Overflowing Landfills in Moscow


In December 2013 our Russian factory proudly gained its 0-landfill status. It’s been a long, intense, and hard journey because landfill is the usual way to eliminate waste in Russia. I can hardly claim such a high level of achievement in my everyday life in Moscow…

Despite a nearly $2 billion state recycling initiative and burgeoning environmental movement, the vast majority of waste produced by Moscow’s 12 million residents – alternative sources even suggest 20 million residents – still goes straight to overfilling landfills outside of the city.Only 4 to 5 percent of all domestic waste in Moscow is now recycled, according to data from environmental group Greenpeace Russia.

This is the same percentage as in 2012 — despite an experimental recycling project launched by Moscow City Hall that year that has swallowed up 95 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) in state investment. You can see another misuse of the national wealth – see my past posts. The experiment did not fail because Muscovites were unwilling to participate, It rather failed because the state failed to offer effective waste management schemes.There are three waste incineration plants in the city, each of which burn an average of 700,000 tons of garbage per year. Seen from another angle, it represents 4 tons of waste burnt every second in the incinerations plants of the city…Anyway, all the rest — or 80 percent of Moscow’s garbage — accumulates in landfills outside the city, according to Greenpeace.After decades of use, these landfills are now filled to the brim. Ninety percent of the 40 dumps in the Moscow region are filled beyond capacity and on the brink of closure (Razdelny Sbor).

Then the Kremlin steps in…and it gets a bit more confused !

As Moscow’s trash problem escalates, the city government has finally recognized the need for better waste management. In 2012, it launched an experimental program dedicated to developing separate collection of trash and recyclables in the Russian capital. Companies were selected via a tender to perform waste management in the city’s nine districts, with the total amount of the 15-year contracts exceeding 95 billion rubles ($1.7 billion), according to Greenpeace estimates.

Under the terms of the contracts, recyclable materials are to be collected at stationary and mobile collection stations. By the end of last year, 134 collection stations for recycling and 3,500 receptacles for glass were supposed to have been set up in five Moscow districts, the report said.

But an inspection conducted in May by Greenpeace members and volunteers revealed a series of major violations. Of the 141 collection stations checked by Greenpeace, 32 didn’t exist at all and 23 didn’t operate during the hours they were supposed to, according to the report.

Environmental groups conduct garbage collection and recycling every weekend across Moscow, usually collecting about 9 tons of recyclable material a month (Sdelayem!). On the city scale, these initiatives’ contribution is just a drop in the sea, but they help to create a culture of environmental concern that activists hope will one day push the city to genuine reform.

Lead by example, and be patient…

Three Million Russians Fall Into Poverty as Crisis Bites


I will again argue for a better sharing in the wealth of countries, or at least a better investment of the wealth that countries generate. Russia is no exception to the rule, and unfortunately things just got worse as sanctions bite. Sadly enough, I see more and more people having difficulties to make both ends meet in Russia. The situation may be better – or worse ? – in Moscow where incomes are much higher than in the rest of the country, but where prices are also higher than anywhere else.

More than 3 million Russians fell below the official poverty line in the first three months of this year as Russia’s economy stumbled into a recession, state statistics service Rosstat said Thursday.The number of people living below the poverty line rose from 19.8 million  to 22.9 million in the same period of this year — a rise of 3.1 million, according to data from Rosstat.

The percentage of Russians living below the poverty line thereby rose to 15.9 percent of the total population in the first quarter, which is 2.1 percentage points more than in the same period last year, according to the statistics. Earlier this month the Russian government set the minimum subsistence level for the first quarter, an indicator of poverty in Russia, at 9,662 rubles ($174) per month. This was an increase of 17.3 percent from the previous quarter.

My thought goes to the “Happy Planet Index”, thinking about how people used to be happy when I first arrived in Russia in 2000. Am not sure the Russian population is better off today, the only thing I know is that people worry more than before for their future. This may be linked to the rise in their living standards and the fear of losing, or the increasing value of materialism in the Russian society.

For sure, things show once again that you must fix the roof while the sun is shining, and that it would have been worse acting when oil was at 100USD a barrel fueling growth and income, and when Russia was invited in the G8 by its peers…

Russia is “Best of BRICS in developing human capital”


Writing this blog today, I hesitate between two topics. Celebrating the anniversary of Moscow Metro turning 80 years and transporting millions Muscovite everyday, with such an elegance, cleanliness, punctuality, safety, not to mention huge investment to open many new metro stations almost every months… or talking about Russia recent “Best of BRICS in developing human capital” performance… Well, let’s talk about human capital then !

Russia on Wednesday claimed 26th place in a global ranking of countries’ ability to foster human capital thanks to its highly educated populace, putting it first among the BRICS group of developing nations. And when we say highly educated, we really mean it in Russia. I have always been amazed by the profile of candidates we can get in job interviews. My kids went to a Russian kindergarten when we were living in Russia. We were amazed by the quality of education, not to mention the engagement of teachers – to whom we still have to offer some “presents” from time to time, but that is part of the game in Russia 🙂

But the results are here – if you’re looking for talented people, Russia has something for you. That is not the case of all Russians unfortunately, because life is tough in the regions, and because corruption even gangrenes education with bribes paid to teachers to get a place in the school, diplomas on sale in the Moscow metro – you name it.  Historically strong thanks to the Soviet Union’s emphasis on learning, Russia’s education system has struggled over the past two decades due to under funding and a string of structural overhauls.

However…among BRICS members Russia led by a mile, according to the survey of 124 economies published Wednesday by the World Economic Forum, China came in 64th place and Brazil in 78th, with South Africa and India trailing behind at 92nd and 100th place, respectively.

Accessible education is only the first step in developing a population’s skills, however, and poor scores in quality of education, professional training and other categories signaled that Russia is still far from employing its people’s potential to the fullest.

Another post to underline the incredible potential of Russia. It is not only about its natural resources, tourism potential development, its people education, its geopolitical role. It is about a country who could do more, much more, really more – and surely will.

In the meantime, go to Moscow and admire the metro…

As long as there will be winter and clean water (private joke :))

Back to my blog after a short winter break and many crazy experiences in Russia and elsewhere. You would not imagine Russia without its long and tough winters, wouldn’t you ? I have dad the chance to spend some crazy time in Siberia recently, near Irkutsk on the shore of the Baikal lake. This lake is very unique, it contains about a third of the world’s sweet water reserves and it is the lung of the region. Without the Baikal lake, no people, no agriculture, nothing. Mother nature is quite incredible in this part of the world. Almost 200 rivers flow into the Baikal lake, but only one flows out of the lake. The lake is 1600 meters deep, it is the home to 100s of species who live only in the Baikal and nowhere else.

I should develop a bit more on the life on the shore of the Baikal because Siberians still manage to live in a simple and sustainable way – thought things change too fast, and it will inevitably come to a moment when things will change for good but in the bad way, as the new generation moves to the nearby city of Irkutsk of even fly 6 hours to try their luck in Moscow or elsewhere. This trend will be a great way to explore the social impact of our society and its modern values, its consumerism and short-term view. I will blog on the topic a bit later.

Back to my Baikal lake and the habit of the people living there. It is interesting how Siberians live with the nature in mind (once again, I talk about the real Siberians). People seem to have always understood that living there means living with the nature. From the way they fish Omuls (a fish endemic to the Baikal) and even how it is sold in Russia (it is an important fish in the local diet, but it is very hard to find in Moscow, so they really try not to overfish it), to how Siberians enjoy a cold bath in the Baikal after a session in the banya.

I was answering a blogger this morning on the topic of climate change. In Siberia, people do not really see a climate change. Winters are winters, but they would rather say it is still cold in winter, and warm in summer. This is a continental climate. Siberians still have lots of humor and they call summer the green winter and winter the white winter.Other more western parts of Russia rather tend to see a new kind of winter. Take Moscow in 2014 and 2015. No real winter days, apart from a couple of days with temperatures at 20c below the freezing point. A local newspaper always publishes the extreme temperatures for the day, with the warmest year and the coldest year for that specific day. The 10 warmest days since the beginning of the year have all occurred in the last 10 years… No warming, they say ?

Our Baikal does not seem to be strongly hit by climate change yet, there is still plenty of snow and ice but that will not be a proof of global warming as it can get so cold, that snow and ice will still be here even with a +2c warming ! There are more and more reports on the pulp factory on the Baikal shores and its unbearable impact on the lake. Who will take care of the lake once all the old generation will pass away and the new generation will have left for Irkutsk or Moscow ? Then the pulp factory will be free to do whatever they believe is good, killing the lake slowly but surely.

People and the Russian Government should stand and protect this beautiful natural resource by all means. I refer to my past blogs on the role of the State in the preservation of ecosystems. This is another example where things need to be done quickly before it is too late. Old people are getting older, and what is going to be left on the Baikal lake shores in 20 years from now ? There will be wastes left by the new generations and crazy urban people coming to party there (already now) and an ugly pulp factory rejecting chemicals in the humanity fresh water reservoir…

Act now, and let us have our banya – and our clean water !

(clean water being a joke with vodka, which could be translated literally as the ‘little water, sweet water’)

No money, no meat.

I woke up this morning and as every Saturday morning got my self a cup of coffee and spent some time on the web. I then found an astonishing article reading something like “No Money? Eat Less!” United Russia Lawmaker Advises. The article makes it super clear that they advise to eat less meat. That would please my colleague John Revess who has been trying to reduce his meat consumption for a couple of months already (see his blog on worldpress) !

Russia faces a strong economic crisis since September 2014. The Russian rouble fell from 30 to 65 to the USD in 4 months only. Still a significant share of the food commodities are imported, and therefore paid in USD or Euros. Prices have surged to such levels that people can barely afford many food items – at least those imported ones.

The problem of Russia is that there is still a huge deficit in local food production – and let’s put it straight : in quality too. While Russia was getting billions and billions of petrodollars, it did not allocate efficiently those resources. It should have boosted local investment in food production facilities, instead of allocating billions of dollars in Olympic games and stadiums for the next soccer world cup. Put aside the capital outflow which amounted in 2014 for about 150 billions dollars…

They say that less meat consumption is good for you and good for the environment. It will not even be good for the environment.”If supposedly there isn’t enough money, people should think about their health and somehow eat less,”  said the United Russia politician – lightheartedly.

Russians will eat less meat, less imported meat. If the local production may be boosted for the occasion, it remains unclear how and with what. And will that be in good condition ? Safe meat, or meat from livestock boosted with hormones as the demand is huge on the market. Once again, the health of the population may be at risk because people will eat less qualitative food in one way or another. When Russia has already one of the lowest life expectancy level in the (industrialized) world, it is important to consider the impact on the population (human and social capital), and not only the financial capital (the crisis) or the natural capital (how to feed new livestock ‘made in Russia’). Future economic and social development mean having also a strong and healthy population to build it.

All in all, again a hard time for Russians (for those real Russians – probably not for the United Russia guy anyway…)

Oil price drop, Russian ruble drop, and the Arctic ice. Any connection ?

C novim godom ! (happy new year). Most Russians would have preferred another end for 2014 and a better start for 2015. Back to the last few weeks of 2014, we saw the Russian ruble collapsing and the oil price dropping significantly. Not that good for a county depending a lot on the revenues from the oil and gas industries.

While common sense would have called for people to save money or at least postpone purchases – though it was Christmas time even for Russia – Russian rushed to shops and bought everything they could to make sure their last rubles would at least transform in any materialistic object. Electronics, computer and durable goods have found their ways to millions of homes in December…before finding their ways in the beautiful forests of Russia where people usually dispose of their cumbersome objects not fitting in their usual home dustbins. I used to live in Moscow’s suburbs, surrounded by beautiful forests but unfortunately spoilt by soviet-time TVs, washing machines, cars (yes, cars !), tires, batteries, and unfortunately also many post Soviet time electronic items made to live no more than 5 to 10 years… Here we go !

What’s next ? Now that we have spent our money and will start looking at basics (M.Videos electronic shop chain reported a surge of their sales in the last quarter of 2014 at +52%, but said they expect a catastrophic first quarter), it is time to get back to patriotic concerns.Yes the oil price dropped and it looks like if prices stay at this level in 2015, a major financial crisis may hit Russia (spend your last rouble to buy the latest iPhone !).

Far from all those urban considerations for spending always more for things we basically do not really need, there are still many villages in Russia where the question is more about how to survive until the next morning, independently of the exchange rate of the Russian rouble. Go to remote villages and you will barely have any chance to change your greenback anywhere.

From those remote villages to the Arctic region, there is however a large distance to cover, as always in Russia. People are living those regions (even Murmansk lost last year 6000 inhabitants – quoted by Murmansk mayor in a recent interview) to join either bigger cities or migrate to other countries.  The Arctic population may well disappear soon, living place to military bases (President Putin recently signed a bill to increase the military presence in the region) and energy industries. The region is richin natural resources, and energy price drop or not, it is still good to secure future supplies.

The question is how Russia is going to finance all that, knowing that state revenues dropped as the price of the barrel fell, collaboration with western companies is frozen due to the recent sanctions taken by the west following the event in Ukraine. The region delivers 85% of the Russian gas, and about 12% of the oil. What’s the future ? How will Russia decide to allocate its revenues and capabilities now : investment to go on its own and build technology to extract natural resources by itself, military programs in the Arctic region which suddenly became again a super strategic region, or diversification of its industry and massive investment to reduce its dependency to oil and gas ?

From a sustainability point of view, obviously we have the answer – or at least part of it, because we all know that on the long term the price for energy is likely to remain high and that the Arctic is definitely a place that Russia should secure to guarantee further revenues when other fields will deliver less oils and gases. All other questions and assumptions remain in the hands of Russia.

Including making sure forests remain clean 🙂

“They decided to poison us”


I really would like to get your comments on the sentence of this woman ‘they decided to poison us’… This is what I would personally expect from a Russian person commenting on such a topic. The use of ‘they’ can often be viewed as meaning we are not responsible, we are being victims, they do not like us, they live in another world, there on the top… Typical opposition in Russia between the politics and business/financial spheres and the People (those with a big P, I mean the real Russians I really love)…

The world energy council said things were improving in their 2013 report on Russia…

My first post on this blog will be about a good news, at least on the paper. The World Energy Council said Russia was improving its overall Index ranking by four places, despite a poor environmental sustainability ranking. Yes, Russia has huge energy reserves, but is that a reason to forget about its responsibility for the next generations ? The environmental sustainability dimension, by far the country’s weakest, sees some improvements as energy and emission intensity drop incrementally, and as CO2 emissions from electricity generation are reduced (the report).

That’s about the – say – good news. Still I wonder why Russia was not part of the commitements done recently by the US and China to reduce their GHG emissions…

Sustainability – the Russian way. Because it takes more than vodka to forget we’re not alone on this planet…

Dear Reader ! This blog is about two things I really love…

The first one is Russia. I’ve spent more than a quarter of my life in this immense, breathtaking, nature-rich, diverse, extreme etc. country. Words will never describe what one can experience when people meet nature. Russia can offer such a rich diversity of ecosystems !

The second one is sustainability. This is interesting to note that I was not that much attracted by sustainability until my first daughter’s birth back in 2008, which coincides with the beginning of my second stay in Russia. Having kids to take care of have probably made me more aware of my personal responsibility in the legacy one can have for the future generations. On the other hand, I have been strongly exposed to Russia and its sustainability challenges while being responsible for a full value chain, from raw materials to the final cash in the bank when it comes to pay wages to over 750 Russian families at the end of the month…

When everything is at risk, any time, any where, any how – things become easily meaningless. That is when it is worth remembering the beauty of the Baikal lake or the volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula to weight how relative is our materialistic world…

Let’s explore sustainability the Russian way…and challenge the well-know fatalism of the nation of Yuri Gagarin…