Sustainability is unbecoming
I would love a dollar for everyone I’ve met who demands ‘sustainability’ in their strategy. I understand the sentiment but have heard it too many times. It sits at the same level as those other lofty aims. We aim to be ‘Loved by our customers’, the ‘most innovative’, ‘best in class’ and ‘market leading’’.
Nope. I don’t buy it.
I’m sure every business wants these things but are they prepared to do what’s required to make it happen? Overcoming the ‘lazy labels’ has become the main focus for us – getting people to define and then create the actions that will bring the things they aim for about.
Being sustainable is hard enough. Becoming sustainable is next to impossible.
An Inside Story
It’s not often I get the chance to talk about the work we do in detail. Hardly ever – It’s usually confidential and involves intimate commercial information. Totally understandable. So with this article I get given the chance to share an actual case. It covers the highlights of a conversation purely about sustainability.
It describes the results of a day with 100+ people. People who were talking about something we should all give a damn about. It’s a small but important part of a much bigger process on the topic but gives a sneak insight into how an entire industry is thinking about a hot topic. Literally.
There Was A Focus
When shipping was omitted from the Paris Agreement, developed during COP21 in 2015, the need for shipping to contribute its ‘fair share’ of Greenhouse Gas Reductions did not disappear.
This was a golden opportunity to have a conversation as an entire industry not a single business. If we would create a movement we could make a difference. It was designed to think about how to decarbonise quickly and deeply enough to meet a higher ambition target. That of limiting global temperatures to 1.5oC, as indicated in the Paris Agreement.
It was an impressive challenge. It was also probably the first time we had been as involved in an entire industry gathering this way. It’s quite rare for industries to combine to put their collective intelligence to use and consider what would need to be done on a specific topic like this.
It gave us an opportunity to dig deep inside what sustainability actually means – and in an industry where there’s quite a shortage of it.
Imagine 100+ senior people on a vessel on the Rhine in Bonn. A genuine opportunity for an exchange of ideas. It would allow for mature discussions – that would mean dispute, argument and debate. It would garner perspectives from across the industry – the shipping industry. It had the range of stakeholders you would want to get on a ship to talk about this topic.
Our challenge was quite literally to get them on board.
No Small Thing
There were shipowners, technologists, engine manufacturers, classification societies, entrepreneurs, bankers, financiers, NGOs, data specialists, academics. The whole thing was overseen by UN observers. It was by no means an insignificant thing. The co-organizers included Lloyd’s Register, MAN Diesel & Turbo, RightShip, MARIKO, Danish Shipping, International Windship Association (IWSA) and Green Ship of the Future.
The advisors included The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI), Carbon War Room and UMAS and the official event organizers were The Blue Green Events Company, Mantour Consultancy and Smart Green Shipping Alliance (SGSA).
It was officially endorsed by a jury consisting of the UNFCCC partners; the incoming Fijian Presidency of COP23, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety and the City of Bonn and is an official Climate Partner for COP23.
Time To Get Serious
No one was messing about on the river.
It was a big list of people and they were definitely taking things seriously. We take these things seriously too. We asked one question of everyone – and we spent all day approaching it from different directions.
“What Will It Take For The Shipping Industry To Work Together To Meet The 1.5 Degree Ambition And Make. A Vital Contribution To The Future Of Our World?”
The emphasis was on ‘what it will take’. That meant discovering what things would need to happen for it to be more than a dream? In business jargon – what enablers and what’s the roadmap? What hard actions are going to be necessary to deliver the aim.
This is always going to be a calculation.
Getting It Down
We quickly got into the issues.
Everyone argued for ‘a business-focused approach’ – one that would push the industry (all those involved in the meeting) ahead of the regulatory mechanisms.
“We have a choice , make the changes and lead from the front — to influence and guide regulation — or suffer the shock and catch up when regulation hits — and it will…” – Di Gilpin. Founder & CEO Smart Green Shipping Alliance (SGSA).
Just Do It Already
As with many challenges around transformation the focus needs to balance grand visions with how to get started.
There was no shortage of energy and passion on board this ship. The event was a clear signal that the motivation to find solutions was high. There was clear evidence and a huge amount of knowledge and insight to draw on but we need to get started.
Quickly – adopt technologies that are already available and build ‘1.5-ready’ ships.
From there be continually prepared to adapt and adopt as yet newer technologies come of age.
But fundamentally and wherever possible these technologies will need to be included in original designs.
“The planet is at a crossroads. The decisions we make today set the foundation for 2018 and beyond. Countries must increase their ambition to put us on a path to a 1.5C future.” — Manuel Pulgar-Vidal — Peru Environment Minister
Think about it — sea levels will rise 6 ft in the lifetime of a child born today. I want to repeat that – “Sea levels will rise 6 feet in the lifetime of a child born today.” I live directly on the banks of the River Thames.
The shipping industry, along with every other industry needs to step up and do its bit. It has to make far more meaningful progress and we all need to hold them to account. It’s clear to me that we can’t just wait for governments and regulation to make change happen. We would have to make unsustainable activities and industries unacceptable.
There’s Always Technology –
Technology was a big topic. It always is but the question wasn’t whether there were solutions that can be leveraged today or not – it was far more about understanding the right technology choices in such a complex landscape.
There’s Always Efficiency –
Efficiency is that other classic staple when talking about the future – for anything. But efficiency alone would not even get us close get to the sustainable target. As we learned – further options for efficiency are just running out.
We actually need a wholesale system redesign.
And So The Questions Flew.
How can we get the attention of the stakeholders we need? The public, society at large, the decision makers not on board this ship?
Which solutions and what technologies are required for which vessel types? How can we begin to make the decisions to swap in the new stuff?
What can be done about these things in the very short term? Who makes these things happen?
What will we each do tomorrow morning at 9.00am?
Where do we need a longer term response? How do we get into that? Who, why and where will that all happen?
Where, in all this, should we focus on just local solutions and where should we think globally? How do we cause overall systemic change?
Can (who/where) we make the business cases fast enough and interrupt the existing decision cycles – rapidly?
We carried on in a similar vein. We asked ourselves what are all the important ‘enablers’ – that’s jargon for the things that would just need to be in place for anything to happen.
These conversations formed into a higher level set of thoughts –
Enable (create ways) for better collaboration within the industry.
Have a more systemic perspective – this is a big system.
Have a more authentic dialogue. Speak the truth.
Evidence. A ‘science based’ measurement approach.
Investment in alternative fuels. This is key if shipping is to decarbonize in the longer term.
Openness to new thinking. Mindset change.
That last one gives us great cause for thought. Mindset change goes into the bracket of ‘good luck with that’. Mindset change takes a long time and few solutions are proven to work.
The Action List
Eventually we got to that set of initial actions that were going to help us get started. A set of things that could be kicked off.
The audience surprised themselves with a slogan – ‘Make Shipping Sexy’. . . Translated, that idea neatly defined their energy. An urgent action was to literally turn the tide. To see a public campaign with open and meaningful communication reflecting the genuine concern about the issues at the same time as unleashing the exciting potential for shipping.
A campaign must be designed to create more awareness amongst consumers of shipping’s Climate Change impacts.
Graphic definitions must be created to generate a far clearer communication of ‘1.5’. Put simply explain to the world what that means.
We will graphically portray the idea of sea level rise to make it more relatable to mere humans. (Such impact from Climate Change is predicted to be catastrophic on a planetary level.)
We should create a ‘green ship’ brand that would enable consumers to choose products shipped in a ‘green’ way.
We need to design a global competition to design a zero-emission ship – for example – ‘Mission Zero’.
We have to make investing in ‘green’ shipping sexy. Imagine it done in the way Elon Musk has changed how people see true innovation.
Make the business case crystal clear – show the value of green shipping to the industry itself and to human beings. Make the case in terms of security, sustainability of the planet – money, jobs, commercial resilience, and careers for societies.
Create a calendar of similar events. There was a lot of love for the event, and a universal desire to do more, to develop these ideas more deeply.
Several more commitments were made at the summit and they now sit at the core of the Decarbonization Action Plan.
Shipping Is Not Alone
Similar challenges exist in every business.
These words – sustainability, world class, innovation, efficiency, excellence, agility, the digital first business – they are common. They appear in every situation we come across. They all make sense – indeed they are common sense – but it takes much more than common sense to make things change.
Sustainability is important for every business let alone the shipping industry and in this case a real problem for humanity itself. We are genuinely talking about life or death decisions.
In the face of undeniable fact and the real threat to our very existence – making the slightest difference and causing any change is still depressingly tough. The issue didn’t need to be about climate change because it’s true in every aspect of life. Making the right decision still seems beyond our collective reach.
Life & Death Decisions
Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces. It was 1983 and something significant was about to happen. It was probably the most valuable act of disobedience ever. He believed that what he saw in front of him was false.
Quite some decision because it was a computer report suggesting an imminent American missile strike. He trusted the facts at hand and halted a mistaken counter strike. By that decision he saved the world from nuclear war and we all got to see 1984. Thanks Stan!
Are we prepared to make similar decisions, based on fact so that we see beyond 2020?
How Very Unbecoming
This level of decision should be an easier one for each of us. But how many times have we said we only have ourselves to blame when our own inaction causes us personal grief? How often have we said to ourselves that it’s all our fault but we did it anyway? Or, how many times do we blame others or society as a whole – how everything’s fucked up and then shrug and move on.
We, in the West have lived entitled lives for decades. Possibly centuries. We assume abundance and we take for granted that nothing major will happen to us an individual. Why change? It’s not my problem. There’s not much I can do about it and I still want fresh strawberries all year round.
Conditioned To Repeat
It sounds utterly ridiculous to repeat the cliche — but let’s start there—change is a wonderful thing as long as I don’t have to do it myself. The truth is that we aren’t any good at it. We don’t even know how to start it let alone sustain it. Our mindset is wired to ignore and defeat the very idea of it. Our motivation is to work around and deny the pressing need for it.
We construct an argument in our heads that backs itself up with a million reasons why it’s too risky. It scares us into inaction because it’s full of pitfalls. We convince ourselves that it can be put off or better yet become someone else’s challenge.
Our minds are so conditioned. Our subconscious bias and prejudices are overjoyed to argue to stay the same. They laugh uncontrollably as you pathetically convince your head what you intend to change.
The Conditions For Change – No Matter What
I would argue that every case for change on Earth shares some or all of these traits:
A compelling case exists for change. It’s either an economic, a political or a social one.
There’s a technical innovation that will improve your personal of business life. The appropriate technology, resource or thinking is available right now (or in the pipeline) that would resolve much of the problem.
The media, our customers, shareholders and advisors are worried about the unsustainability of the situation. They would welcome and even support change.
By whatever measure or pressure the challenges need to be fixed or we will sink through competitive disadvantage.
The leaders don’t know how best to start.
So, In Summary?
I like strawberries but not enough to need them all year round.
I understand that people want cheap clothes too – but I care that children aren’t held in slavery to make them. I live by the river and don’t wish to turn on the tap that would see it submerged for the next generation.
I want to be in a position to make balanced decisions in my life and by balanced I mean smart ones. Decisions that allow me to positively choose for a more sustained existence for humanity. I want every industry to take as much notice about the planet’s future as they do about their own. I want them to make life and death decisions.