Last night, I was on one of my now regular night-time strolls trying to get squalling baby to sleep. To keep me sane, I often give myself a mission on these walks so I'm not just wandering around in circles waiting for silence to envelope my tiny banshee. And last night I went to find the blue plaque on a nearby house where the legendary civil engineer Ove Arup was born in 1895. We can do quite a bit of an engineering tour around my neighbourhood, if that sort of thing turns you on - William Armstrong was born half a mile a way and educated a couple of hundred yards away, and from my window I can see the site of the first stationary steam engine built by George Stephenson after he went into business for himself, just before he started putting them onto wheels.
Ove Arup is most publicly well known for designing the Sydney Opera House, but known within the construction industry for his development of the idea of 'Total Architecture' where the boundaries between disciplines are broken down and everybody takes responsibility for all aspects of a design.
When engineers and quantity surveyors discuss aesthetics and architects study what cranes do we are on the right road.
When I interviewed Chris Jofeh of Arup for The Green Executive, he drew a line between the Total Architecture ideas of the firm's founder and the work the company now does on sustainable buildings. One of my very, very few regrets about the book I now have is that I didn't pick up on the 'Total' meme at the time and dub the highest level of corporate sustainability 'Total Sustainability' as this kind of deep integration of sustainability into everybody's responsibilities and mindsets is what I was proposing.
I did draw a parallel between what I called 'Full Integration' of sustainability and Total Quality Management (as does John Elkington in The Zeronaughts), but the more I think about it, Total Architecture may be a more appropriate analogy. Quality control is an internal, managerial issue, architecture is more outward looking, often inspirational and occasionally groundbreaking - what sustainability should be.
More food for thought for my nocturnal meanderings with the noisy boy!
I'm a big fan of The Apprentice - both for entertainment and, controversially, the business angle. I know it is fashionable to say that two teams of preening egotists rushing around backstabbing each other and making bad snap decisions has nothing to do with business, but I think the tasks are genuinely difficult - I wouldn't like to try to formulate, market and sell a new product from scratch in two days. Anyway, as fellow fans will know, the climax of each episode is the showdown in the boardroom, where barrow boy made business mogul Lord Sugar and his two sidekicks take apart the teams' efforts, cut through the flannel and make them face up to brutal reality.
Selling sustainability in the boardroom can be an equally daunting experience - and that comes from someone who has sat on both sides of the big table. You need to have your facts straight, your business case worked out and the risks of inaction and action thoroughly assessed. But unlike the bull in a china shop approach the Apprentice candidates tend to take, I have found that a more subtle approach can pay dividends. The first time I ever engaged a client at boardroom level, I put the Sustainability Maturity Model (below) up on a screen and asked the board members where they thought they were on it. The result was extraordinary - they all assumed they should be as far to the right of the model without me trying to persuade them that they should be there.
This more subtle approach is part of what I call "Green Jujitsu" which is all about bringing people with you rather than trying to bulldoze past them. Another tool in the Green Jujitsu box is the killer question, such as "what risk do rising oil prices pose?". Using such engaging techniques and avoiding bluster might have saved a few Apprentice candidates from the chop over the years and they certainly work in read boardrooms too.
One of the most frustrating responses to a potential sustainability solution is "I wish you'd suggested that six months ago when we were replacing that equipment/redesigning that product/moving buildings/launching that new marketing campaign." It is always six months too late.
This is why you must have incredible anticipation of what the organisation is doing and get in there before new projects start to shape up. Predators like to take their prey before the latter has seen the danger - once they're trying to escape, catching them gets a lot more difficult and the hunt is more about luck than skill. In the same way, as soon as a new venture starts building momentum, it is very hard to deflect it the way you want it to go. You have to go in for the kill before they have a chance to get moving.
Of course this is another argument for integrating sustainability into the DNA of the organisation. It is very hard for the typical sustainability manager in their green silo to influence big decisions in the rest of their organisation - even the best predators are only successful in a minority of attempts. In the 'Full Integration' level of the Sustainability Maturity Model, everyone understands the importance of sustainability to the company so by default the product will be designed for sustainability, the building will be an eco-building and the new equipment will have been chosen to deliver part of the sustainability strategy.
Going back to my predator/prey analogy, this is about farming sustainability rather than hunting it. Farming is a much more successful way of achieving the goal of food production than hunting/gathering, but it involves more preparation, more investment and more patience. In the same way sustainability requires resources, commitment, and investment to do it properly.
You may still have to do the odd bit of hunting, but farming should become your ultimate goal.
In sustainability maturity model (above) that sits at the heart of The Green Executive, one of the five key requirements to create a truly green business is the alignment of all processes and procedures to sustainability. This must be the easiest said, hardest to do parts of the whole book.
That's why all of part 3 and much of part 4 are dedicated to this topic - how to get "green" out of the environmental silo and embed it everywhere. And by "everywhere" I mean everywhere: operations, the supply chain, products/services, the entire business model and all the supporting processes like accounting and HR.
One of the trends picked up in the Green Executive is how the cutting edge businesses are going about this. Instead of just creating a green range of products, they are embedding sustainability into their entire product range, deleting those that don't make the grade. Instead of simply adding some green criteria to purchasing decisions, they are building the supply chains they need, discarding suppliers who don't make the grade. In some cases they are redefining the traditional producer/supplier distinction through industrial symbiosis (using other's waste as a raw material) and product takeback (using your own post-use product as raw material), or even the traditional business model through product service systems.
This approach doesn't ask "is X feasible?", but asks "how can we make X feasible?". That's a huge mental shift on both the individual and the organisational level, but to deliver corporate sustainability it's an essential one.
How do you actually embed sustainability into the DNA of your organisation? Well according to my Sustainability Maturity Model (above - click to enlarge), you need the following five elements:
Clear commitment and leadership: the shift from environmental management to integrated sustainability is no mean feat and not one that can happen by osmosis. Change of this level requires true leadership.
A sustainability strategy: this is the framework which guides an organisation towards sustainability. It must either be integrated into, or at least be convergent with, the overall business strategy. If it sits out on its own, it is toast.
Long term goals: sustainability can't be delivered overnight, so that strategy must have long term goals (long term = 5+ years). Having a series of interim targets (eg cutting carbon by 20% by 2015 to hit a goal of a 40% cut by 2020) gives a stronger focus to current activity within the context of the longer term goal.
Alignment of systems and operations to sustainability: your supply chain, internal operations, product/service plus all the supporting processes like HR, Finance and Contracts must be shaped to deliver sustainability.
Total (or near total buy-in): stakeholders inside and outside the organisation must buy into what is going on - this includes employees, customers, suppliers and regulators. This doesn't necessarily mean that they have to change - it may be that your strategy is designed to, say, delight your customers as your new sustainable product is so good in terms of performance and price.
Easy? In a word, no. Sustainability is widely regarded as one of the key boardroom challenges of the 21st Century, but senior executives feel ill-equipped to deliver on it. This is why I wrote my latest book, The Green Executive, and the maturity model is at the heart of the book as you can see if you download this sample chapter.
The second of our Green Business Webinars will be held on 2 March at 14:00 GMT. The hour long session will cover the Sustainability Maturity Model, strategies, management systems, target setting and action planning. It aims to give you the tools you need to create a compelling green vision for your business and put the systems in place to deliver that vision. Importantly, we'll cover the pitfalls you will want to avoid along the way.
The webinar costs £45.00 + VAT per person - use the button below to pay by card or Paypal. Contact us to make a BACS payment.
Thanks to everyone who has given feedback on last week's Low Carbon Agenda. Some found that the text wrapped strangely around the central diagram in their mail reader - it worked fine in my Apple Mail, but there appears to be a problem with some versions of Outlook. Apologies for this - the techies have been summarily executed say it has been fixed now. If you want to see how it should look, click here.
On the other hand, I have never had such a positive response to an edition of TLCA. Apparently many of you spent Wednesday afternoon using the Sustainability Maturity Model to discuss how ready your business is to implement sustainability. Well, that's why I developed it and I've found it very useful in client workshops - it will also form the basis of my second book, The Green Executive. Thanks for the compliments.
I'll also be using the model at the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange in Harrogate on Thursday during my session on Long Term Environmental Strategy. If you're going to Harrogate, please do say hello!
Thanks for everyone who fed back on the Terra Infirma Sustainability Maturity Model. All of it was positive and one view I've taken on board was that the 'No Activity' level was a bit pointless, so I've changed this to 'Compliance' which effectively means "no proactive activity". This was tested during a CSR workshop last week and worked well. Good stuff.
I've developed this model for the maturity of sustainability programmes from nada to a fully integrated programme. You can download a bigger version from the resources page.
Where do you sit?
Where would you like to be?
From experience, the only way to do sustainability properly is to move to the full integration stage. Only then do you open up the business opportunities and the big economic benefits. In the earlier stages you will at best save a bit of cash on waste and utilities and at worst find yourself shelling out just to keep one step ahead of the law.
I'll be doing an explanation of the model in the November edition of the Low Carbon Agenda.