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January 2015 - Terra Infirma

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30 January 2015

On Demand: 80/20 Rule for Sustainability webinar

webinar screenshotIf you missed my webinar on my new book, Accelerating Sustainability using the 80/20 Rule, on Wednesday then you can catch the recording on demand by clicking here. The session went really well and we got some great feedback - most tangibly in the form of bulk book sales!

Note: A viewer download is required to watch the sessions.


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28 January 2015

I'll get myself expelled from the league of pragmatic environmentalists...

snake oil... as I seem to be undergoing alternative medicine by mistake (kind of).

I've had a problem with my back. Nothing serious, no pain as such, just bloody annoying as it was waking me up at exactly 02:10 EVERY NIGHT, which was starting to drive me up the walls. So I thought I go to one of 'those back people' and googled 'chiropractor'. Maybe it was the repeated sleep deprivation, but I didn't really check out what a chiropractor was.

I got a real shock when I turned up to the centre on Monday and found 'homeopathy' listed amongst the treatments. Now, regular readers will know that I'm allergic to the mystical end of life, and I almost turned on my heel and left. But I am really fed up with seizing up in the early hours and gave it a go. 20 minutes of a nice French lady putting me into odd positions and wrenching me into even odder ones, and I felt much, much better.

I still have the nagging feeling that I should have consulted the mainstream medical system before going off-piste. And I am still completely intolerant of those who preach that modern life is killing us - life expectancy and physical well-being are better than never before - worrying about being gluten intolerant when you are not will do you more harm than good. And I detest those snake oil salesmen who try to hitch dubious health and environmental 'solutions' to the environmental agenda (I'm looking at you homeopaths and magnets-for-efficiency hawkers)...

...but I'm going back to the chiropractor on Monday. Maybe I'm mellowing a little.



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26 January 2015

3 Ways to Use the 80/20 Rule for Sustainability


My new book, Accelerating Sustainability using the 80/20 Rule, draws heavily on The 80/20 Rule by Richard Koch. Koch takes the general idea of the 80/20 Rule – that 80% of outcomes are usually determined by just 20% of outcomes (and vice versa) – and illustrates it across a very wide range of applications, from investments to our personal lives. He proposes two different ways of using the rule, both of which can be applied to sustainability:

  • 80/20 Analysis: where you carefully collect and analyse data to find the 'vital 20%' of inputs to focus on. An example of this would be when Procter & Gamble carried out a life cycle analysis of washing powder and discovered that 75% of energy use from cradle to grave was down to a single factor – heating the water in your washing machine. They then made this their number one priority.
  • 80/20 Thinking: this is much more intuitive and based on experience. If you think about it, it is logical that the best place to start minimising waste is at the Goods Out end of a factory - this is where the product has maximum value and maximum environmental impact embedded in it. Likewise, it is perfectly clear that lengthy supplier questionnaires will absorb a huge amount of time and effort by both parties, but are unlikely to change much in practice - a more proactive approach is required.

To this, I would add a third - a combination of the two.

For example, on my intro video for the book (below), I use the case study of a company whose plans for employee engagement would have taken a huge effort to engage a very large number of people who have very little influence on the carbon footprint of the company. It took a combination of my intuition and their data to come to the conclusion that a different audience should be prioritised. By using 80/20 Thinking, the act of 80/20 Analysis can be streamlined, avoiding 'paralysis by analysis'.

For most, I think this combined approach will deliver best results.


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23 January 2015

Watch On Demand: 15 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2015

15 for 2015

If you missed our fab 15 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2015 on Wednesday, you can catch it by clicking here (viewer download required).

The webinar was a taster for our Green Academy training series. To get full benefit from the session you should download the workbook here and complete it as you watch.


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21 January 2015

Why the 80/20 Rule will get us to sustainability faster

Before Christmas, my fifth book, Accelerating Sustainability using the 80/20 Rule, was published. I'm really excited about it as it sets out a manifesto for sustainability practitioners to cast off the chains of unimportant detail that hold us back and really start to make leaps forward.

The 80/20 Rule says that 20% of our efforts deliver 80% of results, so we should focus on that vital 20% and relegate the other 80% - the trivial many - to the 'nice to have' tray. Here's why using the 80/20 rule can help you get to sustainability faster:

  • You declutter, getting rid of all the trivial stuff which clogs your to do list - whether to have paper or plastic coffee cups, how to keep your green champions happy, where to source recycled pencils - and focusses your thinking on the actions which will really make a difference.
  • You focus your limited resources - personal energy, time, goodwill and cash - on the issues and people which will really make a difference (the video intro above gives a great example of how this works in employee engagement).
  • It prevents you implementing dubious 'solutions' such as green champions just because everybody else is doing the same, and forces you to justify your efforts to yourself.
  • You avoid paralysis by analysis: 80/20 thinking says when you have enough information to act, then act.
  • You avoid paralysis by perfection: because 80/20 thinking only targets 80% of the problem, you tend to implement the kind of pragmatic, effective solutions which work but which perfectionists hate.

The 80/20 Rule can feel brutal, even Darwinian, but given the pressing need to address these issues, we need to be a lot more pragmatic and a lot less idealist and get things moving!

Join our webinar on 28 January 2015 to learn more about how the 80/20 Rule can revolutionise your sustainability programme. Click here for more.

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19 January 2015

The Rules of the Game - but whose rules?

secret raceAt the weekend I finished reading The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton - the coruscating inside story of the doping scandal that rocked the cycling world and eventually led to the downfall of its golden child, Lance Armstrong. Hamilton was telling the story from the point of view of a cheat, a liar and a fraud, but he asked the killer question: if you had fought to the very top of your field and then found that the only way to compete was to cheat, what would YOU do?

As I'm sure most people would reply, I'd like to think I'd blow the whistle. But would I?

Back in my early twenties, I was given a work placement in a small electronics company working in a very competitive field, with the axe always hanging over the workforce. As well as the QA work I was there to do, I was asked by one of the salesmen to help him out. He'd had a query from a potential client about the specs of their product compared to competitors. He asked me to put together the figures.

When I proudly presented them to him, he said "Right, go back and anywhere where our spec is below the others, bump ours up until it is even." I stared at him, gobsmacked. He gave me an avuncular look, "Look son, this is how you play the game, everybody does it, we wouldn't be able to compete if we didn't." I looked around at the other guys in the room. No-one spoke, but my boss nodded.

Of course I should have said "Do your own dirty work." but I didn't. I felt the peer pressure and caved. I went and changed the figures and passed them back to him.

It turned out that the dodgy figures were never used, so I never became an accessory to an actual deception. But that was just luck. Peer pressure from the prevailing culture had made me compromise my values. OK, it was a long, long way from cheating your way to 7 Tour de France yellow jerseys, but the underlying principle was the same, just (radically) different circumstances.

In banking, politics and the media, to name just a few, the culture has been so corrupted that cheating has become the norm. And the question is, are those people morally weaker than average, or are they just being human? Hamilton argues the latter.

Of course, the same cultural pressures can be used for good. In the same way that 'dopers' are now ostracised in pro-cycling, a positive ethical culture makes 'doing the right thing' seen as a virtue rather than as priggishness. If you want to have an ethical culture, you've got to show ethical leadership. When someone stands up and says "this isn't right" they need to be embraced, not ostracised.

And if you are interested in ethics, Hamilton's book's definitely worth a read!


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16 January 2015

The easy road to employee engagement for sustainability

OK, cards on the table time. I am a very frustrated man.

  • Frustrated because employee engagement/behavioural change is critically important;
  • Frustrated because everybody says that they are struggling with it;
  • Frustrated because Green Jujitsu is a proven way to make meaningful engagement easy, yet hardly anybody uses it, and those who do find it by trial and error.

This is despite me sending The Art of Green Jujitsu (above) to hundreds of major educational establishments and industry groups - views of the cartoon have struggled to 5,700 over two years. And if you Google 'Green Jujitsu', you'll only get material produced by me or martial arts clubs. It has not caught on.

It's not as if anyone has produced a rival philosophy of engagement, people just seem mentally stuck banging their heads against the wall and hoping they get lucky. I sometimes wonder whether there is a masochist tendency in our profession.

Make life easy.

Find the overlap between sustainability and the existing culture of the organisation/team/individual and start there.

It's that simple.

And it works.

What have you got to lose?


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14 January 2015

Nurse your employee engagement with combined benefits

Young Female Patient Talking To Nurse In Emergency Room

As part of a piece of work for one of our NHS clients, I've been working my way through the organisation's latest sustainability strategy documents. I came across this lovely case study from Barts Health NHS Trust which summed up the benefits of the Green Jujitsu approach to sustainability (although they don't call it that):

The engagement showed that focussing solely energy reduction was not received as well as actions that combined improving patient experience with energy saving. As a result a pilot scheme was developed that asked staff to do three simple things, each with a patient benefit:

1. Turn off equipment when not in use, reducing excessive heat and noise

2. Switch off lights to help promote sleep and reduce light pollution

3. Close doors to improve patient safety and privacy, and help regulate room temperatures.

Staff responded, and patient experience was improved with fewer reports of noise disturbance or poor privacy. In addition, these simple actions achieved savings of £105,000 and opportunities for estimated savings of up to £800,000 on energy bills across the trusts £12m energy bill.

Green Jujitsu says work with the existing culture in the organisation, not against it, and this is a perfect example. Health professionals get up in the morning to improve life for their patients. Sustainability professionals want to save the world. These two ambitions could conflict, but, by finding the sweetspot where patient welfare and sustainability can be enhanced in a single action, the Trust found the formula for success. Brilliant.

So what actions in your organisation would deliver for the business, your colleagues AND sustainability?


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12 January 2015

Why I won't be applying to be a Chartered Environmentalist

green superhero

The IMechE is 'relaunching' (always a worrying phrase) their CEnv, or Chartered Environmentalist, qualification this week in response to "spectacular growth" in clean tech, renewable energy and sustainability reports BusinessGreen this morning.

I won't be applying for it.

Why not?

My whole ethos is to make sustainability "the new normal". In this ideal scenario, every engineer will have the skills required to do their job in a sustainable economy. That job may be in renewable energy systems or electric vehicles or low carbon housing or developing the circular economy, but it will be nothing special - just what they do. In this convergence model, people like me will be redundant - that's my life's ambition!

At a time when renewable/low carbon energy is putting in a real challenge to the status quo, electric vehicle sales are growing fast and the circular economy is starting to emerge, we want to be heralding their emergence into the mainstream, not creating further ghettoisation of the sector.

CEnv just seems to me another step towards to a high priesthood of sustainability, muttering their incantations about mindfulness around the roped off altar of their own self-righteousness. We need a popular movement, snowballing rapidly, not fragmenting into cliques.

So, no offence, IMechE, but I won't be sad if the CEnv sinks below the waves immediately on its relaunch.


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9 January 2015

Do you really want to make sustainability everybody's responsibility?

people hands

Interesting piece in Guardian Sustainable Business yesterday, predicting that 2015 would be the year when businesses made sustainability part of everybody's job description.

On first reading, that sounds great. But is it really, in practice?

I haven't had a job description for over eight years, but I recall there was always some vaguely worded phrase such as "uphold the values of the organisation" which was never mentioned again. If this sustainability proposal is implemented in this way, then everybody would get a bullet point "Contribute to sustainability." Full stop. Job done.

And what would change? Nothing.

To make a difference, you need to translate your overall sustainability objectives so they are relevant individual job roles. And if you are going to do that for everyone, that is a huge task. And how long are you going to spend agonising over the job description of, say, a receptionist who doesn't make many sustainability-related decisions throughout a normal day?

The 80/20 Rule tells us that, in general, a small number of people have disproportionate influence on any outcome. So it makes sense to spend your limited time and energy on that cohort. As Ramon Arratia of Interface puts it:

We tell our employees about Mission Zero and what they have to do, but we only engage intensively with employees who carry influence on sustainability. Engagement for the sake of it doesn’t have any value. So we identify the people with biggest influence on Mission Zero and try to enable them to use that influence in a positive way.

This is classic 80/20 thinking. Focus your efforts on the small number with the largest influence rather than trying to reach everybody with a diluted effort. I give another employee engagement example in the introduction video for my new book.

Don't forget that if you want to learn more about 80/20 thinking and sustainability, we have a webinar on 28th January on that very topic. More details here.


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7 January 2015

Cut the Green Crap!

Scissors icon glossy green round buttonThere's far too much green crap around.

I'm not talking about the clean energy subsidies that PM David Cameron was (allegedly) referring to using these words. No, I'm talking about the real green crap that actually holds sustainability back:

  • Pointless 'green' giveaways - recycled plastic pencils that break your pencil sharpener, desk thermometers that get binned, bars of fair-trade chocolate that get eaten and forgotten. What's the point?
  • Green Champions - most networks of green champions I see are dysfunctional and a huge amount of energy is being spent desperately trying to keep the network going. Give responsibility to people with authority instead - and use the time freed up to do something useful.
  • Gimmicks like putting sweets on people's computer keyboards if they switch off their computer overnight. I'm forever surprised that organisations will pay consultants good money to spout nonsense like this.
  • Supplier questionnaires - many suppliers spend so much time responding to different customer's questionnaires, they don't have time to actually improve their performance - and then find the data provided rarely has any influence in contract decisions.
  • Awareness posters - when was the last time you saw a poster and changed your life significantly? I'm guessing never.
  • Regurgitating idiotic received wisdom - if you need to buy a drink, bottled water will almost certainly have a lower ecological footprint than all of the alternatives except thirst. Not all biodiesels are evil. Carbon offsetting is not immoral - no-one dies.
  • Talking woo-hoo eco-bollocks like 'eco-centric world views', 'endosymbiotic thrivability' or 'spiritual animistic reverence'. Just don't. No-one will listen anyway.
  • Hitching sustainability to the latest fad. "You can't have sustainability without mindfulness" someone told me recently. You know what? You can.

If you make one sustainability resolution this year, how about to cut the green crap?


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5 January 2015

Here's to a sustainable 2015!

Goals 2015Happy New Year everyone!

It's the traditional time to set ourselves goals for the year ahead (why we pick the dark, dank days of January for this challenge, I'll never know). As usual, we are totally committed in 2015 to helping you propel your sustainability programme forward, so here are some things you should do right now:

  1. Sign up to the Low Carbon Agenda - full of hints and tips every month, but January's edition will be have some special offers to mark the publication of my fifth book, Accelerating Sustainability using the 80/20 Rule, including free 1 to 1 coaching.
  2. Sign up for the accompanying Accelerating Sustainability using the 80/20 Rule webinar on 28 January to find out how one simple change of mindset can take your sustainability programme to the next level.
  3. Sign up for the Green Academy taster webinar on 21 January: 15 Kick-Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2015 - we'll be inspiring you with some really great ideas from simple tweaks to huge mindset changes.

And don't forget you can always Ask Gareth.

Here's to your sustainability success in 2015!


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