Archive for the ‘CSR’ Category
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.
This post is going to short and sweet.
It is a rallying cry to all sustainability professionals out there. Do the unthinkable and embrace marketing and recognise that science doesn’t sell (someone will have to tell L’Oreal that). To really be heard you must engage on an emotional level. I could bang on about how this is one of the key premises of our strategic model, Sustainability Pathfinder™ but ll we really need to do is look to one global and one national event of the last couple of weeks.
The Red Bull Stratos project was a completely bonkers idea of man travelling at the speed of sound. Felix Baumgartner must have lower regions made of a mix of asbestos and steel, but his “stunt” captivated the world. The event was completely owned by Red Bull, blowing You Tube records and creating massive coverage worldwide. One fantastic tweet commented “That awkward moment when you realise an energy drink has a better space programme than your nation”. It shows that brands cannot only communicate their values but must live them. Its impact will live long in the memory and give Red Bull totally authentic ownership of extreme “sports” – CSR from space you could say.
The second notable event was a little more subdued. In the whirlwind of advertising industry backslapping awards shows one stands out – the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) Effectiveness Awards. The awards are unusual as entries are judged on effectiveness ie how much tin has been shifted not just how creative or beautiful the ads or campaigns were. Sometimes this is seen as measuring the impossible, but the submissions are incredibly compelling (I know as I was part of a Grand Prix winning entry for BMW back in the 1990′s). The winner this year was John Lewis Partnership, with its fantastically consistent emotional message, connecting shoppers with the values of the store – and not a BOGOF in sight – and opening the nation’s hearts and wallets at the same time.
So come on all you susty practitioners let’s learn from these fantastic and uplifting campaigns and grab our marketing departments by the Baumgartners and start selling how simple/vital/inspiring/rewarding what we do is.
Humanity and Hubris – Oomph Seminar on GRI and Sustainability Reporting
This morning saw our fifth Oomph Seminar run which we had titled “An introduction to GRI: how sustainability can add real value”. But in the week before, we came across The Guardian’s Sustainable Business Blog by Jo Confino entitled “Has Barclays brought corporate responsibility reporting into disrepute?” and decided to change tack slightly. Thus proving the benefit of late preparation for seminars.
The blog takes a very strong position on the effectiveness of reporting and in particular the process of verification, in light of recent disclosures of malpractice at Barclays.In the usual manner of an Oomph event, we explored many and various elements of this topic. Many participants shared their experiences in convincing their organisations to report or change how they report to achieve greater transparency.
The corporate world often exhibits hubris (defined as excessive pride or self-confidence) as a means of creating confidence to their stakeholders. This may be misguided and is most certainly common in corporate sustainability reporting. As Jo Confino pointed in his blog “Instead we are treated to the same issues that are trotted out in a robotic way in most sustainability reports…”
At the heart what is needed seems to be a new culture of transparency that will balance hubris and humility and crucially this honesty will be welcomed. Company leaders must recognise this shift in culture and will show a lot of bravery as it will be uncomfortable to them. Some are already showing this and we showed an example from McDonalds Canada that presented their promotion of food with surprising and refreshing honesty.
The participants had a real breadth of experience of reporting, from those that are GRI A, to those not yet reporting in any capacity. The important thing is to start and then to recognise that GRI A+ is still only part of the overall package of sustainability reporting. In this new culture of transparency and it is generally now recognised that if all that is presented is good news then it will lead to suspicion, nothing is ever perfect. So all CEO’s out there need to get over themselves and realise that talking about the odd failure and how things have improved is a crucial part of winning the trust of their audience.
The majority of people at the seminar were from subsidiaries of large corporations not headquartered in the UK. The sustainability report for these companies is likely therefore to have considerable significance being the only comprehensive document that local stakeholders will have access to. Reporting’s role seems to be undervalued and much greater emphasis should be placed on it. It was recognised that one-size-can’t-fit all, that one report can’t ever hope to reach and meet the needs of diverse interests of stakeholders.
Slavishly adhering to the requirements of GRI could perversely limit the effectiveness of the reporting process. By seeking to meet this standardised approach all corporate reporting seems to look and feel alike. The way GRI seems to have been used focusses on a small subset of stakeholders who want comparability. The stories expressed do not reflect the character and culture of the company. The impersonal nature of corporate communication so often creates an impression that alienates people out this subset of stakeholders. The fantastic opportunity for sustainability reporting is to become the voice of humanity (a phrase used by one of the participants) rather than a cold instrument of rational and factual statement, possibly encouraged by GRI. What is needed is an expression of humility. These are complex and far reaching issues that can not and must not be dismissed with casual statements about commitments to company policy.
This creates a real dilemma. How can a company tell strong, compelling stories that people actually believe? And how can reporting be more accessible to those without high levels of technical knowledge? One approach, which will likely terrify most in the corporate world, is to let the stakeholders tell the stories in their own way. At the moment the closest we get to this is when NGOs, customer or local communities have their views presented as testimony, however this is very selective and typically invited by the company. Those that embrace the risk and reward of social media are likely to lead the way in this area.
This returns us to our overriding theme which was that messages need to reflect the audience. When we prepare for our Oomph Seminars we try to provide some simple and exciting ideas that people can take away and use. Over the past few days we have developed this simple four box model (what else would you expect), click on this link Reporting targeting matrix to reveal it. We think it helps to understand the different needs from different potential users – assisting those considering their organisation’s reporting process to adapt messages from the overall report for different audiences utilising a variety of media channels.
The scandal at Barclays has demonstrated the potential for vast differences between what we say we do and what we do do. It puts renewed onus on those driving the reporting process to really communicate with an integrity and honesty and not just bland and vacuous statements. The rigour of GRI can support such transparency and it will be rewarded with deepening trust – a commodity of increasingly rare value to our businesses and institutions.
The Longest Journey Starts With The First Step
I have just spent a fantastic day in Cheltenham. A beautiful Regency town and home to the Cheltenham Science Festival. It is also home to Commercial Group a very progressive business supplies and infrastructure company. It set out on their sustainability journey in 2006 led by its charismatic director Simone Hindmarche-Bye. She had an epiphany after seeing Al Gore’s presentation of An Inconvenient Truth and set about transforming the company.
Today it is a model sustainable SME, with an enviable client list and a fantastic ethos; number 4 on The Times Top Green Companies and posting amazing commercial results as well. It is a testament to the whole team as well as the “genius” sustainability strategist and friend of Vivian Partnership Simon Graham.
It was my first visit to Commercial’s famed CSR Day (watch the video of the day here). This is in its 6th year and for the first time was integrated with the Science Festival. It was a great meeting of minds and a very relaxed and informative couple of sessions. A world Class line up of speakers presented a very varied debate across the central issues of sustainable development against the title of People, Planet, Profit.
I won’t attempt to précis the presentations, that were thankfully Powerpoint free and charmingly chaired by Lucy Seigle of One Show fame. I was left with one massive overriding impression. All the speakers, particularly those from business, had a conviction that organisations just needed to start… to set out on their individual sustainability journeys, and to do it now. For some it starts with Al Gore, for others from the Chief Exec. But it has to start with a leader taking the lead.
These are two very resonant themes for us at Vivian Partnership. Our model Sustainability Pathfinder is designed to provide organisations with a clear starting point; a balance of their capability and transparency allowing it to recognise and uncover the potential within the organisation. From here it is easier to lead and for progress to be measured. For as Simone said if it is measured it will improve (a kind of Field of Dreams strategy).
The other theme is leadership – which we will be driving forward in our new Oomph Training on the Centre Stage course in October this year. For which we are gathering an august list of sustainability leaders. We do not need to repeat the arguments and continue to preach to the converted but start to genuinely engage, drive real behaviour change and inspire action.
It is good to know that we are on the right lines in helping organisations embrace sustainable development, I hope that these themes can be developed further and that progressive and inspiring organisations such as Commercial get the rewards they deserve for their beliefs and energy.
And the winner is…
It’s Oscar time of the year again, when the rich, famous and glamorous, the great, good and gorgeous have their moment in the spotlight. The rewards for winning an Oscar are great and the investment in getting one is considerable, although this year some of the excesses have been curbed. While the Oscars might not be the usual awards ceremony, there is much to be admired and for a short while it is top many people’s interest.
In our world of CSR and Sustainability there are awards to be won, recognition to be gained, whether it is for company or self. This is a time for awards too. We’ve Shorty recently and PEA and BCE Awards to come, amongst a long and seemingly growing list of opportunities to apply for and gain recognition. In past blogs I have shared my thoughts on some of the simple rules that could be used to help you apply.
I might have a slightly jaundiced view of the world of awards and listings as my own experience is one of a nearly man, an almost ran, like Johnny Depp or Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr or Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock or Albert Finney (all of whom have never won an Oscar). In fact, I’m fine with the company as that’s a pretty impressive list of also rans.
What new wisdom can I now add that might help those that want to be in the limelight? Well I firmly believe that like the Hollywood starlet who stands and exclaims pure amazement at the very craziness of actually winning, don’t expect to win. There are many others out there that want it badly and unless you are a veteran, multi award winning corporation then expect to lose. But you will win in other ways.
An increasing trend in our CSR/Sustainability world is the growing number of individual categories and growth of personal winners. What is very interesting for us back room boys is that most of the winners have demonstrated clear leadership. This leadership is clearly a benefit to themselves but as importantly it has helped their own company.
True leadership is rare but can be learned and must be practiced. Putting sustainability centre stage needs people who can lead. What is it that connects these leaders, these winners. I believe it can be summed up as: leadership in what they do and honesty and consistency in what they say and do. It is their willingness and ability to engage with others. You can’t lead from within an ivory tower or a corporate centre if you do’t get out there and talk with people.
Two recent winners of this type of award, Julie Davenport (Good Energy) and Mike Barry (M&S) exhibit these characteristics very well. Both work in businesses that are doing better than average – either for their respective sectors or their size. Correlation only perhaps, but ignore it at your peril. There are leaders out there going unrecognised as there are great actors without Oscar statuettes on display in their Malibu beach houses.
In these difficult economic times hunkering down and keeping quiet are potentially disastrous strategies. But as with much for us at Vivian Partnership, you don’t have to be the best, you don’t have win all the awards to be respected and to be a leader driving the necessary change in your organisation. But don’t work in vacuum, be confident and tell people what you are doing.
By all means enter the competitions but it really doesn’t matter if you don’t win. After all Cary Grant was a pretty decent actor and Alfred Hitchcock directed some great films.
Over the last few months, working with a number of clients on how best to engage their internal teams, one
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
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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