Category Archives: Environment & Climate Change

In praise of doughnuts: restoring the environment as a key dimension of inclusive growth

As the great and the good gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, you can be sure that there’ll be plenty of name checks for ‘inclusive growth’.

Commonly defined as enabling as many people as possible to contribute to and share in the benefits of economic growth (or words to that effect), it captures the need for governments and business to recast our model of growth to one that works better for everyone – spreading prosperity, opportunity and reward more fairly; treating tackling social inequality and driving up productivity as interconnected; and rethinking our account of economic progress so that we measure not only the rate of growth, but also the quality of that growth and people’s ‘lived experience’ of it.

Not much for me to argue with there, right? Well, no, except for the fact that I can’t help feeling an important part of the equation has been left out.

That nagging feeling was brought into sharp relief recently when a colleague shared a copy of a report by Morgan Stanley, entitled “Inclusive Growth Drivers: The Anatomy of a Corporation”. In laying out the ‘business case’ for inclusive growth, it states:

In the broadest sense, inclusive practices can promote business aims in two key ways:

  1. Improved Operating Environment: Inclusive growth creates more prosperous, secure, healthy and safe societies, which ultimately provide better operating environments for business and investment. Countries with higher levels of inclusive growth are more politically stable and typically have lower levels of social resentment and social unrest.
  2. Enhanced Consumer Purchasing Power: By folding historically neglected swaths of the population into a growing economy, inclusive growth expands the customer base available to businesses. That benefit is extended by the better health outcomes and longer life expectancies correlated with reduced inequality.

It’s the second point above that sticks most in the craw, given the rest of the document goes on to say the square root of bugger all in recognition of the obvious environmental consequences of lots of people living longer and buying more stuff.

On the evidence of most viewpoints I’ve read on inclusive growth, this is by no means atypical. Quite the contrary, it appears a very common trap to wax lyrical about reducing social inequality while (consciously or unconsciously) neglecting environmental considerations.

It’s an omission I find totally baffling, given the obvious correlation between poverty and environmental degradation. Wherever they occur around the world, climate shocks hit the poorest in society hardest and, unchecked, the World Bank has estimated that global temperature rises could result in an additional 100 million people living in poverty by 2030. Surely, then, it’s as plain as the nose on my face that action to protect and restore the environment has to feature more prominently in the prevailing narrative around inclusive growth?

The great challenge facing us as a society – so that broader narrative goes –  isn’t only ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from economic growth; it’s also making sure, at the same time, that we don’t irreparably damage our planet’s life-supporting systems. In other words, it’s to generate growth that is both economically inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

This is precisely where Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics model – with its combined emphasis on raising social foundations, while not smashing through the ecological ceiling – runs rings (pun absolutely intended) round just about everything else I’ve seen and read on the topic of inclusive growth.

doughnut

If this model is new to you, it’s worth taking a moment to absorb the elegance of the metaphor. In the hole in the middle, we are living in a state of deprivation, with an insufficiency of the goods and services we need to lead a good life; beyond the outer ring, we are living beyond what the planet can support; it’s in between the two rings – in the doughnut itself – that we find the “safe and just space for humanity.”

It’s time to restore the environment to its rightful place amid all the talk around inclusive growth and the doughnut shows us how. (I always knew they were good for you!)

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SOLAR FREAKIN’ ROADWAYS!

You know how I’m always yacking on about the need to make sustainability desirable and fun – less about the language of limits and more about the language of possibilities?

Well, check out this video. If this is genuinely feasible – and $2.2million raised in crowdfunding in just two months suggests a lot of people think it is – this beyond cool!

Enjoy…

Sausage + Sizzle (the Icebreaker way)

WARNING: LONG (BUT HOPEFULLY ENLIGHTENING) POST

Let’s start at the beginning…

The plan was simple: let’s be what the others weren’t. They were synthetic; we were natural. They were about sweaty men; we were gender inclusive… They were about hard adventure; we were about kinship with nature. They were about function only; we were about design and creativity. Exploring for us wasn’t the highest peak, but an exploration of something much bigger – nature itself.

These words from CEO, Jeremy Moon, brilliantly capture the essence of Icebreaker – the New Zealand outdoor clothing brand, whose nature-inspired, pure merino wool outdoor clothing system is another fabulous example of brand- and sustainability-driven business strategy.

My blossoming love affair with the brand only intensified last weekend as I popped into Snow+Rock to buy my four-year-old daughter a new set of thermals. For me, it was an encounter that added yet another layer (no pun intended) to their brilliance – a perfect combination of sausage and sizzle…

First the sausage…

Emotional ‘sizzle’ is for nought without product ‘sausage’, and product performance is where the Icebreaker system really scores, thanks to taking its cue from Mother Nature.

The merino wool fibre, it turns out, is a miraculous thing – not only providing outstanding insulation, but also incredible softness and breathability. And because of its natural antimicrobial properties, it doesn’t stink either, even after a sweaty run.

By all accounts there are folks who’ve been able to go for months without having to wash their Icebreaker, so brilliantly does it work (not something you can say about the synthetic competition); and, when you do eventually wash it, you can do so on a perfectly ordinary washing cycle (no need for special detergents to get the whiff out).

Feels better. Warms better. Breathes better. Smells better. That’s a clear victory for natural merino wool on product performance, and what was really great to see at the weekend was how the whole Icebreaker value proposition was reflected in the packaging of Lottie’s new gear as well…

Compact and 100% recyclable

Firstly, you’re immediately struck by just how compact it is, and the fact that the inner tray and outer sleeve are both made out of nothing but 100% recyclable cardboard. Look a bit closer, though, and you realise they’ve done something else really clever…

'The Pack with the Hole'

Notice the hole on the front of the outer sleeve (one that on other packages might have been covered by a bit of clear plastic)? That’s genius because it immediately allows you to touch the product inside. ‘Wow, that’s soft!’ you say, and all those messages about superior product performance encircling the cut-out are given an extra kinaesthetic kick.

…then the sizzle…

There’s no shortage of emotional sizzle either, with some wonderfully irreverent copywriting on the back of the box (a bit reminiscent of the kind of copy that appears on Innocent’s smoothie cartons):

The New Zealand merino sheep’s amazing all-weather coat lets him roam the rugged Southern Alps in snow, rain, sun and wind. Now you can wear the same outdoor clothing system – minus the horns, hooves and dags (that’s New Zealanders’ word for sheep poo!). Your Icebreaker doesn’t itch, feels light against your skin, looks great and locks in warmth – and it’s good for the environment. Your Icebreaker rocks!

Accompanied by mini-testimonials (including from 8-year-old, Alex, who says that, if his mum wants to wash his Icrebreaker, she basically has to steal it from his room under cover of darkness!), this helps to create sense of fun, playfulness and love for the brand that amplifies, still further, the contrast between the ‘soft’ Icebreaker and its ‘hard’ competitors.

There’s another lovely little touch, too, with the finger puppets stamped into the cardboard of the inner tray (hours of fun, no doubt, for the younger wearer.)

The piece-de-resistance here, though, is undoubtedly Icebreaker’s pun-tastic invention of the ‘Baacode’ – a unique number on the clothing label that, if you enter it on their website, actually traces the sheep stations from which the fibres that make up your garment were sourced. Complete with extensive bios of the farmers concerned, it’s a great way for Icebreaker to illustrate its commitment, not only to its suppliers, but also to full product transparency.

Tracing your garment

Where the fibres came from

Personal stories from the sheep stations

In conclusion…

Ultimately, I guess, this is all a rather long-winded and effusive way to express my admiration for a not inconsiderable amount of integrative thinking; also, though, to illustrate an important point from a previous post…

Actions taken in the name of sustainability are liable to be worthless – indeed can be positively harmful to a company’s brand and the bottom line – if the underlying principles aren’t demonstrably applied to day-to-day decision-making (i.e. sustainability ain’t about PR; it’s about culture!)… The authenticity of your commitment stems from the materiality of your actions – i.e. beyond the thin veneer of charitable giving, cause-related marketing etc., that commitment should be self-evident in the very products and services you provide.

In case you were wondering what that might look like in real life, I reckon the above offers a pretty decent example.

Puma’s “clever little bag” and other lessons in sustainable packaging

Thanks to Chris Sherwin – former head of innovation at Forum for the Future and now a consultant at Dragon Rouge – for forwarding me his recent Design Week piece on the future of sustainable packaging.

If you’re thinking “Packaging? Yuk, how dull!” just hold your horses for a second.

Quite apart from the fact that packaging waste is a major problem – 6 million tonnes of it discarded every year by UK households alone (much of it, of course, ending up in landfill) – a couple of the examples Chris cites are actually rather sexy and seriously bloody clever.

None more so than Puma’s aptly named “clever little bag” – an innovation developed by Yves Behar (he of XO Laptop fame) – which is just such a smart idea on so many levels, and amply illustrates the value that design can bring to the development of more sustainable products and systems.

What’s so clever about it is the way in which it simultaneously attacks the packaging waste problem from both ends of the life-cycle:

  1. Tackling inputs – How can we design waste out of the system through our choice of materials? How can we reduce the types and volume of materials used, reduce the energy and water involved in their sourcing, manufacture and transportation, and ensure that they are safe and healthy for people to use at every stage (including all probable end-of-life scenarios)?
  2. Delaying/preventing disposal – How can we migrate behaviours away from single-use packaging that’s instantly discarded once a product is opened? What if we could give packaging life beyond life? Once it’s fulfilled its purpose of protecting the product on its way to the customer, what other purposes could it usefully fulfil? How can we make it desirable to keep?

What’s even cleverer about this solution (to my mind at least) is the way in which it potentially reframes the value proposition of sustainability for consumers.

Sure, it ticks all the obvious environmental performance boxes (8,500 tonnes less paper consumed, 20 million mega-joules of electricity saved, 1 million litres less fuel oil used, 1 million litres of water conserved etc.), but it goes beyond that.

The “clever little bag” doesn’t just filter out the nasties; it gives the customer something extra – something they can continue to use, for example, to store their shoes in a suitcase or kitbag, to stop their other stuff from getting mucky.

That may not sound like much in practice but, in principle, it’s a massive shift – a reason to choose the more sustainable option not simply because it’s “the right thing to do” (essentially a proposition based on guilt), but because the solution actually outperforms its less sustainable alternatives (one based on added value).

That principle, writ large, is at the heart of creating mass market appeal for more sustainable products, experiences and business models and (as I’ve written in the past) where design can add greatest value – by replacing messages of doom and gloom with ones of hope and aspiration.

The Big Lie of climate politics, talent management and the Next Industrial Revolution

There’s a nice interview piece up on CSR Wire right now, the first in a three-part series with Eric Pooley – deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, former managing editor of Fortune, and author of The Climate War.

It happens to have pricked my interest today as, in the course of editing an upcoming new title on talent management in the 55-minute guide series, I’ve just been re-reading a report by Tomorrow’s Company – Tomorrow’s Global Talent: A new talent agenda for the UK.

(Don’t get the link? Don’t worry, all shall hopefully become clear…)

The central tenet of the Tomorrow’s Company report is that understanding what they refer to as the “triple context” (the interdependence of economic, social and environmental sub-systems) is not just essential to success at the level of individual businesses, but also at the level of national economies. The success of UK plc, they maintain, lies in talent-intensive, high value-added sectors, focused on innovation that steers the global economy towards a more sustainable future.

Interesting, then, to read Pooley’s views on the machinations of the “deny and delay” crowd in the US, and their moves to scupper the US Climate Bill by peddling the great myth that sustainability and economic prosperity are somehow mutually exclusive.

It’s a familiar, if completely facile, argument that insists that if we take action on sustainability, we’ll break the bank (erm… didn’t we do that already?!); that doing something good for the environment is necessarily bad for the economy; that all it does is make us less competitive against the likes of India and China.

Aside from highlighting the inconvenient truth that numerous examples (such as Interface) already exist to demonstrate that this isn’t so, it’s even more important to point out that what this kind of argument appears to ignore is the even greater myth that countries like the US or the UK can even begin to compete with India and China on an international scale on the basis of the continuation of business as usual.

Surely – as alluded to by the Tomorrow’s Company report – the basic rules of corporate strategy apply here, as much to nations as to individual enterprises?

Let’s not forget Michael Porter’s definition of strategy – a process of understanding, positioning and adapting a business for the purpose of creating sustainable competitive advantage. (I mean c’mon, people, he even uses the word “sustainable” for chrissakes! How much more of a clue do you need?!)

Countries, just like companies, can be viewed as bundles of productive resources (e.g. fixed assets, people, skills, brands etc.). Each has a unique resource profile that can be leveraged into core competencies, and that can sustain competitive advantage as long as those resources remain valuable and distinctive.

The point is that much of what was once valuable and distinctive about our system of business is no more. The environment has changed. Our competitors can easily imitate or substitute those resources. The ways of the industrial age just don’t cut it any more because, in that realm of Six Sigma and operational efficiency, our competitors have a much better value proposition.

Isn’t it time for us all to accept this reality and embrace sustainability, not just as a moral imperative, but as a brand, business and economic imperative too?

As many people have written, what we’re talking about here is nothing short of the next industrial revolution – a fundamental game change. (As the military analogies so prevalent in thinking on strategy would have it: if you can’t beat them on their terms, then change the rules of engagement.)

Sure, the transition won’t be painless, just as I’m sure it wasn’t at the time of the last industrial revolution. It will create winners and losers. And the vested interests aren’t going to go down without a bloody good fight. But, to elide two of Umair Haque’s more zen-like tweets, here’s the thing:

The real utopia isn’t betterness. It’s the economists’ world of perfect markets, greed, and consumption driving unstoppable prosperity. Being the best in tomorrow’s terms often means being the worst in yesterday’s. Make the tradeoff. It’s how disruption happens.

‘Nuff said.

Welcome to DisneyWorld Arabia…

(Writing from Gate 117 at Dubai International Airport)

I’ve visited some weird places in my time, but Dubai really takes the cake.

I may only have been out here for the weekend (to visit a couple of old MBA mates and recharge my visa) but it’s left a lasting impression – one of total bewilderment!

Apparently, my friend’s uncle refers to it as “DisneyWorld for business”, and he ain’t wrong!

It’s a fantasyland. The land of “-est”. One giant advertising campaign, seemingly devoid of any connection to reality.

Maybe I’m just going grumpy prematurely, but as my friends and I sat enjoying a lovely Lebanese meal last night – watching the world’s tallest fountain (which fires up every half hour) going off against the backdrop of the world’s tallest building (lit up like a bloody Christmas tree) – all I could think was, “Jeez, what’s the carbon footprint of this place?”

The profligacy is just staggering.

Take the massive ski centre at the heart of one of the malls we visited. Not with artificial snow, mind you. Nope, whilst temperatures outside hit the mid-40s (over 110˚F), this huge space is permanently chilled to between -3 and -5˚C.

Real snow. In the middle of the ****ing desert!

I mean why for god’s sake?! That’s like sticking a life-like reproduction of the French Riviera in the middle of a shopping centre in Glasgow – it’s just nuts!

Oh well, my flight’s just been called.

Back to the normalcy of Riyadh (and there’s something I never thought I’d say!).

Is “Beyond Petroleum” the biggest piece of greenwash ever?

Take a look at my contribution to the latest round on the CommScrum. I’d be really interested to hear other people’s views on BP and whether anyone can come up with better (or should that be ‘worse’?) examples of greenwash.