Long before the phrase was demeaned by cheap TV talent shows, 'X Factor' referred to that difficult to ascertain quality that set the best ahead of the rest. For most entertainers the X Factor is the ability to project charisma to the audience. Everyone can learn to do this better, but obviously not everybody makes it to the top.
So what's the X Factor in sustainability? What single factor distinguishes those who are forging ahead from those stumbling in roughly the right direction? What would I bottle and sell if I could?
The answer is undoubtedly 'Leadership'.
It takes leadership to set ambitious targets.
It takes leadership to hold the organisation to those targets.
It takes leadership to identify and exploit new opportunities in the low carbon agenda.
It takes leadership to inspire employees to rise to the challenge.
It takes leadership to challenge those holding the organisation back.
It takes leadership to put a stop to unsustainable activities.
It takes leadership to redesign products and services from scratch for sustainability.
It takes leadership to kill off unsustainable product lines.
It takes leadership to remove people who are never going to get on board.
It takes leadership to build the supply chain you need.
It takes leadership to drag your peers and competitors along with you.
This is another reason why I can't stand the touchy-feely image of much of the corporate sustainability debate. Taking sustainability seriously is not about hugging trees, but facing up to a really tough corporate transformation mission. That's why I wrote a book, The Green Executive, about it.
I'm taking a day off today as it's my middle son Jimmy's third birthday, so I won't be pontificating at length as usual. Instead, here's a (slightly noisy) YouTube recording of my webinar on Green Jujitsu as a way of rethinking how we go about approaching culture change for sustainability programmes. Enjoy!
I've pretty much given up paying attention to "contrarian" anti-environmental bloggers - the purveyors of zombie myths that just won't die - but it came to my attention that James Delingpole of the Telegraph has recently labelled my profession "leeches on the productive sector." Given that Mr Delingpole earns a living from winding people like me up, I really shouldn't rise to the bait. But, hey, it's a Friday...
Let's have a look at the sustainability consultancy profession. Like all business consultants, we operate in the marketplace. We have to offer something to our clients which is of value to them above and beyond the price we charge for it. If we fail to do that we go bust - simple free market economics of the kind that Mr Delingpole claims to be a fan. And to insult our profession is to insult our clientele - Delingpole's "productive sector" - as that's where the demand comes from.
Mr Delingpole would presumably disagree with the pressing business case for sustainability - that by going green you can win more business, protect your brand, attract and retain staff more easily, cut costs and avoid current and future risks. But, as with his views on climate change and renewable energy, he is proved wrong by any objective look at the facts - to take one recent example, this 2012 Harvard Business School study which concludes "sustainability-focused companies outperform their peers."
Sustainability consultants help their clients unlock this competitive advantage and charge commensurate fees in return. But, hey, let's not let evidence, scholarship and market forces get in the way of histrionic polemics.
Far be it for me to cast aspersions back, but which profession delivers more for the economy and society? One that helps businesses thrive within the limits of the natural environment, or a job which appears to consist of copying and pasting unscientific nonsense off the web, adding some snark at the top and bottom, and presenting yourself as some kind of expert? Over to you, Mr Delingpole...
It's a real pity that last week's Green Is Working in London demonstration didn't get the attention it deserved. The pro-growth message, the presence of telly capitalist and 'dragon' Deborah Meaden and the neat highjacking of a certain Conservative party slogan certainly should have resonated much more in the corridors of power than the usual dread-locked hoards wanting to smash the system.
The economic case is compelling. The rising oil price in 2007 almost certainly precipitated the implosion of the debt bubble, the continuing high oil price is keeping the global economy under the cosh, and a third of what growth there is in the UK economy has been attributed to the green economy (according to the CBI). As I have said before the question is no longer "green or growth?" but "green growth or stagnation?"
The struggle for the green agenda in the Coalition Government is well understood. The Liberal Democrats and a cadre of progressive Conservatives are pushing forward hard while the Chancellor and a rump of old school Tories, perhaps with fond memories of the North Sea Oil boom years under Margaret Thatcher, are resisting and trying to prioritise gas instead. The Prime Minister appears to be trying to offend neither side by saying very little - and the one time he did open his mouth on energy recently it turned out to be another 'misspeak'.
Unfortunately little pressure is coming from the Opposition. Labour leader Ed Miliband apparently 'forgot' the green economy section of his look-no-notes conference speech, which even if we take his word for it, suggests it is far from a priority.
In the absence of a clear political direction the green economy muddles on. We have good news such as 10% of electricity being produced by onshore wind alone for a whole day in September, then bad news such as the glacial slow uptake of electric vehicles.
My recommendations would be:
A clear commitment from the Government (and indeed Opposition). A strong clear statement from the top would boost confidence and an end to wobbling in the face of media scare stories would steady nerves too.
Rapid investment in enabling technologies such as smart grids and electrical storage technologies (instead of the usual economic stimulus high carbon formula of roads and buildings).
Strengthening of green procurement requirements in the public sector.
Memoranda of Understanding between potential large scale users and suppliers of low carbon technologies to generate economies of scale in emerging supply chains.
Completion of the shift to intelligent subsidies which vary with capital costs to avoid the gold rush firefighting we have seen over the Feed In Tariffs.
One of the benefits of having one of our household on maternity leave is that we have a steady stream of tradesmen turning up to fix all the things that have broken over the last couple of years. One of these was the security light at the back of our house. When the chap came to give us a quote, it was clear that his default position was to install a bog standard 150W light. I asked him to install the most energy efficient one he could and he did, selling us this dinky little 10W LED light - a whopping factor 15 energy efficiency improvement over the other one - giving the same brightness at a tiny extra cost.
What hit me though, was his instinctive default position which I had to challenge. Many people would simply assume that they were getting the best option and go with the flow and the electrician was assuming we'd be happy with that. Everyone stays in their comfort zone and (high carbon) life continues as usual.
This sums up the challenge for those trying to effect change at both the organisational level and at the macro-economic level. Too many people on both supply and demand sides of transactions assume that the same old same old is perfectly acceptable, even if there is a much better and greener option available.
One tactic is to pick a clear winner - such as LED lighting - and use that to demonstrate the benefits of new thinking. LED technology gives a swift return on financial investment and LED lamps are now coming in all shapes and sizes from oven hood lights to huge industrial factory lamps. Once you've driven through one winner, people will tend to be more receptive to other changes in the status quo.
As for my electrician, I hope that my decision has gone some way to nudge him out of his comfort zone and make him more likely to at least proffer up the efficient option. One day, LEDs will almost certainly become his instinctive default and the more nudges he gets, the quicker that day will come.
Here's the latest in my Green Business Confidential podcast series. It's called "Your employees are not stupid, just busy" and it's about my green jujitsu approach to culture change for sustainability.
On Monday I ran a waste awareness session with one of my large clients' employees. I used a range of green jujitsu techniques to properly engage with the participants: the session was designed to appeal to the attendees (engineering/manufacturing), getting them involved in generating solutions, and using questions rather than statements.
And no Powerpoint, just flip charts and the template you can see above. The main exercise was to join the dots between Goods In and Goods Out, plot waste streams from the manufacturing process to the three main disposal routes, and then think of ways to move these streams up the waste hierarchy.
It all went jolly well and the feedback was 100% positive.
At the end of the session, as I do, I asked participants what they had learnt and thought I would share the results in generic terms as they nailed the key issues:
1. An appreciation of the true cost of waste - including costs other than disposal, such as processing of materials up to the point they became waste, energy, labour, storage, documentation and raw materials. (It was the last one which took the longest to drag out of them.)
2. To challenge implicit assumptions - waste isn't inevitable but is within the control of the company. The problem isn't in the skips round the back of the factory, but in the design process, procurement decisions and production management.
3. The need to communicate this awareness to everyone.
The important meme to communicate here is "waste is a verb not a noun" - resources are wasted, rather than being waste in themselves.
We had a fantastic webinar on my Green Jujitsu webinar on Friday afternoon, featuring at least three FTSE100 or equivalent company attendees. If you want to catch the webinar then click on this link. You will have to download a Webex player to do so - I will endeavour to get a YouTube version up later this week.
The eBook itself, Green Jujitsu, is available from Dõ Sustainability.
If you want to get the feel for a manufacturing, logistics or packaging company's sustainability performance, take a wander along to Goods Out and watch for a while. You may not realise it, but in terms of cradle-to-gate environmental impact, this is a critical point.
Think about it, if you damage product here, you are not just creating some physical waste, but also wasting all the embedded resources for those goods: the raw materials, the processing of those materials through the supply chain, auxiliary materials, the energy involved in all the processes up to that point etc, etc. In financial terms you also have to factor in the opportunity cost of not being able to sell the product and make a profit. For many products, the rework also disrupts the rest of the production system, adding further costs and the risk of upsetting even more customers.
This means that the humble forklift driver has a disproportionate influence on the environmental and economic performance of your business. In far too many businesses I see a stack of damaged goods at the side of the loading bay, often with a forklift sized dint in the side. In some Goods Out sections, the forklifts are driven like a dodgem ride at the fairground.
Clearly the employee engagement process you use for frontline staff like these needs to be quite different from that you use to engage the board of directors. My Green Jujitsu approach says that, as far as practical, you need to tailor the message for each audience, but you must also make sure no-one is left out. The critical people may not be who you think they may be.
My new eBook,Green Jujitsu, is now available from Dõ Sustainability. Register for our free Green Jujitsu webinar on Friday 12 October at 3:30pm byclicking here.
"Why do people not care?" is a plea I often hear from sustainability practitioners and the wider green movement, usually followed by something like "The ice is melting, the polar bears are at risk! The science is clear, but nobody wants to make the sacrifice! They just want to watch X-Factor."
This sums up the limited thinking of much of the green movement and indeed too many sustainability practitioners. First we have the "we're better than them" holier than thou platform, then there's the distant cause - most people have never seen a wild polar bear - and lastly there's the sacrifice bit - "feel guilty about this and put on your hair shirt."
The answer is that the question is wrong. The right question is "How do we make sustainability relevant to people's lives?"
People are busy - families, work and home all have to be satisfied before anyone can start thinking about other things. But those day to day things - commuting, school run, food, heating, lighting - have a big impact on the planet. So you have to ensure you are engaging with those issues, not evoking guilt over a far-off carnivore.
My Green Jujitsu approach to sustainability at work embraces the fact that people are busy with other things. Instead of trying to interrupt them to talk about what is to many an esoteric issue, it taps right into the immediate concerns, interests and psychology of the workforce. If someone is an engineer, then frame sustainability as an engineering problem. If they are target-oriented, then give them formal sustainability targets. If they are used to following set instructions, then make sure sustainability is reflected in those instructions.
So, why not ditch the trappings of the green movement and think about sustainability from the perspective of your colleagues? The polar bears may be best served by not mentioning the polar bears.
My new eBook,Green Jujitsu, is now available from Dõ Sustainability. Register for our free Green Jujitsu webinar on Friday 12 October at 3:30pm byclicking here.
We had a lovely family day out at Alnwick Gardens yesterday. Part of the kids' (and certain adults'...) entertainment was an animal show featuring scorpions, an evil looking black blood python and cute meerkats. But the highlight for me was a demonstration of one of the marvels of nature. The animal guys took a bird eating spider and let it crawl over his hand. These spiders, he explained, don't like walking on anything other than their own silk and had immediately started spinning. He pinched the end of the thread from the spider's silk gland, gave it to a father in the audience and walked across the room - getting at least 4 metres of silk straight out of the spider before he deliberately broke it.
Now spider's silk is, pound for pound, stronger than steel or kevlar, yet spiders make it a room temperature, atmospheric pressure, without aggressive chemicals and using a supply chain of dead flies (or birds and mice in this case). A huge amount of effort has gone into trying to develop an artificial equivalent of this manufacturing marvel in that amazing branch of science and engineering known as biomimicry. Such manufacturing systems would have a much smaller environmental impact than our high temperature, high pressure, hazardous approach to producing materials. Biomimicry is also giving us breakthroughs in solar cell production - mimicking the dyes plants use to convert solar energy rather than out crude and energy intensive silicon equivalents.
But the highest level of biomimicry is to try to model the whole economy on natural principles. In such an economy, all materials would move in continuous cycles with the 'waste' from one element forming the raw materials for another. We would be dependent solely on renewable energy and the system would never poison itself. Life on earth has spent a 2 billion or so years creating this model and more than a billion demonstrating it is sustainable. You can't argue with that.
I saw a car the other day which had been customised to promote its owners business. It had the company logo (a three letter acronym), its web address, e-mail and phone number - everything you needed to contact the company, if you only knew what the company actually did. Why on earth would I randomly phone a company if I don't know what they might do for me? A complete waste of time, money, effort and paint.
This kind of thinking - seeing the world from our own perspective, rather than that of those we wish to communicate with - is all too common. It certainly pervades culture change for sustainability - the vast majority of practitioners simply do what everybody else does, rather than working it out for themselves.
A couple of years ago, I got a call from a potential client. "We'd like you to talk to our employees about what they can for the environment at home." Why?, I asked. "Oh, hopefully they'll change their behaviour at work too. I heard about another company doing this and I liked the idea." As an engineering company, I recommended we focussed on challenging the employees to generate engineering solutions to sustainability problems, rather than doing something less relevant to the individuals and their work and hoping the behaviour crossed into that work by osmosis.
Putting yourself in your colleagues' shoes is the fundamental principle that underpins the Green Jujitsu approach to culture change. Forget the trappings of the green movement and think about what would appeal to your audience. If they are engineers, as above, cast sustainability as an engineering issue. If they are people who would be likely to read true-life-story magazines, then present sustainability in the form of personal stories. If they are hardcore financial nuts, then focus initially on the business case for sustainability. (In practice you should mix all these ideas up, but with one element to the fore.)
This takes some thought, guile and a spoonful of humility - forgetting what appeals to you and think about what appeals to them.
All of my books have emerged from my own practical experiences helping companies go green and Green Jujitsu had an interesting evolution as the techniques developed out of my need to develop effective consultancy techniques.
When I first set up Terra Infirma, I had a contract with Envirowise, a Government funded scheme to provide waste minimisation visits to businesses. Each time I was assigned to a company the encounter would unfold as follows. I would turn up, ask for a description of the business process, and do a walkover audit of that process, tracking waste arisings back to source, asking awkward questions and making notes on my clipboard. At some point the environmental manager who had called me in would say "I can't answer that - we'll have to go and ask the operations manager." The subsequent meeting would be painfully frosty with the operations manager on the defensive and I would be quickly shuffled along my way. After the visit I would write them a short report with some quick-win style recommendations. From the response and informal feedback from bumping into people later, the vast majority of these were glanced over and filed in the "someday" file.
Now while I was being paid to do this, I hate wasting my time on pointless tasks. I realised that my problem was that I was effectively telling people that they were running their businesses or operations badly and that criticism made them very uncomfortable. And no matter how much I developed my diplomacy, that fundamental fact was undermining my effectiveness as a consultant - which is to help the client.
The Envirowise scheme allowed no flexibility in how support was delivered (one of my gripes against such schemes) so in other contracts I started introducing more participation into my approach - encouraging the client to collaborate in the solution generation process. This had all sorts of benefits, most notably the solutions were better as they used the latent intellectual capital of the company and they got automatic buy-in from those involved as they already owned the solution. But as a side effect, the people I was working with got really into sustainability - they found it a challenge, interesting and fun.
So when I started getting asked to help engage employees in sustainability, I developed the collaboration technique and saw it become more and more effective. Simultaneously I developed an irrational hatred for eco-clichés such as hands cradling a sapling and it dawned on me that most engagement techniques were formulated from that pious tree-hugging point of view. And they didn't work - or I wouldn't be getting so many clients! A third big influence was the generalist culture change book 'Switch' whose three part elephant model I adopted as a framework as it dovetailed neatly with the jujitsu thinking.
So, the Green Jujitsu techniques were forged in the heat of battle, first gaining the buy-in of clients and then the buy-in of clients' employees. I know I say this about all my books, but I know these techniques work because I've used them in practice - and my clients keep asking me back for more.
By the way - I'm holding a free webinar to share the fundamentals of the book on 12 October 2012 at 3:30pm BST - sign up here.
Why? Because the natural tendency is to embrace boring 'green' imagery, copy what everyone else does (environmental champions, switch it off stickers etc) and focuses on trying to correct perceived "bad" behaviour. Green Jujitsu takes its approach from the eponymous martial art and works on people's strengths instead. It is about tapping into existing company culture, utilising existing management structures and subtly tweaking company policy to make good behaviour easier than bad behaviour.
You can buy Green Jujitsu here, but if you subscribe to The Low Carbon Agenda using the box to the right, you'll get a discount, details of a free webinar and a very special offer when the October edition comes out on Thursday (4 Oct 2012).