I spoke on the phone yesterday to the Sustainability Director of a major worldwide brand. She was exasperated as she was in the middle of a four month annual slog to complete the returns for a number of Sustainability accreditations to which the corporation has committed. We mused on the fact that every year was split into 8 months of delivering Sustainability projects and 4 months justifying what they had done. This is clearly an unhealthy ratio of action:bureaucracy.
So why bother?
This topic came up in passing at Monday's Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group. The consensus of opinion was that standards and accreditations cannot drive Sustainability, but they provide a backstop against backsliding. After all, which board member wants to see a certificate removed from the head office atrium, leaving behind the bright rectangle of shame?
However that breaks both ways – once you are in, you're in, so choose which accreditations to pursue carefully as you don't want the tail wagging the dog for evermore.
Regular readers will know that my big personal challenge this year is to do a triathlon. Cycle: easy-peasy, run: OK, swim... argh! So I've been been busy working up my endurance and technique 2/3 times a week in the pool and I can now swim the requisite 750m front crawl reasonably comfortably if a bit slowly. But the triathlon swim leg isn't in a pool, it's in a lake, so I thought I'd better take some open water swimming lessons to help with sighting etc.
The first lesson was like an hour of repeated mini-panic attacks, even though we were doing 150-200m laps. Deprived of the reassuring constraints of the pool ends, I became frantic to make it to each buoy, my technique dissolving away as I zig-zagged around blindly exhausting myself.
Second lesson was an improvement, I've been practising sighting in the pool, and I was reassured by the sight of professionals in the World Triathlon Series event in Leeds at the weekend reverting to breast stroke to get through a pinch point at the first buoy – just like me! I'm getting there, but I found my irrationality rather depressing after the hours of pool training.
We often talk about getting people out of their comfort zone as if this is always a good thing. Yes, we want to get people into the stretch zone where change happens, but beyond the stretch zone is the panic zone (see below). If you push people in there, you don't know what will happen, but it's unlikely to be what you want. I've seen many Sustainability practitioners push others too far, too fast, and find those people panic and shut down (and even rid themselves of the source of their discomfort...).
One of the benefits of my Green Jujitsu approach to engaging people is that, by translating Sustainability into words, images and actions which are familiar to them, the panic zone is pushed further away from the comfort zone. This gives you much more room to play with i.e. much more scope to make meaningful change happen.
Meanwhile, I'm actually looking forward to my third swimming lesson tonight to try out my technique again (Storm Hector permitting). I've got myself back into the stretch zone!
Big thanks to Barry Jameson from Tri4U for his great support and patience during the lessons.