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So In-ger-land kick off their World Cup campaign tonight. As a Northern Irishman who has lived in England for almost 30 years, I'm not terribly excited. I'm not churlish, I'd like them to do well, but, hey, they're just not my tribe.
Tribalism was the topic of discussion at our terribly middle-class dinner party on Saturday night. I read Amy Chua's Political Tribes on our recent holiday and it hit its target – Liberals like me and my guests who can't get their head around why Brexit happened, or how Trump got elected, or how ISIS manages to recruit people to do terrible things – and the answer, according to Chua, is tribal identity.
Sport is the ultimate in tribalism – while I can watch Portugal vs Spain as a fascinated objective neutral, if Northern Ireland are playing, I go off at the deep end – shouting, cheering, crying. Likewise when Ulster or Ireland play rugby. In fact I could fill pages here on the bizarre contortions of Irish tribalism and rugby – how even the most trenchant Northern Irish Unionist will support the (united) Ireland team over any of the mainland UK teams. There is no logic to supporting a particular team, just tribal identity.
Tribalism explains quite a lot in the Sustainability debate. UK climate change deniers tend to belong to a right-wing nationalist tribe defined by Euroscepticism, traditional values and "that's political correctness-gone mad!" tendencies. There is a much smaller (very) left-wing tribe of deniers – the kind of people who think Margaret Thatcher dreamt up climate change to destroy the coal industry. The green activist tribe is far too often exclusionary, raising barriers to entry (often through competitive self-sacrifice), rather than making Sustainability open to all (which it must be by definition to succeed).
My Sustainability tribe is the Mangoes – green on the outside and (liberal) orange in the middle. But I'm always very interested in how other tribes interpret Sustainability whether it's the watermelons (red on the inside) using Sustainability to argue against capitalism, or when right-wingers make the economic case for Sustainability. To me, the latter is actually the most important, just as some US Republican mayors are enacting climate friendly policies under the radar to avoid the opprobrium of their tribe, removing barriers to progress is critical to Sustainability.
So let's not support Sustainability like we would a football team. We need tribes to work towards that common goal, even if they all insist on taking different paths.
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.
Sometime last Tuesday, a hashtag #PlasticFreeDay appeared on my Twitter feed. I was vaguely aware that it was World Environment Day, but, like so many eco-days, this new one had passed me by entirely (as I read the eco-press daily, this says more about the ineffectiveness of the plethora of awareness days, hours and weeks than my ignorance). So I did a bit of googling and found that the organisers wanted 250 million people would go 'plastic-free' for a day.
My immediate reactions were 1. how on earth could anyone do this?, and 2. why would you want to?
My kids love my bacon and pea pasta, so let's say I've promised them that on Plastic Free Day. Of the four major ingredients, I could use chopped tomatoes from a tin rather than a carton, ditto peas (although they taste awful compared to frozen peas from a bag), but bacon and pasta? I can't think of anybody who sells pasta in anything other than a plastic wrapping, so I'd have to make it myself. Even if I went to a traditional butcher, they'd wrap sliced bacon in a piece of plastic, otherwise bacon juice would ooze into the rest of my shopping. Sorry boys, treat's off, because, y'know, a hashtag.
To me, the 'plastic-free' movement is a bit reminiscent of the 'clean eating' movement where an initially virtuous idea - 'plastic free oceans'/'let's be healthy' leads a small number of earnest people into a maze of competitive self-sacrifice, virtue-signalling and finger-pointing in an echo-chamber of similarly earnest (and largely middle-class) people. Outside that echo-chamber, normal people continue with their normal lives.
We will only get to Sustainability by focussing on the needs of those outside the eco-echo-chamber – real people. Telling the general public they'll have to make their own pasta or go veggie is a non-starter; we've got to make Sustainability easy, exciting and fun. We need to design a better system with less waste, more recycling and bio-degradable plastics heading for a truly circular economy. Small incentives can have a major impact – single use plastic bag use is down a whopping 90% in England since the introduction of the 5p levy on their use.
And me? Well on #PlasticFreeDay, like every day, I picked up half-a-dozen or so pieces of plastic litter blowing about on our streets. As this feral plastic is more likely to get into the oceans than my carefully disposed of food packaging, it almost certainly had a bigger positive impact than me struggling to make my own pasta.
The knack of thriving in such a period of flux is knowing when to let go of the old and when to invest in the new. I always preach that the rules of business still apply. In particular product or service that no-one wants (or can afford) will flop, no matter how Sustainable. The 3 Ps – performance, price & planet – is a good starting point.
But probably the biggest challenge is 'creative destruction'. Persuading colleagues to ditch unsustainable products/services is never easy. Having serious Sustainability targets is essential – when Interface defined one of the seven targets of their Mission Zero sustainability programme as 'eliminate problem emissions: eliminate toxic substances from products, vehicles and facilities', then the days of their products with brominated flame retardants were numbered. Leaving Sustainability to case-by-case decisions will get you nowhere.
I'm just back from 5 glorious days of half term camping with the Kane clan in Wooler, in the north of Northumberland. We did the usual things – climbing Humbleton Hill (above), wandering around Wooler common and eating loads of food (also see above). I'm always pleased the way the kids switch from touchscreen-addicts to outdoor enthusiasts (and back again...) so easily. I meanwhile assumed my position at the camping stove and/or BBQ, glass of beer in my hand, cooking al fresco.
All around us were battlefields from the days of war between England and Scotland, in fact the land is soaked in blood with the Battle of Flodden Field claiming somewhere between 5,000 and 17,000 lives, including that of King James IV of Scotland, in just one day. What surprises me in reading about this carnage is the pretence at the code of chivalry – the time and place of battle was arranged beforehand (although there was some bickering over the details), yet thousands were being sent to the slaughter. "Yes, we did the honourable thing before spearing each other with pikestaffs."
It kind of reminds me of all these ethical 'codes of conduct' that organisations and individuals sign up to beforehand. Tick the box and all's well, no matter what actually transpires in practice!
Gotta love Twitter some times, and last night I saw this wonderful quote attributed to Carl Jung:*
"You are what you do, not what you say you'll do."
This is extremely important in Sustainability, particularly amongst leaders, as talk without action is greenwash. It will breed cynicism and destroy trust. 'Doing' sets apart the real Sustainability leaders from those who just preach.
But I'd like to paraphrase it slightly:
"You are what you stop doing, not what you say you'll stop doing."
We will never get to Sustainability (or remotely close) if we don't stop doing the unsustainable stuff. Business as usual plus some sustainable pet projects is not sustainable. Creative destruction is an essential part of the the equation and shows true leadership.
*as always I've tried to verify this quote, but couldn't find either a source, or for that matter a take down.
We had a great webinar on Business and the SDGs on Wednesday, involving delegates from three continents! If you missed it, fear not, we can send you a link to the recording and the workbook, so you can go through it in your own time.
A (very) brief history of Sustainable Development
What are the SDGs?
The secret to making the SDGs work for your business
The 17 Goals and how to blow them out of the water
The cost for this is just £20.00 + VAT – the same as attending the live session.
I haven't reviewed many Sustainability books on here of late, mainly because most of those I have read recently have been crap, some to the point of being unreadable. Frankly I didn't want to bore you with diatribes against poor authors (in both senses of the word 'poor'). However, a couple of weeks ago, I took a duplicate present back to Waterstones and, on a whim, picked up Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth as a replacement. Talk about serendipity.
The titular doughnut is Raworth's analogy for a sustainable economy which is strong enough to pull people above the inner limit of the poverty line (the social foundation), yet stays within natural limits (the ecological ceiling). Within these two thresholds we should be 'agnostic' about growth. I love a simple analogy and this is one of the best Sustainability models I've come across for a long time.
The subtitle of the book is "Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist" and the seven main chapters set out major mindset changes required to move from standard economics to the doughnut model. They are:
Change the goal: from GDP growth to the Doughnut.
See the big picture: from self-contained market to embedded economy.
Nurture human nature: from rational economic man to social adaptable humans.
Get savvy with systems: from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity.
Design to distribute: from ‘growth will even it up again’ to distributive by design.
Create to regenerate: from ‘growth will clean it up again’ to regenerative by design.
Be Agnostic about Growth: from growth-addicted to growth-agnostic.
The 6th and 7th of these were the ones I found most interesting. No 6 covers the circular economy, including a 'butterfly model' which wonderfully sums up its components more gracefully than my various attempts. No 7 is the most interesting as Raworth tries to square the circle of the "can't live with it, can't live without it" nature of economic growth. I wasn't surprised she doesn't quite manage to nail it – if she had succeeded, she would surely be worthy of a Nobel prize – but she gives it the best attempt I've seen in a popular book.
My only criticism of the book is occasional lapses into 'lazy lefty' wishful thinking. For example, if the Occupy movement was as impactful as Raworth claims, how come we ended up with Trump in the White House? And while you can blame neoliberalism for many things, climate change isn't one of them – the time lags in the physical mechanisms of climate change and the residence time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere mean that temperature rises to date have been largely driven by carbon emissions from before Thatcher and Reagan started down the neoliberal path in the mid-1980s. You only have to look at Soviet-era environmental destruction across the Eastern Bloc (which inspired me to take up the baton) to see that 'left = sustainable, right = unsustainable' is a dangerous assumption to make (I'm proudly what is known as a 'Centrist Dad').
But while I may quibble with such details, overall the book really made me think and gave me some powerful new perspectives on economics and Sustainability with a refreshing focus on solutions more than problems. Who can ask for anything more?
Last week I was locking my bike outside one of my regular refuelling points when two Mobike employees appeared and started rounding up some of their dockless bikes which had been left there. "We play 'how many are in the River Tyne today?'" one of them joked to me. But there was a serious point behind the jest – Mobikes are undoubtedly getting people cycling, but the dockless nature does mean they are left in all kinds of places, good and bad. And people are starting to complain.
A number of wags on Twitter (another good and bad thing) have created the 'dockless car' meme – pointing out that while people complain about the bikes, the anti-social behaviour of many drivers doesn't raise the same hackles.
Why? Familiarity. We don't see the badly parked cars because we're used to them, but the bikes are novel so they stand out – the same way that you notice all kinds of architectural detail in a foreign city while ignoring similar beauty in your home town.
We need to understand the psychology of change if we are to make Sustainability happen. People will look past plantation forests, grain silos and radar domes to complain about wind turbines 'blighting' the countryside. They will get upset if you remove their waste baskets in favour of paper recycling bins or ban single-use takeaway coffee cups from the cafeteria. You are upsetting their routine and they will hate you for it.
Here's my five top tips to help you bring change to your organisation:
Ditch the green-speak in favour of Green Jujitsu (adopting the language, imagery and tone of your audience)
Involve people in designing the new system/product/process/procedure;
Make the Sustainable option easier to use than the old one (making people jump through hoops to prove their commitment to Sustainability is one of the stupidest ideas of all stupid ideas);
Make sure all people in positions of responsibility – including you – are seen to be doing the new thing.
Here's three reasons why Supply Chain Sustainability is such a challenge:
For the vast majority of organisations, the impacts and risks in the supply chain dwarfs that 'within the factory fence';
You usually have poor visibility of those impacts and risks – many of which may be deliberately hidden from outside eyes;
For those risks you are aware of, you only have indirect control over.
And how do we tackle these challenges? With questionnaires, audits and tick boxes on tender forms. I don't think there is any element of Sustainability where the standard tools are so woefully inadequate compared to the scale of the challenge. And if that's one arm tied behind your back, many organisations bind the other one by stating they would never drop a supplier on Sustainability grounds.
The solution is a complete change in your mindset. Instead of trying to fix your suppliers' problems, you should be challenging them to fix yours. That change in attitude costs nothing and will deliver huge change. Secondly, the ultimate threat – 'Sustainability or Goodbye' – needs to be hanging over all discussions. If not, you're not serious about Sustainability.