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1 December 2017

The need for 'outrageous ambition' on Sustainability

I spent yesterday morning at the always-excellent North East Recycling Forum annual conference. The conference chair, the ever-ebullient Mark Shayler of APE, challenged us in the second half of the session to think up both 'standard' and 'outrageously ambitious' ideas on, in our table's case, how to apply technology to waste.

My two outrageously ambitious solutions were:

  • A small scale pelletiser/3D printer so you could, say, create your own Christmas decorations from plastic packaging, or turn yesterday's faddish kids' tat (e.g. loom bands) into today's (fidget spinners), all in your kitchen;
  • An Alexa-style smart bin which would not only advise you on what can be recycled and/or how, but could count what materials you put in so you can 'earn as you recycle' rather than 'pay as you throw' - incentivising good behaviour rather than penalising bad.

I was really quite pleased with those, but the more I thought about them, the less outrageously ambitious they seemed. Yes, costs would preclude the latter for a long time, but it could be implemented in a neighbourhood recycling centre?

But the bigger thing is, well, thinking big. When Interface announced their Mission Zero Sustainability target (zero impact on the environment by 2020) in 1996, it seemed bat-s**t-crazy, but now they're almost there, and zero waste, zero carbon or 100% renewable electricity targets are being adopted by business left, right and centre. Yesterday's ambition is today's meh.

The old cliché is that Sustainability should be like the moon programme – 'no-one ever got to the moon by aiming half way', but that's slightly misleading representation of that programme; the reality is more interesting. It was Apollo 11 that made it to the moon, the previous 10 missions ranged from tragic failure on the launchpad (Apollo 1, where the three astronauts perished) through to flying the lunar module down to 15km above the moon's surface (Apollo 10) before turning back. So while a lunar landing was the ultimate goal, there were plenty of intermediate steps to master on the way.

In the same way, we need to set those stretch targets but appreciate there's quite a journey to get there. But that headline outrageously ambitious goal drives you on. As someone else said at NERF yesterday, "if you're not pushing at the boundaries of what's possible, what's the point?"

 

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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 »

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3 April 2017

Zero waste/carbon vs the 80:20 Rule

world brainWhen it comes to targets, I'm a big proponent of zero: zero waste, zero carbon, zero persistent toxins. Zero focusses the mind in a way that, say, a 2% cut in carbon every year, never will. Zero simply demands attention.

On the flip side, I'm also a big fan of the 80:20 rule – focus on the small number of issues which will have biggest effect on the results (20% of inputs generally cause 80% of outputs), rather than sweating the little stuff. I've also been known to say 'perfection is the enemy of success'. A lot.

Yesterday, for the first time this year, I plonked a deckchair on my lawn and drank a cup of tea and thought. And I thought about whether these two mindsets are contradictory (not for the first time).

And there's an important difference. A goal of zero isn't really about absolute zero. 0.01% is definitely as good as zero, 1% is as good as zero, and, let's face it, even 10% isn't really a disaster. What really matters is the mindset change that zero drives through an organisation. With zero, you can't tinker endlessly with quick wins, you have to go for the big wins and that pushes you to the 80:20 Rule. Once you've got those balls rolling, you can go worry about whatever little stuff is left.

Zero means: 'no more business as usual, things are going to change around here.'

 

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