Eco-Town & Housing Project in England

Eco-Towns in England – Green or Greenwashing?

The English have embarked on a plan to create up 10 eco-towns (by 2020) selected from an original list of 57 locations (including Imery’s China Clay, Ford, Rushcliffe, Middle Quinton, Pennbury, Manby and Strubby…and many other unheard of places) dotted around the country. The list is now down to a shortlist of 15 towns from which ten would be chosen to start the program. The new towns, which would be the first new towns created in England since the 1960s as part of an effort to provide new housing developments (5,000-20,000 homes per site), are intended to be zero-carbon, water neutral and car-curbing areas. Of course, 10×20,000 is a drop in the ocean compared to the government’s stated need of 3 million new homes by 2020 (from Caroline Flint, Housing Minister). There are 700,000 people currenty stuck on waiting lists for affordable housing in England. The Guardian published this rather complete article on the subject of eco-towns back in April 2008 when the shortlist was announced.

The idea is to make a living standard bearer to measure, benchmark and promote the possible eco-savings one can make in daily life. The plan calls for having at least 50 dwellings per hectare (2.5 acres) on average (100 in the centre of the town). The debate about the measurements, however, is still raging. See here in the Guardian newspaper’s article “Eco town dwellers may be monitored for green habits” (Sept 26 2008). The amount of monitoring of the eco-town dwellers is up for grabs. If you are going to have eco-towns, it makes consummate sense to have the towns be avant-garde in their means, to help mastermind innovation and, at the same time, help improve living standards (i.e. amenities, choice…) in such a CO2-reduced environment. But, considering that the existing households in England create 25% of the country’s CO2 output, there is still room to work on the existing infrastructure it would seem.

Opposition to the eco-town projects is, meanwhile, rife around the country. Housing Minister Flint’s own constituency (“Rossington”) has recently been protesting (see here Times article). Tim Henman’s father is waging a campaign against the potential invasion of 20,000 people into his local community. People are up in arms about the loss of greener pastures and living spaces in favour of urban sprawl. Others, such as Marina Pacheco, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, wrote on Open House at the Independent, criticizing the projects as something closer to greenwashing, with too much encroachment on the greenfields.

One has to assume the residents of the eco-towns will be pure bred eco-friendly people. That said, as the new generation comes in, the town will have to create a sufficiently free system to encourage the youth – who did not originally choose this type of community or existence – to adhere to the principles. All the commerce will also have to be at the forefront of sustainable development initiatives, with a high mix of locally produced goods. It is worth noting that consumer goods account for 14% of an individual’s ecological footprint.

It will be interesting to see how this plan comes to fruition. Watch this space (assuming my blog is around in 2020!). What do you think of the eco-towns?

Norway quota for women on corporate boards

A bold decision

I read with interest about Norway’s legislated quota for women’s presence on publicly traded private limited liability (“ASA”) corporate boards. The improvements in equality on boards in Norway were not coming fast enough*, so, in 2005, the government put in place a minimum quota of 40% of women on every ASA corporate board by the end of 2007, with consequences if not met. In the last six months of 2007, it is estimated that 400 additional women were voted onto corporate boards, making Norway by far and away the country with the highest representation of women on boards. Quoting from GlobeWomen.org, “In its 2007 study, Women Directors in the Fortune Global 200 Companies’ released in Berlin at the June Global Summit of Women, Corporate Women Directors International reported that only 11.2% of corporate board seats are held by women in the 200 largest companies in the world.” The successful implementation of the Norwegian law has been observed by many other countries (including Canada, Spain) seeking similar diversity. I note that Sweden apparently balked on a similar quota initiative five years ago.

A 40% target

Having been set the objective of 40% female representation on boards, the targeted Norwegian companies are now on average at 37%, at parity with the 37% of their women parliamentarians, although below the true parity achieved in PM Jens Stoltenberg’s current cabinet (8/16)**. The very least one can say is that the Norwegians are putting their money with their mouthes are…and with great courage. I was able to find, for example, many sites with stats on gender equality (including this one at Statistics Norway).

I was intrigued by a blogger’s following explanation for the strong presence of women in Norwegian society:

usini wrote (find in the comments section): “I think that one has to be very careful not to generalise from the particular. Women in Norway always had quite a strong position politically, because, so I believe, of the economy being based on fishing and sea-faring which meant that a lot of men were absent when decisions had to be made. Thus a solution which is suitable for them may not necessarily apply to other cultures.”

One of the items to watch closely in the near future will be how the Government deals with non-compliant companies. This Guardian article identifies the scope of the problem with 111 yet to comply and 5 companies that still have zero women on their boards. Clearly, closing down those companies will be an explosive solution. The second evolution to watch carefully is how the board members are re-elected… When/if a woman leaves a board, will she systematically have to be replaced by another woman?

Sensitive topic

This quota law was naturally a topic of great sensitivity. Quotas are a generally reviled policy. And most of the commentary I have read on this particular policy are predictably unfavorable. Certainly the ambition of going from 6% to 40% was enormous, if also artificial, over such a short period of time. As much as some Norwegian unions might have been delighted by the quota, most of the private sector was up in arms and there is probably continuing concern that foreign companies will look less favorably at installing in Norway. As reported by the Centre for Corporate Diversity, there was also concern that some of the 500 concerned companies would change their ASA status to avoid this law. That particular concern has proved unwarranted. Meanwhile, even the Norwegian Gender blog, authored by Ragnhild Sohlberg, has put up reservations as to the success and/or desirability of a quota system. Susan Gunelius at Women on Business also issued reservations against quotas. In any event, finding qualified talent in those numbers over such a short time frame does not appear healthy–and one has to imagine some negative fallout in the first few years. Nonetheless, I applaud the courage of their convictions.

In many ways, the trick for the Norwegians will now be to validate the new status to show that corporate performance is at least as good as in the past (if not better) in order to encourage other companies (such as Luxottica, which has committed to 30% of women in management positions) if not other governments, to follow suit. Proving that the performance has otherwise been altered by a higher presence of women will ultimately fall to the numbers and bottom line. The question is whether the benchmarks and interpretation of those numbers will be clear.

Looking at the global playing field, it is interesting to note how a smaller country can become, in a certain fashion, the experimental laboratory for other bigger countries. Not that the context in any country can perfectly translate for other countries, but this policy and its successful implementation could surely give rise to new initiatives in other countries. Its failure would only reinforce the “I told you so” against quotas. In the same vein of looking at “small” country initiatives, I am tracking Norway’s actions on the ecological front (including this Green Prison initiative in a prior post) where they are pioneers as well. The least one can say is that they are attempting to bring about change. And since the end is desirable…to what extent does that justify the means? Any thoughts?

Other blogs on this topic:

Yvonne Roberts speaks out in favor on Guardian Unlimited. The comments are quite heated.
Ibibo Blogs – One blog supporting the notion that Quota works…
Fresh Inc. — 40% of business school students in Norway are women.
NYT Article from Jan 2006 — Women more reasonably represented in politics & media…
Mises Blog - The Ludwig von Mises Institute is the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. Even this post inspired a lot of debased, inflammatory comments (from 2005)…
Reinvention Inc... where I picked up the story about Spain following Norway’s example (not on the imposition of a quota, but an incentive to have higher female representation. In 2006, Spain had under 4% female representation on corporate boards.
CareerDiva – with a balanced comment section to date (just 5 comments).

————–

* The initial request from the Norwegian government was made in 2002, with a non-binding law established in 2003. In the following three years, the percent of women present on boards rose from a poor 6% to an ‘average’ 11%. I read a 2003 article from Time magazine on the topic… makes for good recent retrospective information.

** I found a blog posting on Writes Like She Talks, referring to a Huffington Post posting from 2006 that discusses the representation of women in politics across the world, where the USA ranked 67th. Write Like She Talks has an updated blog site now, here.

Wind turbines ahoy

With the number of wind turbines worldwide projected to hit a capacity of 90,000 megawatts/MW (or 90 gigawatts/GW) of electricity, I am proud to say that I have at last come right up close to the base of one of these (at least) 30 metre tall constructions. On our family trip, we took a little detour near Tours, to inspect for ourselves the famous “noise level.” And the scoreboard says: (a) they make next to no noise [just a very reasonable and lovely whirring], and (b) are absolutely stunning constructions. Much like the beauty of a jet plane which, as many as I may have flown in, remain beautiful testaments to human ingenuity. As the clouds passed by above the blades, I got the feeling that I was being transported in some magic machine. Compared to the above-land electrical lines (monstrous eye sore) that kill far more birds than the wind turbines (see ourecoblog for stats on bird deaths, including an astonishing 100 million birds killed by the household cat), I am a convert for the wind turbine, or as the French more glamourously call it, “l’éolien.”

Unfortunately, the 90GW capacity–brought by what I estimate to be about 60,000 turbines–accounts for just 1% of the world’s production of electricity. Per wikipedia, “the average output of one megawatt of wind power is equivalent to the average consumption of about 160 American households.” Of note, Germany has more than 21k GW capacity (supplying 7% of its needs), and both Spain and the US have nearly 13k GW each, enough for approx 3 million average US households. Meanwhile, Denmark is the pioneer country providing more than 3GW, or 18% of its needs. Not all the turbines need be on land (see right courtesy of another Town and City Gardens site). China is coming along as well, with 3GW of supply… (Voir ici pour des informations pour la France sur leur parc d’éoliens qui produisent 1.3GW actuellement).

This Greenpeace site gives some good Q&A on the topic. The one Q I like the most: “do tourists hate wind farms?” If the Dial family is any example, it actually attracted us. On the TGV train, as I whizzed back up from Bordeaux today, I kept marvelling at the site of the wind farms. And, with another informative site Catamount Energy, I thought I could put perspective on the benefits of the wind turbines:

“Coal, the most polluting fuel and the largest source of the leading greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), is currently used to generate more than half of all of the electricity (52%) used in the U.S. Other sources of electricity are: natural gas (15%), oil (4%), nuclear (19%), and hydropower (9%).

Development of 10% of the wind potential in the 10 windiest U.S. states would provide more than enough energy to displace emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants and eliminate the nation’s major source of acid rain; reduce total U.S. emissions of CO2 by almost a third and world emissions of CO2 by 4%.

The growth projections, per the World Wind Energy Association, are for more than 20% more per year for the next several years (through 2010). I think that’s great. All in favour, say ay.