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April 2017 - Terra Infirma


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28 April 2017

Mind your Sustainability Language

world brainI first wrote about Green Jujitsu in the sense of choosing your language to suit the audience (I've since expanded that from everything from images to engagement activities) and I've been reminded of the importance of the words we use several times recently:

  • A client who is restructuring and the names of the new divisions reflect what the customer gets – this has had the effect of reinforcing that much of their market is helping others be more Sustainable;
  • A local cycling/walking infrastructure project based on the 'mini-Hollands' in London, but branded with the much more friendly (and descriptive) Streets for People – a move lauded by someone who'd taken a lot of flack when working on the former;
  • Someone who made the mistake of labelling an energy efficiency project as Sustainability rather than cost reduction and then found the project was cancelled to, ironically cut (less) cost.

The whole point of Green Jujitsu is to let go of Sustainability and let the organisation own it in whatever form works for the organisation, and the language you use is the easiest (and cheapest) way to make that happen.

 

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26 April 2017

Beware the HiPPO

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At a meeting this morning, someone used an acronym which I don't think I'd heard before: 'HiPPO' – the Highest Paid Person's Opinion. But I know exactly what it means – I once lost a client because I disagreed with the HiPPO in the room. I was right (naturally), but it didn't matter, the HiPPO prevailed, everybody else fell into line, and the next phase of my involvement in the project never materialised.

It's kind of like that ancient Chinese engineer who suggested the Great Wall of China wasn't being built the best way. The engineer was right (naturally), they adopted his idea, but they lopped off his head anyway for daring to go up against the Emperor. This kind of macho, rutting stag culture annoys the hell out of me, but when it's there, it's there and you have to deal with it.

Of course, the Green Jujitsu approach would have been to persuade the HiPPO that he had realised that there was a much better way of approaching the problem, rather than me, an outsider, dismantling his logic. But you can't win 'em all.

 

Photo © Jon Connell used under creative commons licence

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24 April 2017

Oh to be back in the Bad Ol' Days

pollution

Nostalgia is natural. I love the nostalgia section in our local newspaper, even though I'm not a native of the city. And it is always tempting to hark back to the past – very rarely do you hear anybody say "well, it's much better these days." Personally, I think it comes from evolution – in a natural eco-system the creatures that fear unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells will live longer than those who don't.

C-FL6WuWsAAsK3SBut sometimes nostalgia can reach a level of self parody. While most of us marked last Friday's coal-free day in the UK as a remarkable achievement, the Telegraph published a bizarre lament for the days of smog, smut and "the tang of sulphur" (right).

In my view, coal is fast becoming the litmus test for progressive/conservative split in politics with Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Tony Abbott backing coal. Prominent 'lukewarmer' Matt Ridley's inherited family fortune came from coal (and still does). Often 'clean coal' is invoked to deflect criticism, but coal is always a theme.

The far left dabble in this pool of fossilised nostalgia too, with the UK's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plugging clean coal to bring back mining jobs. One of my favourite bonkers conspiracy theories is that Margaret Thatcher 'invented' climate change to kill off the UK's coal industry. Yeah, right.

It is easy to sneer (as I just have), but we have to remember the power of nostalgia and the lure of 'it could be like our childhood again'. The renewables revolution may seem like a miracle to the readers of this blog, but change always threatens someone. And it is those people we need to engage with – on their terms – rather than preaching to the green choir.

 

 

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21 April 2017

A Cycle-logical Sustainability Opportunity

17972239_10100309071512778_8565556777937556897_oWhile most sensible people were tucking into their Easter Eggs last Sunday, I was braving (very) cold, wet and windy conditions up on the MoD's Otterburn firing ranges as part of the MoD Rocker cycle sportive (we went 106km horizontally, 1.9km upwards). The picture shows what I look like after climbing steadily for an hour then hitting a couple of brutal 17-22% ramps. It's not pretty!

I've been training quite hard for this and a tougher sportive (on paper) in 2 months time. Being self-employed I can go for a ride when it suits me, but it always surprises me quite how many other people I pass out on the road during office hours. We are clearly in a bike boom.

I spend quite a bit of my time promoting cycling as everyday commuting (rather than just for MAMILs like me), but a recent study by Evans Randall Investors of 61 offices in London found that there was a serious lack of facilities for cycling commuters. There was on average just one shower per 240 employees and fewer than one in five offices offering places for cycling commuters to store work clothes.

This seems to me like a golden opportunity for both quick wins and employee engagement. Whether simply providing decent cycle storage facilities, setting up a cycle club, or engaging with the local authority to improve cycle access on/off site, you can not only reduce your impact, but make the local environment better for everybody. Gotta love that!

 

Photo © Neil Bradley

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18 April 2017

Will Sustainability feature in the UK General Election?

polling stationSo, first half day back at work (I'm semi-childminding) and UK PM Theresa May goes and calls a General Election. In some ways not a surprise with the official opposition AWOL, but quite a gamble nonetheless.

And it's a gamble because the campaign will be dominated by one issue and one alone: Brexit. Mrs May wants a mandate to do what she's not really keen on doing, Labour is trying to ride both horses at once and the pro-European Lib Dems are still crawling their way back into contention after their 2015 near-wipeout [Disclosure: I'm a Lib Dem Councillor]. Who knows how this will pan out, but it will be fascinating.

So, will Sustainability feature? Brexit has huge implications for environmental regulation and the Government's Great Repeal Bill, as it stands, could be a big threat to our current environmental regulation, most of which takes its cue from EU Directives. But I don't think The Environment will change many votes because, frankly, most mainstream environmentalists tend to be Remainers and the hard Brexiteers tend towards climate disinterest at best.

But I come back to a point I've been making for a long time. Regulation helps tilt the playing field towards a sustainable economy, but if big business decides it wants to be sustainable, Sustainability will happen whether we are in or out of the EU, whether we have a green-leaning Government or not.

As a consumer, you make a choice every time you open your wallet or click 'Buy Now'. As an employee, you can make greener decisions at work, whether it is switching off a light or redesigning a new product. Of course as a voter, you can back your greenest candidate – but the first two you can do every day and that's what really matters.

 

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13 April 2017

"You can't have Sustainability without X." You probably can...

rant"You can't have Sustainability without a whole new economic model."

"You can't have Sustainability without mindfulness."

"You can't have Sustainability without self care."

"You can't have Sustainability without a reconnection to the natural world."

"You can't have Sustainability without a global agreement."

I hear and read such statements of apparent fact all the time and my bullshit detector goes off immediately. Because, first of all they are simply wrong – maybe some of these X's would help, but none are a 100% prerequisite to Sustainability. And secondly, often the speaker is a purveyor of, say, mindfulness training, looking for a new audience – it's a bit selfish to put their own self-interest in the way of millions of other people's.

But most importantly of all, such restrictive statements either distract from the Sustainability agenda, create barriers that we don't need, or, in many cases, muddy the waters. If we want to bring the general public on board for a sustainable world, we need simple, clear, can-do messages. So let's think about our audiences rather than ourselves.

Rant over.

 

 

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11 April 2017

Don't get down about climate change, stand up!

rabbit-headlights

Yesterday I was scouring the internet for a funny-ish climate/sustainability story to round out the news on this month's edition of The Low Carbon Agenda when I came across this one: a therapist has set up Good Grief, an AA-style programme for those depressed about climate change. I came within a gnat's whisker of taking the mick out of such new-agey nonsense when I saw the story of the plight of the Great Barrier Reef. The first paragraph of this almost sent me searching for a UK branch of Good Grief.

Climate and Sustainability issues can be quite overwhelming and the steady flow of bad news can be not just depressing but paralysing. And if we do nothing, we're just a rabbit sat in the road staring at the headlights.

So, what can we do? Here are few things I do:

  1. Search out and share good news: there's some really big progress being made out there - the collapse of the coal industry, the explosion of renewables, the emergence of good electric cars. This reinforces the feeling that we can do something.
  2. Do something: I was so put off by the holier-than-thou attitude of my local environmental campaign group 20 years ago, I went and joined BTCV and planted more than 400 trees - that felt really good. Buy a bike (and use it instead of the car), stick some extra insulation in the loft, get some more efficient lightbulbs, holiday in the same country a bit more, take the kids pond-dipping – whatever floats your boat.
  3. Do something at work: if your work isn't taking Sustainability seriously, then ask a few loaded questions. One of my clients tells the story of how his CEO was welcoming a group of new graduates. At the end of his speech, he asked for questions. A hand shot up: "Where do I plug in my electric car?" They are now getting charging points.
  4. Invest in the future: when The Donald was elected across the pond, I immediately went and made a modest investment in a wind farm. Take that, Trumpster!

None of these things are going to solve the climate crisis on their own. But what they do is get you off the sofa of despair and on to the front foot. Being proactive is good for the planet and your own wellbeing.

 

[I can't find the owner of the great pic I've used above - if it's your's, let me know]

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7 April 2017

Get Sustainability the right way 'round...

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I recently posted an article on LinkedIn which stated that responsibility for Sustainability and authority to act should be aligned. A below the line commenter agreed saying "Those with responsibility must be given authority."

Well, on reflection, it's the other way around. If you have highly empowered Sustainability champions overruling their bosses then you will get chaos – you are undermining the way the organisation works.

It's the existing decision makers who must be given responsibility. That's the proper embedding of Sustainability into the DNA of the organisation.

 

 

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5 April 2017

I'm not ageist, but...

Vmeldrew

Last week I had a very pleasant coffee and chat with a senior executive with a strong interest in Sustainability. He mentioned in passing that he found employees under the age of 40 tended to come with Sustainability pre-programmed into their outlook, those older than 50 tended to..., er, let's say need a bit more persuading. I've come across similar anecdotal evidence before, so, when I got back to the ranch, I did a bit of googling for some statistics on the subject.

The published evidence appears to back the anecdotes. Here's just one example of what I found, an interesting analysis of US voters by Gallup:

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That's quite a distinctive gap in attitudes – although if 30% of under 29s are not concerned about climate change, it's certainly not a case of 'job done'. But as key decision makers in larger organisations tend to be middle-aged, it is clear that, if roughly half of that age group are sceptical, our best engagement efforts are still required unlock progress.

The good news is that it should get easier!

 

 

 

 

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3 April 2017

Zero waste/carbon vs the 80:20 Rule

world brainWhen it comes to targets, I'm a big proponent of zero: zero waste, zero carbon, zero persistent toxins. Zero focusses the mind in a way that, say, a 2% cut in carbon every year, never will. Zero simply demands attention.

On the flip side, I'm also a big fan of the 80:20 rule – focus on the small number of issues which will have biggest effect on the results (20% of inputs generally cause 80% of outputs), rather than sweating the little stuff. I've also been known to say 'perfection is the enemy of success'. A lot.

Yesterday, for the first time this year, I plonked a deckchair on my lawn and drank a cup of tea and thought. And I thought about whether these two mindsets are contradictory (not for the first time).

And there's an important difference. A goal of zero isn't really about absolute zero. 0.01% is definitely as good as zero, 1% is as good as zero, and, let's face it, even 10% isn't really a disaster. What really matters is the mindset change that zero drives through an organisation. With zero, you can't tinker endlessly with quick wins, you have to go for the big wins and that pushes you to the 80:20 Rule. Once you've got those balls rolling, you can go worry about whatever little stuff is left.

Zero means: 'no more business as usual, things are going to change around here.'

 

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