29 Nov 2006
Taking Transition Towns To Local Businesses – An Oil Vulnerability Workshop.
**Oil Vulnerability Auditing – a Workshop Organised by Envision and Transition Town Totnes, Follaton House, Totnes.
Presented by Simon Snowden of University of Liverpool.**
How does a project like Transition Town Totnes engage with the business community in the surrounding area? This is a question which is key to the success of the process, and something grassroots environmental projects have always struggled with. We were delighted then that Simon Snowden from the University of Liverpool came down a couple of weeks ago to run a workshop with representatives of 10 local businesses to explore this.
Simon spent many years working in the manufacturing industry, and for the last 7 years has been an academic. The University is doing some pioneering work on the peak oil issue, exploring the sociological impacts and options for mitigation. They have an established Oil Depletion Impact Group which pulls together academics from a range of disciplines.
Simon reminded the participants of how dependent a business is on cheap oil in most areas of its organisation from transportation to the very raw materials that comprise a company’s products. In any business the two aspects that are most vulnerable to rising oil prices are energy and logistics. However, oil impacts upon business in a further two ways, directly as an actual feedstock for products, indirectly where items purchased for use in the company are made from oil. The process Simon is developing focuses mainly on the direct uses, although quantifiable indirect uses can also be considered.
Simon stated his belief that there was nothing to be gained from what he called ‘werewolf hunting’, that is, searching for a silver bullet to solve all our problems. We need to begin exploring realistically what our options are. Humanity has always used a variety of solutions appropriate to the location, oil has allowed us the ‘luxury’ of getting away from that. The future will, by necessity, be more local in that sense.
He asked for the thoughts of two of the businesses present on where they use oil in their businesses. The first, Riverlink, runs the ferries on the river Dart, and use 128,000 litres of diesel a year. Their direct energy inputs are quite clear! They have been exploring the possibility of using biodiesel to run the boats, or even woodchip boilers. Simon suggested that one effect of oil prices rising could be increased business, as more people holiday in the UK rather than France or Spain.
The second business was Greenlife, a wholefood shop in Totnes. They have a shop, a warehouse and a van to move supplies between the two. They have found that over half their customers use a car to get to the shop. There was some discussion about areas where their direct usage might be reduced.
Oil prices are rising, Simon argued, but we have no idea when the peak will actually come because of the lack of reliable oil production data. Predicting the exact date of peak is therefore foolhardy. For businesses the issue is to be prepared. Being ready to respond as prices rise will give a business a competitive advantage over its competitors.
For businesses it is useful to know what it is in your business that makes you money, and where does oil pose a threat to your operation? The key to success is to build solution profiles that will kick in as oil prices reach different stages.
The process Simon and his colleagues have been developing is called “Oil Dependency Assessment Audit