For many of us - not just school kids and students - September is a time of new beginnings. You could be in a new job, or just feeling ready to shake up your existing role with new enthusiasm and ideas.
As a participation professional who’s been lurking around NHS Citizen as it develops, one of the most exciting aspects has been the webcasting.
The two worlds I straddle - sustainability and process - interweave in all sorts of ways. And one of those ways involves challenging myself, and other facilitators, about the sustainability of our own practice. And although I've called this blog post 'greening' our practice, of course there are the social and ethical aspects of sustainability as well as the environmental ones to consider.
Contemplating ecological apocalypse, and being really really angry with the bozos who are letting it happen, can make us sustainability people pretty dull conversationalists.
In a bid to learn some new ways of delighting people while helping them stare into the abyss, I enrolled in the marvellous Sustainable Stand Up course, run by my old friend and colleague - and all round laughter fairy - Belina Raffy with support from Dr Steve Cross.
When I first met with Brigid Finlayson and Carolina Karlstrom, to see whether we could work together to create the first She is Still Sustainable, we talked a lot about the kind of event we wanted to make it. And our conversation focused a lot on mood, atmosphere, emotional tone: we wanted it to be “warm, safe, friendly event which is refreshing, inspiring and supportive”.
Lots of the women who came along to She is Still Sustainable said that the highlight was a co-coaching exercise we ran, using a solutions focus approach. People paired up and coached each other, asking positive, future-oriented questions about the sustainability work they wanted to do. The instructions are here.
Any fool can design a workshop. What really tests you is having to redesign it part-way through.
You’ve done a great plan, and prepared your materials. You know how you’d like the space laid out, and your workshop will take the group on a journey towards a convergent, satisfying conclusion.
And then it all goes horribly wrong. Nasty surprises throw your plans into disarray. You need to redesign and you need to do it NOW!
One of the lovely things that we did at She is Still Sustainable last month, was to build a wonderwall of our achievements. And wow! What a lot we have achieved.
Some were very personal – surviving divorce, arranging funerals, raising children....
Some had enormous reach – training 100s of facilitators, systems change programme with Sierra Leone Ministry of Health to improve community health, part of a team delivering a sustainable London 2012...
Some were very tangible – writing books, setting up organisations, creating community gardens, renovating a house to high eco-standards, building an environmental showcase house on Trafalgar Square...
When we’d browsed the wall of achievement and organised it a bit, we cheered and applauded our collective fabulousness, and thanked each other for our contributions. It was very moving to be looking someone directly in the eye, and expressing gratitude for what they had done so far, and to have their thanks in return.
It's like a long hike. We’re part way along this journey, and have climbed high enough to deserve a rest. We take in the view, spotting the landmarks we passed earlier and remembering the tough stretches where we doubted our ability to go on. There is further to travel, and we know we can do it, because we have come this far.
The process: we gave everyone big post-its and marker pens, and asked them to think about their achievements and choose three to write down. We encourage people to put aside any British reserve or modesty – this is a time to blow our own trumpets! A wall had been prepared in advance – lined with flip chart paper – to receive the post-its. We encouraged grouping but with a light touch and we didn’t push this: there around 40 women so nearly 120 achievements, and we didn’t want the process to detract from the amazing array of sustainability successes.
She is Still Sustainable was more workshop than a conference, but we did have two speaker panel sessions. Like other She is Sustainable events that came before ours, this included a presentation on some of the facts and figures showing the systemic disadvantages women experience in the workplace.
Gender discrimination - it's not you, it's the system
First up on the panel, Becky Willis reminded us of the gap in pay and power between women and men in the UK. Gender discrimination happens:
- The gender pay gap is 13.9% for full-time workers
- There are more men called John than women running FTSE 100 companies (17 Johns, 7 women)
- 54,000 women are forced to leave their job early every year as a result of poor treatment after they have a baby
- 78% of newspaper articles are written by men
- 74% of the House of Lords are men
- ….. Yet 20% of men aged 25-34 say gender equality has ‘gone too far’
- (and women speaking out are routinely ridiculed)
Published a couple of weeks earlier, IEMA’s 2018 survey of its members – environment and sustainability professionals – found that there is a 14.1% gender pay gap, which is 2.6% less than it was in the previous survey but still higher than the national average. Women are also under-represented in senior roles (the survey found 77% of ‘leadership’ roles are held by men), and in senior membership grades. As a Fellow of IEMA, I am in a tiny minority: 84% of the Fellows who responded to the survey are male.
Not just gender
When we were approaching speakers for She is Still Sustainable, we were challenged to think more widely than gender. What about women of colour? What about lesbian and bisexual women? We broadened our panel to include people who could speak from personal experience and give us some analysis: Lisa Pinney MBE is an Area Director with the Environment Agency, an LGBT+ ambassador and until recently was a trustee of LGBT+ rights organisation Stonewall. Angela Francis is Chief Economist at the Green Alliance and shared her experience of growing up as 'the only mixed-race girl in the village' (apart from her sister). As was ruefully pointed out, while it was wonderful to have so many mid-career women in the room, we were an overwhelmingly white crowd. I can’t speak confidently about our diversity along dimensions of sexuality and class, but my guess is that that we were not a very diverse group. We have more work to do to make these events inclusive of all women working in sustainability.
Early on we asked people to stand up if they had caring responsibilities, and then if they didn’t have caring responsibilities. It was roughly 50/50 split, which was a surprise to me: as someone who checks up on the health and happiness of my children and my parents, it was a useful reminder that not everyone's circumstances are like mine!
Reporting on pay gaps
The Environment Agency has an active LGBT+ network, and its recent gender pay gap report shows a really interesting level of attention being paid to understanding how not being male, white, straight and able-bodied impacts on pay and progression. The Environment Agency also looked at the differences between people who self-identify as religious or not.
TL:DR – the Environment Agency’s headline gender pay gap is around 2.5%, very similar to its disability pay gap of 2.6%. Its race pay gap is higher at 3.3%. Its ‘religion and belief’ pay gap is -0.2% - those employees who have a declared religion earn marginally more than their colleagues with no declared religion or belief. Unhappily, the pay gap for LGB employees is 6.2%. All these figures are the ‘ordinary hourly pay gap’. The report contains information on bonus payments and representation at different levels of the organisation.
What is exciting about this report, for me, is that it exists at all at this level of detail. I assume that the leadership is paying attention.
What did I take away from this?
That as a profession, we have absolutely no room for complacency – and lots of room for improvement, regret and shame. We can and should be paying more attention to the diversity of our own profession and movement – for our colleagues, for the people we are working with to solve sustainability problems, and as part of our contribution to meeting Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality) and 10 (reduced inequalities within and between countries).
In a recent coaching session, my client was exploring whether they had permission to do something. And, in an uncertain and fluid situation, how they would know whether they had permission or not. What if they misread the signs?
We developed a two-by-two matrix, to sort out the possibilities.
If you realise that you have permission to do something, then that's the best place to be: empowered, confident in your mandate, and able to forge ahead. If you have permission but don't realise - or don't believe - that you have, you can disappoint the people who are expecting you to show leadership. If you think you have permission, but others don't agree, then conflict can arise. You waste your time and in this client's words, it's a right headache. And if you rightly believe that you don't have permission, then you can at least recognise that it's not your problem. Unless you wish you did have permission!
We also looked at what the implications are if you like or don't like the amount of permission you have. If you have permission, but wish you didn't, then you need to ask yourself whether you have permission to say no! If you wish you had permission to do something which others haven't given yet, then you have an engagement and advocacy pathway in front of you, to get the permission you want.
Who gives us permission?
Sometimes there really is a person or institution with power which formally and explicitly gives or withholds permission. But so often, all of this is happening in our heads. Who is the real person whose views we are assuming we know? Can we replace our assumption with some actual conversation? They may surprise us!
Who is the imagined person we are waiting to hear from? It may be a voice we have carried with us from our earliest childhood, which we can experiment with ignoring or challenging. We can give it new things to say.
And if the 'permission' feels significant but we don't know where we stand, we can play with scenarios to find a way forward in the face of uncertainty.
The Beast from the East has blanketed much of the UK with its beautiful sparkles, covering up roads, railways lines and in some cases front doors.
But the snow has also revealed things that aren’t usually seen: particulate pollution, uninsulated roofs, space which could be reclaimed from traffic for pedestrians and cyclists, and the impoverished nature of our soil.
The pictures show, clockwise from top right:
- Snow in London with particulate pollution, caught by Tony Juniper and posted on twitter.
- 'Sneckdown' - the true path of traffic shown in snowy conditions - in Canonbury, north London, pictured by Ben Addy of Sustrans. There's more on 'sneckdown' here.
- Roofs bare of snow, because of the amount of heat escaping. A recent raid in Keighley, Yorkshire on a cannabis farm in an attic space was prompted by eagle-eyed police seeing the roof didn't match its snowy neighbours. This picture, however, is from Delft police in 2015.
- So-called snoil (a term seemingly coined by George Monbiot this week) snow mixed with soil, blown into drifts in a country lane in Staffordshire. Another example of police photography. An arresting image showing how loose and thin soil with little organic matter to hold it together is so easily eroded by wind and weather.
As you look around the sites your organisation occupies or is responsible for, what has the snow revealed about its sustainability aspects and impacts?
Making the invisible easier to see
Less easily photographed, the recent weather may have revealed other things which are useful to know, about sustainability and resilience.
- How easy (or hard) is it for your organisation to carry on working when transport is disrupted? What are the implications for travel-related carbon emissions, or flexible-working? For resilience in supply chains?
- If your organisation is a big user of gas, was it able to respond to the National Grid’s call for a reduction in usage. How easy or hard did you find it matching energy demand to supply?
- If you had a snow day, how did you spend your time? What did you choose to do, when you were given the gift of eight extra hours to use exactly as you like? Remember this when you are feeling low, demotivated, burnt out: perhaps spending a couple of hours exactly as you please will feed your flame.
One of the things that came up again and again when I was talking to people about the new edition of Change Management for Sustainable Development, was supporting ourselves as sustainability professionals and as change-makers. This diagram shows three key pillars which support us. It was in the first edition (2006) and felt even more essential when I wrote the second edition.
Support yourself - three pillars
Fortunately, many of the things which help you to do this will also bring you other benefits which are easier to justify – in traditional organisational and management terms – like developing new skills, developing others, networking with potential clients or suppliers.
Perspective is about learning from the doing. Every day, week or year you will have done things which pleased or disappointed you. Your actions may have moved things closer to a sustainable development path, or you may have tried and failed to do so. You don’t have to reflect on every single thing you do (or fail to do) every day. But taking some time out to think about what’s worked well and what’s not will help you to do better next time.
Perspective is also about stopping yourself from getting stuck. If you only ever see the big picture, then you’ll miss out on the chances to make some of the thousand little changes that will bring sustainability closer. If you only ever see the details, you’ll miss out on the mid-course corrections that are needed, and never see the progress you’ve made along the route. Sometimes the optimist needs to see the emptiness in the glass and the pessimist needs to see the fullness.
Give yourself a break
Marry perspective with giving yourself a break, by having a laugh at failures (see the wonderful Sustainable Stand-up) and celebrating achievements. Or take a holiday which combines relaxation with some other kind of activity or learning – music, drawing, bushcraft skills, yoga.
Time off and time out are essential – this is a long-distance path, not a sprint. Recharging your batteries is not self-indulgence, it’s part of the plan.
People recharge their batteries in lots of ways – listening to a great piece of music, going to a show, drawing, meditation, running, cooking a meal for someone, walking in the countryside. And there are things that can just make you feel good about yourself – finally finishing that niggling job around the house, doing a good turn for someone, getting in touch with a relative or old friend.
What are the things that feed your flame?
Open your schedule and book in one thing – even if it’s just 10 minutes’ worth – for each of the next seven days.
Make time-off possible by getting really good at delegating, engaging others in implementing things, and plan for your successor(s).
Inside or outside your organisation, find like-minded fellow travellers to share the journey with.
Talk and listen with these people to help you reflect and learn, and to give each other moral support.
And as you network – formally and informally – build up the kind of listening and coaching skills which mean that the conversations are useful and effective, rather than descending into being superficial or a moan-fest.
My own offering to build resilience, alongside one-to-one coaching, is the seasons of Still Conversations for Sustainability Leaders which let people think aloud, with supportive peers, about the hard questions of sustainability. These have been very special, with a quality of connection which is outside the normal superficial, competitive conversation you get at conferences and other events. More like a mini-retreat.
She is (still) sustainable
I'm also involved in the wonderful She is Sustainable – for women working in sustainability, in particular the version aimed at women with a couple of decades of work under their belts: She is Still Sustainable.
Other options for 'association'
Network with others who are also making change for sustainable development. As well as structured and informal opportunities to share experiences, networks can help when you need to build alliances or find people to give your efforts external credibility. You can find people like this in various ways. These are just some ideas:
- Professional bodies like IEMA or ICRS, or networks like Women in Sustainability and the Association of Sustainability Practitioners
- Postgraduate courses like those run by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, Exeter University, Anglia Ruskin University.
- Courses and conferences run by IEMA, the Schumacher College, nature retreats for sustainability professionals, or Terra Infirma’s Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group, monthly discussions organised in London by The Crowd.
Look after yourself!
However you do it, please look after yourself. You can't be your best self if you don't.
Many organisations in the sustainability field do their best system-changing work when they are collaborating. They recognise this, and they seek out collaborators who, like them, want to make more change than one organisation can do working alone.
They understand the power of collaboration so well, that they put resources and staff time into facilitating and convening it.
And they find themselves in a challenging situation - playing the role of convening and facilitating, whilst also being a collaborator, with expertise and an opinion on what a good outcome would look like and how to get to it.
Why is it a problem?
When you have expertise and a point of view on the topic being discussed, and you're also the convenor or facilitator, it causes three kinds of problems:
- You are insufficiently neutral (or are thought to be) when you are playing the 'honest broker' role, helping the rest of the group discover their consensus. The decisions made unravel, because they are not deeply owned by the group.
- Your point of view and your expertise are lost to the group, unless someone else can contribute them on your (or your organisation's) behalf.
- The people you have convened don't see themselves as collaborators, rolling their sleeves up to get on with real work after the conversation. They see themselves as consultees, telling you what your should do after the conversation.
These problems are not insurmountable, but they are real. Understanding that they are an inherent feature of being a non-neutral facilitator/convenor helps you to anticipate them, spot them when they occur and mitigate.
Thinking it through as a team
I work with a lot of organisations who are in this position, and recently I ran a half-day masterclass for one of them. The masterclass began with me setting out the problem, and then the group shared their actual experiences and discussed what they wanted to do about it.
Here are the slides, suitably anonymised.
Once you understand the typical challenges, you can decide which situations need that additional neutrality, which really need you to be 'in' the conversation, and come up with ways of making sure that happens. There are some ideas here.
I'd love to help other organisations think through these dilemmas and make their own choices about them.
It's the last working day of 2017 for me, and of course I've been looking back and looking forward.
It's a lovely thing to do. Identifying the highlights of the past year, and dreaming just that little bit more ambitiously about the year to come.
In 2017, I experimented with still conversations: a peer-learning, coaching-inspired way of giving sustainability leaders the space to reflect and think aloud, so that they can go back to their work refreshed and inspired to make more change for the rest of us. In 2018, these will run again and they will be a key part of the work I do to support change-makers. People who need to build their own (or their organisation's) resilience, and who want to make more change, are welcome.
Change Management for Sustainable Development
Change Management for Sustainable Development was published by IEMA. In writing it I got to interview some of the best in the business - in-house leaders who want to build a better world and know how to transform an organisation from the inside-out. In 2018, I'll be sharing more of these insights through blog posts, webinars and with clients.
CPD for me
I was honoured to be made a Fellow of IEMA in the summer. In October I joined hundreds of other facilitators at the IAF's Europe, Middle East and North Africa regional conference in Paris. What a wonderful event! I learnt so much and was able to share some of my own expertise with facilitators from all over the world. My CPD next year will be a bit 'out there' - I'm taking part in Belina Raffy's Sustainable Stand-Up communications course. And yes, there will be a show in late May. Come and laugh with / at me!
She is Sustainable
One other highlight from 2017 was She is Sustainable - a warm and supportive event organised by women working in sustainability, where older women shared their life stories and hard-won wisdom with younger women just starting out on that journey. I was so inspired by facilitating the open space sessions. In 2018, working with some other wonderful sustainability women, I'll be putting on She is Still Sustainable. This sister-event will be for women who have been around the block a few times, working in sustainability and related fields, who are ready to take stock and plan their next adventure.
Change through clients
Throughout the year I worked with clients who are campaigning, innovating, convening and collaborating for sustainability. The kinds of things I helped with included organisational development and strategising, capacity building around facilitation and engagement, designing and facilitating workshops, coaching... I am looking forward to stretching and being stretched by ambitious, imaginative clients in 2018, and helping them make change!
Are you an environment or sustainability specialist, working to help your organisation step up to its role in bringing about a sustainable future? Want to make more of an impact? I want you to as well! Which is why I was so pleased when IEMA invited me to write a second edition of Change Management for Sustainable Development.
And when one of our peer readers said "it's like having a coach in your pocket", I was really happy, because that's exactly what I wanted it to be.
It's published today!
Huge thanks to all the wise, insightful and generous practitioners who shared their experiences with me.
There is a free download for IEMA members, and non-members can order an e-copy (£10) or a hard copy (£25 /£15 for members). https://www.iema.net/cmsd
The BBC's brilliant Blue Planet 2 has certainly sparked a great conversation about how delicate and beautiful our planet is, as well as showing us how fragile the ocean ecosystem - on which life depends - is.
Today, the BBC has launched #OurBluePlanet - aiming to get 1bn people talking about oceans and how to protect them. This blog post is a contribution to #OurBluePlanet, and it's about how you - as an environment or sustainability professional, if that's what you are - can surf this wave of change.
Surfing a wave of change
In Change Management for Sustainable Development - out soon from IEMA - I write about some different approaches to making change in organisations. One approach is to 'surf a wave of change'. Notice what else is attracting attention and getting things moving. Use it to advance the sustainability conversation. Get traction for your green action by harnessing the energy that's already on the move. The public's concern and new appreciation of the blue planet is just such a moment.
Your existing initiatives
At the very least, you can let colleagues know how your existing environment and sustainability initiatives help protect oceans and allow them to recover. Whether it's reducing carbon emissions, cutting effluent, moving towards a circular economy or sustainable fishing (and I'm sure you can think of other connections), so much of what you already do is connected to #OurBluePlanet.
While colleagues are interested and motivated, help your organisation respond by showing them the changes they make - strategically and operationally - to improve their ocean impact further. You are the one with the expertise, so use it to identify genuinely impactful initiatives.
There's a lot of talk about the need for new business models, for sustainable development. What might make one business inherently more sustainable than another? What kind of businesses are embracing their special role in bringing about a sustainable society? Or helping us transition?
We in the sustainability movement sometimes struggle to understand the concept of a business model at all. What is a business model? How do you distinguish between one model and another?
What I've learnt and who I've learnt it from
This post is a bit of an exploration of what I think I understand about business models, gleaned from listening to people like Stephanie Draper and David Bent from Forum for the Future as well as helping the Travel Foundation and the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship straddle the fields of start-up businesses and sustainability. I'm also drawing on what I've learnt from working with the inestimable Julie Brown and Growing Communities on their grass-roots bottom-up start-up programme, ably assisted by the entrepreneurial advisors at UnLtd.
Follow the money
It seems to me that there are two different ways of thinking about business models. One is about the governance and questions around who benefits from the business. The other is considering who is paying whom to add what value at each stage. Those both sound like pretty tricksy concepts which you might well see on bullsh*t bingo, so I'll expand on them a bit here.
Who invests, who owns, who benefits?
On one side, we have private companies where investors put up the money and expect to get a return: which might be that their capital grows (I invest £500 in a business and when I sell my share of the business I get £1000 for it) or that they get a dividend (I invest £500 in a business and every year I get a share of the profits, say £75 a year).
The growth in the capital or the income depends on how well the business does.
Depending on how risky the business seems to be, I might only invest my £500 if it means that I own half the business. This is the kind of negotiations you see on Dragons' Den, where the potential investors strike deals with the candidate businessmen and women, demanding a bigger slice of ownership than is initially on offer.
Another way of raising capital for private business is through loans, which get paid back at an agreed interest rate, which is negotiated with an eye on the risk of the business not being able to pay the loan back (defaulting). The loan may be secured with a mortgage, in effect making the investor a potential owner if there is a problem paying back the loan.
There are also businesses with a sort of hybrid relationship with their investors and shareholders: like community-owned renewable energy businesses which raise capital by issuing shares, but the rate of return is capped. See for example those linked to Energy4All (this is not financial advice). These companies are run for profit, but the return to shareholders is limited by the rules governing the company, and the remaining surplus is reinvested or donated.
And then there are completely not-for-profit businesses like Growing Communities, which funds its activities largely through trading (selling stuff). Growing Communities is owned by its members (box scheme customers), and any surplus is reinvested in the business. In the case of Growing Communities, reserves built up over a number of years have been used to part-fund activities like its start-up programme, which supports other communities to set up their own financially self-sufficient sustainable food schemes. The original capital to set up Growing Communities came in two forms: sweat equity (free labour and in-kind contributions from the entrepreneurs who set it up) and advance payments from customers (members) who paid for vegetables before they were sown! I know, I was one of those veg buyers.
Not forgetting co-operatives and other employee-owned organisations, where ownership is shared among the people who work in them (or have some other relationship to the organisation, like being a customer or a 'member'), either equally or in ways which mean that one person can own a bigger slice of the organisation than someone else.
You can see immediately that different kinds of people are going to be interested in being investors in, and owners of, these kinds of businesses.
And you'd expect to see the 'rules' or assumptions about what returns investors could get, to be written down quite clearly - in share offer documents, articles of association and so on.
Interestingly, one of the special aspects of being a certified B-Corp, is that while businesses can continue to be 'for profit', their governing documents need to incorporate sustainability, so that they are also 'for benefit'. This is explained in detail here. The point is that the directors of a B-Corp will have a mandate to consider 'who benefits' in a wider way than implied by the questions 'who owns' and 'who invests'.
Who is paying whom, to do what?
The other way that people use the term 'business model', is understood when you follow the money: who gives money to whom, in exchange for what?
The what is 'added value'.
So in a really simple retail situation, I pay a stall-holder at the farmers market to receive some delicious vegetables. Here's a service example: someone pays me to design and facilitate a workshop.
A slightly more complicated example: I pay a monthly standing order to Freedom from Torture, who in turn provide medical and therapeutic services to victims of torture. There's no real exchange here (I get a newsletter, but I often can't bear to read it...). The organisation has told me enough about its effectiveness in a field I care about, that I am in effect paying it to do something that I want to see done, but cannot do myself. This particular charity also gets money from grant-making bodies, which is likely to be tied to the provision of specific services or achievement of specific outcomes, which don't directly benefit the bodies which are making the grants. So this is a 'benefit at a distance' from the perspective of the people providing the money.
Once you start to look at organisations this way, all sorts of questions jump out:
- How can Twitter and Facebook, and similar businesses, provide free services to individual users? Because advertising and data mining.
- How do Uber and Airbnb make money? Taking a cut from the people who provide the actual driving or hosting. So why do those people pay money to Uber / Airbnb? Because they receive a service: visibility to customers who want a convenient way of locating and paying for their services.
- Who would be paying who to do what, in a circular economy? It will depend on the interplay of a few factors: the comparative costs of using 'waste' as a raw material versus using 'new' raw materials; the comparative costs of 'disposing' of the waste, as opposed to processing it and transporting it to the people who want to use it as a raw material; the particular regime of regulation and taxation surrounding these things. You might see the organisation which is generating the waste, paying for it to be taken away and dealt with. You might see the organisation which is making the new product, paying the recycling organisation to provide it with raw materials.
- What about 'payment for ecosystem services'? This is the idea that, for example, a farmer might be paid (by whom?) to enable more water to be stored on their land during very wet periods, to help reduce down-stream flooding. The payment might represent income lost by, for example, not being able to harvest crops from a flood plain. Or it might represent costs incurred by planting trees on land which otherwise wouldn't absorb so much water.
My reflection is that it's not enough to understand how physical resources might flow through a system, or who/what might benefit from a different way of doing things: when faced with a novel business idea, it's important to understand who might pay whom to do what.
Is one business model better than another?
At a very exciting but top secret (OK, Chatham House rules) workshop on the future of sustainable business that I ran recently (October 2017), the participants from a range of backgrounds, including multi-national consumer goods businesses, got quite close to recommending alternative ownership and governance structures as being fundamental to business being truly 'for good' - because of the 'patient capital' needed to underpin them, and the need for leaders to be able to consider wider benefits than the financial benefits to owners.