Sustainability practitioners the world over have come to be doing what they are doing as a result of some inspirational individual or reference along the way. This post aims to provide a starting point for you in your journey to drive organisational change for social, economic and environmental sustainability. This list includes books, movies, individuals, websites and organisations. Sustainability is a diverse field and it is important to be able to see the connections between different elements so that you can focus energy at points of high leverage.
1. The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken. I first found out about this book via a movie called 'The Corporation'. While I enjoyed the movie the interview with Ray Anderson of Interface stands out. In this interview he talks about the 'spear through the chest' that the book was for him and the transformational journey that his company went through as a result of the call to action this book represented to him. This book is a serious eye-opener and provides excellent reasons as to why we need to take action sooner rather than later. It also focuses heavily on the fact that it is the world of commerce that can drive the positive changes required.
2. An Inconvenient Truth - Documentary featuring Al Gore. This is an important film because back in 2006 it got mainstream attention focussed upon a topic which although widely known about had been pretty conveniently ignored for a long time. Since then we have seen political parties in Australia and the US elected whose campaigns have included reformist agendas in relation to climate change. If you haven't seen it get down to the library and grab a copy quick smart. Other noteworthy films that were released around the same time are Jake Gyllenhaal’s apocalyptic science fiction film The Day After Tomorrow and Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary The 11th Hour.
3. The Natural Step - not-for-profit organisation. Established in Sweden by Dr Karl-Henrik Robert in the late 1980’s - early 1990’s this organisation has educated many people across the globe in the key elements of sustainability. Based on a practical scientific approach The Natural Step centres on these four basic principles (best understood if read from top to bottom with the left hand column first):
Editor's note. Please excuse the formatting as the ability to add a table in an easily readable format currently eludes this blogger. Tips welcome in the comments. You can also click onthe table to be taken to the website.
These considerations are widely applicable and are a very useful resource to sustainability practitioners in all organisations.
4 Networks including those supported by social media. Being a trailblazer is fun but eventually you are going to want followers. Building a small army of like-minded people behind you will help you drive organisational change as you support one another over the obstacles that come up along the way. An excellent way to stay in touch with and recruit people to support your change programs is by exercising and expanding your network. Social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter allow people to maintain contact with and exchange information with much larger groups than if they relied upon telephone and face to face meetings. This kind of interaction is still important though as someone who interacts solely online may quickly lose touch with the reality of any situation that they are trying to be a part of.
5 NGOs and Charities - Greenpeace, Oxfam, Amnesty International, Kiva, Engineers Without Borders etc. Charities are at the coal face in terms of the inequity and destruction brought about by decades of unsustainable practices. This puts them in an excellent position to advise on the impacts of unsustainable activity and when possible the solutions that they have identified. These organisations are fantastic sources of information but more importantly inspiration. Rather than throw their hands in the air and consider the weight of the situation to be too immense they have taken on the challenge and are striving for a solution.
6 The Green Pages - Online business directory. Five years ago it would have been a challenge to get an idea such as this off the ground. Now 'green' products are widespread and it is difficult to imagine many products that haven't had a 'green' alternative proposed. However, when it comes time to spend or simply do your research online directories such as these are an excellent resource. The rise of services like these has improved the choice available to consumers and broken down barriers to the widespread implementation of these products.
7 The Country of Sweden. Necessity is a wonderful thing. Sweden lacks significant coal and oil resources and subsequently is a great place to look for ways around this dependency. Potentially one of the most progressive nations when it comes to sustainability, Sweden have been taking significant steps towards reducing fossil fuel dependency for decades and continue to be at the forefront of legislative reform and application of new technologies. All of this has happened while maintaining a high standard of living and continuing to compete in a global market.
8 Government agencies. With no requirement to make a profit, and from time to time an acceptance of running at a deficit, Government agencies represent an excellent resource to sustainability practitioners worldwide. Government agencies are interested in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels as it saves them the effort of having to find ways to supply them. In addition to this, the infrastructure requirements and air quality issues associated with more cars on the road are key factors in Government agencies seeking sustainable transport solutions. Government websites are great sources of impartial information as you can expect that there is not a product that they are trying to sell you. Examples include the Victorian Government's Sustainability Victoria website and the Federal Government's Your Home Technical Manual which has plenty of advice on how to improve the sustainability of your living space.
9 The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). After the Exxon-Valdez environmental disaster in 1989 a group of US investors and environmentalists came together to form the non-profit Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES - pronounced "series"). In 1997-1998 they raised a "Global Reporting Initiative" project division that selected staff, identified funding and began developing a network. Shortly after this the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joined as a partner and provided a platform for the GRI. Over the years engagement with organisations around the world has continued to grow to the point where at last count there were 507 organisational stakeholders from 55 different countries. Many of the world’s largest companies utilise the GRI reporting tools for their sustainability reporting. This has assisted with the development of a common language in regards to measuring sustainability performance of organisations around the globe.
This list is by no means exhaustive and depending on what field of sustainability you focus on your key resources may vary considerably. In future posts I will aim to focus on specific areas and continue to expand the resources section of this website. Until next time, best wishes and keep up the good work in your part of the world.
I am keen to learn what inspires you and share it with other readers. What would be your # 10 key resource or inspiration? Feel free to add more in the comments below.
After an epiphany over the weekend I have finally decided upon what this site and blog are going to be all about. The aim of this site will be to provide inspirational examples of organisational change for social, economic and environmental sustainability. Negative news stories in this space are plentiful, I will offer an alternative. This blog will be filled with examples that you can use to drive change in your organisation.
There is plenty of advice around about finding a niche and specialising so that you can stand out. But what if your speciality is as a generalist? What if you are a person people turn to for advice on a wide range of topics? What if the only common thread you can see between the things on your plate is that you are responsible for them?
The nature of work these days requires people to learn, unlearn and relearn so quickly that the generalist is in a niche of their own. I would consider the following as examples of roles where being a generalist is advantageous:
Project Manager. Every project is unique!
Researcher. If research didn’t require the bringing together of a number of skills and fields of practice then they would just ask a specialist and not waste time with a researcher.
Consultant. As a consultant you will be asked to advise on a broad range of topics. When it is outside of your field of knowledge you need to at least find out enough to work out who can help and what should be their brief.
Manager. In the work required to operate an organisation you will be regularly called upon to make decisions about things that are new to you. If you weren’t then there would be a simple manual or FAQ list that everyone would be referred to. Appreciating the broader context of your decisions is essential to many of the decisions you will make.
The common thread across this short list of roles is the requirement for transferable skills. A transferable skill is one that can be used in a range of different scenarios. Examples include listening, analysis, planning, presenting and writing. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Considering yourself to be a generalist has its limitations though. At times there will a perception that specialised input is required because the challenge to be tackled is too complex. But once the specialist is finished with their work this will need to be interpreted into everyday speak for the people left to carry on in their wake. Who is best placed to perform this vital role? I would consider that the generalist is in an excellent position to do so.
Generalist sub-topics that I will cover in future posts include the following:
- Skills analysis. How to do it and what most generalists can expect to find
- Resume writing for the generalist
- Communication for the generalist
- When does a generalist need to display a speciality?
- When does a specialist need to display their capacity to generalise?
Anyone with a stationery fetish has seen one of these before. It is the Fisher Space Pen. Apparently used by astronauts to take notes while in outer space. It writes on just about anything and costs between $20.00 and $40.00 depending on the model you choose. This is about 20 times more expensive than a pack of five biros.
As an engineer I am regularly faced with the challenge of defining how much effort needs to go into an element of a project. When NASA decided to start using the pen developed by Paul Fisher of the Fisher Pen Company it was not because they had spare cash lying around and wanted to show off or had a tiff with their standard supplier. It is because they worked out the consequences of a dud pen or pencil in orbit and decided it was not a risk they could tolerate. What you need depends a lot on what you do.
Sitting at my desk pen failure results in a binned biro and a gentle roll over to the cupboard where I get the next one out and keep going. In space pen failure could equal mission failure. If an astronaut needs to make a note, mark a point or do some quick hand calculations you can bet that they need that tool to work to provide a quick solutionto whatever instigated the need. Having to scramble around inside the space craft for the next pen may result in wasted time they can’t afford. Subsequently the consequences of failure justify the very high level of reliability.
In our every day purchasing or design decisions we have to make sure we know what this thing is going to be used for before we commit. The accuracy of this assessment is the key to finding the sweet spot between money well spent on high reliability and a false economy from a poor understanding of the end user. Spending time finding out the end user’s needs has a similar level of importance to design that reconnaissance does to planning military operations. As all good military leaders know, time in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. The designer’s equivalent would be that time in testing is certainly time well spent.
What allowances have been made for testing on your current project/s?