Gareth's Blog

Recent Posts



green communication Archives - Terra Infirma

Browse All

19 September 2017

Why #ClimateOptimist makes me want to cry

Yesterday afternoon, my Twitter feed suddenly filled with garish 80's-home-computer style graphics urging me to "Opt-in to be a #ClimateOptimist!".

"'Ello?" I asked myself and did some clicking. More hi-viz colours, more flashing slogans, some nice T-shirts, not much else. My heart sank.

Not because I'm a pessimist, no, quite the opposite. I'm a committed, if quietly pragmatic, optimist.

My problem is the answer to the fundamental question "Who is this for?", which appears to be "People like me (but maybe a bit more tolerant of childish text fonts)." But I already get it. I don't matter.

What does it say to the consumer on the high street on a Saturday afternoon? What does it say to the product designer choosing materials for the product those consumers are buying? What does it say to the policy maker deciding on transport investment, building standards or energy subsidies?

Not a lot. Nothing, in fact.

This is vitally important, because it is these people we need to speak to – the people who we must persuade to make different decisions to the ones they normally make. And to do that we need to translate Sustainability into a form that means something to them. Rattling slogans around the Sustainability echo-chamber is just a waste of time and effort.

Rant over.


Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

19 May 2017

Pringles and Lucozade still don't get it.

prod_img-2927296_pringles_original_190g_enI love it when serious Sustainability issues hit the mainstream and yesterday's public shaming of Pringles and Lucozade Sport for difficult-to-recycle packaging across mainstream media channels really hit the button. What brought my initial excitement down was the begrudging response from the companies (quoted from The Guardian):

A Pringles spokesman said: “We take our responsibilities to the planet we all share seriously and are continuously working to improve our environmental performance. All parts of a Pringles can act as a barrier to protect the chips from environmental contamination and to keep them fresh. The freshness of our chips means a longer shelf life, which minimises food waste.”

This is indeed true, but there is an implicit 'or' in there (I don't like 'or's, they suck). Many manufacturers produce packaging which protects against food wastage AND are easy to recycle. Try harder!

Lucozade said it recognised its environmental responsibilities and had reduced its use of plastic in bottles by 540 tonnes over the last year. A spokesman added: “We welcome any technological breakthroughs that support this ambition.”

Two problems here. First, how significant is 540 tonnes? How many tonnes of Lucozade Sport bottles are produced every year? Without that context, this statement is greenwash.

But it's the final quote that really bothers me – the plastic sleeve which renders the bottle hard to recycle is a design choice by Lucozade, it is not an inherent property of the bottle. It is Lucozade's social responsibility to design that problem out, not anybody else's as implied by the quote. Get your finger out!

Hopefully both these defences are just that and the campaign will have both companies' (and others') product designers working overtime to square these circles. I'm always optimistic...



Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

28 April 2017

Mind your Sustainability Language

world brainI first wrote about Green Jujitsu in the sense of choosing your language to suit the audience (I've since expanded that from everything from images to engagement activities) and I've been reminded of the importance of the words we use several times recently:

  • A client who is restructuring and the names of the new divisions reflect what the customer gets – this has had the effect of reinforcing that much of their market is helping others be more Sustainable;
  • A local cycling/walking infrastructure project based on the 'mini-Hollands' in London, but branded with the much more friendly (and descriptive) Streets for People – a move lauded by someone who'd taken a lot of flack when working on the former;
  • Someone who made the mistake of labelling an energy efficiency project as Sustainability rather than cost reduction and then found the project was cancelled to, ironically cut (less) cost.

The whole point of Green Jujitsu is to let go of Sustainability and let the organisation own it in whatever form works for the organisation, and the language you use is the easiest (and cheapest) way to make that happen.


Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

16 November 2016

Why your climate message isn't getting through


Angry manager

This morning I was running my normal route up the river valley where I live. Towards the far end of my circuit, I came up behind three dog walkers, hoods up against the drizzle, deep in conversation and taking up the whole path. First I coughed, but got no response. Then I called "Excuse me!", but not a flicker. By now I was right behind them so I said "Excuse me, please!" at normal volume. The three of them jumped out of their skins, backed away from me as if I was a bear, hands instinctively covering their throats. I apologised profusely and ran on. As I looped back down the valley, I saw them back in their own little world.

As I ran back home, I mused on how we all live in our own little worlds, oblivious to most of what is going on around us. We have to, as there is just too much information in the world to process, so we have to filter the vast majority of it out, leaving what is immediately important to us. I bet if one of the dogs had gone off their owners' radar they would have picked up on it much more quickly than a podgy flat footed jogger huffing and puffing up behind them.

I often hear sustainability practitioners list all the ways they have tried to get colleagues engaged in climate and/or other sustainability issues. They express frustration that nothing on the list has worked, but I'm not surprised as it is all formulated from a 'green' point of view and gets filtered out by those who don't already get 'green'.

The key is, of course, to find a green message that does get through the filters – not by frightening the life out of people as I did with my dog walkers, but by finding the overlap between their interests and sustainability. That means putting to one side everything you hold dear and putting yourself in your audience's shoes, or as I call it, Green Jujitsu.



Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

23 September 2015

Al Gore, the CBI & Greenpeace: which big gun will make a difference?


The heavy artillery of the climate movement parked its tanks on the (metaphorical) lawn of the UK Chancellor this week. Al Gore, John Cridland of the CBI and John Sauven of Greenpeace lambasted his approach to clean energy at a Green Alliance conference. Each took a different tack and I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast.

Gore appealed to the UK Government to show leadership:

"The UK’s historic legacy of leadership on the most important moral issues faced by humanity, including the climate crisis, is long and has been recognised with respect by the community of nations,” he said. “It is time for the UK government to honour and live up to that legacy, and return to its global leadership position, domestically and abroad, by supporting an ambitious international agreement in Paris that unleashes the power of the private sector to create a global clean energy economy."

Cridland looked at the risks of inaction and economic benefits of action:

"Supermarket chain ASDA estimates that 95% of its supply chain could be at risk from changing weather patterns and increased extreme events – which are both accelerated by climate change. And we’ve already seen how global technology companies in the US – in particular - had to stop trading when flooding in Thailand shut down the factories they relied on.

But besides the ‘costs’ of inaction, the ‘benefits’ of seizing the opportunity and growing the green economy are also clear. We know the UK’s green economy has sales of over 120 billion pounds a year. And whilst people might describe ‘China’ or ‘India’ as ‘emerging markets’, the green economy is a high-growth ‘emerging market’ in its own right. Between 2010 and 2013, the green economy grew at more than 7% a year, compared to less than 2% a year over the same period for the UK economy as a whole.

Today, 164 countries have renewable energy targets. That’s 164 potential markets worldwide for the UK’s renewable industry – for example."

Sauven took a more combative approach:

"From Britain’s business leaders to the government’s own advisers, the chorus of opposition against George Osborne’s ideological assault on clean energy just keeps growing. His increasingly erratic and capricious policies are not only harming UK businesses and ripping off consumers but are also isolating Britain ahead of a crucial climate summit.

When Al Gore ironically remarks that Osborne is not the prime minister, he makes a very good point. David Cameron should take heed of it and start wresting back control of energy and climate policy from the chancellor’s hands."

My assessment is that, in the short term, the Government will be embarrassed most by Gore's argument – every politician likes to think of themselves as showing leadership. However, Cridland's cost-benefit analysis may have more long term effect on a business-loving Chancellor, particularly if it is followed up with some invitations to see that burgeoning green sector in action (Osborne likes nothing more than swanning about a factory in hi-viz). I'm most disappointing in Sauven's line – he should know by now that experienced politicians have an inner noise-cancelling switch which is activated by insults and words like 'ideological'. You've got to preach to the congregation, not to the choir.


Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

29 September 2014

Let's banish the inner priesthood of sustainability


Like it or not, the human race has a tendency towards tribalism - we can see that in a long history of brutal ethnic wars around the world. But the tendency also rears its heads in supposedly virtuous pursuits where those who see themselves as the inner priesthood raise barriers - using linguistics, dogma or people's background.

The environmental movement is as guilty of raising those barriers as anybody else. We read about 'endosymbiotic thrivability'. 'mindfulness' and 'eco-centric world views', we are told we must be against fracking, GM, nuclear - and capitalism in general, and I spent my early days in the movement dodging the question of where I did my degree (Cambridge) or where I worked previously (the Ministry of Defence) - as those answers dropped me a couple of places down the rankings of the self-righteous.

None of this snobbery is helpful in any way. We can sit on our self-built pedestals, sneering at those who 'don't get it' or we can get down amongst ordinary (and I mean that as a compliment) people going about their daily routine and help them 'get it'. Only one of those strategies will deliver sustainability - and it isn't the one occupied by those who think they are morally superior.

So my third rule of pragmatic environmentalism is:

No inner priesthood: we have to make sustainability relevant to others, not bend them to our will.

In other words, if people want to find out about environmental issues and what they can do to help, they should be welcomed with open arms - not subjected to some kind of initiation test. If they don't 'get it', then it is our fault for not making it understandable, not theirs.


Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

4 July 2014

What sustainability practitioners can learn from politics...

CameronHuskiesOne of the interesting developments in the climate debate over the last month has been the publication of "Risky Business" - an assessment of the economic risks from climate change faced by the US. The three chairs of the project were Hank Paulson (Treasury Secretary under GW Bush), Michael Bloomberg (ex Mayor of New York) and Tom Steyer (a Hedge Fund Manager).

Above and beyond the well argued case for swift action, the really interesting bit is that Paulson and Bloomberg are from the Republican side of the political spectrum, and with a few notable exceptions, Mr Schwarzenegger, the Republican Party tends to argue that climate change isn't happening, never mind that we should do anything about it.

Rewind a couple of decades and the hot political topic was 'triangulation'. The idea was that elections are won from the centre ground, so if you assume your supporters are likely to follow you no matter what, you can steal support from the opposition by speaking their language. Bill Clinton was the pioneer, a Democrat who made the Republicanesque declaration "the era of big government is over." Tony Blair quickly followed suit in the UK, his "New Labour" a shotgun wedding of social democracy and faifree markets - the traditional territory of his Conservative opponents. Tory Prime Minister David Cameron returned the compliment by "hugging a husky" to commit his party  to tackling climate change and later making the hostage to fortune commitment to lead "the greenest Government ever."

The point of triangulation is that if you want to gain the support of the majority of your audience, then there is no point in aiming solely at the people who already support you - you have to speak to the unconverted. Risky Business will resonate with Republicans much more than Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, because Paulson is one of them and speaks their language.

In the same way, if you want to communicate sustainability, you should use the language of the part of the audience which 'doesn't get it' not the language adopted by those who do - and/or get someone the unconverted respect to deliver the message. Classic Green Jujitsu, in other words.

Of course we must also learn from the downfall of many a politician over the years - if you say you're gonna do it, you've gotta do it!


Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

Free monthly bulletin:

Learn how to help your business go green from the comfort of your desk..

View events

By Gareth Kane

Everything you need to know to integrate sustainability into the DNA of your business.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

A highly accessible, practical guide to those who want to introduce sustainability into their business or organization quickly and effectively.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

The smart way to engage effectively with employees

View events