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14 May 2014

Sustainability by Innovation vs Sustainability by Metric

gk pt camira

Yesterday, I had a fantastic visit to Camira, the UK's largest interior fabrics company. Even if you've never heard of them, you've almost certainly sat on one of their products if you've used London Underground or one of many rail franchises.

My host was Sustainability Manager Paul Taylor who I've known for about 14 years - his enthusiasm is infectious and there's a truly liberating 'let's try it' attitude at the company which he revels in. I recorded the conversation and will post it here in my interview series, but one of the big themes that emerged from our discussion was the two quite different mindsets:

  • In Sustainability by Innovation, where the thinking is "What's the problem? What's the best solution? Can we make that work?"
  • In Sustainability by Metric, where the thinking is "What target shall we set? What do we have to do to meet that target? How much will that cost?"

While Camira has its metrics and targets, it is Sustainability by Innovation which is not only delivering their fantastic sustainability achievements (that's a Queen's Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development behind Paul's head above), but driving the growth of their business. Major brands are approaching the company on the back of their ability to make sustainability happen.

I find too many companies focussed too hard on the metrics. Companies like Camira show that raising your ambitions with the innovation mindset will not just deliver on targets, but smash them to smithereens.


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11 July 2011

Leadership vs Management

The central theme of my latest book, The Green Executive, is that 'green' has been elevated from environmental management to business leadership. But what does this mean in practice?

The father of modern corporate leadership Warren Bennis famously said that leadership is 'doing the right thing' and management is 'doing things right'. So leadership is about policy, direction and ambition, management is about delivery, systems and monitoring progress. The two are both essential - there's no point doing efficiently what shouldn't be done at all (to paraphrase another management guru Peter Drucker) and equally, there's no point point in having a sustainability strategy if its execution flops.

When Bennis talked about "doing the right thing" he was talking from a business point of view rather than from a societal/environmental point of view, but his maxim applies perfectly. True corporate leaders understand that their business exists within society and the environment and not in an economic bubble. Here in the UK we have seen a 168 year old newspaper close because its leadership allowed deeply unethical practices to flourish. Tony Hayward of BP took his company to the brink because he didn't understand he was responsible for the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, treating it as an internal problem to be managed.

But those are the stand out cases - many if not most businesses still think they can survive by doing business as usual with a bit of environmental management to keep the wolves from the door. But this is false security - these companies will fall victim to tightening legislation, rising utility costs, more pressure from customers, the bar being raised by competitors and losing out on recruiting the best staff.

On the other hand we have business leaders like Ray Anderson of Interface, Richard Branson of Virgin and Sir Stuart Rose (now ex-) of Marks & Spencer who want to lead huge businesses AND be one of the good guys. This takes leadership both inside and outside the business. When Anderson deletes profitable product lines because they aren't compatible with Interface's Mission Zero strategy, that's leadership. When Nike and Apple left the US Chamber of Commerce over the latter's stance on carbon legislation, they were showing clear leadership.

So that's the question The Green Executive poses: are you going to lead on the environment or simply try and manage the consequences of not doing so?

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2 June 2011

From niche to normal

One of the main trends I identified in my new book The Green Executive is the shift from 'green' being the exception to it becoming the rule. Examples include:

  • Redesigning mainstream products to be green as opposed to launching a green range (which is so 1990s);
  • The killing off of products incompatible with sustainability objectives;
  • Environmental objectives put into all managers' job descriptions rather than being the sole responsibility of the environmental manager;
  • A shift in emphasis of the role of green teams from delivering sustainability to facilitating sustainable behaviour in others;
  • The integration of sustainability strategies into business strategies (and vice versa);
  • Rebuilding supply chains to deliver sustainable goods and services, de-listing suppliers who don't make the grade;
  • Showing leadership amongst peers, disassociating themselves from organisations with a regressive attitude to the environment and even calling for stricter environmental legislation.

The implication of this shift is that directors and senior managers must have a good grasp of sustainability issues, how they impact on the core business and the range of solutions available. Which is why I wrote the book!

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28 April 2011

What are you going to do with all that data?

The old management aphorism "that which gets measured, gets managed" is all too true, but so is the old farmer's saying "a pig never got fattened by weighing it." In other words, yes, you should be collecting buckets of data, but that's the means to an end - acting on it is what counts.

Here's three things to do with your data:

1. Monitor progress

Choose metrics, set targets, monitor progress, act where necessary. Most data driven management works on this very simple loop. But care is needed to make sure that hitting short term targets doesn't distract from aiming for long term objectives - a good reason to eschew year on year targets (eg we will reduce carbon by 2% every year) in favour of stretch targets (we will be zero carbon by 2020).

2. Diagnose problems and find solutions

This is the fun bit for green geeks - you get to play detective. Analyse your data against time, against production output, against any other relevant variable. Compare sites, processes, teams and technologies. Do a material/energy/water balance to match inputs and outputs. Identify the big energy/water/material users for special attention.

Stuff will jump out at you - why is water use so high when the factory is shut down over Christmas? (answer: probably a leak), why does one site use more energy per unit output than another (potential answers: technology, control systems, staff culture). Why does one sales team have higher mileage per unit sold than another (potential answers: local ways of working, abuse/'jollies', different spread of customers).

3. Communicate and engage

Feedback to staff and external stakeholders needs information. But you have to choose your communication method to suit your audience. Engineers and accountants like graphs, pie charts and hard data. Creative types and the general public generally prefer more interpretative ways of expressing numbers - like the almost-ubiquitous infographic (check out this one from Fast Company on the impacts of climate change).

But here you must tread carefully or you'll end up in the greenwash mire. Make sure the data you use is accurate, up to date, relevant, representative and not misleading in anyway. Get an independent third party to check it and even endorse it for you.


Don't forget that numbers only provide part of the story. They can tell you about quantities, but are not so good at expressing qualities. A lot of important stuff (eg staff culture) doesn't get managed well because it can't be measured effectively. So don't just sit in front of your spreadsheets - get out there, walk about, talk to people and make sure what you witness and what you measure match up.


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19 January 2011

"Switch" and Sustainability

I've just finished reading the wonderful book Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip & Dan Heath. It's one of those books that takes a topic which, for most people, is something of an amorphous soup of ideas, refines it down to the essentials, adds in a couple of fresh perspectives, and packages the lot in a simple framework that makes it much easier to apply. In sustainability, change management is the difference between success and failure. As an engineer I hate to say it, but technology is the easy bit.

The Heath brothers use a great analogy for people and/or organisations - a rider guiding an elephant along a path. The rider is the rational, data crunching part of our brains, the elephant is the emotional parts of our brains (which we don't like admitting is stronger than the rider), and the path is our situation/environment. The book gives the following menu of options for effective change:

Direct the rider:

  • Follow the bright spots - see what's working and copy it (more effective than focussing on problems);
  • Script the critical moves - make very specific instructions where necessary;
  • Point to the destination - define the desired endpoint.

Motivate the elephant:

  • Find the feeling - make people connect emotionally with the topic (knowing isn't enough);
  • Shrink the change - break it into easily digestible chunks;
  • Grow your people - instil a 'growth mindset' where people always want to do better.

Shape the Path:

  • Tweak the environment - make it easy to do the right thing, harder to do the wrong thing;
  • Build habits - habitual behaviour is 'free';
  • Rally the herd - behaviour is contagious.

The Heaths illustrate their points with a huge number of case studies, but none of the in depth examples include sustainability (apart from a comment that climate change campaigners shouldn't talk in terms of parts per million carbon dioxide if they want to succeed). So I thought I would look at some of the change management tools I have found successful and see how they map against this framework.

1. Strategies, management systems, action plans etc

These are all 'rider' type solutions, ignoring the elephant, which is why organisations find it hard to embed them into the organisational culture. Systems and technologies may be installed, but are unused and people tend to follow their old habits. At best, some of the 'shape the path' principles may be included in the action plans and sheer force of will from management might just make them habitual over time. Don't get me wrong, these elements are essential for the rider and the path, but for them to succeed the elephant needs attention.

2. Switch it off campaigns

Such simplistic instructions are for the rider - scripting the moves - and you simply have to hope they feed through to the elephant. The best example I have seen, Northern Foods' colour labelling of machines (red = leave on, green = switch off if left on, amber = ask supervisor), tweaks the situation to encourage and facilitate good behaviour and to a certain extent 'shrinks the change'. If you get the message right, then the instruction can touch a deeper nerve - my friends at GPM Network developed a staff campaign for a charity which revolved around messages like "Switching off this PC every night is the equivalent to an £XX donation to our projects".

3. Involving staff in generating solutions

This is where the elephant gets some serious attention. People love being part of something exciting (the feeling) and encourages people to grow and the problem to shrink as it is better understood. Pride in a solution will mean it is more likely to be used properly. Done properly in groups this approach will rally the herd as teams see their ideas take fruit and put pressure on peers to make them succeed.

4. Staff competitions

Again an elephant type solution. People love competing - or we wouldn't pay footballers gazillions a day to run up and down a piece of grass after a ball - so competition taps into our emotional elephant. Dividing staff into teams and awarding a notional prize to the team that, say, cuts its carbon most, is a very effective method of staff engagement. The herd instinct is there too - if someone is letting the side down, their peers will soon let them know.

5. Training

Very much a mixture of scripting the moves and growing your people, but it needs to be part of wider methods to have an effect. Otherwise the elephant goes back to its old habits with the occasional guilty reminder from its rider. In my training courses I try to bring elephant-centric elements into the sessions by including elements of section 3 above.

In conclusion, I whole-heartedly recommend the book if you are serious about any form of change management in your organisation. Sustainability fits very well with the model - as you can see from the above. Organisations tend to provide their staff with information, but find, as the Switch authors repeat, knowing isn't enough - you've got to tap into that emotional feeling (some examples here) and create the right situation.

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19 November 2008

The Green Business Bible

It is here!

At long last I have managed to distil 11 years of experience into 212 virtual pages of the Green Business Bible eBook. The eBook gives a strategic approach to greening a business and is packed with over 200 hints and tips to help you on your way.
It is available for download for £17.99 + VAT from the Green Business Bible website, but please note that if you subscribe to the Low Carbon Agenda, you'll get 25% off.

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10 September 2008

10 Reasons Why You MUST Improve the Environmental Performance of Your Business

(even in a recession especially in a recession)

As promised, the second of our white papers is on line for free download. 10 Reasons Why You MUST Improve the Environmental Performance of Your Business does what it says on the tin - it explains why there is no better time to take action on waste, energy and water in your company.

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5 June 2008

New Environmental Award Launched

My friends at the Environmental Academy have just launched their new "Enviro Excellence" award to provide businesses with a framework for improving their environmental management.

Participants must provide evidence that they have complied with a set of compulsory and optional criteria to progress through the Bronze, Silver and Gold awards - a bit like the Duke of Edinburgh award if you did that at school. A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) version is in the pipeline.

I write this with a small amount of pride as Terra Infirma Ltd acted as a 'critical friend' in the development of the award to look at it from an outsider's point of view and help fine tune the criteria.

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