Human endeavour is an inspirational thing. I recently interviewed a very brave guy who struck out on his own to start a business that closely aligned with his value set. A few years down the track that one man show has expanded considerably both in employee numbers, client base and positive impact.
This blog post is the first in what will become a regular feature on this site and profiles the achievements of Terence Jeyaretnam, founder of Net Balance Management Group. If you are wondering how I found out about Terence then you probably haven't read the Engineers Australia magazine in a while. As an engineer and a member of the Society of Sustainability and Environmental Engineering (SSEE) I have been reading Terence's articles on sustainability for about five years now, in fact, it is pretty much all I read in that mag. This is not a comment on the quality of the magazine, simply an indication of my priorities when it comes to reading the rest of it. The following is an excerpt from theNet Balancewebsite:
Welcome to Net Balance
Net Balance is a different kind of company.
The Net Balance team is made up of energetic, passionate individuals who see sustainability as core business, presenting exciting opportunities for innovation, industry leadership, risk management, and cost reduction. That’s why Net Balance has become one of the leading providers of sustainability advice and assurance in Australia.
I asked Terence a number of questions to find out what inspired his work to create this company and what he thinks can inspire other sustainability practitioners.
Q1 - Why did you decide to launch Net Balance?
Because the company I was with at the time, URS, decided to step away globally from providing assurance to sustainability reports due to litigation fears. This was, and has been, my area of passion for the past 15 years, and I needed an entity to house my interests. Besides, it presented an opportunity for a unique experiment in setting up a company – one that measures, offsets and reports its sustainability performance, has a strong focus on non-profit work and is based on a strong set of values. The experiment has been a phenomenal success so far, proving that there is indeed much room for sustainable business models.
Q2 - What are the key resources you employ in the conduct of your work (an example of some that I have listed for readers is locatedhere)?
Editor’s note: As a time management guru, Terence typed up his reply to my questions while in the air between Sydney and Melbourne so he lacked the capacity to check the list of resources I provided in a recent post.
Jud, again, as I’m in the middle of the air, I can’t see your list, but my key resource (and to an extent the only resource) is my brain. I find that one of the fundamental issues (even with sustainability) is that we do not use our brains as much as we could. Lazy brains lead to lazy people and a lazy planet – I’m not saying that my brain is not lazy – it is, and it does try very hard to coast, but I keep challenging the possibilities!
Editor’s note: Wow. Insights like this are exactly why I started this blog. That was not what I was getting at with my question but it provides a great wake up call. What is your first point of call when you have a hard decision to make or a complex problem to solve? Do you make a conscious effort to extend yourself and make the most of your own mind? Consider the sheer volume of information you can access. It quickly becomes clear that it is your discerning mind that will actually make sense of it all and turn it into a useful resource. Thanks Terence, excellent point.
Q3 - What inspires you to work in the field of sustainability?
The possibility that we may leave this planet to our kids just the way we found it. When I was a child (which by the way was not that long ago!), there was very little waste, very little pollution and much more time in the day. I would like to give the place back the way I found it – and the reason my work continues to get me out of bed very early every morning is that it has the potential to change large institutions and create much more change than I could ever achieve on my own.
Q4 - What are some examples of work you have been involved in that you think may be inspirational to other sustainability practitioners?
Two things. Most companies that I have worked with have improved their performance each year and have gone from strength to strength. This makes me proud. Secondly, I’m proud of what Net Balance has done as a company – ticked most boxes in a sustainability journey from day one. Hopefully, it will inspire other sustainability and engineering companies to practice what they believe is good for business and reap the rewards.
The next sustainability practitioner to be profiled will be freelance writer Leon Gettler of Fairfax, G Magazine and Sox First fame. Do you have anyone you would recommend I try to profile on this blog? If so please feel free to add a comment below.
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.