A pallet order card

Mastering the Logistics Game

The watchword for UK educators, nowadays, is employability. We need to ensure that our students have better prospects as a result of the time they spent with us (not least because of debts that they commonly acquire during their studies) but how do you prepare a student for a career as a supply chain professional?

The Very Enterprising Community Interest Company think they have the answer – along with a pretty silly name, obviously – and their solution is an educational board game, Business on the Move.

Will we end up calling it BOTM, for short? Not on this blog… but school kids everywhere probably just started sniggering.

Every once in a while there’s an article (e.g., this one) in which those in the know fret that children didn’t know where their food came from. Inner city kids are horrified that eggs come out of a chicken’s backside, that vegetables grow in mud and so on. Trouble is, it’s not just food: young people are hazy on where manufactured goods come from, too – and how they are made to arrive. That’s where Business on the Move comes in: the game’s creators (Andy Page and Patricia Smedley) have used it with children as young as nine, which is pretty clever when you consider the complexity of the real-life systems that it represents.

Game board with vehicles in place

Planes, trains and automobiles. Oh – and ships.

This is a big game, in a big box that’s bursting with supply chainy goodness! Literally, in the case of my copy, which was damaged in transit. Plumbers have leaky taps; supply chain professionals have bad logistics. In fact, the whole game is an embodiment of the global supply chain that it describes: a sticker on the edge of my box reports that it was made in Ningbo, China (a quick shout out to old friends at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo…) so the game was imported in just the same way that the little counters on the board make their way from China to the UK.

Business on the Move - contents may settle in transit!

My copy of Business on the Move arrived somewhat scrambled, but the game box was the only casualty. With a somewhat squishy box measuring 61cm by 44cm, this isn’t a game that I’m going to be taking with me to Botswana on teaching trips.

In Business on the Move, virtually everything comes from China. There is a single domestic manufacturer, “the UK Factory” on the board but it comes into play only rarely, on the turn of a card. That’s a little unfair because UK manufacturing has grown tremendously in productivity: the “decline” of British manufacturing has really only been one of employment – not output.

UK Manufacturing output

UK manufacturing output [source: ONS via this BBC article]

At this point, let’s have a look at what you get for £60, plus shipping. The first thing we have to do is pause for a giggle at the world map that completely omits the Americas. (Are the authors getting the Americans back for the map in Avalon Hill’s ‘Diplomacy’ – the one that famously refers to the whole of the British Isles as ‘England’?) Beneath the game board, we find a large collection of counters that players of all ages will be itching to play with, featuring containers that fit into trucks and trains – although, sadly, not aboard ships and aircraft.

Detail from the centre of the Business on the Move game map

It’s like Christopher Columbus never sailed west: Business on the Move omits the Americas.

Closeup of the contents of the box

You get a lot of bits and pieces in Business on the Move: probably more that you’ll ever need, which is useful for a classroom setting where a few bits can be lost over time.

In game mechanics, Business on the Move is reminiscent of an old fantasy quest board game called Talisman, in that it features a board with looped, concentric playing areas where the player can choose to move either clockwise or anticlockwise after the dice are thrown. It’s a simple but workable system. In this game the player must declare at the start of their turn that it will be an ‘air and sea turn’, or a ‘road and rail turn’. The fairly simplistic air and sea stage involves bringing containers of goods from China to the UK: aircraft take a direct route and are likely to arrive sooner, but each only delivers a single container’s worth of goods. When a ship arrives in the UK, it delivers three containers of goods.

(Yes, the idea that a container ship carries only three times as much as an aircraft is ludicrous, but it’s a game. You’ll need to tell yourself that from time to time as you buy cargo ships for £20,000 and aeroplanes for £30,000, but it’s really no worse than buying Whitehall for £140 in Monopoly, and building a house on it for a hundred quid…)

Having purchased any new vehicles and paid for their upkeep (more on this later…) you’re almost ready to “roll your dice and move your mice”, as board game enthusiasts say. First, you must take a card, and again these are split into ‘air and sea’ or ‘road and rail’. These introduce a random element, detailing events such gridlock on the roads, piracy on the high seas, or the opportunity to buy an extra vehicle at a reduced price. At last it’s time to roll the dice: the number thrown matches the number of vehicles that are eligible to move, up to a maximum of four. All are thrown at once, and the player chooses how to allocate the results between those vehicles.

These aren’t standard dice, however. Instead of generating a number from 1–6, these only go up to five, with an additional result of ‘CO2’ – which is somewhat like rolling a zero. The player is then given the option of paying £5,000 to purchase carbon credits, permitting a result of ‘CO2’ to be re-rolled. It’s a simplistic system – all goods movements are assumed to have the same carbon footprint – but it’s good to see that the contribution logistics makes to climate change isn’t introduced in some game variant or optional rule: it’s built right into the fundamentals of the game.

Carbon credits game mechanic

When a ‘CO2’ result is rolled, the player can pay into a carbon credits system for another chance to move. Later, a player may be able to collect the accumulated carbon credits money.

Players will always begin with an air and sea turn, because all goods start in China. Will you choose to buy pricey aeroplanes with their limited cargo capacity, or will you choose the slower but more capacious ships? Will you buy some of each, reasoning that if certain random events mean that one kind of vehicle is delayed or sent back to base, the other one still has a chance of getting through? This is an example of the strategic decisions that players face as they play through the game. Some such dilemmas aren’t always terribly realistic: after all, most real companies don’t find it necessary to own a vehicle of any sort in order to get a container to the UK: they leave that job to a third party – and pay a bit less than you end up paying in the game, when you take all the risks yourself.

Logistics was never so multimodal as it is in Business on the Move: the Green player is supposedly Eddie Stobart… but this is a parallel universe incarnation of Eddie Stobbart where the company is also a shipping line and/or an airline. It would make more sense if players were able to negotiate deals to carry each other’s cargo, or to have a non-player entity take on some elements of the overall logistic system, but… it’s a game. By forcing players to move goods at both the intercontinental and national level, a more educational experience results.

With the goods now sitting at ‘Container Handling’ it’s time to get them on their way to the recipient. A player’s obligations to deliver are shown on cards with the CILT logo: for example, £30,000 will be received for delivering a container of microwaves to Tesco Extra, or £12,000 for delivering cuddly toys to Home Bargains. This is a nice touch because the anonymous container token can become something recognisable, that players feel a connection with. They get a sense of achievement in addition to some money.

Will the player choose to buy a train, or a fleet of trucks? Vehicle pricing continues to be artificial, with a train costing £40,000… and again, who actually buys trains? You’d pick up the ’phone and call Freightliner to get your goods moved, surely?

Rail transport is going to end up with a bad reputation because trains are relatively expensive, and a train only moves twice as much cargo as a truck. They move around the board slightly faster (fewer spaces on the inside track) but this advantage is dissipated by the need to move goods onwards from the railhead with a truck: trains seem like a bit of a bad bargain. Upon each turn, either ‘air and sea’ or ‘road and rail’, players have to pay for the upkeep of all relevant vehicles at £2,000 per vehicle – which includes those that you no longer have a use for. Since goods going overland must complete their journey by road, trains are going to be dead weight at least some of the time, and there’s no mechanism within the rules for selling off an asset that isn’t working well.

The game can be played at varying levels of detail because the rules are split into seven distinct levels: you can get players started quickly and then introduce more realism later. At the most basic level a ship that arrives at ‘UK air and sea terminals’ is immediately converted into three containers, and the vessel is sent to the company base, ready to be reused. There is no requirement to sail back to China… but since the basic game is a race to deliver four containers of goods, there isn’t much more sailing to be done anyway. Some of the simplistic game mechanics are addressed as the level of complexity is ramped up in subsequent games. For example the Monopoly-style business of handling money in the form of high-value banknotes is done away with in later games, in favour of company accounts: this will be great for our module on finance and decision making. At another level comes the opportunity to take “pallet orders” instead of container lots: containers are split into three pallet loads at distribution centres and then sent on for final delivery. With this comes the option of buying into a pallet pooling scheme… or not. Real-life decisions reflected in a board game: excellent!

Some other simplifications remain throughout the game’s seven levels, though. Insurance could have been made interesting, but instead it’s a mere vestigial stub of what it might have been. Buying insurance costs £5,000 regardless of how many vehicles you have and what cargo they might be carrying. Insurance is not per-period but lasts indefinitely, until a claim is made: you hand over the card when you invoke the insurance to avoid certain mishaps. Having handed over the insurance voucher, you’re in the clear. Given that a vehicle costs at least £20,000, the uninsured player would be daft not to renew their insurance at the start of the very next turn. The message that you’d be wise to take out insurance is valid but in a system as simplistic as this, it’s reduced to a no-brainer. (We’ve been teaching a lot more about risk and the value of insurance, just using Monopoly.)

A simplification that I really find it hard to like is that any container can satisfy any one order – there’s no such thing as traceability. If you lose two containers off your ship in a storm, for example, it’s a very non-specific setback. You haven’t lost the consignment of lipgloss, push chairs, laundry detergent, or whatever: you can move any one of your remaining containers to any destination represented on one of your orders cards and collect some money. Thus, on a bad roll of the dice you might still manage to make a short move and declare that the goods have arrived at Home Bargains – or on a good die roll you could forge on up the board towards Marks & Spencer and a more valuable payoff – with the same container. Real life doesn’t work like this. Or have we invented Shroedinger’s shipping container, where the contents are undetermined until it is opened? Fascinating.

An ‘air and sea’ event card

I lost some containers, swept off one of my ships in a storm – or would have, but the “i” symbol denotes an event where my insurance can be invoked.

Actually, we need to talk about Marks & Spencer. Clearly, they sponsored the development of the game – just as a lot of organisations did: the game positively drips with logos. That was a good way to fund the game’s development, I suppose, but why were Marks ’n’ Sparks allowed to feature on the board in three places? The distinction between ‘Your M&S’ on the north side of the board and ‘Your M&S Online – Mobile’ on the west side is insufficient – in fact just plain confusing. It could lead to frustrating mistakes, or even accusations of cheating. Perhaps M&S have convinced themselves that they really do have three distinct, strong and popular brands… but it doesn’t work for the purposes of a board game. Fortunately, such a problem is easily remedied with some laser printed stickers: simply replace the indistinct or unfamiliar logos on the board and on the order cards with those of a different organisation. I thought it would be nice to have IKEA in the game: everybody likes IKEA. A lot of the entities represented in the game don’t really have a recognisable brand in the eyes of the common man. If you’re already a supply chain professional you might know who Bisham Consulting are, but for most players the game would be far better if the container of goods went to a well known recipient like Toys ‘R’ Us or B&Q – neither of whom are represented. (You might object that I’m covering up the logos of the sponsors that made Business on the Move possible, in favour of companies that didn’t, but so what? They sponsored the Very Enterprising Community Interest Company – not me and my teaching.)

Two orders with different destinations, but very similar logos

Weak differentiation between objectives could cause players some frustration.

Before we leave the subject of Marks & Spencer (having replaced two thirds of their territory on the game board with something more distinctive) one thing that needs to be discussed is the notion of importing foodstuffs from China. With the apparently endless succession of food scares and scandals coming out of China, food from that source is thankfully rare in the UK. The Food Storage & Distribution Federation are mentioned on a few cards, but these can be picked out and disposed of easily enough. One of them is a bit silly anyway, in that it implies that all containers in the game are temperature controlled.

None of these gripes should be seen as insurmountable problems with Business of the Move: unless you’re competing in the world championships[1], you should always feel free to fix anything that you don’t like in a board game. Out of the box, Talisman (mentioned earlier) is a pretty awful game – but if you throw out certain cards that wreck the game mechanics and make a few other tweaks, it can be improved no end. Few people play Monopoly according to the rules as written. Similarly, Business on the Move is a very promising kit of bits: it has a few quirks, but nothing that can’t be fixed with ease.

Surprisingly, I have been unable to find a web-based forum that allows owners of the game to share experiences, and perhaps resolve the occasional ambiguities that are found within the rules. Perhaps the Very Enterprising Community Interest Company don’t have the resources to moderate a forum, but it seems a major oversight in these days of Web 2.0. (If you can find an online community that discusses how to get the best out of the game, please let me know?)

Meanwhile, I think one of the best ways to resolve the limitations of the game will be to have the students take care of them. For example, after introducing the students to the game, why not turn them loose with instructions to write rules for a game variant of their choice?

One thing a modified game might benefit from is rules for vans. If you’re playing the variant where you get to split a container into three pallet-loads for different recipients, it’s a shame that you’re left delivering those pallet loads using the standard truck: a fleet of vans could be made to dash off in all directions. Other student projects might add a set of rules that address warehousing, or replace the simplistic rules for insurance with something that teaches more about risk and decision management. How about adding a ‘nearshoring’ option whereby the player gets to consider procuring goods from the European Union – less profitable but with items available sooner? You could have UK manufacturing play more of a role, too.

Business on the Move needs a few tweaks to really get the best from it, but it’s oozing with possibilities.

 

 

 

 

[1] If ‘World Championships’ and ‘board game’ seems too embarrassingly nerdy, bear in mind that the Monopoly World Championship is played with real money – winner take all.

Advertisements

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 statistica.com 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.

References

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: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2012-greenhouse-gas-conversion-factors-for-company-reporting [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: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1298928/Dead-whale-pinned-Princess-cruise-ship-iin-Alaska.html [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: http://thebarentsobserver.com/industry/2016/01/hurtigruten-future-will-operate-battery-power [date accessed: 05/02/16]

Sisson, M. and McBride, K. (2010) The economics of cold ironing, online available: https://www.broward.org/Port/MasterPlan/Documents/PTI Cold Ironing Economics.pdf [date accessed: 02/02/16]

Botswana’s Water Crisis

I’ve just left Botswana, a place that I visit once a year as part of our Supply Chain Masters programme. I inducted ten new students there, and kicked off their first module, on the subject of supply chain strategy.

In Botswana a topic of conversation, time and again, was the shortage of water. The people of Gaborone are waiting for the rainy season to begin, but I’m told it’s been about a decade since the rain was sufficient to really fill up the reservoir at the Gaborone Dam. My colleagues have suggested that the public hasn’t been informed as to the full extent of the problem, although research suggests that the failure of supplies is hardly a secret: there’s even a neon sign in the city that reports the current level of the reservoir. The Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) also provides regular updates as to the state of supplies via its website. It makes grim reading: the principal sources of supply for the Greater Gaborone area are well below their maximum capacity:

Dam and Water Supply Situation, September 2015
Dam and Water Supply Situation, September 2015 (information from WUC, 2015)

The situation is somewhat better elsewhere, in the north of the country, but the capital is greatly inconvenienced and some southern villages are reported to have been without water for two or three weeks at a time.

Water shortages are not new. They’ve accompanied every visit to Botswana that I have made, and an article on Mmegi Online from last year illustrates the problem:

“For the first time in its history, Gaborone Dam is dying, its once proud 141 million cubic metres of water drying up to barely four metres above silt level. Of the seven water draw-off points in the Dam, six are exposed and the last is halfway in the water.

“Once the water reaches below this last water draw-off point, Gaborone Dam will have failed, depriving the 500,000 or so residents and businesses of Greater Gaborone their primary and traditional source of water.”

– Mguni (2014)

Can a dam die? Reporter Mbongeni Mguni’s article describes the Gaborone Dam as a great beast in its death throes. It’s a colourful simile, but there’s nothing wrong with the Dam: it will still be there, ready to serve again… when the rains return. In a sense, the fault doesn’t lie with WUC and their infrastructure, but with a growing population in the area – and with all of us, for our contribution to climate change.

A bad situation is becoming worse because Gaborone depends upon South Africa for some of its water. The Molatedi Dam (in the table above) is actually in South Africa. Equally, some places in South Africa depend upon water from Botswana: national boundaries don’t always reflect the infrastructure and resourcing arrangements. Under agreements that date back to 1988, cross-border transfers of water are reduced when reserves fall below a certain level. That serves to preserve dwindling supplies, but if you happen to live on the far side of a border it exacerbates the effect of reduced rainfall.

I have personal experience of being without water, although in my case it occurred in winter: our supply froze a few days before Christmas one year, and wasn’t restored until early in the New Year. For a couple of days, we clung on: showering at the gym, cooking with bottled water, and storing dirty dishes in the dishwasher, although it couldn’t be used. I was fortunate because I could bring snow and ice indoors, and leave it to melt. (Melted snow is nasty-looking stuff and you wouldn’t want to drink it, but it’s good enough for flushing toilets.) Eventually, though, we were forced to accept defeat, and we spent Christmas with relatives. Drinking bottled water is OK, but until the mains supply fails you don’t realise how often throughout the day you depend upon water for ordinary tasks, such as for washing your hands between jobs.

Next summer, we had our water pipe replaced with a frost-proof one, buried deep – at considerable expense. I hope never to be without water again: virtually everything in the household grinds to a halt, and I can only imagine what the impact would be if one were trying to run a business.

The first time I came to Gaborone there were times of day when there was no water to be had in our hotel. These times were announced in advance, and forced us to wake up early in order to shower. (The measure didn’t seem to save water, so much as to cost us sleep.) This time, there were no such interruptions, but the water in my washbasin was distinctly brownish. There’s nothing inherently wrong with water that comes with a bit of soil in it: I recall a bath on the Isle of Arran that looked like weak tea. It still got me clean: in fact, the peat-laden water was so soft, compared to that of my London upbringing, that a moderate quantity of soap caused it to foam madly.

Gaborone water, though, was water of last resort. It smelled strongly of chlorine, so obviously the water company are doing their best to keep it wholesome. Even so, I nursed my delicate British constitution by not to drinking any, and I avoided foods such as salads that would have been washed in it. (But I’m going to start suffering from scurvy if these trips get much longer…)

Tap filling a bucket with brownish water

Water supply as seen recently in Gaborone [photo: Fahmida Miller]

This is a report without a satisfactory ending, because the story itself hasn’t yet ended. The people of Gaborone can only wait, and hope that the situation improves. WUC have to do more than merely wait and hope, reacting quickly to reports of leaks and delivering water by truck where necessary. The government of Botswana can’t just wait and hope, either: they’re engaged in large-scale, not altogether successful schemes to pipe water over longer distances, including some from neighbouring countries. There is also a long-term plan of drawing water from the Zambezi, but Botswana’s Zambezi riverfront at the ‘Four Corners of Africa’ (the border between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe) is tiny: just a point on one bank of a 2,574km river. In such a situation, how much water is it reasonable to extract from a river that others also depend upon? Perhaps the tremendous flow of the Zambezi means that dipping into this shared resource won’t cause friction? On average, 1,088m3 of water per second goes over Victoria Falls, not far downstream… but even if water is so abundant as to be considered free, such engineering projects require time. Meanwhile, Botswana’s capital must continue to function, somehow – as must the nation’s water-intensive mining activities.

In the same week, one of my lectures was on the subject of the sustainable supply chain. I explained that sustainable materials are things that grow, or are refreshed by natural processes. Water is a sustainable material, per this definition… which serves to underline the difference between ‘sustainable’ and ‘being sustained’.

 

References:

Mguni, M. (2014) ‘A requiem as Gaborone Dam gives up the ghost’, Mmegi Online, October 10th. Available from: http://www.mmegi.bw/index.php?aid=46594 (accessed 03/10/2015)

Water Utilities Corporation, WUC (2015) ‘Dam Levels’, available from: http://www.wuc.bw/wuc-content.php?cid=109 (accessed 03/10/2015)

Cruise Holidays, Quantified

We’ve just submitted a paper for ‘Contemporary Perspectives in Tourism and Hospitality Research: Policy, Practice and Performance’. In this I’m teamed up with co-worker and tourism professional Christine for our second study of the cruise industry. In our first paper, we looked mainly at the effects upon a host community in the early stages of its development as a tourist destination. This time, though, we went straight for what Leslie [2012] called the Achilles heel of responsible tourism: transport. Leslie argued that the vast majority of a typical holiday’s contribution to climate change is likely to come from this.

If that’s considered true for most holidays, imagine how much greater the emissions are when your ‘hotel’ not only accommodates you and provides you with entertainment, but also moves from place to place. Moving a hundred thousand tonnes of ‘hotel’ is never going to be easy, even when it floats… and it turns out to be a particularly messy business.

Comparison between Boeing 747, Allure of the Seas, and the Eiffel Tower

Yes, cruise ships are big. The largest, Oasis-class ships consist of approximately 100,000 tonnes of metal.

Cruise ships typically use Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) – also known as bunker fuel. It’s a wise choice when you have to figure your fuel consumption by the tonne, because it’s cheap: when fuels are distilled from crude oil, yielding valuable products such as propane and gasoline, HFO is the residual sludge that’s left over. It has to be heated with steam just to get it to flow along a fuel line, and it’s nasty stuff in terms of the particulates and sulphur that are released when it is burnt. Our primary interest was in the climate change potential, though: we’ll worry about acid rain and carcinogens another time.

Sample of Heavy Fuel Oil

Heavy Fuel Oil: at room temperature it‘s more like grease. [photo: ‘Glasbruch2007’]

It was actually quite hard to ignore all the ‘other’ things that are reported about the cruise industry, like the dumping of sewage with little or no treatment, and other substances as well such as chemicals from on-board photo processing, dry cleaning and printing. In 1998-99, Royal Caribbean paid out millions in penalties following US Coast Guard surveillance showing the Sovereign of the Seas (then the largest cruise ship in the world) discharging oil en-route to San Juan. An investigation revealed the installation of a secret bypass pipe that discharged waste oil – with a similar device in use on every Royal Caribbean cruise ship [US Department of Justice, 1999].

In a single paper of less than five thousand words, we had to concentrate on just climate change, though. DEFRA [2012] quotes a figure of 3766.5 kg CO2e emitted per tonne for HFO consumption. (This is what would normally be called “well-to-wheel” analysis, looking at the greenhouse gases released by obtaining, refining, transporting and then burning HFO. The ‘e’ denotes carbon dioxide equivalency when assessing a mixture of greenhouse gases.) The exact fuel consumption will vary, depending on the ship and its itinerary, but 130 tonnes per day is a good starting point… which equates to 489,645 kg CO2e emitted per day – just for moving the boat and providing electrical power for services such as air conditioning. We went further, with a full life cycle analysis taking into account not just fuel usage but the provision of food and drink, excursions, travel to and from the port of embarkation and so on. Another thing that has to be ‘paid for’ is the ship itself: its footprint is affected by the materials used in construction, the number of cruises it will make during its life, and its likely fate. Only when all these things are known can we have a full picture of the contribution to climate change that is made by a cruise holiday.

Full details will have to wait until the proceedings of the conference are published (assuming our paper is accepted by the reviewers) but for now, if anybody is reading who cares about the environment but it also interested in taking a cruise holiday, the abridged version of the study is…

Don’t.

 

References

DEFRA (2012) 2012 Greenhouse Gas Conversion Factors for Company Reporting, available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2012-greenhouse-gas-conversion-factors-for-company-reporting

Leslie, D. (2012) Responsible Tourism: Concepts, Theory and Practice, Wallingford: CABI

US Department of Justice (1999) Royal Caribbean to pay record $18 million criminal fine for dumping oil and hazardous chemicals, making false statements, available from: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/1999/July/316enr.htm

What have the Romans ever done for us?

A light honeycomb centre encased in delicious… cement

Concrete is brilliant stuff. As the Romans could have told you, it provides a great way to get just the right shape without all that expensive and highly-skilled business of messing about with bricks or blocks. That’s why concrete is humanity’s most widely-used material, by tonnage.

The trouble is… that tonnage. Actually, that’s just one of concrete’s problems. Perhaps the biggest problem with concrete is that the manufacture of cement is responsible for at least 5% (some sources say 7%) of all mankind’s CO2 emissions… but low-carbon cement isn’t the subject of today’s post.

In between all that cement, you get aggregates. Historically, that meant sand, gravel and crushed stone… but when your species is making more than two billion tonnes of concrete per year, it’s all too easy to push the price of aggregates sky-high, along with the skyscrapers. That’s why it’s a good idea to introduce a recycled aggregate; making buildings out of old buildings has got to become the norm at some point during this century. It’s already happening, but inevitably the task of crushing up whatever waste you can acquire needs energy and has its own carbon consequences.

An alternative – in fact another part of the solution – is to manufacture artificial aggregates. That’s been going on for almost a century: Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate (or ‘LECA’) was developed in the USA around 1917. The manufacturing process involves pellets of clay that puff up when heated, like so much breakfast cereal. The resulting balls can then go into a concrete mix in place of natural stone: it’s ‘green’ because there’s less quarrying involved, and the product is more readily transported.

I might just pause to observe that when the Romans built the concrete dome on the Pantheon (still surviving 1,900 years on, and still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome) they used small clay pots and pieces of pumice in the mix, in order to reduce the weight in the higher layers of the dome.

So far so good… but a 21st century take on this promises still better performance. What if, instead of relying on clay, you could use a waste material? One of the exhibitors that impressed me most at Sustainability Live was Novagg Limited, would-be makers of just such a material. They propose to supply a new kind of aggregate, using almost entirely (98%) waste diverted from landfill – and not the ‘good’ high-value waste that everybody wants, but the real junk: industrial mineral wastes from the steel, aluminium, chemical and water industries, plus mixed glass.

novagg® pellets

They might look like mouldy pumpkins, but these pellets have a lot of potential.

The company adds a secret ingredient to make up the other 2%, and uses the same rotary kiln as the LECA manufacturing process. At a temperature some 400°C lower than with LECA (another clear advantage) the “novagg®” material puffs up into vitreous spheres that I’m told are lighter, but stronger than any competitor’s product.

Cross-section of some concrete made with novagg®

Concrete made with novagg® pellets performs well in terms of both thermal and noise insulation.

“Where there’s muck there’s brass,” as we say in Yorkshire. (Or at least, we used to.) Someday, somebody is going to make a fortune from this invention, I think. Right now, though, Novagg Limited are making sample pellets by the bag-load, not commercially producing aggregates by the truck-load. If you happen to have ten million pounds kicking around, to fund the construction of a full-scale production facility for novagg® pellets, I believe the company would like to hear from you – and you might be doing the planet a favour, too.

Novagg Limited demonstrator facility

The present-day demonstrator facility

Dude… where’s my wind turbine?

When serving as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Hilary Benn, MP, said that “the battle to deal with climate change needs to be fought like World War Three.”

Let’s pursue that analogy for a little bit. In a democracy, how do citizens fight a world war? Along with all the things you might expect, such as volunteering or ‘digging for victory’, one of the most important things that can be done to support the war effort is to provide money – typically by buying war bonds.

In the First World War, my ancestors would have been found buying war bonds at the ‘Tank Bank’. This was a touring display of the weapon that promised to overcome the deadlock of trench warfare, and the people on the home front went nuts for them: during the course of the war over £2 billion was raised. (This is a good time to mention the bonds, since the 3½% War Loan is finally to be redeemed, in its entirety, on March 9th of this year. A century is quite long enough to borrow money for, don’t you think?)

Buying war bonds at the Tank Bank

Buying war bonds at the Tank Bank

After the success of the Tank Banks, in the Second World War came the Spitfire Fund: towns and counties raised money to fund the production of warplanes.

“If you buy it I’ll fly it” – buying Spitfires in World War II

“I’ll fly it if you’ll buy it,” – donating towards Spitfires at a shop given over to fundraising

So, here we are in the opening stages of what Hilary Benn described as World War Three, but the people in my community don’t appear to be clubbing together to buy machinery that could ‘win the war’. In particular I’m thinking of the wind turbine: a machine that has the potential to provide some of our energy on a clean, renewable basis. Conjuring power from thin air: what’s not to love?

It seems strange to me that some of my fellow citizens dislike wind turbines to the point where they club together to protest against their installation. They’re not being asked to part with their hard-earned cash (at least, not directly), nor even to give up their land; only to have turbines placed where they might have to look at them, sometimes.

"Painful facts about wind energy"

Information displayed on a Facebook group opposing wind farm construction where I live.

I wish I could describe their efforts as quixotic, which is to say idealistic and unworldly. We derive the word from Don Quixote, adopted name of the principal character in a novel by Miguel de Cervantes that dates back to 1605. Poor, deluded Don Quixote believes (among various other things) that the thirty or forty windmills he sees on the plains are marauding giants: he charges them, and ends up unhorsed.

“Tilting at windmills,” we call it… but the efforts of the NIMBYs are not entirely quixotic. They’ve been highly successful. Like would-be invaders, the wind turbines have been driven quite literally into the sea, condemned to an offshore existence where difficulties in installation, servicing and power transmission mean they are far less cost-effective. (And still some people complain that they don’t like looking at them, on the horizon.)

Cost of wind energy, per megawatt hour [Parsons Brinckerhoff, 2010]

Cost of wind energy, per megawatt hour [Parsons Brinckerhoff, 2010]

The appeals to buy war bonds in the two World Wars were each centred upon an iconic and popular product, whereas the wind turbine seems to need something of a makeover.

There are problems with wind turbines. One of the major complaints levelled against them is that the benefits don’t trickle down to the local community. Perhaps part of that is because the UK was so slow off the mark with wind energy, and as a result a lot of the technology comes from our European neighbours. The wind turbines installed in the UK are more likely to have benefited a Dane or a German than a Briton, although that’s beginning to change as the supply chain develops.

Another accusation is that there are relatively few local jobs once a wind farm is up and running. Again, it’s true: a wind turbine just stands there, twirling away and putting out electricity. (This is why they’re so brilliant: they give us something for next to nothing… but it does mean that they create less jobs than, say, coal mining.)

For the landowner who manages to secure planning permission for the construction of a wind farm, it’s a license to print money: they don’t need to invest money of their own, merely leasing the land to people who do the rest. This leads to further resentment, because again that’s money for the few, and not for the many who will see them on the skyline. Part of the problem here is in using a planning system that’s poorly suited to this particular purpose. Did we reject major projects in the midst of the first two world wars? No: villages got evacuated to make space for gunnery ranges; forests were cut down for their timber, and so on. Because that’s how you fight a world war. While the installation of renewable energy systems is governed by the conventional planning process, residents will always be left wondering if an approval was granted because of a “funny handshake” or a plain brown envelope stuffed with banknotes.

I suspect we’re going about this backwards. That a community doesn’t benefit from something it never invested in shouldn’t come as a surprise. Instead of leaving wind energy to a new class of ‘little energy barons’ who happen to own the land, why aren’t we erecting wind turbines in the grounds of public buildings? We could start with schools and hospitals, slashing the energy bills of services that we all pay for. You might say that a local authority is too cash-strapped to be able to afford money for such projects… but current wind farms are constructed by companies that borrow money at commercial rates, and they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t expect a return on investment. Why not a council, or even a consortium of citizens?

And the next time somebody says “I don’t want a wind farm here,” I’m going to reply: “No problem! A new nuclear power station will probably bring a lot more jobs to the area…”

“They don’t make it anymore”

When Samuel Clemens wasn’t working as a Mississippi riverboat pilot, or writing novels under the pen name of Mark Twain, he was quite the humourist and philosopher.

“Buy land,” he advised: “they don’t make it anymore.”

It’s not entirely true: for centuries, mankind has been turning sections of the seabed, lakebeds and such into land that can be used by people. Without this practice, many rivers would be wider, the Netherlands would be 17% smaller, and much of Mexico City wouldn’t exist. ‘Land reclamation’ has been going on for centuries.

I’m not quite sure why it’s called reclamation, since the ‘re-’ part seems to imply that land was previously in existence, when clearly it wasn’t. Consider Samphire Hoe, a country park located at the base of Shakespeare Cliff near Dover – and made almost entirely from material excavated during the construction of the Channel Tunnel. Some 4.9 million cubic metres of material were deposited there, expanding the United Kingdom by thirty hectares.

In the South China Sea something similar is happening, although the building material isn’t left over from some other engineering project: it’s specifically being dredged up in order to construct artificial islands to bolster some extremely dubious territorial claims over a patch of sea.

While it isn’t true to say that “they don’t make it anymore”, new real estate certainly is expensive. Samphire Hoe came about because it’s basically a made-over spoil heap from a £4.65 billon project. The cost of the project by the People’s Republic of China in the Spratly Islands is unknown, but the adventure began with a naval battle at Johnson South Reef in 1988, in which seventy or more Vietnamese sailors were killed.

Land, it seems, always comes with a very high price.

Johnson South Reef

Artificial island under construction by the Chinese military at Johnson South Reef (Agence France-Presse)

At the same time, land elsewhere is disappearing. I have previously written about how Nauru is threatened by rising sea levels, and parts of the east coast of England seems to be melting away, too. Spurn Point, at the mouth of the Humber estuary, may soon become Spurn Island. In fact, during some extreme tides, it now does exactly that. The nearby port of Ravenspurn is long gone, and that’s a shame because it once played a significant part in history as the place where Henry Bolingbroke landed in 1399, on his way to defeat Richard II and become Henry IV, King of England.

Ravenspurn is far from the only settlement that Yorkshire has lost to the sea. Other curiously-named places include Hornsea Beck, Colden Parva, Ringborough, Monkwell, Waxhole, Owthorne by Sisterkirk, Old Withernsea, Out Newton, Dimlington, Old Kilnsea and many more… all places that you’ll now find only if you look below the chilly waters of the North Sea. The major east coast towns are protected by substantial engineering works, but that probably increases the rate at which less protected sections of coastline are washed away. Even the sturdy coastal fortifications that were built during the World Wars now lie broken and jumbled at mad angles, which doesn’t bode well for our attempts to resist coastal erosion, long-term.

Going, going... gone? Skipsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Going, going… gone? Skipsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

“What is the price of holding back the sea?” That’s the question the BBC has been asking recently. The cash-strapped government requires that a pound spent on flood defence must bring at least £8 in economic benefit; a requirement easily demonstrated in a densely-populated area, but much harder to achieve where it’s farmland that is under threat – despite the fact that even a temporary seawater inundation would leave fields unfit to grow crops for years.

The cost of flood defence is expected to rise by 60%, to £200 million, by 2030. One possible strategy is that of managed retreat: instead of trying to defend every single farm, selected ones would be allowed to revert to salt marsh – which is what they were, centuries ago. This sacrifice (allowing the sea to re-reclaim them, if you will) offers a number of potential advantages, including shortening the overall length of the coastal defences, and allowing the outlying marshes to absorb much of the wave energy before it reaches the sea wall… but on our crowded island, we can’t really spare the loss of too much fertile farmland.

On the global scale, there’s about 0.02 km2 for each person – based upon a planetary land area of 149 million km2 and a current human population of 7.25 billion. We can’t actually have 0.02 km2 (4.94 acres) each, because that would leave no space at all for wilderness, and in any case some of the land area is buried under thick ice in Antarctica. Still more is covered with roads, businesses and your share of public buildings. Some of it is old mine workings, landfill sites, mountains and so on.

Basically, usable land is very precious.

In the UK, the land area per person is just 0.003 km2 (243,610km2 divided among 64.1 million people), so it should come as no surprise that we import 40% of our food. This is a figure that is rising, but the really surprising thing is that it isn’t already a lot higher. With climate change, coastal erosion, worldwide population increase and pressure on the water supply, there are significant food security challenges ahead.

When, in the mid 17th century, astronomers began to use the eclipses of Jupiter’s moons to measure the time accurately (and thereby, to deduce their position upon the Earth) it caused a lot of maps to be redrawn. When King Louis XIV of France was first presented with a new, more accurate map of his nation, he is reported to have grumbled that he’d just lost more territory to his astronomers than to all his enemies.

You might have heard that “money is the root of all evil”, but surely land is at the root of everything, ever since our culture decided that land belongs to people, rather than the more ancient viewpoint that people belong to the land. From warfare between nations in search of Lebensraum to construction companies seeking a supply of sites suitable for development, it’s all about land. Even the most virtual of ‘Dot Com’ Internet businesses requires premises (or at least server rooms) somewhere, their staff must live somewhere and their equipment must be manufactured somewhere…

This is the real challenge: making use of something finite to provide for an indefinite future.

Buy land. They do still make it, but not nearly enough of it, and some of the old parts are disappearing. Choose the land you buy with care… and look after it.