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”.

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.

Using resources

8 06 2010

Daily we get messages reminding us that we are using the resources provided to us on earth in really inefficient ways and sometimes just plain wasting them.  Of course every resource that you use in your business is a cost to your business as either a financial one or an environmental one.  You will understand the financial one pretty well though have you thought of the environmental ones both for your health and that of your colleagues?

The benefits of having a healthy team working with you are clear.  Though we can not see the slow changes that are causing our team to not be working at their full potential due to the increasing levels of pollution building up in their bodies and their surroundings.  It is like having an engine slowly clog up because it is unable to self-clean.  Running an engine that is not at its full potential just costs more resources to get the same level of output.

There are many superb resources on the web that provide insights into the way we are not using resources well.  The Story of Stuff (http://www.storyofstuff.com/) is one that is great for Adults and Children and it lasts only 20 minutes (great for a coffee room viewing at work).

It combines video clips of Annie Leonard and cartoon characters to explain financial costs that are not being passed along the supply chain to the end product being sold.  Costs associated with poor worker health or the destruction of forests and rivers is not paid by the customer buying the product rather through the community in higher health care costs and not being able to use their local water resources or the oxygen from the forests.

I am sure that if you were to stop for just 5 minutes after watching a video like “The Story of Stuff” you would recall areas within your business operation that are using resources poorly.  How much do you think you could save after investing just 5 minutes of your chargeable time on recalling those ideas?  I would guess easily 10 times or more the cost of the investment.  I look forward to hearing what action you took and what the savings were to your organisation.