Professor, author, and greenhouse gas expert, Mike Berners-Lee talks to us about sustainability in this fascinating and important chat. From a practical perspective, Mike’s research work and consultancy help businesses get on top of the climate crisis. Businesses want to be more sustainable for various reasons, and Mike explains how a business response to climate change affects every part of a company.
How much extra time has COVID bought humans in the fight against climate change? There is good news to go along with stark warnings. Covering product and services, early adoption and specific sectors, this is a chat that will spark questions and hopefully provide a few answers, for every business owner.
Jake Shaw, Mike Berners-Lee
Mike Berners Lee gives practical advice on how to manage and reduce your carbon footprint.
Jake Shaw 00:01
Hello and welcome to the Amaiz podcast where we talk to businesses large and small, experts in subjects across a spectrum of business, entrepreneurialism tech, innovation, investment and finance. I’m Jake Shaw, your host. If you'd like to learn more about Amaiz, please go to www.amaiz.com.
Jake Shaw 00:22
Today I'm joined by Mike Berners Lee. Mike is a greenhouse gas expert. He's a professor at Lancaster University. He's also How Bad Are bananas? The Burning Question and his book, There Is No planet B. Both your parents were mathematicians and computer scientists, you have brothers and sisters who are in computer science, I should imagine that University Challenge and Trivial Pursuit, at Christmas at your house was pretty competitive.
Mike Berners-Lee 00:46
Let's just say there was quite a bit of maths going around in our family.
Jake Shaw 00:49
I suppose becoming a professor was the basic qualification that one had to have in the Berners-Lee family,
Mike Berners-Lee 00:54
it happened to me totally by surprise, actually, I came into the back door, I just sort of started doing this carbon stuff. I realised climate change was a big deal. Direly trying to help businesses work, work their way through it, ended up writing some academic papers, one way or another getting into the university and becoming a professor was kind of an accident.
Jake Shaw 01:12
You also have a consultancy, that deals with this for companies do you?
Mike Berners-Lee 01:16
I come at this from a really practical perspective, climate change is a huge deal that needs sorting out. And I started off just trying to help companies. And it turned out that in order to do that, you needed to do some research. And so I do a mixture of things, I do bits of research and stuff with companies just trying to help them to really get on top of the climate crisis. And I write books to try and just get a wide understanding of really what's going on. Where does carbon come from in the world? How does climate change fit in, you know, all the way to things that are going on for humanity? And most importantly, what can all of us do to try and make the world better?
Jake Shaw 01:55
So you've written several books, as you said, I suppose your most broad ranging one is There Is No planet B, which is great title. The question I've got for you from one of the titles, Mike is, how bad are bananas?
Mike Berners-Lee 02:07
Well, there's good news in lots of my books. So bananas turn out to be pretty good from a carbon perspective, because although they come from typically come from the other side of the world, they come in a boat, which is about 100 times more friendly, more carbon friendly than putting them on an aeroplane. So we can chill out about bananas any time of year, oranges any time of the year, apples, even if they've come from New Zealand, because they've come about.
Jake Shaw 02:33
With COVID obviously, people are travelling a lot less. And a lot of the research says that travelling overseas on aeroplanes, is going to become a far less prevalent thing. So with that in mind, and with COVID, causing people to use delivery systems and commute less, can we stop worrying about that now?
Mike Berners-Lee 02:53
COVID has probably thought humanity about six weeks of extra time on climate change through reduction in our carbon footprint, not least through lack of flying. So you know, moving forward, obviously, we need to transition into a way of doing life that is just dramatically more carbon friendly than the current moment. And the good news is that we've got nearly all the technologies more or less in place to be able to generate all our energy through mainly solar power, but also when transmitted to everywhere, decarbonize all our land transport. But we do actually have a bit of a problem with flying specifically, because we don't yet know how to put a passenger aeroplane on a flight across the Atlantic or the Pacific say and you know, long haul flight without burning through something like 100 tonnes of liquid hydrocarbon or fossil fuel probably. And that in turn, turns itself into about four times that weight of carbon dioxide. And because it all happens at altitude, that makes it about twice as bad, again, because they'll hold the high altitude factors kick in so we do have a problem with flying and there was kind of a hard reality that was the overall the transition to low carbon world. If we do it right, it's an opportunity to just live better and enjoyment enjoy life more while we're at it. But specifically in terms of flying it just isn't any getting around the fact that we need to fly a bit less, quite a bit less. Doesn't mean we can never fly but we need to get used to the idea that we only fly for really good reasons.
ake Shaw 04:31
Weekend city breaks in Barcelona isn’t really is it.
Mike Berners-Lee 04:34
That's absolutely right. I mean really special family holiday or going off to see a long lost relative, get married or something or you know, maybe a really important business trip. That's okay, just to do it, you know, on a regular basis or just for a weekend away or something like that. I think we've got to get our heads around that that kind of stuff is going to have to stop.
Jake Shaw 04:54
Thinking about that, I mean, a lot of the listeners to this podcast are people who are running small businesses, sole traders and stuff like that. And from what we know is, you know, there are individuals, they're concerned about making sure that they leave a nice planet for their children and stuff like that. So, I mean, what's the commercial incentive for an SME to be more sustainable?
Mike Berners-Lee 05:16
Businesses coming to me and to my business saying, Look, how can we really get on top of this stuff? Because I have found variety of reasons. Primarily, they're coming to us now saying, look, we care about this, we want to feel proud of the business that we run. And they're saying, you know, what, our staff care about this stuff. And we want our staff to feel really proud of the business when they go to work. And increasingly, companies are saying, look, there's a place in the market for a company in our industry, that's, that really gets it and whose customers want a business that really gets it. Great example of this is we've been working with Brewdog, and they really get this stuff. Actually, they read No Planet B and picked up the phones, Oh, come on, we've got a climate emergency, you know, what can we do, and they're taking it right across everything they do, how they brew their beer, how they talk to their customers, what they write on their beer cans, they're planting trees up in Scotland to take carbon back out of the air, they're really getting it. And they're making it a very exciting proposition. And you know, they're going to sell a tonne more beer as a result. They're not doing it just to sell more beer at all. But because they're doing it with a real commitment and vigour and they mean it and they're honest about it, they're going to end up selling a tonne more beer.
Jake Shaw 06:26
So there is that thing that businesses now have to be authentic, transparent and truthful. Being more climate aware and taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint and being sustainable actually fits into that? How can businesses better manage their carbon footprint?
Mike Berners-Lee 06:42
In terms of I'm going to widen that question out a bit and say, How can businesses respond to climate change, because part of that, a big part of that, but not all of it, a big part of it is, is what you do with your carbon footprint. And so the first thing to do is to try and get a good enough understanding of what it is. And it's not just about the carbon that comes out of your factory chimney, or the carbon that lies behind your electricity and your energy use, or carbon that comes out the exhaust pipes of your vehicles, it's also about the carbon that is in the supply chains of every single thing that you buy. So if you buy products in, you know, they they're made in factories, or grown on farms or something, and there's carbon associated with all of that. So it's the first step is to try and get a good enough understanding of that, it doesn't need to be perfect, but needs to be good enough. And then, and then start picking your battles, understand what the hotspots are, start picking your battles. And it'll be different for every business. But for example, if your business involves a lot of driving vehicles around, then the questions are things like, you know, do we have to do quite so much driving, when we do that driving, what's the best kind of vehicle to be driving. And this is a simple thing for anyone who gets involved in driving. If you just drive more sympathetically, even a bit slower, takes a lot of the carbon out. And just being a bit less harsh on the brakes, takes quite a bit of carbon out. So there's there are some things we can all do that just don't even require any planning, we can do it in an instant
Jake Shaw 08:03
Driving at a more considered pace, probably better for yourself, isn't it?
Mike Berners-Lee 08:07
The benefits are your vehicle will last longer, you'll become less stressed, you will be safer, and you save quite a bit of money on your fuel as well. So there's kind of all the different benefits from it, it really stacks up.
Jake Shaw 08:19
So that's really great for small businesses, you say with vehicles, but there is the inherent carbon footprint of the manufacturer of that vehicle. How can companies mitigate that?
Mike Berners-Lee 08:28
Well, typically, the carbon footprint of driving is something like, a third of it is boils down to the fact that every few hundred thousand miles, you've got to manufacture a new vehicle, it makes sense to look after vehicles and keep them on the road for a relatively long time. In the long run, we need to electrify all our road transport, but you shouldn't switch to an electric vehicle until the time comes that your vehicle has really come to the end of its effective life.
Jake Shaw 08:53
So no sort of yearly turnover vehicles try and keep them until they are not efficient anymore.
Mike Berners-Lee 08:58
Yeah, that's absolutely right.
Jake Shaw 09:00
That's great advice for people talking about the individual me as I run a small business, how can I make things better? So for instance, I used to make two or three trips a month and I'd get a train into London, get on the tube and all that sort of business. I'm not doing it anymore. What else can I do that is making me more sustainable and more carbon neutral.
Mike Berners-Lee 09:19
So first of all I say about your train travel, you can probably chill out about your train travel a bit. It's the most carbon friendly form of land transport after cycling and walking. But what else can you do? Well, for a business like yours, what every business should ask what's the output of our business? What do we offer, you know, you do podcasts and you do media and you communicate with people and you help people to understand so a huge question, probably the most important question for you to be asking is, you know, what kind of messages am I sending out? Am I, am I helping the people who listen to my stuff, to understand the difference between facts and fiction to get their heads around the climate crisis and other environmental crises. Am I doing my bit to enable democracies to function, to function well? So, you know, one of the things we've been doing recently, for example, we've been assessing some text ads to try and understand the extent to which they are pushing for a better world. And if you get a company like Facebook, for example, actually, you know what its carbon footprint doesn't matter, all that add to the influence that it might have either positive or negative, on the way that democracies are functioning, and the way that people are unable to separate fact from fiction.
Jake Shaw 10:34
Let's think about somebody who's running a building company, then they're driving and they've got people that got the van and that sort of thing. How can they make themselves as an individual more sustainable?
Mike Berners-Lee 10:44
The UK housing stock is some of the most energy inefficient in Europe. So questions about are you enabling and encouraging people to improve their housing to increase insulation cut out the drafts put double glazing in? Use sustainable materials? Are you helping people to have energy systems and heating systems that are carbon friendly, there's a stack of work to be done there. And there's huge employment and commercial opportunities out of the transition of our housing stock into something that is fit for the 21st century. I mean, it's a, it's going to be a huge growth opportunity. So I'd say to anybody involved in the construction industry, really get your head around what the needs of the future are going to be in a world that's getting on top of climate change.
Jake Shaw 11:34
But do you think innovation, sustainable and green technology is speeding up?
Mike Berners-Lee 11:38
There's plenty of innovation, there's fast pace innovation going on in sustainable technologies, energy generation, energy deployment, you know, how the built environment, all of that is moving at pace. And I think, you know, for example, we've got a family friend who's just starting out a career as an electrician, household electrics are going to be so complex, going forwards with questions about where the energy comes from, does it come from solar panels? Can you fit a heat pump? If you feel the heat pump and solar panels? Should you be having heat batteries in the house or electric batteries in the house? And exactly how will the heating and lighting system be working? I mean, it's a really, getting it right now is an incredibly interesting and complex challenge. And then building it is there's two sides to it. There's one is the kind of, you know, the technology of the building materials and, and, and the construction design. And the other is the quality with which the building is actually done. So you have the people who have built, who've been putting in the insulation, have they actually really taken care to make sure that the insulation gets right into the hardest to reach corners, so that the whole building really is heatproof.
Jake Shaw 12:45
Mike, what two bits of advice that you could give to somebody running a small business right now, that in your view, would make them significantly more sustainable. And if there's some innovation in there, I'd like to hear about that, too.
Mike Berners-Lee 12:58
The first thing is about managing your carbon footprint, first, understand what, what the big deals are in your carbon footprint. You know, I've written a book about this, if you look in how, in How Bad Are Bananas, there's, the information is there for you, and there's a quick guide to it, for example, but just trying to understand what the hotspots are. And then just ask yourself the question, What can I do to cut those down? And I think, for most people, it'll be fairly simple to find, you know, at least some good answers. And the second thing to ask is, well, what about what we do as a business? You know, what about our products offering or the goods and services that we provide? How can we make sure that they are consistent with a world that is moving towards low carb, and you know, whether you're in the construction industry, or, or making goods or just providing any kind of service, that's pretty well, always a way that you can offer that, which is, which is lower carbon.
Jake Shaw 13:53
So we're actually looking forward to a world where there is going to be significant opportunity to become sustainable. So it's a good idea, is it not that everybody gets on board with creating sustainable technology?
Mike Berners-Lee 14:07
It really is. My business is getting phone calls all the time, from companies who say we want to be at the lead of our industry. Increasingly, companies are spotting that there are customers out there who are yearning for brands that they can really trust and feel good about. This is taking off it wasn't like this two years ago. And it is like that now so people who are sort of wondering whether their customers care enough, the answer is if you thought they didn't care two years ago, that has probably changed.
Jake Shaw 14:35
Following COVID and we've got Brexit coming up as well to become a masters of that particular sector will be quite awesome, would it not?
Mike Berners-Lee 14:42
Well, there's definitely first mover advantage or early mover advantage for sure.
Jake Shaw 14:47
Mike, where can people find you and your company because I'm sure that there will be listeners will be clamouring to get hold of you.
Mike Berners-Lee 14:54
Okay, so you can find my company smallworldconsulting.co.uk And you can find if you get either of my books, How Bad Bananas the carbon footprint of everything, which is like a tour of carbon footprints. You can find my email address in that. And if you're on my other book, There's No Planet B. You can find my email address in that or just look me up online or Mike Berners-Lee on Twitter, any of those.
Jake Shaw 15:18
Well, Mike Berners-Lee, thank you so much, and I look forward to reading your books.
Mike Berners-Lee 15:23
Jake Shaw 15:24
Thank you for listening. If you'd like to hear more podcasts like this, please go to www.amaiz.com and don't forget to like and share this podcast.