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16 March 2018

Stephen Hawking on Sustainability

As a member of that huge club who only got a third of the way through "A Brief History of Time", the death of Stephen Hawking this week marked the end of an era. Not so much in sadness, because this is a guy who managed to outlive the terrible prognosis of Motor Neurone Disease by a country mile. He made the most of the life he had by not only getting a new understanding of the Universe, but bringing those esoteric concepts of theoretic physics into the mainstream (even if they hurt our heads).

So I thought I'd mark Prof Hawking's passing with an extract from a Guardian article of his which really resonated with me:

We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.


We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility.


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5 March 2018

Sustainability... as a toaster?

No. I haven't gone crazy with snowbound cabin fever, I just happened to (re)read something about Steve Jobs which reminded me that Jobs' original concept for the Apple Mac was a computer like a toaster. Instead of having to immerse yourself in the arcane language and concepts of computer science and remember the secret codes of command line interfaces, you'd pull your Mac out of the box, plug it in and use it. Fast forward 35-odd years and toddlers can operate an iPad without knowing what an iPad is (I remember one of mine trying to 'swipe' the pages of a baby book as a tot).

What a brilliant analogy for how Sustainability should be. Far too many practitioners work on the premise that we have to change the worldview of 7.6 billion people, and then struggle to change behaviour in a couple of hundred in their organisation. They expect people to jump through hoops, accept shoddy systems, products and services, and dress everything up in a hair-shirt and wonder why people won't join their guilt trip. If you read a "we won't get to Sustainability without mindfulness" article, that's exactly what I'm talking about.

If we really want to make Sustainability happen then we've got to follow the Apple philosophy of simple, intuitive and desirable. If people take Sustainable options without even realising what they are doing, that's A-OK with me.


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29 January 2018

Sustainability is no place for the fickle

I saw a blog post last week entitled something along the lines of "Forget Carbon. The Latest Crisis Is Plastics." This would have annoyed me massively at the best of times, but particularly so given that Kick Ass Idea no 1 of my 12 Kick Ass Sustainability Ideas for 2018 webinar last week was "No Fads".

The point I was making was to avoid the entreaties of those constantly pumping out the 'latest thing in Sustainability' – a couple of years ago it was all about Creating Shared Value, then we were told that mindfulness was a prerequisite of Sustainability, now people are desperately trying to work out how blockchain can deliver Sustainability. This flighty faddism over techniques is distracting enough without people saying that, because the full scale of the plastics problem has hit the public consciousness, climate change is no longer a priority.

That, my friends, is highly dangerous bullshit.

One problem becoming clearer does not make another disappear. While it's almost impossible to compare two environmental problems objectively, my subjective opinion is that climate change remains the head and shoulders above the rest purely on the scale and range of its impacts – from extreme weather through sea-level rises to ocean acidification – there is no hiding place.

But, whatever your view on their relative scales, it is not beyond the wit of the human race to tackle two major problems at the same time. In fact one solution – the circular economy – will go a long, long way to tackle both the climate and ocean plastic crises.


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22 January 2018

Sustainability and true grit

En route to an early morning meeting today I came across the prone figure of a cyclist on one of our off-road cycle paths. As she clambered to her feet and checked nothing was broken, she said she had thought the sheet of ice across the path was slush and, indeed, it looked as if slush had frozen overnight then started to melt this morning resulting in an incredibly slippy rutted surface.

One of my campaigns as a Councillor is to get the City's strategic cycle routes, of which this is part, gritted in cold weather. We have a transport policy which says that cycling is higher in the transport hierarchy than use of private motor car, yet we grit major roads and not supposedly strategic cycle routes.

To me this illustrates the danger of institutional inertia to your Sustainability plans. Everybody nods when I say strategic cycle routes should be gritted, but nobody actually does it, because that would require quite a number of people going out of their way to do things differently. I'm steeling myself for a battle to use the current weather to get the cycle routes gritted next year – if I'm lucky. Obstinance is an important weapon in the Sustainability practitioners' arsenal.



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8 January 2018

Your Sustainability Goals for 2018

Last week I took a big fat marker and wrote out my three top line goals for 2018, just six words between them, and stuck them up by my desk where I can see them every day. Already I have taken tangible steps to make progress those three – at least one of which I know I would have put off for sure if the goals weren't right there in my face.

When I was interviewing people about their company's ambitious Sustainability Goals, one guy told me the importance of those goals, likening them to the bar in a high jump. "If you can't see the bar," he said "you'll never jump that high."

So what are your personal Sustainability goals for 2018? Pick three, write them down, and put them somewhere you can see them (or if you are shy, use them as category headings in your weekly to do list every week). Do it now, or the chances of you doing so recede fast.

And remember, the first step towards each goal is almost always the most important.



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4 January 2018

Kick snobbery out of Sustainability in 2018!

OK, it was the slow news season with column inches to fill, but Lucy Siegel's attack on the eco-awareness generated by the BBC's excellent Blue Planet II in the Guardian got me really quite ticked off. Siegel's argument is that the right people knew this already ('woke' in modern parlance), but for the hoi polloi and Tory Government Ministers:

"for some reason we still wait for these rare, prime-time glimpses of the planet to give us permission to act on critical environmental issues."

This smacks of all the tin-eared, sanctimonious preaching of far too many green activists – ignoring the fact that Blue Planet has touched the many, many places where decades of campaigning haven't near (jealousy is probably why they feel they have to knock its success). They are the eco-equivalent of all those music fans who only like bands before they are famous and drop them with disdain when they hit the mainstream, muttering darkly about 'selling out'.

But the mainstream is where true Sustainability lies – real behavioural change by multitudes of real people. Personally, I'm no fan of the Tory party, but I rejoice when a Blue Planet-quoting Tory Minister announces action on single-use plastic packaging because that is real progress, both on a practical and a political level.

Another Guardian article caught my attention this week – Patrick Barkham describing some research on Sustainability and gender – apparently men are put off green behaviour as much of it, such as carrying a reusable shopping bag, is seen as feminine. Now, I think that is pretty daft, but, if this is the reality, then we have to deal with that reality. And Barkham quotes a great example of the approach to take:

One experiment found men more likely to donate to Wilderness Rangers – a fictional charity with a black and blue howling wolf logo – than Friends of Nature, with a twee font and tree symbol.

This is classic Green Jujitsu – reframing Sustainability to match the worldview of your audience. If they are macho, then make Sustainability macho. If they are engineers, translate it into engineering. If they are accountants, express it in £, $, €. If they are patriots, express it in terms of national pride.

But the first step in this is having the humility to realise that your audience's worldview is more important than your own. So, please don't be tempted into the high priesthood of Sustainability with their secret handshakes and codewords. Get out there and listen to people instead.

For more on Green Jujitsu, check out our online training course.


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4 December 2017

Most influential Sustainability books for me

I saw a post on LinkedIn yesterday asking people for their top 5 Sustainability books. I quoted the following five as the most influential in my career:

  • Material Concerns, Tim Jackson – the first time I really got sustainability, now hard to find;
  • Natural Capitalism – great theories (but implementation has proved a problem for the authors);
  • Cradle to Cradle (ditto);
  • The God Species, Mark Lynas – blows away many green sacred cows;
  • Confessions of a Radical Environmentalist – by the Godfather of Corporate Sustainability, Ray Anderson, simply brilliant.

But, as a practitioner, I have found change management books as important to my career. In many ways 'getting' Sustainability is much easier than 'getting to' Sustainability. Here are my recommendations:

  • Switch by Chip & Dan Heath;
  • Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman;
  • Nudge by Thaler & Sunstein.

Any to add? Bonus points if they're any of mine!


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1 December 2017

The need for 'outrageous ambition' on Sustainability

I spent yesterday morning at the always-excellent North East Recycling Forum annual conference. The conference chair, the ever-ebullient Mark Shayler of APE, challenged us in the second half of the session to think up both 'standard' and 'outrageously ambitious' ideas on, in our table's case, how to apply technology to waste.

My two outrageously ambitious solutions were:

  • A small scale pelletiser/3D printer so you could, say, create your own Christmas decorations from plastic packaging, or turn yesterday's faddish kids' tat (e.g. loom bands) into today's (fidget spinners), all in your kitchen;
  • An Alexa-style smart bin which would not only advise you on what can be recycled and/or how, but could count what materials you put in so you can 'earn as you recycle' rather than 'pay as you throw' - incentivising good behaviour rather than penalising bad.

I was really quite pleased with those, but the more I thought about them, the less outrageously ambitious they seemed. Yes, costs would preclude the latter for a long time, but it could be implemented in a neighbourhood recycling centre?

But the bigger thing is, well, thinking big. When Interface announced their Mission Zero Sustainability target (zero impact on the environment by 2020) in 1996, it seemed bat-s**t-crazy, but now they're almost there, and zero waste, zero carbon or 100% renewable electricity targets are being adopted by business left, right and centre. Yesterday's ambition is today's meh.

The old cliché is that Sustainability should be like the moon programme – 'no-one ever got to the moon by aiming half way', but that's slightly misleading representation of that programme; the reality is more interesting. It was Apollo 11 that made it to the moon, the previous 10 missions ranged from tragic failure on the launchpad (Apollo 1, where the three astronauts perished) through to flying the lunar module down to 15km above the moon's surface (Apollo 10) before turning back. So while a lunar landing was the ultimate goal, there were plenty of intermediate steps to master on the way.

In the same way, we need to set those stretch targets but appreciate there's quite a journey to get there. But that headline outrageously ambitious goal drives you on. As someone else said at NERF yesterday, "if you're not pushing at the boundaries of what's possible, what's the point?"


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1 September 2017

Sustainability is becoming 'The New Normal'

rusty car

Last week I chuckled at a typical silly season column in the i newspaper about Ford offering a scrappage scheme for older models of their cars. The author, Esther Walker, was justifying holding on to her old Fiesta on the (evidence-free) grounds that keeping it is greener than replacing it with a new model. She also quoted her other environmental efforts in her 'defence':

And – worse – I consider myself to be on the vanguard of modern environmental responsibility! You can hardly move in our kitchen for different recycling bins, colour-coded and stacked neatly. We break down our boxes tidily and use compost bags in our food waste caddy so’s not to traumatise the bin men with our grotesque food leftovers.

Sorry, to break it to Ms Walker, but this is not 'the vanguard of environmental responsibility'. With 43% of the UK's household waste recycled or composted (bearing in mind at least a third of household waste cannot easily be recycled at present), this is simply normal behaviour, replicated in kitchens across the country and across all demographics. My Dad recycles and he's no eco-warrior, it's just what people do now.

I remembered this week when I visited the factory of a potential client. What really impressed me was the way this pretty normal, well established engineering company had identified an important link in the low carbon economy to which they could apply their technology. They had built working demonstration models and were seeking investment to develop a fully commercialised version. They didn't see themselves as Elon Musk-style green evangelists, they were just identifying future market developments and working out how to exploit them. Normal entrepreneurial business behaviour, in other words.

Sustainability won't come from mindfulness, hugging trees or green evangelists. It will come when normal people, normal organisations and normal Governments see a sustainable economy as our normal way of life. And it appears to be happening.


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29 August 2017

Anybody can do Sustainability


My summer of cycle action continued yesterday with another first – I entered a race. A proper race with entry fees, commissionaires, rules, closed roads and a number pinned to my backside. It wan't any old race, though, it was the UK's only urban cyclocross in the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle with road, path, grass, dirt and cobbled sections, plus a couple of obstacles requiring a dismount.

I don't have a cyclocross bike and my road bike has neither low enough gearing for the tough climbs nor tyres chunky enough to handle the off road bits, so I removed the pannier rack from my clunky old hybrid and used that. As I lined up (at the back of the bunch) on the start line, I realised I was one of just two riding flat handlebars and platform pedals.

So how did I do? Well I lapped the other guy on a non-specialist bike and beat 12 of the others, coming 11th out of 24 novices. I was delighted! I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the other races, drinking beer and berating my cycling buddies for not giving it a go.

How would I have done on the 'right' bike? Looking at the finish times, I'd have been lucky to move up one place on the standings. The main limiting factors were the power in my legs, my mediocre descending skills and the mechanical problem which led to a skipping chain on the last lap and a half. The last was bad luck, the first two could have been improved with some dedicated practice of which I did zilch, relying on my road cycling fitness and working it out as I went along.

Last week I had another of those phone calls with a potential client who spent most of the conversation telling me why his business couldn't do Sustainability. I've heard it all – too big, too small, customers, suppliers, employees, bosses, buildings, technology – there's always an excuse to do nothing. However, I have rarely seen anybody who gives Sustainability a real go fail miserably – even those few who managed to alienate the rest of their organisation got plenty of good stuff done before they were shuffled out – and some of my favourite case studies involve small businesses with minimal resources.

Sustainability success is largely in the mind –  and those who don't line up on the start line are destined to stand watching the race from the sidelines, wishing they had taken part.



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3 August 2017

This makes me wanna scream...

screamEven as a committed carnivore, I found this article in the Observer on the increasing number of elite athletes turning to veganism really interesting at first. Then came the backlash in the second half – the sanctimonious hardcore vegans saying things like:

"However, there are many high-profile vegan athletes who never mention anything but their personal, selfish benefits from avoiding animal products and eating more plants."


"I’m always sceptical when I hear that a sportsperson or celebrity has become ‘plant-based’ for health reasons. It dilutes veganism into being just a diet when in fact veganism is an ethos, a lifestyle of non-violence and compassion towards all living creatures."

[My emphases]

This really makes me mad... do they want people to give up animal products or not? The message is "never mind what you do, unless you believe everything I believe then you are morally inferior" – how arrogant is that? It is the epitome of the self-appointed moral priesthood which crosses from veganism into the deep-green end of the environmental movement – raising the bar to entry rather than lowering it.

That lowering of the bar to Sustainability is my life's ambition – getting more and more people on board, enjoying a more sustainable lifestyle, imperfections and all. That is why I formulated the idea of Green Jujitsu – to reach out, rather than push away. Because that is the only way we will do what we need to do. And you'd better believe it!


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19 July 2017

Game of Thrones and the Sustainability Vision Thing

Great excitement chez Kane on Monday as, as soon as the junior members of the household were safely asleep, we could head back to Westeros and caught up with Arya, Jon Snow, Cersei and the rest of the huge, disparate but now converging cast of characters that populate the Game of Thrones universe. I'm not going to give anything away – one innocent click on Monday spoilt the opening for me, thank you very much Independent – but it did make me think about some of the Sustainability debates I've been having recently.

There's a strong fan theory that the overall story – tribes of people fighting to the death over the smallest of short term political gains while ignoring the existential threat of the White Walkers – is an analogy for our own short termism in the face of the threat of climate change. And of course, as the lengthy winter starts in Westeros, we can see the implications: food shortages, mass migration of threatened peoples etc, etc. And yet most of the characters are caught up in their own web of lust, hatred, envy, power and vengeance and pay little regard to the big threat.

So far, so good.

But I am still amazed at those who believe that the solution to climate change is to regress to some kind of pre-industrial state. Going 'plastic-free' seems to be the new 'gluten-free', seen as somehow inherently good despite a complete lack of evidence to back the idea up (the number of people who think they are gluten intolerant is many times the number who actually are). The Guardian ran a plastic-free piece on Tuesday, memorably including a 'pig hair toothbrush'. Nice. Read the rest of this entry »

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12 July 2017

Can you be too passionate about Sustainability?

This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from Anna-Lisa Mills of True North Sustainability: is your passion for Sustainability a help or a hindrance? In response, I take a journey from Inca ruins in Ecuador to the dreaded 'panic zone' and explain how Green Jujitsu is the answer.

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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3 July 2017

Sustainability doesn't get easier...

Eee, it's my favourite sporting event of the year, le grand boucle itself, the Tour De France. Setting off on Saturday from Dusseldorf, home to cycle-crazy electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, the next three weeks are going to involve a lot of me working with ITV4 in the background as the peloton trundles across Europe.

My own cycling has been limited to moderate coffee rides since my first century ride two weeks ago, so yesterday I decided to test the legs with a climb up into the North Penines to Blanchland. There was a pretty 'fresh' (always a meteorological understatement) headwind for the climbing and the moor roads, and I was a bit disappointed in how my legs felt.

But then when I uploaded and checked my ride data on Strava, I found that I had ridden a lot quicker than the last time I'd done it a month ago (and I don't remember grinding into the wind then). In fact on one of the early headwind segments (defined stretches of road on Strava), I not only set a personal record, but was fastest of the 41 Strava users who had been that way all day.

And then I remembered the wise words of three-times Tour de France winner Greg LeMond:

It doesn't get easier, you just go faster.

Last night, I was mulling on this quote and Sustainability. We Sustainability professionals have a tendency to dream of a day that we get to the top of the climb and freewheel downhill.

But, let's face it, that never happens. We run out of quick wins and then we start looking at the step changes. Legislation changes, technology emerges and previously unforeseen environmental/social issues suddenly bubble up in the press. Sustainable supply chains and market awareness take time to mature.

It always feels like a slog, but if we look around, we're also taking for granted what seemed so impossible just a few years ago. Just look at the UK's electricity mix where renewables are booming and coal collapsing. You can now propose 'zero waste' without other people's mouths dropping open. Some of the best cars in the world are powered by electricity.

We are going faster, it just doesn't feel like it!


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21 June 2017

Neutralising anti-green attacks

bike lane westminsterNewspaper-cutting-2-1024x993






Between the horrific series of recent terrorist attacks and the shocking disaster that was the Grenfell Tower fire, the UK has been hit with some pretty grim news recently. For me, these horrors are exacerbated by the distasteful use of such events by commentators to further their tangential ideological aims – from people across the political spectrum, I have to say.

A sizeable chunk of this jumping to convenient conclusions is aimed squarely at the Sustainability agenda. Cycle lanes have been blamed in the Westminster Bridge attack for no better reason than they were there (a kerb is a kerb, after all) and the Daily Mail has pointed the finger at 'green targets' for the deaths at Grenfell.

As Carbon Brief has pointed out, the main reason for the suspect external cladding on the tower block was to tackle fuel poverty, with carbon reductions a subsidiary factor. The main aim of the public inquiry must be whether the cladding was responsible for the deaths (as it first appears), whether the material and its installation was compliant with fire regulations, if not, who was blame, and, if so, how those regulations need to be changed. Read the rest of this entry »

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14 June 2017

Are you doing the right thing in Sustainability?

This month's Ask Gareth considers an excellent question from Sophie Wallis of Upthink Consultancy in Australia - when you're beavering away making sure you tick all the Sustainability boxes for a company or a project, how do you step back and make sure you are actually doing the right thing in terms of the big picture. In response, I give three powerful approaches which can help.

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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5 June 2017

A Call to Arms on a Sad Day


It's only a couple of weeks since I wrote on the Manchester bombing and here we are again with blood on the streets of the UK. I was in Manchester last week on business and I was very taken with the defiance mixed in with the grieving.

I grew up in Northern Ireland during 'The Troubles when more than 3,000 died, many in indiscriminate attacks (the only difference is the terrorists had an escape route planned). Many acts of barbarity were carried out in the name of one cause or another, but in the pre-social media age, you rarely got to see gory detail. But the vast majority of us got up in the morning, went to school/work, came home, had our dinner, watched telly and went to bed. The threat was always there in the background, but that defiance, a refusal to be bowed, was always the best answer to the men and women of violence.

As in Manchester, I have been astonished and reassured by the many acts of courage during the London Bridge attack: the two unarmed policemen who tackled the terrorists, the Romanian chef who hit one over the head with a crate, the woman who lay down and blocked a doorway so the other cafe patrons could make their escape. Then of course there were the armed police who neutralised the terrorists with calm professionalism, and all the paramedics, nurses and doctors who saw to the wounded. So many awesome people.

So the big question for the rest of us is: what awesome thing are we going to do this week to make the world a better place?

Here in the UK, voting in the General Election on Thursday must be a priority (I despair at the calls for a postponement). But what else? Will you kick off that new Sustainability/CSR project you've been putting off for weeks? Will you invest in a renewable energy scheme? Will you do a litter pick in your local area?

Whatever it is, let's each do something really great and show the nihilist losers that they will never win.


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24 May 2017

After Manchester: Fear and Optimism

i-love-manchesterYesterday morning I woke at stupid o'clock and, after half an hour lying in the dark, decided that I'd head to the spare room with a book to avoid disturbing the slumbering Mrs K. I picked up my phone, the screen activated and there was the BBC alert "19 dead in Manchester bombing." [the death toll has since risen].

I'm sure my reaction was the same as almost everybody else's. "Killing kids at a pop concert? What kind of world do we live in?" I lay awake until everybody else rose, and made sure I gave each of my kids a big hug; grateful for what I still had, sorry for those who had lost loved ones overnight or were still waiting for news.

It must be my entry into middle-age, but I've recently grown nostalgic for the 1990s – when the Berlin Wall had fallen, Apartheid had gone, a peace process in my native Northern Ireland and peace talks in the Middle East, BritPop blasting from the hi-fi, Trainspotting, Jamon Jamon, and Pulp Fiction at the movies, plenty of disposable income in my wallet. What happened to those good ol' days?

But, I keep having to remind myself that this is utter nonsense. The 90s were the decade of the Balkan conflict with its massacres and ethnic cleansing, and the Rwandan/Burundi genocide. The fact of the matter is that we are now living in some of the best times in history. Global violence is at an historical low. Poverty, whether measured in absolute numbers or a share of the world population, is plummeting. Our attempts at tackling climate change, while not yet sufficient, are accelerating at a rate that no-one predicted.

ISIS has certainly put the terror into terrorism. They deliberately tap into our deepest fears – targeting kids, attacking crowds in the streets with lorries, revelling in cruelty – they truly are the stuff of nightmares. That fear can make us freeze, give up, look inwards, distrust others. It makes us feel the world is getting worse when it is demonstrably getting better.

There were at least two, probably three, orders of magnitude more heroes than villains on the streets on Manchester on Monday night. Let's be inspired by them.



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22 May 2017

Sustainability Is Personal


Yesterday we took the kids to the beach at St Mary's Island near Whitley Bay. We had lunch on the beach waiting for the tide to recede so we could cross the causeway to the Island itself. Inspired by the horrendous pictures of remote Henderson Island covered in plastic litter, I spent 15 minutes gathering all the plastic waste I could find – bottles, food trays, mastic caps and fishing line all featured prominently. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was inconsequential in the grand scale of things, but at least I was doing something.

I also came across the rotting carcass of a seal on the beach and mused on how nature goes about its waste management. Everything in that seal would be seen as food by another part of the eco-system.

We crossed to the island and watched the live seals basking, swimming and eating, along with a few eider ducks and oyster catchers. We stopped to talk to the wildlife rangers and mentioned the dead seal. They told us that it had got entangled in a packing strap as a youngster which eventually cut into its sides as it grew and led to its demise.

Suddenly the importance of my little beachcomb came home to me. Any one piece of plastic could represent a death sentence to some of our wonderful wildlife. By collecting a few dozen pieces, I could have made a difference.

But there is a wider conclusion. I help my clients get to grips with the Sustainability agenda, but the results are usually abstract to me. They tell me how they are doing against the targets I have help them set, and I help them tackle any glitches, but I rarely get to witness the actual difference in a tangible, visceral way. But my mini-litter pick made a visible difference – I could see the change.

"All politics is local" and "the personal is political" are two oft quoted maxims connecting big scale political concepts and the experience of the everyday. The same applies to Sustainability – you can talk all you like about the circular economy or zero carbon, but success will all come down to individual decision making by individuals and they will make decisions on their own experience rather than high-level slogans.

I moved from armchair activist to Sustainability professional when I witnessed ecological devastation in arctic Russia. I had to experience it personally to make the leap.

So, get personal!


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17 May 2017

Are you curious?


Yesterday I was interviewed by a geography student for his dissertation. He was asking about the reasons for my participation in a climate march in 2015. I had to tell him I am not a natural activist and, frankly, I'm not convinced that my marching amongst the tie-dyed ranks made any practical difference whatsoever to those we were marching past.

Why did I go? Well, I had my political hat on and felt that myself and colleagues had to turn up represent our party, particularly given the impressive Sustainability legacy of our seven years running the City. We needed to 'get the optics right' in political parlance, but, whichever hat I have on, my priority remains doing stuff rather than shouting slogans or waving placards.

I coined the phrase 'pragmatic environmentalist' to distinguish sustainability practitioners who live in the real world from those who see the environment as a kind of moral litmus test. In practice, pragmatic environmentalists try to lower the price of admission to the world of sustainability; dogmatic environmentalists keeping pushing the price up until a chosen few make the grade.

I gave the student the example of the blue recycling wheelie bins we could see from our coffee shop window. When we introduced these, the green movement denounced us as sell outs as most of the dry recyclates get mixed together in the bin, rather than separated out by the householder. But we were proven right as the recycling rate went up by 50% overnight because we made it easier for everybody to recycle, not just the green-minded few.

Another way to think of the difference is the comprehension gap between those who don't 'get it' and those who think that 'getting it' makes them better human beings. The pragmatic environmentalist builds sustainability in that gap, rather than clinging to the green comfort zone.

And one of the characteristics that sets the effective pragmatic environmentalists apart from their dogmatic cousins is curiosity. Curiosity about what makes people tick, how to find the right buttons to press to engage with them, why things are the way they are, how things could be made better. This is where the sweetspot of engagement and innovation lie, so we need to keep questioning ourselves, others and the status quo.

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, stay hungry, stay foolish, stay curious!


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