Revisiting the Sustainable City Awards


By Sorrel Gibson


I attended the Sustainable City Awards in July. Now that everyone is getting back to work after the summer, I thought it would be a good time to refresh people’s memories about who won and why. There are five awards categories and two overarching awards.


Healthier Place Category - This awards best practice in promoting working environments and cultures which benefit the well-bing of workers or citizens, such as workspace designs and facilities, and social and community initiatives.


Winner: Growhampton – the Campus Ecosystem

Growhampton is a sustainability project run by Roehampton Students’ Union at the University of Roehampton. It is a sustainable garden which teaches students about sustainability as well as helping them to develop skills. It has a particular focus on food, with many types on plants growing across the campus giving students the opportunity to learn about where food comes from and how to grow it.


Innovative Spaces Category:  – This award is for innovative work operations to reflect our impact on climate change, with, for example, green infrastructure solutions and sustainable drainage.


Winner: Respace Projects

ReSpace Projects transforms disused spaces in London as a way of responding to rising levels of poverty and inequality. It shows how systematic reuse of wasted resources has benefits to society the environment and local economies. The transformation of these spaces is carried out by the community, helping to make this community stronger.


Managing Resources Category – This awards best practice to improve resource conservation (such as gas, water, electricity), reuse of resources, waste reduction, smart grids, energy management and heritage asset management.


Winner: Project DODO, JPA Furniture 

DODO involves the collection of unwanted furniture for reuse or recycling - saving it from extinction - hence the name DODO. This means the volume of unwanted furniture sent to landfill is reduced, working towards zero waste. A unique feature of JPA furniture is that they consider whether new furniture is really needed; they often help businesses make the most of the furniture they already have, perhaps by reuse or rehoming. In this way they are helping to reduce the waste sent to landfill as well as resource use and emissions associated with producing new furniture.


Smart Technology Category – This award is for the application of new technology for smarter, more sustainable city life, such as apps to inform behaviours and big data projects



iYFA was launched in 2015 with the aim of making advertising that is cost-effective, and also good for the environment, available to businesses of all sizes. The team have developed the eco Box which is “a communication medium which is recyclable, biodegradable, compostable and is made from sustainable resources” to help businesses to reach potential customers. Products they offer include biodegradable and compostable cups, boxes and bags, all branded with the businesses’ logo.


Sustainable Mobility Category – This awards innovative schemes encouraging sustainable forms of travel, reducing traffic and transport impact on the environment, tackling air pollution. For example, innovative projects to encourage walking, cycling, public realm enhancement schemes.


Winner: Hackney Council’s School Streets

The school Streets scheme reduces traffic outside schools by making them pedestrian and cycling zones only at certain times of day. It makes the streets safer for children to walk or cycle to school, as well as tackling congestion and improving air quality.


Overall Non-commercial Winner – Chosen from non-commercial organisations applying across all categories. This award ensures that the most outstanding overall achiever is recognised and rewarded.


Winner: ReSpace Projects


Sir Peter Parker Award – The Sir Peter parker Award recognises businesses that have successfully set new standards of innovation, performance and environmental leadership.

Winner: JPA Furniture


Now try it yourself

The awards help you to see what other organisations are doing and, hopefully, learn from them. Some of the key messages for business that come from the Sir Peter Parker Award winner are:

  • Looking at how your operations could be more environmentally and socially sustainable could really help your financial sustainability
  • Moving from a focus on sales to a focus on servicing what your customer really needs can bring new opportunities and strengthen customer relationships


I hope the lessons from the Sustainable City Awards will help you to drive some of the changes that we urgently need. (If you want help in doing so please talk to us at Earthly Gains Ltd.)


Help Save This Species

A plea on World Animal Day


by Martin Gibson


There is an animal that appears to be thriving. Its numbers are growing and its life expectancy has been increasing over recent decades. Many of the species are well nourished.


But the signs are not good for the future. The habitat for this animal is being destroyed at an alarming rate. Its sources of food are under increasing pressure and the way it gets its food is threatening its own future.


This poor species is destroying the life-support systems that the Earth provides for it. It is also likely to suffer from the effects of climate change. It may even start fighting its own kind as resources become scarce.


If things don’t change, it is likely that the numbers of this animal may decline by 90% by the end of this century. It will also destroy many other animal species.


Please help


But you can help. Time is running out but there are things you can do now to make the outlook for this animal much brighter.

So, start helping now. All you need to do is:

  • Stop burning fossil fuels
  • Stop (or drastically cut down on) eating meat and dairy products
  • Only buy stuff that you really need

These three simple actions could save this animal. The scientific name for this animal is Homo sapiens but you may know it by its common name the ‘human being’. If you don’t act now, we could lose this special animal forever!


When to put 'us' before 'me'


By Martin Gibson

You may have learnt about 'the tragedy of the commons' at some point. This was the term used to describe the effect of individual self-interest on the grazing of common land. Individuals put their own interests before those of the wider community, spoiling the shared resource so that everybody suffered eventually.


The observation was first made by William Forster Lloyd in a lecture given in 1832. The language seems rather archaic to the modern reader but the sentiment remains valid. The concept was given a wider audience by Garrett Hardin in 1968. He built upon it further in a paper in Science in 1998 which quotes Lloyd.


With a resource available to all, the greediest herdsman would gain - for a while. But mutual ruin was just around the corner.


In our everyday business lives, we often work within systems that divorce us from resources that we use. We rarely see the 'commons' that we are affecting and, even if we do, we seem to be such a small contributor to the tragedy that it doesn't seem worth doing anything about it - we continue with our self-interest. Unfortunately, such attitudes look like leading to that 'mutual ruin' as we overtax our environment.


So what will solve some of our soon-to-be-pressing environmental problems? Well, recognising the reality of them is a good first step. Then building effective partnerships to tackle the problem. At a global level, the actions in the Montreal Protocol to reverse the degradation of the ozone layer showed what can be done. The actions to date on emissions that lead to climate change are at least starting what could be an effective process.


In our day-to-day business, we all need to recognise where our commercial self-interest is likely to undermine the common good. This can be hard when the systems within which we work are far removed from the problems that we are helping to create. It is even harder when the problems may occur a long way into the future.


However, many companies have made a start. Often this is by tackling a problem for the 'commons' that aligns with the self-interest of the company - and why not? An obvious example of such an approach is to address energy efficiency. This can bring cost savings to address self-interest and help to mitigate the 'common' of climate change. It also has other potential self-interest benefits in that it can improve a company's reputation, hopefully leading to increased value.


Another common issue that has come to the fore with a vengeance is the use of plastics. The options for aligning with company self-interest on this issue seem a bit harder to find at present. However, companies that do so may have a lot to gain.


So go on, challenge yourself to find a way to put 'us' before the short-term interest of 'me' (or 'my company'). Hopefully, you will find that being selfless ends up being more rewarding than you thought.


Feel free to contact me if you would like to explore taking action.

Power to the people

By Martin Gibson

Election results across the western world suggest widespread discontent with the status quo. It seems many people feel overlooked and ignored. People want to have greater control over various aspects of their lives – they want to feel empowered.

Many people appear to hark back to a past when they had more power. So what power are they missing?


Well, these days, we have complex systems delivering everyday essentials. Take the UK power supply system for example. Electricity generating companies put power into a distribution system with national coverage and multiple regional companies. The customer rarely knows about these because they buy their electricity from one of many possible suppliers. The choice of which company to buy from has been the subject of much discussion and many customers are confused and pay more than they need. Despite many statements that the customer has choice, few would feel they have much control.


Contrast the complexity of today with the simplicity of pre-industrial times. People would have collected wood or purchased oil or coal. Supply chains were short and could easily be traced back to source.


Energy supply worldwide looks to be getting more complec as new forms of renewable energy are developed and added to distribution grids. Despite this, the increase in renewable energy may give power back to the people. Individuals or small groups can have their own solar panels or wind turbines. They can also produce power for their own electric cars and , perhaps, gains from utilising electricity storage capacity when the car is idle.


Where does this leave the existing energy suppliers? Well, for some of them, it provides opportunities to develop services to help customers in new ways. For others, It may mean that their products become obsolete. The speed of obsolescence can be fast; Amory Lovins provides an excellent illustration of how quickly cars took over from horses in the early 1900s in his talk on disruptive futures.

Changing energy systems means that some power is available to the people.

Wasteful purchasing 

As you probably know, there is a lot of support for transforming our economy into one in which resources are kept in circulation for as long as possible, in other words, a circular economy. In such an economy, production and systems are designed to maintain the value of resources through many product life cycles.

At the moment most of our systems assume that we extract from the Earth, make something with them and then discard the thing we have made once we are finished with it. This approach is depleting natural resources and we are starting to be constrained by the limits of our planet. If everybody lived the way people inn developed countries do, we would need about three planets in order to have a long-term, sustainable economy. So we need to change, and the sooner the change comes, the less disruptive and cheaper it will be.

To move to the circular economy we need new systems and business models. These need to nuture resources rather than just treat them as disposable and reducing asset.

Most of us interact with the economy when we buy things. A resource efficient economy would need to ensure that consumers were able to minimise the resources associated with their purchases. Purchasing should encourage the choice of longevity of a product. One aspect of this is how easily consumables can be replenished. After all you wouldn’t wasn’t to throw away your printer every time your ink ran out, would you?

Our current systems are very poor at nurturing resources, particularly for inexpensive items. I was struck by this when I went to buy two simple things yesterday: a roll of sticky tape and a refill for a ball point pen.

I wanted more sticky tape for my dispenser. While many shops were happy to sell me a new dispenser with extra rolls of tape, I went into five shops before I found one that just sold tape. The odd thing was that the tape alone cost about the same amount as the dispenser with spare tape. So apparently the value of the dispenser was negligible. The materials and energy that went into producing it gave no extra cost compared to just producing a roll of sticky tape. Also, if you buy the new dispenser and tape, your existing tape dispenser becomes effectively valueless and is probably thrown away. There is a cost of waste disposal, but this is not factored into the purchase decision.

How can our economic system put no value on a product that takes resources and energy to produce and dispose?

I had a similar issue with a pen. I have a nice ball point pen that takes a simple refill. None of the five shops that I tried sold a simple refill. I could buy a new pen with lots more material, making my nice pen a waste item, but I could not buy just a refill. Refills were available for many pens but these were all more complex and expensive rather than the simple one I needed. So apparently we can only make a business case for the replenishment of consumables for something expensive. If we want something simple and inexpensive, we have to add unnecessary material with lots of components rather than minimising the use of resources. This also leads to more waste.

Is it just me or does this seem like madness to you?

Get in touch if you would like help stopping such madness in your business.

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Tel: 01865 600575