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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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3 November 2017

Rolling out a Sustainability Strategy

org charts

I was down in London yesterday, facilitating a workshop for a client who is about to roll their Sustainability Strategy out across the entire organisation – which happens to span the entire globe. This is an incredible challenge.

We could of course produce a standard slide deck and tour the world with it (physically or electronically), but we all know what would happen – everybody would nod along and then go back to their desks/workstation and go back to doing what they have always done.

On the other hand, when you are dealing with a huge multinational organisation, you can't run an interactive workshop for every last individual, you would never complete the job by the end of the Strategy timeframe. The engagement principle I use in such cases is:

Everybody needs to know something about everything, but certain people need to know a lot about certain things.

'Everybody' can be reached by the slide deck, but those 'certain people' would need direct engagement.

My task is to help my client map out 'who needs to know what' and yesterday's workshop was held to generate the first iteration of that map. The interesting thing was that the results were quite different from what I and my client had envisaged in our pre-meetings.

This is the power of a properly structured and facilitated workshop – the process of starting with identifying exactly what we were trying to achieve and then moving on to how we were going to achieve it blew many implicit assumptions out of the water. It was a highly valuable exercise!

 

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30 October 2017

Want to DOUBLE the motivation of your workforce?

people hands

...then take Sustainability seriously. Seriously.

Just stumbled over this study from NetImpact that found that:

Slightly more than half of professionals (55%) say they are currently in a job where they can make a social or environmental impact on the world. These respondents are more satisfied with their job by a 2:1 ratio (49% report high satisfaction levels, compared to just 24% of those who do not have impact opportunities at work).

Obviously there's two parts to this equation. First you have to be doing the right thing in environmental and social terms. And secondly, you have to engage employees in that process so they feel part of it.

Handily, that's two of the three main Terra Infirma workstreams at present – developing Sustainability Strategy and embedding a Sustainability Culture. If we're given half a chance, we do both simultaneously!

 

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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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