Corporate social responsibility

Changing travel behaviour

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.

Motivation

Ability

Personal

Using the sales forces’ existing strong competitive instincts and love of gadgets.  Not using eco-awareness as a motivator.

Provide targeted training.

Social

Popular simulator game, competing for highest mpg.

 

Not used for this behaviour change.

Structural

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.

Greenwash or win-win?

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.

 

(Dis)engaging staff

"Who do they think they are preaching to?"

A visit to a client's canteen earlier this week brought me face-to-face with one extremely disgruntled staff member. In the queue, my contact pointed out the points-based reward system staff can now choose to join, which incentivises choosing a meat-free or meat-and-dairy-free meal. Like a coffee-shop loyalty card, you accumulate points and get mystery prizes. The explicit motivation is calorie-reduction and carbon-reduction: a vegan meal has, it is explained, a lower carbon footprint and is better for you.

Bottled up discontent

I asked whether there had been any controversy about the scheme, knowing that promoting a lower-impact or reduced-meat diet is considered very hard in this Defra research.  Behind us, a member of staff neither of us knew spat out

"Well you're not allowed to disagree around here!"

She continued:

"Who do they think they're preaching to?  What makes them think they're always right? What do they think they're doing interfering with our private lives?"

She was clearly very angry about it.

The organisation in question is one which has a public and explicit commitment to a low-carbon future, and it could be expected that a high proportion of staff are personally committed to reducing their environmental impact.  So this reaction was surprising.

Unpacking the outburst

I think it's worth unpacking the points, to see if there's something to be learnt about engaging staff in this kind of impact-reduction activity:

  • 'Preaching' is a word often used when the recipient of the message considers themselves to be at least as 'ethical', if not more, than the person transmitting the message.  Perhaps this staff member considers herself to already have a strong personal set of ethics and practices, and resents the perceived implication that she needs to be told to do more.  Perhaps she is unhappy about the way the organisation approaches its corporate impacts, and resents being asked to make a personal change when she thinks not enough is happening at the bigger level.
  • 'What makes them think they are always right?'  I wonder if there was an opportunity for knowledgeable people within the organisation to challenge the underlying generalisation that meat-free is healthier or better from a carbon perspective, or to contribute to developing the project. Perhaps this person has specialist knowledge which leads her to be uncomfortable with this simplification?
  • 'Interfering with private lives'.  This is an interesting one. The setting for this initiative is a staff canteen, possibly (I don't know) subsidised by the employer.  People are not obliged to eat there, although it is cheaper and more convenient than going to local cafes.  The scheme is voluntary, and around 1/3 of the staff have joined it. the scheme includes small incentives for 'better' choices, but there are no disincentives for 'poor' choices.  Previous initiatives include asking people to use the stairs rather than the lift, and switching off equipment when not in use. These have been successful in reducing energy use in the buildings.  What is it about eating, which makes it feel part of this person's 'private life'?
  • 'You can't disagree around here'. This is a big problem in any organisation. When disagreement is counter-cultural to the point where a member of staff blurts it out to a stranger...  There's something unhealthy about a level of top-down orthodoxy which means that it does not feel safe to say no.  Every organisation needs mechanisms and culture which enable authentic conversation (this does not mean that every decision needs to be unanimous).

One dissenter?

Perhaps it doesn't matter that this one person feels this way.  After all, staff take-up of the initiative seems pretty high, and the person I was meeting was an enthusiastic user of the points scheme.

Or this one person could be giving voice to concerns and needs which are shared more widely.  If it's really the case that people find it very hard to tell colleagues that they disagree, then it will be hard to know.

Engage with resistance

Peggy Holman maintains that we serve our goals best when we engage with those who disagree and dissent.  Seek out difference, listen harder, enquire into the needs and concerns which are being offered as a gift into the conversation, understand the common aims and see where a 'yes, and' response might lead.

Richard Seel similarly champions diversity as a critical condition for emergence of new ways of doing things.

Let's reflect together

What else might have been going on here? What could the scheme designers have done to avoid this? And what can they do now, to respond?

Let me know what you think...

 

 

Adjective/abstract noun

These phrases have caught my attention recently. All were uttered by sustainability professionals working within different large well-known mainstream businesses.

"...restless dissatisfaction..."

"...chronic unease..."  (apparently the 'price of safety')

"...irrational optimism..."

Witty constructs: adjective/abstract noun.

Like a secret handshake, they signal the speaker knows that what's being done now is nothing like enough, that optimism is not justified (because trends have not yet reversed), but neither is panic or acute action.  This is a long emergency.

At a workshop last week, the adjective/abstract noun combination favoured by was 'blessed unrest', after Paul Hawken.

The combinations catch my eye (ear?) when there's some contradiction between the words, an element of surprise.  This can be very helpful when working with coaching clients: what's the insight, just out of reach, that the striking phrase is hinting at? When they capture the unknowability of this strange time we find ourselves in.

Environmental professionals - getting the savvy of the change-maker

Back in March 2011, I enjoyed working with the IEMA to facilitate a workshop for environmental professionals, ably supported by Debbie Warrener. The workshop was organised to give some of the UK's most long-serving and successful internal environmental specialists a chance to share experiences of leadership around sustainable business practice, and collaboratively sketch out the skills environmental professionals need if they are to shift their organisations strategically towards sustainability. There were no presentations - it was a collaborative venture where everyone in the room had wisdom and expertise to contribute.

During the workshop they created a mind map of key skills. This was done very rapidly, following several rounds of discussing challenges successfully met and skills used in doing so.

I came across my notes of this mind map in the nether reaches of my filing pile just now, and it struck me as one of those things which you could work away at for a long time and not improve much.

So here it is.

I was really pleased to see how much was to do with interpersonal skills, influence, collaboration and mainstream management and leadership skills.  We have heaps of fantastically technically expert environmentalists working in organisations. Too often they are marginalised and lacking in power or influence. They can find themselves shaking their heads sadly at the decisions made by the people with power, who don't see the unsustainability of their actions or can't see how to change.  Combining technical excellence with the savvy of the change-maker is essential.

IEMA's current framework

IEMA have since developed a skills framework at a number of levels which draws on this work, and other research and engagement they have done with their members.  You can see it here and read more about how people are reacting to it here.

And there's another framework mentioned in this earlier blog post and the article it links to.

Update

In November 2011, IEMA's magazine published this, looking at the skills and aptitudes needed by some very senior sustainability people in UK businesses, and includes personal stories from a number.

A-Z of CSR - change management

A while back, that unstoppable author on CSR Wayne Visser invited me to write an entry on change management for the updated 2010 edition of his A-Z of Corporate Social Responsibility. What a great opportunity!  Not having a very clear picture of the readership, I began by justifying the inclusion of the topic.

Some businesses are very good at CSR. Others find it a struggle or are only just beginning. If you want to improve an organisation, then you want to change it. Sometimes the scale of improvement which environmental champions or others want to see is quite large. So far-reaching organisational change may be desired.

What do we know about how organisations change, and how organisational change can be managed - or catalysed and steered?

The article goes on to contrast ideas about planned organisational change with perspectives which see change as an emergent phenomenon.  It also looks at what changes, when an organisation changes, drawing on Schein's three levels of culture.

And as you'd expect, there are signposts to some practical advice.

What did I miss?

If I'm asked to do an update for a future edition, what changes should I make to the article?

Further reading

You can buy a copy here (NB Amazon don't seem to be able to distinguish this 2010 edition from the previous edition).

I've also posted a slide show which develops some of these thoughts, which you can reach via this blog entry.

What does sustainability mean to your organisation?

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.

Making my work a no-fly zone

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.

Being up-front

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.)

Testing my commitment

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!

Experimenting with 'being the change'

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.

How are people taking it?

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.

Making change in your organisation

Distilling practical experience and really helpful theory, the 2006 Change Management for Sustainable Development practitioner is my modest contribution to helping sustainability professionals harness the insights from organisational development, change mangement and behaviour change. It also features blank spaces for you to make your own notes, so it's as much like a conversation as I could make a paper-based book.  And there are downloadable worksheets on IEMA's website, it you want to run workshop sessions using some of the exercises.

Update

I'm delighted that people have found it helpful, and that - for example - it's been drawn on in subsequent IEMA practitioner guides like this one on climate change.

Is refilling marker pens a waste of time?

In-the-room facilitators often use a lot of flip chart paper and plenty of marker pens.  It's very irritating when the pens begin to dry up.  A juicy pen is best.  And I get through a lot of them. I use two different kinds of marker pens which I can refill: Staedtler and Rosinco.  I buy the refill ink from the Green Stationery Company, who order them in for me because although the pens are widely available in the UK, the refills are not.

The systems are different.

With Rosinco, it's a 'drip and soak' system, where you stand the pen on its bottom in a rather charming wooden stand, and fit a plastic funnel around the nib end, a bit like the collar you put on a pet to stop it biting its stitches.  You then drip the ink from a bottle into the collar, and it soaks into the pen.  It's a bit messy when the collar is removed, as there is inevitably some ink left around the head of the pen.  The pen itself uses a cardboard tube, and the refill set comes in a brown paper bag.  So it's got an old fashioned 'natural' feel to it.  And do you know, I couldn't find a web page showing the refill pack.  If you know of one, please post a comment.

The Staedtler refill ink comes in a short stubby tub, and you put the pen head down into the refill station and leave it for four minutes (or it could be four hours, the diagram of a clock face is ambiguous).

During workshops, I put masking tape around the lid of dried up pens which I can refill, and put the non-refillable ones straight in the bin.  When I get back to the office, the dehydrated pens go in a special box until I have time to do a refilling session.

So is it a waste of time?  I don't mean this from an environmental cost-benefit analysis.  I'm convinced enough that refilling is better than one-trip pens.

I mean clock time.

I'm a busy person.  Can I slow down enough to supervise the pens as they drink their fill?  Can I multi-task while they are soaking?  (I can only blog about this once!)

Taking the time to do something slowly when there is a faster option feels eccentric and hard, when a glance to my left shows my to-do list growing all by itself. Shall we add slow stationery to slow travel and slow food?

So I multi-task by using pen refill time as time to stop and stare.  I may not be standing beneath the boughs, but I can gawp at the tall tree outside my office window and - on a day like today - listen to the swifts screeching and see an urban fox sunning itself on a shed roof.

It's also an opportunity to reflect on mindfulness and intention. Even in these small things, I have an intention. Even for this small amount of time, I am aware that I find it hard to quieten the task master in my head.

So not a waste of time: a use of time.

Now the ash has settled: eleven questions to get insights from the shutdown

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.

  1. What was disrupted?
  2. What was enhanced?
  3. What did we do differently, that worked really well?
  4. What did we do differently, that was a right pain?
  5. What contingencies did we have in place, or put in place, in case the shut-down had lasted for twice as long?
  6. Or ten times as long?
  7. What would we have done if we'd had a week's notice?
  8. What would we have done if we'd had a month's notice?
  9. What would we have done if we'd had five year's notice?
  10. What will we keep doing differently anyway, because it worked better?
  11. What will we build into our medium and long term planning, to help us be ahead of the game when air travel again becomes more expensive and less available?

Iconic, not incremental - the history of a leap forward

At an action research seminar organised by Bath University, Dr Gill Coleman shared a work-in-progress: a learning history of the iconic eco-factory built by MAS Intimates in Sri Lanka. By coincidence (if you believe in it), someone from MAS had been a student on the Post-Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (on which I was a tutor) so I was intrigued to listen to this detailed inside story.

I've written more (in the environmentalist) about learning histories as an 'intervention', and about the eco-factory here .

Sustainable tourism - whole-company training

From time to time I've been invited to work with Jane Ashton and her team at First Choice, now part of TUI Travel plc.  Jane understands the importance of enabling sustainable development to leave the safe haven of the CSR team, and spread virally through the organisation. One way that First Choice encourages this is through tailored training for people in different parts of the organisation, whether they work in retail shops, in holiday destinations, liaising with local suppliers of accommodation and activities, or in teams that dream up the new products to sell to holidaymakers.  I was delighted to be asked to work with Jane's team and the Travel Foundation to develop this training.

Once piloted by First Choice, the training courses and materials were made generic, so that any similar business in the sector could use them.  This won't just help staff become more aware of sustainable tourism, it will also help them plan together how to rethink their own businesses to make them more sustainable.

You can access those training materials here.

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.

Transport

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.

Energy

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.

Waste

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

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.

The greening of Corporate Social Responsibility

Most often, corporate action around sustainability issues is looked at as if the organisation is a single discrete entity, making decisions by itself. While this is convenient for discerning general patterns and for traditional management theory, itʼs not the way it appears to me in my day-to-day work with change agents. For example, Tom Lyon and John Maxwell talk about the usefulness or otherwise of companies including environmental activities under their CSR umbrella. Their post, understandably given their interest in the level of overall society rather than the micro of what happens inside organisations, concentrates on whether voluntary activity by companies might work against a potentially more effective approach of government regulation.  That's an interesting debate and one which I've seen first hand when I was the expert rapporteur for the European Commission's Round Table on CSR.

But I'm interested in the lived experience of individual actors.

So, what if we look at this from the point of the view of the individual change agent?

If I'm in a company, and I'd like to get it to begin shifting towards sustainability, then I'll look around to see where the opportunities might be.

If there's already an active CSR programme of some kind, then I might see this as a useful initiative to piggyback on or link in with.  Perhaps I can build in operational environmental improvements to a CSR programme which currently is little more than philanthropy.  Or perhaps the CSR team would appreciate support in making their community activities more related to organisational strategy.

Getting involved in existing activities gives me the legitimacy to be part of the conversation about how they can be made more strategic, more mainstream and more ambitious.

Being part of the conversation is critical if we're to add tinder to the sparks of positive intent which will be present where people are doing CSR.