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November 2012 - Terra Infirma


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30 November 2012

Getting the board on board for sustainability

Here's the latest in my Green Business Confidential podcast series. It's called "Getting the Board on Board for Sustainability" and it's about how to use my green jujitsu approach to culture change to engage at the boardroom level.

Audio MP3

Or, you can download it here and listen on your MP3 player:

GBC18 Getting the Board on Board for Sustainability.

You can get the whole podcast series here or subscribe on iTunes.

 

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28 November 2012

Culture Change Tips from the Sustainability Masterminds

Last Thursday I hosted a meeting of my Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group. This is a small group of sustainability practitioners from leading organisations who get together in exclusive locations (this time the wonderful Lumley Castle - see pic) to bounce ideas off each other in a semi-structured way (I provide an outline structure and templates to stimulate debate, but ultimately I let the discussion go where it wants.) This time the broad theme was stakeholders and culture change and we ended up with just shy of 50 key learning points from the session.

The meetings are run under Chatham House rules, so generic learning points can be shared, but contributions are anonymous. Here is a selection:

  • Culture change takes time and requires high levels of energy and perseverance;
  • Reward effort as well as outcome to encourage innovation;
  • Take care not to penalise those who move first;
  • Awards are powerful stimulators, but should be aimed at pride rather than personal gain (eg the prize is a donation to charity);
  • Need to accept ambiguities of sustainability and leap into the dark – otherwise you’ll achieve nothing;
  • Target and eliminate perverse incentives eg one participant has restructured their company, fleet and hire car policies to incentivise efficient vehicles and minimise mileage;
  • Some NGOs are easier to work with than others – but those open to conversation can add significant value and avoid later misunderstandings/conflicts;
  • Over last 12-18 months, stakeholder interest has shifted from internal operations to the supply chain;
  • Procurement teams have huge influence over the organisations’ environmental footprint – small changes here can make massive differences;
  • Suppliers must be made to understand they will be de-listed if they don’t change, or they won't change;
  • Need to translate sustainability language into language relevant to the audience (often said, rarely done well);
  • Use communications professionals to produce communications, don’t rely on amateur DIY;
  • Case studies, testimonies and stories are powerful tools – people like hearing about ‘people like them’;
  • Emotion then facts – start off by grabbing attention, then back up with data (on demand if appropriate);
  • The ideal message is “sustainability for pensioners” the kind of communications that would interest people who know quite a bit, but can be selective about what they read - spice up messages with QI-style quirky facts “Did you know…”, “Carbon myths” etc.

One delegate said that they have been to many different sustainability events in many different formats, but the Mastermind Group is the one they get most value from by a long, long way. Oh, and that the lunch was fantastic, too!

 

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26 November 2012

If it keeps on rainin'...

If it keeps on rainin', levee's gonna break...

So sang Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy back in 1929 about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, but you may be more familiar with Led Zeppelin's epic 1971 interpretation with its grinding apocalyptic groove. The words and the nagging sense of impending disaster strike a chord as I write this while trundling across England  by train - almost every low lying field is a lake and rivers have burst their banks. I'm on my way to Taunton for a client meeting, but I fear that Somerset may be completely submerged - the train is stopping at Bristol.

Mark my words, the ducks will inherit the earth.

The floods will inevitably, and rightly, lead to calls for more flood defences, compensation and for them to "do something". And it is clear that, if this is the climatic path we are now locked into, we have got to act. How vulnerable are our homes, offices, warehouses, factories and farms? What damage can unpredictable weather cause to our operations, logistics and communications? What will it cost individuals, organisations and the economy?

Sustainability is not just about trying to do less damage, but about adapting to the new realities - whether it's resilience to extreme weather or the erosion of the resource base we depend upon. Those are big threats, but of course they are business opportunities too. That might sound cynical, but if enough entrepreneurial business identify and exploit these openings, it will help us all in the long term.

Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,

When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

 

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23 November 2012

Death by Poster

 

How many posters have you walked past in the last week?

When did you last see a poster that made you stop and think about an issue that had never crossed your mind before - and go on to change your habits?

So why do so many put so much faith in the power of posters to deliver behavioural change for sustainability?

 

Photo Copyright © 2005 mailer_diablo

 

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21 November 2012

Wipro tops Greenpeace's Electronics League

Greenpeace has released its 18th annual ranking of major electronics firms' environmental performance. Indian conglomerate Wipro has gone straight in at number one, beating the other big names hands down, largely, according to Greenpeace, down to their leadership in climate change and investment in renewable energy. Wipro had previously headed the 'Indian league' but had not been included in the international brands until this year.

I love this competitive approach to chivvying industries forwards. Certainly when Apple came bottom five years ago, it prodded Steve Jobs - not a man normally influenced by outside pressures - into pulling its green socks up, and you can see that it has moved up through the pack.


However when you look at the 2011 results, there hasn't been a huge amount of movement in those big brands in the last 12 months. I suspect that Greenpeace has deliberately introduced Wipro into the league to raise the bar, show the rest what is possible and shake things up a bit.

This is a crafty tactic and there are some lessons here for all sustainability change agents:

  • Competition works and is a powerful motivator - look what they're doing! why aren't we doing that? etc;
  • However, the fizz can go out of any programme if everyone decides they have 'done enough' and sits back;
  • You need to keep raising the bar to keep your programmes fizzing;
  • Injecting fresh elements into programmes can stop them stagnating.

Images © Greenpeace 2011, 2012

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19 November 2012

Sustainability in a globalised world


I got home from a business trip last week to find a mystery parcel waiting for it. I ripped it open and six copies of my first book The Three Secrets of Green Business fell out - in Japanese! I was delighted in that strange bemused sort of way as I have no idea how good the translation is - or what to do with the copies. There has been talk of simple Chinese and Russian translations, but this is the first that has come to fruition.

And it got me thinking about sustainability in a globalised world. Here are a few environmental and ethical issues that cross national boundaries:

Environmental standards: if different nations have different environmental standards, it inevitably creates a 'race to the bottom' - the country with the lowest standards get the business. Over a decade ago Pakistan lost its ship breaking business after insisting on higher safety standards after a lethal explosion on a gas tanker. As sustainability is about going beyond compliance, there is a need for the responsible globalised business to set its own minimum standards to ensure that it is not contributing to the drive towards the lowest common denominator.

Transparency and Traceability: As commodities move around the world, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine their providence. APP's paper may have been blacklisted by almost every major brand, but it still manages to sell into the market place, so someone is buying (a lot of) it. On the other hand, I have seen responsible UK manufacturer demonstrate how they can trace any tissue paper pack to the acre of forest it came from (the portion that isn't from recycled sources).

Pay & Working Conditions: These are also subject to the 'race to the bottom' as the cheaper labour force tends to attract manufacturers. While there are some simple red line issues like child labour and slave labour, it becomes more difficult when different cultures have different approaches to pay and working conditions and the 'going rate' varies.

Tax: We have seen recently how some big businesses exploit the ease of moving money around the world to minimise their tax bill. Different tax regimes can lead to operations moving swiftly from one place to another at the sniff of a tax break, disrupting local communities and economies with short terms booms and busts.

As always a globalised supply chain can be seen as not a so much a problem but as an opportunity to do some work for good. Insisting on first world standards in third world countries is a sure fire way of raising the bar rather than lowering it. But companies can be more pro-active than that, actively investing in those countries to drive standards up. A great example is the low carbon lingerie factory Marks & Spencer developed with a supplier in Sri Lanka.

But the most important thing is to avoid getting into the kind of contorted mental mindset of those big tax dodgers where you end up defending the indefensible to justify the status quo. Being honest with yourself is the vital first step.

In the meantime, I'm just happy to be Big in Japan...

 

 

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16 November 2012

Sustainability as a team sport

One of the things I notice about my client employee engagement workshops is how teams stick together - typically any one table will be dominated by a team of colleagues, either completely, or with a couple of lone rangers hanging on. The conventional wisdom is that a facilitator or trainer should break up these cosy cabals to "get people out of their comfort zone."

I disagree. Uncomfortable people often shrink back into their shells and the new, artificial teams you create will take far too long to bond and become effective.

The basic principle of my Green Jujitsu approach to culture change is to play to strengths rather than trying to correct weaknesses. So, if you have strong teams, then use them, don't try to disrupt them for the sake of it.

There are a number of clear advantages to engaging at the team level:

  • The team can apply the principles you give them to their actual job role which makes the exercise relevant and immediate;
  • The debate between team members is much richer if they all understand the problem at hand;
  • The proposed solutions are much more likely to be practical and effective as a result;
  • The momentum of a team moving forward on a task can sweep any awkward b*****ds along with them, minimising the chance of disruptive grandstanding;
  • Behavioural change at a team level can lead to much more significant results than a sprinkling of behaviour change;
  • As a bonus, team building by a relevant task has been shown to be much more effective than any amount of trite "crossing crocodile-infested custard" style tasks.

So if your employees (or your clients') want to stick together in teams, welcome it, don't knock it.

My new eBook, Green Jujitsu, is now available from Dõ Sustainability.

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14 November 2012

Your Waste Problem is NOT In Your Skips

I spent another thoroughly enjoyable day yesterday delivering waste awareness sessions for the employees of one of our clients. We used my waste template to develop a simple model of the production process, identify waste streams and then apply ‘The Toddler Test’ - keep asking ‘Why?’ until you can't answer – to trace those waste streams back to source.

Here are some of the results (translated into generic terms and which you will hear in any manufacturer):

  • The quality of suppliers' components is impacting on our production process and leads to waste.
  • Our procurement people are making false economies – bulk buying supplies with short shelf lives which end up getting binned before they are used.
  • If we purchased components in the dimensions we need, it would save us money on purchasing, the cutting process and waste disposal.
  • Our process needs a redesign to take waste into consideration.
  • Our product designs need to take waste into consideration.

You will notice that all of these root causes are some distance (in organisational and, often, geographical terms) from those responsible for filling and emptying skips. We need to see the material in those skips as a symptom of a deeper problem, and not as the problem itself.

Which takes us back to the basic principle that everybody in an organisation - designers, production engineers, buyers etc - needs to understand the impact their job role has on sustainability.

 

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12 November 2012

C.S.R? How about T.A.X?

Today some top honchos from Starbucks are up in front of MPs to explain how they organise their tax affairs. The papers have been full of articles recently about the minuscule amounts of tax some of these big companies pay - some of them pay no corporation tax whatsoever. Everybody from Vodafone and Amazon to U2 and Jimmy Carr have been accused of going way beyond what the man or woman in the street would think was fair.

I'm a businessman. I love business and I'm not averse to earning a profit, far from it. And I employ an accountant to make sure that I pay all the tax I should and not a penny more. So what's the difference between me and, say, Starbucks?

Well, I'm playing by the rules and the spirit of the rules - my accountant takes my income, deducts legitimate/bog standard allowances and I pay tax on the rest. These corporations have made an art-form of shifting cash between parts of their businesses around the world simply to minimise that bill.

Of course Governments should legislate - by insisting on a minimum tax on turnover, banning corporate entities which have no trade other than tax 'efficiency' and/or placing punitive taxes on those that do. There's an element of tragedy of the commons here - any one country that 'gets tough' on tax avoidance may lose out if others stand back - so an international agreement may be required, which in turn would take years of negotiation on past performance.

But what about the businesses themselves? Many of these companies claim to take Corporate Social Responsibility seriously. Well, paying tax is a moral and social issue - think of all those countries around the world which are struggling with huge deficits and who could ease their painful austerity programmes if companies operating on their turf paid fair taxes?

Is any captain of industry going to show moral leadership here? Maybe propose a code of conduct for others to sign up to? Anyone?

 

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9 November 2012

Don't Knock Green Technology - It Might Just Save Us Yet

If there's one thing the anti-green lobby and the deep greens agree on, it's that green technology will not make a significant difference to carbon emissions. They both add together performance of current technology and project it into the future to show it will never meet carbon reduction targets.

Of course what they're both forgetting - conveniently - is that immature technology progresses in leaps and bounds as rising demand drives further innovation (the famous s-curves). Here's just a selection of articles from the latest edition of Green Futures:

  • Passive tracking system for solar panels increases efficiency by 10%;
  • Artificial photosynthesis technology improves solar panel efficiency by a factor of 5 (that's five times more electricity out for the same amount of sunlight);
  • Robot PV panel fitters slashes cost of installation;
  • Stirling engine development opens way to extract electricity from power station chimneys;
  • New bladeless wind turbine is more than twice as efficient as a bladed turbine at about two thirds the price.

These announcements alone, if they come to the market at scale, could revolutionise the way we generate energy. Given the way renewables are taking chunks out of the fossil fuel share of the market already and that investment in renewable technology is at an all time high despite the economic stagnation, this revolution could happen sooner rather than later.

So I would advise against getting dragged along with the lazy, politically motivated techno-pessimists - many of whom either want to risk frying the planet for free market ideals, or sit on a pedestal in a hair shirt and blame others for 'not listening.' 'Technology may be our only hope - and is now showing signs of delivering - so lets keep driving investment and demand forward.

The future is bright, let's engineer it!

 

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7 November 2012

Will Obama now lead on climate change?

...we want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet...

It was to these words, delivered in familiar stentorian tones, that I woke up this morning as the radio alarm kicked into life. My immediate reaction was "Obama won!" and then, secondly "This is the first big mention of climate change in the US election!"

During the campaign Obama referred to the green agenda only in terms of green jobs and energy security. Now in times of economic crisis this is a form of green jujitsu - framing the agenda in terms that appeal to the audience. Our own Prime Minister David Cameron does the same - happy to boast about record investment in renewables, but clearly unwilling to go back to his pre-crash husky-hugging vote-blue-go-green days.

But both can afford to be much, much bolder - and need to be given the speed of change required. In the UK, a third of all recent economic growth is coming from the green sector - a wave ready to be surfed by any political leader. Obama now has the luxury of the second term president - he can set his own agenda - and hopefully, hopefully he will put climate change centre stage and give much clearer leadership. And he may find that the solutions to the economic problems and the environmental problems are one and the same. Be bold!

 

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5 November 2012

I need YOUR Pearls of Wisdom! (again)

The last three Christmases I have published "Pearls of Wisdom" - short compendia of wise words on CSR/green business/corporate responsibility. The first two (2009 and 2010) were compiled from contributors to The Green Executive and Vol 3 last year was crowd sourced from your good selves.

This year I'm doing the crowd sourcing again. I'm after real insights for readers - no platitudes or clichés, please - and this year we're going to impose the ubiquitous 140 character tweet limit.

Feel free to submit extracts from your wisdom published elsewhere as long as you own the copyright. Contributors who make the cut will see their wise words in a pdf document similar to previous years, along with their name, organisation and URL. Editor's decision is final (and power goes to my head).

So, clever people, get your thinking caps on and e-mail your entries here before 30 November.

 

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2 November 2012

Stop Saying Sorry!

Aren't people who say sorry all the time really annoying? I mean, if you've done something wrong, then apologise for it, but some people can't stop saying sorry.

It bothers me that there's always been something of an apologetic tone to the corporate sustainability movement: sorry for the environmental damage we have caused, sorry to have to ask you to change behaviour, sorry for breathing...

By definition, every living thing on this planet has an impact on the environment, so we are always going to have an impact, no matter what we do. What we need to do is acknowledge that impact and change it so it is compatible with the rest of nature rather than running against the grain. And that's a big challenge that requires a really gung-ho, can-do, positive attitude.

And we need to bring people with us - creating the impression that everybody needs to apologise for their past 'sins' first is a non-starter.

So let's stop saying sorry!

 

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