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January 2018 - Terra Infirma


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31 January 2018

How to resurrect a dead Sustainability programme


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from Bill: how do you resurrect a dead Sustainability programme? Warning, this video contains references to a naff 80s movie...

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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29 January 2018

Sustainability is no place for the fickle

I saw a blog post last week entitled something along the lines of "Forget Carbon. The Latest Crisis Is Plastics." This would have annoyed me massively at the best of times, but particularly so given that Kick Ass Idea no 1 of my 12 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2018 webinar last week was "No Fads".

The point I was making was to avoid the entreaties of those constantly pumping out the 'latest thing in Sustainability' – a couple of years ago it was all about Creating Shared Value, then we were told that mindfulness was a prerequisite of Sustainability, now people are desperately trying to work out how blockchain can deliver Sustainability. This flighty faddism over techniques is distracting enough without people saying that, because the full scale of the plastics problem has hit the public consciousness, climate change is no longer a priority.

That, my friends, is highly dangerous bullshit.

One problem becoming clearer does not make another disappear. While it's almost impossible to compare two environmental problems objectively, my subjective opinion is that climate change remains the head and shoulders above the rest purely on the scale and range of its impacts – from extreme weather through sea-level rises to ocean acidification – there is no hiding place.

But, whatever your view on their relative scales, it is not beyond the wit of the human race to tackle two major problems at the same time. In fact one solution – the circular economy – will go a long, long way to tackle both the climate and ocean plastic crises.

 

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26 January 2018

On Demand: 12 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2018

If you missed Wednesday's Green Academy taster, 12 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2018, fear not. You can stream the session by clicking on this link (requires a Webex player download).

To get the full experience you should also download the workbook first and use it to apply the thinking to your organisation.

A number of taster participants have signed up for the full Green Academy syllabus – if you want to take advantage of the 25% discount offered on the full price of £330 + VAT, then use this link to pay by Paypal or debit/credit card before 31 January 2018. 

 

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24 January 2018

What does embedding Sustainability really mean?

North Tyneside Council has just announced a new cycling strategy. Which is great, except the authority has recently remodelled two major road junctions and the cycling 'provision' is limited to permitting cyclists to zigzag their way through a maze of pedestrian crossings, complete with 90° changes of direction, rather than giving them any form of priority on the road itself. As we're unlikely to see the JCBs back to fix this omission, it's an opportunity missed.

This illustrates the point that we must be embedding Sustainability into mainstream decision making, not just special projects. It is particularly important in major capital projects as once mistakes are made, it is very difficult to fix them.

As usual, there are two elements to this: procedure and culture. The former determines what should be done and the second determines whether it will be done. My favourite tactic is to involve as many people as possible in developing the procedure as then they will 'own' it automatically rather than you trying to sell it to them.

 

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22 January 2018

Sustainability and true grit

En route to an early morning meeting today I came across the prone figure of a cyclist on one of our off-road cycle paths. As she clambered to her feet and checked nothing was broken, she said she had thought the sheet of ice across the path was slush and, indeed, it looked as if slush had frozen overnight then started to melt this morning resulting in an incredibly slippy rutted surface.

One of my campaigns as a Councillor is to get the City's strategic cycle routes, of which this is part, gritted in cold weather. We have a transport policy which says that cycling is higher in the transport hierarchy than use of private motor car, yet we grit major roads and not supposedly strategic cycle routes.

To me this illustrates the danger of institutional inertia to your Sustainability plans. Everybody nods when I say strategic cycle routes should be gritted, but nobody actually does it, because that would require quite a number of people going out of their way to do things differently. I'm steeling myself for a battle to use the current weather to get the cycle routes gritted next year – if I'm lucky. Obstinance is an important weapon in the Sustainability practitioners' arsenal.

 

 

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19 January 2018

Is the circular economy at a tipping point?

As I look out over the white-coated river valley I live in, 'snowballing' is a very appropriate analogy for the revolution going on in public discourse over waste and plastic waste in particular. Bloomberg journo Jess Shankleman sums up nicely how that snowball is fast gathering momentum:

When you're making a snowman, that little snowball you start rolling round takes for ever to start to grow, but then suddenly it takes on snow at an ever faster rate and it's up to your waist. This kind of exponential growth happened with renewables largely for financial reasons – as demand increased, prices fell, fuelling further demand. Suddenly, from a tiny fraction of the UK's electricity supply, renewables are delivering huge chunks of our power.

Waste is quite a bit more complex than energy given the eco-system of players from product producers to retailers to consumers to collectors to reprocessors, and this complexity presents many more barriers to change. But you just have to read the newspapers – from across the political spectrum – to see the consensus that change must come.

Among politics geeks, this is called the 'Overton window' – the stuff you can freely debate in public without appearing like a crank. The window has shifted decisively towards the circular economy since the days when then Deputy PM Nick Clegg had to fight to bring in the plastic bag tax – the fist-sized snowball that started this all off. I have no doubt that the current Government sees plastic waste as a rare opportunity for good news amongst their many other struggles, but they seem serious about mining that seam of political goodwill, and I'm certainly not going to criticise them for it.

And, as Jess says, it's amazing what a little bit of proactive leadership can do.

 

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17 January 2018

Why SMART Sustainability targets are really dumb

My big personal goal for 2018 is to do a triathlon, not just getting round, but not coming last. At sprint triathlon distances, the cycling and running will be straightforward for me, but the big problem is the 400m swim. I could do it easily breast stroke, but to compete it needs to be front crawl, of which at the turn of the year I could only do 200m without a break.

At the start of the year I started googling potential events and found to my dismay that if I wanted to go for one with open water swimming, the distance was actually 750m. And of course in a lake I couldn't just take a break if I ran out of steam, it's 'in for a penny, in for a pound'. I started to wonder whether I'd bitten off more than I could chew.

But what has happened since has been extraordinary. First swim of the year I did 250m at a go which I was pleased with. Then last Wednesday I did 300m and on Friday 400m. Yesterday I did 500m without stopping (at a faster pace than the 400m). So I went from worrying about hitting 400m to smashing that barrier within two weeks simply because I lifted my sights from 400m to 750m.

I've seen exactly the same thing happen in Sustainability. Businesses who set really audacious goals – zero waste, zero carbon, zero toxics – change their whole approach as it is clear that tinkering around the edges just won't do. Ambition makes you to consider options you'd never ever dream of by pursuing continual improvement.

When people tell me they set SMART targets – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound – I always worry about the A for Achievable. It narrows the mind inwards to the everyday rather than stretching it out to the extraordinary. As per my new favourite quote from conservationist Alan Rabinowitz “Only those who set goals beyond what is obviously achievable make a real difference in this world.”

 

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15 January 2018

If people don't get Sustainability, it's not their fault

I recently attended a meeting where a representative of a local authority blamed the general public for falling recycling rates. This made me quite angry because if recycling rates have been higher in the recent past then it is clear the public is willing to do their bit. I know for a fact that a number of blunders, including giving out contradictory information, have confused the residents of that particular area.

This is just one example of many I've witnessed where people in the Sustainability profession blame others for the lack of behaviour change. 'Bless their little cotton socks' one practitioner told me, as if their employees were slow-witted children. But this is a dangerous attitude – the equivalent of a supermarket manager blaming their customers for deserting them for the better stocked rival down the street – it will do nothing to reverse decline.

I often say that the only difficult part of my Green Jujitsu approach to Sustainability Engagement is having the humility to see the world from your target audience's point of view. Everything you know about Sustainability is useless unless you can translate it into a form which means something to that audience. Completely useless.

 

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12 January 2018

Lessons from 'The War On Plastic'

So, the big news this week is that PM Theresa May has listened to me and announced a 'war on plastic waste' at the launch of the long awaited 25 year Environment Plan. Like most commentators my opinion is the plan contains all the right subjects and targets but is light on the actions required now to get us on to the right trajectory.

Here are some wider thoughts about what we can learn from the announcement:

  • Sustainability is now right at the top of the political agenda and that is a good thing, no matter who is in charge. The Government has finally woken up to the fact that the UK is doing rather well on the environment and by showing leadership they can do even better (and appeal to some of the young people who have deserted the Conservative party in droves - quite a carrot for more action).
  • Everybody is an environmentalist: the ocean plastics issue has united everybody from the deepest green to the climate-sceptics at the Daily Mail (right) and even those purveyors of nonsense, the Global Warming Policy Forum. If you want to engage people in Sustainability, be prepared to start the conversation on common ground, particularly with something very tangible (like the iconic picture of a seahorse carrying a cotton bud).
  • Blue Planet II is already one of the most significant TV programmes ever. Ignore the green snobs, if we want real change, we've got to get the message into the mainstream.
  • 25-years is too long for a plan: Even if you want to set distant aspirations, I usually recommend 10 years for Sustainability Strategies as this is long enough to make real change on the ground (e.g. capital investment) but not too distant for decision-makers to think it'll be for their successors to sort out.
  • Aspiration without action remains just that. If I was advising Mrs May and Mr Gove, I'd have insisted on a backcasting process to fill in the gaps between those goals and what needs to happen right now to get on the right trajectory. This is what I do with my clients and it works extremely well.

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10 January 2018

Getting the Sustainability Optics right

Yesterday, the Guardian published side-by-side pictures of UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove heading into Number 10 Downing Street last October with a disposable coffee cup and then yesterday with a reusable cup.

Why is this important? Well about the time of the first pic, Gove had just announced moves to tax single use coffee cups, so the image gave out a contradictory message. He's obviously learnt his lesson since, or a wise head bought him a very appropriate Christmas present.

I've long preached that Sustainability practitioners must get their heads out of the detail and look at the big picture. While that is true, we also have to be aware that the media and the general public often latch on to minor but resonant issues. Climate change is difficult to communicate, a coffee cup is tangible and familiar to everyone. Having the wrong coffee cup sends a louder message to the masses than, say, the UK's Clean Energy Plan, the new UK ban on microbeads or the forthcoming ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

So the lesson is get the big issues and what politicians call 'the optics' right. You may be installing a huge solar panel on the roof, but if your canteen coffee cups aren't being recycled you will see cynicism in the workforce. You could argue that the solar panel will make a much bigger difference, but, as Ronald Reagan said, if you're explaining, you're losing.

Images copyright as per caption - used under 'fair use'.

 

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8 January 2018

Your Sustainability Goals for 2018

Last week I took a big fat marker and wrote out my three top line goals for 2018, just six words between them, and stuck them up by my desk where I can see them every day. Already I have taken tangible steps to make progress those three – at least one of which I know I would have put off for sure if the goals weren't right there in my face.

When I was interviewing people about their company's ambitious Sustainability Goals, one guy told me the importance of those goals, likening them to the bar in a high jump. "If you can't see the bar," he said "you'll never jump that high."

So what are your personal Sustainability goals for 2018? Pick three, write them down, and put them somewhere you can see them (or if you are shy, use them as category headings in your weekly to do list every week). Do it now, or the chances of you doing so recede fast.

And remember, the first step towards each goal is almost always the most important.

 

 

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4 January 2018

Kick snobbery out of Sustainability in 2018!

OK, it was the slow news season with column inches to fill, but Lucy Siegel's attack on the eco-awareness generated by the BBC's excellent Blue Planet II in the Guardian got me really quite ticked off. Siegel's argument is that the right people knew this already ('woke' in modern parlance), but for the hoi polloi and Tory Government Ministers:

"for some reason we still wait for these rare, prime-time glimpses of the planet to give us permission to act on critical environmental issues."

This smacks of all the tin-eared, sanctimonious preaching of far too many green activists – ignoring the fact that Blue Planet has touched the many, many places where decades of campaigning haven't near (jealousy is probably why they feel they have to knock its success). They are the eco-equivalent of all those music fans who only like bands before they are famous and drop them with disdain when they hit the mainstream, muttering darkly about 'selling out'.

But the mainstream is where true Sustainability lies – real behavioural change by multitudes of real people. Personally, I'm no fan of the Tory party, but I rejoice when a Blue Planet-quoting Tory Minister announces action on single-use plastic packaging because that is real progress, both on a practical and a political level.

Another Guardian article caught my attention this week – Patrick Barkham describing some research on Sustainability and gender – apparently men are put off green behaviour as much of it, such as carrying a reusable shopping bag, is seen as feminine. Now, I think that is pretty daft, but, if this is the reality, then we have to deal with that reality. And Barkham quotes a great example of the approach to take:

One experiment found men more likely to donate to Wilderness Rangers – a fictional charity with a black and blue howling wolf logo – than Friends of Nature, with a twee font and tree symbol.

This is classic Green Jujitsu – reframing Sustainability to match the worldview of your audience. If they are macho, then make Sustainability macho. If they are engineers, translate it into engineering. If they are accountants, express it in £, $, €. If they are patriots, express it in terms of national pride.

But the first step in this is having the humility to realise that your audience's worldview is more important than your own. So, please don't be tempted into the high priesthood of Sustainability with their secret handshakes and codewords. Get out there and listen to people instead.

For more on Green Jujitsu, check out our online training course.

 

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2 January 2018

Sustainability Predictions for 2018? Hmmm...

Happy New Year, Everyone!

It is traditional at this time of year to gaze into the crystal ball and make some predictions for the following 12 months. Given that 2017 gave us served up the most unlikely figure of Michael Gove Eco-warrior, and with the increasingly childishly unpredictable Donald Trump, I am very loath to make specific predictions for the year ahead.

However, the following are almost certain to occur:

  • The low carbon and circular economies will continue to grow at a rate unpredicted by even the most optimistic a few years ago;
  • We will continue to pick up signals from the natural world that we have to move even faster.

But the short term noise of politics, innovation and media storms remain beyond my deductive powers, so we will just have to wait and see.

But I'm not saying 'wait and see before taking action'. Let's go back on the old cliché of "the best way to predict the future is to create it". The only way to prevent occasionally inclement weather from knocking the good ship Sustainability off course is to set a clear destination and keep the vessel pointed in that direction.

So, please ask yourself, what are your three most important goals for the next twelve months, what will you have to have achieved by the six month-mark to be on course, and what do you have to start/stop doing right now to hit that trajectory.

For some inspiration, check out our freebie webinar on 24 January, 12 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2018. Click here to register. 

 

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