London is full of people with the ideas and enthusiasm to make the capital a sustainability leader. All we need is the leadership to motivate others
Journalists often ask me which industry groups are leading the way in sustainability and truly making a difference to deliver strong results. As part of my role, I have to make sure that as a company we are aligned with those groups and organisations at the forefront of sustainability best practice. It is in our interests that we are talking to and working with the leaders that are truly inspirational in the work they do. And the people I have met recently are truly inspiring.
Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to a meeting with a number of recognised sustainability leaders, including Marks & Spencer, British Land and Siemens. The common denominator in the room was the collective determination to deliver sustainable solutions, and the confidence we had to challenge the current convention that “best practice is too difficult and too expensive”. A response that is sometimes used by government and regulators to deter progress.
The focus of the meeting was on positioning London as a leading green city, and with so many bright, innovative and ideas-driven people working in sustainability, this is something we believe to be achievable.
The companies that are consistently delivering strong results are driven by people who are adept at communicating the value of what they are doing
Not only that, but if the forecasts presented at the same meeting are to be believed, then “green London” will create up to 60,000 jobs. A green London would present opportunities across all sectors not just the built environment, but those that influence the food we eat, the way we move around, to how businesses operate. Green London also has the potential to become a leader in R&D, design and technology and to position itself as a centre of excellence. It is easy to see why some people are so excited about what can be achieved.
People in the creative industries, scientists, technologists and investors are ready to provide the innovative ideas and resources to help position London as a green leader. All we’re waiting for is the go-ahead. There are many motivated organisations and a lot of very passionate people who are ready to run at this, but no one who will actually offer leadership. Come on, Boris. Hurry up.
The knowledge, ideas and momentum to engage employees, business leaders and wider industries already exist. Our focus is now to facilitate action and behavioural change rather than simply tell people what they should or could do.
A great example of effective employee engagement can be found in a recent article in the Guardian. The piece focused on DIY retailer B&Q which is making a success of One Planet Home, its overarching plan to become more sustainable, by inspiring its 33,000 employees to get involved. From board directors to shop assistants, the company has boosted staff participation in the sustainability plan by launching an internal eco newspaper, One Planet Times, as well as promoting other activities to ensure that sustainability is firmly ingrained in the B&Q manifesto - the principles that guide how the company behaves.
There are many areas in the workplace that are not directly work related and which require employee engagement to succeed. Sustainability, like health and safety, relies on a change in attitude and behaviour. The companies that are consistently delivering strong results are driven by people who are adept at communicating the value of what they are doing. It is only once people are aware of the impact their change in behaviour is making to the wider community that they will become engaged. No amount of telling them “because you have to” will achieve this. Instead a continued engagement programme that is based on enthusiasm and lots of measurable activity will hopefully encourage people to get on board.
A continued engagement programme that is based on enthusiasm and lots of measurable activity will hopefully encourage people to get on board
On a modest scale, I know a company (which shall remain nameless) that moved into new offices and reduced the number of bins by 90%. In six months we (oops, gave it away there) have reduced paper waste by 80%, there’s not been one complaint yet and I am told that no one is taking their rubbish home with them. This is a small step but one that has changed behaviour across the company and which has generated strong results that have been communicated, understood, even celebrated.
In April, this magazine ran an article on Andrew Gould and his sabbatical as chair of the UKGBC in which he said he intends to “educate” (let’s hope the government is a quick learner) rather than “lobby” the government on green issues.
Andrew Gould said of the UKGBC: “It’s in a more powerful position because it can have a dialogue and be constructive.” The meeting I attended was packed with highly constructive people - clearly demonstrated by what they have achieved within their own companies. They’re ready to continue to be constructive and engage with wider industry to position “green London”; they’re just waiting for that green light.
Isabel McAllister is director of sustainability at international consultancy and construction company Mace