Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Can ”Social footprints” and/or a ”Social Shadow Index” help guide decisions?

The lack of dynamic instruments that can help to measure products, companies and countries in terms of social impact inspired me to think about a measurement that can show what’s behind certain choices and what consequences over time these choices can have.

In the same way as I find the ecological footprint a good tool to make people think about the ecological consequences I think a “social footprint”/”Social Shadow” could do the same for social consequences.

I have started to write down my ideas about Social Footprint/ Social Shadow Index here, feed-back welcome. I will try to get the other ideas up on the web also, but it always take a bid longer than I plan to move things from word to html...

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Vattenfall and Shell in the lead with empty Climate PR undermining necessary actions

Last year climate change moved from a fringe issue to mainstream. These days politicians and business leaders are falling over themselves to talk about the need for a resource efficient low carbon future. I wonder if this new found enthusiasm partly can be explained by the realization that a strong PR message combined with destructive actions not only is possible, but also brings companies to the centre stage of influence and allow them a voice in media.

Governments like the Swedish and German have invited Vattenfall and both have appointed the CEO as a climate advisor. The result is that a company that talks about action to reduce CO2 at the same time as they lead the lock-in of Europe in dependence on coal power is rewarded and put in a position where they influence government policy. This is dangerous as serious companies realize that the government is not interested in real actions that deliver results.

Vattenfall might actually be so bad that they would become number one if a “Hypocrisy index” was created were the distance between word and action could be measured. (this is not to say that Vattenfall lack good ideas, see earlier blog for example of how interesting things happen within Vattenfall).

Other companies are trying a different path. They are trying to turn the environmental rhetoric around and try to make destruction something innovative that we should be proud of. Shell is probably the leader in this field. After Brent Spar and the Ogoni Shell, together with BP, took the lead in ethical discussions and investment in sustainable energy production. I have no idea why, but now Shell seem to do everything they can to position themselves as leaders in destroying the planet and ensure that the infrastructure for the addiction to oil will be with us for decades to come.

So right now I would put the following as the worst/most dangerous PR climate campaigns:

1. Vattenfall: “Empty words just add carbon dioxide” Yes, agree. Especially if the words come from a CEO that have used tax payers money (Vattenfall was compensated when the government closed one nuclear power plant for Sydkraft, now E.ON. and gave them part in a plant from Vattenfall and gave Vattenfall compensation for this) and high energy prices to invest in dirty coal power. Vattenfall is now responsible for more CO2 emissions that Sweden as a whole, to be celebrated as a leader then is something that

2. Shell: “Difficult, Yes. Impossible, No” I guess this refers to how the PR people replied when they were asked if they could make people believe that oil sand was part of the sustainable energy future. That they run this ad in Scientific American is amazing, especially when they manage to have it in the same issue as “The Sea-Level Threat from Sliding Ice Sheets”. My optimistic side think that the people how picked the spot wanted Shell to wake up and realize that they cannot redefine the truth with simple PR.

3. Ford/Volvo: “Life is better lived together”
Yes, but it is impossible if a lifestyle and technology that will make the poor people and future generations suffer is promoted to expencive PR campaigns.

I would like to add a third company to the list as the launch for the new destructive car use a slogan based on an idea of caring for each other. Interesting enough the launch of this car was so out of sync with reality and what people want that the FT of Sweden (Dagens Industri) asked if Volvo understood what the market was asking for.

With an image like Volvo they help fuel cynicism and here is the kind of respond they get. If this is the customer they want Volvo will have a hard time explaining why they should exist in the 21st Century.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

European Business Summit – Agreement about the need for a revolution, but little action

Participating in the European Business Summit (EBS)over two days is an interesting experience, part inspiring visions, part sad PR attempts and part opportunities for very frank one-to-one conversations with interesting people.

The reason for my participation was a panel with the theme “ICT: solution for a low carbon economy?”. It was a good panel with the following participants:

Moderator: Martin Porter, Managing Director, The Centre
Viviane Reding
, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, European Commission
Tim Cowen
, Commercial Director and Legal Counsel, BT Global Services
Francesco Serafini
, Senior Vice President, Managing Director, HP EMEA
Dr. Craig Barrett
, Chairman of the Board, Intel
Håkan Eriksson
, Senior Vice President, CTO, Ericsson
Dennis Pamlin
, Global Policy Adviser, WWF

It was encouraging to hear Viviane Reding talk about the role of ICT at the panel and the day after Euroactive wrote:
“To tackle the problem, the commissioner announced a range of actions for ‘the coming months’. The EU executive will start with a document suggesting the way forward. Then there will be a stakeholders' forum, followed by a final recommendation by the European Commission. ’Everything [will be] in 2008,- pointed out Reding.”

I look forward to follow this process. It sounds very much like the WWF-ETNO roadmap from 2005. But if we could get started now we have only lost two years.

The others on the panel where strong supporters, Craig Bannet was the only one who did not seem to be 100% on the solution side, but instead slipped back into the energy use of the IT-equipment all the time (maybe he did not hear that the rest of the panel left that discussion behind)

Looking at the rest of the event it is interesting to observe that the first panel included, but was not dominated by, Björn Lomborg. It was almost symbolic that he was part of the introduction as his role these days seem to be reduced to a clown/joker that is invited to be a voice for a world we have left behind.

His statements where either obvious things that no one disagree with (that we need to think carefully about the long term consequences of our actions, and that research is important, that we cannot solve the climate challenge by asking individuals to act as structural changes are needed, that other important challenges exist, etc) or just plain wrong (that it will be extremely expensive to save the climate, or that early action is unimportant). While he earlier discussed important issues like the risk of overestimating the risk of climate change (and other environmental threats) he seem to have nothing to say these days beside that we should not act, but instead focus on research (that it is not a matter of either or seem to more than he can grasp).

The final panel was dominated by Jeremy Rifkin, who talked about the need for a revolution, to make society smart, to move beyond incremental improvements, the need to focus on the three big areas of climate (Buildings, meat and transport). Jeremy have said these things for years, so the surprise is not that he says this, but that he is allowed to end the European Business Summit, and even more surprising the strong support he got from other in the panel. I hope they all read our material from Davos that is exactly about this (5 meg and in a difficult format to read as it is from A4 to A2)...

The biggest surprise for me was probably Gunter Verheugen, hardly known for his leadership in sustainability. He was talking about the need for market regulation in order to ensure that new technologies can enter into the market. The feed-in tariffs that gave birth of the Wind industry in Germany was all of a sudden almost his personal invention. Others on the panel where equally radical. Mark Spelman, Global Head of Strategy, Accenture, talked about the need to get sustainability and climate in as performance management targets on board levels in companies, that innovation must be supported and venture capital increased. Bernard Wientjes, from Belgium was probably one of the more conservative on the panel but was still presenting ideas about green houses that are net producers of electricity.

I should also mention Jean-Philippe from Microsoft who was on the same panel as Lomborg and probably the one on that panel with the most coherent message. From innovations to smart homes, he included much of what Jeremy talked about in the final panel. But there was one big thing missing (not only from him but everyone, including Jeremy): NUMBERS. There were very few concrete numbers about the CO2 reductions that different options will result in and very few, if any, concrete numbers regarding …

So in short the conference started with the historic way of looking at climate change as a problem, and ended with the perspective that it is a driver that can deliver a positive revolution.

I would not mind if the theme next year could be action, where the conference start with the most innovative solutions today and end with the most promising for 2010… Less talk and more action…

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Narrative for a better future – art as inspiration

Spent last evening at ”Elverket”, a theater for new Swedish and European productions, discussing climate change and global resource issues. (interesting that a place that is meant for new ideas exclude pretty much the whole world).

It is fascinating/worrying that so few plays are dealing with what is seen as most experts as one of the biggest challenges of our time. It is hardly because the climate issue/the state of the environment is too depressing (just look at Shakespeare...), so why? Will we be able to change our destructive relation to nature (and each other) if the narratives are so complex that the “cultural discourse“ can not incorporate it?

Since Aniara (1956) I don’t think Sweden has been able to produce anything interesting on the theme. Maybe it is time now more than 50 years later for a new generation to engage in discussions that are beyond the direct human interactions?

Monday, 18 February 2008

Supporting a low carbon development in China - the role of CCICED

Over the weekend I participated in the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) Low-carbon Task Force Scoping Meeting. Over two days we discussed how a roadmap for a low carbon development could look like.

Some key areas that I think would be worth considering are:

1. Balance between incremental and transformative change in key sectors (most of the work now focus on low-hanging fruits that can be delivered by incremental improvements. These are important, but not enough if we are to reach the deep reductions needed, then transformative change with new innovative way of providing the services are needed)

2. How China can move up the value chain in a low carbon way (ensuring that a low carbon economy is part of the overall economic development, instead of creating a high-carbon lock-in where CO2 reductions are applied ad-hoc) This would mean that China will approach a low carbon development very different from OECD countries that still try to reduce CO2 emissions in an ad-hoc way in a system that promote a high-carbon development.

3. Low carbon export from China (how can China support a world with cost effective low carbon solutions).

4. Accelerating well-off low carbon lifestyles (it is easy to forget that about a billion people in China still have a low carbon life style due to poverty. How people can have a well-off life combined with small carbon emissions is the key challenge)

The case of Baoding in China could be used as one case study (of many) for all of the above.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Germany as a leader towards a high-tech low carbon society?

Germany will lose its no. 1 position as the world’s export nation to China this year. 2008 is also the year when, for the first time in human history, more people will live in urban areas than rural. It is time for some re-thinking.

At a conference in Berlin today arranged by BITKOM the theme was climate change and resource efficiency. Instead of the usual focus on their own products the focus (for most of the time) was new services. Germany could play an important role in the shift from a “problem” to an “opportunity” perspective when it comes to climate change and business. BITKOM could play a key role in this. I know I’m an optimist, but I think it would be easy to get things going in Germany.

Hopefully CEBIT could follow the example of BITKOM and also focus on the services that the ICT sector can provide (not only the products)… If all goes well I might be there virtually (as I will be in India at the time for CEBIT).

Still working on a pledge that I will ask conference organizers to sign in order for me to go there. The pledge would be to follow-up and measure concrete progress after events. I think events like this one by BITKOM in Berlin is ready for this...

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Trade and Climate with UNEP and others

Just spent two interesting days in Geneva (day 1 and day 2) where the links between trade and climate was discussed. Too much of the discussion focused on formal discussions and those from WTO defending the current trade system. Surprisingly little time was spent discussion what we need to do in order to deliver the necessary emission reductions.

Good to see that Benjamin Simmons is the lead on the trade/climate link at UNEP and that Ulrich Hoffman from UNCTAD is working hard to ensure that focus is on real results. Few if any people from China and India at the meeting though. So 30% of the global population and economies with a key role to play in the climate and trade was not represented, even if I did my best to bring an “emerging economy agenda” to the meeting.

The five areas of work that I presented was:

1. EGS: Developing and implementing a project based approach (tech trans/IPR/innovation)

2. Embedded CO2 in imported products: Turning an excuse for protectionism to an opportunity for innovative reform.

3. Dynamic effects of export: Exploring ways to estimate indirect and systemic effects of different products (outward investment)

4. Labels for sustainability (not reduced problems): Work with key label schemes to move from a product based approach to a service based approach

5. Supporting Sustainable export from China: Joint project with MOFCOM in China to explore support for sustainable trade

That the link between trade and climate is starting to reach mainstream discussions is very welcomed and hopefully we will see intensified discussions

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Trying to be provocative is not very interesting, but as Taleb actually has something very interesting to say it is easy to ignore his teenage way of writing.

Anyone who knows me understand that I would read a book where one of the first pages contains this gem: “Why do we keep focusing on the minutiae, not the possible significant large events, in spite of the obvious evidence of their huge influence? And, if you follow my argument, why does reading newspaper actually decrease your knowledge of the world?”

The theme of the book is how we deal with the things that never have happened before. How do we prepare for what we cannot know, especially if these are really massive events? But it is not done in a very structured way and it is one of these books that seems to focus more on sales on airports than actually contribute to some new thinking. It is entertainment, not education.

However, the use of models (by social scientists and economists) are dealt with in a brilliant way from time to time, and the book provides a lot of material for inspiration. It is inspiration of the best kind (i.e. when the author writes about an important issue, but you disagree with much of what is written…)

One of my favorites is on page 280 “Economists often invoke a strange argument by Milton Friedman that states that models do not have to have realistic assumptions to be acceptable – giving them license to produce severely defective mathematical representations of reality. The problem is of course that these Gaussianizantions do not have realistic assumptions and do not produce reliable results. They are neither realistic nor predictive.”
This might be the only thing future students will learn about much of the national/political economy from the end of the 20th Century… ;)

The issue on how we deal with things we have never seen before is very real in the case of climate change, we need to act before we have seen the consequences and with an issue that society was not made to deal with. Usually we create rules and regulations after the problem appears, but this is not possible this time as we might only have one chance.

The cover of the book I bought in India is really nice, no text at all just the white and black swan, very simple...

A sad moment in a happy context

During the weekend got the following question over a dinner (The happy context was Mattias Klum turning 40 years) “name one thing that is bad about climate change”… Such a strange question to get 2008. My response was another question (as I think the reply is valid for climate change as well) “Can you name one bad thing about war”. (in the same

It got me thinking that even educated people with time to think might have a hard time to understand the magnitude of the challenge and the suffering climate change already is causing.

Maybe it is media that is creating this longing for “one” answer and make it hard for people to deal with complexity, especially if it is in the shape of a black swan (something that you have never seen before).

Maybe it was just a bad conversation starter, as an optimist I hope that it was the case and not that we are more ignorant that I dare to think.

James at WEF reminded me yesterday about the situation in China and here is a link to a weather related article (this took place as they were preparing celebrations for the Chinese new year)

Friday, 8 February 2008

Desperation in the coal sector – The Future(gen) is dead, but industry refuse to re-think, or?

Futuregen, another clean coal power project is dead, but the coal people refuse to see the writing on the wall.

Technology exist to deliver fossil free solutions, but that require us to drop the current supply driven perspective and move to focus on the services we need. The heavy coal actors will probably never to manage this transition, but in some companies there is hope shining in through the cracks of the fossil façade.

For example, Vattenfall is working on a new business model (Portfolio Vision) that moves them away from the linear (block-on-a-block) approach that result in more coal and CCS solutions, towards a service perspective that look at what people really want (see snapshot). Not clear if this will transform one of the biggest polluter and slick climate communicators to a company that actually deliver sustainable solutions, but it is encouraging to see innovative thinking from a company that is in the forefront when it comes to locking EU into an unsustainable future.

Maybe they have read one of the many studies that show that sustainable system solutions (demand side and renewables integrated) is less expensive, e.g. one of the studies from Booz Allen Hamilton.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Money available to save the planet – Thank you Exxon Mobile for (potentially) saving the planet

With high oil and energy prices and there are obviously those making a lot of money. Beside those who I focus most on (oil income [GCC, Russian and Norwegian oil fund] and power companies that make a lot of money] it is obviously the big multinational oil companies…

Anyone talking about the lack of money for a transitional to a low carbon/resource efficient economy should take a look at the money available. February saw Exxon release their numbers for 2007 and with more than US$1000 profit every second from one (1) company during 2007 it is strange that people can say that we cannot afford to build the infrastructure that can save the planet …

From The New York Times:
“The company [Exxon Mobile] reported Friday that it beat its own record for the highest profits ever recorded by any company, with net income rising 3 percent to $40.6 billion, thanks to surging oil prices. The company’s sales, more than $404 billion, exceeded the gross domestic product of 120 countries.

Exxon Mobil earned more than $1,287 of profit for every second of 2007.”

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

NEW: Discussion Paper from CII – Building a Low Carbon Indian Economy

2008 will be spent more in India than before, and even if it is raining now and the plane was delayed I really look forward to the next few days here...

Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) is really an interesting organization and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to collaborate with them. I really look forward to the first results from the joint project “Sustainability as a driver for Innovation and Profit”.

One thing we will include in our work is the the new discussion paper from CII, "Building a low carbon economy" available for download here, just one example of how business in emerging economies often are more progressive than companies in the west. My guess is that old structures are weaker and they see the challenges as they often living" in" them...

Sunday, 3 February 2008


They deserve to be spread as much as possible so here are the two Davos papers on ICT and CO2 mitigation that I hope to help turning from words to action.

1. Contribution of ICT- submission to Governors (short paper)

2. Contribution of ICT- detailed paper (long paper)

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Looking at a 6 degree world – optimist or pessimist?

Having read too many books on climate scenarios I will probably not read Mark Lynas new book “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet”, but he is a sympathetic person from what I can judge from the few interactions we’ve had. The recent interview in Wired is an example of how he manages to raise the most fundamental issues in a way that hopefully people can digest. It is about our view on humanity and maybe also how you live your own life.

The quote below is from the article in Wired:

“WN: You wrote in the introduction that you were surprised to discover that some people find this subject matter incredibly depressing. You don't get depressed by this?

Lynas: Everything from 2, 3 degrees upwards is a "what if" scenario. When people come to me and say that they stopped reading at 4 or 5 degrees because it was getting too depressing, I say, "But you shouldn't be depressed, because that may never happen. There's still something you can do about it!"

Whether you get depressed depends on how likely you think this is to happen. It comes down to your view of humankind. If you think humans are innately selfish, that they don't care about the future and just care about driving flashy cars, then you're going to get depressed. If your view of humanity is that we're an intelligent species, that we can come together on an international basis and find solutions to this problem that include all the world's people, then you'll have more hope. It depends on your personality, and on your politics.”