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26 February 2018

Why retailers are so crucial to Sustainability

Last week at the North East Recycling Forum, we had a presentation from a DEFRA policy officer about the UK's forthcoming waste plan. She presented a three level lifecycle and asked for ideas on how to engage at each level:

  • Producer
  • Consumer
  • End of Life

I always like to take a step back and consider the premis of a question before I answer it (my Mum always said I was an awkward bugger). And I suggested to the DEFRA representative that there was a vital level missing in this model: retail.

The reason being is that a third of what the UK public spends is spent via retail (and I would guess that this is the most waste-producing third given much of the rest is utility bills, subscriptions etc). Of that retail spending, fully half is via 10 the top 10 retailers, the most prominent being Tesco. The buying power of that 10 not only dominates each market, but shapes it too – if Tesco demanded, say, a new type of recyclable packaging for meat, then it makes economic sense for packaging suppliers to sell that new product to every meat producer, not just those selling to Tesco, and for meat producers to sell the same packaging type to all their customers, not just Tesco.

So, in terms of intervention, here are a small number of players with huge influence – a classic 80:20 situation. And not only that, retailers already see themselves as gatekeepers for the consumer. Marks & Spencer (no 6 in the retailer top 10) talk about doing 'the heavy lifting' for the consumer by ensuring that all new products are in someway more sustainable than their predecessor. 10 years ago, B&Q (part of the Kingfisher group at no 7) refused to stock patio heaters – a massive piece of Sustainability choice-editing.

So retail is in a unique position – they have the buying power to decide what producers produce, and they decide what the consumer consumes, and thus they decide the Sustainability of all of that. And for policy-makers, the small number of big players makes engagement much easier than, say, 60 million UK citizens.

 

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6 December 2017

BETA: Customer Engagement for Sustainability Model

Next week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting is going to consider how to engage customers in Sustainability. This is a huge issue as the bulk of many products' environmental impacts are in the 'use' phase and/or are determined by customer behaviour. Take food, for instance, not only is the cooking of the food a big chunk of its lifecycle impact, but storage and meal-planning will determine how much food actually gets eaten and how much goes in the bin unused.

However, when I hit Google to try and find the latest thinking on customer engagement, I didn't get much to go on. So, as usual, I made up my own model, the final version of which came to me over my early morning cuppa today. I thought I'd throw it out into the public to see what the response to it was.

It is, as you can see, the classic 2x2 business school matrix. The level of innovation and communication give us four broad categories:

  • Instruction: providing information e.g. the 'Wash at 30°C' campaign, the new 'fridge' logo for food;
  • Choice-editing: developing new products and services where the choice of being unsustainable is removed e.g. B&Q refusing to stock patio heaters, software to automatically shut down networked PCs at the end of the working day, product-service systems etc;
  • Dialogue: the customer can get in touch to query options or peer-to-peer support – help lines, chat support, forums, face-to-face user networks, transparency services;
  • Collaboration: new products/services are co-produced with customers, e.g. the NetWorks project between Interface and Aquafil.

Thoughts?

 

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26 June 2017

Heinz need to ketchup on customer engagement

HZK_3D_38oz-Ketchup-smallLast week I was chatting with a local authority recycling officer, checking exactly what I could put in my recycling bin (and if I'm not 100% sure...). We got on to the Lucozade Sport problem, then he mentioned his bugbear was Heinz, who, he said, don't even label their plastic bottles with recycling codes.

So, in an idle moment I thought I'd try the power of social media and tweeted to Heinz UK to ask why not. They promptly and politely replied that the bottles do have recycling codes, but they're hidden under the cap. I checked and they were right.

But.

But, but, but.

What's the point of hiding away your code? Everybody else puts it on the bottom of the bottle, and those members of the public, like me, who know that code 1 or 2 on a bottle means it can be recycled, will look for it there. Recycling plant operatives will certainly look for it there. And if a guy with decades of experience in household recycling doesn't know where it is, what chance do the rest of us have?

One of my Green Jujitsu principles is that Sustainability information must be placed where people expect to find the information they need. I often quote the example of a client who labelled all the machines in their production lines which should be switched off when idle, but didn't include any guidance in the formal manufacturing instructions which are held as gospel by operatives and their line management. The labels got ignored because, even though they were in plain sight, the information wasn't in the right place.

I've asked Heinz why the stamp isn't on the bottom of the bottle, but they haven't got back to me yet.

 

 

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10 March 2017

Aligning Sustainability Incentives

org charts

I've long preached that there is a pressing need to align responsibility for Sustainability with authority. There is no point in delegating responsibility for Sustainability targets to environmental managers, or worse, volunteer sustainability champions, if they have zero power to actually make change happen. Instead appropriate sub-targets must be embedded in the personal objectives of key decision makers. Stands to reason, but often neglected.

During the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group on Tuesday (more on this next week), I realised that this alignment principle doesn't only within organisations but also between them.

If a landlord is responsible for a heating system, but the tenants pay the bills, the landlord will go cheap on the system as efficiency is not their problem. If the heating bills are split equally between tenants rather than individually metered, then there is less immediate incentive to cut consumption. If a purchaser is responsible for disposing of packaging, then there is little incentive for the supplier to provide recyclable or returnable packaging. And, as the Carbon Trust found with Walker's Crisps, if potatoes are bought by wet weight, then suppliers are incentivised to artificially hydrate the potatoes even though Walker then has to waste energy evaporating off that excess water during the frying process.

In all these cases, there are ways and means of changing the agreements between the different parties so those who have the power to change are fully incentivised to do so, either financially or contractually.

 

 

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25 March 2015

Sustainability Across the Generations

CoSM10

Last Friday we held the tenth Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting at the wonderful Lumley Castle in County Durham. The topic was 'Sustainability Across the Generations" – how do Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers and Millennials respond to the sustainability agenda?

As usual there was no Powerpoint, just facilitated discussion using one of my large templates (which you can see on the table above). We generated a whopping 78 learning points. Here's a selection of those:

General Generational Issues

  • You need to listen to the pulse of the organisation;
  • Generational profile of customers more important for B2C than B2B organisations;
  • There is an age profile up the reporting structure of established organisations; those with authority tend to be older, but we need to attract the next generation in towards the bottom;
  • As people age they tend to become more pragmatic and less idealistic;
  • There is a regional context – eg US millennials are quite different to Chinese millennials.

Baby Boomers

  • This is the generation which first became broadly aware of sustainability, for example via Silent Spring;
  • Anathema to ‘waste’ may be a more powerful hook than, say, climate risks;
  • Some may fear that their skills will become obsolete in a low carbon world;
  • “We’ve always done it this way” is a tough barrier to overcome;
  • Legacy is a powerful driver – especially for senior management – what kind of organisation would you like to leave behind you?
  • Coaching is often better than training for this generation – ‘arm around the shoulder’;
  • “I would like your help with…” is a good opening gambit.

Generation X

  • Grew up with the maturing sustainability agenda, eg the 1992 Earth Summit;
  • The ‘change generation’ – sees upsides and downsides;
  • This generation is now moving into key decision making positions – an opportunity but also a threat as they have plenty on their plate;
  • Probably the generation where engagement can have the biggest impact;
  • Co-inventing solutions secures ‘skin in the game’;
  • Find ways to communicate “What’s In It For Me” – eg build links between sustainability and their KPIs.

Millennials

  • First consciously green generation – but they often respond to activism more than working through the system;
  • Can be naïve about their own impacts – eg on upgrading technology/fast fashion;
  • Graduates are definitely applying to companies with good reputations;
  • Less loyal to corporations – if they don’t like what they see, they will move on;
  • Have been educated on the basics of sustainability, need to learn how to implement it in practice;
  • Social media can spread untruths as fast or faster than truths – fosters a lack of fact-checking;
  • A good tactic is to challenge millennials – “if you think this is important, set up a team and write a proposal.”

The Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group is a small group of senior sustainability professionals from major organisations who meet quarterly to explore a burning question in depth. If you want to learn more click here.

 

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