Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category
Collaboration, Nature or Nurture?
“Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration…” was the title from our latest Oomph Seminar. Apologies to Tony Blair for our rather clumsy adaptation of his education rallying cry.
Our 8th (yes 8th) Oomph Seminar investigated how collaboration between different parties can achieve mutually successful outcomes. In particular we wanted to look at how relationships between businesses and organisations in the third sector can be as productive as possible. To that end, we invited Simon Bentley, Director of Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust (LRWT) to open the seminar with a presentation on some of the collaborations the trust has developed over the years.
LRWT has been involved with Anglian Water at Rutland Water for nearly 40 years to great effect; creating an important amenity for wildlife, community and visitors that has a national, if not global reputation. Simon explained that one of the keys to this was the point at which the trust is invited to be involved. This is normally right at the concept stage of any planning and in this way their expertise could be leveraged as fully as possible. An important lesson for successful collaboration, but one that takes confidence, trust and honesty between the collaborators.
As Simon was speaking it struck me that Rutland Water in particular is a great example of the interconnection of nature and human progress. If it is done sympathetically and considerately then the benefits are huge and long lasting – a lesson that many businesses have yet to learn as we move into a resource constrained world.
Many more examples of positive collaboration were shared and led into some searching questions, many of them focussed on the relationship between the land, nature and the demands for new housing and how developers and housebuilders can deliver to homeowners and shareholders alike. The greening of development is a considerable challenge, particularly given the tighter and tighter margins and who should “pay” for green? Natural collaborations in this area are not particularly evident which leads me back to the title of this blog. Will collaborations naturally emerge from the evolving marketplace or do individuals and organisations have to learn how to develop effective collaborations?
A number of examples of good collaborations between as many as 16 different parties were aired and discussed. What was highlighted in particular was the need to talk (openly) between the disparate parties and that this often needs the drive of leadership particularly at the beginning of a collaboration. I was very impressed by the galvanising power of these multifaceted relationships but had to question whether many individuals or organisations have the capacity to develop these effectively.
One example of a powerful collective had at its heart a definition that the relationsip had to have:
- a joint vision
- a shared passion
- a long-term view
To really work, the people involved in bilateral or multilateral collaborations must be as adept at listening, as well as talking; be adaptable to the methods of achieving the collective goal and recognise that not all relationships will have immediate positive outcomes. But that there may be some unforeseen outcomes of the process that could have real value to some of the participants.
It is also important to recognise the impact of the personalities involved and that they can make or break any collaboration.
By the end of the discussion (which could have have continued all afternoon) we tried to conclude with some key lessons, or ideas, to take into collaborations:
- Utilise the power of social media and digital communication
- Talk and listen – share mutual benefits
- Recognise the difference between collaboration and competition: collaboration needs openness, while competition seeks advantage of one party.
- Identify a catalyst to get things started and then build momentum
- Define value not price/cost
- Ensure that the relationship’s vows are regularly renewed (these can evolve over time)
- Terminate ineffective collaborations, don’t flog dead horses
- Encourage and drive creativity through the relationship’s dynamic parties.
- Embrace the bi-products of the collaboration ie new relationships and ideas and celebrate them as much as the achievement of the main goal.
… go forth and collaborate. But remember it may not all come completely naturally and many of the skills need to be learned and worked on for the relationships to be productive and thrive. Collaboration needs a lot of nurture.
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.
Can You Do Good Badly?
I don’t think I’m one to scare easily but the headline in last weekend’s Sunday Times cut me down: “Councils in War Against Wind Farms”. Sounds like a standard NIMBY view, but the article states that if a judicial review between RWE npower renewables and Milton Keynes Council fails it will close all but 1% of the UK to wind farm development. It will allow councils to impose a 2km exclusion zone from housing because of the visual blight of wind turbines.
Now I’ve never quite understood the visual argument against wind farms. I find them rather majestic and beautiful; an Antony Gormley for every man – and with a useful purpose. But many have significant objections to them, including one Donald Trump; which kills the argument stone dead in my eyes. It is the aesthetic argument of a visual blight that appears to be the principle reason why communities do not want wind farms in their back yards.
If one is passionate about a sustainable future and find windmills attractive, their development is a no-brainer. One must accept that all that is sustainable is not necessarily green, see blog from August 2011. It seems however that many people don’t share this view. Large parts of the community feel that the sight of rotating windmills on the horizon is too big a price to pay. One could simply dismiss this as short-sighted and misguided, but if we are to hand over a half decent future to our children we need to listen to the objections – that means properly listen.
The UK renewables sector is now emerging out of a niche and into the mainstream. If the ambitions of the players in the sector are fulfilled it could have a significant impact on our green and pleasant land. This change is scary and confusing for many. Arguments over 6 degree global average temperature increases and 30% renewable energy targets will have little or no resonance, but arguments over £170 increase in electricity bills and ugly wind turbines will. Short term beating long term, again.
It seems therefore that our opportunity to establish a significant renewables sector may be disappearing at the planning committee’s table. If sector leaders like RWE are threatening withdrawal from the UK, we have to be concerned. I believe that the whole sector has felt it could operate under the “Green Halo” with impunity; with almost a moral right to build and develop, because what it is developing is for the good of all, in delivering low carbon energy. Little has been done to operate with full responsibility in this rush for wind gold and this could be the downfall of the sector.
The time has now come for the wind and renewables to recognise its own responsibilities and start to really connect with the stakeholders and communities in which it wishes to operate. We at Vivian Partnership have worked extensively with UK Coal and it has recognised that it needs to engage with its community, not superficially but deep down. To listen and respond and most of all to keep its promises and not hide its head in the sand hoping that the planning process will come out on its side.
Ironically the renewables sector needs to follow this lead. It needs more humility, to learn to recognise the right to object and to go out of the way to listen to objections and to accept that alternative views to its own are valid. In this way a sensible dialogue can start and during which understanding will develop. With understanding will come a level of acceptance and with acceptance will come some approval. Wishful thinking perhaps, but without one of the parties making the effort, we may never achieve our carbon targets.
At present much of the renewables sector is only considering two sides to the sustainability trinity. The deep social aspects of wind farm developments now need to be considered alongside the clearer environmental and economic benefits. Only then will it gain more widespread acceptance and a little bit of all of our futures can be a little bit more secure with responsible renewables.
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.
Legal Compliance – A Trivial Pursuit
Oomph Seminar – Environmental Management Systems – The Dark Arts
In the week that Defra announced the timetable over the next four years for the removal and simplification of environmental regulation, the latest Oomph Seminar focussed on the evaluation of legal compliance. This long awaited reform seeks to reduce the administrative burden of compliance. The past twenty years has seen a steady and seemingly inexorable increase in the breadth and depth of regulation and government has now called a halt. For organisations with an environmental management system the challenge of how to demonstrate compliance with this baffling mountain of statutes, simplification and reduction must be welcome.
This theme emerged again at today’s Oomph Seminar at Highcross in Leicester. Many thanks to Nicola Duffy for the fabulous room and her insightful introduction to the theme, Environmental Management Systems – The Dark Arts. It was generally agreed that for many environmental professionals the focus of their EMS is on achieving a certificate. But once the certificate is shining on the General Manager’s wall what then? Is it more box ticking or can more be achieved? Is the organisation or business then fully legally compliant?
It is often the perception of senior management that achieving the certificate ensures legal compliance in environmental legislation. Company reports may even state this. Compliance is however a very dynamic and complex state which connects the application of detailed regulations with procedures and behaviours. A change in one of these and therefore a disconnection between these three elements may lead to becoming non-compliant. Is it actually unrealistic to describe, with any degree of confidence, whether an organisation is ever actually in full and 100% compliance? If not, then what is point of legal compliance?
Much store is given to having an accurate and up-to-date legal register, however without this being integrated as a part of overall risk assessment, we will lose sight of what is really important. As a consequence we could be ignoring the truly important for the sake of achieving the unachievable.
Surely the most important part of the job of an environmental manager is to provide the expert analysis of the law and as a result give assurances to senior management. It is almost tantamount to heresy for an environmentalist to admit to being in a non-compliant state. However the reality is that what they should be doing is to analyse the business risk and consequence and to target effort, especially in these times of limited resources.
If one accepts that legal compliance is a risk based exercise, then what can result is better targeting of both resources and business benefit. What tends to cause problems is getting buried in and obsessive about trivia. The challenge is how to decide what is trivial. The discussion around this concluded that the best way is through active and effective engagement across the organisation.
What tends to happen is the environmental expert is isolated and comes up with worthy but often impractical advice and guidance. This results in a lack of credibility and a huge uphill battle from then on. One image of environmental mangers that stuck was of often feeling like a dementor (soul-sucking creatures from Harry Potter). If we focus on the trivial we lose the argument and make enemies of those that we need to involve in the process.
If it is a risk process then it is likely that some legislation will be missed because it is considered trivial even though it might relevant. Will this cause a problem with the third-party auditor? It shouldn’t if it is presented in the context of the business. Surely the outcome must be that the environment is protected and the organisation can demonstrate continual improvement. Linking environmental aspects and impacts with legislation and internal control processes through an integrated risk register might be the method that we need to adopt.
So, perhaps the best way to deal with legal compliance is to throw away the legal register and start building systems that intrinsically recognise the legal framework which we need to operate within. Slavish attempts to prove that every part of every piece of legislation is being complied with is counter-productive. We should know what will really hurt the organisation, whether in terms of fines and penalities or in risk to reputation and apply the system accordingly.
Lessons From The Land
I found myself yesterday in the middle of a factory; a factory without a roof.
Productivity, yield, profit and margins are measured in minute detail. Laser guided, precision machinery is used that constantly adapts dosage to ensure optimum productivity. Tolerances are down to minute percentages, yet the business owner measures his success on the volume of song from the birds that come and go across his property.
It probably hasn’t taken you long to work out that I’m talking about a farm. A modern, intensive farm in the midst of the rich Northamptonshire countryside. It owner, Andrew Pitts, is working with BASF, The Chemical Company, to maximise the potential of his arable farm. This doesn’t sound like the bucolic idyll of most of our imaginations. It does however present a very positive view of a more sustainable future. A future where nature and technology work in harmony.
The yields on Andrew’s farm are 10 – 15% above the national average for wheat and oil seed rape (his main crops). This is put down to a sophisticated herbicide and insecticide regime (courtesy of BASF of course), but also a sensitive and balanced approach to biodiversity. It is not biodiversity for its own sake but to ensure the farm is as productive as possible. Andrew recognises that a balanced and healthy ecosystem produces better crop yields. This is the precision, integrated farming described by Caroline Drummond, CEO of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and another attendee of yesterday’s biodiversity event on Andrew’s farm.
Andrew’s approach includes nectar bars; strips of oil seed rape at the edge of fields for pollinators to feed on. Mature, managed hedgerows for birds and insects who control parasites on the crops to live. Nesting boxes for owls and strips of different wild flowers and plants to provide a constant supply of food for insects, birds and mammals across the seasons. This is supplemented by separate feed boxes to provide nutrients across the lean winter months. All this is supported and measured in minute detail by the research teams at BASF. Nature and habitats are being managed and managed very effectively.
The event showed me how industry and nature can genuinely work in harmony. I applaud BASF for the powerful science, data, transparency and intelligent debate at the heart of its sustainability strategy. Our visit also set up the significant paradoxes that hamper the advance and establishment of a more sustainable society. Some of these I eluded to in my introduction and many of which will need very simple, yet creative communication to overcome. The paradox of the perception of natural being good versus synthetic being bad; of genetically modified being dangerous and organic being the ultimate in sustainability; of chemical being unnatural and green being good.
Ideas to overcome this could be as simple as planting bright wild flowers in “ugly” biodiversity reservoirs of scrub plants to make them more appealing to visitors and therefore more valuable. Hard scientific arguments will need to be translated into emotional and engaging messages to create understanding and support for such intensive approaches. The danger is that misunderstanding from the public could remove important techniques, such as GM, from the farming toolbox and limit our ability to move to a sustainable future.
Thanks to Andrew and Geoff and Graham from BASF for a very thought- provoking day. Search Geoff out on Twitter (@geoffmackey1) and try and get along to one of these visits, it will be well worth it.
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.
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