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June 2011 - Terra Infirma

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29 June 2011

VW feel the full force of Greenpeace's wit

Well, Greenpeace have done it again. Having successfully targeted Apple back in 2007 - forcing a rare about turn by Mr Jobs - they're now gunning for VW with this well crafted Star Wars spoof. VW are being targeted for having the worst emissions record amongst Europe's major motor manufacturers.

Where Greenpeace excel in these campaigns is the wit and craftsmanship that go into the content - note perfect to go viral in the social media age. VW have a real problem on their hands here - no matter what their plans for future vehicles are, the evidence speaks for itself. They now have three options - put on the tin hat and hope that it goes away, come out fighting or defuse the situation by acknowledging the problem and pledging to change their ways. Jobs tried the second one, but ended up taking the third.

I would strongly advise that anyone in this situation takes the "it's a fair cop" option first - turn a problem into a driver for improvement. Check out what Lexus managed after being criticised by the Advertising Standards Agency.

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Posted by Gareth Kane one response

27 June 2011

Environmental Champions - Hit or Miss?

I don't think I've ever recommended to a client that they appoint environmental champions amongst their staff and my two books make only fleeting reference to them. And yet a huge number of organisations trying to go green have gone done the champion route. So why am I so reticent?

The simple answer is the most powerful question in our armoury - Why? What is it that environmental champions are expected to bring to culture change? I've never had that question answered satisfactorily.

The usual answer is that champions are embedded into the organisation and can provide peer-to-peer support to other staff members who want change their behaviour and act as local flag wavers for corporate green goals. Only one problem - peer-to-peer is by definition is bottom up, appointing people to roles is top down - and I believe that is a fundamental conflict.

My other problem is that I've seen the champion role widely abused. I've seen junior volunteers given energy efficiency targets for entire sites, I've seen them (post volunteering) being expected to read energy meters on a regular basis, and I've heard of them being expected to get into work before everyone else to check who has switched their computers off. That's like calling a traffic warden a "parking champion".

One of the participants at the staff engagement session I ran at the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange last week had abolished their champions programme as it had descended into a forum for whinging. Instead they had appointed "green angels" to tackle particular problems. This story certainly surprised many of the other participants who had champions - and they seemed quite surprised that I sided with the dissenter.

Let's look at some basic principles of culture change which I think conflict with the champion concept:

  • If you give people responsibility, you must give them commensurate authority and accountability - these are not the hallmarks of a voluntary champion;
  • If people volunteer for a role, they shouldn't be subject to mission creep with more and more tasks dumped on them - you will breed resentment - yet mission creep is very common for champions;
  • Peer-to-peer only works if it is genuine - you can't dictate it top down and if peers feel that one of their number is judging them it will breed distrust, destroying the whole point of the exercise;
  • If you want proper culture change, then sustainability must become everyone's responsibility. Having champions can lead to others feeling they can wash their hands of the issue.

So what's my alternative? Well, if you want to engage with green thinking people, why not create a forum to glean their ideas and share what is happening in the organisation? Then the peer-to-peer communication will come out organically rather than the artificial champions version.

Do you disagree? Have you got a thriving, effective champion programme? If so, then please share in the comments.

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Posted by Gareth Kane 3 responses

24 June 2011

What I learnt this week...

I’ve said it before, and I'll say it again: one of the things I love about the sustainability field is that it is so broad and fast moving that you are constantly learning. This week was full of discovery

On Tuesday I had a meeting with Dan O’Connor of Newcastle University to discuss his (private) venture WARPit – a social-media style reuse portal to allow organisations to trade used furniture etc (check it out here). But our chat about his day job were interesting too:

  • The Daily Mail’s paranoia knows no bounds. The University’s interesting student bin cam research project to test how a webcam in a student household bin connected to Facebook can affect recycling rates is, in Daily Mail land, a potentially vicious attack on civil liberties by ‘council snoopers’;
  • Cardboard now has such a scrap value in the UK that gangs are raiding students’ wheelie bins to get their hands on it – theft of metallic items is common when scrap metal prices soar, but I’ve never heard of people stealing cardboard before.

On Thursday I ran three sessions at the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange at Olympia in London: Staff Engagement, Greening the Supply Chain and Environmental Strategy. We had some great discussions and here are the points that I took home:

  • There was quite a debate about the role of environmental champions. Most participants in the engagement session had appointed champions, but there wasn’t a clear consensus of why or whether they were actually making a difference. One participant had actually abandoned champions as they found the idea counterproductive in practice (I intend to explore this in a later blog post);
  • One participant has an almost real time energy consumption readout along with a traffic light system to show if consumption is low (green), high (amber) or very high (red). This is a nice way of converting data into a form that staff can easily grasp and of course you can tighten the amber and red settings to encourage continual improvement;
  • There was an anecdote about a company that paid actors to dress as cleaners and go through the office bins, tutting over waste that wasn’t being recycled to embarrass staff members. While such stunts only have a transient impact, I like the creative thinking;
  • Another anecdote was about a company that deliberately but surreptitiously changed their travel system so staff who want to use short haul air have to pay for the tickets out of their own money then submit a claim. Train tickets are purchased directly by the company, so staff members don't have to tie up their own cash in the process. Crafty, possibly underhand, but why not?;
  • On green procurement, one participant is using broad sustainability questions at the PQQ stage to determine what best practice in that sector might look like. This is then used to benchmark bidders during the formal tender process;
  • Many junior staff are desperate to get their managers to take a more strategic approach to sustainability, but the latter have their heads in the sand. We discussed many ways of ‘managing up’, but concluded that eventually top level buy-in is required. I am still strongly of the view that delegating the development of a strategy is an oxymoron and a derogation of responsibility.

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22 June 2011

The Death of the Eco-product?

Is the eco-product dead?

For years those of us in the green consumer niche have been conscientiously buying eco-products from Ecover, Bodyshop, Natural Collection etc etc - and feeling very self-righteous for doing so. Only problem is, we only represent 5-15% of consumers - the rest are either oblivious to green products or are actively suspicious of them, believing that they'll be expensive and won't work.

To achieve sustainability, we need every company to be a green company and every product to be a green product. There are two routes to this goal. The first is to try to persuade the 85-95% majority of consumers to 'see the light' and start buying green(er) products. Just one problem - go and stand in the middle of your high street or local megamarket, even in these economically straightened times, and watch how much and what people buy - how on earth are you going to change all their minds?

The second approach is to green mainstream products without asking the consumer's permission. Take Procter & Gamble, owners of the Ariel (UK) and Tide (US) brands. They launched a green range of household products in the 1990s but they didn't sell so they withdrew the products. Now P&G are re-engineering mainstream products to deliver on performance, price AND planet. Look at Ariel Excel Gel (aka Tide Coldwater) above - the packaging barely mentions the environment but check out that 15°C on the front - that makes it arguably much greener than the Ecover equivalent. Oh, and it was rated best clothes washing product ever by Which? magazine.

Or take Marks & Spencer who are producing mainstream products made of recycled PET like my umbrella (right). Again, I could have bought this without realising it was an 'eco-product' - it's just an M&S brolly and it does the job as well as any other.

This mainstreaming strategy is clearly the best way to get most people buying greener products. From the consumer's point of view it has a great additional benefit - it forces the producers of such products to deliver on price and performance too as they can't rely on the niche paying a premium price or tolerating mediocre performance. This banishes complacency, drives innovation and brings sustainable products to everyone - whether they want a 'green' product or not.

So, I would argue, the eco-product is dead, long live the eco-product!

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20 June 2011

Doing the right thing: for the planet or for your business?

During the Business of Sustainability sessions last week I was asked about the green executives I had interviewed for my book, The Green Executive - were they doing what they were doing because they felt it was the morally correct thing to do, or was it because it was just good business sense?

The answer of course is "both" - they were passionate about their values AND it was good for the business.

But the reality is a bit more subtle than that. The executives were almost all highly passionate about doing the right thing, but they were astute enough to realise that if what they proposed wasn't good for the business then it wouldn't be sustainable in the small 's' meaning of the word. A dose of healthy business pragmatism was required.

In other words there is a "sustainability sweet spot" where personal passion for the planet and business acumen overlap - see my Venn diagram below.

If you are passionate about the planet, but ignore the business case, then either you will be ignored yourself or ultimately you will damage your business (or organisation). On the other hand, if you are only coming to sustainability from a purely business point of view you will probably lack the vision and perseverance to deliver real change. If you hit the sweet spot then you are a true Green Executive - and this is what sets the guys I interviewed for the book apart from the also-rans.

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17 June 2011

The Business of Sustainability

Most of my focus this week was on Newcastle Univeristy Business School's Business of Sustainability Week.

On Tuesday, NUBS very kindly hosted the formal launch event for my latest book, The Green Executive. This was a pretty difficult presentation to pitch as it had to entertain everyone from my 20-month old son Jimmy to University Profs. I decided to gloss over the theoretical models and focus on the 18 interviews that underpin the text. Everybody likes stories, so I told the stories I got from seven of them and then pulled out some conclusions. OK, Jimmy lost interest after 5 minutes, but everybody else thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was delighted with really good, penetrating questions. The best was, if, as I had postulated, big retailers were acting as sustainability gatekeepers for consumers, what was in it for them as consumers themselves appear to be reluctant to choose green products over mainstream products? The answer is broader brand protection. While a consumer may not pay a premium for a green product on any single buying decision, the overall perception of a retailer may influence where that consumer decides to shop.

Oh, and the food was really good to boot. Big thanks go out to Fiona Whitehurst and the team at NUBS.

On Thursday I was back, this time in the august company of sustainable consumerism pioneer Julia Hailes MBE and Peter White, Global Director of Sustainability at Procter & Gamble. The three of us were judging teams of MBA students who had been set the challenge of encouraging behavioural change in consumers of P&G products. We got 5 really good presentations - it was very competitive and they had clearly done their homework.

After some Dragon's Den-style questioning, we awarded the best overall entry award to Lancaster who had developed a whole suite of interactions for different types of consumer including a Farmville-type viral game to promote sustainable lifestyles. The other award, for best single idea, went to Sheffield who suggested a product code which combined the ideas of a loyalty card and sustainability awareness - the consumer would have to answer sustainability questions before they got their discount points. You'd think we were judging Britain's Got Talent the way the winners exploded with joy - showing what effort they had put in and how seriously they took the whole process. Peter and I gave presentations, but unfortunately I had to leave before Julia's keynote in the evening.

So an excellent couple of events, and I feel I've wet The Green Executive's head properly now.

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15 June 2011

Where's My Integrity?

Sometimes it's a bit strange being A Blogger.

I blog to share ideas, refine my thinking and, yes, help market the business - but mainly because I enjoy it. But the wider PR world sees bloggers in a strange way.

I get bombarded with extraordinarily banal press releases - and no, I'm not going to regurgitate BigShedSupermarket's incremental achievements in reducing packaging just because you've put me on your mailing list. Engaging with social media this is not.

I get people ringing asking me if I want to "outsource my thought leadership." Uh? How is that even possible?

And occasionally I get offered cash to mention a product in my blogs. The last one even asked me how much I would charge to include a reference to an unspecified product. Reader, I'm sorry to say I sold out. I asked for a gazillion pounds. I'm still waiting for a reply.

Integrity. Doing what you say you will do. Putting your cards on the table. Being trustworthy. It's not really that difficult. If you are forced to compromise on a promise, 'fess up and explain why. Don't try to brave it out - because integrity's easily lost. And how can you claim environmental and/or social responsibility if you don't have integrity?

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13 June 2011

The Rules of Green Business Start-ups

On Friday I was interviewed for a PhD project as an 'ecopreneur' and it got me mulling and chin scratching. If you are thinking of starting a green business, here's some key principles you should never forget:

1. Don't forget you are running a business: It is so easy some times to get evangelical about green business, but the underlying business model must be robust, or you will sink like a stone. No-one owes you a living just because you are green.

2. Hire good business people: It is much easier to teach sustainability principles to a good engineer, designer, salesperson or marketeer than it is to teach engineering, design, sales or marketing to a keen environmentalist.

3. Don't greenwash: As John Grant, author of the Green Marketing Manifesto, said "Green Marketing is about making green look normal, not about making normal look green."

4. Understand your market: many consumers still equate 'green' with poor performance and high price. You have to sell the 'sizzle' of green products eg the big benefit to consumers of water-based wall paint is not the fact it isn't as polluting as solvent-based paints, but that it is quick drying and doesn't stink your house out for weeks. You've got to compete on price, performance and planet.

5. Don't give up easily: it's a tough business to be in and resilience is the key to success. On the other hand, if you realise your great idea really is a turkey, you may have to 'pivot' the business around to another exploit a more profitable opportunity.

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10 June 2011

Working from home for dummies

Undoubtedly one of the easiest and effective opportunities to green a business is to encourage telecommuting - or working from home as real people call it. You only have to look at the daily queues of cars shuffling forwards towards city centres and out of town business parks to see the massive reduction in emissions that telecommuting can deliver - and that's before you start shrinking your office space. Added to this are better quality of life, more time with the family (hopefully those two are connected) and the strengthening of local communities.

Yet so many people make a big fuss over the whole idea of working where they live and you hear all these bizarre stories about people dressing in a suit and walking around the block before sitting at their desk to recreate their commute to work - or even keeping timesheets of what they do all day. That's the kind of nonsense you should be leaving behind with the office coffee rota.

So here's my simple guide to working from home:

1. Find a good space to work

I have a room which, unless we have guests, is my office and my office only. I can close the door on the rest of the house and get on with it. It is also worth having a couple of bolt holes like cafes with free wifi access. I also like working in the garden when weather permits (see above - oh for a glare-proof laptop screen!). Make sure you have good ICT connections - reliable broadband, mobile and/or dedicated fixed phone line. Buy a decent seat and desk.

2. Relish the flexibility

Here's my morning so far - I got dressed in my running gear, breakfast with the family, walked the boys off to nursery, ran about 5 miles through the beautiful Jesmond Dene, got back, put the kettle on and started working on this blog. If I didn't have a meeting I wouldn't shower until lunchtime, but today I'm being interviewed for a PhD project so I'll have to freshen up. It's a hard old life...

3. Abolish the presenteeism habit

Presenteeism is an awful habit. But to truly enjoy working from home, you need to become very task-oriented, rather than a slave to the clock. A good to do list first thing in the morning can make the difference - and remember to stick a couple of personal tasks on it too (see point 2). If you get everything done, then don't sit at your desk surfing the web and pretending you are busy - go and have a beer/coffee/snooze to celebrate.

4. Build a social network

It can get a bit more lonely as a home worker - although the upside is you don't need to put up with the office idiot either. Facebook and Twitter (@GarethKane) are my main connections with the outside world while I'm at my desk, but also, as I've got to know the neighbours well since my home office days started, I quite often have chats to, from and in the corner shop and the local cafe (see point 1). My partner and boys are in the house two days a week, so those days I tend to have lunch with them. Beats any canteen, hands down. Failing that, get a pet.

5. Live life properly

Make it easy for yourself. Listen to the radio (6Music is the soundtrack to my life), stock the fridge with great food for lunch, use the ex-commuting time for exercise, and celebrate successes and achievements. I tend to allow myself a lot of latitude on a Friday, so I'm probably have a pub lunch after the interview this morning, then a mixture of shopping and working in cafes or the library this afternoon.

Trust me, it's the future!

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8 June 2011

My Lo-tech Approach to Staff Engagement

I am increasingly trying to eradicate Powerpoint from my stakeholder engagement sessions whether for employees or external people. Tomorrow I'm jetting off to deliver the first of many energy awareness sessions for a major manufacturer armed only with a flip chart, pens, Post-its and some A0 prints of the Terra Infirma Brainstorming Tool (above).

Why? Well my favoured approach to engaging employees is to get them involved in developing new solutions. The benefits of this approach are:

  • People feel they are being taken seriously;
  • Individuals find it hard to switch off in exercises - so you get more attention;
  • You get automatic buy-in as people get excited about their ideas;
  • You usually get some cracking new suggestions;
  • If those suggestions are implemented then they're more likely to be accepted by employees.

The problem with Powerpoint (or any other presentational form) is that people reflexively sit back in their chair and go into passive listening mode. It is very hard to get their brains warmed up again to start generating ideas - much better to challenge them from the start.

The A0 sheets are highly effective too. They are fresh and novel for most participants, a big group can crowd around them, they encourage a more kinaesthetic approach to the problem, and the big sheet takes a lot of filling with Post-its, encouraging more ideas. The brainstorming tool itself is a simple fishbone diagram designed to ensure that all four main bases are covered. The top of the diagram is about doing the right thing, the bottom about doing it right. The left of the diagram is about people, the right about kit. This gives us four bases: formal procedures, actual behaviour, choice of technology and the application/maintenance of that technology.

Paper - it's the future!

BTW: Check out our new white paper on Fostering Green Behaviour At Work.

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Posted by Gareth Kane 3 responses

7 June 2011

Green Academy July Sessions

From July, Green Academy splits into two streams so there will be two sessions on 6 July:

11:00 BST An Introduction to Green Business - a free taster session covering the business case for sustainability, business and sustainability, a selection of inspiring case studies and some information on The Green Academy. E-mail us to register for the session.

14:00 BST Advanced: Green Products and Services - the sixth in the series covers the power of redesign of products and services. Contents include:

  • Benign by design - the case for changing products and services;
  • Understanding the market.
  • Practical techniques to green your product or service;
  • Advanced innovations (product service systems, virtual products etc);
  • Finding green market niches for your business in the emerging low carbon economy.
  • Inspirational case studies.

The advanced session costs just £45.00 + VAT per person to participate - use the button below to pay by card or Paypal. Contact us to make a BACS payment.

This is just one in our series of 10 advanced stream webinars - you can see the full list and terms and conditions here. All ten cost £330 + VAT - reserve your seat using the button below:

Here's what participants say:

"Gareth's webinars are smart, punchy and thought provoking. His approach shows how sustainability is about achieving commercial advantage and not simply an altruistic gesture. Highly recommended." Graeme Mills, GPM Network Ltd.

"[The webinars] are great value and I would recommend them to both CSR professionals and SME owners." Louise Bateman, GreenWise

"I consider this a must for organisations looking for practical help in improving their sustainability performance." Ted Shann, Wipro

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6 June 2011

Do we need the Carbon & Energy Saving Trusts?

Compared to the furore over other UK Government cuts, the announcement that two key environmental quangos, the Carbon Trust and the Energy Saving Trust, are losing their core funding has been met with a rather muted response. For those who don't know the CT focussed on cutting emissions in industry and the EST domestic emissions. Except for industrial transport emissions which the EST covered. (Why? Answers on the back of a postcard...)

I used to have a contract with Envirowise - the waste/everything-except-energy equivalent of the CT/EST. All of these UK environmental quangos have a similar structure - a core service augmented by huge numbers of consultants who have to go through a rigourous selection procedure and then get called upon to deliver services - usually at no cost to the 'client'. For what it's worth here are my views on the limitations of this approach:

  • If you offer a service for free, human nature means it will not be valued by the beneficiaries. I suspect that the vast majority of the recommendations I gave business were not acted upon - not because they weren't great ideas, but because the 'client' had no stake in the process;
  • If the business case for energy efficiency/waste minimisation and water conservation is as strong as we all say it is, why should private industry get the services at the taxpayers' expense? And it reinforces the idea that 'the environment' is something society has to take responsibility for, rather than individual companies;
  • The quangos recruit a huge number of talented people, beat them down on price and then tell them exactly how to deliver the services. This delivery is so oriented towards delivering the targets that Government have set the quango, that any creativity or blurring boundaries is frowned upon;
  • The offer of 'free' services means that practitioners often have little choice to take part. So rather than having a competitive market in environmental/sustainability services you end up with a narrowly focussed nationalised service, undermining innovation and excellence.

You've probably guessed that I won't miss these quangos if they fail to survive without huge Government grants. That's not to say that the services were delivered badly - all these quangos produced some great literature and guides - it's the overall concept I'm believe is fatally flawed. And I guess that many in the industry will agree with me.





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3 June 2011

Great TED talk on sustainability

Regular readers will know I'm a big, big fan of TED talks - I thrive on the optimism, insight and eloquence of the speakers. This one, by Johan Rockstrom, is another gem. I spend so much time reading, writing and discussing sustainability, it really takes something to grab my attention, but Rockstrom manages it. He quantifies all the major environmental pressures, shows how they almost all accelerated in the mid-50s, and demonstrates how many can simply be solved. I love his pronouncement that we are living in the most exciting decade in human existence as we try and 'bend the curve' back towards sustainability. Highly recommended.

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2 June 2011

From niche to normal

One of the main trends I identified in my new book The Green Executive is the shift from 'green' being the exception to it becoming the rule. Examples include:

  • Redesigning mainstream products to be green as opposed to launching a green range (which is so 1990s);
  • The killing off of products incompatible with sustainability objectives;
  • Environmental objectives put into all managers' job descriptions rather than being the sole responsibility of the environmental manager;
  • A shift in emphasis of the role of green teams from delivering sustainability to facilitating sustainable behaviour in others;
  • The integration of sustainability strategies into business strategies (and vice versa);
  • Rebuilding supply chains to deliver sustainable goods and services, de-listing suppliers who don't make the grade;
  • Showing leadership amongst peers, disassociating themselves from organisations with a regressive attitude to the environment and even calling for stricter environmental legislation.

The implication of this shift is that directors and senior managers must have a good grasp of sustainability issues, how they impact on the core business and the range of solutions available. Which is why I wrote the book!

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