The irony of it all

The global HR director for a UK cleantech once said to me: “It’s really hard to get young engineers up north. They all seem to want to work around London or work for BAE”. Glad to see this person of authority believes the organisation they work for, is lesser than one that facilitates war and death. That lack of pride, ambition and self-belief is far less appealing than the prospect of working up north. I’m not surprised people are put off working with that organisation.

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A work in progress

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Life is always a work in progress – hence why I write all this down. The blog’s theme has changed, from sustainability, to marketing, to education and health, while now, it sits firmly in fashion… for the time being.

Some further work is at www.theshowroomonline.co.uk – a collection of handpicked, unique vintage clothing and accessories.

Out of touch, some might say

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Since when did ensuring adequate child nutrition and well-being become ‘unnecessary spending’ or a ‘giveaway’?

These views came after the government announcement that free school meals will now be made available to all children under 7. Nick Clegg apparently had to push the Tory led coalition to accepting what one senior tory describe as “an appalling waste of £600million of taxpayers’ money” (out-of-touch, some might say).

For the family orientated press I’d assume this would have been a triumph for common sense. For the financially led papers, a catapult to future economic growth and prosperity. But no, ideology or utter bollocks prevails over all.

The World Bank’s Nutrition Overview, states, “The economic cost of under-nutrition, in terms of lost national productivity and economic growth, are enormous. Countries can lose between 2 to 3 percent of their potential GDP each year.”

Furthermore a Harvard School of Public Health study says, pursuing economic growth top-down without corresponding direct investments in health and health-related programmes “has little effect on child nutrition”; in other words, economic growth has not helped child nutrition – thus having little effect on long-term sustained economic growth. So how are we going to secure economic prosperity 20 years from now?

Some people have asked, how can we afford it? But how can we afford not to do it?

I Heart Advertising

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Sustainability isn’t a key purchasing driver for the majority of consumers. But when they discover more about a company’s credible sustainability work, their affection and loyalty to the brand deepens.

I adapted (stole) that from this Guardian article on gum arabic (capitalisation not necessary); an ingredient found in most carbonated soft drinks, which comes with a whole host of externalities, but so often neglected from sustainability reporting.

I’m going to follow suit and neglect that as well. The point I’m trying to make is, the green purchaser doesn’t exist and never will, at least not in the numbers great enough to satisfy most ROI requirements. Furthermore they’re unlikely to want to invest time and money, making a small impact on a faraway place, at some time in the undetermined future.

Although I hate advertising as it’s manipulative, prays on the vulnerable and inescapable, when executed well, it is so damn effective. Great advertisers and this includes soft drinks companies, always answer:

  • Why should I care? (You shouldn’t)
  • How is this going to change my life? (It isn’t)
  • What do I need to do? (Ignore it and run for the hills)

Sustainability and advertising go hand-in-hand. If advertising is a necessary evil of the modern world, it might as well be for something good.

We’re all human

I recently relaunched a new website for Elstat, who design energy saving solutions for commercial refrigeration systems. Their energy savings are massive, absolutely massive; since 2004 they’ve saved nearly 15bn kWh, prevented the release of over 8 million tonnes of CO2 and saved store and building owners over $2bn. Huge numbers, but therein lies the problem. They are so big, they are nigh on impossible to comprehend and put a human perspective upon them.

If we take winning the jackpot on the national lottery, the odds are 14m:1. Odds clearly not in your favour, but I can never knowingly experience 14m anything. My friend, a maths graduate, put it in to perspective for me; he said winning the lottery is like selecting the correct minute out of 26.5 years! I can’t experience 14m unknown things, but I can experience 26.5 years (I’m 25 years old by the way).

And now I don’t play the lottery.

The default setting for environmental communications, is to either promote the doom and gloom (please see my first ever post on A Work in Progress) or to baffle you with large numbers which are then transformed into other large numbers you don’t understand or ones that don’t even make sense; i.e. saves 100,000 trees.

The messages I instead created are human-centered, focussed on actions present in our everyday lives.

Take for example the Global Impact page. The numbers are massive, but at the bottom of the page I inserted one tagline to put some perspective on it: Last year we saved enough power to charge every iPhone, ever sold, every day for 4 years. In fact it’s probably double this, but this is the minimal level.

Does this work? Tell me what you think.

Global Impact

This takes the biscuit

I wrote a while back about meaningless corporate speak (bullshit) but I never thought I’d find a whole passage that wasn’t a joke, where no meaning could be derived.

In response to a 2degrees forum question: “How do you use GHG emissions ratios to ‘communicate’ with stakeholders?”, this is what a consultant responded with.

“I think the best way may be to determine your internal materiality value. Once you have that value then you can better benchmark your ratio with other companies. As I think without that it will be a pointless exercise. Furthermore, I think engaging and preparing reporting depends on what your material aspect is for your stakeholders, this can actually be done with some of empirical research exercise with a sample of stakeholders, both internal and external stakeholders. Roughly you may do this by surveys or focus groups or such similar research activities. Once this has been established then you can actually present the information in ratio format. I think one more interesting thing can be to present your ratio performance with the benchmarked value or by several deviation representation.”

A complete failure in communication; the person who asked the question is not in expert in GHG emissions, sustainability carbon management nor corporate bullshit; but more importantly he hasn’t even answered the question.

Quit the platitudes kids.

A Work in Progress

I’ve only been working within sustainability for about two years, so I don’t claim to be an expert nor do I really care deeply about it (I much prefer watching football on Saturday afternoon or leaving my workplace early on any given day). In fact what I can say, is that I’m sick of sustainability; I’m sick of a failed ‘environmental movement’, sick of people’s perceptions, misgivings, our politicians collective incompetence, corruption and the exploitation of vulnerable, deprived people, communities and scarce resources; I’m sick of moaning, because this is what the environmental movement has been doing for 60 years, I’m sick of hearing my own voice, so someone else might as well listen to my musings.

But what about the successes that this movement has brought? I’m repeatedly told that our awareness of environmental issues and the plight people in absolute poverty has increased tenfold. I feel that’s utterly meaningless. If for the last 60 years all Coca-Cola had done was to make people aware that Coca-Cola existed, would they sell 1 billion servings a day? Would they still be in business? I doubt it. I’m then told the purpose of the environmental campaigners is to increase awareness of related issues, quite right. However that purpose was never enough, we need solutions, which cost less and look like Brigitte Bardot. But as I’m part of this failure I can’t forever wallow in my own self-loathing and thankfully over the last 10 years the tide has begun to turn dramatically.

Now I’ve gotten rid of the vague aspects I hate about working in this arena, what do I want to look forward to and what do I hope to achieve in the future? Personally I want to enjoy it as much as I enjoy watching twenty-two men run around a field, extending their legs when a spherical object approaches them, striking it using their foot, with adequate force, forcing the ball to move, in the desired direction. If only we all had the motor skills to perform such tasks, the world would be a much simpler place. I want solutions. I want sustainability to respond to my most basic of wants and emotions. Sometimes it does, but not nearly enough.

Admittedly I’ve gotten off to a bad start, but from this point forward I will attempt to bring readers reviews of design solutions, insight and some of my own work that highlight sustainability for what it is; the biggest and most exciting business opportunity the world has ever seen. I think I still have to convince myself of that, never mind whoever wishes to read this.