Gareth's Blog

Recent Posts

Archives

Archives

sustainability strategy Archives - Terra Infirma


Browse All

1 August 2017

Happy 11th Birthday Terra Infirma!

Terra Infirma is 4 years old!So, it is 11 years to the day that I jumped off the cruise ship of salaried employment and onto the windsurfing board of solo consultancy – just before the tsunami of the 2007/08 financial crisis gave me a rather brutal lesson in business survival. Looking back over the last year, as I always do on this date, the uncertainty created by Brexit has certainly caused similar choppy waters as many people who would like our help are either unable to invest, or afraid to.

This has led to a year of ups and downs. A good illustration is that, while our North of England-based Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group is going from strength to strength, hitting the maximum membership limit this year for the very first time, I was unable to get a critical mass together to launch a Southern chapter. Brexit was quoted by several otherwise very interested contacts as a reason they couldn't commit. The great irony of course is that during the financial crisis companies with a strong commitment to Sustainability weathered the storm better than those who didn't.

But that grumble aside, here are some more highlights of the last 12 months:

  • Continuing to work with our wonderful roster of existing clients including the BBC, NHS Blood & Transplant, Johnson Matthey, Newcastle NHS Hospitals Trust and Stanley Black & Decker;
  • Some great new clients including Durham University, Esh Construction, the Thirteen Group and Elopak;
  • The publication of our latest white paper Seven Steps to a Successful Sustainability Strategy;
  • Some fantastic questions for my regular Ask Gareth YouTube series (If you haven't subscribed to our YouTube channel, get over there straight away and do so);
  • Continuing success of our regular Green Academy training programme;
  • And, more recently, the launch of our new online training course: Green Jujitsu: Smart Employee Engagement for Sustainability.

And things are looking pretty good for the six months ahead with an strong focus on helping clients to implement their Sustainability Strategy. The good ship Terra Infirma sails on!

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

14 July 2017

On Demand: Sustainability Strategy Live! (& Coming Attractions)

On Wednesday, as a bit of an experiment, I did a session on Sustainability Strategy using Facebook Live. I only got a handful of viewers live, and disappointingly no questions, but the recording has had many dozens of views since and some very positive feedback.

Here's the recording:

So, what have I learned?

Despite the extra hassle in signing up and downloading a viewer, people seem to prefer signing up to one of my Weber-Hosted Green Academy webinars – maybe it is seen as more business-like during office hours. Maybe you're all blocked from Facebook at the office.

But the convenience means I can broadcast value at the drop of a hat, so I'm working up the idea of using Facebook Live for some short sharp bite-sized sessions. If anyone catches them and asks a question, then great, but the main aim will be for people watching it as and when suits them.

To get these, send me a friend request on Facebook - you can find me here: https://www.facebook.com/gareth.kane.1612

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

23 June 2017

Science-based Targets: Hope or Hype?

carbon footprintThe latest thing in Sustainability is 'Science-based Targets'. The basic idea is to use the carbon emissions trajectory that the IPCC says is required to stick to 2°C of warming and apportion that reduction to your organisation's carbon footprint either in absolute terms, via a sector-based target, or based on your turnover. I always think it is worth questioning whether the 'latest thing' stands up to the hype or not, so here is my take.

The advantages I see of the science-based approach are:

  • You can be reasonably sure that you are committing to your 'fair share' of emissions cuts;
  • It will communicate the scale of the challenge to stakeholders and decision makers;
  • You can point to other organisations (preferably competitors) who are using science-based targets;
  • Many, but by no means all, will see 'science based' as a seal of approval for the target.

The disadvantages are: Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

16 June 2017

SDGs & Business: snog, marry, avoid?

SDGs

Yesterday I spent an enjoyable afternoon at Newcastle Business School at an event on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) run by the Global Compact. I was on the panel for the discussion session, the lone person looking at the environmental sustainability side of things – the others were experts in business ethics.

This event was part of a roadshow launched because awareness of the SDGs in the UK has been found to be the lowest in Europe. The presumption then is that everybody needs to be aware of them, but as usual, I'm less concerned with how many people are aware of the goals; I'm more bothered that the right people are aware of the goals.

In the recent UK general election, all three major UK-wide parties made commitments to the SDGs in their manifestos. This is important as the goals are highly appropriate for all levels of Government. But beyond that, is it really realistic to expect someone running a coffee cart to be able to list all 17 goals (never mind the 169 targets) and explain how they are addressing each one? Clearly not.

At the event, I made the argument that every enterprise needs to pick the 5-7 issues which are most material to their business and prioritise those. After all, if you prioritise everything, you prioritise nothing. For this priority setting process, the SDGs and targets provide a useful checklist.

The SDGs can also be useful for a trans-national corporation to use the goals as a reality check, flag up risks and for sustainability reporting (at least one of my clients is using them for this purpose). For entrepreneurs, the SDGs are a useful guide to how the global economy may shift and where new business opportunities may arise.

So, in terms of my supercilious blog post title, my advice would be that business should not avoid the goals, nor try to marry their sustainability strategy to all 17. Pick the priorities and work on those - happy snogging!*

 

* 'snog' is British slang for a passionate kiss

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

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.

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

2 June 2017

The one question you need to ask of every Sustainability project

Terra Infirma Sustainability Coaching

I was down in Manchester yesterday for a session with a client I haven't worked with for years. They had called me in 'to pick my brains' about employee engagement. In the past I've found such requests a bit of a double-edged sword – on one hand it is great to get paid to share your knowledge, experiences and opinions, but on the other you can leave them with a whole load of exciting sounding but abstract ideas and no way forward.

To avoid the latter, I structure such engagements like a coaching session. I start by asking them the killer question – to define the ideal solution looking forward. "If this is 100% successful, in 5 years' time what will it look like?"

That might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised at the number of people who start with a process rather than an objective. That's a bit like a DIY enthusiast grabbing the first tool in their toolbox and using it no matter what the task entails. You don't want to be wiring a plug with a lump hammer.

The answer to this question sets the direction of everything else in the discussion. Not does it point us in the right direction, but, psychologically, it makes the journey feel much more achievable. When we look at the present day opportunities and threats, we get more of the former and the latter seem much less ominous. Throughout yesterday's session I repeatedly referred back to the ideal solution.

Planning the route is where I break with the strictest form of coaching, as I make recommendations from my experience working across a wide range of businesses from a crazy golf course (honestly!) to multinational aerospace companies. Coaching purists will be sucking through their teeth at that, but I give a series of options and recommend the one I think is best for the client. This makes sure they still have ownership over the agreed way forward.

But the key to success is really pinning down that 'ideal solution', even when, like yesterday, the client had put some thought to it already. Whether I'm asking that question of a group of stakeholders to define the outcome of a Sustainability Strategy during a backcasting session, or of an individual client on a 1-2-1 coaching session, getting the desired outcome pinned down will increase the chances of success many times over.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

26 May 2017

Sustainability Strategy and Engagement: two sides to the same coin

team meeting

I had a meeting with a potential new client this morning. They want a sustainability strategy, but most of the conversation revolved about engagement of internal stakeholders. That's because, without engagement, a strategy will sit on a shelf gathering dust.

If you have engagement and no strategy, you're limiting yourself to incremental improvements in sustainability performance. In fact I know organisations who have wasted their high levels of engagement because the lack of strategy meant they hit diminishing returns and employees started to lose patience with slowing progress.

While Terra Infirma's two main streams of consultancy work are strategy and engagement, in practice there is a massive overlap between them.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

5 May 2017

Breaking out of the Sustainability Silo


This month's Ask Gareth answers a great question from 'Bill' (name has been changed) which many face – how do you put together a Sustainability Strategy in a vacuum? I explain three steps to breaking out of the Sustainability Silo and getting key decision makers involved.

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.

 

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

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.

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

24 March 2017

Keeping the passion in Sustainability after the honeymoon


This month's Ask Gareth answers a great question from Dan – how do you keep Sustainability running after the honeymoon. My basic answer is that it is too late to consider it then and I suggest three ways you can design your Sustainability programme to be self sustaining.

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.

Seven steps to a Sustainability StrategyAnd don't forget, there's much more of this advice in our new white paper Seven Steps to a Successful Sustainability Strategy. We're getting some great feedback on this guide, so make sure you check it out!

 

 

Tags: , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

6 March 2017

Sod's Law & Sustainability

escher

I have a tonne of stuff to do this week, yet I’m writing this in my local NHS Walk-in Centre waiting to get my eye checked out after an unfortunate gardening incident yesterday. It’s always the way, isn’t it? Just as you want to get off to a flying start, you notice your shoelaces are undone.

I often find Sustainability practitioners waiting for the perfect moment to launch their new project, venture or strategy. And, of course that perfect moment never comes. New legislation, a change in CEO, Brexit – there’s always something that pops up to spoil the moment.

So what can we do? Are we doomed to sit in perpetual stasis?

Well the first thing I did here in the waiting room was to remind myself of my long term priorities, then sketch down what I’m going to do this week and today to help meet those goals. That put my mind at rest, dissolved most of the frustration and focussed me on forward motion.

When I’m working with clients, I use a technique called backcasting to do the same on a grander scale. Instead of trying to work through the short term noise, we work backwards from the ultimate goal to work out what we need to do now to hit the right trajectory. After that exercise, usually carried out with key stakeholders, the way ahead appears clear and straightforward, no matter what life is throwing at us from the sidelines.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

1 March 2017

Build the Sustainability Strategy that works for you

structure

Sometimes I just can't help myself challenging what I see as inadvertently dangerous statements on Sustainability. One tweet I saw yesterday was about how little business understands the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that this was a Bad Thing. My view is that the 17 SDGs and their multifarious subgoals do not provide a suitable structure for corporate sustainability. So I couldn't resist weighing in.

What problem have I got with the SDGs? It's the same with trying to adopt, say, the ten One Planet Living principles. There's nothing wrong with OPL, but can you recite all ten principles without looking? I bet no-one can recite the 17 SDGs without hesitating. Are all 10OPLs/17SDGs priorities for every business? After all, these frameworks are designed to be universal, and, if you prioritise everything, you prioritise nothing.

Imagine Google trying to come up with a statement on land use. Yes, they could plant a few extra shrubs to attract butterflies at the Googleplex, but I'd rather see them focus efforts on their carbon footprint (which they do) as that will make most difference – and be most meaningful to employees and other stakeholders. Leave land use to the food, fibre and forestry industries.

There's a deeper reason why you shouldn't try to adopt someone else's framework wholesale – the concept of 'Not Invented Here'. You will never, ever get as much buy-in for an imported off-the-shelf system than you do for one which has been created by those charged with delivering on it. A inclusive process of creating the strategy and setting the goals can be used to help create the culture required to deliver them (one of the reasons why we base our strategy development process around workshops for key decision makers).

Strategy + culture = success.

Take one of my clients, Interface. When founder Ray Anderson created Mission Zero, the overall target was a zero footprint by 2020. They break this down to 7 goals which are appropriate for the business – which is good as 7 is roughly the limit to the number of things you can easily remember. They call these the seven faces of Mount Sustainability, all of which have to be climbed. My pedantic side says "but you only need to climb one face of a mountain...", but that quibble doesn't matter – Interface created the analogy, they own it, and it works for them, big time. That's what matters.

So, use the SDGs, One Planet Living or whatever as a checklist to pick and choose from, but build the strategy that works for you and your colleagues, not something off the shelf.

Don't forget to download our new white paper: Seven Steps to a Successful Sustainability Strategy

 

 

Tags: , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

22 February 2017

Free Download!

Seven steps to a Sustainability Strategy

To get my new white paper "Seven Steps to a Successful Sustainability Strategy", simply fill in your details below and the download link will be send to your e-mail inbox.

 

Tags:

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

15 February 2017

Is long term thinking always a good thing?

Planet of the Apes Liberty

A couple of times in recent weeks and months I have heard/read calls for 'long term thinking' for Sustainability - 2050 seems to have a particular allure due to UN climate targets. As is all too common in our field, there is no challenge to the assumption that this is a good thing. But in my experience, setting organisational targets too far in the future, is counter-productive. Here's why:

1. People, particularly key decision makers, assume they will be on the golf course or pushing up the daisies by then and don't see the targets as their problem, so you create drift;

2. For everyone, 2050 seems a long time away, so there will be plenty of time to do something about those targets when all this short term stuff gets sorted;

3. The assumption that technology will come to our rescue, also negating the need to act now – solar powered hover cars and all that.

In other words, we need timeframes which create a sense of urgency while giving time to make substantial change. I find 7-10 years is optimum for most organisations with significant assets; you can go a bit shorter in, say, the service sector. If you are wedded to 2050, make sure you set some interim targets (2025?) to create that urgency.

I suppose a bit like 'Think Global, Act Local', we need to 'Think Long Term, Act Now.'

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

6 February 2017

Will Sustainability get Trumped?

A very topical question for this month's Ask Gareth – what will happen to Sustainability in the age of Donald Trump? I offer three important principles to make sure short term political upsets don't derail your Sustainability programme.

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 here.

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

1 February 2017

Why "Go Green, Save Money" can hold you back...

redtape

Over the last couple of days I've been writing about understanding the business case for sustainability, why it varies for different companies and why it is imperative to understand how it affects you. What bothers me is the way most commenters have defaulted to the 'Go Green Save Money' mindset. I'm clearly not getting my message across!

I can see why people default to 'save money', you can and probably will save money through your sustainability programme. For some companies this is a strong driver, but for most, keeping regulators and customers happy will be much more important for the business. After all, breaking compliance can lead to product recalls or plant shut downs, disappointing your customers can lead to loss of market share; both of which will have a much bigger financial impact than shaving a few % off the energy bill. From a positive point of view, raising turnover by gaining market share or exploiting new emerging markets will dwarf any efficiency savings.

This is extremely important as if you stick to the 'Go Green Save Money' mindset you will not do make any of the step changes required to get your business fit for the 21st Century. You'll be debating returns on investment while your competitors plunder your market share.

I recorded the following video on the business case a few years ago. It's getting a bit long in the tooth, but the core message still rings true.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

31 January 2017

The Sweetspot of Sustainability Success

Business Case Venn

I love a good Venn diagram so, when I was reviewing the contents of this week's Business Case for Sustainability webinar, I realised there was an interlocking-circles shaped gap in the introduction. So, I came up with the above.

It illustrates a basic principle of Sustainability success: when Sustainability programmes are synergistic with business interests (and, more importantly, are seen to be synergistic) then that programme will in itself be (small 's') sustainable. Conversely, if you design a Sustainability programme which doesn't fit with business interests then you will have a constant battle to keep it on the agenda at all, never mind making significant changes. First bump in the road and you can say goodbye to the commitment.

What does this mean in practice? Well if your Sustainability programme is driven by customer demand, then you focus Sustainability efforts on those customer demands, rather than, say, cost reductions. If, like one of my clients, you are selling reasonably complex products globally, then compliance is at the fore (eg eradicating problem chemicals) rather than cost cutting. However, if you are a bulk commodity producer you may find that a cost reduction focus will give your Sustainability programme traction with the powers that be.

I sometimes get accused of cynicism when I present ideas like this, but idealism is the enemy of success. And don't forget this pragmatism is just a starting point; once you have embedded Sustainability in the organisation as a friend, not a a foe, you can work to increase the area of overlap by converging the two circles. But finding that starting point is crucial.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

29 December 2016

2016 at Terra Infirma Towers

If 2016 was a tumultuous one in world affairs – Brexit, Trump, Syria, all your childhood icons dying – it was a relatively calm one here at Terra Infirma Towers. It was a year of solid delivery rather than breakthrough and, possibly related, for me personally, spending a lot of time in physio to try (semi-successfully) to get the little finger I dislocated at the start of January working again. Many of my blog posts in 2016 were written in the coffee shop of the Royal Victoria Infirmary here in Newcastle (a client of ours, so I wrote it off as background research!).

From a work point of view, we delivered on several major projects started in 2015. Two of these, a research project on employee engagement for a major sustainability leader, and a sustainability strategy for NHSBT, will become publicly available next year. I intend to delve quite deeply into those for your benefit when they are launched as some of the content and lessons are really cool, if I may say so myself. A notable new client was Durham University, who we helped to embed sustainability into its mainstream engineering degree syllabus – a real passion of mine.

The Northern England Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (CoSM) continued delivering top value for its members. What I really like is when I see conclusions from CoSM shaping the sustainability programmes of members in practice. The Group will motor on in 2017 and we're looking to put together a Southern branch.

I put a lot of work updating our Green Academy webinar programme this year and we had some  great new companies signing up. If you want to try it out for free, our 2017 taster session is on 18 January.

So that just leaves me to thank all our clients, partners, associates, friends and family for their support in 2016 – and looking forward to 2017 and whatever it may hold!

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

2 December 2016

Let's Build the Sustainable Future we want to see

sunrise

After the groundswell of hope after the Paris Agreement this time last year, 2016 hasn't been a great year for sustainability in general and climate change in particular, cumulating in the election of a (probable) climate change sceptic to the White House.

But I am cheered by the 400 businesses who wrote to the President Elect and told him to keep on the low carbon trajectory. Don't forget the much repeated lament of anti-capitalist activists as to how much power the corporate world wields. Much as I'm a staunch democrat, if business has that power and uses it for good, I'm not going to complain. That's true Corporate Social Responsibility.

So I call on every corporation to create a vision of a sustainable future for their business eco-system and develop a strategy to deliver on it. Don't wait for politicians to lead; if you forge a sustainable path, they will follow (and, some at least will try to claim credit - just let them). Build the future you want to see.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

30 November 2016

Beware the Dilution of Sustainability...

failure-rateDuring her leadership campaign in the summer, PM Theresa May promised to shake up corporate governance. She would give workers a place on company boards and make shareholders' votes on executive pay binding – all things her party blocked during the coalition years of 2010-2015. But when the proposals were published yesterday, they had been watered down to a level of toothlessness.

This reminded me of a diagram which someone sent me recently (I understand it was produced by Bain&Co, but I don't have further details of the source). It shows that Sustainability projects have a much better failure rate than other projects, but suffer from an extremely high level of dilution – in fact very few succeed without some kind of compromise.

I would love to know the exact reasons for this. Some may be difficult to overcome such as immature technology and/or supply chains (although that can be sorted out), but I suspect much of it comes down to nervousness by decision makers, tiptoeing their way through unfamiliar territory.

My solution to the latter problem is to make sure those decision makers are involved in developing the proposals. Psychology has shown that when people are presented with a change, they exaggerate the risks and play down the benefits, but when they generate the change idea themselves, that flips to overestimating benefits and playing down risks. I have had a boardroom bump up Sustainability targets by taking this approach – the complete opposite of the pattern shown by that diagram.

 

Tags: ,

Posted by Gareth Kane no responses

Free monthly bulletin:

Learn how to help your business go green from the comfort of your desk..

View events

By Gareth Kane

Everything you need to know to integrate sustainability into the DNA of your business.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

A highly accessible, practical guide to those who want to introduce sustainability into their business or organization quickly and effectively.

Submit button

By Gareth Kane

The smart way to engage effectively with employees

View events