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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."

Or

"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

tombstone

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

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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?

questions

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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13 April 2017

"You can't have Sustainability without X." You probably can...

rant"You can't have Sustainability without a whole new economic model."

"You can't have Sustainability without mindfulness."

"You can't have Sustainability without self care."

"You can't have Sustainability without a reconnection to the natural world."

"You can't have Sustainability without a global agreement."

I hear and read such statements of apparent fact all the time and my bullshit detector goes off immediately. Because, first of all they are simply wrong – maybe some of these X's would help, but none are a 100% prerequisite to Sustainability. And secondly, often the speaker is a purveyor of, say, mindfulness training, looking for a new audience – it's a bit selfish to put their own self-interest in the way of millions of other people's.

But most importantly of all, such restrictive statements either distract from the Sustainability agenda, create barriers that we don't need, or, in many cases, muddy the waters. If we want to bring the general public on board for a sustainable world, we need simple, clear, can-do messages. So let's think about our audiences rather than ourselves.

Rant over.

 

 

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11 April 2017

Don't get down about climate change, stand up!

rabbit-headlights

Yesterday I was scouring the internet for a funny-ish climate/sustainability story to round out the news on this month's edition of The Low Carbon Agenda when I came across this one: a therapist has set up Good Grief, an AA-style programme for those depressed about climate change. I came within a gnat's whisker of taking the mick out of such new-agey nonsense when I saw the story of the plight of the Great Barrier Reef. The first paragraph of this almost sent me searching for a UK branch of Good Grief.

Climate and Sustainability issues can be quite overwhelming and the steady flow of bad news can be not just depressing but paralysing. And if we do nothing, we're just a rabbit sat in the road staring at the headlights.

So, what can we do? Here are few things I do:

  1. Search out and share good news: there's some really big progress being made out there - the collapse of the coal industry, the explosion of renewables, the emergence of good electric cars. This reinforces the feeling that we can do something.
  2. Do something: I was so put off by the holier-than-thou attitude of my local environmental campaign group 20 years ago, I went and joined BTCV and planted more than 400 trees - that felt really good. Buy a bike (and use it instead of the car), stick some extra insulation in the loft, get some more efficient lightbulbs, holiday in the same country a bit more, take the kids pond-dipping – whatever floats your boat.
  3. Do something at work: if your work isn't taking Sustainability seriously, then ask a few loaded questions. One of my clients tells the story of how his CEO was welcoming a group of new graduates. At the end of his speech, he asked for questions. A hand shot up: "Where do I plug in my electric car?" They are now getting charging points.
  4. Invest in the future: when The Donald was elected across the pond, I immediately went and made a modest investment in a wind farm. Take that, Trumpster!

None of these things are going to solve the climate crisis on their own. But what they do is get you off the sofa of despair and on to the front foot. Being proactive is good for the planet and your own wellbeing.

 

[I can't find the owner of the great pic I've used above - if it's your's, let me know]

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30 March 2017

Let's build the Sustainable future we want to see!

Half empty or half full - pessimism or optimism

It was my birthday yesterday, so I went off on a very gentle bike ride with Mrs K involving lots of coffee and cake, burgers and beer, and pretty much ignored the news. However, my twitter feeds were filled with howls of liberal despair as Theresa May triggered Article 50 and the formal start of Brexit, and across the pond, Donald Trump started tearing up Barack Obama's climate change legislation.

So where are we?

We are where we are. Now that might sound as empty a phrase as 'Brexit means Brexit', but it is true. There's not much we can do about the events of the last few days.

But we can decide what we are going to do tomorrow. Or where we want to be in 10 years time. And neither Theresa May or Donald Trump can stop us (10 years presents a couple of electoral cycles in most democracies).

So let's do it!

In January's Ask Gareth, I went into this in a bit more detail – maybe an apt time for a recap.

 

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