If you want to make your organisation better from a sustainability perspective, you need to understand what your organisation wants from you, in relation to sustainability and in relation to change. What is your mandate?
Businesses - acting alone or, better still, collaborating - can do so much to help society meet the Sustainable Development Goals (or Global Goals).
Whether it’s reducing emissions from travel and energy use, making sure women and minority groups are able to progress, or cutting unnecessary plastic, there is so much to put right. And there are organisations, tools and initiatives to help you.
Find out more in the series of articles I wrote for The Environmentalist. A complete set is available in pdf here.
If you want sustainability to move from being a nice-to-have, to being a must-have, at some point you will need to show that there’s a business case for it: that your organisation will meet its core mission better, faster, cheaper by paying good attention to sustainability than by ignoring it.
What does the business case look like in your organisation?
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.
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?
Just a week to go until the second ‘still’ conversation. Here’s what some people thought of the first one
“Thank you, Penny, it was a really powerful event you created a wonderful opportunity to reflect, listen, think and learn. A really enriching experience and I would encourage any of my network in the sustainability community to consider signing up for one or more of your other forthcoming 'still' conversations. A very worthwhile investment for both senior managers or practitioner level.” Thomas Enright, former Head of CSR, Affinity Water
“Thank you for your generosity, kindness and skill in making such a trusting space possible.” Kath Dalmeny, CEO, Sustain
“Penny has created a unique space to reflect and share experiences. The carefully facilitated session provided new insights and a real sense of shared purpose with the other attendees.” Matt Loose, Director, SustainAbility
There’s just one space left for next Wednesday, 12th April. To find out more and book that place, click here. The third 'still' conversation in this season is about getting sustainability into your organisation's strategy, and will be on 10th May.
To be kept informed about future ‘still’ conversations, drop me a line at email@example.com
Stonewall and P&G's work to promote equality for LGBT staff in Spain, Rype Office's repurposed office furniture for Public Health Wales, Willmott Dixon Interiors working with the Amber Foundation to help vulnerable youngsters into work... These are just some of the businesses featured in part six of my seven part series for The Environmentalist on how business can help support the SDGs.
Credit: Nicki Priem. Mafikizolo raised a flag to represent Goal 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
If that all sounds like too many clicks, there's a pdf of it here.
In these turbulent days, with right-wing populist movements rising and an unpredictable political context, you may be asking yourself how this should be reflected in your sustainability strategy.
Perhaps there are critical business and organisational issues which need addressing, regardless of political uncertainty.
Or are you looking at what the Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals) mean for the materiality analysis and the opportunities for collaboration that they bring.
If you are pondering these questions - or others - about your sustainability strategy and would like to think aloud with peers facing similar choices, do take a look at the second of this season of still conversations: where next with my sustainability strategy.
There are a few places still available, and you'll be in conversation with sustainability specialists from a major high street bank, an engineering company, a local authority and others.
A description of carousel technique in action plus a free download on how to run one yourself.
Bringing affordable off-grid renewables to remote communities in developing countries; using cutting-edge data analysis to save money and carbon in modern buildings; micro-managing students' energy use to balance the national grid: some of the brilliant things that are featured in the latest of my series on how businesses are helping contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
This article in The Environmentalist also looks at making cities more sustainable: better buildings, convenient and reliable public transport and new technology which helps blind and partially sighted people navigate and enjoy the neighbourhood.
When I got the news about the US Presidential election result, I went through a lot emotions that I'm still processing.
One that may have been shared by those of you who are looked to for leadership - in ways big or small - was uncertainty about what to say to people who are wanting guidance.
I had to think about this pretty quickly, as I'd been asked present on leadership in the closing session of a four-day workshop on sustainable business.
So what now?
What kind of leadership do we want, what kind of leaders do we need to be, when the going gets really tough? For me, it boils down to resilience and responsibility.
It will be tough. There will be defeats and failures. People will try to stop the things we are working for. For some of us the challenges will be unbearably hard. For some of us they already are. (I know I speak from a position of privilege as a white, well-educated, able-bodied, straight, comparatively wealthy person from a Christian cultural background - I don't know I'm born.)
Part of what defines stepping up to lead - wherever we find ourselves - is that we are resilient and find ways to continue the work, especially when it is tough.
This doesn't mean that we can't take time out - rest, recharge, recuperate, get some R&R - these things are part of keeping ourselves resilient.
As Rabbi Tarfon said:
It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.
Knowing isn't enough. We need to take responsibility. Find the intersection between what we think is needed and what we are able to do, and step into that space. If you are there already, thank you.
If you are able to step up, thank you.
What if you're not sure, yet, what is in that intersection? Then keep doing the good you were already doing, and when you are sure you can step up. You're unlikely to be doing harm in the meantime.
Collaborate and support
Not all of us need to be leaders all the time. Being a great supporter is an essential job too. The climber relies on the woman belaying, in the picture. If the work you are doing is to enable and empower others to lead, thank you.
The workshop was part of the 2016 Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains, part of the suite of brilliant executive education on sustainability offered by the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership. Thanks team for asking me along! The full slide set I used is here.
I'm excited about ideas for peer learning workshops that have been bubbling away in my head and are beginning to take shape.
Focused, coachy, peer learning
I want to bring together sustainability people of various kinds, to be able to talk with each other about their challenges and ideas in a more expansive and easeful way than a conference allows.
People really benefit from being able to think aloud in coaching conversations. I've seen the transformations that can happen when supportive challenge prompts a new way of looking at things.
We also get so much from comparing our own experiences with peers: finding the common threads in individual contexts, exploring ideas about ways forward.
I’d like to combine these things by making the peer learning available in smaller groups and smaller chunks, where the atmosphere is more like coaching.
What's the idea?
The idea is to run half-day workshops, with between 6 and 10 people at each event. The intention is that they are safe and supporting spaces, where people can talk freely. We'll meet in spaces that are relaxed, creative, private, energising and feel good to be in. (More comfortable than the stone steps in the picture.)
Each workshop would have a theme, to help focus the conversations and make sure people who come along have enough in common for those conversations to be highly productive.
I'd run a few, on different themes, and people can come to one, some or all of them. They don't have to come to them all, so the mix of people will be different for each workshop.
I'd charge fees, probably tiered pricing so that it's affordable for individuals and smaller not-for-profits, but commercial prices for bigger and for-profit organisations.
The content of each workshop will come from the participants, rather than me: my role is to facilitate the conversations, rather than to teach or train people.
Choices, dilemmas, testing
When I've tested this idea with a few people, many have said that the success of the workshops will depend on who else is there: people with experience, insight, credibility. People they feel able to trust, before they commit to booking. I think this is useful feedback.
On the other hand, I'm unsure about the best way to ensure this. Is it enough to include a description of "who these workshops are for" and leave it to people to decide for themselves? Or should I set up an application process of some kind: asking people who apply to include a short explanation of who they are, what their role and experience is, and why they want to come along.
If I set up an 'application' process, will that be off-putting to the naturally modest? Too cumbersome? Adding extra steps (apply, wait, get place confirmed, then pay...) feels risky: at each step, the pool of likely participants will get smaller. Will this make the workshops unviable? Who am I to choose, anyway?
Another option is to make the workshops 'by invitation' with people having the option of requesting an invitation for their friends, peers, colleagues - or even themselves. This is what I'm leaning towards at the moment, based on gut feel.
Will this increase people's confidence in the workshops - that not just anyone gets a place, their peers will provide quality reflections and be people worth meeting? Will it make those people who do get an invitation feel special, better about themselves?
And will I really turn down anyone who asks for an invitation? What will they feel?
I've set up a survey to gather views on this, as well as on the topics that will be most interesting to people. Please let me know here where's there a short survey. Discounts and prizes available!
How it feels to experiment
I'm not a natural entrepreneur. Some people love to experiment and learn from failure. Fail faster. Fail cheaper. Intellectually I'm committed to experimenting with these workshops: testing out ideas about formats, marketing, pricing, venues, topic focus vs emergence, length, the amount of 'taught' content vs 'created' content and so on.
Emotionally: not so much. I want to get everything right before I start (which is why it's taken me about six months to even get to this stage). I'm getting great support from lots of people, and boy do I need it. Even sitting here, I can feel the prickly, clammy, cold physical manifestations of the fear of failure.
I need to move through the fear and into the phase of actually running some test workshops. I know they'll be great. I can see the smiles, feel the warmth, visualise the kind of room we're meeting in and the I already have the design and process clear. I have a shelf of simple but beautiful props in my office. I am 100% confident about the events themselves, it's the communications and administration of the marketing that freaks me out.
Learning from the learning
So already I'm learning. About myself, about what people say they need, about how venues can be welcoming or off-putting, about how generous people are with their time and feedback.
In the fourth of my series on business and the Sustainable Development Goals, I found out about how Nestle and Mondelez are working to secure their long-term supply of cocoa, about how companies are calling for greater action on carbon emissions and how the pension fund of England's environment regulator is divesting from fossil fuels. This part of the series looks at Goal 13 Climate Action and Goal 15 Life on Land.
Vertically, horizontally or circularly ambitious? Mothering or child-free, by choice or randomness? Urban or rural? Partnered for life or a free agent? Gay or straight or something else? Employed, entrepreneur or freelance?
Women who work in sustainability are all these things and more.
Every woman makes decisions about her career, her ambitions and her family. As five women who have shared their learnings, successes and failures, we know one thing for sure – there’s a lot we can learn from each other.
We want to take time out to talk about women and changing the world. Not about politics, but about personal lives and choices.
That’s why we organised She Is Sustainable: London in February 2016, a two-day gathering for women working in sustainability, allowing women to share their stories and take part in discussion sessions on all aspects of women’s work and life.
She is Sustainable spawns sprogs
Becky and the rest of the gang weren't intending or expecting that SiS would become a thing, but it has. There have been SiSs in Cambridge and Lancaster, organised on the same shoe-string lines, for love, to give younger women at the start of their sustainability careers a chance to hear from older women who've journeyed ahead of them and have a few of the battle scars to prove it.
I was lucky enough to get involved with SiS Lancaster, offering some facilitation support while I mulled on my own life and my idea for a SiS for older women. I can see links with coaching, with peer learning and with the kind of support that sustainability change agents are crying out for, in my experience.
The Lancaster event was beautifully organised by Becky Willis and Jess Phoenix, with support from the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business, part of the Lancaster University. Being run at the university meant that we got to hear from some brilliant women who could bring us rigorous academic insight into gender and sustainability leadership.
Prof. Judi Marshall, whose work on the lived experience of being a sustainability change agent I've admired for years, shared insights on 'insider outsiders' and the role of gender in this. The cultural assumption and unconscious bias about the credibility and prestige of men means that there are difficult choices to be made about guest speakers at events: in the short term, is it better for our cause to have male contributors, because people will listen to them more?
We also heard from Prof. Gail Whiteman about the uncomfortable experiences early in her career which were "precious" because "they tell you what's important to you". Gail set up the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business and is bringing arctic ice to the attention of global boardrooms. Literally. She's got plans to establish an arctic base camp at the World Economic Forum at Davos. Now that I'd like to see.
To complete the trio of professors, Prof. Caroline Gatrell shared stats on the place of women in leadership including the glass cliff: women are more likely to access top positions during periods of crisis or risk. Maybe it's because they are seen as more creative or more safe. Maybe it's because they are seen as expendable. Theresa May springs to mind, as do Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman who have both 'held the fort' for Labour between 'proper' leaders.
what was it like?
As well as these insights from academic research (and the academic life), She is Sustainable made room for more personal life stories from older women, and lots of sharing among participants. The atmosphere was so warm and supportive, as well as being inspirational. Younger women heard from older women and from each other about their careers in sustainability and how these interwove with life choices and unchosen circumstances.
We spoke together about following your heart and using your head, about finding your place and moving on. We shared experiences about balancing career with caring responsbilities, and about the different kinds of women we can be and want (or don't want) to be.
We used random everyday objects to open up about how we see ourselves as women who work in sustainability.
Speaking about the unspoken
I was lucky enough to facilitate two open space sessions, where topics were proposed which perhaps might not have been if the group had not been women-only. Yes, there really was a session on periods and yes, there really was quite a lot to be shared and discussed about the impact of menstruation on work.
There was everyday sexism in the stories: the woman whose junior male colleague was addressed as the boss all the way through a business meeting; the casual assumptions about who will take the notes and make the tea.
And there was conversation about racism, ethnicity and being a woman of colour in the sustainability field.
She is (still) sustainable
I went along partly to test out my guess that SiS could be tweaked a bit to provide a brilliant way for older women to discuss their choices: if you're mid-career, would it be useful to consider what's next? Perhaps it's an "after children" conversation, or perhaps one about daring to take the next step upwards or sideways. Perhaps it's about being ready to change direction, to slow down or branch out. or to take on your biggest challenge yet. Perhaps its about how you keep credible and energetic when your body is starting to let you down.
I don't know what the conversations are that sustainability women at this later stage will want to have, but I do know that there was enthusiasm for the idea when I tested it, and I am brimming with ideas about how to adjust the SiS approach for this group of women.
Let me know what you think!
Business can help society meet the Sustainable Development Goals (aka Global Goals). Find out more about work on hunger, health and quality education.
Thanks to the lovely people at IEMA's The Environmentalist magazine, for the invitation to write this series on business response to the SDGs. It's given me a reason to talk to lots of people doing important work inside lots of businesses and NGOs.
The second article is now out (May 2016), and it covers goals 2, 3 and 4:
You can access the article, and plenty of other environmental news, here, either sign in with your IEMA login, subscribe or take a free trial.
Sustainability types were discussing the Sustainable Development Goals (aka Global Goals) in London last night, at a regular meeting of The Crowd. If you are twitter-enabled, you can search for the #crowdforum tweets to follow that way.
I've got very interested in the SDGs, since being asked to write a series of articles about how business is responding, for The Environmentalist.
There was some great conversation, and I was particularly struck by Claire Melamed's view that businesses can cherry pick (or have strategic priorities) among the SDGs, as long as a business doesn't actively undermine any of the goals or targets. That seems a pretty clear minimum ask!
How would you tell if a goal is being actively undermined?
So how would you tell? Perhaps the easiest is to do an audit-style check against all 169 of the targets, and spot the krill oil which is staining the otherwise spotless business practices. Some will be easier to test than others, so the views of stakeholders will probably be useful in helping see the business's practices from a variety of angles.
What are the sanctions and disincentives?
The people who spoke about this seemed to be relying on good old fashioned campaigns to bring the undermining to public attention and turn it into a business issue for the company concerned. Which seems pretty familiar to me. One person used the Greenpeace campaign against the use of unsustainable palm oil by Nestle's Kit Kat as an example. And that campaign was way back in 2010. Friends of the Earth was launched in the UK with a mass bottle dump outside Schweppes headquarters, which became a well-known photo at the time. Social media ensures that campaigns like this can become viral in a few hours. But in essence they are nothing new.
Another person said "you'd have to be not in your right mind, to actively undermine any of these goals." And perhaps she's right. But it's clear that either lots of people haven't been in their right minds, or perhaps it's been perfectly rational to undermine social and ecological life support systems, because we are here and here isn't a great place for many of the critical issues highlighted by the global goals. Once again I find myself wobbling between irrational optimism and chronic unease.
But let's give this optimist the benefit of the doubt, and assume that it is now rational to avoid actively undermining the goals.
The claim was made, with some strength of feeling, that COP21's agreement in Paris has made a tangible difference, with analysts using climate and fossil fuel exposure to make investment recommendations. And there seemed to be general agreement in the room that this was new and significant. And today, two days after the Crowd forum event, comes the news that Peabody Energy (the world's biggest privately-owned coal producer) has filed for bankruptcy. So that's one of the 17 goals accounted for.
Other voices suggested that the 17 goals will set a broad context for action by policy makers and government, helping business decision-makers have more certainty about what the future holds and therefore being more confident to invest in goal-friendly products, services and ways of doing business. On the other hand, people noticed the apparent disconnect between the UK Government's pledges in Paris, and its action to undermine renewables and energy efficiency, and support fossil fuel extraction, in the subsequent budget and policy decisions.
Another change was the rise of the millenials, who make up increasing proportions of the workforce, electorate and buying public. Their commitment to values was seen as a reason for optimism, although there was also a recognition that we can't wait for them to clear up our mess. (As someone who still clears up her own millenial children's mess, while said young people are jetting off and buying fast fashion off the interwebs, I am perhaps a little cynical about how values translate into action for this generation.)
And the final bid for what's changed, is the recognition and willingness of players to collaborate in order to create system-level change. And the good news on this is that there is a lot of practical understanding being shared about how to make collaboration work (Working Collaboratively is just one contribution to this), and specialist organisations to help.
So has there been a tipping point?
Lots of people were insisting to me that there has. There were few negative voices. In fact, some contributors said they were bored and in danger of falling asleep, such was the level of agreement in the room. I was left with the impression that we're getting close to a critical mass of business leaders wanting to do the right thing, and they need support and pressure from the rest of us to make it in their short-term interests to do so.
So is it back to the placards, or sticking with the post-it notes?
In September 2015, the United Nations agreed a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Covering everything from gender equality to the ecology of the deep oceans, they form a comprehensive description of the key challenges we face in making sustainable development a reality.
The UN sees businesses as a key player in meeting the goals. Why should business bother? And where do you start?
I'm writing a series of articles for The Environmentalist exploring these questions, and the first one is out today (11th February). It introduces the goals, and looks in detail at Goal 1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere and Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
You can access the article, and plenty of other environmental news, here, either sign in with your IEMA login, subscribe or take a free trial.
Alternatively, there's a pdf of it here.