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June 2017 - Terra Infirma


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30 June 2017

Perfect Green Jujitsu

Green Jujitsu Venn

On Wednesday I was delivering a workshop upskilling green champions at one of my healthcare clients. Just before we got into the meat of the session, learning about green jujitsu (see above) in order to engage effectively with their colleagues, the director with responsibility for Sustainability (amongst a much wider portfolio of responsibility) arrived to talk to the champions.

I'm always a little nervous at times like these as I have to keep my fingers crossed that what 'The Boss' says is aligned to what I am trying to communicate. While I have done a boardroom session where I used green jujitsu to get the board to make the links between the health and sustainability agendas, I haven't explicitly coached them in the technique.

I needn't have worried, the director told the champions clearly that, as their mission was to save and improve lives, then Sustainability was very much part of that mission, whether in terms of air quality, reduction of toxic materials or climate change. That is the perfect green jujitsu, when you can link Sustainability to the core purpose of the organisation.

I then explained the principles of green jujitsu to the champions. We all filter out all the stuff that doesn't interest us and pay attention only to what we want to – like flicking through the magazines in the dentist's waiting room until an article or picture catches our attention. So to get people's attention in Sustainability, you have to find the elements of Sustainability which get through their filters.

If your message is "Stop thinking about what you are passionate about and think about what I am passionate about", you start to sound like the pub bore. My client's employees are passionate about health, so health becomes the starting point every time.

 

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28 June 2017

Killer Sustainability anecdotes (and not in a good way)

ReadersLast week I retweeted a gif showing a well designed cycle crossing being used by a steady stream of ordinary people on bikes – the text of the tweet pointed out that better infrastructure meant more cycling. Somebody replied with a photo of one woman cycling on the pavement beside a cycle lane (she was cycling slightly away from the lane, so may have been heading for a cycle rack or a shortcut, who knows). I thought of half a dozen ripostes, none of them very witty, before deciding to ignore it.

Setting aside what urges would inspire someone to take time out of their day to dig out a picture to try to criticise cycle infrastructure, this illustrates the trap of anecdotal evidence. Apart from a highly-numerate few, we are naturally inclined towards stories and away from robust statistical analysis. So when somebody says "Huh, climate change is nothing new, the Romans used to grow grapes in York." the general public are more likely to file that factoid away than complex graphs of global temperature reconstructions. In the same way one out-of-context, statistically insignificant photo undermines my point regarding infrastructure.

Countering beside-the-point anecdotes is difficult; throwing the question back to the storyteller ("What is that meant to show?") is usually better than trying to argue or fight story with stats.

The flip side is in your own communications you should balance statistics and facts with stories – those anecdotes are what people will remember and relate to.

 

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26 June 2017

Heinz need to ketchup on customer engagement

HZK_3D_38oz-Ketchup-smallLast week I was chatting with a local authority recycling officer, checking exactly what I could put in my recycling bin (and if I'm not 100% sure...). We got on to the Lucozade Sport problem, then he mentioned his bugbear was Heinz, who, he said, don't even label their plastic bottles with recycling codes.

So, in an idle moment I thought I'd try the power of social media and tweeted to Heinz UK to ask why not. They promptly and politely replied that the bottles do have recycling codes, but they're hidden under the cap. I checked and they were right.

But.

But, but, but.

What's the point of hiding away your code? Everybody else puts it on the bottom of the bottle, and those members of the public, like me, who know that code 1 or 2 on a bottle means it can be recycled, will look for it there. Recycling plant operatives will certainly look for it there. And if a guy with decades of experience in household recycling doesn't know where it is, what chance do the rest of us have?

One of my Green Jujitsu principles is that Sustainability information must be placed where people expect to find the information they need. I often quote the example of a client who labelled all the machines in their production lines which should be switched off when idle, but didn't include any guidance in the formal manufacturing instructions which are held as gospel by operatives and their line management. The labels got ignored because, even though they were in plain sight, the information wasn't in the right place.

I've asked Heinz why the stamp isn't on the bottom of the bottle, but they haven't got back to me yet.

 

 

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23 June 2017

Science-based Targets: Hope or Hype?

carbon footprintThe latest thing in Sustainability is 'Science-based Targets'. The basic idea is to use the carbon emissions trajectory that the IPCC says is required to stick to 2°C of warming and apportion that reduction to your organisation's carbon footprint either in absolute terms, via a sector-based target, or based on your turnover. I always think it is worth questioning whether the 'latest thing' stands up to the hype or not, so here is my take.

The advantages I see of the science-based approach are:

  • You can be reasonably sure that you are committing to your 'fair share' of emissions cuts;
  • It will communicate the scale of the challenge to stakeholders and decision makers;
  • You can point to other organisations (preferably competitors) who are using science-based targets;
  • Many, but by no means all, will see 'science based' as a seal of approval for the target.

The disadvantages are: Read the rest of this entry »

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21 June 2017

Neutralising anti-green attacks

bike lane westminsterNewspaper-cutting-2-1024x993

 

 

 

 

 

Between the horrific series of recent terrorist attacks and the shocking disaster that was the Grenfell Tower fire, the UK has been hit with some pretty grim news recently. For me, these horrors are exacerbated by the distasteful use of such events by commentators to further their tangential ideological aims – from people across the political spectrum, I have to say.

A sizeable chunk of this jumping to convenient conclusions is aimed squarely at the Sustainability agenda. Cycle lanes have been blamed in the Westminster Bridge attack for no better reason than they were there (a kerb is a kerb, after all) and the Daily Mail has pointed the finger at 'green targets' for the deaths at Grenfell.

As Carbon Brief has pointed out, the main reason for the suspect external cladding on the tower block was to tackle fuel poverty, with carbon reductions a subsidiary factor. The main aim of the public inquiry must be whether the cladding was responsible for the deaths (as it first appears), whether the material and its installation was compliant with fire regulations, if not, who was blame, and, if so, how those regulations need to be changed. Read the rest of this entry »

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19 June 2017

My big 2017 challenge - done!

IMG_2444

Last May, I went the full MAMIL. You know the cliché, I turned 45 and decided that the one thing missing in my life was a carbon fibre road bicycle. Having thoroughly enjoyed a summer of coffee rides and medium-length sportives in 2016 I set my goal for 2017 - a century ride.

I have ridden 60-80 miles in a day many times, but I'd never ticked over into that magic 100. How hard could it be? Well, my target wasn't just any 100 miles, but the 106 mile (171 km) Cyclone cycle challenge route with 7800ft (2350m) of climbing. Think of riding a bike over the top of Mt Snowdon and Ben Nevis in the same day and the Cyclone pretty much does that!* Read the rest of this entry »

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16 June 2017

SDGs & Business: snog, marry, avoid?

SDGs

Yesterday I spent an enjoyable afternoon at Newcastle Business School at an event on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) run by the Global Compact. I was on the panel for the discussion session, the lone person looking at the environmental sustainability side of things – the others were experts in business ethics.

This event was part of a roadshow launched because awareness of the SDGs in the UK has been found to be the lowest in Europe. The presumption then is that everybody needs to be aware of them, but as usual, I'm less concerned with how many people are aware of the goals; I'm more bothered that the right people are aware of the goals.

In the recent UK general election, all three major UK-wide parties made commitments to the SDGs in their manifestos. This is important as the goals are highly appropriate for all levels of Government. But beyond that, is it really realistic to expect someone running a coffee cart to be able to list all 17 goals (never mind the 169 targets) and explain how they are addressing each one? Clearly not.

At the event, I made the argument that every enterprise needs to pick the 5-7 issues which are most material to their business and prioritise those. After all, if you prioritise everything, you prioritise nothing. For this priority setting process, the SDGs and targets provide a useful checklist.

The SDGs can also be useful for a trans-national corporation to use the goals as a reality check, flag up risks and for sustainability reporting (at least one of my clients is using them for this purpose). For entrepreneurs, the SDGs are a useful guide to how the global economy may shift and where new business opportunities may arise.

So, in terms of my supercilious blog post title, my advice would be that business should not avoid the goals, nor try to marry their sustainability strategy to all 17. Pick the priorities and work on those - happy snogging!*

 

* 'snog' is British slang for a passionate kiss

 

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14 June 2017

Are you doing the right thing in Sustainability?


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from Sophie Wallis of Upthink Consultancy in Australia - when you're beavering away making sure you tick all the Sustainability boxes for a company or a project, how do you step back and make sure you are actually doing the right thing in terms of the big picture. In response, I give three powerful approaches which can help.

Ask Gareth depends on a steady stream of killer sustainability/CSR questions, so please tell me what's bugging you about sustainability (click here) and I'll do my best to help.

You can see all previous editions of Ask Gareth here.

 

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12 June 2017

What does the election result mean for Sustainability?

what can I do

Well, that was weird, wasn't it? The winners lost and the losers won.

The whopping Tory majority everybody expected (me included) didn't happen, and PM Theresa May now has a minority Government supported by an agreement with 10 Northern Irish DUP MPs. 'Unelectable' Jeremy Corbyn's much mocked (by me amongst others) rallies turned out to have struck a chord with the public, particularly the younger voter, and he gained rather than losing seats, although too few to form any kind of Government.

So what does this mean for the Sustainability movement? Here's my take: Read the rest of this entry »

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7 June 2017

Evolve or die

old oil pump

I had an interesting (off-the-record) chat with a contact in the energy sector yesterday. I was left with the clear impression that the fossil fuel sector is not only having to contract in the face of the shift to low carbon, but adapt to find the niches in the emerging energy mix where they can support renewables rather than compete head on.

I think this need to evolve is crucial as the changes keep coming, or new businesses will simply grab market share in the new reality. It has happened in electronics when the valve manufacturers didn't adapt to the transistor, and, most notoriously, in photography where Kodak invented the digital camera and then sat back and watch others exploit that technology to cannibalise their market in a matter of years.

One of the interesting things about technology is you often get all the component parts way down the S-curve, but when the ingredients are right and the market ready, the rise can be explosive. It doesn't surprise me for example that electric vehicles haven't yet displaced the internal combustion engine, but when the change happens it could be very abrupt.

So you need to be scanning the horizon for the opportunities in your sector and be ready to exploit them, as those opportunities can be catastrophic threats to those who cling to the status quo.

 

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5 June 2017

A Call to Arms on a Sad Day

tombstone

It's only a couple of weeks since I wrote on the Manchester bombing and here we are again with blood on the streets of the UK. I was in Manchester last week on business and I was very taken with the defiance mixed in with the grieving.

I grew up in Northern Ireland during 'The Troubles when more than 3,000 died, many in indiscriminate attacks (the only difference is the terrorists had an escape route planned). Many acts of barbarity were carried out in the name of one cause or another, but in the pre-social media age, you rarely got to see gory detail. But the vast majority of us got up in the morning, went to school/work, came home, had our dinner, watched telly and went to bed. The threat was always there in the background, but that defiance, a refusal to be bowed, was always the best answer to the men and women of violence.

As in Manchester, I have been astonished and reassured by the many acts of courage during the London Bridge attack: the two unarmed policemen who tackled the terrorists, the Romanian chef who hit one over the head with a crate, the woman who lay down and blocked a doorway so the other cafe patrons could make their escape. Then of course there were the armed police who neutralised the terrorists with calm professionalism, and all the paramedics, nurses and doctors who saw to the wounded. So many awesome people.

So the big question for the rest of us is: what awesome thing are we going to do this week to make the world a better place?

Here in the UK, voting in the General Election on Thursday must be a priority (I despair at the calls for a postponement). But what else? Will you kick off that new Sustainability/CSR project you've been putting off for weeks? Will you invest in a renewable energy scheme? Will you do a litter pick in your local area?

Whatever it is, let's each do something really great and show the nihilist losers that they will never win.

 

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2 June 2017

The one question you need to ask of every Sustainability project

Terra Infirma Sustainability Coaching

I was down in Manchester yesterday for a session with a client I haven't worked with for years. They had called me in 'to pick my brains' about employee engagement. In the past I've found such requests a bit of a double-edged sword – on one hand it is great to get paid to share your knowledge, experiences and opinions, but on the other you can leave them with a whole load of exciting sounding but abstract ideas and no way forward.

To avoid the latter, I structure such engagements like a coaching session. I start by asking them the killer question – to define the ideal solution looking forward. "If this is 100% successful, in 5 years' time what will it look like?"

That might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised at the number of people who start with a process rather than an objective. That's a bit like a DIY enthusiast grabbing the first tool in their toolbox and using it no matter what the task entails. You don't want to be wiring a plug with a lump hammer.

The answer to this question sets the direction of everything else in the discussion. Not does it point us in the right direction, but, psychologically, it makes the journey feel much more achievable. When we look at the present day opportunities and threats, we get more of the former and the latter seem much less ominous. Throughout yesterday's session I repeatedly referred back to the ideal solution.

Planning the route is where I break with the strictest form of coaching, as I make recommendations from my experience working across a wide range of businesses from a crazy golf course (honestly!) to multinational aerospace companies. Coaching purists will be sucking through their teeth at that, but I give a series of options and recommend the one I think is best for the client. This makes sure they still have ownership over the agreed way forward.

But the key to success is really pinning down that 'ideal solution', even when, like yesterday, the client had put some thought to it already. Whether I'm asking that question of a group of stakeholders to define the outcome of a Sustainability Strategy during a backcasting session, or of an individual client on a 1-2-1 coaching session, getting the desired outcome pinned down will increase the chances of success many times over.

 

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