Tag Archives: sustainability

The satisfactions of learning to slow down

Part 2 of 2


Where might you go on a pocket holiday?

In the first part of this article, I talked to pyschotherapist, counsellor and advocate of slow living Bonnie Grotjahn about the satisfactions of the slow.

Having discussed the satisfactions, I asked Bonnie what advice she would give to someone who wanted to incorporate more slow into their life. She suggested 5 things that you can do as a starting point:

Noticing – This might be a first step.  This could take the form of noticing the impact of what you are doing, noticing when you want to speed up, and how you speed yourself up, and being curious and non-judgmental about this. You notice – ‘I have the impulse to switch on the TV’ – what might you notice from this? It is not about saying, “I must slow down”. You need to be gentle with yourself.

Stepping away from the computer – Having one day a week not doing anything on the computer is a good way of slowing down, taking time on this day to do physical things with attention.

The pocket holiday – One of the main barriers to slow for me is that I think this requires dedicated time. Yet it can be about finding ways to build slow into your day. Bonnie provided the idea of the ‘pocket holiday’. You might be yearning for a holiday and a chance to slow down. But you can take a pocket holiday and stare out of the window for five minutes, or imagine a place that you’d love to be, and this can make a difference.

Bringing slow into our product choices – We can support slow in the economy through the choices that we make, for example being mindful of the products that we buy, trying to buy those that are built to last or can have a second life, rather than being on the fast road to landfill.

Learning to say no (and looking after yourself) – This is such good advice and insight from Bonnie: “In some cases, people both want to and fear slowing down.  What do you fear might happen if you slow down? Or say ‘no’ to a possible activity or demand someone is making of you? It can be worth exploring any messages you might have been given, or beliefs you may be holding, about your value as a person if you ‘do’ less.  I often see clients who need support to feel OK about defining themselves, saying ‘no’ where that would be healthy for them and accepting that – for any variety of reasons including getting older or another change in circumstances – they need to prioritise looking after themselves.”

What are the barriers that might be stopping you from going slow? What are your experiences of slow? The satisfactions as well as the barriers? And what has helped you to slow down?


Bonnie practices at Cotswold Talking Therapies and can be contacted through their website – http://www.cotswoldtalkingtherapies.co.uk/


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.

What does sustainability do?

There is the noun ‘sustainability’. There is the adjective ‘sustainable’. But what does sustainability actually do? What is the verb, the action word? Sustain doesn’t quite cut it. So much that is written about sustainability is, as a friend of mine would say, ‘blah blah’, and one of the main reasons is that it is packed with abstract nouns, and short on doing words.

Read the rest of this article at http://www.sustainabilityforum.com/blog/what-does-sustainability-do

‘Now the ears of my ears awake…’

I talked in a earlier post about the need for a new language of sustainability. Apart from a few forward looking businesses, poetry doesn’t usually have a place in the business world. However, poetry is one way for us to awake or re-awake to the beauty of language and the world around us.

It strikes me that in most business writing about sustainability and ‘green’ issues, there is a distinct lack of connection with the natural, for example invoking the senses. This lack of connection encourages us to continue to view the earth as something separate from us, rather than the source of life which we need to cherish. If we do want to engage people (whether in their capacity as employees, members of the general public, suppliers etc) then I would suggest that we need to encourage people to start to re-connect with the world around them.

To give you an example, I picked Starbucks at random to see what language they were using (I must be in need of a coffee). It turns out that their mission is ‘To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.’ This is a fine mission statement. And the use of the word ‘spirit’ suggests that they would be open to appealing to the human spirit. They have some nice features on their ‘Shared planet’ webpages – for example being able to take a look around a green store. It all sounds worthy, such as recycling coffee grounds and using reclaimed materials.

But it is hardly living up to their mission statement of ‘inspiring’. Why not take the language one stage further? When talking about coffee grounds, there is an ideal opportunity to appeal to the sense of smell – the coffee grounds which produced the heady scent of freshly brewed coffee, can now be used to help your garden grow – imagine the scent of the flowers filling your garden. Or when talking about using reclaimed wood, why not then talk about the forests around Seattle, the experience of walking in the forest? ‘This is what inspires us, which makes us want to preserve the forests. What inspires you?’ Of course, the hard facts need to be included as well, but there is a place for the spirit.

I will leave you with ee cumming’s poem ‘I thank You God for most this amazing’. If every Chief Executive were to recite this on their way into work, what difference would this make to the way business was conducted?

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes


(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)


how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any–lifted from the no

of all nothing–human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?


(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

All the world’s a stage

I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity’. (Douglas R Hofstadter)

Reading these words, quoted by John Simmons in his inspiring book ‘Dark Angels – How writing releases creativity at work’, I was reminded of Ben Todd. Ben is the Executive Director of the Arcola Theatre in London, and he spoke recently at UK Aware in his capacity as one of the London Leaders. He explained how the Arcola Theatre has sustainability as one of the three key strands of its work, along with art and community.

Constraints fuelling creativity

Now, when they are planning a new show, the theatre will ask ‘Could you power your show using this fuel cell?’ And the theatre group will see as this as a new challenge to their creativity – demonstrating the point that what is a seeming constraint can fuel creativity. It is this attitude that business needs to bring to sustainability as well.

The rational and the visionary

Ben also made the interesting point that they need to combine the rational with the visionary in their work to incorporate sustainability into the theatre. Waste and heating fall into the category of the ‘rational’ – areas in which the theatre needs to take action as they have the biggest impact in terms of sustainability. Lighting and set design are in the category of the ‘visionary’. In footprint terms they don’t have so much impact, but because of their high visibility for the audience, making changes here will have the biggest influence in raising awareness amongst the public, demonstrating the Arcola’s ethos and inspiring people to think what they can do. A useful distinction for companies to bear in mind.



The law of 20%

I believe strongly that sustainability should be owned by all employees in an organisation. So why I am advocating targeting 20% of your employees? Because I believe that is the most effective way to get all employees in the organisation on board.

How does this work? It goes back to Malcolm Gladwell and The Tipping Point :

‘once 20% of the population begin moving in the same direction, they act as a tipping point for more change in that direction’.

Gladwell also writes about the personalities – the connectors, salesmen and maven – who play a crucial role in any change process. (‘Maven’ are the intense gatherers of information and impressions who are the first to pick up on new trends).

In his book, The Necessary Revolution, Peter Senge tells the story of how Darcy Winslow at Nike used this principle to effect change. She realized that effectively engaging even 20% of 25,000 employees at a deep level was a hard task. So she identified designers as the ‘mavens’ who were at the heart of innovation in Nike’s business and could lead change – reaching 20% of 300 designers was a better place to start.

The techniques that she then used to engage included a two-day meeting of a cross-section of people in Nike, including designers, to begin the dialogue within the organisation. It also involved shifting the conversation from problems to possibilities. For example, she would start a dialogue with designers, explaining about the issue of waste and toxicity, and then ask the question, ‘What is most important to you about design and new products at Nike? And how, if we were at our best, would you see us facing these challenges?’ She was drawing on Nike values and the spirit of innovation to inspire designers. Once the dialogue had been opened, this could be followed up by asking questions which would stimulate the creativity of designers, such as ‘How do we design a completely recyclable shoe?’

As EE Cummings wrote – ‘Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question’, or as Jim Collins said in ‘Good to Great’ – ‘Lead with questions, not answers’. Today one of Nike’s three official management goals is ‘to deliver sustainable products and innovations’.

So, who would be the 20% that you would target in your organisation? It may be that is a particular department. Or it may be the people who are already leading change and taking action within their own areas and need help and encouragement to do more. And what questions would you be asking of them, to stimulate creativity and inspire them?


A new language of sustainability


If we are going to begin to change the mindset within organizations, to one where sustainability is embedded in thought and action, it seems to me that we need to begin to consciously choose the language of sustainability. The language that we use shapes our world – so what language are we going to use on our journey?

I was prompted to reflect on this by reading Seventh Generation’s Corporate Consciousness Report, which has been named Best SME report at this year’s CERES/ACCA Sustainability Reporting Awards. Seventh Generation is a US company which makes natural household products.

There are three strands that I would like to pick out from Seventh Generation’s report and the way that they operate that I think underpin a new language of sustainability:

·      Consciousness – being awake to the consequences of the choices that you make and therefore making active choices

·      Global Imperatives – an understanding of your desired impact on the world, infused with the importance of bringing this into being

·      Inspired Protagonists – placing employees as heroes at the centre of the company story


Seventh Generation have a Director of Corporate Consciousness, Gregor Barnum, and a Corporate Consciousness report. Having read an interview with Gregor Barnum, I offer my own explanation of why they use the term Consciousness. The term ‘consciousness’ suggests a state of awakeness and liberation – that you are doing something because you actively, consciously, choose to, and understand the consequences of your actions. The name of the company comes from an Iroquois Indian precept, ‘In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations’.  As Gregor Barnum says “Think about that. Every little thing you did today. Can you think about the consequences of even the tiniest little action – what they would be seven generations from now?” Being present, conscious, to the long term consequences of our actions is an inherent part of sustainability.

Global Imperatives

Seventh Generation have developed a set of ‘Global Imperatives’. They describe these as ‘aspirational imperatives which represent the evolutionary path our company has chosen’. For me, the word imperative is more compelling and has a greater sense of urgency and action than the possible alternative of ‘principle’. These eight imperatives include ‘Systems Perspective: we are committed to approaching everything we do from a systems perspective, a perspective that allows us to see the larger whole, not a fragmented, compartmentalized world, not just our own reality, but a world that is endlessly interconnected, in which everything we do affects everything else’. Taking time to consider the lens that you view the world through is integral to consciousness.

Inspired Protagonists

People who work at Seventh Generation are known as Inspired Protagonists. If you want employees to be part of the story, to be creating the story, then they need to be able to see themselves as heroes in the story, empowered to act, not just cogs in a machine.

A friend was saying to me yesterday how he passed by Dr Johnson’s house in London, and thought how cool it would be able to write your own dictionary. Is this actually part of the task in front of us – to create a new world, do we need to start defining a new language too?

What’s your definition of sustainability?


A good place to start when talking about sustainability is to define it. What does it mean to you? What does it mean to people in your organisation? Too often, sustainability is used as a shorthand, without consideration for what it actually stands for.

The most widely used definition of sustainable development is the one coined by the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission):

“forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

This is a good starting point. But for me it lacks the ‘wow’ factor, it sounds like it was written by committee. It is not going to inspire. Whereas the definition for sustainability from Forum for the Future is definitely more inspirational:

“A dynamic process which enables all people to realise their potential and to improve their quality of life in ways that simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support systems.”

I like this definition because it makes explicit the fact that we are dependent on the earth, so we better look after it, whilst making the link to all people realising their potential – we (collectively) will have a better life if we (collectively) take care of the environment. There is an aspirational element rather than just ‘we should do this because we must’.

I had a go at writing my own definition, and this is what I arrived at:

“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.”

Ultimately, the definition of sustainability in your organisation needs to reflect the values of your organisation and your culture. But if we want to place sustainability centre stage in companies, then why not open up the debate to employees? Ask what it means to them, ask them what their vision of a sustainable future is. By engaging with employees on a level of personal values and having this conversation, this will begin to create a platform for organisations to shift to a mindset of sustainability that is truly embedded in the organisation.

What’s your definition of sustainability? Share it here.