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18 October 2017

Making Sustainability Robust to Sudden Change

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What happens if your super-Sustainability-champion-of-a-CEO suddenly announces their retirement? How do you make sure your Sustainability programme survives the inevitable upheaval? It was questions like this that my Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group considered recently in the gorgeous and historic surroundings of the Undercroft at the Live Theatre, Newcastle.

The Masterminds chose three such upheavals to discuss and below is a selection of the resulting learning points. As we operate under the Chatham House rules, the identity of the members and the conversation leading up the generic points has not been recorded.

Change in the C-suite

  • Research the incomer’s background (eg via LinkedIn) and tailor your pitch to their interests (ie Green Jujitsu) for example, talking $ to someone with a CFO past;
  • Embed Sustainability so deeply and overtly that any incoming CXO knows exactly what they’re getting themselves in for (and the ‘wrong type’ doesn’t apply);
  • In particular, have commitment and coherent message coming from rest of C-suite and senior management;
  • Align Sustainability Strategy to the business case as it applies to your organisation so backpedalling is counter-productive to the business;
  • Stick to the plan until you are told otherwise; you don’t need permission to do Sustainability;
  • A new face may bring new opportunities to address issues which weren’t on the agenda before.

Read the rest of this entry »

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13 October 2017

Sustainability Bites 13/10/17

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites where I really struggle to find anything to criticise in the UK Government's Clean Growth Strategy, so I turn to Donald Trump who never fails to disappoint.
 

 

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10 October 2017

The State of Sustainability in UK Politics

As a political geek, I've been following the UK's party conference season as avidly as usual. My theory is that the content of the Leaders' speeches are the true measure of commitment of each political party to the Sustainability agenda. After all, it doesn't matter what is discussed earnestly on the fringes, if it doesn't penetrate the Leader's speech then it can hardly be a true priority.

The problem with this theory is that the shadow of Brexit has dominated these speeches over recent years, so I thought I'd add in a brief summary of other notable conference commitments. As usual I will try my best to be non-partisan, but I must declare my membership of the Liberal Democrats. Speaking of which, first up was:

1280px-Official_portrait_of_Sir_Vince_Cable_crop_2Vince Cable, Liberal Democrats

Cable talked quite a lot about climate change and green issues; most of it expounding the Lib Dems' achievements in the Coalition Government, expressing fears for some of those achievements under Tory rule and concerns over Brexit (noting the significant overlap between Euroscepticism and climate change denial in UK politics). He made a clear forward commitment – "Liberal Democrats will always fight for the green agenda" – but the speech lacked any more concrete proposals.

This was an opportunity missed, as the Lib Dems had earlier agreed at target of net-zero emissions by 2050 and adopted a plan which would take us 93% of the way there. A simple reference to this policy would have lifted Cable's speech way up the green-o-meter.

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Read the rest of this entry »

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6 October 2017

Sustainability Bites 6/10/17

Here's this week's edition of Sustainability Bites, covering the Sustainability elements of the Conservative Party Conference (more than you'd think), the latest green energy record and some of the exciting things that I've been doing this week. Comments in the comments!

 

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13 September 2017

Embedding Sustainability: Bottom Up or Top Down?


This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from 'Rob' (names have been changed to protect the bashful) – should you approach Sustainability from the bottom up or the top down? In response, I say both, plus another angle and add some strong caveats... Comments in the comments, please!

Ask Gareth depends on a steady stream of killer sustainability/CSR questions, so please tell me what's bugging you about sustainability (click here) and I'll do my best to help.

You can see all previous editions of Ask Gareth here.

 

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30 June 2017

Perfect Green Jujitsu

Green Jujitsu Venn

On Wednesday I was delivering a workshop upskilling green champions at one of my healthcare clients. Just before we got into the meat of the session, learning about green jujitsu (see above) in order to engage effectively with their colleagues, the director with responsibility for Sustainability (amongst a much wider portfolio of responsibility) arrived to talk to the champions.

I'm always a little nervous at times like these as I have to keep my fingers crossed that what 'The Boss' says is aligned to what I am trying to communicate. While I have done a boardroom session where I used green jujitsu to get the board to make the links between the health and sustainability agendas, I haven't explicitly coached them in the technique.

I needn't have worried, the director told the champions clearly that, as their mission was to save and improve lives, then Sustainability was very much part of that mission, whether in terms of air quality, reduction of toxic materials or climate change. That is the perfect green jujitsu, when you can link Sustainability to the core purpose of the organisation.

I then explained the principles of green jujitsu to the champions. We all filter out all the stuff that doesn't interest us and pay attention only to what we want to – like flicking through the magazines in the dentist's waiting room until an article or picture catches our attention. So to get people's attention in Sustainability, you have to find the elements of Sustainability which get through their filters.

If your message is "Stop thinking about what you are passionate about and think about what I am passionate about", you start to sound like the pub bore. My client's employees are passionate about health, so health becomes the starting point every time.

 

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12 June 2017

What does the election result mean for Sustainability?

what can I do

Well, that was weird, wasn't it? The winners lost and the losers won.

The whopping Tory majority everybody expected (me included) didn't happen, and PM Theresa May now has a minority Government supported by an agreement with 10 Northern Irish DUP MPs. 'Unelectable' Jeremy Corbyn's much mocked (by me amongst others) rallies turned out to have struck a chord with the public, particularly the younger voter, and he gained rather than losing seats, although too few to form any kind of Government.

So what does this mean for the Sustainability movement? Here's my take: Read the rest of this entry »

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8 May 2017

At last, some political leadership on climate change

Emmanuel Macron Ministre de l'Économie, de l'Industrie et du Numérique

Emmanuel Macron

If you're of a liberal bent, then Emmanuel Macron's election as President of France is a welcome relief from the global political contraction into populist nationalism. And, if you care about the future of the human race and the natural world, then Macron mentioning climate change twice in his victory speech is a feast for the ears.

Twice. My rule for political speeches is once is a nod to an IMPORTANT ISSUE, twice is a significant commitment.

Regular readers will know that I believe that leadership is the critical issue for Sustainability. Obama understood this, but Obama is gone (well, Barack anyway), and most political leaders of the centre ground - including almost every UK Prime Minister I can think of - will say the right things, but do a little less than everybody hopes. The recent rise in right-wing populism threatened even that half-baked progress.

There is far more leadership on climate change coming from business at the minute than politics. That's not a bad thing as business is our supply chain where most of our carbon footprint lies. But imagine a world where political and business leaders vied for who could make the most difference. That truly would be something to behold.

But in the meantime: félicitations Macron, en marche!

Photo: Ecole polytechnique Université Paris © creative commons license

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5 May 2017

Breaking out of the Sustainability Silo


This month's Ask Gareth answers a great question from 'Bill' (name has been changed) which many face – how do you put together a Sustainability Strategy in a vacuum? I explain three steps to breaking out of the Sustainability Silo and getting key decision makers involved.

Ask Gareth depends on a steady stream of killer sustainability/CSR questions, so please tell me what's bugging you about sustainability (click here) and I'll do my best to help.

You can see all previous editions of Ask Gareth here.

 

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26 April 2017

Beware the HiPPO

2560px-Hippo_mouth_opening

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.

 

Photo © Jon Connell used under creative commons licence

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27 February 2017

Ambling towards a low carbon economy

grass feet small

A funny thing has been happening in the UK over the last 7 years. We have had two Conservative Prime Ministers since 2010 who have rarely paid more than lip service to sustainability issues in general and tackling climate change in particular. We have a press which is largely sceptical about climate change science, or possibly worse, cynically calculate that climate denial sells papers. Green activists fume and rage about all of this, but how come UK renewable energy is booming and coal is dying?

Here's a few things which might explain things:

1. Ninja legislation: Some simple legislation, such as Feed-In Tariffs, the press and green activists can get their head around, but there are other bits and pieces which are more complex and stealthy in operation. A good example is the Carbon Price Floor, which has been  lurking quietly in the background putting the coal-fired power sector to the sword and boosting the opportunities for renewables.

2. Supply and Demand: one good reason for cutting solar feed-in tariffs is that they have been far more effective than their designer, one Ed Miliband, expected, leading to a precipitous fall in solar PV installation prices. Cutting the tariffs may have slowed the original goldrush, but installations continue to make financial sense. Demand not only pushes down prices, but incentivises innovation – a virtuous cycle which will drive ever more demand and remove the need for any subsidy in time.

3. Responsible Business: as businesses grasp the full business case for Sustainability (ie going beyond a simplistic 'go green, save money' mindset), they are investing in renewables whatever the direct financials as they know the indirect benefits (PR, winning business, attracting and retaining staff) will deliver many times the return.

4. High fossil fuel prices: while the price of oil plummeted from its 2008 peak, at $55 a barrel, we are still facing historically high oil prices and the $147 peak in 2008 is a brutal reminder that nailing your colours to the fossil fuel mast brings significant risk.

Which all begs the question, how good could the UK be if senior politicians showed real leadership and the press woke up and smelt the coffee? I live in hope, perhaps naively.

In the meantime, if they don't do it, the rest of us will get on with the job!

 

 

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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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3 October 2016

Activate your sustainability programme!

cosm7-template

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;
  • Demonstrate progress;
  • 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.

 

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2 September 2016

Why I'm an Eco-optimist

grass feet small

There's an old joke:

An optimist says the glass is half full,

A pessimist says the glass if half empty,

An engineer says the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

I'm an engineer so, naturally, I'm an entirely rational person who acts purely on objective evidence. Except of course I'm not, I just like to think I am. Like everybody else us engineers are irrational, fearful, illogical and we distort our perception of the world to match our inner feelings. But I do  make a real effort to read both sides of an argument, if only to understand which side I am rejecting – the most depressing thing in the world is people who are so (un)sure of their worldview that they boycott newspapers who write something that challenges it.

Speaking of the press, I heard a quote attributed to Nassim Taleb yesterday along the lines of "Judging the world from newspapers is like judging a city by spending a night in its hospital emergency room" (I'm taking that on trust, Google wouldn't cough up the original words). This reflects the fundamental rule that good news rarely if ever dominates the flow of negativity from the media. So we get the tales of gloom and doom from both sides of the green debate – the "we're all doomed!" brigade and the "eco-loons want to impoverish us" squad. Any good news, like the fact that 25% of the UK's electricity is now from renewables without any adverse effect on our lifestyle, passes by both groups without notice.

But it's more than who's right and who's wrong – both negative points of view switch people off. Only hope can galvanise us. Martin Luther said "I have a dream" not "I have a nightmare" (as pointed out by Shellenberger and Nordhaus more than a decade ago). The people who will deliver Sustainability are not the doomsters, but those who grasp the opportunity to change, like the late Ray Anderson of Interface, Tesla's Elon Musk or Unilever's Paul Polman.

My influence is less than these guys, but I do my best to counterbalance the doom. As well as orienting my consultancy, training and coaching towards pragmatic solutions, I have developed the habit of seeking out and sharing good news, ideally on a daily basis. This is not because I think the sustainability challenge is trivial, but because, without hope, the challenge is impossible.

 

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15 July 2016

Mayday? The Green Guide to the new UK Cabinet

Theresa_May_UK_Home_Office_(cropped)So, another momentous week in UK politics. We get our second ever female Prime Minister in Theresa May and a very new looking cabinet. Here's my quick guide as to who's who from the point of view of the green/Sustainability agenda.

Theresa May, Prime Minister

As with much about Mrs May, her attitude to green issues is a bit of a mystery. Her initial speeches were big on One Nation values when it came to socio-economic issues, but the environment didn't even get a token mention. This isn't encouraging, however BusinessGreen reports that a delegation of 'green Tories' including key lieutenant Amber Rudd sought and secured assurances that a May Government would pursue climate change goals. As always, leadership is key, so Mrs May will need to make her position clearer if the green economy is to thrive.

Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Predecessor George Osborne was regarded as a serious brake on the green economy over his tenure. Not quite a climate sceptic himself, the 'lukewarmer'/anti-renewables/pro-fracking lobby got a sympathetic hearing from Osborne. The 2010-2015 Coalition Government saw a whole series of pitched battles between the Chancellor and Lib Dem energy and climate secretaries.

Hammond may be seen as exceedingly dull, but in his former role as Foreign Secretary, he made a number of very important speeches on climate change. One in particular caught my eye as it made a case for action from a Conservative point of view to the American Enterprise Institute - using Green Jujitsu in the lions' den. I'm always more interested in right-of-centre arguments for cutting carbon than the traditional lefty case as we need to speak to the unconverted, not preach to the choir.

Overall, we should see the economic brakes easing as Hammond gets into gear.

Amber Rudd, Home Secretary

There's little in Rudd's new brief linked to the low carbon agenda, but given her commitment to the cause, the new Home Secretary will be a key supporter in Cabinet and importantly, as we have seen, she has the PM's ear.

Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Read the rest of this entry »

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13 July 2016

Helping Sustainability survive a change in leader

Close up exchanging relay baton on a relay race.

Well, the UK and the US are currently in the process of changing their political leadership. Many commentators are trying to second guess the implications for the low carbon economy, but I'm keeping my powder dry until the dust settles. It did, however, get me thinking about change at the top.

The best organisations at Sustainability almost always have an inspirational leader. So what happens when they come to the end of their tenure and somebody else steps up? It is a real risk that the new leader doesn't have the same commitment as their predecessor and progress will tail off.

This happened to a client of mine some years ago and we dedicated a coaching session to managing the transition. While most of our discussion was company specific (and confidential) some of the generic principles were:

  • Don't be defensive – your outward attitude must be that Sustainability continues to be core to the business and there is not reason to change. If you aren't confident in what you do, it will come across as unimportant to the organisation.
  • Translate Sustainability for the new incumbent's worldview – ie Green Jujitsu. New leaders generally like to get 'up to speed' before they change anything, so make sure you can explain Sustainability in terms they will understand (eg $ for someone from a finance background, technical innovation for an engineer, market opportunities for an entrepreneur).
  • Find an excuse to involve the new leader – engineer a speaking engagement for them on Sustainability, or a new opportunity for consideration.

In other words, don't give them a chance to question Sustainability before they've experienced the benefits!

 

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11 July 2016

Sustainability Leadership = Vision x Competence

SilhouettesAs I type, the UK is in a leadership vacuum at one of the most critical junctures in post-war British politics. Following the surprise Brexit vote to leave the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron bailed out, and now two very different women, safe pair of hands Theresa May and more traditional but untested Andrea Leadsom vie for the top job. In the main Opposition Labour Party, left-wing members' favourite Jeremy Corbyn will today be challenged by the more centrist, and more experienced, Angela Eagle on the ground that the party lacks direction.

In both cases, the two Parties' members have a choice between direction and competence. Corbyn and Leadsom undoubtedly match more closely with the grassroots' preferred policies compared to their rivals, but both look seriously underpowered when it comes to the ability to do the job. It will be a tough decision, and those of us on the outside sit uncomfortably, but enthralled (in my case), on the sidelines watching.

I have long held that leadership is the difference between the best at corporate sustainability and the rest. The best sustainability leaders combine the vision to see the right direction to go and the capability to take the organisation in that direction. Or as the cliché goes: doing the right things and doing things right.

I emphasised the 'and' there because, as in politics, we cannot afford to make it 'or'. Can you do both?

[Update: 13:45: Leadsom withdraws from Conservative leadership race]

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17 June 2016

What makes people make greener decisions?

world brainI'm coming to the end of one of my favourite ever projects – some research into what motivates a client's employees to make greener decisions. I started off with a review of the academic literature and what struck me was how inconsistent it was. I've just checked for any new academic papers published in the meantime, and I found the same. Every study or meta-study I read came up with different conclusions, which is very frustrating.

If I had to nominate the three, highly interlinked, factors I think make the most difference, I would plump for:

  1. Leadership: commitment flows from the top, and transformational leadership is required to deliver the scale of change required.
  2. Culture: few people will stride out on their own, they need to feel they have their peers at their side.
  3. Participation: directly involving people in Sustainability is the surefire method of getting them enthused and will give them a deeper understanding of the issues than any lunchtime lecture.

OK, that's just a gut instinct answer, but given the paucity of evidence from academia, it seems as good a guide as any.

What do you think?

 

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15 April 2016

Green Jujitsu at the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange

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:

Audio MP3

I also facilitated a session on 'getting colleagues on board', and the conclusions were:

  • Match language to audience
  • Legacy is a strong driver for CEOs
  • Peer pressure works
  • No evangelism
  • Middle management need formal objectives
  • Awards attract attention
  • Let colleagues pitch pet projects – the best get implemented
  • Give targets branding (even 'characters') to make them easy to communicate
  • Removing barriers is as important as new ventures;
  • Human interest stories beat case studies
  • Stretch targets grab attention

If much of that sounds familiar, one of the delegates had read Green Jujitsu and was quoting from it at length!

 

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8 April 2016

In Sustainability, "Everybody's Responsibility" = "Nobody's Responsibility"

what can I do

As regular readers, will know, as well as my day job as sustainability consultant/pontificator, I have another day job which fits round it of local councillor. A subset of that job is, unsurprisingly perhaps, Opposition Spokesman on Sustainability Issues.

Now, while I keep this blog free of partisan party political stuff, it is fair to say that when my party lost control of the Council back in 2011, Sustainability has dropped from a first tier priority down to the third tier of "other things we should really do". But in the last few months, it has suddenly bubbled back to the second tier, much to my delight – I finally have something to scrutinise.

While the new initiative is quite good, the thing that bothers me is that the responsibility for it is really unclear. Two of the ten Cabinet members have formal responsibility for climate change, but the new initiative was led in the press by a third, and a fourth member presented the report on the new initiative.

When challenged as to who was 'it', the answer was the same one we hear across many organisations. "We are trying to make sustainability everybody's responsibility." That line always reminds me of the old story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody...

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

As I have argued many times, professionally and politically, somebody has to show responsibility from a leadership point of view. Somebody has to be driving that change, somebody has to stand up and defend progress (or lack of it), somebody has to be the 'face' of sustainability.

With my clients, I always recommend:

  1. There must be clear and visible leadership at both an executive and an operational level;
  2. Responsibility for sustainability in key middle management positions should not be left to chance – sustainability KPIs should be translated for those job roles and embedded into personal objectives;
  3. Once those formal roles are set, "everybody's responsibility" can be delivered through peer networks and employee engagement – but you should have no doubts that it is unlikely to deliver more than reasonable incremental change.

 

 

 

 

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