In the 1968 film The Graduate, a young character fresh out of College, played by Dustin Hofmann, emerges from the pool in his diving suit and flippers to be given advice on his future. “I just want to say one word to you young man, just one word – plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.” Just like the advice; this extraordinarily durable material carried all before it revolutionising whole industries though, over time, its very durability and non-biodegradable nature have made it a menace for the planet. 

Indian cities are characterised by huge volumes of waste and landfills overflow with plastic. In their valuable book Life in Plastic (2000) Robert Edwards and Rachel Kellet cover how India had not been a major user of plastic until legislation shifts in the 1980s when the Government sanctioned a dramatic increase in its production to assist industries to become globally competitive. The use of plastic then increased rapidly as more people moved to cities and the bonfire of the restrictive licensed Raj in 1991 triggered increased imports. Several studies highlight the impact plastic extruding machines have had on a whole range of traditional craft-based industries and the skills that had been passed through generations. Here are a few:

Tradition has its place ...



Mayhews London Labour and the London Poor (1861) describes street folk of the fast expanding capital city with flower sellers as the “aristocracy” of the street; their elevated status due to a combination of wealthy clients and the need to own sheds to store and carts to move their fragile crop avoiding, in his delightful phrase, “concusive” transit – he may have been anticipating the last mile in Chennai! Mayhew describes in some detail a supply system that, by the end of the 19th century, was copied in the major US cities with horicultural growing centres located within or close to the major centres of population of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.

By the 1950s, the expansion of the interstate highway system facilitated transportation of cut flowers over longer distances with nurseries expanding further afield in Colorado; Denver and California.  Today, horticulture has taken advantage of the rocket science of logistics to stretch supply lines into the most remote areas of the globe. It could act as a catalyst to transform Agriculture still further as well as being a testing house for green supply chains along the way. Here’s the story …

Flower power is big business

Today, the World cut flower market is worth close to $50 billion annuallly – the rose variety alone generating $10 billion – with logistics and ever more sophisticated supply chains enabling farmers in places like Columbia, Kenya and Ethiopia to become major players. This is big business in the developed world with a massive impact at the other end of the development scale. For example, in Kenya, horticulture generates $110 million exports per year and employs an estimated 500,000 people; 75% of whom are women earning up to $30 per month. (more…)

As the media builds up to the Policy fest on Global warming in Copenhagen; T L has been trawling through the inspirational story of a place that is doing something about it – Las Gaviotas, Columbia.

A house at Las Gaviotas, Colombia

Since the 1940s Columbia has been ravaged by the struggle between Government forces and FARC (Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). Yet, despite the violence, Columbia has a highly educated and literate population; fertile farmland producing more than a hundred exportable crops and, a wide range of manufacturing industries such as textiles, electrical goods, chemicals and transport equipment. Perhaps more significantly, Columbia is the home of an inspirational working model of how communities can build sustainable low carbon futures.  (more…)

Have you ever wondered about how Italian ice cream was invented – before electricity? Or, the significance of eggs at Easter? Ice cream reaches back in time to the Egyptians; the Mughals and 5th century Greeks with their snow mixed with honey and fruit. And hens always laid their eggs from April to June when their body clock said so. For most of recorded history, eggs were a springtime crop and, that’s where it starts.

Where am I going with this? The perishable supply chain combines technology to conquer borders and distance but we need to understand the dislocation involved in local communities and the environment itself. For example, as the Indian middle class grows so too does the demand for quality fruits and vegetables. Recently, in Delhi, I met with a company that is developing an impressive network of orchards up in the foothills of the Himalayas. This will take time so, there are plans to source apples and other quality fruits from … Chile.   (more…)

McKinsey have published an important insight into increasing the energy efficiency of supply chains. Starting from the fact that 15 million barrels of oil per day – that’s 20% of total production – is used to move things around globally, the study highlights six levers that can make significant impacts on energy efficiency. See: McKinsey (August 2009).

The levers work within three oil price scenarios and focus supply chain set up (from increasing value densities; reducing transport distances and switching modes) to the transport assets themselves (improve design and technology; maximise usage and improve infrastructure).

The levers are well documented. However, several issues remain untouched and the report would be improved by considering: (more…)

Years back I asked my Father for a bike and, in a homily that introduced the idea of the Saturday job, he told me that they didn’t grow on trees. They do now. On the outskirts of Lusaka in Zambia next years crop of bicycles is being watered by Benjamin Banda: “we planted this bamboo last year and the stems are taller than me. When it is ready, we will cut it and cure it and then, turn it into frames.”

Introducing the Bamboo Zambike

Introducing the Bamboo Zambike