In 2007, I flew for work for the last time. I haven’t flown since – for any reason. Until yesterday.
I have very mixed feelings about it.
Here are some fascinating examples of staff behaviour change initatives, particularly about travel, which have been carefully thought through, using creative responses to the elements which might enable and discourage the new desired behaviours. I've analysed them using the six sources of influence framework which still feels very intuitive and helpful to me, a few years after I first came across it. (There's a very useful summary here.) This article was published in the environmentalist on paper and on line, last month. The article didn't have room for the table below, so when you've read it, come back and see this more systematic matching of actions to sources of influence in the case of Akzo-Nobel's sales team car travel.
Using the sales forces’ existing strong competitive instincts and love of gadgets. Not using eco-awareness as a motivator.
Provide targeted training.
Popular simulator game, competing for highest mpg.
Not used for this behaviour change.
One for the future – considering how to incorporate a fuel-efficiency aspect into the reward scheme.
Fuel-efficient choices and real-time mpg displays in cars.
The article was written some weeks ago, before the encounter with a disgruntled staff member which I blogged about here. (Neither of the organisations in the article is the one in that blog.)
Pondering on the approaches take by Lloyds and Akzo-Nobel would have avoided this response, I'm thinking that this is probably less about the specific initiative, and more about the sense of alienation that staff have from the organisation they work for. If you're grumpy generally about your workplace, then an initiative like the low-carbon diet will exacerbate and provide a focus for that anger.
Trewin Restorick at eco-behaviour NGO Global Action Plan has also blogged recently about staff travel. A good period of internal engagement prior to setting up systems and initatives - to make sure that incentives and polices are aligned rather than contradicting each other - seems needed, given some of the insights he describes. He makes an interesting point about greenwash - in this case, dressing up a travel reduction initative as an environmental benefit when it is 'really' a cost-saving measure. This is in contrast with Paul Turner's experience, described in my article, of seeing the dual-benefit as a win-win which enables Lloyds' to appeal to different groups of staff.
In November '09 I blogged that my toes were in the water, trying out how to integrate e-communications into workshops. Over a year later and I'm happy paddling up to my ankles: using cut-down post-its, a document camera and telepresence. I was delighted to work with a client which had installed video-conferencing in many locations in the UK and US. We were able to run a half-day workshop for a small team who were spread over three different locations.
This is a stock picture from Teliris on wikimedia commons, but it gives an idea of what the room looked like. In addition to the large screens, the people in the 'main' room had screens in the desk where images from slide shows or the document camera were visible.
Here are some very practical lessons and tips from that experience, firstly about things you can do before the meeting begins:
Having worked out how the document camera worked, and tested different sizes of post-it and handwriting, I was able to use small square post-its to record individual contributions and move them around until we had collaboratively created a timeline of the organisation's journey to this point.
Later in the session, I recorded contributions about people's vision of the future in a mind-map which was also broadcast live to the people in other location, via the document camera. Unfortunately one of the locations lost the feed, so we ended up with some people not being able to see what the rest of the meeting could see: an imbalance which we were unable to correct before the meeting ended.
For my own use, I made a little map of who was sitting where, and used it to keep track of who'd spoken. This enabled me to invite contributions from time to time.
This was a half-day meeting, so I built in a comfort break which everybody really needed. Keeping focussed and engaged in virtual meetings are harder work than face-to-face, I think.
In future, I'd like to work out a practical way of integrating a running record into a meeting like this. A simple word document shared live through google doc or a similar system might work. You would need to check that everyone could access it - firewalls might be a problem. Alternatively, a bespoke webmeeting package with a whiteboard could be used. I'm getting experience of both Huddle and Central Desktop in different client work at the moment.
8.01 Left home just after the pips. 476 and then the Northern Line from Angel. Man with lacrosse stick on the bus makes room for woman with toddler and pram. Everyone trying to be accommodating. 08.40 Cup of tea. Plenty of time.
9.10 We set off from Euston, on a Pendolino. We don’t have seat reservations but since this isn’t the usual train which does this journey, I’m not sure anyone else does either. We will have to change at Crewe. Slightly nervous. New apartment blocks near Euston have solar panels on the roofs, each at a slightly different angle.
09.45 Lots of people get off at Milton Keynes, so we swap seats so we have a table and sockets for our laptops. Now we can work! Misty. We pass sopping allotments and horses dripping slightly in the fields.
09.50 Announcement reassures us that Crewe know we’re coming, and we will be helped to make our connection. Those who need assistance, those with lots of luggage, those with small children and pushchairs – it sounds like she knows us all individually. Reassuring.
10.27 Going through the Shugborough Tunnel, 777 yards according to the sign. Signal down, of course.
Sycamore, willow, birch, oak. Freight train. Convolvulus. Canal boat being manoeuvred through a small arched bridge.
10.31 passing through Stafford station. Vertical axis wind turbines on building by the station are not turning. Design flaw? Or grid problems leading to automatic shut-down? Or just not enough wind?
10.41 Mobile broadband connection on this laptop is SO SLOW. Everything takes much longer to do than I’d like.
10.58 Successfully changed at Crewe onto the new train. Which apparently divides at Chester. We think we’re in the right carriage. Table and sockets all present and correct. Weather slightly brighter. Beginning to think about the ferry – will it be rough? Wish I’d remembered to bring wrist bands.
11.07 More canal boats. They manage to look so much more attractive than caravans. Very small wind turbine whizzing round, powering who-knows-what on one boat.
Getting hillier. Red soil peeps through. Dramatic ruins on rocky hill which juts out of flat landscape.
11.17 Chester. Dapper gent sharing our table gets off here. Cheeringly large number of bikes at the station bike racks. Race course looks very well cared for, protected by the curve of the river. Surprisingly busy looking airport – runway lights look very bright as it’s still a bit overcast.
11.31 Judging by the length of the sign at the station we have just passed through, we must be in Wales. I was hoping for an announcement.
11.33 Tidal stream alongside us – tide’s out, lots of shiny mud with a very thin channel snaking through it. Lots of people in this carriage have bought crisps from the shop and there’s a crackling crunchy noise in front and behind me. Hungry.
11.36 Gleeful lady just popped her crisp packet! Unbelievable. They wouldn’t allow that in the quiet zone.
11.37 I can see the sea! This line is right by the water’s edge, with just a narrow stone wall on the seaward side. Sea level rise, anyone? One for the Climate Change Risk Assessment , I think.
11.41 Three grey herons in meadow – but no water for them to fish in. I wonder what they are doing there. Mountains stretch out ahead and to the left, silver in the haze. Blue sky on the seaward side – perhaps we’ll have a smooth crossing.
11.46 Rhyl. Sun breaks out! People hunching over their screens so they can read despite the light.
11.52 Fortifications line the forested hillside, but this must be a folly – there’s no room for anything behind them!
11.53 Wind farm out to sea, gleaming white in the sunshine, but none turning. Bad news for electricity generation, good news for calm crossing?
12.03 Llandudno Junction. Gateway to Snowdonia National Park. Ah, to be in the hills.
12.07 Or in the river, like a dozen kayakers and four boatloads of canoeists.
12.16 Clouding over a bit.
12.22 Arriving at Bangor. Suddenly much noisier. Jolene being played on a very poor machine – perhaps a phone. Hope they get off.
12.28 Spectacular bridge crossing, and some kind of monument: not quite Nelson’s Column. Apparently we’re now on Anglesey. Lush and green; boggy fields; wind-twisted, low trees; sheep and cattle; glossy crows in low hawthorns.
12.38 RAF training flight zooms past and I wait for the sonic boom which doesn’t arrive.
12.44 Could that be a little egret in that pond? Black bill, otherwise snowy white.
12.45 White water rafters in channel between railway line and road. Annoying music is back.
14.01 On ferry. Luggage had to be checked in, which we hadn’t anticipated. Quick swapping over of essential items before we consign our cases to the conveyor belt. Once through security, we wait for a while on the little bus, regretting checking in so promptly. Cheery man from National Statistics Office of Ireland invites us to take part in travel survey, but fails to lift the mood, which is grey.
Once on board, the veggie dish of day is chick pea curry. Surprisingly good, although the naan bread is best avoided. Very glad, as I didn’t think we’d get decent veg-laden food on this rather convoluted journey. Wi-Fi working (faster than mobile broadband on train), spacious table by the window, weather good. 14.29 Fully at sea, though hills still visible if I crane my neck. Water steely grey, sky pearly grey, water a little choppy but boat still moving smoothly.
14.42 My phone tells me that making and receiving calls will cost me £1.30 a minute. Should have brought continental adapter as electrical socket need round-pin plug.
15.15 WiFi means I can follow Ed Miliband’s first speech as Labour leader on twitter. No mention of environment yet. Hmm.
15.16 There it is! Needs a new politics. I’ll say.
15.48 Google thinks I’m in Norway. Shame that the only Norwegian I know is the finger counting rhyme: “Tommeltott, Slikkepott, Langemann, Gullebrand, og Lille Petter Spillemann”.
Transfer from ferry port to Connolly station is free, quick and easy.
Connolly station is small, tidy and shiny but eating options very limited.
19.14 Our Belfast-bound train crosses a lot of water on a narrow causeway. CCRA again!
20.01 Dundalk. Station architecture familiar from so many English Victorian stations: decoration iron columns and canopies, decorative brickwork with stripes and arches picked out in cream, green and terracotta.
20.14 Glad I brought a book (Peggy Holman’s Engaging Emergence – lovely) as well as my laptop, as I’m now out of juice and there’s no sockets on the train.
20.20 Passing Newry. Strings of orange streetlights netting over a bowl of hillsides.
Walked from Belfast Central station to hotel – about 10 mins – refreshing after the long journey.
In room by 10.00.
Feel fresh and ready for workshop.
During workshop, people who knew about our travel choices swapped their own stories and perspectives: ferry journeys disrupted by bad weather, the iniquity of untaxed air fuel, questions around the relative carbon intensity of a very full flight versus a mostly empty ferry.
18.09 On train waiting to leave for Dublin. Glorious blue skies and sunshine.
18.35 Golden skies and long shadows.
19.09 Sky pinkish and grey, mountains on the skyline. Newry by daylight this time!
19.21 My phone tells me I’m in Ireland.
20.32 About 20 minutes late into Connolly station, but we get a cab straight away and there’s no trouble checking in. Very few foot passengers. Will there be any veggie hot meal at this time of night.
Yes! Chick pea curry again, no mini poppadums this time, but mango chutney. Naan bread still inedible.
23.30 My phone tells me I’m in the Isle of Man.
Stupid O’clock. Walk from ferry terminal to hotel in Holyhead marred by lack of signposting. We can see the hotel, but it takes a couple of goes to cross the main road and actually get to it. We spot a footbridge from the station which we’ll use tomorrow. Hotel cheap and cheerless.
08.15 Meet for the walk back to the station. Marred this time by discovery that entrance to footbridge is firmly locked. Weather good.
09.23 Train to Birmingham, we change at Chester. Lovely morning, with pale sun illuminating semi-wild countryside. Green fields edged with thick hedges and grey stone, with occasional peat bog breaking through.
09.55 Back across the bridge to mainland Wales. Statue looks wistfully out across the short stretch of sea.
10.04 This stretch of track lined with nut trees.
10.14 Penmaenmawr The sea on our left gleams and shimmers, calm and sunlit. To the right, rocky hills and screen slopes. The road and the railway line protect (separate?) the hills from the sea.
10.49 Prestatyn. Warm hubbub of chat on this friendly train, as Sarah types up worksheets from yesterday's meeting and I catch up with emails.
11.32 On new train at Chester, waiting for the off. Table and sockets mean we can work all the way back to London. Hurray.
12.05 Speeding through gentler landscape, though rougher sedges still break through the grass in the sheep fields.
12.21 Passing large power station, not sure which one. Modest clouds of steam emerging from cooling towers.
12.53 Getting hungry, but we’ll be back at Euston in less than an hour. Should I wait to eat proper food?
12.59 Milton Keynes. Signal much worse as we approach London. Very frustrating.
13.22 Shop closed, so food decision is out of my hands.
13.48 Leek and potato soup at Prêt outside the station. Feeling revived.
Verdict: doable, cost relatively low, requires free day for travel on either side of assignment. Preferable to have more than one thing to do to make full use of the time (and carbon) of travelling. We had first draft of workshop record ready pretty much by the time we left the train. Take continental plug adapter for ferry. Investigate staying overnight in Dublin rather than Holyhead on return leg of journey.
Last time I flew for work was in 2007, running a workshop in the Netherlands. I had tried to find a way to go by boat and train, but couldn't make the timings fit in with other commitments. The last time I flew for pleasure was so long ago that I can't remember. I have turned down all work that involves flying since then, but without being up-front about this. I say I'm unavailable or "I'm sure you can find someone locally" . And I try to help them do just that: a great reason to network internationally and to keep in touch with people who I've come across over the years who understand both process and sustainable development, or may know someone who does.
On a coaching course this year, we did a pairs exercise about 'boundaries'. We had to identify a time when we had noticed a boundary and maintained it. We were invited to illustrate this. As I drew the picture I realised that flying was emerging as a boundary for me. It has been a value-in-action and I can choose to make it an espoused value too. In that realisation I decided to make it an explicit aspect of my work.
The illustration I drew at the time shows this through the picture of sealed charter which makes 'not flying' a clear part of how I do business.
Since then, I've included this in the 'walking the talk' statement on this website, and in an updated discussion document which I share with new clients which sets out how I intend we will work together. (This latter also includes a range of other 'draft ground rules' for our consultant-client relationship: things like honesty, collaboration, learning from feedback, acting in good faith and so on.)
I've had a chance to test out this espoused value in two different situations recently.
One is a new client is based in the UK and the USA. I set out up-front (before putting in a proposal) that I would not travel to the USA as part of this assignment. I felt some trepidation in doing this: might I lose the work? Reflecting further I realised that this outcome was not, surprisingly, such a big worry for me as I'm turning down work at the moment and I knew I didn't want the work if it meant flying. The bigger source of my anxiety was that these people who I'd only just met might they think badly of me. They might interpret my refusal to fly as a criticism of them - they almost certainly are obliged to fly for work. They might simply think me wildly eccentric. (One day I'll blog on the EAFL meme : "environmentalists are **** loonies" ). They might worry that association with me would make their colleagues think this about them.
I'm being very frank here - explaining my worries discretely even though I know they were quite murky at the time before I was able to pin them down precisely.
The new client was not put off, although I will continue to watch for the impact this stance has on our relationship, as well as the practicalities of the project. Our first multi-continent workshop was run using impressive video presence facilities, and I'll blog about that separately.
The second challenge came about because I wasn't really paying attention!
I am working on stakeholder engagement for the UK's first Climate Change Risk Assessment. As part of this, there are workshops for stakeholders in the Devolved Administrations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I agreed to facilitate these workshops as part of a team, with the workshops distributed between us. Only later did I realise that - of course - Belfast is usually accessed from other parts of the UK by plane, these days. As luck would have it, the Belfast workshop is the one date that I could do. Could I get there without flying? Fortunately I had a full day with no meetings on either side of it, allowing slow travel.
I checked the cost of travelling by train and ferry, using the legendary Man in Seat 61 website. I also checked the travelling times, and worked out that two nights accommodation were probably needed, not one. I resolved that I would absorb the additional expenses if they proved to be higher than those of my flying colleagues, and not charge for the longer travelling time.
Armed with these mitigations, I raised my 'no flying' commitment with my immediate client (the consultancy I am sub-contracted by). They seemed fine with it. And - thanks Sarah, you're a star - one of my facilitator colleagues said she'd travel with me too.
I still feel a bit funny about this choice to go by train and ferry rather than flying. It takes much longer. And if we miss a connection, or there's a storm at sea, people may criticise me for choosing a less reliable way to travel. It feels like an experiment which could go wrong.
And I have read and re-read this blog entry, afraid to click 'publish', for some weeks now!
I know that for many people, deciding not to fly for work would be a seriously career-limiting decision. The way we organise our working lives and our international organisations is now so dependent on being able to travel very long distances or across seas fast, that using only surface transport would be very inconvenient. Even within the UK, there are lots of journeys which involve moving from one island to another, where boat is slower and - ahem - more bilious than flying.
I have the great good fortune, though, to be in a position to say 'no' to flying for work even as I recognise that this is not an option for many of the people I work with. So I can be an experimenter, someone who tries out what a world with seriously reduced dependence on aviation might look like. And if I can do it, perhaps I should.
The reaction from people who I've told about this has been an interesting range. Some applauded and said "I bet your clients love it that, because you're really walking the talk". Some said "that's a long time to be away not earning". Others said "that's really interesting, I'd like to experiment like that, tell me how it goes".
I'm going to actively reflect on this experiment, and I'll tell you how it goes.
Was the shut down of air travel a right pain for you and your organisation? Now that the ash has settled, there's a great opportunity for you to use the recent disruption to discuss sustainable development with your colleagues. [And as if to prove the point that it's a good idea to be prepared, it's back - as of 08.52 @BST 4th May 2010.]
Whichever way you look at it, a low-carbon economy (whether forced on us by peak oil or chosen as a planned way of mitigating climate change) will mean a drastic reduction in cheap air travel. Your colleagues may feel this is too far off, or too fanciful, to plan for. But the shut down actually happened. So it's a great way in to discussions you might not have been able to have before April 2010.
Here are 11 questions to structure a discussion about your organisation's dependence on air transport - and how you can reduce it over the long term.