Save us from Sustainability fads…
I remember reading an article entitled “We Won’t Achieve Sustainability without Mindfulness.” Over the next few weeks, many more appeared as green think pieces. Now, it’s years since I’ve heard anything about mindfulness, but the Sustainability world moves on, so I guess they were wrong.
I thought of this while reading the report of the North of Tyne Combined Authority Citizen’s Assembly (CA). It’s a fine report, and the 50 members of the Assembly clearly put a lot of time, effort and thought into it, but there was nothing unexpected in the results, so my fundamental question is “Why bother?” Effectively the CA process involved experts setting out the problems and potential solutions and then the Assembly members scoring the solutions to create a priority list for policy makers. So why not just get those policy makers to listen to the experts in the first place? Is that not their job? And why wait the 12 months the process took?
Yes, those 50 people will now have a much deeper understanding of the issues, but that’s 50 out of 800,000+ citizens in the area so it doesn’t really cut the mustard as a public engagement exercise – each of them would need to pass the message on to eight thousand others just to cover 50% of the population.
We are in a climate emergency, so it is essential that we focus our attention on what works – and works fast. Adding redundant steps into the process is worse than useless, it is actively holding us back by consuming time, effort and money – none of which we have a surplus of. And yet the Sustainability world continues to get distracted by well-meaning but ultimately low value activity for activity’s sake.
Regular readers will know I’m a big advocate of the 80:20 rule – focus on the 20% of actions which deliver 80% of what we want to achieve. So when the next big thing hits the Sustainability world, the first question we should all be asking is “will this REALLY make a difference?” Is it in the vital 2o% or the less effective 80%?
To be honest, I’ve never understood the widespread promotion of Citizens’ Assemblies as a silver bullet to develop policy. We need to be integrating Sustainability into formal policy making processes, not building a new silo for those policies to rattle around in while the rest of the world rumbles on, business as usual. It’s the same with Sustainability Champions in organisations – we won’t get the level of change required by giving responsibility to people with no authority; instead we must give responsibility to those who have the authority to enact change.
I sometimes worry we are so afraid of succeeding we busy ourselves knitting comfort blankets while those temperatures keep creeping up. If we really want to succeed, we need to ditch the fads and get on with the job in hand.