Sustainability initiatives! Low-carbon innovation; gender equality; getting rid of single-use plastics; well-being.... In-house sustainability change makers and the consultants who help them are forever devising and launching initiatives and campaigns to get colleagues to do things differently. Sometimes colleagues take them up whole-heartedly and they develop a life of their own. Sometimes you get feeling people are sighing and rolling their eyes, waiting for it to fade away. What makes the difference?
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.
Our opportunities to change things can come from unexpected directions. A new CEO who wants to shake things up. A sudden upsurge of public enthusiasm for naked shampoo bars or reusable cups. A cost-cutting drive.
How can you make the most of these changes from elsewhere, and surf them expertly to get things moving in a sustainable direction?
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.
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...
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.
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. There are three key pillars which support us: perspective, association, and giving ourselves a break.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Every single place at this first still conversation has been snapped up - its theme of personal resilience has clearly touched a nerve. Coming along are people like the CEO of a sustainability NGO, the head of sustainability at a local authority, the group sustainability manager at a nationally known construction company and a director from a pioneering sustainable business think tank.
Why is it so popular?
Trump and Brexit have a lot to do with it: turbulence, uncertainty, and the sudden swing from new orthodoxy to populist backlash mean that we need to recharge our batteries and gird our loins for new struggles.
The bad news in the data about things like temperature rise, ice melt and coral reefs lead to real grief and disempowerment. Seeing how hard-hearted some of our fellow citizens are about people who are not ‘like them’ can make us question our assumptions.
It is right that we should examine how we are doing things. And still conversations promise a chance to do that in a wholly supportive, trusting and nurturing way.
I’ll be running a waiting list, so do get in touch if you would like to join that. And with this level of interest, it’s likely to run again and you can be among the first to know.
Other still conversations
In April our theme will be 'where next with my sustainability strategy', and in May we'll talk about 'getting sustainability into the organisation's strategy'. If you're a sustainability leader and these themes appeal to you, please take a look.
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 email@example.com.
- 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.
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.
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!
So DareConfMini was a bit amazing. What a day. Highlights:
- Follow your jealousy from Elizabeth McGuane
- Situational leadership for ordinary managers from Meri Williams
- The challenge of applying the great advice you give to clients, to your own work and practice from Rob Hinchcliffe
- Finding something to like about the people who wind you up the most from Chris Atherton
- Being brave enough to reveal your weaknesses from Tim Chilvers
- Jungian archetypes to help you make and stick to commitments from Gabriel Smy
- Radical challenges to management orthodoxy from Lee Bryant
- Meeting such interesting people at the after party
No doubt things will continue to churn and emerge for me as it all settles down, and I'll blog accordingly.
There are also longer posts than mine from Charlie Peverett at Neo Be Brave! Lessons from Dare and Banish the January blues – be brave and get talking from Emma Allen.
If you are inspired to go to DareConf in September, early bird with substantial discounts are available until 17th February.
Many thanks to the amazing Jonathan Kahn and Rhiannon Walton who are amazing event organisers - and it's not even their day job. They looked after speakers very well and I got to realise a childhood fantasy of dancing at Sadler's Wells. David Caines drew the pictures.