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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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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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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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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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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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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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26 March 2018

Don't be a Sustainability Sheep

I took most of Friday off to go and help Mrs K move office at Durham University. So I decided to cycle down and, on the way back, I thought I'd take a diversion and see the memorial in Haswell to world champion cyclist Tom Simpson who died on Mont Ventoux during the Tour de France in 1967 (with a gut full of brandy and amphetamines, but lets gloss over that).

Haswell is in East Durham, an extremely deprived part of the country and it really showed – many of the houses were boarded up and the memorial was locked behind the community centre fence. But the weird thing is the roads – the whole area is covered in A-roads, many of them dual carriageways. You see the same thing in South East Northumberland – dual carriageways and A-roads criss-crossing the area, but without an obvious employment base (and a nightmare if you're a cyclist looking for a quiet route).

The reason for this, of course, is that there has always been a mantra that economic regeneration requires infrastructure. So they built the roads and... nothing. But they kept building roads. So we have roads and precious little industry for them to serve.

I suspect they did this because a. it was what everybody else was doing and b. they couldn't think of anything else to do. Like sheep they just follow the crowd.

I often find that Sustainability practitioners fall into the same trap. They don't know what to do, so they do what everybody else does, no matter whether it works or not. So there is a whole raft of generic activity, much of which is of dubious benefit. But at least people feel they are doing something...

My approach to Sustainability is completely different. Whether I am doing Sustainability Strategy or Employee Engagement, or both, I tailor everything to the organisation concerned. So the strategy gets built around the business drivers and the engagement gets built around the existing culture. I do this because I've tried a lot of stuff and ditched the ideas that don't work.

 

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14 March 2018

The Boxer vs Green Jujitsu

Last week I was reading a newspaper article on simmering tensions in Northern Ireland (from whence I hail) where somebody quoted The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel:

All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

Despite having heard this song a zillion times, I'd never really paid attention to the last two lines.

This delicate description of confirmation bias was still bouncing around my head when it was announced that climate sceptic Mike Pompeo had been appointed the new US Secretary of State by Donald Trump. Pompeo is on record saying:

“There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change. There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment.”

Which is technically correct, but only if you are prepared to stretch to breaking point the statistic that the first group represents 97% of climate scientists and the other two just 1% between them (the other 2% aren't sure). But even though this statement is in reality a steaming pile of horse manure, I have no doubt that Pompeo believes it, because he hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

And this is why shouting about climate change doesn't really change very much – it falls on deaf ears. There's a neat synergy between my thinking on engagement and Paul Simon's songcraft as I often liken the standard engagement approach to boxing – try to pummel the other guy into submission, and they'll instinctively put their guard up.

My Green Jujitsu approach to engagement gets around this by reframing Sustainability into something that gets through that guard. If people want to hear about engineering, we talk engineering, if they are interested in finance, we talk money and if they're healthcare professionals, we talk health.

Our next Green Academy session on Green Jujitsu is on 28 March at 14:00BST. Click here for more details. Alternatively check out our on-line Green Jujitsu training course.

 

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12 March 2018

Why people will behave Sustainably...

There are two reasons why people will behave in a Sustainable way:

  • Because they want to, or;
  • Because they have to.

There is no guarantee that they will do it for a third reason:

  • Because they feel they should do.

Think of all the things that you think you should do that you don't – mine is a very, very long list – and yet this is the first and often only lever that most Sustainability professionals pull. Far better to get people to want to do it (e.g. via Green Jujitsu) and/or hardwire it into their job description/personal objectives.

 

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7 March 2018

The 3 biggest pitfalls in developing a Sustainability Strategy

In the latest edition of Ask Gareth, I'm asked what are the pitfalls to avoid when developing a Sustainability Strategy. I put forward the three I see most often, so watch and enjoy.

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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5 February 2018

Habit-changing is hard

Photo © stock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund (and no, it's not me!)

Regular readers can't have helped notice my big personal goal for the year is to do a triathlon. As I mentioned last month my swimming came on leaps and bounds - my distance going from 250m to 600m in a couple of weeks. But I knew there was a problem with my stroke as my legs were too low in the water. "I know," I thought, brightly "I'll check out YouTube for some tips."

Oh dear.

It turned out I wasn't really doing front crawl at all, more of an overarm doggy-paddle. No problem I thought, I just need to adjust my timing to stretch out before each pull. So I tried it and could hardly do 50m without gasping for breath.

My problem is that doing the stroke properly engages the large back muscles. In theory this should give me much more power, but of course those muscles have been sitting idle for years (ever?) while I've trained up my shoulders, so I'm pretty much starting over again. Plus, my breathing rhythm needs to change and that hasn't proven easy.

Mrs K tells me my swimming looks 1000% better than before, but I feel awkward, clumsy and slow. Towards the end of each length I find myself heading back into old bad habits and have to correct myself again.

This is exactly why change management in organisations is so difficult. We're all creatures of habit and breaking that habit not only requires 'awareness' but building the new routine into normal behaviour while staying away from the temptation of the old habits. A Sustainability awareness presentation is like the YouTube videos I watched – the hard work comes afterwards to make the new routine stick.

Six weeks of discipline to change a habit is the rule of thumb according to some behavioural experts. Does your Sustainability engagement take this into consideration? I don't find many that do.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep reaching out - literally and metaphorically!

 

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22 January 2018

Sustainability and true grit

En route to an early morning meeting today I came across the prone figure of a cyclist on one of our off-road cycle paths. As she clambered to her feet and checked nothing was broken, she said she had thought the sheet of ice across the path was slush and, indeed, it looked as if slush had frozen overnight then started to melt this morning resulting in an incredibly slippy rutted surface.

One of my campaigns as a Councillor is to get the City's strategic cycle routes, of which this is part, gritted in cold weather. We have a transport policy which says that cycling is higher in the transport hierarchy than use of private motor car, yet we grit major roads and not supposedly strategic cycle routes.

To me this illustrates the danger of institutional inertia to your Sustainability plans. Everybody nods when I say strategic cycle routes should be gritted, but nobody actually does it, because that would require quite a number of people going out of their way to do things differently. I'm steeling myself for a battle to use the current weather to get the cycle routes gritted next year – if I'm lucky. Obstinance is an important weapon in the Sustainability practitioners' arsenal.

 

 

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15 January 2018

If people don't get Sustainability, it's not their fault

I recently attended a meeting where a representative of a local authority blamed the general public for falling recycling rates. This made me quite angry because if recycling rates have been higher in the recent past then it is clear the public is willing to do their bit. I know for a fact that a number of blunders, including giving out contradictory information, have confused the residents of that particular area.

This is just one example of many I've witnessed where people in the Sustainability profession blame others for the lack of behaviour change. 'Bless their little cotton socks' one practitioner told me, as if their employees were slow-witted children. But this is a dangerous attitude – the equivalent of a supermarket manager blaming their customers for deserting them for the better stocked rival down the street – it will do nothing to reverse decline.

I often say that the only difficult part of my Green Jujitsu approach to Sustainability Engagement is having the humility to see the world from your target audience's point of view. Everything you know about Sustainability is useless unless you can translate it into a form which means something to that audience. Completely useless.

 

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10 January 2018

Getting the Sustainability Optics right

Yesterday, the Guardian published side-by-side pictures of UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove heading into Number 10 Downing Street last October with a disposable coffee cup and then yesterday with a reusable cup.

Why is this important? Well about the time of the first pic, Gove had just announced moves to tax single use coffee cups, so the image gave out a contradictory message. He's obviously learnt his lesson since, or a wise head bought him a very appropriate Christmas present.

I've long preached that Sustainability practitioners must get their heads out of the detail and look at the big picture. While that is true, we also have to be aware that the media and the general public often latch on to minor but resonant issues. Climate change is difficult to communicate, a coffee cup is tangible and familiar to everyone. Having the wrong coffee cup sends a louder message to the masses than, say, the UK's Clean Energy Plan, the new UK ban on microbeads or the forthcoming ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

So the lesson is get the big issues and what politicians call 'the optics' right. You may be installing a huge solar panel on the roof, but if your canteen coffee cups aren't being recycled you will see cynicism in the workforce. You could argue that the solar panel will make a much bigger difference, but, as Ronald Reagan said, if you're explaining, you're losing.

Images copyright as per caption - used under 'fair use'.

 

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18 December 2017

Successful Sustainability Stories

Our usual Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting last week went into 'general problem solving mode'. A couple of members couldn't make it due to last minute unavoidable personal issues and we decided to postpone the scheduled topic of 'Customer Engagement' until we were back to full strength.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing case studies. I've long preached that these should be in the style of stories rather than lists of achievements. We are naturally programmed to follow narratives, and most people's eyes simply glide over bullet points without really grasping the impact.

This took us on to "what makes a story compelling?"

Our conclusion was the structure of: challenge ➔ inspiration ➔ resolution.

When I interviewed people for my second book, The Green Executive, as a warm up I asked "What got you into Sustainability?" The answer to this question was always some kind of personal experience which triggered the change – the inspiration of my story structure. These were so compelling that I included one interview after every chapter to interspace the 'how to' stuff with these personal stories.

My own story trigger was standing by the roadside in the far north of Russia, looking at the devastation caused by acid rain from a nickel smelter. I could taste the acid on my tongue. I had been an armchair environmentalist before, I became a professional soon after.

When you are telling your Sustainability stories, whether personal or professional, try to identify such moments where everything pivoted towards the resolution. That's the essence of a story.

 

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29 November 2017

OK, so I was wrong on the plastic bag tax

Regular readers will know that I have been somewhat dismissive of the plastic bag tax (to put it mildly...) Well, hands up, I was wrong.

Ish.

My case was that plastic bags are such a tiny part of our carbon footprint, that the regulatory effort to tax plastic bags would be better spent, say, requiring higher insulation standards. But two things have happened since the plastic bag tax was introduced in the UK.

  1. Increased understanding of the scale of the problem of ocean plastics, particularly the feedback loops that mean plastic fragments are now being found in drinking water. The issue is much more critical than (almost) everybody thought.
  2. Rather than being a token gesture, the plastic bag tax has opened up the political path to further action on all single-use plastics (and arguably other eco-actions) as promoted by the unlikely green champions Michael Gove and Philip Hammond in recent weeks.

The latter is a really difficult one to predict. I get regular complaints from industry contacts that their organisation's leadership likes to have a green project or two to wheel out periodically to show they are doing something before they are put back in the cupboard and life goes on as before.

On the other hand, as with the plastic bag tax, a relatively minor achievement can lead to a snowballing effect. It's the same with employee engagement for Sustainability – getting people involved through 'quick wins' can help open minds to more radical change. But the leadership must be there to keep rolling the snowball down the hill every time the natural momentum stalls.

The difference then, as always in Sustainability, is leadership.

 

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27 November 2017

Save the world, today!

This morning I was out plodding around my usual Monday run route when I spotted a couple of plastic packing straps on the pavement just 100m from our house and, more importantly, just  10m from the river. I wasn't hitting any PBs today (I cycled 50+ miles yesterday and the legs were heavy) so I stopped and picked them up.

I'd already fulfilled my personal pledge to pick up one piece of plastic litter a day, but I really hate plastic loops like these or beer six-pack rings. If you've been watching Blue Planet II, you'll know this is exactly the kind of litter that entangles sea life. I know this is a tiny speck of the millions of tonnes of plastic litter entering our oceans, but I'm damned if I'm going to use that as an excuse not to pull my weight.

When I got in and sat at my desk, I opened an e-mail quoting Anne Frank thus:

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

I'm usually impervious to motivational quotes, but I thought that was a wonderfully uplifting sentence. Yes, it will take the combined forces of industry and government to deliver a sustainable future, but there is nothing stopping any of us doing something positive right now. And, as implied by the tragic young Anne, you don't need anybody's permission, just do it. It could just be questioning business as usual, or it could be organising a litter pick or it could be setting up a staff environmental group.

And you might just inspire somebody else...

So what are you going to do today?

 

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6 November 2017

The Only Natural Remedy For Me...

Real panic chez Kane this morning as we turned up in school to find all the other reception class kids clad head to foot in waterproofs and wooly hats. We'd be wondering when they'd be doing their Monday morning class in the woods, and now I knew. Cue a quick dash home and back with the right kit.

But the stress didn't last long as I took off on my regular Monday morning run up the Ouseburn river valley where I live. This wondrous green corridor slices through the east of Newcastle and you hardly get a glimpse of the surrounding suburbia. We get kingfishers, otters and even deer and yet we're 20 minutes walk from the city centre. But, most importantly, it is incredibly relaxing and I need it – I've got two jobs (this one and as a local councillor) and three primary school age kids. As a family, our default outing is to an area of natural beauty (the pic above of middle child was taken a couple of weeks ago at Allen Banks) and nobody complains about not having their iPad there.

As regular readers know, I'm seriously intolerant of new-agey nonsense, clean eating (give me a 'dirty burger' any day), and every 'natural remedy' except one: nature itself. And there's plenty of evidence behind the idea that nature is good for our mental health (such as this UK Government report).

And you can take this over into the corporate world: I've seen plenty of examples of on-site biodiversity areas, composting, bird feeding, plus all kinds of off-site conservation volunteering. This will help your colleagues feel good about themselves and their work, and the link between those two things and the natural world helps conversations about, say, waste disposal, clean energy, pollution prevention and even product design (e.g. biomimicry).

So why not bring a little of the natural world into your workplace?

 

 

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