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February 2013 - Terra Infirma

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27 February 2013

Book Review: Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey & Raj Sisodia

Conscious capitalismJohn Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a controversial figure in the corporate social responsibility world. He is a proud proponent of the social benefits of free market capitalism, he is an anti-union, low tax, small-Government libertarian, he has made doubtful noises on the predicted impacts of climate change and noisily opposed President Obama's health care proposals. Yet he runs one of the most successful green businesses in the world, caps the ratio of the best paid in his company to 19 times that of the average (compared to 350-500 times you get in similar corporations) and is an active supporter of small, local suppliers to his stores. Not easy to pigeonhole, to say the least.

So it was with much anticipation and a little trepidation that I picked up his latest tome, Conscious Capitalism which, although it is co-written with the co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism Inc, is written in Mackey's voice. The book's first words, inside the fly cover, quote the Conscious Capitalism Credo:

"We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more."

Mackey and Sisodia make a pretty convincing case for the benefits that the free market has brought to society, blaming its ills on crony-capitalism, state capitalism or unintended side effects. But, they acknowledge, far too many corporations are like caterpillars, munching their way through everything within reach, when they should be like butterflies - beautiful and pollenating the eco-system upon which they depend.

And that is the essence of Conscious Capitalism - every business is part of a complex eco-system of suppliers, customers, employees, investors, communities and the environment itself. And by nurturing, rather than exploiting, these other stakeholders, everybody wins. This is similar to Porter & Kramer's concept of Creating Shared Value - investment in customers, suppliers and communities increases the pie for all. However, whereas Porter & Kramer make their case in business terms, Mackey claims Conscious Capitalism aims to fulfil a higher social purpose and is driven by love and caring, not profits. Profit is a means to delivering a company's higher purpose, not the driving force.

The book is very elegantly written and structured, going through the four tenets - higher purpose, stakeholder integration, conscious leadership and conscious culture. However, it is much more about an attitude than practical take-away ideas or lists of top tips. And it has to be said that the frequency of the use of the word 'love' is quite startling, even to an old bleeding heart liberal like myself.

My problem with Conscious Capitalism is not the butterflies like Whole Foods Market, but the caterpillars. The Tragedy of the Commons illustrates the need for the regulation of global commons, and the most global of all, the atmosphere, is difficult to protect by relying on the good intentions of many individual business leaders. Maybe this is why Mackey downplays climate change (subtly in the book) as it doesn't fit the model.

On the other hand, as a manifesto for progressive business, Conscious Capitalism hits the nail on the head and provides plenty of (whole grain) food for thought. Certainly between chapters I found myself mulling on the higher purpose of Terra Infirma - "Bringing Sustainability to Life" - and reassessed a recent decision I made which I thought was in the best interest of the business but now realise I got wrong.

In summary, a breath of fresh air that will challenge some of your more entrenched thinking.


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25 February 2013

The Art of Green Jujitsu: Pass Notes

The Art of Green Jujitsu animation has been going great guns - viewed by more than 750 people in just one week. I hinted last week that there was much more to the clip than may initially meet the eye, so here's my equivalent of Brodie's Notes:

1. Look and Feel

A lot of people have likened the animation to The Story of Stuff, but a stronger influence was Unilever's Value Chain animation with its subtle humour, simplistic figures and jaunty feel. Overall, I wanted to get the message across without beating people over the head, but by making them laugh instead - classic Green Jujitsu. This was brilliantly realised by the animator, Matt Shaw of Pixel House Media.

2. Opening Scenes

Our protagonist, whom I have since christened Barry Greene, is outside and not part of the team. He cannot understand why the busy team of brain-boxes would leave all their lights on when they leave the room and tries to change their behaviour with a 'switch it off' sticker. When this is ignored he gets piqued and makes a bigger sticker which gets ignored again - he gets quite angry. This, sadly, is all too common - sustainability people assuming their colleagues are stupid for 'not getting it' - a highly counterproductive mindset.

3. The Poster

As shouting louder with the stickers plainly isn't working, Barry goes for the guilt trip - "Save the Polar Bear". Then he realises his message will be competing for attention with dozens of other posters and their messages, and anyway, his colleagues run straight past him, ignoring him and knocking him over. He loses it completely - he has tried everything, but nothing has worked. This despair will be familiar to many of us, but again it is counterproductive.

4. The Epiphany

Things change for Barry when he bothers to look and see what the team are rushing to do. When he peeks into the room he sees they thrive in a group problem solving environment and realises this is his opportunity.* By aping this for "good green ideas", he gains the attention and buy in of the team - and a great list of ideas. This is the crux of Green Jujitsu - work with the prevailing culture, not against it.

*  The switching off of the metaphorical lightbulb is one of the few bits that I didn't script and it's the bit people laugh at most!

5. The Pay Off

As the last of the team leaves the room, she stops and switches off the light. This is meant to be a metaphor for buy-in rather than an end in itself (this is why Barry rolled up the list of ideas - he's inspired by the team to do more than just get the lights switched off now.)

The final message "Involve People To Make Your Green Communications Stick" was scripted by Matt. At first I thought it was too narrow for all that I was trying to say, but I couldn't think of a way of communicating all that in such a simple, zippy line. Eventually I decided that if viewers took away just Matt's conclusion then the whole exercise would be more than worthwhile. This is another Green Jujitsu principle - keep it simple.

So there it is - I tried to cram as much Green Jujitsu into that 1 minute 49 seconds as I could! If you want more try the Green Jujitsu webinar recording - or buy the book!


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22 February 2013

Enjoy Nature, It's Good for You!

bike at big waters

By the time this post hits the blog, I should be off looking for otters with my eldest, Harry, who's on half term holidays. The natural world is a big part of our lives -  I spent last Friday cycling between local nature reserves (above), Sunday the whole family spent the day at Washington Wildfowl and Wetland Trust and on Wednesday Harry and I went on a guided bird walk just up the valley from where we live, spotting dippers, a kingfisher and a goldcrest amongst others.

Although I can be quite brutal about wishy-washy tree-huggers here, I love nature with a passion. I'm never happier than hiking over a moorland or pedalling along country lanes, and we pretty much bought our house on the basis of it being in a wooded river valley despite being near the centre of a major conurbation. And, it appears, there's a good reason for this. The theory of Biophilia says that, as we are intrinsically part of nature, we basically freak out a bit if we are deprived of it.

Studies have shown that patients with a view of nature recover faster than those looking out at a wall. Reoffending rates are said to be lower from prisons with natural vistas and interactions with nature have been shown to ameliorate the symptoms of a number of serious disorders including ADHD and autism.

So it looks like, as with so many other things, protecting nature is an opportunity as well as a challenge. By designing nature into our urban environment, we can bring in major social benefits as well as providing ecological sanctuaries. By providing natural areas in our places of work, we can soothe and inspire employees. And at home, there's usually space for a bird feeder in even the smallest flat to cheer us up.

The otter hunt will probably be a wild goose chase, but we'll enjoy ourselves anyway. Have a good weekend!


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20 February 2013

Resource Crunch or Climate Change? Which keeps you awake at night?

old oil pump
One of the most interesting debates at last week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (CoSM) was which is the most pressing industry for business - maintaining a sustainable supply of raw materials, water and energy, or climate change? I must admit it was a little naughty of me instigating it as there is no simple answer, but sometimes I like being a bit naughty.

It's a tricky one because they're quite different issues:

  • A resource crunch can happen suddenly, the climate changes gradually;
  • A resource crunch will affect a business directly, but climate change impacts will occur over a wide geography and will hit some individuals and organisations more than others;
  • A resource crunch will have much more predictable impacts, climate change depends on lots of different factors;
  • A resource crunch is arguably simpler to address through substitution, whereas climate change requires concerted effort across the globe.
  • A resource crunch is much easier to understand and communicate than climate change;
  • A resource crunch is more difficult to argue against than climate change (although some do try).

It may be, of course, that given the relative ease of getting action on a resource crunch, the crafty sustainability practitioner may want to use that to get a foot in the door of the boardroom and other citadels of power, and then expand the sustainability conversation to cover other issues. Sometimes it pays to be a little bit naughty.


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18 February 2013

Green Jujitsu: The Movie!

I was mulling recently that communicating my Green Jujitsu approach to employee/stakeholder engagement was proving as difficult as many people find the engagement itself. So I took a Green Jujitsu principle - fun - and applied it to, you guessed it, Green Jujitsu and commissioned this brilliant little animation.

It focusses on 'involvement' as a technique for simplicity, but there are quite a few messages in there if you look for them.

Because engagement is proving such a challenge for business, I have set myself a goal of 100,000 sustainability practitioners to see the animation. So I need your help. Please share either this blog or the clip directly from YouTube. Thanks!


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15 February 2013

Wise Words from the Sustainability Mastermind Group

Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group

Yesterday I hosted another of our Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group at another fantastic venue, this time the Biscuit Factory art gallery in Newcastle, said to be the largest commercial gallery outside London. Membership of the Group is open to senior managers and directors of large organisations who want to take sustainability to the next level.

The theme of the meeting was Global Megatrends in Sustainability and we used my sustainability PESTLE analysis as a brainstorming tool (note the lack of Powerpoint in the picture above). Group members identified key opportunities and risks they perceive and used that to discuss ways forward.

Here's just a flavour of the take away points generated during the discussion:

  • Risk of unavailability of raw materials rising to be equal to or even above risks from, say, climate change to business;
  • This in turn is opening opportunities for circular business models;
  • Philanthropy can come in the form of advice as well as cash - and is often more effective in this form;
  • Gamification is an interesting new development, but need to be cognisant of company culture or it could backfire;
  • 'Base of the pyramid' markets ripe for Creating Shared Value (CSV) type investment;
  • 'Soundbite environmentalism' is a real risk to practical sustainability solutions - if people object, remind them of the alternative - the status quo - which they are effectively defending;
  • Legislation can be a boon - grabs attention of board members and drives innovation;
  • 'Lean' and other business process improvement programmes are a prime opportunity to embed sustainability into core processes;
  • Greening supply chain can be difficult eg when there is a narrow choice in suppliers and in the case of land use changes;
  • Flood and drought risks are not being taken seriously enough by business or authorities.

After almost 3 hours of intense discussion, we had a great lunch in the David Kennedy Food Social restaurant - and continued talking sustainability over the food.


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13 February 2013

The Art of (Green) Seduction

Gustav Klimt The Kiss
Imagine you're on your own at a party when you're approached by a very good looking stranger who introduces themselves and then proceeds to bang on about their job for the next hour without ever asking about you, what you do or letting you get a word in edgeways. Chances are you'd make your excuses and leave.

Now imagine that stranger walked up and asked you about yourself, your interests and your job. They then found some common ground, listened to your point of view and cracked some self-deprecrating jokes. A few subtle compliments pepper the conversation that make you feel good about being yourself. Now if you were to make a fast getaway, it would probably be a matter of "my place or yours?"

So why do so many of us sustainability practitioners so keen on boring our fellow employees and other stakeholders about our interests, lecturing them on climate change science, the rate of deforestation in Borneo or the collapse of global fish stocks? People switch off. They check the clock. They check Twitter. Something, anything to get them away from the lengthy guilt trip they're being subjected to. Booor-ring!

Use the seduction approach.

Focus on them.

What are their interests?

What do they do well?

How could they help you solve sustainability problems within their field of expertise, be that electrical engineering or accountancy?

Play to their strengths, compliment them, involve them, make them feel important.

It's Valentine's Day tomorrow - make them feel loved!


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11 February 2013

PESTLE Analysis for Sustainability Strategies

PESTLE Global Mega Trends in Sustainability
I've produced this PESTLE analysis of the Political, Environmental, Social, Technological, Legal, Economic mega trends which could have an impact on sustainability strategies. I produced it for this week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group, but thought some readers may find it useful, so here it is!


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8 February 2013

Keep that halo burnished!

business angelI had an informal meeting with the sustainability manager of a pre-eminent UK institution recently to discuss some collaboration. Like many big organisations, it had a very funky coffee bar/meeting area in the atrium so we parked ourselves there rather than a boring meeting room.

As we got up to leave, my companion got into a minor panic as she had let her tea go cold and couldn't use the recycling bin until she'd found somewhere to dispose of the liquid. Quickly she remembered where a sink was, drained the cup and put it in the right bin.

"Even though I'm doing major projects, saving loads of waste and energy, I can't afford to be seen to slip up on the little stuff." she said as we walked back out to the door.

This reminded me of the old story of Walt Disney who would pick up litter in his theme parks rather than call for an underling to do it. The message was "We're all responsible for keeping Disney World tidy. I do it and I expect you to do it."

People believe what they see, not what they're told. So we've got to lead by example and keep those halos burnished!



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6 February 2013

If you have buying power, use it for good!

rainforest2Fantastic news yesterday that  Asian Pulp & Paper (APP), the world's third largest paper manufacturer, has declared an immediate halt to clearing natural forests in South East Asia.

Why this sudden volte face? Was it public outcry? Was it activists chaining themselves to trees?

No, it appears to have been mainly due to the company's blacklisting by a huge number of big brands - everybody from Fuji to Gucci via Volkswagen. Those brands didn't want to be associated with destructive clear felling of rainforest, so they simply went to suppliers who could guarantee sustainably-sourced materials. No customers = no business, it's that simple.

The huge buying power of big brands and major retailers has long been regarded as a malign force by the green movement, but we have seen is that power being used for good in recent years. If Walmart says 'jump', gazillions of suppliers around the world will jump. If they say 'go green or go away', chances are you'll see the sudden implementation of gazillions of new green initiatives.

And if big buyers work in unison as they appear to have done so in the APP case, then environmental villains will quickly find themselves without a customer base. Kudos to Greenpeace for understanding this and making the case to the big brands for APP's blacklisting.

So what about your supply chain? Whether you sit in the C-suite of Mega-Corp or act as an individual consumer, how are you going to use your buying power for the global good?



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4 February 2013

Green Communications Lessons from Drucker

I'm still working my way through The Essential Drucker and I'll be writing up a piece on the substantial chapter on Social Responsibility of Business in the next week or two. But in the meantime I couldn't help see the strong  parallels between Drucker's chapter on communications and my own Green Jujitsu approach to engaging people in sustainability.

At its most powerful, communication brings about "conversion", that is, a change of personality, of values, of beliefs, aspirations. But this is a rare, existential event, and one against which the basic psychological forces of every human being are strongly organised.

In other words, are you as great an orator as Martin Luther King Jr? Me neither, so let's not try and convert people to the green movement as we will almost certainly fail.

The only person I know of who has 'converted' people to green in numbers was Al Gore with his presentations and film An Inconvenient Truth, but again few of us can muster the same level of gravitas as a man we know was once the next President of the United States and have the resources to put together such a powerful show. And despite all that effort, he has probably been equalled in impact by the Fox News/Tea Party brigade railing against him.

So, what can we do instead? Drucker reaches back to the Classics:

Socrates points out that one has to talk to people in terms of their own experience, that is, that one has to use carpenters' metaphors when talking to carpenters, and so on.

This is the essence of Green Jujitsu. Instead of trying to convert people to the cause, you translate the cause into a form which the target audience can relate to. Some people try to do this by relating sustainability to familiar domestic situations like  putting out the recycling or grumbling at the kids for leaving lights on, but I find that patronising and tangential.

I prefer to appeal to people's professional identity as it is professional behaviour your are trying to change. This means framing sustainability as an engineering problem for engineers, as an economic issue for economists, as a leadership issue for senior executives etc. I must admit that I have never knowingly run an engagement session for carpenters, but it can only be a matter of time!


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1 February 2013

Just Stop It, Will You? The Acid Test for Sustainability.

Here's the latest in my Green Business Confidential podcast series. It's called "Just Stop It, Will You? The Acid Test for Sustainability". Make sure you listen to the end...

Audio MP3

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

GBC19 Just Stop It, Will You? The Acid Test for Sustainability.

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



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