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.

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!

A List Of the 4 Core Values I have come to realise my Business Must Live By

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4 min read

Core values are the fundamental beliefs that drive the behaviours of individuals – be they organisational leaders, public service workers or skilled professionals.  Through these values organisations are shaped, and leadership roles either become simpler or a nightmare of day to day problems and issues. 

Whilst many organisations keep a tightly controlled focus on expenses, stock levels and even stationary!  Few have bothered to cost or even understand the value of the cultural DNA that resides within their organisations and how it feeds directly into bottom line performance and growth.

I have seen and experienced this on several occasions during corporate take overs – a previously successful organisation is sold by its original founder or partners to a competitor.  A new suite of managers parachutes in and start to immediately organise processes to reflect the new parent organisation’s systems.  Whilst perfectly acceptable in principle, these managers often make the mistake of failing to understand or appreciate what made that firm ‘successful’ enough for their employer to purchase it.  In fact, they often look upon this new asset as a ‘failure’ that must be rescued, rapidly turned around and rebooted to a new set of organisational instructions.  The organisation stumbles, the top talent walks and loses its intellectual capital, and with them the contribution they made to the original’s cultural success story.

Core values help companies to determine if they are on the right path, fulfilling their goals, living by their expected behaviours and ultimately how they treat and interact with their employees, customers, society and the environment.  Just as there are many types of leaders and employees, so there are many different examples of core values driving organisational engines. 

Your leadership style and character are defined by your own core values and the respect you have for other leaders that you have been prepared to follow (parents, teachers, other business leaders and colleagues).  They form the root of the core values you have built up over time as a result of experience, nurture or nature.  Over time you have developed an image of self that is built by the repetition of behaving in a particular way.

For example, if you are always honest in your dealings with others and always tell the truth, you internally identify with the values of an ‘honest person’ and externally are perceived as an ‘honest person’.   If you tend towards the creative or collaborative in your style of work, then you are likely to find the greatest satisfaction in roles that suit those give an outlet for those core values , and will often feel happiest amongst others who value those traits in the workplace.  It’s as simple as that. And yet, we collectively underestimate the importance of values in business and its impact on organisational growth, development and ability to manage change.

I have read many mission statements that define a set of values that the organisation would either like to aspire to or help give out an image of how they would like to be perceived.

The truth is that the organisational and leadership values displayed collectively as Value Statements or by individual leaders will often have a bigger impact on the inner workplace environment than on the external views of customers and stakeholders.  Only when they are demonstrated internally will they leak out into the outside world of the customer or client.  Whether they are written down or hidden away internally within the psyche of the workforce they define us and the organisations we work for, and ultimately form the foundation of a company’s character and how it interacts with society and the environment.

Thus, it makes sense that if thou are willing to invest so much in your life, work, progression or in the creation of your own business, your values should be one of the most important things in your business life.

But what if you don’t feel you have core values? Or what if you’ve never thought about setting them down for your organisation, your team, or even for yourself?  

It is often reassuring to hear from another colleague the values that define them, it gives a greater depth to their character and when these characteristics are authentically displayed, we automatically give credit into their ‘trust account’.   We often need to feel that a person or leader is real for us to believe them, and all employees like to hear what they leader is thinking, and to see those values acted on transparently.  We then feed that information into our own character and compare them with our core values, and if those behaviours align with our own or inspire us to take action, then we are more likely to listen to and follow that leader in the direction they are setting. 

We have all encountered the faceless manager who repeats the party line, adopts the values expected but rarely demonstrates them, and hence lacks trust amongst the workforce!

That’s why I went on a recent self-development course.  I wanted to reconsider and define my own personal core values to solve some questions I had been repeatedly asking myself as I contemplated updating my old website. 

  • Does my company (Leading Green) truly reflect the core values I value most?
  • Does my portfolio of training and consultancy services reflect my passion for helping others in these core areas?
  • If my own core values are clear, will they help attract clients of a similar mindset and attitude to business?

Getting such fundamental questions straight in my own head, could only benefit my customers and their expectations from the services I am seeking to offer them.   It has led to the consideration of some new training avenues and the dropping of some services from the portfolio as I have reasoned that my passion in that area is not as great as it is for other subjects – and I have associates to whom I can pass any inquiries onto in good faith. 

If you are running your own business, are part of a family business where group ethics dictate direction and you wish to explore where your values lie, or an organisational leader who has started to feel alienated or detached from their organisation, then I would encourage you to do the same.  Once you know who you are and what you stand for in an organisation, you stop trying to be who you are not. That gives you the confidence to grow and expand your skill sets further or even move onto an organisation that aligns better with your values.

Here are my Top 4 Core Values:

  1. Leadership — Good leaders add value to organisations and stimulate wider employee engagement.  Responsible leaders with a mindset that encompasses wider social and environmental parameters that influence business sustainability and growth have a wider perspective on how to prepare for future marketplace challenge.  Successful leaders embrace self-development, the ability to reflect on past mistakes and want to set a business direction that encompasses their core values.
  2. Responsibility & Accountability — You cannot be a leader of others if you do not own your actions, mistakes, and current life responsibilities.  Understand what’s in your control, and fully own it within the organisation.  Don’t like something? Seek to change it. But don’t just focus on the ‘now’ take responsibility for risks and opportunities that are just beginning to emerge in society, the environment and in the values of your employees and customers.
  3. Effectiveness — Do the existing levels of organisational skills, talents, engagement and performance in your areas of responsibility & accountability; the quality with which tasks or processes are carried out; and the extent to which they ultimately contribute to higher business performance match up?  Do you, your team and its operations fulfil the responsibilities and mandates they have been tasked with achieving.
  4. Integrity – Your colleagues and employees place a high premium on integrity than any other trait, and research shows that leaders with integrity strengthen businesses.  This places a premium on responsible leadership which has at its core: integrity, ethics and sustainability. Everyone is ‘pro-integrity,’ but it needs to be defined internally and ultimately translated into the expected & accepted moral principles and behaviours that others translate as ‘integrity’ – otherwise it is just an empty CSR phrase!

I started with an original list of 25 values, it was a struggle on the day to reduce them down to just 4 core values, but the effort has been worth it.  Why 4 values? The list is just long enough to remind me of who I am and what I am passionate about.

So, leaders need to realize that their core values define their words, actions, decisions and methodologies and ultimately the businesses they run or an organisation’s true values and culture.

Take home message: Your business values must be in line with your core values if you are seeking to build a successful business and become a better leader to your employees.

8 Tips for New Sustainability Managers – The First Week, Month and 90 Days

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Your first few days in a new job are always daunting, especially when you have been recruited to develop the existing culture towards greater sustainability by enacting a change in the organisation towards a business model that will be new, challenging and will need even the most obstructive manager to change pathways.

One of the first major environmental roles I took on was withina large Scotttish Power Utility with growing interests in England, the US and in the water utility sector.  They had decided to recruit a new environmental team to support organisational and operational activities within thier Technology Division.  The interview to say the least had been a strange experience, as for over an hour they asked few questions but talking directly at me listing issues they now recognised to be threats to the business. I nodded and looked wise, but was rarely asked how I would seek to handle them if employed. There was clearly no predetermined job description, role or even defined set of environmental accountabilities for the team they were seeking to recruit.  There was no compelling company vision for the environment and we were unlikely to receive any further advice from the senior executive in charge of us.  His instructions on our first day were simply ‘Go and do something Environmental!’

Well we certainly achieved that, with ScottishPower becoming the first UK utility to gain ISO 14001 subsequently in both Scotland and England, winning numerous CSR awards and developing a strategic approach to environmental impact assessment that is still a successful model 30 years later.

Yes, the first few days are incredibly stressful and daunting for the newly hired sustainability manager, especially when joining a business with little organisational maturity or leadership in that area, or with an undefined sense of what it is seeking to achieve through your employment – resource management, regulatory safeguarding, risk governance or a solid platform for future sustainable growth and value.  You have the knowledge, but how are you going to get started applying your talents is the first order of the day. 

So here are a few simple tips that I wish I had received back then to get me started as quickly as possible.   You have the skills for the role, your mission within the first few weeks is to start integrating and embedding yourself in the organisation and within the awareness of its key players.  Start to make friends and allies, ask questions and understand the mood within which strategic decisions are made, and what issues will be receptive targets for your audiences.

Week 1 – Show your face – Talk to everyone and Listen!

1 Learn the company’s language.

Talk to the organisations employees in a style and manner that resonates with them.

2 Get your hands dirty.

Spend your first few days in the office getting acquainted and being available to meet others. As soon as you can, get out into the field, factory, other locations and experience how the organisation is implementing its CSR and environmental policies. Is there a vision or mission statement – is it a living reality of just ‘greenwash’?

3 Meet with the crucial internal staff as soon as possible.

Arrange informal conversations with the key managers and staff whose support and influence will be critical in delivering any future initiative.  These are best arranged within the first few weeks into the job. 

Listen, listen, listen whilst gauging how positive or negative they are about how your role can improve business growth, values or risk management internally.  Are these allies or blockers:

  • what ssues currently are of concern to them;
  • what will they be minded supporting;
  • what advice can they provide re threats and opportunities, market trends: etc.†

Month 1 – Establish your personal credentials, start to prioritise your findings and develop your future strategies.

4  Don’t be critical of your predecessors

As a new leader or manager learns more about the way an organisation thinks, functions or behaves, there will inevitably be surprises.  No matter how strong the urge to question previous policy, initiatives, etc resist the urge to say anything negative about the previous managers who have sought to implement environmental or sustainability systems.  It will be some time before you identify who has done what, and who their internal friends, allies and supporters are.  It is simpler just to be positive about the efforts you encounter (which will have been supported by others internally) as the critical building blocks for your own changes that will arise latter. 

5  Know your own weaknesses before criticising the organisations. 

Seek to identify where your strengths lie and where personal development, training or mentoring/coaching is still needed to enhance your effectiveness in the new role.  At the interview you may have promised the earth, those impressions are what you were recruited on and now is the time to reinforce and build up your leadership traits, understanding and in particular – change management skills

6   Prioritise and align

Prioritise what you uncover in terms of tangible business benefit and value, rather than intangible environmental risk.  In prioritising what needs to be done, be realistic about what is and isn’t achievable, and consider how they can align with the corporate plan (and its planning cycle) and seek advise on how to incorporate your future agendas into the planning cycle.

 Who can you turn to for support— perhaps an internal mentor, other senior managers or even the chairman of the board?  Don’t try to do it all on your own – that is a weakness! 

90 Days in – Start setting out your personal vision and ideas for alignment, growth and value through sustainability

7   Build a diverse circle of advisers.

New leaders in any organisation need to surround themselves with a variety of viewpoints, ideas, and temperaments as they build up a mental template of how the cogs and wheels of the organisation turn – and at what speed.  This is critical as your role will often require more in the way of advocacy instead of ‘power’.

Help develop ideas, strategies and approached through the use of these networks. Seeking to win thier support and patronage if matters have to be referred upwards to other executives, or brought into operational activities if beneficial changes can be enacted quickly by mutual agreement with other managers.

8   Have a Personal Vision

Seek to rapidly acquire a vision of what you want to happen, building this up from the solid foundation of ‘viewpoints, ideas, and temperaments’.  You must own the vision and inspire others.  Sustainability visions developed by committee tend towards aspirational and consensual, yours must be viewed and admired for being results orientated!

When building a visison, one tip is to start with the end in mind, by making the future direction of travel clearly outcome focussed – others can rapidly acquire a fully understanding, help guide strategic planning approaches and join in thier voices in nspiring & directing others in the organisations realignment towards greater sustainability.

Getting started is hard work, no wonder they say it takes an employee 3 years to understand how an organisation operates and thinks. Leading Green‘s coaching and mentoring services can provide essential support as you build up the confidence to start changing an organisation’s culture towards greater sustainability performance and social responsibility.