the environmentalist

How can business contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals?

How can business contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals?

Businesses - acting alone or, better still, collaborating - can do so much to help society meet the Sustainable Development Goals (or Global Goals).

Whether it’s reducing emissions from travel and energy use, making sure women and minority groups are able to progress, or cutting unnecessary plastic, there is so much to put right. And there are organisations, tools and initiatives to help you.

Find out more in the series of articles I wrote for The Environmentalist. A complete set is available in pdf here.

Peace, justice, partnerships and a strategic approach - 7/7 on business and the Sustainable Development Goals

Photo: Flags and goals, Liu Bolin. For more SDG images see the  UN's media centre .

Photo: Flags and goals, Liu Bolin. For more SDG images see the UN's media centre.

Now that the Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals) have had a chance to bed down, how are companies responding to them?  And what about the rather nebulous enabling goals 16 and 17 on peace, justice, strong institutions and partnership: how can businesses translate these into action? 

The seventh and final piece in my series on the SDGs, written for The Environmentalist magazine, is out now.  See it on their website here, or read the pdf version.

What makes a great partnership?

This series has featured many collaborations and partnerships.  Some, like the UN Global Compact, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development or the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development network, are for business and other players across the sustainability spectrum.  Others focus on specific issues or sectors, like the Sustainable Shipping Initiative, the Corporate Leaders Group (which is about climate change) and the C40 network of cities.

This kind of joint working can be disappointing, if clear shared goals and skilful convening are lacking. 

It’s also important to understand that there is a spectrum of collaborative working, from sharing information, coordination and cooperation through one-off collaborative projects and mainstream work delivered jointly right up to collaboration being the new business-as-usual.  Potential collaborators need to listen to each other’s assumptions about how they expect to work together, as well as what they want to achieve.

This spectrum, and other useful frameworks and tips, are explored in my book “Working Collaboratively: a practical guide to achieving more”. 

Strategic responses to the goals as a whole

In exploring what businesses are doing to respond the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole, I have found different approaches being used.

Some, like Acciona the Spanish renewables and infrastructure company, are using them to focus their corporate volunteering.

Cemex, BT and Samsung are among companies which are highlighting links to specific goals in their sustainability reporting.  GRI has mapped the SDGs against its reporting frameworks.

Many are using the SDGs to augment their materiality analysis.  Global consultancy firm PwC has developed a sophisticated and detailed tool which helps clients take their first steps in engaging with the goals.  Louise Scott who helped develop the Navigator tool, said

“Our detailed country-by-country research has helped companies spot things they didn’t realise were important, and catalysed conversations, grounded in geography, about where they can have the most impact.”

Novozymes is using the SDGs as part of filtering and prioritising in its innovation pipeline.  The company has gone further, linking its Executive Leadership Team’s bonus scheme to annual operational targets, derived in part from the SDGs.

Make some noise

DNV GL, the Norwegian-based multi-service assurance, standards and advisory business, is among those business services suppliers who are making some noise about the SDGs.  Bjørn Haugland is their Chief Sustainability Officer, and through his substantial twitter following and DNV’s publications he is spreading the word to businesses and helping shape the business response.

Influencing government action

Business has a powerful voice and can choose to use it to support, or undermine, robust government action in favour of sustainable development.  This is particularly important when it comes to policy coherence, which is targeted in Goal 17.

BT is part of the We Mean Business coalition – thousands of influential businesses and business groups working to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.  Over 120 coalition member companies have signed up to a commitment to responsible corporate engagement on climate change, promising to audit their activity, ensuring consistency and disclosing positions, actions and outcomes.

Across the suite of SDGs, Steve Kenzie Executive Director of the UN Global Compact in the UK, thinks companies should be “holding the Government’s feet to the fire”.

First, do no harm

Expert after expert told me that companies need to look hardest at where they may be – albeit inadvertently – undermining the SDGs.  Ruth Mhlanga, Oxfam’s Private Sector Policy Advisor, stressed

“It’s not just about opportunities, it’s also about responsible conduct and impact.  Don’t undermine one goal while tackling another.  Sustainability leaders will include those who support government efforts to govern for the common good and are willing to stand up to peers who undermine those collective efforts.” 

Collaborate to shift the system

Picking off the goals and targets which seem easiest could be a mistaken strategy, if the actions you take involve trading off progress on one front with undermining it on another.  In its research into the interconnections between the SDGs, The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) highlights an area ripe with what it calls ‘wicked trade-offs’: environmental protection versus reducing food prices.  IIASA found that the most effective win-win would be to reduce the proportion of meat in Western diets.

Oxfam’s Mhlanga also advocates collaborative, system-level action. 

“On issues like freedom of association, single companies can’t fix the problem alone.  Oxfam’s work on labour rights in Vietnam, for example, illustrated that unilateral action is insufficient because the issues are systemic across an industry.  But where companies, governments and civil society work together, making issues like suppliers paying a living wage precompetitive, then no one company is disadvantaged by competitors undercutting.”  

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission’s report "Better Business, Better World" was clear on the need for system-level change:

“ ‘Business as usual’ will not achieve this market transformation. Nor will disruptive innovation by a few sustainable pioneers be enough to drive the shift: the whole sector has to move. Forward-looking business leaders are working with sector peers and stakeholders to map their collective route to a sustainable competitive playing field.”

Stephanie Draper is Forum for the Future’s Deputy Chief Executive.  Looking at progress since the SDGs were announced, Draper said

“Successfully delivering the SDGs requires a really strong systems approach.  That means operating on three levels – joining up with others’ efforts to achieve individual goals; looking at the inter-relationships between all the goals, and delivering the goals in a way that models the characteristics we need for a sustainable society.”

Which brings us back to Goals 16 and 17, with their call for inclusion, participation and collaboration.

‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’

We need to go far. And we need to go quickly. So we’d better figure out how we’re going to do both.

Seven and out

You can read the series on The Environmentalist's website (IEMA login, subscription or free trial) or on my blog.

Work, growth, innovation and equality - Sustainable Development Goals and business

Stonewall and P&G's work to promote equality for LGBT staff in Spain, Rype Office's repurposed office furniture for Public Health Wales, Willmott Dixon Interiors working with the Amber Foundation to help vulnerable youngsters into work... These are just some of the businesses featured in part six of my seven part series for The Environmentalist on how business can help support the SDGs.

Credit: Nicki Priem.   Mafikizolo raised a flag to represent Goal 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Learn more...

You can read the article in its proper home, The Environmentalist magazine here, if you are an IEMA member or a subscriber.  Or if you sign up for a free trial. 

If that all sounds like too many clicks, there's a pdf of it here.

 

 

 

Clean energy, thriving cities: Sustainable Development Goals #5

Qiciao and Qixi, a pair of giant panda twins, inspect a flag to represent Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, raised at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Mr. Yuan Tao and Ms. Yan Lu

Qiciao and Qixi, a pair of giant panda twins, inspect a flag to represent Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, raised at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Mr. Yuan Tao and Ms. Yan Lu

Bringing affordable off-grid renewables to remote communities in developing countries; using cutting-edge data analysis to save money and carbon in modern buildings; micro-managing students' energy use to balance the national grid: some of the brilliant things that are featured in the latest of my series on how businesses are helping contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals

This article in The Environmentalist also looks at making cities more sustainable: better buildings, convenient and reliable public transport and new technology which helps blind and partially sighted people navigate and enjoy the neighbourhood.

You can read it online here (IEMA login or subscription, or take a free trial) or there's a pdf version here.

Fresh water, salty water and sustainable resource use - business and the Sustainable Development Goals #3

Free diving world champion Umberto Pelizzari, raised a flag to represent Goal 14, Life Below Water, off the coast of Formentera, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Enric Sala. http://www.globalgoals.org/media-centre/

Free diving world champion Umberto Pelizzari, raised a flag to represent Goal 14, Life Below Water, off the coast of Formentera, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Enric Sala. http://www.globalgoals.org/media-centre/

In the third of my series on what business can do to support the Sustainable Development Goals, published in The Environmentalist, I look at goals 6 clean water and sanitation; 14 life below water and 12 responsible consumption and production.

I found lots of interesting action - most of which predates the SDGs - and was able to squeeze in impressive strides in reducing water use by Levi Strauss, Maersk Group starting to shift the entire ship breaking sector through its work in India and some head-to-head competition between Tesco and Sainsbury's on reducing food waste.  And much more...

You can read the article in its rightful home on The Environmentalist's site here, or if you're not an IEMA member or a subscriber you can download a pdf here.

A global purpose: the Sustainable Development Goals and business #2

Business can help society meet the Sustainable Development Goals (aka Global Goals). Find out more about work on hunger, health and quality education.

Thanks to the lovely people at IEMA's The Environmentalist magazine, for the invitation to write this series on business response to the SDGs.  It's given me a reason to talk to lots of people doing important work inside lots of businesses and NGOs.

The second article is now out (May 2016), and it covers goals 2, 3 and 4:

You can access the article, and plenty of other environmental news, here, either sign in with your IEMA login, subscribe or take a free trial.

Alternatively, there's a pdf of it here.   The first article in the series, giving an introduction to the SDGs and looking at Goal 1 (poverty) and Goal 5 (Gender) is here.

 

Sustainable Development Goals - what do they mean for your business?

In September 2015, the United Nations agreed a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  Covering everything from gender equality to the ecology of the deep oceans, they form a comprehensive description of the key challenges we face in making sustainable development a reality.

The UN sees businesses as a key player in meeting the goals. Why should business bother? And where do you start?

I'm writing a series of articles for The Environmentalist exploring these questions, and the first one is out today (11th February).  It introduces the goals, and looks in detail at Goal 1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere and Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

You can access the article, and plenty of other environmental news, here, either sign in with your IEMA login, subscribe or take a free trial.

Alternatively, there's a pdf of it here.

 

How we do things round here

Organisational culture. Where to begin? Like behaviour change and values, it's one of those phenomena of human experience that promises to unlock sustainability if you can only work out how to harness it, but tantalises by just not being reducible to simple rules or mechanistic predictions.

The canny editorial team over at The Environmentalist invited me to write a two-part feature to introduce IEMA members to this scotch mist, and I love a challenge like that.  Even though I know the result will be partial and full of holes, I'd love to help people begin to navigate this treacherous territory with a few useful landmarks.

So I had a go, and part one is available here and part two here.

Essential sources

The research and planning process for the article was fun too, once I'd decided to focus right down on something manageable. (After all, this was for a 1,400 word feature, not a thesis.)

I chose to re-read Edgar Schein's classic Organizational Culture and Leadership. The resulting mind map of notes is two A4 sheets of close tiny handwriting. I also finally got round to properly reading William Bridges' Character of Organisations, which I was introduced to by Lindsey Colbourne (I still have your copy Lindsey!) when she was helping Sciencewise think about designing approaches to public dialogue which match the organisational cultures found in Whitehall Departments and government agencies.  Her insightful background research report on the "Departmental Dialogue Index" is here and the summary paper containing the diagnostic tool is here.

Schein's book is wonderful for its stories. I enjoyed being alongside him as a reader, as he gradually realises how little he understands the organisations he is exploring. He opens himself up to not knowing, thereby allowing himself to hear the new (more accurate) interpretations of the behaviours and artefacts.  There's something of the anthropologist about him, understanding organisations by being present in them as a participant observer.

Bridges' approach starts from a framework more commonly used to understand the individual - the MBTI's contrasting pairs of judging / perceiving; sensing / intuition; extraversion / introversion; thinking / feeling.  He takes this and looks at how it might manifest in organisations.

This is arguably a less intellectually rigorous approach than Schein's. I definitely find myself drawn to the open-endedness and ambiguity of the anthropologist. But there is also something attractively pragmatic in Bridges' work. And the book contains a questionnaire that readers can use to assess an organisation - good for people (and organisations) which like applied theory.

Sharing TUI Travel's journey

Many thanks to Rosie Bristow and Sarah Holloway who took the time to talk to me about how understanding organisational culture within TUI Travel helped them to tailor their sustainability work to be more effective.  As well as reading about this in my article, you can see the enthusiastic buy-in they've generated here.

 

Water wise: different priorities need different targeted engagement

For Diageo, the drinks company, agricultural suppliers typically represent more than 90% of its water footprint, so of course it's vital that the company’s water strategy looks beyond its own four walls to consider sustainable water management and risks in the supply chain. By contrast, what matters most for Unilever in tackling its global water footprint is reducing consumers’ water use when they are doing laundry, showering and washing their hair, particularly in countries where water is scarce. Asking office staff to report dripping taps will contribute to the firm’s water efficiency, but it is much less useful than innovating a generation of products that use less water for cleaning.

Once you know what the main water-using phases are in your product or service system, you can prioritise and target. the audiences you want to engage.

This article in the environmentalist looks at the questions you need to ask yourself, to work out how to engage people in water efficiency.  You can download it here or read it online on the environmentalist's website (you may need to log in or sign up for a free trial to read it online).

What does sustainability mean to your organisation?

When the new editor of the environmentalist, Paul Suff, asked me to write a kind of 'how to' article on understanding what sustainability means to an organisation, it took me some time to figure out how to make it fit into a two-page article. I'm pleased with the overall framework, and the questions which it seems to all boil down to:

  • What's the best thing we can do?
  • What's the best way we can do it?
“Ask yourself what sustainability means for your organisation, because finding the answer is one of the biggest contributions you can make to building a sustainable future.  
When you ask what sustainability means for your organisation, you are effectively asking: “what’s the best thing we can do?” and “what’s the best way we can do it?”.  These questions get to the heart of the organisation’s purpose and activities, daring us to reinvent them for the world of tomorrow, where the purpose responds perfectly to the environmental and social context and is delivered with the best possible impacts.  You will find the answers in conversations with other people: colleagues, critics and stakeholders”

See what you think: access a pdf of the article here.

This is the first edition of the environmentalist under its new editorship, and you can access the whole mag for a limited time here.

Have you got what it takes?

Every day in every way I'm getting better and better. But how would we know?  My latest 'engaging people' column looks at different ways of assessing sustainability leaders: our strengths and our areas to build on.  First published in 'the environmentalist' , IEMA's magazine.

You may also be interested in this survey, which explores your experiences of being a "sustainable development change agent" trying to transform an organisation.  The survey is part of my research for a forthcoming chapter in a book on organisational change and sustainability, due to be published by Greenleaf in 2011.

NB the survey is now closed.

Update, Dec 2010

Some interesting thoughts on leadership, from Future Savvy and The Futures Company.   What are the essential and evolving aspects of leadership, in our changing world?

Breaking the Ice

Here are three great ice breakers for meetings, as described in a recent column in the environmentalist.  They are:

  • what we have in common;
  • human bingo;
  • getting to know you.

NB the photo used to illustrate the article is not a meeting set-up I would recommend. And what's with all those tissues...?

Use, adapt, enjoy, tell me how it goes, and warm things up a bit.

What's your route through the change journey?

One of the things we do at the one-day Change Management training workshop is to look through a decision tree (aka flow chart) to see which approach to change might be most effective, given the starting point of each person on the course. Questions to ask yourself include:

  • what's my mandate?
  • what is the stated position of my senior team / Board, and do they know what they've signed up to?
  • how much of an appetite is there amongst my colleagues?

The flow diagram is explained in this article, first published in the environmentalist.

The next workshop is on 20th July in Leeds - why not book to join us?

Jaw jaw on nanotechnology, hybrid embryos and climate-busting communities

There's a part of the UK's business ministry, BIS, which provides expert guidance on public dialogue, as well as promoting and supporting dialogue projects.  The Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre has supported dialogues on a wide range of science and technology subjects, including nanotechnology, hybrid embryos and how to make the shift to low-carbon energy sources. There's a set of principles to guide people who are setting up a dialogue, so they can keep it open and multi-directional.  Crucially, there needs to be a policy 'owner' in Government who will use the outcomes of the dialogue to help form policy.

Plenty of case studies are available on the Sciencewise-ERC website.  Since every project has to be independently evaluated, there are also evaluation reports.  And there's a team of Dialogue and Engagement Specialists (I'm part of this team) to advise.

Find out more in this article I wrote for the environmentalist, published in June 2010, "Wise up! Engaging the public in science and technology".

Good for your skin, your figure and the planet!

If you're trying to get fashion-crazy teens and young people interested in climate change, it makes sense to start where they are.  And that's what Global Cool have done, in their Eighteen Degrees of Inspiration campaign. But isn't it superficial, missing the point, and above all not going to get the scale of change we need at a systemic level?

Well, according to Chris Rose's VBCOP theory, starting where people are and eliciting changed behaviour for non-'green' reasons is the most effective way to build up political space for systemic change.

Want to know more?

I've written about this in the environmentalist, and you can read that article here.

Avoiding the ‘groan fest’

Ever been in a meeting where everyone is sure they've tried everything, and nothing works? And nothing will ever work?

And it's everyone else's fault?

Sure you have!

Tempered radicals and other internal change agents face this kind of situation alot.  So do external consultants, activists and coach / facilitators.

"The eco-champions meetings I go to are a real groan fest!"

When I was faced with this heartfelt description in a training workshop, we spent a bit of time coming up with ideas.  But I was sure there must be some even better approaches than the ones we suggested.

So I posted a question on two great forums: AMED (the Association of Management Education and Development) and IAF (the International Association of Facilitators).

The useful suggestions from fellow facilitators, coaches and OD (organisational development) professionals gave me a lot of chew on, and the result is this article.  It was first published in the environmentalist, and has also been reproduced in the IAF Europe newsletter.

Your own experiences and suggestions are very welcome!

Not groaning,

Penny

 

What is the job of a river?

The latest 'engaging people' column has just been published in the environmentalist, and it's about ecosystem services and stakeholder engagement. It was a lot of fun writing this article with the erudite and ebullient Mark Everard, who I first met when working with The Natural Step.  Mark is one of that rare - but thankfully increasing - breed of technical experts who really understand the importance and value of stakeholder engagement. 

The article explores engaging people in using an ecosystems services approach to understand places, problems and solutions.

It was great to compare experiences of running stakeholder workshops which are either centred on ecosystems services, or included a nod to that way of thinking.

Mark's experience has been more extensive than mine, and he seems to have witnessed more positive resolutions.  When a farmer asked "what is the job of a river" in the workshop I was running, he gave his own answer: it's to carry water away from farmland as fast as possible.  There wasn't the opportunity to enable a longer conversation which could acknowledge watery multi-tasking, and the benefits people from it.

We all rely on ecosystem services, whether we like it or not.  We all eat food.  We all drink water.  We all breathe air.  Mostly, in a country like the UK, we just don't realise that these are ecosystem services - carrots come from the supermarket, not an ecosystem. 

But it seems to me that some people feel threatened by the weight given to ecosystem services which seem - to them - to be more 'about birds than people'.  Dialogue which enables deeper understanding of our dependence on the natural world is enormously helpful, but in my experience it is hard to engage people in this kind of conversation when they are suspicious that the process it is part of is an excuse for stopping them meeting what they see as their more immediate and direct needs.

So I'm excited to hear about Mark's successes in moving beyond mistrust.

Who can help me make this change?

The latest issue of the environmentalist includes an article I've written, entitled "who can help me make this change?".  In it, I share an approach I've used successfully in training courses and (as my daughter would say) in true life: it helps people to systematically identify key internal and external players who can help them bring about the change they want to see. If a particular person or group are crucial to making the change happen, then you want them to be supportive of it.  Ask them what they'd like to see happening, and how you can help them.  Find common ground and enlist their support.

If someone is already very supportive, but not really needed, then see what they can do to influence or recruit those who are needed.  Or enlist them to support you.

Remember, the art of engaging people to help create transformational change involves listening and letting go.

Climate change, cake and a nice cup of tea

I love World Cafe as a 'technique' to use in meetings.  And I was privileged to go to one where Peter Senge was one of the facilitators. This article - a longer version of one I wrote for the environmentalist - explains more about the technique, and the results that emerged from this meeting of a mixture of climate change professionals and activists.

How can wind farm developers win friends?

It won't have escaped your notice that not everyone in the UK loves wind turbines.  So if you're planning to add to our renewable energy capacity, you might want to think about how to involve your neighbours early on. In 2005 my article (pdf) in the environmentalist described some interesting initiatives specifically designed to help those promoting or planning wind energy developments, to engage their stakeholders.