon neutrality within such a plant’s mass balance if the technology achieves global expansion. 

Climate Change Transition – can you see the changes yet?

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Climate Change transition can be hard to identify within the operational investment plans within some oil & gas giants.

At the IAIA 2019 conference in Brisbane last week, several authors delivered papers on current & future oil + gas investment projects and programmes that would be rolled out over the next decade.  The local press was also reporting on new coal investment plans for Queensland, and within a 2-day Leadership in EIA training programme I led with Claire Gronow of Bristol University in Brisbane, several of the course’s experienced EIA participants were employees or IFC/Government officials with oversight of new fossil fuel projects coming through the investment chain. 

Yes, they were all dealing diligently with any environmental & social risks arising on site, but it was hard to define any clear signs of climate change transition or adaptation within the corporate business strategies of their parent companies, or any corporate shift away from fossil fuel exploitation.

This concern has been backed up by analysis from Global Witness in April that identified close to $5 trillion of planned investment in exploration and extraction from new oil & gas fields.  This the authors concluded is incompatible with reaching the world’s climate goals.  The report also concluded that despite rhetoric to the contrary, the oil and gas sector’s future investment plans remain drastically incompatible with limiting climate change.

From recent experience, I concur with these unfortunate conclusions.  If politicians and businesses are increasingly tempted to use the word ‘emergency’ in respect of climate change, there is an obligation on them to demonstrate thier own response and strategic action they are taking to address the ‘emergency’.   As sustainability and IA professionals we are working hard to mitigate the unintended consequences of Man’s exploitation of cheap carbon-based energy and advocating for greater sustainability within business practices. Future climate change transition now requires more than advocacy, it demands action and a strategic shift in the mindset of Governments and Boardroom leaders.  The solutions and advice are out there to be called upon, but action is an individual responsibility.