On the daily

From one solo round-the-world sailor to another, Kiernan’s environmental legacy will live on.

Ian Kiernan’s passing this week marked the end of the beginning of an important period in the environmental movement. While the current Government continues to support non-renewable energy policies and last week’s barely mentioned IPCC report described a fast-approaching environmental catastrophe it is easy to lose hope. There is however a new approach to sustainability and it was Kiernan’s movement 30 years ago that started it.

As a yachtsman competing in the 1986/1987 BOC Challenge solo round-the-world yacht race, Kiernan was one of the very first people to observe the sheer amount of plastic in our oceans. On his return to terra firma, he leapt into action organizing the inaugural “Clean Up Sydney Harbour Day” on January 8, 1989. 40,000 volunteers collected 5,000 tons of rubbish that day. That event graduated into the first “Clean Up Australia Day” on January 21,1990. Since then, more than 7 million Australians have volunteered to do their bit. The movement went global with the first “Clean Up the World Day” in 1993. Last year it was estimated that a 120 nations participated with approximately 35 million volunteers globally.

We shall deeply miss Kiernan’s drive and vision. We should however be comforted to know that another solo round-the-world sailor, Ellen MacArthur is ready to pick up the baton and continue on.

Just like Kiernan, British-born MacArthur competed in a solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005. She in fact broke the world record for the fastest lap around the world. As Kiernan did before her, she observed the extraordinary amount of plastic in the ocean and like Kiernan, decided to do something about it. In 2010, MacArthur quit sailing and established the Ellen MacArthur Foundation focusing on the transition to a regenerative, “Circular Economy”.

The Circular Economy is a distinct move away from the current and doomed “Take – Make – Waste” linear model. In the Linear Economy, raw materials are extracted from the earth, used to make products that are then consumed and ultimately put into landfill for hundreds of years. Unlike any other living creature, human beings are the only species to create “waste”. And we have “managed” that waste mostly by putting it in holes in the ground.

As Kiernan and MacArthur discovered, some waste never makes it to landfill. Richard Attenborough’s 2017 documentary Blue Planet 2 declared that every year 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in oceans. Furthermore by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than sea life.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation describes the Circular Economy as follows:

“Looking beyond the current take-make-dispose extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles:

·       Design out waste and pollution

·       Keep products and materials in use

·       Regenerate natural systems

Companies small and large from around the globe have joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation along with the European Union and Universities to collaboratively lead the transition to a Circular Economy.

While we may not all be able to do a solo circumnavigation of the globe to really see the scale of the problem, 30 years ago thanks to Kiernan we saw the beginning of the issue and a community-lead solution. With MacArthur today a broader group of actors from across the globe are taking the next step in making the world a better place.

On the daily

The burgeoning “Circular Economy” already in danger?

Greenwashing is the death of the sustainability movement. We should know having toiled away for the past 15 years in the US offering parents a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic diapers.

Along the way there have been some epic claims from brands hoping to capture the hearts and minds of green-leaning consumers.

The FTC (America’s ACCC / EA) has tried with their green marketing guidelines but nothing much has changed. According to the guidelines, general environmental claims are verboten but on every shelf of every super market the meaningless term “eco-friendly” abounds. Green logos and marks are also a no-no and yet there are entire brands built around a green leaf mark. Guidelines are useless without policing.

We had our own fun with the FTC back when they announced their new guidelines. Nothing better than debating the science of biodegradation with FTC lawyers.

As someone said to me after the fact, you haven’t really been in business in the US until a Federal Agency has come after you. The only outcome from that experience was funding our lawyers next ski vacation.

Which brings me to this piece of news. A competition to find a technology that can recycle tailings from mines.

And they label it the “Circular Economy”.

Bravo.

So the answer to the mess that is mining is to find a way to recycle the byproduct?

What a delightful bandaid.

It’s right up there with “Clean Coal“.

Movements die when they get misappropriated by bad actors. And this is one such example.

We need to be ever vigilant.

On the daily

Change: it’s a love / hate thing

It often feels like change takes forever. And yet we live in constant change. And at a DNA level we seem to hate change.

Nature appears to move ever so slowly. Plant the seed, water, wait and over time there is change – growth.

Then again a storm like the one I saw hurtling toward our place a few months back (above) sure did move fast.

In business we demand speed. Companies that grow the fastest win. Win awards, win investor support, win by being acquired. Business principles tell us that Fast growth – a type of change – is rewarded.

And yet the only thing that grows in the natural world with the kind of speed we want to see in companies are phenomena like Cancer or a weed in the backyard. They are misunderstood, undetectable to the naked eye oftentimes and thrive in otherwise healthy environments. And they end life.

And then there’s change we (think we) can control. I was reminded of this after stumbling on Fast Company magazine from 2005 (below) yesterday. Faced with a choice to change our habits or face imminent death, only 1 in 10 of us change our habits. That’s pretty remarkable for us as a species and our chances for longer term survival.

We need to somehow change our view of change.

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Then and now

In my recently documented office clear up, I found this 14 year old edition of Fast Company. It was the first magazine I bought when we arrived in the US.

I love the smack-to-the-side-of-the-head headline about Work / Life balance and its illegitimacy. How far we’ve come where some workplaces today offer treadmill desks, sleep pods, unlimited PTO etc.

A little progress.

On the daily

A slightly less Uber Uber in a good way

A new on-demand transport service is trialling in our neck of the woods. It’s called Bridg and it’s very clever. As the name suggests it bridges the gap in those areas where public transport doesn’t offer the needed coverage. In our case the morning and afternoon school run. For a 10 minute journey to school the kids would otherwise be taking two Government-run buses and spend around 50 minutes doing it.

It’s the first real tangible experience I’ve had of “dynamic big data”. The app offers pick up windows but interestingly depending on where each rider is coming from, the pick up location changes each day.

So far it’s worked perfectly and it’s as cheap as chips. We have visibility on where the kids are and with successes the trial will expand to cover more of Sydney.

We have been back in Sydney four years now and as an experiment decided to see if we can avoid buying a car. They’re expensive in Oz, we live near the beach so the salt kills them and parking is scarce and pricey. We rely mostly on my Vespa and Go Get car sharing. So it’s actually working. And the Bridg bus makes it even easier.

The next challenge? Our 15 year old turns 16 on Sunday and I’m not totally sure how he’s going to learn how to drive!