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Big is the enemy of the good in all industries



This week, another naughty Big Energy company has had its wrist gently slapped for viscously ripping off customers. EDF is fighting its own battles. At some point, an elected government and its self-styled consumer champions, the regulators, will stand up for the people and break these malicious and inefficient oligopolies up.

Before Big Energy it was Big Supermarkets with horse burgers. Before them it was Big Banks. Ben Goldacre highlighted the behaviour of Big Pharma. We frequently comment on the reckless behaviour of Big Oil and Big Tobacco. The Guardian reports that, sadly but predictably, US Big Tech (Facebook, Apple and Google) has been creeping into political lobbying, following anti-trust activities against Microsoft. 

The biggest companies skew markets as much, if not more than, the public sector. They drive down employee and consumer rights, bully or bankrupt governments, intimidate or overwhelm regulators and wreck the environment.

While they often fund vital research and development, they are equally as guilty of stifling disruptive innovation through aggressive patenting and lobbying for self-interest. They demand ever-lighter regulation and even more support through lower taxes, subsidies, benefit funding for low wages and regular bailouts from governments. Their goal appears to be to privatise profit, nationalise loss, and the recreation of an unfettered free market utopia of the 19th century, without any of the concomitant risks.

In the unregulated utopia of the 19th century, we had slavery, child labour among those as young as nine, hundred-hour working weeks, no consumer protection, poisonous smog, unequal pay for women, countless deaths and injuries at work, the environment used as a dumping ground, criminally low pay and widespread discrimination. Businesses were also allowed to fail.

Some parts of the UK and the world still suffer some or all of these degradations, as we have successfully exported our economic policies, dirtier manufacturing and corporate bad behaviour overseas.

To deal with the inevitable social, economic and environmental fallout of unregulated or unfettered capitalism, forward-thinking governments of all political parties introduced controls.

These included the Factory Acts (1802-1962), Slave Trade Act (1807), Slavery Abolition Act (1833), Sales of Goods Act (1893 and 1979), Consumer Credit Act (1974), Clean Air Acts (1953 and 1993), Equal Pay Act (1970), Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), Environmental Protection Act (1990), Disability Discrimination Act (1995),  National Minimum Wage Act (1998), and Equality Act (2010). All of which were vigorously resisted by business and their friends in the media.

Over time and against powerful opposition, we painstakingly established social, employee, consumer and environmental protections. Some will rightly argue it was often too little and usually too slow.

However, these protections are fragile and now increasingly threatened by the biddable nature of today’s politicians and their raucous cheerleaders in the press; both of whom are funded by the corporate shilling.

Politicians extolling the virtues of ‘free’ markets, while defending and being underwritten by the oligopolistic players who distort them, is intellectually dishonest. For an oligopoly to exist, there needs to be a few large firms that can protect their dominance through significant barriers to entry. A compliant government and weak regulator helps. The revolving door between ministers, regulators and private operators remains unhealthy and anti-competitive.

This oligopolistic behaviour sounds a lot like domestic energy (top five have 75%), supermarkets (top five have 84%), banks (top five have 85% of current accounts), mobile providers (top five have 100%), and global pharmaceuticals, oil and tobacco players, not to mention certain media empires. The top two – News International (The Sun, The Times and Sunday sisters) has 34% of daily newspaper sales and Daily Mail Group has 22% – have over half of national newspapers read each morning.

While there is little we can easily do to global corporations, we could clean up our own backyard and give some teeth to the Competition Commission.

What could we practically do? Limiting the market shares, and therefore size, of monopoly utilities (water, energy) to fewer than 15% would create a more competitive environment. It would still mean seven players could control a market. Seven per cent might be a better goal to create 15 players. Only those companies that have independently-audited, excellent customer service and sustainable practices would be allowed to go beyond that level, and then only for as long as they maintain the satisfaction. To grow you would have to be great.

This would make it easier for greater competition in utilities, but if enacted more widely could similarly improve retail, financial services and could dramatically improve competition, innovation and better customer outcomes.

This is not the bleeding heart appeal of a closet statist magazine. We just would not want to live in a country without the essential regulations of the 19th and 20th centuries. This is a call-to-arms for genuinely competitive, genuinely sustainable capitalism, rather than the oligopolistic and irresponsible corporate kleptocracy we have created.

Further reading:

We shouldn’t treat corporations and investors like children

Government scapegoating retail for horsemeat scandal is pathetic

Aggressive tax avoidance keeps on hitting the headlines

The long-term matters, and sustainable investment holds the key to prosperity

Major changes needed to redirect investment onto a long-term path

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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