“Rob’s Home” - An Example of the approach that I am looking for in the first assignment of Business and the Natural Step
Introduction - Most of us take our home for granted. It’s a place that we eat and sleep in. But our home is also the most important system that we can control. What do I mean by the term system? Systems have flows - things come in – we do stuff with it - and then they go out. There are costs attached to the inputs, the internal processes and the waste. We go out to earn money to pay for many of these aspects of out home process. If we can reduce these costs and prevent new costs from hitting us in the future, we will have more freedom about how we earn a living. Maybe even more time to do other things like have a good marriage, raise our kids well and have fun. What a concept! Being the centre of most of our spending it is also the place where we can allocate our money to change how our suppliers work and hence maybe change the world of business.
So this is why we are doing this exercise – to see in our own lives how thinking in a system way and using the tools of the Natural Step, we can have a better life ourselves and change business.
Transportation – We live in the country and this is where I am the least happy about how I live. When we lived in town we had one car and did about 12,000 km a year. Now we have two cars and drive about 60,000 km a year. I have to admit to being a bit stumped. My real choice is to get out my bike for runs into town. I would get fit as a by product as well. We could have one car at a pinch which would be a huge savings. But at the moment the give up in convenience is too great for me. I bet many of you feel the same. I have thought about cabs as an alternative to a second car. It costs about $11.00 each way by Cab into town or say $25 return. Say 250 trips a year this is $6,250 and is much more than running the second car that I own clear and which costs me directly about $2,000 a year (gas about $500, insurance about $800, repairs about $500) So cabs are out. So I will hang onto my bike or consider a small motor bike a plan B. I would save about $2000 with my bike and over time close to that on a small motor bike.
Both our cars are small a 97 Civic and a 03 CRV. They use regular gas and get good mileage compared to larger cars. I can get to Moncton and back on one tank easily. Our next car will likely be a hybrid – especially if there is tax credit that gets the price down to the same as a conventional car. It is a big premium right now that does not pay at current gas process. But will if they go much higher. Running a car with very low mileage is perhaps the best strategy for PEI rural residents. In the end, biking over distance in February is a desperate measure. But if I can get 60 km to the litre then this makes more sense. We can lobby the government to incent high performance cars.
Are there wasteful trips? Yes – Maybe if I logged them and planed my day better with my wife we might cut 20% of our trips out. This then looks like a good avenue to approach.
Energy – Our most important flow in our house is energy for heat. We have the main house, a guest house and a granny flat. In all we have nearly 5,000 square feet to heat. Our monthly oil bill is $490 a month or $5,880 a year. This is our largest expense by far. We heat by oil. My objective is to cut this bill by 50% by the end of next year. My main strategy will be to replace much of the heat source from oil to wood from our own property. The direct cost to me is small consisting of my chain saw, some gas and the rental of a wood splitter. Most the effort is in labour which I provide. I plan to put the fire on in the afternoon and leave it until we go to bed. The stoves will have self turning fans which helps to spread the heat around the house. This I hope will cover the really cold part of the time and reduce then need for the furnace to go on at night. During the day the house is situated to get most of the sun. All the main windows face south. We tend to get up to about 65 without any heat just from the sun on a bright day.
Since I first wrote this I have installed a wood boiler - here is the business case
In addition we are changing our internal processes. We have put in a digital thermostat for the downstairs. We have a separate system upstairs. I find this a huge help. It automatically turns down the heat to about 60 downstairs at night when we are not there and turns it up to 67 in the day. We have got used to living in the mid 60’s which also reduces the load. Wearing a sweater helps as well.
We have worked hard to reduce waste. We have insulated the roof and put in new windows upstairs. We will be sealing the open electric plugs – you can get cheap plug blockers for cents. Next year we will replace the downstairs windows. Our old windows are 30 years old and leak a lot. We will have to pay for all of this. Again this is where the government can help by setting up incentives to reduce waste by supporting more insulation, better windows, better light bulbs etc.
On the electricity front we buy the wind power electricity from Maritime Electric. This is our best way to have a better source of electricity. The more of us that do this, the more we attract more wind to PEI. This I think is the big community goal for us all. If we can raise the acceptance of wind, then we have a chance of breaking free from oil and nuclear based electricity on PEI. In effect we will break free from the inevitable rise in cost of carbon based energy. The stakes for us all especially you who are younger are huge.
Our main house bill is about $80 a month. Our concessions to better internal process has been in the laundry area. We have front loading low water, low energy use washing machine and I the summer we mainly dry on the line. Our biggest drain is our computer network and our deep freeze Waste is a big issue that I am only just beginning to understand. I have not replaced many conventional bulbs with long life low wattage bulbs. I have not explored yet how best to run my PC network at night on a lower usage. Any advice for you? Having a good measurement system that would enable me to see where my biggest usage and loss would be best. All the good writers say that the key is to reduce consumption in this area.
Food – We spend a lot on food, household supplies and wine. I hesitate to reveal how much. Let’s just say it is much more than we should. What we don’t do much anymore though is to buy much prepared or packaged food. Most food in a supermarket has traveled at least 1,000 miles. Think of the energy costs!
We cook most of our meals from scratch. I think that we therefore avoid many of the potential health risks and we avoid supporting much of the factory food system. We eat better in both ways. Importantly, I think, we make a point of buying as much as we can from local sources. My plan is to buy everything that is possible locally. Like wind power, creating local markets for food is I think a key to a new future for agriculture. Our farmers who grow one crop for sale to the big processors or the supermarkets are having a terrible time. They are part of a process that is damaging our land and our natural systems. I now believe that the answer is not to attack our farmers but to change our buying habits. When we create a new market, they can switch.
This is an important insight. We can feel powerless. But as consumers we have the power of choice. When we choose wind and local food we create change.
What we buy drives a huge waste stream. We go through our 5-9 blue bags a month. We have two filled waste watch bins as well. I think that the next step is to push back at the packaging as consumers. Until now I was not very aware. But now pulling the bins up the 100 yard long drive way and loading the car with all our blue bags has made me very aware of how much waste we create. The state will have to help. One way will be to tax bad packaging and incent good packaging. I get so annoyed over the can ban debate – we do not need cans. We won’t get them anyway. We will get big plastic bottles that have been packed in Ontario and will end up not being recycled because we don’t have enough volume.
Companies that pack well will get my consumer dollar.
Business is the most powerful process in our world toady. As consumers, we have the power, if we get together, to change how business affects us. Note how the food companies are reacting to get transfats out of their food. On our own we are powerless – we take what they offer. But as an informed group, we have the purchasing power to help them change. We will see how this process helped many of the early adopters of the Natural Step change.
Real power is authentic. It must come from us. It is not a powerful position to rage about how bad business is without changing what we do at home in our own lives. Hence this exercise.