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?
If the IPCC’s Special Report on climate change made you want to do something – anything – to calm the climate, swiftly followed by a sinking feeling that you just don’t know what is both doable and meaningful, and you’d rather not think about it…. You can do something meaningful! Here’s a great way to find your contribution.
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.
A description of carousel technique in action plus a free download on how to run one yourself.
Images: David Caines
I'm very excited about this season of workshops that I'm piloting - still conversations.
It's a vision I've had for a while, and it's begun to take shape over the last six months.
The groups will be small - a maximum of ten people in each conversation. The atmosphere will be easeful, open, creative. People will learn from each other and from the opportunity to think aloud with others who understand what it's like to grapple with sustainability - trying to move fast enough while bringing others with you; finding the authentic way to be truthful and motivating.
To begin with, I'm offering three conversations on different topics and people can come to one, two or all three. The themes are:
- personal resilience for sustainability leaders - sold out. If you would like to added to a waiting list, or to be notified if this session runs again, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- where next with my sustainability strategy
- getting sustainability into my organisation's strategy
It's an experiment, so the price is deliberately low with discounts (for multiple bookings, self-funded people, people who took part in the survey earlier in the year, IEMA members). So it's just £100 plus VAT for a single session (discount if you book more than one). And I'll be looking for feedback on how to make them as useful as possible for people.
It's a chance to take time out and be still. Think aloud with other sustainability leaders.
I've emailed and sent personal invitations to people via LinkedIn, and the feedback is that now, more than ever, those who don't already have these kind of supportive professional-yet-personal networks in place are keen to get involved. The Personal Resilience theme is definitely striking a chord.
Find out more and make a booking here.
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.
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?
When the new editor of the environmentalist, Paul Suff, asked me to write a kind of 'how to' article on understanding what sustainability means to an organisation, it took me some time to figure out how to make it fit into a two-page article. I'm pleased with the overall framework, and the questions which it seems to all boil down to:
- What's the best thing we can do?
- What's the best way we can do it?
“Ask yourself what sustainability means for your organisation, because finding the answer is one of the biggest contributions you can make to building a sustainable future.
When you ask what sustainability means for your organisation, you are effectively asking: “what’s the best thing we can do?” and “what’s the best way we can do it?”. These questions get to the heart of the organisation’s purpose and activities, daring us to reinvent them for the world of tomorrow, where the purpose responds perfectly to the environmental and social context and is delivered with the best possible impacts. You will find the answers in conversations with other people: colleagues, critics and stakeholders”
See what you think: access a pdf of the article here.
This is the first edition of the environmentalist under its new editorship, and you can access the whole mag for a limited time here.