Taking Steps Towards Sustainability

21 06 2015

Since 1994 Interface (http://www.interfaceglobal.com/Sustainability.aspx) has been an inspiring example of how a company can wake up to their environmental impacts after 21 years of operating, and change the combined cultural approach of their employees to reduce their operations negative impact on the environment.

“Mission Zero” by Interface is a commitment to eliminate their negative impact on the environment by 2020. When they started they did not know how they would meet the commitment. Their Founder, Ray Anderson, said “We have to cut the umbilical cord to oil”. He reached out to his employees and asked for help.

They acknowledged that, “Along with increasing efficiency, design innovation and recycling efforts, we are constantly looking to replace virgin raw materials as one way to close the loop around our products and cut our dependency on oil.” The European progress is nicely summarized in this infographic called Closing the Loop (http://www.interfaceflor.co.uk/web/closing-the-loop).

Obtained from http://www.interfaceflor.co.uk/web/closing-the-loop

Progress by Interface in Europe to eliminate their dependency on oil. Obtained from http://www.interfaceflor.co.uk/web/closing-the-loop

Interface has an impressive track record, which includes being the only company to have been in the Sustainability Leaders, A GlobeScan/SustainAbility Survey, every year since its inception in 1994. Download the report

The 2015 Sustainability Leaders, A GlobeScan/SustainAbility Survey Report

The 2015 Sustainability Leaders, A GlobeScan/SustainAbility Survey Report

If you are wanting help to steer your organization on the path to “Mission Zero” then contact us to discuss how through my consulting services we can together climb your own “Mount Sustainability”.

Three People that inspire me through Trees

19 12 2012

I am passionate about connecting people with nature and through that journey I have had the pleasure of becoming friends with some amazing people.

Trees seem to be a powerful way to connect people with nature, especially when you get your hands dirty planting and caring for them.

Paul Coleman

Paul Coleman, The Earth Walker, (http://www.earthwalker.com) who has walked over 47,500 km through 39 nations delivering the environmental message while on a mission to plant 100,000,000 trees, one for every man, woman and child killed in last century of war. 11,350,000 trees have now been planted with the help of friends and supporters from around the world.

Dr Willie Smits

Dr Willie Smits, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Smits) an amazing inventor/creator using his forestry skills to rescue wildlife and build more sustainable communities.  His TED talk on restoring a Rainforest summarizes one of his great approaches http://www.ted.com/talks/willie_smits_restores_a_rainforest.html

Andy Lipkis

Andy Lipkis, (http://www.treepeople.org/bio) is a practical visionary who has dedicated his life to healing the environment while improving the lives of individuals and communities. He founded TreePeople in Los Angeles in 1973 at age18 and continues to serve as its President. Andy has spearheaded an approach using trees and forest-inspired technologies to make cities sustainable while mitigating floods, drought, pollution, and global warming. Called “Functioning Community Forests,” it is being demonstrated in L.A. as a model for cities everywhere.

Okay, I have just noticed that I have talked about 3 men.  Time to put on my thinking hat about women who are just as amazing.  First to spring to mind is Wangari Maathai who has done amazing things in Africa (http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/wangari-maathai).

Wangari Maathai

Who do you know that is doing amazing things connecting people with nature through trees, particularly in Hong Kong or China?  I hope you are one of those people!

Originally posted on December 19, 2012 at http://www.ecozine.com/blog-post/three-people-that-inspire-me-through-trees

Moo-sical Chairs

25 09 2012

The challenge of providing for nature within our cities

Not enough chairs at the moment for us both

As “development” progresses we often see the challenge of providing for nature within our cities.  Whether it be small creatures or large they must feel like we humans are playing a game of musical chairs with them.  Each season they would be heading off to where they were able to get great food and shelter the year before to only find that there is a new concrete building in the way or a high fence that they cannot get round.  As their space is reduced they are forced into areas that some people might think are not appropriate for them to be and this stresses out both the creature and the human.

As a lover of animals (which comes for living on a dairy farm as a child) I would love to see our large animals in Hong Kong better provided for.  Whether it is the barking deer in our country parks, the cows of Sai Kung or the buffalo of Lantau they all could do with some support.  The key is providing real opportunities for people to see these wonderful animals going about their normal day.  No I do not mean that they should be in a park where they have to perform certain tricks to entertain or “educate” us, rather just doing what they naturally do.  On Lantau Island that would be letting buffalo wallow in the mud and for the cows the ability to roam among the fields eating grass.

How does this help people?

They get to see that these big animals are:
– no more aggressive than humans
– live a very good family life caring for each other, and
– do amazing things that show they are intelligent

They can also see how life cycles work such as:
– being born, growing up, getting old and dying,
– how the food waste from the animals is a food source for insects and helps provide healthy soil to grow food for humans

So what can you do?

Well if you are yet to see a cow or buffalo walking freely then go visit some.  Be prepared to stand back and just watch them for a while before you start to see them interacting with each other and enjoying life.  Once you have made that connection with them you might like to support community groups that are looking after the interests of the large animals.  Talk to your neighbours about the experience and try to establish safer areas for these animals in your community. Feel free to post examples you know of around Hong Kong.

Originally posted on September 16, 2012 at http://www.ecozine.com/blog-post/moo-sical-chairs 

Footprints from 2 feet

10 06 2012

As a human with 2 feet have you ever thought of the different footprints you leave behind by living?

This article is a short introduction to some of the different footprint measures used to assess the resources used by an individual, an organization, a country or the entire human population. I say short because as you will quickly discover there are many ways to measure our impact and the resources we need to survive on this planet called Earth.

You probably have heard of the Ecological Footprint, this is the most comprehensive.

It is described by Global Footprint Network (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/at_a_glance/) as “a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what.”

The description on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_footprint) says that “The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems. It is a standardized measure of demand for natural capital that may be contrasted with the planet’s ecological capacity to regenerate.”

The Ecological Footprint is a data-driven metric that tells us how close we are to the goal of sustainable living. Footprint accounts work like bank statements, documenting whether we are living within our ecological budget or consuming nature’s resources faster than the planet can renew them. The ecological footprint concept and calculation method was developed as the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel, under the supervision of William Rees at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, from 1990–1994. I use the Global Footprint Network as a main reference for the reason that Wackernagel is the President of Global Footprint Network.

The Ecological Footprint can be thought to be made up, or supported by, a number of other footprints including the:

  • Carbon Footprint which is often used as shorthand for the amount of carbon (usually in tonnes) being emitted by an activity or organization. The carbon component of the Ecological Footprint takes a slightly differing approach, translating the amount of carbon dioxide into the amount of productive land and sea area required to sequester carbon dioxide emissions. This tells us the demand on the planet that results from burning fossil fuels. http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/carbon_footprint/
  • Water Footprint which measures the freshwater a population uses http://www.waterfootprint.org/

Now you may often hear the term Carbon Emissions but what is it? This definition from EcoLife (http://www.ecolife.com/define/carbon-emission.html) provides a short summary.

“Carbon emission is the release of carbon into the atmosphere. To talk about carbon emissions is simply to talk of greenhouse gas emissions; the main contributors to climate change. Since greenhouse gas emissions are often calculated as carbon dioxide equivalents, they are often referred to as “carbon emissions” when discussing global warming or the greenhouse effect. Since the industrial revolution the burning of fossil fuels has increased, which directly correlates to the increase of carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere and thus the rapid increase of global warming. “

Now on that note we are approaching the topic of Global Warming, which I will leave you to research the wide variety of discussions particularly in the Anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions (i.e., emissions produced by human activities) . You might like to start with looking at the definition of GreenHouse Gases http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas

Written by Dr Merrin Pearse

4 Steps to Building the World We Want

3 09 2011

The latest book by Bryan Welch called “Beautiful and Abundant” did not grab me by it’s title, rather a friend recommended it, so I read it as a break from all the technology that I regularly use (yeah big and small things with screens and key pads).  So I started reading thinking it was just a story.  Well, a story it is and a great resource as well!

Beautiful and Abundant

The book is based on 4 steps on how we can create a world that is just what we would like.  (Actually I think most of the world is quite amazing however we as humans have just forgotten to live within this amazing system if we plan to be around as a species for a long time.)

The 4 Steps are:
1)    Idealize the Destination (Don’t Be Realistic!)
2)    Acknowledge the Challenges
3)    Define the Criteria (Don’t Be Practical!)
4)    Take the First Steps (Be Realistic, Practical and Optimistic!)

The 4 steps I found really useful as they can be applied so easily to any task or dream you have.

In terms of criteria for Step 3 you might be thinking of some complex formula that takes you back to mathematics or economics nightmares, though it is not like that at all.  Bryan comes up with 4 simple questions, which are:
1)    Is It Beautiful?
2)    Does It Create Abundance?
3)    Is It Fair?
4)    Is It Contagious?

Such a simple though powerful approach!

Bryan finishes the book with 3 examples of applying the above steps.  They are:
1)    A Farm – His 50 acre tall-grass prairie farm in Kansas
2)    A Business – A magazine publishing company (http://www.ogdenpubs.com/)
3)   A Mega-Business – A large online information share entity (http://www.google.com/about/corporate/company/)

So hidden behind the title are simple Steps and Questions to make sure your world is beautiful and abundant.

I hope you make use of them, I certainly will.
Dr Merrin Pearse

Paul Hawken – What is Power?

21 08 2010

When looking into the topic of sustainability and economics it will not take you long before you come across Paul Hawken. As an author he has written “texts” that have been widely read and changed the business approach of many. ‘The Natural Capitalism’ and ‘The Ecology of Commerce’ are great resources for any director or business manager. The story of Interface’s Founder and Chairman Ray Anderson, is one to show the impact that a book can have on business.

This article is not about the books, rather an exploration of some thoughts that Paul has on approaching life.  It was composed by Dr Merrin Pearse following a leadership event with Paul in San Francisco.

What is power from a personal perspective?
It is not the use of violence.  It is not being driven by the need: to change people; to be a hero; or overcome disappointment.  It is not being in a state of disappointment as that means you have become attached to an outcome that you may not have any control over.  You are not going to be in a powerful state if you are living in fear of losing say money or security.  The strongest power comes from being who you are.

Do not have the burden of needing to have an effect.  The effect will happen if you are having a great fine time.  Do the things that you do well and team up with others who do other things well.

We are in a period of end.  Like cycles in nature it is great that things end and therefore allow change.  There is nothing wrong with darkness – it happens each day.  When you look in the shadows you can often find gold there.  Those areas of a business which are the darkest can provide the greatest opportunity for powerful change.  Go and explore there.

If you are looking for inspiring action there are many places to be energised.  A couple of examples are:
– Ashoka (http://www.ashoka.org/)
– Change Makers (http://www.changemakers.com/)
– Skoll Awards (http://www.skollfoundation.org/skollawards/index.asp)

If you are looking for ways to build collective team spirit in the area of sustainability then look at the initiatives by Social Profit organisation called the Pachamama Alliance which Paul believes is “the most important NGO on the planet at this time”.  Their “Awakening the Dreamer – Changing the Dream” symposium is supported by the Dalai Lama, Van Jones, Desmond Tutu, Julia Butterfly Hill and many others.

We live in a time where it is powerful to know that we are not mistaken though rather ignorant to the sustainability and social justice issues that business is part of creating and maintaining.  Mistaken implies something that was not intended whereas ignorance implies we have so much still to know.

To learn more about Paul Hawken visit http://www.paulhawken.com/

It is about Time

25 07 2010

When planning within a business context the time scales we use are often short, as short as 5 to 10 years.  While this may be longer than political time scales of only 3 to 5 years, it is very short in terms of the lifespan of successful and enduring businesses.  How often do you see businesses planning with time scales of multiple decades or centuries when they are the considering impact of their products and services?

In terms of sustainability, imagine the view businesses would take into their planning, if they were to consider time scales which included that of:

  • Their own ancestors, their present family and their future generations?
  • The founding organisations in their sector, their current suppliers and customers, along with those future organisations which will be created through the progress that they make today?
At a very fundamental level we all know that the current way of business needs to change however mainly through the fear of the unknown, that change is not happening fast enough.  Let us consider taking that step now rather than waiting as the fear will only grow the larger if we wait.
It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake
because my great, great grandchildren won’t let me sleep
My great great grandchildren ask me in dreams
What did you do while the planet was plundered?
What did you do when the earth was unraveling?
Surely, you did something when the seasons started failing?
As the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

The first few lines of a poem called Hieroglyphic Stairway by Drew Dillinger http://drewdellinger.org/

Changing Perspective

18 07 2010

Taking time to look at a topic or issue from a different angle can often be a rewarding experience.  You may be challenged to begin with, though as you discuss the topic from say the perspective of your supplier or a particular type of customer, new or clearer perspectives will emerge.  You can think of this as role playing.  Have some fun with it and consider doing it as a group exercise with your colleagues.  What is really powerful is when you actually do the exercise with your suppliers and customers.

Now that you have considered the current situation or time period why not change the time to what it was like for that supplier or customer 2 years ago, 5 years ago or even 10 years ago.  What is the progress you have made since then on improving your service, meeting their expectations and what have they changed to meet your requirements?  Have there been changes in the information you need from them in terms of say working conditions?  What about changes to the materials and processes they use?

Reflecting back on the progress you both have made will provide a renewed sense of progress.  Now take your perspective into the future 2, 5 and 10 years.  What changes do you seeing that will become the normal ways of businesses operating?  How has the way you design your products and services taken into account the use of resources, the sustainability cycles and social impacts?  Are you preparing for those?  There are some great processes available to help facilitate this forecasting (some of these are mentioned in previous posts including how backcasting may be a better methodolgy than forecasting).

Enjoy the new awareness you gain from changing your perspective!

Knowing and Acting

11 07 2010

What if you knew the code to enable you to predict the future? Some think this would be marvellous, while others think it would make life a little boring.

You will have seen movies that show how people predict what is going to happen in the future. Many discussions continue on what Nostradamus was able to predict. Irrespective of what you believe in this area we are able to predict many events with great certainly over short periods.

Take for example heavy rain happening in the mountains. The people downstream know that they have certain period of time to react before the water levels at their part of the river will rise. They have been able to measure the rainfall in the hills and compare that with the rise in the water level at different places along the river and the time at which the water was highest. They know that if the rainfall in the hills reaches a certain amount then the downstream river banks will be breached. So they take action and sandbag the riverbanks or leave the low level areas.

You may be asking, why are you telling me such basic knowledge? Well this scenario can also be used to highlight what may be the very slow reaction that people have to climate change. Scientists know that the way we are treating the environment today will have flow on effects. The have measured many different components of our natural environment and have been able to correlate changes within their measurements with such certainty that they believe that they can predict what the future impacts will be.

While most of the effects of climate change will take a lot longer than the time it takes rain from the mountains to raise the level of rivers downstream, this slower rate of change is certainly not a reason not to act with as much haste. While the water levels in the river may rise and fall quickly, the impact of factors that are creating climate change will be with us for a considerably longer time.

We certainly are living in a time of knowing how our actions as humans collectively are affecting our future sustainability, so why do we not act with the required urgency?

Social Media for Business Good

28 06 2010

So how does social media help promote a more sustainable society and promote your business at the same time?

Here is a little look at some of the ways that modern internet tools can be used to promote business that is “doing good” for their community.  Of course they can be used to highlight issues that the community feels are not appropriate too.

One of the key things is that people are looking for answers as to how they can operate their businesses and personal lives in ways which benefit both the environment and their community.  They are looking for examples of what has worked and how that has been adapted into their industry sector.

By promoting what your organisation has been able to achieve through social media channels, you can connect with your suppliers, existing customers and potential customers.  Through posting short articles on how you are operating then your business supporters can help spread your initiatives along with their positive experiences of your organisation to their online network.  Having 3rd parties talking about the good your organisation does, is more powerful and meaningful than the messages you say (though these are important also).

Take your company website.  How many web visitors come to that site a day to look at what you provide in terms of products and services?  Compare that with those who are reading your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and Sustainability messages?  You will probably discover that fewer people are reading your CSR and Sustainability messages.  Many people are looking for the “real” status of your operations via other people’s opinions.

Moving over to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  These are very social places and you probably will discover that your company could easily be talked about there.  If you have staff that are good communicators and enjoy using internet tools, then give them the scope to discuss the company initiatives online.

Industry and common interest groups on sites such as Linked-In are often very focused and they attract the business community.  Posting comments about your company’s experiences in implementing sustainability initiatives on these sites gets the interest of your industry peers which can lead quickly to two things.

  1. They approach your company for your services and advice.
  2. They talk about your initiatives with this community and may even shift the discussion out to more social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The effect with others talking about your initiatives means that you get publicity without paying for it.  If you are confident in your message then you have nothing to worry about, as your supporters will back you.

If you still do not see how important it is to have your sustainability message online think about this way.  When was the last time you went to a book on your shelf or picked up a newspaper to get an answer to a question?

Do you just do an internet search?

Well millions of people do.

So having your message on multiple web platforms allows people to find your organisation quickly and it will position your organisation at the front of their sustainability search.