Friday, July 21, 2017

How Can I Help?

Here's the Sustainable Futures Report  for Friday, 21st July. Find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or at

First of all, let me welcome my newest Patron. It’s Terrill Flandro. Thanks, Terrill, for showing your support for the Sustainable Futures Report at and becoming a Foundation Supporter. More about Patreon at the end of this report.

Welcome Terrill Flandro.

As usual, links to my sources are on the blog at


What can I do about climate change? Does it make any difference if I recycle? How can I affect global challenges when there are multinational corporations which seem to be set in the opposite direction? Can we really do anything about population, pollution and climate change? How can I help?

These are all questions which come up time and again when people realise how large the challenges which face us are. I thought I'd use this report to try and answer some of those questions and I was inspired to do this partly by a quotation repeated by Paul Holbrook at the recent Community Energy England Conference. He said, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

So let’s look at how we can be not one in a million, but one of a million like-minded people determined to get things done.

Four Key Actions
You may have seen headlines in the press recently about the things you should do to protect the environment and reduce climate change and the things that you can do but will not make much difference. They were based on an article published in Environmental Research Letters entitled:
The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions.

Some of the research that I do for these reports is quite tortuous. It may start out with a Sun headline, (Oh, OK, perhaps The Guardian then), but it can end up almost anywhere. In this case this Environmental Research Letter is based on work by Seth Wynes who is currently at the University of British Columbia. He produced this paper while he was an MSc student studying under Kim Nicholson, Associate Professor of Sustainability Science at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS) in Lund, Sweden. That’s why you can find all about this, including video and excellent infographics on her website at

So what does this report tell us we should do? The idea that caught many of the headlines was: “Have fewer children.” Bit late for some of us. And it’s certainly not as simple as that.

Let me quote the full abstract of the article, which I think I’m entitled to do under the Creative Commons licence.

Current anthropogenic climate change is the result of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere, which records the aggregation of billions of individual decisions. Here we consider a broad range of individual lifestyle choices and calculate their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries, based on 148 scenarios from 39 sources. We recommend four widely applicable high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions: having one fewer child (an average for developed countries of 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year), living car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoiding airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight) and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). These actions have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling (four times less effective than a plant-based diet) or changing household lightbulbs (eight times less). Though adolescents poised to establish lifelong patterns are an important target group for promoting high-impact actions, we find that ten high school science textbooks from Canada largely fail to mention these actions (they account for 4% of their recommended actions), instead focusing on incremental changes with much smaller potential emissions reductions. Government resources on climate change from the EU, USA, Canada, and Australia also focus recommendations on lower-impact actions. We conclude that there are opportunities to improve existing educational and communication structures to promote the most effective emission-reduction strategies and close this mitigation gap.

So in summary there are four things you should do, in order of impact:

  1. Have fewer children
  2. Get rid of your car
  3. Avoid air travel
  4. Live on a plant-based diet

The report also demonstrates that most public information emphasises actions like changing your lightbulbs, recycling and washing laundry in cold water which are good in themselves but have a marginal effect on carbon reduction.

Smaller Families
According to the average annual carbon footprint (CO2 equivalents) for a UK resident is around 13 tonnes. I couldn’t immediately see how that could lead to a saving of 59 tonnes per year by not having a child. This is based on a 2009 paper by Murtaugh and Schlax published in Global Environmental Change. (I told you this was tortuous.) Their thesis is that you and your partner are each responsible for one half of your child’s lifetime GHG emissions. But wait, that child will on average also have children and you will be responsible for one quarter of each of those children’s lifetime emissions. And one eighth of your great-grandchildren’s emissions, and so on ad infinitum. That’s how they get to 59 tonnes per annum. They postulate that each child adds 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of the average female (and presumably the average male as well,) which is 5.7 times their lifetime emissions. 

But is this right?
There is some controversy over whether Wynes and Nicholson have interpreted Murtaugh and Schlax correctly. There is a link on my blog to an article headed “No, Having One Child Does Not Add 60 Tons Per Year to Your Carbon Footprint”. I’m going to do some more digging on this and see if I can set up an interview. 

Lose the Car
The next most important way of reducing your carbon footprint that they recommend is by giving up your car. That saves far less than the suggested 60 tonnes from having fewer children, only 2.4 tonnes per annum, but far more than anything else. Driving a hybrid car is better than driving a petrol or diesel car and driving an electric car is even better. But driving no car at all is best, because living car-free reduces the need to build more roads and parking spaces, and supports higher-density urban design, which more efficient cars do not.

Don’t fly
Air travel - a transatlantic round trip costs 1.6 tonnes of CO2e - is a pretty easy saving for many people, especially if they don’t have grandchildren in Australia.

Go Veggie
And then there’s the plant-based diet, which saves 0.8 of a tonne each year. I have to admit I’m not a vegetarian and certainly not a vegan. My problem is that I like meat and I’m not much good at preparing vegetarian food that I find appetising. Something perhaps I should look at again. 

Do have a look at Kim Nicholas’s website for the full report and the other carbon-saving strategies that they examined.

Spread the Word
One of the clearest messages that comes out of all this is that spreading the word and making people aware of the issues is an important action. Lobbying politicians and joining campaign groups helps too. Talk to your employer. A while ago the Sustainable Futures Report covered the Green Supply Chain. Is that relevant to your work? We can live the talk and do all the low and medium impact activities like changing lightbulbs, recycling, washing in cold water, changing to a hybrid and so on. Our lifestyle can be a talking point and conversation starter so we can pass on the wider message.

Action this Day!
Here are some other things you can consider:

Join a local community energy group. 
These non-profit organisations exist all over the world and set up solar farms, wind turbines or small hydro schemes to provide energy for local users. The electricity is typically sold for less than the major energy companies would charge and the revenue is sufficient to repay the cost to the shareholders with interest; usually more than you would get from a high-street savings account.  coordinates share issues for community organisations and you can find investment opportunities on their website. If you are considering investing you should take appropriate professional advice and be aware that past performance is no guide to the future as the sun can go in, the wind may drop and rivers dry up.

Support charities such as 

They say:
“598 million people in Africa alone have no access to electricity. Without electricity families have no clean source of light, leaving millions to rely on expensive and dangerous alternatives such as homemade kerosene lamps. These lamps are a poor source of light; they emit toxic black smoke, eat up to 15% of a family’s income and are extremely hazardous.”

Solar-Aid is distributing solar-powered lanterns throughout Africa.

They say:
“With a solar light, everything changes. These little lamps are safe, clean and affordable. They give off hours of light in the evening so families can earn, learn and feel safe after dark. Just one lamp can transform the fortunes of an entire family and is the first step on an energy ladder to full electrification.”

You can find out how to support Solar-Aid on their website. You can also learn more about their progress from the new book of their founder at

Join a car club. 
Car clubs are not specifically mentioned in the Wynes/Nicholson report, but they will surely help you to make savings, especially as most of them offer hybrids and electric cars. But of course it’s still a car and still needs all the infrastructure from roads to parking spaces. Get a bike? Fine in fine weather. Go by train? How long will it take for HS2 to recoup the carbon emissions created in its construction? In my view it will never do it, and in any case I don’t expect to live long enough to see it open, but that’s another story.

Why Climate Change Matters
Let’s just take a moment to review why climate change is such an important issue. 

Back to Environmental Research Letters. An article published this month and co-authored by scientists from the UK Met Office, shows how climate change could impact maize production. Maize is a staple food crop across many regions of the world and reduced maize yields could threaten global food security. Nearly 60% of maize is produced in the USA and China, so the scientists looked at the effect and the probability of extreme water stress on the crop in those areas. Using computer simulation they demonstrated that the present day climate is capable of producing unprecedented severe water stress conditions. They warned that adaptation plans and policies, which are typically based solely on observed events from the recent past, may considerably under-estimate the true risk of climate-related maize shocks. 

Financial Pressures
Schroders is a global investment manager with $520bn under management. This week they issued their take on climate change. You can find the video on YouTube. Climate change, they said, will be one of the defining themes of the global economy in the years and decades ahead, through regulation and physical risks. It will determine how fossil fuel reserves are valued, how growth develops in markets and it will affect every organisation and every part of the economy. It will not be easy to achieve the planned 80% emissions cut by 2050. World leaders signed up to a 2℃ global warming limit at the Paris conference, but their commitments won’t achieve that and their policies are weaker still. Changes must be far more radical than seen so far. Schroders will demand greater transparency from companies on how they deal with climate change and will vote against those that in their view are not taking the necessary actions.

Clearly, while there are organisations that are still dilatory, denying and greenwashing there are also major players out there that will call them to account.

Trump Backs Out
You’ll remember that Donald Trump stood firm at the G20 on his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. George Monbiot, author and columnist, tweeted, “If Trump puts tariffs on steel imports #G20 will impose "immediate sanctions". When he tore up US climate commitments, they merely sighed.”

After talks, President Macron of France indicated that he thought he had changed Trump’s mind. Others are sceptical. What Trump actually said was:

“Yeah, I mean something could happen with respect to the Paris Accord, we’ll see what happens. But we will talk about that over the coming period of time. And if it happens that’ll be wonderful. And If it doesn’t, that’ll be OK too. But we’ll see what happens. But we did discuss many things today including the cease fire in Syria, we discussed the Ukraine, we discussed a lot of different topics. We briefly hit on the Paris Accords and we’ll see what happens.”

So let’s see what happens.

And now for some good news.

North Sea Cod is no longer endangered so we can now enjoy our fish and chips with a clear conscience. Look out for The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) "blue tick" label.
This indicates that North Sea cod caught by Scottish and English boats is "sustainable and fully traceable".Go easy on haddock, though. That’s still threatened in many areas. 

Much to the surprise of many, inflation has fallen in the UK. An important factor was a fall in the price of oil. Not good news if it makes people by more oil.

Inequality in the UK has declined. The division between rich and poor is not as wide as it was. There are regional variations, however. For example the average wage in the southeast is 25% higher than in the Midlands. Is that sustainable?

And finally…..

Two stories to close. Last week I reported that the new Tesla battery factory had a significant carbon footprint caused by its employees commuting to work. Forbes magazine considers a bigger picture. They report that The Union of Concerned Scientists found that the manufacturing of a full-sized Tesla Model S rear-wheel drive car with an 85 KWH battery was equivalent to a full-sized internal combustion car except for the battery, which added 15% or one metric ton of CO2 emissions to the total manufacturing.

However, they found that this was trivial compared to the emissions avoided due to not burning fossil fuels to move the car. Before anyone says "But electricity is generated from coal!", they took that into account too, and it's included in the 53% overall reduction.

Did I mention Patreon?

I follow Climate State on Patreon and they’ve just revealed an article from 1912 in Popular Mechanics which predicted that CO2 emissions from coal burning would warm the planet. There are articles from 100 years ago about extreme weather as well. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as we say in Yorkshire.

And while you’re on Patreon have a look at my page at Join my patrons - hi there, patrons, thanks for your continued support - and you’ll usually get early access to the Sustainable Futures Report each week. Other benefits are listed on the site.

Thank you for listening. This has been the Sustainable Futures Report and I have been Anthony Day. Well I still am.

Next week will be the last report before my August break. I have no idea what it will be about, so if you have ideas please send them to I will tell you about the books I intend to read over the holiday. Again, if you have suggestions please pass them on.

And that’s it. I’m Anthony Day. That was the Sustainable Futures Report. And there’ll be another next week.

Friday, July 14, 2017


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It’s Friday 14th July. I’m Anthony Day, this is the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m not a robot. Definitely not. I’ll explain why I said that in a moment.

I told you that in July I’m going to cut back a bit on the length of these reports, so here’s what I’ll be talking about today.

Donald Trump at the G20 and his relationships with Ivanka, Theresa, Angela - and Juliana. The wildfires in Canada, Arizona, California and Utah. The new Tesla battery, the new Tesla battery plant and the new Tesla battery-powered Model 3. What the lady on the train told me. Why there’s a new threat to the internet and why it’s important to know that I’m not a robot. And there’s news from Swansea Bay as well - not all good.

First a warm welcome to my listeners and especially my Patrons across the world. The number of daily downloads was the highest for all time for the episode published on 30th June, but when the last episode was published on 7th July that total was exceeded by 28%. The hit-rate continues to rise. Thank you all, and a very warm welcome especially if you are new to the Sustainable Futures Report. If you’d like to show your support, for as little as $1 per month, just pop across to The big news from Patreon is that I hear that my first Platinum Patron at $50 per month will shortly sign up. Platinum Patrons receive a shout-out on this podcast and the Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge plus one for a friend. In addition they’re invited to suggest topics that I should be featuring, and to take part in a monthly on-line sustainability discussion. After 6 months I will create a bespoke Skype presentation for an audience of their choice. They’re entitled to another every 12 months and if they need more they’ll get 25% off my normal rates. 

Listen out for the shout-out next week.

Other Patron packages from $1, $5, $10 and $100 dollars are available at

Remember, links to stories and sources in today’s report can be found at

I’m really not a Robot
Why do you need to know that I’m not a robot? Well, because in the news this week Google has donated €700,000 to Associated Press to develop robots to write the news. The robot reporters will draw on open data sets on the internet and use Natural Language Generation (NLG) software to produce their copy. The data sets — to be identified and recorded by a new team of five human journalists — will come from government departments, local authorities, NHS Trusts and more, and they will provide detailed story templates across a range of topics including crime, health, and employment. Is this artificial intelligence eroding jobs? Well I’m not a robot. I research every bit of the Sustainable Futures Report myself, but if you’d like to point me in a specific direction please get in touch via Thanks in advance to O Patrick Williams for a number of ideas that I shall be developing, probably in early September.

Trump at the G20
As expected, President Trump stuck to his line at the G20 conference in Hamburg that the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. British Prime Minister Theresa May urged him in passing to change his mind but she was more preoccupied with trying to talk about the future of trade deals post-Brexit than the future of the planet. At least President Trump didn’t delegate daughter Ivanka to sit in for him on that session, but nevertheless he ended up facing the other 19 members all declaring that the Paris Agreement was irreversible. His position did not go down well with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Last year wildfires in Alberta, Canada cost $6.9 billion and devastated some 600,000 hectares. Now hot dry weather and lightning strikes have set British Columbia ablaze. The entire towns of 100 Mile House and Cache Creek have been evacuated and the City of Williams Lake, with over 10,000 residents, was on evacuation alert this last week. 14,000 people had already been relocated. Multiple highway routes in and out of the region were partially closed due to the fires. This summer wildfires have raced out of control in the US - in Utah, Arizona and California. I’ve given up reporting that last year was the warmest year on record; that last April, May and June were warmer than these months in any previous year and so on. It’s tempting to say that this proves that the climate is changing, but we’re looking at long-term trends and 5, 10 or even 20 years of increasing temperatures could simply be a blip against the overall trend. What is true though, is that this warming trend is exactly what we would expect from climate change theory. Surely the sensible thing to do here is to follow the precautionary principle. To take action to mitigate the risks even if those risks, like most other risks, cannot be comprehensively defined. The reaffirmation by the G19 of their commitment to the Paris Agreement shows that they believe that precaution is the best principle. Let’s hope someone can persuade Donald Trump to change his view. Maybe Ivanka could have a word with him.

Back home Donald Trump still has Juliana snapping at his heels. You remember the Juliana case? This is a group of children who have been pursuing the US Administration through the courts for some years. Their case is that by permitting the continued use of fossil fuels the government is allowing pollution that will damage their future health and life chances. For months the administration has attempted to get the case dismissed or has appealed the decision of the judges that it should go ahead, but without success. Despite a furious defensive effort by some of the most powerful and wealthiest corporations on the face of the earth represented by a phalanx of $1,000 an hour lawyers from the nation’s top law firms, the children’s climate lawsuit is going to court. U.S. District Court Justice Ann Aiken set a trial date for February 5, 2018, in her courtroom in Eugene, Oregon for the lawsuit filed by Our Children’s Trust on behalf of 21 young plaintiffs ranging in age from 9 to 20.

I’ll be sure to keep you informed.

Electric Wheels
Is the future of transport electric? Volvo, the Swedish car company now owned by the Chinese, certainly seems to think so. From 2019 it will offer no models solely powered by petrol or diesel. All new Volvo cars will be hybrids or pure electric. France has announced that all petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2040, though it’s not clear whether this means the sale of these cars or whether they will be banned from the roads altogether. It’s part of France’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement and President Macron’s plan to make the country carbon neutral by 2050.

Into this arena steps a long-awaited electric car, the Tesla Model 3.
The first Tesla Model 3 rolled off the production line last Friday 7th July. Following the Model S and the Model X, this is Tesla’s mass-market car, costing $35,000 which is less than half the cost of its Model S. The new car seats the driver and four passengers, can travel 215 miles on a single electric charge and go from 0-60mph in under 6 seconds. (Those last two statistics are probably mutually exclusive.)

Potential buyers have to put down a $1,000 deposit (£1,000 in the UK). Given that some 500,000 people are believed to have done already, that’s a nice chunk of working capital. Doesn’t that add up to half a billion dollars? If you want to get your hands on a Model 3 in the UK, local pricing has not yet been confirmed and anyone registering now will not see their car before the second half 2018, according to the Tesla website, or later.

The battery is the heart of any electric car and Tesla has built the biggest battery factory in the world as well as the biggest battery in the world. This 129MWh unit will be installed in Jamestown, South Australia, some 200km north of Adelaide. It is paired with a wind farm in order to overcome the intermittence of supply when the wind doesn’t blow. Tesla founder Elon Musk has promised the state government that the battery will be delivered within 100 days of signing the contract, or else will be free of charge. That’s believed to be a $50m gamble. The battery forms a key part of the state government’s $550m energy plan drawn up after last year’s statewide blackout. 

Close examination of Tesla’s battery manufacturing plant shows that no solution is without problems, as reported by 

“An aerial view of Tesla’s Gigafactory indicates that there are 3,000 cars parked on the lot, and the factory is only 30 percent built out.
The factory is in the middle of nowhere really, 23 miles from the nearest city of any size, Reno, Nevada. If we assume that this is the average distance workers are commuting (and it is likely a lot farther), that the cars are powered by gasoline, and that they are average size, then according to the EPA they pump out about 411 grams of CO2 per mile or 18.9 kilograms per round trip. Multiply that by 3,000 and you have 57 tonnes of CO2 generated every day just by the the workers driving to the factory. The average car puts out 4.7 tonnes per year, So every day that the Gigafactory workers drive to work to make batteries for carbon saving electric cars, they generate as much CO2 as 12 conventional cars do in a year.”

Hmm.  411 grams of CO2 sounds an awful lot, until you remember that in the UK we work on CO2 per kilometre. That’s still 256 grams per kilometre, which is quite high by European standards. But maybe these workers are driving electric cars to work. At least they are working to increase the number of carbon-saving electric cars in the world. Of course the electric car doesn’t actually reduce the number of cars on the road. Maybe the autonomous self-driving car, arriving on demand and hired by the hour rather than owned, will start to change things.

It’s a paradox of the modern world that in this age where we can be in instant contact with anyone anywhere on the planet with full audio and video connections, we still want to physically travel more and more. It was Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”, which sounds to me like a justification for sitting in traffic jams. On the other hand I’m with Dr Samuel Johnson, who said, “''If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman.’’ And why not?

The Lady on the Train
Talking about travel, let me tell you about the lady on the train. I think she was called Ann. Hello, Ann. Last week I was travelling back from London and signal failures closed Paddington station and everything was delayed. In circumstances like that we British start talking to each other, which of course we would never normally do. The lady on the train told me about “No Impact Man”, a film of 2009 which seems to have passed me by. It’s worth a look. It’s a documentary about a man who persuades his wife and daughter to live with him off grid - in central New York. No electricity, no TV, no newspapers, no processed food, nothing in plastic, no car, not even public transport. I believe he lasted the year and I believe he was still married, just. The trailer is up on YouTube - link on the blog. No Impact Man. There’s a book as well.

An Inconvenient Sequel
Another film to watch out for is Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Sequel”. Do you remember his “An Inconvenient Truth”? That came out in 2006 - already 11 years ago. This is an update. Reviews are mixed, but the UK Premiere on 10th August is already sold out. The film goes on general release in the UK on 18th August. There was a book with the original film but there doesn’t seem to one this time. You’ll find a link to the trailer on the blog.

Can you trust your ISP?
I’m not sure whether this next item is about sustainability, but it’s certainly about the future. It’s about the future of the internet. I picked up a story on the BBC Click programme, which airs on BBC News 24 and can be found on BBC iPlayer. It’s about changing legislation in the US. As a result of this change it may be possible for your ISP, controller of your access point to the internet, to charge you for certain content. So, for example, if you wanted to check Facebook you might be asked to pay for your ISP’s new Social Media Package. If you wanted to book a holiday or check a train you might have to subscribe to a Travel Package. These charges would go to the ISP and would be over and above anything the actual target site might be charging you. And presumably they could lock you out of sites without you even knowing, as they do in some authoritarian states. Sounds horrendous. Let’s keep an eye on it.

And finally…
And finally to Swansea Bay where they have been planning for months, if not years, to build a tidal lagoon to use the rise and fall of the tides to generate electricity. I haven’t reported on this recently as it was quite clear that the government would make no announcements on this during the election campaign. Since the election they’ve had other things on their mind as well. Wales Online urges the prime minister to give the go-ahead, following the favourable Hendry Review which was published back in January. It would be an opportunity, they say, to stimulate the economy outside London. More than £200 million has been provisionally pledged by backers led by Prudential, the large UK insurer, with Macquarie and Investec, two other major financial institutions, ready to raise hundreds of millions more in debt and equity, according to a report in the Financial Times (FT).

But investors are refusing to pledge even more cash as the Government is yet to approve the scheme. 

General secretary Len McCluskey of the Unite union said that the project was a 'no brainer’, and urged the prime minister to stop dithering.

Unfortunately we can do nothing but wait and see. Apparently the rail engineering works over August Bank Holiday weekend will include initial work on facilities for HS2 at Euston station in London, so the government is supporting at least one major infrastructure project. Probably the wrong one, but that’s another story.

Next Week
And next week the Sustainable Futures Report will bring you more stories, more sustainability stories. Let me know the topics you care about and I’ll do my research. Contact me on

I’m Anthony Day. I’ve been publishing the Sustainable Futures Report and related blogs since 2006, and nearly every Friday since the end of 2014. Now I’m going to have a summer break. Not until August, so you’ve got two more reports to look forward to in July. 

Available for Bookings
Remember, if you’re planning a conference or an awards ceremony in the next few months and you need a chair, a host or a keynote speaker I still have dates free in the diary. For the moment, although November is filling up.

Until next week. This is Anthony Day saying Bye for Now.

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Art of the Possible

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This is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 7th July. I’m Anthony Day and welcome to another episode. The main part of this week’s report is my interview with Tony O’Donnell of Cambium LLP. We’ve spoken before about risks and uncertainty. Now hear what Tony has to say about the future of sustainability in this world of challenges, opportunities and innovation.

But first, a few headlines.
The big news this week will be the G20 summit in Hamburg, but of course that happens on Friday after this report has been published. All eyes on Donald Trump, who could be in for a rocky ride. Physicist Stephen Hawking has already attacked him for repudiating the Paris Agreement saying:

"We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible. Trump's action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of two hundred and fifty degrees, and raining sulphuric acid," he told BBC News.
"Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it's one we can prevent if we act now. By denying the evidence for climate change, and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world, for us and our children.”

President Trump also suffered a setback when a federal court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency could not freeze the implementation of a rule requiring oil and gas companies to fix methane leaks in their equipment.

More on this next week.

Here’s the interview:

This is the link to the report that Tony mentions: 

My guest today is Tony O'Donnell who is a partner with Cambium. Cambium is a firm which for nearly ten years has been helping organizations of all sizes to adopt a smarter approach to translate their ideas or research into sustainable and profitable business opportunities. 
Today he's going to tell us why he thinks that uncertain times provide sustainability leaders with a big opportunity. Now I'd like to start off Tony by asking you how do you define sustainability in this context? 

That's a good question. Thanks for having me here today Anthony. I don't think we define sustainability any differently to the ways that most practitioners define it. I guess that we go back to the Brundtland Commission definition for many years ago, where we believed that sustainability is about managing business or your organization in such a way so that you're not looking just after today's concerns of meeting your needs but you're also enabling the needs of others in the future to be able to meet their needs. So leaving a sustainable legacy in that context.

And you also talked about sustainability leaders, are we talking about politicians like, Caroline Lucas, industry leaders like Paul Polman or are we talking about people who are sustainability officers within organizations?

I guess that there will be a large diversity of people who are listening to your podcast, that come from a variety of different backgrounds. I don't think it'd be for me to sort of say who can or can't be a sustainability leader. But I suppose in the context that discussion we're going to be having today will be thinking about sustainable innovation and be thinking about how that might be applied to organizations and I guess most primarily businesses but I wouldn't suggest that some of the thinking here wouldn't be relevant to any of those other parties as well.

Right, uncertain times. We are living in uncertain and changing times and not least in the UK because of course, we've had a referendum and we've had a general election and in both of those, the Prime Minister seriously misjudged the feeling of the electorate. So we've voted to leave the EU almost to everybody's surprise and the general election instead of delivering a landslide majority wiped out the prime minister's majority. Now in that context, is this uncertainty a risk to sustainability or is sustainability part of the solution? 

Well, I definitely lean towards the latter. I think you're absolutely right about the uncertainty that seems to be hitting us particularly here in the UK at the moment. We may be all the suffering from sustainability fatigue I suppose or uncertainty fatigue. I think that coming back to your question, our view, our thinking about in sustainable innovation, these uncertainties is in a general sense increasing business risk. They're probably making boards feel more cautious about long-term investment and the risks that accompany these uncertainties are likely to keep some of those business leaders awake at night as they try to work out how they're going to ensure their sustainable profitability and indeed the competitive advantage to their business, when the futures we've all said is not clear. So business leaders are used to making decisions when there are risks but these risks seem somehow slightly larger and more systemic and with great potential for disruption from business as usual. 
So I think for sustainability leaders it might be somewhat intimidating to kind of raise the topic up but I think that our contention here is this may have been an effort... never been a better opportunity and I was reading a blog online the other day reporting on sustainable brands conference in Copenhagen, where indeed sustainability leaders were asked what kept them awake at night and their response was a bit different perhaps business leaders it was about things like, biodiversity loss, climate change, inequality, recession, and factors such as that and maybe there's a difference in the concern of business versus that of sustainability, that means connecting these two particularly with innovations - could be challenging but going back to your question, I think that today's business uncertainties offer a really big opportunity to reestablish or reconfirm the connection because in a way sustainability provides some certainties regarding new opportunities in an uncertain world or at the very least a stable target. The question is how do you leverage that opportunity?

Right. That's interesting because was it Mark Carney who said: "that businesses are pretty good at dealing with risk but they're rubbish at dealing with uncertainty" ? So I suppose what we've got to try and do is to approach the uncertainty and break it down as far as we possibly can into definable risks. You're talking, I believe about innovations and opportunities in that way, let's say a bit more about that.

Well, I guess that if you kind of try and reconnect with the business in these uncertain times, it's probably worth starting from the fact that sustainability in the business context, in particular, can add tangible value to any business indeed by positively impacting their profitability and I suppose you think at a high level, it means the sustainability could enhance or grow revenues through new goods or services that offer value to the new and growing sustainability innovation market. So I'm going to talk more about those in the moment hopefully. But secondly, of course, you can improve margin through optimization and costs, sustainable reputation and brand can improve talent acquisition and retention and increase pricing power by offering greater brand value. 
And then more and more examples of businesses that see that value in addition to sort of the flagship businesses that seemingly a lot of individuals talk about like, Unilever as we know recently supported, I think they grew  their sustainable living brands grew 50% faster than the rest of the business and that delivered more than 60% of Unilever's growth. And surveys of wider organizations, for example, last year’s Radley Yeldar list of top companies for social purpose included a wide diversity of organizations ranging from Lewis banking in the financial services sector through Philips in manufacturing, British Land in property and Pearson in publishing. So I think the thing that we have to think about is how can sustainability and smarter way of doing innovation actually show to colleagues in your organization how they can make more of an opportunity out of sustainability. And our thinking is that we have an approach called smarter innovation that accelerates the development of opportunity

Before we get into that... into detail on that, how can you show that these business benefits of sustainability and innovation provide an antidote to the uncertainties which are facing businesses in the moment?

Yes. Well, I guess that if all those parties who take an interest in sustainability are really thinking about some challenges that affect us over the slightly longer term and we'd call those global challenges, global sustainability challenges, I will explained a bit more about what I mean in a second but overall I think that smarter sustainable innovation is all about think taking the organisation to think about how meeting some of those slightly longer-term challenges allow them to see through the current uncertainty and to develop new ways of working that actually bring longer-term value to the business. 
So many of your listeners are probably familiar with global challenges, the things I'm talking about here are the mega trends driven by population growth, the associated resource scarcity and maybe increasing global health risks. Many of these challenges are driving demand for new innovative solutions that address problems that affect all parts of society, they may have economic benefits, in terms of providing work and economic growth such as sustainable cities housing and transport. Conversely, they may be about ensuring sustainable supplies of clean energy and food and water and maintaining biodiversity in the face of changing climate that they may have social benefits in terms of meeting rising aspirations for good education or for ensuring justice across people everywhere.

Yeah, I think I'll agree, I might put the emphasis in slightly different places because certainly energy and climate change are both going to be major challenges for the whole world aren't they?

Indeed they are but although there are challenges, there are also big opportunities for innovation. And so my argument would be as you're going to use these longer-term challenges to connect back with a sustainability agenda and to help an organization see past the uncertainty, may be a good framework to consider might be the United Nations sustainable development goals

Right. Now we're going to talk about that in a future report but perhaps you just like to tell us a little bit more about them because I don't think they're particularly well known in the UK, so what exactly are the United Nations sustainable development goals?

Well, "the United Nations sustainable development goals", which I think some people may have heard of as the Global Goals, set out a whole range of targets that governments all around the world have signed up to under the United Nations, where they're committed to meeting these goals. You'll find details about them on UNSDG by putting that into Google. And given these commitments, the goals and targets are beginning to get translated into government policy in the form of industrial and economic strategies and an analysis of them in terms of the sustainable innovation opportunity they create has been recently presented as part of the business and sustainable development commission's report. And the business and sustainable development  commission represents a wide diversity  of stakeholders from different  businesses, they range from organizations  like, Alibaba to JPMorgan Chase and from  Ericsson to Mars and this report  estimated that if the goals are met on a  global basis then potentially they can  create up to 12 trillion of new  opportunities in business  savings and revenue per year. And particularly in four economic systems such as cities and infrastructure, energy and materials, food and agriculture and health and well-being. And as you know this builds on the fact that business has a long-term involvement in sustainability and it builds on the earlier work of the UN  Global Compact, so if people haven't  heard of the sustainable development goals, it's likely your colleagues will refer to the UN Global Compact. And if reassurance is required about how this can benefit business, there are already  9,000 businesses worldwide who are signatories to the Global Compact and it might also enable you to highlight the competitive advantage that businesses whether they're multinational enterprises or SMEs, they will derive from their participation.

Right, let's move on to another point. Now technology is racing ahead in all sorts of directions. At the moment people are talking about  Big Data, they talk about the Internet of things how do you see this affecting us, how you see this affecting sustainability and the future? 

Well, I think that you're absolutely right and these technologies are going to affect all walks of life and definitely going  to affect sustainability and our belief  is that one of the big opportunities here is that as the underlying drivers  and cause and effects of the global  challenge is very broad and diverse, largely because they're systemic in nature and means they're highly complex  with many interdependencies, there's a  need to acquire a baseline of  information, indeed insight to establish  the basis for new sustainable business models and ways of working that will help organizations and governments achieve these sustainable development  goals.
And the good news is that you say the recent advances in information technology are potentially game-changing and change an idea into the art of the possible. So even if you see IT only as playing a supporting role for the kind of innovation that you might have in mind, the advances in this area, really so rapid it needs to be given probably special attention.

Yeah, I think also there's going to be a big social upheaval as a result which we really haven't addressed yet, we haven't even started talking about. Because we have the paradox in this country for example,  that people are saying that you're going  to have to work until you're 70 years old before the  state will be able to afford to pay you a pension and on the other hand  we're saying, AI-artificial intelligence is going to wipe out the vast majority  of jobs. So I don't know how this is going to work, I don't know whether you've got ideas on that?

Well, if you look at some of the ideas that emanate from the sustainability movement, they are also recognizing those changes. I  think it's impossible to predict what those changes will be at the moment but certainly, it ought to create more space for part of society to any rate to spend more time considering how some of these longer-term problems might be addressed. But I think that smarter sustainable organizations can make the best of the opportunities by at least evaluating what those techniques are and getting ahead of the game and applying them to some of these longer-term goals. Because as the report I alluded to earlier and explained, there are big opportunities out there for those businesses and organizations that can bring solutions to bear because they are dealing with such pressing compelling challenges that are facing everyone everywhere.

Well, what about the state,  what about the public sector in all of this. You talk about businesses but the tremendous sign of economic activity is in the public sector. Do you see the public sector actually keeping up with all this sort of innovation?

Well, the public sector I think will get involved as a consequence of the fact that there are government commitments to support sustainable development goals. And in our view innovations are not just going to be about business or the public sector. It's  going to be about people and many stakeholders whatever their background are interested in creating a smart sustainable future. So everybody's got ideas that can be contributed, I mean academic researchers may have new scientific insights, SMEs may have new innovative ideas and maybe multinationals will start to look at these new sustainable opportunities to build new markets that could underpin their future success. But ultimately the complexity of the global challenges means that we've got to collaborate better. And as in nature, where an ecosystem strength is linked closely to the breadth of biodiversity, successful smarter innovation collaborations will also find strength in the diversity of skills, experience, and motivation. 
So I see these collaborations coming from many different disciplines across science, engineering, perhaps the arts and they'll also involve participants from a wide range of organizations not just from the private sector but also the public sector, let's  not forget also NGOs and charities. But I think the key thing is that unlike traditional approaches to innovation which kind of just puts people into a space and expect things to happen through organised serendipity, smarter innovation collaborations that are focused on these complex problems can't afford to leave those vital interactions and connections to chance, they've got to  adopt a more predictable structured approach focused on those challenge areas, And this is where sustainability leaders who often use this kind of approaches to deliver progress already to date can actually play a great role. They have a  lot of experience in building, for example, new sustainable supply relationships and as a consequence, I  think that would be placed to lead these initiatives through their networks and their expertise.

Well, you started by saying... by telling us about what keeps people awake at night, what messages have we got to make sure they sleep soundly?   

That's a really good question and I alluded to the fact that.... about the conference that the sustainability  leaders had a diverse and perhaps different perspective to people in  business but the sustainability leaders  were also asked what was it that gave  them hope given the challenges that they  were concentrating on and the consensus  was that it was a combined sense of  purpose  amongst people within their organization  that allows them to turn the  organization to focus and to have a  greater sense of purpose particularly as  it relates to sustainability. So I think that one of the ways that which we can help everybody sleep at night is if sustainability leaders could lead this transition and enable this much bigger impact faster by harnessing the profit motive and catalyzing the more new certain development of these sustainable business opportunities. I think if you think about it this is what leading businesses right across all industry sectors such as a Aviva, Erickson, Grundfos, Pearson, Unilever, and others are also interested in the value that sustainability can deliver and I think that is a good starting foundation.

Right. Just to be devil's advocate, how do we deal with the  companies that see sustainability  staring them in the face as a threat to their profits, like the oil companies, like the coal companies which are going  to have to fundamentally change, in fact, give up their core businesses that they are dealing with at the moment and  may even not survive all together? 

Well, you make a very important point and I think there's going to have to be a  lot of transition for a lot of organizations, a lot of individuals as we make the move to a more sustainable future. That change is inevitable and organizations will have to change and they'll come to a conclusion, I guess as to when the time is ready for them to change at different rates. I think….

Will legislation play any part in this? Will they be legislated out of existence?

Who is to say, ultimately that will come around for the... in democratic countries to  their population saying, that they want  to see that change happen and that may not be as fast as some people may like but from my perspective, I think trying to be pragmatic about it and this is  that what I've tried to outline in our conversation this morning is a pragmatic  approach I hope and I think we're  looking for ways in which you can increase the traction with individuals and parts the organization that maybe only had traditionally been motivated by  short-term profit motivations. And in a time of uncertainty maybe there's an opportunity for sustainability leaders to get them to shift and say: there actually could be some solutions to our short-term problems by focusing on these issues that have got their long-running challenges and therefore will need to have solutions in the medium-term. 
So in my view as sustainability leaders, we can all play a part in helping to support that transformative role and helping colleagues to manage the uncertainties. And I go back to these three ways: firstly by raising awareness of these new market opportunities, I urge  you to look at the report I alluded to earlier and, secondly by understanding how technology will play a role particularly, data-centric technology in being able to provide solutions to those  long-running problems and finally by bringing together people and by leveraging expertise that many many  leaders in sustainable projects have had in the past of bringing meaningful  multidisciplinary and multi-organizational collaborations to bear and that by promoting this smarter  sustainable innovative approach, sustainability leaders can help an organization maximize its economic value in all markets and  enabling at the same time hopefully a  sustainable future for us all.

Tony, thank you for giving us a lot to think about, I'm quite sure. On the blog we'll put links to the reports that you've mentioned and you can find out more about Cambium and Tony O'Donnell  at 
So thank you again.

Thanks very much for your time. I've enjoyed it.

Two thoughts to close.
Across the world some 20,000 plastic bottles are sold every second. Yes, that’s 20,000 every second. That’s about 26 million since you started this podcast. Only 7% are recycled; the other 93% go into landfill or end up scattered across the countryside or floating in the sea. We are rapidly approaching the point where there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. More about this in a future Sustainable Futures Report. In the meantime have a look at 

This week a swarm of Welsh Black Bees was found in a dustbin on Anglesey, North Wales. These are very rare native wild bees. Council pest controllers, mistaking the totally black bees for yellow and black wasps and without seeking help from local beekeepers, wiped them out. What hope is there for wildlife in the face of such crass incompetence?

Never mind, let’s be optimistic. 
There will be another Sustainable Futures Report next week for one thing. I’ll tell you about the lady on the train and what she told me. We’ll know what happened at the G20 summit as well.

I chaired a conference in London this week, so don’t forget that if you need a conference chair, a host for your awards ceremony or a sustainability keynote you can contact me via  And did I mention Patreon? Yes of course I did.

I’m Anthony Day. That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

Have a great weekend.