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July 2017 - Terra Infirma


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28 July 2017

What does 'natural' mean anyway?

IMG_2605

I love a bit of serendipity. I hadn't really been paying attention when Mrs K suggested a few days camping in Norfolk to kick off the summer holidays and I didn't have a plan in mind. The first morning we headed off to the beach at Sea Palling but I was a little underwhelmed (we're spoilt for beaches up here in the North East). So I wandered off to get a coffee, and found an interpretation panel which mentioned nearby Hickling Nature Reserve was the sole location of swallowtail butterflies in the UK. This caught my attention.

It didn't take much persuading to get the rest of the family to leave the beach and check it out. As soon as we walked in to the visitors centre, they asked us if we fancied a boat trip on the Broads and we said 'yes'. As we waited at the jetty, a bittern flew overhead – my first ever spot after years and years of trying.

Now, I knew that East Anglia used to be almost all marsh but that extensive network of ditches and dykes had been used to drain the fertile land for agriculture. I had kind of assumed that waterways of The Broads were a remnant of that ancient marsh, preserved for the future by chance or design. But, as Richard our boatman explained, I was wrong – The Broads are entirely manmade; the legacy of industrial-scale, but pre-industrial peat and clay extraction, flooded accidentally at first, then maintained for game hunting and pleasure trips via wind-powered pumps.

In other words, everything in Norfolk was artificial to some extent. This is no surprise as I am currently reading the superb 'Sapiens' by Yuval Noah Harari, who points out that every time our species colonised a continent, a massive extinction event happened pretty much immediately. Humans have been shaping eco-systems on a mammoth scale (pun all too appropriate) since the days of nomadic hunting and gathering. When we started farming, then very little wilderness survived.

I mused on this the following day as I cycled around the county, passing some signs campaigning to protect 'unspoilt countryside' by some proposed project or other. I think it is important that we remember that what we see, and conserve, as the natural world is anything but. Neither should we get too romantic about our ancestors living in harmony with the eco-system around them – as Harari points out, this is twaddle. The sustainability movement is trying to develop that harmony, but we're probably going to have to look to the future and not be constrained by some rose-tinted view of the past.

By the way, we never did see the butterfly, but we did see its caterpillars. The future!

 

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25 July 2017

New! Employee Engagement for Sustainability Training

I've been caught on the hop by my new Green Jujitsu: Employee Engagement for Sustainability online course getting approved by Udemy in super short time. I was working up the launch campaign when it suddenly went live. So I'm having to improvise...

You can see what the course is all about in the video above – basically the opportunity to revolutionise your Sustainability programme through one simple change in mindset – and a smorgasbord of ways to apply it!

If you use this link to register before 31 July 2017, you'll get a whopping 75% off the full price of £95 – already a bargain. I won't be offering this level of discount again, so make sure you grab it now! Don't delay...

 

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19 July 2017

Game of Thrones and the Sustainability Vision Thing

Great excitement chez Kane on Monday as, as soon as the junior members of the household were safely asleep, we could head back to Westeros and caught up with Arya, Jon Snow, Cersei and the rest of the huge, disparate but now converging cast of characters that populate the Game of Thrones universe. I'm not going to give anything away – one innocent click on Monday spoilt the opening for me, thank you very much Independent – but it did make me think about some of the Sustainability debates I've been having recently.

There's a strong fan theory that the overall story – tribes of people fighting to the death over the smallest of short term political gains while ignoring the existential threat of the White Walkers – is an analogy for our own short termism in the face of the threat of climate change. And of course, as the lengthy winter starts in Westeros, we can see the implications: food shortages, mass migration of threatened peoples etc, etc. And yet most of the characters are caught up in their own web of lust, hatred, envy, power and vengeance and pay little regard to the big threat.

So far, so good.

But I am still amazed at those who believe that the solution to climate change is to regress to some kind of pre-industrial state. Going 'plastic-free' seems to be the new 'gluten-free', seen as somehow inherently good despite a complete lack of evidence to back the idea up (the number of people who think they are gluten intolerant is many times the number who actually are). The Guardian ran a plastic-free piece on Tuesday, memorably including a 'pig hair toothbrush'. Nice. Read the rest of this entry »

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17 July 2017

Plastic isn't evil

Six pack rings

Every morning I walk up the hill to the newsagent for the morning papers and milk for breakfast. I try to pick up at least one piece of litter en route, just a tiny token effort towards keeping the neighbourhood and the environment clean. As I'm using my bare hands, I am rather selective about what I choose to pick, but I always go for six pack rings (usually four pack, but, hey...) as they are most likely to end up in our local river or green areas and strangle wildlife.

I've seen quite a few groups urging people to go 'plastic free' and individuals pledge to try to go 'plastic free' for a set period of time – by buying loose veg and drinks in glass bottles etc. We see beaches covered in litter and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a stain on the history of humanity. The message is clear – plastic is evil and we should get rid of it.

But, hold on just one darn minute.

OK, think about this. Glass bottles mean greater weight, means more carbon emissions in the supply chain. Loose veg means shorter shelf life, means more food waste, leading to more carbon and more land use to support the same population. If we went further in phasing out plastics, cars and aeroplanes would be heavier, less fuel efficient, and have shorter life spans. The very characteristics that make plastics an environmental problem – low density and durability – are those which make them part of the solution.

I think of plastic waste like the old gardeners' definition of a weed – a plant in the wrong place. As we shift to a circular economy, collection and recycling of plastics will be incentivised, meaning that litter will fall. That's not just wishful thinking – the UK's plastic bag tax incentivised the reuse of plastic bags, including heavier 'bags for life', and beach litter quickly halved. In other words, it's not plastic that's the problem, it's how we use it.

 

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14 July 2017

On Demand: Sustainability Strategy Live! (& Coming Attractions)

On Wednesday, as a bit of an experiment, I did a session on Sustainability Strategy using Facebook Live. I only got a handful of viewers live, and disappointingly no questions, but the recording has had many dozens of views since and some very positive feedback.

Here's the recording:

So, what have I learned?

Despite the extra hassle in signing up and downloading a viewer, people seem to prefer signing up to one of my Weber-Hosted Green Academy webinars – maybe it is seen as more business-like during office hours. Maybe you're all blocked from Facebook at the office.

But the convenience means I can broadcast value at the drop of a hat, so I'm working up the idea of using Facebook Live for some short sharp bite-sized sessions. If anyone catches them and asks a question, then great, but the main aim will be for people watching it as and when suits them.

To get these, send me a friend request on Facebook - you can find me here: https://www.facebook.com/gareth.kane.1612

 

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12 July 2017

Can you be too passionate about Sustainability?


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from Anna-Lisa Mills of True North Sustainability: is your passion for Sustainability a help or a hindrance? In response, I take a journey from Inca ruins in Ecuador to the dreaded 'panic zone' and explain how Green Jujitsu is the answer.

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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10 July 2017

Me, the Tour de France and Green Jujitsu

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Stage 11, Tour de France 2016, © Sapin88, creative commons licence

It's the first rest day in this year's Tour de France and I'm missing the action already. As I'm writing this, I'm listening to the analysis of yesterday's dramatic stage from The Cycling Podcast and I'll catch up on a couple more podcasts during the day. I've decided to do some filming video today as I can't watch the race and do that at the same time, and leave the grunt work I have to do in front of the TV tomorrow. You could say I'm addicted.

Yet rewind 5 years and the Tour de France, or any cycle racing, wasn't on my radar at all. I was a keen cyclist in terms of it being a pastime – a ride to a pub for a burger and a pint on a sunny day – but racing never caught my attention. Various earnest people had tried to explain its attractions over the years, but my entire interaction was the occasional glimpse of a snake of lurid lycra on a friend's telly and doping scandal headlines in the papers.

So what changed? Very simple. On 5 July 2014, the Tour's Grand Depart took the peloton through Wensleydale in Yorkshire. We had spent a couple of fantastic holidays in Askrigg in Wensleydale and were heading back that August. I knew those roads and those villages, so I wanted to see how they looked on the TV. That's it.

And I was instantly hooked – I've hardly missed a TdF stage since and my interest has spread to the other grand tours and the one day classics. So what changed?

Simple. That half hour or so of racing through Wensleydale and up over Buttertubs pass was where my world and the Tour overlapped – so I paid attention.

This is exactly what I do when I use Green Jujitsu for employee engagement for Sustainability – I find the overlap between the attention of the audience and Sustainability because that's where you get Sustainability through their filters and make it interesting and relevant to them. And it works!

Green Jujitsu Venn

 

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7 July 2017

How to choose a Sustainability Accreditation

pencil figure checklistYesterday the Sustainability Masterminds were ensconced in the plush Boudoir of Acklam Hall in Middlesbrough to discuss the thorny topic of Sustainability accreditations – ISO14001, CDP etc. There was a discernible amount of accreditation fatigue in the room. These schemes are a huge drain on resources in terms of approval fees, gathering data and the auditing process. One member joked that he was permanently in one of three states:

  1. Preparing for an audit;
  2. Being audited;
  3. Recovering from an audit.

So it is very important to choose which accreditations to go for carefully. Some are essential, some add value; in some the tail is wagging the dog; others are ill-disguised income generators for Sustainability think tanks, but they all suck up time, money and effort. Another member set out a list of three reasons to plump for a particular accreditation:

  1. Legislation requires it;
  2. An important customer requires/expects it;
  3. It will drive change within your organisation way above and beyond what you could do without it.

If it doesn't meet at least one of these criteria, then forget it – there's no point in collecting expensive badges for the sake of it.

 

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5 July 2017

The most powerful tool in Sustainability engagement

workshop lo res

Last Wednesday I ran a workshop to upskill Sustainability Champions at one of my clients. This week I've been writing up the results, a rather laborious task as the 12 champions present produced a whopping 320 Post-Its, with one idea on each. That means that each delegate averaged over 26 thoughts about Sustainability in just over half a day.

Just think about that. 26 separate ideas per person.

OK, a very small number were jokes, we got a few duplicates (the 'ratcheting' workshop structure I used minimises duplication), a larger number were statements of the obvious, but a substantial number were truly insightful, meaning the delegates really had to think through the issues and how they applied to the organisation. That is true engagement; you won't get that with an awareness poster!

This is why the workshop is at the core of my consultancy business. I truly believe it is the most powerful tool in Sustainability engagement.

[If you want to see how I run such successful workshops, check out our Workshop Facilitation Masterclass, which explains the powerful 'ratcheting' structure I used last week.]

 

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3 July 2017

Sustainability doesn't get easier...

Eee, it's my favourite sporting event of the year, le grand boucle itself, the Tour De France. Setting off on Saturday from Dusseldorf, home to cycle-crazy electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, the next three weeks are going to involve a lot of me working with ITV4 in the background as the peloton trundles across Europe.

My own cycling has been limited to moderate coffee rides since my first century ride two weeks ago, so yesterday I decided to test the legs with a climb up into the North Penines to Blanchland. There was a pretty 'fresh' (always a meteorological understatement) headwind for the climbing and the moor roads, and I was a bit disappointed in how my legs felt.

But then when I uploaded and checked my ride data on Strava, I found that I had ridden a lot quicker than the last time I'd done it a month ago (and I don't remember grinding into the wind then). In fact on one of the early headwind segments (defined stretches of road on Strava), I not only set a personal record, but was fastest of the 41 Strava users who had been that way all day.

And then I remembered the wise words of three-times Tour de France winner Greg LeMond:

It doesn't get easier, you just go faster.

Last night, I was mulling on this quote and Sustainability. We Sustainability professionals have a tendency to dream of a day that we get to the top of the climb and freewheel downhill.

But, let's face it, that never happens. We run out of quick wins and then we start looking at the step changes. Legislation changes, technology emerges and previously unforeseen environmental/social issues suddenly bubble up in the press. Sustainable supply chains and market awareness take time to mature.

It always feels like a slog, but if we look around, we're also taking for granted what seemed so impossible just a few years ago. Just look at the UK's electricity mix where renewables are booming and coal collapsing. You can now propose 'zero waste' without other people's mouths dropping open. Some of the best cars in the world are powered by electricity.

We are going faster, it just doesn't feel like it!

 

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