Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Blog for business

Calling all businesses – we need to know what really helps you. For years now, I have been creating new tools to help firms become more sustainable. Many, thankfully, have worked, but often only in specific sectors. Sustainability is much more ‘on the agenda’ but it has to be practically focused and deliver business benefits.

I know that more top-down regulations usually create burdensome bureaucracy (I have to say, I  have written many rules in the past) and I am aware that once sustainability is seen as an imposed cost, commitment and hearts and minds are easily lost.  In recent years I have progressed to designing a series of voluntary standards, both nationally and internationally, which help firms to implement sustainability for themselves.  These are often more effective because they are internally driven.

Now there is a possibility of these guidance standards becoming certifiable British Standards or ISOs. I am off to meetings to discuss the way forward. But I have to ask: is this useful? Do firms want to be able to demonstrate their sustainability credentials in this way? Or do companies really want more information and benchmarking – the sharing of good practise? How can green24 help in this?

It may be that it is not just organisations that need to be engaged, but their customers, communities and the public at large. That is the trust of much of my new work and probably lies at the heart of green24’s mission. It’s about widening responsibility and education, not just focusing on organisations to deliver everything.

Let us know what you think. We’d be delighted to hear your views.

David Jackman


There was an interesting phrase buried on page 70 of the UK House Of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport issue this week about phone hacking and News International. The controversial line which did not get cross party support for the statement that Rupert Murdoch was not a fit person to be a steward for an international company. The interesting word in this damning indictment is the word ‘steward’.

The committee might easily have said ‘director’, but they chose to use steward. The choice is very revealing as it shows a change in attitude towards the roles, responsibilities and purpose of the main board of directors and senior management teams in general. The term points up a broadening of the traditional financial driver of shareholder value, to include a wider set of responsibilities which relate to other stakeholders, and, I would argue, the environment. There are many other elements that could be included, but this is relevant to green24.

We are all stewards of the natural resources around us, as well as the cultural, economic and capital we create, affect or hold in trust. Unlike the others, environmental resources have limits; once the damage is done, it is very difficult to repair or restore. So in this area, which is particularly fragile, we have to be careful – just as the Murdoch’s have found that good reputation is extremely fragile and requires careful husbandry.

So maybe this moment marks a shift towards a clearer statement of directors’ responsibilities.  It is landmark cases like this that change the architecture of corporate governance. It may not set legal precedents, but it does set a precedent in the court of public opinion.

Many will be familiar with the concept of triple bottom line, but this is rather nebulous for companies to grasp in practice. If we can establish that senior management are more like stewards of our society and cultural capital than robber barons, then we will have moved on in a way that most will understand. Companies have responsibilities outside their bubble; they cannot operate in isolation regardless. Certain things are acceptable and others are most definite not.

To be a corporate statesman needs higher levels of competence and integrity; and this integrity needs to extend to the environment in in which we all live as much as anything else.

D Jackman

Here comes the sun

There is nothing that the British enjoy more than talking about the weather. Many a conversation starts with a review of the meteorological conditions for the last day, week, month or year. Even an hour by hour report is useful and interesting. It is a sensible subject to discuss of course. We need to know what to wear, what to prepare for, how long the journey home might take, perhaps what to eat. And it is not just a selfish endeavour; the information may be useful to us and to our friends, families and colleagues!

The last month has given us a treasure trove of material. We have gone from dire warnings of drought across the southern half of England to floods, deaths of travellers in storms and torrential rain. Everyone is rather confused. This is spring going into the summer and yet many water utilities have instituted hosepipe bans, some as early as from March. Farmers have been bemoaning arid land and fears for crops this year. Where I live, rainfall has been half that recorded last year. That’s quite a substantial drop.

The hosepipe bans are still in place despite some of the heaviest rainfall seen for years. Rivers have flooded and transport routes have been disrupted. April has been the wettest on record. The recent rain has not been enough to restore reservoirs or revive groundwater stores. There’s been talk about the need for a national water grid like many other countries have in place (replicating the electricity network), so that producing areas can supply those most in need. This will take a long time to come to fruition and in the meantime, if there is a pattern of continuing seasonal disruption, there will be a need for many other measures.

Everyone is a weather expert. But some are now admitting uncertainty. Strange things happen, such as high temperatures in the mountains in the north, and lower temperatures and rainfall in the south.  There is also water politics. Some people in the north are saying stridently that they would not want to send their water to the supposedly deserving south east, around London; however, in reality, they may not be on strong ground as they may not have enough water to give.

There are so many who do not believe in climate change. And this alone is a considerable block to increasing environment engagement. But now this bedrock of their faith is coming under challenge. No-one wishes for environmental catastrophes, but little more of the climate surprises may be very useful in changing values and attitudes.

Here’s hoping!

D Jackman

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Can we be ‘green enough’?

The name of this website is green24. The implication, perhaps, is that one can be truly ‘Green’ with a capital ‘g’ only by adopting an environmental outlook and then applying it constantly and perfectly – 24 hours per day, every day. To analyse this, let’s first accept that the idea of ‘green’ is valid and that it signifies an approach that is mindful of the environmental consequences of action, and which seeks to minimise those effects. It’s a useful code word, a concise and unmistakable way of marking a product, business or activity which prioritises this philosophy. “Green” is a theme, not a directive. 
But the idea of doing green ‘24’ is slightly different; it asks how much greenness one is managing to squeeze into a day, rather than questioning how environmentalist ideas can be extended and refined. In everyday parlance, it’s placing a long term focus on the green approach.

If only we could escape the tired metaphors of environmentalism’s detractors: If ‘green’ is really a religion, an embedding approach is fundamental, the cult of asking, ‘Am I green enough?’ in the stereotypical terms of how much I’ve recycled, how far I’ve cycled and how much local food I eat. Instead, we need a green ethic (with a small g) which asks, ‘How can I think of x in terms of sustainability?’ For example, how can we bring an environmentally-conscious approach to investment, or how can we influence policies or developments to be more sustainable? After all, thinking green is not straightforward and requires compromise. I may be typing this rather than using paper, but I’m using electricity. And I’ve been using the subway a lot, but I’m doing it in Singapore, having flown here. And the building I’m in may have numerous solar panels on it, but the air conditioning keeps humming day and night to keep it a good ten degrees cooler inside than on the streets of the tropics…

So in answer to the question in the title: No, we can never be green enough, because that approach requires perfect adherence to imperfect methods. But we can be mindful, and we can be green.

David Jackman, with additional material from Alexander Jackman