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May 2018 - Terra Infirma


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29 May 2018

Jung, Greenwash and Sustainability

Gotta love Twitter some times, and last night I saw this wonderful quote attributed to Carl Jung:*

"You are what you do, not what you say you'll do."

This is extremely important in Sustainability, particularly amongst leaders, as talk without action is greenwash. It will breed cynicism and destroy trust. 'Doing' sets apart the real Sustainability leaders from those who just preach.

But I'd like to paraphrase it slightly:

"You are what you stop doing, not what you say you'll stop doing."

We will never get to Sustainability (or remotely close) if we don't stop doing the unsustainable stuff. Business as usual plus some sustainable pet projects is not sustainable. Creative destruction is an essential part of the the equation and shows true leadership.

 

*as always I've tried to verify this quote, but couldn't find either a source, or for that matter a take down.

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25 May 2018

On Demand: Business & the SDGs

We had a great webinar on Business and the SDGs on Wednesday, involving delegates from three continents! If you missed it, fear not, we can send you a link to the recording and the workbook, so you can go through it in your own time.

  • A (very) brief history of Sustainable Development
  • What are the SDGs?
  • The secret to making the SDGs work for your business
  • The 17 Goals and how to blow them out of the water

The cost for this is just £20.00 + VAT – the same as attending the live session.

Click here to make a Paypal/card payment.

Please note that viewing the session requires the Webex viewer download.

 

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24 May 2018

Book Review: Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

I haven't reviewed many Sustainability books on here of late, mainly because the few I have read recently have been terrible, some to the point of being unreadable. Frankly I didn't want to bore you with diatribes against poor authors (in both senses of the word 'poor'). However, a couple of weeks ago I took a duplicate present back to Waterstones and, on a whim, picked up Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth as a replacement. Talk about serendipity.

The titular doughnut is Raworth's analogy for a sustainable economy which is strong enough to pull people above the inner limit of the poverty line (the social foundation), yet stays within natural limits (the ecological ceiling). Within these two thresholds we should be 'agnostic' about growth. I love a simple, resonant analogy and this is one of the best Sustainability models I've come across for a long time.

Read the rest of this entry »

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21 May 2018

Why behavioural change for Sustainability is difficult (and how to make it easier)

Last week I was locking my bike outside one of my regular refuelling points when two Mobike employees appeared and started rounding up some of their dockless bikes which had been left there. "We play 'how many are in the River Tyne today?'" one of them joked to me. But there was a serious point behind the jest – Mobikes are undoubtedly getting people cycling, but the dockless nature does mean they are left in all kinds of places, good and bad. And people are starting to complain.

A number of wags on Twitter (another good and bad thing) have created the 'dockless car' meme – pointing out that while people complain about the bikes, the anti-social behaviour of many drivers doesn't raise the same hackles.

Why? Familiarity. We don't see the badly parked cars because we're used to them, but the bikes are novel so they stand out – the same way that you notice all kinds of architectural detail in a foreign city while ignoring similar beauty in your home town.

We need to understand the psychology of change if we are to make Sustainability happen. People will look past plantation forests, grain silos and radar domes to complain about wind turbines 'blighting' the countryside. They will get upset if you remove their waste baskets in favour of paper recycling bins or ban single-use takeaway coffee cups from the cafeteria. You are upsetting their routine and they will hate you for it.

Here's my five top tips to help you bring change to your organisation:

  1. Ditch the green-speak in favour of Green Jujitsu (adopting the language, imagery and tone of your audience)
  2. Involve people in designing the new system/product/process/procedure;
  3. Make the Sustainable option easier to use than the old one (making people jump through hoops to prove their commitment to Sustainability is one of the stupidest ideas of all stupid ideas);
  4. Make sure all people in positions of responsibility – including you – are seen to be doing the new thing.
  5. Buy a tin hat and keep it close to hand.

 

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16 May 2018

Why Supply Chain Sustainability is so difficult (and why it doesn't need to be...)

Here's three reasons why Supply Chain Sustainability is such a challenge:

  1. For the vast majority of organisations, the impacts and risks in the supply chain dwarfs that 'within the factory fence';
  2. You usually have poor visibility of those impacts and risks – many of which may be deliberately hidden from outside eyes;
  3. For those risks you are aware of, you only have indirect control over.

And how do we tackle these challenges? With questionnaires, audits and tick boxes on tender forms. I don't think there is any element of Sustainability where the standard tools are so woefully inadequate compared to the scale of the challenge. And if that's one arm tied behind your back, many organisations bind the other one by stating they would never drop a supplier on Sustainability grounds.

The solution is a complete change in your mindset. Instead of trying to fix your suppliers' problems, you should be challenging them to fix yours. That change in attitude costs nothing and will deliver huge change. Secondly, the ultimate threat – 'Sustainability or Goodbye' – needs to be hanging over all discussions. If not, you're not serious about Sustainability.

We'll be discussing the tools to make this happen on our Green Academy webinar on 6 June 2018: Building A Sustainable Supply Chain – click here for more.

 

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14 May 2018

Stop frightening people about climate change

One of the basic principles of psychology is that, despite millions of years of evolution, we are still instinctive animals at heart. We fear fire, which we have lived with and used for at least 300,000 years, but we don't, as a species, fear climate change which poses an existential threat. Yes, we do some logical analysis, but when the chips are down, logic gets bumped by emotions.

Many Sustainability practitioners and activists have made it their life's mission to make other people fear climate change. But the problem with fear is its very power. It can make us freeze and watch the threat bearing down on us like an out of control articulated lorry. Or it can make us run to the (apparent) safety of what we know. The last thing fear does is encourage us to sit down and objectively assess the options available before making a rational choice.

My preferred method of engaging people in Sustainability is to involve them in the process of delivering it. When I'm helping a client develop a Sustainability Strategy, I involve key decision makers in creating it. When implementing a Sustainability Strategy, I challenge each group of individuals to develop the plan to do so for their team/division. That creative activity evaporates the fear of change and gets people excited about a Sustainable future, as they've designed a little bit of it.

'Feel the fear and do it anyway' is a great title for a self-help book, but in practice 'Just do it' is a much more useful cliché.

 

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11 May 2018

Reasons to be Cheerful part 514

Well, the good news just keeps coming. Zero carbon aluminium smelting, coal-free-energy days, too much solar energy in the summer (so how do we store it?), plastic-eating enzymes, a reduction in plastic bags littering beaches, more proposed bans on single-use plastic items... What's really interesting here in the UK is that we have near-universal political backing for these moves, and in plastic litter even the notoriously reactionary Daily Mail has found an eco-cause to champion.

As Sustainability practitioners we need to capitalise on this enthusiasm and momentum, not play the doom-monger. Yes, it's not enough, but it is accelerating faster than anyone expected. We need to press harder on the pedal, not reach for the handbrake of helplessness.

 

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7 May 2018

Sustainability Lessons from 14 years in Local Government

Regular readers may have noticed that my output here and on social media has been somewhat patchy over the last few weeks, That's because I was engaged in a tough Council re-election battle, one which I ultimately lost by 12 votes out of 2000 or so cast.

Obviously I'm disappointed, but I'm very proud of my 14 years' stint on Newcastle City Council, particularly on the Sustainability front – I spent 7 years as deputy Cabinet member for Environment & Sustainability when my party ran the Council, then 7 years as opposition spokesperson. Not to put too fine a point on it, and modesty aside, during the first seven years, Sustainability performance improved rapidly peaking with being designated the UK's Most Sustainable City two years running by Forum for the Future (2009 & 2010). When we lost control in 2011, things went into marked decline.

So here's a quick reflection on the lessons that I learnt over those years (many have appeared here before, often lightly disguised!):

  • Leadership is everything – when we took control in 2004, we set two big aspirational targets: zero waste and carbon neutral. Cllr Wendy Taylor, the Cabinet member 2004-2011, showed immense grit and determination to get a massive bureaucracy to take those goals seriously. The incoming administration in 2011 dropped those goals and deleted the cabinet member post, spreading responsibility around a variety of roles and claiming a 'green thread' ran through everything. The weakness of the latter approach has been proven by falling recycling rates and stalled carbon reduction programmes.
  • Commitment = stretch targets. Those two goals drove everything we did and made it clear to the whole organisation, whether officers or councillors, that we were serious about doing things differently. Hitting the targets is not the point: we didn't get close to zero waste, but driving recycling rates from 8% to 43% wouldn't have happened with an incremental approach – as demonstrated by recycling declining to 38% once the target was removed.
  • You've got to make Sustainability easy: one of the controversial things we did was to replace a segregated recycling collection involving a open crate, to a semi-co-mingled system involving a wheelie bin. Green activists screamed sell-out, but the recycling rate went up from 25% to 38% overnight. We made it easy and convenient for busy individuals to recycle and they did so.
  • Experience works: One area our administration was slow on was promoting cycling. So I challenged a group of senior officers and councillors to cycle from the Civic Centre to Newcastle Central Station at the far side of our compact city centre. I can still hear the cry of alarm from one of my colleagues as we ventured across 4 lanes of heavy traffic. From this traumatic experience, a revamped, ambitious cycle strategy was born (our party drafted it, but it came into force under the current administration who to their credit are implementing it).
  • People love winning: when I was first told we had won the Most Sustainable City accolade, my first thought was "how bad are all the rest?" and the second was "oh no, everybody will think we've finished when we've only just got started" but I was wrong – winning first time galvanised officers, fellow Councillors and partners (success has many parents etc) and drove us further and faster (our lead in the Forum for the Future ratings increased over the following year).
  • Activism is doing, not protesting: I've had a few wins in Opposition, however I've learnt you can protest all you like, but if those in power won't listen, you can rarely achieve anything. This is why I eschew protest for action no matter how small, grind my teeth when activist-journalists get lauded more than people at the coalface, and why I recommend my clients (and everybody else) work to align responsibility with authority.

So now I have just the one job, I will be able to focus full time on implementing these lessons in Terra Infirma's clients!

 

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