Today the Confederation of British Industry has revealed that 95% of its members are concerned about energy prices. This follows an EEF survey which showed 80% of senior manufacturing executives thought limited access to raw materials was already a business risk - for one in three it was their top risk and two of the executives I interviewed for my forthcoming Greening the Supply Chain ebook flagged security of supply of raw materials as amongst their key sustainability risks.
This is interesting as, when I interviewed 18 senior sustainability executives for The Green Executive about 3 years ago, security of supply didn't come up and I only mentioned it in passing under 'rising costs'. For the record, the biggest concern was brand protection/competitiveness in the market place. Likewise, shareholder pressure wasn't an issue during those interviews, but it has moved up the agenda in the meantime.
I have come to the conclusion that the business case for sustainability is constantly changing, but not in a zero-sum-game/squeezing-a-balloon type way where some drivers rise and others fall. No, drivers like legislation and customer demand are still there, still important and in many cases getting more important, it's just the other factors have emerged and grown.
I've struggled all morning for a suitable analogy and the only thing I can think of is one of those early schlock horror movies like The Blob, where the 'monster' just keeps growing and pushing its tendrils out and into every corner. Like in those movies, the drivers for sustainability will catch up with you no matter what you do or where you try to hide. Some companies stand there screaming like a horror movie victim and get engulfed, but the heroes see the creature as a chance to prove their worth, show some leadership, ingenuity and bravery, and live to save the day.
Greenpeace don't do things by halves do they? Last week's Ice Climb protest saw 6 climbers scale London's iconic new Shard skyscraper to bring attention to Shell's intentions to drill in the arctic. A heck of a lot of effort, but it paid off as the protest got plenty of publicity - some of it scathing, it has to be said - but publicity nonetheless. Whether that publicity (and the sweat required to achieve it) actually changes anything is another matter.
Seeing the huge physical effort required from the protesters to inch their way up the building reminded me of a recent conversation with the CSR manager of a major UK brand (off the record, unfortunately). The word 'struggle' passed his lips more than once - the struggle to change sometimes quite small things within his organisation, despite its reputation for CSR.
At a sustainability roundtable I took part in a few weeks ago, Andrew Davison of Newcastle upon Tyne lawyers Muckle LLP talked of the struggle to decide whether to change their legal documentation from the traditional single sided printing to double sided. Andrew said they agonised over such a simple decision.
I've often said the biggest barrier to sustainability is just 6 inches wide - the space between our ears. The problem is when you get lots of people together and those 6 inches start to multiply up into what I refer to as 'institutional inertia' - the ability of an organisation to push back against change. Institutional inertia is the sustainability practitioner's worst enemy - the thing that slows everything to a crawl.
Your can use the following tactics to overcome institutional inertia:
Perseverance: one of the key messages from The Green Executive interviewees was 'never give up';
Cunning: Green Jujitsu says to align sustainability with the existing culture in the organisation - rather than trying to 'do a Greenpeace' and shock people into changing their mind - this works with the inertia, not against it;
Leadership: if the boardroom has bought in then they can be deployed to 'unstick' projects when necessary;
Raise the sights: if you have ambitious well-communicated stretch targets then small decisions will appear to be 'no brainers' compared to some big strategic decisions;
Include stakeholders in the discussion: if you get people together and ask them help work out how (not whether) something can be done, you can gain their buy-in very quickly.
Like scaling a building, sustainability ain't easy. But then again, that's half the fun of it.
So 77 years of "why can't we (male) Brits win Wimbledon?" is over as Andy Murray takes the legendary trophy. While I'm euphoric for the great Scot, I can't help feeling sorry for Novak Djokovic as that didn't feel like a straight sets victory to me - it was a pulsating, back and forth drama that kept us leaping from the sofa in shock and delight.
Both men have the magic sauce that puts the truly great sportspeople above the merely excellent - they never, ever give up. In the last game of the third set yesterday, Murray had three Championship points, yet Djokovic fought back to force a couple of break points. I would have crumbled at that point but Murray stayed calm and kept plugging away until he succeeded. Hats off to both.
When I interviewed 18 top senior sustainability practitioners for The Green Executive, the main theme that emerged was persistence. Some advocated "sheer bloody mindedness", others suggested being a "fifth columnist, shaking it up a bit", but all of them said you must never give up, no matter what resistance you meet. It's the stuff of champions.
Most Fridays I take part in connectFriday on Twitter - an hour's green business chat which originated here in the North East but has now gone global (follow @connectFriday for more). I get bullied by the organisers into providing a quote of the week and a tip of the week and I enjoy a good chinwag on a chewy topic.
Last week's debate evolved from someone plaintively asking when will consumers 'get it'. My immediate riposte was that it was the wrong question - that as businesses it is futile to blame customers for not buying our product - it is either the wrong product, the wrong price or it is being marketed and sold the wrong way. In this respect we have to assume the customer is always right - and sitting back and waiting for them to 'get it' is self defeating.
The conversation evolved into the cost of green goods and services and how it was difficult to avoid passing those costs onto the consumer. This is a valid point and an area where the big brands have a distinct advantage over the green entrepreneurs who are the typical connectFriday participants. They have the buying power and the financial oomph to build the supply chains they need.
In the Green Executive, I gave examples of Marks & Spencer and Royal Mail actively building the supply chains they need and this morning Asda announced it had developed a supply chain for bananas in the Canaries which will slash their carbon footprint from the perspective of European consumers. The small business may have to wait for such supply chains to emerge and mature, or use that entrepreneurial spirit to exploit opportunities for green materials others have missed or passed over.
But whatever the situation, the green entrepreneur must approach the market from the right direction - offering desirable green products at the right price, not waiting for some kind of mass Damascene conversion. You'll be waiting a long time.
I spent yesterday contributing to an draft of a client's sustainability strategy. What was most impressive was the Herculean attempts to keep the usual corporate PR drivel out of the text. Typically, somebody would say:
"How about 'we will endeavour to fulfil our moral obliga...' oh that's a steaming pile of meaningless management crap! How about 'we will [do X]'?"
This plain speaking was so refreshing compared to my experience in one of my Green Executive interviews. The interviewee (I won't say which one) gave a brilliantly candid interview, full of all sorts of perspectives which percolated through to the rest of the text.
Understandably, he did ask that I run the resulting text past the company's corporate communications team to check he hadn't dropped any clangers. Unfortunately they took it upon themselves to rewrite the piece into an incredibly bland, glossy press release, taking out all the good, meaty bits - in fact you could have changed the company name to any other and you wouldn't have noticed any dissonance.
After some polite to-ing and fro-ing, I told them bluntly that, unless they pointed out anything in the original that was either factually incorrect or commercially sensitive, I would publish it as it was. They refused to co-operate, so I went ahead.
Here's why we need to talk straight when it comes to sustainability:
It starts us off in an honest frame of mind;
It forces us to be absolutely clear about what we are trying to do;
It makes our commitments and efforts more credible - stripping away any whiff of greenwash;
It encourages transparency and openness;
It helps colleagues, suppliers and customers buy into the sustainability and understand what the organisation is really trying to do;
It allows all stakeholders to understand the commitments - and hold us to them.
So, I suppose this post is a bit of a plea. Let's drop the all-too-prevalent tone of the professional copywriter and tell it how it is!
I'm increasingly educating myself more about organisational development than sustainability per se because I believe very strongly that implementation is much more important than theorising.
So one of my New Year's Resolutions this year is to read more of the late Peter Drucker as he is regarded as the management gurus' guru and there was a Drucker-sized gap on my bookshelf. So I bought 'The Essential Drucker' as a jumping off point as this is a Greatest Hits selection of chapters from his other books from 1942 to 1999.
You would have thought that a 1974 chapter on Purpose and Objectives of a Business would have little relevance to a sustainability change agent in 2013, but Drucker puts social responsibility on a par with marketing, innovation and resources:
Lessons we have learned from the rise of consumerism, or from the attacks on industry for the destruction of the environment, are expensive ways for us to realize that business needs to think through its impacts and its responsibilities for both.
He goes on:
That [social responsibility] objectives need to be built into the strategy of a business, rather than merely be statements of good intentions, needs to stressed here. These are objectives that are needed not because the manager has a responsibility to society. They are needed because the manager has a responsibility to the enterprise.
This 38 year old statement, given Drucker's influence, begs the question why on earth are mainstream companies only now starting to embed social and environmental objectives into their core business strategy? When I wrote The Green Executive, I thought this was cutting edge thinking, but it appears that it's almost 40 years old!
Long before the phrase was demeaned by cheap TV talent shows, 'X Factor' referred to that difficult to ascertain quality that set the best ahead of the rest. For most entertainers the X Factor is the ability to project charisma to the audience. Everyone can learn to do this better, but obviously not everybody makes it to the top.
So what's the X Factor in sustainability? What single factor distinguishes those who are forging ahead from those stumbling in roughly the right direction? What would I bottle and sell if I could?
The answer is undoubtedly 'Leadership'.
It takes leadership to set ambitious targets.
It takes leadership to hold the organisation to those targets.
It takes leadership to identify and exploit new opportunities in the low carbon agenda.
It takes leadership to inspire employees to rise to the challenge.
It takes leadership to challenge those holding the organisation back.
It takes leadership to put a stop to unsustainable activities.
It takes leadership to redesign products and services from scratch for sustainability.
It takes leadership to kill off unsustainable product lines.
It takes leadership to remove people who are never going to get on board.
It takes leadership to build the supply chain you need.
It takes leadership to drag your peers and competitors along with you.
This is another reason why I can't stand the touchy-feely image of much of the corporate sustainability debate. Taking sustainability seriously is not about hugging trees, but facing up to a really tough corporate transformation mission. That's why I wrote a book, The Green Executive, about it.
We had a fantastic webinar on my Green Jujitsu webinar on Friday afternoon, featuring at least three FTSE100 or equivalent company attendees. If you want to catch the webinar then click on this link. You will have to download a Webex player to do so - I will endeavour to get a YouTube version up later this week.
The eBook itself, Green Jujitsu, is available from Dõ Sustainability.
Last night, I was on one of my now regular night-time strolls trying to get squalling baby to sleep. To keep me sane, I often give myself a mission on these walks so I'm not just wandering around in circles waiting for silence to envelope my tiny banshee. And last night I went to find the blue plaque on a nearby house where the legendary civil engineer Ove Arup was born in 1895. We can do quite a bit of an engineering tour around my neighbourhood, if that sort of thing turns you on - William Armstrong was born half a mile a way and educated a couple of hundred yards away, and from my window I can see the site of the first stationary steam engine built by George Stephenson after he went into business for himself, just before he started putting them onto wheels.
Ove Arup is most publicly well known for designing the Sydney Opera House, but known within the construction industry for his development of the idea of 'Total Architecture' where the boundaries between disciplines are broken down and everybody takes responsibility for all aspects of a design.
When engineers and quantity surveyors discuss aesthetics and architects study what cranes do we are on the right road.
When I interviewed Chris Jofeh of Arup for The Green Executive, he drew a line between the Total Architecture ideas of the firm's founder and the work the company now does on sustainable buildings. One of my very, very few regrets about the book I now have is that I didn't pick up on the 'Total' meme at the time and dub the highest level of corporate sustainability 'Total Sustainability' as this kind of deep integration of sustainability into everybody's responsibilities and mindsets is what I was proposing.
I did draw a parallel between what I called 'Full Integration' of sustainability and Total Quality Management (as does John Elkington in The Zeronaughts), but the more I think about it, Total Architecture may be a more appropriate analogy. Quality control is an internal, managerial issue, architecture is more outward looking, often inspirational and occasionally groundbreaking - what sustainability should be.
More food for thought for my nocturnal meanderings with the noisy boy!
"We haven't a hope in hell in meeting this target, but we're going to try anyway."
"The management redefined our target to one which we were going to meet anyway."
These are two real, if slightly paraphrased, quotes I have heard recently which show two polar opposite attitudes to sustainability targets in major corporations. Guess which one is doing better environmentally - and financially?
Odysseus famously lashed himself to the mast of his ship so he could hear the voices of the sirens whose song would seduce him onto the rocks, but wouldn't be able to give into them and change from his true course. Sustainability is difficult, I make no bones about it. But, as the Green Executive concluded, persistence is key. There is always the temptation to go easy on yourself and fall for the those siren voices and try and cheat the system - this usually fails as everyone can see such cheats a mile off.
Are you prepared to lash yourself to the mast and tough out the tough times? It's called leadership.
There's another big call out for a plastic bag tax in England and Wales. I'm not against such a tax per se, but it is far from the top of my list of priorities. OK, single use plastic bags cause litter, but nearly as much as, say, crisp packets (if you have ever been on a litter pick you will know what I mean), and can harm marine life (ditto), but they're said to represent 0.1% of the average person's carbon footprint, so if we wanted to make a 50% cut in humanity's carbon footprint, we'd need to find 500 such measures to do so.
"So what?", you may ask, "this is an easy win, a symbolic gesture, something we can do." Yes, but, have we not had enough symbolic gestures, enough pilot projects, enough green grandstanding when we really need to be delivering improvements at scale? This is no time to be lowering our sights down to something even the Daily Mail can support - we've got to raise them, challenge ourselves and make a real difference.
The same thing can happen at the organisational level - people pursuing "safe" incremental improvements at the expense of more ambition. The third "secret" in my first book, The Three Secrets of Green Business, was "take some huge leaps and lots of small steps." If you focus just on the latter, you'll soon come up against diminishing returns - you need the huge leaps to propel you you towards sustainability. My second book, The Green Executive, called for organisations to set themselves stretch targets, to escape "the tyranny of the present", change the mindset and make those ambitious changes.
So yes, let's have a plastic bag tax, but don't see it as a significant achievement and don't waste much time and effort on it - and for goodness sake don't rest on your laurels - but understand it would be a tiny incremental improvement and we need to be looking for those huge leaps.
If you follow the green press, you may have noticed another spat between pro-nuclear (Monbiot, Lynas) and anti-nuclear (Friends of the Earth) greens. At the same time, the OECD's Environmental Outlook has spelt out just how badly things are going in the global environment (see BusinessGreen's summary here). This makes me immediately switch into Dad mode and shout "We don't have time for this! Stop squabbling and get on with it!" Then I'll go back to wandering around the house switching off lights and grumbling how I'm not made of money - 'cos that's what I spend much of my free time doing these days.
Inaction frustrates me. So much can be done so quickly if people put their mind to it. Even the Government managed to meet the 10:10 commitment to cut energy by 10% in the central Government estate when the boss said it was a priority. If they can do it, heaven help us, the rest of us can.
Instead we get caught up in bureaucracy, paralysis by analysis and procrastination. Permissions come slowly, relatively small investments take forever to get approved and responsibility gets ducked. Much of this is displacement activity, putting off the inevitable.
When I was writing The Green Executive, I had to research leadership theory to find a proven framework to hang green leadership skills on. I quickly came across Warren Bennis' work as he is the godfather of leadership theory. Two of his four leadership qualities stood out: resilience and a bias to action. The successful green executives I interviewed for the book definitely showed those characteristics. Another quality I picked up off them was a willingness to 'learn by doing' - try stuff, make mistakes, learn, keep what works.
Or to borrow the famous marketing strapline "Just Do It!"
I hosted two Green Academy webinars on Wednesday, the first on Getting Off to a Flying Start, aimed at beginners, and Making It Happen: From Strategy to Action, aimed at those wanting to move from bog standard environmental management to the cutting edge. Despite the disparity in subject matter, the issue of leadership arose in both. Some delegates were benefiting from very strong leadership, others thought their leadership was lacking.
The central thesis of my book The Green Executive is that you cannot manage your way to sustainability, it takes leadership. You just have to look at the sustainability programmes in InterfaceFLOR, Marks & Spencer and Wal-Mart to see that they were driven by determined charismatic leaders. The scale of change required cannot be delivered without high-level buy-in.
So what happens if you don't have that leadership buy-in?
Well, first up it has to said that this is a massive challenge, but not insurmountable. But you can't just roll up your sleeves, pick up your sense of injustice and start a war of attrition. Like a lone calvaryman charging a rank of cannons, your chances of success are minimal.
Instead you need to be smarter and use some green jujitsu - using your opponents strength against them.
First, put yourself in their shoes - what makes them tick - brand protection, cost savings, winning tenders, self image or something else?
Then work out the link between your putative sustainability programme and that priority. You may have to put some of your favourite ideas on the back burner for a while until you have made your case.
Then work out how to communicate that link effectively. Questions are one powerful tool eg what will energy price rises do to our competitiveness in the medium and long term? Another approach is tapping into the desire to keep up with the Joneses - did you hear that competitor X has invested in clean technology with is cutting their energy bills? A third is to get some momentum going without management buy in and then demonstrate how the results are profiting the business.
This may not deliver immediate results, so persistence, resilience and tact are required.
At Tipping Point Newcastle last week there was a lot of talk about how "angry" we should be about the state of the world and how we could "sustain that anger." After an initial, but clearly unsustainable, blast from the angry young men and women in the room, a more sober reflection on the intersection between art and sustainability took over. At one breakout session, someone raised the awareness of poverty that Charles Dickens brought to the middle and ruling classes of Victorian England by writing extremely good stories about it.
I ventured that a modern equivalent might be Ian McEwan's Solar which avoids the preaching and presents a venal, very human protagonist in the battle for sustainability, rather than the virtuous and boring green heroes that some portray. But most importantly, McEwan wrote a cracking good story that made you want to read it. I think Alan Davey of The Arts Council summed it up well when he said "don't preach" and "bad climate art is worse than no climate art."
The last session I took part in was about communicating with executives of big business. Having pledged to myself to talk a little less and listen a little more in this session, I was bullied (it took at least 2 seconds to persuade me) to talk about what I had done in The Green Executive - tell the stories of the people who had succeeded in changing their organisation for the better. When I started the book, I decided to interview some leading green executives to generate case studies, but the results were so compelling that I included them almost verbatim between chapters. Some of them were very personal - such as Jim Hagan of GlaxoSmithKline touching on the death of his father. These stories gave a compelling, human edge to book that I couldn't have created any other way.
So if you want to change your organisation, or the whole world, don't get angry, tell stories about where you are and where you should be.
If you haven't heard the news, a leak from the US libertarian think tank the Heartland Institute has spelt out both a number of corporate funders and, allegedly, its tactics to undermine public trust in mainstream climate change science. The documents, if genuine*, haven't really revealed much that many of us haven't guessed was going on, but it is instructive to see written down such humdingers as:
"This influential audience [the readership of Forbes magazine] has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out."
"providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain - two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science."
This is what I said in my book The Green Executive about the need to dissociate from such groups:
The ﬂip side of joining positive organizations is true – if you want to appear environmentally enlightened, you need to distance yourself from bad company. Ever since Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, catalogued the effect of pesticides and herbicides on eco-systems, there has been a coordinated attack on the green movement by certain sections of industry. Whether the issue is persistent organic pollutants, the health effects of passive smoking or, more recently, climate change, there have always been elements who would prefer to invest in dubious tactics to maintain the status quo rather than change their ways.
For example, the industry-backed and disingenuously named Global Climate Coalition spent 13 years feeding exaggerated accounts of the uncertainties in climate change science to the press, despite their own scientiﬁc advisors protesting to the contrary. The Coalition eventually withered and died in 2002 as members such as Shell, BP and GM decided to disassociate themselves.
Associating with any such organizations will backﬁre on green efforts. The hyenas mentioned in Chapter 4 are particularly hard on any organization perceived to have be saying one thing while doing another.
Having a zero tolerance to industrial resistance to sustainability can be used to demonstrate commitment. In 2009 a number of high proﬁle companies including Nike and Apple left the US Chamber of Commerce in protest at the Chamber’s stance on President Obama’s climate change bill. By doing so they sent out a message to their customers, their peers and the government that they were taking the green agenda seriously.
Realistically, though, I'm not sure this issue will make the headlines the way the 'climategate' e-mails from climate scientists did - after all, we expect lobby groups to lobby for their own interests, and the Institute doesn't receive public funds, so there isn't much of a 'scandal'. The story certainly hasn't made the printed media here in the UK, just on-line articles and the Twittersphere.
So what about the reputations of those - including some companies featured in my book - who have donated to the Institute albeit not to the climate programme? I believe that the damage will be limited this time around, compared, say, to more newspaper-friendly stories like working conditions in Apple's supply chain. But these kinds of revelations can accumulate into a bigger story if left to fester. I stick by the advice I gave in The Green Executive - anyone who wants to protect their CSR reputation should steer well clear of such organisations.
* The Heartland Institute claims one document on climate change is fake, although it appears to replicate the content of the other documents which the Institute admits are genuine.
I love getting away from it all. Leaving all the pressures of modern living behind and getting out on the hills, travelling under my own steam, sleeping under the stars and carrying everything I need - ergonomically designed rucksack, super-lightweight tent, Polartac fleece and hat, Goretex jacket and trousers, vibram-soled boots, laminated maps, LED headlamp torch, iPhone with GPS etc.
Hardly back to nature is it, with all those hi-tech fabrics and gizmos? Of course I could choose to go wearing 'traditional' outdoor clothing (tweed, animal skins?), take nothing with a battery, and try and hunt and gather my own food, but frankly I'd rather be comfortable.
When people ask why environmental concerns are not taken more seriously by the general public, at least part of the answer is that many environmental 'solutions' presented to them are in the form of pious hairshirt austerity, or are presented as such. And the vast majority of people simply don't want to give up the comforts of modern life - can you blame them? Have you ever seen an advert that says "buy our shoes, they're less comfortable, uglier and more expensive than our competitors!"? For good reason...
Unfortunately many of the spokespeople for the 'green movement' doesn't understand this - they simply rant about how people "don't get it". The spiritual benefits of austerity may appeal to a minority, but asking people to give up on the joys of modern living is never going to get traction with the masses.
That's not to say certain 'austerity' measures can't be sold in a positive way:
Insulate your house: lower bills, fewer draughts, more comfort!
Cycle to work: get your exercise en route, save on parking, gym membership and time!
Low energy lightbulbs: lower bills, longer lasting than incandescent!
Second hand books/music/clothes: indulge in the pleasure of hunting for an obscure gem!
But what really works is products and services which are eco-friendly AND highly desirable. Buying MP3 music, ebooks and using movies on demand are all much greener than their physical equivalents - and much more convenient. When I interviewed Peter White, Global Sustainability Director of Procter & Gamble, for The Green Executive, he told me that P&G weren't interested in the green niche, they wanted to sell green to the mainstream consumer - so they had to compete on performance, price AND planet - no compromises. Wise words.
I'm writing this on the East Coast Mainline, charging across the frozen fields of eastern England as the sun casts various tints of orange across the monochrome landscape. I'm on my way down to the bright lights of London to take part on a webinar about engaging customers on how to use your products and services in a greener way. The event is organised by BusinessGreen.com, sponsored by Accor and also includes Marks & Spencer, so I'm in pretty good company.
If you read this in time, you can still sign up here - I'll post a summary on Wednesday for all those who missed it!
Just to give some background - customer engagement is one of the three big challenges for green business I identified back in December. Effectively all those green collar jobs everyone hopes says will emerge from the green economy will be delivering products and services which allow others to go greener. This is the top level of the business case model in my book, the Green Executive. So why is this such a big issue?
Well look at the diagram below (taken from The Green Executive) which shows lifecycle carbon emissions for a variety of generic products - computer, car, food and washing powder - which:
Food is the only common example I could find where the emissions from the use phase (in this case cooking at home) don't dominate the lifecycle. In the case of food this is because of the huge amount of energy required for fertiliser, pesticides and irrigation. But for the other three, the biggest element of the emissions is in the hands of the user.
The washing powder data above came from Procter & Gamble and was the evidence that drove them to create Ariel Excel Gel which allows washing at 15°C - a massive potential improvement in lifecycle emissions. But that improvement hinges on the consumer being able/wanting to wash at that temperature. First up, my A+ rated washing machine doesn't have a 15°C setting and secondly, (on the rare occasions I put a wash on) I'm forever turning the dial from 40°C down to 30°C - the fairies turn it back up when I turn my back. Marks & Spencer may have run a massive "Wash at 30°C" campaign on their clothes, but there is a residual feeling amongst many consumers that warmer = cleaner.
So you can (and must) enable greener behaviour, you can (and must) inform the consumer/customer of the benefits, but that's often not enough to actually change their behaviour. We'll look at that in part 2.
Here's the video of my book launch for The Green Executive back in June. Given the diverse audience, I focus on the lessons I learnt from the 18 Green Executives I interviewed for the book (people like stories).