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27 September 2017

Putting the Personal Into Sustainability

Take_a_Break_(magazine)_coverSo, the Guardian Sustainable Business site is no more. I don't think I'm really going to miss it because I don't think I ever read anything there that really made me stop and think. Most articles read like PR pieces, because that's largely what they were – native advertising, advertorials, whatever you want to call them, businesses were paying to get their case studies up there. And of course, if they're paying, they want to make everything sound fantastic, but end up sounding incredibly bland.

I came up across this when I was doing interviews for my second book, The Green Executive. The initial purpose of the interviews was to get fresh examples rather than rehashing the same old case studies as everybody else, but soon they took on a life of their own, telling the inspiring story of individuals doing great things, so I decided to insert one more or less verbatim after each chapter. In my view they are worth the cover price alone.

As I was attributing these stories to the individuals who were telling them, I thought it was only fair to let them see a draft to ensure there were no errors or potentially career-limiting revelations. One guy forwarded the text to his PR department for a once over and it came back rewritten in that strangely antiseptic language of the advertorial, with all the personal insights and gritty reality excised. It was sooooo boring. The PR contact couldn't, or wouldn't, understand my repeated pleas for a simple gaffe-check, so I gave up and just published my original.

As I was explaining to one of my clients this week, nobody reads case studies unless they have to. But they do read personal stories – particularly the classic quest story where someone just like us takes on a challenge, faces down adversity and triumphs with great results. Think of all those Take-a-Break style magazines which clog up your newsagent shelves – full of personal stories about  ordinary people bringing up a child with a disability or losing weight or fighting off a mugger. If the Guardian Sustainable Business had taken a leaf out of those publications, maybe I and others would have paid a bit more attention.


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20 February 2017

Book Review: Global Sustainability by Mark Lefko

lefko bookWhen I first read the bumf around Mark Lefko's new book Global Sustainability, I was a bit worried that it clashed with my own tome, The Green Executive. Both are aimed at senior management, both take a more strategic look at Sustainability and both are built around a series of interviews with senior executives. However, on the latter Lefko has roped in considerably more star wattage than I did, with Sir Richard Branson and the CEOs of TATA, Dow, Cargill, and Unilever featuring amongst the 21 interviewees.

From these interviews, Lefko has extracted 9 best practices which make up the chapter titles of the book. The content of each chapter consists mainly of interview quotes from those CEOs, some extending to quite lengthy extracts. The nine chapters are:

  1. Establish Guiding Principles
  2. Practice Long-Term Thinking
  3. Deal Fairly and Ethically with Suppliers, Employees, and Customers
  4. Be Concerned about Your Employees’ Motivation and Well-Being
  5. Support the Well-Being of the Communities Where You Do Business
  6. Form Good Partnerships
  7. Find Ways to Reduce Waste
  8. Be Adaptable—and Seize Opportunities
  9. Measure the Return on Your Sustainability Investment

The book's aim is clearly to persuade senior business executives to get on board the Sustainability train via peer pressure – if these business titans are doing Sustainability, shouldn't you be? And it does this job very well, with a consistently clear and upbeat message, reinforced by those captains of industry.

I've had plenty of arguments with publishers over book titles and, to me, Lefko's subtitle "(21 Leading CEOs show) How to do well by doing good" would be a more accurate title for the book – and one more compelling to its target audience of CEOs and those new to Sustainability than "Global Sustainability".

The book is not really a 'how-to' on making Sustainability a strategic business priority (check out The Green Executive for that!). As someone who lives corporate Sustainability day in day out, I got a couple of new insights and some nice fresh case studies, but nothing to shake up the status quo on planet Sustainability. That's not a criticism, just an observation on the target audience.

Verdict: buy it for your boss.


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29 February 2016

No Leadership, No Sustainability

green superhero

I'm working on two major client projects at the minute, one on sustainability strategy and one on employee engagement – which between them make up the essentials of delivering sustainability, the formal process and the buy-in from all stakeholders. But there's one subject which keeps bubbling to the fore in both – Leadership.

Without leadership, any ambitious sustainability targets will remain just ink on a page or pixels on a screen. The level of change required, the investment called for, the new business directions – none of this will happen without the process being driven from the top.

Without leadership, employees will simply not engage with the subject – whatever we might say, we look to our leaders for inspiration and direction. If leaders aren't leading then we drift back to business as usual.

As an aside, I've always been slightly baffled that my first book, The Three Secrets of Green Business, which is oriented to operational practicalities, has always outsold my second, The Green Executive, which is aimed at the emerging generation of sustainability business leaders. Especially as it has 18 exclusive interviews with pioneers in the field, making sustainability happen at a leadership level. It's a much more important book.

Because, at the end of the day, it's a matter of no leadership, no sustainability.



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19 December 2014

Some consistency please, Mr Cameron

CameronHuskiesAs a good liberal, I'm always keen to give people the benefit of the doubt. When newly installed Prime Minister David Cameron promised back in 2010 to preside over "the greenest Government ever", I was delighted, if a tad sceptical. Then, last winter, he was said to want "to get rid of all this green crap" in relation to energy bills.

The last few months, and indeed days, have seen a continuation of this wild see-sawing between rampant scepticism and enthusiastic flag waving. Here are some high- and lowlights:

  • 23 September 2014: To the UN, Cameron put forward a solid right-of-centre argument for a low carbon economy: "We need to give business the certainty it needs to invest in low carbon... we need a framework built on green growth not green tape." This was probably the first major speech on climate change by a UK PM since Margaret Thatcher in 1990.
  • 1 October 2014: To the Conservative Party conference, the green economy got the very briefest of mentions: "leading the way on tackling climate change".
  • 16 December 2014: He tells the Liaison Committee that people are "Frankly fed up with so many wind farms being built that won't be necessary. Enough is enough and I am very clear about that." He goes on to say he wants to phase out subsidies on renewables and talks up fracking instead.
  • 17 December 2014: Prime Minister's Questions: Cameron answers two questions on green energy, both times enthusiastically declaring that the green economy is creating jobs. In response to a third question he brags of having halved excess winter deaths from fuel poverty through insulating homes.

In The Green Executive, I posit that to deliver sustainability, we need leadership above all else. Paraphrasing leadership guru Warren Bennis, I listed 4 key leadership qualities:

  • A sense of purpose;
  • Trust;
  • Resilience;
  • Bias towards action.

It's clear that on all of these things, Cameron's performance is lacking. His sense of purpose is all over the place which impacts in turn on trust - and without trust, investors will hedge their bets, slowing progress. He shows little resilience and we could do with a lot more action rather than a constant wrestling match with his much greener Liberal Democrat coalition partners (usual disclosure: I'm a member of the Lib Dems).

The strangest thing of all is that, despite this, the UN recently ranked the UK third in the world for its efforts in tackling climate change, so Cameron could justifiably say he had delivered on his promise. But just imagine what we could have achieved if he showed a bit of leadership!


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26 August 2014

Leadership is (still) THE key factor in Sustainability

Green Executive coverFour years on, I'm back in the Yorkshire holiday 'cottage' - actually a 3.5 bedroom stone house - where I beat my second book, The Green Executive, into shape. It's lovely to be back in such an important location to me, even though the leather recliner and ottoman upon which much of the work was done has sadly gone.

I write in a very non-linear style. Once I have a theme, I start by sketching a structure to lay out the overall framework. Then I copy and paste all my previous musings on each topic (from this blog and elsewhere) into that structure. Then I start on an epic cycle of filling in the big obvious gaps (some of that text can appear back on this blog!) and editing the recycled text so it is fresh, up to date and coherent with the new text.

This cycle continues until I get to the tipping point - the critical read-through and edit after which only superficial changes are required to ease the passage of the reader from introduction to conclusions, along with the odd minor fact sourcing. It was here in Croft House, Askrigg where I did that crucial edit for the Green Executive - it only took me two weeks of early morning sessions!

Anyway, the central theorem of The Green Executive is that Leadership is the difference between those who dabble in sustainability and those who really succeed. How does that argument stand up four years down the line?

Well, perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence was the survey of challenges faced by sustainability practitioners by the 2degrees network. The No1 challenge? (drum roll...)

Engaging senior management.

In other words, lack of leadership is what most practitioners think is the factor holding them back. Why is this important?

Because without proper leadership, no significant change will happen in the organisation. That's what leadership is for - to set the strategic direction in the business. So, yes, without buy-in you might persuade someone to specify a much more efficient boiler or trial electric vehicles in the fleet, but the really big stuff - exploiting business opportunities in the low carbon economy, deleting product lines which are intrinsically unsustainable and/or investing in a supply chain to provide recycled material at a competitive quality, quantity and price - all that just won't happen.

And all too often, in my experience, sustainability gets stuck at the middle management level because no-one at the leadership level wants to pick up the baton and run with it.

The Green Executive still sells moderately well (ie at all) for a specialised business book, but I await the day it shoots up the charts as maybe that will be the sign that the penny has finally dropped!


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4 April 2014

Leadership is everything in CSR

I wrote The Green Executive in 2010 to provide both an inspiration and a manual for the new generation of responsible and progressive business leaders which appeared to be emerging from the ranks of the grey suits.

Therefore it is a bit depressing to see "engaging senior management" hitting the top of the 2degrees Network's survey of corporate sustainability challenges.

Let's get one thing straight:

Leadership is everything in Corporate Social Responsibility

Without leadership, you will not get the convergence of sustainability and business strategies. Without leadership you will find it impossible to change the behaviour of your employees (whether they'll admit it or not, most look to the leadership as exemplars). Without leadership you will never get the organisation to stop environmentally/socially damaging practices voluntarily. Without leadership, you are pushing, erm, water uphill.

And if it doesn't come within, it is very difficult to persuade indifferent business leaders to take on such an enormous challenge. But I'll give you a hint. The key is not to try to hector bosses into submission, but to help them to work it out for themselves. And that's green jujitsu, the topic of another book...


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16 September 2013

Sustainability as a Horror Story?

The_Blob_posterToday 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.

With threats like this, we need more heroes!


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17 July 2013

The Struggle for Sustainability

iceclimbGreenpeace 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.

Photo: Greenpeace


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8 July 2013

The Stuff of (Sustainability) Champions

Andy Murray WimbledonSo 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.



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5 July 2013

Stand Up and Lead, Godammit!

Here's the latest in the Green Business Confidential podcast series. It's called "Stand Up and Lead Godammit!"

Audio MP3

Or, you can download it here and listen on your MP3 player:

GBC24 Stand Up and Lead, Godammit!.

You can get the whole podcast series here or subscribe on iTunes.



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11 March 2013

If you're asking why consumers don't get it, you're asking the wrong question

shopping sustainability consumers


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.


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30 January 2013

Cut the Bull**** - Straight Talking & Sustainability

Sustainability Plain LanguageI 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!


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11 January 2013

Drucker nailed CSR 38 years ago

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.

[my emphasis]

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!


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31 October 2012

The Sustainability X Factor

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.

Sustainable business - no place for wimps.


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15 October 2012

Green Jujitsu Culture Change Webinar Recording

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.

Speaking of eBooks, both my previous books The Three Secrets of Green Business and The Green Executive are now available in Kindle format from Amazon. I'm very excited about this as the shift from stuff (paper, card, glue) to data is a key principle in both books.

Last week I also saw The Green Executive back on the shelves in Waterstones, so keep an eye out for it if you want a browse!


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24 September 2012

Ove Arup, Total Architecture and 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!



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10 September 2012

Lashing yourself to the mast

"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.

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6 August 2012

Why I'm Not Calling for a Plastic Bag Tax

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.


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16 March 2012

Just Do It!

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!"

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9 March 2012

Sustainable Business In A Leadership Vacuum

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.

Be determined, play smart.

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