Archive for the ‘Communications blog’ Category
ISO 14001 auditing and compliance evaluation
As some of you will be aware Dan and I were a part of the Planet and Prosperity team, led by Lucy Candlin, behind the recently published Sniffer project entitled: Improved Alignment of UKAS-Accredited Certification Bodies’ Activities with UK Environment Agencies’ Regulatory Processes. The report of this piece of research was published last week and can be found here.
It was a fascinating project to be a part of, which I hope will help to direct future policy and action in this area. The thirty-five recommendations should help to begin a process of greater collaboration and improved understanding. As we move closer to the due date for the update of ISO 14001, many of the issues raised in the report may come into stark relief. So this is very timely research.
The commitment to legal compliance is fundamental to ISO 14001 and indeed to any company that considers itself socially responsible. Yet the concept and evaluation of compliance is complex and misunderstood. For many the challenge is keeping up to date with the rapidly changing legislative landscape, determining the impact of the devolved legislature or the range of interpretation and advice available. Business is constantly demanding consistency of approach in order to plan properly.
All of these issues are addressed in the report and the recommendations provide a framework for the environmental agencies to develop communication with key certification bodies. Although the main audience is the regulatory community, those in business should take the time to read the report (or the summary) and also to keep an eye on progress in the Environment Agency’s EMS+ project which has been running over the past year in England and Wales.
In a climate of government looking at deregulation, this type of project should provide valuable evidence to support the process of change.
Sustainability – Let’s get involved
Yesterday was a first for me. I was in the audience at an internal company conference while Dan took the platform and introduced our project to them as a part of a planned ‘engagement’ exercise around their company strategy. I’ve not heard him speak in this type of arena, to this style and size of audience – and he didn’t disappoint. Listening to him and then a couple of other speakers that followed got me to think about this word – engagement.
Most of the speakers yesterday afternoon used it, some even defined it. But I thought as I listened that they’re using the wrong word. Engagement might be all the rage but it is too formal, it is too structured in the way that its meaning is interpreted. We should be talking about involvement and how to get people involved in the process of becoming more sustainable. Engagement implies that we need to set a formal date, agenda and then have some minutes with actions. Or it implies, as in a military engagement, that we must take up arms and beat the **** out of the other guys. Neither of these implied interpretations is correct. We need to find a way to involve people in sustainability. Get them involved.
Engaged also has connotations of marriage and this doesn’t help either. All-in-all engagement is the wrong word. We need people to get involved, get their hands dirty and make mistakes. The idea of making mistakes and having fun has been a theme of previous blogs. I think starting to use the terms involved and involvement would start to make it seem more personal, more informal and yet more effective.
Part of the definition of in-volv’ is to make (oneself) emotionally concerned in, with …. Surely this is the very thing we need people to become. So, please, let’s stop using the words engagement or engage when what we actually want to do is to get people involved in sustainability. Rather than being satisfied with a few presentations and an intranet/internet portal where people can go to find out for themselves about sustainability, we need to get people involved, little by little over a long period of time. This is where passion and persistence become important characteristics of the sustainability professional. But so too is the capacity to listen and to empathise.
This well-known Chinese proverb nails it well – Tell me and I’ll forget; Show me and I may remember; Involve me and I’ll understand. This is why interactive training courses are so much more effective than lectures. And where does engagement fit into this proverb? Is engagement the whole thing? I’m not sure, but I am sure that simply telling and showing doesn’t get the job done.
One other thought, which is related, from yesterday. One speaker – not on sustainability – talked about a steering group and suggested that if you wanted to get your ideas heard you should find you departmental champion and make your point. Surely the ‘champion’ has to get off his or her backside and go out and find the ideas, dig and encourage, ask and listen. Being called a champion is not the end of the process. The champions need to get involved just as much as expecting everyone else to get involved.
Green Deal or No Deal?
Updating the energy efficiency of the UK’s aged housing stock is a no brainer. It will possibly have more of an impact than any other action to push us to hit our ambitious carbon emissions targets as a nation. The question is how.
Building sexy new homes and imposing zero carbon requirements will only scrape the surface, as the existing housing stock is like an anchor dragging us down.
The Government’s flagship “Green Deal” policy was proposed to boldly take this on. The boldness is to be admired but I’m afraid that launching a new “green” policy to tackle this is misguided but not necessarily for all the critisms expressed in other articles, blogs and social media. My fear for Green Deal is more fundamental – its the name.
Green Deal may be snappy but its marginalising. ”Green” is not a benefit in its own right to the mainstream. It talks to the deep green minority who have probably already insulated their homes to within an inch of their lives and who proudly have super efficient boilers that hardly run because the thermostat is turned down so low.
Green is actually a turn off (sorry) to most consumers and so a complex and untried green finance package based on possible savings and which might make houses more difficult to sell is not going to ignite the mainstream. While ‘Feed In Tariff” was less snappy it did describe the mechanism, which was simple and profitable. Its success is evident on the roofs of houses across the UK but I fear that the same will not be true of Green Deal.
Instead of saying “we are doing this because we think it is the right thing to do and we are putting our money where our mouth is” (as in FIT) the Government is saying “we are doing this because you should think it is the right thing to do and should put your money where our mouth is”. Not a terribly compelling proposition in an age of austerity.
Radio 4′s Moneybox Live discussed this very issue recently. It struck me how the benefits of Green Deal were buried by the concerns of callers over its complexity, loan repayments costs and the potential legacy left with a property. The probable savings from effective insulation, efficient boiler and controls are completely lost.
The savings angle has been taken by the press advertising campaign that has appeared in a limited number of papers since the official launch of the scheme at the start of the month. These take the problem… solution approach (a la Cillit Bang) and all carry the headline Green Deal With it. I’m afraid that unlike one squirt from good old Barry Scott (Cillit Bang spokesman) the Green Deal won’t deal with it and a much more sophisticated and sensitive approach should be taken.
It isn’t a great start for Green Deal, poor product, poor name, poor understanding of the audience’s needs, that will inevitably lead to poor uptake. When will we realise that “green” alone is not seen as a benefit and doesn’t sell to the mainstream?
Bolting the stable door!
Much has been reported about the horse meat scandal in the food supply chain, much angst and much anger, and many perfectly edible food products have been removed from shop shelves and presumably destroyed. Rather than exploring the rights and wrongs of the situation, I want to open out and think about the broader impact on reputation. Who is losing out most and what are the options?
Most businesses and their trade bodies will expend much time and money lobbying for relaxed regulation. Regulation is often cited as a barrier to profit and growth, it is often blamed for the continued recession in Europe. But then a controversy, like the one over past few weeks, hits the headlines and people question corporate reputations and processes. But at the same time questions are asked of the regulatory process. In fact, in many cases it is the reputation of the regulatory authority that is more exposed than the corporates. Why should this be the case? There are a number of possible answers to this question. In perhaps very simplistic terms in the case of the horse meat scandal, it might be because of those pesky foreign companies acting illegally and a failure to regulate their activities in the locality or a failure to prevent imports. But how are we going to ensure the stable door remains bolted in the future and what form should the bolt take?
Responsible sourcing is now a part of the licence to operate for many companies. It is necessary because of the complexity of the global supply chain and multiple players are involved. Gradual increased scarcity in raw materials and the environmental and social impact of their extraction, has created a further dimension. The complexity is not helped by the plethora of national, thematic or in-house supply chain and responsible sourcing schemes that are seemingly in competition. The resulting mosaic of standards, labels and certifications is confusing to all concerned.
A bit like the stable door, the perpetual debate between regulation and deregulation swings back and forth depending on our ability to remember the last transgression. Earned autonomy is a phrase that has recently emerged as a concept. It basically states that companies can earn a level of increased autonomy through good performance. The short-term business benefit is fewer regulatory visits and thus autonomy is earned.
I hope that no one would argue that we should have zero regulation – that business should be free to do exactly as it pleases, that it can push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour until something bad happens. It is equally the case that regulators can’t and shouldn’t run businesses. Finding a position between these two extremes and perhaps as importantly rewarding good behaviour with relaxed regulation, is what most politicians and responsible businesses want.
Put into this mix third-party certification against accepted standards creates a further level of complexity. Independent certification to standards is often, wrongly, equated with regulatory inspection. The two processes provide a complementary value to organisations and both come with a cost.
Ultimately when things go wrong we look for someone to blame. The complexity of the global economy and the supply chain, the complexity of certification and legislation and the desire to be competitive will always make the identification of fault very difficult. In some ways, it is the very dense nature of the undergrowth that means that the regulator with their apparently simple duty becomes the most exposed. Are they not, after all, the bolt?
From business’s perceptive is earned autonomy actually a poisoned challis? If business wants to be autonomous and work without inspection by a regulatory body then any disasters fall very clearly at the feet of the company whose brand is exposed. So it could be argued that the complexity of global trade provides a level of security for company reputations. Earned autonomy therefore might neither secure the door nor provide suitable cover for business when the horse is flying out the door – or as recently, off the shelves.
The Blessing of No Budget – Oomph Seminar, London 17th January 2013
Our successful series, Oomph Seminars, moved to London yesterday. The theme was “Sustainability on a Shoestring – is it possible?” We wanted to investigate whether the case for change and the establishment of more sustainable operations was best enabled through the value argument of delivering improving commercial returns or whether small incremental, no cost options can start to create a sustainability snowball.
We set our new oomphers two key questions
1. If you could spend your budget on only one thing in 2013 what would it be? – if you don’t have a budget, consider the most important thing you can invest your time on.
2. What has been your best zero cash cost action?
On a bitterly cold January day the turnout was fantastic and many thanks to KYOCERA for the use of their fabulous Technology Suite on Mortimer St, W1. This is a great facility and offered free of charge to anyone looking to promote the sustainability cause.
We roped in the inspirational Simon Graham from Commercial Group to set up the conversations to follow. Simon is an oompher of old and his company is one of the leaders in creating value from a sustainable business model. He took us through its story, dating back to 2006 when Simone (a founding director not a typo) was Al Gored at an event set up by James Murdoch. She came back with a completely new vision for the business and set about establishing it.
One of her first moves was the appointment of Simon as the Environmental Strategist and he has been at the forefront of its powerful Green Angels environmental champion’s programme and the setting of a series of very ambitious targets and aims for the business. His financial director is now smiling with the upward curve of all financial indicators and can see the real value and contribution the sustainability programmes have made to the bottom line. Initially this was made with little investment. However as the momentum built the budgets increased. Commercial’s latest move is an investment in Hydrogen vehicles which involves a substantial capital investment.
The astute timing of initiatives and actions was a very important insight to come from Simon’s presentation. Another was the careful management of “green teams”. Where “volunteers” are selected so that the make up of the team is as powerful as possible and its members are respected, action orientated, leaders in action not necessarily title and with strong opinions to match.
The break out sessions produced much debate but interestingly and quite surprisingly there were a limited number of concrete actions to come from the group that considered the singular budget investment. No mention of the role out of LED or PV to save money or generate income. The majority of the responses and discussion was around overarching approaches. It was recognised that sustainability is not seen as sexy and needed to be repositioned in many businesses. Language is often a major barrier as is the very different agendas of executives in UK and in the US.
One concrete area of focus for budget was the establishment of more coordinated travel planning. Travel is a huge cost for many businesses and so can be a very futile ground to establish more sustainable practices and their visible commercial benefits. One very exciting but simple idea to drive such behaviours is the understanding of individual barriers to activities such as car sharing or cycling. These barriers can be removed with investment in things as simple as free car valets for car sharers, or free taxi hame if car sharing buddy is called away. The provision of showers, hairdriers and straighteners can make cycling a much more viable option. Small, simple, personal incentives communicated with a bit of wit can go a long way.
This led us to the recognition of a recurring theme that behaviour should be driven first and attitudes follow as opposed to the attempts to change opinions to drive behaviour. Whether this will go all the way to the board room was questioned and the vital requirement of leaders to demonstrate the behaviour change for it to be established. In organisations without clear sustainability strategies the majority of initiatives will be short lived and seen as a “nice to do”, reinforcing the marginal position of the sustainability professional. So however significant the budget the key is to engage the board, to set the example and demonstrate the change.
This picked up on an interesting finding from the no budget group that the lack of budget was almost liberating, not frustrating. It allows more freedom , less scrutiny and potentially encouraged more integration and collaboration. Potentially it should drive greater conversation and engagement. Sustainability can be seen as an enabler in the actions of other departments, to provide creativity and ideas and to be used to solve individual problems.
Local, national and international issues and events such as Earth Hour, Climate Week or community green initiatives can be used to stimulate action by mobilising established awareness with no cost. Is it therefore heretical to suggest that sustainability might be best served by the department or individuals not holding substantial budgets but using its knowledge, experience and expertise to aid others? In this way activities could become integrated not peripheral and sustainability viewed as a source of huge benefit not eccentric ideas.
If this counter intuitive approach is to be feasible it demands real openness from sustainability individuals; reaching out to contact, listen, inspire and act and drive the establishment of change right at the heart of organisations not from the sidelines.
Welcome to the world of the new ‘normal’.
There are times when events converge to stimulate some new thinking – for me, this might be one of those times. 2012 was apparently the second wettest year on average in the UK, since records began. In this wet year, we had parts of the country which were flooded multiple times, each time with an event which would have been described as a one in fifty or one hundred year event. Also during the year, I remember reading somewhere that a person aged 27 or under had not yet experienced a year when the average global temperature was less than the long term average.
What do these three examples share? What is common is that each uses terms of probability or statistical description which might need to be changed as we appear to be living in a world where comparing events against ‘normal’ is becoming inappropriate. We seek averages to describe things and to help us understand the world. Our historical experiences and thus our statistical databases might not help us to understand and to predict the future. If it is true and we are moving into a period of extreme weather and an ever warming world then uncertainty is much more important to understand than comparing against normality.
We seem to take some form of emotional security in normality or being average. Maybe not as individuals, but certainly when we think about the world around us we seem to be comfortable with normal. Marketers and behavioural scientists might tell us that we are comfortable with normal, we want to feel part of the herd so we do not seem to others as freakish. If this is true then how are we going feel in the future as the world, its climate and weather become ever more unpredictable? How are we going to feel when this place where we live becomes both a physical and emotional danger to us?
If we can’t find an appropriate description of average or normal – is the new normal really abnormal? Going back to the wet 2012 in the UK, this is a really interesting example of what I’m talking about in terms of the statistical descriptions applied to our everyday experiences. Across the country the rainfall was not constant, and never will be, and through the year some months were much drier than ‘normal’ and other months wetter. When we talk about historical time-series or about trying to find a single measure to describe a range of variables maybe we are trying to achieve the impossible. And yet we feel the need to try. As a result, we may be creating a situation where confusion is created.
Uncertainty is a critically important statistical concept that is the enemy of every policy maker and newspaper editor. We desire certainty to plan and set policy. In the future we will, I hope, look back and laugh at how naive we were in seeking certainty. Normality is a concept we need to get used to being without. We need to become more comfortable with the unusual, the extreme and this is all about how resilient we can be. And it will determine how successful we are at adapting to this future vision of the world.
Uncovering Sustainability Potential – the new USP
Isn’t it funny how, sometimes, you write something, look at it for a while and then suddenly it hits you. If you go to our website homepage you will read “Uncovering Sustainability Potential” – which we came up with more than a year ago, neither of us spotted that the acronym was USP until the other day.
All of us will know USP as Unique Selling Proposition (or Point), something that all businesses seek and few truly find. Each acronym has words that people struggle with, I could go on and on about the misuse of the word unique and the big challenge that the breadth of definition of sustainability has created.
We came up with our version of USP, because we recognised that most organisations have the potential to operate more sustainably. To produce products that are more sustainable to the environment, to society and economically to the organisation. Any business that seeks to operate within the confines of societal expectations – the law – can be USP.
What does USP mean in practice? Fundamentally in order to uncover sustainability potential an organisation must go beyond basic legal compliance. The law sets the acceptable minimum, while others in society set different expectations. Simply complying with the law isn’t going to uncover anything but it is an essential starting point, because ignoring the law is a business risk too far. But looking ahead at the future directions of legislation can help to uncover potential.
Is there a trick to USP? We think there is, and it is that you must get well into the detail. Grand ideas, commitments and strategies all have their point but to uncover sustainability potential you need to get into the detail. Whether it is details of materials, design or understanding the needs of others, the detail is where the answer lies and where the challenges are, if ignored. By understanding the details of components, by challenging ‘business as usual’ and listening properly to others’ views you can see what hasn’t been seen before and begin to change it.
When many discuss our current society’s progress towards being more sustainable there is an expectation that we can instantly change everything for the good. We look back on history and the industrial revolution and expect change to be revolutionary – and this is another word that gets in the way of our understanding. Revolution implies an instantaneous change but the industrial revolution took generations – most believe it took roughly one hundred years between 1750 and 1850.
Changing to become more sustainable as a society will take a long time while the planet we live on is undergoing its own rapid change. Uncovering Sustainable Potential should become the new USP because if we don’t start soon to get into the details of what needs to be done then nothing will change. We will make mistakes and we will be slow but we believe we will get there. Those that get there faster will reap the early rewards and set the agenda.
The biggest difference between the old USP and our new USP is that few truly discover and distil a Unique Selling Proposition, whereas we all need to be Uncovering Sustainability Potential.
Sustainability: Get Moving
We frequently have to justify to potential clients why they should bother about Sustainability, now in a time of further uncertainty and economic turmoil. This blog doesn’t focus on the moral or ethical issues of why now for sustainable development. Those have been well laid out countless times and particularly well in “An Inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore – still as compelling as when it was released in 2006, and the inspiration for many a business leader.
Sustainability cannot be ignored and is included in every recent review of global megatrends from Harvard Business Review to McKinsey. While some may lead, all need to start acting and following those leaders now.
Below are a number of considerations from a marketing and brand perspective of why delay in consideration of this area will be a disadvantage.
1. Corporate Value and Access to Capital
Financial and non-financial reporting is converging. Sustainability reporting is established, but not statutory and recognised as a key part of the consideration of an organisation’s value. About 70% of the FTSE 100 produce sustainability reports in one form or another. The transparency of performance in the economic, social and environmental areas is fundamental to the value now placed on businesses.
A topical example of this is the recent significant increase in applications received by The Cooperative Bank after the revelations at Barclays and Nat West, the strong transparency and ethics of the Mutual looking more and more appealing in uncertain times. Therefore the value placed on a business will be judged against sustainability criteria as well as pure financial ones. If these are weak (or absent) then quoted value and access to capital is likely to be restricted, hampering growth and return to shareholders.
Another example is M&S. Its poor recent figures would have been even worse had they not embarked on their sustainability journey – Plan A contributing over £100m to the bottom line in this year alone.
2. Customer Relationship
Customers are now firmly in the driving seat. Social media has the ability to undermine a brand in a matter of hours and the relationships with brands are more personal and more complex.
However in a very uncertain world consumers will look to brands as one of the few things they can really believe in. Their faith is not blind but very critical and so it is only those brands that live up to real scrutiny that are the ones that are supported.
Brand promises therefore must be genuine, not dull or uninspiring. Honesty doesn’t have to be solemn. Consumers are looking for brands to tell truthful, entertaining and compelling stories. The conviction of a brand can be demonstrated through a sustainable approach.
Importantly this is not the gloss of green – no longer can we simply add ‘eco’ or ‘green’ and expect sales – but an integrated and responsible approach to business, with real value and benefit at its heart. A convincing long-term vision builds trust with customers and this is rewarded with loyalty and advocacy. Delay in this will only serve the competition, so the earlier benchmarks can be set and performance measured, the earlier progress can be reported and the sooner deeper, more sustainable customer relationships can be established.
3. Taking the lead
Consumers now have a giddying array of choices, yet the winning brands will be those who lead consumers and not just blindly follow their needs, for example Waitrose vs Tesco. Choice-editing will play an important role in demonstrating conviction to the establishment of sustainable behaviours as well as a way of driving them (eg FSC in B&Q). Consumers do not want their ideas played back at them but want to be inspired with vision and ideas – summed up very well in by Unilever’s Keith Weed as “More Magic, Less Logic”.
The expectation that consumers will drive a sustainable future is lazy. They are willing followers of those businesses and brands that demonstrate that they are doing the right thing. Consumers cannot be expected to sift through volumes of data to make their own informed choices, their lives are far too pressured for that; as demonstrated by the failure of the Carbon labelling initiative to be established. It is too difficult and conceptual for consumers to grasp, let alone make a choice over and hence Tesco’s decision to withdraw from the scheme (even outside the incredible costs of measurement).
Marketers should also accept that consumers are also people and should also be considered as citizens who expect their leaders to lead. Brands can be included in this (I won’t make the obvious reference to our ineffective politicians). The opportunities are vast for those who invest the time and energy now.
Establishing a clear sustainability vision creates a new perspective within the organisation, leading to new ideas and innovation. Adaptation to the relentless pace of change will be one of the governing factors for success in the 21st Century. The blind acceptance of existing and established business models will weaken businesses and mean that they are less adaptable.
Sustainable development can open up new markets and opportunities. Five years ago M&S would have had no credibility in selling energy, but now…
Value is being redefined. Consumers have a dizzying volume of information at their fingertips – yet still make decisions based on core emotions. These are then justified by rational reasoning. The core value offer of retailers will still be examined by customers and if price, choice and quality found wanting then the offer will be undermined or rejected. A sustainable approach cannot paper over cracks in a core retail offer but can help to differentiate it in an increasingly commoditised world.
Sustainability is therefore less of a choice more of a question of timing… surely the sooner the better.
Choices, choices, choices
Dan and I have been doing a whole lot of thinking about strategy and planning in advance of a number of exciting meetings. Thinking is dangerous – it leads to ideas and crazy concepts. At the same time I’ve been reacquainting myself with Edward De Bono and his ideas on thinking in the new millennium. And I have had something of a revelation. I think I realised it all along, but it is now becoming crystallised more firmly. Choice is bad, especially when the options have far reaching and complex implications – as most do in the realm of sustainability.
Look around, everywhere people are choosing, being forced to choose and having more options than most are comfortable with placed before them. Whether it is the Greek electorate, delegates at Rio+20 or comedians deciding to avoid paying tax. We are all faced with choices, sometimes we make a good selection and sometimes not. It’s a crap-shoot.
Are we really equipped to make the right choice? Do we have either the intellectual capacity or have we acquired sufficient knowledge to make a selection, good or bad. And anyway who is to say that the choice is bad, it is after all our choice.
When the implications of a choice, in a world where everyone knows everyone else’s business instantly, are widely felt, the burden is becoming enormous. Think of the pressure that a Greek citizen must feel under at the moment. Not only is their vote a personal thing, it likely has ramifications across the globe. Let’s ignore whether or not the politicians are up to the task, the people in a democracy have enormous responsibility to make a good choice.
Consumers have a duty to make a good choice, but again the individual factors and desires involved in selection are complex and often driven by emotion. Edward De Bono makes the point that while our society has benefited from a dominance of judgement thinking where we base decisions on critical analysis and reasoned debate, we now need to move to develop more creative or design based thinking methods (which are currently not covered in most education systems in the world). By encouraging design thinking we find ways to move beyond problem solving and find alternatives.
Choosing alternatives needs education and we are not really geared up yet. When politicians then hark back to a former glory days of education, this doesn’t help us to move forwards. We live in a largely democratic world, where choice is not only seen as a good thing, it is seen as a right. Surely limiting choice must begin to happen. We can’t go on expecting people to make good choices when there are so many alternatives, so much pressure and such far reaching implications from making any one of those decisions.
If we are to be more sustainable, economically, socially and environmentally, surely we must start to limit choice. Companies and brands should have as part of their strategy a programme to limit product ranges and to make items more durable so we don’t have to decide to replace the worn out as often as we do today. How much angst and depression would be removed from our lives if choice was limited.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing endless research before choosing which new piece of mountaineering kit to buy. Then justifying my choice in a variety of ways. Companies are now starting to make a move in this direction. Almost all of Patagonia’s clothing uses recycled fibres, Howies use organic cotton and so on. The move has started. So when asked what characterises a sustainable business/brand, I think I now believe that it has a lot to do with the limiting of choice. If the manufacturer or specifier chooses the right materials or process then we do not have to choose. Take away the randomness of individual choice. Radical perhaps, but look at what the leading companies are doing.
A final thought that makes this approach very challenging – if the customer is always right then why should we go down this path? We now live in a more interconnected and resource limited world and so leaving customers in charge is potentially very dangerous.
Sustainability : Time & Motion the new tool
I hate to say I told you so, but I did and I have and I believe I will continue to say so for a little while longer. All too often sustainability is disconnected somewhere between the boardroom and the shop floor.
While some may opine that bottom up is better than top down, and others take a diametrically opposing view, in reality – where I seem to be spending a lot my time recently – grand ideas rarely translate.
Why do I rehearse this view now? On Monday I spent a fascinating day in the workplace of a large UK business, watching with a manager the comings and goings, the conversations and actions of a shift of workers. I’m not going to say where or who, because I believe that it would be a common conclusion to be drawn from many a shop, factory or office across the land (I hesitate to say the world, but actually let’s go out on a limb here). We were specifically trying to work out why waste segregation practices in the workplace were not consistent. The company is achieving very high rates of recycling with 90%plus and occasionally achieves zero waste to landfill, but it needs to do better and to start reducing the quantity of waste too.
With one of the team managers I wandered around and stood watching how people behaved. How they used their facilities, followed procedure and how specialists cleared up and smoothed down the rough edges. In the end, the statistics won’t change much but what we wanted to do was try to make the whole thing more efficient (in terms of time) and more effective (in terms of limiting cross-contamination).
After the shift I coined a phrase to describe what we had seen: ” never finish a job yourself if it is easier to leave it to someone else”. It was quite obvious that while key performance indicators rule the workplace, people will play games in order to achieve a KPI. So while it would be simpler, in some cases, and easier in nearly all cases, the prime motivation appeared to be to move the waste material away from “your own area”. As long as is wasn’t in my area, I had done my part. If the option was to move it to someone else’s area close by rather than to the correct machine to start reprocessing, then go for it. If a pile was started by someone else it became acceptable to leave your materials there too, irrespective of being the right place, which usually it wasn’t.
Have I visited the worst workplace in the world, the least environmentally aware, no I don’t think so. Is it the average place with average people – yes it probably is. Human behaviour kicks in early when a path of least of resistance is offered. When creating pressure in the workplace, quality can suffer in areas not subject to that pressure. Targets may be met and progress, and indeed profit, made but not in the most efficient manner.
We need things to be made simple, to have choice taken away from us. When the world is so complex and there are so many competing matters for us to deal with, surely we must take away the risk of the wrong choice when it comes to many sustainable behaviours.
Freedom is a wonderful thing and with freedom comes responsibility. In that window in time, and from that window high above the shop floor I observed the frailty of human endeavour. The management didn’t accept their responsibility to challenge and check, while at the same time chasing the next task, the next deadline. Poor practice was passed by many times by senior people. And it isn’t just environmental issues, there was some extremely poor health and safety practice too. A single bright point in my day was the reaction of my co-observer, the team manager, who was truly and visibly horrified by what he had witnessed. He said at one point, “every manager should do this, should step back and observe”.
This wasn’t an ‘audit’ as we didn’t actually talk to many people, we simply stood back and watched and noted what we saw over 8 hours. And wow, the findings were dazzlingly insightful. The result a simple set of recommendations to make key tasks simpler.
As some of you will be aware Dan and I were a part of the Planet and Prosperity team, led
“Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration…” was the title from our latest Oomph Seminar. Apologies to Tony Blair for our rather clumsy adaptation
Yesterday was a first for me. I was in the audience at an internal company conference while Dan took the
Updating the energy efficiency of the UK’s aged housing stock is a no brainer. It will possibly have more of an impact
Much has been reported about the horse meat scandal in the food supply chain, much angst and much anger, and
Our successful series, Oomph Seminars, moved to London yesterday. The theme was “Sustainability on a Shoestring – is it possible?”
There are times when events converge to stimulate some new thinking – for me, this might be one of those
I don’t think I’m one to scare easily but the headline in last weekend’s Sunday Times cut me
This post is going to short and sweet. It is a rallying cry to all sustainability professionals out there. Do
Following on from last week’s blog after the Oomph Seminar which explored the processes of evaluating legal compliance we
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It is fantastic to leave a seminar feeling inspired and full of practical ideas. Thursday’s oomph seminar did exactly that, Ben and Dan are naturals at putting an audience at ease which meant real participation from the group. As environmental professionals often form a one person team, it is fantastic to share a room with like minded individuals from local businesses who have faced and tackled similar challenges and can offer insight and advice. Eagerly anticipating the next installment of Oomph!
Nicola Duffy, Environmental Co-ordinator at Highcross, Leicester
Thank you both for inviting us to today’s Oomph seminar. From our point of view, we found the stimulus material and subsequent debate insightful from a sustainability perspective, but also in a wider context applicable to the successful deployment of general business initiatives.
Participant at Oomph Seminar 30 June 2011
Really enjoyed this morning. I have attended very few seminars over the past two years simple because they are all too similar, often the the same speakers and follow the same theme. Today was most importantly enjoyable, interesting and got the brain cells working. I like small groups with variety of people and backgrounds.
Participant at first Oomph Seminar 30 June 2011