Archive for the ‘Oomph Seminars’ 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.
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.
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.
Fourth Oomph Seminar – ISO14001 – beyond the badge
- Our fourth Oomph seminar has been informed by the proposed changes to ISO14001 and our involvement with a number high level roundtables and contributions to opinion pieces. The style of this seminar was very discursive with contributions from everyone being moderated by us to keep things moving (which actually wasn’t needed very often). So rather than chart the conversation, we have distilled some of the key points and areas of discussion into five groups.
- Leadership and Management Review
- Systems integration
- External auditor involvement and personal confidence
- Accreditation, certification and supplier selection
- EMS value and strategic priorities.
1. Leadership and Management Review
2. Systems integration
3. External auditor involvement and personal confidence
4. Accreditation, certification and supplier selection
5. EMS value and strategic priorities
Oomph Seminar at Donington Park – Hitting the mainstream
The Oomph Seminar this time was framed by Vivian Partnership’s recent White Paper: Sustainability in UK Retail. At the beginning of the seminar the participants were asked to remember the prosperous days of 2007, when sustainability was prominent and in particular retailers were leading the way with Plan A and talk of a revolution in green consumption by Sir Terry Leahy, then CEO of Tesco. Overall the agenda was being set by the Stern Report and An Inconvenient Truth.
With this background in mind, the White Paper investigated what has happened to the revolution, why has it failed to materialise and what lessons can be learned for all, not only by retailers?
The recent government launch of Green Deal provided a surprising topic for early conversation. It focussed on how DECC’s Greg Barker and Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud had said that the Deal should be promoted by the home makeover message rather than climate change and environmental issues, which was met with some surprise. This illustrated a key theme that would be returned to later in the seminar – which is for the majority, rational fact based messages do not drive behaviour. Green Deal, it seems, is being sold in this way, steering around hackneyed saving the planet messages. No one, however, could actually pinpoint the compelling consumer proposition behind the Deal. Time will tell whether this progressive initiative is adopted or rejected.
Compared with 2007, in 2012 times are harder and everyone agreed that the world is more uncertain and in many ways more complex. This uncertainty is often generated by a lack of direction and consistency from government, for example the recent furore over the Feed in Tariff.
At the centre of the White Paper and the discussion today was the fact that the population is split into three segments: deep greens, light greens and green rejecters. This distribution hasn’t changed significantly in the past 20 years and yet the vast majority of marketing and communications has been directed at the deep green segment with the aim to expand that share, but has sat firmly at 15% only.
To make meaningful progress we must create messages and describe benefits for the light green majority, which most agree is about 70% of the population. This segmentation was a surprise to some at the seminar but everyone concluded that this approach was fundamental in a wide range of sectors as well as internally when engaging with colleagues.
A key revelation for many present is that first behaviour must be changed then attitudes will follow. This is the reverse of accepted wisdom and the approach of environmentalists over the past 20 years. Providing the right personal propositions and the right infrastructure will create and establish behaviours in the light green segment.
As an example to demonstrate this concept we discussed the reasons behind why domestic recycling rates have been dramatically improved since the introduction of kerbside collection and bins for segregation. The current government proposal to return to weekly mixed collections was agreed as another example of inconsistency, a lack of leadership and a retrograde step in achieving greater sustainability.
We introduced five mainstreaming components that were isolated in the White Paper for the Retail Sector. All of which translated readily into other commercial sectors and the public sector. These insights could provide valuable elements in delivering successful sustainable development in whatever you do.
In conclusion, we exploded five myths and stated five truths of sustainable behaviours that will be useful in future considerations of the mainstreaming topic.
The green gap is real – most people have real concerns but do not act on them
People embrace the green movement if they are presented with the facts.
Decisions are predominantly based on emotion, supported/justified by rational reasoning
Green = lower quality
Target messages at light greens for maximum effect
Aim to grow the deep green segment
Change behaviour and attitudes will follow
Change attitudes and behaviour will follow
Freedom is good
Choice is good
Finally, many thanks to Donington Park for providing a memorable venue in Race Control above the pit lane and finishing straight on the circuit – today had a lot of oomph in many more ways than one.
Green Marketing has passed its sell-by
Green marketing debate conclusions:-
It is far more relevant for B2B than for B2C.
Generic ‘green’ is not effective.
Movement from thinkers to doers through sustainable development.
At today’s Oomph Seminar we debated “Green Marketing has passed its sell-by date”. This seems even more timely since today’s Guardian Sustainable Business Blog by Sally Uren from Forum for the Future is on the same topic. So everyone is discussing and debating this.
We chose a debate format because there are very differing views on the future for green marketing. Dan Vivian proposed the motion and Andy Aston from HROC (also the hosts for the Oomph Seminar) opposed the motion. You can read both sides’ positions on a separate blog. The audience was then asked to come up with a couple of “killer questions” for both sides. This was then followed by a very lively and well informed debate.
Before the key points are summarised here is the definition of green marketing that both sides were asked to use – there are hundreds of definitions out there (perhaps indicative of part of the problem) but at least both started from the same point. “Green marketing is essentially a way to brand your marketing message in order to capture more of the market by appealing to people’s desire to choose products and services that are better for the environment.”
In summary the proposer, Dan, started by reiterating the definition and focussing us on a key part of it, which is the phrase “desire to choose…”. The presumption of green marketing is that this is a benefit. He went on to suggest that it is a feature and in most people’s eyes not in fact a benefit. Dan then showed us the weaknesses of green marketing against the traditional four Ps – product, price, place and promotion. In finishing Dan said “RIP Green Marketing – let’s move on from the dark scary corners into the mainstream. Finally to quote the Howies’ founder David Hieatt: ‘People buy great products not green products’ I would add not with green marketing but with great marketing.”
In opposing the motion, Andy Aston began by showing us the predicted global value of green marketing which is $3.5 trillion by 2017. Major corporations are embracing it and he said that investments are judged against sustainability performance. Major companies are showing turnover growth that can be attributed to green goods and services, such as HP with reported $12 billion in this area. Open and transparent communication and certification are now seen as crucial to support consumer facing messages. Andy finished by quoting Mark Twain – “Honesty is the best policy when there is money in it”.
There were two ‘killer questions’ that came back from the floor.
The first was “If Green marketing = more information and more information = better, more informed choices, how is that not a good thing?” In response to this Dan suggested that there is too much choice in the market place and what many consumers want are filters for the volume of information – this role is being increasingly performed by social media.
The second was “Does green marketing just appeal to an educated middle class?” Andy’s reply to this almost made the point for the motion by suggesting that green marketing needs to work throughout the spectrum of interests and its messages need to be aimed at specific audiences. Dan’s response reminded us that this segmentation of 15% deep green, 70% light green and 15% deniers has not shifted in twenty years. Thus implying that green marketing has not successfully changed consumer behaviour.
The Chair asked a further question, that was met by a short silence, “Can you sell operational efficiency? As many companies seek to save resources through improved efficiency which in turn saves money, how can this be part of green marketing?” The discussion suggested that this is often more pertinent in business-to-business marketing. Companies have taken differing approaches – Walmart for example have engaged their supply chain asking for efficiency savings first then price reduction, whereas Tesco has used the reverse tactics with suppliers.
Further areas were explored but one final notable debate surrounded the question of “How do you position green marketing within a brand proposition?” Andy answered by saying that the approach needed to be brand specific with the objective of making the brand more distinctive – generic solutions don’t work. Dan added that brands need to be concerned with risks as well as benefits. Brands are trusted because consumers assume, often with very little rational justification, that brands are behaving responsibly – so when they don’t it can be very damaging.
So what are the key lessons we learn from the debate and discussion?
One of the key points that emerges is that in business-to-consumer marketing, green marketing is only effective in particular niches. Conversely in the business-to-business (B2B) space green marketing does still have a role to play in allowing companies to qualify for projects or show the existence of various certifications. In the B2B arena it seems that the customer (procurer) needs to get more precise about their requirements for green credentials to avoid simple tick-box selection processes.
“Green” should not be considered simply to be a new product attribute, it needs to be fully embedded in how business is done. It can then provide impetus and perspective to develop genuinely compelling marketing propositions – rather than simply adding a globe or a flower to a product’s logo or packaging. Companies that ‘band-wagon’ won’t be allowed to get away with it for very long.
There is a shift in the way that “Green” is delivered – away from finger-wagging and pontification to demonstration and delivery of actual change and high performance which takes the business forward and not simply to slap on a logo.
Give it some Oomph
Just got back from our first Oomph Seminar in the Leicester Ecohouse. Oomph Seminars have well and truly been launched to a very receptive and forthright group. We were a little surprised but delighted that everyone who had said they were coming, actually turned up – that’s commitment. The mix of NGOs, private and public sector created an unusual and stimulating environment, which really generated some energy and ideas. To start with, we asked all to come up with three words to describe why they had come – most focussed on new ideas and breaking with convention – however one was honest enough to admit that initially at least it was to finish his bacon sandwich.
The topic was “How can we make our sustainability initiatives more successful?” Dan started with a whistle-stop presentation of some of the plethora of initiatives out there, some delivering good outcomes, but too many are failing to get started, gain momentum or keep going. Ben then challenged all the participants to come up with their own examples of successful and unsuccessful initiatives, from which we were able to describe a range of characteristics.
Often success revolves around high quality engagement with those that can actually make a difference. Linking sustainability to existing core business initiatives often works well and delivers good results. In one case, those that have have already demonstrated success were used to coach, train and occasionally bully others. A really nice image of a snowball was created by one participant in suggesting that what really motivates people is being associated with success – importantly not merely success – so people feel they contributed and that this is recognised. Initiatives seem to still need the equivalent of the church spire fund-raising thermometer as a means to show progress and what still needs to be achieved.
We should move away from using language that is too technical or too clever to package or describe our initiatives. The barriers are already significant enough, but if we use inappropriate or unapproachable language then the initiative may not even get off the ground. So terms like ‘smart-thinking’ maybe more effective at lowering the barriers.
There may be an element of complacency in some individuals and companies thinking they have done more than they actually have. In one example there was a brief debate as to whether the same initiative had or had not worked, which throws up the issue of measures of success. Without clarity and agreement of measures there will always be differing views of what is success. If, however, your measures are too rigid and process too prescriptive, without much opportunity for adaptation, then more often than not, the initiative will be seen to have failed. But that in practice very few initiatives deliver their original goals.
It is worth mentioning a particularly valuable reminder of E.F. Schumacher’s progressive comments around the difference between the approach to convergent and divergent problems. Sustainability has so much breadth and interconnection between themes that thinking linearly or convergently is not very helpful, we need to move towards divergent problem solving. This recognition of the complexity and interconnectivity is fundamental but often over-looked.
What was universally accepted and is perhaps stating the blindingly obvious – we need to engage stakeholders in an on-going conversation; listen, take on board the criticisms and adapt as best we can. In starting that conversation we need to understand the frame of reference of whoever we are talking with at the time. A single message is not necessarily going to resonate with different stakeholders. The message might not be a simple translation of the problem. For example, for a business audience focus on cost and saving energy rather than carbon. Similarly, the approach needs to be tailored to the situation, for example, it could be that to achieve the same goal in one situation you need to use a competitive angle while in another consensus is better.
The group were honest in admitting the enormity and complexity of the issues, and in some cases failings and chaos. This led us to a set of paradoxes, which we had defined while we were preparing for today’s session. Our Sustainability Initiative Paradoxes definitely reflected everyone’s experience and a number participants said they would put them to immediate use in their organisations. So here they are (in no order of importance).
- Be single-minded about your goal but open-minded about the means of getting there – you don’t have to confront every barrier head on, move around it
- Reflect existing needs but inspire amazing deeds – allow individuals to feel they are making a difference, don’t use fear to force them and connect to that which matters most to them, not to you.
- Go steady but be ambitious – baby steps on the route to achieving success
- Take it seriously but don’t be solemn (source: Billy Connolly) – make it enjoyable and allow contributors space in the normal day to be involved – don’t expect them to volunteer their own time
- Prepare to fail on the route to success – learn from mistakes, fail small and early
- Simple conviction can overcome complex problems – motivation needs to be deeper than a tick box or development review issue; get to the heart of the matter and focus on practical solutions.
- Celebrate successes but be ruthlessly self-critical – find ways to drive momentum and don’t hide from failures: be honest, adapt and learn
This list reflects the original with two notable amendments from the participants.
We are both very encouraged and delighted with the quality of the response and feedback we’ve had already. There was a lot of energy in the room (and no shortage of elephants – a term that will be banned from future seminars). There is a need and appetite to change the conversation and get out there with exciting ideas and try stuff. Oomph Seminars are here to stay for the foreseeable future, so watch this space for the next exciting episode. Which by the way, in true democratic style and no double voting (you know who you were) the group selected “Green Marketing – has it passed its sell-by date?” in the third week of September, venue to be decided.
We’ll leave you with one comment given in feedback “Original approach to sharing issues and generating fresh thinking”
Paddling Pools In April – Dan Vivian
Having just enjoyed a fabulously sunny and warm Easter, I’m wondering if adaptation to climate change is so tough. The kids certainly love being able to run around the garden in swimming costumes, jumping in and out of the annually purchased paddling pool – glorious if not desperately sustainable.
However even my five and seven year olds are beginning to notice the changes that seem to be embedding in our climate – “Daddy, Spring is becoming Summer and Autumn becoming Winter,” or words to that effect. Probably said in a much cuter way but after snow arriving last year in November and 25 degrees in April who can argue.
It may be easy to be facetious about global warming (deliberately used as opposed to climate change) as one is enjoying a cold beer in the garden but I fear we are not genuinely recognising the urgency of our situation and the legacy our happy splashing kids will inherit. The sustainability sector is rightly recognised as very complex but is, in my view, sometimes considered as an intellectual and academic pursuit not a practical necessity for our generation.
Our politicians are making capital of it but failing in their promises. Much is being placed on the shoulders of big business but results are trying to be achieved with outmoded models. We can only nudge the consumer so far with behavioural economics. So what are we left with?
We have to be radical and embed sustainability into everything we do. Not under the increasingly tainted umbrella of Green initiatives but under a moral imperative. We have to give the whole sector a massive shake up from the foundations up. New practices and innovations have to be the driving force.
Many seem to believe we are already lost and it is only through massive economic shock that we will recognise the crisis and change – “None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project.” George Monbiot, Guardian May 2nd 2011. I am more on the optimistic side, believing that Man’s ultimate resilience and resourcefulness will find and implement the necessary solutions, but only if we really get moving.
We at Vivian Partnership are planning on giving some emphasis to this by launching a series of seminars under the title the Oomph Seminars (get it?) where we hope to emulate Ernest Rutherford’s statement – “We have no money, therefore we must think” and I’d like to add “… and get on with it”.
These should be fun and challenging but most of all aim to motivate action not just hypothesising and pontificating (good words though they are). We will put more out in due course but it is time to tighten the belts and galvanise our various organisations
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