Oct '12

Is Sustainability Sustainable?

I’m a Martian, so I like fixing problems.  We all love our planet, we’re down to our last one and already we need 2.5 of them just to keep the human race going.  Ooops.

With that in mind I went to an excellent seminar on sustainability hosted by BDO last week, it was part of a series with this particular discussion about how sustainability and brand fit together.  The 4 speakers were Simon Pringle from BDO, Gareth Rice from O2 (mobile phones), Clare Hierons from Carbon Leapfrog (a charity focusing on carbon reduction projects) and Alisa Murphy from Life Size Media (PR), and it was chaired by Kevin Schofield from BDO; all were excellent.

Each speaker talked passionately about what sustainability means to them and their organisation; each view was different, yet equally valid, it was very thought provoking – us Martians in the audience were left scratching our heads.

Some built environmentally friendly social housing at increased cost, yielding the same rents, yet giving occupants the benefit of cheaper running costs – even though today’s “Green Building” is just “a Building” in 5 years time.   Would others pay a premium for sustainable goods?  Maybe; you might pay more for a hybrid car if your mileage is high enough to pay you back.  Many might use Ariel 30 if it’s the same cost as other detergents because the product design will save you heating costs in the washing machine. And so forth.

We learned that mere “Greenwash” (an attempt to make yourself look Green by doing something that is contrary to core corporate activity) is dumb and won’t fool anyone. As a result “being Green” is now perhaps past tense and the new label is “The Sustainability Agenda” though clearly the agenda differs depending upon your point of view; but whatever it is, it needs to be woven into day to day work.

More by luck than judgement (OK, to reduce costs actually) I can announce that Burden Dare is officially sustainable!  We are “virtual” (which saves travel, telephony and 3 hours of our time each day), we use cloud computing and telephony (to save IT support costs and upgrades / electricity for servers), we use electronic communications (which saves paper, postage and, even more important, time).  Or are we?  Surely the two things that make our business really sustainable are our personal relationships with clients and an ability to deliver a quality recruitment product?  If we can keep costs down too, then great.

One man’s sustainability (Boris Island or an out of town shopping centre or a humble wind turbine, for example) is another man’s devastation, destruction and pollution, and it is increasingly common to see environmentalists popping up with opposing views on each side of such planning debates!  How can they both be right?

Experience from my consulting days suggests that for any initiative to work and gather momentum there has to be a common agenda that is understood by everyone.  Or mayhem breaks out.  So, perhaps each of these views (and quite probably many others too) need to be herded together into one “absolutely common global agenda” (though the Martian in me would prefer a check list) against which those of us who participate can calibrate our initiatives and, therefore, their relative success.

So who can own that?

We had better crack this fast, or planet Earth may soon resemble the place from which us Martians come.

See you at the next BDO seminar on talent.

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