14 Oct 2009

Why building plots are hard to find

This is cool. Although I no longer share Audacity’s build at all costs line of thinking, and I seem to have dropped off Ian Abley’s Xmas card list, I like the way they have put this together, and I love the way it shows up just how silly the planning system has become. It proves that if you give a bureaucracy enough rope, it will eventually strangle itself, whilst merely drowning the rest of us under the weight of good intentions.

On Scaling Everest

I last wrote about Everest double glazing in June 07, and I was just a tad disparaging. The piece got some interesting feedback including one comment from someone who sounded suspiciously like an Everest salesman.

Last night in the gym I found an interesting article in Monday’s Telegraph, profiling Simon Jarman who is the MD of Everest. OK, I know I shouldn’t have been reading papers in the gym, I should have been listening to something bracing on my iPod, but age sometimes withers the urge for self-improvement and it’s just about then that one finds oneself reaching out for the Telegraph.

Just why would one find such a piece interesting? Well, sometime soon we have to clean up the mess that is our existing housing stock and Everest is a firm that is well versed in the black arts of home improvement. Could they become a force for the good, instead of covering the streetscapes of Britain with ugly plastic windows? Simon Jarman doesn’t exactly suggest they will but he is certainly moving the business away from its roots. Here are some of the points I picked out.

• Average age of customer is 55. 80% don’t have a mortgage. They are rich. (Cynics would say they have to be to be able to afford the prices.)

• There are over 3,000 double glazing companies in the UK. Anglian is No 1. Everest is No2, and yet Everest only has a 2.5% market share.

• The backbone of the Everest business is its 1,000 strong sales force, all of whom work as franchisees. The route to market is up to the individual, but they don’t do cold calling over the phone.

• Installation is subbed out. The only things which Everest do is a) make the stuff (at two plants in Kent and Wales) and operate an after-sales team (to sort out the cock-ups?).

• Everest started in 1965. In 1999, Brian Kennedy brought the business off Caradon. Since then he has sold stakes to both management and private equity. Last year sales were £165m, and profit £15m.

• Everest have moved into selling solar panels and are also considering getting into call-out services like plumbing and locksmithery (is there such a word?). And maybe home insurance products like boiler breakdown. Just like the AA.

• Ted Moult shot himself after appearing in an Everest TV advert.

7 Oct 2009

Monbiot loses plot

I can’t be alone in thinking that Dear George has been eating one too many psilocybin mushrooms, gathered from his Welsh hillside rambles. He writes with vigour and great expertise about a wide range of environmental topics, and usually his perceptions are spot on. But every now and then, he blows it big time and throws up a horror show of prejudice and ignorance. It’s a bit like discovering a favourite uncle is actually a paedophile.

He’s just done it again in this piece published in last week’s Guardian. In it he lays into the super rich for tonking around the Mediterranean in gas guzzling yachts: that’s OK, he hates the super rich. Whatever turns you off. But this is really just posturing.

His real target are the esteemed worthies of the Optiumum Population Trust: characters like Sir David Attenborough, Jane “chimpanzee” Goodall, Jonathan Porrit, James Lovelock and Sir Crispin Tickell. “It's no coincidence” he writes “that most of those who are obsessed with population growth are post-reproductive wealthy white men: it's about the only environmental issue for which they can't be blamed.”

Now the logic employed by George in his attack on the Optimum Population Trust is somewhat flakey. In fact, it’s completely flakey. As far as I can understand, he seems to be saying that poor sub-Saharan Africans may breed a lot, but they have a minimal carbon footprint and therefore don’t cause global warming. Whereas rich Westerners don’t breed nearly so much but have huge carbon footprints. QED A Rich birth will cause lots of carbon to be released whilst a poor one doesn’t, therefore rich births are bad news and poor ones don’t matter.

But the Optimum Population Trust isn’t demanding that only the poor should stop breeding. They want everyone to breed less. It is making out that there are just too many of us in all parts of the World and this will inevitably put a strain on resources and cause environmental mayhem in the long run. It’s basically saying we are headed for an enormous tragedy of the commons scenario. Added to which, the poor nations don’t intend to stay poor for ever: as their wealth increases, so will their demand for carbon intensive goods and services.

George rightly identifies the correlation between wealth and carbon intensity, but if you follow his line of reasoning to its conclusion, it seems to suggest that mass poverty is the answer.

George concludes: “Consumption can be expected to rise with economic growth until the biosphere hits the buffers. Anyone who understands this and still considers that population, not consumption, is the big issue is, hiding from the truth.”

Well, actually, no. It’s not an either/or. It’s both. The two factors are intimately connected. One isn’t more important than the other. The world could probably handle having 1 billion rich consumers living on it, but it is very doubtful that it could handle 10 billion. At the moment, we’ve got about 1 billion rich and 5 billion poor who would very much like to be rich. And the projections are that the population will grow to 10 billion sometime in the next 50 years. And the brake on population growth is projected to be widespread economic growth (for which you can read higher carbon intensity). That doesn’t seem like a recipe for a sustainable future.

As David Mackay keeps saying, do the maths. The solutions have to add up. And you can’t do the maths if you ignore the demand side of the equation.