Are we all too energised: the energy challenge we must embrace

It was some years ago now that concerned colleagues and I spoke to our then bosses, expressing our reservations about this new fracking thing that was just beginning to be discussed. We had spent hours looking at the science and the risks involved. We’d also reached the conclusion that even if it were safe, fracking would only generate finite supplies of natural gas for, what, a few decades? Moreover, burning yet more fossil fuels would only add to the already dangerous C emissions warming our planet.

Fracking in the UK: is it really over, or will politicians seek ‘evidence’ that meets their needs?

Fracking in the UK: is it really over, or will politicians seek ‘evidence’ that meets their needs?

That was years ago. We were refused permission to work on the climate change, geo conservation and biodiversity implications of fracking. Too politically sensitive, we were told.

I still have the same concerns, only reinforced by yet more science.

I’ve reached the view, like many others, that an energy solution that’s fit for the challenges we now face must adopt two important principles:

  1. we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground; and

  2. we must grow our clean energy supplies to replace it.

Sounds logical, I think. But, despite it being obvious, achieving the former is fraught with difficulty. Referred to as the hard cap, constraining the supply of energy from fossil fuels won’t come about because we simply lose interest in coal and stop digging it up. And, as we are seeing right now, it’s no good thinking that just because some countries start leaving it in the ground that others will follow (the “Yeah, but what about China?” argument, which is somewhat weakened by the recent announcement that Cumbria County Council has grated permission for a new coal mining venture off the Cumbrian coast).

Decisions to open new coal mines make no sense given the C emissions challenges we face and the limited time we have to achieve carbon neutrality

Decisions to open new coal mines make no sense given the C emissions challenges we face and the limited time we have to achieve carbon neutrality

We need an enforceable global deal to leave the fuel in the ground. Yes, it’ll be hard to reach, but reach it we must. Back in 2015, the Paris Agreement made some progress, but a lot more is needed, urgently. To reach a deal, a number of conditions need to be met. Any deal needs to work for everyone, and so a limited amount of fossil fuel remaining in a total carbon budget somehow needs to be shared out. Countries will be affected in very different ways, too; we’d need to take that into account. Clearly, a global deal would be hard to broker. It requires an understanding of the different implications for each country, and a sense of international fair play; that would be a new concept!

If a deal was done, the ‘winners’ would have to compensate the ‘losers’. Unfortunately, we remain locked into mindsets that see this as an impossibility. Few politicians take a truly global view, thinking only of the States they lead and, even then, only over short electoral timeframes.

The top five countries in terms of fossil fuel reserves - USA, China, Russia, Australia and India - all have plenty of Sun as well, so a tradition towards renewables might constitute an opportunity as much as a threat. But, there are losers. Venezuela would have to give up a globally important position in terms of oil reserves, exchanging this for a pretty limited position in the rankings for solar power generation; the same could be argued for other States, too - will Iraq and Qatar be prepared to make the switch?

Can Venezuela make a transition from oil to clean energy without social collapse?

Can Venezuela make a transition from oil to clean energy without social collapse?

In terms of technical challenges, the experts state that there are no show-stoppers to a clean energy revolution taking place. Although it is currently limited in terms of its contribution to the energy mix, solar power is the world’s best opportunity. The trouble is that it’s simply not being rolled out anything like fast enough (it could be the answer to Africa’s rapid urbanisation). Proper investment now will enable wind and hydro to play a part.; while nuclear power simply can’t be put in place quickly enough (quite apart from concerns about safety and its permanently polluting nature).

Rolling out solar power: can it be done fast enough?

Rolling out solar power: can it be done fast enough?

We appear ponderous in our approach to the energy revolution that’s needed. This has been true for decades and now, faced with the enormity of the challenge, we seem startled and unsure how to proceed. If we are to achieve carbon neutrality anytime soon, if at all, then we may well have to get on with taking carbon out of the air. Unfortunately, the technologies are still under development (but exciting nonetheless, if capable of being scaled up).

Which brings me to the conclusion that we really do need to address our energy addiction. The more we can limit our seemingly insatiable demand for energy, the easier we make the transition to cleaner supplies. The radical bit is that, like it or not, we will have to end energy growth at some point. What can we each do to help meet this challenge?

Energy efficiency starts at home!

Energy efficiency starts at home!

  • with a general election coming up, we can think carefully about how we vote in relation to energy policy. Vote for politicians who understand the issues and are prepared to prioritise them. In my view, none of them are perfect, so vote for those who get closest, and certainly ensure that you let any candidates know just how importantly you view this issue;

  • wherever possible, using your buying power to support energy efficient supply chains, low carbon technologies and infrastructure. I was lucky enough to get solar panels under a funded scheme, but other ideas include buying an electric vehicle (yes, I know, they still need to come down in price), push for your pension fund to divest from fossil fuels;

  • do things that don’t require much energy, with probably the biggest being taking holidays that don’t require air travel. Decrease your energy consumption, by making your home more energy efficient (hassle your supplier for a Smart Meter); and also think about the energy involved in producing stuff you buy - avoid junk and make things last;

  • challenge friends and family to change their habits, engaging them in friendly discussions that might just change their views. I’ve found that trying to persuade a stubborn 84-year old of the compelling case for turning down their central heating is just counter-productive. Buying them a warm jumper or ensuring that doors are kept closed to keep the heat in, has proved far more successful (I can then sneak out to the thermostat!) down; and

  • avoid beating yourself up about your progress, or lack of. There has to be a fun element in cutting your energy footprint. We’re all going to fall short at some point, so pick some quick wins and keep going…

We cannot carry on burning fossil fuels to get around. Electric cars need to become more affordable in order to drive the scale of change that’s needed

We cannot carry on burning fossil fuels to get around. Electric cars need to become more affordable in order to drive the scale of change that’s needed







Out of sight, out of mind: the trouble with little things

If we can’t see it, then it doesn’t exist, right?

Wrong. In the Dr Seuss story “Horton hears a Who”, the elephant knew that the lives of the Who’s of Whoville, living as they were on a tiny speck of dust, depended on him. He alone believed in their existence, and he alone was aware that this made Whoville prone to unexpected movement, weather, and activity, and even complete changes of location.

Animated elephant Horton finds a speck of dust floating in the Jungle of Nool. Upon investigation of the speck, Horton discovers the tiny city of Who-ville and its residents, the Whos, which he can hear but cannot see. Horton forms a friendship with the mayor of Who-ville, Ned McDodd, and promises to transport Who-ville to safety. However, Horton encounters opposition from his jungle neighbours, who don't want to believe in the existence of Who-ville. Remember: “A person’s a person, no matter how small”

Animated elephant Horton finds a speck of dust floating in the Jungle of Nool. Upon investigation of the speck, Horton discovers the tiny city of Who-ville and its residents, the Whos, which he can hear but cannot see. Horton forms a friendship with the mayor of Who-ville, Ned McDodd, and promises to transport Who-ville to safety. However, Horton encounters opposition from his jungle neighbours, who don't want to believe in the existence of Who-ville. Remember: “A person’s a person, no matter how small”

That’s the trouble with very small things: they move around, they get everywhere. We can try to ignore them, but…

Particulate matter, including micro plastics, might well be something we’re only now waking up to. However, there are already fears of the impact these may be having on the ecosystems around us and, directly, on human health.

Many millions of tonnes of plastic are discarded into the environment every year and are broken down into small particles and fibres that do not biodegrade. These particles, known as microplastics, have now been found everywhere from high mountains to deep oceans. These can carry toxic chemicals and harmful microbes. Studies carried out in the snows of the Arctic Circle and the Alps have found abundant levels of mircoplastic pollution, prompting scientists to warn of significant contamination of the atmosphere and potential health impacts on people. This comes after earlier studies have found particles in cancerous human lung tissue, and the calculation that people eat at least 50,000 microplastic particles per year.

Microplastics, transported by the air, are turning up everywhere, including in snow deposits within the Arctic Circle

Microplastics, transported by the air, are turning up everywhere, including in snow deposits within the Arctic Circle

Transport by winds is a major factor in dispersal of and contamination by microplastics. There is now so much concern on the part of researchers that it is being recommended for microplastics to be included in air pollutant monitoring schemes. Microplastics from polymer-based protective coatings on vehicles, buildings and ships were the most common of those frequently found by the researchers, followed by rubber, polyethylene and polyamides including nylon.

Bear in mind that much of the sampling has been of particles 11 microns and above in size. Scientists are very concerned that there may be many more in the smaller size range, i.e. beyond their detection limits. The very real fear is that these can be taken up by a greater range of organisms and, if they reach nano-scale, they could penetrate cell membranes and translocate into organs much more easily than the larger fraction.

Meanwhile, British researchers have been digging lugworms out of the sand on beaches on Tenerife, Scotland and Cumbria (I know which I’d rather be on). Lugworms will ingest any particles of plastic they comes across while swallowing sand, which can then pass up the food chain to birds and fish.

Lugworms, commonly used as fishing bait, will consume plastic particles

Lugworms, commonly used as fishing bait, will consume plastic particles

So, if you're exposed to more plastics are you going to be eating more plastics? What types of plastics, what shapes, colours, sizes? By identifying the type of polymer, the type of plastic it is and then by matching that with the known uses of those polymers you can sometimes make an educated guess of where that plastic's likely to have come from.

From the Great Pacific garbage patch to riverbeds and streets in the UK, microplastics are among the most widespread contaminants on the planet, turning up from the deepest parts of our oceans to the stomachs of whales and seabirds. The explosion in plastic use in recent decades is so great that microplastics are becoming a permanent part of the Earth's sedimentary rocks - yes, you read that right:

While studying rock sediments off the Californian coast, scientists discovered disturbing evidence of how our love of plastic is leaving an indelible mark on the planet. There has been an exponential increase in microplastics being left behind in our sediment record, and that exponential increase in microplastics almost perfectly mirrors the exponential increase in plastic production.

The plastic we're using is getting out into the ocean and we're leaving it behind in our fossil record - what a legacy! Are we now living in the Age of Plastic?

Ocean sediments are a cemetery for plastic! Our sedimentary record is in danger of being characterised by a seam of plastic.

Ocean sediments are a cemetery for plastic! Our sedimentary record is in danger of being characterised by a seam of plastic.

In August, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report concluding that while particles in tap and bottled water do not pose an apparent health hazard, more research and evidence is needed. However, perhaps we ought to know the "plastic score" of the animals that are ending up on our dinner plates. After all, these microplastics are small enough to be eaten by plankton and by coral polyps and by filter-feeding mussels, but how are they bio-accumulating up the food chain? By the time you get to a huge fish, is that fish eating plastic itself or is it eating thousands of little fish that are eating thousands of plankton, that are eating thousands of microplastics. Which makes you wonder about the size of the plastic signature in something like a tuna by the time it gets on your dinner plate? That’s certainly not something you’re told - because we just don’t know!

But, before those of us living on a plant-based diet get too complacent, it’s worth considering that plants might be suffering from plastic in the environment too. At the moment the risks are unproven, but this is because it’s so much easier to spot plastic in aquatic systems than soil. There are plenty of reports showing microplastics in many terrestrial ecosystems, and these will not all have the same effect. Although plastic beads are a problem in the food chain in marine environments, they are considered a potential minor effect in soil in terrestrial environments. Fibres might even boost plant growth in changing soil density. Not all effects are expected to be positive though. These same changes in density could affect the microbe community. Plastics can change the soil chemistry. Films could increase water evaporation, drying out the soil. Plastic surfaces could allow toxic substances to accumulate in ways that they couldn’t in organic soil.

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If you thought biodegradable plastic was emphatically good, you might want to think again, too. Large biodegradable plastics breaking down become microplastics and food for microbes. These are a rich source of carbon, which is good for microbes, which need large amounts of carbon to build cells. But, they don’t just need carbon though. They also need other nutrients like nitrogen. So, if a plastic feast provides the carbon, but not enough other elements, then the microbes grab this from elsewhere in the soil, leading to nutrient immobilisation - when microbes grab the nutrients, they’re no longer available for plants to use.

Breaking down microplastics will create nanoplastics. When plastic particles are smaller, there’s a greater chance of uptake by roots. Will these nanoparticles be toxic? As I said earlier, it’s rare for anything to simply disappear.

What, then, is the scale of the problem?

  • Over 400 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year

  • It is estimated that one third of all plastic waste ends up in soils or freshwaters.

  • Most of this plastic disintegrates into particles smaller than five millimetres, referred to as microplastics, and breaks down further into nanoparticles, which are less than 0.1 micrometre in size.

  • Terrestrial microplastic pollution is much higher than marine microplastic pollution – an estimate of four to 23 times more, depending on the environment.

  • Sewage, for example, is an important factor in the distribution of microplastics. In fact, 80 to 90 per cent of the particles contained in sewage, such as from garment fibres, persist in the sludge.

  • Sewage sludge is then often applied to fields as fertilizer, meaning that several thousand tons of microplastics end up in our soils each year.

Some microplastics exhibit properties that might have direct damaging effects on ecosystems. For instance, the surfaces of tiny fragments of plastic may carry disease-causing organisms and act as a vector that transmits diseases in the environment. Microplastics can also interact with soil fauna, affecting their health and soil functions.

Generally speaking, when plastic particles break down, they gain new physical and chemical properties, increasing the risk that they will have a toxic effect on organisms. The more likely it is that toxic effects will occur, the larger the number of potentially affected species and ecological functions. Chemical effects are especially problematic at the decomposition stage, e.g. additives such as phthalates and Bisphenol A leach out of plastic particles. These additives are known for their hormonal effects and can potentially disrupt the hormone system not only of vertebrates, but also of several invertebrates.

In addition, nano-sized particles may cause inflammation; they may traverse or change cellular barriers, and even cross highly selective membranes such as the blood-brain barrier or the placenta. Within the cell, they can trigger changes in gene expression and biochemical reactions, among other things. The long-term effects of these changes have not yet been sufficiently explored. However, it has already been shown that when passing the blood-brain barrier nanoplastics have a behaviour-changing effect in fish.

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Humans also ingest microplastics via food: they have already been detected not only in fish and seafood, but also in salt, sugar and beer. It could be that the accumulation of plastics in terrestrial organisms is already common everywhere, even among those that do not “ingest” their food, e.g. tiny fragments of plastic can be accumulated in yeasts and filamentous fungi.

The intake and uptake of small microplastics could turn out to be the new long-term stress factor for the environment. It’s high time we took this threat seriously, rather than our usual, somewhat complacent, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude.

Becoming agents of change in the workplace

If we’re to succeed in bringing about the degree of change that’s needed, then business needs leaders who can manage change effectively to ensure buy-in across the whole company and, where possible, the sector they operate in. So, how can individuals change their organisations in response to social and environmental demands.

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Organisational and institutional change has become known as industrial ecology - the idea that our industrial and business systems could start to mimic natural ecosystems, insomuch as they are circular, regenerative and, ultimately, self-regulating. For example, natural systems have evolved to continuously recycle and repurpose their waste; learn how to wire that into our industrial systems and we will achieve a profound, positive impact on resource efficiency. Of course, natural systems are complex, with strong inter-relationships. To be effective, this industrial ecology approach requires businesses to work together with other partners; optimising resource flows cannot be achieved in isolation.

Organisations must think of themselves as part of a more holistic system.

Industrial ecology has its basis in natural systems, regenerative and balanced

Industrial ecology has its basis in natural systems, regenerative and balanced

Successful organisations which have embraced this new way of thinking, have done so by examining the life cycle impact of their products or services. They’ve also been very open to learning with and from others, thereby building trusted, beneficial relationships. For instance, such thinking can throw up opportunities, such as one organisation’s waste actually becoming productive input for another’s processes.

Clearly, such ideas need considerable, creative thought; aligned with openness to learning among various partners. Solutions require champions - people like you, perhaps - to conceive of new ways of partnering others; new perspectives on their supply chain; new ways to offer a service in place of a product (I supported a creative business that shifted from producing art prints for sale to offering a leasing and re-use scheme).

For these things to happen, it helps if businesses are closely located to one another, when they actively create learning opportunities, and when they’re engaging intermediaries to help them build productive connections. Crucially, it needs to be recognised that this will only work if business breaks from the traditional, linear supply chain of take, make, use, and waste.

So, here’s the thing, change makers: you need to look outside of your industry sector and the supply chains you’re currently involved with. To succeed you need to be able to make connections with people ‘thinking outside the box’, embracing radical ideas, who are going to be effective at overcoming the barriers to regenerative solutions.

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It’s important to realise that making a system-level change means that not every organisation will benefit or do so in the same way. There might be a real environmental win for one business, while another might benefit economically. This requires CEOs to be open to optimising wider benefits beyond their own organisation, and accepting that these may not happen immediately.

At a time when our politicians are turning their backs on more collaborative, outward approaches, it is vital that our business leaders commit to engaging others. It’s well-known that people love to seek and find meaning at work: we all want to work at a place where we matter and can make a difference. Sustainability really engages employees, particularly the new generations joining the workforce.

If you’re going to bring about change, to introduce more sustainable and ethical practices into your organisation, you need to be mindful of the structures, political networks and cultures that have evolved. While we may think the change is so compelling and exciting that everyone will want to get on board; it is vital to remove or redirect those elements that aren’t supportive. You don’t need to be operating at the top of your organisation, in a position of power; you do need to know the organisation very well - how it works and what matters to it.

In addition, effective change agents need to:

  • have an established track record of making good decisions;

  • connect their ideas to business strategy;

  • know when to bring ideas forward and know when to wait;

  • break things into manageable chunks;

  • demonstrate a consistent commitment to the business;

  • be willing to challenge the CEO, respectfully, and be challenged themselves;

  • harness their passion, while keeping their emotions in check; and

  • keep sustainability from being perceived as a pet project.

Bertels, A., Schulschenk, J., Ferry, A., Otto-Mentz, V. and Speck, E. (2016) “Being an Effective Change Agent: a Guide”. Embedding Project. www.embeddingproject.org

Such people can be incredibly powerful agents for change, able to find ways of getting others to buy into their sustainability idea and work with them to bring it alive. The time is now, so perhaps this is your chance, your role - go out and grab it!

Emmet, an ordinary, rilles-following, risk averse, perfectly normal LEGO mini-figure, who is mistakenly identified as the most extraordinary Master-Builder: a real agent of change!

Emmet, an ordinary, rilles-following, risk averse, perfectly normal LEGO mini-figure, who is mistakenly identified as the most extraordinary Master-Builder: a real agent of change!

Facts alone ain't enough

We’re all bombarded with countless messages, all day, every day. All the various media platforms compete, aggressively, for our attention. We’re influenced to think, feel, form opinions and develop values and - most important of all - act according to the narrative.

Marketing communication helps to shape culture and lifestyles. So, if we want people to make people and planet choices, sustainability needs to receive attention in a crowded media landscape and in educational programmes.

Is the sustainability message being heard?

Is the sustainability message being heard?

Facts alone don’t convince individuals to change their lifestyles or form different values.

Achieving behavioural change needs people to change their minds and opinions about an issue, or for them to develop a deepy-held conviction of the need to change. This only happens with the right information, put across in a way that resonates, in order to prompt and justify the change that’s needed.

There are a number of different levers to bring about this behavioural change: communication, education, and campaigning.

Communication differs from information (presenting facts or opinions to others), as it requires the receiver of the information to grasp the intended meaning of the message and respond in a productive way. This is complicated where sustainability is concerned, due to the ambiguity of the term. In the sustainability and business world, the word can offer the flexibility that allows a different approach to business leadership - recognising the context of planetary boundaries and societal purpose (neatly brought together by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs) - beyond simply generating profit.

Personally, I’m not convinced of the value of the word. From the many conversations I’ve had with business leaders, it can be too peripheral or academic to appeal to them and/or their shareholders. To some extent, it’s still seen as an optional extra, as opposed to something that all businesses must embrace as a result of the rapidly-changing world they operate in.

We need to change minds by influencing what people consciously think about; change minds by altering underlying beliefs and motives; and then change the context in which decisions are taken (purpose-driven businesses get this). Nowhere is this more urgently needed than in the conversation about climate change. The Climate Communication Project is working to identify the best strategies to engage people and ensure that the message resonates and leads to effective action.

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Instead of relying on guilt to drive behavioural change, many businesses are seeking to create inspirational, aspirational, and fun messaging. Many organisations engage in cause marketing, which can involve joint funding and marketing for a social or environmental benefit, or economic development. Most often, cause marketing involves partnerships between for-profit and not-for-profit organisations.

It’s clearly worth it, given that studies have shown that 91% of consumers said they were likely to switch to a brand that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality. 92% said they would buy a product with a social or environmental benefit given the opportunity, and 67% said they had done so in the past 12 months (Echo Global CSR Study, 2013).

Cause marketing is not new. Over the past 20 years, there have been some great examples:

Innocent collaborated with Age UK in The Big Knit campaign, in which little woollen hats were made to adorn the smoothie bottles. As a campaign, it was very in keeping with the quirky, homemade image of the incredibly successful smoothie brand. However, there is substance as well as style in this partnership. Aside from money raised, the campaign engaged Age UK’s service users in knitting the hats, bringing people together in knitting groups and helping to tackle social isolation. The focus of The Big Knit has been to keep older people warm in winter, and the hats have been a fun way to raise awareness of this often forgotten group. A donation of 25p is made to Age UK for each behatted bottle, and in little over a decade the Big Knit has raised over £1.75M.

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The Body Shop ran a campaign with Women’s Aid from 2004 to 2008 and eventually inspired similar partnerships in 16 countries around the world. While other partnerships may have raised more money (this campaign still raised an impressive £600,000 plus), its key aim was to raise awareness of domestic violence. The main cause related marketing product was a mint lip balm which had the slogan ‘Stop Violence in the Home’, an arresting message on such a common household beauty product. Alongside donating £1.50 from this lip balm and other products, The Body Shop also produced a 'Survivors Handbook' for Women’s Aid and carried out research into attitudes to domestic violence, showing their commitment to tackling this cause was more than mere tokenism.

In late 2018, Lush partnered with Orangutans SOS to raise funds to purchase 50 hectares of ex-palm plantation in Cinta Raja, Sumatra, turning it back into a diverse orangutan habitat.To do this, they created a selection of themed, limited-edition soaps.

At the time the campaign went live, there were only 14,600 Sumatran orangutans remaining in the wild.

Therefore, Lush produced exactly 14,600 patchouli and orange orangutan soups to highlight that once they are gone, they are gone for gone forever.

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Another great example saw frozen food supermarket, Iceland, pledge to remove palm oil from its own label food, investing millions of pounds to make the change. They are the first UK supermarket to have made this move. Working with Greenpeace, a TV Christmas ad campaign was created to raise awareness on the subject. It was subsequently banned from TV for being too political, which in turn raised a huge backlash and only garnered more recognition.

It was viewed over 65 million times on social media, despite the TV ban, which additionally highlights the power of controversy in marketing. So how did Iceland benefit from investing in this? Greenpeace summarised it well:

Iceland may be small, but it’s created a huge media storm. If companies want to avoid being shunned by their customers in favour of palm oil-free alternatives, and the industry wants to shield itself from more blanket bans, it’s time to reform.

Although it got banned, Iceland’s Christmas advert attracted huge attention, with over 92,000 people signing an online petition to have the TV ban overturned

Although it got banned, Iceland’s Christmas advert attracted huge attention, with over 92,000 people signing an online petition to have the TV ban overturned

In 2018, Fairy made 320,00 Fairy Ocean Plastic bottles made from 100% recycled plastic and ocean plastic in partnership with TerraCycle. The project aimed to drive awareness of the issue of ocean plastic pollution and inspire consumers to get involved in beach clean-ups and household waste recycling.

Tom Szaky, the CEO of TerraCycle stated:

We are proud to be working with an iconic brand like Fairy to launch a fully recyclable bottle made from 100% recycled plastic and ocean plastic. The issue of ocean pollution is a pertinent one, we hope other brands will be inspired to think creatively about waste and make the circular economy a reality.

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However, it’s not just major brands that are able to commit to cause marketing values. The social enterprise, Hey Girls, which launched in 2017 to tackle the societal problems caused by the ‘Tampon Tax’ and lack of awareness around period poverty.

Using the pay-it-forward model, Hey Girls created its own organic, environmentally sound sanitary products that, when a box was purchased, guaranteed another was donated to a girl in need. The initiative caused waves in the media and soon the independent brand was picked up by major supermarkets like Waitrose and Asda.

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But, you’ve gotta be careful…

When it comes to brands leveraging the cause marketing technique it is essential that they are transparent. They must demonstrate a genuine commitment to the cause they are supporting, and this commitment needs to be observed along the whole production line.

Nowadays, consumers have more information at their fingertips than ever before, and they are not afraid to pull the plug on dishonest brands. “You can’t fool all the people, not even most of the time. And people once unfooled, talk about the experience.” (Seth Godin)

As the title of this blog says, facts alone ain’t enough. You’ve gt to make a genuine connection with your consumer, appeal to their values or shape them, and build trust in your brand.

Am I doing enough? Dealing with eco-guilt

When your social circle comprises others who share your concerns about the climate emergency, biodiversity loss, social breakdown, and other threats to our planet’s future; you’ll be very aware of eco-guilt and how it can eat away at you.

Eco-guilt is something more and more people are talking about at the moment. But what is it? Eco-guilt is that feeling you get when you’re sure you could be doing more to help the planet, or you feel like you’ll never be able to do enough. It’s hardly surprising that it’s on the rise, as we learn more about what is happening to the environment, being bombarded with information about toxins, pollution, and the loss of biodiversity, or the melting of polar ice caps. The end result is people feeling overwhelmed to the point of inaction or raising their anxiety levels, neither of which are good outcomes.

When you’ve got children asking you the difficult questions about the uncertain future, then eco-guilt can become an even stronger emotional response. Children inevitably look to their significant adults for answers to the issues they hear about through social media and, unless you’re both and expert and a huge optimist, it’s hard to give them the reassurance they seek.

So, what can we do to counteract these feelings of despair and our part in the unfolding environmental emergency?

To be honest, I sometimes overlook how far I’ve already come. Logically, the chances are that if you’re feeling eco-guilt then you’re probably already making some positive changes in your life. It may seem obvious, but try to focus in on the wins you’ve had and how far you’ve already come. Celebrate that first. Then use it as a basis to make some more small changes, but just don’t lose sight of how well you’re doing already.

When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with how much more we could all be doing, try and make that motivate you into action. Find something positive you can channel that frustration in to – offer your time as a volunteer, join a campaigning group, write to companies or Government, set out to become an influencer, and lead by example.

Now, crucially for many of us, I’m sure: choose your fights. Most of us just don’t have the time to be crusaders on all fronts, so pick the one (or two) that really resonate with you and start there. It might be animal welfare or reducing plastic or organic food or restoring wildlife habitat– whatever it is, focus your energy there for now. Once you feel like you’ve made some headway you can look at making other changes as well, but in the beginning learn to fight on one front.

If you feel like the changes you have made so far aren’t doing enough, then look at making step changes where possible. For example, if you’re already good at taking reusable bags to the shops, then make your next challenge to reduce plastic packaging. If you’ve reduced your food waste then try growing some of your own food. There’s lots of little changes we can make to build on our earlier successes! Children can be rather good at nudging you to do more, too.

Focus on yourself, not on others. While it’s definitely important to let Government and organisations know what they should be doing better, the same doesn’t necessarily apply to the people around you. Everyone approaches these kinds of challenges in their own ways, and what is most important to you may not be to other people. Making them feel more guilty for what they haven’t yet changed isn’t going to help them. In fact, as I’ve already blogged about, this can simply put people off. What’s more, it won’t make you feel any better in the long term either. So, focus on the things you can control – yourself!

Lastly, celebrate the changes you’re making and the successes you’re having. Many of those steps you’re taking can be made more fun by adding an element of competition within your household, your wider family, your neighbourhood.

Why are you doing what you do?

It is worse, much worse, than you think.

So begins David Wallace-Wells’ terrifying account of climate change and the future that awaits us, “The Uninhabitable Earth: a story of the future”. There honestly is no nice , sugar-coated way to tell this story. It’s just one of a growing number of wake-up calls that we’d do well to heed.

Faced with the science, there are now real signs that people are waking up, responding to the climate emergency by speaking out, joining movements for change, and making informed decisions about their lifestyles and aspirations. Many are finding new purpose. A stimulus for action. A reason for living rather than simply existing, if you like.

What is your purpose, your values, your beliefs? How do those influence your choices as a consumer?

What is your purpose, your values, your beliefs? How do those influence your choices as a consumer?

It’s the same, too, for business. Moving with the times, business owners are realising that there is so much more than simply making something and finding a customer to buy it at a price that makes a profit Consumers - us lot - are far more discerning than than we were. We want to know that the products and services we use do not cost the Earth, do not exploit people and, in fact, produce net positive outcomes for people and planet. John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, in their inspiring book “The Purpose Revolution”, refer to this as a revolution of expectations. This revolution is happening among employees, customers and investors.

A growing number of businesses are awake to the opportunities and, indeed, obligations to operate with purpose, to address the world’s biggest sustainable development challenges.

Business that innovates can bring forward exciting solutions and technologies, minimising negative impacts and maximising positive impacts on people and the planet, and can be profitable at the same time. In fact, with the perfect storm of environmental degradation and climate change, it’s only those businesses which are prepared - making the waves of change - that will enjoy profits in future. Operating sustainably will become the norm. It has to.

So, if you want to run your business with purpose, ethically and sustainably, where do you start? What are the guiding principles to be followed? The seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define global priorities and aspirations fo 2030. Importantly, they also offer business the tools and knowledge to strengthen engagement of customers, employees and other stakeholders; and communicate consistently and effectively - to tell their story. In short, to establish a reputation for doing things the right way.

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If you can connect people to your purpose, then you’ll be likely to gain a sustainable, competitive advantage. There is little doubt that companies which are focused more deeply on purpose - why they’re doing what they do - and on delivery of social good will be positive for their employees and for wider society. With this comes improved employee motivation and retention of talent. With an aspirational focus on making things better, business can engage consumers in new and exciting ways that build brand and product loyalty, creating a close, synergistic relationship.

If you’re unsure about this, consider the 2016 survey conducted by LinkedIn: a sample of more than 26,000 members in 40 different countries found that 37% of LinkedIn members are “purpose-oriented” and 38% considered purpose to be equally weighted with either money or status. There are huge emerging markets to be reached: 80% of consumers in China and 71% in India have indicated a willingness to pay more for products from companies with a clear purpose.

Despite all of this, developing a clear purpose isn’t always easy. The way to do this is by championing a cause that aligns with your customers, employees and other stakeholders’ values, beliefs or ethics. Ensure that your company stands for more than a great product or service, and you will soon reach beyond the traditional product or service relationship (i.e. the transactional level of buying and selling) to become a community member, part of the solution to a problem. You are a valued partner in a group that’s focused around a common good (e.g. eliminating hunger, ensuring good health outcomes, improving educational outcomes, providing clean water and sanitation, and so on).

Developing a clear purpose requires business to focus on the key areas where they can make a difference

Developing a clear purpose requires business to focus on the key areas where they can make a difference

People tend to respect companies with the courage to try to right the wrongs that they see in the world. So, championing a cause that you believe in provides hope and builds trust. This does not require grandiose gestures, either. Taking a stand can be as simple as sending a clear message during times of uncertainty.

Getting a business leader to discover purpose really does have to come from within; it needs to be a personal question. Talk about the business invariably focuses on profits. However, get people talking about their personal purpose - what gets them out of bed in the morning, what they want to be true in their personal lives (including how others see them), and you start to see magic happening. What’s more, it’s far more fulfilling to be around other people with purpose, particularly when it chimes with our own values.

Only this week, someone asked me whether purpose was just another way to describe mission. I can understand the confusion, to be honest. However, while a mission statement explains what a company does, a purpose statement describes why that company exists for the benefit of all stakeholders, now and into the future. So, in order to make your own business’ purpose statement, consider whether it is:

  • authentic - is it genuine, true to who you are?

  • compelling - does it spark interest and move people to stretch their boundaries?

  • congruent - does is fit the nature of your business, mission and values?

  • scalable - can employees at all levels of the business relate to it and make it theirs?

  • attainable - is it realistic and can it be done?

  • connecting with employees - does it fit with the talent you want to attract and retain?

  • connecting with customers - does it fit with their interests and values?

  • connecting with investors - does it fit with their values?

You can’t do everything. The key task is to fit purpose to your business - find a purpose that truly fits with your unique business. Find a connection between the business, society and the environment, as a way to help your purpose emerge around common causes that you can actually influence.. And, just like that, we’re back to the SDGs. Pick out a couple that resonate, that are relevant to what you do, and make addressing their targets your purpose.


Sustaining the dream

Starting a new business is a stressful challenge. Starting a new sustainable, ethical business, even more so.

What’s your purpose? Is there a market for your product or service? How much can you afford to commit to the new venture? What if…etc

You might imagine that, with concerns about climate change and environmental degradation, the time is rife for businesses wanting to make a positive difference. Well yes, it undoubtedly is the right time - consumers are increasingly discerning about their choices. However, there’s no guarantee of success simply because your business idea has good intentions.

There’s a lot to be said for running your own business when it reflects your values, but that won’t ensure take-off and certainly won’t pay the bills. You need to have a clear and effective marketing strategy, having done your homework to establish that there’s both a need for your product or service and a willingness to pay for it, too.

Visiting and engaging small business owners can be rewarding work, but is no guarantee of a lasting client relationship. The challenging economic climate means that many are reluctant to make a financial commitment, even if they see the logic of your argument.

Visiting and engaging small business owners can be rewarding work, but is no guarantee of a lasting client relationship. The challenging economic climate means that many are reluctant to make a financial commitment, even if they see the logic of your argument.

So, why is it that so many small sustainable, ethical businesses struggle to get off the ground, grab a share of the market and then establish a firm foundation from which to grow. Sometimes I wonder whether owners of such businesses actually wish to compete and grow; instead, many appear to want to step away from the conventional profit model. Do they prefer to bask in the feel good factor from operating in a sustainable and ethical manner? Sure, it feels good…at least for a while. But then reality kicks in.

During a recent trip to the Greek island of Corfu, I learned about a young couple producing honey and related products, with a strong commitment to looking after the environment. I decided to go and meet them, up in the hills of northern Corfu, above the coastal resort of Roda. I walked!

Making honey, the sustainable way. Plato’s Products is driven by a desire to offer consumers a natural product that reflects the biodiversity of the habitats in which its produced.

Making honey, the sustainable way. Plato’s Products is driven by a desire to offer consumers a natural product that reflects the biodiversity of the habitats in which its produced.

After an hour-long walk through olive groves and up into the tiny village of Platonas, I stumbled across the little roadside shop for Plato’s Products (a golden honeycomb sign was swinging gently in the mid-morning heat: the only clue that I’d arrived in the right place). The door was open, but nobody was about in the little shop, crammed full of jars of beautiful honeys, ointments, oils and a large glass vat of honey-infused raki.

I called out and Evi appeared from the rear of the shop, three-month bay over her shoulder. We were both equally excited about meeting, soon to be joined by husband, Alex, the beekeeper extraordinaire. What followed was so inspiring. We talked about pollinator decline, the damage being caused by over-zealous use of insecticides by local farmers, restoration of floristically diverse semi-natural habitats, and the process of making artisan honey. I was dealing with a seriously committed couple in Evi and Alex. A couple who have put everything into this business and are devoting every waking hour to making it work.

Their honey is unbelievable: chestnut, oak, orange, herb, clover. So diverse, so tasty. But how much are they selling and how? They’ve got a Facebook page alongside their little shop. But that’s it. They have an amazing story that needs to be heard, and a fantastic product that would appeal to many consumers across Europe. Given their principles and the obvious hard work they’re putting in, I want to see them succeed.

Honey-lovers, look away…unless you’re planning a trip to northern Corfu. Some of the many varieties of honey produced by Plato’s Products. I can vouch for their quality!

Honey-lovers, look away…unless you’re planning a trip to northern Corfu. Some of the many varieties of honey produced by Plato’s Products. I can vouch for their quality!

My visit to Plato’s Products, meeting Evi and Alex, has got me thinking. It’s not enough just to be thought of as one of the good guys, doing the right thing. Maybe you’ll never become rich out of it, but your business must at least pay the bills. Far too many small businesses fail within their first year of operation. Or the dream has to be put on hold while you get a real job (well, that’s been my experience), because you’ve not been able to build up a sufficiently large client base. There’s only so long you can carry on paying money out while nothing’s coming in.

So, what’s to be done? Well, the many people who want your advice or your products free of charge could start paying, and paying according to what they’re worth. I’ve had so many comments along the lines of “Yeah, of course we want to go green, but it’s the cost. We just can’t afford the outlay right now”. Now that’s strange given the hours I’ve invested on behalf of some of them. No more loss leaders for me, I’m afraid.

Having a compelling story and being able to tell it is crucial. Why you do what you do; how you got into it; why it will benefit others; how creating the waves of change gives you a competitive advantage. To get that story heard, you need to express ideas in an engaging and relevant way, using various media to present your ideas imaginatively. After all, it’s about persuading potential customers that this is something they can’t live without and that you, alone, are the one to deliver it to them.

Whether you’re bringing to market an eco-friendly product, forging innovation within a manufacturing process in order to reduce environmental impact, or providing services that allow your customer to adopt more sustainable lifestyles; it’s essential that you tie in a real world issue. Don’t shy away from tying your offering directly to the environmental issue it addresses.

Being clear about what you stand for and what you’re trying to achieve is vital. Inviting potential customers to hear you outline your offer and how it benefits them can generate constructive dialogue and build the trust that’s needed for the relationship to grow.

Being clear about what you stand for and what you’re trying to achieve is vital. Inviting potential customers to hear you outline your offer and how it benefits them can generate constructive dialogue and build the trust that’s needed for the relationship to grow.

For Evi and Alex, it’s about sustainable agriculture, free of pesticides and with flourishing biodiversity. For Earth Matters, it’s about nudging business to act in ways that deliver net positive outcomes for natural capital, in order to restore ecosystems, their processes and biodiversity. Unpacking that a little, it can mean sourcing raw materials in a sustainable manner, ensuring that any negative impacts on natural systems are offset through restorative management; or ensuring that supply chains minimise CO2 emissions, offsetting any that do occur.

It sure as hell won’t happen overnight. It’s a slow burn, particularly in such turbulent and unpredictable times. Businesses have got a lot on their collective plates right now. You’ve got to compete with Brexit uncertainty, for example. So, bear with them, take time to build rapport, and reel them in gently! Position your product or service as a solution to a problem, bolstering your argument with current and credible research. Explain why your offer helps to protect both the environment and the customer.

A key part of the marketing effort is about being genuine, and allowing potential customers to get to know you and what makes you tick. Be professional, of course, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Customers need to feel positive about working with you and your values.

A key part of the marketing effort is about being genuine, and allowing potential customers to get to know you and what makes you tick. Be professional, of course, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Customers need to feel positive about working with you and your values.

It’s important to acknowledge that delivering sustainable products and services may come at a higher price to your customers. However, when you’re dealing with environmentally-minded customers, marketing the value brought by sustainability is likely to win out over price. So, emphasise all environmental benefits in your marketing, and - where it exists - flag up ethical and social value as well; not every potential customer is swayed by environmental benefits alone.

In order to reach these new conscious consumers, there are a number of emerging approaches:

  1. using on-pack eco-credentials - communicating that specific environmental or societal certification has been met, using visible labelling of products and packaging;

  2. adopt cause-related marketing and promotion - openly support a cause and actively communicate this, to raise the profile of both the brand and the cause;

  3. ensure complete transparency - look to build customer trust, with detailed sharing of product and service impacts. Be honest about issues which your business faces and explain how you seek to overcome them;

  4. campaign for consumer behaviour change - drive and inspire positive change by influencing behaviours and perceptions, i.e. encourage, educate and nudge consumers to do things differently, restoratively for the planet!

  5. change the status quo - realise your power to solve social and environmental problems, if only in small steps, and seek alternative ways to build the relationship between you and your consumer, making them feel part of the solution to addressing a particular problem;

  6. be driven by a core purpose - demonstrate this in every aspect of your business: supply chain, product impacts, consumer engagement. It’s essential you live your purpose and that your consumers know, understand and buy into this.

Stick at it, believe in what you’re doing and get out there, creating the waves of change.

Does doom and gloom discourage sustainable behaviour?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale and constant reminders of the impending climate and ecological emergency we face. Then there’s the all-consuming eco-guilt that none of us is doing enough. I know that I beat beat myself up over the seemingly insignificant changes I’ve managed to make as ice caps melt, forests burn and species go extinct. It’s just not enough to say no to single-use plastic, is it?

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If you’re reading this, then the chances are you’re already interested in sustainability issues and concerned about your impact on the planet. However, while we are probably both prepared to take some form of action, we’re still very much the minority.

What worries me is that by voicing our concerns, sharing doom-laden news on social media, and going around as if we’re already playing out the end-game for life on Earth; we are causing many people to simply switch off altogether. Nobody wants to be around a miserable kill-joy, after all.

So, what’s to be done about it? Should we back off completely? Stop talking, leave the world to come to its senses - if it ever will - in its own time? Of course not. It’s widely accepted that the time for action is now: today, tomorrow, within a pretty short timeframe.

It is both challenging and refreshing to think in slightly different ways. We don’t have to do anything right here, right now.

What!? I’ve just said that action is needed.

Think about it. Literally.

Many people simply don’t have the tools to take action straightaway. Many more just aren’t aware of the impact their lifestyle is having. What’s more, it’s not their fault (from the tome of much sustainability writing you’d think it was).

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The thing is that it’s all too easy to rush headlong into taking green action without having all the facts in front of you. Stop! You need to know if the changes you are making are actually making things better or worse.

When our daughter was born, my wife and I agonised over what type of nappies to use. Well it wasn’t as if we had anything else to think about. So, we did some research and sourced some ‘eco’ disposable nappies. Claims of their compostability were put to the test in our own back garden; they weren’t, by the way! (and I doubt I’ll be around long enough to wait for their eventual demise). New parents find comfort in comparing the various products they’ve chosen to inflict upon their offspring, and it wasn’t long before we were suffering ‘nappy guilt’ as the Terry nappy brigade pointed out our mistake(s). Well, they’re not perfect, either.

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What this episode highlighted for me was the need to really do your research. So, I’ve learned to commit myself to thinking - properly - about the type of car I drive (fuel economy, emissions), or whether I even need to drive (what are the available options, when and where?); what sort of heating I use in my home; how I get to my holiday destinations (a family flying ban encourages creative thinking about where to go, opening up some interesting, previously overlooked places); whether and what I recycle, and which materials I avoid altogether; if other people can make use of what I no longer want - all these sort of things matter.

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The details aren’t up to me. I’m far from perfect. You decide what concerns you. All I’ll say is that it’s good to have a conscience about these things and try to minimise the damage we are doing. We don’t don’t have to become goody-goodies, but we should be giving it some thought.

Not wishing to be preachy about it, it’s clear that the time for complacency has long past. It really is the time for us to consider the impact we make quite carefully. Once we have considered it, we might actually like to start making a few changes to improve things.

It certainly is the case that if we all did a little bit, it would make a big difference. Unashamedly appropriating a the strapline from a huge global brand - JUST DO IT! (with a bit of humour, too)

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Bringing nature into the inner city

It’s amazing what you can do to bring a bit of nature into the lives of people who’ve been disconnected from it. You can read about the benefits of time spent with nature, but when you actually see it in front of you it’s truly magical.

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A patch of neglected rough grass, covered with litter, in a street largely devoid of anything green. In a community feeling starved of investment. Where children grow up fast. A space that, with imagination, can be anything you want it to be.

So, how about a new pocket park? With a beautiful showy display of flowering plants? Plants that are irresistible to butterflies and bees. A pollinator park to provide a stunning visual display, every day. In the heart of inner-city Peterborough? Why not!

Yes, there were times when it seemed a crazy idea. That it wouldn’t work. That local people wouldn’t get it. Perhaps I under-estimated how much my obsessive belief in the project would rub off on and enthuse local people. It has worked, it looks absolutely amazing, and there’s a whole new community of conservationists growing with it. By aiming high, doing things properly to a high specification with brilliant people who loved the project, and maxing-out on the best plants; it’s been possible to create that real ‘wow’ factor.

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To quote one local mother, whose children now play in the park, ‘things like this don’t happen around here”. Well, they do now! Perhaps the best comment I’ve received came from a little girl, who, sat on one of the nearby benches, starting at the assembled biodiversity; said “It smells of nature around here now”.

It didn’t take long for them to come: both the local primary schoolchildren who explore the secret path that wends its way through the plants; and the hoped-for butterflies and bees, complemented by hoverflies galore, an invasion of dragonflies, and gangs of leaping crickets. The little oasis of green that’s become a magnet.

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And what have I created? Children who now ask me to identify butterflies for them, to tell them about the migration of painted ladies, who have helped me build a bug hotel. Every day they visit the park, as do local women who sit together for a chat among friends. People shout out across the street, telling me how amazing it looks. Best of all, there are plenty of local residents who rightly refer to the park as theirs, who promise to keep an eye on it, to protect and maintain it.

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It’s such a privilege to have been able to work alongside such a great community, to create something really special that is already changing lives. I’ve always been a firm believer that everyone has a right to experience biodiversity. People living in crowded, inner-city areas have just as much right as people fortunate enough to live in suburbia and in the wider countryside. And, boy, do they appreciate it when it’s brought to them.

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Show some pride, all year

Rainbows are a powerful marketing tool, it seems

We’re into June - Pride month - and promoting inclusivity means that we see colourful LGBT brand campaigns and slogans everywhere. Which is fantastic, of course. But how many of these commitments will continue all year round?

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As with opportunistic environmental campaigns that are seen through as mere greenwash, there’s a danger that business can seize the LGBT banner but fail to truly address the issues and challenges the community faces. Pinkwashing can be just as damaging!

There’s growing evidence that brands which reach the heart of the LGBT community with their messaging and support are likely to see a financial return on investment (ROI). But that messaging has to get it right: Merely sapping a rainbow across your logo to avoid seeming tone-deaf no longer cuts it. you’ve got to mean it - Rainbows for June are not enough - equality has to be embedded in your business purpose.

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Many brands jump on the Pride Month bandwagon, to make a quick buck. However, with a global purchasing power estimated at $3.7 trillion, there are clearly rewards when the LGBT community flocks to brands that properly acknowledge its concerns and values.

So, how can business go further, building and sustaining a relationship with the LGBT community? A recent advertisement by Gillette, in which a father teaches his transgender son to shave, is an example of normalisation. Normalisation, not stereotyping, is key. It requires brands to take a risk and incorporate the LGBT community into regular, everyday depictions of life

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Of course, it’s not simple and the diversity of the LGBT community means that its members face a variety of challenges. Visibility and progress differ. For example, a transgender woman of colour sees more day-to-day challenges to her lifestyle and existence than a white gay man, who by contrast has likely to have been out and visible for years.

It’s obviously important to know the issues. Some businesses may use rainbow branding because they’re not sure what the LGBT landscape looks like and don’t want to offend anyone. But they shouldn't worry - be bold, speak up! A brand that chooses even one touchpoint of the gay or trans experience can create a degree of specificity and understanding that lifts it above other brands.

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For example, as legal gay marriage continues to expand across the globe, LGBT couples and families have newfound needs (and newly available consumer spending) around retirement and financial planning.

If your business doesn’t have a huge marketing budget or time to research and deliver multiple campaigns, then one way forward is to Invest in influencer marketing, working in partnership with voices from the LGBT community, to help spread their message and encourage engagement.

Pride celebrations and parades have become more commercialised in recent years. This has led to concerns within the LGBT population that the essence of a pride parade - highlighting local activists and grassroots organisations - is getting lost, drowned out by corporate participation.

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Find the organisations that operate in your town or city, contact local groups and help amplify their cause. Spotlights on local organisations can be an inexpensive-yet-effective marketing strategy, and charitable giving helps to raise brand loyalty with young people.

Engage and support, 12 months of the year. After all, why simply compete for attention during the rainbow tsunami that is June when you can be winning the LGBT community over all year-round?

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A recent UK survey showed that 33% of Generation Z individuals polled identified as LGBT. So, the sealer lesson for business is that if you resolve to capture the attention and trust of LGBT young people now, you'll more likely see snowballing consumer loyalty in the future.

#WorldEnvironmentDay and why it matters

5th June is #WorldEnvironmentDay!

So what, I hear you say. It’s just a hashtag. Maybe, but it’s a way to highlight the many and varied threats to our planet and the importance of the goods and services it provides.

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So, it got me thinking. Thinking about the environmental highlights of my professional and family life. What gave me that buzz, that feeling of awe and connection with the world around me? With no apologies, this is a very personal view. But, what I would say is try it yourself - take yourself back to those special moments with nature; immerse yourself in those feelings of connection; rejoice at those experiences and, most importantly of all, recommit to being a voice for this planet we call home.

From an early age, I was dragged off to the ancient landscapes of the Wiltshire Downs for family walks. The flower-rich chalk grasslands were my playground, although at the time I was largely unaware of their fragility, the diversity of flowering plants beneath my feet. But, along with time spent among the ancient trees of Savernake Forest, it grew a love of nature in me that led to a career in biodiversity conservation.

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The rare privilege afforded to me, as an 18-year old, to stand at the edge of the Zambezi River, at the point where its waters thundered over the stunning Must-a-Tunya Falls, was also a seminal moment. I was struck by the awesome power of nature, the stunning beauty of this spot, carved out over millennia; and the sight of hippos, crocodiles and other amazing wildlife around me.

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Closer to home, I’ve been blessed with the chance to work in some amazing places, often alone with my thoughts, surrounded by trees, the sound of early morning birdsong, the roaring or red deer during the rutting season, and that wonderful chance encounter with a startled pine marten, as it crossed the track in front of me. Exploring ancient forests in Eastern Europe, full of massive lichen-clad trees, getting up close and personal with a female wild boar and her litter; holding sleepy, curled-up dormice in the palm of my hand; walking through drifts of wild garlic, its overpowering aroma filling me with joy.

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To swim on the Great Barrier Reef, to see those unreal colours and patterns; to climb to the top of the Gloucester Tree in Western Australia; to bob up and down in a small boat, surrounded by breaching grey whales off the coast of British Columbia; to come face-to-face with a wedge-tailed eagle. These are moments that stay with me forever.

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And now, as a parent, sharing my love for the natural world with my daughter. What greater pleasure and duty can there be. It’s her world, her future, and we owe it to the next generation to work together to protect, restore and enhance biodiversity, treading more lightly and ensuring a more sustainable relationship between us and our home.

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Sick of hearing about biodiversity?

Sorry to start off with a depressing message, but “without biodiversity there is no future for humanity”. So said an acquaintance of mine, Professor David MacDonald, one of the UK’s foremost academics working on biodiversity. His words are borne out by the publication of the latest global report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a truly comprehensive compilation of the evidence from around the world. We face a huge crisis. This is as big as the climate emergency we’re just waking up to.

Will the IPBES message resonate with world leaders, with business, with society at large?

Biodiversity has value - huge value, when it’s properly accounted for - that’s ecological, social and economic.

Despite this, too few people understand how biodiversity impacts on their daily lives, and this disconnect prevents us from taking the real action that is required; the changes to lifestyles, business practices, national and international policies.

So, what has biodiversity ever done for us?

Well, apart from the obvious - food and clothing - it’s worth considering how plants and animals provide goods and services essential for us to enjoy healthy, happy lives.

Humans use at least 40,000 species of plants and animals every day! So, when scientists estimate that over-harvesting and loss of habitat threatens the survival of over 50,000 currently known medicinal plant species, we should certainly be concerned.

Let’s focus on drugs and medicine, things that we possibly take for granted.

Biodiversity plays vital roles in maintaining human and animal health. A wide variety of plants, animals and fungi are used as medicine, essential vitamins, painkillers etc. Natural products have been recognized and used as medicines by ancient cultures all around the world. Many animals are also known to self-medicate using plants and other materials available to them. More than 60% of the world population relies almost entirely on the plant medicine for primary health care.

The small, un-assuming and slow-growing Pacific yew tree is native to the Pacific Northwest of the USA. This plant is the original source of Paclitaxel, important for treating various cancers.

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The Gila monster, is a lizard found in the drylands of the southwestern US and Mexico, whose saliva is the source of a compound now synthesised as Exenatide, injected by as many as 2 million people for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. It may also have potential for treating Parkinson’s disease.

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in the valleys of central China, grows an endangered weed called sweet wormwood. This plant is the only source of artemisinin, a drug that is nearly 100 percent effective against malaria. If this plant become extinct, then our ability to control malaria would be diminished.

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Many medicines such as antibiotics and painkillers are cultivated from plant and animal sources and , every day, new discoveries allow for the advancement of medicine and the treatment of diseases. Nearly half of all human pharmaceuticals now in use were originally derived from natural sources.

I’ll bet you’ve got some aspirin in the medicine cupboard at home right now. Well, this ‘evolved’ from a compound found in the bark and leaves of the willow tree and was later marketed by Bayer, as long ago as 1899. 50 years later, scientists identified anti-cancer compounds in the rosy periwinkle, which pharmaceutical heavyweight Eli Lilly later produced to treat leukaemia and Hodgkins disease.

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Aggrastat is one of a number of anticoagulants based on the venom of the saw-scaled viper from the Middle East and Central Asia. Surprised? You shouldn’t be, since millions of people rely on venom to keep their blood pressure in check. A number of venom drugs are now in the pipeline to treat cancer, bacterial infections, and other ailments.

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Clearly then, preserving biodiversity is in our self-interest, and this is particularly true for drug discovery. Its preservation provides a vital link to critically expand the molecular diversity that’s needed for successful future drug discovery efforts. Drug discovery from wild species has always been, and will continue to be one of the most critical for most if not all aspects of health care, disease prevention, and wellness.

Resources and knowledge (both traditional and modern scientific) about the ecology, taxonomy and usage of medicinally important organisms are too precious to squander. Consequently, all drug discovery programs, whether synthetic or natural, need to build sustainability into their research models.

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According to some estimates, our planet is losing at least one important drug every two years. This is exacerbated by the irreversible loss of traditional knowledge on the medicinal use of plants and animals. The extinction of microbes, plants, fungi, and animals is resulting in a loss of molecular diversity. Put together, these losses threaten biomedical research, and in turn, the survival of humans.

Childhood activism: the days of your life?

These are the days of our lives…a Queen favourite, with Freddy’s beautiful voice a fitting and moving tribute to a very close friend, played at his funeral this past week. It reflected the wonderful childhood we enjoyed, able to play out in the streets, able to explore the woodland nearby, able to look forward without fear of environmental and social collapse.

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Hyperbole? I’m not sure it is. We were largely carefree, although perhaps I wasn’t typical: I joined the Ecology Party (forerunner to the Green Party) aged 16, while most of my mates were tearing about on motorbikes.

 

Listening to my own daughter and her friends, climate change and concern for the environment are very much on their minds. It is their generation now asking the difficult questions, trying to understand our collective failure as adults to show some stewardship for the planet, and wanting to drive change in thinking at a global level. So, when their days should be stress-free, they’re having to face up to all this stuff.

 

While many of us are quick to heap praise on Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl whose climate strike action has now spread to become a global phenomenon; is it right that we’ve allowed the state of our planet to become their problem? Shouldn’t our young people be able to grow up free of fear and enjoy the excitement of those formative years?

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Or, were our stress-free, teenage years, just part of the problem? Leading us to where we are today? The truth is that nobody talked about living within our means. There were no conversations about habitat destruction, single-use plastics, air pollution, or the Sustainable Development Goals (yes, I’ve even heard them discussed by a 12 year old!)

 

We all lived as though resources were infinite and our lifestyles sustainable (even if the word wasn’t in use).

 

Think about this too often and the guilt it engenders can be overwhelming and, on occasions, lead to some pretty dark places. But, let’s acknowledge this guilt and use it as a motivator for action. There can be no doubt that while our early experiences may not all have been so liberating and free, we all had it good in comparison to the future faced by teenagers today. So, why not channel these feelings and use them to inspire action alongside – in partnership with – today’s youth.

 

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This is not a call to arms, to get marching and encourage your own children to go on strike (but, that’s cool by me, by the way); rather, it’s about reconnecting with young people. Not telling them, but listening to them; not frightening them, but reassuring them; not dissing their ideas and aspirations, but engaging with them.  It doesn’t need to be difficult, and certainly doesn’t need to be expensive.

 

I hear an awful lot of comments about young people ‘being on their screens’ all the time; how they don’t communicate anymore; that they prefer to be online rather than outside. But how many of us have actually offered them a choice, an alternative? 

 

Try developing a shared interest in something that gets you out and about? If you’re lucky enough to have access to a local greenspace, then make the most of it – I turned the Pokemon Go craze into a positive ‘get out and explore’ experience, and have continued to build on that through initiatives such as ‘Beat the Streets’ and other urban orienteering activities https://www.britishorienteering.org.uk/home). If exploring by foot isn’t your thing (or your child’s, for that matter), cycling, roller-skating, skateboarding, and even kayaking (see ‘Canoe Near You’www.britishcanoeing.org.uk).

 

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Share in the learning experience your child gets through school. You’d be amazed the topics they discuss across a variety of subjects. They are talking about sustainability; they know about climate change and what it means for their future; they have opinions about plastics, recycling, air pollution, saving water, etc. Show an interest and you might learn something, too.  Maybe I’m just fortunate, but my daughter and some of her friends have recently met with their Head Teacher, to present their case for the school developing a sustainability plan and aiming to go C-neutral. Their own idea, and certainly something I’m happy to back them on.

 

I do feel strongly that having an environmental conscience should not weigh heavily. Instead it should be something to celebrate. Let’s make it fun to do the right thing and live sustainably. Childhood should be a time of discovery, exploring the world around you and feeling that you have choices, with a whole life ahead of you.

 

We should all be able to look back and say those really were the days of our lives: a fun time but where we achieved something special. Today’s youth stand on the verge of achieving great things. Let’s work with them to help secure a better future, for these ARE the days of their lives. Let’s make them count.

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Ecology: a celebration of great women

So, on International Day of Women In Science, I found myself thinking back to my own university days, studying Environmental Sciences, on a course dominated by women. Was there a reason why so many young women were attracted to ecological studies? How many have gone on to have successful careers? And who are the women currently shaping the science that’s addressing the key environmental issues of the day?

Schemes to support young women scientists are run by bodies such as The British Ecological Society, and do much to attract and develop talented researchers

Schemes to support young women scientists are run by bodies such as The British Ecological Society, and do much to attract and develop talented researchers

Let’s take a look…

Countless women have played pivotal roles in the study and protection of the environment. These are just a few to celebrate. Five of the best from a very large field.

Now, I’m biased as someone who loves trees and who has a fascination for all things African. So, my first choice is Wangari Maathai, a truly remarkable women deedicated to planting trees. Shei is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing trees back to the Kenyan landscape.  In the 1970s, she founded the Green Belt Movement, encouraging Kenyans to replant trees to replace those cut down for firewood, farm use or plantations. Through her work planting trees, she also became an advocate for women's rights, prison reform, and projects to combat poverty, demonstrating the inter-relationships between environmental protection and social justice. In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to protect the environment. A truly inspiring woman.

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Going back to the early days of the global environmental movement, my next choice is author of the seminal work, Silent Spring. Rachel Carson’s book brought national attention to the issue of pesticide contamination and the effect it was having on the planet. It spurred an environmental movement that led to pesticide-use policies and better protection for many animal species that had been affected by their use. However, her work goes far beyond that. Rachel Carson was first a marine scientist working for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Washington, DC, primarily as a writer and editor. She wrote about geological discoveries from submarine technology and underwater research, of how islands were formed, how currents change and merge, how temperature affects sea life, and how erosion impacts not just shore lines but salinity, fish populations, and tiny micro-organisms. Climate change, rising sea-levels, melting Arctic glaciers, collapsing bird and animal populations, crumbling geological faults; all are part of her work.

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In Silent Spring she asked the hard questions about whether and why humans had the right to control nature; to decide who lives or dies, to poison or to destroy non-human life. In showing that all biological systems were dynamic and by urging the public to question authority, Rachel Carson became a social revolutionary.

British primatologist Jane Goodall is best known as the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. She studied the primates for over five decades in the forests of Tanzania. Goodall has worked tirelessly over the years to promote conservation and animal welfare. In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane traveled from England to what is now Tanzania and ventured into the little-known world of wild chimpanzees. Through nearly 60 years of groundbreaking work, she has not only shown us the urgent need to protect chimpanzees from extinction; she has also redefined species conservation to include the needs of local people and the environment. Today, she travels around the world, writing, speaking and spreading hope through action, encouraging each of us to “use the gift of our life to make the world a better place.” As a conservationist, humanitarian and crusader for the ethical treatment of animals, she is a global force for compassion and a UN Messenger of Peace.

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Vandana Shiva is an Indian activist and environmentalist whose work on protecting seed diversity changed the focus of the green revolution from large agribusiness firms to local, organic growers. . She didn’t start out as an ecologist, though, first training as a Physicist at the University of Punjab,and only later shifted to inter-disciplinary research in science, technology and environmental policy, which she carried out at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. In 1982, she founded an independent institute – the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun – dedicated to high quality and independent research to address the most significant ecological and social issues of our times, working in close partnership with local communities and social movements. In 1991 she founded Navdanya, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources – especially native seed – and to promote organic farming and fair trade. For last two decades, Navdanya has worked with local communities and organisations, serving more than 500,000 men and women farmers, resulting in the conservation of more than 3000 rice varieties from across India. The organisation has established 60 seed banks in 16 states across the country.

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Francia Marquez is a formidable leader of the Afro-Colombian community, who organised the women of La Toma and stopped illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. Illegal miners used mercury and cyanide to extract the gold from dirt and rock. These toxic chemicals flowed directly into the Ovejas River, contaminating the community’s only source of fresh water. Mining camps transformed into small cities, much like the boom towns of the California Gold Rush. With populations of up to 5,000 people, these cities gave rise to prostitution, illegal drug use, and rampant violence as miners preyed upon and clashed with local residents.

Francia exerted steady pressure on the Colombian government and spearheaded a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, resulting in the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from her community. single mother of two who was born in Yolombo, a village in the Cauca region. She first became an activist at 13, when construction of a dam threatened her community. As a young woman, Francia became a local leader who took on the struggle for environmental and ancestral land rights, fighting and beating back incursions into La Toma by multi-national mining companies. She also educated farmers in her region on sustainable agricultural techniques and worked to promote Afro-Colombian cultural and land rights.

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In order to attract talented young women into the environmental field, it is important that we all work to remove barriers to progress and ensure a level playing field of opportunity. There are so many great female ecologists, who we should celebrate for their important scientific and cultural contributions, and who serve to inspire the next generation of women in ecology.

So, who are your female ecologist role models? #WomeninEcology #InternationalWomeninScienceDay

Beat the cold, sustainably

Maybe winter has finally arrived?!

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As temperatures drop and the weather disrupts lives up and down the country, how should we respond in ways that are sustainable? There’s got to be an approach other than ramping up the central heating, right?

After all, four out of ten of us are avoiding switching on the heating during colder spells due to fears about energy bills. At the same time, around of third of us complain that we can’t get our homes as warm as we’d like.

It’s true that in cold climates, proper heating is essential for everything from quality of life and health to productivity at work. Growing concern with lowering the cost and the environmental impact are fueling new ways to do both. Although there’s some exciting new technology, the growing importance of sustainability means that we should really be revisiting the idea of staying warm:: “first warm the person, then warm the room.”

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As it turns out, there are plenty of little steps we can take which, when put together, amount to a sensible, sustainable way to deal with the cold snap. For little or no investment, you can easily warm up, and even have fun while doing it.

Let’s start with some traditional ways to keep ourselves warm:

It may seem obvious, but start by wearing clothes - the right ones! Dress in wool, wear several layers, and put a pair of slippers on. Don’t get too comfortable, though: do go outside, as it will help your body adjust better to the cold. Drink hot drinks, as this will raise your core temperature. Sorry, but avoid alcohol, as this will do just the opposite, lowering your core temperature. Why not do some baking, and leave the oven door open afterwards, while you’re snacking on a freshly-baked loaf of bread or cake!

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Then, of course, there’s eating warm food, and plenty of it. Then you’ll feel the benefit of staying fit, which keeps you warm even when you stop moving. Why not light some candles - they add heat and create atmosphere (always good at this time of year).

Now, this may sound odd, but try taking a cold shower; it really does improve blood circulation. And, to cap it all, hug someone - shared bodily warmth and all that!

Around the house there are a number of quick wins. To start with, during cold weather, set your thermostat as low as is comfortable when you are at home during waking hours. Reducing the heat by only a few degrees when you're sleeping or out of the house will help save money. Reduce heat loss through the fireplace.

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it’s also vital that you draught-proof your home and ensure that your pipework is insulated, too. An obvious thing to do, but one which many people overlook, is bleeding your radiators, in order to avoid cold spots in your home. While you’re at it, get up in the loft and make sure it’s properly insulated, and check your hot water cylinder as well.

Close your curtains before it gets dark or while you’re away from the house. A lot of heat escapes through windows, and you’ve paid for it - so keep it in! That way you stand a chance of keeping the temperature consistent, and it gives you a fair chance of keeping the heat in overnight.

If you still want to embrace technology, then a smart thermostat is a low-cost way to improve the efficiency of your existing heating system, allowing you to control your heating from your phone or tablet.

So, stay warm: body first, home second #sustainably

Doubling the benefits for our environment: how nature conservation and natural capital can work together

 “Isn’t it wrong to add a monetary value to nature? It’s more important than that.” So I was told by a good friend, last week.

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It’s not the first time I’ve had this said to me (not that it’s my fault, by the way). There remains real tension around the topic of valuing nature, criticism relating to the morality and efficacy of doing so, and fear that it could facilitate the treatment of nature as a commodity to be traded.

Natural Capital has been described as the things we get for free from the natural world.

Therein lies the problem. If we don’t recognise the true value of nature, we’re unlikely to take care of it.

We may not like this uncomfortable truth, but the evidence is out there for all to see.

The Office of National Statistics has calculated the economic value of the UK’s natural assets to be £1.5 trillion – an unimaginable figure, but one that’s recognised to be a substantial under-estimate of the true value.

From an environmental perspective, a strong case can be made for a pure nature conservation approach involving policy interventions such as incentive payments and protected areas. These can be effective in maintaining environmental components and restore natural systems.

But, such an approach is limited by the practical and political difficulties of restricting commercial activities and the mounting costs in a time of such social and environmental change.

If we can attach realistic value to the goods and services we obtain from nature, then we might just be able to start addressing our natural capital debt. Here in the UK, our ecological footprint is running at 3.5 planets.

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Government needs to speed up and amplify the uptake of the natural capital approach by business, helping to ensure that the value of natural capital is properly reflected in markets. That way, we can apply the ‘polluter pays’ principle:

  • Industry pays for wetland restoration that helps to purify water. This in turn offers recreational opportunities.

  •  Food-chain businesses pay for habitat creation, which helps to conserve wildlife. This brings reputational benefits.

  •  Insurance firms pay to slow water runoff and increase infiltration, helping to reduce flood risk. This results in lower insurance pay-outs and premiums.

  •  Water companies pay to reduce pollutant input or loss, improving soil and water quality. This helps reduce treatment costs. 

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You get the point.

This natural capital approach can deliver environmentally beneficial outcomes in situations where there is short- or medium-term economic advantage to protecting the environment. It’s less successful when there’s no realisable, short-term economic advantage, such as conserving the most valuable wildlife habitats. This still requires a more traditional nature conservation approach.

The role of business in relation to nature conservation regulation is to keep environmental impacts within legal limits and stakeholder expectations; in relation to natural capital, it is to measure and manage natural assets for future returns. In either case, the condition of the natural environment has important implications for business in terms of:

  1. Risk, e.g. disruption to supply chains

  2. Cost, e.g. increased cost of materials

  3. Brand & reputation, e.g. increasingly discerning customers

  4. Revenue, e.g. price and market willingness to pay

We’re seeing a growing interest in Natural Capital Accounting, and this is highlighting that there is currently a considerable gap between the costs to business from any depletion of natural capital and the value lost by society as a whole.

Fortunately, the costs of action to preserve natural capital may be considerably lower than the value of the natural capital. This creates opportunities for business to invest in actions that can improve conservation outcomes and reverse natural capital depletion, establishing themselves in an increasingly green, ethical marketplace.

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However, the costs of restoring natural systems at any meaningful scale are so great that the benefits to a business are likely to be insufficient to support a case for action, at least in the absence of shared responsibility or a strong sense of philanthropy.

Because it captures the true value of goods and services, the natural capital approach drives business action to reduce negative impacts, maintain beneficial practices and put right any damage. A role still remains for nature conservation, most notably where the benefit is to society at large, rather than an individual entity. By adopting an aligned approach, it becomes possible to increase the overall resources available to improve protection and restoration of our natural systems. 

Wouldn’t it be great to do more than simply aim to maintain our biodiversity (although, in truth, we’re still losing that battle)? Taking a new approach offers us the opportunity to have a net positive impact on our environment.

Positive effects not only balance but are expected to outweigh negative effects by:

(1)  Avoiding unacceptable impacts to ecosystems

(2)  Reducing the impacts that may occur

(3)  Restoring impacted ecosystems

(4)  Compensating for residual impacts with offsets

(5)  Seeking additional opportunities to contribute to local conservation

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A better, more sustainable world: tackling the Global Goals

We’ve taken a little break, but now we’re back with a new look blog series that considers how we can all work to meet the challenge of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

We’re starting with SDG1, the challenge to eradicate poverty.

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The often heard comment that “the poor will always be with us” may appear complacent, but it’s also informative: poverty needs to be actively reduced by deliberate initiatives rather than simply to be the by-product of the free market and economic growth. Fortunately, there are many ways business can take action, from technological innovation to ethical supply chains, and many reasons why it should.

Poverty reduction until the late 1990s was the exclusive realm of Aid agencies and NGOs. Business input was allowed via monetary donations only. Now, however, big business wants to pursue commercial ambition but at the same time pursue an ambition that also drives positive change in the economies in which they operate. Many are looking to employ innovative business models that are economically viable and good for development.

Donating profits to charity is certainly noble, and can be effective when done comprehensively, as in the case of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. However, few businesses are the size of Microsoft and, on smaller scales, the approach does little to combat the structural causes of poverty, such as low-quality jobs or unequal career opportunities.

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Reducing prices for consumers can make a difference, but, significantly, the part of the economy where costs are most problematic is also the housing sector. People don’t queue up at foodbanks because of the cost of food; they do so because of the cost of housing. While business should add its voice to the debate, the issue ultimately requires the changing of minds to accept that we need more housing. This is a political task that is perhaps not best suited to business.

Job creation is vital to reducing poverty, but it’s seldom a priority. Poverty in modern Britain is caused as much by low-quality, low-paid employment as unemployment. If business is to reduce poverty, it is this that it should focus on.

That poverty has adverse impacts on business can be in no doubt. Poverty is often associated with illiteracy, which can affect productivity. Employees with poor literacy skills may struggle to fully understand workflow instructions, making them prone to making work-related mistakes, resulting in lost profits and reduced customer confidence. 

Poverty can also have a profound impact on the community in which businesses operate. The lack of stable income may drive people to turn to illegal activity to survive. In addition, areas with rampant criminality can render a location unsuitable for business, which may cause companies to move to safer areas, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and crime in a community. 

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This negative cycle can be countered with a positive one: businesses can avoid these scenarios by helping to alleviate poverty. Businesses can have a positive impact on communities, and healthy communities are good for business. 

Business can help by investing in both expertise and capacity-building. One root cause of poverty is the lack of access to markets and resources. Businesses can address this by providing skills training and financing options to disadvantaged people and communities. Skills training helps citizens acquire the abilities to qualify for quality jobs. Financing helps poor communities set up cooperatives and enterprises to lift them out of poverty. 

Providing women with economic opportunities is another opportunity for companies to help alleviate poverty. If women are trained to be entrepreneurs, they can achieve independence and financial stability. Investing in women makes good business sense. If women have enough money for food, healthcare, education and other benefits for their family, their children have better opportunities to grow into healthy, educated and competent adults, translating to a highly productive workforce and viable consumer base. 

In some countries, water scarcity and unsafe sanitation lead to public health problems. A lack of clean water can drive people to utilise unsafe sources, leading to water-borne diseases. Inadequate sanitation can result in ailments such as intestinal parasitic infections. These illnesses can lead to work absences and decreased employee productivity. 

Businesses are addressing water scarcity and unsafe sanitation by helping communities obtain access to municipal water supplies, and by building safe and clean private toilets. Water is also essential for the maintenance of business facilities, so it follows that adequate water supply and safe sanitation will result in healthier and more productive employees, as well as fully-functioning business facilities. 

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With the alleviation of poverty, people become more capable workers and professionals able to take advantage of the goods and services that businesses have to offer. When businesses thrive, so does the entire community. This is reflected in the shift from conventional CSR approaches to actively targeting what is known as the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ market.

Business targeting poor markets is sometimes criticised as a form of colonialism, and it’s true that in our online, connected age motives are questioned and scrutinised at every turn. However, while CSR motives were subject to greenwashing tags, corporations may feel they are on safer – and familiar – territory when it comes to making money.

The traditional division between not-for-profit and for-profit business is no longer clear. Large corporations have begun to say that if they need to do more than just respecting the law, and if they have to scale it up, then it needs to be profitable – otherwise they can't justify it to their shareholders.

By working in partnership with local NGOs, businesses have a higher probability of not only adhering to sustainable practices, but also actually addressing the most pressing problems of the community. Furthermore, such cooperation increases the amount of knowledge businesses have about the population they are trying to help, and increases the likelihood that their efforts do not bypass the actual causes of the problem they attempt to alleviate.

It's their future - let them speak!

“Dad, why don’t people listen to us? It’s our future and we’ll have to live with the mess”. So said my 11-year old daughter, overhearing me talking about the climate change talks in Katowice, Poland. And, to be fair, too frequently the only faces you ever see at the top table for these events are adults, and most often men. She has a point.

Think young people don’t care. Think again. A pioneering lawsuit against the U.S. government has won the right to a trial, overcoming the Trump administration's efforts to cancel it in court; and it’s pioneering because it’s being pursued by a group of 21 youths who are suing the United States government for failing to adequately protect the Earth from the effects of climate change. They claim the federal government’s promotion of fossil fuel production and its indifference to the risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in “a dangerous destabilising climate system” that threatens the survival of future generations.

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Across the globe, young people are mobilising, and we’d all do well to listen. While young people are one of the groups most affected by environmental problems like climate change, they are also the most innovative in terms of fighting for a better world.

Fortunately, there are many older people in developed countries now realising that the consequences of a high carbon lifestyle, that has been enjoyed throughout their lifetimes, represents a threat to the viability of any kind of similar life for their descendants. Grandparents care, it seems.

This realisation has spurred a wave of actions from divesting from fossil fuel related investments, to buying shares in the companies that pollute in order to have a say at shareholder meetings. There is now a growing unity of purpose between people of all ages who want to turn the tide of human behaviour.

We shouldn’t doubt the passion, knowledge and organising abilities of the global youth movements that are emerging. Take the UN’s Youth Climate Delegates (YOUNGO) for example. They show an impressive level of organisation, depth of knowledge, and clarity of message regarding what needs to happen. There’s also the required determination to achieve a set of global goals.

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However, enthusiasm alone doesn’t guarantee them a voice. Back at Katowice, with 24 years of climate negotiations behind us and the situation currently at a very critical stage, surely there is no conceivable downside to allowing expert young people into the party negotiations?

After all, these young people represent the conscience of each nation and, frankly, come with a moral license to kick much harder than the weary veterans in this struggle.Why shouldn’t young people be given the opportunity to take on the role of the negotiators?

Can they do it?

Well, I spend a lot of time with young people, often working with students, and I can’t recall meeting a single one who didn’t care about global warming or social justice or trying to build a better future. Yes, millennials are a large and diverse group, and studies show how they value authenticity and transparency, and are more likely to be recyclers and conscious consumers. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘Malala effect’.

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Their interest in the greater good is driving their engagement with various causes today, and their activism is on the increase. Growing up in this period of rapid man-made change, they are the most globally connected ever, building an activist community online. They may well be induced to march; they might even sue the government for its failure to protect their right to a healthy environment (as we’ve already seen). However, it starts, builds and evolves with social media (you see, it’s not all bad). We’re seeing people getting involved in social activism at a much earlier stage in life, with the capacity to arrange coordinated global protests in a matter of days.

In view of this, isn’t it time for NGOs, charities and global campaigns to learn to mobilise this movement? They need to establish effective social media management strategies, otherwise they stand to lose the 28% of young people who rely on social media as their primary source of news. And there’s the 43% of millennials who make financial donations through online platforms, or the one in two who share ideas with their friends online.

While the world leaders signing accords in conference halls are important, the real change is going to come from Generation Z. They are the consumers, employees, employers and future leaders who will see the devastating effects of climate change. Let’s give them a voice, listen to their message, and empower them to shape policies and structures that will determine their future.

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Turning Friday Green

Black Friday really has become a thing, hasn’t it! We sometimes wonder if we’re the only ones not into it. The adverts are everywhere online, and there are even people now scanning websites to find you the very blackest of Black Friday deals.

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Now, there’s no denying that we live in difficult times, and people have had to ensure years of austerity. So, what’s wrong with looking for a bargain? Black Friday, it seems, puts consumers into full-out hunting mode. They're alert, focused, and ready to pounce on every amazing deal they set their sights on (and anyone who gets in their way). Manic shoppers, indulging in this materialistic practice, help to increase sales for struggling businesses, don’t they?

And yet, there are many who feel that the country would probably be a lot better off without the Black Friday tradition. So, what’s wrong with a splurge of consumerism?

First off, it can be dangerous. Too many shoppers make for crazed crowds, too eager to get popular items. They’re prepared to go to great lengths to get them, too. Some years ago now, a Way-Mart employee was killed in a Black Friday stampede. Shopping rage has become a thing, too. Crowded stores and long lines can turn the calmest people into terrifying lunatics. Throw in the scramble for a good deal, and any store can turn into a mob scene or break out into fights.

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Perhaps in response to such concerns, we now have Cyber Monday, a far more civil practice. It requires no camping out in lines for hours, no shoving people out of the way for the last TV, and no scary mob mentality. You can shop for discounted goods from the comfort of your own home, and though some of the deals from Black Friday might be sold out, many sites offer better or different specials on Cyber Monday. Many of the deals are also extended beyond the one Monday so shoppers have more time to save and less stress, too.

Some of the best deals you'll find during Black Friday are on electrical items such as TVs and laptops, kitchen appliances, and clothing. The only problem is that they typically aren't brands you’d consider buying any other time of the year. They’re often not the top-of-the-line brands you dream about. The prices are cheap, but the products often are, too. Kitchen appliances on sale are often more poorly made than the full-price versions and are items you won't use frequently. In terms of clothing, there's a reason you hear the most Black Friday chatter from bargain stores; expensive stores that carry name brands don't offer many discounts. You'll be buying items on sale that were cheaper to begin with.

It’s all too easy to get sucked into thinking you’re getting an amazing deal!

It’s all too easy to get sucked into thinking you’re getting an amazing deal!

Retailers have purposely low supplies on those hot ticket items, as a way to lure in customers with false promises, a practice that wouldn't be acceptable any other day of the year. If you can save hundreds of pounds on an expensive TV, you’ll take on the crowds to get it. However, with deliberately low stock levels, maybe as few as three or four, and huge crowds expected, you may well miss out.

Black Friday encourages overspending. It kind of defeats the purpose of trying to save money by shopping the Black Friday sales when you actually end up making a lot of impulse buys. Most individuals aren’t strategic about it, and the deals they stumble upon can be too enticing to pass up. The problem with these impulse buys is that you don't always know if they're actually good deals or not. You haven't compared prices, read reviews, or thought about whether you really want the item. Even though these products are on sale, too many impulse buys will really add up, especially if you're buying some big-ticket items. The stores themselves may be pushed into the black by all the purchases, but it’s hardly helping the country if all the shoppers are going into debt!

So, is Black Friday unstoppable?

It’s interesting to note that the luxury industry—whether that is fashion or travel—is growing in the direction of sustainability. It’s no longer the primary goal of luxury goods and services to be about quantity. Instead, retailers, manufacturers, and companies want to focus on economic and cultural sustainability, encouraging consumers to invest in more expensive items or experiences and support brands that are responsible with their business practices.

Furthermore, if we begin to change the language, replacing consumers with citizens, then there is growing evidence that people are concerned about over-consumption and its environmental and social impact. Brands with purpose are now asking, “What can I do for my clients?” instead of, “What can our clients buy from us?” - that’s very definitely not Black Friday thinking.

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Satisfied customers are the best sales tam any business can ask for. Much of the growth of your business is in what others say about you. If your people are delighted with you, your service, and the quality of your work, they will justify your price. You should want a customer to walk away saying, “We’ve never been treated like that by a company before.” And the reality is, that requires quality work over quantity work. You can’t have a Black Friday mentality and still achieve the same high standards of work.

Perhaps it’s time for a fightback, for an Ethical Friday campaign, encouraging people to think about the social and environmental impact of their purchasing. Take the opportunity to become an ethical shopper, following a few steps:

(1) support ethical brands and vote for positive change every time you spend;

(2) adopt a less is more approach: do you really need that new pair of shoes? Is it really necessary to upgrade your smartphone again? Is there a better low-consumption alternative?

(3) Get creative before you recycle :throwing away is so passé. Fixing, up-cycling and reusing is what all the cool kids are doing;

(4) Shop pre-loved: from flea-markets to charity shops buying second hand products is another great way to help the environmental and save money, too;

(5) Help re-invigorate your local community: you can often find unique and interesting products by shopping with local, independent retailers, and their supply chains are likely to be more localised, too;

(6) Democratise your shopping: buying from progressive types of business, such as cooperatives, B-Corps and social enterprises;

(7) Look out for trusted labels: some ethical labels are more trustworthy and rigorous than others, so it’s worth a little research to find the strongest labels, offering real protection to workers, animals and the environment in each market;

(8) It’s a bit negative, but boycott the bad guys: There’s no doubt that consumer boycotts do work, so a great way to shop ethically is to avoid those companies that aren’t behaving responsibly;

(9) Take back control of your money: where our money goes is what it’s all about, so banking, savings and investments play an important part in consuming ethically. Unethical banks often invest in unethical projects such as nuclear weapons manufacture or fracking. By banking with ethical institutions you can be more sure that your money is going to fund projects that benefit society.

Let’s turn Black Friday into Green, ethical Friday!

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Growing pains

So, it’s Green GB Week. It’s a landmark week of action, or at least that how the Government describes it. It also goes on to claim that it celebrates ‘clean growth’. Read on and you find that the Clean Growth Strategy represents “an ambitious blueprint for Britain’s low carbon future”, setting out proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy through the next decade. Great stuff, you’d think.

Investment in renewables is a critical part of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy

Investment in renewables is a critical part of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy


Forgive my slight cynicism here. This week has seen the start of fracking operations by Quadrilla, after a lengthy legal battle. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is about squeezing out further fossil fuel reserves and, as the company’s own Chief Executive admitted in a BBCRadio 4 interview, if “we don’t do it, someone else will”.

Remember that only one week ago, the IPCC issued it’s latest and perhaps most challenging climate change report. We need to keep no less than 80% of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to stand any chance of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.


Fracking resumes after 7 years in the UK, after a legal battle that has done little for public confidence over safety fears and the impact on climate change of extracting and burning shale gas

Fracking resumes after 7 years in the UK, after a legal battle that has done little for public confidence over safety fears and the impact on climate change of extracting and burning shale gas

There’s an awful lot of stuff going on here, not much of it logical. However, my biggest gripe is with the constant use of the term ‘growth’. Isn’t it growth that’s got us here? You know, in this mess? It’s been the obsession with economic growth that has led to the over-exploitation of the Earth’s resources and the resultant ecosystem degradation.

As chance would have it, I’m reading Kate Raworth’s excellent ‘Doughnut Economics’, and so forgive me if I’m a little obsessed myself. I’m obsessed with the idea of growth (mind you, I always have been; it’s just that I’ve found out that I’m not alone). Every politician, it seems, feels obliged to protect people from the uncomfortable truth, continuing instead to peddle the line that we can have GDP growth. We can’t. It has to end somewhere (even with clean, green, sustainable, balanced, long-term or all the other catchphrase versions they like to come up with).

‘Doughnut Economics’, the sweet spot that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet. But, can we stop obsessing over growth at all costs?

‘Doughnut Economics’, the sweet spot that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet. But, can we stop obsessing over growth at all costs?

But, rather than argue about the suitability of one definition over another, I’d prefer to look at the alternatives to growth in economic terms. What about growth as measured through health & wellbeing, access to food, housing, education and the development of skills, or social justice more generally? Besides, shouldn’t we be thinking about post-growth instead?

Don’t get me wrong. Anything that leads to big business genuinely stepping up action on climate change is to be welcomed. Investment in innovation is laudable, of course, and it’s right that we should be nurturing low carbon technologies, processes and systems. It’s just that there are always caveats (for example, the Government is clear that steps to decarbonising need to be '“as cheap as possible”); caveats that, in my view, rather ignore this bigger question about growth.

Investment in innovation must not be done on the cheap, and success must be measured in more than purely economic terms

Investment in innovation must not be done on the cheap, and success must be measured in more than purely economic terms

Isn’t it about time we stopped the ‘window dressing’, the rebranding of economic growth, and at least began an open, honest conversation about the need to make a radical shift towards a post-growth world, where we identify and work towards other forms of value? We might even stand a chance of meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals if we did. It’s not an easy message to share, and certainly won’t be popular at the ballot box in the short-term. But, we need to get through these growing pains, to emerge on the other side in a world that can be sustainable.