The year of transition!

In this blog I am going to try and pull together a few of the themes I have been writing about over the past two years.  For context, those themes have been :

  • Approaches to sustainability in controversial sectors, such as coal and palm oil
  • Getting more political, specifically writing to policy makers
  • Adapting my own approach, particularly at work

2020 is proving to be an exciting year for climate change and sustainability.  It is only the third week of January and we have already seen a Larry Fink Blackrock letter stressing the importance of this issue, a Davos World Economic Forum focused on sustainability and huge public attention on the disastrous bush fires in Australia.  I have encountered a noticeable uptick in interest, both professionally and personally.

Transition toward the low carbon economy will be a focus for 2020, leading up to the COP in Glasgow in November.  More and more companies are making public announcements, such as Credit Suisse, limiting the financing of new coal-fired power stations or Microsoft aiming to be climate negative.  This is to be welcomed, progress but a lot more to do.  Government policy is also moving in a similar direction, with one notable exception.  Although 2020 could potentially be a year of transition in the White House too! 

Given business and government action, I expect the controversial sectors to come under increasing pressure.  Overall this is welcome, but there is a balancing act to achieve sustainable development, particularly where greater economic prosperity is required.

It is great to see the momentum in sustainability and I have been thinking carefully about my own role in this context.  Progress has been made in my role and a foundation created for more action in the future.  I have been mindful to think of my legacy in my organisation, while working over the past 3 years on Sustainable Finance.  2020 will be a year of transition for me too.  I have made a decision to move to a new role, to a small consultancy entirely focused on climate change.  This will include moving as the company is based in the Netherlands.

I feel really excited for this change.  I am looking forward to being in an organisation where sustainability is so fundamental and part of the values.  In the Finance sector, the Netherlands is at the forefront of thinking on sustainability – with both the central bank and financial services companies taking action.  It will be really interesting to be part of this leading edge.

Here’s to transition!  Wishing you the best of luck in your own 😊


Yet more politics – joy!

My personal leadership challenge focused on increasing my impact by focusing on the politics of climate change to create more pressure toward sustainable outcomes.  I have completed a lot with regard to my personal habits and work, but not much in this area…I was weirdly disconnected with my politics and sustainability.  Well now not, although I am not sure if I am finding more questions or answers by dealing with political parties and campaign groups!  This is also probably a broader reflection of politics more generally in the UK at the moment 😊

One way I increased my personal impact was by speaking at a fringe event on climate change at a UK party conference.  It was my first experience of a party conference, super interesting with lots of different folk and politicians in attendance.  I spoke about the new climate disclosures, pathways required to achieve 2 degrees and a just transition.  This was a great opportunity, which I am really thankful for.

On a slightly different political tack, I joined my first extinction rebellion protest in London in October.  In my view this group are doing a lot to increase the profile of climate change, although I do not necessarily agree with all their tactics!  It seems a bit odd to target public transport, this is clearly part of the solution.  In any case, it was a good experience, felt proactive and reading the extinction rebellion literature there is much I personally agree with.  The podcast their co-founder had on Luminery with Russell Brand was also super interesting.

The latter has got me thinking about the role of mindfulness in dealing with climate change and sustainability.  Being thoughtful and listening to others, even when they have different views, is key to finding solutions.  It is all to easy to fall into the trap of identity politics and thoughtless simplistic stereotyping.  To increase my positive impacts, I am going to continue to ask questions of myself and others regarding climate change, plus listen mindfully to the answers.  Maybe I will have a chance to start soon by asking the candidates in my local constituency some questions during the general election campaign!

Over and out.

Getting political continued…

In my February blog, I wrote about the responses to letters I sent to my political representatives regarding climate change.  I was pleasantly surprised by the responses…  Well, a lot has happened in politics and beyond on this topic since then!

The global campaign group Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunburg have had a huge impact on politicians and the public :

Over the past few months a number of high profile protests and demonstrations have occurred across the globe.  There has been an increase in global awareness regarding climate change and calls for politicians to do much much more.  This has been personally very motivating for me to see and feel.  In some ways I am pinching myself as more work colleagues, friends and family ask me detailed questions on this issue.  I have found the uptick in momentum incredible and somewhat overwhelming…to be clear that is not a complaint.  I welcome the energy and interest in this issue, but recognise there are only so many hours in the day – it is also important to take care of myself to ensure I am full of energy and available to play my part.

The UK Government declared a climate emergency in May, with an aim to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

London also held its first climate action week in July.

These initiatives are incredibly encouraging to see and I personally very much welcome them.

However, despite the momentum I think it is important to remember taking climate action will not affect everyone equally.  Since the Brexit vote I have learnt how some issues can divide people and reduce collaboration.  With this in mind, I have been particularly interested in a ‘Just Transition’ and thoughts on the unintended consequences of taking climate action to ensure they are managed effectively,

I welcome inclusive approaches to try a avoid climate change becoming an issue which polarises the general public further and therefore impacts politics negatively.  The trade unions have been very involved in some of this work.  We have yet to see what the new UK Government under Boris Johnson will do.  I am keeping an open mind and will wait to see what happens (fingers crossed).

Climate change is such an important area which requires lots of different interventions.  I am hopeful the momentum will continue and I welcome ideas, creativity and collective actions – globally and locally – to tackle this complex challenge.

Phasing out coal

On the topic of climate change, much is written about the continued use of coal for power.  There is a widely accepted view from many actors, including climate scientists and NGOs, that coal will need to be phased out completely in order to successfully transition to the low carbon economy.

However, this is not without complexities.  Across the globe new coal fired power stations are still being built – in some cases being funded by European financiers.  I am intrigued as the treatment of coal power is just one example of the tough decisions which will need to be taken with respect to climate change, particularly in the context of economic growth.

Many developed countries have benefited economically from coal powered energy.  For example, the industrial revolution in the UK.  In much of the developed world coal is now being phased out and cleaner alternatives rapidly being sought.  However, in some developing countries a growth in coal power is still being supported – it is argued the context is different in these countries.  This different context is due to a perceived lack of practical alternatives to coal (E.g. existing individual diesel generators, no electric grid infrastructure) and due to the fact industrialisation has not yet taken place.  I am mindful it is very easy to have a European-centric view of the world and see turning coal off immediately as obvious – the decision may not be that simple if you had not benefited from the prosperity it is perceived to bring.

In my view listening to scientific research with regards to coal is important, specifically avoiding negative consequences.  Cleaner alternative should certainly be sought – the cost of renewables coming down will support this.  Engaging with companies and governments who continue to support coal is also key – where possible reducing or containing emissions of existing coal power and developing so-called clean coal may possibly offer solutions…  Having tough conversations in a non-adversarial manner is critical, listening and communicating effectively with actors on both sides of the debate to ultimately figure out solutions. 

Happy to hear any thoughts, particularly where there is a tension between coal power and economic development in developing countries…

Adapting my approach…

I have recently started blogging regarding my Sustainability Leadership challenges and I had a few topics to think about, so I decided to write two blogs…  My second blog is about taking action at work, specifically trying to use alternative approaches to encourage further adoption of sustainability and sustainable finance in business.

Naturally I am an extrovert character with an eye for logistics and organising – I love creating / implementing a practical plan to ‘make things happen’.  This has served me well during my career and in the sustainability field is frequently a piece which is missing.  For example, some business leaders understand the climate change issue but struggle with the response aside from high level commitments.  Also some sustainability focused individuals have fantastic ideas / thought leadership but struggle to convert them into business solutions.

As my work has progressed over the last two years and been more broadly adopted in the business, I have recently been experimenting by adapting my own techniques to influence internally.  My usual personality-led ‘force of nature’ type approach was not always working and in some cases was turning colleagues off and causing them to retreat.  In order to implement by successfully fully integrating sustainability day-to-day in the business, encouraging colleagues to ‘own’ the topic themselves would be necessary.  I cannot be everywhere at once and clones do not exist (yet).

My first thought was to not dominate meetings but rather foster an open discussion.  Now in meetings at the begining I will openly state I do not have all the answers.   Also I have been trying hard to take a step back and not dominate all the conversations, instead having critical interventions – usually with questions to guide. 

For me this is difficult and goes against my natural personality, but it has had some successes.  For example, business units owning specific actions and creating new sustainability product ideas.  Unfortunately I have also seen other impacts – my perception is some senior colleagues have seen my new approach as a weakness as I am perceived not to have the ‘answers’.  This reaction to sustainability in general is not uncommon in my workplace, some people feel threatened.  Again I have adapted my approach here.  Rather than reacting to others frustrations, I am keeping really calm and then usually responding with a question of my own.  It has felt good to take control of these situations and not react emotionally.

I am not sure how I will know if I have succeeded…although ultimately further implementation and inspiring others to act is a start.  On this topic I have been working references to the ‘Good Life Goals’ into my public/work speeches – these are personal actions to implement the SDGs.  Encouraging others to think about, share and implement one or two of these for themselves would be a great start 🙂

Getting political

Taking inspiration from a lecture by an ex-Greenpeace activist I have been inspired to find out more about the politicians who represent me and their opinion/policies on climate change…  

Day to day I try to complete as many personal actions on this topic as possible.  E.g. eating vegetarian, driving a hybrid/electric car, etc.  Also I work full time in sustainable finance.  However, politics was an obvious gap of inaction on my part.

I wrote via email to three politicians who represent my area:

·        The UK Prime Minister

·        My local MP (Labour)

·        The Mayor of London

I asked for their reaction and actions in response to the 2018 IPCC report on climate change and the Paris Agreement, which indicates policy action is needed to curb climate change.

First off, not all politicians have direct emails.  However, the online forms for number 10 Downing Street and the Mayor’s office are easy enough to use.  I was pleasantly surprised to receive a response back from all three politicians within 1 month.

My MP replied back with an hour or so and stated he would check and get back to me – I am guessing he was already familiar with my name from my Brexit-related emails!  True to his word, within 2 weeks I had a fulsome reply stating the labour party position.  I also got the same information pack in the post a few days later.  There is something weirdly exciting about getting a large envelope with the ‘House of Commons’ logo on the front.  This includes some bold Labour policies – committing to 60% renewable or low carbon power for the UK within 12 years of coming to power, banning fracking and bringing water back into public ownership – the latter with a view to cut down water wastage.

Next to come back was the PM’s office – I was surprised to get such as prompt a response seeing as it must be a very busy time.  The response was from an official at the department responsible – BEIS (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) Ministerial Correspondence unit.   It included a number of actions, such as the UK joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance and supporting clean growth.  It was a fulsome response, but not as radical as the Labour position.

Last but certainly not least was the Mayor’s office, it was worth waiting for.  It was a constructive and practical response, focusing on London’s 1.5 degree Compatible Climate Action Plan – launched on 12thDecember.  It is aligned with the highest standards included in the Paris Agreement.

I was shocked to learn andotally the majority of letters and emails to MPs are about potholes.  Although annoying, in my view potholes are not the most pressing item needing action in the world today!

Overall, I am unusually impressed by my engagements and thoroughly recommend we all make our voices heard by emailing and writing.  I intend to do this a lot more!  Politicians watch out – you will be hearing from me again on this topic 🙂

“There’s a Rang-Tan in my bedroom”

Since I started studying sustainability formally last year, I have been keeping an eye out for communication campaigns in this area. One example stands out….the recent Iceland Christmas advert:

The topic was not new to me, I have been aware of the environmental impact of palm oil for some time, including the destruction of the orangutan’s natural habitat in South East Asia. However, while watching this advert the emotion of this needless destruction hit me, I was in tears! This sparked a number of personal actions, including seeking out palm oil free products, signing online petitions, writing to my parliamentary representative and donating to a wildlife charity. It got me thinking about how this campaign had been so effective…

This advert was for a UK-based supermarket, Iceland, with support from Greenpeace. This type of collaboration for an advert is really interesting and to my knowledge, quite unusual. It had a positive impact as it helped to avoid the perception of ‘corporate spin’ thereby increasing public trust in the message.

Iceland have also put their money where their mouth is, by removing palm oil from their own-brand products and campaigning more broadly:

Concrete actions of this sort are important to make a campaign work. Of course Iceland also ultimately hope this will differentiate them from competition and help them gain customers. Even so, I would love to see more collaborations of this sort – there is a lot to gain from partnering for all sides!

The advert was banned from television as it was deemed political. This resulted in it going viral online, creating impact as it became a talking point. By early 2019, the advert had been viewed over 5.8m times on one YouTube upload alone. It was shared on Facebook by a number of my friends, this kind of endorsement is powerful as it utilises personal connections.

During a radio show breakfast debate on the topic, Iceland’s Chief Executive defended their palm oil policy. It was clear a strong media briefing had taken place, he represented the issue in a factual and persuasive manner. There remain controversies about the fact the Iceland policy will not be implemented in full until beginning 2019. The company being honest and transparent on areas for improvement is also important to maintain credibility.

The advert is a cartoon, which has narration by a young child – it benefits from not being an academic lecture-style format. It starts off relatively innocently, roughly halfway through moving to the negative impacts of palm oil. This gentle beginning draws the audience in, I suspect for some watching the shift in tone will have been a surprise – but this also keeps people watching. The switch to black and white with roaring machines destroying the forest is shocking and upsetting. The child-like language, storytelling style and sympathetic characters, including ‘Rang-Tan’, make the message impactful and easy to understand for non-experts.

I hope more sustainability campaigns use some of these techniques, and others, to create calls to action for our planet. #oneplanet #SDG17