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June 2016 - Terra Infirma


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29 June 2016

Urban Sustainability in Walthamstow

miniholland orchard

I'm down in North East London for a couple of days learning about the 'mini-Holland' project in Walthamstow – a substantial investment in making suburban streets cycle/walking/people friendly. I'm here with my local councillor hat on, but I thought some of you would be interested in both the design concepts and some of the change management 'issues'.

You see, the mini-Holland projects have kicked off some pretty virulent opposition, including organised demonstrations. Even when I tweeted I was on my way to see the project, I got two negative replies saying the changes had caused traffic chaos while doing nothing to increase cycling, with only one person being positive. So progress has been fairly gnarly despite the Council's extensive attempts at consultation and co-design.

play bollardsFor many people, me included, it is hard to see who would prefer to have thousands of cars rat-running through their street every day rather than a mini-orchard and wildflowers - see pic above. The project involves some really lovely design touches, such as the bollards/kids' obstacle course hybrid shown right and lots of other beautification.

While some of those who opposed changes have changed their minds, many others, as we have seen, have stuck to their guns. Unfortunately, the project manager could offer no magic wand to deal with this, other than a tin hat, and one of the team confided to us that he probably would turn down a similar project role in the future as it had been so tough.

This is a real shame as we could see benefits just pedalling around – the traffic restricted shopping streets were clearly much more vibrant than those with traffic. The dad cycling past with his 6 year old son on the roadway was highly symbolic of a better future. As with many elements of sustainability, we know where we need to be, but getting there is the challenge.

 

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27 June 2016

Don't get too worried about Brexit just yet...

Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. UK Flag and EU Flag. British Union Jack flag.

Yesterday at a kids party, a neighbour of mine asked me "You must be even more furious about the EU referendum result than I am?" She was quite surprised when I told her I was "sanguine" about it, despite having actively campaigned for an 'IN' vote.

Why? The most pivotal moment since the momentous result was the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron refusing to pull the trigger on 'Article 50' which would start the Brexit process. This means that whoever takes over from him would have to actively pitch the country into the unknown. A poisoned chalice indeed.

If that is a Remainer Tory PM, what incentive is there to press the button and risk long term damage to our country? If it's the current favourite, Brexiter Boris Johnson, he's already signalled that there is "no rush", that initial negotiations with the EU should be "informal" and that he wants to maintain a close relationship with Europe – a statement which has been interpreted as swift back-pedalling. If a new PM went to the polls, there's a strong chance of a change of Government and the possibility of a party standing on a Remain ticket forming part of the Government. The EU referendum result is only advisory in law and could be trumped by an electoral mandate.

So there is no Brexit plan and no enthusiasm from anyone to make one. And my prediction is that, as the cold light of reality shines on the implications of walking away from the EU, Brexit will slowly but surely become Fudgit.

OK, but if I'm wrong, and we suddenly find ourselves on our own, what are the implications for Sustainability in the UK?

Well all existing EU environmental directives are enshrined in UK law during the implementation phase, so a post Brexit Government would have to actively dismantle what is there. Future directives would at least partly have to be adopted by UK companies to maintain trading links – and may be imposed as a condition of staying in the single market. The biggest downside of Brexit from this point of view would be our lack of a seat at the table when such directives are drawn up.

Also, we are a global economy. So if we want to sell to, say, Walmart, P&G or Unilever, our industry would be required to comply with their supply chain targets. These will only ever get more ambitious.

So, while I believe Brexit is the wrong path for our country, I'm not convinced that it will happen, or indeed that the drivers for sustainable business will diminish much if it did.

 

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23 June 2016

Why you've got to embrace tribalism in Sustainability

Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. UK Flag and EU Flag. British Union Jack flag.

I've just been to the polling station to vote in the EU Referendum. And I voted... drum-roll... IN!

But you probably guessed that, not just because I've blogged about it before, but because I'm a Sustainability Professional and Edie has found that 75% of us are voting IN (and 7% are unsure).

If you knew the area I live in, you'd probably guess correctly as it's a very middle-class-intelligentsia neighbourhood, never mind that RemaIN posters outnumber LEAVE by at least 5:1.

If you knew I'm a (sometimes reluctant) Guardian reader then you'd also put money on me being IN.

I'm a bit bloody predictable, aren't I?

On the other hand, if I was wedded to my car and a climate sceptic, you would put money on me voting Leave. And almost nothing would change my mind, certainly not the towering pile of economic statistics the RemaIN campaign has been throwing around with gay abandon.

This referendum, like most elections, will be decided by a relatively small number of people who do not fit neatly into a few rather big tribes. And we tend to listen to other people in our tribes - reading newspapers which reflect our values. In social media this is known as the echo chamber as you say something and just hear the same thing back (I've started trying to break this habit and seek out articles by journalists who are interested in why people who they disagree with don't think like them.) We are tribal.

This tribalism is exactly why most employee engagement fails. Sustainability practitioners talk to their colleagues using sustainability language, images and arguments – and then get a shock when it doesn't register with the intended audience. Green Jujitsu is all about acknowledging the obvious fact that people unengaged in Sustainability aren't (and maybe won't ever be) members of the Sustainability tribe. It's about understanding the other tribe and translating Sustainability appropriately.

The NHS experiment on engaging nursing staff on energy efficiency is a fantastic example. "Switch it off and save the planet" didn't work. "Switch it off and save the NHS money" didn't work. "Switch it off and your patients will get better sleep" did – because the nursing tribe values patient care above everything else.

So accept we are tribal – and work with it.

 

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20 June 2016

I like to ride my bicycle...

cycloneOn Saturday, I finally tested my cycling ability (and new midlife-crisis carbon-fibre bike) at the Virgin Cyclone Sportive – 64 miles around Northumberland and including the notorious Ryals climb - hence the grimace in the pic! I did much better than I expected, coming 83rd fastest out of the 855 who finished this circuit [head swells alarmingly] - not that it's a race. No.

Actually, I'm just as delighted about my eldest son suddenly getting the cycling bug, with a 'can we go on our bikes' a constant refrain. With the younger two already keen, and their mother enjoying a tootle on two wheels too, the Kane family is gearing up for many enjoyable days out.

And next week I'm off down to the big smoke with my Councillor hat on to see the 'mini-Holland' in Waltham Forest to learn how to bring cycling to more people here in Newcastle. All in all, I'm spending a lot of time on or thinking about bikes.

Cycling is, obviously, the best thing in the world. It is low carbon, healthy, promotes clean air, cheap (unless you're a middle aged man...), supports local services, creates convivial communities – the list goes on. And, compared to many solutions to the climate crisis, it's a pretty easy way to engage with your employees. Decent bike storage, showers and lockers will go a long way to promote cycling to work. Working with local authorities to improve cycle links to your premises can lead to even bigger gains. Providing maps, maintenance courses and organising cycle events can help even further.

Are you cycle friendly? You should be.

"When I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race." - H. G. Wells

 

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17 June 2016

What makes people make greener decisions?

world brainI'm coming to the end of one of my favourite ever projects – some research into what motivates a client's employees to make greener decisions. I started off with a review of the academic literature and what struck me was how inconsistent it was. I've just checked for any new academic papers published in the meantime, and I found the same. Every study or meta-study I read came up with different conclusions, which is very frustrating.

If I had to nominate the three, highly interlinked, factors I think make the most difference, I would plump for:

  1. Leadership: commitment flows from the top, and transformational leadership is required to deliver the scale of change required.
  2. Culture: few people will stride out on their own, they need to feel they have their peers at their side.
  3. Participation: directly involving people in Sustainability is the surefire method of getting them enthused and will give them a deeper understanding of the issues than any lunchtime lecture.

OK, that's just a gut instinct answer, but given the paucity of evidence from academia, it seems as good a guide as any.

What do you think?

 

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15 June 2016

Catch Up: Sustainability Masterclass

people hands

Last week, we launched the inaugural Sustainability Masterclass – an attempt to get bring the power of the peer-to-peer learning we use in the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (CoSM) to the reach and accessibility of our Green Academy webinars. It was broadly successful with very positive feedback from participants.

You can catch the session by clicking here. You'll be prompted to download the Webex viewer and, for the full experience you should open the chat screen.

Having proved the concept, we are now going to have to work out how to continue delivering this into the future. If you want notification of future events, make sure you sign up to the Low Carbon Agenda (see box right).

 

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13 June 2016

How good are you, really?

business angel

Cracking column by Eva Wiseman in yesterday's Observer on the trials of trying to live ethically – self-coruscating about the blind eye she turns to ethical issues we don't really want to confront, as we all do.

It reminded me of one of my favourite books, How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. It concerns a middle-class left-leaning doctor, whose feckless, selfish husband suddenly flips into a paragon of selfless virtue. He insists on giving away any unnecessary possessions to those less fortunate, and lets random homeless people live in their house. She knows she should welcome his values, but hates the privation and fears for her family. It's not the world's greatest novel, but I just love the premise.

As a local elected politician for the last 12 years, I've learnt not to try and portray myself as ethically superior to my political rivals as no-one is perfect and I'll eventually stumble. And I am always instantly suspicious of those who do claim the moral high ground as they're often the very ones who turn out to be crooked.

Which brings us to business. If you are going to portray your organisation as 'ethical', you'd better expect the press to go over your affairs with a fine tooth comb and you won't be able to control the stories that emerge, whether fair or otherwise.

In my opinion, the best strategy is 'show, don't tell' – demonstrating good behaviour in practice with with no overarching claim to sainthood. After all, people believe what they see more than what they read.

 

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10 June 2016

The perversity of low mileage...

S-Max

Gnnyuh. I'm just off the phone to our garage. Our car battery has run flat a couple of times in the last few months, but the mechanics can't find a drain. They've concluded that because we drive so little, the battery isn't getting enough charging time between start up and shut down sequences. Yes, our mileage is 'too low' and they're recommending we work some longer journeys into our routine.

This is what we call a perverse incentive. It encourages 'bad' behaviour and penalises 'good'. You will find many examples in your organisation, too. The best way to winkle them out is get a group of colleagues together and let them grumble!

It's also a poor example of design. Our need for an urban bus that will take 3 or 4 child seats (ruling out car clubs on practical grounds) several times a week with the occasional family trip, but not for regular commuting, can't be unique.

The new Tesla Model X is a 7 seater, and if they'd like to send one on permanent trial...

 

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8 June 2016

Beware the safety of the herd...

herd of african elephants on the move

Have you ever tried making a complaint to a large organisation? You'll get a whole load of guff back about how they take every concern seriously, explaining the process they will follow and what do you almost certainly get by the end? A half acknowledgement that they got something wrong and a convoluted explanation of why they're not going to do a damn thing about it.

Just this morning I presented a large committee (unrelated to my professional career) with photographic evidence of a serious local problem along with other evidence as to the cause. Others around the table simply talked away the problem (with no counter evidence, just anecdote, opinion and subject changing) until it was implicitly agreed that while this was indeed an issue, there was no real need to do anymore than the current, evidently inadequate actions. Next agenda item...

This frustrates the hell out of me, but more seriously, when you look at huge scandals such as the child abuse in the Catholic Church, the emissions cheating in the car industry, or the prevalence of doping in Lance Armstrong-era professional cycling, the herd will always close ranks to see off any perceived threat. The logical knots that groups of people will tie themselves in to avoid uncomfortable truths is astonishing. We are herd animals and the instinct to run with and defend the herd is very strong – which is why whistleblowers get ostracised when they do stand up and say "this isn't right!"

This is one reason why trying to bring sustainability into large organisations is so difficult. Of course the trick is to get the herd moving in the direction you need it to move, but believing that this direction is the best way to go – what I call Green Jujitsu.

 

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6 June 2016

The Day After World Environment Day

wed2012_final_en-01Yesterday was World Environment Day.

Did you do anything special for it?

And more importantly, if you did, will you do it again today?

Did you reach out to other people?

If so, what do you think they'll do differently today? And tomorrow?

Doing something environmentally friendly for one day is pointless – just a drop in the ocean to make us feel good. That's why I think all these multifarious green weeks, days and hours do more harm than good. We think we are 'raising awareness', we think we are achieving something, we feel good about it, but how much effort does it use up? How much of it speaks to those outside the green movement? How much difference does it make long term?

For sustainability, every day has to be World Environment Day, and not just consciously, but subconsciously too.

 

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3 June 2016

Sustainability: Surviving or Thriving?

Cycle helmet

So, I've conformed to type. Just a few weeks after turning 45, I went out and bought a carbon fibre road bike – one which I cannot really justify in terms of either affordability or ability. But I had to have one. And I got one. And I love it. I am a MAMIL.

I've also entered the 64-mile Cyclone Sportive in a couple of weeks time. With young kids it's hard to get training in, but I'm determined to do so, both to get used to the new bike and get my legs used to some work. I took this morning off and did 37 miles (plus coffee/cake stop, above), rushing back for a small child handover (it's half term). Mrs K is very bemused by all this, in a reasonably tolerant way.

"You'll get round fine." she said as we compared diaries for some more training slots.

"Yes, but I want to get round in style." I shot back.

As I pedalled I mulled on the parallels between getting by and excelling in cycling and in Sustainability. Some organisations take the "What's the minimum we can do to keep out of jail?" approach, others aim for mid-table mediocrity, but the best take great pleasure in striving for excellence. They don't just want to meet their targets, they want to raise the bar and do it in style. I want to enjoy my sportive, and I want to do, for me, an excellent time, not just get round.

You can scale these mindsets up to the global level – when we achieve Sustainability, do we want to be surviving or thriving? I saw a mind map on LinkedIn yesterday whose underlying assumption is that we need to get rid of plastic. I countered that plastic gives us many great things – lightweight fuel-efficient vehicles (including road bikes), packaging which cuts food waste and almost every household appliance – rather we need to phase out plastic waste.

In fact, if you followed all the suggestions on the mind map to the letter, we'd be back in the days of subsistence farming – scraping an existence. How are you going to sell that to the public? How are you going to sell that to me, for goodness sake?

You'll never sell a hair shirt (and why would you want to?), we've got to sell a compelling vision of humanity thriving in a sustainable future. So let's do Sustainability and lets do it in style!

 

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1 June 2016

Wild(ish) in Wooler

wooler

I wasn't planning on blogging today – in fact I had intended to be waking up for my fourth morning under canvas (well, nylon) at Wooler at the north end of the Cheviots. However our deliberations on the weather came to an abrupt conclusion when the cheap gazebo we used for cooking took off yesterday morning, leaving me standing in a field, holding a full cafetiere in a stiff northerly wind, with a surprised expression on my face. However difficult it was to dismantle the tent in the wind yesterday, it was going to be easier than doing it with the same wind plus precipitation this morning.

But before that slightly dramatic end (thank god most people left our field on Monday – that flying gazebo could have done some real damage) we had a fantastic time. Breakfast with buzzards soaring overhead then swooping down and scattering rabbits, some really gorgeous walks with picnics, the boys playing in the stream that runs through the camp site, dinner al fresco and bedtime stories as the sun went down (see pic). I also got to sneak off for a 46 mile coffee ride on my brand new carbon fibre road bike (well I have just turned 45 so I had to buy one).

I try not to get too romantic about the 'back to nature' element of camping – all the high-tech fabrics, sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses, gas cooker and cool bags make our annual family forays very comfortable. But there is something wonderful about being buffeted that wind, hearing the peep of the oystercatcher protecting its young in the middle of the night and watching the kids really get down with nature (although the 'slug licking' maybe went a tad too far).

Is the model of embedding oneself in nature while wearing a Polartec fleece and a Gore-tex cagoule the one for our sustainable future? Appropriate technology allowing us top quality of life in harmony with our fantastic natural world sounds like a winner to me.

Although the fate of our gazebo, now lying mangled in Wooler's household waste recycling centre, reminds us what happens when we get it wrong.

 

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