About rossleadinggreen

Hi, I am a sustainability specialist with extensive expertise in corporate environmental & social sustainability issues, executive corporate responsibility & organisational development. I work with individuals and organizations that seek to ‘Get Green Done’ helping them develop their strategic, operational & sustainability thinking, and to implement service improvements in a rapidly changing & competitive business landscape. My consulting work, training, executive workshops, and capacity-building work have taken me all over the planet - which is a constant CO2 nagging issue for me. He regularly publishes articles, research, tools and guidance on EIA, sustainability and corporate social responsibility leadership and is actively linked with several international Universities & Environmental Research groups as a Visiting Professor, Research Fellow, Associate, Mentor and Coach.

Socks for Dogs or Sustainability

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Can we put aside our fascination with Socks to become more sustainable in business?

The call and offer were a regular one – a content marketing company had just analysed my website and found it below par.  They could guarantee to deliver millions of leads and 1st place globally in SEO content – watch out the Cambridge Inst. for Sustainability Leadership!.  The marketing hook this time was a series of free searches to identify keywords.  As wet dark autumn afternoons working from home in the UK can be slow affairs, I decided to take up the offer.

The caller then started feeding back the monthly activity level in the UK arising from a specific keywords that I was interested in.  I was surprised by the overall interest levels from keywords associated with ‘Business and Sustainability’ so on my last keyword search I decided to set a baseline comparison keyword to compare previous results against.  An earlier online distraction looking for stocking fillers for the family may have influenced my choice.

Keyword Search comparison – results are average monthly inquiries made to Google  

Sustainability in business 101-200 Socks 11,500-30,300
Why is sustainability important in business 0-10 Socks and sandals 851-1,700
How to improve business sustainability 0-10 Bamboo socks 11,500-30,300
Role of sustainability in business 0-10 Socks for dogs 501-850
Business sustainability plan 0-10 Christmas socks 1,700–2,900
Benefits of sustainability 11-50 Vegan thermal socks 11-50
       

We’ve all have moments in our life when it seems that the world’s priorities don’t line up with our own.  In this case is was comparing the greater interest in ‘socks for dogs’ and surprisingly ‘socks and sandals’ (the latter a candidate for the return of capital punishment for social crimes) than the level of UK internet interest in how sustainability benefits organisations and business activities despite the strong evidence emerging globally.    

There is a visible upturn in business community interest into environmental stewardship affairs and the consequences of poor environmental management practices in areas such as single use plastics, energy management and recycling.   However in order to extract the greatest value from organisational initiatives, there has to be senior management commitment to greater business sustainability and a clear understanding of their role in leading the business towards greater sustainability as well as in promoting strategic change when sustainability opportunities, issues and risks arise. 

To achieve this, the surest route is through the exploration, and adoption of strategic sustainability business models within the business owners, leaders professionals.  Executive level decision-makers still lags far behind that of the wider environmental manager community in their understanding of future intangible risks associated with sustainability.

Professional development training and coaching can help break down these knowledge barriers, and allow an opportunity for more detailed examination of what opportunities exist and how the integration of a sustainability business model or strategic plan could fit your ‘future fit’ organisational culture.  The other great benefit is that it can allow time and an opportunity for senior managers to understand, reflect on and retain a stronger position when reviewing new initiatives arising within the marketplace – or within the minds of more junior colleagues who now hold an alternative worldview on business’s interaction with society.

Key message: Consider your future sustainability and leadership developmental needs in a key area of future business practice, and can Leading Green help you achieve this?.

On the socks front – am I a bad parent for even considering socks as a present, and is it wrong to feel that I have now at last discovered a Christmas gift for my eco-conscious, vegan and feminist elder daughter – and the dog!

Leading Green – Bridging the Leadership Gap between Sustainability and Business

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If businesses continued to hold faith in traditional business models and management approaches, then it would be unlikely that so many of them and all business schools would be exploring more sustainable alternatives as the way forward.  The rise of Sustainability up the Boardroom agenda reflects its close linkage to risk, governance and strategy agendas.  This has driven increased executive interest in their development, understanding and ability to lead within a sustainability agenda. 

There are 5 good reasons why many business owners and managers are driving more strategic sustainability approaches in their businesses:

  • Because their current competitors are thinking about it
  • Because their clients and customers want them to do it
  • Because their next significant marketplace competitor is already doing it
  • Because it makes business sense and is the right move to make
  • Because they realise their cash flow, profit and future growth will suffer if they don’t!

For many organizations today, sustainability is the business.   Their founders and leaders have deliberately positioned themselves within a blind spot within their competitor’s market insight or have deliberately set out to appeal to consumers who value ethical and socially responsible products (i.e. Unilever’s domestic cleaning products) and services (renewable energy suppliers), or who wish to associate with organisations that mitigate issues of environmental or social concern they are alert to (i.e. Patagonia’s recycled sea plastic clothing range).  In all cases, these organisations possess a strategic business model that:

  • Reflect a societal concern within the consciousness of consumers
  • Delivers a competitive edge over existing incumbent rivals within their market sectors
  • Stimulate a ‘relationship’ between the business and customers
  • Drive innovation within existing products and stimulate the development of new longer-term replacements
  • Increase the motivation and ‘feel good’ engagement with their employer amongst staff; and
  • disrupt market share.

All organisations ultimately derive their economic activity from the exploitation of the natural environment and its resources.  It is apparent to most organisational leadership groups by now that climate change and future global resource constraints will place limitations on future economic growth rates within some sectors, whilst the exploitation of sustainable resources, such as renewable energy and hydrogen, holds out the possibility of freeing up others.  The strategic sustainability challenge that many early adopters are addressing is how to replace or secure continued access to the valuable, rare, difficult to imitate or non-substitutable resources they require!

These are some of the forward-thinking leadership challenges that have elevated sustainability from the operational risk domain of QHSE and organisational green teams green and upwards into the Business Planning and Enterprise Risk Management domain of the C-suite.

Bridging the Leadership gap

Business owners or executives, with the support of their own management teams, are the people best placed to bring about organisational sustainability changes within their organisations.  These individuals and teams are the ones who most clearly understand the existing business, the challenges it faces and to undertake the analysis of issues and scenarios.  They are also the people best placed to lead any change programme for sustainability.  Consultancies, such as Leading Green, have the capacity to advise and support, but from experience as a corporate executive in industry and government, they lack the networks and insights required to overcome internal blocks. 

Key Sustainability Leadership Functions Leading Green Training Courses

Stepping up into a Sustainability Leadership mindset? Identifying your Core Values
An Introduction to Sustainability leadership
Developing an ethical leadership style
Taking the first steps in Corporate Social Responsibility
Providing the strategic direction for the Organisation as a whole Building Your Sustainability Plan, Prioritising and Setting Goals
Building & Delivering Your Company’s Sustainability Vision
Getting Your sustainability Strategy and Policy right Making the Business Case for Sustainability
– Building & Delivering a Sustainability Strategy
Developing Position Statements on Sustainability Issues
Making Sustainability Happen internally Integrating sustainability within Corporate Plans
Assigning Leadership Accountability & Establishing Responsibility onto Your Organisation
Capturing Senior Leadership Commitment & Engagement for Sustainability
Systems Thinking – Organisation and Re-organisation to align with business goals – ISO14001 and the Leadership Challenge – Closing the Loop
Building Your Sustainability Plan, Prioritising and Setting Goals
– Building a Sustainable Business – Improving on existing sustainability performance
Releasing the corporate spirit, building the brand and engaging with employees Leading Sustainability & Change in Organisations
Strategic Communication Skills – Getting your message across
– Promoting Innovation through Sustainability
Relating your organisation to other organisations and society as a whole – Stakeholder Analysis and Management
– Megatrends, Horizon scanning & Benchmarking to Improve Performance
Supporting Your CEO & their Decision-Making Around Sustainability  
Developing Tomorrow’s leaders – teaching and leading by example Sustainability Leadership in Business for new managers
 

Business & Sustainability – The management of intangible risk

Sustainability issues are not significantly different from many of the day to day issues that business leaders face.  They impact just as readily on long-term cashflow, profitability, growth, procurement, management, competitiveness and regulation as much as any more traditional management issue.  What sets sustainability leadership and management practices apart is a greater focus on governance, the long-term strategic needs of the business and a watching brief over many more intangible risks than are usually overseen through financial risk management.   Those e s that can rapidly engulf a business and its management team. 

The management of intangible risks has as its central focus issues of leadership and behavioural risk.  Often derided as ‘soft’ risks, these can have brutal consequences for a business in terms short sightedness as to product life cycle (cradle to grave product type), managerial incompetence in the face of change, s ‘group think’ or ivory tower mind-set and arrogance on the part of management, ethical misjudgement, inability to integrate management, mismanagement of reputation risks, mismanagement of value conflict, poor public relations, ineffective corporate governance, and so on. 

Case Study: H&M Conscious Collection derided in the press for greenwashing and for not giving the consumer precise information about why these clothes were labelled as sustainable. The furore attracted unwanted regulatory interest . The lesson to be learnt – consumers are more environmentally and sustainably conscious than ever and companies should think twice before making greenwash marketing claims.

In leadership terms, we can be clear that if a sustainability issue becomes material to business success or survival, then only the foolish would ignore it as an issue.  What is material will depend on the wider mindset of the leadership team to risk management, the specifics of the industry sector and the degree of dependency in specific supply chains or service providers.  The lesson to be learnt is that sustainability and its management must link to and align directly with how the business operates, its expenditure and material flows, its governance and strategic planning processes, and importantly how the leadership team and organisation views its mission and desired approach to business and its customer base. 

To continue viewing sustainability as an ‘add-on’ or cost to the business, keeping it separate from core business decision making and long-term business planning remains a common mistake amongst many business owners and managers.  Limiting the scope of sustainability management to marketing, branding and the management of direct environmental impacts can eventually be a costly mistake.  

Sustainability and Responsible Management

Sustainability has developed close links with leadership theories promoted by many leading Business Schools regarding responsible management, transformational and ethical leadership practices and Governance within Boardrooms and senior leadership teams.  It is rapidly shaking off the old misconception of a ‘doing good, but not core to the business’ managerial activity.  Environmental Management Systems (such as ISO14001) have over the last three decades provided organisations with a solid administrative base from which middle and lower tier managers can control bio-physical risks, waste management and act as a policy platform for other localised or industry specific issues, but has continued to struggle through lack of leader engagement to become a strategic tool in business.  Hence the revision of the ISO14001 standard in 2015 to place a greater emphasis on the visible (auditable) commitment to and engagement with the system by the organisation’s leadership team.

How Inspirational Leaders Bridge the Gap Between Sustainability and Business

I have worked with several visionary business and sustainability leaders — people who inspire and set the culture within their organisations, permanently changing how they conducted themselves professionally.  They have all had several things in common.

First, they don’t hide out in the management suite – they walk the floors, engaging with employees across all functions talking about their aspirations, vision for the organisation and what they are working to achieve.  They also use these floor walks to gain business & sustainability insights.  Dropping in on teams they repeatedly ask penetrating questions regarding current issues, behaviours, scenarios and encourage open feedback by encouraging staff to tell them about what they are concerned with, the practical issues and realities of life on the shop floor, the perceptions of front line staff on their client future needs and wants, and critically how engaged with the business the staff and the organisation’s repeat purchase customers are! 

Secondly, they work internally across the business’s boundaries and reporting lines, helping themselves (and the teams they lead) build up a wider business mindset of organisational activities and issues.  This helps them maximise information flows and to determine options.  They also encourage their teams to follow a similar open-door approach and to working in collaboration with other teams – a rare attribute in some organisations where internal discord and intra-executive competition stifle productivity. 

A third skill is an inherent understanding of systems thinking, the ability to simplify and integrate different systems, and a curiosity that extends further than just understanding business systems and processes into innovation and problem solving.  Inspirational leaders have the gift to mentally and linguistically breakdown issues in their strategic communication skills and actively encouraging:

  • Cross-silo working and the linking of internal operational activities to deliver mutually beneficial goals;
  • Challenging and examining individual function and corporate objectives to determine inter-relationships and the potential for unintended consequences; and
  • delivering business outcomes (including sustainable cash flow) in a way that supports the characteristics of a sustainable organisation.

Fourthly, they create strong teams that foster a wider sense of corporate engagement, intellectual curiosity, and cross-functional collaboration than colleagues that focus exclusively on their core administrative, professional, technical or business support roles.

Finally, transformational business and sustainability leaders and take accountability and responsibility for their duties.  They actively lead their managerial portfolios and direct them back into the organisation’s primary purpose or business objective. 

The Future

There is now a proven body of research that identifies clearly that Businesses with strong environmental and social sustainability leadership approaches commanding greater customer brand loyalty and higher stock valuations.  This is of credit to the individual executives and managers who have brought about these changes in organisational culture over the last decade.   

One of the most interesting recent trends has been the movement in many Boardrooms to actively engage sustainability risk management approaches as a means of testing the strength in Corporate Business Plans and strategic programmes.  Increasingly many are integrating Sustainability and Responsible Management practices with their existing Governance, Enterprise Risk Management and Economic Sustainability activities – as all share a common focus on business longevity.  The objective being to provide a clearer boardroom picture on the tangible and intangible factors influencing cash flow, profit, strategic growth, risk and to map emergent trends in organisational culture, consumer and stakeholder relationships.   

This willingness to embrace sustainability as a Boardroom parameter, reflects a greater understanding that an organisation’s profitability is now a key driver in its valuation.  Previously the greater percentage of a company’s ‘value’ was linked directly to its tangible assets (property, assets, etc).  Today in some of the larger corporations less than 20% of share price value can be directly attributable to financial performance and physical assets, the remaining 80% reflecting intangible assets such as brand, customer base, future market risk, intellectual capital and whether a business has a ‘future fit’ business model aligned to responsible management & sustainable business practices. 

This has encouraged many business leaders to adopt a more active and hands on role in the management of organisational sustainability practices, rather than just advocating responsibility down to their QHSE teams, increasingly business sustainability leaders and their Boardrooms are identifying why and when a sustainability issue needs to be addressed, and the functional and green team managers then respond in how the business should adapt.

The full range of Leading Green training courses can be accessed at https://www.leading-green.com/

Good luck in your Sustainability Leadership journey.

Why I am tired of the statement ‘Our people are our greatest asset’

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People like plants need more than a basic environment in which to thrive

(2 minute read)

As soon as I see this statement in CSR reports, on websites and in marketing statements, I immediately dig deeper and look for positive proof that the statement can be backed up. I am often disappointed!

This phrase is at risk of becoming a modern day cliché, and any CEO tempted to use it should ensure that they have satisfied themselves:- firstly that the organisation has put a bit more thought behind the phrase than just good PR, and secondly that they personally have an understanding of organisational reality at shop floor or operational level.  In fact I often recommend to organisational leaders that they leave the safety and power-interactions in the C-suite and spend time regularly engaging with the workforce …… in listening mode!. Go out and listen to what they are saying, it can be tough but rewarding. Why? because it is common for less than 20% of a workforce to feel ‘engaged’ with the organisation and its existing leadership group.

Whilst it is without question important for employee’s to ‘hear’ a CEO express such a statement, it means nothing unless they ‘feel’ it in their employment or more importantly ‘know’ it in their interactions with their leaders and managers.  That’s the true route to having an engaged workforce. 

Sustainability means different things in different market sectors, but employee relationships are common to all businesses, and the way in which an employee feels they re ‘valued’ is not just a financial relationship. It can involve many tangible and intangible factors – the organisational culture, how the organisation aligns with their own beliefs and values, and the manner in which the business treats them and wider society – especially in the knowledge based or innovation driven employment sectors! This often determines whether the intangible factors of their goodwill, support, loyalty and ultimately presence are sustained or lost.

An active leadership approach to sustainability within organisations helps employees engage better with the organisation and to feel alignment with it. The best way to demonstrate ‘value’ (rather than state they are valued assets) is to explain directly how the work they are doing is appreciated and important to the business. Take time to research how their contribution fits into the larger picture, and by investing in their growth, engagement and satisfaction.

Reflection point: Do your employees ‘know’ and ‘feel’ your organisation’s core values, and are they aligned with your sustainability objectives?

 At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business training & consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals.  Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy. 1

Responsible Business: Jeans & the Circular Economy – Automobiles & the Old Economy

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I was interested to read that several of the world’s leading jean brands have been working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to lay down a set of Jean Redesign Guidelines based on circular economy principles.  The new redesigned jeans will enter the shops next year.  The new principles, in addition to focussing on the health, safety, and rights of workers in the fashion industry present minimum requirements for:

  • Recyclability: Jeans made with greater than 98% cellulose fibres, designing out or minimising metal rivets, and all additional materials should be easy to disassemble.
  • Material Health: Jeans fibres sourced from regenerative, organic or transitional farming methods; free of toxic chemicals and conventional electroplating; the banning of techniques such as stone finishing, potassium permanganate, and sandblasting.
  • Durability: Jeans able to withstand a minimum of 30 machine home washes while still meeting minimum quality requirements and have labels with clear information on product care.
  • Traceability: Confirmation of how elements of the guidelines will be made available, compliant companies will be able to use the ‘Jeans Redesign’ logo, and an annual review of the logo annually based on compliance with the reporting requirements.

Participating ‘denim’ organisations in the scheme currently comprise

Brands:  Bestseller, Boyish Jeans, C&A, Gap, H&M Group, HNST, Lee, Mud Jeans, Outerknown, Tommy Hilfiger, and Reformation

Manufacturers:   Arvind Limited, Hirdaramani, Kipas, and Sai-Tex.

The initiative represents an interesting case study of organisations adopting a responsible leadership approach to address unsustainable supply chain practices, build trust and co-operating in advance of any need for governmental regulation.  It also demonstrates how even a long existing product such as your pair of blue jeans can be redesigned to add new value & continued economic growth within an existing industry, and ultimately recycled back into new jeans at their end of use.

In contrast this week, it looks as if the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a political lobbying trade group (motto – Driving Innovation!) representing 12 of the world’s largest car manufacturers (BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo USA) have been lobbying the Trump administration to rewrite existing laws to lower fuel efficiency and fines for missing emissions targets.

Three interesting issues struck me in this case:

  1. Jaguar Land Rover whose range is almost 80% diesel powered have been lobbying the UK government hard for aid to help switch their range over to electric vehicles and to maintain jobs in the UK, but who seem to aspire to other ethics abroad.
  2. The absence of Honda from the group – who are well on with their fleet conversions towards mileage efficiency, lower air emissions or electric power, and finally
  3. The lobbying groups concern for the harm that non-compliance fines for fuel inefficiency would have on auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers – as opposed to the harm poor urban air quality already has on innocent members of society – which when last checked also included auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers!

In the wake of the VW-emission rigging scandal and under President Obama, The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was on track to effectively treble the cost of fines levied against vehicles that did not achieve their claimed mileage efficiency.   In February, the Trump administration broke off talks with California’s clean air regulators, and last Friday, the administration said that NHTSA would be issuing final rules suspending these regulations.  Eighteen US states, including California, have responded by vowing to sue the Trump administration if the vehicle emissions requirement freeze becomes finalized.  Now the Trump administration seems to be trying a different tack by rewriting the rules to lower fines for missing emissions targets.

The two scenarios represent two very different approaches to the challenges that signal whether these companies have a strong enough organisational culture to demonstrate to the marketplace that they are modern responsible businesses and responsible players within their respective marketplaces. 

It has been clear for many years concerning the global impact that cheap non-recyclable clothing and fossil-fuel based power-train automobiles have been having on our world.  The evidence has been there for years, and companies have had time to prepare their responses to the social and environmental challenges faced.  Whilst it looks as if the clothing industry is now actively waking up to the challenge of new economic models and consumer values, the automotive industries within the western world, still reliant on their technologies of the past and unable to effectively manufacture many of the future components of tomorrow’s vehicles , still exhibit a worrying tendency to remain in the past.  

Two trends I can see myself being affected by in the future:

  • Within 10 years effectively ‘hiring’ my clothes from a trusted retailer who will take them back for recycling at their end of life
  • Within 3 years obtaining an electric/hybrid vehicle whose parts and technology primarily originates from the Far East.

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting and training encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals.  Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.

Gesture Politics and Climate Change

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83% of UK citizens are worried about climate change – and it now appears that Mrs May is also one of them!

69% of Americans are worried about climate change, and equally it appears that President Trump is now one of them!

In the month that Mrs May prepares to leave office, and in which Donald Trump ramps up his re-election campaign. It has come as a surprise to many of us that both have stated action on climate change and environmental action after several years of active political silence, climate change denial or the dismantling of environmental protection laws. 

Could it be that they are now worried about their political legacies or is it a sudden burst of conviction after finally sitting down and reading the evidence of their own scientists?  

On Monday, whilst extreme flooding in Washington, D.C. flooded the White House basement (no joke intended), the ‘coal is good’ US President spent 45 minutes delivered some “remarks on America’s environmental leadership” and touting his efforts to preserve the US environment.  Even taking personal credit for the emissions reductions that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan delivered, whilst berating Obama’s climate legacy, calling it “a relentless war on American energy.”

However, he still seems unable to utter the words “climate change” which were omitted from the entire environmental address.  Instead he set out his strategy for how he might talk about the environment in the lead-up to 2020 – focusing only on how he might talk about conservation, clean air and water, marine litter, and the impacts of the red algal tide on Florida’s businesses that have originated from a relaxation of US agricultural laws,  leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff over the last few years!

Just days from leaving office, Mrs May also took time out to leave her climate change legacy – legally committing to ending the UK’s contribution to global warming by 2050.  A bold stroke if she also leaves no wriggle room for a get-out clause by her successors.  The announcement was also accompanied by the complete lack of a detailed action plan, suggesting that the whole initiative may have been last minute attempt to create a legacy achievement for a PM forced out of office by her Brexit failure.

Like many people who have worked for most of their career in the responsible leadership and environmental management professions, the brazenness of these cynical gesture politics when politicians know their time is up or are seeking re-election is sickening – and demonstrates their lack of leadership!