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June 2018 - Terra Infirma

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29 June 2018

Sustainability, Consistency & Leadership

I've long preached that big 'L' Leadership is the difference between those at the cutting edge of Sustainability and the rest. And one of the biggest elements of leadership is consistency and/or constancy – that people can see you sticking to your guns through thick and thin.

Listening to Prime Minister's Questions this week, UK premier Theresa May clearly didn't see the contradiction between bigging up the opportunities for zero emission vehicles and lambasting those who voted against Heathrow Airport expansion. Her Government's 'no' to the Swansea tidal barrage project didn't come up at PMQs, but that was another contradictory decision in recent days.

The UK is doing very well at decarbonising its power sector, but as this week's Climate Change Committee (CCC) report pointed out, on other important issues such as transport, thermal efficiency of buildings and land use, it is lagging behind.

The problem with the country's current political leadership is all too common: one success gets run up the flagpole every time Sustainability comes up,  distracting from everything else where progress is pedestrian at best. Given the fantastic decarbonisation of the power sector, the term 'greenwash' may be a wee bit harsh, but it's not far off the way power is quoted over and over again.

As the CCC notes, the framework is there, but the policy detail is missing – and the impact of that vacuum is evident in the big opportunities that have just been missed. We desperately need that true leadership.




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26 June 2018

Making people think about Sustainability is true engagement

Yesterday, I ran a Green Jujitsu training workshop at the Northern Sustainability Innovations Conference, hosted by (our client) Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust as part of the Great Exhibition of the North. I had an enthusiastic audience from organisations large and small, so it was a lot of fun.

I started by getting the audience to tell me why engagement was important, followed by what makes it so tricky. To illustrate why preaching green doesn't work, I made an audience member with no interest in pro-cycling mildly uncomfortable by asking her views on the details of this year's Giro d'Italia. I then explained how I first got into pro-cycling –when the Tour de France visited the part of Yorkshire I holiday in, i.e. when the pro-cycling world overlapped with mine. This got across my key message that if Sustainability is leaving your audience cold, then you need to find the sweetspot between Sustainability and their interests.

To apply Green Jujitsu, I tasked each delegate with thinking about what gets their colleagues out of bed in the morning and what turns them off. Using these positive and negative drivers, they then sketched out how to apply them across a range of engagement elements (language, images, activities etc).

My final flurry was to ask the delegates why I started by asking them why the topic was important. Of course I could have put a Powerpoint slide up and read out the bullet points in 30 seconds, but they would have forgotten the contents by the time I flicked on to the next slide (my workshop was Powerpoint-free). By asking the question, shutting up and waiting for the responses, I got the audience to sell that importance to themselves. OK, I was preaching to the choir with this group, but this cross cutting Green Jujitsu principle applies to all audiences: ask questions and make 'em think.

For more on Green Jujitsu, download our free white paper.


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21 June 2018

People taking to Sustainability like a duck to water...

On Tuesday I ran a workshop for Sustainability Champions at one of my clients – introducing them to the Sustainability Strategy targets and giving them an insight into Green Jujitsu to engage their colleagues. One Champion, however, had already stumbled on a winning formula at her site: ducks.

A collaboration with a local conservation charity had led to a duck pond being built adjacent to the site. Seeing an opportunity to get people out into the fresh air at lunchtime, she set up a 'duck board' in the atrium with information on the ducks and other wildlife, but, crucially it turned out, bags of bird seed to feed the ducks.

It turns out, people love feeding the ducks, so they keep coming back to the duck board. The board has now become a legend and our Champion has used it to promote a wide range of issues from single use plastic pollution to mental health and stress management. One thing, however, remains constant: the duck food – she's been told in no uncertain terms by her colleagues that the seed must stay. So it does.

I love this as it is making Sustainability accessible and interesting, linking the hyper-local with the global, and giving something to the audience that they really appreciate. Ruddy brilliant, you could say!

For more on using Green Jujitsu to engage people in Sustainability, check out our white paper. 


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18 June 2018

Football, Tribes & Sustainability

So In-ger-land kick off their World Cup campaign tonight. As a Northern Irishman who has lived in England for almost 30 years, I'm not terribly excited. I'm not churlish, I'd like them to do well, but, hey, they're just not my tribe.

Tribalism was the topic of discussion at our terribly middle-class dinner party on Saturday night. I read Amy Chua's Political Tribes on our recent holiday and it hit its target – Liberals like me and my guests who can't get their head around why Brexit happened, or how Trump got elected, or how ISIS manages to recruit people to do terrible things – and the answer, according to Chua, is tribal identity.

Sport is the ultimate in tribalism – while I can watch Portugal vs Spain as a fascinated objective neutral, if Northern Ireland are playing, I go off at the deep end – shouting, cheering, crying. Likewise when Ulster or Ireland play rugby. In fact I could fill pages here on the bizarre contortions of Irish tribalism and rugby – how even the most trenchant Northern Irish Unionist will support the (united) Ireland team over any of the mainland UK teams. There is no logic to supporting a particular team, just tribal identity.

Tribalism explains quite a lot in the Sustainability debate. UK climate change deniers tend to belong to a right-wing nationalist tribe defined by Euroscepticism, traditional values and "that's political correctness-gone mad!" tendencies. There is a much smaller (very) left-wing tribe of deniers – the kind of people who think Margaret Thatcher dreamt up climate change to destroy the coal industry. The green activist tribe is far too often exclusionary, raising barriers to entry (often through competitive self-sacrifice), rather than making Sustainability open to all (which it must be by definition to succeed).

My Sustainability tribe is the Mangoes – green on the outside and (liberal) orange in the middle. But I'm always very interested in how other tribes interpret Sustainability whether it's the watermelons (red on the inside) using Sustainability to argue against capitalism, or when right-wingers make the economic case for Sustainability. To me, the latter is actually the most important, just as some US Republican mayors are enacting climate friendly policies under the radar to avoid the opprobrium of their tribe, removing barriers to progress is critical to Sustainability.

So let's not support Sustainability like we would a football team. We need tribes to work towards that common goal, even if they all insist on taking different paths.


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14 June 2018

Beware pushing people out of their depth on Sustainability

Regular readers will know that my big personal challenge this year is to do a triathlon. Cycle: easy-peasy, run: OK, swim... argh! So I've been been busy working up my endurance and technique 2/3 times a week in the pool and I can now swim the requisite 750m front crawl reasonably comfortably if a bit slowly. But the triathlon swim leg isn't in a pool, it's in a lake, so I thought I'd better take some open water swimming lessons to help with sighting etc.

The first lesson was like an hour of repeated mini-panic attacks, even though we were doing 150-200m laps. Deprived of the reassuring constraints of the pool ends, I became frantic to make it to each buoy, my technique dissolving away as I zig-zagged around blindly exhausting myself.

Second lesson was an improvement, I've been practising sighting in the pool, and I was reassured by the sight of professionals in the World Triathlon Series event in Leeds at the weekend reverting to breast stroke to get through a pinch point at the first buoy – just like me! I'm getting there, but I found my irrationality rather depressing after the hours of pool training.

We often talk about getting people out of their comfort zone as if this is always a good thing. Yes, we want to get people into the stretch zone where change happens, but beyond the stretch zone is the panic zone (see below). If you push people in there, you don't know what will happen, but it's unlikely to be what you want. I've seen many Sustainability practitioners push others too far, too fast, and find those people panic and shut down (and even rid themselves of the source of their discomfort...).

One of the benefits of my Green Jujitsu approach to engaging people is that, by translating Sustainability into words, images and actions which are familiar to them, the panic zone is pushed further away from the comfort zone. This gives you much more room to play with i.e. much more scope to make meaningful change happen.

Meanwhile, I'm actually looking forward to my third swimming lesson tonight to try out my technique again (Storm Hector permitting). I've got myself back into the stretch zone!

Big thanks to Barry Jameson from Tri4U for his great support and patience during the lessons.






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11 June 2018

Sustainability - for the many?


Sometime last Tuesday, a hashtag #PlasticFreeDay appeared on my Twitter feed. I was vaguely aware that it was World Environment Day, but, like so many eco-days, this new one had passed me by entirely (as I read the eco-press daily, this says more about the ineffectiveness of the plethora of awareness days, hours and weeks than my ignorance). So I did a bit of googling and found that the organisers wanted 250 million people would go 'plastic-free' for a day.

My immediate reactions were 1. how on earth could anyone do this?, and 2. why would you want to?

My kids love my bacon and pea pasta, so let's say I've promised them that on Plastic Free Day. Of the four major ingredients, I could use chopped tomatoes from a tin rather than a carton, ditto peas (although they taste awful compared to frozen peas from a bag), but bacon and pasta? I can't think of anybody who sells pasta in anything other than a plastic wrapping, so I'd have to make it myself. Even if I went to a traditional butcher, they'd wrap sliced bacon in a piece of plastic, otherwise bacon juice would ooze into the rest of my shopping. Sorry boys, treat's off, because, y'know, a hashtag.

Read the rest of this entry »

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6 June 2018

The prevailing winds are blowing towards Sustainability...

The steady stream of Sustainability good news stories continues to flow – 50 nations taking action on plastic consumption, consumer spending on fashion is on a falling trend, and a growing 'carbon bubble' means that $1-4 trillion could be wiped off the value of global fossil fuel assets by 2035. As with the recent digital revolution, real change is starting to snowball in the economy. At a time of change there will be winners and losers: huge opportunities and huge risks for those who cling to what they know.

The knack of thriving in such a period of flux is knowing when to let go of the old and when to invest in the new. I always preach that the rules of business still apply. In particular product or service that no-one wants (or can afford) will flop, no matter how Sustainable. The 3 Ps – performance, price & planet – is a good starting point.

But probably the biggest challenge is 'creative destruction'. Persuading colleagues to ditch unsustainable products/services is never easy. Having serious Sustainability targets is essential – when Interface defined one of the seven targets of their Mission Zero sustainability programme as 'eliminate problem emissions: eliminate toxic substances from products, vehicles and facilities', then the days of their products with brominated flame retardants were numbered. Leaving Sustainability to case-by-case decisions will get you nowhere.



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4 June 2018

Back from a Bloody Past

I'm just back from 5 glorious days of half term camping with the Kane clan in Wooler, in the north of Northumberland. We did the usual things – climbing Humbleton Hill (above), wandering around Wooler common and eating loads of food (also see above). I'm always pleased the way the kids switch from touchscreen-addicts to outdoor enthusiasts (and back again...) so easily. I meanwhile assumed my position at the camping stove and/or BBQ, glass of beer in my hand, cooking al fresco.

All around us were battlefields from the days of war between England and Scotland, in fact the land is soaked in blood with the Battle of Flodden Field claiming somewhere between 5,000 and 17,000 lives, including that of King James IV of Scotland, in just one day. What surprises me in reading about this carnage is the pretence at the code of chivalry – the time and place of battle was arranged beforehand (although there was some bickering over the details), yet thousands were being sent to the slaughter. "Yes, we did the honourable thing before spearing each other with pikestaffs."

It kind of reminds me of all these ethical 'codes of conduct' that organisations and individuals sign up to beforehand. Tick the box and all's well, no matter what actually transpires in practice!


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