Meeting the Sustainability Challenge
On Friday I went to an IEMA roundtable on the climate emergency – the IEMA event I have attended since I was nominated as a Fellow at the start of the year. One of the themes I took away was whether the standard Sustainability tools – ISO standards, hierarchies, legislation etc – are really up to the job. The consensus seemed to be ‘no’.
The problem with any generic tool is that it is, by definition, lowest common denominator. Also by definition, lowest common denominator solutions are only ever going to produce incremental benefits. And we need step changes to address the steep ecological challenges we face. So we need to think again.
I sometimes find sustainability practitioners too afraid to let go of the comfort blanket of standard solutions and try something new. In fact, when I wrote a blog asking if the waste hierarchy had passed its sell by date (it’s 40 years old this year, so it would be surprising if it hadn’t), some people got really upset with me, including one furious guy who admitted he hadn’t actually read my article. If the people who are meant to save the planet are that emotionally wedded to a 40 year old idea, frankly we are doomed. And some of the newer ideas, such as citizens’ assemblies, appear to me to be the worst form of prevarication in the face of an emergency.
Over the years I have assembled my own toolbox of interlocking techniques to meet the scale of the challenge. Some tools are pinched adapted from others, some created by me, but I know they work. The key elements are:
- Stretch targets to stretch the mind. I like zero – zero carbon, zero waste, zero toxins – because they force you to think differently. Very differently.
- Backcasting – a simple but powerful technique to turn those apparently idealistic stretch targets into a practical action plan.
- Green Jujitsu – engaging people on their terms, rather than on Sustainability terms. So for engineers I speak engineering, healthcare professionals, heath, and financiers, finance.
- Co-creation of solutions with those who will be required to implement them. Co-creation is a key Green Jujitsu technique and it fits with backcasting perfectly.
This toolbox does not comply with any management standard I know of, to which my response is ‘Good!’ If a certifiable standard ever does catch up, I’ll take it as a signal to develop something even better. We need to keep upping our game.