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July 2013 - Terra Infirma

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30 July 2013

Sustainability is a Joke

jimmy belfastFamily holidays lead to family in-jokes and the most repeated gag on this one comes from my second son, Jimmy winding up older members of the family:

Jimmy: I can jump higher than a house!

Relative: Can you really?

Jimmy: Yes, look! (jumps 3 inches into the air)

Relative: But you didn't jump higher than a house

Jimmy: Yes I did, houses can't jump!

The reason the joke works is framing. When Jimmy makes his initial claim, we make all sorts of assumptions about what he means (the familiar frame), when he means something quite different (another, slightly absurd, frame).

I often get asked "When you say business sustainability, do you mean helping the business survive financially or all that environmental stuff?" The true answer is both, of course, but people see it as an 'or' and are not quite sure which of their narrow frames I mean. Frames determine how we see the world and should never be discounted.

Great comedians, along with other artists, help us look at the world from a different perspective. This is the task we have as sustainability professionals, to get people looking at the economy through a different frame - one where it is an integral part of the society and the natural environment and not floating in its own little bubble. And like a comedian, or Jimmy, we have to engage people before hitting them with the punchline.


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25 July 2013

Queuing for a Ferry and the Psychology of Energy Use

traffic jam 3

I'm on our family summer holiday - this year, we're in my hometown of Belfast. My mother has just turned 70, so we had a family get together here at my parents' place to celebrate. I grew up in this house and there's something terribly pleasing about seeing my boys enjoying playing with my old lego in my old bedroom.

Anyway our journey here involved driving from Newcastle to Cairnryan for the ferry. I practised what I preached and (for once) made sure the car's tyre pressures were correct with noticeable benefits on the fuel gauge. We had a very pleasant drive, stopping at a great local salmon smokery/cafe/castle for lunch and got to the ferry terminal at the right time.

Everybody pulled up in their allotted queue, switched their engines off and wound down the windows. A few went off for ice creams. We were in queue 7 with at least 15 cars in each queue. Then something very strange happened. As soon as queue 1 started moving, everybody rushed to their cars, newspapers were stowed, windows raised - and started their engines. It took about 30 minutes for us to need to start ours, yet everybody sat there burning fuel unnecessarily, hunched over the steering wheel, despite the fact it was clearly going to be a while before we got moving and we'd have plenty of notice when it was going to happen.

Two things got me:

  • The weirdly powerful peer pressure - the way the muted panic rippled across hundreds of people for something so trivial as being ready to drive on board. No one was going to miss the boat at this stage;
  • The irrationality of keeping the engines running when it became clear that it was going to take some time to get moving - nobody seemed willing to 'admit their mistake' - would this have happened if other people weren't there?

One of the things I'm working on in my constantly developing Green Jujitsu concept is how to harness these peer/group factors to produce greener behaviour - where everybody would feel comfortable leaving their engines off in this case. What would work? Countdown boards - "start your engines in 20 minutes"? Would that keep enough people relaxed enough to switch off that it would become the norm?

This sort of approach would take a lot of trial and error in each case - and would probably produce enough case studies to produce an entire sequel to the book Nudge. But there is power in peer pressure, and that means it is something we should be trying to exploit.

By the way, the ferry journey was notable for the diving gannets doing that wing tucking-in thing before hitting the water that I'd only ever seen in wildlife documentaries - amazing!


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23 July 2013

Make Green The Default

printerI have an ageing HP laser printer - I bought a duplex device as I wanted to be a good little greenie and print double sided to save paper. I've had to set up drivers for a few computers over the years and one thing strikes me every time...

The driver defaults to single-sided printing.

To set up duplex printing you have to dig in to the settings, find the right page, find the right setting to change, change it and save the preset. While this isn't a Herculean task, it's not something my mother could do easily. Why not default to the greener option? Why make green difficult at all?

In an odd moment on the train in the last couple of weeks, I cheekily tweeted HP and asked them why this was. They referred me to their technical support to 'fix the problem', I retorted I wasn't asking 'how?' but 'why?' and they went silent - probably some contracted 'social media consultant' worried about what damage they would do their clients' brand if they told me where to go.


I think it is a good illustration of one of zillions of little barriers that make green harder than business as usual. People will tend to take the path of least resistance - especially those who don't self-identify as green. So you've got to make green easier than ungreen. And one powerful tactic to do this is to make sure that the default option in every case is the greener one, so green is the 'do nothing' option.


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19 July 2013

The Power of the Sustainability Workshop

Gareth Kane Running Sustainability WorkshopsOn Wednesday's Winning Business for Small Environmental Consultancies webinar, I was asked whether all my consulting engagements involved workshops. And the answer is, yes, the vast majority of them.

I used to do what I now refer to as 'clipboard consulting' where I would tour the client's facilities, interview key people, do some sums, write a report and present it to the client. The problem was what happened next - usually nothing, the report gathering dust on a shelf marked "someday". A cynic would say "That's their problem, you can lead a horse to water etc, etc. Take the cheque and go home."

But I care passionately about making a difference - that's why I got into this business, not for the money. Making a decent living out of it allows me to make a difference while supporting my family.

Making a difference means ensuring my clients have enough skin in the game to act on the results of my engagement, avoiding 'not invented here syndrome'. The workshop is a way of making sure the client is bought into the results - because the results are based on their employees' views, filtered through my experience and opinion.

I'll give the example of a recent client engagement - I was originally asked to give a talk on employee engagement, but I persuaded them a workshop would give better value. We ran the half day workshop and got so much out of it, it has formed the basis of their sustainability action plan for the next two years. If I was clipboard consulting, I would only have been starting to get my head around the business in the same timeframe.

To me, the sustainability workshop is the epitome of true employee engagement and, done properly, harnesses the intellect and knowledge of the workforce to give you a veritable smorgasbord of ideas while identifying key 'pinch points' that need fixing.

Workshops rock.


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17 July 2013

The Struggle for Sustainability

iceclimbGreenpeace don't do things by halves do they? Last week's Ice Climb protest saw 6 climbers scale London's iconic new Shard skyscraper to bring attention to Shell's intentions to drill in the arctic. A heck of a lot of effort, but it paid off as the protest got plenty of publicity - some of it scathing, it has to be said - but publicity nonetheless. Whether that publicity (and the sweat required to achieve it) actually changes anything is another matter.

Seeing the huge physical effort required from the protesters to inch their way up the building reminded me of a recent conversation with the CSR manager of a major UK brand (off the record, unfortunately). The word 'struggle' passed his lips more than once - the struggle to change sometimes quite small things within his organisation, despite its reputation for CSR.

At a sustainability roundtable I took part in a few weeks ago, Andrew Davison of Newcastle upon Tyne lawyers Muckle LLP talked of the struggle to decide whether to change their legal documentation from the traditional single sided printing to double sided. Andrew said they agonised over such a simple decision.

I've often said the biggest barrier to sustainability is just 6 inches wide - the space between our ears. The problem is when you get lots of people together and those 6 inches start to multiply up into what I refer to as 'institutional inertia' - the ability of an organisation to push back against change. Institutional inertia is the sustainability practitioner's worst enemy - the thing that slows everything to a crawl.

Your can use the following tactics to overcome institutional inertia:

  • Perseverance: one of the key messages from The Green Executive interviewees was 'never give up';
  • Cunning: Green Jujitsu says to align sustainability with the existing culture in the organisation - rather than trying to 'do a Greenpeace' and shock people into changing their mind - this works with the inertia, not against it;
  • Leadership: if the boardroom has bought in then they can be deployed to 'unstick' projects when necessary;
  • Raise the sights: if you have ambitious well-communicated stretch targets then small decisions will appear to be 'no brainers' compared to some big strategic decisions;
  • Include stakeholders in the discussion: if you get people together and ask them help work out how (not whether) something can be done, you can gain their buy-in very quickly.

Like scaling a building, sustainability ain't easy. But then again, that's half the fun of it.

Photo: Greenpeace


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15 July 2013

Green Thread or Spinning a Yarn?

Green Thread

A while a go I mentioned an organisation which had ditched its environmental commitments and how it had fallen back from front runner to also ran. Well now they are bragging about "the green thread which runs through everything we do!"

What this appears to mean in practice is that they do business as usual and then scrabble around for a green angle to add to it. But, as I keep pointing out to them, you can't push a thread. You can't be proactive, you can't drive new projects, you can't innovate - at best you might pick the 'least bad' option in front of you. But more often than not it is greenwash pure and simple - the thread seems to be made of the same stuff than an Emperor once had some new clothes made from, because I can't see it.

Cutting edge organisations set ambitious stretch targets which drive 'green' into the core of what they do. Don't be tempted by the false seduction of green threads, cross cutting themes and other self-delusions, do it properly.


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12 July 2013

Is Green Jujitsu unethical?

MachiavelliThe popular sustainability website 2degrees occasionally reposts blogs from here. One, on using Green Jujitsu to deal with climate sceptics, really rubbed an academic up the wrong way. He raised a good point - whether reframing arguments to help you 'win' is ethical - but he couched it language ranging from snidey barbs to vitriolic insults, so it was impossible to debate with him on a rational basis. After a couple of attempts, I refused to indulge him, he got seriously nasty, and 2degrees removed his contributions for breaching their guidelines.

But now in the peace of a blog post, I can consider his point calmly. Is Green Jujitsu unethical? Is reframing arguments to match the interests of your audience respectful or disrespectful? When does persuasion become manipulation?

My view is that sustainability is too important and difficult a subject to waste time handwringing or pussyfooting around - we need to be skilled in the arts of persuasion. On the other hand, I think the Machiavellian dictum "the end justifies the means" is dangerous on both an ethical and practical level as it opens the door for all sorts of unintended consequences and takes you onto a slippery ethical slope. Anakin Skywalker thought he was doing the right thing but ended up as Darth Vader, after all.

Seriously, though, Green Jujitsu is essentially about framing sustainability in a way that makes it appealing to the audience. Any topic can be seen through a number of mental 'frames' or viewpoints, each of which reduces the bandwidth of information to make the subject comprehensible to us. So we can look at sustainability through an ethical frame, an economic frame, a technological frame, a social frame, a scientific frame, a selfish frame, an altruistic frame, a business opportunity frame etc, etc. Sustainability remains sustainability, it's just the perspective that changes.

My accuser's position assumes that his worldview (science) is the correct one and he can teach people to adopt it by correcting their 'misconceptions' through dialogue. To him that approach is open and honest, to me it is arrogant - I'm right, you're wrong - and impractical - tell people they're wrong and the natural reflex is "no I'm bloody well not!"

I would argue it requires humility to set aside our own default frame for sustainability and consider somebody else's worldview instead. Green Jujitsu acknowledges that others' values are almost certainly different from our own but are just as valid. It's about finding common ground between their worldview and sustainability and using that as a starting point for engagement, getting off on the right foot.

And there's nowt wrong with that!


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10 July 2013

Future Sustainability Strategy with the Sustainability Masterminds


What's the best approach to developing a sustainability strategy? What should be in and what should you leave out? What goals and objectives should you consider? Who do you need to get on board and how do you engage with them?

These are the questions we'll be seeking to answer at the next meeting of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group on 24 September. We've got another fantastic location - the mediaeval Undercroft at Newcastle upon Tyne's Live Theatre and we'll conclude with a sit down lunch at one of my favourite restaurants, Cafe Vivo - an unwritten rule of the group is "no dreary executive buffets" - where the conversation will continue.

As in all Group meetings, there will be no PowerPoint or presentations, but intensive, semi-structured discussion using a unique brainstorming template. Chatham House rules will apply to ensure we can be as honest and open as possible to maximise the value gained by members.

Location: The Undercroft, Live Theatre, Newcastle

Date: 24 September 2013

Time: 10:00 start (coffee served from 9:30), finishing with lunch in Cafe Vivo at 12:30

Topic: Sustainability Strategy - The Next Generation

The Damage: As a non-member, attendance at this meeting will cost £325.00+VAT inclusive of refreshments and lunch. Annual subscription (4 meetings) costs £995.00+VAT.

To Register: If you'd like to take part send us an e-mail. Please note the group is for senior sustainability practitioners in large organisations.


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Copy This! Kyocera's CSR day in Manchester

PS-Kyocera-Launch Two 3

Yesterday I was at Kyocera's CSR day in their brand new Manchester offices, featuring some great guest speakers from Green Alliance and Forum for the Future amongst others as well as Tracey Rawlings Church, the company's own CSR guru. There was plenty of red meat for the sustainability practitioner here, these are the points that resonated with me:

  • The twentieth century was one of resources getting cheaper - those days have gone;
  • The long trumpeted product-service system is coming of age. For example, Rolls Royce now provide propulsion services by the hour rather than selling jet engines;
  • There is massive scope to add services (and value) to a product to produce a product service system e.g. building a document management system around a print/copier;
  • However there is a need to educate buyers in such business models as tenders are often written with buying a particular technology as a capital item in mind;
  • One solution for this is 'outcomes based procurement' where the buyer specifies what they need (eg holes) rather than how to get it (eg drills);
  • Some technological solutions are very simple. Kyocera has pioneered triangular solar panels so an array can be installed to cover an entire face of a hip roof neatly - more efficient and more aesthetically pleasing than using rectangular panels only;
  • Likewise, the company's copiers/printers can be disassembled with just 17 screws - all the same size so you only need one screwdriver;
  • But to make the circular economy work, we need better recovery technologies - many rare earth metals are very difficult to recover;
  • There is an important role for pro-sustainability lobbying/awareness raising in other organisations to enable sustainable business models;
  • Transparency is a great ethical driver.

I had kind of given up on 'expert presentation' events, but I've been to some really excellent ones such as this recently, so I'm starting to reconsider my rather grouchy position and getting out a bit more.


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8 July 2013

The Stuff of (Sustainability) Champions

Andy Murray WimbledonSo 77 years of "why can't we (male) Brits win Wimbledon?" is over as Andy Murray takes the legendary trophy. While I'm euphoric for the great Scot, I can't help feeling sorry for Novak Djokovic as that didn't feel like a straight sets victory to me - it was a pulsating, back and forth drama that kept us leaping from the sofa in shock and delight.

Both men have the magic sauce that puts the truly great sportspeople above the merely excellent - they never, ever give up. In the last game of the third set yesterday, Murray had three Championship points, yet Djokovic fought back to force a couple of break points. I would have crumbled at that point but Murray stayed calm and kept plugging away until he succeeded. Hats off to both.

When I interviewed 18 top senior sustainability practitioners for The Green Executive, the main theme that emerged was persistence. Some advocated "sheer bloody mindedness", others suggested being a "fifth columnist, shaking it up a bit", but all of them said you must never give up, no matter what resistance you meet. It's the stuff of champions.



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5 July 2013

Stand Up and Lead, Godammit!

Here's the latest in the Green Business Confidential podcast series. It's called "Stand Up and Lead Godammit!"

Audio MP3

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

GBC24 Stand Up and Lead, Godammit!.

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



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3 July 2013

And the winner is... the power of competition for sustainability

awardI'm writing this just before I catch the train to London, tux in tow, for the big BusinessGreen Leader awards tonight - Terra Infirma Ltd has been shortlisted for Green Consultancy of the Year 2013. While I'm very excited, I'm not holding my breath - the competition is stiff to say the least.

Competition is a key human trait. Our dominant political system is democracy - a competition between ideas and individuals to get elected. Our dominant economic system is a market based economy - beating the competition by providing better or cheaper products and services. Our dominant pastime is sport - look how the papers are full of Wimbledon, The Ashes and the Lions Tour. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the competition of natural selection. It is no exaggeration to say competition is in our genes.

My Green Jujitsu principle says tap into that kind of powerful instinct, instead of straining against it (tree huggers look away now). There are some great examples:

  • Greenpeace's ranking of electronics companies which managed to push Steve Jobs into a rare u-turn on environmental issues as he didn't want Apple to lose at anything.
  • Forum for the Future's sadly now defunct Sustainable Cities Index whose power I witnessed at first hand pushing Councils to up their game on sustainability.
  • Diageo run competitions between its sites as to who can be greenest.
  • A number of businesses run competitions between staff teams to see who can use least paper or cut their carbon most.

We love competition. Use it.

+++ Update: we lost, but of course we're just happy to have been shortlisted. Of course. Wait until next year... +++


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1 July 2013

Is there a Hype Cycle for Clean Tech?


I was at an European Parliament event on low carbon vehicles last Friday at the new Gateshead College campus adjacent to the Nissan factory. It was a great panel of politicians, industry reps and an NGO, all wittily chaired by motoring journalist Quentin Wilson. Somebody raised the 'hype cycle' which is where new technologies get hyped way above reality then come crashing back into disappointment before hitting their natural level (see above).

For example, remember what we were once told about microwave ovens? That they cooked the food from inside out, so it'd always be cooked through and that it wouldn't heat the plate. All nonsense. That's not to say the technology is useless, far from it, microwaves are a very efficient way to cook.

But does clean tech/renewable energy technology ever get unrealistic hype? The media seems to be so down on green technology that it leaps straight from 'go' into the trough of disillusionment. I mean, one moment we're being told that renewables will never produce enough energy, next we're told they will produce too much.

Is this trudge through the marsh of negativity before a clean technology can prove itself  inevitable? Is the lack of positive hype a bad thing? Or one day will we get a glimmer of media hyperbole?


Image by Jeremykemp at en.wikipedia

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