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24 May 2017

After Manchester: Fear and Optimism

i-love-manchesterYesterday morning I woke at stupid o'clock and, after half an hour lying in the dark, decided that I'd head to the spare room with a book to avoid disturbing the slumbering Mrs K. I picked up my phone, the screen activated and there was the BBC alert "19 dead in Manchester bombing." [the death toll has since risen].

I'm sure my reaction was the same as almost everybody else's. "Killing kids at a pop concert? What kind of world do we live in?" I lay awake until everybody else rose, and made sure I gave each of my kids a big hug; grateful for what I still had, sorry for those who had lost loved ones overnight or were still waiting for news.

It must be my entry into middle-age, but I've recently grown nostalgic for the 1990s – when the Berlin Wall had fallen, Apartheid had gone, a peace process in my native Northern Ireland and peace talks in the Middle East, BritPop blasting from the hi-fi, Trainspotting, Jamon Jamon, and Pulp Fiction at the movies, plenty of disposable income in my wallet. What happened to those good ol' days?

But, I keep having to remind myself that this is utter nonsense. The 90s were the decade of the Balkan conflict with its massacres and ethnic cleansing, and the Rwandan/Burundi genocide. The fact of the matter is that we are now living in some of the best times in history. Global violence is at an historical low. Poverty, whether measured in absolute numbers or a share of the world population, is plummeting. Our attempts at tackling climate change, while not yet sufficient, are accelerating at a rate that no-one predicted.

ISIS has certainly put the terror into terrorism. They deliberately tap into our deepest fears – targeting kids, attacking crowds in the streets with lorries, revelling in cruelty – they truly are the stuff of nightmares. That fear can make us freeze, give up, look inwards, distrust others. It makes us feel the world is getting worse when it is demonstrably getting better.

There were at least two, probably three, orders of magnitude more heroes than villains on the streets on Manchester on Monday night. Let's be inspired by them.

 

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22 May 2017

Sustainability Is Personal

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Yesterday we took the kids to the beach at St Mary's Island near Whitley Bay. We had lunch on the beach waiting for the tide to recede so we could cross the causeway to the Island itself. Inspired by the horrendous pictures of remote Henderson Island covered in plastic litter, I spent 15 minutes gathering all the plastic waste I could find – bottles, food trays, mastic caps and fishing line all featured prominently. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was inconsequential in the grand scale of things, but at least I was doing something.

I also came across the rotting carcass of a seal on the beach and mused on how nature goes about its waste management. Everything in that seal would be seen as food by another part of the eco-system.

We crossed to the island and watched the live seals basking, swimming and eating, along with a few eider ducks and oyster catchers. We stopped to talk to the wildlife rangers and mentioned the dead seal. They told us that it had got entangled in a packing strap as a youngster which eventually cut into its sides as it grew and led to its demise.

Suddenly the importance of my little beachcomb came home to me. Any one piece of plastic could represent a death sentence to some of our wonderful wildlife. By collecting a few dozen pieces, I could have made a difference.

But there is a wider conclusion. I help my clients get to grips with the Sustainability agenda, but the results are usually abstract to me. They tell me how they are doing against the targets I have help them set, and I help them tackle any glitches, but I rarely get to witness the actual difference in a tangible, visceral way. But my mini-litter pick made a visible difference – I could see the change.

"All politics is local" and "the personal is political" are two oft quoted maxims connecting big scale political concepts and the experience of the everyday. The same applies to Sustainability – you can talk all you like about the circular economy or zero carbon, but success will all come down to individual decision making by individuals and they will make decisions on their own experience rather than high-level slogans.

I moved from armchair activist to Sustainability professional when I witnessed ecological devastation in arctic Russia. I had to experience it personally to make the leap.

So, get personal!

 

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19 May 2017

Pringles and Lucozade still don't get it.

prod_img-2927296_pringles_original_190g_enI love it when serious Sustainability issues hit the mainstream and yesterday's public shaming of Pringles and Lucozade Sport for difficult-to-recycle packaging across mainstream media channels really hit the button. What brought my initial excitement down was the begrudging response from the companies (quoted from The Guardian):

A Pringles spokesman said: “We take our responsibilities to the planet we all share seriously and are continuously working to improve our environmental performance. All parts of a Pringles can act as a barrier to protect the chips from environmental contamination and to keep them fresh. The freshness of our chips means a longer shelf life, which minimises food waste.”

This is indeed true, but there is an implicit 'or' in there (I don't like 'or's, they suck). Many manufacturers produce packaging which protects against food wastage AND are easy to recycle. Try harder!

Lucozade said it recognised its environmental responsibilities and had reduced its use of plastic in bottles by 540 tonnes over the last year. A spokesman added: “We welcome any technological breakthroughs that support this ambition.”

Two problems here. First, how significant is 540 tonnes? How many tonnes of Lucozade Sport bottles are produced every year? Without that context, this statement is greenwash.

But it's the final quote that really bothers me – the plastic sleeve which renders the bottle hard to recycle is a design choice by Lucozade, it is not an inherent property of the bottle. It is Lucozade's social responsibility to design that problem out, not anybody else's as implied by the quote. Get your finger out!

Hopefully both these defences are just that and the campaign will have both companies' (and others') product designers working overtime to square these circles. I'm always optimistic...

 

 

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18 May 2017

UK Party Manifestos – how do they stack up on Sustainability?

polling stationSo all three of the big UK-wide parties have now published their manifestos for the coming General Election on June 8. Here's my take on the Sustainability elements of the three:

Conservatives

The Tory party manifesto is the only one of these three to champion shale gas extraction (aka fracking) and make a commitment to the (rapidly declining) oil and gas industry. They say they "do not believe large-scale onshore wind power is right for England", but state later that there is opportunity in Scotland. Despite this there are multiple nods to showing leadership on climate change and investment in low carbon energy.

The Tories have already said they will 'borrow' Labour's previous energy price cap policy, despite warning at the time that this could damage investment in low carbon energy. On domestic efficiency, the Tories say they will all fuel poor homes reach EPC band C by 2030, review energy efficiency rules for new homes, offer smart meters to all homes and business by the end of 2020. Business will get a new industrial energy efficiency scheme.

On transport there are nods towards improved rail infrastructure and cycling networks, but the biggest commitment to make almost every car and van being zero emission by 2050. Heathrow will be expanded.

Waste/recycling only gets a passing mention. Read the rest of this entry »

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17 May 2017

Are you curious?

questions

Yesterday I was interviewed by a geography student for his dissertation. He was asking about the reasons for my participation in a climate march in 2015. I had to tell him I am not a natural activist and, frankly, I'm not convinced that my marching amongst the tie-dyed ranks made any practical difference whatsoever to those we were marching past.

Why did I go? Well, I had my political hat on and felt that myself and colleagues had to turn up represent our party, particularly given the impressive Sustainability legacy of our seven years running the City. We needed to 'get the optics right' in political parlance, but, whichever hat I have on, my priority remains doing stuff rather than shouting slogans or waving placards.

I coined the phrase 'pragmatic environmentalist' to distinguish sustainability practitioners who live in the real world from those who see the environment as a kind of moral litmus test. In practice, pragmatic environmentalists try to lower the price of admission to the world of sustainability; dogmatic environmentalists keeping pushing the price up until a chosen few make the grade.

I gave the student the example of the blue recycling wheelie bins we could see from our coffee shop window. When we introduced these, the green movement denounced us as sell outs as most of the dry recyclates get mixed together in the bin, rather than separated out by the householder. But we were proven right as the recycling rate went up by 50% overnight because we made it easier for everybody to recycle, not just the green-minded few.

Another way to think of the difference is the comprehension gap between those who don't 'get it' and those who think that 'getting it' makes them better human beings. The pragmatic environmentalist builds sustainability in that gap, rather than clinging to the green comfort zone.

And one of the characteristics that sets the effective pragmatic environmentalists apart from their dogmatic cousins is curiosity. Curiosity about what makes people tick, how to find the right buttons to press to engage with them, why things are the way they are, how things could be made better. This is where the sweetspot of engagement and innovation lie, so we need to keep questioning ourselves, others and the status quo.

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, stay hungry, stay foolish, stay curious!

 

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15 May 2017

Digitisation, smart grids and cyberwarfare

digital clock

One of the basic principles of pragmatic environmentalism is to embrace digitisation as a way of managing resources much more efficiently and dealing with the intermittency of some renewable energy sources via the smart grid. Another trope of the green movement is the inherent safety of renewables – flying a plane into a wind farm isn't going to have the impact of flying a plane into a nuclear power station.

However, last week's cyber-attack on the UK's National Health Service is a harsh reminder that warfare, terrorism and crime have also embraced digitisation for nefarious purposes. While this attack was designed for financial gain, what would happen if a foreign power or terrorist group aimed an attack at an intelligent energy grid? After all, Iran's nuclear programme was targeted via the Stuxnet virus in 2010, destroying 20% of the country's centrifuges.

We cannot shy away from this threat, but on the other hand, we cannot afford to keep our energy, industrial and commercial systems in the 20th century while we are fighting climate change. In the same way the internet was originally designed to be inherently robust to a physical attack, all our digital systems need to have sufficient protection, firewalls and redundancy that if one link in the chain fails, the rest continues on regardless, working around the damage.

That's some challenge, and, of course, a massive business opportunity for somebody.

 

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12 May 2017

Zero Hazardous Waste?

waste minimisation recycling workshops

I had a meeting earlier with a Sustainability Manager earlier this week who is busy drafting a Sustainability Strategy for his company. His waste goal was "zero non-hazardous waste" and I mused that in the last ten years such a once-impossible target has become pretty much standard – which is a brilliant achievement by the Sustainability community.

But what about hazardous waste? The main reason why this is caveated out of zero waste targets is the tight regulation around such material reduces the opportunities for action. In sectors such as healthcare where human tissue or blood is involved, there isn't much room for manoeuvre, but for others my (blasphemous) alternative to the waste hierarchy still applies:

Design it out or find a good use for it.

The circular economy mindset sees the hazardous nature of a material as an opportunity rather than a problem. So if you have a highly alkaline 'waste' material, you need to investigate uses for alkalis, preferably those which result in pH neutral materials.

The design process offers exciting opportunities for innovation. In one of my favourite examples, Camira found that using a mixture of wool and bast fibres (e.g. sisal) led to a naturally flame retardant fabric, eliminating the need for hazardous chemicals and the resulting waste.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next decade – I expect to see 'zero waste' applying to all waste, not just the benign stuff. After all it was just a few years ago that people kept telling me that zero non-hazardous waste was physically impossible.

 

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10 May 2017

Sustainability: if not now, when?

what can I do

There's always an excuse to do nothing. Brexit, the value of the pound, restructuring, a new boss – these are all reasons I have heard recently for stalling on Sustainability.

This makes no logical sense, after all, businesses which take Sustainability seriously are more profitable than those who don't. They exploit new markets, attract and retain new customers, inspire their employees, cut operating costs and avoid embarrassing compliance breaches.

But logic is not enough – the global political/economic tectonic plates have been shifting significantly of late, and it puts fear into people's hearts. Some ideas which can help:

  • Find equally compelling emotions to work on – fear of prosecution, keeping up with the Jones's (ie talk about what your competitors are doing), exciting new business opportunities etc.
  • Even better, find an opportunity to get that person to work through the business case for action themselves as they'll believe their own logic more than they'll believe yours.
  • Find an opportunity for an experience for the naysayer, whether that's driving an electric vehicle or feeling energy inefficiencies (I still remember the blast of wasted heat from a power station I got nearly 15 years ago when discussing districting heating potential) or witnessing waste production. Experience always trumps words and figures.

As I advise my clients, there is always a way, always a button or two to press – you've just go to find it.

 

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8 May 2017

At last, some political leadership on climate change

Emmanuel Macron Ministre de l'Économie, de l'Industrie et du Numérique

Emmanuel Macron

If you're of a liberal bent, then Emmanuel Macron's election as President of France is a welcome relief from the global political contraction into populist nationalism. And, if you care about the future of the human race and the natural world, then Macron mentioning climate change twice in his victory speech is a feast for the ears.

Twice. My rule for political speeches is once is a nod to an IMPORTANT ISSUE, twice is a significant commitment.

Regular readers will know that I believe that leadership is the critical issue for Sustainability. Obama understood this, but Obama is gone (well, Barack anyway), and most political leaders of the centre ground - including almost every UK Prime Minister I can think of - will say the right things, but do a little less than everybody hopes. The recent rise in right-wing populism threatened even that half-baked progress.

There is far more leadership on climate change coming from business at the minute than politics. That's not a bad thing as business is our supply chain where most of our carbon footprint lies. But imagine a world where political and business leaders vied for who could make the most difference. That truly would be something to behold.

But in the meantime: félicitations Macron, en marche!

Photo: Ecole polytechnique Université Paris © creative commons license

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5 May 2017

Breaking out of the Sustainability Silo


This month's Ask Gareth answers a great question from 'Bill' (name has been changed) which many face – how do you put together a Sustainability Strategy in a vacuum? I explain three steps to breaking out of the Sustainability Silo and getting key decision makers involved.

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.

 

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3 May 2017

To SDG or not to SDG? That is the question...

The ThinkerInteresting report last week on Edie that the UK Government has no plans in place to  meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that private sector uptake has been slow. The implicit assumption in the article is that the SDGs are a good thing, but I always believe you should question everything.

The case for the SDGs are that they are comprehensive, third party and UN endorsed. Demonstrating how you are doing against the SDGs makes a pretty good table in an annual report or a slide in a corporate presentation.

The case against is that there are a whopping 17 SDGs, 169 targets, and many of those targets are extremely vague – e.g. "7.2 Increase substantially the level of renewable energy". How do you know when you have contributed to that target?

If you want to inspire people inside your organisation then you need 3 - 7 stretch targets – something jaw dropping like 'zero carbon' or 'zero waste' that really make people sit up and think.

Seven is pretty much the limit of how many items in a list we can easily recall – I'd be very surprised if anyone could recite all 17 SDGs without stumbling. By all means compare your targets against the SDGs, but using the SDGs to drive Sustainability in one organisation is the tail wagging the dog.

 

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28 April 2017

Mind your Sustainability Language

world brainI first wrote about Green Jujitsu in the sense of choosing your language to suit the audience (I've since expanded that from everything from images to engagement activities) and I've been reminded of the importance of the words we use several times recently:

  • A client who is restructuring and the names of the new divisions reflect what the customer gets – this has had the effect of reinforcing that much of their market is helping others be more Sustainable;
  • A local cycling/walking infrastructure project based on the 'mini-Hollands' in London, but branded with the much more friendly (and descriptive) Streets for People – a move lauded by someone who'd taken a lot of flack when working on the former;
  • Someone who made the mistake of labelling an energy efficiency project as Sustainability rather than cost reduction and then found the project was cancelled to, ironically cut (less) cost.

The whole point of Green Jujitsu is to let go of Sustainability and let the organisation own it in whatever form works for the organisation, and the language you use is the easiest (and cheapest) way to make that happen.

 

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26 April 2017

Beware the HiPPO

2560px-Hippo_mouth_opening

At a meeting this morning, someone used an acronym which I don't think I'd heard before: 'HiPPO' – the Highest Paid Person's Opinion. But I know exactly what it means – I once lost a client because I disagreed with the HiPPO in the room. I was right (naturally), but it didn't matter, the HiPPO prevailed, everybody else fell into line, and the next phase of my involvement in the project never materialised.

It's kind of like that ancient Chinese engineer who suggested the Great Wall of China wasn't being built the best way. The engineer was right (naturally), they adopted his idea, but they lopped off his head anyway for daring to go up against the Emperor. This kind of macho, rutting stag culture annoys the hell out of me, but when it's there, it's there and you have to deal with it.

Of course, the Green Jujitsu approach would have been to persuade the HiPPO that he had realised that there was a much better way of approaching the problem, rather than me, an outsider, dismantling his logic. But you can't win 'em all.

 

Photo © Jon Connell used under creative commons licence

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24 April 2017

Oh to be back in the Bad Ol' Days

pollution

Nostalgia is natural. I love the nostalgia section in our local newspaper, even though I'm not a native of the city. And it is always tempting to hark back to the past – very rarely do you hear anybody say "well, it's much better these days." Personally, I think it comes from evolution – in a natural eco-system the creatures that fear unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells will live longer than those who don't.

C-FL6WuWsAAsK3SBut sometimes nostalgia can reach a level of self parody. While most of us marked last Friday's coal-free day in the UK as a remarkable achievement, the Telegraph published a bizarre lament for the days of smog, smut and "the tang of sulphur" (right).

In my view, coal is fast becoming the litmus test for progressive/conservative split in politics with Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Tony Abbott backing coal. Prominent 'lukewarmer' Matt Ridley's inherited family fortune came from coal (and still does). Often 'clean coal' is invoked to deflect criticism, but coal is always a theme.

The far left dabble in this pool of fossilised nostalgia too, with the UK's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plugging clean coal to bring back mining jobs. One of my favourite bonkers conspiracy theories is that Margaret Thatcher 'invented' climate change to kill off the UK's coal industry. Yeah, right.

It is easy to sneer (as I just have), but we have to remember the power of nostalgia and the lure of 'it could be like our childhood again'. The renewables revolution may seem like a miracle to the readers of this blog, but change always threatens someone. And it is those people we need to engage with – on their terms – rather than preaching to the green choir.

 

 

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21 April 2017

A Cycle-logical Sustainability Opportunity

17972239_10100309071512778_8565556777937556897_oWhile most sensible people were tucking into their Easter Eggs last Sunday, I was braving (very) cold, wet and windy conditions up on the MoD's Otterburn firing ranges as part of the MoD Rocker cycle sportive (we went 106km horizontally, 1.9km upwards). The picture shows what I look like after climbing steadily for an hour then hitting a couple of brutal 17-22% ramps. It's not pretty!

I've been training quite hard for this and a tougher sportive (on paper) in 2 months time. Being self-employed I can go for a ride when it suits me, but it always surprises me quite how many other people I pass out on the road during office hours. We are clearly in a bike boom.

I spend quite a bit of my time promoting cycling as everyday commuting (rather than just for MAMILs like me), but a recent study by Evans Randall Investors of 61 offices in London found that there was a serious lack of facilities for cycling commuters. There was on average just one shower per 240 employees and fewer than one in five offices offering places for cycling commuters to store work clothes.

This seems to me like a golden opportunity for both quick wins and employee engagement. Whether simply providing decent cycle storage facilities, setting up a cycle club, or engaging with the local authority to improve cycle access on/off site, you can not only reduce your impact, but make the local environment better for everybody. Gotta love that!

 

Photo © Neil Bradley

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18 April 2017

Will Sustainability feature in the UK General Election?

polling stationSo, first half day back at work (I'm semi-childminding) and UK PM Theresa May goes and calls a General Election. In some ways not a surprise with the official opposition AWOL, but quite a gamble nonetheless.

And it's a gamble because the campaign will be dominated by one issue and one alone: Brexit. Mrs May wants a mandate to do what she's not really keen on doing, Labour is trying to ride both horses at once and the pro-European Lib Dems are still crawling their way back into contention after their 2015 near-wipeout [Disclosure: I'm a Lib Dem Councillor]. Who knows how this will pan out, but it will be fascinating.

So, will Sustainability feature? Brexit has huge implications for environmental regulation and the Government's Great Repeal Bill, as it stands, could be a big threat to our current environmental regulation, most of which takes its cue from EU Directives. But I don't think The Environment will change many votes because, frankly, most mainstream environmentalists tend to be Remainers and the hard Brexiteers tend towards climate disinterest at best.

But I come back to a point I've been making for a long time. Regulation helps tilt the playing field towards a sustainable economy, but if big business decides it wants to be sustainable, Sustainability will happen whether we are in or out of the EU, whether we have a green-leaning Government or not.

As a consumer, you make a choice every time you open your wallet or click 'Buy Now'. As an employee, you can make greener decisions at work, whether it is switching off a light or redesigning a new product. Of course as a voter, you can back your greenest candidate – but the first two you can do every day and that's what really matters.

 

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13 April 2017

"You can't have Sustainability without X." You probably can...

rant"You can't have Sustainability without a whole new economic model."

"You can't have Sustainability without mindfulness."

"You can't have Sustainability without self care."

"You can't have Sustainability without a reconnection to the natural world."

"You can't have Sustainability without a global agreement."

I hear and read such statements of apparent fact all the time and my bullshit detector goes off immediately. Because, first of all they are simply wrong – maybe some of these X's would help, but none are a 100% prerequisite to Sustainability. And secondly, often the speaker is a purveyor of, say, mindfulness training, looking for a new audience – it's a bit selfish to put their own self-interest in the way of millions of other people's.

But most importantly of all, such restrictive statements either distract from the Sustainability agenda, create barriers that we don't need, or, in many cases, muddy the waters. If we want to bring the general public on board for a sustainable world, we need simple, clear, can-do messages. So let's think about our audiences rather than ourselves.

Rant over.

 

 

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11 April 2017

Don't get down about climate change, stand up!

rabbit-headlights

Yesterday I was scouring the internet for a funny-ish climate/sustainability story to round out the news on this month's edition of The Low Carbon Agenda when I came across this one: a therapist has set up Good Grief, an AA-style programme for those depressed about climate change. I came within a gnat's whisker of taking the mick out of such new-agey nonsense when I saw the story of the plight of the Great Barrier Reef. The first paragraph of this almost sent me searching for a UK branch of Good Grief.

Climate and Sustainability issues can be quite overwhelming and the steady flow of bad news can be not just depressing but paralysing. And if we do nothing, we're just a rabbit sat in the road staring at the headlights.

So, what can we do? Here are few things I do:

  1. Search out and share good news: there's some really big progress being made out there - the collapse of the coal industry, the explosion of renewables, the emergence of good electric cars. This reinforces the feeling that we can do something.
  2. Do something: I was so put off by the holier-than-thou attitude of my local environmental campaign group 20 years ago, I went and joined BTCV and planted more than 400 trees - that felt really good. Buy a bike (and use it instead of the car), stick some extra insulation in the loft, get some more efficient lightbulbs, holiday in the same country a bit more, take the kids pond-dipping – whatever floats your boat.
  3. Do something at work: if your work isn't taking Sustainability seriously, then ask a few loaded questions. One of my clients tells the story of how his CEO was welcoming a group of new graduates. At the end of his speech, he asked for questions. A hand shot up: "Where do I plug in my electric car?" They are now getting charging points.
  4. Invest in the future: when The Donald was elected across the pond, I immediately went and made a modest investment in a wind farm. Take that, Trumpster!

None of these things are going to solve the climate crisis on their own. But what they do is get you off the sofa of despair and on to the front foot. Being proactive is good for the planet and your own wellbeing.

 

[I can't find the owner of the great pic I've used above - if it's your's, let me know]

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7 April 2017

Get Sustainability the right way 'round...

023850THIS_WAY
I recently posted an article on LinkedIn which stated that responsibility for Sustainability and authority to act should be aligned. A below the line commenter agreed saying "Those with responsibility must be given authority."

Well, on reflection, it's the other way around. If you have highly empowered Sustainability champions overruling their bosses then you will get chaos – you are undermining the way the organisation works.

It's the existing decision makers who must be given responsibility. That's the proper embedding of Sustainability into the DNA of the organisation.

 

 

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5 April 2017

I'm not ageist, but...

Vmeldrew

Last week I had a very pleasant coffee and chat with a senior executive with a strong interest in Sustainability. He mentioned in passing that he found employees under the age of 40 tended to come with Sustainability pre-programmed into their outlook, those older than 50 tended to..., er, let's say need a bit more persuading. I've come across similar anecdotal evidence before, so, when I got back to the ranch, I did a bit of googling for some statistics on the subject.

The published evidence appears to back the anecdotes. Here's just one example of what I found, an interesting analysis of US voters by Gallup:

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That's quite a distinctive gap in attitudes – although if 30% of under 29s are not concerned about climate change, it's certainly not a case of 'job done'. But as key decision makers in larger organisations tend to be middle-aged, it is clear that, if roughly half of that age group are sceptical, our best engagement efforts are still required unlock progress.

The good news is that it should get easier!

 

 

 

 

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