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.

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.

‘Consume less’ to save the Planet or ‘Consume more’ to save your Economy

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

A political and economic paradox, but a paradox that is currently operating in the UK.

Over 2/3rds of the UK’s GDP depends on household consumption.  Whilst this helps to explain the resilience in the economy to Brexit chaos and most post-war UK recessions, as exports and investments are relatively minor components of current GDP.  It stands against us as a measure of UK future economic sustainable development.

In contrast, what does cause economic recession in the UK? – when we consume less and when we save more!

Both issues raise questions about how business & sustainability professionals address future ‘growth’ strategies.  There are many UK businesses whose leadership have committed their organisations towards responsible leadership practice and the integration of business sustainability within their core strategies.  These actions are to be praised and applauded as they form the keystones of the UK’s commitment to a greener business economy.

However do we truly believe that the next phase in sustainable development is sustainability modelled around continued rises in household consumption?

Increasingly consumers now demonstrate greater awareness and response to what they spend their incomes on, and how they view ethical brands, sustainable goods and services. This is great news and is helping to demonstrate the growth and value benefits to businesses of responsible leadership and sustainability in businesses. However, consumers are also not letting up in their desire to spend and acquire more. We are purchasing smarter but we are still purchasing more than we need, and save less than other European nations.

We are still decades away from getting to grips with a circular economy or one that is sustainably balanced in terms of inputs and outputs.  However, there needs to be a bridging phase during which we embed more sustainable business models into the economy, coupled with policy & societal models that:

  • incentivise households to save towards a longer life expectancy
  • incentivise household savings towards the purchase and implementation of sustainable household infrastructure – renewable energy, lower carbon construction outcomes, reduced ecosystem service and impacts) that offsets living costs
  • offset household consumption on materially unsustainable goods or services that have a higher than desirable impact on ecosystem services or climate change.
  • incentivise the UK’s trading balance towards the growth in export of goods and services that promote a greener global economy, and
  • address the deep structural cracks that current economic policy will have on tomorrow’s economy.  It was a great model whilst you couldn’t see the forest for the trees, but now that the forest has been cleared to the size of a coppice we need some new economic ideas and practices.

If economic theory is logical, and political economic science rational – how can a society, such as the UK, develop more sustainable economic indicators, be encouraged to pursue these through more stable economic models and to promote household sustainably over  household materialism.   Where is the economic leadership that allows us to switch tracks from GDP Key Performance Indicators based on unsustainable consumerism to those more suited to the realities of the future?

Individuals and businesses are capable of great innovation but future recession beating policies must accept that you cannot enable sustainable development through mass consumption, and that household savings can ultimately contribute to societal sustainability.

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.

Contact ross@leading-green.com

CLIMATE CHANGE – FACT OR FEELIE-FACT

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Fact or Feelie-Fact!

I was addressing a small group of SME business owners this week and we started to discuss the issue of climate change first as a potential business risk for some of their enterprises and supply changes, but also as an opportunity for some of them in how they looked at thier future strategic planning.

During the course of our discussion I was surprised by some of the questions that were asked by the business men and women, and I was reminded by a GP friend who often challenged her patients with the phrase when presented by a medical claim – “Is that a fact or a ‘feelie-fact’ (i.e. it feels like a fact)?”

So after jotting down questions, and a quick bit of research on various websites here is a quick trot through the some of the most asked questions – presented in TRUE or FALSE colours for facts and mythsFEELS .

THE CLIMATE IS ALWAYS CHANGING!

 True

There is natural variability in the Earth’s climate but the current state of climate change  we are experiencing is unusual as the is now a wealth of evidence that verifies it is not exclusively part of a natural cycle.

Natural factors which affect climate include volcanic eruptions, aerosols and phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña (which cause warming and cooling of the Pacific Ocean surface).  Natural climatic variations can lead to periods with little or no warming, both globally and regionally, and other periods with very rapid warming. However, there is an underlying trend of warming that is now almost certainly caused by Man’s activities.

THESE CHANGES ARE ALL DOWN TO THE SUN AND OTHER NATURAL FACTORS!

False

Many factors contribute to climate change.  Only when climate scientists have aggregated all these variable factors together can we explain the size and patterns of climate change that has occurred over the last 100 years or so.

Although it has been common for some people to ask whether the Sun and cosmic rays have been responsible for climate change, measured solar activity has shown no significant change in the last few decades and little evidence to back up this claim.  However there is sufficient evidence to show that global temperatures have continued to rise since the Industrial Revolution, suggesting strongly that the additional greenhouse gases that have been emitted since then have had about 10x the effect on climate as fluctuating changes in solar output.

Much of the relatively small climate variability over the last 1,000 years, before industrialisation, can be explained by changes in solar output and occasional cooling due to major volcanic eruptions. Since industrialisation, however, CO2 has increased significantly and we now know that man-made CO2 is the likely cause of most of the warming over the last 50 years.

CLIMATE SCIENTISTS DON’T REALLY AGREE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE

False

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree on the fundamentals of climate change — that climate change is happening and has recently been caused by increased greenhouse gases from human activities.

The core climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was written by 152 scientists from more than 30 countries and reviewed by more than 600 experts. It concluded that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in man-made greenhouse gas concentrations.

I once asked this question within the context of being astounded by the degree of unity between so many branches of science and scientific professions, especially within those  areas where they commonly fell out!  One of the IPCC experts who had reviewed the data put the answer this way to me:

“It is as if all the religious leaders in the world got together to discuss ‘Is there a God?”

A few days later they appear with a statement that says ‘Yes, there is a God….. and his name is Elvis!” 

 

IT’S POSSIBLE THAT THERE’S NO LINK BETWEEN TEMPERATURE RISE AND CO2

 False

Temperature and CO2 are linked. Studies of ice core layers taken within polar-ice show that in previous centuries and millenia, rises in temperature have been followed by an increase in CO2.  Now, it is a rise in CO2 that is causing the temperature to rise.

Concentrations of CO2 have increased by more than 35% since humanity’s industrialisation phase began, and they are now at their highest for at least 800,000 years.  When natural factors alone are considered, computer models do not reproduce the climate warming we now observe and record.  Only once man-made greenhouse gases are fed back into the equations and computer models do we recreate results that mirror what is happening today in the real world.

THE RECENT WARMING IS DUE TO THE GROWTH OF OUR TOWN AND CITIES

 False

No.  CO2 emissions are causing the climate to warm everywhere around the globe.  Temperatures in our cities are unnaturally high because of the warmth from heating building, heavy traffic, high concentrations of people and the effects of this heat being stored in our buildings, roads and concrete.

The UK Met Office’s observations come from urban and rural areas on land and from the sea, which covers 70% of the Earth.  The Met Office manages data from cities carefully to ensure they do not skew their understanding of climate change.

Changes to how we get and use energy will cost billions and throw millions out of work

False

There are costs to any change, but study after study shows the net effect of conservation, efficiency and less-polluting energy will be more local jobs, cheaper power, and savings in health and improved local air quality (especially in cities).  The costs of severe climate change effects, like catchment flooding and coastal erosion, will be far greater than working to reduce them.

Engineered Technology will solve the problem for us

False

Significant ‘fixes’, like removing CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, are very unlikely because they are not available now and are not an alternative to reducing emissions.

It’s already too late to stop climate change

True

Although some climate change effects are now unavoidable (and are already being experienced within some communities), recent evidence indicate that action needs to start now if we are to limit the peak of global emissions in the next decade and to start bringing a fall in emission levels to well below current levels to avoid some of the worst climate change scenarios.  This is still possible, and can be achieved by collective global action at governmental and societal level, using technologies that are available today.  Putting off action will make it harder and harder to achieve equilibrium, and more difficult and expensive to reduce emissions in future decades, as well as creating higher risks within society to severe climate change.

I can’t possibly make a difference

False

Globally, the three main contributors to greenhouse gas footprints are cars, coal and cows; and those are three areas in which our individual choices can make a future  difference.  Over 40 per cent of CO2 emissions in the UK come directly from central heating systems in our home and from our personal transport choices.

The recent IPCC report suggested that we need to look closely at our consumption of animal products, seeking to reduce them by at least 30%.  The decision to eat less meat and dairy products has been identified as having a bigger impact on greenhouse gas reduction than personally reducing airline flights or buying an electric car.  Beef production compared with peas results in six times more greenhouse gas emissions and the use of 36 times more land.  Reducing food waste is another area where consumer decisions can make a future positive impact on global warming as up  to 30% of food purchased can end up as food waste – the equivalent of throwing over 3 months food shopping into the bin each year!

There is no point in my country acting if other countries don’t!

False

Every reduction in emissions makes a global difference not a local difference by not contributing to risk.  Western countries, especially the US, UK and other European neighbours can make a positive contribution and set a positive example to the rest of the world – if the heavily energy dependent countries of the western world can rise to the challenge successfully, others will follow.   The average Chinese citizen still consumes only 10 to 15 per cent as much energy as the average US citizen, and in its latest renewables report the IEA states that it is China that will continue to dominate global renewable energy growth and that the country is likely to become the largest consumer of renewable energy (surpassing the EU by 2023).

Business as Usual

False

Moreover, there are good economic reasons for individuals, government and especially business leaders to take action now and act together.   The Stern Review, the UK Treasury’s comprehensive analysis of the economics of climate change, estimated that not taking action could cost from 5 to 20% of global GDP every year.  In comparison, reducing emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change could cost around 1% of global GDP each year.

 

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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.

 

Sources of information:

My thanks to the following website, some of whose content I have incorporated into the text.

IEAhttps://www.iea.org/publications/renewables2017/

 UK Met Office:  metoffice.gov.uk/climatechange/guide/quick/doubts.html.

UK Government (Act on CO2 website):  http://actonco2.direct.gov.uk/actonco2/home/climate-change-the-facts/Climate-change-myths-and-misconceptions.html.

New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23431310-700-living-with-climate-change-you-can-make-a-difference/

Stern Report: www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/sternreview_index.htm.

Climate UK:  http://climateuk.net/

Climate East Midlands:  http://www.climate-em.org.uk/