Flying in private jets
Typically the remit of the wealthy and political sphere, private jets are beyond the reach of most given their purchase price. Some corporates lease jets or hire them by trip. Of course, the question of how environmentally sound they are looms large. A recent Guardian article gives some good insights.
Deepwater Horizon – the total cost to BP and their disclosure
On July 14th last, it was reported on the BBC website that the total cost to BP of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill back in 2010 was totalling $61.6 billion – quite an amount. If you look back at the media websites/newspapers over the years you will see the amount rising over time.
Just out of curiosity, I had a look at the most recent financial statements of BP to see what they include on this. Two things came to mind before I looked at the accounts 1) the amounts involved here are material and 2) it spans many reporting periods, so IAS 10 Events after the Reporting Period would probably kick in. Looking at the accounts to 31.12.2015, they contain a separate note which itemises the events of the event on each of the three financial statements. You can see the accounts here – look at note 2. It is quite detailed and I do like how they have shown the effects, and the note is quite detailed. It is not very often such significant events occur, and as far as I can see BP have done a good job on this note. It certainly should provide an investor with enough information to decide whether to invest in the company or not – a key criteria of what financial statements should do.
Going green in your house is expensive
In this post, I am having a bit of a go at the costs of material and devices that I would label as “eco” – things that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. I try too to give an answer.
Have you ever noticed how some Eco items cost more than, shall we call them traditional items? For example, eco building materials like some insulations are much more costly than the traditional materials. Or more efficient appliances such as heating boilers cost more. What bugs me a little is, if our goal to is to reduce energy consumption, reduce CO2 or live more sustainably, then why are many things that could helps us so costly?
Two reasons come to mind as a management accountant. First, there may have been some capital costs incurred by manufacturers to produce newer and more sustainable products, which are included in the price. These costs may decrease over time as economies of scale creep in. A second reason is that although the costs may be higher, there may be savings to take into account. For example, an certain insulation maybe be twice the cost, but it can seriously reduce your heating bills over the several decades.
Food waste – in numbers
You have probably heard about the amount of fruit and vegetables wasted in the food supply chain. This waste “occurs” for three main reasons. First, in less developed countries, poor transport and storage can result in waste. This also happens in larger developed countries, where distances mean fruit/veg cannot survive the trip. Second, the exacting standards imposed by retailers as to the size and shape of fresh fruit and vegetables causes growers to simply dump large quantities each year. Third, end consumers throw away perfectly good food.
Personally, I grow some fruit in a small suburban garden. We never but jam, as I make enough for the household for the whole year. We have 2-3 months worth of pears and apples, and some years the “leftover” fruit become wine – blackcurrant wine is quite nice. So, from a small say 10m2 plot, I can do all this and have zero waste. On a commercial scale, things are different. The waste is immorally high, primarily due to the exacting standards of retailers. I can tell you that the apples and pears I grow may be all shapes and sizes, but they taste so much better than anything I can buy in the supermarket – and my neighbours all agree.
To give a snapshot of how much perfectly good fruit and vegetables we waste each year as a race, National Geographic (March 2016) provides some stark numbers. In total, 53% of fruit and vegetables never makes it to the market – 20% is lost at the farm due mainly to exacting standards, 19% is uneaten and discarded at home, 3% lost in transit/storage, 2% lost in processing (canning/baking) and 9% discarded by wholesales and retailers. Add to this the resources used to harvest and prepare what is wasted – 70 times the oil lost in Deep Water Horizon and enough water to fill the Volga, and that’s just one year in the US alone. To add another number, the annual total food waste (all foods) could feed 2 billion people.
From these stark numbers, what can (management) accountants do? Recently, some documentaries on British TV featured vegetable growers saying the loose perhaps £100,000 per month worth of vegetables – assuming it could be sold at market price. Nowhere is this accounted for, not in their accounts, in supermarket accounts, in our national accounts (GDP). What if these accounts included the cost of waste? I’m sure if they did, we would all stand up and take notice.
(More) sustainable beer – and some cost savings
As you can imagine, large drinks or brewing companies use a lot of water. Here is a nice article on what Heineken had done on the last five years – saves water and over €70million.
Cleaner transport (and cost savings?)
Back in February this year I wrote a short post about how Tesco were increasing their use of rail travel to reduce CO2 emissions. It was a good example of how to change your business to both deliver cost savings and be more environmentally friendly. In the February 2012 edition of CIMA’s Financial Management (pp 26.30), there is a great article written by Ben Schiller which provides a number of examples of firms which are seeking ways to reduce transport costs and CO2 emissions. One quote from the article sums up the problems around transport costs “many ships operating today were built to run on $150 a tonne bunker fuel, not a price four times that”. Of course, it is not only ships but all forms of transport which are facing these price increases, such as road haulage and even company cars (for example, when I bought my first diesel car just over 3 years ago, diesel was 99 cent per litre at my local station, now it’s over €1.50). As a result of these increasing costs, we can see more sleek looking fuel-efficient trucks for example on our motorways.
I found Ben Schiller’s article really great less for some examples we might know about – chip fat being converted to biodiesel, electric vehicles – but more for some real examples from firms we all probably know well. The first way firms can save on transport costs (and green up) is to bring production closer to the market – L’Oreal for example have brought some of their supply chain in-house, by producing thinks like packaging on-site. A second way, is to change the modes of transport. For example, both Philips and Tesco use canals to transport bulky product. Phillips use barges to transport goods to Rotterdam port, while Tesco ship wine between Liverpool and Manchester. In Spain, SEAT rebuilt a short rail line to Barcelona port, carrying 80,000 cars annually using 2 trains a day. Even large shipping companies like Maersk are doing things like “slow-steaming ” (or sailing slower) to reduce CO2 emissions and fuel costs.
There are more examples in the article itself. You can read an online summary here.
Your age and your CO2 footprint
When I teach about carbon accounting, the first thing I do is get students to look at their own CO2 footprint. This typically means going to a website and putting in some information on your lifestyle. I read an article from the Economist a while back which outlined the differences in CO2 emissions based on age. The study was based on US data on nine types of consumption—including electricity use, driving cars, buying clothes and food. The amount of money spent on each was used to estimate a CO2 footprint by age. According to the article the 60-64 age group produces the most CO2, and this group is going to get larger in number over the coming years. You can click on the link to read the full article and see a nice graphical depiction of CO2 footprint by age
How business models can (climate) change
Following on from my last post on what is a business model, here I recount two articles I had saved from last year on how climate change can force businesses to change – and in some cases even change the business model.
The first article comes from Time (Sep 04, 2011). It recounts how Spanish winemaker Torres are increasingly moving their crops to higher, cooler areas of Spain. Due to global warming, the hotter climate means sweeter fruit and earlier ripening. At the same time, the early ripening of the fruit is offset by the fact that the seeds and skin (which give flavour) are not ripe. Thus, as a possible solution, vines are being planted at a higher, cooler altitude in an effort to offset the warming experienced in traditional regions.
The second related article comes from The Economist (Sep 10, 2011, online). In this articles, you can read how English wine is being produced in increased volumes and better quality – with locally grown grapes. Again, it is climate change – bringing warmer climes to Southern England – meaning that more traditional grape varieties can be grown in England as opposed to the typically acidic German varieties. The result has been a product of increasing quality, and a tendency to produce higher margin sparkling wines – something that was not so easily done before. Thus, the business model of English vineyards may have changed from one where imported “grape juice” was added to make local wine, to one where high quality, high-margin product is the norm.
Using rail freight to reduce CO2 emissions
A year or two ago I set a hypothetical assignment for some of my students on a comparison of CO2 emissions on road freight versus rail freight. I based on the assumption that a CO2 charge would have to be paid by firms, and they could in fact save money by using rail freight. Of course the problem with rail freight is that is does not go door-to-door, but it might still be an option for transporting between cities or depots – depending on volume. At the time when I set the assignment, I did not find many examples (at least in the UK/Ireland), but I came across a Tesco press release in November last. According to the release, Tesco are expanding their use of rail services, which will mean 24,000 tons less CO2 and 72,000 less road journeys. Yes, this is a great thing for the environment, but the management accountant in me really wants to know the cost savings generated by this.
Banning F1 – does it make sense (environmentally and on cost)?
I was in Germany a few months ago and seen a copy of Handelsblatt (a leading business newspaper) on July 20th last at a hotel bar. As you do, I scanned it while ordering a local beer (Moritz Fiege Pils). I noticed that the German Green Party wanted to ban F1 from the Nurburgring and Hockenheim. I read the article and it made me laugh to be honest. The reasoning was that the F1 circus is bad on CO2 emissions and all that stuff. Now a few facts first – I love motor sport, I am a management accountant, I like the old ways of doing things (now called environmentally friendly/recycling/grow-your-own) and I could not resist the picture of the F1 girls for this post.
But, being serious. Research and development expenditure is one of those things a management accountants might find hard to deal with. It’s normally a substantial cost, but the return is often uncertain. Now back to F1 and the German Greens. Motor manufacturers like Mercedes, Honda and Renault (among others) have over time spend $billions on F1. And what do they get out of it? Well, every car nowadays has an EMU (Engine Management Unit) or “brain” that controls and monitors every thing a car does – do you know most cars have no accelerator cables at all; it’s a sensor on the pedal which the EMU monitors and the pedal is tensioned to give the feeling of a traditional pedal. Where was this technology perfected? F1 of course. And nowadays, F1 cars are lighter, faster, more fuel-efficient and even capture energy under braking (the KERS system). Surely this will pass on eventually to normal road cars, which will mean lower fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions and so on. So, to bring it all back to management accounting. If we were to do as the German Green Party suggests, there would be no F1 in Germany (home of Mercedes), which might mean less research and development expenditure in F1, which in turn might halt the development of more fuel and energy-efficient road cars for you and I. Okay, it might be hard to put a money value on the benefits of F1 research and development in the long run, but it seems daft to try to ban it. So far, the history of F1 has shown us what the cars of tomorrow will have on board. If that means efficient, energy harnessing cars for the future, we need to encourage it. The costs (monetary and environmentally) may be easier to ascertain and outweigh the benefits in the short-term. However, I can only see future benefits from F1 for car manufacturers who should be able to produce (in time), better, safer and more environmentally friendly cars for Joe Bloggs. Kind of goes against what I thought any Green Party stands for to go against such progress. But, hey I am no politician! But it seems a classic case (from the Green’s view) of not looking at all costs and benefits of an activity over the long term.
Saving money by “greening” buildings.
According to an article in Time (April 18, 2011), a lot of money can be saved by retro-fitting old buildings. I have written a few posts already about this, but this article gives some really good examples of the kind of money that can be saved from some relatively simple initiatives. According to the article, older skyscrapers are one of the worst type of buildings in terms of energy efficiency. Some investment in lighting, heating and insulation can make a huge difference to costs and energy efficiency. For example, the Empire State building spent $13m in 2010 on a retrofit. The result is a 38% decrease in utility bills and a payback period of less than three years. Another example is a re-fit of a federal building in Cleveland, which saves $600,000 per annum. The city of Melbourne, Australia is also mentioned. The city’s Lord Mayor sums up well – “this is not some feel-good environmental initiative. It is a hard-headed economic business decision.
Bio-diesel from waste food?
Sustainability in business is a big things nowadays. It can mean many things from saving energy, reducing waste and altering product design. Going one better of course is to completely re-use waste to make a new product. I read a great example recently in the Telegraph [London]. The article mentioned a UK company called Greenergy. The company has invested £50m in a plant to make bio-diesel from used cooking oil, which in itself is a great [if not new] idea. But this company has taken things a little further. In partnership with another company called Brocklesby, the company is now processing waste food into bio-diesel. Apparently, fatty foods like crisps, pies and junk food are great candidates as they are full of fatty oils. While the company has started this new process on a small scale, it seems like a great way to make money out of waste. It ticks so many boxes on the sustainable/environmental side too – it reduces waste to land fill, reduces fossil fuel dependency and may even in the future reduce land use e.g. rape seed grown for vegetable oil.
Data centres costs – weather is a key factor
(Image from Economist.com)
A few weeks ago I was listening to the radio in the car. A news item came on about why Ireland is attractive to companies like Google and Microsoft to set up data centres. It wasn’t tax, or our educated workforce. Much to my surprise it was the Irish weather. Well, I suppose all three are important, but with an ambient average temperature well below 20 celsius, the cost of cooling the data centres falls considerably. Here’s a post I read earlier from Babbages’ blog on The Economist. It gives some great detail on the costs of running these data centres Data centres: Social desert | The Economist. I have to say, as a management accountant weather conditions would not be the first thing I’d consider in cost decisions – a good reason to talk to other people in the organisation to find out what’s going on.
Energy efficiency delivers real returns on investment.
When I worked in a paper company, health and safety was always a big concern. The machinery used in paper making could be quite lethal in the case of an accident. Quite an amount of money was spent annually by my employer to ensure the safety of all staff, but in particular those exposed to process equipment and machinery. As an accountant, one comment made by a manager on health and safety always stuck in my mind, namely that “there is not return on investment in health and safety”. I’m not going into detail here, but I’m sure you can appreciate it may be difficult to put a financial return on health and safety expenditure.
Another hot topic in business for the past decade or so is energy efficiency. Investment in energy efficient ways of working and running a business, like health and safety, is a good thing to do and probably adds to the longer term survival of a business (and the planet!). But, unlike health and safety, for accountants the return and investment can be ascertained a lot easier. For example, a recent article in The Guardian reports that many well-known UK companies are achieving definite returns on investment. DIY company B&Q saves 12% on CO2 emissions through education of staff and monitoring energy usage; hospitality group Whitbread can save 3% on energy costs just by changing behaviour. However the article also reports that companies may be seriously underestimating the return investment. recent research at the Carbon Trust in the UK took a close look at 1,000 energy efficiency projects it has been involved with and found that companies can expect to see an internal rate of return (IRR) of 48% on average and payback within three years. In the retail sector, the research shows the average IRR from energy efficiency projects leaps to 82%. Most “normal” investment projects would be happy to see a return of about 15%.
The full Carbon Trust report can be read here.
Green your business and save money!
About a month ago, I read a piece in the New York Times about saving money by making your business greener. I’m no tree hugger, but most of the energy saving tips given by the NY Times (and many others) actually make sound business sense – as well as do something for the environment. A win win situation. The NY Times piece suggests any changes need to start at the top i.e. at the owner/manager level. I could not agree more, as it’s really all about changing behaviour, and only those is power in a business can make and support the changes.
Here’s what you can do in your business:
- I’ll sound like a real accountant here, but start with an inventory of the energy you use, the water you use and the waste you generate. This is your benchmark.
- Try to work out what you can do. Can you get staff to be more energy aware? Can you recycle (or sell) waste, can you recycle water? Can you replace paper with electronics – email invoices for example
- Track what you do and report on it. How much energy have you saved, how much less waste has been generated and so on.