Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sustainable World

Published as a podcast at on Friday 25th March

This is the Sustainable Futures Report in another week when terrorists have attacked civilians in another European capital. It seems only a couple of weeks ago we were mourning the deaths in Paris, and now the same sort of thing has happened in Brussels. We lived as a family in Brussels for most of the 1990s so we know Zaventem Airport well and frequently took the metro through Maelbeek station. Fortunately, our friends who remain there are all safe. We feel for those injured and bereaved in these latest attacks, and indeed for those still coming to terms with Paris and other attacks elsewhere.

A sustainable future must be built on a safe, stable and secure society. It’s a challenge for us all and a grim responsibility for our politicians and governments. 

In the sustainable world this week: solar-powered street lights, the hottest February, sitting in the dark for an hour, di Caprio on China, more on the idea of a basic income and more, I’m afraid, about that planned nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. Oh, and if you’re decorating this weekend, what are you going to do with the paint left over?

Hello, I’m Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 25th March. A quick word on next month’s Sustainable Best Practice Exchange - that’s on 14th April. We have some very interesting people signed up, both as speakers and as delegates. There’s a special rate for listeners to the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m delighted that several of you have taken it up already. Go to and get in touch with me via the contact page and I’ll tell you more.

Solar street lights

This week I came across a company called Scotia. It makes solar powered streetlights. I was talking in an earlier episode about the United Nations global goal number seven, sustainable energy for all. One of Scotia's products is a streetlight which can be installed totally independently, storing the energy from the sun to power the light at night. It’s therefore ideal for installation in remote areas where there’s no existing infrastructure. Where there is infrastructure there’s a model which connects to the electricity grid and feeds surplus energy into the system during the hours of daylight. It can be part of an integrated community energy scheme. A third model is designed for smart grids. It has a buffer battery and can be set up to sell power to the grid when demand, and the price, is highest. It might sell all its stored energy and buy electricity to run the light at night when it’s cheapest. Smart, eh? It’s a great example of cutting carbon emissions and managing demand.

The company was founded in 2008 by Steve Scott and the chairman is Scott McCaw, but it’s not based in Scotland, it’s in Denmark. In fact it provided some of the lighting at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. It doesn’t manufacture in Denmark, but not in China either. The products are made in Austria.

Find out more at 

Have you noticed? It’s getting hotter

The year 2015 made history, with shattered temperature records, intense heatwaves, exceptional rainfall, devastating drought and unusual tropical cyclone activity, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). That record-breaking trend has continued in 2016.

The WMO Statement on the Status of the Climate in 2015 was released to coincide with World Meteorological Day on 23 March, which has the theme “Hotter, drier, wetter. Face the Future.”

“The future is happening now,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented in modern records,” said Mr Taalas.

“Our planet is sending a powerful message to world leaders to sign and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change and cut greenhouse gases now before we pass the point of no return,” said Mr Taalas.

Key Findings of Statement on Status of Climate in 2015

  • Large areas of the oceans saw significant warmth. Increased ocean heat content accounts for about 40% of the observed global sea level increase over the past 60 years. Sea level, as measured by satellites and traditional tide gauges was the highest ever recorded.

  • The daily maximum extent of Arctic sea ice on 25 February 2015 was the lowest on record but this record was already beaten in 2016.

  • Many countries saw intense heatwaves. Several new temperature records were broken (Germany 40.3°C, Spain 42.6°C, UK 36.7°C).

  • North West USA and Western Canada suffered from a record wildfire season, with more than 2 million hectares burned during summer in Alaska alone.

  • There were many cases of extreme rainfall, with 24-hour totals exceeding the normal monthly mean. For instance, the West coast of Libya received more than 90mm of rain in 24 hours in September, compared to the monthly average of 8mm. The Moroccan city of Marrakech received 35,9 mm of rain in one hour in August, more than 13 times the monthly normal.

  • On the other hand, severe drought affected southern Africa, with 2014/2015 as the driest season since 1932/1933, with major repercussions for agricultural production and food security. El NiƱo induced drought exacerbated forest fires in Indonesia, impacting air quality both in Indonesia and neighbouring countries. The northern part of South America suffered a severe drought including North East Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela, hitting the agriculture, water and energy sectors. Parts of the Caribbean and Central America were also severely affected.

The announcement goes on: 
The theme Hotter, Drier, Wetter. Face the Future highlights the challenges of climate change and the path towards climate-resilient societies.
The increase in hot days, warm nights and heatwaves will affect public health. These risks can be reduced by heat-health early warning systems that provide timely alerts to decision-makers, health services and the general public.
Droughts must be addressed more proactively through integrated drought management, which embraces guidance on effective policies and land management strategies and shares best practices for coping with drought.
In the event of heavy precipitation and floods, impact-based forecasts enable emergency managers to be prepared in advance. Integrated flood management is a long-term holistic approach to minimizing the risks of flooding.
Building climate and weather resilient communities is a vital part of the global strategy for achieving sustainable development. The WMO community will continue to support countries in pursuing sustainable development and tackling climate change through the provision of the best possible science and of operational services for weather, climate, hydrology, oceans and the environment.

Let’s hope that governments are listening, but worryingly Republican front-runner Donald Trump said last year he did not believe in climate change, while his key rival Ted Cruz has dismissed it as "pseudo-scientific theory".

- See more at:

Earth Hour

Sponsored by Climate Action/UNEP United Nations Environmental Programme, Earth Hour was founded by WWF in Sydney in 2007, and is designed to increase awareness about energy consumption and environmental issues. I was going to remind you to turn off your lights for an hour on Saturday. Then I found out that it was last Saturday.

Still, the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and Buckingham Palace were among more than 350 landmarks that turned their lights off between 8.30pm and 9.30pm GMT. Across the UK, The Palace of Westminster, The Shard, The Ritz, Old Trafford and Edinburgh Castle were among the famous buildings to turn off their lights, and nearly 10.5 million people participated. So did people in 178 countries.
But not me.
I forgot.

Showbiz news

Leonardo DiCaprio said on Sunday that China could become the “hero of the environmental movement” for its work in addressing climate change.
China is currently the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions but has taken significant steps to develop renewable energy and reduce air pollution in recent years.

You’ll remember that DiCaprio also used his acceptance speech at the Oscars in February to call on world leaders to combat climate change.

Celebrities often get criticised for entering debates and they are often written off as insincere publicity seekers. Leonardo di Caprio, however, has an established reputation for addressing climate change. You may have seen his 2008 documentary, The 11th Hour. There’s a rumour that there’s another one in preparation. He addressed the Mayors Summit at COP21 in Paris and he also spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year where he received the Crystal Award for artists and cultural leaders who are helping to address the world’s humanitarian and environmental challenges.

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation was established in 1998 with the mission of protecting the world’s last wild places. It now has some 25 million followers.

Emma Thompson and Mark Rylance were among 12 celebrities who posed nude with dead fish this week. Miriam Margolyes looks like Medusa. The objective was to raise awareness of overfishing.

It’s easy to criticise these celebrities for having no qualifications for talking about the causes they support, but then, the majority of people who do support such causes have no qualifications either. We rely on those experts who have examined the issues in detail and we all have every right to promote their findings. Emma Thompson and her fish made it into the national press, including the Sun. That sort of publicity is priceless.

Do your green credentials stack up?

That’s a question posed by DS Smith Plc which claims to be a leading provider of corrugated & plastics packaging. They have a recycling operation and their website states that as the only integrated provider to pledge zero waste, they stay true to the waste hierarchy with the aim of making 100% of resources into something useful once more. There’s a series of graphics which warn that 82% of customers believe that packaging should contain more cycled materials, waste crime costs the UK economy £568m each year but General Motors generated $1bn from scrap and re-cycling.
Of course it’s a sales pitch, but there are some useful ideas there. Go to their website to find out more. 

Basic Income

Last time I spoke about the idea of a basic income. I suggested that if artificial intelligence comes to displace more and more jobs, wages will no longer be an effective mechanism for distributing the nation’s income.

I found an article on about the basic income paid in Alaska. Alaska? Isn’t that the home of Sarah - drill, baby, drill - Palin? Indeed it is, and when she was governor she paid out the annual Permanent Fund Dividend with a special bonus. Sounds far too socialist.

The Alaska Permanent Fund was set up in the 1950s as a way of allowing all citizens to benefit from the state’s natural resources. Of course there was no oil industry then, but when that was established significant royalties were paid into the fund which was invested in a wide range of stocks. It wasn’t until 1982 that it was decided to distribute an annual dividend. The conditions to receive this dividend are that you must be a US citizen, you must be a resident of Alaska and have lived in the state for at least one full calendar year and you must fill in a form. There is no means test or work requirement. In 2015 the annual payment was around $2,100. That may not sound much, until you realise that there’s no age limit on the payment, so children are entitled on exactly the same basis as adults. A family of four therefore received just over $8,000 last year.

It may not be a perfect model and it may not be appropriate to all nations, but it bears thinking about.

And now Hinkley - Getting to the Point

I know I’ve covered this topic many times before, but it’s a major element of the government’s energy policy and if it’s built it will not only be the most expensive power station, it will be the most expensive construction in the world.

This week the Parliamentary select committee on energy summoned the parties involved in the development of this new nuclear power station at Hinkley point in Somerset. I watched the proceedings on parliament live TV. There is also a recording that you can see at Look for proceedings on Wednesday 23rd March. 

The first witnesses were Dr Simon Taylor, Lecturer in Finance, Judge Business School, Cambridge University; Peter Atherton, Managing Director, of Jefferies, an investment banker and Dr Douglas Parr, Chief Scientist and Policy Director, Greenpeace UK 

They were first asked whether the plant should be built. Unsurprisingly, Douglas Parr from Greenpeace said no, but the other two thought it should go ahead. They were asked if it would be good value for money and both Dr Taylor from Cambridge and investor Peter Atherton expressed serious doubts.  Atherton said he had heard the figure of £18billion, but had also heard that the EU estimated the cost at £24.5 billion. He wasn’t sure which was correct.
They were asked if they expected the project to be on time and on budget. Panellists said they had no direct knowledge, but similar projects led by EDF had all failed to meet their targets.

Witnesses in the second half of the session included Vincent de Rivaz, Chief Executive Officer of EDF;  Zhu Minhong, General Director of UK Nuclear Projects at China General Nuclear and representatives of the companies involved in the construction and manufacture of the plant.

The first question was to CEO Vincent de Rivaz. When would a final decision be taken to start the project?

Of course, he said, they were committed to the project. They were all committed to the project. Indeed, they had already spent £2billion at the site (yes, that’s £2billion) and they were currently spending £55 million per month.

The question was repeated. When would a final decision be taken to start the project?

Very soon.

Yes, but you’ve been saying that for the last 6 months.

Politicians have a reputation for avoiding the question and M. de Rivaz proved that he was every bit as good at this. Finally he admitted that the French minister of energy had said that the decision would be made in May.

When in May?

Early May.

So it would be made before the 15th May.

de Rivaz protested that he could not give a firm date, but he was boxed in by  now and the committee proceeded on the assumption that the decision to proceed would be reached by 15th May.

He was asked about the financial security of the project and in particular about the recent resignation of EDF’s chief financial officer. He couldn’t possible comment about individuals.

Zhu Minhong, General Director of UK Nuclear Projects at China General Nuclear was asked similar questions. He acknowledge each question as a super question, but was as good as de Rivaz at avoiding a straight answer. He admitted that no legal agreement had been signed with EDF. 

When would this happen? By mid May? 

They were making huge progress, he said, they were confident that the plant would be built.

A member of the committee commented that if the plant were fuelled on confidence and passion it would surely be a success.

And so it went on. Every question, on technical difficulties at EDF’s Flamanville plant, on the fact that no similar plants were in operation anywhere in the world, that the UK Nuclear Inspectorate had not licensed the plant (and probably had insufficient staff to do so in time), that similar plants under construction were over budget and seriously delayed, they were all stone-walled.

In conclusion, the chairman of the committee said that if the decision to go ahead was reached by 15th May it could be announced in the Queen’s speech the following week. If not, EDF would be recalled to the committee.

And so it goes on. Watch this space.

Easter Holiday

Are you doing any decorating this weekend? What do you do with the paint left over when you’ve finished a job? Does it go to the tip, or do you put it on a shelf in the garage, only to find that it’s gone all hard and useless when you next open it up? It’s estimated that some 50 million litres of paint are unused each year in the UK, and are either stored or thrown away. Community Repaint, sponsored by Dulux, is a scheme for collecting unwanted paint from individuals and the trade and distributing it to community groups, charities and people in need. If you’ve got leftover paint or you know somewhere in the community that needs painting get over to to find out more. It’s not quite the circular economy and it’s not exactly recycling, but if it keeps paint out of the waste stream and stops it cluttering the nation’s garage shelves, that’s got to be good news.

And finally, 

if you’re wondering how I’ve managed to keep up with the Sustainable Futures Report and do jury service, well it’s all a bit of an anticlimax, actually. Of the 10 days that I was summoned for I was actually required to attend court on three, and was never involved in a case. And now I probably never will be. 

Leaving me more time to finalise the details of the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange ( - tickets still available, discounts for listeners to this podcast) and to think about the next Sustainable Futures Report. And you know when that’s due!

This is Anthony Day, that was the Sustainable Futures Report and there will be another one next week.

Have a great Easter Holiday!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Taking the Long View

This episode was published as a podcast on Friday 18th March at

This week, of course, is dominated by the budget, and coming on a Wednesday it telescopes my deadlines. Not helped by the fact that I’m on jury service this week and the judge won’t let me take my laptop into court. Who needs a jury anyway, when we now have the thinking power of Google’s Deep Mind? Deep thinking has been going on at the National Infrastructure Commission, thinking about tunnels under the Pennines and more tunnels under London, among other things. I bring you sounds of the past, and a very little about Hinckley C and EDF because I think we’ve all had enough of that. And do you remember COP21? Americans are claiming that President Obama had no constitutional right to enter into the Paris agreement.

Hello, yes, this is Anthony Day and here is the latest edition of the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 18th March. Let me take a moment to remind you about the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange coming up on the 14th April. Go to and book now before you go away on your Easter Holidays and before the tickets run out. If you can’t make it, or even if you can, you might be interested in the report of the Sustainable Best Practice Survey published at a very reasonable £25. But just for you, if you go to the front page of today you can download a copy absolutely free.

The National Infrastructure Commission 

was announced by George Osborne in October’s Autumn Statement and has already published three reports: Smart Power, Transport for a World City (that’s the one about more tunnels under London) and High Speed North. 

The National Infrastructure Commission is headed by Lord Adonis and when he was a government minister he was highly respected for mastering his brief. High hopes, therefore, for his performance in this role.

Smart Power

Here’s what it says in the website:
The National Infrastructure Commission was asked to consider how the UK can better balance supply and demand, aiming towards an electricity market where prices are reflective of costs to the overall system.
The Commission’s central finding is that smart power – principally built around three innovations, interconnection, storage, and demand flexibility – could save consumers up to £8 billion a year by 2030, help the UK meet its 2050 carbon targets, and secure the UK’s energy supply for generations.
The report ‘Smart power’ makes practical recommendations to this end - not new subsidies or substantial public spending - but towards the creation of a level playing field and a better managed network.

This is a refreshing approach. Up till now the energy debate seems to have been mainly about supply and very little about  demand. It will be interesting to see how this is developed into government policy, and in particular how demand can be controlled at the consumer level. It will be interesting to see as well if the government will implement its commission’s recommendations.

The Northern Powerhouse is one of George Osborne’s pet projects and the Commission’s High Speed North report was given plenty of publicity in advance of the budget. 

On this issue the website says:

Our central finding is that the North needs immediate and very significant investment for action now and a plan for longer term transformation to reduce journey times, increase capacity and improve reliability.
On rail, this means kick-starting HS3, integrating it with HS2 and planning for the redevelopment of the North’s gateway stations.
On roads, investment should be brought forwards for an early boost in capacity on the M62, the North’s most important east-west link, alongside funding to identify and assess proposals for tackling a range of other strategic challenges.

They say that the development of the HS3 should begin between Manchester and Leeds, the two largest economies of the North.
Phase one should reduce journey times from 49 to 40 minutes and increase capacity by 2022.
Phase two could cut times to just 30 minutes. An integrated plan covering both phases should be drawn up before the end of 2017.

These are very encouraging deadlines, promising some service improvements as soon as 2022. In the context of major capital projects that’s very rapid, but we’re only talking about cutting journey times from 49 minutes to 40. The phase 2 target is to cut the journey time to 30 minutes, about as long as it currently takes to cover the same distance between London and Reading, but there is no date set for that. Of course, these improvements have been promised before, just before the last election, for example. They have also been deferred. Just after the last election.
So far Osborne’s budget has promised £300m to make sure that the plans can be completed by the 2017 deadline. £80m was also made available for planning the North-South Crossrail 2 from Hertfordshire to Surrey - the subject of the commission’s third report. The actual cost of constructing Crossrail 2 is estimated at around £30 billion but no figures for the cost of HS3 have been suggested. The key question is where the money will come from. While it might be irresponsible to borrow to cover current expenditure, with the lowest interest rates for some 80 years this surely is the time for government to borrow to invest in infrastructure for long term benefit. Mr Osborne’s policy is not to do this: a missed opportunity that I think we and future generations will come to regret.

Subsidies for Oil?

The Chancellor has been criticised for going against last year’s Paris agreement on climate change by introducing further subsidies for the oil industry. For the sixth year in a row he has avoided increasing fuel duty. Petrol is currently the same price as it was 10 years ago, and significantly cheaper in real terms. He also said he would support the oil and gas industry by permanently zero-rating Petroleum Revenue Tax, reducing the Supplementary Charge from 20% to 10%.

Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT) is a tax on the profits from oil and gas production in the UK or on the UK continental shelf. Up until 31st December the rate was
50%, falling to 35% from 1 January 2016. Following the budget PRT is effectively abolished as it will be set at 0%, backdated to 1st January.

The supplementary charge is an additional charge, and now the only charge, on an oil company’s profits from production. This is cut from 20% to 10%

Talking about a sugar tax, the chancellor said,

“I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament, doing this job and say to my children’s generation:
“I’m sorry. We knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing.”

In future years will he be saying to his children’s generation, “I’m sorry. We knew there was a problem with fossil fuels. We knew they caused air pollution and respiratory diseases, global warming and climate change. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing.”?

This is Anthony Day with the Sustainable Futures Report. Don’t forget your complimentary report on the Sustainable Best Practice Survey. Just follow the link on the home page to download. Do it now. This free offer cannot last for ever. 
Still to come: why artificial intelligence is all go, reactions to COP21 and those sounds from the past.

Google's Deep Mind beats Go world champion 

Go is an ancient Chinese board game which has been proved to have more possible moves than there are atoms in the universe. It is infinitely more complex than chess. And AlphaGo, a computer programme from Deep Mind, has just beaten the World Champion.  Out of five games it won the four and the champion won one. Why is this important, and what’s it got to do with sustainability? 

Because there are so many possible moves in the game the computer cannot win by brute force, by trying every possible move before making its choice. There are just too many choices. The machine has trained itself, a bit like a human, by practising - playing the game again and again. It has the advantage that it can play very much faster than a human and it can remember everything that it has learnt. It can’t actually move the pieces and it can’t make a cup of tea after the game, so it isn’t going to take over the world very soon, but the implications for jobs and employment are significant. 

We have already seen machines take over routine jobs in supermarkets, banks, libraries, filling stations and post offices. This next generation of Artificial Intelligence is starting to think, to weigh up possibilities and evaluate strategies rather than just make simple rule-based decisions. This means that previously skilled professions, like the law and accountancy, may increasing use expert systems instead of paralegals or articled clerks. The Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority are evaluating robotic financial advisors which are already available on line. As more jobs are automated there will be even fewer opportunities for young people, graduates or not, to get worthwhile employment or any employment at all. It will probably also displace older workers, many of whom are struggling to reach higher pension ages.

A sustainable economy must surely depend on a degree of social equity, and until now paid employment has been the means of wealth distribution. If there are no longer jobs for all, the risk is that the divide between rich and poor in society will become dramatically wider. One suggested solution is a basic income for all, paid regardless of employment status, so everyone can enjoy a basic standard of living. It would give people security between jobs, help those too ill to work and provide a buffer while people work to set up their own businesses. Presumably it would be clawed back through the tax system from people on higher incomes. It would replace some existing benefits, together with the related administration costs. Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian prime minister, is an advocate of the idea and there are moves to set up a pilot scheme in Ontario.

We live in interesting times.

Limits to presidential power

COP21 - the Paris Climate Change Agreement - is strongly opposed by many politicians in the United States. Some claim that it is an international treaty, and therefore beyond the power of the president to accept unilaterally.

Here’s an extract from a paper by Stephen Groves, Senior Research Fellow at The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

Unless and until the White House submits the Paris Agreement to the Senate for its advice and consent, the Senate should block all funding for its implementation, including any funds for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) or any other financing mechanism included in the President’s umbrella Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI).
Congress should also withhold funding for the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to prevent future Administrations from participating in COP meetings and causing additional harm to U.S. national interests. Finally, Congress should take preventative legislative measures to ensure that no funding tied to implementation of the Paris Agreement is authorized or expended through other vehicles such as appropriations for the EPA or other executive branch agencies.

Find the complete text at:

Interesting times indeed.

Queen Street Mill

Last week I told you that I was going to visit Queen Street Mill.

On the podcast you’ll hear the sounds of Queen Street Mill in operation.

It’s more than a rumour that the mill, along with other museums in the North, will close although it’s not clear exactly when. On Saturday 12th March the i newspaper published a front-page article about it headed “Betrayal of the North.” I wrote this letter which they published the following Monday:

Thank you for Saturday's report on museums at risk in the North. Last Thursday I was at Burnley's Queen Street Mill, taking photos, video and sound recordings before it's all gone. This is not just the last mill of its type in Lancashire, it's the last working steam-powered textile mill in the world. It will be open until the end of the month - including the whole of the Easter weekend - but after that the staff are not clear what will happen. They fear that if it's locked up and left it will just rust and never run again. 

Regardless of whether these museums are in the North or the South they are an irreplaceable part of our heritage and an educational resource. It would take a relatively small amount amount of money to preserve them by comparison with, say, the £60m of public money promised to London's private "Garden Bridge". Perhaps George Northern Powerhouse Osborne could make a gesture in Wednesday's budget.

Did he make a gesture? Well he didn’t say anything about it in the speech, but there may be something in the budget book. I’ll have a look at that over the week and let you know what I find next time.

Not much to say about Hinkley C and EDF. Not much that you won’t have heard about already. Last Sunday The Observer suggested that it was one of George Osborne’s pet projects and cancellation could mean the end of his leadership hopes. It all goes to show that if you look hard enough you’ll always find a silver lining.

That’s it for another week. This is Anthony Day winding up your weekly Sustainable Futures Report, urging you to sign up for the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange at and dashing off to find more interesting and important issues to report on. Of course, if you have something to say, something to ask or something you think should be covered, please get in touch. That’s

Yes, that was the Sustainable Futures Report, this is Anthony Day and that’s the end!

Who’s having kittens?

This episode was published as a podcast on 11th March at

Kittens? Kittens?
Could this be an unscrupulous attempt to boost internet hits for the Sustainable Futures Report - even to start it trending by talking about kittens? Perish the thought. Although the photo
is really cute. Mind you, the news about the Hinkley C nuclear power station just gets worse and worse so somebody’s having kittens. I’ll examine who that’s likely to be. It’s all part of the global energy infrastructure. We spoke about that this week at the local branch of the United Nations Association. There’s been a lot about energy in the news. I hear David Cameron has fallen out of love with Swansea Bay and apparently npower has fallen out of love with about 2,500 employees who will shortly be out of a job. 
Who gives a stuff? What? Well it’s funny you should mention that. Steve Howard of furniture retailer IKEA recently suggested that we’re close to peak stuff. We’ve got more stuff than we know what to do with. This trend is borne out by a report from the Office of National Statistics. In this episode I look at the Restart Project and do you know where all the civil servants are who manage the Northern Powerhouse? Where do you think they are based? Guess again.

Yes, I’m Anthony Day with your weekly Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 11th March. As usual, it’s brought to you without advertising, subsidy or sponsorship, so this time I’m going to take a moment to tell you about my Sustainable Best Practice Exchange which takes place in Harrogate on 14th April. I’m delighted to report that our opening keynote speaker is confirmed as Wouter Van Tol, Director of Sustainability and Citizenship at Samsung Electronics Europe. Taking as his theme One Step at a Time: Moving Towards a More Sustainable Business Wouter will draw on his experiences at Samsung, and share his knowledge on what organisations need to be doing in order to move towards a more sustainable business, across areas including energy, supply chain, and skills.

Joining Wouter is a whole host of expert panellists, including Gareth Williams, Energy and Environment Manager for Northern Rail; Shaun McCarthy OBE, chair of the Supply Chain Sustainability School; Dexter Galvin, head of CDP’s Supply Chain Programme and Tim Balcon, CEO of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.  In addition to the panel sessions, experts will lead 50-minute roundtable discussions where you can both learn and share your own experience and expertise.

The smart scheduling system will let you book your own panel sessions and roundtable places in advance, and set up one-to-one meetings with other delegates.

Tailor the event to your own skills and interests for a value-packed day. You’ll be sorry to miss it!

All the information is at 
Now listen carefully - here’s the deal. Contact me at mentioning the exclusive codeword, which is kitten (it’s different for everyone, really) and I’ll sort you out a really good price. Even better if you bring a friend.

OK, down to business. The energy business. I’ve spoken about the planned new nuclear power station, Hinkley C, in a lot of episodes recently, but this week it’s hit the headlines again. The main news is that Thomas Piquemal, finance director of EDF the company planning to build the station, has resigned. He was concerned that the £18bn project would be just too big for EDF and threaten the company’s survival. His departure follows fellow director Chris Bakken who left EDF last month. It’s been suggested that Piquemal’s departure is likely to make it easier for the project to go ahead as his opposition is removed. Certainly both the British and French governments have re-iterated their support for the project. There are many commentators expressing serious doubts about it. You’ll remember that similar stations are under construction in Finland and northern France, both seriously over budget and years behind schedule. There are doubts about the safety of the pressure vessel at the French site. If it is condemned by the nuclear inspectorate the building will have to be partially demolished to remove and replace the rejected component. With that still unknown, it is little wonder that EDF is still struggling to raise the finance to go ahead, even though the Chinese have been persuaded to invest £6 billion.

Across the Bristol Channel there are plans to build the 
Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. This will produce electricity for 14 hours per day for 120 years. It’s only a tenth of the size of Hinkley C in output terms at 320MW, but at £1billion it costs around half as much per MW. It’s expected to take 5 years to build, so could come on stream 5 years earlier than Hinkley C. Of course, if it’s only one tenth the size, Swansea Bay is no alternative to Hinkley C, but it’s surely worth doing. The government doesn’t seem to think so. Last month David Cameron said he was losing his enthusiasm for the project because of the cost. Energy minister Andrea Leadsom followed up by saying that the interests of bill-payers had to be taken into account and the strike price for energy from the lagoon would be too high. The strike price for energy from Hinkley C will be £92.50, index-linked for 35 years, and has been criticised as extortionate since it is about twice the current average price for electricity. To be fair it is still less than some guaranteed rates for offshore wind, but Swansea Bay is expected to come in at £96.50, which is not vastly more than £92.50. There are indications that this could be reduced if the guarantee period is based on 90 years rather than 35.  I can’t immediately see why the strike price for Swansea should be higher than Hinkley if the construction cost is significantly lower pro-rata. If you’re an expert perhaps you could let me know! According to, the design life of Hinkley C of 60 years is half that of Swansea Bay. It is not clear whether decommissioning costs for Hinkley C have been taken into account in these prices, but these costs will be considerable and will be underwritten by the government. (That’s you and me, as taxpayers, or probably our grandchildren.)

Ministers have announced a wide-ranging review into the untested technology to be used. No, not at Hinkley C, but at Swansea Bay.  A decision on crucial subsidies for the lagoon will not be taken until after the conclusion of the review, expected in the autumn, says the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Long grass, anyone?

The European Pressurised Reactor to be used at Hinkley is of course untested technology, but there are no reports at present of any wide-ranging review of that.

Well, while we’re waiting, what about a neighbourhood nuclear powerplant? The Guardian reports:
“Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.
The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.”

That report is dated November 2008. I don’t think any deliveries have yet been made. But wouldn't there be a terrorist threat with all that nuclear material in every community?
Ah, but we’ll be able to sort that out with Trident, won’t we? Won’t we?

Seriously, we didn’t have an energy crisis over the winter because we had the warmest winter on record. During this year older power stations will be retired. Unless something is done to fill the capacity gap the risk of outages next winter will rise. It will take 10 years from the start date of Hinkley C construction for it to start producing power, but there is no start date. There is no start date for Swansea Bay. The government must surely be concerned. It’s going to be extremely difficult to plug the supply gap soon enough - even with renewables, which are generally quite quick to build. Time, surely, for a national initiative to manage demand. A replacement for the Green Deal which works, to make the housing stock warmer for less. Taxes on energy for business to encourage more efficient use of energy. We must look very hard at climate change agreements which give many industries tax breaks for competitive reasons. Has that gone too far? Support for renewables at the domestic and industrial level will also help to cut demand on the central generators. I’m not advocating increased FIT levels, but the levels should be set and fixed. FITs should probably fall to zero in little more than 5 years, but the timeline should be known and respected so that businesses can plan and prosper. All of this would create jobs, which in turn would create tax revenues. Energy prices might rise, but the lights are more likely to stay on. Am I missing something?

Also in this week’s energy news is the announcement from npower that it is to cut 2,400 jobs. Not all of these are in the UK and they do not relate to power generation. They will affect staff in the administration and billing areas. npower lost 424,000 customers last year, or about 7% of its business. In December, it was fined £26m for sending out late and often inaccurate bills and failing to handle customer complaints effectively. Ofgem, the energy regulator, said more than 500,000 customers had been affected and npower’s parent, RWE, said the mistakes were embarrassing.

A quick look at the oil price in passing. It’s around $40, well up from the sub-$30 price at the turn of the year. The reason is apparently rising demand for gasoline. Is this more than a blip? With Iran increasing production now that sanctions are off and Saudi showing no signs of reducing production, I think that’s all it can be.

Energy is a global issue. At a meeting United Nations Association in Harrogate this week we looked at Global Goal No.7 - Sustainable Energy for All. The United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development are targets for completion by 2030.

The Objectives of Global Goal No. 7 are to:

  1. Provide universal access to electricity
  2. Increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. (Double by 2030)
  3. Increase energy efficiency of buildings, industry, agriculture and transport
  4. Phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption

In the developed world our priority must be to phase out fossil fuels and eliminate the harmful emissions they produce.

In the developing world there is a range of challenges to overcome.

  • 20% of the global population (1.5bn) has no access to electricity
  • 40% of the world’s population (3.0bn) uses biomass, charcoal or coal for cooking, often burning it indoors.
  • In many communities kerosene lanterns are the only source of light where there is no electricity

This leads to:

  • The fumes from cooking fires cause 1.5-2 million premature deaths each year: twice as many as malaria.
  • Women spend many hours collecting firewood
  • Kerosene lanterns create carbon black (soot), which has been identified as a contributor to global warming.
  • Families with no electricity and no money for kerosene have no light after dark and so cannot study in the evenings.

Achievement of this goal - and the others - requires action by the world community. That can be governments or that can be us as individuals. That can involve lobbying the government on our national energy policy or supporting charities to bring renewable and sustainable energy to developing countries. It’s a global issue. It affects us all. We can all do something about it.

I mentioned Stuff.
At a recent Guardian Sustainable Business debate Steve Howard, Sustainability Director at furniture retailer IKEA said that in the West we have probably reached “peak stuff”, the point at which we want to buy fewer and fewer things.

But Howard said his comments did not contradict Ikea’s target of almost doubling sales by 2020, and that changes in consumption were an opportunity for companies to rethink the way they did business. Ikea was trying to help customers live in a more environmentally friendly way, he added.
“We will be increasingly building a circular Ikea where you can repair and recycle products.”

The circular economy in practice.

The slow-down in consumption of stuff is borne out by a new report from the Office of National Statistics: UK Environmental Accounts: How much material is the UK consuming?

It tells us that:
  • The amount of material consumed in the UK has fallen from a peak in 2001 of 15.1 tonnes per person to 10.3 tonnes per person in 2013. 
  • Although the weight of imported products has generally increased since 2000, the quantity of raw material required to manufacture the imported products has decreased, suggesting improved resource efficiency.
  • Over the 2000 to 2013 period, resource productivity (the relationship between economic activity and material consumption), in the UK has positively increased, rising 59.4% from £1.87 per kilogram in 2000 to £2.98 per kilogram in 2013.

Looking at it another way, this means that for every £1 that consumers spend they are spending more of it on services rather than goods. Consumers are buying digital downloads instead of CDs or DVDs. They are buying experiences - travel, holidays, sport and leisure activities - rather than furniture and gadgets. The gadgets they do buy are far smaller and compact than they were and hence need less material. White goods now use less material in manufacture, avoiding the costs of scrap and reducing the weight of goods to be transported. Any trend towards reducing the use of raw materials in this world of rising population and rising demand must be good news.

I’ve come across The Restart Project, which is concerned with a different aspect of the material cycle. Here’s what it says on their website:
“Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in many countries including the UK. While recycling is important, we intervene before disposal – inspiring people to buy for longevity and to divert electronics from waste.
The Restart Project is a London-based social enterprise that encourages and empowers people to use their electronics longer, by sharing repair and maintenance skills.
Through community and workplace events we create engaging opportunities to extend the lifespan of electronics and electrical equipment. At our events 2,477 participants aided by 3,171 hours of volunteered time worked on 1,655 devices. We also spread our message through public speaking and our weekly podcast.” (I’ll have to check that out.)

Sounds like a good idea. Maybe someone should set one up outside London. Find out more at 

Department of Misleading Statistics
Headlines this week claim that 97.6% of the civil servants that are responsible for the Northern Powerhouse are based in London. What actually happened was that Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, asked what proportion of senior civil servants in the Department for Communities and Local Government was based in London. Not a word about the Northern Powerhouse. Back came the answer: 97.6%. The Department is responsible for all communities and all local government throughout the country. There is no story. At least, not on the basis of that question.

And that’s all we’ve got time for, as they say on Radio 4. Sorry Tom, you’ll just have to run faster. I’m off to the North West Sustainable Business Quarterly meeting and on the way I’m going to call in at the Queen Street Mill in Burnley. It’s the last operating steam-powered textile mill in the world, and I hear there are plans to close it at the end of the month. I’ll tell you more next week. In fact I hope I’ll tell you more next week. I’ve been called for jury service, so for the next two weeks I will either be sitting around with time on my hands or I’ll be locked in a courtroom away from the world. Either way, there will be another Sustainable Futures Report. Eventually. (I haven’t missed a week since November 2014.) The full archive is at

I’m Anthony Day. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back!