Gareth's Blog

Recent Posts

Archives

News & Views from the front line

18 October 2017

Making Sustainability Robust to Sudden Change

IMG_2999

What happens if your super-Sustainability-champion-of-a-CEO suddenly announces their retirement? How do you make sure your Sustainability programme survives the inevitable upheaval? It was questions like this that my Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group considered recently in the gorgeous and historic surroundings of the Undercroft at the Live Theatre, Newcastle.

The Masterminds chose three such upheavals to discuss and below is a selection of the resulting learning points. As we operate under the Chatham House rules, the identity of the members and the conversation leading up the generic points has not been recorded.

Change in the C-suite

  • Research the incomer’s background (eg via LinkedIn) and tailor your pitch to their interests (ie Green Jujitsu) for example, talking $ to someone with a CFO past;
  • Embed Sustainability so deeply and overtly that any incoming CXO knows exactly what they’re getting themselves in for (and the ‘wrong type’ doesn’t apply);
  • In particular, have commitment and coherent message coming from rest of C-suite and senior management;
  • Align Sustainability Strategy to the business case as it applies to your organisation so backpedalling is counter-productive to the business;
  • Stick to the plan until you are told otherwise; you don’t need permission to do Sustainability;
  • A new face may bring new opportunities to address issues which weren’t on the agenda before.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

16 October 2017

The Joy of Composting

Compost recycling

On Saturday I started a garden job I love – plundering my multifarious (5!) compost facilities for brown gold. Normally I would do this in the spring, but a planned extension to our house means they've got to move. Unfortunately we will lose compost capacity in the new set up, but I don't think my boys would be happy if I told them they had to keep sharing a tiny bedroom because I needed a two garden compost bays, a food bin, a leaf mould bag and a wormery...

I love composting as it is the only true recycling that all of us with a modicum of outdoor space can do. And there's something fascinating about the processes involved – setting the right conditions for all those mini beasts, microbes and fungi working together to turn waste into, literally, a nutrient which is returned to soil from whence it came.

The downside, physically and emotionally, is the amount of plastic I have to sieve out of what should be in theory 100% biodegraded material. Small bits of polystyrene, baby wipes, envelope windows, errant bits of Lego, fruit labels – it's amazing what works its way into the compost.

For those of us who encourage organisations to go zero waste, there's nothing like a few hours of hands-on waste processing to remind ourselves of the practicalities. It's very satisfying to boot.

 

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

13 October 2017

Sustainability Bites 13/10/17

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites where I really struggle to find anything to criticise in the UK Government's Clean Growth Strategy, so I turn to Donald Trump who never fails to disappoint.
 

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

11 October 2017

If the business case for Sustainability is so strong, why doesn't it happen by default?


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from Adam: why if the business case for Sustainability is so strong, does it not happen by default? What do you think? Comments in the comments, please!

Ask Gareth depends on a steady stream of killer sustainability/CSR questions, so please tell me what's bugging you about sustainability (click here) and I'll do my best to help.

You can see all previous editions of Ask Gareth here.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

10 October 2017

The State of Sustainability in UK Politics

As a political geek, I've been following the UK's party conference season as avidly as usual. My theory is that the content of the Leaders' speeches are the true measure of commitment of each political party to the Sustainability agenda. After all, it doesn't matter what is discussed earnestly on the fringes, if it doesn't penetrate the Leader's speech then it can hardly be a true priority.

The problem with this theory is that the shadow of Brexit has dominated these speeches over recent years, so I thought I'd add in a brief summary of other notable conference commitments. As usual I will try my best to be non-partisan, but I must declare my membership of the Liberal Democrats. Speaking of which, first up was:

1280px-Official_portrait_of_Sir_Vince_Cable_crop_2Vince Cable, Liberal Democrats

Cable talked quite a lot about climate change and green issues; most of it expounding the Lib Dems' achievements in the Coalition Government, expressing fears for some of those achievements under Tory rule and concerns over Brexit (noting the significant overlap between Euroscepticism and climate change denial in UK politics). He made a clear forward commitment – "Liberal Democrats will always fight for the green agenda" – but the speech lacked any more concrete proposals.

This was an opportunity missed, as the Lib Dems had earlier agreed at target of net-zero emissions by 2050 and adopted a plan which would take us 93% of the way there. A simple reference to this policy would have lifted Cable's speech way up the green-o-meter.

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

9 October 2017

The gluten delusion, dodgy quotes and climate science

cakeI love my local hipster-ish coffee shop, but it annoys me that all the cakes are proudly marked 'gluten-free'. A couple of times, I've joshed that I'd like mine with gluten only for the joke to fall flat in the face of incomprehension. It's long been understood that only those with coeliac disease need to avoid gluten; (in the words of Jay Rayner) if you feel bloated after eating bread it's because you're eating too much bread.

However was only this morning I saw in the paper that avoiding gluten can actually lead to health risks, not benefits (here's one of the scientific studies). In other words, people are damaging their health in the cause of their health – and not for the first time.

As a man who loves his food (especially cake), I can never understand how many people fall for every eating fad going, enriching various snake oil salesmen along the way. Every time one falls apart, qualified nutritionists tell us we should just eat a reasonable amount of a balanced diet and get a reasonable amount of exercise, but a couple of months later everybody is cutting something else out of their diet at the whim of the latest flogger of a better lifestyle.

This madness comes about because we make decisions by feel rather than evidence. Most people who are sceptical about climate science simply feel it is wrong. You rarely if ever see a climate scientist decide that the evidence doesn't stack up and go climate sceptic, however many one-time sceptics make the journey the other way – although it is often an irrational experience that persuades them to check the facts.

The big shame of modern life is the internet gives us unparalleled rapid fact-checking capabilities; yet we're more likely to pick up some dubious meme on Twitter than check who really did say:

"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

[it wasn't Mark Twain or Winston Churchill but it seems to have evolved from a Jonathan Swift quote].

The lesson for those of us trying to change the world is that facts generally don't resonate – you will never out-debate a climate denier as blind faith will beat a balanced argument nine times out of ten. Instead we've got to get inside people's heads, work out what makes them tick and tap into those feelings. Green Jujitsu in other words.

 

Check out our fab new Green Jujitsu: Smart Engagement for Sustainability course here.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

6 October 2017

Sustainability Bites 6/10/17

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites, covering the Sustainability elements of the Conservative Party Conference (more than you'd think), the latest green energy record and some of the exciting things that I've been doing this week. Comments in the comments!

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

4 October 2017

When it comes to Sustainability, personal experience trumps facts

sunrise

Interesting story this week of columnist Peter Oborne, bone-dry right-of-centre journalist, has had a Damascene conversion to the cause of tackling climate change. “The press has failed” he said, going on to a mea culpa “I think I was rather too impressed by climate skeptics, to begin with."

So what triggered this awakening? Was it a graph of global temperature trends? Was it pictures of devastated communities in the wake of Hurricane Irma? Or was it thousands marching the streets demanding change?

Nope, none of those things.

It was cricket.

"Here we are at the end of September, and the cricket county championship is still being decided. 25 years ago, it never went on this long."

Of course this is as scientifically illiterate as all those "the Romans had vineyards in England" zombie myths that populate parts of the interweb. There are many valid measures of climate change he could have picked, but the cricket season is not one of them.

But on another level, it illustrates a very important point on engaging people in Sustainability. We rarely if ever change tack because of facts and figures. But we often do it because of experience.

I was an armchair environmentalist until I witnessed the devastated taiga downwind of a nickel smelter in arctic Russia – only then did I decided that tackling these problems would become my life's work. Standing there I could see (and taste) the plume of acidic emissions from the plant – a lump of engineering which made me feel a little ashamed to be an engineer.

This is why my Green Jujitsu approach tailors engagement to the audience. If cricket works for Oborne, then let's talk cricket. For me, it's engineering. For my NHS clients, it's healthcare. By making Sustainability relevant to people, you'll find it much easier to get them on board.

 

By the way, if you haven't checked out our new Green Jujitsu training course, check it out here.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

2 October 2017

Oiling the engine of Sustainability

GK St Anns Litter PickWith all the concern about ocean plastic of late, I've been revitalising my personal pledge to pick up at least one piece of plastic litter every day. In fact most days I pick at least a dozen, and I'm now getting weirdly obsessed with it. I seriously can't walk past a plastic bag without twitching to pick it up, but if I tried to get every piece of litter I saw, it would be a full time undertaking.

I know that my efforts are just a (inappropriate metaphor klaxon) drop in the ocean, but I find that the very act of picking up some litter makes me feel positive and, rather than making me think 'I've done my bit, now business as usual', it continually focusses my brain on this perennial drip, drip of plastics into our eco-system. Experience is always more visceral than anecdote.

Last month, I gave a presentation to one of my clients on the first phase of our Sustainability Champions initiation project. At the end of the initial training workshop, I had challenged each of the Champions to pledge to change one thing in their workplace to make it more sustainable. I then followed up on the pledges a month later to see how they had got on.

All the pledges were pretty mundane, incremental improvements which would hardly make a dent in the targets we had set in their Sustainability Strategy, but that was beside the point, I explained, it was the forward motion at the sharp end of the business that was important. I used a metaphor I coined a couple of years ago:

"Champions should be seen as the oil in the engine, not the fuel."

This was quoted back at me (approvingly!) during the discussion.

Identifying and implementing quick wins is a way of keeping that oil fresh. Of course it shouldn't be expected to, or distract from, the major changes required to deliver Sustainability; the knack is to do both.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

29 September 2017

Sustainability Bites: Labour Conference, UK Green Summer, Demise of GSB


Here's my hot takes on the week's big Sustainability news - join us each Friday (unless I'm away) at 10am on Facebook. Comments in the comments, please!

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

27 September 2017

Putting the Personal Into Sustainability

Take_a_Break_(magazine)_coverSo, the Guardian Sustainable Business site is no more. I don't think I'm really going to miss it because I don't think I ever read anything there that really made me stop and think. Most articles read like PR pieces, because that's largely what they were – native advertising, advertorials, whatever you want to call them, businesses were paying to get their case studies up there. And of course, if they're paying, they want to make everything sound fantastic, but end up sounding incredibly bland.

I came up across this when I was doing interviews for my second book, The Green Executive. The initial purpose of the interviews was to get fresh examples rather than rehashing the same old case studies as everybody else, but soon they took on a life of their own, telling the inspiring story of individuals doing great things, so I decided to insert one more or less verbatim after each chapter. In my view they are worth the cover price alone.

As I was attributing these stories to the individuals who were telling them, I thought it was only fair to let them see a draft to ensure there were no errors or potentially career-limiting revelations. One guy forwarded the text to his PR department for a once over and it came back rewritten in that strangely antiseptic language of the advertorial, with all the personal insights and gritty reality excised. It was sooooo boring. The PR contact couldn't, or wouldn't, understand my repeated pleas for a simple gaffe-check, so I gave up and just published my original.

As I was explaining to one of my clients this week, nobody reads case studies unless they have to. But they do read personal stories – particularly the classic quest story where someone just like us takes on a challenge, faces down adversity and triumphs with great results. Think of all those Take-a-Break style magazines which clog up your newsagent shelves – full of personal stories about  ordinary people bringing up a child with a disability or losing weight or fighting off a mugger. If the Guardian Sustainable Business had taken a leaf out of those publications, maybe I and others would have paid a bit more attention.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

25 September 2017

Wake Up Sheeple!

FullSizeRender

I nearly choked on my Weetabix this morning when I saw the Guardian was running a splash on The Ethical Case Against Wool. "This I've got to see," I thought, and lo and behold G2 had an article from a vegan activist saying that as some sheep are treated roughly by shearers "on amphetamines" we should boycott wool.

Which begs the question "What are we going to wear, then?" I mean, if wool's out, fur and leather don't make the ethical grade, cotton is usually produced using huge doses of pesticides and large amounts of water, polymers are made from fossil fuels and don't biodegrade... what does that leave? Sisal? Ooo, itchy!

Sarcasm aside, we're going to have to realise that our presence on Earth will always have an impact and not always a good one for our fellow creatures. That doesn't set us apart from other animals – if you are a sand eel then that cute puffin looks like a mass-murdering bastard. And while I would never condone unnecessary cruelty to sheep or any animal, we're disappearing up weird dead-ends if we set out ethical bar so high that a natural material such as wool doesn't make the grade.

And, while I'm quite happy for this activist to boycott wool if that makes her happy, a big splash of lunacy on the front of a national newspaper like this doesn't help the case for moving to broadly more ethical supply chains.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

22 September 2017

Sustainability Bites: #ClimateOptimist, Cause for Optimism and Theresa May

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites. I covered the Climate Optimist campaign (again), the Nature Geosciences paper on progress towards Paris Agreement commitments and Theresa May's speech to the UN. Comments in the comments please!

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

19 September 2017

Why #ClimateOptimist makes me want to cry


Yesterday afternoon, my Twitter feed suddenly filled with garish 80's-home-computer style graphics urging me to "Opt-in to be a #ClimateOptimist!".

"'Ello?" I asked myself and did some clicking. More hi-viz colours, more flashing slogans, some nice T-shirts, not much else. My heart sank.

Not because I'm a pessimist, no, quite the opposite. I'm a committed, if quietly pragmatic, optimist.

My problem is the answer to the fundamental question "Who is this for?", which appears to be "People like me (but maybe a bit more tolerant of childish text fonts)." But I already get it. I don't matter.

What does it say to the consumer on the high street on a Saturday afternoon? What does it say to the product designer choosing materials for the product those consumers are buying? What does it say to the policy maker deciding on transport investment, building standards or energy subsidies?

Not a lot. Nothing, in fact.

This is vitally important, because it is these people we need to speak to – the people who we must persuade to make different decisions to the ones they normally make. And to do that we need to translate Sustainability into a form that means something to them. Rattling slogans around the Sustainability echo-chamber is just a waste of time and effort.

Rant over.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

18 September 2017

Moving the Sustainability Conversation on...

Sustainability Engagement

An old friend and colleague dropped by for a cup of tea yesterday. While our respective kids decanted all the toys in the house onto the floor, we tried to put the world to rights. He was a bit frustrated as he had recently organised a high-brow discussion event on climate change, but despite all the intellectual firepower in the room, the conversation got stuck on one topic: domestic recycling.

We discussed this – agreeing that as recycling is the most obvious change in our home lives in the last decade or two that nods towards Sustainability, so that's why people default to it. We then mulled on how to move the conversation on.

My view is that if you want, say, people to choose more sustainable forms of transport, then trying to persuade them that their current choice is unsustainable is the wrong way to go (I referenced the newspaper column I ridiculed the other week). If you want to get people walking or cycling, then personal health is often the best button to press (I speak as someone who has lost 6kg since Christmas without reducing my cake intake) – along with providing the necessary infrastructure to make those choices more pleasant than driving. Likewise the Tesla approach of EV-as-status-symbol makes electric vehicles aspirational, not hair-shirt shroud-waving.

This is, of course, a form of Green Jujitsu, as we are often better not talking climate change, but the language which appeals to the audience. Cycling is good for you and the planet; it doesn't matter why people do it, just that they do.

 

[As an aside, the conversation getting stuck on recycling at the event may be due to the format and human nature. If you simply open the debate to the floor, then the first topic raised will often dominate the conversation – it's a simple psychological phenomenon. That's why for my engagement, I prefer to use a workshop format and large discussion templates – the format of the template is designed to make sure the participants cover every part of the exam question and not just the first thing that springs to mind. For more on this, check out our Workshop Facilitation Masterclass.]

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

13 September 2017

Embedding Sustainability: Bottom Up or Top Down?


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from 'Rob' (names have been changed to protect the bashful) – should you approach Sustainability from the bottom up or the top down? In response, I say both, plus another angle and add some strong caveats... Comments in the comments, please!

Ask Gareth depends on a steady stream of killer sustainability/CSR questions, so please tell me what's bugging you about sustainability (click here) and I'll do my best to help.

You can see all previous editions of Ask Gareth here.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

11 September 2017

It's a nice idea, but it will never work...

workshop lo resThose words were (allegedly) said by the Head of Cambridge University's Engineering Department to a young Frank Whittle when the latter presented a new idea for aircraft propulsion, the jet engine. I'm always reminded of those words when people poo-poo the potential for clean energy. At every stage in the renewables revolution, a choir of naysayers has launched a chorus "yes, but..." with perfect timing. And yet the milestones keep coming – today it was announced that offshore wind was now cheaper than new nuclear.

This is not to say I disagree with a certain amount of cynicism. Regular readers will know I have strong reservations about the effectiveness of carbon capture and storage and heat pumps – I can't get my head around how the second law of thermodynamics doesn't render them impractical. But we need to hit the right balance of realism and ambition; challenging wishful thinking while embracing potential.

In my early days as a Sustainability Consultant, I used to get frustrated that my wonderful ideas were rarely implemented by clients. They never said "That's a bad idea."; rather it was "We won't be able to resource that until our restructuring has been completed." or a similar excuse. Individually these seemed reasonable, but I soon noticed there was always a reason to do nothing.

So I started down a different approach – facilitating workshops where the client's employees developed the ideas. The difference was palpable – they wanted to implement these ideas as a matter of pride. Often we wouldn't get to the level of what I would have recommended from my experience of best practice, but I soon learnt it was better to implement a less-than-perfect solution than not implement a perfect solution. We would also uncover wholly unexpected cans of worms which needed tackling.

I'm current working on workshops for three different (very different!) clients. If you rang me up and asked me to help you with a task, I would almost certainly suggest running a workshop. Because they work!

 

Check out our Workshop Facilitation Masterclass which sets out the unique way we go about structuring and running our workshops.

 

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

8 September 2017

I never learn!

blinkers

I really have tried to ditch the habit of responding to those who are way beyond redemption when it comes to Sustainability. One such chap is a fellow member of a mailing list for engineering consultants. He seems to have toned down his climate denial since I challenged him to a bet on his assertion in 2010 that global temperatures may be falling (he refused to put his money where his mouth is).

Anyway, a couple of days ago he said of renewables "anything that requires a subsidy is uneconomic." I couldn't resist responding with a link to a report saying G20 nations were subsidising fossil fuels four times as much as renewables. He dismissed the report as "superficial and devoid of analysis."

That just made me smile as none of his assertions came with any evidence or analysis whatsoever. I know it wouldn't matter how much evidence I produced, it would never be good enough. It shows once again that we are wasting our time arguing with people with such entrenched views; better to work around them, or find a clever way to engage them on their grounds. Butting heads just gives both a headache.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

6 September 2017

The biggest truth in Sustainability...

Framing Sustainability

On Monday I spent a total of 7 hours going to and from Birmingham by train for a project close presentation to a client. This always gives some time for thought, background reading and poking around social media – all soundtracked by the Rolling Stones live in Brussels '73 or some other classic live album of the 1970s.

One tweet from another sustainability practitioner caught my eye; roughly speaking it went:

We have #Brexit and the #McStrike and all people can talk about is the #RoyalBaby 😡.

Now let's deconstruct this a little. The Brexit jalopy has been spluttering along for 15 months since the referendum without a dun-dun-DAAAAAH moment. I'm politically active, campaigned for Remain, would love a second referendum, and yet I am bored stupid by Brexit – I now skim read the newspaper stories and I guess most do the same.

I am not surprised that MacDonald's employees are striking given their poor wages and insecure contracts, BUT, let's put it into perspective: there were 2 restaurants striking out of 1249 in the UK – hardly Hold the Front Page stuff no matter how much you or I might support the cause.

Lastly, the royal baby has all the ingredients of public appeal – celebrity, gossip, glamour, happiness, impending cuteness etc, etc. It hasn't captured much of my attention, or that of the tweeter above, but it is not surprising it has caught the public mood.

Because here's the rub. Not everybody thinks like me, the tweeter, or you. Or should do. Just because I'm not that into the royal baby news, it doesn't mean that millions of people aren't - or shouldn't be.

My biggest realisation is Sustainability was that to engage people for whom Sustainability is an alien concept, we've got to stop talking about Sustainability from a practitioner's point of view. If they haven't 'got it' already, they won't 'get it' by being preached at. Instead we've got to put ourselves in the audience's shoes, see the world from their perspective, and reframe Sustainability to resonate with that worldview. I call this Green Jujitsu.

If you haven't checked out our new Green Jujitsu Employee Engagement training yet, then click here for details.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

4 September 2017

Sustainability Bites Ep1: Harvey & Climate Change

Here's the pilot episode of a new series of short, sharp, lo-fi Sustainability snippets I've decided to launch. I've called it Sustainability Bites as a. the episodes are bite-sized, and b. it's all about how Sustainability is starting to bite – we've gone way beyond chin-stroking and are now making different decisions to make things happen.

This edition is about whether natural disasters are the right time to raise climate change.

At present, these will appear as and when I feel like it rather than on a regular basis, although it may find it's own niche naturally. The best way to keep up is head over to my Facebook page and send me a friend request!

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses


Free monthly bulletin:

Learn how to help your business go green from the comfort of your desk..

View events

By Gareth Kane

Everything you need to know to integrate sustainability into the DNA of your business.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

A highly accessible, practical guide to those who want to introduce sustainability into their business or organization quickly and effectively.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

The smart way to engage effectively with employees

View events