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April 2018 - Terra Infirma

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30 April 2018

How to measure true commitment to Sustainability

Here's a great quote to guide our answer to this crucial question:

Commitment is an act, not a word ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Here are some of those acts that demonstrate true commitment to Sustainability:

  • Setting a generous Sustainability budget;
  • Setting stretch targets and working out what is required to meet them;
  • Delegation of those targets down through the reporting structure, aligning responsibility with authority;
  • Creating/installing products, services or processes which makes a step change in Sustainability;

And, drum roll,  the litmus test:

  • Axing products, services or processes on Sustainability grounds.

How does your organisation measure up?


For more on setting Sustainability targets and developing a strategy, check out Seven Steps to a Successful Sustainability Strategy.


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26 April 2018

Eyes on the (Sustainability) Prize

There's a new, if rather clunky, phrase going around the political commentariat at the minute - 'tribal epistemology'. Coined by US journalist David Roberts, the concept is confirmation bias writ large where the validity of any statement, whether it's blindingly obviously based on measurable facts or the craziest conspiracy theory, is determined by whether or not it suits the tribe you are part of. Tribal epistemology often renders rational debate redundant and often takes us deep into tin foil hat territory.

The climate 'debate' has long been defined by this phenomenon. The climate change denial movement believes that climate change is a cover for dangerous socialism, many of its leading lights noting that the science emerged into the public sphere at about the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. QED. There is even a far-left denial clique who believe that climate change was invented by Margaret Thatcher to destroy the UK's coal miner unions. Both views, of course, require a massive, highly-disciplined conspiracy by the scientific community sustained over decades, which is hilarious if you've ever spent time in a University faculty tea room.

Feeding the paranoia of the reds-under-the-climate-bed deniers of course are the various people who claim that we cannot cure the climate problem under the capitalist/free-market system and that only socialism is the answer. This makes me smile as my inspiration to dedicate my life to Sustainability was witnessing ecological devastation in Russia wreaked by Soviet-era industry.

As I wrote last month, those of us who cling to enlightenment values of rational debate shouldn't feel we have to beat the tribal loons into submission – because we won't win arguments with people who have invested so much personally in irrational concepts. The most dangerous belief in Sustainability is that we have to get everybody on board. We don't, we just have to do Sustainability.

This time last year, the UK had its first coal-free day since the industrial revolution. This week we had three days straight with no coal-fired power. The Sustainability revolution is happening, tribal epistemology or no tribal epistemology. Let's make it go faster.


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23 April 2018

A Neat Sustainability Innovation Story

About a decade ago, I bumped into Simon Daniel on a station platform. Simon and I been in the same year at Uni in the early 1990s, but hadn't seen each other in the meantime. We'd both been at the same event, the sadly defunct Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange, and he showed me what he had been promoting there on behalf of his company Moixa – a rechargeable AA battery which you plugged into a USB port. "Oh, that's a clever idea!" I said, being polite, as my mind was going "Who'd ever want to recharge stuff via a USB port?"

How wrong I was, of course. Just this weekend I've been recharging my Garmin watch, my iPhone, my front bike light and my new bluetooth speaker via a USB port. What's great from a Sustainability point of view is a. all of these gadgets are rechargeable, cutting the use of single-use batteries, and b. only the iPhone came with its own charger (which I used to charge all the other items) so a whole bunch of other eWaste has been avoided. The drawer of random battery chargers has not had a new addition in many years. The lightweighting of life continues.

While I have dedicated the last 20 years of my life promoting change for Sustainability, it takes the real innovators like Simon to see the logical progression of technology and behaviour and how they can combine to create new ideas which quickly become standard practice. More power to their collective elbows!


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18 April 2018

When is a Sustainability Strategy not a Sustainability Strategy?

I saw this odd story yesterday that BP had released a 'Sustainability Strategy' based on holding its carbon emissions steady while the business was predicted to grow. Of course this is wholly inadequate when emissions have to plummet, but it got me thinking about wider questions such as "Can you call this a Sustainability Strategy as it maintains the business as part of the problem?", and the logical follow-on "What's the threshold to call something a Sustainability Strategy?"

To me, 'Sustainability' implies (and requires) a step change. But how big?

When I developed a strategy for/with NHSBT, the headline quantitative targets were 'carbon footprint halved' and 'zero waste' – big meaty goals. The first of these was based on the Government's carbon trajectory (effectively a science-based target), plus a bit to take it up to a 50% cut (because 50% is easier to communicate than 43%). This seems like a good litmus test for carbon – "is it a science-based target or better?"

You don't have to do the sums to know that BP has flunked the test.

Check out our white paper 7 Steps to a Successful Sustainability Strategy



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16 April 2018

Long term vs short term in Sustainability

In Sustainability, we talk a lot about lengthening our mental timescales – 'building cathedrals', making products longer lasting etc. And while this is great, we also have to be cognisant of the fast-moving world around us. Two of my clients have recently been blindsided by the sudden upsurge in public interest in plastic waste when they were focussed on building a low carbon/low waste legacy for future generations. Overnight, coffee cups have become THE measure of Sustainability performance in the public mind.

I'm a great fan of 'and' thinking rather than 'or' thinking. We need those long term strategies, planning and capital investment, but we also have to bear in mind that the perception of others can and does change rapidly and we need to keep abreast of that.

So what are our already overloaded Sustainability Managers to do? Well, if you have a champions' network – and most of them are under-utilised – challenge them to solve the short term stuff. They'll appreciate something positive to do!

If you don't have a network, you can spontaneously invent one by running a competition between sites/divisions/teams to tackle a short term problem – 'The Coffee Cup Challenge'?

The benefits of these approaches is that you can respond very quickly when the latest green thing comes flying over the horizon.



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11 April 2018

Do SMEs feel the heat on Sustainability?

This month's Ask Gareth is slightly different as it reflects on a conversation on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) with fellow Sustainability consultant Michelle Marks of Coral Mountain (@losetheplastic) rather than a direct question from a viewer. The topic was such a good one, and we haven't done many Ask Gareths on SMEs, I thought I would cover it.

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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9 April 2018

The Power of Sustainability Rankings

One of the more uplifting concepts in the last decade or so has been the emergence of pro-Sustainability activist corporations, a welcome break from the traditional 'minimal rules, narrow interest' mindset of the corporate lobbying industry. UK thinktank InfluenceMap has attempted to plot these efforts in the diagram above.

It's worth noting the layout of the quarters. Top left is the traditional anti-regulation mob (Koch et al), bottom left could be categorised as 'stick our heads in the sand', and the good guys drift towards the top right. So there's something of a U-shape in the line of increasing virtue, rather than the usual bottom left to top right diagonal.

I like publications like this, not just because they lay out the detail, but the pressure they bring on brands to improve. After all, it was a Greenpeace Sustainability ranking of electronics companies a decade ago that spurred Apple into action – and they've since gone from bottom of that list to InfluenceMap's A-list. Businesses are competitive by nature and they never like to be shown up by their rivals.


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6 April 2018

Inspiring yourself on Sustainability

The other day my eldest was watching the news with me and asked "Why isn't there a good news channel to cheer us up?" He was right – the news was unremittingly bleak or frustrating with hardly any moments of cheer. And it really can wear us down.

I know I'm not the only one in the Sustainability world who occasionally hits that slough of 'are we really making a difference'? And then you read a headline that the UK's plastic bag tax has led to a reduction in plastic bags in marine litter while other plastic litter increases. Or you read that wind power alone was providing over a third of the country's electricity one day during the recent 'Beast from the East' freeze.

Stuff we do does make a difference – provided of course you are picking the right stuff (check out how the 80:20 Rule can help). And we've got to keep reminding ourselves and others about this. I try to tweet out at least one Sustainability good news story everyday. That small action reminds me that there is a constant stream of good news and hopefully a few other people too.


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3 April 2018

Fear and Loathing in Sustainability

The Sustainability news falls into two polarised camps: 'climate impacts found to be worse than thought!' and 'renewable energy is booming!'. Why these might seem contradictory, due to lags in the climate's response to carbon emissions (and similar lags in other natural systems), both are very true. There's a lot of impact built in that we can't avoid, but we can work hard to minimise the impacts on future generations.

But the question I always have is 'does scaring people help in any way?' The problem with presenting people with stark facts is that, instead of inspiring people to act, you can cause them to freeze – or throw them into denial. If you watch how people devoted to particular political leaders react when unpleasant truths emerge, persuading themselves that black is white, you can see how climate denial works.

For this reason I never play the fear card. You are effectively telling people everything they do is wrong, which is a hard position from which to persuade them to do something different. You don't have to go into that zone to give the message "together we can make the world a better place" and nor should you.



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