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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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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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