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July 2018 - Terra Infirma


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6 July 2018

In Sustainability, there's always an excuse to do nothing...

Terra Infirma's most powerful competitor is almost certainly "do nothing". Given where we work – near the cutting edge, we like to think – we provide our clients with a choice: spend some money and get some great benefits, or, spend nothing and trundle along as usual with your fingers crossed. Unfortunately in these days of economic uncertainty, clinging to business as usual is often more tempting than taking a small risk to make the organisation sustainable in both senses of the word.

So I read with a wry smile that Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden saying that the company wasn't going to set carbon reduction targets because it could lead to litigation from shareholders. “This is not a practical way to run the company.”  he added.

Where to start?

First up: a stretch carbon target sets the direction and ambition of the company. Set a bold target and every stakeholder from NGOs through shareholders to the receptionist at head office knows the company is serious about where it is going and how quickly. In a fossil fuel company, the energy transition is going to require a huge number of people making different decisions to those they would make otherwise. No target = drift at best.

Second: I thought the whole purpose of a publicly trading corporation was to meet the needs of its shareholders, not hide from them?

Third: what better driver for progress than the 'threat' that the people who actually own the company will hold the executive to account on the biggest issue of our time?

Sorry, Mr van Beurden, your logic is risible.

 

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4 July 2018

Are Sustainability accreditations worth the bother?

I spoke on the phone yesterday to the Sustainability Director of a major worldwide brand. She was exasperated as she was in the middle of a four month annual slog to complete the returns for a number of Sustainability accreditations to which the corporation has committed. We mused on the fact that every year was split into 8 months of delivering Sustainability projects and 4 months justifying what they had done. This is clearly an unhealthy ratio of action:bureaucracy.

So why bother?

This topic came up in passing at Monday's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group. The consensus of opinion was that standards and accreditations cannot drive Sustainability, but they provide a backstop against backsliding. After all, which board member wants to see a certificate removed from the head office atrium, leaving behind the bright rectangle of shame?

However that breaks both ways – once you are in, you're in, so choose which accreditations to pursue carefully as you don't want the tail wagging the dog for evermore.

 

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2 July 2018

The missing pieces in many Sustainability Strategies

I see lots of Sustainability Strategies which consist of a baseline (e.g. a carbon footprint and waste arisings data), targets and a series of nice case studies of what already has been done.

But this is wishful thinking – how you are going to meet those targets, by when and by who are the crucial parts of jigsaw. If your targets are worthwhile, the kind of work you have done to date are very unlikely to be adequate to deliver the required outcomes.

This is why we always put backcasting at the heart of our strategy development. Create a vision of the organisation where the targets have been met on time, then work backwards to the present day to work out what you need to start doing now to get on the right trajectory. It's a very simple but powerful tool – and if you pick the right people to participate, you get great buy-in too.

 

 

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