Tech Director's Apology: True Sustainability Matters

Sustainability mattersI’ll freely admit that I’m probably not the most diplomatic person in the world says our Tech Director.

I can only imagine that words like cynical, provocative, challenging, will likely be used at my Eulogy. I suppose the question is why?

My aim isn’t to make this a self-indulgent ramble that would make an “insta” influencer scream narcissist.

I decided to reflect on why those words; and why it’s so important for my passion for a sustainable future.

Early Ideas Need Data

When I was at secondary school, there was a competition to work with local businesses to come up with a new and innovative idea. My idea… Solar covered parking spaces, it kept cars shaded, provided electricity, and we could use that to charge electric cars. The company I was working with thought it was a great idea, but probably unlikely to ever happen.

So the common “great idea, but

I went on to do science and analytical things. Starting out in analysis (data science!), moving into IT, doing sustainability and business improvement. This created a bit of an obsession with numbers, evidence and proof. It is clear that the lack of these frequently results in failure for great ideas.

What does the future look like?

I now have children. Like many parents, the safety, security and future of my children is really important to me. Which is why I am incredibly cynical about the crap people peddle as sustainability, or climate change strategies. Many are woeful, some are downright dangerous, a few are excellent. All of them certainly provide an indicator of leadership capability, knowledge, and understanding.

When I challenge it’s because of the lack of measurable outputs. By this, I mean SI measurables; because nature doesn’t change based on good intentions, feelings and progress updates. Nature responds to SI based measurables that deliver demonstrable improvement. If your strategy can’t be measured using SI’s, its phoney.

The failure of substitution in sustainability

Another touch point is siloed narrow “sustainability” focus; you can spot this focus when strategies promote substitution models. These promote swapping old solutions with fully “greenwashed” old solutions. What we need is change and to ask new questions. And these need to address the triple bottom line of Economic, Social and Environmental and tackle the behavioural challenges.

  • Why do people need X?
  • Can we avoid some/all X by doing something different?
  • What evidence are you basing X on?

Then test the answers against a lifecycle assessment:

  • What is the least resource intensive solution? (Hint: Not doing it)
  • What creates the least pollution, waste, harm and resultant costs? (Hint: Efficient)
  • How do we create a compelling case to transition to the new approach? (Hint: User Experience)

Sustainability needs to be user not message-centric

At the moment sustainability focuses on the path of least resistance because no one is answering the consumers’ questions of:

  • Why ?
  • What’s in it for me ?
  • How is this better?
  • What’s the journey? and finally
  • What’s the return on investment?

I don’t have all the answers, but one thing I know is that when you think big, turn things upside down, challenge, and make people uncomfortable; there are decent profits, an unassailable market position, and a great, not a greenwash story, for the marketing team. So apologies if I offend.