Personal leadership challenge

My personal leadership challenge has been to work in partnership with Hubbub to help promote sustainable lifestyles in fun and playful ways on things people are passionate about.

At the time of my previous post I updated readers on efforts to persuade my own employer to support our Meat Your Match campaign to promote sustainable food choices.  My pitch had been unsuccessful and at the time of my last post I was due to present a revised pitch in the hope that it would be more successful.   It was quite a cliff hanger. So now time for the big reveal.

I am pleased to say that it was successful and they have now agreed to take forward.  Entitled ‘Food Savvy’ the campaign aims to help people reduce, reuse and recycle their food and plastic waste.  In particular it challenges employees to go a month without using single use packaging.  It provides tips and resources such as food plans to help people make their own healthy, affordable, plastic-free lunches.  It has also got the staff canteen and local cafes on board with a BYO Tupperware scheme for those that want to buy lunch out. Participants are asked to log their progress throughout the month and share their experience with others.  The campaign started today (4th March) and will conclude on 2nd April. You can read more about it here.

It feels good to have launched this challenge in time for this final blog post and whilst it’s too early to assess its impact it is possible to reflect on my learnings to-date:

Firstly, perseverance and listening were key.  Despite being rejected we didn’t let this deter us.  Rather we listened to and reflected on the feedback, and used this to create a revised proposal that ultimately proved successful.

Secondly, you achieve more as a team than you do alone.  I worked closely with Hubbub and with internal colleagues to co-create the proposal.  We all had different skills and knowledge to contribute, all of which was crucial to the project’s success.

Thirdly, be humble.  I thought that our original proposal was strong and was disappointed when it was rejected. However, it was important to have the humility to recognise that the proposal didn’t reflect the needs of others.  We had to reflect on this, seek feedback and co-create a revised proposal that met the needs of all.  This has made it all the stronger and increased its likely long term impact.

In summary, it feels good to have turned what was just a fledgling idea 18 months ago into a tangible reality today.  It’s faced a number of challenges along the way but it wouldn’t have been a ‘personal leadership challenge’ if it hadn’t been challenging and I’ve learned more from these than I would have done had it been plain sailing.

The focus now is to ensure the project has lasting impact. The biggest challenges may be yet to come.



For the love of….

recently came across the work of a little known NGO named Climate Outreach.  Climate Outreach describe themselves as “Europe’s leading experts in climate change communications, bridging the gap between theory and practice”.   At the heart of their approach is the importance of ensuring that climate communications appeal to people’s values.

Their project on how to communicate climate change to centre right voters exemplifies their approach. As is well known climate change has become a polarised issue in which your political stance is by far the biggest influence on your attitude to climate change.

Climate Outreach point out that, unfortunately and almost without realising it, the dominant communicators, language and narratives on climate change speak almost exclusively to left wing values.  And in so doing alienate conservatives, thus deepening the polarisation.

They argue that tackling climate change is not inherently at odds with conservative values. Far from it.  Stewardship, protecting nature, shared responsibility, preserving local communities are all values embedded deeply within conservatism.   But the narrative on climate change needs to be reworked so that it speaks to and validates such conservative values.  Examples of effective conservative messaging in practice are:

  • conserving energy is good old fashioned common sense
  • Tackling climate change is the responsibility of us all and action begins at home.  We owe it to our children and grandchildren to act.
  • Tackling climate change will preserve our traditional way of life. It is the sensible thing to do.

This values based approach, akin to that outlined by Rose, was put into practice through the “For the Love of” campaign led by the Climate Coalition in the run up to COP21 in 2015.  The campaign sought to link that which people love and are passionate about, with the risks that climate change poses to them.  For the London Climate March the campaign produced thousands of heart shaped placards emblazoned with “For the Love of..” and which had a gap for people to write what was important to them. I saw everything ranging from “..building a snowman” to “..a cup of coffee” (personally I put my wife’s name- cheesy I know).  Seeing the thousands of placards marching in unison through the streets of London was an inspiring sight that helped to give a positive and motivational message.  By linking climate change with everyday issues that people were passionate about the campaign helped climate change go beyond its environmental niche, and overcome the psychological distance that bedevils climate communications.

Obviously there is still a long way to go but I think this values based approach has a key role to play if we are to go beyond the committed few and engage and motivate new audiences of all political persuasions on the importance of climate action.

Meat, wellbeing and the protein problem

To recap my personal leadership challenge is to work with the charity Hubbub to help promote sustainable lifestyles in fun and playful ways. We concentrate on things people are passionate about such as fashion, food, homes and neighbourhoods.

Most recently we’ve been developing a campaign to reduce meat consumption and promote plant based sources of protein.  Meat and dairy consumption is predicted to double by 2050 and this isn’t sustainable.  Our Meat Your Match campaign challenged male gym users to replace half of their animal based protein with plant based protein over a period of 2 months. It was provocatively aimed at this audience as research shows that 60 % of men exceed recommended levels of red meat intake and gym users in particular have become increasingly conscious of the ‘need’ to eat lots of meat protein. The campaign aimed to challenge their preconceptions that to get lots of protein you had to consume lots of meat and dairy. Participants received bespoke meal plans, wearable technologies, and personal support. Preliminary results found that the diets were hugely beneficial to the participants’ health and wellbeing, with people sleeping better and feeling less fatigued. They also said they were far more likely to order a vegetable based dish when eating out.

We now aim to expand this campaign to a larger, more mainstream cohort.  I’ve pitched the idea to my employer to see if they can get involved.  I didn’t get off to the best start as it turns out the lady I spoke to is the daughter of a livestock farmer who loves meat.  However, after further discussions she became interested in the wellbeing elements of the concept and so we are altering our approach to position it more as a wellbeing campaign.  This is a valuable lesson as wellbeing is becoming increasingly important across many businesses and so it’s an angle that may well resonate better with a business audience. We’ll be pitching it formally in the next few weeks and I’ll report back on progress in my next blog. Wish me luck.

Insuring a Sustainable Future

If we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change we must align finance with the needs of a sustainable economy.  For, whilst much focus is on government spending and multilateral aid budgets, these are dwarfed by the approximately $300tn that is traded on the capital markets.  If we can harness this $300tn to support, rather than undermine, sustainable development the effect will be transformative.

As arguably the world’s largest industry, the insurance sector has a central role to play.  Insurers are uniquely exposed to climate risk. As extreme weather events increase in frequency and severity, it is the insurance industry that foots the bill.  The ABI estimate that the global insurance industry’s exposure to weather-related loss has increased to $200bn, a four fold increase in 30 years.  Similarly, insurers’ investments in the capital markets are exposed to climate risk, such as through stranded assets.  Indeed a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit estimated that there is $43tn of value at risk from climate change.  This gives insurers a strong commercial incentive to mitigate climate change.

Insurers are also uniquely placed to promote climate mitigation.  For example, insurers can invest their huge sums of capital into renewable energy projects.  They can also choose to divest from fossil fuel companies, thus depriving them of an important source of capital.  Similarly insurers can refuse to insure fossil fuel extraction such as coal mines. Without insurance such projects become unviable. Insurers can also promote mitigation and adaption through its products such as by incentivising customers to make their homes energy efficient, to drive their cars less, and to not build on flood plains.  This creates a virtuous circle in which the insurers risk is reduced, customers benefit from lower premiums and climate change is mitigated.  In addition insurers can use their considerable size and influence to engage governments in support of pro-climate policies.

This pivotal role of insurers has led some environmentalists to assign great hope on the industry driving climate action and providing a much needed counter weight to the might of the fossil fuel industry.  Groups such as ClimateWise and the Principles for Sustainable Insurance are testament to the industry’s growing engagement with the issue.  But whilst many insurers are leading the way the industry’s response isn’t uniform and, according to some environmentalists, isn’t commensurate to the scale of the challenge.  Certainly, if we are to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement, greater ambition is needed, not just from insurers but from all sectors.  As the world’s risk managers the insurance industry must do more to utilise its position of influence to mitigate the greatest risk of them all- that of climate change.

Nudging our way to sustainability

It is often thought that economics and sustainability are uneasy bedfellows. Indeed many an environmentalist blames economics for the rapacious consumption of natural resources, increased inequality and a climate crisis the like of which the world has never known.

However this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, Richard Thaler, perhaps offers salvation. Thaler is chief architect of behavioural economics, a discipline that seeks to move beyond the rational economic man of classical economic theory and instead considers how people really make decisions. For behavioural economists such as Thaler, decision making is not the result of rational choice but rather is heavily influenced by irrational biases. Loss aversion, status quo bias, choice architecture and framing all have major impacts upon decision making.

Applying this insight Thaler (2008) developed a series of ‘nudges’ to help influence people’s choices in ways that will benefit themselves and society. The most cited (though possibly most unpleasant!) example is that of the men’s urinals in Amsterdam airport where, in an effort to reduce spillage, planners painted a fly in each urinal for men to aim at. The result? An 80% reduction in spillage.

But what does this mean for sustainable consumption? For me, it offers the opportunity to move beyond climate communication and towards affecting behaviour change. It has long been a frustration of mine that no matter how stark the warnings, how urgent the crisis or how concerned people claim to be, changing their behaviour towards more sustainable consumption has remained stubbornly hard to achieve. The application of behavioural economics offers hope that people can be influenced to make more sustainable choices.

It should be noted that the approach is not without its critics. Leaving aside libertarian concerns about overbearing state influence, even some environmentalists have concerns. For Adam Corner (2017), a key drawback of nudge theory is that it prevents people from meaningfully engaging with the issue. People are nudged into making more sustainable choices without even realising it or due to other motivating factors such as saving money (eg emphasising the money saving benefits of turning off lights). This transactional nature negates long term sustainable behaviour change. For Corner, what we really need is cognitive engagement to achieve a long term shift.

However, it seems to me that nudging still has a valuable contribution to make, not least because such is the urgency of the climate crisis any method to encourage the adoption of sustainable lifestyles should be encouraged. Furthermore, the potential impact could be huge. Take energy for example. Research shows that in Western countries 50-90% of people favour renewable energy. Yet these preferences rarely translate into action. In the UK less than 1% of people choose renewable energy tariffs (Heeter and Nicholas, 2013). When choosing an energy contract the choice architecture results in the vast majority of households simply signing up to the default (non renewable) option. Insights from behavioural economics suggest that if energy providers changed their default option to the renewable energy tariff, there would be a big increase in people signing up to renewable energy (Sunstein 2016). Indeed research in Germany showed that when the default was changed households using renewable energy exceeded 90% (Pichert and Katsikopoulos, 2008). Nudge thus harnesses the inertia that typifies the energy market and turns it into a positive, resulting in a large uptake in renewable energy.

What begins as a small nudge is thus transformed into a mighty shove towards greater sustainability.