Category Archives: sustainability

The satisfactions of slow

Part 1 of 2

Bike in forest, Finland

Bike in forest, Finland

What do we mean by slow? This question came to me during a thought-provoking and fun conversation that I had with psychotherapist, counsellor and advocate of slow living, Bonnie Grotjahn, on the topic of slow.

The overriding theme that emerged for me was satisfaction. We often talk about things satisfying our needs. But are they actually needs that need satisfying? What if we turned to slow instead as a methodology for satisfying us? And what are the conditions that are required for this?

The satisfaction of slow awareness
Through studying psychotherapy and changes she has incorporated into her own life, Bonnie is aware of the importance of being more conscious about her thoughts and feelings. Before, she didn’t know as well what satisfied her, and was more reliant on outside stimulation.

Many of us turn to our favourite crutch outside ourselves, whether it is food, alcohol, drugs or even excessive exercise, in trying to find satisfaction. But this often just leaves us wanting more.

So, as Bonnie said, the alternative is to stop to ask, “What is going to feed me from the inside?”

The poet Tess Gallagher said “You can’t go deep until you slow down.” And whilst it might not be as true to say that you can’t slow down until you go deep, there is some truth in this reverse formulation as well. By becoming more aware of your own internal experience, you become more aware of where you are going too fast and where it would be beneficial to slow down, aware of what you are feeling and experiencing in a non-judgemental type way.  And from the basis of awareness you can choose what you do, rather than acting out of habit.

The satisfaction of slow moving

Bonnie is a keen cyclist, enjoying the journey from one place to another – and it is about practicality as well, as she lives in a small town and her and her partner don’t own a car. It is the quality of experience that primarily motivates her to cycle rather than strong environmental reasons, although that is important as well.

She told a story of how one very cold weekend she cycled 25 miles with her partner. They stayed in a B&B and cycled back the next day. A few weeks later, they borrowed a car and happened to drive near the place where they had been. And she was struck by the contrast in the experience that she had of the place on the two journeys. “It’s not very often you say that, ‘That was a really satisfying drive.” Bonnie reflected on how when you are cycling there is satisfaction of moving yourself, breathing, stopping, enjoying the journey. The same is true of walking as well.

In my definition of SMCG (slow moving creative good), I touched on slow and moving, but not so much on the effect of the two combined – slow-moving. Many writers are also keen walkers because of the way slow-moving stimulates and allows room for their creativity. And the satisfaction of creative ideas that might bubble up is another satisfaction of moving slowly.

The satisfaction of slow making – and self-reliance

Bonnie also makes preserves and sourdough bread.  She started making marmalade about 5 years ago, and now has branched out into jams and jellies.

She described vividly the experience of making marmalade, and its therapeutic soothing qualities. “It is about bringing my attention to what is in front of me. Noticing the oranges as I am cutting them, the smell of the oranges. The sense of ‘here I am, I am making something’. The physical grounding. I’m creating. And it’s got its own pace, you can’t rush the process”. Listening to Bonnie, I wanted to get in the kitchen and start making jam, have a pot bubbling away slowly, filling the kitchen with the smell.

Play is also an important element. Every batch of jam is slightly different, and Bonnie takes pleasure in honing the recipe each time, seeing how she can improve it.

Bonnie challenged herself to see if she could make enough to last her through the year, and the cupboard is certainly full now. This is another source of satisfaction – of not having store-bought goods, of enjoying what you have made yourself. That aspect of satisfaction of self-reliance applies to slow-moving as well – you are not relying on other people or machines, and that contributes to an enhanced sense of self and your capabilities. At the same time, paradoxically, this enhances your connection with the world around you because in order for you to be self-reliant, you need to have a direct relationship with the environment rather than a mediated one.

In the second part of the article (to be posted),  I receive good advice from Bonnie on learning to slow down.

Bonnie practices at Cotswold Talking Therapies and can be contacted through their website.

Learning the skills of slow – or zen and the art of bike maintenance

Milanese bike

Milanese bike

It was a fine autumn day today and I was visiting a friend who lives on the other side of south London to me – 18km to be precise according to Google maps. It would take me 1 hr 10 mins to cycle there, Google told me. I decided I would give it a go. I needed some fresh air and exercise.

But first I had to get my bike ready as it has been a few months since I have cycled. An hour later, and after all nearly giving up, I had managed to get a working bike together, taking a wheel off one bike and putting it on another. Set to one side, I had one wheel that needs a new inner tube, and another which needs a puncture fixed. And, thanks to a flat tyre on the way back, I now have another one that needs fixing.

My first thought was that I will take them to a bike shop tomorrow and get them fixed. But I can do the fixing myself, even if I have to look it up and remind myself of how to do it.

My experience today in trying to get a bike working reminded me of the skills that are actually required to live a slow-moving life. Because we are more self-reliant, we need to know how to be able to do and fix stuff. But these are not skills that are widely taught – and it is the type of skill that it is easier to learn from someone else rather than trying to teach yourself. I learnt what little I know from an ex-boyfriend. But if I wanted to up my skills where would I go?

I read in The Big Issue this week about The Cycle Hub in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which is a bike shop/café/repair centre and runs workshops – the two upcoming maintenance workshops are fully booked. Doing a quick Google search revealed that there are numerous places in London where you can learn the skills you need to keep your bike on the road. I like the look of the ones at the London Bike Kitchen.

What I was reminded of today is that slow (some types at least) actually require preparation and skill. But that the actual preparation is a form of slow in itself (albeit rather frustrating at times when you don’t have the skill), and that learning the hands-on skill is a form of slow too. One thing leads to another. I’m actually looking forward to getting my hands dirty at a bike maintenance course. Next thing you know, I’ll be building a bike.

Meeting the needs of people and behaviour change – an example from Carlsberg

carlsbergMorten Nielsen was fed up of being boring. Morten is Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Public Affairs at Carlsberg Group. Sustainability, sustainability, sustainability.

Euro2012 was coming up. He saw this as the perfect opportunity to engage people enjoying Carlsberg at the football games with sustainability. But it couldn’t be boring.

He looked at research around what consumers wanted at the games. Two of the prime things were showing support for the team and enjoying the game.

He then went to talk to the marketing team. He went undercover as someone from business development. He didn’t mention sustainability. This was a brief all about meeting consumer needs – how can we enable people to show support for their team? How can we help them to enjoy the game?

And the marketing team came up with some ideas. People could support their teams by throwing their empty cups into recycling bins branded with country colours. Carlsberg brand ambassadors would talk to people about alternating their drinks with water to make sure they fully enjoyed the game – and encouraged them to use public transport.

Both ideas were a great success. This story demonstrates a couple of things:

  • Willingness to try a different appproach
  • Importance of sustainability working with brand and marketing teams
  • Putting the needs of people at the centre of brief – how can you meet those needs? And then the answer is likely to be more fun and surprising and effective.

Thanks to Morten for sharing this story at the Reimaging Consumption Summit in Paris in October 2013.

Growth vs development – or how can we liberate creative possibilities?

Growth vs development – or how can we liberate creative possibilities?

Yesterday’s blog on repairability and lifecycle of products prompted a comment that it is not only objects that need to be regenerated within their life span. It is humans as well. We need to be able to reinvent ourselves, or be doomed to decay.

This comment led me back to a quote that I read yesterday from the Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef:

“Growth is a quantitative accumulation. Development is the liberation of creative possibilities. Every living system in nature grows up to a certain point and stops growing. You are not growing anymore, nor he nor me. But we continue developing ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t be dialoguing here now. So development has no limits. Growth has limits.”

I love this.

To go back to my FMCG vs SMCG blog post – an FMCG economy is focused solely on growth, it is about a fast turnover of goods, so that more and more goods can be sold. SMCG is about development. ‘Slow moving creative good’ is the liberation of creative possibilities.

What if instead of brands asking themselves “How can we sell more?” they asked “How can we liberate creative possibilities?” I am willing to bet the results would be more sustainable – and slow, moving, creative and good.

And to return to the point that I started with, the results are similar if we apply them to our own lives. “How can I get more stuff?” keeps us unsustainably stuck in growing the amount of stuff that we have. Whereas if we have as our focus how we can develop as human beings, then the concern with quantitative accumulation begins to fall away.

Do we need a repairability rating for products?

I am typing this on my 2009 MacBook. My 17 year old stepson upgraded it this weekend with a new (solid state) hard drive and new memory, so it is has been given a new lease of life and hopefully it has a couple more years left in it.

As he was performing the upgrade surgery at the kitchen table, unscrewing the back, taking out the components, replacing them with others, he was telling me about the problem with the new Macs. You can’t upgrade the hard drive and memory. It’s all locked down. So when it’s gone, it’s gone. “And of course that is not very environmentally friendly”, he said.

I was reminded of this this evening, reading the results of a European Commission survey from July this year. Across the EU, 66% of people would be willing to pay more for a product if its guarantee of reliability was extended to five years. More than nine out of ten people think that the expected lifespan of products should be indicated. And almost half of respondents had decided not to have a faulty product repaired in the past 12 months because the repair costs were too high.

I looked up about the unrepairability of Macs. iFixIt gave the new MacBook Pros  1 out of 10 for repairability.

Which lead me to think – we now have energy efficiency ratings for products such as washing machines, ovens etc. Should we have a lifespan and repairability rating for products too? And a recyclability at end of life score.  This is key to the lifecycle impact of a product. We need products made in such a way, as they used to be, that one part can be replaced when it has reached the end of its life, rather than throwing the whole thing away. And we need the leading manufacturers to take responsibility for designing and manufacturing in a responsible way.

What are the values that ToysRUs is promoting to young people?

 

ToysRUs have recently released this ad. If you haven’t watched it, please do. The main message of it is that nature is boring, shiny plastic is good. Not only is ToysRUs using ads to create demand amongst children for their products, they are also putting out a negative message about nature.

Nature is having a hard enough time to get kids to spend time with her and get to know her (and, of course, we are part of nature, rather than separate from, but that is another argument), without explicitly anti-nature messages being added to the marketing mix.

Given this ad, I thought that I would look up what ToysRUs had to say on the subject of the sustainability, given that they are, in their own words, the world’s leading toy and juvenile products retailer, and you would think that they would at least have a passing interest in the future of the world’s youth. There was nothing to be found in the main navigation or under the About Us section, so I did a search on the site. This is what I found:

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 16.57.21A blank page.

To be fair, there was one other search result for sustainability on their site, a press release about the installation of solar panels on the roof of their warehouse from 2011. I then thought that maybe the information is housed under CSR or Corporate Responsibility. This brought up more responses, but the most relevant ones were about charitable giving. Philanthropy, but not sustainability as we know it.

A recent BBMG survey showed that 78% of Aspirationals are excited by going shopping. And at the same time, 9 out of 10 say that we need to consume less. It is hard for me to understand how we are going to consume less as a society, if we are excited about shopping, as the kids are shown to be in the ToysRUs ad. I engaged in a little bit of a Twitter debate about this, when I said that values needed to change, and I was told that being excited about shopping was not a value. I admit is not a value as such, but to me it is an expression of extrinsic values taking precedence over intrinsic values – seeking fulfilment in that which is outside of ourselves, rather than on the rich resources that lie within us. If companies are really going to help us go down the path of sustainable consumption, then they have an important role in promoting the intrinsic values that are at the heart of any long-term sustained behaviour change.

In the video for the petition against ToysRUs, the little girl says that kids ‘can go out and play in the dirt’. ToysRUs would no doubt counter, in private, ‘Where is the money in that?’ ToysRUs is about providing ‘products for magical playtime memories’ – but we all know the old truth that kids are often more interested in the box than in the product. Children have their imaginations, and being in nature is one of the best ways that children can both express their imagination and have their imagination stimulated. But if ToysRUs wants to exist as a business in the long-term it needs to be looking at how it can provide services as well as products – and helping kids connect with nature could be one of these services.

Clearly, ToysRUs having any kind of public sustainability strategy would be a start. But once they had that in place, they could start to take some responsibility for encouraging the wellbeing of the whole child, which includes being able to enjoy spending time in nature, valuing nature, promoting creativity and imagination and not fostering a reliance on consumption to generate happiness. Whatever you may think of McDonald’s, they are at least using the opportunities that they have to communicate with children through Happy Meals to educate them on nutrition and wellbeing. ToysRUs have a similar kind of opportunity – and after all they do show products in the ad such as a telescope and a bike which are ideal for exploring nature, although lost in the overall message.

When is ToysRUs going to take responsibility for the young people that it purports to stand for? I would like to see ToysRUs developing a sustainability strategy, and at the heart of that strategy would be a commitment to education, and particularly helping children to learn about nature. Companies need to start thinking about the long-term implications of their actions. They have a moral duty of care.

And perhaps ToysRUs could take on a little more of SMCG in its behaviour – Slow- Moving Creative Good – rather than just be about pushing disposable consumer goods. I hope that ToysRUs will listen to the voices that have risen up to express their views about this ad, and will use it as a catalyst to begin to take a stand for the genuine wellbeing of children.

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If you would like to express your views about the ad, you can sign the petition.

The value of values

1303054_Sainsbury_s_values_bananaA supermarket competing on value? Nothing new in that. But a supermarket competing on values? Now, that is a bit more rare.

Sainsbury’s is taking on Tesco’s. The issue is do with the Price Promise made by the supermarkets. The Advertising Standards Association has sided with Tesco saying that a comparison can be made between products purely on the basis of price. Sainsbury’s says that this is misleading, and that ethical considerations should be taken into account as well – otherwise you are not comparing apples with apples, or bananas with bananas.

Sainsbury’s has done the research to show that their customers are interested in where food comes from, and will make purchasing decisions on that basis. 84% of people surveyed who expressed a view agreed that ‘where and how my food is produced are important factors to me in my buying decisions’. Of the total of people surveyed, 24% of people neither agreed or disagreed, 64% agreed and 16% agreed – so for 2/3rds of people it is important.

Price is important, but it is not everything. We need to get away from the mindset of always driving down to the bottom line. At the recent sustainable consumption conference hosted by L’Oréal in Paris, a representative from Pepsi Co asked people in the audience if price was their main motivation behind their purchases – and when everyone in the audience didn’t put up their hand, he asked ‘why not?’ One of the other panelists tried to explain to him that price wasn’t everything, that she liked to make purchases in line with her values as well.

Good luck to Sainsbury’s in the Judicial Review. As brands talk about sustainable consumption and behaviour change, they themselves need to make a stand for what they know is right. And in doing so, they will appeal to those consumers who share their values. That is one of the values of values.

From FMCG to SMCG – Slow Moving Creative Good

My Po-Zu shoes - slow, moving, creative, good

My Po-Zu shoes – slow, moving, creative, good

We live in a world dominated by FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands. It’s a fast-moving world. We are all consumers. And it’s all about the goods — the things we buy.

But there are signs of change. I believe that we are shifting to an SMCG world. One which is about Slow-Moving Creative Good. And seeing these signs of change as inter-related will help to consolidate and accelerate the shift.

Let’s take each of these elements in turn.

Slow — There is Slow Food,where we think about where the food comes from, and enjoy the process of how it is made, not just the consumption. There is Slow Fashion or Slow Style, the counter to Fast Fashion, clothes that are made to be worn again and again, and made in conditions that we do not need to be ashamed of, from raw materials that are recycled or produced in less environmentally-harmful ways. There is a general Slowing-Down, with more people turning to activities like meditation, yoga, walking and cycling as an antidote to the fastness of life around them.

MovingOriginally, I thought of this as part of Slow-Moving, and it works like that. But, whilst stirring some soup,it came to me that moving deserves to stand alone as well. It is about that which moves us, that which connects with us on an emotional level. It is the being in the present that enables us to be moved. I think that this was front of mind because of this morning reading Laurie Anderson’s obituary to her husband, Lou Reed. In it she writes of how he spent his last week “being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature”. It is about the movement that comes from inside when we are still, when we stop moving.

Towards an alternative modelCreative — We are not just consumers anymore. We create online all the time. Young people are using their creativity building apps. MakerFaires are pulling in the punters. We’re collaborating in our consumption. More people are growing their own vegetables and getting creative in the kitchen. We are the people formerly known as the audience. We are no longer an audience of consumers. We are creators, I firmly believe this innate in all us and needs to be expressed if we are to be fulfilled. And we want to be part of the brands that serve us. 

Good — It is not about the goods, the things that we buy. It is about the good that is generated and shared from what we do — whether it is the things we buy, the things we make, the love that we spread. It is a shift from physical goods to the network of good. My Po-Zu shoes shown in the picture above are an example of good, with every aspect of creation carefully thought through,from the coconut husk foot mattress to vegetable tanned leather, they are slow-made with love, and they encourage me to slow down and walk (Po-Zu means ‘pause’ in Japanese. Towards a new model, where we are not separate consumers.

I make some generalisations, and there is a long way to go until we are living a SMCG life. I know myself the journey that I need to go on. But the point is that the seeds are there, and growing. We have the research to show that more money does not make us happy once our basic needs are met. But qualities of slow, moving, creativity and good do.

What does this mean for you? What topics would you like me to see explore further within this, or who would like me to speak to? Do you think that there is more of a need to focus on what this means for brands, or for people, or both?

The power of making in helping us to think differently

Nike have a new initiative – ‘Nike Makers’.  Nike never beat about the bush.  Or think small. “We’re here to unveil a new age of design. One that is about making better things and making things better.”

The starting point is materials. They are releasing the API for the Nike Sustainable Materials Index so that makers of code can create apps which will let makers of things design using more sustainable materials.

The video to introduce the initiative is classic Nike too. I quote some excerpts here, but it is 1 minute 32 seconds that goes by very quickly, so take a look.

“Make no mistake.

We hate sustainability.

We hate that people don’t even want to hear the word anymore.

We hate that it has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes.

We’re over it.

We’re here to unveil a new age of design.

It’s about making better things and making things better.

….

One that gives the power back to makers of things, not makers of decisions.”

And so it continues. The words resonate with me in so ways. I love the line: “We hate that it (sustainability) has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes”. It sums up how sustainability is managed in many companies, and how it is received by the people that it is passed down to, rather than it being something that is driven by the people who ‘make things’, those people who get their hands dirty everyday.

The emphasis on the makers of things led me to think back to an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum last year – “The Power of Making”. The exhibition was a powerful celebration of the skill of craftspeople. The essays in the catalogue confirm the wisdom of Nike’s approach – and reinforces the idea that power is truly in the hands of makers. I say hands deliberately, as one of the re-occurring themes in the essays is about how by making things, you open yourself up to think differently. As Martina Margetts says, “Making is…a process whereby mind, body and imagination are integrated in the practice of thought through action”.

Dan Lepard, a baker, said the same thing at a talk that I went to: that using your hands open up different parts of the brain. This is so true. And this is why, when I run workshops, I find that even if participants have a simple activity to do, such as cutting and sticking pictures from a magazine to make a collage, it opens up minds to think in a different way than that if they had just been asked to write words on a flipchart.

We all need to find ways of bringing more making, and less thinking, into our work lives – and, paradoxically, we’ll find that it opens up the new ways of thinking that we are searching for – in order to make things better.

What is a sustainable brand?

My first post on this site looked at the definition of sustainability. The definition that I put forward was:

“Sustainability is a balance between the financial, human, and environmental. It is about living your values and acting with integrity, responsibility and generosity. It is about being in a community of discussion, dialogue and action – because no person or company is an island and everything is interconnected.”

Yet this blog is about sustainable brands, and so I have been thinking about what the definition of a sustainable brand might be. The answer that I have arrived at is as follows, and builds on my definition of sustainability:

A sustainable brand is one that has a meaning or purpose that goes beyond making money, instead seeking to increase the wellbeing of humanity and all life on our planet. It sees people as creativists, not consumers. And it understands the lifecycle and environmental impact of all its activities, so that it can seek to continuously innovate and reduce its impact to a minimum.

In summary, the three main elements are: purpose, people as creativists, and taking action on lifecycle impacts. Or to reduce even further: creating + connecting + acting. I will take a brief look at each of these three elements in turn:

1) Purpose

Santiago Gowland, VP of Brand Development and Global Corporate Responsibility at Unilever wrote “A lack of alignment around purpose slowly erodes attempts to be proactive toward any solution.” And we need companies that are creating solutions. There is increasing acknowledgement that just making money, to the exclusion of all other aims, is no longer good enough. Here is Umair Haque on the subject in an extract from his Harvard Review blog:

“The untapped capacity to create significance (and all the stuff that follows on from it — higher purpose, a sense of meaning, animating passion, intrinsic motivation) has never been more important: I’d gently suggest it’s the wellspring of 21st century advantage. As I’ve discussed at length both here and in my book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, the real roots of this crisis are that 20th century institutions, whether banks, governments, or corporations, are becoming more and more useless to people, communities, and society. They’re extracting wealth from them, instead of creating enduring, authentic value for them.”

A sustainable brand will be focusing on how to create enduring, authentic value – for the long-term and for all people.

2) People as creativists, not consumers
A sustainable brand is one that is forming a new type of relationship with its stakeholders: its employees, its customers, the communities in which it operates. The old model was one based of passivity: employees did what they were told within the framework of the company hierarchy; customers bought what the advertising suggested that they buy; communities got a hand-out if they were lucky.

In the past year and a half, I have been developing my thinking around my Creativist Manifesto. The manifesto states that the biggest choice that we have to make in society today is to be a creativist or a consumer. A consumer is passive and motivated by extrinsic values, and this is damaging to individuals, to society and to the planet. A creativist, in contrast, is active in creating their own identity and motivated by intrinsic values.

Companies, in different ways, are beginning to recognise the shift from consumers to creativists. For example, Skanska, the construction Group, in an article about the future of energy, talks about ‘prosumers’. It gives the example of a housing development in Heritage Springs, California, which claims to be the largest solar-powered community in the US. When the system produces more electricity than the homes are producing, households are given a credit back to their electricity bill. In this way each household becomes an ‘energy farmer’.

“This development revitalizes the term “prosumer,” coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler, who in the 1980s defined the prosumer as someone who blurs the distinction between a consumer and a producer. Energy Farmers are prosumers of the 21st century – urban citizens that are stakeholders in a local energy community. Systems like that of Heritage Springs build an intrinsic understanding of electricity by directly involving, engaging and empowering citizens in the abstract concept that is electricity use.”

The meaning of ‘prosumer’ is itself now not distinct, sometimes meaning ‘professional consumer’, and in my view ‘creativist’ is a more accurate term to use here – households which are not just consuming electricity, but actively creating it. Whichever term you choose to use, the principal is the same, and the concept will become more widespread across different sectors. It is the companies who both recognise and encourage the shift from consumers to creativists who will be leaders on the road to sustainability.

And in order to respond to, and be ahead of, the constantly changing world that we live in, companies need their employees to be creativists, not consumers – not passively along for the ride and their monthly paycheck, but creativists, bringing their creativity, their passions, their ideas to work.

3) Taking action on lifecycle
Companies such as InterfaceFLOR and Unilever are recognising that lifecycle analysis is essential to understanding the impacts of a company’s products, and therefore being able to identify where innovation is required in order to reduce impacts. It is this rigour and understanding which will provide companies with a solid base to innovate from, and allow them to take a real leadership position. For the best intentions and the best connections amount to nothing without taking action.

What is your view? What makes a sustainable brand? Please share your thoughts and examples.