What I learnt this week…
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: one of the things I love about the sustainability field is that it is so broad and fast moving that you are constantly learning. This week was full of discovery
On Tuesday I had a meeting with Dan O’Connor of Newcastle University to discuss his (private) venture WARPit – a social-media style reuse portal to allow organisations to trade used furniture etc (check it out here). But our chat about his day job were interesting too:
- The Daily Mail’s paranoia knows no bounds. The University’s interesting student bin cam research project to test how a webcam in a student household bin connected to Facebook can affect recycling rates is, in Daily Mail land, a potentially vicious attack on civil liberties by ‘council snoopers’;
- Cardboard now has such a scrap value in the UK that gangs are raiding students’ wheelie bins to get their hands on it – theft of metallic items is common when scrap metal prices soar, but I’ve never heard of people stealing cardboard before.
On Thursday I ran three sessions at the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange at Olympia in London: Staff Engagement, Greening the Supply Chain and Environmental Strategy. We had some great discussions and here are the points that I took home:
- There was quite a debate about the role of environmental champions. Most participants in the engagement session had appointed champions, but there wasn’t a clear consensus of why or whether they were actually making a difference. One participant had actually abandoned champions as they found the idea counterproductive in practice (I intend to explore this in a later blog post);
- One participant has an almost real time energy consumption readout along with a traffic light system to show if consumption is low (green), high (amber) or very high (red). This is a nice way of converting data into a form that staff can easily grasp and of course you can tighten the amber and red settings to encourage continual improvement;
- There was an anecdote about a company that paid actors to dress as cleaners and go through the office bins, tutting over waste that wasn’t being recycled to embarrass staff members. While such stunts only have a transient impact, I like the creative thinking;
- Another anecdote was about a company that deliberately but surreptitiously changed their travel system so staff who want to use short haul air have to pay for the tickets out of their own money then submit a claim. Train tickets are purchased directly by the company, so staff members don’t have to tie up their own cash in the process. Crafty, possibly underhand, but why not?;
- On green procurement, one participant is using broad sustainability questions at the PQQ stage to determine what best practice in that sector might look like. This is then used to benchmark bidders during the formal tender process;
- Many junior staff are desperate to get their managers to take a more strategic approach to sustainability, but the latter have their heads in the sand. We discussed many ways of ‘managing up’, but concluded that eventually top level buy-in is required. I am still strongly of the view that delegating the development of a strategy is an oxymoron and a derogation of responsibility.