At a meeting this morning, someone used an acronym which I don't think I'd heard before: 'HiPPO' – the Highest Paid Person's Opinion. But I know exactly what it means – I once lost a client because I disagreed with the HiPPO in the room. I was right (naturally), but it didn't matter, the HiPPO prevailed, everybody else fell into line, and the next phase of my involvement in the project never materialised.
It's kind of like that ancient Chinese engineer who suggested the Great Wall of China wasn't being built the best way. The engineer was right (naturally), they adopted his idea, but they lopped off his head anyway for daring to go up against the Emperor. This kind of macho, rutting stag culture annoys the hell out of me, but when it's there, it's there and you have to deal with it.
Of course, the Green Jujitsu approach would have been to persuade the HiPPO that he had realised that there was a much better way of approaching the problem, rather than me, an outsider, dismantling his logic. But you can't win 'em all.
My big theme this year is 'Sustainability conversations', and one thing that sets 'conversation' apart from 'communication' is you've got to listen as well as talk.
If you actively listen to those you are trying to communicate with, you will find the following benefits:
1. Your audience will trust what you are trying to say if you show that you care about what they think;
2. You will be able to respond to your audience's hopes, fears and uncertainties and the audience will get a deeper understanding as a result;
3. If the audience feels it is 'in the loop', individuals are more likely to embrace new ways of working;
4. You will learn how to adjust your language, tone and imagery to appeal to your wider audience (I don't guess what the culture is like when I'm using Green Jujitsu, I tend to ask them);
5. You will discover the barriers your audience see to more sustainable behaviour and be able to remove them.
The last one is not to be underestimated – some of my biggest 'wins' with clients have come from listening to what frontline employees say. Fixing such problems is often at low or no cost and tilts the playing field permanently towards more sustainable behaviour for all.
As the old saying goes, you've got two ears and one mouth and you should use them proportionately!
I gave a talk last night to the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers about behaviour change in building users. One of the themes was the need to get out of the green echo chamber and speak to the unconverted in a way that will appeal to their worldview aka Green Jujitsu.
For this very reason, I am more interested in politically right-of-centre arguments/solutions for tackling climate change than centrist/left-of-centre arguments because on that side all but the very far left have accepted the need for urgent action. Bringing those who are uncertain for that need is much more important than virtue signalling to those who already get it.
So this morning's reports that a group of US Republican old guard are proposing a carbon tax as a conservative approach to climate change really pricked my interest. If left, right and centre want to tackle climate change in their own way, then that's much more viable and robust than trying to persuade one side to adopt the views of another. Progress is always better than no progress.
As I said last night, finding the sweetspot of overlap between Sustainability and the views of key stakeholders is the road to success.
As I've said before, our big theme in 2017 is Sustainability Conversations as this is where we believe breakthroughs lie. But the critical question is how do you get the right people interested in having that conversation in the first place? The answer lies in our old friend, Green Jujitsu.
Green Jujitsu is the art of framing Sustainability in terms which each audience will find irresistible. That means finding the overlap between Sustainability and that person's/those people's perspective on life. So for an Technical Director talk technical solutions, for a CFO talk £/$/Euros, for a CEO talk competition.
In practice this means the following:
Engineering an opportunity to start a discussion on their terms ("Can you help me with something?");
Using their language, imagery and idioms, not impenetrable Sustainability jargon;
Put the ball in their court by asking killer questions (eg "our competitors have just launched a non-toxic version of our product, how should we respond?");
Listen to their responses and encourage them to keep trains of thought going by asking follow up questions (this is essentially how I do my client coaching and it is very powerful).
Summarising conclusions and next steps at the end of the conversation.
Key to all this is realising that Sustainability success will not be so much about how well you do your job as how well you can get other people to do their job. Let them take credit for success even if you've had to drag them kicking and screaming to that point.
We'll be discussing sustainability conversations and green jujitsu in more detail on our webinar on 18th January - more details here.
I found out last week that one of my clients dissuades people from using air travel by requiring the prior approval of the Chief Operating Officer. This creates a pinch point – booking a train is much less hassle.
At another client, staff have to pay for short haul flights upfront themselves and claim the money back, whereas train tickets get purchased directly by the company. This means they could be out of pocket for six weeks.
At a third, we had to remove the bureaucracy around booking the teleconferencing system when we found it was putting people off using it – booking travel was easier. Once the red tape had gone, the teleconferencing went from gathering dust to booked out almost overnight.
The whole 'nudge' theory – make desirable behaviour easier than undesirable behaviour – has gone out of fashion recently, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work. The examples above show how powerful it can be.
I see a massive overlap with my Green Jujitsu approach to employee engagement for Sustainability as both treat people as they are, rather than what you would like them to be.
This morning I was running my normal route up the river valley where I live. Towards the far end of my circuit, I came up behind three dog walkers, hoods up against the drizzle, deep in conversation and taking up the whole path. First I coughed, but got no response. Then I called "Excuse me!", but not a flicker. By now I was right behind them so I said "Excuse me, please!" at normal volume. The three of them jumped out of their skins, backed away from me as if I was a bear, hands instinctively covering their throats. I apologised profusely and ran on. As I looped back down the valley, I saw them back in their own little world.
As I ran back home, I mused on how we all live in our own little worlds, oblivious to most of what is going on around us. We have to, as there is just too much information in the world to process, so we have to filter the vast majority of it out, leaving what is immediately important to us. I bet if one of the dogs had gone off their owners' radar they would have picked up on it much more quickly than a podgy flat footed jogger huffing and puffing up behind them.
I often hear sustainability practitioners list all the ways they have tried to get colleagues engaged in climate and/or other sustainability issues. They express frustration that nothing on the list has worked, but I'm not surprised as it is all formulated from a 'green' point of view and gets filtered out by those who don't already get 'green'.
The key is, of course, to find a green message that does get through the filters – not by frightening the life out of people as I did with my dog walkers, but by finding the overlap between their interests and sustainability. That means putting to one side everything you hold dear and putting yourself in your audience's shoes, or as I call it, Green Jujitsu.
...the word sustainability has devolved into a word that embodies a non-offensive, contradictory acknowledgement of the need to address the dire issues facing our rapidly changing climate without actually having to shift core business models...
...I bump into professional contacts of mine at various conferences and events in the sustainability space who say they feel disempowered in their role. They’ve “hit a ceiling” with executive leadership, they’ll tell me. Or they work in a silo in the facilities department or operations, or only have an intern for support. How can any single person in a massive organization have the opportunity to fundamentally shift the bottom line, particularly when that bottom line is triple-down, without the necessary backing and support?
I find this analysis depressing, a tad self-pitying and ultimately self-defeating. Enough exemplars have shown that massive leaps towards Sustainability can be made while making increased profit. The contradiction Holmes identifies is only in the mind – it's not an 'or', but an 'and'.
And, yes, one person will struggle to make a difference if they adopt the silo mentality of their organisation, but they need to turn that mindset around and see their role as facilitating others to make a difference instead (check out this edition of Ask Gareth). You don't need a huge team, or a team at all, to do that.
In her conclusion Holmes proposes education, suggesting starting over, for which, as she points out earlier in the article, we have limited time. Personally, I think if your organisational Sustainability programme is stuck under a ceiling there's a very simple formula to smash through to the next level:
Get buy-in from key players using Green Jujitsu (in large part by involving them actively in the following steps);
Set stretch targets within a reasonable timeframe (7-10 years typically);
Use backcasting to work out what that future vision of the organisation would look like and a list of what you have to start doing now to get there;
Help those key players do the things on your list which will have biggest impact, while identifying and eliminating barriers as you go along.
The first step is the most important. By involving key players, they have 'skin in the game' and you will start to see those ceilings disappear. The backcasting process itself is fun and really energises those involved. You'd be surprised how often meaningful engagement makes resistance to melt away like snow on a warm spring morning.
Real decisions, I mean, where you actively choose between two options rather than follow your usual practice. When you got in the shower this morning, did you choose a shampoo or grab the only there one, your usual one or the nearest one? When you fired up your computer at work, did the option of not doing that cross your mind? How often have you bought a different newspaper to usual, just to get a different perspective on life?
I realised this morning in a coffee shop that, by choosing a cappuccino for a change rather than my default black americano, I was making different choice that I take maybe 1 in 20 times. Last week I read the Daily Mail cover to cover for the first time in years (which was a shock to the system in more ways than one). A few years ago I signed up to a 'green household awareness' scheme but failed to weigh my rubbish for more than a couple of days at a time before defaulting to chucking it straight in the appropriate bin. Me – Mr Sustainability himself – couldn't even cope with this minor deviation from the norm. Embarrassing.
We are creatures of habit.
And, as Sustainability practitioners, we have to embrace that, rather than fight it. We've got to appreciate new habits take a long time to form and, more importantly, working with people's normal routines rather than against them is the quickest way to get Sustainability embedded into the organisation.
This week I read an article on employee engagement for Sustainability on a well-known eco-business website (I won't bother linking to protect the guilty), wondering if it had a new angle, a nice case study or a clever technique I hadn't come across before. Unfortunately the piece could have been written 10, 20 or even 30 years ago – we had 'switch it off' stickers and posters on the walls when I started in the Civil Service in 1993.
Here's a thing – if it hasn't worked in the last 23 years, why would it start working now?
This approach is so old hat, I parodied it in an animation 3 and a half years ago. We have so much more sophisticated approaches including gamification, 'nudge' techniques and my own Green Jujitsu (translating Sustainability for the worldview of each audience) that you would have thought that a half-competent environmental consultancy may have come across (hint: try Google). But apparently not.
To deliver Sustainability, we need new thinking across the board. Whether that is managing distributed energy, developing new business models or effective employee engagement; blindly trying the same old technique whether or not it works is the epitome of stupidity. One of the joys of working in Sustainability is learning something new every day – revel in it!
At last week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group, I (re)used my 'monster truck' template (above). The analogy is that we are in the truck, transversing the boulders which are in the way of 'the new normal' - ie meeting our sustainability goals.
As we were packing up, one member, a chemist by background, referred to the pile of boulders as the 'activation energy' for sustainability. I can remember enough of my A-level Chemistry to remember that this is the energy required to get two reagents to react, even if the results are more stable than the ingredients you started with. So to light a wood fire, you need to light a match and set it to paper and kindling to give the main fuel enough energy to burn itself. In a way the wood is sat there waiting to be burnt, but if you just throw a match at it, nothing happens.
I thought that activation energy was a great analogy. One of the big frustrations of Sustainability practitioners is that a sustainable world is clearly more desirable than an unsustainable one. Who really wants pollution, an unstable climate or the destruction of natural habitats? So why do we allow those things to happen? Or why do our efforts to change things often flounder? The answer is the activation energy required to get from here to there.
What do chemists do if activation energy is too high? They find a catalyst to reduce it. Sustainability catalysts include policy changes, technological breakthroughs and facilitators – the last of which is where we come in.
Here are several ways that you, as a sustainability catalyst, can reduce that activation energy:
Focus people on defining 'the new normal' rather than obsessing about 'business as usual' (this is how we start with the template above;
Expand this into a backcasting approach to define intermediate steps;
Frame sustainability to match the culture of the audience (aka Green Jujitsu eg talk engineering for engineers, health for the health sector, cash for accountants etc);
Involve people in solutions generation to get enthusiasm and buy-in for change;
Get visible leadership buy-in;
Get people (employees, suppliers etc) to compete to be the most sustainable;
Remain upbeat, encouraging and cunning.
But don't just chuck matches at the fuel and complain when it doesn't light.
Regular readers will know I'm (more than) a bit obsessive about road cycling. I will walk past the shiniest, most expensive motorbike without a glance, but if there's a carbon fibre road bike locked to a railing beside it, I will stop. Doesn't matter if I'm running late for something, I will pause and admire.
A motorbike fanatic would think I'm mad. They'd stop at the motorbike and admire the power, the transmission or the chrome before striding past the carbon fibre object of my desire without noticing it. An aero seat post or a Di2 derailleur would mean nothing to them, just as much as the latest supercharger (or whatever) would mean nothing to me.
This shows how the filters in our brain act so we ignore the vast majority of the world around us. The filters only draw our attention to what is important to each of us. This has critical implications for engaging people in Sustainability: if someone is already ambivalent to sustainability, then their mental filters will block out (almost) every sustainability message you throw at them.
Green Jujitsu is the art of finding the overlap between what turns your audience on and the Sustainability agenda – and starting engagement there. Because you are packaging Sustainability with their interests, the message will get past their filters – and you get engagement. So, if you want to engage an engineer in Sustainability, then challenge them to solve Sustainability problems. Engineers love solving problems, so the message gets through their filters. And, if you're really good at this, you'll find their filters start to open and let more and more sustainability stuff through.
George Osborne may have been unceremoniously booted out of the UK Treasury by incoming PM Theresa May, but one of his legacies will live with us for decades as May rubber-stamped his deal with the Chinese Government to finance new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point. For a man who denigrated renewables on value for money grounds, Osborne's parsimony deserted him on Hinkley, with even nuclear's biggest proponents wincing at the cost of the new facility.
Unrelated, but related, The Independent's Sean O'Grady launched an anti-cyclist tirade at the news that West Midlands Police are fining drivers who skim rider's elbows. He completely omits to mention that the crackdown was in response to the Police's own evidence that only 2% of serious collisions involving cyclists were the cyclist's fault.
Both can only be explained by ingrained mindsets. Osborne clearly buys the old "renewables too expensive, nuclear too cheap to meter" myth and O'Grady plays the old "cyclists aren't real road users, so should simply keep out of the way" saw. Neither men are stupid, but they manage to argue stupid things because humans tend to see the world through a rather fixed worldview.
I cleave to the belief that the biggest barrier to sustainability is just six inches wide, the space between our ears. For sustainability to become the norm, we've got to change these, and many other, worldviews. Rants, like mine above, won't work to change those minds – we've got to find ways of finding the common ground and moving on from there. What I call Green Jujitsu.
Before the horrors of the last few days, it must have been a slow news period as the Telegraph rolled out another of their 'lycra lout' articles about the village of Great Budworth which claims to be under siege from the two-wheeled menaces. I think one anecdote summarises the story:
"One nearly crashed into my brother's car as he was pulling out of the drive and shouted at him."
Or, translated into objective language:
"My brother pulled out on to a road without looking properly, nearly knocked someone off his bike, endangering his life, and was surprised that the guy was angry about it."
What surprises me is that neither the story-teller, the brother, the journalist or the editor realised the stupidity of this line. I'm sure they're all intelligent people, but they regurgitate this nonsense because it backs up the way they have already made up their mind. This is known as confirmation bias.
As a Sustainability practitioner you will have come across this phenomenon time and time again. The presumption that Sustainability must cost more, despite all the facts and figures you provide. The presumption that renewable energy will never be cost effective despite plunging prices. The presumption that Sustainability is not a core business issue despite the fact that those who do Sustainability better have been shown to make more profit. The 'zombie arguments' from climate change deniers refuse to die for this very reason.
Like those in the Telegraph article, there is no point in trying to confront those 'misconceptions' head on (just have a look at all the Godwin's-Law-breaking arguments on Twitter for proof). My Green Jujitsu approach works on the heart as well as trying to appeal to the mind, by getting people involved in Sustainability using their core skills and interests. For example, it's said that the Netherlands doesn't suffer from this us-and-them battle between motorists and cyclists because almost all drivers cycle as well, so they identify with being on two wheels.
So if you are locked into a war of attrition over a Sustainability issue or project, stop, take a step back and think about how you can make it appealing to your opponents' hearts as well as minds.
I've just been to the polling station to vote in the EU Referendum. And I voted... drum-roll... IN!
But you probably guessed that, not just because I've blogged about it before, but because I'm a Sustainability Professional and Edie has found that 75% of us are voting IN (and 7% are unsure).
If you knew the area I live in, you'd probably guess correctly as it's a very middle-class-intelligentsia neighbourhood, never mind that RemaIN posters outnumber LEAVE by at least 5:1.
If you knew I'm a (sometimes reluctant) Guardian reader then you'd also put money on me being IN.
I'm a bit bloody predictable, aren't I?
On the other hand, if I was wedded to my car and a climate sceptic, you would put money on me voting Leave. And almost nothing would change my mind, certainly not the towering pile of economic statistics the RemaIN campaign has been throwing around with gay abandon.
This referendum, like most elections, will be decided by a relatively small number of people who do not fit neatly into a few rather big tribes. And we tend to listen to other people in our tribes - reading newspapers which reflect our values. In social media this is known as the echo chamber as you say something and just hear the same thing back (I've started trying to break this habit and seek out articles by journalists who are interested in why people who they disagree with don't think like them.) We are tribal.
This tribalism is exactly why most employee engagement fails. Sustainability practitioners talk to their colleagues using sustainability language, images and arguments – and then get a shock when it doesn't register with the intended audience. Green Jujitsu is all about acknowledging the obvious fact that people unengaged in Sustainability aren't (and maybe won't ever be) members of the Sustainability tribe. It's about understanding the other tribe and translating Sustainability appropriately.
The NHS experiment on engaging nursing staff on energy efficiency is a fantastic example. "Switch it off and save the planet" didn't work. "Switch it off and save the NHS money" didn't work. "Switch it off and your patients will get better sleep" did – because the nursing tribe values patient care above everything else.
Have you ever tried making a complaint to a large organisation? You'll get a whole load of guff back about how they take every concern seriously, explaining the process they will follow and what do you almost certainly get by the end? A half acknowledgement that they got something wrong and a convoluted explanation of why they're not going to do a damn thing about it.
Just this morning I presented a large committee (unrelated to my professional career) with photographic evidence of a serious local problem along with other evidence as to the cause. Others around the table simply talked away the problem (with no counter evidence, just anecdote, opinion and subject changing) until it was implicitly agreed that while this was indeed an issue, there was no real need to do anymore than the current, evidently inadequate actions. Next agenda item...
This frustrates the hell out of me, but more seriously, when you look at huge scandals such as the child abuse in the Catholic Church, the emissions cheating in the car industry, or the prevalence of doping in Lance Armstrong-era professional cycling, the herd will always close ranks to see off any perceived threat. The logical knots that groups of people will tie themselves in to avoid uncomfortable truths is astonishing. We are herd animals and the instinct to run with and defend the herd is very strong – which is why whistleblowers get ostracised when they do stand up and say "this isn't right!"
This is one reason why trying to bring sustainability into large organisations is so difficult. Of course the trick is to get the herd moving in the direction you need it to move, but believing that this direction is the best way to go – what I call Green Jujitsu.
About five years ago, there seemed to be a new sustainability concept coming over the horizon every 5 minutes: the circular economy, creating shared value, mindful sustainability, my own green jujitsu and the doomed-by-its-own-name endosymbiotic thrivability – everytime you clicked on a green business website, another idea leapt out at you. These neologisms were on top of already bulging toolbox of existing ideas including natural capitalism, cradle-to-cradle, bethinking the natural step, one planet living, factor 4/10/100 etc, etc.
Suddenly all of this blue-sky thinking seems to have died away, replaced by practical efforts to take Sustainability forward at scale. I'd argue this is a sign of maturity with the Sustainability baton being handed over from the thinkers to the doers.
We now know what we have to do, the challenge is doing it.
Humans are herd animals. You can see this in every political scandal, such as the current antisemitism row in the Labour Party, where otherwise intelligent people will defend indefensible behaviour by a colleague – behaviour which they would condemn vociferously from anybody outside their clique. This herd instinct is a natural one – in prehistoric times, sticking together no matter what kept our forebears alive and we wouldn't be around if they hadn't.
In modern organisations, however, this instinct manifests itself as what I call institutional inertia – and it can make the life of the change agent very difficult not least for sustainability practitioners. We often feel we are (swapping metaphors mid-blog) swimming against the tide, slowly exhausting ourselves until we get swept along with the rest.
However, as every schoolchild will tell you, if you get caught by a tide, you shouldn't swim against it, but at 90° until the combination of the tide and your efforts get you to a point of safety. This is the thinking behind my Green Jujitsu approach to employee engagement – don't fight the current culture, but find a way to work with it to get where you want to go.
I had a fantastic day out at the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange at Harrogate yesterday. I used to be a regular facilitator at these events when they toured the country between 2010-2012 and I loved them as they promoted discussion over presentation and everybody learnt from each other. In fact the round table format was a formative influence on the design of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group.
Yesterday, I gave a speech on Green Jujitsu as a better approach to employee engagement. I took a (slightly noisy) recording which you can hear here: