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11 November 2015

Leadership, Sustainability & Visibility

bowlerI'm very proud to be working on a project with the world leaders on corporate sustainability, Interface. The results of this work will be made public next year, but it is very clear from my many interactions with Interface employees and stakeholders that Ray Anderson, the founder of the company and its Mission Zero sustainability programme, is still held in highest regard some four years after his death.

I follow a couple of twitter feeds who supply inspiring business and management quotes (I like a good quote, even if many are misattributed) and one caught my eye this morning:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves ~ Lao Tzu

Now I know I'm walking on thin ice criticising the (purported) author of the Tao Te Ching, but is this always the case?

On one level I understand the need to get individuals to claim ownership of sustainability issues, solve them and take credit for the results. But 'barely know he exists'? We look to our leaders to show us the direction of travel, for permission to act and for permission to fail. Otherwise every organisation could run itself.

I certainly don't think Interface could have gone through the radical transformation it has over the last two decades without Ray Anderson nailing his colours to the mast. And where Interface has led, competitors and other industries have followed. Visible leadership matters in sustainability.


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8 October 2015

Sustainability and the The UK's Conference Season

cam huskie splitEach year, I analyse the UK political leaders' conference speeches to gauge their party's commitment to green issues. My theory is that the leaders' speeches are a much better indicator of the priority the parties give sustainability than those of their environmental/energy spokespeople. In my analysis I have disregarded any glib statements and attacks on political rivals. Instead I try to focus on positive proposals and/or visions for a sustainable future.

So, in chronological order:

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrats

Given the beating the Lib Dems took at this year's General Election, new leader Tim Farron had to make an impact and certainly surprised a few with his oratory (usual disclosure: I'm a Lib Dem and I know Tim quite well). While most of the green elements of the speech involved knocking the Tory Government for dismantling policies the Lib Dems put in place in the previous coalition, he put sustainability at the centre of his economic vision:

The heart of [the future] economy will be green industries: renewable energy, low-carbon transport, green finance – all areas in which Britain is already a world leader.

There are more offshore wind turbines around our coasts than everywhere else in the rest of the world put together.

These industries are making products and technologies which a decarbonised world will want to buy. They will bring jobs, exports and prosperity and at same time reduce emissions and tackle climate change.

Natalie Bennett, Green Party

As you would expect, the environment featured widely in the Green Party leader's speech, but most of it concerned either what the Green Party was against (fracking, coal bed gasification, nuclear power) or how rubbish everybody else was at tackling green problems. In terms of policy, Bennett pushed addressing fuel poverty and a 'small is beautiful' vision for the economy:

The Green Party has long championed treating our homes as the critical national infrastructure that they are – a plan to lift nine out of 10 households out of fuel poverty, to create at least 100,000 jobs, and cut carbon emissions. Not bad for just one Green policy!

The Green Party has long demanded investment in public transport, not the botched, illogical HS2, but local and regional schemes that help to rebalance our economy, linked to local bus services under the controlling hand of local councils. Such a transport policy would not only tackle congestion and air pollution, but also help to cut the NHS bill for dealing with obesity and diabetes. Not bad for just one Green policy!

And we've long understood that the only secure, sustainable economic future is based in strong local economies, with local needs met by local suppliers, with a rich ecology of farming, manufacturing and services businesses supporting each other.

Nigel Farage, UKIP

Following a general election where they racked up millions of votes yet only won a single seat, the UKIP conference was the most combustible with public shouting matches between major figures. UKIP have never pretended to be green and the sole reference to climate and industry in Farage's speech was "[The EU's] climate change obsession has destroyed industry across Europe." Moving swiftly on...

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party

The new leader of the Labour Party was a surprise (not least to himself) – a 30 year veteran of the left. Never known as an orator, Corbyn's ramshackle delivery was rescued by the fact that we knew he genuinely meant every word he said. However, his sole green policy proposal was a rehash of an old, recently ditched one, and didn't come with any detail attached.

A Green New Deal investing in renewable energy and energy conservation to tackle the threat of climate change.

David Cameron, Conservative Party

The Prime Minister gave a quite extraordinary speech to his party faithful, driving his tanks not just into the centre ground, but arguably into the centre-left. However, this didn't include what would be to me the obvious target, climate change and the green economy with the former getting an oblique reference and the latter nothing. As one pundit put it, plenty of 'hug a hoodie', no 'hug a husky'.


So, from a sustainability point of view, the leaders' speeches were rather depressing, with only Farron and Bennett having anything of substance to say and them having but 9 MPs between them. The choice between those two is the 'small is beautiful' idealism of the Greens and the 'green growth' vision of the Lib Dems.


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21 September 2015

Is there any mileage in unethical business?

vwIt's well known that car makers use all kinds of tricks to bump up the apparent fuel efficiency of their vehicles (surely easily sorted by the authorities with a little effort), but the revelation that VW had engineered their diesel cars to only switch on emissions controls when they are being tested beggars belief. The company faces fines up to $18bn in the US, an expensive recall programme and untold reputational damage.

As an engineer, it pains me that (presumably) a whole bunch of engineers were in on this scam. They would've been much better off putting all that effort into creating engines which meet standards and give great performance.

The VW boss Martin Winterkorn has ordered an 'external investigation' into the scandal, but the question he needs to ask himself is how he let a culture develop where this kind of thing was deemed acceptable.


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25 August 2015

When we need constancy on Climate Change, we get inconsistency

ObamaA slew of dissonant news items have hit our eyeballs in recent weeks:

  • President Obama launching tough carbon reduction regulations for power stations, then approving oil drilling in the Arctic;
  • Shell's signing up to a climate change resolution to report on how its activities will contribute to reducing temperature rises to 2°C, then starting oil exploration in the Arctic;
  • UK, Energy & Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd making a fine speech on the economic impact of climate change (gist: the right should be as worried as the left), while dismantling many renewable energy/energy efficiency incentives in favour of shale gas.

I have long argued that leadership is key to sustainability. If our leaders aren't acting, then a majority of us won't act. According to academic leadership guru Warren Bennis, one of the key elements in whether we trust our leaders is constancy – "the quality of being faithful and dependable" (see my book The Green Executive for more). Contradictory actions lead to cognitive dissonance which in turn leads to confusion and dismay.

Whether we are leading the free world, a mega-corporation, a start-up or a community group, people expect constancy from us. And, crucially, they will judge it by gut instinct, not by an intellectual argument. Constancy isn't easy, and you'll never manage it 100% of the time, but you need to get the big calls right.


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15 July 2015

What's the X Factor in Sustainability Leadership?

green superhero

I've often said leadership is the difference between the best and the rest in sustainability, but of course there's leadership and there's leadership. Management boffins sometimes categorise three different styles (in order of increasing effectiveness):

  1. Laissez-faire: no real leadership – organisation is allowed to drift;
  2. Transactional: business as usual with interventions only to fix problems;
  3. Transformational: visionary leadership with all resources focussed on meeting the vision.

If we apply that model down to the narrower field of sustainability leadership, it is clear that the big names – the late Ray Anderson of Interface, Sir Stuart Rose at M&S, Paul Polman at Unilever, Jeff Immelt at GE – you can see all the fingerprints of transformational leadership.

If that's the best, then most of the organisations I come across are in the transactional level. They may have gained buy-in to launch a programme and get the CEO to write a bland introduction to the annual report, but there's no drive from the top. Nobody is asking "Why aren't we the best in our sector in sustainability?" Nobody is writing a big cheque. And they get incremental improvements at best,

The difficult bit of course is getting from here to there as it has to come from within the leader – here's how I do it!



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5 June 2015

Sustainability is BORING!

broing training

This week I delivered a sustainability workshop for the executive team of one of my longstanding clients. Engaging at this level is tough – these guys are at the pinnacle of their organisation and they didn't get there by being dupes. And they are used to questioning everything, you can't get away with generalisations or platitudes. Tough, but I like the challenge.

As we started off, the default position was, at best, cautious:

"What do we need to do to keep out of jail?"

"We shouldn't do anything which isn't cost effective."

"The new Government doesn't seem to be prioritising this."

By the end, however, the executive had decided to make the already challenging proposed targets significantly more ambitious, to drive forward work on renewable energy and were throwing around some quite radical ideas on their business model (so radical I wasn't allowed to take them out of the seminar room!) There was no sudden tipping point, but as we explored the issues, the attitude shifted decisively from being warily reactive to boldly proactive.

During the wash-up session, I mused on this change. One participant shot straight back:

"Sustainability sounds so boring – it just isn't an inspiring word. But, as soon as we started getting stuck into the issues, it turned out to be really fascinating!"

This was music to my ears as my whole approach to engagement is to get people properly involved, working out for themselves what sustainability means to them and their organisation. I don't tell people what to think – least of all senior managers. From the moment I walked up to the flipchart, pen in hand, and asked "Why should you take sustainability seriously?" I got them to do all the work, selling sustainability to themselves.

Classic green jujitsu, in other words.



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3 June 2015

Greetings from Bristol, European Green Capital


I'm down in Bristol for a couple of days to deliver a senior management/director sustainability workshop for one of our long-standing clients. I worked in this City for a couple of months about 20 years ago (gulp) but this is my first proper visit since then – I've only used it as a staging point in the meantime. The big news here, of course, is that the City won the European Green Capital for 2015.

I'm quite jealous as, with my Councillor hat on, I helped steer my adopted city, Newcastle upon Tyne, to the top of the now-defunct Sustainable Cities Index run by Forum for the Future in 2009 and 2010 – beating Bristol and other cities with a green reputation such as Brighton. We had been sizing up a Green Capital bid just before the electorate consigned me to the opposition benches and I spent an enjoyable couple of days in Stockholm learning from other interested cities across Europe and gauging the competition. The incoming Council administration submitted a bid and fell well short, having pooh-poohed my advice that we would need to up our game to compete. It took Bristol three attempts to get it, so I wasn't wrong.

What I found from the Sustainable Cities experience is that these really high profile awards are surprisingly good at creating forward momentum. The old cliché "success has many fathers, failure is an orphan" was all too true – all sorts of people came out of the woodwork to claim credit through what were sometimes tenuous links, but we let them join the celebrations without getting arsey about it and used it to get them to actually do something.

Bristol is taking an similarly inclusive approach, asking organisations to sign a pledge in order to take part. The pledge isn't that onerous, which is a good thing – a high bar would simply lead most to sit back and do nothing. Once you get them engaged, you can use the momentum of participation to encourage them forward.

But the key success factor in sustainability is the same as it is in any organisation, country or community – leadership. Newcastle topped the Sustainable Cities Index because of the leadership of my colleague and cabinet member Cllr Wendy Taylor. After the change in political control, sustainability was dropped from the Council's priority list and the City's reputation has faded. In Bristol, Mayor and architect George Ferguson has put his reputation on the line to win the European Capital status and he and his red trousers have been at the forefront of the bid.

Leadership makes all the difference. That's what I'm working on for our client. In the meantime, I'll take a wander around the City and see if I can spot the poo-bus.


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1 June 2015

For Blatter or Worse

muddy footballAnother week, another massive ethical scandal – this time the curtain has been drawn back on the seething pit of corruption that is Fifa with the arrest of seven Fifa officials on the eve of its annual meeting. More arrests are expected.

Most people would have expected more heads to roll, but at the meeting Fifa president Sepp Blatter was easily re-elected and immediately cast himself as a reformer.

Now, as a number of people have pointed out (for example Vivek Chaudhary), Blatter has largely been a force for good in world football – opening up the cosy European cartels and making it a truly world game. In particular he has shifted cash from the wealthy leagues into those in developing countries and delivered the first World Cup Finals in Asia and Africa.

But, as I have argued over and over again, culture flows from leadership. There is no way such endemic corruption could have taken root in the organisation without, at the very least, the tolerance of the man at the top. No matter what good he has done, justice requires Blatter should go and let someone else take over the reins. Otherwise nothing will change.


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28 May 2015

The dumbest guys in the room

Last week, I finally caught "The Smartest Guys in the Room" – the story of the Enron scandal. If you have an interest in business ethics or corporate social responsibility, it is a damning tale of greed, egotism and self-delusion.

Imagine the culture in an organisation where the (perceived) weakest 15% of employees are fired each year. Where the organisation can report profits on energy projects which haven't even been built (or sometimes never were). Where people can be given multi-million dollar bonus for those imaginary profits. In such a poisonous environment, you can imagine that organisation deliberately withholding energy to the State of California until blackouts to push up electricity prices, so they can sell that energy at a premium.

And the extraordinary thing is how many people went along with it. The documentary referenced the Milgram experiments where ordinary people were persuaded to administer dangerous electric shocks to screaming actors (I had never seen the footage of these legendary and terrifying sessions before - truly harrowing).

And how did it end? In tears. The house of cards collapsed, the authorities started investigating and, of the two smartest guys in the room, Jeff Skilling went to jail and Kenneth Lay died awaiting his fate. In a word: Dumb.

But the lesson is, once again, culture beats everything else and culture flows from the top.


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13 May 2015

Practising what you (don't) preach

This month's Ask Gareth considers a corker of a question from Staffordshire University's Dave Moreman: "How can you ask others to behave more sustainably when your own lifestyle is far from perfect?"

Do you agree with my views or disagree? Have you any great examples? Please add your views & experiences in the comments below.

You can see all editions of Ask Gareth here.


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23 March 2015

My Sustainability Brain Dump

cover170x170I was interviewed by Anthony Day for his weekly Sustainable Futures Show podcast recently and we had a great old chin wag which covered a whole range of my favourite sustainability topics:

  • How I got started in sustainability;
  • How others can get started;
  • The business case for sustainability;
  • Sustainability leadership;
  • How to do employee engagement properly (Green Jujitsu);
  • Integrating sustainability properly;
  • How the 80:20 rule can help you accelerate sustainability;
  • Measuring progress.

...and a whole lot more. You can hear what I had to say by clicking here.


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13 March 2015

Sir Ian Cheshire on Sustainable Business Leadership

sir ian cheshireI had a fantastically green night out in London on Tuesday. After an impromptu diversion into a St Patrick's, er, Month drinks reception at the Irish Embassy, my good friend Fiona Harvey, eminent Grauniad environment journo, took me to the extraordinarily posh Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall for dinner and, appropriately enough, an after-dinner talk.

The talk was 'Sustainable Business Leadership' by Sir Ian Cheshire, outgoing CEO of the Kingfisher Group (which owns B&Q). The knighthood was awarded for "services to business, sustainability, and the environment" and what Sir Ian said showed it was richly deserved – here are the quotes I scribbled down:

  • I am attracted to business with a mission and a purpose.
  • Don’t you want to work for a business which makes a difference?
  • Sustainability is the engine for our business.
  • Diversity in teams leads to a huge step forward; don’t pick people like you.
  • You have to recognise which decisions matter and what doesn’t: 4 or 5 big calls will determine 80% of your impact.
  • We live in a hyper-transparent world, you can’t pretend anymore.
  • Do you want to be moderately less evil or net positive? The latter’s much more exciting.
  • You’ve got to give people permission to try stuff.
  • It takes an incredibly long time to explain sustainability to your business – I found it took at least 5 attempts.
  • You’ve got to make your solutions relevant to the DNA of your business.
  • You’ve got to translate sustainability for people. There’s no Russian word for sustainability, but Russians love their forests and their water quality.
  • If you don’t understand the warp and weft of your business, sustainability will not work.
  • Corporates create space for Governments to act.
  • CEO questions can drive innovation.
  • Our drive for FSC kitchens cost us £30m, but the perception of quality in the marketplace went up.
  • Our biggest problem isn’t greenwash but greenhush. We don’t talk enough about what we are doing.
  • Ultimately you need sustainability solutions which scale. Without scalability, we won’t get sustainability.

My advice for anyone trying to deliver sustainability in their organisation is to plunder that list for ideas.


Disclosure: The dinner was a private one, so I have run the quotes past Sir Ian to check he was OK with them going public.

Photo taken from


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17 February 2015

Most leaders don't understand that leadership is critical to sustainability

Opening eyes

An anecdote from another consultant this week really resonated with me. He had a meeting with a C-level executive at a major client about an aspect of sustainability (you'll have guessed by now that I'm being deliberately vague to protect my colleague). The executive got rather hot under the collar because the consultant asked questions pertaining to the level of leadership on this issue. The meeting didn't end well.

This has happened to me many a time - at middle or senior management levels. When I used to do simple waste minimisation visits on behalf of the now defunct Envirowise, there was always the point where I was taken to the operations manager or production manager as the environmental manager, who had typically invited me in, couldn't answer the questions. So I would sit in the former's office, politely working through my questions while the temperature plummeted. Fierce glances would be fired at the environmental manager who would eventually cut the meeting short.

There's a big lesson for sustainability practitioners here - whether internal or external. People don't like to be challenged on their own patch. And the further up the reporting chain you go, the worse it gets.

This is exacerbated by the fact that many senior managers see paying lip service to sustainability as 'leadership'. It's not - leadership on sustainability almost always involves driving step changes in the way the organisation operates, not just finding the right words.

Unless you have built up a really trusting relationship with that individual, if you even imply that the putative 'leader' is not really leading, things can get very heated, very quickly.

My preferred approach is to help the leader work out for themselves what they need to be doing. Easier said than done, but it does work - and without any bruised egos.


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19 January 2015

The Rules of the Game - but whose rules?

secret raceAt the weekend I finished reading The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton - the coruscating inside story of the doping scandal that rocked the cycling world and eventually led to the downfall of its golden child, Lance Armstrong. Hamilton was telling the story from the point of view of a cheat, a liar and a fraud, but he asked the killer question: if you had fought to the very top of your field and then found that the only way to compete was to cheat, what would YOU do?

As I'm sure most people would reply, I'd like to think I'd blow the whistle. But would I?

Back in my early twenties, I was given a work placement in a small electronics company working in a very competitive field, with the axe always hanging over the workforce. As well as the QA work I was there to do, I was asked by one of the salesmen to help him out. He'd had a query from a potential client about the specs of their product compared to competitors. He asked me to put together the figures.

When I proudly presented them to him, he said "Right, go back and anywhere where our spec is below the others, bump ours up until it is even." I stared at him, gobsmacked. He gave me an avuncular look, "Look son, this is how you play the game, everybody does it, we wouldn't be able to compete if we didn't." I looked around at the other guys in the room. No-one spoke, but my boss nodded.

Of course I should have said "Do your own dirty work." but I didn't. I felt the peer pressure and caved. I went and changed the figures and passed them back to him.

It turned out that the dodgy figures were never used, so I never became an accessory to an actual deception. But that was just luck. Peer pressure from the prevailing culture had made me compromise my values. OK, it was a long, long way from cheating your way to 7 Tour de France yellow jerseys, but the underlying principle was the same, just (radically) different circumstances.

In banking, politics and the media, to name just a few, the culture has been so corrupted that cheating has become the norm. And the question is, are those people morally weaker than average, or are they just being human? Hamilton argues the latter.

Of course, the same cultural pressures can be used for good. In the same way that 'dopers' are now ostracised in pro-cycling, a positive ethical culture makes 'doing the right thing' seen as a virtue rather than as priggishness. If you want to have an ethical culture, you've got to show ethical leadership. When someone stands up and says "this isn't right" they need to be embraced, not ostracised.

And if you are interested in ethics, Hamilton's book's definitely worth a read!


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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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17 November 2014

A neat trick to engage your boss in sustainability

Tony_Abbott_-_2010An interesting thing happened at the G20 summit which took place in Australia over the weekend. Aussie premier Tony Abbott (right) is one of the few pro-coal, anti-climate action leaders in the world, but he ended up signing a communiqué including the following phrases:

We support strong and effective action to address climate change.

We reaffirm our commitment to rationalise and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

(I've stripped out the detail to focus on the commitments)

How did this happen?

A: Peer pressure.

With the weight of the leaders of the world's greatest economies pressing down on him, Abbott crumbled and signed. Whether he will act is another matter, but he signed - a significant step that he can be reminded of if he doesn't act.

How can you perform a similar miracle in your business if the boss, or one of the bosses, isn't interested?

Look to their peers and identify those who are taking sustainability seriously. Those peers could be individuals or they could be organisations. Then ask yourself: Are your competitors doing better on sustainability? Well, constantly compare your organisation to the best. Are you a member of a trade organisation? Suggest your boss gives a presentation on your sustainability programme. Has an individual peer been recognised? Work that into your communications.

The G20 showed that peer pressure works. Use it.

Photo © MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy) Creative Commons License


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3 November 2014

Science Has Spoken (Again) - Now What?

IPCCSo the cycle goes around again. The International Panel on Climate Change produces its five yearly synthesis report on the state of climate change science and, instead of triggering an outburst of action, we get another rather dreary media debate between NGOs, climate change 'sceptics' and politicians of all stripes.

Given that the report says acting now will prove much easier than playing catch up in a decade, what do we need to do to get going? Here's my happen'th:

1. Political Leadership: Obama is trying to make climate change a core plank of his second term, but seems to be hobbled by his own mediocre popularity rankings and the rampant, take no prisoners climate change denial of his Republican opponents. Our own David Cameron blows hot and cold. Other industrial powerhouses such as China and Germany are doing their bit, but hardly showing international leadership - that is to left to relatively poor countries such as the Philippines and the Maldives to tug at our heartstrings. Who is going to stand up and lead?

2. Business Leadership: as I've said many times, leadership is the difference between the best at sustainability and the rest. Sustainability leadership cannot be delegated to middle management - it must come from the top. And actions speak louder than words - let's see some real ambition.

3. A Flexible International Framework: different countries will have different risks, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses, we need a framework which allows countries to thrive while cutting carbon. Action needs to be rewarded as much as inaction is punished.

4. Open Minds: the report concludes that no single mitigation or adaptation measure will solve climate change. We need every weapon in our arsenal - even some we may personally not like. This applies to economics as well as technology - we need economies of scale in clean technology which an anti-business mindset will hinder, not help. NGOs will have to learn when they are helping and when they are hindering and adjust aim their guns appropriately.

5. Smarter Communication: Different people respond to different words, phrases and visions and we need top not only accept that, but positively embrace it. A few weeks ago I praised David Cameron for his framing of carbon reduction from a centre-right point of view - green growth, not green tape. Centre left thinkers may respond better to a message around collaboration, regulation and community action. Which is right? Both.

6. Positivity: we must not let the scale of the task frighten us, failures stop us in our tracks, or those throwing abuse from the sidelines put us off. We have a goal, let's go and do it - and have some fun while we're at it!


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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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6 August 2014

Ask Gareth: 5 Steps to Make Sustainability 'The New Normal'

In this edition of Ask Gareth, I set out the 5 things you really need to do to make sustainability 'the new normal' in your organisation.

You can see all editions of Ask Gareth by clicking here.

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Posted by Gareth Kane 2 responses

25 June 2014

What we can learn from Greenpeace's flying farrago...

epicfailIt is usually politicians who are brought down by preaching one thing and then being found to be practising quite the opposite. But now it is another of our moral guardians which has been found wanting - Greenpeace have admitted one of their directors, Pascal Husting, regularly commutes by air from his home in Luxembourg to the NGO's HQ in Amsterdam.

Husting's defence - that he has a young family, the train journey is a 12 hour round trip, and that the arrangement was only meant to be temporary - would stand up for anybody other than a senior staffer of an organisation which has campaigned fiercely against air travel.

While I respect Greenpeace and their aims, I've always been uncomfortable with that NGO tendency to preach at those who 'don't get it'. And, if you are going to make environmental protection a moral issue, then you cannot, and must not, live a high-carbon lifestyle out of convenience - because that's exactly what you are criticising others for doing.

It all comes down to authenticity - being what you say you are. If you are going to lead on sustainability, whether in an organisation or in public life, then you must be seen to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Set the standard for everyone and stick to it yourself, because people believe what they see, not what they read.

The coda is that a chastened Husting is now taking the train.


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