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Oh, the horror. I'm on a podcast

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MacFormat podcast logoI can't even bear to listen to this week's MacFormat podcast since my less than dulcet tones are on it, telling the world how to be environmentally friendlier when using a Mac. I'd advise reading the article instead...

To a certain extent, I imagine doing Apple's PR must be a slightly cushy number. Apple are usually extremely reticent to talk about anything you want to talk about, preferring instead to drone on about what they want to talk about; if you're writing a feature on almost any subject except what was in the last Apple press release, you'll usually find it impossible to get a spokesperson out of Apple.

Unfortunately, it's not like there's much you can do about it. You can't exactly hint that most of your Macworld feature will be about Dell as a result, now can you?

So that's easy PR living, right? No pesky interviews to arrange, just press events aka 'parties'. Although there's a large number of people who got into PR to be professional communicators, etc, there's still a sizeable number who got into PR because they wanted to be party planners but couldn't pass those tricky entrance exams. Again, I imagine that within the tech PR industry, there's a group who aspire to work on the Apple account as the zenith of their profession because it's all the 'good' bits of PR without the 'bad' bits.

Or at least it would be if it weren't for the facts the parties will typically be composed of those highly socially skilled, meterosexual fashionistas: tech journalists.

Bite PR is the firm that currently has the Apple account. Wherever two or more tech journalists gather, if those two names are mentioned in the same sentence, you can guarantee the next 15 minutes will be spent relating amusing tales of inefficiency and cluelessness. I've already told you about a few of my personal experiences (company four here, here, here, here, here and here) and I'm sure if you search around, you can find tales from other UK journalists. Sorry, Bite. That's just the way it is.

Worryingly for you guys, Apple appears to be cottoning on to this fact.

Economists: always surprising

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I'm always surprised by economists and the things they come up with. If you've ever read Freakanomics, you'll be aware of the exciting trends they can uncover (abortion as the cause of reduced crime in the US, etc).

But they can also devise some extremely clever ways of encouraging certain behaviours and discouraging others. Take carbon trading: it's worth billions already and is encouraging industry to become greener using the motivation of large profits for those who are environmentally friendly. Carbon taxes, currently being argued about by all the main UK political parties, are a way of discouraging environmentally unfriendly behaviour.

The most clever green proposal I've seen is to discourage electricity suppliers from charging per kilowatt, but instead to provide a warm, well-lit house as a service, to be delivered in whatever way the supplier deems necessary:

“People aren't fussed about how much power they buy,” explains Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the trust. “If energy suppliers sold a service – a lit and heated house, rather than units of gas or electricity – then they would face incentives to provide it as efficiently as possible.” In theory, such companies would even pay to improve their customers' homes, cutting their own costs in the process. One is already operating in Woking, a green-minded town; another is planned to start in London.

See? That's clever.

Ooh. First Direct claims to be the first direct banking operation to go carbon neutral. Good on them.

Some of the stats seem a little interesting though:

"Conscious of the impact 3400 people have getting to and from work, three years ago it introduced the Green Travel Plan which includes:

  • a car sharing database
  • shuttle bus between Leeds Train Station and Stourton
  • subsidised travel cards to encourage more people to use the buses and trains.
  • The initiative has led to 150 fewer cars being brought to work each day and a staggering 98% increase in the number of people using public transport."

So the number of people using public transport has doubled, but of 3,400 people, only 150 fewer cars are being used?

Obviously, it's a bit tricky with that shuttle bus option added, since we don't know if that counts as public transport. But if there are 150 fewer cars being used, with say a generous 1.5 people per car, that means there are 225 fewer people travelling by cars. If they all go by public transport, that means that there were already 225 people (98% or so) going by public transport, taking the total up to... 450 people out of 3,400. If half went by shuttle bus instead of car or bus and the shuttle bus doesn't count as public transport, then there'll only be 225 travelling by public transport. And so on.

So by the looks of it, we have nearly 3,000 out of the 3,400 employees going by some form of transport that isn't publicly owned. Car-sharing, shuttle buses, etc are good things, but that's still an awful lot of people not using public transport. And the figures don't say how many employees First Direct has now, rather than three years ago.

I could ring up and ask, but as always, I'm feeling a bit lazy.

Remember that ad in favour of pollution that Exxon put out via the CEI? Well FactCheck have analysed the ad, in conjunction with the scientists whose worked was quoted, to debunk it.

Pay more for a green PC?

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The BBC is reporting the results of a study that say that people around the world would pay more a greener PC. Personally, I don't believe any of them. However, there is an urgent need for some way to recycle electronics, judging from the number of TVs and PCs dumped on the roads around recycling banks in my local neighbourhood. At the moment, it's the tip or nothing for most people, until the EU-mandated buy-back schemes come into force.

I note, however, that 'green PC' here only means a PC that contains fewer hazardous chemicals, rather than a fully green PC that uses far less electricity for instance. Would you buy a PC advertised as costing “£100 less per year to run than other PCs”? I'd certainly think about it, particularly after seeing our last scary electricity bill...

You can read more about Green IT in what looks increasingly like a visionary article of mine for Information Age, Green economics?.

Green press trips

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Press trips are all very nice. Who doesn't enjoy flying off to far-away destinations, even if you don't get to see much except the inside of a hotel at the other end? There is, however, a problem for any journalist who worries about green issues. All those plane flights can overwhelm all your good work when you're at home. In fact, probably just one trip will result in your using up your CO2 allowance for the year. What to do, what to do?

Turns out that some of the airlines operate a carbon neutral policy. You just go to their web site, work out how much CO2 your trips have pumped out, pony up a little cash and the airline will put that money towards offsetting those CO2 emissions in an approved scheme. It should all result in your trip not having put out any net CO2 at all.

That's the theory anyway. No doubt someone will point out that it's all a con, doesn't work, etc. I'd like to think it does until I hear evidence to the contrary. So I'm off to the BA web site's offset scheme right now to pay my carbon tax for my last two press trips. I'll have to see if BMI does an offset scheme for my little holiday in Glasgow.

The trouble with this though is that I'm now paying for my press trip, which offends my natural inalienable journo's right to freebies. Hopefully, it's tax deductible at the least. Maybe in future press-trip organisers will pay for the carbon offset, too. How about it PR people?

UPDATE: Turns out you can do carbon offsetting for almost anything at Climate Care; return trips to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Monaco worked out at £15 in total to offset, which isn't bad, is it?

Good news from Iraq

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Now there's something you don't see ever day: good news from Iraq. In this case, the Garden of Eden has been re-flooded.

Move Heathrow?!

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Heathrow airportI'm all for environmentally friendly ideas, but I think they need to be practical. If they're not, environmentalists are going to get laughed at and ignored. So well done to this particular urban planning charity, which has come up with the entirely feasible concept of moving Heathrow airport to the east of London. That doesn't make greens look stupid at all. Oh no.

You just don't hear the pro-pollution argument very often, do you?

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