TTIP and SMEs: Bad News for White Van Man ?

I’ve been doing a bit of work with Richard Elsner from MORE (see later), looking at the potential impact of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). It is a classic case of where campaigning is tricky because the subject is seen as ‘too difficult’ for politicians, media and campaigners to pay attention to. Easier to leave it to someone else.

Savouring the very name Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership can induce deep sleep. Even so it’s triggered a lot of earnest highbrow analysis of why it’s a bad idea in macro-economic terms. Yet those with most to lose – their jobs for a start – may well be those who have so far played almost no role in the debate: small businesses (SMEs). In Britain this includes the iconic ‘White Van Man’.

SMEs ‘Set to Lose Out’

“If it goes through” says Lindsey Kennedy from SMEinsider recently:

“TTIP will have the most far-ranging impact on UK companies since the creation of the European Union. But, while the benefits to big business are clear, SMEs seem set to lose out”.

Strange thing is, that while TTIP was hatched in a behind-closed-doors conflab between the European Commission, the US Government and big business groups, it’s now being promoted by the EU as ‘good for small businesses’.

The reason for this change of tack is fairly obvious: politicians and officials supportive of TTIP, see any hint that it might actually be bad for business, as a potential Achilles Heel. They probably aren’t too worried that rafts of the ‘usual suspects’ oppose TTIP because most of these appear to be rabidly-through-to-mildly critical of capitalism. More worrying than the placard wavers, will be NGOs and others who might put some sort of legal spanner in the works – for example based on the legal opinion of a Bremen University Professor who says mechanisms in CETA (the Canadian-EU version) may be unconstitutional in Europe, violating a ‘principle of democracy enshrined in constitutional and EU law’, prejudicing the guarantee of local self-government’ and going beyond the ‘competence’ of the EU to negotiate such stuff. But who cares about the EU constitution ?

Nor will they be exactly happy that economists like Paul Krugman have attacked its ‘false rationale’, not to mention the growing beat of critical noises from various University studies and journalists like John Kay in the FT. But they know that your average SME boss simply does not read the FT, or blogs about macro-economics. She or he is too busy packing the van or checking that the customers are kept happy.

However, if German bakers, English plumbers and decorators, and French farmers actually got it into their heads that TTIP might allow multinationals to eat their lunch by importing cheaper American versions of their goods and services, that would make TTIP politically toxic in Europe. After all, at least half of the European economy and employment is in ‘SMEs’ and White Man Van is a key political battle ground in Britain.

Never Mind the Quality: Feel the Width

TTIP is about trade but its claims to make a difference rest not on lowering ‘tariffs’ or custom charges between Europe and America (already rock bottom) but on removing other ‘barriers’.

For example rules and regulations about consumer protection, environment, health and sustainability. Through TTIP-Goggles these can all be seen as ‘barriers’. European businesses have developed products and services which comply, and this is one reason why Europe’s ‘quality of life’ is generally seen as higher than that in the United States , and why US products and services are cheaper.

In short, the promise of TTIP is more trade through less quality. That may look ok on a Brussels spreadsheet. It may not feel so good in real life.

Local Suppliers First ? Maybe Not

What’s’ this mean for businesses ? Well some of those most vulnerable might be farmers and growers and food companies who supply “local produce” to supermarkets and any Local Authority or public body where there is a policy or practice to buy-local. Any preference given to buying local first could be open to challenge by companies in the US. This lynchpin of ‘sustainable sourcing’ might be swept away.

Kennedy says:

If you’re a small business in Europe that creates products adhering to long-running EU rules, your products are probably going to be more expensive to produce than their US equivalents, which can make greater use of cheap labour as well as, potentially, questionable chemicals and practices. If many of the EU’s regulations are scrapped, many of these cheap US products that were previously banned on the continent are likely to flood in, undercutting your prices.

Meanwhile, in the UK, many local councils have implemented schemes that aim to strengthen communities and support small businesses by prioritising relationships with local suppliers. The UK government recently pledged support to smaller businesses by setting a target for 25% of its supplier contracts to be fulfilled by SMEs by May 2015. From the information available at present, it seems that both of these arrangements would be deemed illegal under TTIP, which would prevent organisations from adopting a prejudicial stance against global corporations.

Hypocrisy or Happy Wilful Ignorance ?

How can Europe’s governments and many business groups be so keen to sign up to something so potentially disastrous for much of their electorate and members ? Most probably, planning fallacy and optimism bias.  As with that trans-Atlantic project, the  Concorde, blind faith leads them to continue with the policy.  This despite mounting evidence that TTIP could ruin the livelihoods and hopes of millions working in small and medium sized businesses. It’s comfier than adjusting their views.

For the public, it’s counter intuitive that this can be happening. After all leading supermarkets like ASDA stress their commitment to ‘local sourcing’: we see the evidence every time we go into a store; and the government keeps saying it’s a ‘good thing’.

Waitrose, favourite store of the ‘London elites’ says:

‘We’re backing British …It’s what we call responsible sourcing. Waitrose encourages its suppliers to: provide the best possible conditions for workers; protect the natural environment; promote high standards of animal welfare’.

Umm, how will that work if TTIP goes through ? Is this something that John Lewis Partnership has an answer to ?

Poll after poll shows the British consumer likes the idea of buying local, and sometimes actually does it. Eg (YouGov) “59% of consumers prefer to buy UK-sourced meat and poultry compared to imported meat” and the UK Government: “most shoppers [are] saying they actively seek to buy healthy foods (82 per cent) and British seasonal produce (72 per cent)”.

What will it do for the many businesses that have built their business model on meeting the demand for local food ?  Eg Accent Catering which ‘makes sourcing ingredients from local suppliers a top priority’ ?

And what about B2B, that is businesses supplying other businesses ? A recent survey in the EDP (Easter Daily Press) my regional newspaper, found businesses ‘ Buying local is a top priority for East Anglia’s businesses’: ‘

‘The east’s passion for the provenance of goods has seen its results soar above the national average – with 86pc of small and medium sized companies in the area and just 77pc nationally choosing local suppliers. The survey, carried out by Norwich-based Signs Express, asked more than 1,000 businesses across the country about their buying habits. The top three reasons companies gave for choosing local suppliers was it helps boost the local economy, speaking to the supplier is easier if there are any problems, and there are benefits in dealing with people who play a positive role in the community’.

Quite so. SMEs are part of the quality of life. People who are in some way more likely to care because they share your community and might meet you again.

SignExpress is a supplier to SMEs, ie mainly “local” businesses. Why is it relevant to a company like them ? Because of all those signs needed by SMEs, such as on White Vans. These are not obvious companies. A survey by the AA found the top five white-van-driving occupations in the UK were 1. Builder 2. Delivery Courier/Driver, 3. Shopkeeper, 4. Electrician, 5.Handyman. They do not get interviewed on TV or invited to speak for British business. But they are the unseen ‘strivers’ and so far silent majority of European businesses.

Many Local Authorities and Public Bodies also have shop-local policies designed to enhance sustainability and support local economies. Those are potentially just as vulnerable and would if anything, be easier for any multi-national to challenge using the measures proposed for TTIP.

‘Questions about TTIP for SMEs’

If small British business are largely asleep on TTIP, in Germany and other countries in the EU, things are stirring. Richard Elsner at MORE (Movement for Responsibility in Trade Agreements) based in Germany, has published five questions SMEs should ask themselves:

1: Overall, will the impact of TTIP be favourable to the European economy?

2: Will the impact of TTIP be favourable to Europe’s SMEs?

3: Will TTIP advantage big business’s interests over SMEs’?

4: Will the lowering of European regulations be a good for European SMEs?

5 : Will TTIP reduce SMEs’ influence over the regulatory process?

In a nutshell the answers are roughly: 1 – dubious and marginal at very best, could be negative; 2 – not likely; 3 – yes; 4 – no; 5 – yes. Have a look at his Blog for references and detail.



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Schhh …. An Image That Was Too Successful ?


recycling bottles foe schweppes

The Friends of the Earth (FoE) ‘bottle dump’ in London, 1971. This became a famous image and helped establish FoE as a leading campaign group of the time.

I am not alone in advising anyone starting out in campaigns, that it is essential to be able to communicate the campaign in both pictures and stories. Blindingly obvious as that may seem, it’s not how people from many walks of life get trained to think, for instance in science, law, business, economics or politics.

But ask most people how they think a campaign is going, and they will tend to use a heard-of-it/ seen-it shortcut. As in, that must be a success “it got so much publicity”, or “everyone’s talking about it online”, or less positively, “you don’t see much of them these days so …”.

In other words they use Kahneman’s heuristics to create an opinion using limited information. What’s easy to recall seems more convincing. What can be recalled may be taken to be representative. What we see is taken to be all there is to see. This is one reason why images are so ‘powerful’: they prompt us to instantly ‘make up our minds’ on this basis. After that, the ‘consistency effect’ kicks in and we stick to our initial conclusion.

Fame is Right

A famous image creates its own credibility. People tend to assume that more prominent or famous organisations are the more successful ones, for example that higher profile companies will be richer. We also tend to assume that when ‘an issue disappears from the headlines’, any problem associated with it has more than likely been solved or at least got better (a bias to positive inference on closure – or ‘no news must be good news’).

As anyone involved with campaigning throughout the duration of a ‘disaster’ may have experienced, this is often compounded by the media’s tendency as a story-teller to want to justify no-longer telling the story, leading to excessive reassurance (the seas are once again blue, the oil has gone; the people are eating again, the aid is flowing, rebuilding has begun, etc).

Winning the Media War, Losing the Campaign

It is also widely known amongst campaigners, who often sit upstream in the story-flow, that it is quite possible to win the media war and lose the campaign.

What looks like huge success early on, may make this more likely, particularly if it either ‘derails’ the campaign from a critical path it needed to follow, or convinces potential supporters that they are ‘not needed’. (Of course if you don’t have a critical path leading to your final objective, in which one step has to be to be achieved, to reach the next, you may not notice this is happening). I would be interested to hear about any cases you may have come across (

Social media prominence – the number of tweets, likes etc – is essentially the same as ‘news media’ coverage in this respect because both imply ‘attention’. It is human nature (ie Kahneman’s ‘system 1’) to rationalise, or back-fit a rise or fall in attention, to reasons that can plausibly, and just as important satisfyingly, explain it.

Because ‘the public’ will not understand ‘the issue’ as policy communities and campaigners do, it is in the interests of campaigns to try and avoid this because the reasons that people use to ‘fill in the gaps’, come from beliefs they already hold as immutably true (eg values or values laden). As Walter Lipmann pointed out, people make up their minds before they define the facts (System 1 not 2), and once they have made up their minds, it is very hard work to get them to change (asking them to use System 2 to overturn System 1).

Schhh … you Know Who ?

Late 1960s Schweppes advertising campaign

In 1971 ‘environmentalism’ was newly minted and a hot topic. Concern about the planet and our impact on it was fiercely debated. The ‘issue’ was often framed as planet versus ‘progress’, or modernity. On the one side stood hippies and concerned scientists, and on the other, business, plastic, CFCs, consumption and, ‘getting ahead’.

So when in England, the popular and aspirational tonic water brand Schweppes, which had been running a successful marketing campaign based on the onomatopoeic slogan ‘Schhh, you know who …’, announced that it would no longer use returnable, re-usable bottles (which carried a deposit) and instead go over to modern, conveniently disposable ones, Friends of the Earth was presented with a campaign gift, which it seized.

FoE returned thousands of the ‘non-returnable’ bottles to the front doorstep of the drinks company. This got huge press coverage, became an iconic image and made Friends of the Earth into environmental heroes of the time. It is often used as the iconic British environmental campaign image of the era. When in 2011 The Guardian newspaper wanted to ask the public to share their images of the environmental movement over the previous forty years, the doorstep action was the image they picked.

Despite the success of the action in creating an image, it did nothing to change Schweppes’s decision. Returnable (also now known as re-usable, multi-trip or refillable) bottles, progressively disappeared from British shops and lives. Returnable bottles ceased to be an ‘issue’. Today, the CPRE or Council for the Protection of Rural England, is trying, with very little attention by comparison, to revive it with a campaign for a ‘Deposit Return System’ in England.

So what happened, and does it hold any lessons for campaigners today ?

An Unexpected Impact

Schhh poster

FoE was only a nascent organisation at the time but it exploited a moment when there was an action-deficit, and filled it. Robert Lamb, in Promising the Earth, quotes Richard Sandbrook talking about Graham Searle: “Graham – bless his heart – stood up at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where they were holding a seminar about the environment, and said ‘Well I’m going to take my bottles Saturday morning over to Cadbury Schweppes.’ Schweppes had just announced they weren’t going to use returnable bottles for their drinks products and people had been vocal about this through the seminar”.

FoE then did three ‘bottle dumps’. A lot of gin and tonic had to be drunk by Pete Wilkinson (later to become famous at Greenpeace) and others, to get the required number of bottles but “the first was enough: we got 50 yards of bottles quite closely set. It made a terrific photograph” said Sandbrook.


FoE office manager Angela Potter and volunteers 1970s. Two of the posters read ‘Keep Off the Glass’ and ‘The Soft Drinks People’ [Schweppes]. © FoE/McKenzie From Promising the Earth by Robert Lamb, Routledge 1996

The resulting coverage attracted thousands of supporters to join the newly formed Friends of the Earth (FoE). Although the organisation had many ‘larger’ concerns (eg energy), the bottles action energised FoE. Local groups were forming rapidly and picketing Schweppes distribution depots gave them a local focus. It was easily understood, it crystallised two opposing ‘paradigms’, it dealt with a brand and choices that mattered in the shops, pubs and living rooms, and it was tactically novel. Hard to believe now but in Britain it was a ‘first’.

Most of all though it ‘put Friends of the Earth on the map’. The unexpected impact was not measured in terms of the impact on the problem of returnable bottles. ‘It forced no change’ said Lamb but ‘that didn’t seem to matter … it set the fledgling organisation up as a credible voice in any environmental controversy from now on’. Fair enough: an organisational rather than a campaign gain and one FoE walked into by luck rather than design. But could it also have been a campaign success ? It’s impossible to say for sure at this distance but perhaps.

Recycling: The Diversion

What’s for sure is that Friends of the Earth then went on to became almost synonymous with ‘recycling’, and strategically, that was a diversion.

Walt Patterson who was for years a major force at FoE tells me:

‘We weren’t trying at that point to run a ‘recycling’ campaign at all. I don’t think we had even heard the term. We were advocating ‘reuse’. The industry people, once they realized the threat we posed, introduced ‘recycling’ as their fall-back position – still leaving the onus on the user, and still wasting a lot of energy compared to reuse, even after taking into account transport and cleaning.  As we gradually came to understand, the big opponents were not the drink manufacturers nor the bottle makers but the retailers, especially the supermarkets, who would have had to run the reuse programme.’

After the picketing at distribution depots, FoE went on to organise with National Packaging Days. From the start , some of it’s local groups took the bottle dump as a cue to start demonstration recycling projects, which eventually led FoE into large-scale initiatives such as ‘Recycling City Partnership’, many of which spun off green businesses and led into mitigation and problem reduction rather than the more ambitious option of returning and re-using whole bottles.

Whatever it’s origin, the well-known ‘waste hierarchy’ of reduce (or prevention), re-use, and then recycling (above ‘energy recovery’, above disposal) has been a guide in sustainability and enshrined in many policies from the 1970s onwards. The bottle campaign was reuse, recycling was a lower order strategy.

Whatever Happened to Returnable Bottles ?

returnable schweppes bottle

You can still buy Schweppes tonic in returnable tonic bottles in Britain (the brand was sold to Dr Pepper Snapple Group in 2008) but it seems only those imported from Germany. So good luck taking them back*. Unlike Britain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands have had government rules and regulations requiring forms of ‘deposit return schemes’

I haven’t yet found any data on the demise of the returnable tonic bottle but a 2009 report for Defra’s Waste and Resources Evidence Programme states that the share of refillables in packaging soft drinks in Britain, declined from 46% to 10% between 1980 and 1989, while the proportion of returnable beer bottles shrank from 33% to 0.3% between 1961 and 2006. In 1975, only 7.5% of the UK beer market used one-trip containers, yet in 2000 this had increased to 36.5%


The slow motion failure of the campaign for returnables in England is played out in the graph from a WRAP report, above (beer bottles). Friends of the Earth were originally trying to expand the orange bit.

Even use of returnable milk bottles (Britain is still notable for doorstep milk deliveries, and at one point some dairies even took back tonic bottles) declined from 94% to 10% between 1974 and 2006.


English returnable milk bottles: endangered ?

In 2007 British drinks manufacturer Britvicpulled the plug on its reusable bottle scheme for pubs and clubs’. It claimed disposables were ‘more appealing’ to consumers and played up their ‘recyclability’. The ‘last ever’ returnable version of the iconic glass Coca Cola bottle in the US rolled off the production line in 2012

Actual re-use of non-milk bottles in the UK is now tiny, for example by Reno Wine (make your way to their store in Wymondham, Norfolk). The stand-out larger scale British ‘success story’ is Scotland’s soft drinks firm AG Barr, which makes ‘Irn Bru’. It has offered deposit refunds on its glass bottles for 140 years. It’s website says ‘During 2009 nearly 7 in every 10 returnable glass bottles was returned for refilling at our Cumbernauld plant. In the last 2 years the bottle deposit has increased from 20p to 30p during which time we have seen a 3% increase in bottle returns’.

In England, Harveys Brewery based in Lewes, Sussex, uses returnable bottles. Good old Harveys ! Maybe I should have stayed in Lewes. My East Anglian equivalent, Adnams, may be green in other ways but does not seem to use returnable bottles.

Harveys also state: ‘80% of Harveys beer is consumed no more than 50 miles from Lewes. We have turned away trade if it’s too far away’. And there’s the rub. Since Schweppes got off the hook, recycling has become the dominant option, not reuse, and every investment made in the recycling system has embedded that choice. Harvey’s green cred is probably based on values and marketing (the green-ness of its drinkers) but to get an English outcome more like that in say Denmark or Germany, we’d need regulation to force supermarkets, pub chains and other bottle users to change their ways. And for that to happen we’d need political will, and for that we’d need public demand, and for that we’d need campaigns.

It’s doable. In countries where ‘deposit schemes’ exist, they work. Rates of return for beer bottles in Denmark, where there is a refundable deposit and non-glass containers were for many years prohibited, have been as high 98%, with each bottle being reused over 30 times.

It seems that the Westminster UK government (though perhaps not the Scottish government) has given up on returnable bottles, perhaps preferring to fudge the issue and take the easy route of voluntary agreements and going along with the preferred options of the packaging and established ‘recycling’ industry. It’s advisers WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) have published reports on ‘single trip or reusable packaging’, on the practicalities of using beer delivery vehicles to take back bottles, and on reducing the weight of beer bottles. It’s report on wine bottles says: ‘The environmental and business pros and cons of single trip versus returnable bottles are still open for debate. However, suffice to say that the observable trend to single trip containers has led to a reduction in average container weights, although some legacy effects remain, wherein design features associated with returnable bottles have been retained in single trip bottles. This therefore offers an opportunity to explore redesign leading to reduced container weight’. Of course this means designing bottles which probably cannot be re-used.

The current British government has cut funding to WRAP by two thirds. WRAP relies on projects developed and funded mainly by industry, eg the glass and glass recycling and ‘waste’ industries and their customers. This obviously has advantages for projects designed to maximise potential efficiencies within the business models they want to pursue but is hardly a recipe for a public interest watchdog role, nor is it likely to finance projects to consider significant changes to the industry. No wonder perhaps. that none of WRAP’s detailed reports seem to have anything positive to say about Britain introducing a statutory scheme for deposits on bottles.

Major NGOs seem to have adopted a similar position. Resource resilient UK: A report from the Circular Economy Task Force sponsored by the Green Alliance, also with the heavy involvement of similar waste-industry players, has nothing to say about returnable, reusable or refillable bottles.

A campaigner who has worked with FoE more recently commented to me that the

problem with the issue is that I think it would be very difficult to get it [a deposit scheme] to happen in the UK (at least England), and I’m not sure the benefits would merit this expenditure of effort. This is one reason why … FOE instead went down the line of getting rid of residual waste/maximising reuse & recycling’.

Which no doubt makes great sense but maybe misses the potential.

CPRE may lack the campaign clout to exploit it but the ‘common sense’ appeal of reusing perfectly good bottles rather than crushing them up for road aggregate or even wasting huge amounts of energy to melt them down into identical new ones, still has public resonance. CPRE President Bill Bryson, an American much loved in England for his gently mocking travel books, perhaps has a better common touch. It is, he told the Daily Telegraph in 2010, “nonsense” for the UK not to have a bottle deposit scheme, pointing out that they were still popular in Australia and the US (and Canada and about ten other countries).

CPRE commissioned consultants Eumonia to study the issue. Their report Have We Got the Bottle? Implementing a Deposit Refund Scheme in the UK, calculated that a 15p deposit for small bottles and a 30p deposit for large bottles (including cans, glass bottles and PET plastic bottles) would achieve a return rate of 90% and save each household £7 in litter cleaning costs, as well as saving over 600,000 tonnes of carbon pollution.   In 2011 CPRE calculated such a scheme could create 3 – 4,000 jobs.

A Renaissance for Returnables ?

It seems to me that Friends of the Earth were probably right all along, and maybe they’re going to be proved right but won’t be in the game to pick up the credit. Back in 1971, tiny, hopeful and chaotic, it was left up to them to state the obvious. Forty years later it’s the likes of the World Economic Forum which is ‘taking up the bottles’ as it were:

‘Returnable glass bottle systems are a signature example of closed regional and local loops, and give bottling companies full control of their materials flows. For instance, South African Breweries (SAB), the local subsidiary of SABMiller, currently sells more than 85% of volume in a closed loop returnable bottle system. If this were converted to a one-way packaging and distribution system, the country’s glass output would have to be doubled just to cater for the increase in demand for beer bottles. Modelling shows that in beer beverage packaging, the economics of these return systems are far superior to those of one-way systems, even compared with 100% recyclable PET bottles.

So perhaps not all is lost for the returnable bottle.

SABMiller is a global brewing giant headquartered in London, and one of many large companies taking ‘sustainability’ seriously because it makes good business sense. It likes returnable bottles, particularly if you look at emerging markets. 49 per cent of its beer is sold in returnable packaging, which it says is much more carbon efficient throughout its lifecycle than cans, PET bottles or non-returnable bottles.

It’s 2014 Sustainability Report said:

“Around half of our beer is sold in returnable packaging. For example, in Latin America the super-returnable bottles used by Bavaria in Columbia are refilled an average of 44 times. Now we are targeting improvements in Europe, where we already have 700 million returnable glass bottles in circulation but where there are large differences between markets in returnable bottle penetration and consumer behaviour”.

“There are tensions. A recent study in Europe examined the potential barriers to bottles being returned: some consumers are very loyal and committed to using returnable bottles, while others find it inconvenient to return empty bottles to the retailer”. Territory surely, for campaigners ?

From a different direction, there is now more interest in ‘re-use’ in Britain, driven by values-based campaigns to make re-use desirable (eg Campaign Strategy Newsletter Prospectors and swishing in #66, the ‘New Thrift’ in Resolving Koo’s Paradox, and Ideal Home, Mainstreaming Change in #79), as well as EU and national pressure to reduce waste and carbon footprints, and revisiting of many of FoE’s original ideas, a lot of chatter about the ‘Circular Economy’.

A 2014 study  (p 133) into the potential of the ‘circular economy’ by the Institute for European Environmental Policy for the European Commission, reported that the German system of a 25 cents deposit fee on beverage packaging ‘has provided motivation for high return rates (98%) [and] for beer it helped re-usable packaging increase from 68% to about 90%. It also says that ‘A cost reduction of 20% per hectolitre of beer sold to consumers would be possible across all markets by shifting from disposable to reusable glass bottles, which would lower the cost of packaging, processing, and distribution’. (p 56)

A Campaign for Cheaper Beer ? That has to be a selling point.

England no longer has a watchdog on waste. It’s only mobilisation of public opinion which is likely to shift UK government policy. David Cameron yielded to public pressure from the ‘Break the Bag Habit’ campaign to levy a charge on public bags in England, although only after being confronted by children campaigning on behalf of albatrosses, along with proof that a similar charge had worked in Wales (an 80% drop in plastic bag use), Scotland and Northern Ireland.

England does not ‘rock’, so much as lag behind the times. Time for Friends of the Earth to return to the fray.

*I do know an English delivery driver who does just that. He has a crate in the back of his van, brings his favourite German beer back to England, drinks it with friends, and takes the empties back on his next job to Germany.


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Effect of prolonged exposure to wholesome organic foods in teenagers


Or what happens when (a) you bring up your children eating wholesome organic stuff, and (b) mum goes on a low fat low sugar diet, and (c) they finally snap.   This mysteriously appeared overnight on our family ‘messages’ board for shopping.

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Making Polls Interesting to the ‘Media’

I saw an ECF post about this and asked the author Eben Marks (News and Media Relations Officer at Action for Children, @ebenmarks) to write something. Here it is:

‘If you are planning on using polling to support your campaign, think ahead to the type of headlines you want your poll results to create. Like with any message these should be things people can grasp very quickly. One way of doing this is by stating the results in absolute terms, rather than the specifics of the numbers.

“For example, say you ask a sample of parents what their biggest worry for children is, and the results are:
42% say health
33% say education
18% say safety
6% say loneliness
1% don’t know/don’t want to answer”

Rather than making your headline “42% of parents are worried about children’s health”, say “Children’s health is parent’s biggest worry”. You can always go into the actual figures in the body of your press release or article, but by writing the headline this way it is put into context so that anyone looking at glance will understand the importance of it. This will help catch the attention of journalists who are scanning through subject lines in their inbox, and will do the same for their audience who are flicking through a paper or half-listening to the radio. This style won’t always be the best way of doing polling stories, but should always go into the mix when you are planning.’

This is good advice from Eben.

The reason it is likely to work is that it appeals to the widespread human desire to simplify life and make it manageable.

We usually approach any one opportunity to think about, read about, ask about or hear about ‘information’ with a prior judgement about how much of this particular thing we want to process right now.  Setting aside ‘none’ (which is challenged with the ‘must-read’ attempted in Upworthy ‘curiosity-gap’ formats – or see this video briefly featuring Duane Raymond), these appetites range from ‘just give me the one most important thing’ through to ‘give me everything and more’.

Third-party-media journalists generally have to work on the basis that the appetite for that their piece is the former, ie the Lowest Common Denominator.  If they are to produce a story, their editor will usually want it to work for the maximum number of people.  So the single most compelling fact, discovery or insight, is the one to put upfront.

A professional audience of course, is supposedly going to want you to be more ‘objective’.  The extreme case is in the scientific ideal, not actually lived up to by many Science Journals, which is that you report “no effect found”. (Although, for those in despair at this departure from the scientific ideal, see this list).

thanks to Eben

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Oliver Rackham RIP – Britain’s Greatest Living Ent

Sad news that Oliver Rackham of Cambridge University has passed away.  There are not many revolutionary historians and even fewer who make a lasting impact by inspiring us to save our natural heritage but Rackham was one of them.

His Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, first published in 1976, remains a classic and unequaled by the torrent of studies and literature on woods that followed. More than anyone else, Rackham proved that Britain still has Ancient Woodlands which provide a living link to our most ancient past.  In so doing he inspired subsequent generations to rediscover ‘woodsmanship’, helped reverse the unsustainable nature of contemporary ‘forestry’, and set a whole new direction for conservation of Britain’s trees and woods.

He claimed only to have coined the word ‘wildwood’ to avoid confusion with hunting ‘Forests’ but to pick this evocative name for the primeval woodland of Britain, coupled with his painstaking proof through fieldwork that we live in a country where the essence of of the wildwood still survives in Ancient Trees and Woods, was a stroke of genius.   He helped ensure the future of our woods by sharing understanding of their past.  He gave ancient trees a voice.  Truly Britain’s greatest living ‘Ent’, now gone back in the wildwood himself.

Small leaved-lime was one of his favourite trees.  He called it a tree of ‘romance and delight’.  Here’s a leaf from the 2,000 year old lime coppice at Silk Wood, by Westonbirt Arboretum.

S small leaved lime leaf Chris Rose



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UK’s Royal Mail Drives Backwards on Sustainability

Update 12 Dec: my partner met a postman puffing up to our house with a delivery yesterday, having left his van up the road.  “Is it more difficult now that you have to park a way away ?” she asked (there being very little parking here, while on a bike that’s no problem).  Yes he agreed it wasn’t as good as having a bike, and then added “but the worst part, it’s the Carbon Footprint !”


I live in small town by the sea (Wells Next the Sea) where until recently, Royal Mail postmen and women delivered our mail on bikes.  There is hardly any traffic, distances are short and everyone knew the ‘posties’ – you can talk to someone on a bike in the street but not a van driver.   Last year the UK Royal Mail announced it would be phasing out all bikes in favour of vans, and now all our posties are in vans.  Bikes are gone, social contact reduced, vehicle pollution is up – NOx, hydrocarbons, CO2 – and Royal Mail sustainability is down.

s post box -

It’s a bizarre, retrograde and perverse step, as evidenced by the policies of rivals like TNT, and now of Amazon, which are all switching to more bike use as it is quicker, more sustainable and cost effective.  And of course it keeps the workforce and community healthier.

Amazon has dropped it’s much publicized drone delivery idea and Grist Magazine reports it is experimenting with bike couriers instead.

Postman Pat needs to rethink.


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Wake Up Nature It’s Halloween !

insects on bramble 31 10 14

Here’s a bee and a hoverfly buzzing around a newly flowering bramble in my garden in North Norfolk today – Halloween 2014, 31 October.  This is supposed to be when nature is going to sleep – undoubtedly the pre-Christian origins of the belief in what led to ‘Halloween’ – when trees safely shut down into frost-tolerance for the winter, when insects and other animals hibernate or go into over-wintering conditions.  Not when spring flowers start to bloom.

The temperature is 17.C.  The “long term average” here from 1981 – 2010 was 14.4 for October and 10.2 for November … and before that 30 year ‘climatology’ ?  Something lower.  It’s about time weather forecasters stopped saying “how well we are doing” when they report ‘above average’ winter temperatures, and start admitting that we are doing badly.

How about climate scientists giving them a UTA as a benchmark ?  An Unpolluted Temperature Average from before the anthropogenic (human pollution) signal really kicked in ?  Then we could talk about Polluted Temperatures and Unpolluted Temperatures.  Which would be more honest.

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Navigating Nature

ECOS (A Review of Conservation) has published an article by me “Navigating nature ECOS 35 (2)“. (See more articles at )


Parents, grandparents, and even teachers, are no longer able to ‘introduce young
children to nature’ because they can’t really see nature themselves. This article calls for
a national campaign of remedial action to motivate a population which has become
‘nature blind’. Such a drive needs to learn the lessons of marketing and large-scale
campaigns that have influenced public priorities.




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Message in a bottle that should not be ignored

Today Kumi Naidoo, international director of Greenpeace, is handing a bottle of Arctic meltwater to the UN Secretary General in New York, calling for the Arctic to be protected from oil and gas development.  It contains six million drops, one for each of the six million who have supported the Greenpeace Arctic campaign with their signature.  Let’s hope, for the future of our world and children, that this message in a bottle is not ignored.

Sadly the track record is not good.  Back in 1997 when I was a Greenpeace director I asked our campaigners to visit the huge (and to many scientists unexpected) crack that had appeared in the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica.  Greenpeace called for stronger against on climate change.  Politicians took shelter behind ‘scientific uncertainty’.  As usual, many in the media accused Greenpeace of scaremongering.

larsen water s- Copy

Here’s a bottle of Antarctic (Larsen) meltwater I asked the team to collect for me.  A bit dusty and sitting on my shelf here in England.  Meanwhile, most of the rest of the Larsen Ice Shelf has ended up somewhere in the ocean, getting warmer and warmer.

Today Scotland votes on independence from the UK and politicians of all stripes are calling it the ‘most momentus decision that any Scot will ever take’.  To be honest I doubt it, whichever way it goes.  What a shame that they can’t muster up as much interest in a vote to keep the ice intact.  And how tragic that the only ice-water left may one day be in such bottles.

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ISIS: How Important Is The Look and Where Did It Come From ?

I have seen more campaigner chatter about the ice-bucket challenge than about ISIS.  Yet if there was a current communications phenomenon that is making serious waves, the social media reach of terror group ISIS is surely it.

ISIS Reuters two men

In Britain there has been understandable concern that ISIS has inspired over 60,000 supportive social media accounts this summer, and alarm at the claim that in recent years, more young British Moslems had gone to join Jihad in Syria than had joined the army.

Many analysts and commentators have pointed to the “media savvy” of ISIS.  Some have identified its ‘marketing war’ with the older Al Quaeda.  For instance Jim Armitage who wrote in The Guardian, ‘Isis is refining terrorist marketing … they know all about corporate branding in war zones’.   Salience and recruiting support are presumably the two key metrics.

As well as drawing analogies with brand battles in business, there is an erudite literature about importance of Islamic ‘narratives’ and ‘Master Narratives’ in forming the stories that sustain ISIS and other Jihadist groups but despite the very visual nature of social media, little attention seems to have been devoted to the ISIS ‘visuals’.  Perhaps fashion seems too flippant to consider when innocent people are being slaughtered and journalists beheaded ?   Yet if ‘jihadi cool’ is important, what ISIS looks like may be very important.

Most press analysis focuses on the politics and hardware. ‘As The US Strikes At ISIS, Here’s A Look At What The Jihadists Have In Their Arsenal’ said Business Insider.  Maybe we should also look at what’s in their wardrobe ?

Any Colour So Long As It’s Black ?

AP march isis The most obvious thing is that ISIS has black clothes, masks, and black flags with white writing on them.  There are whole books on the use of symbols by insurgent groups but more important for their power to recruit from afar (people from over 80 countries are said to be active with ISIS) is how the overall communications ‘package’ registers with potential sympathisers.

Black and white is graphic.  The look is instantly recognizable, and its use is clearly controlled, in set piece marches such as these in The Independent and on the BBC and in set up shots such as this AP photo of a convoy reproduced in The Guardian.

ISIS convoy

It also comes in handy when the flag doubles as a banner.  But is it cool ?  With the atrocities dulled by the distance of time, many writers have noted that the Nazis looked ‘cool’.   In 2005 even Prince Harry had to apologize for wearing a Nazi army shirt to a party.   Designer Hugo Boss became notorious for having made Nazi uniforms, and Walter Heck who worked for him, helped design the iconic black and white SS uniform.

ss uniform The Nazis espoused futuristic technology and power which created now embarrassing links with companies such as Bayer, Siemens, IBM and VW but most notably, Hugo Boss.    A article ‘Third Reich to Fortune 500: Five Popular Brands the Nazis Gave Us’, which has been viewed three million times, notes  ‘while today Boss uses black for slimming effects, in the SS uniforms it was used to command respect and fear in the populace’.  Nazi style was later picked up and played with by punks, incorporated into fetish fashion and has been parodied and copied countless times, from fashion to the Stormtroopers and  Imperial Officers of Star Wars.

imperial officers

Black has had its own separate fashion journey but with the context, purpose and allusions to taking and exerting power and control, the choreographed use of black and white by the Nazis and ISIS seem more than a little coincidental.  Below: ISIS and a SS tank general.

ISIS TankSStankgeneral

I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

Chief Nazi propagandist Herman Goebells was no slouch when it came to organising events for visual communication, as shown most famously in the film The Triumph of the Will, which Hitler persuaded Leni Riefenstahl  to make.   Cinema newsreel was the most powerful propaganda medium of the day but social-media uses video, twitter, facebook and the like.  Several other Middle Eastern organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas use partly black uniforms but none of them seem have attracted foreign online support like ISIS.

Nobody knows, or nobody is saying, who might have inspired ISIS from the world of online but it seems likely that their digital strategists have looked at successful online campaigns, commercial and otherwise, which have appealed to other young, ‘Western’ audiences.

One of the most widely discussed of these was ‘Stop Kony’ by Invisible Children.  In 2012 this became the most successful viral video campaign in history, inspiring admiration at its techniques as well as a slew of questions and criticisms.

kony poster

The Most Successful Online Campaign ?

I analysed the motivational structure of the Stop Kony campaign in a previous post and more on that below but there are some striking visual similarities between some of IC’s promotional videos and the ISIS, not to mention between some IC visuals and those of Nazi rallies.  Of course IC are neither Nazi nor Islamic Jihadists – they are evangelical Chrsitians – and Stop Kony was a campaign to capture a notorious human rights abuser, not a campaign causing human rights abuses but their cultish communication, some would say propaganda, has similar visual elements.



Triumph salute 1Third Reich (Triumph of the Will)

IC arms up

Fourth Estate (IC)

Fourth Estate

IC vans on desert road ISIS convoy


IC has used music videos for campaign recruitment,  such as Blazing Trails 2007 which shows triumphant IC supporters riding a fleet of glossy black people carriers emblazoned with white graphics, frantically air-guitaring to Kings of Cydonia by Muse.

IC vans forward IC wrote in 2007: ‘Thirteen black vans, filled with teams of four, are driving an uprising across America’.

IC shirts

After viewing Stop Kony and IC recruitment videos about the ‘Fourth Estate’, UK TV host Charlie Brooker commented on Channel 4:  “In summary, Invisible Children are expert propagandists with what seems to be a covert religious agenda, advocating military action in central Africa, while similtaneously recruiting an “army” of young people to join their cause and their weird “Fourth Estate” youth camps… ”

IC on vans 1

IC women on vanIC blazing still girl


What’s The Appeal ?

With apparently opposite agendas but similar audiences (mainly young, mainly online), can there be any similarities between the communications of groups like ISIS and IC ?  A lot of evidence suggests there is, and it’s motivational needs rather than just age or the medium which defines them.

IC effectively made human rights into a movie (and previously a dance video – now deleted from its website but viewable in part in the Brooker piece).  Patrick Skinner, analyst with security intelligence services company Soufan, says ISIS aims to reach specific demographic groups and in the West, they try to make jihad seem like a Hollywood-like video game.

“They make jihad seem cool, not over the top – beheading videos aren’t recruitment videos – but they do do very slick productions, with music overlaid on top of very slick graphics, and they make it seem like a video game. They don’t show the after effects. They’ll show an attack or they’ll show a killing, or they’ll show shooting with explosions, and it’s very Hollywood-like,” says Skinner.  Apparently ISIS also shows Jihadists with kittens and sweets in order to ‘humanize’ its fighters for the intended audience.

More importantly, both groups offer an apparently simple, attractive way to gain power over others, and a story about why it’s the right thing to do.  We are going to ‘change the course of human history’ Jason Russell tells the audience in the Stop Kony video.  The decades long struggle for human rights is reduced to mobilising to capture or maybe kill, one man.   We are not joining a long campaign, having to negotiate or to study history, we ‘are changing it’.

This is classic Golden Dreamer content (see guide to Prospector Values Modes at ): we will gain the esteem of others with one simple easy act.  Caliphate or the Fourth Estate, we will create a promised land.

Raffaello Pantucci, from the Royal United Services Institute, has said idealism, fleeing trouble at home, seeking redemption for a criminal past and religious vision may all be factors for ISIS recruits. “And yet”, he added, “others are simply young people at a juncture in their lives where the idea of going to run around a training camp and shooting guns seems quite appealing.”  Germany’s Head of security has suggested   ‘some young people are attracted to Isis because of its brutality, which makes it appear “more authentic” than al-Qa’ida’.

In a recent post, Pat Dade from Cultural Dynamics has analyzed population-wide psychological data from four countries to compare commitment to religion with the appeal of using force to ‘get what you want’.  He writes:  ‘in each case, we have found only a small percentage that espouses the combined ‘religious-force’ factor within the culture. These …  will likely be regarded as outliers and aberrant by the standards of the culture in which they are embedded’.  His ‘working hypothesis’ drawn from the evidence is that “given the right (not necessarily extreme) circumstances, Force will trump Religion”.

The psychological group he is talking about is a (subset of) the Golden Dreamers, people moving from Settler (Security Driven) to Prospector (Outer Directed or Esteem Driven).  This group has strong identity and esteem requirements and scores higher than others on factors such as the desire to have power  ‘over others, over things, over ideas’.

Dade also analyzed the motivation to riot, in the case of the 2011 UK “shopping riots”.  He noted “Apart from the extreme youth of many of the participants, commentators and analysts have struggled without success to find a ‘demographic’ base for the majority of participants”.

Amongst hundreds of questions put to thousands of British respondents he used four to charcaterize an ‘Attribute’ termed ‘Asocial’.  The four statements that correlate and make up the Asocial Attribute are:

  • If someone does me a bad turn, I don’t get mad – I get even
  • The thought of social disorder excites me
  • I look for people’s weak points
  • I would enjoy being involved in a street riot

(The survey measured agree-disagree on a five point scale).  This overlaps with just the same Golden Dreamer area of motivational values (see links above), where in his words, “The old rules that provided stability now seem oppressive and stifling.  A new world beckons, a Prospector world, one where anything is possible.  As bounded and accepted morality frays around the edges new, multiple possibilities for recognition by others and rewards for social displays of prowess emerge and drive an excitement with life not previously experienced. Anything and everything is possible and only the experience of trying new forms of behaviour will enable the person to know what is best for them. No amount of moralizing will stop the person in [this] Danger Zone from doing or thinking what they want to ‘right now’.”

Which could be leaving a comfortable suburb to join a foreign Jihad because it looks cool or simply X-box style ‘fun’, or opting into a riot, or opting into the Fourth Estate.

Looking for Certainties

Many commentators who obviously do not share such motivational values see what people in such groups are doing and call them ‘extremists’ rather than ‘moderates’ but although their actions are extreme to us, to the followers they may look more like purity, authenticity or truthfulness.   They may quite literally be looking for and finding a simpler, black and white, uber-certain version of reality, as well as winning status within their group.

A Mother Jones article by Chris Mooney,  ‘Here Are the Psychological Reasons Why an American Might Join ISIS’ quotes Maryland University Professor Arie Kruglanski who has interviewed and studied the way a large number of terrorists see the world.  He pinpoints a high need for ‘cognitive closure’, which Mooney describes as ‘a disposition that leads to an overwhelming desire for certainty, order, and structure in one’s life to relieve the sensation of gnawing—often existential—doubt and uncertainty’.

“These extreme ideologies have a twofold type of appeal,” says Kruglanski “First of all, they are very coherent, black and white, right or wrong. Secondly, they afford the possibility of becoming very unique, and part of a larger whole.”   This he says, attracts young people who lack a clear sense of self-identity, and are craving a sense of larger significance. ‘If you go through the world needing closure’, writes Mooney, it predisposes you to seek out the ideologies and belief systems that most provide it.

It is perhaps this which is the common thread of appeal in Nazi, IC and ISIS ‘messages’, and the lure of many other fundamentalist propositions.  These could even be ‘extreme’ animal rights and other ‘issue’ activists, or ‘extreme’ right-wing, left-wing political groups, while in business it can drive the ‘wolves’ of Wall Street and ’extreme’ predatory captialism.  Causes which demand total devotion and commitment to the cause, and corporations which demand total devotion and commitment to the cause, may be very different in their impacts on society but not so different in their motivations.

Postscript: since I began writing this post I came across the ‘Burn ISIS flag challenge‘ (#BurnISISFlagChallenge), seemingly started by Moslems outraged by the actions of ISIS, it rolls the Ice Bucket Challenge into the bloodbath of Levant.  It is unlikely to make much impact on ISIS but it could triangulate the public discussion, and in particular the visuals, and might just be the sort of thing to give potential recruits cause to think twice.

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