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October 2017 - Terra Infirma


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18 October 2017

Making Sustainability Robust to Sudden Change

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What happens if your super-Sustainability-champion-of-a-CEO suddenly announces their retirement? How do you make sure your Sustainability programme survives the inevitable upheaval? It was questions like this that my Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group considered recently in the gorgeous and historic surroundings of the Undercroft at the Live Theatre, Newcastle.

The Masterminds chose three such upheavals to discuss and below is a selection of the resulting learning points. As we operate under the Chatham House rules, the identity of the members and the conversation leading up the generic points has not been recorded.

Change in the C-suite

  • Research the incomer’s background (eg via LinkedIn) and tailor your pitch to their interests (ie Green Jujitsu) for example, talking $ to someone with a CFO past;
  • Embed Sustainability so deeply and overtly that any incoming CXO knows exactly what they’re getting themselves in for (and the ‘wrong type’ doesn’t apply);
  • In particular, have commitment and coherent message coming from rest of C-suite and senior management;
  • Align Sustainability Strategy to the business case as it applies to your organisation so backpedalling is counter-productive to the business;
  • Stick to the plan until you are told otherwise; you don’t need permission to do Sustainability;
  • A new face may bring new opportunities to address issues which weren’t on the agenda before.

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16 October 2017

The Joy of Composting

Compost recycling

On Saturday I started a garden job I love – plundering my multifarious (5!) compost facilities for brown gold. Normally I would do this in the spring, but a planned extension to our house means they've got to move. Unfortunately we will lose compost capacity in the new set up, but I don't think my boys would be happy if I told them they had to keep sharing a tiny bedroom because I needed a two garden compost bays, a food bin, a leaf mould bag and a wormery...

I love composting as it is the only true recycling that all of us with a modicum of outdoor space can do. And there's something fascinating about the processes involved – setting the right conditions for all those mini beasts, microbes and fungi working together to turn waste into, literally, a nutrient which is returned to soil from whence it came.

The downside, physically and emotionally, is the amount of plastic I have to sieve out of what should be in theory 100% biodegraded material. Small bits of polystyrene, baby wipes, envelope windows, errant bits of Lego, fruit labels – it's amazing what works its way into the compost.

For those of us who encourage organisations to go zero waste, there's nothing like a few hours of hands-on waste processing to remind ourselves of the practicalities. It's very satisfying to boot.

 

 

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13 October 2017

Sustainability Bites 13/10/17

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites where I really struggle to find anything to criticise in the UK Government's Clean Growth Strategy, so I turn to Donald Trump who never fails to disappoint.
 

 

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11 October 2017

If the business case for Sustainability is so strong, why doesn't it happen by default?


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from Adam: why if the business case for Sustainability is so strong, does it not happen by default? What do you think? Comments in the comments, please!

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 October 2017

The State of Sustainability in UK Politics

As a political geek, I've been following the UK's party conference season as avidly as usual. My theory is that the content of the Leaders' speeches are the true measure of commitment of each political party to the Sustainability agenda. After all, it doesn't matter what is discussed earnestly on the fringes, if it doesn't penetrate the Leader's speech then it can hardly be a true priority.

The problem with this theory is that the shadow of Brexit has dominated these speeches over recent years, so I thought I'd add in a brief summary of other notable conference commitments. As usual I will try my best to be non-partisan, but I must declare my membership of the Liberal Democrats. Speaking of which, first up was:

1280px-Official_portrait_of_Sir_Vince_Cable_crop_2Vince Cable, Liberal Democrats

Cable talked quite a lot about climate change and green issues; most of it expounding the Lib Dems' achievements in the Coalition Government, expressing fears for some of those achievements under Tory rule and concerns over Brexit (noting the significant overlap between Euroscepticism and climate change denial in UK politics). He made a clear forward commitment – "Liberal Democrats will always fight for the green agenda" – but the speech lacked any more concrete proposals.

This was an opportunity missed, as the Lib Dems had earlier agreed at target of net-zero emissions by 2050 and adopted a plan which would take us 93% of the way there. A simple reference to this policy would have lifted Cable's speech way up the green-o-meter.

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Read the rest of this entry »

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9 October 2017

The gluten delusion, dodgy quotes and climate science

cakeI love my local hipster-ish coffee shop, but it annoys me that all the cakes are proudly marked 'gluten-free'. A couple of times, I've joshed that I'd like mine with gluten only for the joke to fall flat in the face of incomprehension. It's long been understood that only those with coeliac disease need to avoid gluten; (in the words of Jay Rayner) if you feel bloated after eating bread it's because you're eating too much bread.

However was only this morning I saw in the paper that avoiding gluten can actually lead to health risks, not benefits (here's one of the scientific studies). In other words, people are damaging their health in the cause of their health – and not for the first time.

As a man who loves his food (especially cake), I can never understand how many people fall for every eating fad going, enriching various snake oil salesmen along the way. Every time one falls apart, qualified nutritionists tell us we should just eat a reasonable amount of a balanced diet and get a reasonable amount of exercise, but a couple of months later everybody is cutting something else out of their diet at the whim of the latest flogger of a better lifestyle.

This madness comes about because we make decisions by feel rather than evidence. Most people who are sceptical about climate science simply feel it is wrong. You rarely if ever see a climate scientist decide that the evidence doesn't stack up and go climate sceptic, however many one-time sceptics make the journey the other way – although it is often an irrational experience that persuades them to check the facts.

The big shame of modern life is the internet gives us unparalleled rapid fact-checking capabilities; yet we're more likely to pick up some dubious meme on Twitter than check who really did say:

"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

[it wasn't Mark Twain or Winston Churchill but it seems to have evolved from a Jonathan Swift quote].

The lesson for those of us trying to change the world is that facts generally don't resonate – you will never out-debate a climate denier as blind faith will beat a balanced argument nine times out of ten. Instead we've got to get inside people's heads, work out what makes them tick and tap into those feelings. Green Jujitsu in other words.

 

Check out our fab new Green Jujitsu: Smart Engagement for Sustainability course here.

 

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6 October 2017

Sustainability Bites 6/10/17

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites, covering the Sustainability elements of the Conservative Party Conference (more than you'd think), the latest green energy record and some of the exciting things that I've been doing this week. Comments in the comments!

 

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4 October 2017

When it comes to Sustainability, personal experience trumps facts

sunrise

Interesting story this week of columnist Peter Oborne, bone-dry right-of-centre journalist, has had a Damascene conversion to the cause of tackling climate change. “The press has failed” he said, going on to a mea culpa “I think I was rather too impressed by climate skeptics, to begin with."

So what triggered this awakening? Was it a graph of global temperature trends? Was it pictures of devastated communities in the wake of Hurricane Irma? Or was it thousands marching the streets demanding change?

Nope, none of those things.

It was cricket.

"Here we are at the end of September, and the cricket county championship is still being decided. 25 years ago, it never went on this long."

Of course this is as scientifically illiterate as all those "the Romans had vineyards in England" zombie myths that populate parts of the interweb. There are many valid measures of climate change he could have picked, but the cricket season is not one of them.

But on another level, it illustrates a very important point on engaging people in Sustainability. We rarely if ever change tack because of facts and figures. But we often do it because of experience.

I was an armchair environmentalist until I witnessed the devastated taiga downwind of a nickel smelter in arctic Russia – only then did I decided that tackling these problems would become my life's work. Standing there I could see (and taste) the plume of acidic emissions from the plant – a lump of engineering which made me feel a little ashamed to be an engineer.

This is why my Green Jujitsu approach tailors engagement to the audience. If cricket works for Oborne, then let's talk cricket. For me, it's engineering. For my NHS clients, it's healthcare. By making Sustainability relevant to people, you'll find it much easier to get them on board.

 

By the way, if you haven't checked out our new Green Jujitsu training course, check it out here.

 

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2 October 2017

Oiling the engine of Sustainability

GK St Anns Litter PickWith all the concern about ocean plastic of late, I've been revitalising my personal pledge to pick up at least one piece of plastic litter every day. In fact most days I pick at least a dozen, and I'm now getting weirdly obsessed with it. I seriously can't walk past a plastic bag without twitching to pick it up, but if I tried to get every piece of litter I saw, it would be a full time undertaking.

I know that my efforts are just a (inappropriate metaphor klaxon) drop in the ocean, but I find that the very act of picking up some litter makes me feel positive and, rather than making me think 'I've done my bit, now business as usual', it continually focusses my brain on this perennial drip, drip of plastics into our eco-system. Experience is always more visceral than anecdote.

Last month, I gave a presentation to one of my clients on the first phase of our Sustainability Champions initiation project. At the end of the initial training workshop, I had challenged each of the Champions to pledge to change one thing in their workplace to make it more sustainable. I then followed up on the pledges a month later to see how they had got on.

All the pledges were pretty mundane, incremental improvements which would hardly make a dent in the targets we had set in their Sustainability Strategy, but that was beside the point, I explained, it was the forward motion at the sharp end of the business that was important. I used a metaphor I coined a couple of years ago:

"Champions should be seen as the oil in the engine, not the fuel."

This was quoted back at me (approvingly!) during the discussion.

Identifying and implementing quick wins is a way of keeping that oil fresh. Of course it shouldn't be expected to, or distract from, the major changes required to deliver Sustainability; the knack is to do both.

 

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