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21 April 2017

A Cycle-logical Sustainability Opportunity

17972239_10100309071512778_8565556777937556897_oWhile most sensible people were tucking into their Easter Eggs last Sunday, I was braving (very) cold, wet and windy conditions up on the MoD's Otterburn firing ranges as part of the MoD Rocker cycle sportive (we went 106km horizontally, 1.9km upwards). The picture shows what I look like after climbing steadily for an hour then hitting a couple of brutal 17-22% ramps. It's not pretty!

I've been training quite hard for this and a tougher sportive (on paper) in 2 months time. Being self-employed I can go for a ride when it suits me, but it always surprises me quite how many other people I pass out on the road during office hours. We are clearly in a bike boom.

I spend quite a bit of my time promoting cycling as everyday commuting (rather than just for MAMILs like me), but a recent study by Evans Randall Investors of 61 offices in London found that there was a serious lack of facilities for cycling commuters. There was on average just one shower per 240 employees and fewer than one in five offices offering places for cycling commuters to store work clothes.

This seems to me like a golden opportunity for both quick wins and employee engagement. Whether simply providing decent cycle storage facilities, setting up a cycle club, or engaging with the local authority to improve cycle access on/off site, you can not only reduce your impact, but make the local environment better for everybody. Gotta love that!


Photo © Neil Bradley

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7 November 2016

The best quick wins in Sustainability...

breaking down sustainability barriers

For years, I've been calling for a massive hike in public investment in upgrading the UK's electricity grid rather than the usual investment in traditional instructor such as roads. Roads are roads, they've pretty much hit the top of the S-curve of innovation  (and simply generate more traffic), whereas upgrading the grid would not only create jobs, but it would trigger innovation and unlock new renewable energy and storage opportunities. Our current grid is designed for centralised electricity generation, not for the new Energy 2.0 distributed generation, so it is clearly a brake on the march of renewable energy. A new report by Policy Exchange has added some stats to this qualitative argument and it looks compelling.

Much of the friction in any change process comes not from the change itself, but because the existing supporting infrastructure and systems has been designed to support the status quo. In Sustainability, I often find that the best way to make the biggest impact with limited resources is to hunt down these pinch points and eliminate them with extreme prejudice. While sometimes this requires significant investment in new physical infrastructure, as with the grid, changing systems to remove barriers can often be done at negligible cost.

At one client we found that removing the bureaucracy around its teleconferencing system, which had been sat gathering dust, led to it being overloaded almost overnight. The client had to double its capacity to keep up. These kind of 'making sustainability the easier option' solutions can get momentum going very quickly indeed.

With another client, we found that the full cost of carbon to the business was not being factored into investment decisions. Tweaking the system to "reflect the true cost of each option more accurately" is a relatively easy argument to make and yet it will have massive impact into the future without further intervention.

So if you're going to start anywhere, start targeting barriers and pinch points. You'll find you can turn relatively small efforts into significant results – not to be sniffed at!


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18 May 2015

Surface vs Substance in Sustainability

8020 coverOver the weekend I've been mulling on a tough dichotomy, arising out of my last Ask Gareth episode:

  • To make a real change in, say, our carbon footprint, we have to tackle the big issues – space heating, transport, the extraction of raw materials etc. This is the essence of my book 'Accelerating Sustainability Using the 80:20 Rule' – we should stop sweating the little stuff and focus on what really matters.
  • The general public sees (or has been taught to see) environmental issues in terms of relatively trivial issues: single use plastic bags, leaving phone chargers plugged in, drinking bottled water etc. So if a sustainability practitioner breaks one of these populist 'green rules', they will be seen as hypocritical.

The more I think about it, we just have to accept this reality. To make a real difference we should be focussing our efforts on the 20% of 'levers' which will deliver 80% of potential improvements.

However we need to be mindful that our audience may not see our efforts through that prism; we must also make sure we are seen to do the right thing through their eyes. You should see these simple measures as an introduction to sustainability for non-experts – the first steps on the way to understanding the bigger picture.



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10 December 2012

Are Quick Wins A Good Thing?

There's an old time management trope where a professor stands in front of his class and fills a jar full of rocks and asks is it full. The class says yes, so the prof adds some pebbles which trickle into the gaps and asks the question again. Again the class say "it is full", so he adds sand which fills the remaining gaps. The prof empties out the jar, separates out the three elements and then puts the sand in first, followed by the pebbles but few of the rocks fit in the top. The moral of the story is that you have to tackle life's important things first and leave the trivialities to later.

This came to mind when I got into another "is a plastic bag ban a good idea?" debate on Twitter. Proponents say such a ban is highly symbolic and can help build momentum. I tend to believe that the benefits are rather small for such a big effort and that it may cause people to sit back and say "There! We've done it! We're green!" They've filled their jar with sand and there's not much space for any rocks.

That's not to say that getting some quick wins in the bag (or jar...) is a bad thing, but it can't be at the expense of big issues. Organisations that adopt incremental targets often find themselves in this position, expending all their energy hunting down increasingly rare small changes and running out of steam. Occasionally some of those changes will actually obstruct big changes by, say, investing too much in improving existing infrastructure when it should really be replaced with a greener alternative.

Organisations that set ambitious stretch targets, however, tend to start working out how they're going to address the big issues much earlier and avoid this trap. They can do this alongside the smaller improvements, but make sure they are all compatible - after all, by mixing up the addition of rocks, pebbles and sand, the jar will fill up nicely.

By the way, my favourite version of the story that after the professor puts the sand in around the pebbles, he then pours in two pints of beer. He turns to the class and says "And that goes to show that no matter how full your life is, there's always space for a couple of pints." A lesson for everyone!


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27 September 2010

Quick wins

If your organisation is new to the whole idea of going green, then the best thing to do is get started and quickly show some early wins. Every organisation has some easy-to-fix but significant environmental opportunities, so before you get bogged down in analysing, strategy writing and designing systems, get out there and get stuck in.

The benefits of this approach over building a bureaucracy are:

1. You get tangible good news stories to show other stakeholders (senior management, other staff, cynics);

2. You get the big mo' - people can see what's happening and may join in;

3. You learn about your businesses, how it really operates and what the real problems and barriers are;

4. You have freedom to try lots of approaches, make a few mistakes and learn practical lessons.

The carbon footprinting, environmental management systems and strategy can come later or, better still, worked up in parallel, so you can incorporate the lessons learnt from the quick wins. But get some momentum going and sustain it.

If you want to learn more about how to get started, plus dozens of practical hints and tips, I'm running a webinar on Quick Wins in Cutting Carbon tomorrow at 14:00BST - there's a nominal charge of £45+VAT to take part - a bargain for what you will learn!

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