Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category
Garbage in, garbage out!
Over the last few months, working with a number of clients on how best to engage their internal teams, one issue has gradually emerged as key to potential success. When I look around at other work we’re doing and cast my mind back, it suddenly hits me that there is one issue that is often overlooked – the power of data.
Very often when talking about data we direct our attention at the use or accuracy of it in reporting. We look at it from this end as a sustainability professional because that is our interest, how we are judged and our profession. But we rarely consider the user, the data source and poor, over-stretched site manager who is trying to juggle umpteen balls, one of which is energy or waste data. In more cases than I care to remember or name, the way the information is collected can be a huge barrier to fundamental behaviour change.
By putting oneself in the position of the person providing the information, we start to form a picture of their challenges and why all too often change and progress goes nowhere or happens with glacial speed (although with climate change, some glaciers move quite fast now!). If we focus our attention exclusively or prioritise the outcome, the output and the use of data then we ignore potential disengagement from the people that provide the sustainability report’s raw materials.
Engagement is so much more than training, procedures and giving the latest sustainability initiative a fancy logo. As with many aspects of strategy, the devil is in the detail, and in this case, we are increasingly seeing that for real acceptance and progress to happen equal weight must be given to data input and architecture of databases and knowledge management. It can get down to issues as prosaic as – if it takes five minutes too long to input data each week, then it doesn’t get done by 30% of those required to do it, or the input accuracy suffers. But most importantly staff feel disengaged, uninvolved and can become positively hostile to new requests for ever more data, more often, oh and can we have some case studies at the same time, please? Sometimes, in fact more often than not, without the “please”.
The variety of means of collecting data and other information is still wide – many still using paper systems, some have progressed to spreadsheets and databases and then further on to bespoke data management systems. For some data automation has taken over and is seen by many as the panacea, take the squidgy, organic form (the humans) out of the equation and all our data problems are solved. Maybe not because there is one further common flaw in the way that sustainability data are used – there is often little or no formal or informal feedback. In many large companies, information is hoovered up into the central machine and the people who provided the data hear nothing more until they are castigated for failing to meet an annual or longer term target.
Data can make or break a sustainability strategy. While sustainability professionals obsess about the latest standards or methods, the accuracy or verifiability of the data, the local manager is frustrated with outdated information technology, slow line-speeds and an ever longer to-do-list, with much of it coloured red.
There is no five-point plan for how to correct this. The way to correct this is to put yourself in their place. While it is important to talk with your external stakeholders about their information requirements, it is urgent to listen to your employees, contractors and others that provide data. With smart phone technology now readily available a simple app may be what is needed. But don’t obsess about technology, think about the squidgy organic form.
A final thought: one real danger, I have been predicting for the past 15 years, is as those graduates and younger people entering the workplace with higher expectations for sustainability performance are met with archaic, low-tech and unresponsive corporate information processes, they too lose their enthusiasm and revert to the lowest common denominator. Don’t rely exclusively on technology and the next generation to solve the problems we have created.
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.
Green Deal or No Deal?
Updating the energy efficiency of the UK’s aged housing stock is a no brainer. It will possibly have more of an impact than any other action to push us to hit our ambitious carbon emissions targets as a nation. The question is how.
Building sexy new homes and imposing zero carbon requirements will only scrape the surface, as the existing housing stock is like an anchor dragging us down.
The Government’s flagship “Green Deal” policy was proposed to boldly take this on. The boldness is to be admired but I’m afraid that launching a new “green” policy to tackle this is misguided but not necessarily for all the critisms expressed in other articles, blogs and social media. My fear for Green Deal is more fundamental – its the name.
Green Deal may be snappy but its marginalising. ”Green” is not a benefit in its own right to the mainstream. It talks to the deep green minority who have probably already insulated their homes to within an inch of their lives and who proudly have super efficient boilers that hardly run because the thermostat is turned down so low.
Green is actually a turn off (sorry) to most consumers and so a complex and untried green finance package based on possible savings and which might make houses more difficult to sell is not going to ignite the mainstream. While ‘Feed In Tariff” was less snappy it did describe the mechanism, which was simple and profitable. Its success is evident on the roofs of houses across the UK but I fear that the same will not be true of Green Deal.
Instead of saying “we are doing this because we think it is the right thing to do and we are putting our money where our mouth is” (as in FIT) the Government is saying “we are doing this because you should think it is the right thing to do and should put your money where our mouth is”. Not a terribly compelling proposition in an age of austerity.
Radio 4′s Moneybox Live discussed this very issue recently. It struck me how the benefits of Green Deal were buried by the concerns of callers over its complexity, loan repayments costs and the potential legacy left with a property. The probable savings from effective insulation, efficient boiler and controls are completely lost.
The savings angle has been taken by the press advertising campaign that has appeared in a limited number of papers since the official launch of the scheme at the start of the month. These take the problem… solution approach (a la Cillit Bang) and all carry the headline Green Deal With it. I’m afraid that unlike one squirt from good old Barry Scott (Cillit Bang spokesman) the Green Deal won’t deal with it and a much more sophisticated and sensitive approach should be taken.
It isn’t a great start for Green Deal, poor product, poor name, poor understanding of the audience’s needs, that will inevitably lead to poor uptake. When will we realise that “green” alone is not seen as a benefit and doesn’t sell to the mainstream?
The Blessing of No Budget – Oomph Seminar, London 17th January 2013
Our successful series, Oomph Seminars, moved to London yesterday. The theme was “Sustainability on a Shoestring – is it possible?” We wanted to investigate whether the case for change and the establishment of more sustainable operations was best enabled through the value argument of delivering improving commercial returns or whether small incremental, no cost options can start to create a sustainability snowball.
We set our new oomphers two key questions
1. If you could spend your budget on only one thing in 2013 what would it be? – if you don’t have a budget, consider the most important thing you can invest your time on.
2. What has been your best zero cash cost action?
On a bitterly cold January day the turnout was fantastic and many thanks to KYOCERA for the use of their fabulous Technology Suite on Mortimer St, W1. This is a great facility and offered free of charge to anyone looking to promote the sustainability cause.
We roped in the inspirational Simon Graham from Commercial Group to set up the conversations to follow. Simon is an oompher of old and his company is one of the leaders in creating value from a sustainable business model. He took us through its story, dating back to 2006 when Simone (a founding director not a typo) was Al Gored at an event set up by James Murdoch. She came back with a completely new vision for the business and set about establishing it.
One of her first moves was the appointment of Simon as the Environmental Strategist and he has been at the forefront of its powerful Green Angels environmental champion’s programme and the setting of a series of very ambitious targets and aims for the business. His financial director is now smiling with the upward curve of all financial indicators and can see the real value and contribution the sustainability programmes have made to the bottom line. Initially this was made with little investment. However as the momentum built the budgets increased. Commercial’s latest move is an investment in Hydrogen vehicles which involves a substantial capital investment.
The astute timing of initiatives and actions was a very important insight to come from Simon’s presentation. Another was the careful management of “green teams”. Where “volunteers” are selected so that the make up of the team is as powerful as possible and its members are respected, action orientated, leaders in action not necessarily title and with strong opinions to match.
The break out sessions produced much debate but interestingly and quite surprisingly there were a limited number of concrete actions to come from the group that considered the singular budget investment. No mention of the role out of LED or PV to save money or generate income. The majority of the responses and discussion was around overarching approaches. It was recognised that sustainability is not seen as sexy and needed to be repositioned in many businesses. Language is often a major barrier as is the very different agendas of executives in UK and in the US.
One concrete area of focus for budget was the establishment of more coordinated travel planning. Travel is a huge cost for many businesses and so can be a very futile ground to establish more sustainable practices and their visible commercial benefits. One very exciting but simple idea to drive such behaviours is the understanding of individual barriers to activities such as car sharing or cycling. These barriers can be removed with investment in things as simple as free car valets for car sharers, or free taxi hame if car sharing buddy is called away. The provision of showers, hairdriers and straighteners can make cycling a much more viable option. Small, simple, personal incentives communicated with a bit of wit can go a long way.
This led us to the recognition of a recurring theme that behaviour should be driven first and attitudes follow as opposed to the attempts to change opinions to drive behaviour. Whether this will go all the way to the board room was questioned and the vital requirement of leaders to demonstrate the behaviour change for it to be established. In organisations without clear sustainability strategies the majority of initiatives will be short lived and seen as a “nice to do”, reinforcing the marginal position of the sustainability professional. So however significant the budget the key is to engage the board, to set the example and demonstrate the change.
This picked up on an interesting finding from the no budget group that the lack of budget was almost liberating, not frustrating. It allows more freedom , less scrutiny and potentially encouraged more integration and collaboration. Potentially it should drive greater conversation and engagement. Sustainability can be seen as an enabler in the actions of other departments, to provide creativity and ideas and to be used to solve individual problems.
Local, national and international issues and events such as Earth Hour, Climate Week or community green initiatives can be used to stimulate action by mobilising established awareness with no cost. Is it therefore heretical to suggest that sustainability might be best served by the department or individuals not holding substantial budgets but using its knowledge, experience and expertise to aid others? In this way activities could become integrated not peripheral and sustainability viewed as a source of huge benefit not eccentric ideas.
If this counter intuitive approach is to be feasible it demands real openness from sustainability individuals; reaching out to contact, listen, inspire and act and drive the establishment of change right at the heart of organisations not from the sidelines.
Welcome to the world of the new ‘normal’.
There are times when events converge to stimulate some new thinking – for me, this might be one of those times. 2012 was apparently the second wettest year on average in the UK, since records began. In this wet year, we had parts of the country which were flooded multiple times, each time with an event which would have been described as a one in fifty or one hundred year event. Also during the year, I remember reading somewhere that a person aged 27 or under had not yet experienced a year when the average global temperature was less than the long term average.
What do these three examples share? What is common is that each uses terms of probability or statistical description which might need to be changed as we appear to be living in a world where comparing events against ‘normal’ is becoming inappropriate. We seek averages to describe things and to help us understand the world. Our historical experiences and thus our statistical databases might not help us to understand and to predict the future. If it is true and we are moving into a period of extreme weather and an ever warming world then uncertainty is much more important to understand than comparing against normality.
We seem to take some form of emotional security in normality or being average. Maybe not as individuals, but certainly when we think about the world around us we seem to be comfortable with normal. Marketers and behavioural scientists might tell us that we are comfortable with normal, we want to feel part of the herd so we do not seem to others as freakish. If this is true then how are we going feel in the future as the world, its climate and weather become ever more unpredictable? How are we going to feel when this place where we live becomes both a physical and emotional danger to us?
If we can’t find an appropriate description of average or normal – is the new normal really abnormal? Going back to the wet 2012 in the UK, this is a really interesting example of what I’m talking about in terms of the statistical descriptions applied to our everyday experiences. Across the country the rainfall was not constant, and never will be, and through the year some months were much drier than ‘normal’ and other months wetter. When we talk about historical time-series or about trying to find a single measure to describe a range of variables maybe we are trying to achieve the impossible. And yet we feel the need to try. As a result, we may be creating a situation where confusion is created.
Uncertainty is a critically important statistical concept that is the enemy of every policy maker and newspaper editor. We desire certainty to plan and set policy. In the future we will, I hope, look back and laugh at how naive we were in seeking certainty. Normality is a concept we need to get used to being without. We need to become more comfortable with the unusual, the extreme and this is all about how resilient we can be. And it will determine how successful we are at adapting to this future vision of the world.
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.
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.
Choices, choices, choices
Dan and I have been doing a whole lot of thinking about strategy and planning in advance of a number of exciting meetings. Thinking is dangerous – it leads to ideas and crazy concepts. At the same time I’ve been reacquainting myself with Edward De Bono and his ideas on thinking in the new millennium. And I have had something of a revelation. I think I realised it all along, but it is now becoming crystallised more firmly. Choice is bad, especially when the options have far reaching and complex implications – as most do in the realm of sustainability.
Look around, everywhere people are choosing, being forced to choose and having more options than most are comfortable with placed before them. Whether it is the Greek electorate, delegates at Rio+20 or comedians deciding to avoid paying tax. We are all faced with choices, sometimes we make a good selection and sometimes not. It’s a crap-shoot.
Are we really equipped to make the right choice? Do we have either the intellectual capacity or have we acquired sufficient knowledge to make a selection, good or bad. And anyway who is to say that the choice is bad, it is after all our choice.
When the implications of a choice, in a world where everyone knows everyone else’s business instantly, are widely felt, the burden is becoming enormous. Think of the pressure that a Greek citizen must feel under at the moment. Not only is their vote a personal thing, it likely has ramifications across the globe. Let’s ignore whether or not the politicians are up to the task, the people in a democracy have enormous responsibility to make a good choice.
Consumers have a duty to make a good choice, but again the individual factors and desires involved in selection are complex and often driven by emotion. Edward De Bono makes the point that while our society has benefited from a dominance of judgement thinking where we base decisions on critical analysis and reasoned debate, we now need to move to develop more creative or design based thinking methods (which are currently not covered in most education systems in the world). By encouraging design thinking we find ways to move beyond problem solving and find alternatives.
Choosing alternatives needs education and we are not really geared up yet. When politicians then hark back to a former glory days of education, this doesn’t help us to move forwards. We live in a largely democratic world, where choice is not only seen as a good thing, it is seen as a right. Surely limiting choice must begin to happen. We can’t go on expecting people to make good choices when there are so many alternatives, so much pressure and such far reaching implications from making any one of those decisions.
If we are to be more sustainable, economically, socially and environmentally, surely we must start to limit choice. Companies and brands should have as part of their strategy a programme to limit product ranges and to make items more durable so we don’t have to decide to replace the worn out as often as we do today. How much angst and depression would be removed from our lives if choice was limited.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing endless research before choosing which new piece of mountaineering kit to buy. Then justifying my choice in a variety of ways. Companies are now starting to make a move in this direction. Almost all of Patagonia’s clothing uses recycled fibres, Howies use organic cotton and so on. The move has started. So when asked what characterises a sustainable business/brand, I think I now believe that it has a lot to do with the limiting of choice. If the manufacturer or specifier chooses the right materials or process then we do not have to choose. Take away the randomness of individual choice. Radical perhaps, but look at what the leading companies are doing.
A final thought that makes this approach very challenging – if the customer is always right then why should we go down this path? We now live in a more interconnected and resource limited world and so leaving customers in charge is potentially very dangerous.
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