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Archive for February, 2008

I’ve been trying to figure out why so many councils seem to have made such a hash of the opportunity for helping residents (aka customers) embrace cartons as a sustainable container? I mean, by making it easier to recycle them!

Could it be the structure of the traditional council waste recovery tender document? From what I understand, these reward the waste contractors who run the ‘Material Recovery Facility’ based on the volume of the waste recycled; this volume is measured by weight!

Perhaps the low comparative weight of cartons (estimated at just 2%-3% of the waste stream) explains in some part why an ecologically sound container which has an independently proven ‘more ecologically advantageous’ life cycle analysis score, is consistently treated as the poor relative when it comes to a comprehensive recycling infrastructure.

Joined up thinking is something I’ve aspired towards all my life – my Dad used to call it common sense, but for anyone who doesn’t understand what that is, joined up thinking is a good way of explaining it.

We have our own ‘beverage carton’ for our rather unique (planet & baby friendly) mineral water Aquapax made from majority renewable paper sourced from sustainable trees! Yet, there are many hard core greenies who perpetuate an urban myth about cartons, pointing to the fact they can currently recycle oil based plastic relatively easily, rather than make a personal effort to recycle something that is overall more ecologically sensible.

If you look into things objectively, the beverage carton industry has really stood up to their responsibilities over the past 12 months and there’s something like 78% of councils which now give their voters (hold that thought) some form of recycling access for cartons within their boroughs.

We (that’s you and me) perhaps might consider taking the next step towards proving we want doorstep collection of all recyclable waste, by making a small effort to identify our nearest carton recycling point and dropping our empty cartons off there every now and then. There’s a link from my website links page which you can find here.

The alternative to this ‘awareness’ is that some of these councils will (perhaps unknowingly, but most certainly) drive the procurement of consumable goods in their boroughs, based on what their very procurement policies determine is ‘recyclable’ rather than what independent LCA’s have proven as more ecologically beneficial products.

This may sound a tad idealistic, but if we can start with a desire, who knows where our efforts might lead to. An end to the thoughtlessly discarded empty plastic water bottles littering our countryside is my aspiration – I still believe we can get there.
🙂

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I responded to a blog from a guy called Scott of ‘Pier32’ on the ‘Ethical Junction’ network. He posed the question ‘can a successful business be ethical?’ We’re members of Ethical Junction, but I haven’t figured out how to blog there while having a link from there to here… so here’s the extract, which also features over there as a response to Scotts original post. (stay with me now…)

It’s an interesting point Scott raises and one which we all (consumers responsible for our individual pounds and pennies) have a vote on. Ultimately ethics in business cost money and many companies and individuals talk the talk without quite walking the walk as convincingly.

Body Shop is a classic example of a business seemingly started with great and noble intentions, where the shortage of cash (apparently) ultimately led to a ‘watered down’ (excuse the pun) power of the real decision makers in the business. The real decision makers are always the shareholders, as they’re the ones who have risked their money investing it in the business.

Our own example has put us in a difficult position – trying to move a bottled water market away from plastic or glass towards paper cartons. My background in ‘water’ meant I was morally obliged to source truly pure water (even suitable for babies) which ultimately costs more. With regards to the paper used in our package, it was important for our suppliers (Tetra Pak) to use truly sustainable forest sourced paper for our cartons. Naturally the freight involved in moving water meant that we also had to carbon balance our wider business impact.

Buyers generally love Aquapax when we show it to them and the efficacy of our water is unquestionable, yet it’s only the genuinely independent retailers who currently distinguish value from cost and retail our product to their customers. There are many others who simply will not sacrifice any margin for an ethically and ecologically aware product and we’re talking about an industry that’s not short on margin.

To answer Scott’s question, I absolutely believe we can be completely successful without sacrificing our ethics. That’s perhaps not the same as an already successful business becoming completely ethical, as it depends on their starting point.

Whenever a business sets out its stall as even trying to ‘be good’, human nature is such that it looks for any weakness rather than embracing the commitment that business is seeking to make. The inevitable weaknesses are then used as justification for knocking it and things remain ‘business as usual’ with whoever has kept their head down.

Brands are typically built with huge marketing spend (is that an ethical way to use money) which can ultimately overcome most objections people have. My view is that if seen often enough, something (a brand) becomes familiar and gradually, at a sub-conscious level it becomes trustworthy in consequence.

A worrying trend for me is the ‘green wash’, which is now spreading to an ‘ethical wash’ in return for a charity donation or the like – Scott makes a great point about Enron and their 64 page code of ethics, lest people forget.
🙂

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Sensational journalists and headline seeking Cabinet Ministers – what a combination. The government Minister who has been quoted non-stop for the last 2 days is being rather naive confusing ecology with charity and mixing both messages. There are no taps on trains or in cars and unless the government is going to put water fountains throughout our cities, portable water is here to stay.

Tackling the pollution menace in a responsible way is the way we believe this issue should be tackled and we’ve developed our pure water in a paper carton as an alternative to plastic or glass bottled water. It will be interesting to see whether Panorama shows its viewers how we’re already selling our premium pure product Aquapax through a number of ecologically and ethically aware retailers, not standing on the side lines pocketing tax payers cash and making silly idealistic comments.
Aquapax is pure mineral source water which is naturally low in minerals and particularly low in nitrates. It’s sourced from under a nature reserve – land which has never been farmed – this ensures the water is pure, pesticide free and suitable for infants and those on low sodium diets without boiling first. Nitrates in some waters can be toxic for an infant so we’ve ensured our water is suitable for infants and we say as much on our carton. We are as responsible as we can be in marketing our portable water in a more ecologically aware carton, including balancing our carbon emissions to minimise our individual carbon footprint – I wonder how many government ministers balance their own carbon footprints?
Before condemning all bottled water, ask yourself as a parent whether you’d honestly risk giving your baby any water to drink? Adults generally have a digestive system that can deal with most waters, but wouldn’t you prefer a choice for people with sensitive diets and of course for babies who aren’t being breastfed?

All consumption has an ecological impact – thirst is a fundamental human condition and portable water is here to stay – let’s just hope more companies move towards more sustainable containers and responsibly sourced water, rather than focussing on cost alone.

Ultimately, the market will continue to be driven by customer choice, not silly government ministers or sensational journalism.

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Well it’s over 50 hours into the promised 24 hour fix from Orange and my phone number is still illegally patched through to an unknown Orange customer’s pay as you go phone.

My phone sits in front of me searching for a signal like a lighthouse flashing in the fog. It’s the only metaphor I could think of… Besides the antennae icon on my phone does look a bit like an upside down lighthouse – or it does when you’ve been looking at it as long as I have.

How a large telecoms operator (Orange / France Telecom) can randomly pick a loyal, fully paid, fully contracted phone customer (me) and give mynumber to someone else is still beyond me. I’ve had various people  calling me throughout Friday (Mike, Uzman, Angela, Helen) – not necessarily at the time they were supposed to, but they called nonetheless, all shrugging their shoulders at what’s caused this.

At close of business Friday evening, the lady called Helen has empathised with me so much that she has apparently taken her laptop on holiday with her so she can ‘monitor the situation’ for me.

If it’s true, Helen is someone I’d like to employ in the future, but quite frankly, I’d just prefer the situation to be fixed by someone with a degree of ownership and competence. I guess that’s going to take a little while longer, considering we’re now well into the weekend. That’s despite the Orange assurances of their IT department working 24×7 on the problem – clearly another hollow customer service expression at Orange – it’s now gone 4:30pm and no-one from Orange has had the courtesy to call with any form of up-date at all.

How difficult can it be to switch off their new pay as you go SIM card (the one that’s wrongly had my number put on it) thereby freeing up my number to be re-allocated back to my SIM card? A number clearly can’t exist on 2 SIM cards at the same time, so all the while the gentleman in Huddersfield has my number ringing, it means no-one is fixing the problem.

I can’t stay angry going into the 3rd day of this fiasco, but I do feel more than a little numb and outraged – it feels incredibly intrusive as well. Not just because this stranger has my text banking details and is receiving my customer calls, but because there is nothing at all I can do to resolve things personally. 

I cancelled my meetings on Friday because the customer service I give is the sort that reassures people I’m still in business – by answering my own office line when someones had the shock of calling my usual number (the one I’ve had for over 5 years) and I’m suddenly no longer there. Good job too, as my 2 biggest prospects called during Friday afternoon and despite the nervous laughter over the Orange fiasco, it was clear they needed reassuring everything was / is still OK with me and my business!

We’ve spent so much time building our reputation for professionalism and responsive, communicative customer service; this is now being blown out of the window by Orange.  My customers have my mobile number to call me if they need stocks of Aquapax over the weekend – the staff in the store’s won’t understand to call my office on a Saturday, so that means lost sales and second rate customer service for anyone calling this weekend – despite the fact that I have a polite and rather bemused chap in Huddersfield who has started to kindly take messages for me.

Can you imagine if my number had been allocated to some punk drug dealer who was now telling my customers to ‘go away’ in street language?

Do stay tuned if you’d like to know what happens next – I certainly do – and so do Ofcom…

😦

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I had some questions via my website following my last post on this subject, where people don’t want to read or don’t understand the language of the WHO (world health organisation) guidelines. In a spirit of helpfulness, this is the essence of what it says – and here’s the link document with all relevant link pages for you to check via your own research – it’s also near the bottom of this post.

The WHO guidelines for maximum nitrate levels in drinking water is 50mg/l but the same WHO commissioned a paper (WHO guide on nitrate & nitrite in drinking water) which showed up some concerning information on nitrate toxicity levels for infants at significantly lower levels.

For an infant with a ‘gastro disturbance’ (just about covers all infants at some stage in their first 6 months)  the nitrate toxicity level is quoted at between 1.5mg and 2.7mg of nitrate per kg of infant body weight. OK, hands up any parent who is going to risk a level higher than 1.5mg/kg for their baby?

What this means to me (a non-scientist interpreting into plain English) is that just 7.5mg of nitrate is potentially toxic for a notional 5kg baby with a ‘gastro disturbance’ – isn’t that a dicky tummy? The calculation I used is 1.5mg/kg of nitrate x 5kg baby = 7.5mg of nitrate as a potentially toxic dose. Are you still with me?

Yes I know the limit is between 1.5 and 2.7mg/kg but if it was my baby I’d certainly be looking at the lower limit (1.5mg/kg) of toxicity as the absolute maximum; after all in science speak, this is a ‘biochemically detectable adverse change in the blood’ (thanks Steve) and quite frankly, there’s no need for an infant to consume the nitrate with a bit of thoughtful parenting.

I’m sure most bottled waters are within the overall  50mg/l WHO standard, so I’m not suggesting anyone is breaking any laws, but if you are buying bottles, please read the label first. Remember, boiling water does not change it’s chemical composition, it simply kills any bacteria.

Hope this helps – repeat, there’s no need for panic, but there is a need for awareness. Here’s the link document again – it still says ‘breast is best’ for infants where practical and that there’s nothing wrong with drinking tap water, so please don’t miss-quote me on that score. – You can ask your local water company to tell you what their nitrate levels are in your local water supply zone if you’re concerned – I bet you won’t find too many bottled water company bosses saying that publicly…

NB. The following linkis the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) list of drinking water contaminants. If you scroll down to nitrates, their standard appears to be just 10mg/l. This is still 33x higher than the minuscule <0.3mg/l of nitrate in Aquapax (phew).

Buyer beware (as they used to say) or ‘think inside the box’ as we say. This is not intended as a sales blog, but in case you can’t find Aquapax in your local independent health food store, please ask for it.  Your local store can get Aquapax for you via their regular wholesalers (Infinity Foods; Marigold Health Foods; Queenswood Natural Foods and others. That’s what retailers do for customers – if they’re at all customer focussed. If you’re in London, try Fresh and Wild or Whole Foods Market, Natural Life, Organic Grocer & a lot more independent minded retailers across the vast city – to miss quote Kevin Costner – if you ask for Aquapax it will appear in a retailer near you.

Thanks for reading and thanks for your ongoing support – we still believe it’s the fresh taste of our water (because Aquapax is sealed from light and air) and the ecologically aware packaging (72% paper) that are our strongest selling features, but it’s great to help parents understand more about the wonderful world of water.

🙂

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Anyone who has read my blog or knows me, will appreciate that I’m a ‘glass is full’ kind of guy, who can see positive in virtually every situation – here’s one that has challenged me fully…

Yesterday afternoon at approximately 14:00 Orange (owned by France Telecom) unilaterally broke the terms of the 18 month mobile phone contract I have with them, by re-allocating my mobile phone number to one of their new pay as you go customers, while voiding my SIM card in the process. They have done this, despite me only being 15 months into the 18 month contract and despite my account being 100% up to date with any and all payments.

Ironically I received my February bill yesterday morning thanking me for my January payment & telling me how much they will be taking from my bank in February.

Not quite as funny as you might think really… my mobile phone sim card has been de-activated and my number (the one I’ve had for almost 6 years) has now been allocated to a nice chap called Terry, who lives in Huddersfield. It’s fortunate he’s a nice chap, as he now has my text banking details and is receiving calls from my friends and my customers, including the frustrated potential customer I was supposed to meet yesterday afternoon who had no way of contacting me and who presumably is now questioning my customer service ethos.

The Orange shop I went into in High Street Kensington yesterday afternoon simply called their helpdesk, where a guy called Mike told me to wait 24 hours to see what happens. There’s only so much ranting one can do, so I made my way home where attempts to contact him on the number he gave me are impossible. The automated system asks for my mobile no & when I give it, the computer says number invalid and closes the call.

Attempts to resolve things on-line meet with the message “mobile phone number and password invalid”.

Orange haven’t even admitted to re-allocating my number yet and the Orange customer service (now there’s an oxymoron) team can’t bring themselves to even call me back after contacting them via the ‘new sales’ team and holding c.45 minutes yesterday evening. I spoke to 3 different and reasonably polite call centre staff who “can’t find me a manager” to talk to. The hollow promises of the guy going off duty at 7pm for a call from his nameless manager were simply hollow.

Legally I don’t know where I stand and the only positive aspect of the whole fiasco is that I have this ‘blog’ to share my woe with whoever might read it. The glass is still half full, but I’m feeling pretty thirsty!
😦

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Following Lucy Siegle’s feature article in the Observer at the weekend, the BBC One Panorama programme next week will feature an expose on the ecological devastation of the bottled water industry and (shock horror) the fact that plastic bottles are made from oil and we don’t recycle them all.

We’ve been spreading the word of our wonderfully pure water for 15 months now and distribution of ‘Aquapax’ (in paper cartons) is growing steadily among ecologically aware and quality conscious independent minded retailers.

NB. Reminder of the features and benefits summarised in the attached leaflet.
The week ahead can be the tipping point to help create change in the whole bottled water industry – if we can get the word out to a wider audience.

If it’s not in your current sphere of responsibility, but you know a relevant ethical/eco/enviro/green business/lifestyle journalist personally, please forward a link to this message. This is a one off request to help us communicate Aquapax as the (only) real alternative to portable bottled water, at this time of heightened media awareness and attention.

What’s wrong with tap water I hear you say – absolutely nothing has always been my message; except it’s not portable and you can’t change a multi billion pound market without giving consumers an alternative – fizzy drinks don’t cut it any more and bottled water is becoming passe’!

I do hope you can help and shan’t hold it against you if you can’t.

Warm regards for another bright day ahead…

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