Seven Easy Steps to a Greener Cruise Holiday

Our paper on the carbon footprint of cruise holidays continues to attract a good deal of interest (link to paper and slides), and that’s satisfying to see. Still, it only tells part of the story. The paper described our work to calculate the carbon footprint of a cruise holiday, but that’s a partial job, for two key reasons.

Firstly, there are other forms of environmental hazard: sustainability doesn’t begin and end with climate change. For this reason, Christine and I are working on a follow-up study. Secondly, though… it’s ever so easy to criticise something without having a workable alternative to propose, isn’t it? We showed that a cruise holiday involved somewhat over four times the contribution to climate change of a hotel-based holiday, but we didn’t actually say how to make cruise holidays ‘greener’.

We have to keep in mind that a $36bn industry isn’t going to change overnight, and particularly not if the changes mean that you have to stop using expensive assets that have a design life measured in decades… but there are some things that a cruise operator could do. Not tomorrow: that would be unrealistic, but perhaps next season. Here’s seven things that could make a cruise holiday ‘greener’ – and that passengers could look for when choosing their next cruise.

1. Travel Less, Visit More.

As you might expect, persuading up to 100,000 tonnes of metal to move through the sea requires a lot of energy. Cruise ships get through much more fuel when sailing than when in port or at anchor. Cruise itineraries often include ‘sea days’, where passengers don’t get to go ashore because the ship is travelling non-stop towards some distant destination. For some passengers, sea days are alluring: days when you’re guaranteed to be out of reach of e-mails from your boss, or phone calls from your relatives. Lazy days meant for working on your suntan, getting blind drunk or whatever. Other passengers, though, prefer a more varied and cultural experience.

Sunbathers on a cruise

Baker [2013] reported that sunburn was the most commonly treated ailment on cruises… although sexually transmitted diseases came in at number 2. Lovely.

A typical cruise ship, while underway, will be burning through multiple tonnes of Heavy Fuel Oil per hour. Consumption of around 125 tonnes per day can be considered normal, and DEFRA [2012] report emissions from HFO consumption to be 3766.5 kg CO2e per tonne, so that’s 470 tonnes of CO2e a day. Naturally, emissions are higher on days of non-stop cruising, and lower on a day spent in-port when the ship is essentially a floating hotel. Thus, the itinerary is a major determinant of the carbon footprint – and a quick way to slash the contribution to climate change. The environmental benefits of an overnight stay in port (two days in one place) should already be obvious – and it also means a reduced spend on HFO for the operator and more opportunities for the host community to do business with the passengers, so extended visits are win-win.

On the other hand, perhaps you believe that in a port city like Genoa or Piraeus there are only enough entertainment possibilities to keep visitors amused for around six or eight hours… which is a little bit rude to the passengers and the host community alike!

2. Higher Occupancy is (Somewhat) Greener

Whether it’s half-full or crammed with passengers, the energy used by a cruise ship won’t vary significantly. When moving up to a hundred thousand tonnes of boat, a few tonnes of passengers and luggage isn’t going to make a measurable difference, so it makes good sense to offer attractive deals that fill unoccupied cabins. The costs associated with the boat and its crew are largely fixed, so the incremental cost of an extra passenger is almost zero – and even a deeply discounted cruise sees the typical passenger shopping on board, buying drinks, and losing money in the casino…

Thus, there is a good business case for discounting to fill up a cruise ship. It’s arguably greener as well, given the fuel usage discussed in point one. (The no-frills airline that everyone loves to hate, Ryanair, used to claim their sustainability performance was better than that of other airlines because their load factor was better.) Of course, a ‘deep green’ would argue that low prices encourage increased consumption… but that’s another story.

It remains true that it would be better to have 200 cruise ships at full occupancy than 300 operating with moderate occupancy. The trick, of course, is avoiding the worst aspects of a price war. It’s more profitable to use a cruise ship than to leave it mothballed, and information from suggests there are 296 cruise ships in use… but if we could avoid building any more for a while, it might actually improve the profitability of the industry, by reducing oversupply.

3. Go a Little Slower

A cruise ship isn’t built like a Type 23 frigate, and it shouldn’t be manoeuvred like one. Forcing that big hull through the water demands a great deal of energy: give the water more time to move aside and your fuel bill will be slashed.

A ten percent speed reduction could mean a twenty percent fuel saving… with a corresponding reduction in the vessel’s carbon footprint, and perhaps less wear and tear in the engine room. It’s really just a matter of marketing a realistic itinerary. The industry doesn’t need to compete on speed: a good, modern boat with lots of amenities is a destination in itself, and a passenger who really cares about getting places fast is going to fly instead of cruise, so why not take time to smell the roses along the way?

4. Scrub that Sulphur

The emissions from ships’ engines can be very bad for public health and the natural world. Heavy Fuel Oil may contain as much as 4.5% sulphur by weight, and combustion results in emissions of sulphur dioxide. That’s bad news for people with asthma or chronic lung or heart disease, and it’s a major source of acid rain as well.

‘Sweeter’ fuels are available, at a price, but Kalli et al [2009] suggest that an exhaust scrubber is the way to go. Particulates will also be trapped by this relatively simple retrofit, and it’s a cheaper way to cut sulphur dioxide emissions than buying low-sulphur fuel. With the expansion of sulphur emission control areas, cruise operators might be forced to abandon some of their traditional itineraries if they can’t clean up their act, so addressing the problem makes a lot of sense.

Current and anticipated Emission Control Areas

Current and anticipated Emission Control Areas

5. Watch that Whale!

One can only imagine how upsetting it was for passengers of Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess in July 2010, when a female humpback was found dead, pinned in place on the bow of their boat. This might seem like a freak accident… except that a finback whale was caught and killed on the same ship’s bow in the same way, one year earlier. In all, Princess Cruises were involved in three such cases in a decade [Gordon, 2010], the most recent two occurring after a legal case in which Princess Cruises pleaded guilty to “failing to operate at a slow, safe speed while near humpback whales”, and paid fines and restitution totalling $755,000 [Hunter, 2007].

Obviously, nobody in the cruise industry sets out to harm endangered species (and as Laist et al [2001] shows, ships of virtually all types have been involved in whale strikes) but whale-watching is marketed as one of the attractions of some cruise itineraries, and thus cruise ships deliberately sail in waters where whales are to be found. Smaller vessels that take people out to view whales for a few hours generally adhere to better guidelines: they approach whales only slowly, and from a direction that doesn’t cause stress. They keep noise to a minimum (shutting down the engines) and they don’t dump anything in the water. They typically limit access to a third of the total daylight hours: all very different to whale watching on a cruise ship.

Dead whale, pinned to the bow of a cruise ship

Dead whale, pinned to the bow of a cruise ship [Reuters / Daily Mail]

It may be possible to turn whale-watching into a paid excursion, transferring passengers that want to see whales up close into tenders. Thus, the cruise line stands to get some more money while keeping the big boats away from our large mammalian friends.

6. Plug in

Although the biggest requirement for energy comes from moving the boat, a great deal of electricity is required for other purposes on-board, such as air conditioning, lighting and entertainment. Even if the boat is moored, one or more engines will still be running in order to supply the boat with electricity. Typically, vessels in port use marine distillate in place of HFO because it burns a lot more cleanly… but it also costs twice as much.

“Cold Ironing” is the industry term for obtaining electricity from a shore-based source. Using a land-based supply greatly reduces air pollution from ships, and could substantially reduce the carbon footprint as well (if generated by a nuclear or renewable source). It requires that the port has infrastructure that allows visiting vessels to ‘plug in’, but this is becoming more common, and it has the potential to reduce a ship’s energy bill considerably [Sisson and McBride, 2010].

Hurtigruten have taken things a step further, and are exploring the potential for battery-powered propulsion. “I will be disappointed if we don’t have a vessel with battery propulsion within 10 years,”  said CEO Daniel Skjeldam [Nilsen, 2016]. Even if it has to be a ‘plug-in hybrid’… imagine that!

7. Promote Local Food

Part of the appeal of cruising is the idea that everything is taken care of. The full cost of the holiday is known in advance, and there’s no need to obtain five different kinds of currency… we get that. But can you imagine how disheartening it is for host communities is to see a swarm of tourists heading back to the boat to have their lunch? What’s wrong with sampling the local food? So many cruise tourists leave the boat (carrying a bottle of water), have a look around a market or something… and then stampede back to the boat because it’s lunchtime!

The more adventurous souls who have lunch ashore get a far better holiday: they spend more time at each destination, meet local people and sample more varied cuisine. Their holiday is a more memorable one, perhaps leading to repeat business… and critically it gives something back to the host community, who have put up with increased congestion and so on.

The cruise line that champions local food might actually save a little money, too.

And Finally… A Pinch of (Sea) Salt

In their ‘Ten Signs of Greenwash’, Futerra warned that being the cleanest in a dirty industry doesn’t indicate sustainability. There are no bragging rights to be had for being the greenest Formula 1 team, or the most sustainable cigarette manufacturer. With the cruise industry, we have something similar. In our research, Christine and I have already established that a cruise holiday is far from ‘green’… but I wanted to show that there are some things that can be done, in the near-term, that would lead to measurable improvements. It all comes down to what the informed customer wants. And for that… we will have to wait and see.


Baker, D. (2013) Cruise passengers’ perceptions of safety and security while Cruising the Western Caribbean, Revista Rosa dos Ventos, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 140–154

DEFRA (2012) 2012 Greenhouse Gas Conversion Factors for Company Reporting, online available: [date accessed: 7/4/13]

Gordon, S. (2010) Whale found pinned to Princess liner is the third in a decade, Daily Mail, 20th July 2010, online available: [date accessed: 25/11/2013]

Hunter, D. (2007) Cruise line agrees to fine over whale death, Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), January 24, 2007, pp B1

Kalli, J., Karvonen, T. and Makkonen, T. (2009) Sulphur content in ships bunker fuel in 2015–A study on the impacts of the new IMO regulations and transportations costs, Centre for Maritime Studies, University of Turku. Helsinki: Ministry of Transport and Communications

Laist D.W., Knowlton A.R., Mead J.G., Collet A.S. and Podesta M. (2001) Collisions between ships and whales, Marine Mammal Science, 17, 35–75.

Nilsen, T. (2016) Hurtigruten of the future will operate on battery power, Barents Observer, online available: [date accessed: 05/02/16]

Sisson, M. and McBride, K. (2010) The economics of cold ironing, online available: Cold Ironing Economics.pdf [date accessed: 02/02/16]

Coca Cola "hotel"

A Gap in the Market

I’ve written before about Design for Logistics: how products themselves can ease or complicate their shipping, or the environmental impact of their packaging. I object to shipping large quantities of fresh air along with the product, and I suppose we all do, but not everything in the world nests together nicely for efficient shipping.

Once in a while, though, there comes along some holistic packaging design that’s so elegant as to take your breath away. If you haven’t already seen it, meet Kit Yamoyo: oral rehydration salts, zinc, soap and a leaflet of instructions for the care of a person with diarrhoea. The outer packaging also serves as measuring device and cup, and – here’s the clever part – it’s shaped to fit in between the bottles in a crate of Coca-Cola.

Inventor Simon Berry had observed that he could get a bottle of Coke just about anywhere, and yet far more important products such as basic medicines weren’t available. Wouldn’t it be possible to piggyback medicines onto the Coca-Cola supply chain? It was an idea that took twenty years and a lot of persistence to realise… but eventually it took off, as a result of social media.

“What about Coca Cola using their distribution channels (which are amazing in developing countries) to distribute rehydration salts? Maybe by dedicating one compartment in every 10 crates as ‘the life saving’ compartment?”

That was Simon Berry’s original Internet posting on the subject, back in 2008. Somewhere along the way, the idea was transmuted: instead of requiring the good folks at Coca-Cola to give up a fraction of their capacity in order to ship the rehydration salts, the innovative design meant that there would be no bottom line impact for purveyors of fizzy drinks. Everybody wins: it generates good press for the Coca-Cola Company (which makes a nice change from their product being criticised for being cheaper than milk)… and children don’t have to die for the want of a simple, cheap treatment.

Kit Yamoyos in a crate

Kit Yamoyos in situ, in a crate. (Photo: Colalife)

Although it’s the idea of fitting medicines into the space in a crate that brought the product and the newly-formed Colalife charity to the attention of the media, there are at least two other key components that make this grassroots supply chain work: micro-enterprise, and the use of mobile phones (specifically, SMS messages) to confirm delivery and make payments. Anybody could join in this distribution network – and earn money in the process. 

My Supply Chain Management students are already acquainted with Kit Yamoyo: I even made it the subject of one of their exam questions, last year. From a supply chain perspective, I wrote, critically discuss the approach taken, whereby the charity works with microbusinesses rather than simply giving the product away.

Students were divided on this point: some felt that a charity in possession of a life-saving treatment ought to be giving it away… and that’s the kind of aid model that I grew up with, back in the days of Bob Geldof. With a few wealthy sponsors and the assistance of the government, you probably could shift an awful lot of rehydration salts. You could just pitch the things out of the back of low-flying army transport ’plane, or something… but the purpose here wasn’t to deliver a life-saving product once: it was to change the economics of basic medicines fundamentally and permanently. With the ‘AidPod’ as a commercial product (albeit as inexpensive as possible) it gets treated differently. Stocking it at a sensible level is incentivised: tracking, and avoiding spoilage and pilfering becomes everybody’s concern. Manufacturing more ‘AidPods’ becomes something that companies want to do… and at some point between now and 2020, the whole venture becomes commercially sustainable.

Kit Yamoyo packaging

Like many really great ideas, it seems obvious afterwards. (Photo: Colalife)

Funny thing is, having created an award-winning package, Colalife are largely turning away from that design: a survey revealed that only 8% of retailers made use of crates of Coke to carry the kits. (Elsewhere in their published stats, Colalife report that they found just 4% of kits actually went into a Coca-Cola crate.)

In an effort to drive down the cost of Kit Yamoyo still further, a regular plastic ‘jar’ like the kind of thing you and I get peanut butter in has been tried… with the clever packets that fill the voids in drinks crates not entirely being phased out, but becoming rarer in the future.

“It was the space in the market, not the space in the crates that was important,” Colalife say. The Colalife website reports that approximately 60,000 Kit Yamoyos have been sold to date. Academics estimate that three lives have been saved per thousand kits used: if that’s correct, well… do the maths. While I was trying (and failing) to persuade the fishing industry to use crates made out of Pykrete, the Colalife team were saving dozens of lives – and they’re still ramping up the operation.

Let’s finish with what might be a particularly relevant message for our new MSc Supply Chain students in Botswana, Malawi, and Zambia:

“You can get any commodity/service to anywhere in the world by creating & sustaining demand & making it profitable to supply that demand.” – Simon Berry (Twitter: @51m0n)

#Plasticbagchaos, or The End of the World as We Know it

Something in the business news caused a lot of passionate reactions among the English this week. It wasn’t Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal – that has gone by with barely a murmur, despite well over a million drivers in Britain being affected. No… the thing that appears to have got our national knickers in a twist is the notion of paying five pence for a disposable carrier bag.

At first glance, that makes the English seem petty, not least because the amount is very small when compared to our grocery bills, and because anybody who’s been on a European holiday (plus anybody who shops at Marks & Spencer) will have become used to paying for bags. So why all the fuss? Is Britain sliding back into becoming ‘The Dirty Man of Europe’, as some European politicians used to delight in labelling us, back in the late 1980s, before the “Dash for Gas”?

In reality, there are good reasons for debate – even heated debate – on the subject of plastic shopping bags, and their environmental harm. There are more than a few misconceptions about them, as you will find if you’re brave enough to venture into the readers’ comments section of a major media website. One recurring question is “Why can’t shops all provide paper bags instead?” This falls into the trap of assuming that ‘biodegradable’ can be considered to mean ‘benign’.

The poor old HDPE single-use bag gets such a bad press, doesn’t it? Fortunately, others have already done a life cycle analysis of various types of bag, so we don’t have to. The problem, it’s clear, is that there’s an awful lot more work and material in a ‘Bag For Life’ than in one of the disposable ones. A study by the UK Environment Agency found the following:

Number of uses required, to match the low impact of a disposable HDPE bag

Required number of uses, to be as ‘green’ as the disposable bag.

Aussie researchers Hyder Consulting also got in on the act in 2007, producing a very thorough report that details a wider range of bag types, and also studies factors such as water usage. While I’m at it I should also give a “shout out” to Patcharaporn Musuwan, a former dissertation student of mine who studied this topic at the University of Nottingham, back in 2010.

When we consider that the ‘disposable’ HDPE bag often makes its final journey into the afterlife in the form of a bin-liner, its disposal actually serves a useful purpose, and further delays the point at which reusing one of the more durable bags pays off. Then there’s (perhaps) the question of hygiene, if you’re repeatedly reusing calico bags.

Single-use carrier bags

“Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication” – Leonardo da Vinci

So there’s a strong case in favour of the HDPE bag… but even tiny quantities of plastics add up when national consumption is counted in the billions. As many as 7,600,000,000 bags were used in England last year, which the BBC reports to be 61,000 tonnes of the things. We’re talking about England here because, unusually, each part of the UK has separate schemes. Wales (2011), Northern Ireland (2013) and Scotland (2014) all have bag charging in place.

It’s known that a compulsory charge for bags reduces the demand for them quite sharply, by prompting people to bring their own. In a sense we can almost regard the earlier introduction of charging in the less populous parts of the UK as something of a practice run… although if so, why is it that the new rules for shops in England are far less workable than those elsewhere?

Legislators exempted small companies (those employing fewer than 250 staff) from the obligation to charge for bags, in order to spare them an administrative burden. That sounds reasonable… except that some branches of well-known small shops such as Spar, Budgens, Costcutter and Subway will be exempt because they are small franchises… while other shops that have the same name over the door must apply the charge.

With me so far? Now, you still qualify for a free bag if buying buying raw meat, poultry or fish, or prescription medicine, flowers, potatoes, take-aways…

Among those exempt from applying the charge, some are planning to charge anyway, the Association of Convenience Stores reveals… which gives them a nice little bonus, at the cost of potentially exposing front-line staff to verbal abuse from disgusted customers.

This seems like a good point to wheel out one of my favourite quotes. It’s said by Mr Bumble in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist:

“The law is an ass.”

I’ll be delighted if the change means fewer plastic bags end up in the sea, but as usual we’re seeing that legislation is a blunt instrument, poorly suited to making people and companies do the right thing. It’s not all doom and gloom, though: at least there have been a few chuckles along the way.

“Suddenly that huge collection of carrier bags in my kitchen cupboard is worth a small fortune,” one Twitter user quipped – and Internet satirists have been merciless since October 5th, “bag day”, began. For example…

Twitter joke re. plastic bag charges in England

5p per bag: London in flames

#Plasticbagchaos. It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).

Tourism: a Question of Perspective

I’m finding out good things here at Contemporary Perspectives in Tourism and Hospitality Research: Policy, Practice and Performance. (That’s the “TPPP conference” for short, and to be honest, although I’ve been planning to come here for at least six months, and I still have to Google “TPPP conference” and use copy and paste when I have to name the event. But maybe that’s just me.)

The conference got off to a very promising start with a keynote by Anna Pollock, founder of Conscious Travel. “We’re not being honest,” she warns: the industry doesn’t protect the resource upon which the industry is based.

Author of the forthcoming ‘Social Entrepreneurship in Tourism: the Conscious Travel Approach’, Anna spoke of a “Tourism Tsunami” – brought on by a growth in the global middle class that sees more and more people acquiring the capacity to travel internationally. 4.9 billion of us, by 2030? It seems we can expect nothing but crowded roads, skies, and even seas. It’s a wake-up call somewhat similar to Anthony Day’s “Seven Billion People Want Everything You’ve Got”, and it’s a subject that I have been known to lecture on, as well.

Crowds of tourists at Angkor Wat

Be careful what you wish for: expectation and reality at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

It’s not all doom and gloom, though: some initiatives are delivering positive outcomes. Abby Paton described how music festivals have become more environmentally conscious, a trend that has been well-received by festivalgoers. There were still some shocks for me, though: I never knew how many people abandon their tents at the end of a festival. The link between wealth and waste couldn’t be demonstrated more clearly.

I think my own paper on the carbon footprint of the cruise industry went down well: there were some good comments afterwards. I don’t have any solutions to offer, but I feel that it’s important to quantify the level of harm associated with cruising… and that isn’t something that the industry itself has any interest in sharing with you. (Here’s the paper, and the presentation.)

Day two began with another excellent keynote, this one from Dr Xavier Font of Leeds Beckett University. He demonstrated how businesses in the tourism industry communicate their work in the area of sustainability very poorly.

“You wouldn’t let the hotel manager mess with the boiler,” he says, “so why let the environmental manager mess with the marketing?”

I learned a lot about those dismal, dreadfully ‘worthy’ bits of green reporting that you see on so many websites. The things that actually increase perceived risk, and could cost you business. For example, when you say “this is a sustainable hotel”, you’re actually planting the idea that it might be sub-standard: a limited supply of hot water, perhaps, or servings of morally deserving but bland food?

Don’t write about “sustainable food”, says Dr Font; write about “local heroes” instead – for a web page that has a chance of actually getting some traffic. Communicate with the customer in ways that are relevant to them: that the hotel saves money because it has solar panels fails the “so what?” test, but often a simple change in the wording that customers see can lead to positive outcomes including longer stays, a longer tourist season, and repeat business. 

The presentation was packed full of good examples, and it was very encouraging to see, because it shows how mere words can can deliver an affordable but substantial ‘green’ achievement.

Food for thought.

Sustainable Infrastructure… through Archaeology

As I made my way around the stands at Sustainability Live, one company stood out. At first glance, it didn’t seem like they should be there. Amid all the companies showing off valves, pumps, safety harnesses, energy-efficient lighting and so on…

Border Archaeology Ltd

From the wall of their booth, a photograph of a human skull stared out sightlessly. This grisly centrepiece was surrounded by potsherds, and images of archaeologists at work – plus a few images of excavators, theodolites and assorted paraphernalia of the trade.

Skull image, Border Archaeology

Hey… have you lost weight?

I think my face must have said it all:

Um… why?

It turns out that there’s a very good reason, and Marketing Director Rachel Cropper was patient enough to explain it to me. Imagine that you’re commencing a civil engineering project, and soon after your contractor breaks ground, you find that you’re digging up bits and pieces of our ancient history. That’s a problem, because you might wreck a priceless piece of our heritage – or turn up some human remains, halting work.

There are also more predictable occasions when you might need to call in the archaeologists as well, such as when conducting appropriate archaeological work is a condition of planning approval. A careful balance has to be struck between those who would like excavation to proceed at the speed of the archaeologist’s trowel, and those who would prefer that there’s no delay to construction work at all. Border Archaeology’s approach is to get involved early on, in order to reduce cost and time over-runs.

I’ve written before about how I feel that preserving our history is a part of sustainability. It doesn’t get as loud a voice as the efforts to “keep the lights on” or to delay the effects of climate change, and perhaps that’s only to be expected… but it is important. Future generations will not thank us if we always choose profit over heritage.

Border Archaeology brochure

Archaeologists have it in spades…

Border Archaeology particularly like working with water companies because such work is less vulnerable to the economic cycle. When a new pipeline is being laid the process might involve assessment and advice at the planning stages, monitoring the work being conducted and then stepping in to preserve any significant finds. Some pieces might be ‘rescued’ for analysis and perhaps public display, while others are documented and protected in situ, which is to say covered up again, and left alone: meeting the needs of future generations of archaeologists to have something to study, you might say.

Now, forgive my ignorance, but I’ve been watching ‘Time Team’ for decades now, and I just assumed that archaeologists either came from a university, worked for museums, or were volunteers. To me, the professional archaeologist was an entirely unknown genus – but Border Archaeology has about fifty of them on the books.

I’m told that an archaeologist will never get rich – and true enough, it seems that Indiana Jones has never been able to afford a new hat, nor Mick Aston from ‘Time Team’ a better jumper – but I’m still more than a little in awe of this, an industry that I never knew about until yesterday: protecting our past while simultaneously working with the construction industry to build our future.

Sustainability, it seems, comes in a lot of different guises.

School: where sustainability begins at home

On March 20th, sustainability coach Anthony Day presented at the Education Show in Birmingham. His topic was sustainability in schools, with three main themes; the school as a sustainable business, the role of sustainability in the curriculum, and its emergence as a career choice for young people.

You can find a podcast of the talk here.

Mr Day had a lot of good advice for schools, mentioning bodies such as the Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust, WRAP, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – any of which might provide help with making a school ‘greener’, and saving money. He also mentioned Friends of the Earth’s “run on sun” campaign.

What most interested me, though, was his take on sustainability in the curriculum. “It puts a different dimension on the pupils’ understanding of their place in the world,” he said, “and how the world is changing.”

If we want to teach sustainability, we have to teach by example.

While Mr Day gave his presentation in Birmingham, I was in Malaysia running a workshop on sustainable supply chain strategy as part of our BSc in Supply Chain Management. I’m pleased to say that our partner (the Supply Chain Management Professional Centre, SCMPC) in Kuala Lumpur also believes that we should practice what we preach.

The centre has a long history in the training of supply chain professionals, but only relatively recently has the curriculum been expanded to include ‘green’ operations. Accrediting bodies and an increasing number of employers now want graduates to be able to get to grips with ‘green’ issues, and this is reflected in recent updates to the programme. As you might expect, we address the environmental impact of manufacturing, logistics and supply chain operations, but sustainability can be pursued at many different levels, and SCMPC shows that a business in a supply chain training role doesn’t need to present only the theory.

Anthony Day’s message to schools would be entirely familiar to the management at SCMPC. It’s about ‘doing the right thing’, sure enough… but pursuing sustainability is also good business sense, as I learned during my most recent visit. Changes began, as is often the case, with the installation of low energy lightbulbs – LED types compatible with existing fittings. (I approve; I never thought much of the compact fluorescent type). Modern LED bulbs are being installed throughout the centre, with priority given to areas where the lights are switched on for most of the day.

SCMPC class photo

Director Edward Ang, and some of his students

Perhaps a more significant example was that whenever possible, faulty equipment is repaired rather than replaced. Finding a business with the skills to repair digital projectors wasn’t easy, and it’s harder still to find this at a competitive price, when compared to simply replacing electronic items outright… but again, SCMPC shows that the skills on the curriculum aren’t there just for show; procurement prevailed, and a suitable deal was struck. For a training outfit that uses digital projectors all the time, the effort paid dividends – and it has resulted in less e-Waste being produced, of course. Using a common model throughout the centre has permitted cannibalisation – something we could all think about when tempted by the latest hardware, perhaps!

Polystyrene cups have been replaced with paper ones, with a clear environmental benefit… and a sign appeals for attendees to take only one cup. Office waste goes for recycling, too. While any one of these small steps won’t make a huge difference on its own, each moves things in the right direction, and shows evidence of intent. There’s nothing wrong with picking the low-hanging fruit first! Future plans include adding motion sensors to control the lighting and save additional energy. I asked about water-saving, but such a small quantity of water is used within the centre that this isn’t being pursued at present. (Water may be somewhat less of an issue in rainy Kuala Lumpur than elsewhere in the world: there’s no ‘one size fits all’ in sustainability.)

When a course begins, students are given an information pack, and these come in a small, re-usable carrier bag. These not only promote the centre, but in their redesigned form they now give top billing to sustainability. We might take issue with the whole ‘bag for life’ thing – the UK Environment Agency seems determined to dispel a few myths – but that’s another story.

SCMPC branded carrier bag

SCMPC branded carrier bag

Meanwhile, if you really want to ‘go green’ and have a bag for life, here’s a great example of ‘upcycling’ that you might consider… Sourced make bags by hand, from old lorry curtain material. The designers make use of the logos and lettering that the material displayed in its previous life, so every bag (or laptop case) is unique. Not only can you feel good about your recycled purchase, but you can look good, too.

Anthony Day doesn’t like the term “retail therapy”… but I wonder if he’d be prepared to make an exception in this instance?

Bag by Sourced

Before Sourced, old truck tarps never looked this good – and (gasp) it’s made in Britain!

18th, 19th and 21st Century Slavery

Back in November, fellow WordPress blogger Pip Marks did a two-part series on Slavery in Australia, where the sugar industry caused tens of thousands of South Sea Islanders to be transported and then to work in appalling conditions. The Slave Trade Act of 1807 had supposedly abolished the slave trade within the British Empire, and required the Royal Navy to suppress the international slave trade through inspections and fines for ship owners, but this mostly affected the triangular route known as the Atlantic slave trade. Kidnapping labourers for the sugar cane plantations of Queensland was another matter entirely. ‘Blackbirding’, as the coercive recruitment of indentured labourers was known, was a very lucrative business in the mid-19th century, aided by corrupt government officials.

The city of Hull, not far from where I live, was the birthplace of William Wilberforce (1759–1833), a prominent anti-slavery campaigner. We’re proud of our most famous son, and we celebrate his work: visit Wilberforce House, or come for the annual Freedom Festival.

While he certainly had a lot of advantages in life (you needed them if you were to become a Member of Parliament, back in the 18th century) Wilberforce was a man of strong moral convictions. Eschewing party politics, he remained an independent throughout his career and voted his conscience: something that burdened few of his counterparts, it seems. His efforts to end the slave trade were defeated time and again; too many members of parliament profited indirectly from industries that depended upon slave labour.

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce (Hull City Museums and Art Galleries)

Teamed up with the lawyer and fellow abolitionist James Stephen, a change of tactics led to a bill aimed an banning British subjects from aiding or participating in the slave trade to the French colonies; this fitted well with the political climate of the time, and the act was passed on March 25th 1807 – by which time Wilberforce had been campaigning for twenty years. It did not actually outlaw the ownership of slaves, and full emancipation had to wait until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. (Aged 73, Wilberforce died three days after that bill’s final reading.)

It would be another decade before slavery was abolished within the territory of the East India Company, though, and as we have learned something very similar to slavery continued in parts of Australia for decades. This seems to be the trouble with slavery: stamp it out in one place and it springs up elsewhere, a hydra-headed monster. In fact, with the number of people living in slavery or slave-like conditions today commonly estimated to be somewhere between twenty and thirty million, there are more people suffering these miserable conditions today than there were in the days of William Wilberforce.

The modern face of slavery is a little bit more subtle than that of the 18th and 19th centuries, although still liable to provoke disgust. In October 2014 a man was jailed for four and a half years, having pleaded guilty part-way through a trial in which he stood accused of keeping a vulnerable man performing unpaid hard labour on his farm for thirteen years: not in some far-flung land, but in Newport, South Wales. There was also a case in Bedfordshire, England back in 2011, involving twenty-four victims, some of whom had been held for as long as fifteen years.

Pip Marks’ second post includes ten questions from Anti-Slavery Australia that are meant to identify a victim of slavery or forced labour, such as “Do you have a debt or contract?” and “Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?” These ten simple questions are all that is needed to expose modern-day slavery. You don’t have to be a sex worker or the victim of a religious cult to end up in forced labour; in fact, the conditions of low-status crew on some cruise ships should arouse similar concerns. (More about that at some point in the future.)

Now, the supply chain: modern manufactured goods are made from an awfully large variety of materials, from all over the world. How can we be sure that the products we buy and sell aren’t at some level dependent upon forced labour? The short answer is that it’s very difficult, although efforts are underway to tackle the problem. The Walk Free Foundation, in collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, is encouraging businesses to commit to “slavery-proof supply chains”, by providing information and a range of tools for risk assessment and remediation.

Modern Incidence of Slavery

Modern Incidence of Slavery (Walk Free Foundation, 2013)

As customers, we need to take an interest in this as well. How many slaves prop up your standard of living? Long-time readers might recall the ‘ecological footprint’ test that I recommended, indicating one’s share of the Earth’s resources. There’s something similar to assess your ‘slavery footprint’ here. Apparently, thirty-seven slaves were involved in the supply of my food, electronic gadgets and clothing.

As Wilberforce himself said:

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.”

The naming and shaming of specific brands isn’t yet possible, but that’s the goal of the Made in a Free World movement, and they’re making headway. They’re getting a lot of attention on the Internet, and they’re refining their models, looking specifically at the supply chains on which we all depend. Sometime soon, all our models of sustainability are going to look outdated if they fail to address the issue of forced labour.

The potential for scandal greatly exceeds that previously seen in relation to child labour, and news of it could spread around the planet at the speed of light. Has your company done everything it can to ensure that its suppliers are acting ethically?

We shall see.