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4 July 2018

Are Sustainability accreditations worth the bother?

I spoke on the phone yesterday to the Sustainability Director of a major worldwide brand. She was exasperated as she was in the middle of a four month annual slog to complete the returns for a number of Sustainability accreditations to which the corporation has committed. We mused on the fact that every year was split into 8 months of delivering Sustainability projects and 4 months justifying what they had done. This is clearly an unhealthy ratio of action:bureaucracy.

So why bother?

This topic came up in passing at Monday's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group. The consensus of opinion was that standards and accreditations cannot drive Sustainability, but they provide a backstop against backsliding. After all, which board member wants to see a certificate removed from the head office atrium, leaving behind the bright rectangle of shame?

However that breaks both ways – once you are in, you're in, so choose which accreditations to pursue carefully as you don't want the tail wagging the dog for evermore.

 

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6 December 2017

BETA: Customer Engagement for Sustainability Model

Next week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting is going to consider how to engage customers in Sustainability. This is a huge issue as the bulk of many products' environmental impacts are in the 'use' phase and/or are determined by customer behaviour. Take food, for instance, not only is the cooking of the food a big chunk of its lifecycle impact, but storage and meal-planning will determine how much food actually gets eaten and how much goes in the bin unused.

However, when I hit Google to try and find the latest thinking on customer engagement, I didn't get much to go on. So, as usual, I made up my own model, the final version of which came to me over my early morning cuppa today. I thought I'd throw it out into the public to see what the response to it was.

It is, as you can see, the classic 2x2 business school matrix. The level of innovation and communication give us four broad categories:

  • Instruction: providing information e.g. the 'Wash at 30°C' campaign, the new 'fridge' logo for food;
  • Choice-editing: developing new products and services where the choice of being unsustainable is removed e.g. B&Q refusing to stock patio heaters, software to automatically shut down networked PCs at the end of the working day, product-service systems etc;
  • Dialogue: the customer can get in touch to query options or peer-to-peer support – help lines, chat support, forums, face-to-face user networks, transparency services;
  • Collaboration: new products/services are co-produced with customers, e.g. the NetWorks project between Interface and Aquafil.

Thoughts?

 

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17 November 2017

The Best Way to Engage People in Sustainability

Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group Workshop

I'm currently working with two clients on the roll-out of their Sustainability Strategies. Both of these roll outs basically involve delivering suitable workshops for key decision makers. The guts of each workshop will be a backcasting process where we work out what needs to change by 20XX and work backwards to the present day to determine what they need to start doing now to get on the right trajectory.

I also have designing the next Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (on customer behaviour) on my to do list. That means designing yet another workshop.

Basically, my consultancy consists of designing workshops, delivering workshops and turning the results of workshops into recommendations.

Why?

Because nothing gives people such an intense experience of what Sustainability means to their day job than working it out for themselves in a workshop format. You get buy-in and action plans. Workshops work.

If you want to find out how we use the workshop so effectively, including the backcasting process, check out our on-demand workshop facilitation masterclass. It contains all my secrets!

 

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18 October 2017

Making Sustainability Robust to Sudden Change

IMG_2999

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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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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7 July 2017

How to choose a Sustainability Accreditation

pencil figure checklistYesterday the Sustainability Masterminds were ensconced in the plush Boudoir of Acklam Hall in Middlesbrough to discuss the thorny topic of Sustainability accreditations – ISO14001, CDP etc. There was a discernible amount of accreditation fatigue in the room. These schemes are a huge drain on resources in terms of approval fees, gathering data and the auditing process. One member joked that he was permanently in one of three states:

  1. Preparing for an audit;
  2. Being audited;
  3. Recovering from an audit.

So it is very important to choose which accreditations to go for carefully. Some are essential, some add value; in some the tail is wagging the dog; others are ill-disguised income generators for Sustainability think tanks, but they all suck up time, money and effort. Another member set out a list of three reasons to plump for a particular accreditation:

  1. Legislation requires it;
  2. An important customer requires/expects it;
  3. It will drive change within your organisation way above and beyond what you could do without it.

If it doesn't meet at least one of these criteria, then forget it – there's no point in collecting expensive badges for the sake of it.

 

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15 March 2017

Sustainability Masterminds on Waste

Baltic view

Last week saw the seventeenth – seventeenth, blimey – meeting of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (an amazing venue, see above). Due to a couple of members being called away at the last minute, we postponed our proposed topic of maximising the value of accreditations, and did a series of short sharp sessions on topics that were bothering those in the room. The first of these was 'waste' and I thought I'd share some of the learning points arising:

  • Understand your waste streams, volumes and disposal routes
  • The true cost of waste is 10-30x disposal cost – and it ramps up from goods in to goods out as value is added
  • Use the 80:20 Rule – go for the big issues first eg product damaged at the end of the process
  • However, need to be cognisant of 'iconic' waste streams such as coffee cups. They may not be significant in practice, but laypeople often believe otherwise
  • General societal culture change in domestic recycling helps with recycling at work
  • Because it is tangible, waste can be used as an effective ‘entry drug’ for wider employee engagement for Sustainability.
  • Make sure reducing waste is always incentivised eg in tenancy agreements
  • Involve employees in developing waste solutions – you get better solutions and buy in
  • Don't empty recycling bins containing ‘wrong’ materials – makes the point very clearly
  • Make segregation easy and use a standard colour/logo scheme
  • Seeing somebody have to sort out mis-segregated materials can lead to a positive guilt trip (eg show the consequences)
  • Educate employees including understanding the benefits (eg £ per bag)
  •  Be careful with Waste Transfer Note terms & conditions – you could be signing an ongoing contract
  • Supermarkets are particularly good at waste reduction from suppliers – much to learn from them
  • Reduce ‘bought in waste’ from suppliers
  • Lean manufacturing techniques target and eradicate waste
  • Order dimensions and quantities carefully to avoid waste
  • Construction Site Waste Management Plans may not be legally required by law any more, but you can still insist on them in construction projects
  • Can use objective-oriented procurement and forward commitment procurement to drive innovation in waste management services

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6 January 2017

The Importance of Sustainability Conversations in 2017

Janus

Happy New(-ish) Year from Terra Infirma!

I write this from a ward of Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary after surgery on the little finger upon which I cleverly landed when out running/dancing-on-ice exactly a year ago. Not the most auspicious start to the year, but the enforced time out is giving me a chance to reflect on the last year or two and plan the year ahead.

One thing I have concluded is that our non-project delivery mechanisms often deliver much more value to our clients than the traditional consultancy project. A project is tightly defined and the client gets what they asked for. But in Sustainability it is often the stuff that people don't know that they don't know where major breakthroughs lie – those crucial issues take conversation to uncover, not phases and milestones and deliverables.

We have three main non-project delivery mechanisms (in increasing level of conversation richness):

But shameless plugs aside, with whom are you going to (or do you need to) have conversations about Sustainability in 2017? Is it everybody, or, more likely, key influencers? How will you start that conversation? What language will you use? What format will it take? And how will you work with the results?

And, as that last paragraph demonstrates, one of the best ways to kick off a conversation is with a question.

Here's to a successful and more sustainable 2017, full of rich conversation!

 

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29 December 2016

2016 at Terra Infirma Towers

If 2016 was a tumultuous one in world affairs – Brexit, Trump, Syria, all your childhood icons dying – it was a relatively calm one here at Terra Infirma Towers. It was a year of solid delivery rather than breakthrough and, possibly related, for me personally, spending a lot of time in physio to try (semi-successfully) to get the little finger I dislocated at the start of January working again. Many of my blog posts in 2016 were written in the coffee shop of the Royal Victoria Infirmary here in Newcastle (a client of ours, so I wrote it off as background research!).

From a work point of view, we delivered on several major projects started in 2015. Two of these, a research project on employee engagement for a major sustainability leader, and a sustainability strategy for NHSBT, will become publicly available next year. I intend to delve quite deeply into those for your benefit when they are launched as some of the content and lessons are really cool, if I may say so myself. A notable new client was Durham University, who we helped to embed sustainability into its mainstream engineering degree syllabus – a real passion of mine.

The Northern England Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (CoSM) continued delivering top value for its members. What I really like is when I see conclusions from CoSM shaping the sustainability programmes of members in practice. The Group will motor on in 2017 and we're looking to put together a Southern branch.

I put a lot of work updating our Green Academy webinar programme this year and we had some  great new companies signing up. If you want to try it out for free, our 2017 taster session is on 18 January.

So that just leaves me to thank all our clients, partners, associates, friends and family for their support in 2016 – and looking forward to 2017 and whatever it may hold!

 

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16 December 2016

Embedding Sustainability into Capital Investment Decisions

live-theatre-mastermindLast Friday saw the final Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting of 2016. We met at the wonderful Live Theatre in Newcastle and had a great lunch at the Theatre's Caffe Vivo.

The subject of the meeting 'Embedding Sustainability in Capital Investment Decisions' - a recurring topic when we discuss other issues. We got so many great insights it was very difficult to boil them down to just twelve for a blog post, but here goes:

  • Use bureaucracy to your advantage – get Sustainability into the checklists and stage gates;
  • You don’t have to tag all sustainability projects as sustainability projects – if it’s needed, it’s needed, full stop;
  • Challenge the status quo and have a good business case prepared in advance;
  • Delegate the job of ‘policing’ decisions on Sustainability to others or you will become a pinch point;
  • Pick the big impact issues and let the small stuff go (80:20 rule);
  • Find the overlap between Sustainability requirements and company strategy;
  • Cosy up to key decision makers long before any decision is taken;
  • Understand the organisation’s financial rules inside out – they may be being applied in a way that unnecessarily prejudices against Sustainability;
  • Outcome based procurement allows potential suppliers to propose best way of fulfilling your needs;
  • Don’t consider anything with a negative impact on customer experience – it will almost certainly end in failure and rancour;
  • There’s always a focus on costs, but there’s nothing worse than reputational damage;
  • Make the case of the downside of less sustainable options/do nothing as well as the upsides of the sustainable options.

I've favoured the 'big strategic principles' in that list rather than the myriad of practical tactics which also arose. Alongside that were many company-specific ideas which we don't record as the Group operates under the Chatham House Rule.

If you are interested in the Mastermind Group then click here for more. The present group is based in the North of England, but we're investigating setting up a London branch in 2017, so if that interests you, please let me know as soon as possible.

 

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14 December 2016

Free Your Mind, and Sustainability Success Will Follow*

sunrise

We had a great Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group Meeting last Friday - I'll post more this Friday (I'm still writing the session up). But one comment really stuck with me over the weekend:

"The realisation that I didn't need everybody's buy-in, just the buy-in of those who matter [in this case], was really liberating, it really made the task achievable."

As I keep saying, the biggest barrier to Sustainability is the space between our ears. That applies just as much to practitioners as non-practitioners. We all get hidebound by self-limiting beliefs such as 'we have to get everybody bought into this' – Sustainability is difficult enough without placing (almost) impossible hoops to jump through along the way.

I recently posted 10 such self-limiting beliefs on a LinkedIn article which has attracted quite a bit of attention, most of it positive but some commentators are still wedded to ideals and political dogma over practicalities. That won't help them or anybody else move towards Sustainability.

 

* with apologies to George Clinton.

 

 

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10 October 2016

Supply Chain Wisdom from the Sustainability Masterminds

acklam-hall

The end of last month saw the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meet at the sumptuous Acklam Hall in Middlesbrough to discuss supply chain issues. Here's a baker's dozen of the many nuggets which emerged from the meeting for your delectation:

  • Many organisations have no idea about what’s in their supply chain which is an enormous risk as problems bubble upwards;
  • Poor supplier performance on Sustainability is often indicative of wider incompetence;
  • Need to keep an open mind regarding risks, eg slavery occurs in the UK as well as developing countries.
  • Write contract conditions to pass sustainability risks to the suppliers who represent those risks eg traceability;
  • Innovation should always be put into contract extension commitments to drive continual improvement;
  • Can be a tension between need to collaborate and get tough on suppliers – need to present carrots and sticks;
  • Get suppliers to solve your problems, rather than you trying to solve theirs;
  • Run award schemes for ‘supplier with best sustainability performance’ eg Johnson & Johnson;
  • Internally, need to align responsibility with authority so the actual decision maker is held accountable for the Sustainability implications of their decisions;
  • Consider using emotive words such as ‘Risks’ rather than ‘Sustainability’ on meeting agendas;
  • External speakers can sometimes bring gravitas that internal practitioners can’t;
  • Recruit people who have ‘been there, done that’;
  • Make suppliers compete on sustainability by having ‘open’ scoring system in addition to proscribed/box-ticking requirements.

The Mastermind Group meets quarterly in the North of England to discuss Sustainability issues under the Chatham House Rule. We are currently working on kicking off a South East branch with the first meeting pencilled in for 10 November. Contact me (gareth@terrainfirma.co.uk) for more details on either Group.

 

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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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30 September 2016

How to get the most from a Sustainability Expert

YodaWe had another great Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting yesterday, focussing on the supply chain (full summary next week). Almost every meeting ends up discussing the supply chain to some degree, and in turn the supply chain meeting was dominated by the need for engagement of procurement staff and suppliers. There's something of a hierarchy of subjects developing of which engagement is always at the base.

One engagement theme that emerged yesterday was how external experts and speakers can influence people in a way an internal change agent can't. This is kind of the opposite of 'not invented here', but it is certainly true that people often give more credence to an outsider with suitable status telling them about change than someone they know. We demonstrated this last Tuesday by getting Colin Thirlaway of Stanley Black & Decker to open proceedings to demonstrate that Sustainability was a real world business issue, not just a theoretical one.

I spend a lot of time facilitating workshop sessions for my clients. In this role my outsider status works really well, and I have one golden rule to maintain that independence:

I will never, ever become a proponent of 'the party line'.

Doing so would not only instantly destroy my position as the honest broker, but on a practical level, I will never understand the context or sensitivities sufficiently well to win an argument. If there's a message to be communicated, then I insist that a staff member take that role.

In fact, I've turned down the chance of a lucrative training contract with one of the world's largest brands because they insisted that a dubious health claim be included in the content. I couldn't defend that to anyone who challenged it, so I said no.

In other words, use an outsider to help with your engagement, but don't expect them to become an insider.

 

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15 June 2016

Catch Up: Sustainability Masterclass

people hands

Last week, we launched the inaugural Sustainability Masterclass – an attempt to get bring the power of the peer-to-peer learning we use in the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (CoSM) to the reach and accessibility of our Green Academy webinars. It was broadly successful with very positive feedback from participants.

You can catch the session by clicking here. You'll be prompted to download the Webex viewer and, for the full experience you should open the chat screen.

Having proved the concept, we are now going to have to work out how to continue delivering this into the future. If you want notification of future events, make sure you sign up to the Low Carbon Agenda (see box right).

 

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23 March 2016

Inside the Sustainability Mastermind Group

If you've ever wondered how our Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group operates, here are a few pics from the last meeting at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The topic of the meeting was Sustainability Strategy and you can see some of the generic learning points here.

Note the graphical template we use to structure the discussion, populating it with Post-its and the 'take home points' flipchart where we record generic lessons. No Powerpoint. This creates a fertile environment for sharing and learning about real, gritty sustainability at the coal face – not the glossy PR-honed version you get from bog standard conferences.

gforsterphoto-0941

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gforsterphoto-1054

 

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16 March 2016

We need unrealistic ambition, but realistic expectation in Sustainability

Sustainability Targets

I'm a big proponent of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal in Sustainability – I've always held Interface's Mission Zero (disclosure: a Terra Infirma client) as the epitome of ambition. There's no way Interface would have delivered the sustainability achievements they have if they hadn't set that vision of success. But it takes real guts to go for broke like that – what if you fall short?

A idea that came up at last week's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group was 'a threshold of realism'. In other words, if you set a zero waste target and you get to 99.9%, have you failed? Only a pedant would say 'No.', a reasonable person would say 'Wow! That's amazing!"

The real reason to set an 0%/100% target is not to meet it exactly (you've got the laws of physics against you if nothing else), but to inspire the organisation to think big and deliver the scale of change which will get you into that ball park. So have the guts to set ambitious goals, strive to meet them, but don't beat yourself up if you fall fractionally short.

 

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14 March 2016

Who keeps YOU on your toes on sustainability?

Baltic viewLast Friday we held the fourteenth meeting of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. The topic was sustainability strategy and I'll post a summary later in the week, but as usual a couple of important tangential issues arose.

And the one that sticks in my mind was the need for a tough 'critical friend' to keep sustainability practitioners on their toes. Often senior sustainability directors are given a remarkable amount of autonomy, other senior managers rarely have sufficient technical knowledge challenge them, and they have to rely on their own ethics and drive to keep them honest and going in the right direction.

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" as the Roman poet Juvenal put it (and yes, I had to google that...).

The Mastermind members concurred that, no matter how virtuous we think we are, we  should always have somebody to hold us to account. We need scrutiny and challenge to avoid complacency and drift.

An experienced and tough non-executive director is ideal. An external mentor is another alternative. But we need somebody.

 

 

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11 January 2016

Latest Wisdom from the Sustainability Masterminds

biscuit factory door
Just before Christmas, the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group met at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle. The topic was capacity building and engagement but as usual the conversation ranged widely and took in quite a few points about green procurement in particular. The group meets under the Chatham house rule so we cannot reveal who said what, but here are just some of the learning points arising from the discussion:

  • Think different – big carbon cuts require radical innovation;
  • Stretch targets give time for capital investment;
  • Only certify if and when required or there is unlikely to be a payback;
  • Analytics have progressed fast, but context hasn’t kept up (eg toxin limits are often set at lowest detectable levels);
  • Use ‘future-proofing’ as a driver to go beyond compliance;
  • Use fear of legislation (eg Reach) as a driver for action;
  • Use hardnosed sustainability consultants, many are too woolly;
  • “No demand” often means people don’t know what’s possible;
  • It is critical to change the pernicious ‘green = cost’ mindset;
  • Deliver people’s pet projects under guise of sustainability to improve acceptance;
  • Mandatory sustainability training can devalue the subject to ticking boxes;
  • Link behaviour to core of business and client satisfaction;
  • Output oriented procurement (letting suppliers write specification) can drive innovation in suppliers;
  • Forward commitment procurement can help get your supply chain ready for the future;
  • Contracts which ‘turn the screw’ on sustainability requirements can drive innovation;
  • Impact of green procurement is wider than one contract as it makes greener options available to others;
  • Contracts need to be cognisant of potential future regulatory changes.

I'm looking forward a fantastic 2016 for the group and so are its members - Colin Thirlaway, the global sustainability lead for Black&Decker, has described the group as "invaluable" - you don't get much better praise than that!

We have one place available on the group for a sustainability manager or sustainability director from a large organisation, preferably based in the north of England. If you would like to join a group or want more details then do not hesitate to get in touch.

 

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4 January 2016

Looking forward to a (more) sustainable 2016!

sunrise

Well, I'm sitting here, steaming gently after my first exercise of 2016, and pondering the year ahead. 2015 was the best year in Terra Infirma's history, however you measure it, and it's going to be a real  challenge to raise the bar in 2016. I've got some very exciting plans in store, along with the results of some fab client projects, at least one of which will be publicly available.

If you want to join us to make the sustainable business revolution happen in 2016, we have a whole load of ways to accelerate progress in your organisation:

  1. First up, make sure you're subscribed to The Low Carbon Agenda (see right), our free monthly sustainability bulletin. We're going to hit edition 100 in a couple of months and I'll be putting together some really great stuff for then.
  2. Secondly, try out our Green Academy on-line training, for free, by signing up to 16 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2016 on 20 January. I guarantee you'll get more than a couple of inspirational ideas out of it to kick off your year.
  3. The Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group hits its fourth birthday this year. It's my favourite thing that we do – a small group of sustainability leaders from some of the world's greatest organisations putting their heads together to learn from each other. One member who joined in 2015, Colin Thirlaway, Global Sustainability Lead for Black & Decker, described the group as 'invaluable' to his work. We have one seat free – contact me if you are interested!

Here's to a truly brilliant and sustainable 2016!

 

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