Sustainable behaviours

e-meetings - my toes are in the water

I'm keen to use more 'e' in meetings. Teleconferences mean live conversation without the travel.  Add in some kind of live editing of a shared document (like google docs), and everyone can see the notes being written in real time, just like flip charts in a workshop.  Share some video or slides, and everyone is viewing the same input.  Include video calling (e.g. using  skype), and we can see each other as well.

I can see that there's loads of potential to reduce participants' carbon footprints (probably) and include people whose other commitments mean that adding travelling time onto meeting time would mean that they couldn't attend at all.

Toe in the water

So I'm making a concerted effort to experience e-meetings of all kinds as a participant.  I joined a webcast (lecture and panel discussion) a couple of days ago, and I'm attending a webinar on how to design good webinars next week.

I'm also adding in some virtual elements to meetings which I facilitate.   Some tips on good teleconferences, built from that experience, are available here.

Spontaneous blending

Trainers sometimes talk about 'blended learning', which includes traditional face to face workshops with virtual elements like a web-based discussion space or a module delivered by email.

In a workshop I ran over the summer, there was a fascinating example of spontaneous blending of methods.  The group is a community stakeholder group, set up to represent local interests during the early phases of developing plans for a flood defence.  During a half day workshop, the group was looking at maps showing alternative sites for the defences.  Timescales for the project are very tight, and this workshop was taking place during a very short window of opportunity for people to feed comments back to the organisation which is developing the plans.  So the pressure was on the participants to ensure that they were accurately reflecting the views of the wider constituencies that they were there to represent.

One innovative participant whipped out a camera phone and took pictures of the maps.  Within seconds they could be sent to people who weren't at the meeting, and their comments relayed back.  I don't know whether this meant that their views made it 'into the room' during the meeting, or whether it simply gave them a head start in discussing the plans after the meeting.  In any case, it set me thinking about how much wider groups of people could be involved, if we can come up with ways of using technologies like camera phones and texting, which are ubiquitous.

What if this person had stuck to the ground rule about keeping mobile phones off during the meeting?

I'm enjoying dabbling my toes in this pool.  I'm readying myself to dive in!

Have you heard the one about...

...the North Wind and the Sun? In Aesop's fable, these two characters argue over who is the strongest, and decide to settle the matter by seeing who can get a traveller's cloak off his back.

For those of you unfamiliar with Greek tales, the denouement can be found here.  And while you read it, you might reflect on our behaviour change strategies - and which are most effective.

Hypocrisy or incongruence?

I get uncomfortable when greener-than-thou environmentalists criticise others, because of their supposed hypocrisy. I think it leave us all vulnerable to a similar criticism, and seems lacking in empathy.

That doesn't mean that I think we shouldn't pay attention to our own environmental footprint.  What it does mean is that when we are reflecting on our practice as change-makers of one kind or another, we can be a little more sophisticated, and avoid judging ourselves (and others) as either eco-sinners or saints.

In my own work, I've been able to help fellow climate-change champions to reflect in a structured way on their personal and collective environmental footprints, and how to manage the (inevitable) incongruence between what they espouse and their personal negative impact, using a workshop format.

That workshop format, and the results, are described in Being the Change for Climate Leadership, first published in Organisations & People, the journal of AMED (the Association of Management Education and Development).

Walking the talk - my own practice

As sustainability facilitators, we all want to reduce our negative environmental and social impacts, and improve the positives.  Elsewhere I have written about 'walking the talk' at events, workshops, conferences which we might be organising.  This is how my own practice puts that into action. This post is about my own practice, in case anyone wants to check that out.

As a small practice, there is no environmental management system or formal policy.  But I do take steps to reduce environmental impact and maximise the positive social impact.


Using public transport and cycling to client meetings and events, rather than using a private car. I do not fly. I encourage clients to use telephone or video conferencing, or e-mediated processes, where appropriate.


The office uses energy efficient equipment.  Both electricity and gas for the building are purchased from Good Energy, a supplier of renewably-generated electricity.  Good Energy also pays a rebate for the solar hot water heated on site, through its renewable heat incentive HotROCs.

Carbon offsets

I participate in a carbon sequestration scheme through the Environmental Transport Association, to help offset emissions from public transport, taxis, car use and air travel (which is rare).  In addition, an annual offset is undertaken with Climate Care, based on average carbon emissions for a business of this size.  Off-setting the carbon from client meetings, workshops or events can also be arranged.

Stationery and consumables

‘Greener’ options are used, including recycled paper (including flip chart paper and post-it notes), refilled / remanufactured ink cartridges, solvent-free pens, refillable pens.  Preference is given to organic, local and fairly traded food at the office and where I have control over refreshments at workshops.  Reusable containers and crockery are specified where I have control over refreshments at workshops.  My company (Verlander Walker Ltd) is a silver-level signatory to the Mayor's Green Procurement Code.


Paper and envelopes are reused.  Paper is collected for recycling.  Cartridges are sent for recycling.  Polythene mailing films are sent for recycling.  Organic waste is composted.


Water efficiency equipment has been installed in the workplace.

Community activities

As well as fee-paying client work, voluntary activities range from Chairing the Management Committee of a community business, organising peer-learning and networking among sustainability consultants, to raising funds through events like jumble sales for an inner-city primary school.

Sliding scale

Project fees are negotiated individually, with lower day rates charged to the voluntary sector, and higher day rates for the for-profit sector.

Cutting the carbs

When I wanted to lose weight and get a bit fitter, I did what millions of women and quite a few men have done around the world - I joined Weight Watchers.  In doing so, I got interested in the parallels between the support and motivations that work for slimming, and the ones we use to promote a low-carbon lifestyle. So I used them to write an article for the environmentalist in November 2006.


Changing behaviour, encouraging and enabling pro-environmental behaviours in particular, is endlessly fascinating.  There are lots of theories of behaviour change, and lots of practitioners getting out there and trying to make it happen.  And some of them even succeed from time to time!  This article - Behave - which I wrote in 2007 - covers some approaches.  There are also other models, like the six sources of influence which I came across recently. Start your exploration of that model with this great video!

The UK Government's Defra (Department of Food and Rural Affairs) has its own behaviour change models, which I wrote about here in the context of audience segmentation.  NESTA also produced a great report on the use of established social marketing techniques to sell 'low carbon' living.  My September 08 column in the environmentalist covered that.

Which approaches to behaviour change do you see being used by environmental organisations?  And which are used by multi-national FMCG organisations? (That's Fast Moving Consumer Goods to you and me.)  Clue: the behaviour FMCGs want to influence is purchasing behaviour.