SustainNext – We need to act now on sustainability

Quotation that says "We are reaching a tipping point, and it is essential for everyone, and business, to be more sustainable"GlobalChallenges_LocalSolutions-300x225SustainNextEU” was held in the Helix in DCU in September 2012 from the Sustainability Collaborative and DCU Business School.  It was clear from this event that the message about sustainability is becoming clearer. We are reaching a tipping point, and it is essential for everyone and business to be more sustainable.

Ann-Lee Jeffs, co-founder of the Sustainability Collaborative and co-organiser of the event, made a fantastic job of the event and asked some very challenging questions – in particular about the pharma/healthcare industry. It sounds like she has great plans to work on new healthcare models with J&J – to look more at preventative based models rather than the current treatment based.

Sustainable Design

Marin Charter of the Centre for Sustinable Design giving an impressive talk

Martin Charter, the director of The Centre for Sustainable Design, gave a very rousing presentation. He is a systems thinker if ever there was one.  He talked about the interconnectedness of everything. It is not just about carbon. It is about climate, materials, resources and water. It is not just about companies on their own, it is about networks of companies working together to compliment each other.

“Times of crises lead to opportunity”  says Charter, and that we need radical or disruptive innovation. Levis water-less jeans are an example of how a company has reduced the water in their supply chain by 96%.

He also stressed that legislation is also important. Currently, Charter believes, that legislation is “too loose” to allow companies to develop truly good technologies.

After chatting to him after, it is obvious that he is a doer as well as a talker! I will be watching him in the SME space!

Behaviour change

Una McGrath talked about one of my favourite things – behaviour change!! You can create all the new technologies in the world, but if you can’t get people to change their behaviour, what’s the point? Sustainable Transport and Sustainable Cities was her talking

Una McGraths presentation screenshotpoint. Her presentation blew me away, and it reminded me how unsustainable we are. But our environment plays such a huge part. We are planning for cars and traffic – which is why we get cars and traffic! She gave some great examples of towns and cities around the world that are doing the right things. One of the happiest towns in the US purposefully makes the place more sustainable and sociable (cannot remember the name of the town). Designed to be virtually car free, there are large  pavements, which encourage people to stop and chat. She talked about how we love to go to cities with old narrow streets, rather than ones with big highways running through. I could not have agreed more with her. I only wish she (and people of her ilk)  had a say in all the planning processes in the country!

“Acceptable” to be talking about sustainability

Quotation reading - “It is now OK to talk about it out loud, whereas, up to now, you only did so if you were a hippy or a crusty”One speaker from the Bank of Ireland even said something like “It is now OK to talk about it out loud, whereas, up to now, you only did so if you were a hippy or a crusty type”. While I don’t agree with his language, I do agree that it is defiantly becoming more acceptable to talk about sustainability in business. I wonder why this is? Is it that suddenly everyone has become more aware? Is it because the big corporations are talking more about it? Is it because the bigger corporations are doing less “green-washing” and more actually doing things that count?

Venn Diagram showing Green Business needs to focus on all three-  Organisation, Technology and People

3 essential elements of being green in business

James Hogan from talked about the free supports available on their website, and the free on site visits that they offer businesses. He stressed a three-pronged approach is good. It is just as much about the organisation and the people as it is about the technology. are particularly focused on waste reduction (including wastage of water) and cleaner production. Funding mainly comes from the EPA’s  National Waste Prevention Programme . And something that you don’t hear everyday in the news – From an investment of €1.3m of the government funded programme, it has yielded savings of €20 million for businesses!! Hogan claimed that there was a potential saving of €60, 000 per company. He also stressed about the low-cost and no-cost solutions for businesses – which of course are the best to start with! For example, awareness alone can cut costs by 10%.

Despite the resources being free, there has been a slow uptake in the supports and moves toward efficiencies. The reasons businesses give include

  • Being too busy to be more efficient
  • Having no (spare)  staff to help
  • Fearing the requirement of capital expenditure
  • Confused with the variety of technical solutions
  • Having a weak environmental policy and culture

The key to driving efficiency is..

  • Cultural change
  • Management behaviour and buy-in

Hogan concluded with the suggestion of “Pay as you save” incentives, which I agree would be a great benefit to smaller organisations.

Unfortunately I did not get a chance to quiz him about SMEs, and how many they supported on this occasion, but hope to follow up on it later.

Universal Sustainability

Portrait of Ann and Bob, the founders of the Sustainability Collaborative

Bob (Robert) Lattimar and Ann-Lee Jeffs. Founders of the Sustainability Collaborative

Bob Lattimar of the Sustainability Collaborative talked about the next wave of sustainability – he calls it “Universal Sustainability”. I did (kind of) get what he was talking about – because I have studied sustainability for 3 years. However, I did find it quite academic – but I suppose he is representing academia after all.

“The concept of universal sustainability, to be applied  effectively, will need all of us to become 21st century transformational thinkers, concept developers, and infrastructure builders of the highest order”.

And he goes on to say

“I propose that the concept of universal sustainability, in form and function, would allow all of us, from the many varied sectors of the global society, to behave based less on situational values and more on sustainable ones”.

Graphic of the Sustainability CollaborativeI do like the sound of, and if you are anything like me, you will be looking for some practical examples of what he is talking about to really get it.  Get the full text here.

SME examples

Keeping to best till last, SMEs featured in the event too. As with many of these events, they were not dominant (despite them making up 99% of all organisations).

Dunreidy Engineering Ltd

Logo for Dunreidy Engineering LtdDunreidy are a great example of how a medium-sized engineering business has successfully linked their business innovation to research projects. They now have four pioneering projects on the go and are collaboration experts! These guys are busy, and involved in some great stuff! Matt Dunner of Dunreidy Engineering told us about them.

  1. Whey Layer – A product that replaces co-polymers (derived from fossil fuels). It has allowed them have a 40% improvement in recycling of used packaging.
  2. Coolmeat – They have developed a process called immersion vacuüm cooling. It has reduced cooling time from 2 hours to 30 minutes
  3. SmartMilk – Replacement of the pasteurisation by thermosonification and pulsed electric field treatment (wow, have no real clue what that is! but I’d say it saves loads of energy)
  4. Ultrafinewine – Ultrasound technology to speed up the aging process of wine by 90% and the shelf life by 30%.

Lisnavagh Timber Project & Bunbury Boards

Lisnavagh timber project imageWilliam Bunbury told a lovely story of his family business in the beautiful surroundings of Lisnavagh House in Co. Carlow. The Lisnavagh timber project involved adding value to the fallen and thinned trees on their estate. Instead of selling these as firewood, they started the process of drying and planking them to sell to furniture makers. This stemmed the building of an in-house designed database to make sure the details of each tree was traceable.

Picture of the waney edge bunbury chopping boardWilliam believes in sustainable products and believes that the next generation will demand more sustainable products. He is ahead of the game and has developed a product himself. It is the Bunbury Board. A beautifully crafted product, that is sustainably produced. Not only that, each one has a unique identifier. If you get this as a gift (which I did actually the week after), you can check out the story of where it came from! How cool is that! Keep an eye out for these boards on those reality chef shows!

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