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December 2012 - Terra Infirma

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28 December 2012

Christmas Reading List

If you are looking for some stimulating reading to get away from the overdose of Christmas specials on the telly, here are the 10 blog posts from the last year that I believe are worth another look.

1. 7 Pathetic Excuses to Do Nothing on Corporate Responsibility

2. Musings on a Green Economy (Parts 1 to 4)

3. Nuggets from the Sustainability Mastermind Group (Meeting 1, Meeting 2)

4. CSR and the Myth of "The Poor SME"

5. Greentech: It's the S-curve, Stupid!

6. From Total Football to Total Sustainability

7. Are we on the Cusp of Energy 2.0?

8. Reframing the Environment vs Economy Argument

9. Do we not care about the Polar Bears?

10. Green Jujitsu: Smart Culture Change for Sustainability




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21 December 2012

Aren't we just brilliant? Well, it is Xmas...

You know those really annoying, self-congratulatory round robin letters you get at this time of year? Well, this is my unashamedly boastful version as it has been another good year here at Terra Infirma Towers. Highlights include:

  • We brought some brilliant new clients coming on board (eg Viridor, Innovia Films, Grayling, Cynergy)...;
  • ...while continuing to work with some of the country's foremost organisations (BAE Systems, Johnson Matthey, the NHS);
  • My Green Jujitsu ebook on smart culture change for sustainability was published by Do Sustainability;
  • We set up the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (CoSM) and have had a couple of incredibly productive meetings;
  • I delivered keynote speeches and workshops at some really good events, probably enjoying the Energy & Environmental Industries Forum the most as I got away with using the phrase 'subsidy junkies' about parts of the industry;
  • This blog was rated the 7th best green business blog (and, one could argue, the highest ranking genuine blog on the list);
  • My first book, The Three Secrets of Green Business, was published in Japanese, so I can finally say I'm Big In Japan.

That's not to say it has been an easy year. Client budgets are tight, yes, and the purse strings are tighter still! We've had to commit a lot of time and effort to build up enough trust to overcome this problem. But worst of all has been the loss of so many valued contacts through redundancy. It is very telling that the readership of The Low Carbon Agenda has flatlined - predominantly through e-mail addresses going dead - although our regular readers still give us great feedback.

It goes without saying personal highlight of the year was the birth of my third son, Charlie Darwin, in September. He's doing really great and it's fantastic to see my older boys growing so fond of him despite the fact he demands so much of his Mum's attention.

Looking in the crystal ball, I believe 2013 is going to be one of consolidation for Terra Infirma - between Green Academy, the Mastermind Group, our coaching programme and bespoke client projects, we now have a good range of ways of helping our clients navigate the road to sustainability. So in the absence of eureka moments, we'll be focussing on expanding and improving these rather than launching anything radically different.

So that's pretty much it for this year. I do hope you'll join us again in the New Year, but in the meantime, it just leaves me to thank all our clients, partners, suppliers, friends and readers for another great year and wish you all a very Merry Christmas!



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19 December 2012

Is it possible to change your company culture for sustainability?

"Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you've got."

So said the business guru to business gurus, the late Peter Drucker. When I saw this quote flash by on Twitter the other day, it hit me that this is the essence of my green jujitsu approach to culture behavioural change.

Green jujitsu evolved out of my realisation that the best way to engage employees of an engineering company was to frame the problem as an engineering one, in a manufacturing business as an production issue, with the creative industries as a design problem and so on. That is, working with the prevalent culture rather than trying to turn everybody into tree huggers.

There are exceptions of course. Ray Anderson changed the culture at Interface to make sustainability the company culture through determination, business nous and no little charm. Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer was successful in creating Plan A and driving it through the organisation. So it is possible, but it is a high-risk/high-reward approach and requires a real crusader at the top willing to stake his/her reputation on it. And there aren't that many of them about, frankly.

For most organisations, Drucker's point is a good starting point - work with the existing culture, not against it.

Photo: The Drucker Institute, Claremont Graduate University

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

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17 December 2012

How to pay lip service to sustainability

I generally assume that readers of this blog want to take sustainability seriously. It suddenly hit me that maybe I'm being a bit presumptuous and that could be discriminating against all those who prefer business as usual.

So if you're one of those people who really don't want to actually do anything, but don't want to be seen to do nothing, here are some top tips just for you:

  • Copy and paste your environmental policy from somebody else and simply change the company name;
  • Print the word "recyclable" on every piece of packaging, because it's true!
  • Likewise, if you can claim not to do something (eg use CFCs) when your business never did, or would, it all adds to the image;
  • Speaking off images - drop a few stock images of green things into your literature. If it looks nice, you won't have to justify it;
  • Stick a switch it off sticker on every light switch - they're dead cheap, it takes a hour or two to do and you can say you've got a employee engagement programme;
  • Delegate responsibility to someone with little or no authority - maybe even to voluntary champions;
  • Got a presentation to give or a report to write? Well, just keep dusting off the same couple of projects - it's a form of recycling!
  • Only approve energy efficiency, waste minimisation or water conservation measures if they give you a very short payback - but use them in those case studies;
  • If you must set targets, then go for something easy like saving 1% of energy year-on-year, or set a target you know you're on track to meet before you set it;
  • But you're better off never making a concrete promise to do anything - keep it vague "we are committed to helping save the planet" or some such.

Do all this and you'll have an impressive sounding, if largely ineffective, sustainability programme without having to break sweat.


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14 December 2012

Pinning Down the Business Case for Sustainability

I spent yesterday running a sustainability strategy workshop for directors and senior managers of a FTSE100 company. They didn't disappoint - they challenged, they argued, they what-if'd, they demanded evidence and data - everything you would expect from the calibre of people running such a large, complex enterprise. They certainly made me work for my money.

I've learnt through experience to be quite flexible with the programme of my workshops, but despite having given a significant amount of additional time early on to debate the business case for sustainability, it was the subject we kept coming back to, still dominating the discussion during the wash-up at the end.

This doesn't surprise me as I don't think most organisations truly pin down the business case as it applies to them. Many of us can recite the list - compliance, reduced costs, recruitment and retention of employees, attracting and retaining customers, new business opportunities along with less obvious examples like resource security and asset value protection - but how do they relate? This is vitally important when you have to, say, decide when should you spend to save and when should you spend to invest in the brand?

Interestingly, those who invest in the brand often deliver cost savings, but those who require a return on investment rarely get the brand enhancement. When Sir Stuart Rose put £200m into Marks & Spencer's Plan A, he did it to protect the venerable chain store's reputation as the trusted brand on the British high street and didn't expect to see that money again. But Plan A has returned the investment and indeed made a profit. Conversely, every business worth its salt is trying to drive down energy, water and waste costs, but few if any of them will get the halo that Plan A gives M&S.

But the important thing is that Rose knew precisely what his business priority was - the brand. Pinning down the business case in that way gave him and the Plan A team the clarity and direction to develop and deliver a highly effective sustainability strategy. And that's why taking so much time in my workshop to explore the business case was essential to take the programme forward.


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12 December 2012

David Cameron, Cognitive Dissonance and Clarity

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said:

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

I'm not convinced this is the case - particularly in the sustainability field where I frequently find people of normal intellectual ability seemingly comfortable with pursuing two conflicting goals. UK PM David Cameron was at it yesterday in front of the parliamentary Liaison Committee. He claimed to be pursuing both a green economy and a gas/fracking 'revolution' where, for once, that 'and' can only be an 'or'.

Holding two conflicting views like this is said to cause 'cognitive dissonance' - a uncomfortable, conflicting mental state, yet so many people carry such a dichotomy merrily along with them without a care.

For the sustainability practitioner, this is dangerous. You get assured that things will change, sustainability projects will start and bad practice will end. Yet business as usual always seems to live on like the B-movie zombie that will never die.

The magical antidote to this disease is clarity.

About a year ago I was pondering why so many of the outputs of my workshops fell into what I thought was the 'bleeding obvious' category yet my clients were delighted with the results. I had a minor epiphany when I realised that my prime goal should not be to drive workshop participants to make intellectual breakthroughs (although those do happen and are very welcome), but to make the implicit explicit.

Once everything is explicit, the synergies and conflicts become very clear. And in terms of sharpening people's understanding of what must change, that clarity is priceless.


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11 December 2012

Green Academy 2013 Special Offer

2013 will be the third year of our Green Academy on-line training programme - our low-carbon, time-efficient, cost-effective way of boosting your personal performance as a sustainability practitioner. The syllabus is shown below.

On each session, you print off a workbook then log into our live on-line presentation (webinar). As we progress through the principles and exercises, you apply the concepts to your own organisation in the workbook so you end up with a highly practical action plan to implement. Everybody who registers gets a recording of the session, so it's not the end of the world if you miss one.

As last year we are offering a whopping great 33% off subscriptions taken out before the end of 2012:

Advanced series: 10 webinars just £220.00 + VAT

(click here to register for the advanced series by PayPal/credit card)


Introductory series: 4+1 webinars just £100 + VAT

(click here to pay for the introductory series by PayPal/credit card)


If you prefer to pay for either by BACS, please contact us.

That's 14 hours of stimulating interactive learning for much, much less than one of those bog-standard, death-by-powerpoint "conferences" you keep getting plagued about!

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10 December 2012

Are Quick Wins A Good Thing?

There's an old time management trope where a professor stands in front of his class and fills a jar full of rocks and asks is it full. The class says yes, so the prof adds some pebbles which trickle into the gaps and asks the question again. Again the class say "it is full", so he adds sand which fills the remaining gaps. The prof empties out the jar, separates out the three elements and then puts the sand in first, followed by the pebbles but few of the rocks fit in the top. The moral of the story is that you have to tackle life's important things first and leave the trivialities to later.

This came to mind when I got into another "is a plastic bag ban a good idea?" debate on Twitter. Proponents say such a ban is highly symbolic and can help build momentum. I tend to believe that the benefits are rather small for such a big effort and that it may cause people to sit back and say "There! We've done it! We're green!" They've filled their jar with sand and there's not much space for any rocks.

That's not to say that getting some quick wins in the bag (or jar...) is a bad thing, but it can't be at the expense of big issues. Organisations that adopt incremental targets often find themselves in this position, expending all their energy hunting down increasingly rare small changes and running out of steam. Occasionally some of those changes will actually obstruct big changes by, say, investing too much in improving existing infrastructure when it should really be replaced with a greener alternative.

Organisations that set ambitious stretch targets, however, tend to start working out how they're going to address the big issues much earlier and avoid this trap. They can do this alongside the smaller improvements, but make sure they are all compatible - after all, by mixing up the addition of rocks, pebbles and sand, the jar will fill up nicely.

By the way, my favourite version of the story that after the professor puts the sand in around the pebbles, he then pours in two pints of beer. He turns to the class and says "And that goes to show that no matter how full your life is, there's always space for a couple of pints." A lesson for everyone!


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7 December 2012

J&B Shows How to Enter and Thrive in the Green Sector

One of the speakers at last week's North East Recycling Forum (NERF) Conference was Vikki Jackson-Smith of J&B Recycling. I was delighted to hear how Vikki and J&B are getting along as I clearly remember the day about 12 years ago when Vikki and I sat in a Portacabin in the corner of a damp Hartlepool coal yard and she told me her plans.

She had inherited the family coal business, J&B Fuels, which was in decline as fewer people had coal fires and demand had slumped. She said:

I realised we don't have to sell coal. What we actually do is import material in bulk, sort it, process it, bag it and sell it on. We've got all the kit - a yard with a weighbridge, trucks and front loaders - and employees who know what they're doing. It doesn't matter whether it is coal or something else, we can do it.

What "it" was, originally, was glass collected from pubs and clubs, but since then J&B Recycling has diversified over a very wide range of materials, invested many millions in facilities and grown from 20 employees in the coal business to 140 today.

What I like about Vikki's story is that it is a shining example of someone breaking into the green sector by:

  • Identifying the strengths J&B could bring to the sector: materials handling, logistics, customer service;
  • Identifying a profitable first niche in the sector to exploit those strengths, then expanding through diversification to reduce exposure to risks (in this case recyclate prices);
  • Getting the business side of things right: customer service, risk management, quality control.

In my first book The 3 Secrets of Green Business, the first 'Secret' was "Treat the environmental agenda as an opportunity, not a threat. Grasp it with both hands but, whatever you do, don't forget you are still running a business."  Vikki is a great example of someone who has got it right.


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5 December 2012

What We Can Learn from Wales' Waste Win

Last Thursday I went to the North East Recycling Forum Annual Conference - one of the few events I intend as a punter. This partly because I get to catch up with a lot of familiar faces and partly because the content is always better than all those identikit commercial green conferences in London.

To open, the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Waste Management gave an overview of the UK's waste sector. It was very noticeable that Wales  is shooting ahead of the other regions of the UK and has hit a 53% household waste recycling rate, compared to 43% in England.

"Why was this?" came a question from the floor. The answer given was that the Welsh Assembly has signed up to the One Planet principles at the very highest level and they develop strategies and make decisions through that prism. By contrast, English waste policy is managed by 5 different Whitehall department and is treated with different priority in each (It has to be said that Eric Pickles came in for a bit of a hammering from speakers and delegates alike.)

Politics aside, we can take three lessons from this which can be applied to any sustainability strategy:

  • Have a clear vision;
  • Secure proper buy-in at the highest level (not just lip service);
  • Proactively pursue that vision with determination and drive.

In the meantime, well done Wales! (and despite the name, I'm not Welsh).


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3 December 2012

Movember, Memes and, er, Mployee Engagement

This weekend, the air resonated with the sound of a million electric razors signalling the end of another Movember and a million temporary moustaches. These were grown to raise awareness and cash for men's health issues such as prostrate and testicular cancer.

So why has the Movember meme been so successful? Here's five reasons I can think of:

1. It's fun - with moustaches having been out of fashion for some time, the campaign gives men an opportunity to indulge their inner Village People policeman/Burt Reynolds/Dutch porn star fantasy for a whole month;

2. Peer pressure - if half the men in a workplace suddenly sprout facial fungus in a good cause, there's a strong pull for the others to join in. "What's wrong, are you not man enough to grow one?";

3. Relevance - moustaches have long been associated with masculinity and the health issues concerned are men's issues;

4. Brilliant branding - check out the Movember website for a bit of tongue in cheek retro style;

5. Novelty - no-one has done anything like this before.

In comparison, most sustainability engagement programmes are, at best, like one of those multitudinous nude charity calendars - hackneyed, clichéd and unoriginal. They're produced with the best of intentions, but the world yawns.

If you want to get a sustainability meme running in your organisation, you could do worse than use Movember as a yardstick.


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