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Apr 09
Denial and decision making quality

​Climate change deniers will often state their belief that climate change does not exist.  This indicates a fundamental reliance upon their own opinion and experience of the world to make decisions.  As far as it goes, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and something we *all* do all the time - it is after all the basis for decision making in general.

However, it does not take into account the potential for varying degrees of decision making quality and what might drive such.  For example, you might value someone elses opinion on a subject because you believe they have a better understanding than you.  Your perception of such is normally based upon an appreciation of their life experience and track record.

Therefore, it seems to me that scientists, faced by denial, are failing to promote the validity and quality of their life experience and decision making track record.  Which more or less comes back to getting your marketing right.

Jan 28
It's the "how" not the "what" when you compromise

May debates I have regarding sustainable agriculture seem to focus on "what" sustainable agriculture should be - and this typically means a list of practices and ideal ways of farming.  However, I don't find this very useful for determining a practical route forward.  Instead of asking "what" questions, "how" is better.

For example, "How should I decide what is a sustainable amount of GHGs for my crop to produce?"​ is a much more useful question than "What should I do to reduce my emissions?" or adding "Sustainable agriculture releases no GHGs" to the list of what sustainable agriculture should be.

Jan 13
Footprints - Keeping it personal

​The reason why I believe the concept of footprinting as a tool is powerful and useful is that it provides a direct link between our actions, our choices, and the physical environment.  There is a reality to this that can't be captured by other tools.  A footprint provides a direct link between you and your world that has a powerful emotional impact.  Unfortunately, that power may also be its undoing, as few can fully accept the implications set out so starkly!

Aug 22
Materiality in sustainability reporting

It appears that the broad frameworks addressing integrated reporting favour a materiality definition that relies upon financial impacts.

For example:

IIRC

SASB

When the main target for a sustainability report is investors, the logic is clear - unless the investors are actually interested in environmental sustainability, in which case a financial basis is only part of the story.

Of at least equal importance for assessing the relevance of a particular environmental criterion is the relative impact upon the environment - in other words placing each criterion in a physical context.​

Jun 07
Funding agricultural emission mitigation

​Why is carbon trading seen as the first and apparently only option here?  Surely two key activities can be done right now that will a) do most to mitigate emissions and b) immediately generate income for farmers:

1. Improve soil quality and organic matter content.
2. Reduce the amount of applied N needed per unit of yield.

Is the problem that initial funding is needed to enable these two key activities to be done by farmers?

If so are NAMAs and carbon trading the best source of funding?

Or does that immediate income remove the need for complex NAMAs or other facilities?

May 21
Materiality - finance or science?

Or both?

Should materiality be based upon financial considerations (SABS, IIRC etc.) or physical reality (planetary boundaries and limits)?

Perhaps the end-point is a matrix with both - the areas not covered by finanicial considerations are the space for policy makers...​

Mar 25
LCA silo mentality

In reference to the following article in particular, but it raises an important technical issue.  The article is referenced here:

http://www.fcrn.org.uk/node/2397

and to be found here;

http://www.theicct.org/ifpri-mirage-2011-modeling-indirect-land-use-change

There is a long and on-going debate about the relative merits of attributional vs consequential approaches to LCA.  Both methods set specific boundaries to define the emissions associated with a product (e.g. biofuels in this case).

However, attributional methods will not include indirect LUC, as the emissions generated by iLUC are not directly caused by the production of a given biofuel.  Analysis of this LUC will be managed by conducting an LCA of the associated crops that may (or may not) have been displaced by biofuel production.  Any policy debate about the impact on land use of a biofuel must therefore be conducted in concert with assessments of the other crops that may be impacted.  This is an excellent way of generating a joined-up food production and land use policy debate.

Using a consequential approach stops the conversation between biofuels and other crop growers - creating an LCA silo.  This is a shame and reduces the value, in my opinion, of the valuable LCA work being done.

​For the beginnings of this debate, see Graham Sinden's paper, written in response to a critique of PAS 2050's philosophy - attributional vs consequential LCA:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11367-009-0079-3

Mar 24
Context = materiality = lost but not forgotten

In the welter of sustainability reporting and labelling initiatives, the critical factor of context (a.k.a materiality) is usually ignored.  As more commentators identify this problem (one of the most recent being Jon Entine​), demand for a solution grows.

It is interesting that with my background in certification a concept of materiality has always been crucial.  Perhaps it's because I work in a rare instance of a quantified sustainability labelling scheme.  Without an implemented, practical, way to define materiality it is not possible to make consistent certification decisions.

Materiality is therefore central to the meaning, quality and usefullness of sustainability and communication - without it we generate confusion...

Mar 18
The importance of working from within...

the system...​

When locked into a pattern of unsustainable activity (as social scientists or psychologists would say), you need ways of being able to talk about the problem before you can solve it.  There are broadly two ways of tackling our unsustainable system, fight it from the outside or shift it from the inside.  I tend to take the latter view and work to provide tools for companies to talk internally and externally about sustainability.

This thoughtful piece on the Guardian's Sustainable Business pages summarises the conundrum nicely:

"At the core of the problem is the fact that the vast majority of people do not feel connected to the issues."  If you're not connected, you can't talk about it.

And in a comment on the article from Hugh Skoppek:

"As a matter of fact CEOs and company owners have told me (privately) that they feel powerless in the face of this myriad of problems."  If you feel powerless, ditto.

Hence my interest in providing tools for companies to understand their internal impacts, the wider role of their suppliers and customers but also ways to communicate and discuss.  Product Carbon Footprinting is a central part of these tools (when well executed).

Mar 17
Context-based carbon and waste reporting

The Center for Su​stainable Organizations has released a pair of Excel tools designed to allow businesses to report their key carbon footprint and waste production data.  The important difference from many such tools is that they aim to place the results in proper "context" - allowing users to more fully understand what the metrics actually mean.

Carbon tool

Waste tool

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