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.

Building a Responsible Leadership Culture

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Organisations cannot expect a responsible leadership and sustainability culture to be built for them by EHS and EMS teams without the active involvement and participation of thier leadership teams

In any organisations, the strengths and values of responsible leadership and sustainability must sit within the beliefs and worldviewa of its individual leaders.  Their influence on other employees will then be determined by the collective responsibility they exhibit and ultimately how these messages and actions are perceived by, have influence on and ultimately change wider organisational culture.

As a leader you can work hard to cultivate a strong leadership culture around yourself – it may be personally satisfying, but ultimately it means nothing in today’s business world if it doesn’t have a positive impact on organisational culture.  We have become aware of or experienced the ‘crash and burn’ hire – the candidates who promise everything in the interview room but fail when presented at the operational cliff face!   Having a positive impact on organisational culture is one of the most in-demand skills that responsible leaders can possess, especially when it is tied into a leadership culture that encompasses business sustainability or transformation leadership skills.

Your personal leadership culture is not only what you believe internally, but often what people close to you perceive and react to.  If the two perceptions aren’t in alignment, then your effectiveness in the role will be limited.  To progress in responsible leadership and sustainability those around you must have trust in the strength and validity of your inner beliefs, the transparency of your behaviours in this area and how well you communicate this worldview.   Your own personal WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) dilemma – if you cannot inspire trust, accountability, direction and inspiration in yourself as a leader. It will only be the power inherent in the post that you hold that deems you ‘a leader’ in the eyes of others!  So, building a leadership culture around yourself can be a successful and empowering enterprise, but it needs critical self-reflection in ‘who you are’ and ‘what you believe in’.

In combination with the other ‘leaders’ around you, the collective leadership culture will set the organisational culture for the business.  Research has shown that the degree to how embedded this perceived ‘leadership culture’ is will have a positive or negative impact on business longevity, adaptability, sustainability and how well senior leadership teams are able to act as a responsible manager and the extent to which they can work collectively for the benefit of the organisation.

If the leadership culture is too skewered towards the independent actions of its respective leaders, then you run the risk of a leadership culture composed of self-deluding peacocks each following independent agendas.

If it is too skewered towards a dependent leadership culture, then you run the risk of ‘group think’ and the deluding belief that only those around the board room table are responsible for existing practices, patterns of behaviour and leadership interactions. 

Building a strong leadership culture lies in building in balance with:

  • a diversity of personal characteristics, beliefs and worldviews (if you only employ engineers or accountants, don’t be surprised if they are logical and enjoy analysing complex problems but struggle in tuning their behaviours to the needs of others during CSR discussions)
  • a positive adaptability to changes outside the organisation (a willingness to change and adapt the business to address marketplace changes or customer values)
  • , a desire to integrate their diverse skills collaboratively towards business outcomes (can they perform as a team!), and
  • creative enough in their own persona to promote or inspire others to join them in any future direction the organisation takes (i.e. brave enough to face up to challenging situations and to take others forward with them)

Why is this important?

The organisational culture of a business reflects the beliefs and values that have built up within its employees – from the top to the bottom over time.  It reflects the freedom to operate that all employees need when they act in the best interests of the collective as opposed to the individual.   Staff are ‘inspired’ either to do their work or more positively by the value in which they feel their work is held.  This has a significant impact on efficiency and organisational performance.  As all good leaders know, it isn’t about you, it is about them!  If they are inspired by positive leadership set within an inspiring organisational culture then their personal well-being, attitude, approach to customers, behaviours and (ultimately for those organisations who wish to retain skilled employees) their longevity in employment will be improved.

Without inspiration, without direction and without positive leadership – staff will adjust their work patterns to a level that allows them to operate within the leadership cultures that they find themselves.    

  • Why risk your inspiration on a leader who only reflects on his own position within the leadership?
  • Why work hard for a leader who fails to hold others accountable for poor performance?
  • Why seek system thinking from a leader whose judgement, design and thinking is poor?
  • Why follow the vision of a leader you don’t trust?

In seeking to act both as a ‘leader’ and a ‘leader of others’ you must understand the relationship between organizational culture, your individual (and collective) leadership behaviours and their outcome on business performance, sustainability, staff satisfaction and retention.

To help you in this, I recommend that you reflect on the following three leadership insights:

  • To what extent is the organisational culture having a positive or negative impact on sustainability
  • Is our collective leadership culture helping us to achieve the sustainability strategies that have been set?
  • What do I need to address internally and who do I need to challenge openly to change matters?

The last question as always is the most difficult to answer, but it is the one with the greatest self -reflection and desire to act as a leader!

Mentoring Young Sustainability Leaders – Inexperience is Normal, Problems are rarely unique and don’t be a Prophet without a portfolio

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In the late ‘80s I entered the Power Industry.  I was tasked with helping ScottishPower set up its first environmental team.  There were no rules, little supervision and precious few guidelines on ‘how to get green done’.  My MD’s first words to me were on the rabbits at the bottom of his garden – no doubt a fascinating topic to this new breed of non-engineering employee! 

Soon after this I was working with one of the older mechanical engineers on an air dispersion model for a proposed waste-to-energy plant.  I used an early ADMS computer programme, he achieved comparable results on the back of an envelope!  I was bemoaning my lack of experience in this area and the difficulties I faced relating the result to potential dioxin dispersion, and how I would incorporate the results into the Environmental Impact Assessment.

 ‘Experience’ he gently said, ‘Experience is only gained through facing up to your lack of experience!’  A great lesson from a highly intelligent and modest man.

Now after 25 years’ experience in environmental impact assessment, management and sustainability I find myself addressing 3 common themes again and again with new sustainability and environmental managers during mentoring discussions:

1. You don’t have to know everything.

The more you know, the less you know’.  As you grow in confidence and knowledge the questions get bigger as new areas open, new linkages are found, and solutions open further avenues of mental exploration.  No one person can ever understand the complexity of ‘the environment’ – for heaven’s sake we don’t even possess an internationally recognised definition for the word.  We must accept that often what we face is novel, specific to that location and has a mass of intangibles tied up with it. 

You must come to accept that in some areas you will alays remain a ‘professional generalist’ – able to cover a wide spectrum of environmental topics, expert in some but only touching the surface of others. 

What’s the solution – learn to ask others for help!  It isn’t weakness it is a strength that will pay back dividends if managed carefully.  I have worked with many great environmentalists and engineers on a large variety of complex large infrastructure and sustainability management projects.  I have been thrown into stakeholder bearpits, investment board meetings and national emergencies such as flooding, food & Mouth epidemics and terrorist incidents.  There is no previously written guidebook on how to manage, but the best possible approach is to surround yourself with, or have access to, those that can add to the jigsaw solution.  If you don’t know the answer, the best route is always to say either ‘I don’t know but I will find out and come back to you on that issue’; ‘Do any of you know the answer to this’ or ‘Can you engineer me a better solution with these outcomes’.  

Rather than losing trust by displaying ignorance, it builds trust as you solve complex problems as a team, your colleagues comes to realise that they are dealing with a professional who understands the risk in, and limitations of, their knowledge, is prepared to say so honestly and work with others co-operatively to find a solution.  The worst thing you can do is bluster or pretend that you fully understand all the parameters of the dilemma.  No one expects you to know everything. Relax. And ask open questions that may stimulate the answer through others.  Try it!

2. My problem is unique.

I have seen young managers work themselves into a state because they feel that they are the only one at this coalface.  The organisational culture is unique, the problem is unique and hence the solution must be unique.  They feel that the problems they face are so specific to them, so much so that external advice or options will not help.

What is the solution – You can internalise a problem and hope that your mental skills set can find a solution, or you can externalise a problem and gain help?  Whichever route you take the responsibility for solving the problem remains with you and must be ultimately owned by you as the leader.  Personally, I often enjoy switching into an external mindset when debating problems and potential solutions, I want to hear how others think about the issue, what they suggest and what experiences they can bring to the table.  I also data mine externally looking at how other organisations have addressed the issue to gain ideas.  I then go back and work through the new information, sifting for ideas and a solution that fits before taking the decision to press forward again.

As Tom Lehrer in 1953 so aptly put it about the secret of being a successful mathematician:

‘Plagiarize!  Let no one else’s work evade your eyes

Remember why the good Lord made your eyes

So, don’t shade your eyes but plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize

Only be sure always to call it please ‘research’!”

This has helped me find solutions to laying underground electricity cables in water pipeline technology, decision making models via the car industry, and ecological answers in hardware shops.  Keep your problem-solving radar active and never let a good idea pass you by!    

Your responsibility ultimately lies in making the decision on how the organisation progresses, you can’t duck this, and the decision risk should always remain with you as the accountable leaders.  You can make decisions via committee but watch out for group think and consensus through banality.  The most appropriate approach is often to cast widely, listen to what others have to say, challenge their assumptions (try playing the Devil’s Advocate in conversations) and ultimately select the one that you can confidently deliver on through your abilities, resources and organisational support networks.  

3.  Are you following your ideas at the expense of working for the best interests of the organisation?

I have seen young professionals run into a mental wall when their goals are dashed through organisational inertia to change.  I have experienced it myself at times, and it can set you back mentally and physically when an organisation refuses to change its preferred ways of working. 

Then is the time to take a good long hard look in the mirror … were you following your own preferred agenda or in the best interests of the organisation.  Had you planned sufficiently, had you sold the idea to others, sufficiently and ultimately would it have added value?  I have seen environmental and general managers pursue microcosm agendas that no one else in the organisation believes in or understands.  As a Case Study, a previous Director who fixated on the cost of biscuits served in meetings whilst his division’s budget was cut… we wanted strategic changes, he wanted Rich Tea biscuits. 

I have on occasions advised environmental managers to look hard at their priorities, not only through an environmental lens but also what it will mean in terms of enterprise risk management, the corporate plan. Internal budgets, brand and stakeholder benefits.  Incorporating these factors into your sustainability agenda helps prioritise action, expands your organisational worldview, forces you to seek input from others and to understand how their cog spins in the corporate machine and who they interface with. 

What is the solution – Ask yourself whose sustainability agenda are you working on and what is the desired outcome?  Is it your own preference, added value for the organizations or the world?  These objectives are not either/or options they interact, but there are trade-offs, and ultimately your focus must be on the operational, economic and sustainability of the organisation that employs you.  That doesn’t mean that you say ‘yes’ to everything.  You are there after all to bring through cultural change management towards a more sustainable operating business model.  But in organisational life there are often trade-offs that need to be considered, and these may require you to put aside your personal sustainability agenda for the moment and get stuck into the priorities of others in the business.  Similarly pursuing a radical sustainability agenda will not be in the best interest of a company if no one understands its value, instead a more strategic, leading-but-not-agitating approach may take you further.  Whatever your agenda, the preferred legacy is that your colleagues adopt the initiative into their personal worldview, live it and hopefully pass it on others – that is success in sustainability leadership book!

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business 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.

Climate change has made UK chips ‘an inch smaller’ on average

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Sometimes the complexity of global warming and impacts on local weather patterns must be packaged as stories that people can relate to or can experience first-hand in thier lives. 

Today the UK news is full of reports that during 2018, extreme and unpredictable weather patterns driven by climate change (a heatwave and drought) had a significant impact on potato harvests, reducing potato yields by 20% (from a report by the Climate Coalition of environmental and social groups) and resulted in smaller and misshapen potatoes – hence our chips have been 1 inch smaller this year! 

Shock horror … but a story that neatly fits into the saying that ‘today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip papers”.

Last year’s weather with its enjoyable but extreme summer – which the UK Met Office said was made 30 times more likely by climate change – also hit other UK crops (carrots, brassicas, onions, etc) with growers reporting yields down 25-40%. The dry weather also caused forage problems for many livestock farmers.  The prediction is that future yields of UK fruit and vegetables, from the humble potato to expectations that the UK will become the next great champagne region of the world, could increasingly be hit by extreme weather patterns such as longer-lasting and more intense heatwaves, downpours and flooding.

Through events such as these, future impacts of climate change on food supplies and supply chains are starting to make their impression on growers and marketers, not as extreme events but as a business reality. More than half of UK farmers now say they have been affected by severe flooding or storms in the past decade, with future cyclonic rainfall patters likely to bring further records in rainfall.  Few growers have started to consider the investments or changes in agricultual practice required to mitigate these changes in thier businesses, as the events and the scenarios they represent are too unpredictable – do you switch crops, invest in a new farm reservoir or upgrade flood defences when the occurrence and scale of risk cannot be quantified easily in monetary terms.  A lot of growers and farmers will also have come through 2017 with reduced incomes and are thus badly positioned to take immediate action.  What happens if the next two to three years follow similar weather patterns? Will they be financially able to adapt to the weather and calls by their own National Farmers Union to become net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040?

By 2050, climate projections indicate that 75% of UK land used in potato cropping will have declined in productivity, many of these on black peaty soils which are at risk of being lost through heavy agricultural production.  Raising the risk that chips will lose their position as the cheap, staple food so beloved on Friday and Saturday nights and become a delicacy!

Developing climate change adaption strategies for agriculture is in all our interests, as we need now to consider in depth the benefits of home-grown seasonal foods, the adverse carbon footprint of crop production and the considerable carbon mileage of UK and imported crops to market.  Can we continue to fly green beans halfway across the world only for 30% of it to be wasted or thrown away? 

Farmers cannot face this challenge alone as it will need significant changes in UK agriculture policy, its financing and management. Ultimately we all have a vested interest in achieving a successful outcome, it cannot be left to the marketplace alone to muddle through, it is a partnership between the agricultural industry, food manufacturers, retailers and the public.

Donald Trump take note, Thomas Jefferson had “potatoes served in the French manner” during his time in the White House in 1802.  Will the climate change revolution finally gain unstoppable momentum in the US when your heartland voters in Ohio, Arkansas and Oklahoma finally link climate change reality to the size of their French fries during a visit to McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or Arby’s. 

Will they be joined by other nations concerned about the reduction in size of their pommes frites (French), “frieten” (Dutch), slab chips (RSA), Salchippas (Peru), Chipsi mayai (Tanzania) and 炸/马铃薯条 in China.  I hope so.

Sometimes it takes simple stories to help us change our cultural perceptions and start to consider the global picture. To make progress on this issue are any other nation measuring the average length of their fried potato – could I suggest the Leading Green Chip Index as a future global sustainability marker!  

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business 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.

Innovation is at the heart of Sustainability

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There are some great media stories out there extolling the steps that a company or brand has taken to minimise single plastic usage.  Some are small scale in their impact, but others will have a significant impact on plastic usage, amounta leaving via the factory gate, and its potential after consumer use to enter the environment as waste.  These are great stories and actions that hopefully will become ‘business as normal’ in the future!

One element that has fascinated me, during all this, is the range of alternative solutions and strategies that have emerged.  The challenge of reducing single use plastics has obviously released a lot of innovative thinking within these organisations. 

So, why had no-one released this innovation earlier? Why had it taken these organisations so long to wake up to the possibility of reducing plastic usage within their systems?

A key business driver for sustainability is challenging and changing established practices or beliefs that this is the only way to conduct a business, drive a process or use a material.  Sustainability leadership has at its core the need to ask questions that nobody at first can answer and to stimulate answers to problems nobody had questioned.   It is closely integrated with innovation, and when practiced as a business tool stimulates innovation internally or across supply chain partnerships.

So why don’t business harness and seek to create opportunities to release this inherent innovation more often within their organisations.  The answer I feel is that sometimes they don’t realise it is there or that it is centred in distinct parts of an organisation that has ‘defined innovation’ areas. 

What is important to me within these single use plastics initiatives is that the innovation probably arose internally through debate within a wider pool of employees than normal, it probably brought different players into contact and required organisational silos to interact and work more closely together.  Sustainability issues are notable for being trans-organisational – that is what makes a sustainability managers life so difficult at times. 

But look at the outcome of this innovation.  The internal workforce has been presented with a challenge or has sought to solve an inherent risk by coming forward with solutions.  This has probably had a positive impact on those involved, a clear sense that they are ‘doing good’ in terms of aligning their values with how they want to behave, a reinforcement of how they expect their employers to behave, and externally how customers and society feel they should behave.  In bringing this forward thier innovative solutions into the marketplace they will have been supported by the businesses’ leadership group, and everyone is feeling good about themselves.  An ideal ‘I Win – You Win – We Win‘ scenario that has then pounced upon by PR and Marketing teams as a positive story to take out into the marketplace.

The next step I hope is that these initiatives reveal potential cost savings and data on how much plastic usage has been offset from environmental escape.  I would also like to know how many Environmental Management Systems had paid previous attention internally to plastic usage and how many had ignored their external impact altogether…. perhaps for another blog!

What I do want to conclude on, is that here is a clear example of how seeking to enact sustainable solutions can galvanise organisational innovation and bring forward new initiative to take out into the marketplace.  They were faced with an uncomfortable truth over their products association with single use plastics, they thought about it and took positive action and the marketplace welcomes their innovation.  Becoming more sustainable hasn’t rocked the boat, hasn’t caused investors to man the life rafts and no one has dies of leadership shock by taking a risk in changing direction.  In contrast the staff are feeling good about themselves, their company and what they have achieved. Internally the initiative has probably brought new internal; teams together to solve a challenge and has given these companies a great story to add to their brand and marketplace communications. 

So, my Big Question is: Why aren’t organisational leaders utilising sustainability more as a business driver to challenging their staff to achieve further sustainability outcomes if the outcomes can only be beneficial?

The issue of plastic waste isn’t new.  The five oceanic gyres hadn’t developed overnight, and environmentalists have been raising concerns about Man’s plastic usage and the environment for years.  So why has it taken so long for action to permeate the strategic tiers of businesses?

Sustainability has the potential to galvanise innovation within and across businesses, it provides a positive culture for business expansion and a repositioning of brands within the marketplace.   

So, business leaders try setting a sustainability challenge to your organisation, a problem that needs to be solved or a resource that needs to be reduced.  Something that can deliver a reputational boost to the brand and that attracts consumer attention, but most of all something that stimulates innovation across the organisations

If you want innovation, give sustainability a try!

Leading Green offer a range of ‘brainstorming’ workshops for leadership teams and wider organisational groups, helping them address and focus on sustainability issues, priorities and future pathways. Contact ross@leading-green.com to see if we can help your organisational needs.

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

Getting Green Done ……

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I was amazed as a young environmental colleague lamented the lack of success, she had had recently in presenting her CEO with a new sustainability initiative.

‘He threw out most of my proposal and gave me only 30% of what I wanted!’

The initiative was wrecked, she was down-heartened, she had embarrassed herself, and her enthusiasm was now at a low ebb through disappointment.  It had been a bold initiative, it had matched her vision for what the company could achieve, had aligned with their new sustainability policy and could have delivered real business value.  The whole initiative reflected well on her and the career training she had received to date. 

‘Wow! I was thinking, 30% – that’s just great as a first step I mused, but in her disappointment, I sensed the frustration that many graduates today in the sustainability field feel when entering the workplace.  They leave their institutes with high expectations and run full tilt into the operational realities and encounters that are so common in organisational bearpits.  What was once so clear and rational in the classroom becomes murky and complex when it must be delivered through workplace colleagues.  Organisations just don’t act as rationally as sympathetic classmates with shared worldviews on sustainable development. ‘We must do this’ becomes quickly challenged by ‘Why must we do this?’, ‘But….’, ‘Perhaps when we have the time and money!’ or even a stonewalling ‘No!’. 

It took time to explain to her that I was impressed and pleased for her, that 30% success is not failure but success when you are trail blazing!  For after two decades in corporate environmental risk management and sustainability you learn that any advance or step forward is a good win. 

In sustainability, we are first and foremost business change managers, our role is to ratchet up organisational performance, to deliver value outcomes and to continually progress ‘getting green done’ within organisations.  There are very few ‘Look at Me!’ and ‘Aren’t I Great!’ moments for many environmental professionals within organisations. 

Personally, my greatest inner satisfaction comes from watching others adopt sustainability thinking into their work because it now makes strategic sense to them, aligns with new business direction or reinforces a strong organisational culture with a new worldview.  That is my reward. We all like success and the recognition of high performance by our peers, but when your leadership is enacted via changes in the behaviours of others don’t be surprised if it is overlooked.  Remember that people rarely own up to changing thier past opinions. 

It was clear that her CEO had been supportive and had giving her a chance to progress her initiative but had yet to be totally convinced enough to give her the whole package.  She had first to deliver on this element before any further funding or support was granted – a clear pragmatic leadership decision.

We all need mentors in our professional lives, colleagues who can guide us through the organisational minefield, suggest alternative ways forward and pick us up when we are downhearted or discouraged.  It took time to show my colleague that her disappointment in the meetings outcome was unjustified and had in fact been a win.  She had set her heart on 100% success, her CEO in supporting her had granted 30%.

So now we have started work on ensuring that she does successfully deliver on the 30% she has been entrusted with.  In doing so, we are working out what her strategy will be and how she will bering on other colleagues to gain the next 30%, and the 30% after that, and the 30% after that ……until she wins over the CEO and gets his full backing for her vision. 

So, don’t expect 100% success overnight, building a sustainability foundation within an organisational culture involves a slow but continuous ratcheting up of performance over time.  It is a marathon, not a sprint and that ultimately success is in…just Getting Green Done!

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Note: I have happily borrowed the phrase ‘Getting Green Done’ from the book of the same name by Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company. It is a useful read for sustainability professionals enetering any work sector.