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14 October 2015

Getting more from third party sustainability services

CoSM WelcomeFriday before last saw the twelfth meeting of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group, held in the medieval Undercroft at the wonderful Live Theatre in Newcastle. Lunch was in the award-winning Caffe Vivo which is part of the Theatre complex. The third rule of CoSM is "No dreary executive buffets."*

The topic of the meeting was "Third Party Services" and members shared their experiences, positive and negative, of different services provided by private and public sector organisations. I'm not going to share the heroes and zeroes emerging from that conversation (that's for the members), but here's a sample of some of the wisdom emerging:

  • Selection criteria for services: compatibility, support, track record, ease of use;
  • Integration capability of software is critical, otherwise the tail wags the dog;
  • Data needs translating into the language of the stakeholder concerned before it can be used effectively for engagement;
  • Intellectual property concerns can stifle work with public bodies;
  • Energy Performance Contracts (EPCs) can give guaranteed savings with no capital outlay;
  • Carbon offsetting isn’t a big seller in todays’ markets, customers want to see tangible change;
  • Demand response electricity contracts can be very cost effective.
  • Waste contracts can be made more efficient by paying by weight/volume of material rather than per lift;
  • LCA can’t measure potential, just a snap shot, which discriminates against maturing supply chains;
  • LCA is only as good as the database behind it;
  • LCA quality can be improved using sensitivity analysis to identify key pieces of data for further analysis;
  • There are too many disclosure projects, some with dubious methodologies, fuelling suspicions that it has become a self-serving industry;
  • Sometimes people take part in schemes because ‘we’re scared not to’ rather than any internal or external benefit;
  • Some of those top ranked for disclosure in the past have since been shamed, so good performance in such schemes shouldn't be relied upon.

* The first rule is "No Powerpoint" and the second rule is the Chatham House Rule.

The Mastermind Group consists of sustainability practitioners from some of the world's leading organisations who meet quarterly to learn from each other through structured discussion. If you'd like to know more, please drop me a line.

 

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8 July 2015

Which sustainability reporting framework, if any?

In this edition of Ask Gareth, I ponder how you go about choosing the reporting framework you use - if any!

You can see all editions of Ask Gareth by clicking here.

If you'd like to send a question to Ask Gareth fire away!.

 

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25 September 2013

The Sustainability Iceberg

Iceberg

The great paradox of sustainability is that it is extremely complicated and yet, to make progress, we need to make it appear simple to wider audiences. Regular readers will know I have been mulling recently on the need to 'simplicate' sustainability - make it accessible without losing so much substance as to render it meaningless.

This topic came up at yesterday's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group and during our discussion I alighted on the not terribly original analogy of an iceberg - that the visible tip is just a fraction of its mass. If we make the visible tip a simple compelling message along the lines of Marks & Spencer's "Plan A, because there is no Plan B", then we need to deftly back this up with all the evidence, caveats and nuances without detracting from that simple message.

So the sustainability section (or preferably the home page) of the corporate website, say, would have the 3-5 main pledges/targets and links would take the curious and/or sceptical deep into the evidence and thinking. While the former can be easily rattled off by everybody from the CEO to the cleaner, the detail will satisfy the curious and/or sceptical and, if done honestly, see off the risk of accusations of greenwash.

 

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18 July 2011

Storytelling


I was delighted at the weekend to be sent this amazing picture by Melvin Redeker of him reading The Green Executive while on a kayaking trip around the North Sea island of Noss. Melvin is a business speaker and photographer who has mission to reconnect business with the natural world - you should check out his website here for the wonderful pictures if nothing else.

Well this got me thinking, what makes someone pick up a business book like The Green Executive after a hard day's paddling in the open sea? Well the simple answer is that I packed the book full of stories.

When I started the book I didn't want to regurgitate the same old case studies over again, so I interviewed 18 senior managers/directors charged with transforming their business. These interviews took on a life of their own, so I included a transcript at the end of each chapter as a short intermission called "The View from the Front Line". I found the stories were inspirational - somehow we managed to duck their PR machines' blue pencil of death and got some really personal insights and anecdotes. Virtually all the feedback on the book - reviews and on Amazon - has lauded the interviews.

None of this is surprising - humankind has always revered the story. Very few of us would willingly wade through a book of stats, equations and mathematical proofs, but whole industries depend on stories, from the Take A Break style magazine through to blockbuster movies.

So how can you use storytelling in your green communications? In exactly the same way I used it in the book - sprinkle anecdotes and personal stories through your reports, websites and other publications. One of the interviewees from the book, Julie Parr of lawyers Muckle LLP, used a story of how one partner was taking waste paper away to use as horse bedding in their in house magazine. OK, it's not the most exciting thing they are doing if you are a sustainability geek like me, but for the rest of the world (the people we need to communicate with) it the story is far more engaging than a bar chart or a picture of hands cupping a sapling.

So go on, what's your story?

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2 April 2008

Chemical Companies Cool on Communications

Worrying headline on this months ENDS Report: apparently chemical companies are backing off their former approach of publishing annual environmental and sustainability reports. Only a minority of UK companies in the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) Responsible Care programme now do so, preferring to present reports as an industry as a whole. The stats are:

- 60% have no report since 2005
- 60% of those that do report do so at their parent company level
- 17% do not have an environmental policy on their website

I was quite shocked by this. When I got into this game over a decade ago, Responsible Care was held up as the great eco-saviour of the chemicals industry. Transparency and stakeholder engagement were the watchwords of the day but now that seems to have fallen by the wayside. I can only assume that the companies are now a little red-faced about what progress they have or haven't made.

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