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22 August 2016

Do you want Sustainability or not? Lessons from the Olympics

Jess Ennis

The story has been told many times, but it's a good one if you're a Brit. Thoroughly embarrassed by GB's pathetic single-gold-medal showing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1994, Prime Minister John Major diverted National Lottery funding into British Sport. As the curtain drops on the (main) Rio Olympics 20 years later, we've just pushed China into third place on the medal table for the first time since the latter started competing.

Elements of the press are starting to react uncomfortably to this success, even likening it to the chest-thumpingly patriotic Eastern Bloc displays of the Cold War era. They fret particularly about GB's decidedly Darwinian funding formula – win medals and you get a shedload more dosh to win more (which buys the best facilities, coaches and kit), lose out and you get nada. Sorry, basketball, but we spent your cash on new cycling skin suits.

My immediate reaction to this soul searching is: do you want to win or not?

If not, that's OK, taking part is fine. But don't complain if we can't deliver top level sporting results with non-competitive thinking, because it's one or the other. Personally, I'm quite enjoying the winning.

I see a strong parallel with Corporate Sustainability. All too often people who claim their organisation takes Sustainability seriously tell me that they would never ditch a supplier on Sustainability grounds, never consider axing an unsustainable product, never invest in developing new sustainable technologies. They are uncomfortable at targeting key decision makers for engagement ("we believe it's everybody's responsibility"), putting sustainability targets into those individual's personal objectives (ditto) or moving them along if they're incompatible with the strategy (ditto).

In the wider environmental movement, we often see green activists campaigning against green solutions - witness George Monbiot's writings against the very solar feed in tariffs which are delivering a renewables revolution. I agree with Monbiot that FiTs aren't perfectly fair (they divert cash from all bill payers into the pockets of those who can afford to invest in solar), but doing nothing is much, much worse. Anti-capitalists such as Naomi Klein claim, conveniently, that we will only tackle climate change by replacing capitalism with an vague and untried alternative which may not actually exist.

So, we can get our hands dirty delivering on Sustainability now, messy compromises and all, or we can wait indefinitely for a perfect solution, because it's one or the other. I know which one I'm doing.

 

Photo: © 2012, David Jones, Creative Commons License

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18 August 2016

There's no talking to some people (about the environment)

Crazy WomanTwo things made me smile this week.

First, Prof Brian Cox's face as he realised what level of idiocy he was up against when debating with an Australian climate sceptic. The debate can be summarised as:

ACS: There is no proof.

PBC: Here's the evidence (holds up graph demolishing ACS's arguments).

ACS: That data's been manipulated.

PBC: By who?

ACS: Nasa.

[Audience bursts out laughing, PBC doesn't know where to look]

Secondly, I've seen a number of letters in newspapers and comments on blogs where the author clearly believes the UK is lagging the world, if not moving backwards, on renewable energy. The reality is, as the FT points out, the UK is ranked No 2 for renewable energy amongst G20 nations having gone from 6% of electrical power from renewables to 24% in the last five years.

It is simply impossible to argue that this surge is not impressive without contorting reality beyond breaking point. But these guys manage it with remarkable ease.

Both ACS and the green doomsters are suffering from extreme cases of confirmation bias – our tendency to grasp any tiny sliver of evidence to back up our gut instincts, while ignoring everything which contradicts that feeling, no matter how strong that counter-argument is. We all do it, shouty people just do it much more than the rest of us.

The moral of the story? Evidence is not enough. We need to engage with people's gut instinct as that's where change happens or doesn't.

 

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15 August 2016

Stealth Sustainability?

"A

As a British cycling fan, I've been throughly enjoying the team's continuing success in the Olympic velodrome. One of the remarkable characters is sprinter Jason Kenny, who has just picked up his 5th gold and is likely to get a 6th tomorrow, yet he could knock on my door the day after and I'd assume he was delivering a parcel. Kenny deliberately keeps a low profile, winning little between Olympics, before turning up every four years and destroying the field. Fellow 5-gold legend Sir Steve Redgrave is currently using his haul of medals to flog breakfast cereal – not sure I'll see Kenny plastered across the aisles anytime soon.

It got me thinking about those companies who lead on Sustainability and make a big fuss about it and those who prefer to operate under the radar. Which is best?

Going public raises the stakes. Like a sports celebrity your every move will be scrutinised and assessed, sometimes fairly, sometimes not. This can be a powerful driver for continued change, and an inspiration to others, but it can lead to a focus on superficial, media friendly actions which are easily digested by the public. Body Shop is one company which bragged of its environmental principles and spent many years fighting off allegations of greenwash by investigative journalists.

For the last year I've been working with carpet tile giant Interface. The company has long been my choice for most sustainable large business in the world, yet they rarely trouble green business league tables compiled in the media (which may reflect the arbitrariness of the latter more than anything else). But it surprises me how many sustainability practitioners I meet who are only vaguely aware of Interface and its quite incredible Mission Zero programme. In many ways they are the Jason Kenny of Sustainability – delivering world class results while flying under the radar.

Which is best? Consumer-facing and/or high profile companies should probably lean towards the razzmatazz not least because many of their competitors will be doing so. But they will have to appreciate 'tall poppy syndrome' – the media will be watching them like hawks.

For lower profile or more specialist businesses, they are unlikely to get much high profile coverage simply because of the way the media works, and should focus on telling their story directly to the stakeholders who matter such as customers, potential employees and regulators.

I was going to say 'horses for courses', but, given my opening metaphor, 'bikes for parcours' may be more appropriate!

 

Photo © U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III

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12 August 2016

Should you abolish your Sustainability Department?


The latest edition of Ask Gareth considers a rather existential question for sustainability practitioners – should corporations get rid of their Sustainability Department? My answer is "yes, but not yet." Why? Hit play and find out.

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 here.

 

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9 August 2016

A day at the Zoo

stick insects

To break up the monotony (as if) of rock pooling for the kids in our lovely coastal holiday location, we took them to Edinburgh Zoo yesterday. Like many, it always takes me a while to get over the confinement of the animals, until it is driven home to me what an essential job they do in terms of conservation, awareness and education.

It is indeed sad to see two bored Sumatran tigers pacing along in synchronicity where their cages meet, but as soon as you find out about that there are only 500 left in the world, it puts their individual situation into a wider perspective. I know there are some purists who would rather see the species go extinct than be in zoos, but I think they're idiots.

Mid-afternoon, we went to the 'meet the insects' session which went down great with the kids and adults alike (see pic) and which gives people that deeper connection with the animals. The keeper, Barry, who led this session then went on a whirlwind tour of other exhibits - some scheduled, some just 'cos he felt like it. His commentary was brilliant, mixing animal physiology, conservation and fascinating factoids (like the sun bear being the main source of Chewbacca's voice).

Barry's emerging theme was that the biggest threat to many of the endangered animals is palm oil production in SE Asia leading to loss of habitat. My homework is to investigate further as, due to the nature of my clients, this is a bit of a blindspot in my Sustainability knowledge.

Every day is school day!

 

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4 August 2016

Greetings from Sunny Scotland

cove

We're holidaying just north of the border from where I live in North East England – in a very secluded location. To get here from the main road, after a short wiggle through some minor roads, we had to unlock a gate, drive down a rough track with a precipitous fall to some jagged rocks and the sea one side, and stop outside a tunnel in the hillside. Just inside the tunnel is a wheelbarrow which we had to unlock, load up with some luggage and walk 50 metres in the dark towards the light, then out and 200m across a beach path and up some steps to our cabin.

The tunnel bit was enlivened by bigger children telling the youngest it was full of zombies who would "suck out his brains." It took about 3 shuttles with the barrow, and lots of reassurance to small child about the undead (or lack thereof), to get all our stuff in (and about 10 minutes to log onto the wifi.)

It's a glorious location, watching the tide roll in and out of the harbour, leaving rock pools full of fish, prawns and hermit crabs for the children to harass. House martins are nesting in the cliffs above us, swooping around feeding on the midges and trying not to feed the sparrowhawks in turn. The midges seem to be taking it out on me, and me alone, putting me in a special place in the food chain.

When we climb back out of the cove, we're surrounded by low carbon energy – Torness nuclear power station dominates the skyline to the west and we have major wind farms to the south and east. The latter two form an impressive backdrop to my cycles/hunts for a decent coffee stop.

We've been here for five days and have hardly 'done anything' – just being here is enough!

 

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1 August 2016

Happy 10th Birthday to Us!

Terra Infirma is 4 years old!Drumroll! It is 10 years to the day since I set up Terra Infirma to bring sustainability to life.

Ten years.

A whole decade. ("I wouldn't go that far, Dave" as Trigger once (almost) told Rodney in Only Fools & Horses)

And what a decade. I started with a self-built website, self-designed/printed business cards and a dormant contract with Envirowise to do waste minimisation visits which I had transferred over from my previous job. My plan that summer was to build a dry-stone wall in my garden during August and get marketing in September with the hope of work in October. Three days of humping sandstone around later and the phone rang.

Next thing I knew I was in the shower, out, dried and into a suit – I'd landed my first new contract by mid-afternoon. The Envirowise work suddenly sprung into life a few weeks later, bringing in regular work. The dry-stone wall took another 18 months to finish.

And look where the company is now! A roster of great blue chip clients such as Johnson Matthey, BAE Systems, the BBC, News International, Viridor, East Coast Mainline. Stanley Black & Decker, the NHS and, most recently, Interface. Five books on Sustainability. Green Academy webinars. On-line training. The Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group. The Low Carbon Agenda. Green Jujitsu. This blog. Modesty aside, I'm very proud of what's been achieved.

But we want to do more to help others embed Sustainability into everything they do. Looking ahead, I'm working on a second branch of the Mastermind Group (because it's the richest way to learn I've come across) and expanding our on-line training (as that's got global reach).

Lastly, I would like to extend a massive, warm thanks to everybody who has helped over the last ten years: clients, suppliers, associates, partners, friends and, not least, family. It wouldn't have happened without you.

Here's to the next ten years!

Cheers!

 

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28 July 2016

We need to pick our Sustainability exemplars carefully...

2015_05_31_Solar_Impulse_2_RTW_7th_Flight_Nanjing_to_Hawaii_take-off_pizzolante_288

This week, the SolarImpulse aircraft has completed the first solar-powered round the world flight, an epic 17-stage journey taking  journey covering 42,000km, over four continents, three seas and two oceans and taking 16 months. More than anything, it was an act of human endurance, with the pilot confined to a cockpit the size of a telephone booth, whose seat doubled as the toilet, and only allowed to sleep for 20 minutes at a time.

An impressive piece of derring-do certainly, but as an example of clean technology, a 30mph plane with no practical payload is hardly going to set the world on fire is it? I kinda think it reinforces the green hair-shirt cliché. Sorry if that's a bit harsh, but we've always got to look at clean tech as others see it.

If we're going to show people what clean technology can do, how about the 7-seater all-electric Tesla Model X burning off an all-American muscle car on Top Gear. Now that's impressive.

 

Photo © Solar Impulse.

 

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25 July 2016

Ready to take your Sustainability up a league?

steep climb

I'm shaking the lactic acid out of my legs the day after the toughest cycle I've done in a long, long time (possibly ever), a 75-mile sportive around the North York Moors with plenty of brutal ascents and descents (the pic above is actually from the Yorkshire Dales, but we did quite a few 25%+ climbs yesterday). What shocked me was, having come in the top 9% on the 'Standard' route in the 64-mile Cyclone sportive a month ago, I just scraped into the top half of the 'Standard' table yesterday. Added to that, at least two thirds of the participants did one of the two much longer, tougher routes than the one I did. It was sobering – I was suddenly plunged into a different league and it wasn't entirely a comfortable experience.

There are definitely different leagues in the Corporate Sustainability world. At the top we have those such as Interface, Unilever, Tesla, GE and, arguably, Marks & Spencer who are transforming the way they do business. The next level down contains the kind of business that signs up to the RE100 (100% renewable energy) pledge which will be tough to meet, but who aren't going through such a level of transformation. Below that are the companies who may be doing exciting things, but don't have really challenging targets. The bottom two leagues are those who are following the rest at a distance and those doing nothing.

What I find interesting and frustrating in equal measure is that many practitioners define themselves against the others in their league rather than aiming to leap up to the next level. Like my cycling, doing well at one level feels much more comfortable than being mediocre to poor in the next level up. But if you stay in your comfort zone, your efforts will inevitably plateau.

So what are you going to do to challenge yourself? Stretch targets matching those in the league above make a fine starting point.

 

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22 July 2016

Identity vs Sustainability

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo.For an outsider, the battle for the leadership of the UK's opposition Labour Party is gripping. Old school socialist and pacifist Jeremy Corbyn swept to victory last year after a number of Labour MPs naively overrode the party's safety catch, which requires any candidate to have the support of a suitable proportion of Labour MPs, in the name of "broadening the debate". Now 80% of Corbyn's MPs want rid of him, citing dismal polls and chaotic party management, but with huge support amongst the rank-and-file party membership, he's not going anywhere fast. Who knows how it will end - or when.

"Why don't the MPs just set up their own party – or join the Lib Dems?" asked Mrs K one morning.

"Identity." I answered "For the vast majority of Labour MPs, leaving the Labour Party would be like cutting off their right arm – it's part of who they are."

Politics is largely about identity – which is why elections are generally determined by a relatively small number of 'swing voters' who do not vote on gut instinct but weigh up the pros and cons of each. Sustainability isn't any different. At one end of the spectrum you have the hardcore greens, whose sometimes superior attitude puts off many who sit in the middle. At the other end of the spectrum you have the climate denialists, like Corbyn's brother Piers, a self appointed weather expert, who despite making doomed predictions, such as the one in 2008 that "the world is cooling and will continue to do so", refuses to accept he might have got it wrong.

I've found that understanding the power of identity is key to engaging people in sustainability. Most green campaigning tries to get people to take on the identity of an eco-warrior. Some might convert, but most will be left cold. But if you translate sustainability to match the identity of your audience, you will find them much more receptive. Or as I call it, Green Jujitsu.

Photo by Garry Knight, used under the creative commons license.

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20 July 2016

'Green Deal' damned – but what can we learn?

Tjurruset Competition

The UK Government's erstwhile domestic energy efficiency programme 'The Green Deal' has been damned by the Public Accounts Committee for having "abysmal" take-up. "It was too complex, with excessive paperwork, while people were also put off by interest rates of up to 10% on the loans - far more expensive than other lending" was the verdict.

The Green Deal was clearly one of those clever political ideas which makes sense logically but fails to survive first contact with the real world. As I said three years ago, expecting busy people to get their heads around the supposed benefits of the so-called 'Golden Rule' was unrealistic. I said then:

"Again and again we keep getting the same lesson - that if you offer a green option it must not only be better than the alternative, or the 'do nothing' default option, but be simpler and more intuitive as well. A walk in the park, not a slog through the mud, in other words."

The bigger point is pragmatism beats idealism hands down every time. Do what works, kill off what doesn't, and never, ever be distracted by purists. They never create anything, because the real world is not perfect.

 

 

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18 July 2016

Changing Hearts and Minds for Sustainability

world brainBefore the horrors of the last few days, it must have been a slow news period as the Telegraph rolled out another of their 'lycra lout' articles about the village of Great Budworth which claims to be under siege from the two-wheeled menaces. I think one anecdote summarises the story:

"One nearly crashed into my brother's car as he was pulling out of the drive and shouted at him."

Or, translated into objective language:

"My brother pulled out on to a road without looking properly, nearly knocked someone off his bike, endangering his life, and was surprised that the guy was angry about it."

What surprises me is that neither the story-teller, the brother, the journalist or the editor realised the stupidity of this line. I'm sure they're all intelligent people, but they regurgitate this nonsense because it backs up the way they have already made up their mind. This is known as confirmation bias.

As a Sustainability practitioner you will have come across this phenomenon time and time again. The presumption that Sustainability must cost more, despite all the facts and figures you provide. The presumption that renewable energy will never be cost effective despite plunging prices. The presumption that Sustainability is not a core business issue despite the fact that those who do Sustainability better have been shown to make more profit. The 'zombie arguments' from climate change deniers refuse to die for this very reason.

Like those in the Telegraph article, there is no point in trying to confront those 'misconceptions' head on (just have a look at all the Godwin's-Law-breaking arguments on Twitter for proof). My Green Jujitsu approach works on the heart as well as trying to appeal to the mind, by getting people involved in Sustainability using their core skills and interests. For example, it's said that the Netherlands doesn't suffer from this us-and-them battle between motorists and cyclists because almost all drivers cycle as well, so they identify with being on two wheels.

So if you are locked into a war of attrition over a Sustainability issue or project, stop, take a step back and think about how you can make it appealing to your opponents' hearts as well as minds.

 

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15 July 2016

Mayday? The Green Guide to the new UK Cabinet

Theresa_May_UK_Home_Office_(cropped)So, another momentous week in UK politics. We get our second ever female Prime Minister in Theresa May and a very new looking cabinet. Here's my quick guide as to who's who from the point of view of the green/Sustainability agenda.

Theresa May, Prime Minister

As with much about Mrs May, her attitude to green issues is a bit of a mystery. Her initial speeches were big on One Nation values when it came to socio-economic issues, but the environment didn't even get a token mention. This isn't encouraging, however BusinessGreen reports that a delegation of 'green Tories' including key lieutenant Amber Rudd sought and secured assurances that a May Government would pursue climate change goals. As always, leadership is key, so Mrs May will need to make her position clearer if the green economy is to thrive.

Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Predecessor George Osborne was regarded as a serious brake on the green economy over his tenure. Not quite a climate sceptic himself, the 'lukewarmer'/anti-renewables/pro-fracking lobby got a sympathetic hearing from Osborne. The 2010-2015 Coalition Government saw a whole series of pitched battles between the Chancellor and Lib Dem energy and climate secretaries.

Hammond may be seen as exceedingly dull, but in his former role as Foreign Secretary, he made a number of very important speeches on climate change. One in particular caught my eye as it made a case for action from a Conservative point of view to the American Enterprise Institute - using Green Jujitsu in the lions' den. I'm always more interested in right-of-centre arguments for cutting carbon than the traditional lefty case as we need to speak to the unconverted, not preach to the choir.

Overall, we should see the economic brakes easing as Hammond gets into gear.

Amber Rudd, Home Secretary

There's little in Rudd's new brief linked to the low carbon agenda, but given her commitment to the cause, the new Home Secretary will be a key supporter in Cabinet and importantly, as we have seen, she has the PM's ear.

Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Read the rest of this entry »

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13 July 2016

Helping Sustainability survive a change in leader

Close up exchanging relay baton on a relay race.

Well, the UK and the US are currently in the process of changing their political leadership. Many commentators are trying to second guess the implications for the low carbon economy, but I'm keeping my powder dry until the dust settles. It did, however, get me thinking about change at the top.

The best organisations at Sustainability almost always have an inspirational leader. So what happens when they come to the end of their tenure and somebody else steps up? It is a real risk that the new leader doesn't have the same commitment as their predecessor and progress will tail off.

This happened to a client of mine some years ago and we dedicated a coaching session to managing the transition. While most of our discussion was company specific (and confidential) some of the generic principles were:

  • Don't be defensive – your outward attitude must be that Sustainability continues to be core to the business and there is not reason to change. If you aren't confident in what you do, it will come across as unimportant to the organisation.
  • Translate Sustainability for the new incumbent's worldview – ie Green Jujitsu. New leaders generally like to get 'up to speed' before they change anything, so make sure you can explain Sustainability in terms they will understand (eg $ for someone from a finance background, technical innovation for an engineer, market opportunities for an entrepreneur).
  • Find an excuse to involve the new leader – engineer a speaking engagement for them on Sustainability, or a new opportunity for consideration.

In other words, don't give them a chance to question Sustainability before they've experienced the benefits!

 

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11 July 2016

Sustainability Leadership = Vision x Competence

SilhouettesAs I type, the UK is in a leadership vacuum at one of the most critical junctures in post-war British politics. Following the surprise Brexit vote to leave the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron bailed out, and now two very different women, safe pair of hands Theresa May and more traditional but untested Andrea Leadsom vie for the top job. In the main Opposition Labour Party, left-wing members' favourite Jeremy Corbyn will today be challenged by the more centrist, and more experienced, Angela Eagle on the ground that the party lacks direction.

In both cases, the two Parties' members have a choice between direction and competence. Corbyn and Leadsom undoubtedly match more closely with the grassroots' preferred policies compared to their rivals, but both look seriously underpowered when it comes to the ability to do the job. It will be a tough decision, and those of us on the outside sit uncomfortably, but enthralled (in my case), on the sidelines watching.

I have long held that leadership is the difference between the best at corporate sustainability and the rest. The best sustainability leaders combine the vision to see the right direction to go and the capability to take the organisation in that direction. Or as the cliché goes: doing the right things and doing things right.

I emphasised the 'and' there because, as in politics, we cannot afford to make it 'or'. Can you do both?

[Update: 13:45: Leadsom withdraws from Conservative leadership race]

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8 July 2016

What's the most important employee group for Sustainability?


The latest edition of Ask Gareth considers which group of employees/colleagues are most important when it comes to Sustainability. I give 3 important suggestions to guide you.

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 here.

 

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6 July 2016

Get a new perspective on Sustainability

Frame

Have you ever noticed how much you notice when you are on holiday? Wander around a strange place and details leap out at you in a way they never do in your home town. There's a whole genre of travel writing based on such observations, but you rarely, if ever, get anyone writing in such detail about their own neighbourhood (Xavier de Maistre famously wrote Voyage Autour de Ma Chambre to parody travel writing). Familiarity closes our minds, travel broadens them.

I was reminded of this when a client recently told me it was great to get a fresh pair of eyes (mine!) in to sort out a couple of sticking points in his corporation's sustainability strategy. One of the most important things an outsider can do, as I did in this case, is question implicit assumptions – the way your mind closes down options subconsciously. I now do more coaching and facilitation than traditional 'clipboard consulting' as this broadening of the mind can make an order of magnitude greater impact than a report of recommendations gathering dust on somebody's shelf.

How are you going to get yourself out of your comfort zone today?

 

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4 July 2016

Accounting for Sustainability Properly

Tax calculator and penA client coaching session last week focussed on investment appraisal and how it can block sustainability progress – in this case investment in renewables. As we dug deeper and deeper into the company's systems, we realised that the process did not account for direct carbon costs as these were apportioned to a regulatory budget. Simply factoring this into the benefits of investing in renewables could change a difficult decision into a very simple one.

Total Cost Accounting is the concept of apportioning all costs, fixed and variable, to their proper place. This sounds obvious, but simply being aware of all the costs involved is a challenge in itself. This is where a coach comes in handy, as they (I!) can ask the apparently stupid questions which uncover uncomfortable truths hiding in plain sight.

My client now has the task of trying to change the criteria to factor in carbon costs. In theory this shouldn't be too difficult as it will lead to better decisions from a financial point of view as well as a sustainability aspect, but in practice, changing processes in a very large company is never easy. But once it is done, all low carbon options will compete on a level playing field on costs at least.

Of course there are many other benefits of renewables which should be factored in – PR, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, energy security, risk reduction – but getting the £, $, €, ¥ right is an important step in the right direction.

 

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1 July 2016

Optimism, Pessimism and Sustainability

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

world brainI was at a meeting of the Green Thinkers book club last night. We were discussing Prof Tim Flannery's "Atmosphere of Hope" book published on the run up to the Paris talks last December. I was actually going to review the book here, but to be honest it's not a great piece of work, seemingly rushed out to give an alternative view to the Australian Government's official line during the talks (Flannery was head of the Australian Climate Commission which was abolished by the incoming Abbott Government in 2013). But the curious thing is that, contrary to the title, it's quite a depressing read.

Appropriately, the discussion around tackling climate change split amongst the pessimists and the optimists. For the former, we're royally screwed by a toxic cocktail of greed, capitalism and corruption. For the latter, of which regular readers will guess I'm a life member, we have to utilise technology, capitalism and design to deliver a massive transformation.

We sustainability optimists are not naive about the scale of the problem, rather we use that as a spur to go further, faster. We are trying to build a vision of a glorious sustainable future, not trying to scare people into action. We use all the tools at our disposal – including the power of global capitalism to bring economies of scale to green technologies.

And, if we fail, it won't be for lack of trying.

“No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” – H.Keller

 

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29 June 2016

Urban Sustainability in Walthamstow

miniholland orchard

I'm down in North East London for a couple of days learning about the 'mini-Holland' project in Walthamstow – a substantial investment in making suburban streets cycle/walking/people friendly. I'm here with my local councillor hat on, but I thought some of you would be interested in both the design concepts and some of the change management 'issues'.

You see, the mini-Holland projects have kicked off some pretty virulent opposition, including organised demonstrations. Even when I tweeted I was on my way to see the project, I got two negative replies saying the changes had caused traffic chaos while doing nothing to increase cycling, with only one person being positive. So progress has been fairly gnarly despite the Council's extensive attempts at consultation and co-design.

play bollardsFor many people, me included, it is hard to see who would prefer to have thousands of cars rat-running through their street every day rather than a mini-orchard and wildflowers - see pic above. The project involves some really lovely design touches, such as the bollards/kids' obstacle course hybrid shown right and lots of other beautification.

While some of those who opposed changes have changed their minds, many others, as we have seen, have stuck to their guns. Unfortunately, the project manager could offer no magic wand to deal with this, other than a tin hat, and one of the team confided to us that he probably would turn down a similar project role in the future as it had been so tough.

This is a real shame as we could see benefits just pedalling around – the traffic restricted shopping streets were clearly much more vibrant than those with traffic. The dad cycling past with his 6 year old son on the roadway was highly symbolic of a better future. As with many elements of sustainability, we know where we need to be, but getting there is the challenge.

 

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