WRAPPING UP 2018

This is the penultimate article I will publish in 2018. This week I will be looking into a personal milestone that I will achieve this year. I will look into some interesting and disturbing facts related to wrapping paper. Then I want to pick out some key items that I believe will define how sustainability in 2018 is remembered.

Wrapping paper

Personal milestone

On a personal note, 2018 has been a good year for me. I have been amazed by how well people have reacted to the content I have been publishing this year. I published articles on 48 out of 52 Sundays in 2017. My target was to publish something every single Sunday in 2018 and with one more article to put out next week, I will have hit that target. As with all things in life, consistency is key. Whether you read and liked one article or supported each and every one, your support and comments are what makes this worthwhile, so thank you.

Wrapping paper madness

Christmas is a time that presents many contradictions for sustainability. It seems that the throwaway culture is placed into overdrive during this period. It is too early to tell whether the Blue-Planet effect will have impacted buying habits this Christmas. But from my initial impressions, I would have to say that this has not happened. Here are a few UK wrapping paper facts to mull over this Christmas.

  • The amount of wrapping paper used for presents is enough to wrap around the equator 9 times.
  • The average household will get through four rolls of wrapping paper.
  • Approximately 910,000,000 metres of wrapping paper will be used
  • Wrapping paper is designed for single use only, and although some of us try to re-use it, realistically this can only be done once or twice before it is finally binned.

Sustainability in 2018

In terms of the wider sustainability agenda, I think 2018 has been a positive year. Momentum continues to build behind sustainable brands and sustainability has become increasingly mainstream. There are 3 items that I have picked out that I believe have defined 2018.

1. Plastics and the circular economy

Ever since the final episode of Blue Planet II was aired in January 2018, businesses and governments worldwide have awoken from their slumber and begun to take action to reduce the use of single use plastics and recycle them wherever possible. It does lead me to think of the possibilities if there was a “Blue Planet” moment for carbon like there has been for plastics. The momentum would be unstoppable.

In 2018 I really liked the P&G, Suez and Terracycle collaboration to produce the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle made from up to 25% recycled beach plastic. I chronicled this in my article Partnerships for the goals, which you can find via the link below.

PARTNERSHIPS FOR THE GOALS

I thought the collaboration summed up nicely, how even titans like P&G and Suez couldn’t solve this problem alone and enlisted the help of recycling upstarts Terracycle to help make it a reality. It’s okay to not have all the answers yourselves. Just make sure you are collaborating and working with others to help make sustainability a reality.

I would say whilst a lot of pressure and momentum was building on plastics in 2018, there has been less progress towards creating a circular economy. This would be an economy made up of a majority of businesses employing a circular economy business model. I chronicled this in my article How to overcome the main barrier to the circular economy, which you can find via the link below.

HOW TO OVERCOME THE MAIN BARRIER TO THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY

Creating a fully circular economy business model is tough. This explains why progress in this area has been slow. But there is good news. Things that are hardest to achieve are generally the most worthwhile. I remain confident that we will see major breakthroughs on circular economy principles in the not too distant future.

2. Carbon targets

This year and every year for the foreseeable future sustainability will be dominated by one problem, carbon. Whether through the combustion of fossil fuels or deforestation and forest degradation human societies continue to emit massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. This carbon is creating a greenhouse effect which is causing a rise in temperatures at a planetary scale.

One article that I published this year that I was very surprised by the response to was my article on Elon Musk’s perspective on climate change. You can find this via the link below.

ELON MUSK ON CLIMATE CHANGE

I was not really prepared for the response that I receive to this. But Elon Musk is a pretty cool guy, very intelligent and he certainly knows how to capture the attention of millennials. Hopefully when people read it, they internalised his central message, which is that this is a big problem that requires fundamental solutions.

One of the most impressive carbon initiatives that was launched in 2018 was Maersk’s new carbon targets.

In December Maersk announced its goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. To achieve this, carbon neutral vessels must be commercially viable by 2030 and new innovations and adaption of new technology is required.

I was really impressed by this and it’s now up for competitors in their industry to see if they can do it quicker.

I thought I chronicled the need for zero-based targets rather well in my article that you can find via the link below. One may be the loneliest number, but as far as sustainability goes, zero is the most important number there is.

WHY ZERO-BASED TARGETS ARE SO POWERFUL

 

3. Thinking bigger about sustainability

This is a trend that I hope will spill over from 2018 and continue to get bigger in 2019.

Whether it is through partnerships with others or ambitious individual targets, it is clear that businesses need to think bigger about sustainability.

I was pleased with the response to my article about Interface, which you can find via the link below.

IS THIS THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY POLICY OF ALL TIME?

 

I still maintain that they remain unmatched at the pinnacle of corporate sustainability. But goals are made to be broken and hopefully we see some new entrants in 2019.

I was blown away by the response to my article about the Net Positive Project, which you can find via the link below.

HOW TO MAKE SUSTAINABILITY GREAT

I think it shows that there is a clear yearning to move sustainability on from being about “being less bad” to creating businesses that are good actors who give back to the communities in which they are based. Hopefully 2019 is a big year for the Net Positive Project.

What you need to know

This article looked into a personal milestone that I will have achieved in 2018, by uploading something new to my website every single Sunday for a year.

We also looked into some interesting facts about wrapping paper. Christmas is known as a time of indulgence and not a time of sustainability. We can only hope consumers buying habits change in the future.

We then looked into 3 things that I believe characterised sustainability in 2018. These were:

1. Plastics and the circular economy

2. Carbon targets

3. Thinking bigger about sustainability

Overall, there is a lot to be positive about in 2018. Sustainability continues to rise in importance in corporate agendas. You can always complain that there is not enough change happening fast enough. But there has been a good foundation laid and things are certainly heading in the right direction.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think defines sustainability in 2018?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

WHAT ARE THE NET POSITIVE PRINCIPLES?

This article looks into the net positive principles. The Net Positive Project is an interesting take on corporate sustainability, with businesses committed to taking their sustainability efforts to new heights.

Net Positive

In their own words: “Net Positive is a new way of doing business which puts back more into society, the environment and the global economy than it takes out.”

This is certainly an impressive goal. They aim: “to become thriving organisations that deliver benefits that extend far beyond traditional organisational boundaries.”

When I first came across the Net Positive Project I was immediately struck by just how different an approach this is from conventional corporate sustainability. In their own words:

Becoming Net Positive requires organisations to be ambitious and plan for long-term success. They have to go beyond risk avoidance and incremental improvements and start to innovate.”

This is what I like the most about the initiative.

Launched in 2016 the project aims to establish itself as the global authority on net positive, creating a standard way for companies to quantify, assess and enhance their positive impacts.

Forum of the Future, WWF, and The Climate Group recommended the following 12 principles to form the basis of the Net Positive Project.

They are listed below.

1 The organization aims to make a positive impact in its key material areas.

2. The positive impact is clearly demonstrable if not measurable.

3. The organization also shows best practice in corporate responsibility and sustainability across the spectrum of social, environmental, and economic impact areas, in line with globally accepted standards.

4. The organization invests in innovation in products and services, enters new markets, works across the value chain, and in some cases, challenges the very business model it relies on.

5. A net positive impact often requires a big shift in approach and outcomes, and cannot be achieved by business-as-usual.

6. Reporting on progress is transparent, consistent, authentic, and independently verified where possible. Boundaries and scope are clearly defined and take account of both positive and negative impacts. Any trade-offs are explained.

7. Net positive is delivered in a robust way and no aspect of a net positive approach compensates for unacceptable or irreplaceable natural losses, or ill treatment of individuals and communities.

8. Organizations enter into wider partnerships and networks to create bigger positive impacts.

9. Every opportunity is used to deliver positive impacts across value chains, sectors, systems, and throughput to the natural world and society.

10. Organizations publicly engage in influencing policy for positive change.

11. Where key material areas are ecological, robust environmentally restorative and socially inclusive methods are applied.

12. An inclusive approach is adopted at every opportunity, ensuring affected communities are involved in the process of creating positive social and/or environmental impacts.

Any organisation that fully committed to these principles would be making a real difference to their trajectory.

They are farsighted and they aim to fully decouple anyone who is committed to the net positive principles from the unsustainable growth of the past. But more than that, it is about going beyond making amends for negative aspects and making a positive contribution to society and the environment.

What you need to know

This article looked into the net positive principles.

We looked into what the net positive project says about itself in their own words.

We then looked at the 12 net positive principles put forward by Forum of the Future, WWF, and The Climate Group.

Overall these are farsighted and ambitious principles. It would be fair to say that there are no organisations in the world who are currently excelling in all 12 principles. But they point towards a positive direction.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about the net positive principles?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

GREEN, GRÜN, GRÖN: WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

This article looks into various definitions of the word green in sustainability.

green bean

Words are powerful. They can inspire a nation to greatness or lead them towards darkness. Ideally, we would have a fixed sustainability lexicon, where individuals would be free to use terms and those terms would be widely understood. But when it comes to the word green, it is very hard to define what it actually means.

A great resource in this regard comes on page 19 of Patrick Moore’s book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout. He states that:

At its worst, green is a shameless marketing slogan, used to promote various products and services as environmentally friendly. Yet it is a useful term, a way of distinguishing relatively damaging technologies from ones that have less impact, if it is used objectively.”

Patrick goes on to conclude that:

Green is more of a political or marketing term than a scientific one and therefore refrain from using it when renewable, sustainable, or clean will do. If asked what green means to me, I would say it must pass the test of being sustainable and clean.

Patrick’s contribution is a welcome one, as the former co-founder of Greenpeace, he should certainly know something about the word green and its use in mass communication. His analysis is that it must be used objectively, and that ‘green’ products or services must pass other tests to justify their environmental credentials.

I came across the shades of green framework by CICERO recently and I thought it was really interesting. It should make it easier to decipher between projects that are green and projects that are not. You can find the framework below.

CICERO is Norway’s foremost institute for interdisciplinary climate research. Their opinions are graded dark green, medium green and light green to offer investors better insight into the environmental quality of green bonds.

Green

Bonds that they flag as dark green must go towards financing projects that are aligned with a long-term low carbon future. This includes projects such as wind energy.

Those that they flag as medium green represent a half-way house towards a long-term low carbon future and includes projects such as hybrid busses. These are more sustainable than regular busses, but not quite as sustainable as fully battery powered busses.

Bonds that they flag as light green are projects that are environmentally friendly, but not attached to a long-term vision. This includes projects such as efficiency for fossil fuel infrastructure. These are better than nothing, but do not decouple development from its ties to fossil fuels.

Those that they flag as brown are the last category. These do not deserve the banner of green at all, as they are in opposition to a long-term low carbon future. This would include new infrastructure for fossil fuels, especially coal.

Whilst there is a lot to like about the CICERO shades of green framework, there are still things left unanswered. This includes the fact that green is being used to describe innovations like wind turbines and solar panels, even though they are made from non-renewable materials and often require fossil fuels to create them. The fact that the shades of green framework exists at all shows that there is a spectrum of projects that can be described as ‘green’ with varying degrees of sustainability.

What you need to know

This article looked into various definitions of the word green in sustainability.

We looked at the analysis of Patrick Moore, who personally doesn’t use the term, because of its lack of specificity.

We looked at the CICERO shades of green framework which can be used to rank the projects that green bonds fund from dark green to brown.

Overall, I don’t think the word green is a particularly useful term. It is far too vague and lacks any real meaning.

Clearly green when used in the context of sustainability is being used to describe a product or service that confers some sort of social or environmental benefit. But, it is in that window of uncertainty that unscrupulous businesses will use greenwashing to oversell the benefits of their offering.

Companies pronouncements of how green their projects or initiatives are should therefore be treated with caution, until you can verify what additional sustainable benefits are involved.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What does the word green mean to you?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

WHAT IS DRIVING TROPICAL DEFORESTATION?

This article takes a quick look at tropical deforestation and its causes.

deforestation

Tropical deforestation is an issue that raises passions among many people. The thought that the worlds most valuable ecosystem, made up of trees that have stood for hundreds of years could disappear in the next one to two hundred years is something that most people know is wrong. More than half of the world’s plant and animal species call the tropical rainforests their home. They are the most outstanding terrestrial ecosystem. But if we know all this to be true, why has so little progress been made in solving this problem?

Deforestation and tropical deforestation in particular are closely linked to climate change. Deforestation is responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Trees store carbon, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and release them when they are cut or burned. Climate change is a complex problem to solve, but reducing deforestation is one of the cheaper and easier options available.

In one of my first articles back in February 2017, I wrote about the 3 deadly C’s. These are combustion, cattle and chainsaws. These were outlined by James Lovelock as being 3 aspects of human activity that are having an outsize impact on the environment. You can find a link to my article below. 

The 3 Deadly C’s & Sustainability

I think we can build on James Lovelock’s analysis and be more specific about the drivers of tropical deforestation.

Forest Trends have a great paper, which you can find via the link below. Some of the figures point to what the drivers are.

Supply Change: Tracking Corporate Commitments to Deforestation-Free Supply Chains, 2017

Commercial agriculture is driving at least 2/3 of tropical deforestation globally. This means that action in this area is absolutely essential to controlling tropical deforestation.

The majority of forest clearance stems from the production of the big four commodities. These are:

  1. Palm
  2. Soy
  3. Timber & pulp
  4. Cattle

It is fairly straightforward to understand that a forest would be cleared for the valuable timbers that it holds within it.

The recent focus on palm oil has brought a greater degree of attention to the links between this commodity and deforestation.

But I think the link between soy and cattle, and deforestation is less well understood. Forests are cleared to create land to graze cows. Further land is cleared to grow soy to feed to the cows. This is not only a highly inefficient process, but destroys an irreplaceable ecosystem, not to satisfy human needs, but to satisfy human wants. More emphasis of the benefits of plant-based diets is needed.

What you need to know

This article looked at tropical deforestation and its causes.

We looked at how tropical deforestation poses a threat to biodiversity as well as contributing towards climate change.

We looked at how commercial agriculture is the primary driver of deforestation, with the big four commodities making up the lions share of that deforestation.

Little progress has been made in solving this problem, because of the disconnect between the environmental destruction and the products that it creates. Until recently there was little public understanding  of the link between the palm oil in their goods and deforestation. A lot of people may not have been aware of the presence of palm oil at all.

Timber and pulp are areas that have been well covered by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). But there are still a lot of uncertified forest products on sale in developed countries and in developing countries there is only a small appetite for certified products.

With regards to soy and cattle, which I will link because 70% of soy that is grown is fed to animal livestock. There is little public understanding that their desire for low cost meat is driving deforestation. Despite progress in the other two areas. Progress in this area will remain slow until there is a clear link in the mind of consumers between their desire for beef and tropical deforestation.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. How do you think tropical deforestation can be controlled?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

HIRING FOR SUSTAINABILITY

This article looks into the hiring process and how it can be used to advance sustainability.

Leisure-Lakes-Bikes-Staff-Wanted-EPOS-Admin-Assistant-30-10-17_71A97612.jpg

The hiring process is not something that probably comes to mind immediately when you think about sustainability at a corporate level. But the hiring process is key to developing a workforce that are capable of dealing with change and share the company’s passion for sustainability.

If you want to be a purposeful business, you will need employees who share this common purpose and vision.

This can be done in a number of ways.

One way is to infuse purpose into job descriptions. By rewriting job requirements with purpose in mind, this will automatically draw purposeful candidates towards your business and screen candidates who are looking for something different. But this is far from a formality.

Another way is to make sure that you are evaluating candidates for their purpose in interviews. This can often be sidestepped and the focus can be on competency and experience. But it is imperative to drill down into how purposeful a candidate is in the interview process.

The last way, is to raise the bar for purpose required for executive level positions. These will be the leaders, who drive purpose throughout the business, so it is important that they display exceptionally high levels of passion and purpose for sustainability. Without this, sustainability can exist in a paper form only and not in real life.

What you need to know

This article looked into the hiring process and how it can be used to advance sustainability.

A business is just a group of people who come together to achieve a shared goal. The hiring process is instrumental to making sure that that shared goal is sustainability.

I would definitely recommend that businesses implement the actions contained within this article to accelerate sustainability within their organisation.

Steve Jobs said that “people with passion can change the world.” So, you absolutely must be screening for passion and purpose during the hiring process.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. How do you think the hiring process can impact sustainability?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT POLAR BEARS

This article looks into effective marketing strategies employed by sustainability leaders and why corporate messages about polar bears don’t have their intended effect.

bears

This is based upon observations extracted from Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability Into Billion-Dollar Businesses by Freya Williams. This is an excellent book and I highly recommend that you buy a copy and read it.

She has a great quotation on page 182 which you can find below.

The mainstream, eco messages about polar bears will never beat ones about personal health, status, prosperity or happiness. Make it about people first, not the planet.”

Freya works as a CEO for Futerra in the USA. They are known for their effective approach towards sustainability communications. I would say with the above quote that Freya has hit the nail on the head.

The mentioning of polar bears, ice caps or other attempts to guilt trip consumers into buying items will never develop a product’s appeal among the masses. These concepts are too abstract to drive most consumers towards making a buying decision. It may work for the very small group of extreme environmental activists. But this group will tend to source out sustainable products anyway, regardless of the marketing. A very aggressive, guilt laden campaign will alienate the masses, for whom sustainability, whilst no doubt important, is not a top priority.

Companies should focus on people, their goals, their aspirations and their dreams in life. Explain to them how your product makes them a better version of themselves.

We have explained what’s wrong, what words should companies use to get it right?

On pages 190-191 Freya has an excellent breakdown of the most frequently used words by a number of sustainability leaders. Her findings are intriguing and go as follows.

Tesla’s top-used words are forward-looking, long-distance, cost, energy, fast, and performance. It never uses green and only rarely sustainable.

Nike’s words are design, innovation, performance, movement/motion, and technology; sustainability is in the top 10, but green is second from the bottom.

Unilever is a heavy user of sustainable—after all, it’s in the name of its plan—but the rest of its language includes children, life, future, open, and world.

Whole Foods leads with responsible and then uses fresh, health, new, pesticides, protect, and transparent.

In its Ecomagination communication, power, technology, and solutions dominate GE’s vocabulary.

These companies have developed a lexicon which has stayed far away from the clichés of polar bears and other aspects of environmental degradation. Rather they focus on positive aspects of their own products and sell those features as much as they possibly can.

Judging by the fact that almost all of these companies are performing well in the marketplace both in terms of sustainability and in terms of their business success, I would say that it has been a pretty good strategy.

What you need to know

This article looked into effective marketing strategies employed by sustainability leaders. We also looked into why corporate messages about polar bears don’t have their intended effect.

We looked into some observations drawn from the excellent book Green Giants by Freya Williams.

We looked into how sustainability is not a top priority for the masses and so communications need a more human approach and to focus on things that are important to the majority of people.

We looked into the language used by sustainability leaders, who prioritise selling the benefits of their products that people like and avoid clichés as much as they possibly can.

Overall the use of polar bears and other similar communication techniques should be avoided at all costs. Businesses should sell a product that makes consumers lives better. It should save them money, last longer, be better. Focus on these benefits, not clichés.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think makes a sustainability communications campaign effective?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

WHY ZERO-BASED TARGETS ARE SO POWERFUL

This article looks into zero-based targets and why they are so powerful. It follows on from last week’s article on the circular economy and why inertia plays such a prominent role in blocking progress towards circular business models.

sprint-zero

Oftentimes the things which stall progress are not technological or environmental factors. But they are to do with factors internal to organisations and related to any biases and preconceptions that individuals may have.

The first example of why zero-based targets are so powerful comes from Gareth Kane. Gareth has a great blog and a video series which you can find via the link below.

Is zero waste really possible?

Using the example of transitioning to zero waste, Gareth explains that zero is the ultimate stretch goal. It is a powerful number that can inspire an organisation. Gareth also explains that the zero-based target needs to be understood within the context of the organisation. He mentions that if perfection is not possible, but a 98% reduction is made, that is still amazing. Gareth also explains that it requires a language change, away from talking about waste towards talking about resources and materials. I agree with Gareth wholeheartedly there. The overall takeaway from using a zero-based target for waste is that it is about a mindset change.

The second example for why zero-based targets are so powerful comes from Steve Howard. In his Ted Talk which you can find via the link below, he sets out his case.

Steve Howard: Let’s go all-in on selling sustainability

He uses the example from his time at IKEA where they decided to go all in on sustainability, by only selling LED lights and removing all other inferior versions. He also mentions about how 100% can be easier, as if you have a 90% target, everyone in the business finds a way of being in the 10%. Having a 100% or 0% target makes it clear of the direction of travel and the ultimate destination.

The third example of why zero-based targets are so powerful comes from John Elkington. In his book The Zeronauts he opens with the statement that: “the Zeronauts are a new breed of innovator, determined to drive problems such as carbon, waste, toxics, and poverty to zero.

He goes onto mention that: “the power of zero has been trumpeted in various areas of business, notably in relation to zero defects.” It seems sensible after total quality management approaches had such incredible success for Japanese companies, that zero-based approached could bring a new dynamism to sustainability.

For more information I would definitely recommend reading John Elkington’s book The Zeronauts, or you can find out more by watching the video below.

John Elkington on ‘The Zeronauts – A new breed of leaders’

What you need to know

This article looked into zero-based targets and why they are so powerful.

We looked at an example from Gareth Kane which related to zero waste. We looked at an example from Steve Howard which was to do with IKEA and we looked at an example in John Elkington’s book The Zeronauts.

The overall takeaway is that zero-based targets force businesses to think differently and to make different priorities and choices. They also force middle managers to act differently, when pressures on time and for results can mean that sustainability gets side lined. Zero-based targets draw a line in the sand and point towards a positive forward direction. They force businesses away from a mindset that aims for incremental achievements towards one that looks for breakthrough successes.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about zero-based targets?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby