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December 2017 - Terra Infirma


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13 December 2017

Sustainability Leadership on the Rise, despite Trump

There hasn't been much coverage of President Macron's One Planet Summit on Tuesday, probably because nothing went wrong. The event was to mark the second anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change and was marked by quite a number of big pledges from the EU, Governments national and local, corporates and investor groups. Divestment from fossil fuels was a strong theme.

PM Theresa May and Climate Change Secretary Claire Perry flew the flag for the UK.  As I've previously said, it makes complete sense for the PM to take ownership of Sustainability as this is one of the few (the only?) areas where the current Government has a good story to tell, plus it resonates with younger voters, a demographic where the Tories' polling is dire.

But it also raises the bar, with other UK political parties taking to the media to explain how they would do more than the Government. This kind of green one-upmanship is a wonderful thing and long may it continue.

Ms Perry has brought some real pragmatic ambition to the table with the recent Clean Growth Strategy and did a bit of (presumably inadvertent) Green Jujitsu at the Summit by telling the BBC's Daily Politics "Tackling climate change will bring jobs and growth, I thought that's what Donald Trump wanted."

Speaking of the President, Arnold Schwarzenegger made the best statement about the US and climate change I've heard in a long time:

“It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump backed out of the Paris agreement, because the private sector didn’t drop out, the public sector didn’t drop out, the universities didn’t drop out, the scientists didn’t drop out, the engineers didn’t drop out. No one else dropped out.

Donald Trump pulled Donald Trump out of the Paris agreement, so don’t worry about that. We at a subnational level are going to pick up the slack and continue on. We will fight and we will create the kind of future for our children and grandchildren because that is our responsibility and no one will stop us.”

Despite the Donald, I really feel that we are at a tipping point on Sustainability in general and climate action in particular. This level of leadership, visual and practical, is an inspiration to all of us on the ground. And, if you are finding a leadership vacuum in your organisation, remember Arnie's words and take up the slack.

 

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11 December 2017

A little local recycling, all for a good cause!

Yesterday, my family held its third annual charity yard sale, in aid of WaterAid. The genesis of this tradition came from the boys announcing four years ago that they wanted to do something for "poor people in Africa." Fortunately, they got a healthy dose of 'just do it' genes from their mother and after seeing yard sales during a trip to Portland Oregon, it has become an annual event.

My partner and I use it as a good excuse to clear out old toys, disliked books and infrequently worn clothes to see whether our neighbours fancy anything. Rather than taking the unsold stuff back in the house, it all goes straight into the back of a car and will either go to the school sale or, like this year where we got the timing wrong, a charity shop.

But what surprises me is how us Brits don't do yard/garage sales. In Portland, every lamppost was slathered in flyers for sales and we would see at least one in progress on our travels every day. Despite putting up a big sign, and living on a popular route for a Sunday stroll, we only get a tiny amount of 'passing trade' each year and those unfortunate few usually have to be bullied into turning an intrigued peer over the hedge into a browse.

But we had a great time and raised £112 for a good cause. Recycling, charity and community spirit - what's not to like?

 

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8 December 2017

More rubbish about the SDGs

There's a constant stream of articles on my social media feeds about the 'failure' of corporates to engage with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One that caught my eye was a report from PwC which, amongst other things says on its cover:

"It makes commercial sense to embed the SDGs in operations and strategy, but how ready is business to support governments achieve these global goals?"

I would rewrite that to say "It makes commercial sense to embed Sustainability in operations and strategy..." How you do that, whether by SDGs, Science-based targets, or, my favourite, Zero targets (zero waste, zero carbon, zero toxins), is really up to you.

The second bone I have to pick with the PwC report is its accusation that businesses are 'cherrypicking' the SDGs they want to engage with. I assume that top management consultants are aware that having 17 generic goals (and 169 associated targets) in every business strategy, no matter what sector,  is ridiculous? After all if you prioritise everything, you prioritise nothing.

I recommend to my clients that, if they want to engage with the SDGs, that they choose which 5-7 are most relevant to them and set stretch targets around those. If you are, say, a cement manufacturer, then trying to tackle world hunger (SDG 2) will inevitably detract from the need to cut carbon emissions (SDG 13) a problem with which the cement sector contributes to by a significant degree. By focussing on that goal, a cement business would also contribute to SDGs 3, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 12, but trying to hit all 17 targets at once will lead to incremental progress, not the climate breakthrough we require.

As always in Sustainability, we must not let the tail of the latest hot topic wag the dog of progress.

For more on the SDGs, check out this edition of Ask Gareth on that very subject.

 

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6 December 2017

BETA: Customer Engagement for Sustainability Model

Next week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting is going to consider how to engage customers in Sustainability. This is a huge issue as the bulk of many products' environmental impacts are in the 'use' phase and/or are determined by customer behaviour. Take food, for instance, not only is the cooking of the food a big chunk of its lifecycle impact, but storage and meal-planning will determine how much food actually gets eaten and how much goes in the bin unused.

However, when I hit Google to try and find the latest thinking on customer engagement, I didn't get much to go on. So, as usual, I made up my own model, the final version of which came to me over my early morning cuppa today. I thought I'd throw it out into the public to see what the response to it was.

It is, as you can see, the classic 2x2 business school matrix. The level of innovation and communication give us four broad categories:

  • Instruction: providing information e.g. the 'Wash at 30°C' campaign, the new 'fridge' logo for food;
  • Choice-editing: developing new products and services where the choice of being unsustainable is removed e.g. B&Q refusing to stock patio heaters, software to automatically shut down networked PCs at the end of the working day, product-service systems etc;
  • Dialogue: the customer can get in touch to query options or peer-to-peer support – help lines, chat support, forums, face-to-face user networks, transparency services;
  • Collaboration: new products/services are co-produced with customers, e.g. the NetWorks project between Interface and Aquafil.

Thoughts?

 

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4 December 2017

Most influential Sustainability books for me

I saw a post on LinkedIn yesterday asking people for their top 5 Sustainability books. I quoted the following five as the most influential in my career:

  • Material Concerns, Tim Jackson – the first time I really got sustainability, now hard to find;
  • Natural Capitalism – great theories (but implementation has proved a problem for the authors);
  • Cradle to Cradle (ditto);
  • The God Species, Mark Lynas – blows away many green sacred cows;
  • Confessions of a Radical Environmentalist – by the Godfather of Corporate Sustainability, Ray Anderson, simply brilliant.

But, as a practitioner, I have found change management books as important to my career. In many ways 'getting' Sustainability is much easier than 'getting to' Sustainability. Here are my recommendations:

  • Switch by Chip & Dan Heath;
  • Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman;
  • Nudge by Thaler & Sunstein.

Any to add? Bonus points if they're any of mine!

 

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1 December 2017

The need for 'outrageous ambition' on Sustainability

I spent yesterday morning at the always-excellent North East Recycling Forum annual conference. The conference chair, the ever-ebullient Mark Shayler of APE, challenged us in the second half of the session to think up both 'standard' and 'outrageously ambitious' ideas on, in our table's case, how to apply technology to waste.

My two outrageously ambitious solutions were:

  • A small scale pelletiser/3D printer so you could, say, create your own Christmas decorations from plastic packaging, or turn yesterday's faddish kids' tat (e.g. loom bands) into today's (fidget spinners), all in your kitchen;
  • An Alexa-style smart bin which would not only advise you on what can be recycled and/or how, but could count what materials you put in so you can 'earn as you recycle' rather than 'pay as you throw' - incentivising good behaviour rather than penalising bad.

I was really quite pleased with those, but the more I thought about them, the less outrageously ambitious they seemed. Yes, costs would preclude the latter for a long time, but it could be implemented in a neighbourhood recycling centre?

But the bigger thing is, well, thinking big. When Interface announced their Mission Zero Sustainability target (zero impact on the environment by 2020) in 1996, it seemed bat-s**t-crazy, but now they're almost there, and zero waste, zero carbon or 100% renewable electricity targets are being adopted by business left, right and centre. Yesterday's ambition is today's meh.

The old cliché is that Sustainability should be like the moon programme – 'no-one ever got to the moon by aiming half way', but that's slightly misleading representation of that programme; the reality is more interesting. It was Apollo 11 that made it to the moon, the previous 10 missions ranged from tragic failure on the launchpad (Apollo 1, where the three astronauts perished) through to flying the lunar module down to 15km above the moon's surface (Apollo 10) before turning back. So while a lunar landing was the ultimate goal, there were plenty of intermediate steps to master on the way.

In the same way, we need to set those stretch targets but appreciate there's quite a journey to get there. But that headline outrageously ambitious goal drives you on. As someone else said at NERF yesterday, "if you're not pushing at the boundaries of what's possible, what's the point?"

 

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