Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
ISO 14001 auditing and compliance evaluation
As some of you will be aware Dan and I were a part of the Planet and Prosperity team, led by Lucy Candlin, behind the recently published Sniffer project entitled: Improved Alignment of UKAS-Accredited Certification Bodies’ Activities with UK Environment Agencies’ Regulatory Processes. The report of this piece of research was published last week and can be found here.
It was a fascinating project to be a part of, which I hope will help to direct future policy and action in this area. The thirty-five recommendations should help to begin a process of greater collaboration and improved understanding. As we move closer to the due date for the update of ISO 14001, many of the issues raised in the report may come into stark relief. So this is very timely research.
The commitment to legal compliance is fundamental to ISO 14001 and indeed to any company that considers itself socially responsible. Yet the concept and evaluation of compliance is complex and misunderstood. For many the challenge is keeping up to date with the rapidly changing legislative landscape, determining the impact of the devolved legislature or the range of interpretation and advice available. Business is constantly demanding consistency of approach in order to plan properly.
All of these issues are addressed in the report and the recommendations provide a framework for the environmental agencies to develop communication with key certification bodies. Although the main audience is the regulatory community, those in business should take the time to read the report (or the summary) and also to keep an eye on progress in the Environment Agency’s EMS+ project which has been running over the past year in England and Wales.
In a climate of government looking at deregulation, this type of project should provide valuable evidence to support the process of change.
Sustainability – Let’s get involved
Yesterday was a first for me. I was in the audience at an internal company conference while Dan took the platform and introduced our project to them as a part of a planned ‘engagement’ exercise around their company strategy. I’ve not heard him speak in this type of arena, to this style and size of audience – and he didn’t disappoint. Listening to him and then a couple of other speakers that followed got me to think about this word – engagement.
Most of the speakers yesterday afternoon used it, some even defined it. But I thought as I listened that they’re using the wrong word. Engagement might be all the rage but it is too formal, it is too structured in the way that its meaning is interpreted. We should be talking about involvement and how to get people involved in the process of becoming more sustainable. Engagement implies that we need to set a formal date, agenda and then have some minutes with actions. Or it implies, as in a military engagement, that we must take up arms and beat the **** out of the other guys. Neither of these implied interpretations is correct. We need to find a way to involve people in sustainability. Get them involved.
Engaged also has connotations of marriage and this doesn’t help either. All-in-all engagement is the wrong word. We need people to get involved, get their hands dirty and make mistakes. The idea of making mistakes and having fun has been a theme of previous blogs. I think starting to use the terms involved and involvement would start to make it seem more personal, more informal and yet more effective.
Part of the definition of in-volv’ is to make (oneself) emotionally concerned in, with …. Surely this is the very thing we need people to become. So, please, let’s stop using the words engagement or engage when what we actually want to do is to get people involved in sustainability. Rather than being satisfied with a few presentations and an intranet/internet portal where people can go to find out for themselves about sustainability, we need to get people involved, little by little over a long period of time. This is where passion and persistence become important characteristics of the sustainability professional. But so too is the capacity to listen and to empathise.
This well-known Chinese proverb nails it well – Tell me and I’ll forget; Show me and I may remember; Involve me and I’ll understand. This is why interactive training courses are so much more effective than lectures. And where does engagement fit into this proverb? Is engagement the whole thing? I’m not sure, but I am sure that simply telling and showing doesn’t get the job done.
One other thought, which is related, from yesterday. One speaker – not on sustainability – talked about a steering group and suggested that if you wanted to get your ideas heard you should find you departmental champion and make your point. Surely the ‘champion’ has to get off his or her backside and go out and find the ideas, dig and encourage, ask and listen. Being called a champion is not the end of the process. The champions need to get involved just as much as expecting everyone else to get involved.
Bolting the stable door!
Much has been reported about the horse meat scandal in the food supply chain, much angst and much anger, and many perfectly edible food products have been removed from shop shelves and presumably destroyed. Rather than exploring the rights and wrongs of the situation, I want to open out and think about the broader impact on reputation. Who is losing out most and what are the options?
Most businesses and their trade bodies will expend much time and money lobbying for relaxed regulation. Regulation is often cited as a barrier to profit and growth, it is often blamed for the continued recession in Europe. But then a controversy, like the one over past few weeks, hits the headlines and people question corporate reputations and processes. But at the same time questions are asked of the regulatory process. In fact, in many cases it is the reputation of the regulatory authority that is more exposed than the corporates. Why should this be the case? There are a number of possible answers to this question. In perhaps very simplistic terms in the case of the horse meat scandal, it might be because of those pesky foreign companies acting illegally and a failure to regulate their activities in the locality or a failure to prevent imports. But how are we going to ensure the stable door remains bolted in the future and what form should the bolt take?
Responsible sourcing is now a part of the licence to operate for many companies. It is necessary because of the complexity of the global supply chain and multiple players are involved. Gradual increased scarcity in raw materials and the environmental and social impact of their extraction, has created a further dimension. The complexity is not helped by the plethora of national, thematic or in-house supply chain and responsible sourcing schemes that are seemingly in competition. The resulting mosaic of standards, labels and certifications is confusing to all concerned.
A bit like the stable door, the perpetual debate between regulation and deregulation swings back and forth depending on our ability to remember the last transgression. Earned autonomy is a phrase that has recently emerged as a concept. It basically states that companies can earn a level of increased autonomy through good performance. The short-term business benefit is fewer regulatory visits and thus autonomy is earned.
I hope that no one would argue that we should have zero regulation – that business should be free to do exactly as it pleases, that it can push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour until something bad happens. It is equally the case that regulators can’t and shouldn’t run businesses. Finding a position between these two extremes and perhaps as importantly rewarding good behaviour with relaxed regulation, is what most politicians and responsible businesses want.
Put into this mix third-party certification against accepted standards creates a further level of complexity. Independent certification to standards is often, wrongly, equated with regulatory inspection. The two processes provide a complementary value to organisations and both come with a cost.
Ultimately when things go wrong we look for someone to blame. The complexity of the global economy and the supply chain, the complexity of certification and legislation and the desire to be competitive will always make the identification of fault very difficult. In some ways, it is the very dense nature of the undergrowth that means that the regulator with their apparently simple duty becomes the most exposed. Are they not, after all, the bolt?
From business’s perceptive is earned autonomy actually a poisoned challis? If business wants to be autonomous and work without inspection by a regulatory body then any disasters fall very clearly at the feet of the company whose brand is exposed. So it could be argued that the complexity of global trade provides a level of security for company reputations. Earned autonomy therefore might neither secure the door nor provide suitable cover for business when the horse is flying out the door – or as recently, off the shelves.
The Blessing of No Budget – Oomph Seminar, London 17th January 2013
Our successful series, Oomph Seminars, moved to London yesterday. The theme was “Sustainability on a Shoestring – is it possible?” We wanted to investigate whether the case for change and the establishment of more sustainable operations was best enabled through the value argument of delivering improving commercial returns or whether small incremental, no cost options can start to create a sustainability snowball.
We set our new oomphers two key questions
1. If you could spend your budget on only one thing in 2013 what would it be? – if you don’t have a budget, consider the most important thing you can invest your time on.
2. What has been your best zero cash cost action?
On a bitterly cold January day the turnout was fantastic and many thanks to KYOCERA for the use of their fabulous Technology Suite on Mortimer St, W1. This is a great facility and offered free of charge to anyone looking to promote the sustainability cause.
We roped in the inspirational Simon Graham from Commercial Group to set up the conversations to follow. Simon is an oompher of old and his company is one of the leaders in creating value from a sustainable business model. He took us through its story, dating back to 2006 when Simone (a founding director not a typo) was Al Gored at an event set up by James Murdoch. She came back with a completely new vision for the business and set about establishing it.
One of her first moves was the appointment of Simon as the Environmental Strategist and he has been at the forefront of its powerful Green Angels environmental champion’s programme and the setting of a series of very ambitious targets and aims for the business. His financial director is now smiling with the upward curve of all financial indicators and can see the real value and contribution the sustainability programmes have made to the bottom line. Initially this was made with little investment. However as the momentum built the budgets increased. Commercial’s latest move is an investment in Hydrogen vehicles which involves a substantial capital investment.
The astute timing of initiatives and actions was a very important insight to come from Simon’s presentation. Another was the careful management of “green teams”. Where “volunteers” are selected so that the make up of the team is as powerful as possible and its members are respected, action orientated, leaders in action not necessarily title and with strong opinions to match.
The break out sessions produced much debate but interestingly and quite surprisingly there were a limited number of concrete actions to come from the group that considered the singular budget investment. No mention of the role out of LED or PV to save money or generate income. The majority of the responses and discussion was around overarching approaches. It was recognised that sustainability is not seen as sexy and needed to be repositioned in many businesses. Language is often a major barrier as is the very different agendas of executives in UK and in the US.
One concrete area of focus for budget was the establishment of more coordinated travel planning. Travel is a huge cost for many businesses and so can be a very futile ground to establish more sustainable practices and their visible commercial benefits. One very exciting but simple idea to drive such behaviours is the understanding of individual barriers to activities such as car sharing or cycling. These barriers can be removed with investment in things as simple as free car valets for car sharers, or free taxi hame if car sharing buddy is called away. The provision of showers, hairdriers and straighteners can make cycling a much more viable option. Small, simple, personal incentives communicated with a bit of wit can go a long way.
This led us to the recognition of a recurring theme that behaviour should be driven first and attitudes follow as opposed to the attempts to change opinions to drive behaviour. Whether this will go all the way to the board room was questioned and the vital requirement of leaders to demonstrate the behaviour change for it to be established. In organisations without clear sustainability strategies the majority of initiatives will be short lived and seen as a “nice to do”, reinforcing the marginal position of the sustainability professional. So however significant the budget the key is to engage the board, to set the example and demonstrate the change.
This picked up on an interesting finding from the no budget group that the lack of budget was almost liberating, not frustrating. It allows more freedom , less scrutiny and potentially encouraged more integration and collaboration. Potentially it should drive greater conversation and engagement. Sustainability can be seen as an enabler in the actions of other departments, to provide creativity and ideas and to be used to solve individual problems.
Local, national and international issues and events such as Earth Hour, Climate Week or community green initiatives can be used to stimulate action by mobilising established awareness with no cost. Is it therefore heretical to suggest that sustainability might be best served by the department or individuals not holding substantial budgets but using its knowledge, experience and expertise to aid others? In this way activities could become integrated not peripheral and sustainability viewed as a source of huge benefit not eccentric ideas.
If this counter intuitive approach is to be feasible it demands real openness from sustainability individuals; reaching out to contact, listen, inspire and act and drive the establishment of change right at the heart of organisations not from the sidelines.
Welcome to the world of the new ‘normal’.
There are times when events converge to stimulate some new thinking – for me, this might be one of those times. 2012 was apparently the second wettest year on average in the UK, since records began. In this wet year, we had parts of the country which were flooded multiple times, each time with an event which would have been described as a one in fifty or one hundred year event. Also during the year, I remember reading somewhere that a person aged 27 or under had not yet experienced a year when the average global temperature was less than the long term average.
What do these three examples share? What is common is that each uses terms of probability or statistical description which might need to be changed as we appear to be living in a world where comparing events against ‘normal’ is becoming inappropriate. We seek averages to describe things and to help us understand the world. Our historical experiences and thus our statistical databases might not help us to understand and to predict the future. If it is true and we are moving into a period of extreme weather and an ever warming world then uncertainty is much more important to understand than comparing against normality.
We seem to take some form of emotional security in normality or being average. Maybe not as individuals, but certainly when we think about the world around us we seem to be comfortable with normal. Marketers and behavioural scientists might tell us that we are comfortable with normal, we want to feel part of the herd so we do not seem to others as freakish. If this is true then how are we going feel in the future as the world, its climate and weather become ever more unpredictable? How are we going to feel when this place where we live becomes both a physical and emotional danger to us?
If we can’t find an appropriate description of average or normal – is the new normal really abnormal? Going back to the wet 2012 in the UK, this is a really interesting example of what I’m talking about in terms of the statistical descriptions applied to our everyday experiences. Across the country the rainfall was not constant, and never will be, and through the year some months were much drier than ‘normal’ and other months wetter. When we talk about historical time-series or about trying to find a single measure to describe a range of variables maybe we are trying to achieve the impossible. And yet we feel the need to try. As a result, we may be creating a situation where confusion is created.
Uncertainty is a critically important statistical concept that is the enemy of every policy maker and newspaper editor. We desire certainty to plan and set policy. In the future we will, I hope, look back and laugh at how naive we were in seeking certainty. Normality is a concept we need to get used to being without. We need to become more comfortable with the unusual, the extreme and this is all about how resilient we can be. And it will determine how successful we are at adapting to this future vision of the world.
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.
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.
The Longest Journey Starts With The First Step
I have just spent a fantastic day in Cheltenham. A beautiful Regency town and home to the Cheltenham Science Festival. It is also home to Commercial Group a very progressive business supplies and infrastructure company. It set out on their sustainability journey in 2006 led by its charismatic director Simone Hindmarche-Bye. She had an epiphany after seeing Al Gore’s presentation of An Inconvenient Truth and set about transforming the company.
Today it is a model sustainable SME, with an enviable client list and a fantastic ethos; number 4 on The Times Top Green Companies and posting amazing commercial results as well. It is a testament to the whole team as well as the “genius” sustainability strategist and friend of Vivian Partnership Simon Graham.
It was my first visit to Commercial’s famed CSR Day (watch the video of the day here). This is in its 6th year and for the first time was integrated with the Science Festival. It was a great meeting of minds and a very relaxed and informative couple of sessions. A world Class line up of speakers presented a very varied debate across the central issues of sustainable development against the title of People, Planet, Profit.
I won’t attempt to précis the presentations, that were thankfully Powerpoint free and charmingly chaired by Lucy Seigle of One Show fame. I was left with one massive overriding impression. All the speakers, particularly those from business, had a conviction that organisations just needed to start… to set out on their individual sustainability journeys, and to do it now. For some it starts with Al Gore, for others from the Chief Exec. But it has to start with a leader taking the lead.
These are two very resonant themes for us at Vivian Partnership. Our model Sustainability Pathfinder is designed to provide organisations with a clear starting point; a balance of their capability and transparency allowing it to recognise and uncover the potential within the organisation. From here it is easier to lead and for progress to be measured. For as Simone said if it is measured it will improve (a kind of Field of Dreams strategy).
The other theme is leadership – which we will be driving forward in our new Oomph Training on the Centre Stage course in October this year. For which we are gathering an august list of sustainability leaders. We do not need to repeat the arguments and continue to preach to the converted but start to genuinely engage, drive real behaviour change and inspire action.
It is good to know that we are on the right lines in helping organisations embrace sustainable development, I hope that these themes can be developed further and that progressive and inspiring organisations such as Commercial get the rewards they deserve for their beliefs and energy.
And the winner is…
It’s Oscar time of the year again, when the rich, famous and glamorous, the great, good and gorgeous have their moment in the spotlight. The rewards for winning an Oscar are great and the investment in getting one is considerable, although this year some of the excesses have been curbed. While the Oscars might not be the usual awards ceremony, there is much to be admired and for a short while it is top many people’s interest.
In our world of CSR and Sustainability there are awards to be won, recognition to be gained, whether it is for company or self. This is a time for awards too. We’ve Shorty recently and PEA and BCE Awards to come, amongst a long and seemingly growing list of opportunities to apply for and gain recognition. In past blogs I have shared my thoughts on some of the simple rules that could be used to help you apply.
I might have a slightly jaundiced view of the world of awards and listings as my own experience is one of a nearly man, an almost ran, like Johnny Depp or Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr or Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock or Albert Finney (all of whom have never won an Oscar). In fact, I’m fine with the company as that’s a pretty impressive list of also rans.
What new wisdom can I now add that might help those that want to be in the limelight? Well I firmly believe that like the Hollywood starlet who stands and exclaims pure amazement at the very craziness of actually winning, don’t expect to win. There are many others out there that want it badly and unless you are a veteran, multi award winning corporation then expect to lose. But you will win in other ways.
An increasing trend in our CSR/Sustainability world is the growing number of individual categories and growth of personal winners. What is very interesting for us back room boys is that most of the winners have demonstrated clear leadership. This leadership is clearly a benefit to themselves but as importantly it has helped their own company.
True leadership is rare but can be learned and must be practiced. Putting sustainability centre stage needs people who can lead. What is it that connects these leaders, these winners. I believe it can be summed up as: leadership in what they do and honesty and consistency in what they say and do. It is their willingness and ability to engage with others. You can’t lead from within an ivory tower or a corporate centre if you do’t get out there and talk with people.
Two recent winners of this type of award, Julie Davenport (Good Energy) and Mike Barry (M&S) exhibit these characteristics very well. Both work in businesses that are doing better than average – either for their respective sectors or their size. Correlation only perhaps, but ignore it at your peril. There are leaders out there going unrecognised as there are great actors without Oscar statuettes on display in their Malibu beach houses.
In these difficult economic times hunkering down and keeping quiet are potentially disastrous strategies. But as with much for us at Vivian Partnership, you don’t have to be the best, you don’t have win all the awards to be respected and to be a leader driving the necessary change in your organisation. But don’t work in vacuum, be confident and tell people what you are doing.
By all means enter the competitions but it really doesn’t matter if you don’t win. After all Cary Grant was a pretty decent actor and Alfred Hitchcock directed some great films.
Role Models to Follow or Gods to Worship?
Over the past few weeks I have been giving a lot of thought to our apparent need for role models in society. Whether it is in an effort to coax us off the couch and out for a run or into the kitchen or to provide motivation of more sustainable practices – we seem to be told we need someone to follow. Really? Do we need to copy someone else? If we do – and I’ll leave you to decide one way or the other – then what type of exemplar do we crave?
Many believe that in order to solve generational obesity we need chefs to show us the way and while they exhort us to learn to grow, prepare and cook food for ourselves, we buy and eat more and more ready meals and use our stoves and ovens less and less. We appear to listen – witness the viewing audiences for a growing number of cookery and other lifestyle programmes – and seem unwilling to take action ourselves.
Elite and world class athletes are recruited to visit schools and talk about their experiences as a means of motivating us mere mortals to take part in sport and yet obesity grows (sorry) and participation seems to be in decline. Recent stories suggest that a large number of us have under-utilised gym memberships costing a small fortune and delivering little benefit.
Is our obsession with finding role models who can show us the way a feature of modern, celebrity obsessed culture? For centuries we have been shown examples through religious messages, such as parables, showing us ways to behave and live our lives. Has this approach worked? Has human suffering and conflict declined? I would suggest not, so why do we persist with this form of approach?
So looking for role models isn’t anything new. Why does it seem not to work very well? Let’s take the issue of food and nutrition and obesity as a case in point. We know that overeating isn’t good for us and that we should make our own food from scratch. I do and many of my friends do. We do it everyday and not just when entertaining. Are we unusual? Yes we probably are. Why does the nightly barrage of cookery programmes hosted by a growing regiment of chefs and restaurateurs seem to have little or no effect in changing the behaviour of the average person? Not only that but the population at large seems to going in the wrong direction and at an accelerating rate.
As I stand in the queue at the supermarket check-out I look around to a sea of trolleys full of convenience and processed food stuffs. My unbagged potatoes are viewed with amusement. Am I a freak?
So what is the issue and more importantly what is the solution? In all areas of life – including our great desire to fix our broken environment – we might be looking at the wrong models. The glamour of excellence, best practice and a perfect six pack (women please insert your own desired body feature) is sexy and to the media is seductive. Such glamour attracts some, a small proportion of the target audience, but for the vast majority it is merely entertaining and unattainable.
Excellence comes with a problem, it is desperately hard to achieve or requires genetics that not all possess. This is a barrier of significance. It really came home to me while listening to a recent news story about the leading male GB gymnast, Louis Smith. I might get the quote slightly wrong but the gist was: “Since the age of 12 I’ve been in almost permanent pain”. The training is so hard this elite athlete’s body was and is almost permanently injured. Does this encourage a child to take up the sport? Does it encourage parents to send their little darlings off every day effectively to be tortured to become an elite athlete? I would suggest not. I would suggest that these consistent messages of how hard it all is and how much time and pain is required is not a positive attraction. Whether it is Rebecca Adlington swimming thousands of metres before most of us have got up or Lance Armstrong riding for hours and hours every day, these are super humans and we admire and respect them and their achievements. But should we really be expected to copy them?
Constant messages of how super these people are only reminds us of our own inadequacies. As young men (a while ago), Dan and I were decent sportsmen, both played hockey at university 1st XI and county levels. Good but not exceptional. At one time or other we played against or with many of the members of the gold medal winning GB men’s hockey team at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. What’s the point of this story? We trained hard and played a lot of hockey – at one stage I played or trained six days a week (effectively 15-18 hours) while at Oxford. It was hard work and we certainly weren’t elites. We did it because we enjoyed it, we enjoyed the camaraderie of team-mates, we enjoyed winning (which didn’t happen that often); we didn’t enjoy losing. We did it because we wanted to do it and not because someone told us to do it or because of some role model.
So what’s the solution? In simple terms we need to give people the time and space to find what they want to do. We need to find appropriate role models, who reflect our own weaknesses rather than preen themselves about their virtues. There are many parallels with trying to encourage the public and organisations to become more environmentally sustainable. Big companies are not and will never be role models for smaller companies. Deep greens will never tempt light greens to adopt their way of life and copy their decision-making.
Watch a cookery programme and count how many dishes are actually prepared. Homely entertainment might be great TV but doesn’t make people get off the couch to cook for themselves. Usain Bolt is a fabulous athlete and great entertainer but he is not here to entice us to do more exercise. Part of the problem is that attempts to modify behaviour are increasingly simply entertainment. It is easier to watch than to participate. Let’s worship greatness and seek to improve ourselves a little bit at a time.
As some of you will be aware Dan and I were a part of the Planet and Prosperity team, led
“Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration…” was the title from our latest Oomph Seminar. Apologies to Tony Blair for our rather clumsy adaptation
Yesterday was a first for me. I was in the audience at an internal company conference while Dan took the
Updating the energy efficiency of the UK’s aged housing stock is a no brainer. It will possibly have more of an impact
Much has been reported about the horse meat scandal in the food supply chain, much angst and much anger, and
Our successful series, Oomph Seminars, moved to London yesterday. The theme was “Sustainability on a Shoestring – is it possible?”
There are times when events converge to stimulate some new thinking – for me, this might be one of those
I don’t think I’m one to scare easily but the headline in last weekend’s Sunday Times cut me
This post is going to short and sweet. It is a rallying cry to all sustainability professionals out there. Do
Following on from last week’s blog after the Oomph Seminar which explored the processes of evaluating legal compliance we
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It is fantastic to leave a seminar feeling inspired and full of practical ideas. Thursday’s oomph seminar did exactly that, Ben and Dan are naturals at putting an audience at ease which meant real participation from the group. As environmental professionals often form a one person team, it is fantastic to share a room with like minded individuals from local businesses who have faced and tackled similar challenges and can offer insight and advice. Eagerly anticipating the next installment of Oomph!
Nicola Duffy, Environmental Co-ordinator at Highcross, Leicester
Thank you both for inviting us to today’s Oomph seminar. From our point of view, we found the stimulus material and subsequent debate insightful from a sustainability perspective, but also in a wider context applicable to the successful deployment of general business initiatives.
Participant at Oomph Seminar 30 June 2011
Really enjoyed this morning. I have attended very few seminars over the past two years simple because they are all too similar, often the the same speakers and follow the same theme. Today was most importantly enjoyable, interesting and got the brain cells working. I like small groups with variety of people and backgrounds.
Participant at first Oomph Seminar 30 June 2011