Global sporting events: their legacy

Here we go, here we go, here we go

With the 2018 FIFA Football World Cup about to kick off in Russia, the host nation facing Saudi Arabia on Thursday, the eyes of football fans will be on the 22 players on the pitch. There may be a few distracted by the magnificence of the stadia constructed for the tournament, but few will spare a thought for the overall sustainability of this global event. 

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How will Russia 2018 impact upon the environment? How will it leave a positive social legacy? These are important questions, not only for all large events that see thousands travelling from around the world in order to attend; but also in relation to the specific circumstances of the world's largest country (making up 11% of the world's landmass, with a population in excess of 144 million).

It is estimated that the event will generate over 2.1 million tCO2e. At 74.7% of this total, international travel to Russia and travel between host cities are the major contributors of these emissions. Unsurprising, really: the FIFA World Cup is the largest single-sport competition in the world. Staging a tournament of this scale inevitably has an impact on the environment.

 Travelling fans will account for 75% of the total Carbon emissions associated with the Fifa World Cup in Russia 2018

Travelling fans will account for 75% of the total Carbon emissions associated with the Fifa World Cup in Russia 2018

Russia 2018 has a bold sustainability strategy, following the framework set out in ISO 20121, specifying the retirements for an Event Sustainability Management System. It aims to ensure that the event is (1) financially successful; (2) socially responsible; and (3) reduces its environmental footprint.

Done properly, it can boost motivation of those working on the event, helping to attract and retain the best talent. It can enhance reputation and strengthen relationships with key clients, suppliers and partners. It can achieve cost-savings in terms of material consumption, waste and energy; reducing carbon emissions over the entire event supply chain. And it can strengthen the position of the organising body within the community.

So, what's being done?

Social capital

Working in partnership, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee are supporting initiatives in the areas of health and decent work and capacity building, inclusivity and equality, social development through football, as well as healthy living and sustainable sport legacy.

These include tackling social issues through football programmes for young people; the promotion of healthy lifestyles (stadiums will be 100% smoke-free), football development and youth participation in football; and ensuring the sustainable use of the stadiums after the event.

Inclusivity and equality have been key areas for attention, and actions include ensuring fully-accessible events and transport services for disabled people and people with limited mobility; the creation of opportunities for low-income groups to obtain tickets for matches; and ensuring a discrimination-free environment at all sites and events.

 Creating a lasting legacy, particularly around engaging young people in sport, is always a key aim of any global sporting event

Creating a lasting legacy, particularly around engaging young people in sport, is always a key aim of any global sporting event

Environmental capital

Addressing environmental concerns, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee have focused on (1) green building standards, to include developing the sustainable management capacities of stadium operators; (2) transport, carbon, energy and waste management; and (3) risk mitigation and biodiversity.

With the aim of reducing the environmental impact and raising awareness of climate change, FIFA has launched a campaign encouraging successful ticket applicants to offset the carbon emissions resulting from their travel to the tournament for free.

All ticket holders are invited to sign up on FIFA.com and take part in the campaign, regardless of where they live. For each ticket holder signing up, FIFA will offset 2.9 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (tCO2e), which is the average emission per ticket holder traveling from abroad. The incentive to get fans to sign up is that they will automatically enter a prize draw to win two tickets for the FIFA World Cup final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

This is in line with its long-running environmental program and its more recent pledge to the UN’s Climate Neutral Now campaign. So, FIFA will offset all unavoidable emissions over which it has control, plus up to a maximum of 100,000 tCO2e for the ticket holders who sign up. The list of offsetting projects selected will include verified low-carbon projects in Russia and abroad. 

As those supporters arrive in the impressive array of 12 new and refurbished stadiums as the tournament kicks off on 14 June, they will all have undergone a standards certification process for sustainable buildings, either through the new Russian certification or through the BREEAM international certification (e.g. the Luzhniki and Spartak Stadiums in Moscow and Fisht Stadium in Sochi).

Ensuring that the stadiums are designed to BREEAM standards will raise the bar of sustainable design and construction in Russia. Certainly, prior to this event, regulations in green building were not well developed, with few incentives to implement green technologies. It is important to recognise the significance of this achievement by the design team.

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Building sporting arenas in line with green standards not only reduces their impact on the environment but also, to a great extent, determines their future use, including lower water and energy consumption. Take the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow (shown above), which will be the main venue of the event: 

Energy conservation is achieved through modern heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, as well as bringing together all essential utilities into one automated central system. This will allow complete monitoring and control of how much energy the building is consuming.

Using LED-based lamps instead of incandescent lights will save a significant amount of electricity. The lighting outside the venue was also installed using electricity-saving strategies. 

Water-saving technology at the stadium will allow hundreds of thousands of litres to be saved during a match at full operational capacity.

Large green spaces and a high number of trees already present in the vicinity were preserved during the reconstruction, while even more greenery was also added. According to the stadium managers, 1,050 trees and bushes were planted, and 15,700 square metres of flower beds were laid down.

Part of the Sustainability Strategy is the development of a waste management plan for organising tailor-made waste collection and recycling processes at all official sites and events – along with the communication tools to inform and motivate spectators to dispose of their waste accordingly.

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So, at last year's FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, recyclable material was successfully segregated from general waste: 87.9 tonnes of glass, PET, aluminium, paper and cardboard were separated and recycled. The use of waste compactors will enhance the transportation and storage of waste ahead of reprocessing.

Furthermore, public transport information points aim to help visitors travel more sustainably, with site layouts designed to prevent the intersection of pedestrian, parking and delivery pathways. Free train tickets are available to supporters during the event, in a bid to encourage rail rather than air travel. The introduction of new, state-of-the-art hybrid trams will also see a sustainable transport legacy from the event.

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For the first time, ecological and biodiversity studies have been undertaken that go beyond typical local construction practice requirements, with measures to enhance local biodiversity. Crucially, , compliance has been strengthened around operations and regulations governing specially protected sites. In this way, it can be hoped that future construction and infrastructure projects will pay greater attention to environmental concerns.

With kick-off looming, it just remains to wish all nations every success (although we're obviously getting behind the England team to win it!), and hope that the true winners from Russia 2018 are the environment and communities impacted by this massive global event.

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Pack it in: the first thing your customers notice

Packaging is the first thing that consumers see, and it can heavily influence their buying decisions. 

Although innovation is offering solutions to the sustainable packaging challenge, many companies continue to make packaging mistakes. These happen because companies still tend to focus on two priorities: 

  1. how will this drive consumers to my product? and
  2. how much does this cost?

Packaging is more complicated than it looks, and sustainable packaging - not a difficult concept to understand - involves some particularly complex considerations:

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Are we too hung-up

on end-of-life innovations? There's so much to consider when looking at sustainable packaging

Can you replace a rigid container with a pouch? Are you removing a carton and letting a toothpaste tube or bag of cereals stand on their own on a shelf? How about creating one bulk pack instead of multiple single-serve items? Can you switch materials, such as using PET instead of PVC because it is easier to recycle? Would it be more efficient to change from a round to a square container, in order to be more space-efficient? How can you ensure faster set-up times on your packaging line, to minimise the amount of materials required and packaging waste generated? Have you made consumers aware of the value of your packaging and how it can be re-reprocessed or reused?

Of course, sustainable packaging is no longer focused on just recycling. Nor is it the sole focus of a company's greening targets. Rightly or wrongly, packaging is disproportionately scrutinised and used as a measure of a company's overall sustainability credentials. This may seem unfair, given that it may contribute a relatively small proportion of the Carbon footprint compared to other things, such as transportation, water and energy use.

There is a particular focus on end of life, with the result that many businesses are looking at closing the loop, to ensure collection, re-cleaning, reprocessing and remaking of packaging within a relatively short timeframe.

However, I would argue that true sustainable packaging needs to go well beyond consideration of its environmental impacts, to consider the social impacts, too. A far-reaching chain-of-custody certification which includes ethical material sourcing and manufacturing conditions is essential; and it's true economic cost needs to be taken into account.

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It's our biggest challenge

High-value products need to be packaged to ensure their safe transportation. but discerning customers demand a sustainable approach

Sustainable packaging is rife for rethinking, to identify innovative solutions to the challenges faced across all business sectors. The surge in public interest around environmental pollution resulting from plastics is driving regulatory responses by governments, and conscious consumers are making purchasing choices based on what they consider to be more sustainable options. The development of plant-based, compostable bioplastics is accelerating (e.g. Coca-Cola's PlantBottle). But bioplastics are just one alternative - bamboo, wheat straw and mushroom-based packaging are at the forefront of a packaging revolution.

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Mushroom-based packaging is now being introduced by large businesses such as IKEA, as a replacement for difficult-to-recycle polystyrene

Two particular personal frustrations are the ubiquitous crisp/snack packaging and take-away packaging, e.g. pizza boxes.

Why must we continue to see bags made from up to seven separate layers of foil and plastic? Yes, I do appreciate that this makes them light, reduces their shipping volume, ensures that they don't take up much shelf space, and results in them being graphics-friendly. But, they're not recyclable because the machinery is not yet out there to separate the layers.

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Why can't we recycle this?

There are currently no plastic-free or recyclable crisp packets from any brand.

As for pizza boxes (and other take-away containers), they're made of recyclable materials. The trouble is that they get contaminated, as cheese and other food scraps stick to the cardboard. Then they're no longer recyclable. Let's makes consumers aware of the value of the packaging, possibly by offering an incentive to clean and recycle boxes. Alternatively, let's see a move across the sector to compostable containers.

So, while it is true that the first impression makes the best impression, we live in rapidly-changing times and more than two-thirds of consumers say that sustainability of packaging now influences their purchasing decisions. It's time to step-up to the challenge. Switching over to sustainable packaging can result in a change in the overall cost to a business. The cost incurred may not be at a skyrocketing rate in most cases, but undoubtedly higher than traditional packaging designs. These additional costs are eventually passed on to the customers by companies to maintain their profit levels. Sometimes customers might start feeling that they are being overcharged for the same product, but the trend towards conscious consumers is real. Increased regulation will also act as a driver to change behaviour. You can't afford to be left behind.

You might have amazing ideas for incorporating sustainability packaging into your business, but at the same time, you need the help of experienced designers and marketers for implementation. Designers can help you identify the packaging that is best suited for your product without compromising the quality and appearance of packaging. At the same time, marketing professionals can help you pave the way to attract more customers..

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Don't put all your eggs in one basket

When it comes to packaging. There are multiple considerations. Seek help and make informed decisions

It's essential that companies understand their entire product lifecycle and choose the materials that are best suited for their products rather than choosing the most sustainable packaging option in isolation. Not all types of sustainable packaging can help retain the quality and intactness of the content inside for a long period, and this is certainly an area for more research. By consulting experts, businesses can make informed packaging choices to provide the most durability with reduced costs, and be authentic in their commitment to sustainability. At the end of the day, it is all about choosing what is right for the brand. Th question is "can your business afford to ignore the waves of change?" - first impressions count!

The purpose - profit problem

It's been an interesting couple of weeks. I've spent them rushing around, physically and mentally, trying to deliver on many levels and get clarity about what motivates me. Meeting with board members - my wise owls - challenged me to come up with some answers, to set out a clear vision. Tough love, some call it.

John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, in their book "The Purpose Revolution", describe as the first step needed to thrive in the age of social (and environmental) good the need to clearly find and name your purpose: namely, you must live the purpose you profess. Catchy soundbite, that! But, what does that mean when you're faced with the daily challenge of securing customers for your business; when you have an empty order book; when the lack of income is impacting on your life, and that of those around you?

 Agree your purpose and your direction becomes clear, too

Agree your purpose and your direction becomes clear, too

My purpose has always been to help others on their sustainability journey, to show them a way to generate social and environmental good alongside being profitable. But there's the thing: where is my profit? Like it or not, I'm not running a charity. I have to earn enough to live, how ever frugally. So, I need to have an offering that people want (not simply a service that they need). 

Bearing all of this in mind, I'm focused on building a relationship with customers (or rather, businesses that will become future customers). Engaging them, demonstrating that I genuinely care about their wellbeing - as much or more than I do about any profits. I'm also still concentrating on the purpose of Earth Matters to helping society solve its problems, crucially promoting a more sustainable way of living - a true circular economy. Am I activating those twin purposes?

 Sharing ideas on purpose, helping businesses spot opportunities

Sharing ideas on purpose, helping businesses spot opportunities

Yes, research shows that focusing on purpose over profits builds business confidence and drives investment (Deloitte, 2014 Culture of Purpose study). Companies leading with real purpose are found to build a deeper relationship with customers, going beyond the transactions of buying and selling; connecting with the customer. All well and good.

The problem is the inherent tension between a profit focus and a purpose focus. It's quite a challenge. Inside your head are two voices, each trying to drown out the other. Purpose or profit? Oil and gas companies struggle with this, and frequently struggle. Yes, they can talk a lot about purpose and how they are leading society's journey to a renewable future. But, they tend to fall short of actually delivering on this, as profits trump their purpose aspirations (too much short-term thinking, as they seek to keep shareholders happy).

 Talking the talk on a renewable future, while undertaking exploratory fracking, does not go down well!

Talking the talk on a renewable future, while undertaking exploratory fracking, does not go down well!

There's also the authenticity question. Companies can tell a good story and appear - at least for some of the time - to be delivering on their promises while under the spotlight. Unfortunately, in the cover of the shadows, their performance can be anything but authentic. Take Volkswagen, for example. Clean diesel was the message, but this was dramatically undermined as they devised software to trick the emissions tests. Once found out, the damage to the brand has been considerable.

 VW, a brand irreparably damaged?

VW, a brand irreparably damaged?

Businesses also need to be credible and avoid over-promising. I recognise this challenge only too well. As companies jump on the purpose bandwagon, it can feel forced and unclear. It needs focus, preferably on an issue that's directly within the business' sphere of influence. At the same time, some businesses (and I've met many, particularly among SMEs) have a well-established purpose but tend to stay quiet about what they are doing, before suddenly finding their voice. A consistent approach is crucial if you're to be believed.

 Open the box, unpack your sustainability story: be consistent in your messaging. If you're doing great things, let your customers know

Open the box, unpack your sustainability story: be consistent in your messaging. If you're doing great things, let your customers know

It's all about balance, consistency, and authenticity - you've got to mean it, passionately. So, when times are rough and you find yourself unclear about your purpose, take time out to refresh your purpose statement, decide where you fit, and then share your drive in order to activate that purpose in yourself and those around you. It needs reconnection, headspace, call it what you will.

 Time out to recharge and rethink your purpose; it's priceless

Time out to recharge and rethink your purpose; it's priceless

I'm off to do the work to find, define and shout about my purpose. Getting back on the bike after a wobble or a fall is never easy, but it's the way to be successful. For me, the challenge of pulling together a new workshop "Creating the Waves of Change" is helping to clarify my ideas and set out the purpose I seek. Perhaps it can do the same for you. Get it right and you can have purpose and profit.

Cultivating a healthy mind and body

In National Gardening Week, you'd expect a little more sunshine and temperatures to match. But, let's not allow the weather to get in the way. Gardening is good for the soul and helps to keep us fit. That's official. Numerous studies have found clear health and wellbeing benefits.

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Gardening can bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. It features in the fantastic work carried out at our local Dementia Resource Centre, which we've been privileged to support through working parties to keep the communal gardens in shape. It's very much at the heart of the philosophy of wonderful community growing spaces such as the Green Backyard and the Olive Branch, here in our city. 

In a strongly multi-cultural community, gardening brings people together to share in a common experience, where they can exchange ideas and learn together. It has the potential to teach people how to grow their own food, learn about business opportunities through growing flowers, herbs or keeping bees. It can help to reconnect people with the simple joys of getting their hands dirty, nurturing their crops, and cooking healthy, home-grown food. We've watched families and friends come together in the process, relationships refreshed.

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The benefits of gardening are seemingly endless, both mentally and physically. Not only can planting bulbs, digging trenches and pruning roses vastly improve your physical health, but it can also improve mental health too. 

Gardens are often thought of as intimate private spaces attached to private households but they can also be large private or formal gardens open to the public, or part of hospitals, care homes or hospices. Gardens serve many purposes: they can be cultivated for flowers or growing food; used as spaces for exercise, relaxation, solace and recovery; used as places to play, meet and volunteer; and can be part of wider environmental, planning or sustainability policies.

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Half of the adult population in England report being involved in gardening, and it is an important activity throughout our lives, reaching a peak just after retirement and declining as we age further. However, as we age it becomes relatively more important as other pastimes and activities reduce more quickly. Gardens are therefore important to our health due to the numbers of people who engage with them in many different ways and for different reasons.

Increasing people’s exposure to, and use of, green spaces has been linked to long-term reductions in overall reported health problems such as heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions; it has also been linked to reduced levels of obesity and high physical activity, and higher self-rated mental health. Living in areas with green spaces also seems to weaken the effect of income inequalities on health. Gardens can provide other important environmental functions, such as reducing flood risk and moderating climate and pollution, which have knock-on benefits for health.

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These are just some of the positive reasons why engagement with gardening and greenspace management ticks all the right boxes for companies that are looking to add value, to demonstrate a genuine commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. Given our own drive to be purpose-focused, we're looking at engaging isolated communities, including recent refugees from Syria, in growing together sessions; building a circular economy around the repurposing and reuse of garden tools through a 'sharpen up' project, aimed at providing a sociable environment in which retired people can meet and work together.

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Looking to the next generation of gardeners, there are exciting opportunities to engage children through school gardening activities. Studies suggest that children’s fruit and vegetable intake can be significantly increased combined with efforts to improve parental support; a further range of studies points to increased knowledge, and preferences for fruit and vegetables. Teachers report positive wellbeing effects, personal achievement and pride in ‘growing’ and, where volunteers are involved, gardening can be a way to break down social boundaries inherent in academic settings. For children with learning difficulties or behavioural problems, gardening as a non-academic task and the garden as a place of peace and meditation are particularly valuable. Of course, we recognise that so much more needs to be done: to make the space and time available for gardening within the teaching day. With initiatives such as the Eco-Schools network, with 18,000 registered schools in England, alone; we're heading in the right direction!

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With all this talk of gardening, even if it's a bit grey overhead, we're taking a break to enjoy a hour or two of pottering in our little patch of green. After all, those seeds won't plant themselves...

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If you need to ask why, then you probably shouldn't be doing it

What gets you out of bed each morning? What motivates you to go to work? Questions that are often ignored, and yet which can help us to find our purpose. In an age of social polarisation, for businesses to thrive, they too need purpose. It's what differentiates us and them. And it's the same for business, too. What's its purpose, beyond making a profit?

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Trust in companies has never been lower than it is now. At the same time, expectations for the role of brands in society have never been higher - they need to connect in a more authentic way to the aspirations of their consumers, who want a better life. Understanding purpose from the consumer perspective enables more meaningful relationships to develop, building greater loyalty and encouraging participation.

Once our basic needs are met - health & wellbeing, financial security, honest & meaningful relationships - we all search for a sense of purpose: to contribute to society, to be educated, to be happy, to enjoy the freedom to do and believe what we want. Increasingly, we also want to ensure that anything we do has a net positive impact on the planet and society.

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With growing awareness of poverty, income inequality, corruption, human rights abuses, climate change and environmental degradation; consumers are asking questions. They're making the connections between corporate actions, the quality of their own lives and the success of their communities. This provides new challenges and exciting opportunities for brands to show real leadership.

This is real: 65% of consumers want to support companies with a strong purpose, and almost half of us can name a company that makes a positive difference in society. Even more telling in the statistic that 28% of consumers now punish companies for their behaviour - this is up by almost 10% since 2013. People are waking up to the power that they possess as consumers.

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So, what steps can businesses make to ensure their brand remains relevant and builds-in resilience?

Putting people at the heart of what you do - call it empathy - is about respecting the consumer, listening to their concerns and responding to them in honest, authentic ways. Take IKEA: the Swedish home furnishings company has a campaign called "Where Life Happens", which looks at real-life moments and designs its products to help meet life's challenges. IKEA believes that looking beyond mere consumption habits, they are recognising the humanity in customers' lives and using this to create more value and lasting relationships with them.

Creating purpose beyond products. Although most brands know how to design a great product or reliable service, many begin to struggle when their company's deeper purpose has become hidden or is no longer relevant. What is your company's unique offering in the global marketplace? The Body Shop has always had a belief that business should be a powerful force for good. Not sitting back, the brand is now working with The Future-Fit Foundation to set goals beyond being 'less bad', instead doing business in an intentionally transparent way, making a net positive impact on the planet: "enrich our people; enrich our products; enrich our planet" is their message.

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Taking a stand is an essential, proactive action that makes it clear where a company stands when issues arise. Old models of CSR need updating to make them relevant, exciting and engaging for consumers. To achieve this, consumer-facing platforms and campaigns are needed to bring the brand's message, perspective and initiatives to a wider, global audience. Doing so helps to connect with consumers concerned with serious social and environmental challenges. Starbucks may face a number of challenges, but the company's commitment to employing 10,000 refugees over the next 5 years is laudable, if controversial in some circles. Not only does it help address a serious global crisis, but it reinforces the company's reputation at the local community level.

Starting a movement is a sure way of building brand loyalty, as it welcomes more and different voices to the debate over purpose. By utilising collective knowledge to solve problems, consumers and employees can be be encouraged to take action as part of the brand. Given that net trust in global corporations is less than zero (and is particularly pronounced in the developed world), companies are likely to feel apprehensive about 'going it alone'; under these conditions, partnerships make perfect sense for tackling meaningful issues in a way that unites the community. Ben & Jerry's have a long established record of fighting for climate justice. Now, recognising the lack of momentum at government level in some countries, notably the US; the company is now rallying its customers in partnership with the online activism platform, Avaaz, to raise awareness and demand climate action. "If it's melted, it's ruined" is true for both their ice-cream and the planet.

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It's good to remember that humans build brands, and brands are built for humans - to meet our shared needs, hopes and desires. If companies seek to solve the pressing environmental and social problems we face by designing with people at the heart of what they do; the chances are they will remain resilient, establish brand loyalty, retain and attract motivated staff, and lead the way in innovating and delivering positive outcomes.

Water way to make a difference

Water connects every aspect of life. Access to safe water and sanitation can quickly turn problems into potential – unlocking education, work opportunities, and improved health for women, children and families across the world. 

 844M people worldwide live without access to safe water

844M people worldwide live without access to safe water

And yet, in the developed world we seem to take it for granted.

We're also hooked on a dangerous reliance on throwaway plastic bottles of the stuff: an average of 35.8M plastic bottles are used in every day in the UK, contributing to the 8M tonnes of plastics that end up in the ocean every year - harming marine wildlife and spreading toxic chemicals.

 

 Plastic bottles can take more than 400 years to break down, and microplastic waste presents a serious threat to marine life

Plastic bottles can take more than 400 years to break down, and microplastic waste presents a serious threat to marine life

It's amazing to think that in the UK alone about 15M bottles are discarded each day. That's a staggering 800 per minute! That's a habit we just have to address.

Which brings me to the amazing story of Refill, a UK-wide scheme introduced by Bristol-based community interest company, City to Sea.  Refill is a national, practical tap water campaign that aims to make refilling your bottle as easy, convenient and cheap as possible, by introducing refill points on every street. Participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses simply put a sticker in their window – alerting passers-by to the fact they’re welcome to come on in and fill up their bottle – for free!

Using an app - which you can download for free - users can find their nearest Refill Station wherever they are in the country. 

 Working in partnership with PECT, we've spread the message across the city of Peterborough

Working in partnership with PECT, we've spread the message across the city of Peterborough

Earth Matters is proud to have been working with the Peterborough Environment City Trust (PECT) to launch Refill Peterborough, following in the footsteps of schemes in Hunstanton, Norwich, Brighton, Bristol, London, Bath, Cornwall, Dumfries and Galloway...the list goes on!

It's been a fantastic opportunity to talk to business about sustainability. We've been really encouraged by the enthusiasm to engage with the scheme, and feel part of a solution to a serious problem. We've come across business leaders prepared to embrace this, but also willing to innovate in other areas, too.

 Look out for the Refill Peterborough stickers - they're spreading fast!

Look out for the Refill Peterborough stickers - they're spreading fast!

It's a great conversation starter, both about the pervasive nature of plastics in our lives, but also the simple steps we can all make together for a more sustainable future. The scheme itself is so simple and that's the attraction: fewer plastic bottles used once and thrown away; people switching to sustainable alternatives and carrying them at all times; consumers purchasing fewer sugary drinks and drinking more water instead; businesses seeing increased footfall as a result of people using the Refill app. Everyone wins.

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Leave the herd

The best opportunities for business – to find new, sustainable growth, to engage customers more deeply, to stand out from the crowd, to improve their profitability – is by seizing the opportunities of changing markets. The best way to seize these changes is by innovating – not just innovating the product, or even the business itself, but by innovating the market.

It's actually an obligation!

next to our moral obligations to address global challenges, it is also an enormous business opportunity
— Paul Polman, CEO of Unilver

 

Such innovation carries risk, of course. It requires business to 'leave the herd', go it alone and take a chance. But given the opportunities, these are risks that business can't afford not to take. Fast-changing markets demand fast-changing businesses. Success in this new world requires a bigger ambition – to change the game, not just play the game.

Unlike the vulnerable young wildebeest that leaves the herd, seen by a hungry pride of lions, the outcome for business is unlikely to  terminal. Every time you take a risk in pursuit of your dreams, one of two things will happen: either you will succeed at your mission, or you will succeed at getting an education.

Innovators reject stagnation and hesitation, recognising that markets are malleable, geography is irrelevant, and sticking within the confines of categorisation is outdated. With the blurring of boundaries and the emergence of new spaces in which to operate, business practices and consumer perceptions can be shaped to your advantage.

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Be different, be noticed

And dare to leave the herd, to embrace new ways of operating. There are so many opportunities for those early-movers who rethink their business approach and shift towards 'for purpose' models that generate shared value for communities and the environment they live in.

The risk takers who opt to leave the herd do so by starting from the future backwards. They make sense of change, seeing the new patterns and possibilities, harnessing the power of ideas and digital networks to win in new ways. This requires new leadership thinking, and for the whole business to innovate (bring everyone along on the sustainability journey).

This goes beyond mere ideas. Someone needs to make them happen and, once a direction is in place, it’s about collaborating with customers and business partners. Concepts such as design thinking can be used to explore deeper, lean innovation to implement faster; co-creation to engage people more closely (to ensure buy-in and long-term commitment), and new business models to ensure they generate superior economic, social and environmental returns.

 Rethinking the way that tourism operates, taking account of customer concerns about their impact on the local environment and communities, has resulted in a huge growth in active holidays where people transport themselves in sustainable ways such as kayaking, cycling and walking

Rethinking the way that tourism operates, taking account of customer concerns about their impact on the local environment and communities, has resulted in a huge growth in active holidays where people transport themselves in sustainable ways such as kayaking, cycling and walking

Most companies like to focus on the ‘what’ (the product, service and experience), i.e. where they have conventionally succeeded. If they try to innovate, they do so within the existing game. The result of this is that most of their solutions are similar to competitors. Hence we see small differences to design and functionality, and small differences in prices. Consequently, the  focus on the what leads us to sameness. In contrast, leaving the herd and thinking about the ‘why’ and then the ‘how’, business can ‘reframe’ what it's about – redefining the market, on their own terms.

 Metro Bank are ripping up the 'rule book' with an approach to banking that puts the customer in charge. Their stores are open 7 days a week, including evenings, responding to what people are asking for; and are seen as community spaces where great things can happen.

Metro Bank are ripping up the 'rule book' with an approach to banking that puts the customer in charge. Their stores are open 7 days a week, including evenings, responding to what people are asking for; and are seen as community spaces where great things can happen.

Where this links to sustainability, we see the emergence of businesses which are focused on purpose, delivering benefits for people and planet alongside greater profitability. In the fast and crowded markets we have around us now, it's not about being slightly better, or slightly cheaper. Instead, it's about having a better vision, a better view of the market, and how business can make people’s lives better. In short, it's about creating the waves of change.

Let's talk positively about the environment

The disconnect between so many people, living busy lives, and the natural world around them can be startling. Children who are unaware how milk gets onto their breakfast table in the morning (even to the point of not knowing that it comes from cows - yes, honestly); young adults who have never been for walk in a nature-rich area ("I've never seen a waterfall in real life" I was told); older people in denial about man-made climate change ("Oh, it's always gone on. Always will. Nothing we can do about it"). So, two questions: (1) why is environmental education such a turn-off? and (2) how can we get the message across more effectively?

The ways that we talk about the future of nature, of the planet's support systems, really do matter. Too often, attempts to draw attention to critical environmental challenges employ stories and images that are loaded with fear, appeals and alarmist rhetoric. These can engender a sense of hopelessness and despair.

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"Britain faces climate change Armageddon within 30 years" - dramatic, but is it effective? 

Faced with such overwhelming challenges, a common response is simply to do nothing.

So, should we frame our communications negatively or positively? This depends on the issue. Research shows that negative appeals can help to raise awareness and concerns, but it needs balance. Continually bombarding people with negative messages after you've raised awareness will result in them just switching off.

Positive appeals are crucial after awareness is raised. After the huge success of the BBC's Blue Planet 2, people have been given practical, real life actions to take on plastics. clearly, communication needs to be action-oriented. We must encourage and empower communities by offering them options of what they might do to make a difference.

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#PlasticFree

It's an easy step to invest in an alternative to damaging single-use plastic water bottles

However, not all positive messages succeed. They need to resonate with people if they are to be successful. Few people are fortunate enough to experience the beauty of a tropical rainforest or see a humpback whale; luckily, many are yet to have first-hand experience of catastrophic flooding. 

The challenge is to appeal to our sense of altruism and justice (social and environmental), accepting that nature and the environment are complicated cultural concepts; not everyone sees the world like I do (as I constantly need to remind myself). To address this, it is important to create a sense of connection and empathy.

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Community-based initiatives, such as Peterborough's Green Backyard, offer local, convenient and welcoming places for people to get involved - at their pace, on their terms

The idea of 'wayfinding' offers strategies for engaging with nature and mobilising people. This requires us to understand how they make decisions: what motivates them? what considerations come into play? It strikes me that 'nature on your doorstep' is key to all of this: somewhere that you can visit nearby, that means something to you, in which you feel a sense of collective ownership. The journey that many people experience from starting out as a volunteer, for example, to becoming a committed and aware advocate for the environment, is something special to witness.

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Volunteer effort - such as this at Peterborough's Railworld Wildlife Haven - can establish vibrant community learning spaces, attracting engagement from businesses and the wider public; and helping to make the connection to bigger environmental challenges

Ultimately, we should get active rather than depressed. There is a growing body of evidence of the benefits from Green Gyms, the Transition Network, and other initiatives; these are positive steps that do engage communities to come together, even in areas of both social and environmental deprivation. Yes, it can be done!

Offer people positive reasons to engage, rather than make them feel powerless to act. Reconnection is not just possible; it's addictive. But don't just take my word for it.

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Inner-city growing spaces can soon become vital hubs for more cohesive communities, where reconnection with nature and learning are embedded

A winning circular argument

The way we produce, use and dispose of goods is unsustainable, rapidly depleting the Earth's natural resources. Urgent action is needed to tackle key global issues that result: rising carbon emissions, losses of biodiversity, degradation of land and marine environments, an increasing gap between rich and poor. To achieve this, we need to understand the relationships between population, consumption and the environment.

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Fortunately, responding to pressure from consumers, NGOs, shareholders and others, an increasing number of businesses are gearing up to be 'future-fit' by making positive changes to their production and consumption processes ahead of changes to the regulatory environment. For practical and brand reasons, there is an emerging trend for companies to consider the social and environmental aspects of their value chains. Consumer demand for sustainably-produced goods and services is up; commodity prices are becoming more volatile; and some new technologies are energy-hungry and hence expensive. In such circumstances, sustainable production becomes a winning approach.

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Consumption is equally important, as current business models and marketing strategies drive unsustainable behaviours. Demand for products and services far outstrips efficiency and productivity improvements. In fact, efficiency gains can drive more consumption, as consumers are able to access more goods at affordable prices.

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How should we respond to these challenges? As a starting point, we need to take a holistic view, to recognise the interconnections in a complicated system, to help understand causes and effects. What this means in practice is that companies cannot only focus on a single aspect of the value chain. While progress has been made in application of eco-efficiency measures and more responsible resource stewardship, these are unlikely to bring about the scale of change needed in the short timeframe available to us. It's time for ambitious, radical and faster responses.

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It's typically the case that value chains are conceived as linear, with the end product discarded and disposed of at the end of its life: raw materials - design - processing & manufacturing - transport - retail & service provider - consumer - waste.

In contrast, a circular economy model replaces the concept of ending product lives through disposal as waste, with recycling and restoration. In short, it is a system that is designed to be both regenerative and restorative: recover - recycle - remanufacture - repurpose. Such a system emphasises the use of renewable energy, the elimination of toxic chemicals, and aims to 'close the loop' and eliminate waste. Superior design is at the heart of the circular economy: materials, products, systems and business models - all need to be reconfigured.

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The business opportunities are considerable. Significant cost-savings can be achieved; brand image can be improved greatly; supply chain risks, including price volatility, can be mitigated; while the trust and engagement of employees and consumers can be enhanced. It's not always easy and the initial change may be uncomfortable for some businesses, but a thriving long-term economy that delivers profits along with lasting social and environmental benefits has got to be worth the effort!

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How to bring about change, effectively

Whether it's within your work environment or in your life at home or the local community, being an effective change agent requires careful thought and agility. Following a few simple steps can help to deliver the change you're looking for.

To start with, it's vital that you demonstrate you know the business or situation you want to change. Only by establishing a track record of making good, informed decisions and being committed to the business or community can you expect others to have confidence in you. You can do this by connecting your ideas to the business or community strategy. When sustainability is viewed as something that helps take this forward, you'll find a lot more attention is paid to it.

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Timing is everything. You need to know when to bring ideas forward and, equally, when to wait. Seize the moment when public opinion is shifting or when your business is most likely to be receptive. In order to hone your skills, keep abreast of what's going on in the world around you, in your business sector and the community. Find out who the thought leaders are and follow them!

Change can be daunting, so don't try to achieve everything at once. Instead, break things down into manageable chunks. When people can see the purpose and path to delivering change, and feel that it's something that they can do and benefit from, they'll engage with greater enthusiasm. Make change to a more sustainable future a fun process, a stepwise journey that sets out a challenge that's achievable, which empowers others to play their part.

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Challenge yourself and the way you think, while being prepared to challenge the views of others who may disagree with you. It's certainly far from easy, but if you're able to harness your passion while keeping your emotions in check, people will respect and listen to you. However, it's crucial that you keep sustainability from being perceived as a pet project. Open yourself to having your own views questioned.

You can't play it safe - sustainability requires changes that will disrupt, asking people to fundamentally change the way they've been navigating their professional and personal lives and habits for years. however, you can use behavioural nudges - personal, simple and small changes that require minimal effort to be adopted. Make sustainability personal - what does it mean for them, their job, their community.

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Believe that you have the capability to bring people with you, as these steps have the potential to enable significant change. As Socrates said: "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new". So, find your vision - today is the day to make it happen.

 

Plastics: driving real action beyond the headlines

What a week - everyone, it seems, has been talking plastics. Or rather, ending our dependence on them. Following on from the Environmental Audit Committee recommendation to ban microbeads, we've had Theresa May vowing to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste in the country by 2042. There have been plenty of social media likes and #plasticpollution has been trending.

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But what next? What happens when the politicians have moved on to the next big thing?

Clearly, we all need to hold their feet to the fire over the promises that have been made. There's no doubt that regulation is needed but we, as consumers, need to play our part in driving business to embrace opportunities to innovate, and fast. Government is pledging funding to support this.

Given the momentum created by a wide community of environmental groups and social enterprises, the time to act is now. People have been awakened to the damaging environmental impact of our throwaway plastics culture. They're looking for ways to be part of the change that's needed. Embracing new, plastic free lifestyles has become a thing.

So, how can we each use our buying power to nudge business behaviour in the direction that's needed?

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Let's be honest, purchasing without plastic is harder than ever. Although the media and, to an extent, the public have begun to understand, big business has largely ignored the problem. But not anymore. It's time for someone in the business community to be bold, to make a move in the direction of plastic free and be ahead of the game - creating the waves - and enjoy the longer term benefits.

Over to us, then. Starting with single-use plastic water bottles, we're seeing plenty of initiatives to phase them out. The City to Sea #RefillAndReuse scheme is spreading across the country, with the aim of shifting consumers towards reuse and replacement with more sustainable alternatives. We're doing our bit to progress a scheme in our city, but why wait - buy a reusable stainless steel bottle. There are plenty out there!

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Plastic straws, served up whether you want them or not, are another bugbear of ours. Having the confidence to speak up and #RefuseTheStraw can send a clear message to pubs, restaurants, coffee shops. Why not go a step further and provide them with the case against plastic, offering the compelling argument for compostable alternatives? It's remarkably liberating, too.

Around the home, we're phasing them out immediately. Any offending straws are now being reused for arts and crafts activities. Maybe we'll invest in some reusable stainless steel straws, or simply do without.

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Keeping food fresh is a household challenge that, in the past, has always led us to the ubiquitous cling film. It's the convenience, you know. Wasteful and damaging, too. Although biodegradable film is a thing, why not ditch it altogether? Beeswax wraps are growing in popularity, can be bought from a number of suppliers or you can easily make your own.

But the much bigger challenge is driving the big supermarkets to cut out the plastic that is being used to wrap the now infamous 'cauliflower steak' and even individual bananas! So, the Prime Minister says she wants a plastic-free aisle. Clearly,  supermarkets and brands need to change how they package our food, but we need to change how we shop - use consumer power. Not so long ago, plastic didn’t even exist and somehow we all coped. Let's start making choices, let's start demanding #PlasticFreeAisles.

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Finally, resolving to take some specific, achievable household actions, we've gone for the 3-Ts: teabags, takeaways and toothbrushes. As a nation, we consume millions of teabags every day, with perhaps 80% of these not fully biodegradable. What's more, the heat-resistant polypropylene goes unnoticed. So, we're making a return to loose tea and the rewards of making a real cuppa! Fed up with the amount of single-use plastic cutlery dished out with takeaway street-food, we've been lobbying local businesses to look at switching to sustainable wooden items that can be reused by customers. Just pop a set in your bag for the day and you can now say 'no thanks' to plastic. Retailers need to brush up on sustainable toothbrushes, given that alternatives with bamboo handles and BPA-free biodegradable nylon exist. At present, conventional toothbrushes just get lost in the recycling process, millions of them ending up in landfill. So, ditch the plastic and extend the life of your old brush, using it to clean jewellery, bathroom tiles and toilets, shoes, or even your computer keyboards!

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Although it can seem a daunting challenge to ditch the plastic as you look around the home and the shops you visit, we can all take small steps that, together, add up to a powerful consumer movement. There are innovative alternatives out there, coupled with simple lifestyle changes, as well as finding our voices to bring about change.

Together with regulation, consumer power can drive business towards a plastic-free future. We can do it before 2042 if we all make the effort.

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Resolve to take action in 2018

A New Year means a new start, right? Making resolutions is big business, more often than not focused on getting fit and healthy by making a commitment to go to the gym or take up running. Many, however, fall by the wayside after a month of initial enthusiasm; they've got to be achievable and we need to feel the reward. It's the same with sustainability actions.

So, if we are to make a difference - step by step - we need some actions that both challenge and reward, and add up to something that makes a positive difference to our pockets, the people around us and the planet. Here are a few suggestions.

As I sit here, writing this,  let's start by focusing on electronic devices, or rather spending some time away from them; we should all probably take a small step away from time to time! By doing so we have a positive effect on our environment. Use surge protector power strips to switch off televisions, radios, monitors, printers, etc. when you leave the house. Use sleep mode for your computer (it really does make a difference). The plus side could be a lower energy bill, so you win!

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Going plastic-free around the house is a real challenge, but one we will have to face in due course. Make it easier by targeting one area - say bathroom products - and pledge to get rid of dental floss, plastic toothbrushes, cotton buds, and look to use hair and bathing products that come in recycled packaging. You won't achieve it immediately, so set a realistic timeframe.

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Why not ensure that you have at least one oxygenating plant in each room of your house, and save water throughout the day to use for watering them. Lower your heating around the home by half a degree per month and put on an extra layer of clothing. While you're at it, why not do a lighting audit and see if there are any remaining bulbs that could be replaced with low-energy LEDs instead.

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Outside the home, you might want to consider volunteering with a charity or community organisation. Not only will they appreciate your support, but you'll be rewarded through new friendships and experiences and, possibly, get fitter as a result. For instance, if you don't have your own greenspace, then getting involved with a local garden project can be really liberating.

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Eating less meat is one of the quickest ways to reduce your carbon footprint. This does not mean you have to become a dedicated vegetarian or vegan overnight, you could pick two days a week where you only cook vegetarian/vegan meals. At the same time, follow one of the increasing number of seasonal cookbooks for ideas, and buy only seasonal produce at the right time of year.

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If any of these are going to work, we all need an immediate plan that can be started straightaway, with small steps and working upwards from there. Decide when you're going to take actions and what will help you to achieve them. If you'll need more time, then plan for it. Keep track by using apps, a diary or a chart to record your progress, and don't beat yourself up for any slips along the way.

Good luck, and here's to a sustainable Happy New Year!

 

Sustainable time with the children

As the schools break up and parents find themselves faced with over-tired, possibly grumpy kids; how about creating some quality time by embarking on some sustainability activities. You've got to admit: it's going to be more fun than iPads and TV and the stress they create!

A few principles can help:  (1) lead by example - be a role model by practising sustainable living yourself; (2) make it fun - be resourceful; (3) get the kids involved - ensure that there are plenty of 'hands on' opportunities; (4) read to and with the kids - there are plenty of great books out there, for children and adults, alike; and (5) volunteer with them - litterpicks, tree-planting, etc.

Why not engage your children in considering how your home affects the planet, i.e. how to work towards a zero Carbon footprint. What are the main resources you consume as a household? How can these be minimised? Start by setting an example in little but important ways: have you installed LED, low-energy lighting? Do you turn the lights off as you leave a room? Do you have a water meter? Do you turn the taps off properly? Do you have water-saving devices to reduce water use, e.g. when flushing the toilet, taking a shower, etc. do you conserve waste water during the day, in order to water plants before going to bed? 

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Getting them involved is easy and lots of fun. Consider reusing packing material and cardboard from purchases you've made, for arts, crafts and creative play. The same goes for plastic bottles and packages, which can be used to make much-needed winter bird feeders, for example. If you've got stuff you're not going to use, get them involved in flattening it before it goes into the recycling bin. Why not introduce child-sized bins to match the household ones, as a way to help them become 'waste wise'. Show them what gets recycled and why, and what we throw away and where this ends up. You could always weigh it, too.

Food waste is a big issue and one that children can be helped to understand. Ensure that you put food scraps into a compost bin, rather than throwing them out. Create your own composter in the garden or, better still, build a wormery. Get them involved with food shopping choices, thinking about air miles and what's seasonal. Consider the merits of buying local, looking for ethical products that support indigenous communities, and consider the benefits of organic production. Set them a fun challenge to choose the best value, lowest footprint products.

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Become a green cleaner - make your own household cleaning products, free of harmful chemicals. Children can join in, testing 'new products' safely, while helping you get your home clean! Why not use colour-coded microfibre cloths that can be washed and reused.

Get some fresh air, away from the centrally-heated house. Use the garden or local greenspace as a teaching and learning tool. Go out and search for, collect and use natural materials in creative play. Go on a nature hunt: how many different bird species can they spot?

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Or, if the weather's not conducive, then find ways to bring the outdoors inside. Think about designing your own wildlife-friendly green areas either in your own garden or in the school grounds. Involve them in choosing what goes where, thinking about the creatures it will benefit. You might even want to start growing some things indoors, on the window-sill. Children love finding out what seeds turn grow to become. 

All of these activities can help to develop critical thinking skills, help to build global awareness and understanding of the inter-connections and, most of all, engage the next generation in positive solutions. It goes without saying that you should avoid simply telling - show them and explain why, giving them the opportunity to reflect (possibly with a daily or weekly journal). It's meant to be fun, right, and offers a more varied diet than lounging on the sofa in front of the TV.

I'll let you know how we get on. Good luck!

 

Imagine a different, greener and fairer Christmas

While we live in difficult times, Christmas remains a great festival, with traditions that give it character for many people. Despite, this there's a growing angst about the environmental and social impact, as many question the rampant commercialism they see around them.

With a few tips and without adopting a Cromwellian approach to cutting back too much on these traditions, you can celebrate Christmas with a green and ethical conscience. So, don't expect a rant about the 10 million turkeys we will in the UK at this time of year (buy a free-range, organic bird, if you must, and seek out those compliant with the Soil Association's organic standards of 800 birds/hectare).

Here are some positive, even fun ideas to reduce the negative impacts of your Christmas.

Let's face it, presents seem to feature at this time of year. Giving can be a hugely rewarding experience. Buy smart by thinking green.

Local craft fairs and independent artisan shops are a good source of gifts that come without the added costs of transportation. What's more, gifts made locally often have a story which goes with the gift, and a positive social impact. 

Choose gifts from recycled sources. By supporting these businesses, you can help reduce the waste stream while promoting the sustainable use of materials. You can also give second-hand presents, generating less waste and lowering resource use. If you're worried about looking stingy, then why not supplement these with something like theatre tickets, cinema tickets or a stay in a green hotel. Order online and save paper, too!

Why not consider giving experiences as presents. It's a great way to limit the use of resources (obviously, don't give airline tickets or visits to health resorts with a spa - these are both very energy-consuming). with an experience that takes place some time later, you can spread the joy throughout the year, too!

While you're at it, do try to give gifts that are battery-free. About 40% of all battery sales occur during this holiday period, and we all know the hazards involved in their disposal.

Presents need wrapping, don't they? Wrapping paper - "three rolls for a quid" - appears cheap, but it is immensely wasteful. Always look for the FSC logo and avoid papers with metallic foil elements. Consider choosing paper made using hemp or with a high recycled content.  Avoid using sellotape and use ribbons instead, as this allows more of the used paper to be reclaimed. Alternatively, use gift bags made from fabric scraps or use old coffee sacks, maps, calendars or posters, jazzing them up with a bit of nature!

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Now, what about that tree? Go for an eco-labelled (FSC approved) product, grown without using pesticides. Consult the UK Christmas Tree Growers' Association.  If you can, opt for a live tress, preferably potted. If you have a garden, you can replant it when it outgrows the pot. If you don't have that option, get your tree chipped and mulched; it can then be re-used for landscaping or sold at low cost to local gardeners. Your local council can usually help.

Christmas can be an opportunity to connect with nature, too. Rather than crash in an armchair, half-watching the usual Christmas entertainment served up by TV companies; why not try something a bit different: establish a new family tradition, create new memories, and get active in the process. Here are a few ideas:

How about a Christmas Day bird count? With a pair of binoculars, visit your local greenspace. Compare results from previous years and become experts on your local bird population and migration patterns. 

Undertake a spot of nature restoration - plant a tree together. Not only does it symbolise the value of nature, it can offset any live trees cut for Christmas. You could also indulge in a clean-up or enhancement of a local natural area (a beach clean if you're near the coast, or a litterpick along a river or in your local park). It'll help you build up an appetite, after all!

Decorate a tree for the birds - make your own seed balls, 'suet' feeders, pine cones with peanut butter, and seed trays. It's great, engaging fun for children; they make superb gifts for the nature-lovers among your family and friends; and offer an important food source for birds through the winter months.  

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Environment as Entertainment: should it be more?

Who wasn't impressed by the latest sumptuous offering from the BBC, complete with David Attenborough's compelling narrative? Blue Planet 2 arrived on our TV screens last Sunday, and its success in securing viewing figures in excess of Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor will have been celebrated in the corridors of power at the Corporation.

It was, as we've come to expect, even better, more eye-catching than all of the Attenborough programmes that have preceded it. Innovative new camera technology offered us new, dramatic insights into the lives of species so fantastical that people were discussing them for days afterwards. For a prime time slot on a Sunday night, it was compelling viewing. We watched it, as a family, utterly spellbound.

So, why am I left uncomfortable at what I saw and my reaction to it? 

It was a programme full of beautiful images, with a smattering of facts, too. It touched on some uncomfortable truths about the impact that our lifestyles are having on fragile ecosystems and their dependent species. But, facts alone don't convince individuals to change their lifestyles - for these are deep-rooted, 'hard-wired' habits, norms and systems.

Does the BBC have a responsibility to go beyond information, using communication to let the receiver of the information grasp the intended meaning of the message, i.e. to get through to them? Clearly, it is not a campaigning organisation but, by changing the language in order to engage people and nudge behaviour, it could build a narrative.

When TV programmes raise difficult issues, it is now common for a statement at their conclusion, along the lines of "If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this programme..." So, why not the same for ecosystem degradation and climate change? The polar bear or walrus, struggling to find pack ice, can't ask for help!

If we expect TV crews to venture to remote locations, to film fragile systems for our entertainment, shouldn't we be thinking carefully about our collective duty to do things differently in response to what we are witnessing? Otherwise, are we not simply indulging ourselves in environmental pornography?  

 

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What's a few sand dunes?

We all face challenges, every day of our lives. Many take us well beyond our comfort zones. Overcoming them makes us stronger, teaches us lessons about ourselves, and helps identify what we really want to achieve.

In 2006, I took myself out of my physical (and, I soon discovered, mental) comfort zones, when I took time out from work to take part in the infamous Marathon des Sables. Dubbed the 'toughest footrace in the world', this six-day multi-marathon endurance event across the Moroccan Sahara Desert took me to places I'd never been before. Severely dehydrated at the end of day three, I received 4.5L of saline and was told my race was up. I continued and, at the end of an emotional journey through some of the loneliest landscapes and hours I'd ever experienced, I pushed on through the towering dunes of Merzouga to reach the finish line.

I'm still proud of that achievement, all these years later.

It's taught me that no challenge is insurmountable. That includes breaking free and setting up your own business. It's been a complex and sometimes tricky journey, unsure whether each step is heading in the right direction. Occasionally it's felt as though the sand was slipping beneath my feet. But, keeping focused on those final dunes, knowing that the finish line is in sight, I'm almost there: ready to launch.

Follow my regular updates as the journey continues. I'd love you to be part of it, helping to write future chapters. There will be sandstorms along the way, but the satisfaction of a job well done, challenges overcome, and new vistas exposed, will make it worth the effort.

After all, what's a few sand dunes?

 

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