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.

‘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/

What Brexit teaches us about Leadership

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What is leadership?

There are a multitude of definitions out there concerning leadership, but basically it seems to boil down to the ability of an individual to influence and guide their followers in a specific direction.  In business and in other forms of life it will also involve making sound — and sometimes difficult — decisions, creating and articulating a clear vision of a future state, establishing achievable goals and providing followers with the knowledge and tools necessary to achieve those goals.

An effective leader will commonly possess the following characteristics: integrity, self-confidence, strong communication and management skills, creative and innovative thinking, perseverance in the face of failure, willingness to take risks, openness to change, level-headedness and reactive in times of crisis.

For those of us in the business world, individuals who exhibit these leadership qualities deserve to ascend to executive management, and many possess the characteristics of strong transformational leaders when facing the modern marketplace – where a leader works with teams to identify needed change, creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executing the change in tandem with committed members of a group.  Transformational leadership serves to enhance the motivation, morale and identity of their followers.

But Brexit has raised the question of what leadership means in today’s political culture when faced with leading significant social and cultural change, and whether our political systems have lost their ability to develop politicians who can really lead societies?

To help Mrs M, Mr C and all their colleagues here is a simple listing of leadership traits that many in business accept and understand as essential elements when leading others:

  1. Communication – what you say in public matters – you cannot criticize Europe and Brussels as bogeymen then turn around and ask for a ‘yes’ from the British people to stay in Europe

  2. Vision – When seeking to introduce a significant directional change, leaders need a clear vision, a belif in it, and a sense of purpose that others can follow.

  3. Leading Change – Change management programmes are inherently difficult and you need to be well prepared before proceeding down that route.

  4. Accountability – If you ask a manager to accomplish something, you don’t go off and work on Plan B before he reports back to you.

  5. Guarantees – If you make commitments (i.e. in your Manifesto) your shareholders and stakeholders will expect you to follow through on them.

  6. Trust – similarly lying to shareholders and stakeholders rapidly destroys trust and what they then hear afterwards they will distrust.

  7. Branding – No CEO should damage their organisation’s brand in the marketplace.

  8. Listening skills – The need to listen to the workforce is essential – ‘have I made my position very clear’ on this?

  9. Avoid ‘kitchen cabinet’ leadership – Leaders need the support of their teams, not a small subset of favoured advisers of the same mindset.

  10. Diversity and a mix of experience in the workplace builds strong team and generates options.

Why do they believe it is different in politics?

Strong well led organisations make their own destiny, and don’t become reliant on a single client or just one marketplace to survive in.

If the current state of Brexit teaches us anything, it is perhaps that the old models of political leadership are becoming redundant in today’s society and that today’s leaders have become visionless, unable to inspire us to follow them, and no longer have the right to be called ‘leaders’.

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Leading from the Bottom Up

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Environmental Brief

From the top to the bottom of organisations we have a responsibility to get environmental and sustainability messages across to our colleagues.

One of the toughest environmental jobs to often get your voice heard is on building sites. Establishing presence, getting your voice heard and your messages across takes good communication & leadership skills.

Environmental management is more than just policies, regulations and legal compliance – its integral to good business and efficient working sites. Experienced officers understand that building a good working relationship with the rest of the team raises their profile, develops trust and allows opportunities to ratchet up performance.

When you perceive others leading because it is in their nature do so or they feel a vocational interest in the matter, then it is a leader’s job to encourage them in their work and efforts.

My thanks then to some South African colleagues who sent this through as a small example in the large lexicon of building site humour! (see picture above)

(previously posted as a Linked in article by Leading Green, May 2018)