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17 November 2017

The Best Way to Engage People in Sustainability

Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group Workshop

I'm currently working with two clients on the roll-out of their Sustainability Strategies. Both of these roll outs basically involve delivering suitable workshops for key decision makers. The guts of each workshop will be a backcasting process where we work out what needs to change by 20XX and work backwards to the present day to determine what they need to start doing now to get on the right trajectory.

I also have designing the next Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (on customer behaviour) on my to do list. That means designing yet another workshop.

Basically, my consultancy consists of designing workshops, delivering workshops and turning the results of workshops into recommendations.


Because nothing gives people such an intense experience of what Sustainability means to their day job than working it out for themselves in a workshop format. You get buy-in and action plans. Workshops work.

If you want to find out how we use the workshop so effectively, including the backcasting process, check out our on-demand workshop facilitation masterclass. It contains all my secrets!


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3 November 2017

Rolling out a Sustainability Strategy

org charts

I was down in London yesterday, facilitating a workshop for a client who is about to roll their Sustainability Strategy out across the entire organisation – which happens to span the entire globe. This is an incredible challenge.

We could of course produce a standard slide deck and tour the world with it (physically or electronically), but we all know what would happen – everybody would nod along and then go back to their desks/workstation and go back to doing what they have always done.

On the other hand, when you are dealing with a huge multinational organisation, you can't run an interactive workshop for every last individual, you would never complete the job by the end of the Strategy timeframe. The engagement principle I use in such cases is:

Everybody needs to know something about everything, but certain people need to know a lot about certain things.

'Everybody' can be reached by the slide deck, but those 'certain people' would need direct engagement.

My task is to help my client map out 'who needs to know what' and yesterday's workshop was held to generate the first iteration of that map. The interesting thing was that the results were quite different from what I and my client had envisaged in our pre-meetings.

This is the power of a properly structured and facilitated workshop – the process of starting with identifying exactly what we were trying to achieve and then moving on to how we were going to achieve it blew many implicit assumptions out of the water. It was a highly valuable exercise!


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18 September 2017

Moving the Sustainability Conversation on...

Sustainability Engagement

An old friend and colleague dropped by for a cup of tea yesterday. While our respective kids decanted all the toys in the house onto the floor, we tried to put the world to rights. He was a bit frustrated as he had recently organised a high-brow discussion event on climate change, but despite all the intellectual firepower in the room, the conversation got stuck on one topic: domestic recycling.

We discussed this – agreeing that as recycling is the most obvious change in our home lives in the last decade or two that nods towards Sustainability, so that's why people default to it. We then mulled on how to move the conversation on.

My view is that if you want, say, people to choose more sustainable forms of transport, then trying to persuade them that their current choice is unsustainable is the wrong way to go (I referenced the newspaper column I ridiculed the other week). If you want to get people walking or cycling, then personal health is often the best button to press (I speak as someone who has lost 6kg since Christmas without reducing my cake intake) – along with providing the necessary infrastructure to make those choices more pleasant than driving. Likewise the Tesla approach of EV-as-status-symbol makes electric vehicles aspirational, not hair-shirt shroud-waving.

This is, of course, a form of Green Jujitsu, as we are often better not talking climate change, but the language which appeals to the audience. Cycling is good for you and the planet; it doesn't matter why people do it, just that they do.


[As an aside, the conversation getting stuck on recycling at the event may be due to the format and human nature. If you simply open the debate to the floor, then the first topic raised will often dominate the conversation – it's a simple psychological phenomenon. That's why for my engagement, I prefer to use a workshop format and large discussion templates – the format of the template is designed to make sure the participants cover every part of the exam question and not just the first thing that springs to mind. For more on this, check out our Workshop Facilitation Masterclass.]


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25 November 2016

Green Academy Black Friday Offer

green-academy-2017OK, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. This year, for the very first time, we're offering a Black Friday deal on next year's Green Academy – and it's a whopper! All 10 webinars (11 including the Taster) for just £165.00 + VAT – 50% off the normal cost. But only if you sign up today – just click the button below.

If you're not familiar with the Green Academy format, with our unique workbooks to help you apply the ideas directly to your business, then check out the video below. 

And there's more! We're also offering 50% off our on-demand Workshop Masterclass. If you are not using workshops as a change management tool, then you should be – you're almost guaranteed buy-in if you involve people in designing the change you are trying to make. Click here to get 50% off the usual price of £60.00 + VAT.

You can't say fairer than that!



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30 September 2016

How to get the most from a Sustainability Expert

YodaWe had another great Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group meeting yesterday, focussing on the supply chain (full summary next week). Almost every meeting ends up discussing the supply chain to some degree, and in turn the supply chain meeting was dominated by the need for engagement of procurement staff and suppliers. There's something of a hierarchy of subjects developing of which engagement is always at the base.

One engagement theme that emerged yesterday was how external experts and speakers can influence people in a way an internal change agent can't. This is kind of the opposite of 'not invented here', but it is certainly true that people often give more credence to an outsider with suitable status telling them about change than someone they know. We demonstrated this last Tuesday by getting Colin Thirlaway of Stanley Black & Decker to open proceedings to demonstrate that Sustainability was a real world business issue, not just a theoretical one.

I spend a lot of time facilitating workshop sessions for my clients. In this role my outsider status works really well, and I have one golden rule to maintain that independence:

I will never, ever become a proponent of 'the party line'.

Doing so would not only instantly destroy my position as the honest broker, but on a practical level, I will never understand the context or sensitivities sufficiently well to win an argument. If there's a message to be communicated, then I insist that a staff member take that role.

In fact, I've turned down the chance of a lucrative training contract with one of the world's largest brands because they insisted that a dubious health claim be included in the content. I couldn't defend that to anyone who challenged it, so I said no.

In other words, use an outsider to help with your engagement, but don't expect them to become an insider.


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28 September 2016

Sustainability: Engineering in the Real World


Yesterday I was facilitating a workshop for the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Durham University. The purpose was to find ways to further embed Sustainability issues (social, environmental and economic) into the syllabus. I entered the room with a touch of manflu and no little trepidation - academics can be a tough audience as they, rightly, have a culture of questioning everything.

Here's how I approached it to make sure I didn't lose the room:

  • I went straight into the first session without more than a 2 minute pre-amble. No pointless round of introductions to put everyone to sleep.
  • We started with a presentation by a client, Colin Thirlaway, global compliance manager for Stanley Black & Decker. Colin made a powerfully persuasive case that, as SBD's 20,000 product lines had to be designed for a sustainable economy, the engineers of the future will need plenty of appropriate skills and knowledge. In doing so, he killed off any doubt that this was an important subject. This made the rest of the workshop really easy.
  • Next we split into groups and asked why Sustainability should be in the syllabus. This doubled down on the message that it was a critical subject – and the classic Green Jujitsu technique of getting delegates to sell sustainability to themselves.
  • The following segments followed up the "Why?" with "What topics are required?", "Where in the syllabus?" and "How should Sustainability be presented?". For each question, delegates had to write their own ideas on Post-Its before they came together. This stops any individual dominating any group and captures the full gamut of thoughts.

As usual, it went swimmingly, although my brain got a little fugged as the Lemsip wore off towards the end. Now I've just got to write it all up...


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6 July 2016

Get a new perspective on Sustainability


Have you ever noticed how much you notice when you are on holiday? Wander around a strange place and details leap out at you in a way they never do in your home town. There's a whole genre of travel writing based on such observations, but you rarely, if ever, get anyone writing in such detail about their own neighbourhood (Xavier de Maistre famously wrote Voyage Autour de Ma Chambre to parody travel writing). Familiarity closes our minds, travel broadens them.

I was reminded of this when a client recently told me it was great to get a fresh pair of eyes (mine!) in to sort out a couple of sticking points in his corporation's sustainability strategy. One of the most important things an outsider can do, as I did in this case, is question implicit assumptions – the way your mind closes down options subconsciously. I now do more coaching and facilitation than traditional 'clipboard consulting' as this broadening of the mind can make an order of magnitude greater impact than a report of recommendations gathering dust on somebody's shelf.

How are you going to get yourself out of your comfort zone today?


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7 March 2016

Turning 'OR' into 'AND' for sustainability

what can I do

Years ago I was at a regional sustainability workshop and the facilitators made the mistake of giving each table a blank flipchart to list our priorities.* One lady in our group from a conservation group promptly slammed a fat file of newspaper clippings and internet print-outs on the table and commenced a lengthy rant against wind turbines, oblivious and impervious to all attempts to change the subject.

More recently we've had the big debate about climate change vs local air quality – I'm one of those who went diesel in the drive to cut carbon emissions, but at the expense of other pollutants. Of course the anti-climate change brigade have jumped on this as an example of 'green idiocy'.

And I'm sure we've all come across minds which are fixed in the concrete of "sustainability = reduced profits" despite all evidence to the contrary.

In all three cases, progress gets stuck on the spike of a false 'OR'. We can have renewable energy AND protect the countryside, we can tackle climate change AND local air quality, we can be sustainable AND turn a healthy profit. But those ORs must swap to ANDs or we'll be stuck on the start line.


* if you want to learn how to avoid workshops going wrong like this, check out our Workshop Masterclass.


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24 February 2016

You can't change culture for sustainability...

1024px-Leopard_africa...or not quickly anyway.

I was reminded of this on Monday at the sustainability strategy workshop I was running for a client, when a participant pleaded:

"Please, please, please, don't propose another bloody culture change programme!"

Or as Peter Drucker put it:

"Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got."

This is the essence of my Green Jujitsu approach to engagement. Find the overlap between the existing culture and sustainability and start there. So for engineers, talk engineering sustainability, for healthcare professionals, talk, say, air quality or fuel poverty, for journalists, use human interest stories and infographics*.

Speak the language of your audience and they'll absorb sustainability into the existing culture. After all, it's behaviour you need to change; if culture changes over time, then that's a bonus.


* note these aren't exclusives – you can use infographics for engineers, but you should use 'technical' imagery in those infographics.

Photo: © JanErkamp at the English language Wikipedia, Creative Commons License

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20 January 2016

There's always an excuse to do nothing...

the end is nigh

A couple of weeks ago, the wonderful Green Thinkers group I'm a member of considered Energy Without The Hot Air by David MacKay – a very analytical look at the energy challenge. Today there was an article in Guardian Sustainable Business taking a similar analytical look at electric cars. Both come to fairly pessimistic conclusions.

Despite all the numbers, I have a problem with this approach.

First, these analyses tend to use a snapshot of current technology and economics. They take little account of trends, future policy and obviously they can't predict technological breakthrough as that is unpredictable.

But, more importantly, the authors seem to revel in how impossible the challenge is right now, rather than focussing on solving it in the medium/long term. We end up feeling powerless and frustrated, entangled in short term issues when we should be creating the future we want.

This happens to be the theme of this month's Ask Gareth, if you haven't already seen it. I explain why forecasting is dangerous and why you should backcast instead.

If you are interested in Backcasting, it's one of the workshop formats I cover in my on-line Workshop Masterclass.


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5 October 2015

New! Workshop Facilitation Masterclass

workshop lo res

I'm really, really excited because, following months of work, my new workshop facilitation masterclass is now available on Udemy. Clients and regular readers will know that the workshop is the key weapon in my sustainability arsenal. This is for three reasons:

1. You get more brains working on the problem;

2. If you are an outsider, those brains know their day job much better than you do, so using that knowledge for sustainability gives better solutions;

but most importantly...

3. You get buy-in. Psychologically, if you propose something new to someone, they exaggerate the downside and are lukewarm about the upside. However, if they work it out for themselves, they exaggerate the likely benefits and downplay the risks. Your playing field tilts from uphill to downhill.

So I've done getting on for 100 workshops ranging from board level strategy development to external stakeholder engagement. This course means you can learn how I do it for yourself! Just click here for more.

Note that subscribers to the Low Carbon Agenda will get a 50% off code on Thursday 8 Oct. Fill in you details in the box on the right to make sure you get your discount.


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22 April 2013

8 Ways to Bring Creativity to Sustainability


Oh, look, it's Earth Day! And it was Earth Week just last week when I was bemoaning this rash of me-too, unoriginal thinking. Don't worry, I'm not going to rant about this again, but meeting the sustainability challenge is going to require more than the bog standard range of 'solutions' - awareness days, protests, posters, switch it off stickers, ISO14001 etc, etc.

To reduce the sheer bandwidth of information that floods our senses, we restrict our worldview to a certain frame and block out what doesn't fit in that frame. So us sustainability practitioners tend to see the world from a "Save the World!" point of view where "doing something, anything, for Earth Day" is more important than doing something effective.

The problem here is that the people whose attitudes and behaviour we need to change are looking at the world through a quite different frame. This is the whole point of my Green Jujitsu idea - that us practitioners need to take a look at the world through those other people's frame(s) and develop engagement techniques to suit.

Another problem with our mindset frames is that they restrict us creatively. We tend to focus on those things which are urgent, easy to understand, close to us physically and/or which we are familiar with. So how do we expand our frames to see breakthrough solutions?

Here are some guidelines I use:

1. Don't go down the mumbo-jumbo route. In my opinion much of the 'mindfulness' movement is inward looking whereas solutions are largely found outside our experience. And you'll put off cynics like me, so put away the crystals and the prayer wheels;

2. Don't be a doom-monger. If you want to get people creative, telling them the world is about to end will make many think "what's the point?" Get excited about sustainability and others will too!

3. Likewise, go easy on the green jargon. I try to introduce ideas such as the circular economy, product service systems and industrial symbiosis as work progresses rather than trying to get everyone up to speed before starting.

4. Read outside your discipline. If you look on my bookshelf, many of the books which have influenced me most are not 'green' books but those that tackle broader issues like change (Switch, Nudge), communications (Lend Me Your Ears, Visual Meetings) and management (Good to Great, In Search of Excellence, The Fifth Discipline). There are big themes in many of these books which apply to sustainability as much as any other aspect of life.

5. Draw. When I get people to plot out their business processes graphically, it always has some interesting results. It also gets the problem down on to one large sheet of paper which makes it more manageable.

6. Use the Toddler Test aka The 5 Whys to get to real reasons: We need this piece of kit. Why? To dry the materials. Why? Because we added water to make them flow. Why? To shift them from that side of the factory to this one. Why? Errr...

7. Ramp up the challenge. Even in my short workshops, I try to get each team to rotate around the issues under discussion and instead of starting from scratch on each one, challenge them to build on the ideas of the teams that have gone before. The good ideas often come in the last iteration when all the obvious ones have been identified.

8. Ditch Powerpoint. Presentations kill creativity. I recently did a Powerpoint-free workshop but two thirds of the way through had to cede the floor to a guest speaker who fired up the projector. You could feel the enthusiasm drain out of the room like air escaping from a punctured lilo.

I hope these 8 points give you plenty of food for thought - as I've said the need for creativity is just as strong amongst practitioners and facilitators as it is amongst our clients and colleagues. Keep trying stuff and keep what works for you.


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5 September 2012

Sustainability Drivers Template

Here's a simple graphical template I developed for brainstorming sustainability drivers and internal factors - effectively a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. Despite the crudeness of my artwork (despite a little help from clip art), I find the graphical approach gets people into a more creative mood. The analogy of the organisation as a yacht (inspired by Dame Ellen MacArthur) has a nice sustainability theme - limited resources, renewable energy powered, working with nature etc.

The four factors are:

  • Winds: external forces blowing you in the right direction (opportunities, threats of 'do nothing')
  • Choppy waters: external factors holding you back (threats)
  • Sails: internal ability to catch those winds (strengths, internal opportunities)
  • Anchor: internal factors holding you back (weaknesses, internal threats)

Typically, I will print this onto an A0 sheet and pin it to the wall. I ask participants to write their ideas individually on Post-Its then take it in turns to put them up, debating them as we go along. It helps to use different colour Post-Its for each of the four areas and have a fifth colour ready to record the other ideas and insights that inevitably tumble out as you go along.



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14 February 2012

Facilitating Sustainability Strategy Sessions

The biggest change in our consulting approach since Terra Infirma was founded in 2006 is the move away from a traditional 'clipboard consulting' - gather evidence, analyse data, formulate recommendations, write report - to a facilitation-based approach - gather stakeholders, agree goals, generate ideas, come to mutually agreed conclusions. The reasons for this shift are numerous:

  • You unlock the intellectual capital of the organisation;
  • You lessen the risk of proposing conclusions which are incompatible with company culture or other strategies;
  • You lessen the risk of missing important factors;
  • You get buy-in from the stakeholders - the results are much less likely to sit on the shelf if key people have been directly involved in generating them;
  • The kinaesthetic experience of arranging Post-Its, sticky dots etc brings out the creative in us all;
  • It's a lot of fun.

Read the rest of this entry »

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16 March 2011

Forestry, waste wood and business

Yesterday I ran a workshop on waste wood business opportunities for the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme's North East team. Industrial symbiosis is the concept of 'waste' from companies becoming the raw material feeds for other industrial process as a rule rather than as an exception.

Despite thick fog and a difficult to reach, if plush, location - Slaley Hall on the edge of the North Penines - we had a great turnout and a real buzz. Business cards were being exchanged left, right and centre as we went through the brainstorming process. When I say brainstorming, we did it properly - no Powerpoint at all. We used the mind map above, printed onto huge A0 sheets, colour coded Post-Its, and a simple system of ID codes to track who was offering or wanted what. I've included the map above as the recycling PESTLE analysis I created for an event last summer has been very popular with readers and Googlers. Click on it for a bigger version.

The wider wood project has been very interesting. We were originally inspired to look at wood by some examples of industrial symbiosis in the Finnish forest industry, but to be honest, when we compared those examples and what's going on in North East England carefully, there wasn't much of a difference. What difference there is is shrinking fast as economics is closing the loops of waste from the virgin wood industry - bark, sawdust, offcuts etc - so we've shifted emphasis to post-user wood. This situation was confirmed visually during the workshop as there were lots of Post-Its on the right of the mindmap, and precious few on the left.

Big issues on the right hand side are persuading waste producers not to landfill waste, the tension between waste wood as fuel and waste wood as a raw material (and Govt subsidies for the former) and sometimes contradictory legislation. Having said that, the sector seems to be booming - and the local players certainly have more to go on after the workshop.

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24 May 2010

Back again...

I had a fantastic week cycling around the Inner Hebridean Isle of Mull. I love the West Coast of Scotland - rough, tough and beautiful landscapes and wildlife combined with a really arty culture - I had my first sighting of a real iPad in a cafe in Tobemory as well as seeing a Sea Eagle taking a fish back to its nest. The weather was, um, variable - heavy rain when you're living in the world's smallest tent is not fun! (see pic right)

On the other hand, pedalling up through a beautiful glen in the sunshine with eagles overhead can't be beaten. And it was great to practice some camp craft after (too) many years of creature comfort - although I'm still no Ray Mears it has to be said.

Anyway, it is great to be back and I've got a full agenda - facilitating a recycling workshop tomorrow, giving a presentation on Sustainability in the Process Industries to IPSE in Newcastle on 8 June and a strategy workshop in London on 10 June. Plus I'm trying to get The Green Executive finished off by the end of June.

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