Gareth's Blog

Recent Posts

Archives

Archives

March 2015 - Terra Infirma


Browse All

30 March 2015

Marks & Spencer's Living Wall Comes to Life

mands green wall
It was my forty-mmmth birthday yesterday and I had a lovely day – breakfast in bed, pub lunch, birdwatching (yellow hammer, willow tit, water rail the highlights), a beer in the sun and dinner. But an completely unexpected treat on the way home was seeing the newly installed 'living wall' at Marks & Spencer lit up in all its glory.

The wall is 167 square metres, constructed from nearly 16,000 individual plants, and is designed to bring birds and insects into the centre of Newcastle. I'm sure the bees in the hives on the roof of Fenwicks just down Northumberland Street will be highly appreciative.

And if you think this is just green bling, the store is getting a massive sustainable energy makeover with intelligent door sensors and a system to use waste heat from refrigeration internally.

Great to see M&S continuing to forge the path on these issues – and even better that its on my doorstep!

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

27 March 2015

When 'ethical' can be unethical...

business angel

A very interesting point was raised by a Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group member at last week's meeting:

The easiest ethical choices are often not very ethical, for example it is easiest to avoid buying conflict minerals by avoiding buying from the Democratic Republic of Congo altogether, but you’re actually hurting a country which desperately needs a stronger economy. You should be supporting the 'good' mineral sector.

Wow! That triggers a whole load of questions in my mind:

  • Where does the boundary of ethical responsibility lie?
  • How do you assess the ethical implications of what good things you could do, but aren't doing?
  • Is it ethically OK to wash your hands of an issue like this, or should you dive in and try and solve it?
  • Is there a responsibility for corporations to use their buying power for good?
  • The press and NGOs have a tendency to take a very simplistic black and white view of business ethics issues – ironically given their own ethical missteps – what's their responsibility to be objective and not chase a headline?
  • Can 'ethical' legislation do more harm than good?
  • When is it right to walk away?

Answers on the back of a postcard, please!

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

25 March 2015

Sustainability Across the Generations

CoSM10

Last Friday we held the tenth Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting at the wonderful Lumley Castle in County Durham. The topic was 'Sustainability Across the Generations" – how do Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers and Millennials respond to the sustainability agenda?

As usual there was no Powerpoint, just facilitated discussion using one of my large templates (which you can see on the table above). We generated a whopping 78 learning points. Here's a selection of those:

General Generational Issues

  • You need to listen to the pulse of the organisation;
  • Generational profile of customers more important for B2C than B2B organisations;
  • There is an age profile up the reporting structure of established organisations; those with authority tend to be older, but we need to attract the next generation in towards the bottom;
  • As people age they tend to become more pragmatic and less idealistic;
  • There is a regional context – eg US millennials are quite different to Chinese millennials.

Baby Boomers

  • This is the generation which first became broadly aware of sustainability, for example via Silent Spring;
  • Anathema to ‘waste’ may be a more powerful hook than, say, climate risks;
  • Some may fear that their skills will become obsolete in a low carbon world;
  • “We’ve always done it this way” is a tough barrier to overcome;
  • Legacy is a powerful driver – especially for senior management – what kind of organisation would you like to leave behind you?
  • Coaching is often better than training for this generation – ‘arm around the shoulder’;
  • “I would like your help with…” is a good opening gambit.

Generation X

  • Grew up with the maturing sustainability agenda, eg the 1992 Earth Summit;
  • The ‘change generation’ – sees upsides and downsides;
  • This generation is now moving into key decision making positions – an opportunity but also a threat as they have plenty on their plate;
  • Probably the generation where engagement can have the biggest impact;
  • Co-inventing solutions secures ‘skin in the game’;
  • Find ways to communicate “What’s In It For Me” – eg build links between sustainability and their KPIs.

Millennials

  • First consciously green generation – but they often respond to activism more than working through the system;
  • Can be naïve about their own impacts – eg on upgrading technology/fast fashion;
  • Graduates are definitely applying to companies with good reputations;
  • Less loyal to corporations – if they don’t like what they see, they will move on;
  • Have been educated on the basics of sustainability, need to learn how to implement it in practice;
  • Social media can spread untruths as fast or faster than truths – fosters a lack of fact-checking;
  • A good tactic is to challenge millennials – “if you think this is important, set up a team and write a proposal.”

The Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group is a small group of senior sustainability professionals from major organisations who meet quarterly to explore a burning question in depth. If you want to learn more click here.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

23 March 2015

My Sustainability Brain Dump

cover170x170I was interviewed by Anthony Day for his weekly Sustainable Futures Show podcast recently and we had a great old chin wag which covered a whole range of my favourite sustainability topics:

  • How I got started in sustainability;
  • How others can get started;
  • The business case for sustainability;
  • Sustainability leadership;
  • How to do employee engagement properly (Green Jujitsu);
  • Integrating sustainability properly;
  • How the 80:20 rule can help you accelerate sustainability;
  • Measuring progress.

...and a whole lot more. You can hear what I had to say by clicking here.

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

20 March 2015

Green SME Interview: Alex Hurst, Phoenix Taxis

Alex Hurst PhoenixAlex Hurst is the CEO of Phoenix Taxis based in Blyth Northumberland which currently has the biggest operational fleet of electric cars in the UK. In this revealing interview he tells the story of the business and some important insights into running a green business in the real world. It includes the first case I've come across of a sustainable decision being made in response to supplier pressure, rather than customer pressure.

What’s the history of Phoenix Taxis?

Phoenix taxis was started in 1990 by my Dad. Since then we’ve operated within the licensing restrictions of what was Blyth Valley in South East Northumberland. From 1990 to 2009, the company steadily grew to 80 cars. Since then, when the restrictions were relaxed, we were able to expand to the rest of Northumberland and since 2010, when I joined the business, we’ve managed to more than double in size to over 200 vehicles.

And when did the shift to low carbon vehicles happen?

The first step was the Nissan LEAF being the first widespread consumer EV available on the market. We kept an eye on it as, before me, my Dad has always used alternative fuels – LPG instead of petrol or diesel because of the cost savings. When the LEAF came onto the market, the subsidies from the Government made it a cost effective option as a taxi. We then had to get it licensed as a taxi.

We had a lot of trouble as it is quite small – many Councils including Northumberland refused, but we got on to Nissan who persuaded them to grant a license – I’m exactly not sure how! We got funding for six charging posts to accelerate the process, but they didn’t work. That held us up for 6-12 months because we couldn’t get more cars – we were limited to the two LEAFs we had bought in 2012 until the infrastructure was sorted.

However it was about this time, with just a couple of EVs and a couple of hybrids, that we realised that there was a customer demand for sustainable transport particularly amongst large corporate clients. We now have 41 hybrids and 32 EVs – that’s the biggest operational fleet of EVs on the road – I don’t know how long that will last when people cotton on to it!

So, the business case evolved from cost saving to customer demand?

Yes, definitely.

And you’ve now got a Lexus Hybrid and a Telsa Model S – did that come from customer demand? Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

18 March 2015

How not to communicate climate change by the Guardian

Alan_Rusbridger_by_Alessio_Jacona_-_International_Journalism_Festival_2014The Guardian is undoubtedly the UK's best newspaper for covering environmental issues, so it was no surprise when outgoing Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger made climate change his swan song. Unfortunately I can't help thinking the results of this well-meaning effort represent everything that's wrong with our attempts to communicate climate change.

My first gripe is format: lengthy essays stretching over several pages of dense print. I have only skimmed these myself – and I'm very interested in this stuff! How is anybody with a passing interest meant to dip in? How does it speak to those disengaged? Where are the graphics for goodness sake?

My second problem is the attitude. The series started with a couple of lengthy extracts from Naomi Klein's new book on climate change. Klein admits herself that she has only come to climate lately, having made her name as an anti-capitalist. And of course, her prescription is that it is capitalism to blame for climate change, and that those of us trying to fix the problem without smashing the system are deluded. In other words, it's all the 1%'s fault and the 99% are helpless. Might as well give up, then.

Problem is, Klein is wrong – state socialism has proved just as able as capitalism when it comes to destroying the planet – check out Russia or China's record. And, with carbon emissions stalling last year, it is clear that we can make a real difference without some (impossible) wholesale restructuring of society. I am one of many, including radicals like Jonathan Porritt, who believe we can actually make capitalism work for the planet – bringing competition, innovation and economies of scale to cutting carbon.

The paper did redeem itself with some punchy, provocative pieces by Mark Lynas and Jonathan Freedland arguing we need to de-politicise climate change and get on with tackling it, and not sit navel gazing, but these were in the main paper and not part of the climate specials.

The Beeb showed how climate change communication can be done with Climate Change by Numbers on BBC4. The programme hit the most complex and controversial topics – uncertainty, modelling, predictions, dealing with data gaps – head-on using some very clear, snazzy graphics and great analogies. For example, they demonstrated how attribution models work by analysing the success factors in Premiership football teams, building a model and showing how, if you take any Club's wage bill out of the model, then the correlation between model and reality fail. Likewise, if you take anthropogenic carbon emissions out of climate models, then the models and reality diverge sharply. OK, it was taking on a different debate to the Guardian, but it was arguably a more difficult one, yet they made it engaging and fascinating.

The time for preaching to the choir is over. Climate change is not just an issue for the left-leaning middle-class intelligentsia. We must reach out across the political spectrum, to all tribes in society, and inspire people to engage and to help make change happen. And that's going to require a rethink on how we try to communicate the message.

 

Photo by Alessio Jacona and used under the Creative Commons License.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

16 March 2015

Proof: We ARE winning the climate wars

churchillGood news never hits the headlines – unless it's a famous person's baby – but on Friday the International Energy Agency announced that in 2014, global carbon emissions had 'stalled' for the first time outside a recession.

Now first off, this is bloody good news, full stop. If you have contributed in any way, no matter how big or small, pat yourself on the back right now.

Secondly, while I realise one swallow does not make a summer, there's a constant flow of green infrastructure investment in the pipeline – we're investing over $200bn a year in renewables as prices plunge – so we should expect to see this stall start to evolve into a downturn.

Thirdly, it's one in the eye for all those miserablist doomsters who said it would never happen – and those trying to subsume climate change into a wider political ideology. Our first priority is to cut carbon, not to smash capitalism or reject consumer society – although both may reform as we move forward.

So, as I said, big pat on the back all round, then it's back into the trenches for the next battle!

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

13 March 2015

Sir Ian Cheshire on Sustainable Business Leadership

sir ian cheshireI had a fantastically green night out in London on Tuesday. After an impromptu diversion into a St Patrick's, er, Month drinks reception at the Irish Embassy, my good friend Fiona Harvey, eminent Grauniad environment journo, took me to the extraordinarily posh Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall for dinner and, appropriately enough, an after-dinner talk.

The talk was 'Sustainable Business Leadership' by Sir Ian Cheshire, outgoing CEO of the Kingfisher Group (which owns B&Q). The knighthood was awarded for "services to business, sustainability, and the environment" and what Sir Ian said showed it was richly deserved – here are the quotes I scribbled down:

  • I am attracted to business with a mission and a purpose.
  • Don’t you want to work for a business which makes a difference?
  • Sustainability is the engine for our business.
  • Diversity in teams leads to a huge step forward; don’t pick people like you.
  • You have to recognise which decisions matter and what doesn’t: 4 or 5 big calls will determine 80% of your impact.
  • We live in a hyper-transparent world, you can’t pretend anymore.
  • Do you want to be moderately less evil or net positive? The latter’s much more exciting.
  • You’ve got to give people permission to try stuff.
  • It takes an incredibly long time to explain sustainability to your business – I found it took at least 5 attempts.
  • You’ve got to make your solutions relevant to the DNA of your business.
  • You’ve got to translate sustainability for people. There’s no Russian word for sustainability, but Russians love their forests and their water quality.
  • If you don’t understand the warp and weft of your business, sustainability will not work.
  • Corporates create space for Governments to act.
  • CEO questions can drive innovation.
  • Our drive for FSC kitchens cost us £30m, but the perception of quality in the marketplace went up.
  • Our biggest problem isn’t greenwash but greenhush. We don’t talk enough about what we are doing.
  • Ultimately you need sustainability solutions which scale. Without scalability, we won’t get sustainability.

My advice for anyone trying to deliver sustainability in their organisation is to plunder that list for ideas.

 

Disclosure: The dinner was a private one, so I have run the quotes past Sir Ian to check he was OK with them going public.

Photo taken from snipview.com

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

11 March 2015

Sustainability Must Scale

go green

I was at a rather posh dinner on Pall Mall last night where the speaker was Sir Ian Cheshire, outgoing CEO of Kingfisher and his topic was Sustainable Business Leadership. I'll write up some more of what he said in a future post with quotes, but the point he finished on resonated with me – the need for any sustainability project to scale.

What do we mean by 'scale'?

We mean the project must not be intrinsically hampered by its own nature – it must be able to flourish. Scale brings down prices – we don't talk about 'economies of scale for nothing'.

For example:

  • If you develop an eco-product for a green market niche, then it will always be limited by the size of that niche. To make it scale, you have to make it attractive to the mass market.
  • If you develop an anaerobic digester – if it is very sensitive to the quality of its feedstock then its use will be limited by that sensitivity. If you want to make a real difference, the technology must be applicable to a wide range of situations, including those you haven't thought of.
  • While community recycling projects are admirable, they will never deliver a circular economy on their own – the existing product design and waste industry needs to be transformed.

Scale is often a matter of mindset – we need to stop thinking small (sorry, EF Schumacher) and think big. Only then will sustainability become the new normal.

 

Tags:

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

9 March 2015

The Comfort Zone of Doom

the end is nigh

I'm reading 'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg - the Facebook COO's bright and breezy book on dealing with the disadvantages that women find in the workplace. The main criticism of Sandberg has come from the feminist side - basically accusing her of trivialising the issue and not addressing the deeper sociopolitical issues, as they see them. In other words, she is being slated for cheerfully suggesting simple, practical solutions that work (for her at least), rather than playing the angry victim.

The same debate rumbles on in the sustainability movement. Most commentators are much better at articulating the problem, rather than the solution, and there is a tendency to present any issue as intractable rather than solvable. Most recently we've seen Naomi Klein wade into the climate debate, despite the fact she admits she has no solutions, but she's perfectly happy lecturing the rest of us that we don't understand how big the problem is.

The best solutions in the world are simple, yet any simple solution to major problems is seen not as a way forward, but, again, a form of trivialising the problem.

This is ridiculous.

Doomsaying is as much a comfort zone as denial of the problem. Both encourage inaction when we need action.

As Ross Perot put it:

"The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river."

Let's ignore the doomsayers and, like Sandberg, get off our backsides and do something!

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

6 March 2015

Forget Mindfulness, we need mindless Sustainability

world brainI was once solemnly informed "We won't get to Sustainability without Mindfulness."

If you don't know what Mindfulness is, it's apparently "the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment." And it's all the rage.

My response to my pious friend was "Why not?"

He struggled to answer that one. Maybe I wasn't being accepting enough.

And the more I think about it, the more I think he's 100% wrong.

We cannot function as human beings if we have to be entirely conscious of everything we do - we'd spend all our time focussing on breathing and walking and sitting so much we'd never do anything else. If we require a conscious focus on every sustainability-related decision every day, it'll never be fully integrated into our routines. You can only focus on one thing at a time.

Much better to take the sustainable option by default, by habit or because it's the path of least resistance. We need to design our world so you don't even have to think about sustainability - it just happens.

Frankly, I think we have to be more mindful of nonsensical pronouncements that aren't properly thought through.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

4 March 2015

Are we ignoring the 'social' in Sustainability?


In this edition of Ask Gareth, I consider whether we tend to ignore the social when we talk about 'Sustainability' and some of the issues surrounding definitions.

You can see all editions of Ask Gareth by clicking here.

I rely on a steady stream of killer questions to keep this series running - if you want to submit one fire away!.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

2 March 2015

Obama's Litmus Test is Keystone XL, What's Yours?

iStock_000004249001SmallBarack Obama knows that his commitment to tackling climate change will be critically tested by his decision whether or not to permit the Keystone XL pipeline which would massively increase the flow of oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. There was something of a false alarm last week as it was reported that he had vetoed the pipeline, but he had in fact vetoed a bill in Congress trying to force approval - keeping the decision for himself (source Grist).

These big decisions can take on a symbolic significance way beyond their actual environmental importance (although this is important). Personally, I would like to see the environmental movement adhere to the same faith in scientific evidence with which we berate the climate change denial movement, but it's a fact of life that symbolism matters. This is a litmus test, whether Obama likes it or not.

You may think your decisions are insignificant compared to the POTUS, but they carry the same symbolism within your organisation. It is relatively easy to start doing 'good' stuff, but the litmus test is whether you will stop doing 'bad' stuff.

Great examples include Interface killing off profitable product lines because they involve hazardous flame retardants and B&Q refusing to stock patio heaters because they were against their environmental commitments. In both cases planet was given preference to profit.

So your litmus test is what are you going to STOP doing?

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

Free monthly bulletin:

Learn how to help your business go green from the comfort of your desk..

View events

By Gareth Kane

Everything you need to know to integrate sustainability into the DNA of your business.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

A highly accessible, practical guide to those who want to introduce sustainability into their business or organization quickly and effectively.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

The smart way to engage effectively with employees

View events