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22 April 2016

Shakespeare, Storytelling & Sustainability

william-shakespeare-portrait11It's old Billy S's 400th death anniversary tomorrow - I'm sure you could hardly have missed the fuss. It's quite extraordinary how the bard has stood head and shoulders above his peers over the centuries, with no-one coming close to his reputation.

And it all comes down to one word: Storytelling.

We love stories, whether it is the rise and inevitable fall of Macbeth or the latest on Miley Cyrus' love life, our appetite for a good tale is insatiable. This is why I always recommend using storytelling as a vehicle for communicating sustainability, as it is an intrinsically engaging medium.

One of my favourites is the story of an engineer working at one of my clients. He was given a lift by his son in the latter's new car and was fascinated at how the engine would switch off when the vehicle was stationary and spring back to life as soon as it was time to move off. At work, the production line was designed to be set up and calibrated at the start of a particular product's production and if anything was switched off, the whole set up had to start again. He applied the thinking of the start/stop technology to that production line so machines could power down automatically while waiting for the next batch, yet spring to life when it came along. This saved huge amounts of energy.

That story had permeated the business and the engineer had become a minor celebrity amongst his peers – much to his embarrassment, he was a modest man who just liked solving problems.

So next time you want to communicate sustainability, try framing it in the context of a story – how individuals overcame adversity or had a flash of genius which made something amazing happen. It will spread the word much faster and deeper than any set of statistics.


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4 April 2016

Sustainability & Freedom

bike at big waters

Last Tuesday, I got on my bike for the first time since I dislocated my finger in early January (it's been a very long haul), and toured some of the nature reserves of Newcastle with Mrs K before dropping down onto the Tyne and heading back home. Apart from a short break to sit outside a pub in the sun with a local beer. "The Freedom!" I thought "The Freedom!"

It's a weird one, because this was one of the most sustainable days out I could imagine, yet sustainability and freedom are often seen as polar opposites. Both the right and left of the political spectrum are more than happy to argue they are incompatible.

But think about the freedoms of sustainability: the freedom to enjoy clean air, beaches and rivers, the freedom to get clean energy without being in hock to various oppressive regimes around the world, freedom to sell your own energy to the grid, freedom to cycle or walk wherever you want, freedom from extreme weather or rising sea levels. I'd prefer any of these to the freedom to sit in a car in a traffic jam on a hot day.

The point I'm trying to make is that to cope with all the information we have to process, we narrow our thinking to certain frames. If we frame sustainability as anathema to freedom, then people will switch off. If we frame sustainability as a form of freedom, people will take note.

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18 March 2016

Sustainability Strategy: how deep do you dive?

U.S. Navy Diver (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin B. Gray, U.S. Navy/Released)

I've got sustainability strategy coming out of my ears at this minute. A Green Academy webinar, a Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting and a live client project and we're only half way through the month!

The biggest challenge is getting the level of detail right. Some people will want to give it a quick overview, like a snorkeller swimming over a reef. Other specialists will want to dive deep into the whys and wherefores, the assumptions and caveats and who is responsible for what.

Our approach is to look at the document like a stepped beach – you start in the shallows, and as you progress through the pages, the complexity increases by another step until you are deep in the detail. This means the reader can make the decision of how far they want to go. My diving analogy breaks down for the back cover which should include a call to action to remind the reader what the strategy means to them.


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1 February 2016

Leveraging Human Interest for Sustainability


I saw a quote from the old Kirk Douglas movie Ace in the Hole in the Sunday papers and it really resonated with me, so I looked up the wider exchange. Grizzled reporter Charles Tatum (Douglas) is lecturing the young photographer Herbie Cook (Bob Arthur) about the realities of the newspaper world.

Cook: Like the faces of those folks you see outside a coal mine with maybe 84 men trapped inside.
Tatum: One man's better than 84. Didn't they teach you that?
Cook: Teach me what?
Tatum: Human interest. You pick up the paper, you read about 84 men or 284, or a million men, like in a Chinese famine. You read it, but it doesn't stay with you. One man's different, you want to know all about him. That's human interest.

This is true – look at any big newspaper story, such as the current refugee crisis, and there will inevitably be a focus down to an individual case. This isn't by accident – telling the story of one individual amongst the bigger picture brings it down to a level we can relate to on a more emotional level. As Tatum points out, you can connect to one person, but not 84.

Have a look at your sustainability communications. Are you talking purely in terms of statistics and the big picture, or are you embedding human interest stories to give your audience something to relate to? The best stories show someone just like the audience – typically a fellow colleague – doing something different to deliver on sustainability.

One person's better than 84.



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29 January 2016

Where does greenwash end?


Interesting CSRChat on Twitter last night, featuring David Gelles who writes on Business & Sustainability for the New York Times. He mentioned that he thought it was relatively easy to get good press out of sustainability stories. I flipped it around and suggested it was equally easy for journalists to find fault with the same stories and accuse them of greenwash.

The word greenwash is said to have been coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westervelt complaining about those "we only launder towels left on the floor signs" found in hotels – which I actually find a bit harsh as that always struck me as a neat quick win. Westervelt's argument was the true motivation here is profit – making the same argument as Aneel Karnani made last year that true Corporate Social Responsibility should harm the business concerned in economic terms.

This is crazy. If a company managed to make a huge leap forward in sustainability, for example a breakthrough in biofuel from algae which slashed the carbon emissions of the airline industry with negligible land use impacts (unlikely I know, but go with me), making a fortune as a result, would it be greenwash to call it a green business? Clearly not.

On the other hand we need a sceptical press to cut through corporate spin and expose the reality behind many green claims – or the bigger picture from which they may distract. Anita Roddick may have dismissed Joe Entine, who popularised the term greenwash in his exposé of less than green behaviour at Body Shop, as a weird obsessive, but she tightened up the company's transparency and reporting as a result of his investigations.

As I get older, I have learnt that no thing and no body is ever 100% good or 100% bad, no matter what the media or Twitter hashtags say. As the sustainability field matures, practitioners and commentators need to become more realistic than the activist movement from whence we emerged. They survive on a diet of outrage, justified or otherwise, which can do more harm than good, we need to work in shades of green.

And my advice to any business announcing an achievement? Frame it as "We are very proud of this, but it is just one step on a longer journey." But don't be put off doing well by doing good.


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15 January 2016

In the other guys' shoes...

castThis is the first thing I've typed using fingers of my right hand for over a week. Last Friday morning, while out running, I slipped on some black ice, hit the deck hard and dislocated my little finger on my right hand - and cut up the one on my left for good measure. A hospital visit and a cast later, and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I had a disability. A temporary one of course, but my week flapping at things ineffectively with my left hand, having to wear elasticated trousers and slip on shoes and taking up to four times as long to perform a simple task like having a shower, gave me a quick, but immersive insight into the world of the less able.

The old quote "you don't understand someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes" springs to mind. And this dictum of course applies to us sustainability practitioners as much as anyone else. The majority of green messaging I see is all about the transmitter, not the receiver. No wonder it falls on deaf ears.

My Green Jujitsu approach flips this around and tries to find the overlap between the interests of the audience and sustainability, and starts the engagement there. That's the whole point of the 'lightbulb moment' in the animation:

Anyway, I've now got just a small splint on my right hand which opens up the wonderful world of laces, zips, buttons, pens etc again, but still puts restrictions on exercise, cycling and driving. That sound you hear is a partial sigh of relief from the rest of my family.


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2 November 2015

3D Storytelling for Sustainability


Two days of motorway driving just to spend a day queuing for rides at a theme park – my weekend couldn't have been designed more around my pet hates. The theme park was Legoland and, even though my expectations weren't that high, I was still disappointed. There were very few 'Wow!' moments and everything was aimed at kids.

You may be surprised at my surprise at that last bit, but if you think of last year's Lego Movie, it worked on different levels – the kids loved the crash bang wallops and the slapstick, the adults got all the quest-movie parodies and jokes about overpriced coffees. Just a soupçon of that wit sprinkled across Legoland would have lifted it from over-priced banality to something everybody could enjoy, not just the kids (especially those who were paying for it!).

Much 'green communication' is similarly one-dimensional – it assumes that everybody is interested in rather bland hand-wringing. People who aren't interested ignore it, people who are interested don't get anything extra out of it (they already switch the lights off) and people who may be suspicious of greenwash don't get the proof they need to allay their fears.

So how about designing you communications to handle 3 dimensions of interest from your target audience?

  1. Interest in green issues – ranging from tree-hugger to eco-sceptic;
  2. Learning – how does this apply to me, from simple efforts to step changes such as eco-design;
  3. Depth – ranging from punchy slogans to detailed data.

This can be done on websites and reports – you start at the shallow end and gets deeper and more involved as you explore further.

The wider the audience you appeal to, the more successful you will be – sustainability doesn't benefit from the pester power that Legoland does!


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30 September 2015

Why don't people 'get' climate change? Because we're only human...

George_Monbiot_(cropped)I like George Monbiot – he's decent, principled and thorough – but I often disagree with the tenor of his arguments. Today he complained that there was more TV news coverage in 2014 of the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann than the whole range of environmental issues.

This doesn't really surprise me.

As animals we are programmed to react to immediate risks to our family. What happened to Madeleine McCann taps into our deepest fears. As a parent, the idea of losing a kid to a stranger while taking a minuscule risk – eating on the same premises while the kids sleep in a locked room (which I've been known to do) – haunts me. And never knowing their fate... it makes me shiver.

By contrast, climate change is a creeping, gradual, sometimes distant threat. We can look at graphs of plunging Arctic sea ice, but they don't hit that primal chord in the same way because we can't relate to the risk. Boris Johnson famously questioned how the world could be warming when he could see snow outside his window – a silly argument on an intellectual level, but it illustrates the mountain to climb.

[BTW, in 2014 'Maddie' hit the headlines for a particular reason (which both Monbiot and the study he quotes fail to mention) – the Portuguese Police and Scotland Yard started digging wasteland up in the hunt for the young girl. There was a very real chance the mystery would be solved at long last. Studying 2012 or 2013 might give a more realistic comparison.]

What I'm trying to get at here is people aren't stupid as the title of Monbiot's article – "There may be flowing water on Mars. But is there intelligent life on Earth?" – implies. But they are human, and if we are failing to communicate the risks of climate change, then maybe, just maybe it's our fault, not theirs.


Photograph by Adrian Arbib, used under Creative Commons License.

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14 September 2015

Being right isn't enough

Angry managerYou'd have to have the heart of Katie Hopkins not to be moved by the refugee crisis – a humanitarian disaster unfolding in front of our eyes. The reasons for this huge movement of people are many and some commentators have linked the mass movement of people to the impacts of climate change.

To me, this is wrong. Not wrong as in factually incorrect, but the wrong argument to make at the wrong time. It comes across as opportunistic bandwagon jumping when emotions are high – and will make the general public, the people we need to win over, less likely to hear the warnings on climate, not more – "There they go again..."

One of the reasons I don't join pressure groups is this kind of one-eyed hectoring. It frustrates me when I hear it from all parts of the environmental movement from cycling lobbyists to anti-fracking militants (for the record I'm very pro-cycling and moderately anti-fracking). It's fine if campaigners just want to feel good about themselves, but if they really want to make a difference, they need to be much better attuned to the public mood.


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15 May 2015

We can't bore our way to sustainability


A couple of weeks ago, I was at one of those parties where you kind of know a lot of people, but don't know anybody really well. I wandered over to the group I knew the best, where I found a woman holding forth on politics. At the end of her lengthy and self-assured monologue, she declared "And that's what we all want, isn't it?"

There was a frosty pause. Everybody looked at their feet. She stared at each person in turn – I'm not sure whether she was waiting for affirmation or daring anybody to disagree. Somebody changed the subject. The chill passed.

Another example. I follow an academic on Twitter who is making increasingly catastrophic predictions of the impacts of climate change. There's a passive-aggressive slant to his pronouncements, one saying "I've been telling the public this for years, but nobody is listening." Funny that.

The worse thing you can do in any attempt to persuade people is to assume you are right, they are wrong and a stern lecture will put them right. People will change the subject. Unfortunately far too much green communications and engagement starts from this position.

My Green Jujitsu approach flips this through 180°. It says 'put yourself in your audience's shoes. Understand their hopes, fears, aspirations and habits. Find the overlap between that and sustainability and start there.

Or to put it bluntly, don't be a bore.



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1 May 2015

Is climate change like the Titanic?

I was interviewed about attitudes to climate change by my friend, colleague and fellow Belfast-born Anna-Lisa Mills yesterday. We got into a lengthy debate about the balance between risk and opportunity - I like to favour the opportunity, Anna-Lisa feels that we need to communicate the urgency to act now.

To that end she has produced this rather wonderful video likening our attitude to the scientific evidence with the ill-fated journey of our home city's most famous export, the Titanic. If you are going to communicate risks, this is the way to do it.


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18 March 2015

How not to communicate climate change by the Guardian

Alan_Rusbridger_by_Alessio_Jacona_-_International_Journalism_Festival_2014The Guardian is undoubtedly the UK's best newspaper for covering environmental issues, so it was no surprise when outgoing Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger made climate change his swan song. Unfortunately I can't help thinking the results of this well-meaning effort represent everything that's wrong with our attempts to communicate climate change.

My first gripe is format: lengthy essays stretching over several pages of dense print. I have only skimmed these myself – and I'm very interested in this stuff! How is anybody with a passing interest meant to dip in? How does it speak to those disengaged? Where are the graphics for goodness sake?

My second problem is the attitude. The series started with a couple of lengthy extracts from Naomi Klein's new book on climate change. Klein admits herself that she has only come to climate lately, having made her name as an anti-capitalist. And of course, her prescription is that it is capitalism to blame for climate change, and that those of us trying to fix the problem without smashing the system are deluded. In other words, it's all the 1%'s fault and the 99% are helpless. Might as well give up, then.

Problem is, Klein is wrong – state socialism has proved just as able as capitalism when it comes to destroying the planet – check out Russia or China's record. And, with carbon emissions stalling last year, it is clear that we can make a real difference without some (impossible) wholesale restructuring of society. I am one of many, including radicals like Jonathan Porritt, who believe we can actually make capitalism work for the planet – bringing competition, innovation and economies of scale to cutting carbon.

The paper did redeem itself with some punchy, provocative pieces by Mark Lynas and Jonathan Freedland arguing we need to de-politicise climate change and get on with tackling it, and not sit navel gazing, but these were in the main paper and not part of the climate specials.

The Beeb showed how climate change communication can be done with Climate Change by Numbers on BBC4. The programme hit the most complex and controversial topics – uncertainty, modelling, predictions, dealing with data gaps – head-on using some very clear, snazzy graphics and great analogies. For example, they demonstrated how attribution models work by analysing the success factors in Premiership football teams, building a model and showing how, if you take any Club's wage bill out of the model, then the correlation between model and reality fail. Likewise, if you take anthropogenic carbon emissions out of climate models, then the models and reality diverge sharply. OK, it was taking on a different debate to the Guardian, but it was arguably a more difficult one, yet they made it engaging and fascinating.

The time for preaching to the choir is over. Climate change is not just an issue for the left-leaning middle-class intelligentsia. We must reach out across the political spectrum, to all tribes in society, and inspire people to engage and to help make change happen. And that's going to require a rethink on how we try to communicate the message.


Photo by Alessio Jacona and used under the Creative Commons License.


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7 January 2015

Cut the Green Crap!

Scissors icon glossy green round buttonThere's far too much green crap around.

I'm not talking about the clean energy subsidies that PM David Cameron was (allegedly) referring to using these words. No, I'm talking about the real green crap that actually holds sustainability back:

  • Pointless 'green' giveaways - recycled plastic pencils that break your pencil sharpener, desk thermometers that get binned, bars of fair-trade chocolate that get eaten and forgotten. What's the point?
  • Green Champions - most networks of green champions I see are dysfunctional and a huge amount of energy is being spent desperately trying to keep the network going. Give responsibility to people with authority instead - and use the time freed up to do something useful.
  • Gimmicks like putting sweets on people's computer keyboards if they switch off their computer overnight. I'm forever surprised that organisations will pay consultants good money to spout nonsense like this.
  • Supplier questionnaires - many suppliers spend so much time responding to different customer's questionnaires, they don't have time to actually improve their performance - and then find the data provided rarely has any influence in contract decisions.
  • Awareness posters - when was the last time you saw a poster and changed your life significantly? I'm guessing never.
  • Regurgitating idiotic received wisdom - if you need to buy a drink, bottled water will almost certainly have a lower ecological footprint than all of the alternatives except thirst. Not all biodiesels are evil. Carbon offsetting is not immoral - no-one dies.
  • Talking woo-hoo eco-bollocks like 'eco-centric world views', 'endosymbiotic thrivability' or 'spiritual animistic reverence'. Just don't. No-one will listen anyway.
  • Hitching sustainability to the latest fad. "You can't have sustainability without mindfulness" someone told me recently. You know what? You can.

If you make one sustainability resolution this year, how about to cut the green crap?


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12 December 2014

Green Communications - Secrets of the Sustainability Masterminds

biscuit factory

Last Friday saw the final Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group of 2014. We met in the fantastic Biscuit Factory art gallery in Newcastle, surrounded by some wonderful pieces of art (above).

The theme of the meeting was Green Communications and here are 12 of the 44 learning points arising from the discussion:

  • It’s easier to get green communications very wrong than wonderfully right.
  • All communications have to be able to answer the question “so what?”
  • Facts must be in context – what does it mean?
  • 'Green' and ‘sustainable’ are difficult words – facts may be more powerful.
  • Authenticity is the key success factor.
  • Admitting mistakes or including honest third party views (eg Jonathan Porritt with Marks & Spencer) helps authenticity.
  • Some people want detail, some want the big picture – need to provide for both by 'layering' the message.
  • Need to target the audience(s) with influence – may be a step or two removed from your immediate stakeholders eg customers of your customers.
  • Match format to the audience – eg data and charts for technical audiences, infographics for non-technical audiences.
  • Age matters: millennials have different values/language than, say, baby boomers.
  • Litmus test – does the message get echoed back, or does the same question get asked over and over again?
  • Make your communications team part of your sustainability team to cut the number of hoops you have to jump through.

As ever, the discussion that lead to these points was more valuable than these bullet points.

The Group members have identified a fascinating and challenging topic for the next meeting - 'Age and Sustainability' - how we need to account for the differences between millennials and baby boomers in our sustainability programmes.

The Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group is for sustainability practitioners working in large organisations. You can learn more about the Group here.


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8 December 2014

Green Communications: Are you speaking to the right audience?

Angry manager

Last Friday saw the last Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting of 2015 - we were discussing green communications. I'll be posting some of the multitude of learning points here later in the week, but one key point that arose was the need to speak to the right audience.

Most companies try and speak to everybody with the same bland, uninspiring message - and waste their time and money as everybody ignores it. Green jujitsu says you must tailor the message to the audience, so first you need to identify your audience. The 'right' audience is the one which will have maximum impact (positive or negative) on your sustainability efforts. It might not be immediately obvious who that target audience should be:

Internally, people with influence over business models and product/service design are the people you need to target.

Externally, it gets more difficult. If you produce an eco-friendly material, then the people you need to speak to are often a couple of levels along the value chain - in the ultimate brand for consumer goods. You want them to instruct their suppliers to buy your material.

It might take a bit of head scratching and trial and error to get it right - but it's worth the effort!


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26 November 2014

What do we need to solve climate change? A hashtag!

Yesterday the UK's Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) launched a tweetathon around the hashtag #BackClimateAction. The idea was that each hour between 9am and 7pm people would tweet on a different theme - everything from Cities & Homes to Sport.

Now, DECC's previous attempts at public engagement have included an unmitigated disaster - the infamous 'bedtime story' in 2009 (above) signed off by a certain Ed Miliband MP. So, despite the change in administration at DECC, I must admit I was more than a little sceptical before I started, but I dutifully chose Business Hour at 3pm and settled down in front of Tweetdeck with a cup of tea.

Reader, I tried my best. I tweeted resources, I asked questions, I answered others' questions.

The results?

I had a couple of brief interactions with people I already knew while a torrent of noise slid past on TweetDeck. After 30 minutes, I gave up and started writing this piece.

To be slightly more objective, I put out a question at the end of the hour asking whether anybody had found it of value. Three people got back to me to say they had picked up some good ideas.

That said, the numbers taking part were certainly impressive - DECC says they got 100 million 'impressions'. But the exam question is, did all this effort lead to ANY engagement of the disengaged?

I know this is non-scientific I couldn't see one person tweeting who didn't already have a strong vested interest in sustainability (apart from the ubiquitous semi-clad spam merchants who pick up on any trending hashtag). This effect is known as an 'echo chamber' - people who agree on something agreeing rather noisily and at length. They tend to assume that it attracts a wider audience, but this is debatable - witness all those exasperated #CameronMustGo tweeters complaining that the mainstream media is ignoring their protest against the British PM.

But in a way, this lack of wider engagement is inevitable. The whole point of a hashtag is to bring people of similar interests together, not to attract those on the sidelines. As a rallying call to the faithful, the tweetathon was obviously successful, but we need to go beyond that - and fast.

Engaging the disengaged is the biggest challenge in sustainability, but a hashtag probably isn't the way to go about it.


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24 November 2014

Winter is coming*... or is it?

harry winterfell


My eldest son, Harry, is doing a project at school entitled 'The Angry Earth.' Last night over dinner he suddenly shouted "I hate global warming!"

His mother, possessor of more degrees than you can shake a stick at, said "Why?"

"Because we will get no more snow!" he retorted.

"Or we might get lots of snow..." I muttered


"Because it could mess with our weather system."

As I spoke I realised I had opened the whole weather/climate can of worms. He's a very clever boy but I was at risk of leaving him confused. We talked it through and he seemed OK with the idea that global warming might result in local freezing. But it begs the question - is it better to leave people with a over-simplistic understanding of climate change or confuse them with the complexities?

It is this reason that I've given up trying to explain climate change science to people in my employee engagement work for clients. I prefer to ask people what they are going to do about carbon emissions instead - usually a much more fruitful conversation.

* Sharp-eyed fans of Game of Thrones might notice that Harry is pictured in the courtyard of Winterfell, give or take a little CGI and a lot of mud.


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12 September 2014

The (Draft) Rules of Pragmatic Environmentalism

business angel

I was called a hypocrite last week.

Not to my face, the individual is too cowardly to look me in the eye. No, he took to Twitter and attacked me for not being 100% against fracking - merely 80%. My arguments for leaving the door slightly ajar were a. while shale gas is a fossil fuel, shale gas is almost certainly much better than coal, b. we could find ourselves in an energy security crisis before too long, and c. the sensible end of the environmental movement has left such black and white dogma behind them and is making swift progress without that baggage weighing them down.

I resisted the temptation to hit reply and leave either a pithy one-liner or fire a torrent of scorn in his direction (it never works out the way you would like, anyway - I just end up waking up in the middle of the night 'cos I've though of a REALLY good put-down).

But it got me thinking about the difference between the new breed of pragmatic environmentalist and the old style ideologues. What about these rules of pragmatic environmentalism as a starter for ten:

  1. Everybody is an environmentalist - you just have to find what is important to them.
  2. Evidence rules: you can't cherry-pick the data that suits you.
  3. No inner priesthood: we have to make sustainability relevant to others, not bend them to our will.
  4. Technology and markets mechanisms are powerful tools: we must use them to our advantage.
  5. Think big or go home.

Comments? Thoughts?

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3 September 2014

Infographics for Sustainability: A Love/Hate Relationship

I LOVE a good infographic. A good infographic (let's call it 'an infographic' for short) adds value to data by presenting it in an easily digestible and engaging form. The graphic above from, demonstrates the difference between the scientific view on climate change and that of the general public (although the colour key is missing for some reason). But, even for the most numerate, the graphic illustrates the point much more strongly than the numbers.

Volvo_infographic_DG_v11I HATE false infographics. Take this one by Volvo (click to enlarge). It consists of numbers and statements, put into a quirky format and with some broadly relevant clipart scattered over it. You could argue that the layout and images distract rather than add to the information (and patronise the reader), but at best they merely decorate it.

There is no doubt that infographics, if done properly, can add hugely to our communication of sustainability issues. But that's a big 'if'. If it doesn't add value, go back to the drawing board.



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1 August 2014

Making Your Business Resilient with the Sustainability Masterminds

Last week saw the eighth meeting of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group. We rolled up to another top-notch venue, the Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland - a County Durham village recycled out of a monastery many centuries ago (is that upcycling or downcycling? discuss...).

The topic of this meeting was Resilience - how do we prepare for and deal with unexpected and sudden changes. The Group chose to focus on raw material security, legislation, NGO campaigns and changes in key personnel. Here's a selection of the learning points generated:

  • Unpredictable things happen - Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous ‘unknown unknowns’;
  • Instability is the new business reality;
  • Unpredictability makes risk assessment increasingly difficult;
  • Too many people like to bury bad news or ignore ominous weak signals;
  • Sometimes a bad experience is required to focus minds on preventative measures – do not be afraid to use it;
  • Review each crisis – how did we handle it? What can we learn?
  • Legislation can come over the horizon very quickly eg ESOS;
  • Can spend a huge amount of time and energy reacting to legislation when proactive planning can be more effective;
  • Turn trauma into opportunity via new product/service development;
  • Clicktivism means campaigns can rise up the agenda very quickly;
  • Develop a set procedure and script to deal with a PR crisis – don’t ‘do a Tony Hayward’;
  • Warning signals on security of supply are flashing eg China’s monopolisation of rare earth metals or US food production problems;
  • Develop long term supplier relationships for key strategic raw materials;
  • Circular economy and renewable energy solutions may be more resilient to global risks;
  • Have sustainability properly embedded so back-pedalling by a new executive is more difficult than moving forward;
  • Work out what makes a new person tick and pitch sustainability in those terms.

As always it is how we got to these points that held the most value for participants.

The meeting concluded with a fantastic lunch followed by a circular stroll up onto the moors above the village and back along the river Derwent. Life's hard sometimes!

If you want more information on the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group click here.


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