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11 October 2017

If the business case for Sustainability is so strong, why doesn't it happen by default?


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from Adam: why if the business case for Sustainability is so strong, does it not happen by default? 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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4 October 2017

When it comes to Sustainability, personal experience trumps facts

sunrise

Interesting story this week of columnist Peter Oborne, bone-dry right-of-centre journalist, has had a Damascene conversion to the cause of tackling climate change. “The press has failed” he said, going on to a mea culpa “I think I was rather too impressed by climate skeptics, to begin with."

So what triggered this awakening? Was it a graph of global temperature trends? Was it pictures of devastated communities in the wake of Hurricane Irma? Or was it thousands marching the streets demanding change?

Nope, none of those things.

It was cricket.

"Here we are at the end of September, and the cricket county championship is still being decided. 25 years ago, it never went on this long."

Of course this is as scientifically illiterate as all those "the Romans had vineyards in England" zombie myths that populate parts of the interweb. There are many valid measures of climate change he could have picked, but the cricket season is not one of them.

But on another level, it illustrates a very important point on engaging people in Sustainability. We rarely if ever change tack because of facts and figures. But we often do it because of experience.

I was an armchair environmentalist until I witnessed the devastated taiga downwind of a nickel smelter in arctic Russia – only then did I decided that tackling these problems would become my life's work. Standing there I could see (and taste) the plume of acidic emissions from the plant – a lump of engineering which made me feel a little ashamed to be an engineer.

This is why my Green Jujitsu approach tailors engagement to the audience. If cricket works for Oborne, then let's talk cricket. For me, it's engineering. For my NHS clients, it's healthcare. By making Sustainability relevant to people, you'll find it much easier to get them on board.

 

By the way, if you haven't checked out our new Green Jujitsu training course, check it out here.

 

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2 October 2017

Oiling the engine of Sustainability

GK St Anns Litter PickWith all the concern about ocean plastic of late, I've been revitalising my personal pledge to pick up at least one piece of plastic litter every day. In fact most days I pick at least a dozen, and I'm now getting weirdly obsessed with it. I seriously can't walk past a plastic bag without twitching to pick it up, but if I tried to get every piece of litter I saw, it would be a full time undertaking.

I know that my efforts are just a (inappropriate metaphor klaxon) drop in the ocean, but I find that the very act of picking up some litter makes me feel positive and, rather than making me think 'I've done my bit, now business as usual', it continually focusses my brain on this perennial drip, drip of plastics into our eco-system. Experience is always more visceral than anecdote.

Last month, I gave a presentation to one of my clients on the first phase of our Sustainability Champions initiation project. At the end of the initial training workshop, I had challenged each of the Champions to pledge to change one thing in their workplace to make it more sustainable. I then followed up on the pledges a month later to see how they had got on.

All the pledges were pretty mundane, incremental improvements which would hardly make a dent in the targets we had set in their Sustainability Strategy, but that was beside the point, I explained, it was the forward motion at the sharp end of the business that was important. I used a metaphor I coined a couple of years ago:

"Champions should be seen as the oil in the engine, not the fuel."

This was quoted back at me (approvingly!) during the discussion.

Identifying and implementing quick wins is a way of keeping that oil fresh. Of course it shouldn't be expected to, or distract from, the major changes required to deliver Sustainability; the knack is to do both.

 

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13 September 2017

Embedding Sustainability: Bottom Up or Top Down?


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from 'Rob' (names have been changed to protect the bashful) – should you approach Sustainability from the bottom up or the top down? In response, I say both, plus another angle and add some strong caveats... 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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6 September 2017

The biggest truth in Sustainability...

Framing Sustainability

On Monday I spent a total of 7 hours going to and from Birmingham by train for a project close presentation to a client. This always gives some time for thought, background reading and poking around social media – all soundtracked by the Rolling Stones live in Brussels '73 or some other classic live album of the 1970s.

One tweet from another sustainability practitioner caught my eye; roughly speaking it went:

We have #Brexit and the #McStrike and all people can talk about is the #RoyalBaby 😡.

Now let's deconstruct this a little. The Brexit jalopy has been spluttering along for 15 months since the referendum without a dun-dun-DAAAAAH moment. I'm politically active, campaigned for Remain, would love a second referendum, and yet I am bored stupid by Brexit – I now skim read the newspaper stories and I guess most do the same.

I am not surprised that MacDonald's employees are striking given their poor wages and insecure contracts, BUT, let's put it into perspective: there were 2 restaurants striking out of 1249 in the UK – hardly Hold the Front Page stuff no matter how much you or I might support the cause.

Lastly, the royal baby has all the ingredients of public appeal – celebrity, gossip, glamour, happiness, impending cuteness etc, etc. It hasn't captured much of my attention, or that of the tweeter above, but it is not surprising it has caught the public mood.

Because here's the rub. Not everybody thinks like me, the tweeter, or you. Or should do. Just because I'm not that into the royal baby news, it doesn't mean that millions of people aren't - or shouldn't be.

My biggest realisation is Sustainability was that to engage people for whom Sustainability is an alien concept, we've got to stop talking about Sustainability from a practitioner's point of view. If they haven't 'got it' already, they won't 'get it' by being preached at. Instead we've got to put ourselves in the audience's shoes, see the world from their perspective, and reframe Sustainability to resonate with that worldview. I call this Green Jujitsu.

If you haven't checked out our new Green Jujitsu Employee Engagement training yet, then click here for details.

 

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25 July 2017

New! Employee Engagement for Sustainability Training

I've been caught on the hop by my new Green Jujitsu: Employee Engagement for Sustainability online course getting approved by Udemy in super short time. I was working up the launch campaign when it suddenly went live. So I'm having to improvise...

You can see what the course is all about in the video above – basically the opportunity to revolutionise your Sustainability programme through one simple change in mindset – and a smorgasbord of ways to apply it!

If you use this link to register before 31 July 2017, you'll get a whopping 75% off the full price of £95 – already a bargain. I won't be offering this level of discount again, so make sure you grab it now! Don't delay...

 

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12 July 2017

Can you be too passionate about Sustainability?


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from Anna-Lisa Mills of True North Sustainability: is your passion for Sustainability a help or a hindrance? In response, I take a journey from Inca ruins in Ecuador to the dreaded 'panic zone' and explain how Green Jujitsu is the answer.

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 July 2017

The most powerful tool in Sustainability engagement

workshop lo res

Last Wednesday I ran a workshop to upskill Sustainability Champions at one of my clients. This week I've been writing up the results, a rather laborious task as the 12 champions present produced a whopping 320 Post-Its, with one idea on each. That means that each delegate averaged over 26 thoughts about Sustainability in just over half a day.

Just think about that. 26 separate ideas per person.

OK, a very small number were jokes, we got a few duplicates (the 'ratcheting' workshop structure I used minimises duplication), a larger number were statements of the obvious, but a substantial number were truly insightful, meaning the delegates really had to think through the issues and how they applied to the organisation. That is true engagement; you won't get that with an awareness poster!

This is why the workshop is at the core of my consultancy business. I truly believe it is the most powerful tool in Sustainability engagement.

[If you want to see how I run such successful workshops, check out our Workshop Facilitation Masterclass, which explains the powerful 'ratcheting' structure I used last week.]

 

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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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2 June 2017

The one question you need to ask of every Sustainability project

Terra Infirma Sustainability Coaching

I was down in Manchester yesterday for a session with a client I haven't worked with for years. They had called me in 'to pick my brains' about employee engagement. In the past I've found such requests a bit of a double-edged sword – on one hand it is great to get paid to share your knowledge, experiences and opinions, but on the other you can leave them with a whole load of exciting sounding but abstract ideas and no way forward.

To avoid the latter, I structure such engagements like a coaching session. I start by asking them the killer question – to define the ideal solution looking forward. "If this is 100% successful, in 5 years' time what will it look like?"

That might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised at the number of people who start with a process rather than an objective. That's a bit like a DIY enthusiast grabbing the first tool in their toolbox and using it no matter what the task entails. You don't want to be wiring a plug with a lump hammer.

The answer to this question sets the direction of everything else in the discussion. Not does it point us in the right direction, but, psychologically, it makes the journey feel much more achievable. When we look at the present day opportunities and threats, we get more of the former and the latter seem much less ominous. Throughout yesterday's session I repeatedly referred back to the ideal solution.

Planning the route is where I break with the strictest form of coaching, as I make recommendations from my experience working across a wide range of businesses from a crazy golf course (honestly!) to multinational aerospace companies. Coaching purists will be sucking through their teeth at that, but I give a series of options and recommend the one I think is best for the client. This makes sure they still have ownership over the agreed way forward.

But the key to success is really pinning down that 'ideal solution', even when, like yesterday, the client had put some thought to it already. Whether I'm asking that question of a group of stakeholders to define the outcome of a Sustainability Strategy during a backcasting session, or of an individual client on a 1-2-1 coaching session, getting the desired outcome pinned down will increase the chances of success many times over.

 

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31 May 2017

Experience is the deepest learning

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I'm just back from our annual family half-term camping trip to Wooler in Northumberland. Every year for the last five years we've stayed at the same campsite and walked the same two walks. And every year the kids have an amazing experience – climbing hills, playing in streams, riding their bikes without helmets (woo!) – all the stuff we're told modern kids never do anymore because they're stuck in front of a screen (they're getting their iPad retox upstairs as I type).

It struck me last night as I took the above photo of Mrs K and Charlie that these experiences will be the ones the kids will cherish when they're my age. We never forget times like those, do we?

If you want to engage anybody in anything, giving them an experience is probably the deepest emotional connection you can make. I was an armchair environmentalist until I witnessed ecological devastation in Arctic Russia (I could taste the acid rain). I've met industrialists who got the green bug during a duty of care visit to their waste contractor. My local Nestlé factory loaned electric cars to employees to lower their fear of new technology. All my employee engagement work involves getting people to work through the problems themselves, so they can experience their own workplace issues. You simply cannot beat the power of experience.

So, how will you give your colleagues a positive Sustainability experience they will never forget?

 

 

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26 May 2017

Sustainability Strategy and Engagement: two sides to the same coin

team meeting

I had a meeting with a potential new client this morning. They want a sustainability strategy, but most of the conversation revolved about engagement of internal stakeholders. That's because, without engagement, a strategy will sit on a shelf gathering dust.

If you have engagement and no strategy, you're limiting yourself to incremental improvements in sustainability performance. In fact I know organisations who have wasted their high levels of engagement because the lack of strategy meant they hit diminishing returns and employees started to lose patience with slowing progress.

While Terra Infirma's two main streams of consultancy work are strategy and engagement, in practice there is a massive overlap between them.

 

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22 May 2017

Sustainability Is Personal

IMG_2379

Yesterday we took the kids to the beach at St Mary's Island near Whitley Bay. We had lunch on the beach waiting for the tide to recede so we could cross the causeway to the Island itself. Inspired by the horrendous pictures of remote Henderson Island covered in plastic litter, I spent 15 minutes gathering all the plastic waste I could find – bottles, food trays, mastic caps and fishing line all featured prominently. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was inconsequential in the grand scale of things, but at least I was doing something.

I also came across the rotting carcass of a seal on the beach and mused on how nature goes about its waste management. Everything in that seal would be seen as food by another part of the eco-system.

We crossed to the island and watched the live seals basking, swimming and eating, along with a few eider ducks and oyster catchers. We stopped to talk to the wildlife rangers and mentioned the dead seal. They told us that it had got entangled in a packing strap as a youngster which eventually cut into its sides as it grew and led to its demise.

Suddenly the importance of my little beachcomb came home to me. Any one piece of plastic could represent a death sentence to some of our wonderful wildlife. By collecting a few dozen pieces, I could have made a difference.

But there is a wider conclusion. I help my clients get to grips with the Sustainability agenda, but the results are usually abstract to me. They tell me how they are doing against the targets I have help them set, and I help them tackle any glitches, but I rarely get to witness the actual difference in a tangible, visceral way. But my mini-litter pick made a visible difference – I could see the change.

"All politics is local" and "the personal is political" are two oft quoted maxims connecting big scale political concepts and the experience of the everyday. The same applies to Sustainability – you can talk all you like about the circular economy or zero carbon, but success will all come down to individual decision making by individuals and they will make decisions on their own experience rather than high-level slogans.

I moved from armchair activist to Sustainability professional when I witnessed ecological devastation in arctic Russia. I had to experience it personally to make the leap.

So, get personal!

 

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5 May 2017

Breaking out of the Sustainability Silo


This month's Ask Gareth answers a great question from 'Bill' (name has been changed) which many face – how do you put together a Sustainability Strategy in a vacuum? I explain three steps to breaking out of the Sustainability Silo and getting key decision makers involved.

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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26 April 2017

Beware the HiPPO

2560px-Hippo_mouth_opening

At a meeting this morning, someone used an acronym which I don't think I'd heard before: 'HiPPO' – the Highest Paid Person's Opinion. But I know exactly what it means – I once lost a client because I disagreed with the HiPPO in the room. I was right (naturally), but it didn't matter, the HiPPO prevailed, everybody else fell into line, and the next phase of my involvement in the project never materialised.

It's kind of like that ancient Chinese engineer who suggested the Great Wall of China wasn't being built the best way. The engineer was right (naturally), they adopted his idea, but they lopped off his head anyway for daring to go up against the Emperor. This kind of macho, rutting stag culture annoys the hell out of me, but when it's there, it's there and you have to deal with it.

Of course, the Green Jujitsu approach would have been to persuade the HiPPO that he had realised that there was a much better way of approaching the problem, rather than me, an outsider, dismantling his logic. But you can't win 'em all.

 

Photo © Jon Connell used under creative commons licence

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21 April 2017

A Cycle-logical Sustainability Opportunity

17972239_10100309071512778_8565556777937556897_oWhile most sensible people were tucking into their Easter Eggs last Sunday, I was braving (very) cold, wet and windy conditions up on the MoD's Otterburn firing ranges as part of the MoD Rocker cycle sportive (we went 106km horizontally, 1.9km upwards). The picture shows what I look like after climbing steadily for an hour then hitting a couple of brutal 17-22% ramps. It's not pretty!

I've been training quite hard for this and a tougher sportive (on paper) in 2 months time. Being self-employed I can go for a ride when it suits me, but it always surprises me quite how many other people I pass out on the road during office hours. We are clearly in a bike boom.

I spend quite a bit of my time promoting cycling as everyday commuting (rather than just for MAMILs like me), but a recent study by Evans Randall Investors of 61 offices in London found that there was a serious lack of facilities for cycling commuters. There was on average just one shower per 240 employees and fewer than one in five offices offering places for cycling commuters to store work clothes.

This seems to me like a golden opportunity for both quick wins and employee engagement. Whether simply providing decent cycle storage facilities, setting up a cycle club, or engaging with the local authority to improve cycle access on/off site, you can not only reduce your impact, but make the local environment better for everybody. Gotta love that!

 

Photo © Neil Bradley

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7 April 2017

Get Sustainability the right way 'round...

023850THIS_WAY
I recently posted an article on LinkedIn which stated that responsibility for Sustainability and authority to act should be aligned. A below the line commenter agreed saying "Those with responsibility must be given authority."

Well, on reflection, it's the other way around. If you have highly empowered Sustainability champions overruling their bosses then you will get chaos – you are undermining the way the organisation works.

It's the existing decision makers who must be given responsibility. That's the proper embedding of Sustainability into the DNA of the organisation.

 

 

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5 April 2017

I'm not ageist, but...

Vmeldrew

Last week I had a very pleasant coffee and chat with a senior executive with a strong interest in Sustainability. He mentioned in passing that he found employees under the age of 40 tended to come with Sustainability pre-programmed into their outlook, those older than 50 tended to..., er, let's say need a bit more persuading. I've come across similar anecdotal evidence before, so, when I got back to the ranch, I did a bit of googling for some statistics on the subject.

The published evidence appears to back the anecdotes. Here's just one example of what I found, an interesting analysis of US voters by Gallup:

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That's quite a distinctive gap in attitudes – although if 30% of under 29s are not concerned about climate change, it's certainly not a case of 'job done'. But as key decision makers in larger organisations tend to be middle-aged, it is clear that, if roughly half of that age group are sceptical, our best engagement efforts are still required unlock progress.

The good news is that it should get easier!

 

 

 

 

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27 March 2017

Cycle helmets and Sustainability

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Another thought from last weekend's trip to Amsterdam with eldest child. I never used to wear a cycle helmet, but I got one when I bought my road bike last year, because I now ride faster and harder, and I need one to comply with sportive rules. I've started wearing it more often when out on my town bike too, partly our of habit, partly out of solidarity with the kids. So I rolled into Amsterdam with a lump of polystyrene on my head.

Of course, I stood out like a sore thumb. No-one wears a helmet in Amsterdam. No lycra or 'athleisure' wear either – just ordinary clothes (although there were a few MAMILs outside the city dressed exactly as we do here in the UK). And everybody rattles along at quite a pace on those clunky-looking 'Granny bikes' – certainly faster than the stately 10mph at which Harry and I were trundling.

I've never understood the bile which parts of the UK media and public throws at cyclists. Calls for us to pay the mythical 'road tax', mandatory cycle helmets, insurance, registration plates. I can't believe that so many people are so resentful that they aren't allowed to drive a tonne and a half of pollution-spewing metal at 70mph without a few restrictions, that they think those who choose to push 10kg of alloy, emissions-free, at 12mph should somehow shoulder the same burden.

We will hit a tipping point of course. In the Netherlands almost every driver also rides a bike, so bike-bile doesn't occur. (Well, it kind of does, as tourists who don't know what they're doing seems to wind up the locals – see pic). But I've found the same in organisations. Once a critical mass of people are involved in Sustainability, it becomes 'the new normal' and the resistance fades. But the key to getting that critical mass is to make the price of entry as low as possible – no mandatory cycle helmets, literally or metaphorically.

 

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24 March 2017

Keeping the passion in Sustainability after the honeymoon


This month's Ask Gareth answers a great question from Dan – how do you keep Sustainability running after the honeymoon. My basic answer is that it is too late to consider it then and I suggest three ways you can design your Sustainability programme to be self sustaining.

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.

Seven steps to a Sustainability StrategyAnd don't forget, there's much more of this advice in our new white paper Seven Steps to a Successful Sustainability Strategy. We're getting some great feedback on this guide, so make sure you check it out!

 

 

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