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5 July 2017

The most powerful tool in Sustainability engagement

workshop lo res

Last Wednesday I ran a workshop to upskill Sustainability Champions at one of my clients. This week I've been writing up the results, a rather laborious task as the 12 champions present produced a whopping 320 Post-Its, with one idea on each. That means that each delegate averaged over 26 thoughts about Sustainability in just over half a day.

Just think about that. 26 separate ideas per person.

OK, a very small number were jokes, we got a few duplicates (the 'ratcheting' workshop structure I used minimises duplication), a larger number were statements of the obvious, but a substantial number were truly insightful, meaning the delegates really had to think through the issues and how they applied to the organisation. That is true engagement; you won't get that with an awareness poster!

This is why the workshop is at the core of my consultancy business. I truly believe it is the most powerful tool in Sustainability engagement.

[If you want to see how I run such successful workshops, check out our Workshop Facilitation Masterclass, which explains the powerful 'ratcheting' structure I used last week.]

 

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30 June 2017

Perfect Green Jujitsu

Green Jujitsu Venn

On Wednesday I was delivering a workshop upskilling green champions at one of my healthcare clients. Just before we got into the meat of the session, learning about green jujitsu (see above) in order to engage effectively with their colleagues, the director with responsibility for Sustainability (amongst a much wider portfolio of responsibility) arrived to talk to the champions.

I'm always a little nervous at times like these as I have to keep my fingers crossed that what 'The Boss' says is aligned to what I am trying to communicate. While I have done a boardroom session where I used green jujitsu to get the board to make the links between the health and sustainability agendas, I haven't explicitly coached them in the technique.

I needn't have worried, the director told the champions clearly that, as their mission was to save and improve lives, then Sustainability was very much part of that mission, whether in terms of air quality, reduction of toxic materials or climate change. That is the perfect green jujitsu, when you can link Sustainability to the core purpose of the organisation.

I then explained the principles of green jujitsu to the champions. We all filter out all the stuff that doesn't interest us and pay attention only to what we want to – like flicking through the magazines in the dentist's waiting room until an article or picture catches our attention. So to get people's attention in Sustainability, you have to find the elements of Sustainability which get through their filters.

If your message is "Stop thinking about what you are passionate about and think about what I am passionate about", you start to sound like the pub bore. My client's employees are passionate about health, so health becomes the starting point every time.

 

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23 March 2016

Inside the Sustainability Mastermind Group

If you've ever wondered how our Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group operates, here are a few pics from the last meeting at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The topic of the meeting was Sustainability Strategy and you can see some of the generic learning points here.

Note the graphical template we use to structure the discussion, populating it with Post-its and the 'take home points' flipchart where we record generic lessons. No Powerpoint. This creates a fertile environment for sharing and learning about real, gritty sustainability at the coal face – not the glossy PR-honed version you get from bog standard conferences.

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18 August 2015

Sustainability Strategy: First Things Last

Environmental data and analysisLast week, straight back from my US sojourn, I had to get my jet-lagged, sleep-deprived brain quickly back in gear for a progress meeting with a major client. We've run two sustainability strategy workshops for them, one at the operational level and one at the executive level and it's now time to bring all that together into a whole.

During the discussion, the client suggested it would be helpful to have a 'horizon diagram' showing the timeframes for different initiatives, with the vital enabling actions in the first tranche.

Both workshops had used a backcasting method which starts at the desired end (10 year objectives) and works backwards to the present day. During the workshops (and the write ups), we arranged the stages from right to left as we produced them, so they could be read 'forwards' in chronological order from left to right, ie present day to 10 years hence. This means we already have two horizon diagrams which we can meld into one (with a little pixie-dust added).

If we had tried to construct a horizon diagram starting from present day and working forwards, the 'first things' would determine the direction of the strategy, not the objectives. There would be no guarantee that those first steps would take us in the right direction. The tail would wag the dog.

So, while in practice you need to put first things first, in planning you've got to leave them until last. That might sound obvious, but I've watched plenty of people try to do it the other way around.

And fail.

 

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7 November 2014

"Why?" is the most powerful weapon in sustainability

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One of the things I love about my job is I get to speak to people from a wide range of sectors - from charity shops to defence, from crazy golf course owners (really!) to national newspaper groups. On Wednesday I chalked up a new one - the laboratory sector when I was asked to talk about Green Jujitsu at LabInnovations2014.

One of the perks about these gigs is hearing other speakers - I've worked alongside sport legends such as Steve Backley and Ellen MacArthur - and this time the keynote was given by Robin Ince of Infinite Monkey Cage fame. He was very entertaining and made a wonderful case for being proud and excited by science for science's sake, never mind solving the world's problems.

Another highlight for me was Andrea Sella, Chemistry Prof at UCL and frequent Monkey Cage participant. Andrea is one of those ferociously intelligent people who has never lost that childhood knack of questioning absolutely everything - and has the manic energy to pursue any enquiry to its fundamentals. And he reminded me of the importance of asking Why? because the answer is usually "We've always done it like this."

Andrea told an anecdote about lab gloves at UCL. Every student entering a lab was being issued with gloves - a total of 250,000 per annum at a cost of £15k, even though:

  • Not all the chemicals the students were using were harmful;
  • The gloves don't actually protect your skin against many organic solvents such as toluene - giving a false sense of security;
  • Students spill more chemicals when they're wearing the gloves than when they don't.

He persuaded his Health & Safety people to only issue gloves when they were needed - and would actually make a difference (I would love to have sat in on that conversation). The result was a massive reduction in glove use, a cut in waste production and a decent financial saving - and no rise in accidents as the students take more care with bare hands.

You will be surprised how many decisions are made by default. Your job as a sustainability practitioner is to find your inner toddler and always ask "Why?" You may be surprised by the results.

 

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26 March 2014

Back(casting) to the Future

Back_to_the_FutureI spent yesterday running a sustainability strategy workshop for one of my major clients. The main challenge in getting people to think strategically is to help them escape 'the tyranny of the present' - all those  gripes, battles and personality clashes that encumber what we are trying to do right now.

I used two methods to overthrow this tyranny:

First I got all the gripes out in the open by getting the attendees to write on Post-its the positives and negatives in the organisation's sustainability efforts so far and clustered them on a wall template - this formed the current situation;

Secondly, we used a 'backcasting' methodology as follows:

  • Agree what targets we would like to hit in 10 year's time;
  • Split into teams and brainstorm visions of what the organisation would look like if it had hit that target - these were drawn on flip chart sheets;
  • Still in teams, generate a list of what the organisation would need to have achieved in 5 years' time to be on track to each 10 year vision;
  • Finally generate a list of actions the organisation would need to do right now to get from the current situation to each 5 year list.

By arranging the flip chart sheets from the current situation to the 10 year visions on a wall, we ended up with a map showing several pathways from today to that 10 year goal. Interestingly, the 'right now' action lists were quite similar, which means the initial strategy will be flexible enough to encompass a gamut of future possibilities - they won't have to bet on a single outcome coming to pass.

Not only does backcasting break with the present, but it's very inspiring, creates some really substantial and meaningful debate, and it's good fun to boot. It's a bit like building your own time machine - and you don't even need a DeLorean...

 

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24 March 2014

Sustainability Workshops Work (or I wouldn't run so many)

BenFranklinI'm off later today to Birmingham to run a client workshop to develop a sustainability strategy. As I've mused before, given the number of workshops I run, I could be accused of thinking "The answer's a workshop, now what was the question?", but I will reach out to "The First American", Benjamin Franklin, in my defence:

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."

Too many sustainability practitioners are in the first category, some fall in the second, but only a few genuinely do the third. If you want people to 'get' sustainability, you've got to involve them, and I find the workshop is the best vehicle for this. I tend to bring in my expertise after participants have had their say, not beforehand, to polish the workshop outputs into a workable plan/strategy and fill in the gaps, but the process is as important as the output.

 

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24 February 2012

Tipping Point Thoughts

I've spent the last 2 days at Tipping Point Newcastle - tagline "the creative response to climate change". I must admit I signed up thinking of 'creative' in the broadest sense rather than 'creative industries' which was the focus. This left me a little worried whether my rather robust views on sustainability and practitioners of interpretative dance would mix. But there were plenty of other non-arts people - scientists, engineers and public servants - amongst the 200+ attendees, a good balance for sparking off debate.

The event got off to a pleasingly rambunctious start with a rather feisty debate between Tyndall Centre boss Prof Kevin Anderson and author of The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley. Anderson gave a rather terrifying view of our chances of meeting either a 2°C limit on temperatures (snowball/hell) and 4°C (outside bet) which exceed that portrayed by, say, the IPCC. Ridley told us climate change was slow and mild, not fast and dangerous. I was really disappointed in Ridley - he's meant to be at the intelligent end of the climate sceptic spectrum, but he indulged in all the sleights of hand and extreme cherrypicking of the lunatic fringe. As I couldn't critique his entire presentation within the timeframe, I pulled him up on just one trick to prove my point. He had plotted temperature data from the non-polar regions (HADCRUT) against the IPPC whole earth models (GISS) and concluded the world is warming slower than predicted. I pointed out the fraud here - the models are spot on if you compare like with like (see here). He retorted it wouldn't make any difference, I countered if that was so, why didn't he use the correct data and prove it ('cos he couldn't).

However one of the benefits of hearing Mr Ridley's individualist libertarianism was it balanced out a tendency towards dogmatic anti-capitalist rhetoric from some attendees. I was heartened by the number of people willing to challenge those green myths which are often based on just as flimsy evidence as those of the climate change deniers.

After the verbal sparring, Thursday was much more collegiate affair using Open Space to allow participants to propose their own topics for discussion and form break out meetings. I have read much about Open Space, but have never taken part - indeed one of the reasons for me being at the event was to try it out. Basically, those who want to discuss a topic write it down on a piece of paper and read it out. The pieces of paper get stuck to the wall below a letter - if you fancy a topic you find the group with that letter and if it doesn't live up to expectations you can drift off and find something that does. The results are summarised and pinned up on the wall so you can drift past with a coffee and get a flavour of the whole session very quickly. I loved it - no-one can complain the agenda was any good if they get to set it.

Overall there was a great cross fertilisation of thinking between the 'geeks' and the 'arty-types'. Many of the artists said they found the 'experts' brought clarity and a grounding to their thinking and the 'experts' got a better grasp of some of the cultural and emotional angles to what we are trying to communicate or implement. I even got interviewed as to my views on the book Solar by Ian McEwan for a PhD thesis.

A great event, very well organised (except for the coffee arrangements, grrr) leaving everyone I came across with a real buzz of enthusiasm. I'll explore some of the resulting issues I've got swirling around my head at more length next week when I've had a chance to chew them over.

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20 February 2012

Learning The Sustainability Ropes


Well it's first day back in the saddle after a great half term doing dad things with my eldest, Harry - the break coincided with his 5th birthday, so there's been a lot of fun going on. One of the things I've really noticed over the last year is how far his confidence has come on when it comes to climbing frames, adventure playgrounds and the like. This time last year he was rather timid compared to his peers, now he's at the top of everything, showing off.

While some of this change could be natural development, I put a lot of it down to my own attitude holding him back. For years I did what many modern parents do and stand over (or under) him, shouting encouragement, advice and warnings. Often he would just give up, so eventually I gave up too, and let him do his own thing while I checked Twitter from a park bench. The change was incredible - every time I looked up from my iPhone, he'd be trying something new. And over time I noticed he would be even more adventurous when the climbing frame was crawling with other kids - I thought they'd make him nervous, but I was wrong - it drove him (literally) to new heights.

I've noticed the same thing with the thousands of people I have trained in sustainability over the years. If they're into sustainability then, yes, you can play the expert role and give lectures. But for people who less convinced, I've found it is better to put my ego in check and let them explore sustainability, and what it means to them, with their peers. So more and more of my work is about asking the right question, rather than providing the 'right' answer. Getting a group of people who work together to develop their own sustainability solutions moves an organisation much further forwards than, say, giving individuals an understanding of the concept of 'Factor 10'. And you often get some corking new ideas to boot.

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