It’s 8 degrees outside, and I’m fired up.
I’ve spent the last two days talking with the best and brightest and on the East coast — Harvard, Tufts, MIT — about green jobs, and the response has made my heart sing. The rooms have been full, the questions sharp, and the enthusiasm electric.
Perhaps more importantly, interest in green jobs isn’t confined to the classroom. I’ve had the opportunity to talk, in depth, about the future of the green movement, and though almost everyone agrees that there are huge challenges ahead, we also all believe that there’s enormous opportunity, too.
Witness one conversation this morning with Alex, at Harvard, who’s pursuing his dual degree in Ecological Psychology. We talked about religion, and the environmental movement’s need for a positive, inclusive vision. We rapped about the limits of policy-driven solutions, and delved into the promise of community-based, local solutions — all over some good pancakes amidst a crystal-clear “Bawston” day.
I’m off to Yale tomorrow, then NYU, then back to SF. It’s been a great trip — just 2 days in. With two more on the horizon, despite the near sub-zero temperatures, I’m confident it’s going to be a “bright, sunshiney day”. Fire it up.
Meditated upon by Tom:
I’ve just got back from a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat. It’s one of those things that I was a little coy about beforehand – after all, people have all sorts of predisposed ideas about meditation, retreats and talk of spirituality. Strange that – why are people wary of engaging in activities of self-exploration? What is it that relegates even the most balanced of people into the ‘wafty’ box when they embark on such wholesome, secular ventures as yoga or meditation? A strange paradox indeed…
Vipassana has a fascinating setup – it is a charity that ONLY takes donations from people who’ve completed a 10-day course. This ‘try before you donate’ indicates the benefit the course brings to those who attend. It would be like going to a restaurant and voluntarily paying for what you thought the meal was worth, or a shoe company asking people to pay for their shoes after you’ve worn them for a month.
Armed with this information, as well as positive reports from books and friends, I ventured off to Hereford for this course. With wake-up gongs at 4am, 11 hours of silent meditation a day, and little personal experience, I will admit to a great deal of trepidation.
What can I say? It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done… and one of the most rewarding. When faced with nothing but your own mind for stimulation for 10 days, you are forced to accelerate through the peaks and troughs of emotion at a fearsome rate. The 10 days seem like a small lifetime: Next to me, a 20 veteran of the Greek army shed tears and a number of people quit. Perhaps stubbornness saw me to the finishing line. Some participants had attended up to 8 times previously and each, when we were finally allowed to talk on the final day, informed me that it never gets any easier.
I won’t say much more about the feelings, thoughts or sensations experienced. I’ll leave that for you to pluck up the courage and go and try it yourself. What I will say is that I will be going back in the future. It’s a lot of holiday used up in one go, yet 100,000 people a year benefit in indescribable ways and bring a newfound knowledge and peace back to their everyday lives. And if I were a little more dictatorial and in the position to do so, I would force everyone on one… after all, the world (and the environment) would benefit no end from people getting to know themselves a little better.
Tom’s returning perspective:
It’s been a while since my last posting, with Nick leading the way with enlightened thinking over the past few weeks. Like every good deserter, I have a good excuse; I’ve spent much of these last few weeks in Madagascar, visiting Blue Ventures, an organisation I helped found a number of years ago.
After the tumult in the markets accelerating prior to my departure, it was refreshing to spend time in a place where bankers, traders, analysts and auditors are unheard of. I’ll try to avoid the usual clichés, but I hope you’ll excuse my appreciation of how little the financial crisis means to the majority of the world’s population. In the village of Andavadoaka, a subsistence economy, they are still far more concerned about the daily fishing catch in order to feed their families, than the world markets and the subsequent ramifications. In fact, it’s hard to see how the financial crisis might reach the village; two days walk from the nearest town (and therefore bank or market). The people of Andavaodoaka are pretty self-sufficient.
But they are only too aware of the environmental crisis – because it affects their livelihoods, alongside billions of others who rely on the land and the sea for their sustenance. These people have witnessed a massive degradation in the marine ecosystem over the course of their lifetimes as a result of coral bleaching – directly caused by climate change. Although they don’t understand the science behind the changes, they want to know how they can protect their inherited ecosystem. They want to know why large patches of the reef system become completely devoid of life and often die off each summer. They want to know whether we can help them stop this happening, as it worries them, it creates tension, unrest and could, if left unchecked, result in forced migration from an area where they’ve lived quietly and symbiotically for generations.
For fear of repeating a previous post, let’s focus on the real, lasting issue effecting the world over – the environmental crisis. Here at Bright Green, we’ve offered to put a Malagasy child through a years education for each placement we make, to ensure a Brighter Greener future. We urge you not to lose focus on the environment in these uncertain times.
Stern warnings by Tom:
What is the biggest issue threatening the global economy right now? I imagine almost anyone who has access to global news will tell you it’s the financial crisis. Wrong!
Perhaps the financial meltdown will affect each of us over the coming years? The speed of the crisis, coupled with the related financial tendrils that creep into each of our lives is surely cause for concern. Yet there is another crisis that dwarfs this, which the world has largely ignored as we’ve gorged on cheap money – the environmental crisis.
Let’s look at the figures – if we still believe that economic drivers are really the most important measure of development? (For a good counter, check out Development as Freedom):
Each year, by some estimates, we loose $2-5 trillion simply through forest loss (compared with an estimated $1-1.5 trillion lost in the financial crisis). That’s just forests! We’ve got climate change too, which could risk reducing global GDP by 20%, marine issues… the issues and the costs pile up. By some reports, the annual (yes annual) loss in ecosystem services from biodiversity loss could exceed 14 trillion Euros by 2050.
As the financial crisis clearly demonstrates, it doesn’t pay to panic. Instead, we need to commit, daily, to greening the world in which we live as we grow our companies and economies. That’s why we here at Bright Green, and many of our clients, are looking beyond the financial crisis and continuing to find bright, green talent to stay competitive in our uncertain future.
So go for a walk in a park or in the countryside as the autumnal leaves colour, as they’ve been doing for millions of years, and bring yourself back to act on the real crisis at hand.
Reminded by Tom:
We all work pretty hard here at Bright Green Talent. When you’re building an organisation that you believe can help contribute to mitigating issues such as climate change, pollution etc – it’s hard not to deeply, or sometimes over commit yourself.
If you’re starting a new job, or building a business, it’s vital to remember that you can only do so much. Each day offers an opportunity to push yourself along the journey and to learn and grow, but if you retire to bed each evening musing on all the things you’ve yet to achieve, rather than those you have, you’ll struggle to maintain that energy over time. Perhaps this is a necessary by-product of getting off the ground, but I believe that it’s unsustainable. Certainly many of the entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to admit to over-committing in the early stages of their businesses.
How is it possible to maintain a work-life balance when you’re bringing an organisation to life, or starting in a new role that you love? Here are some of the ways we keep ourselves sane here at Bright Green:
- Learn to turn your emails off. Whether at the weekend, the evening, or on your blackberry – you need time to reflect without constantly reacting to the barrage of other people’s thoughts.
- Reduce your emails!
- Turn off your phone when you’re busy, or when you’re spending quality time with your self and others and don’t want to be disturbed.
- Work smart – be effective, it’s your productivity, not your hours that will help you achieve what you want to achieve.
- Take time to breathe, follow the advice of our founder Paul in his first book.
- Work each day at a time, don’t worry about tomorrow’s work till tomorrow, unless you can mitigate that worry today.
- Take a walk – get up and out of the office if you’re feeling hemmed in.
- Meet on the hoof – if you have to have a meeting with someone, do it whilst walking rather than sitting at a table.
- Take regular holidays
- Remember that your family, your health and your loved-ones are all more important than your job, no matter how important you are.
None of this will come as a lightening bolt… but very few people have truly found the balance.
By Paul, through Tom:
Here’s an article our co-founder Paul Hannam penned, well worth a peek!
Caught up with by Tom:
Earlier this year, we placed Andrew Kluth in a key position at Halcrow, I met up with Andrew last week to have a catch up and to see how he was getting on and asked him a few questions about how he was finding things:
1) We recently helped place you as Group Director of Sustainability for Halcrow, one of the world’s leading consultancy organisations. Why did you take the role and what do you hope to achieve?
AK – The culture of the company is superb. It works very hard to live its stated values and considers these to be one of the main reasons why it attracts and retains clients. I want to bring together the very many sustainability-activities Halcrow undertakes as part of its day to day work to formulate more explicit and comprehensive sustainability values and practices which support and reinforce what is important to Halcrow, its people and its clients.
2) What have your first few months looked like for you and what were the key challenges involved in getting up to speed?
AK – Understanding the huge diversity of skills and knowledge within the Group! The average Halcrow employee is very knowledgeable in their areas of expertise, so there is no shortage of sensible opinions.
Bringing these together into a coherent picture takes time, as does identifying priority areas. The business units operate autonomously. Sustainability has been assumed as part and parcel of Halcrow’s business offering, and so there is a need to put in place clear policies and strategies, then set Group-wide objectives, targets and KPIs, while remaining sensitive to the Group’s operating ethos.
3) What do you think sustainability means in the engineering world?
The predominant view is that it is what we do for our clients. Consulting groups like Halcrow are people-based and have relatively low direct impacts. However, we can have enormous and long-lasting influence through the advice we give and the work we do for clients. We need to give sufficient emphasis to our own sustainability efforts to show that we are credible and committed, while recognising that it is the indirect impacts that will be our real legacy.
Over the last weeks, we’ve been examining the trials and tribulations of being a green employer… here are a few of our findings:
- All things being equal being green can act as the critical differentiator in helping talent decide between one opportunity and another.
- People in green jobs tend to be more loyal and will stay longer if they can engage their values
- Some organisations have tried to use green to hire people but failed to back it up with genuine, authentic actions. Talent will often leave these businesses as a result.
- For junior jobs and graduate trainees, green clients get an enormous number of applications, far more than other jobs or clients in other industries receive.
- There is danger in hiring someone who is passionate about green and has the right values but does not have the skills. Enthusiasm and commitment alone are not enough, there needs to be a business case.
- There is an increasing conflict between promoting green in some areas of the job yet being compelled to be unsustainable in others – lots of business travel, flying, conferences and hospitality with lots of waste. Many green executives have a bigger carbon footprint than they did in their previous jobs
- The conflict between wanting to change the world yet still following a traditional business model that is part of a system that is causing enormous damage to the environment. Many environmentalists still see business and particularly Fortune 500 corporations as the enemy, that propagate a wasteful, damaging and unsustainable mode of operation. Can people in green jobs reform the system from within without being accused of selling out.
Encouraged to read by Tom:
I’ve just re-read a fantastic book that I first read when I was 17 (precocious, moi?!) called Maverick! by Ricardo Semler – go buy a copy. It’s a manifesto for the democratic workplace and is, I believe, more relevant today than it’s ever been.
With the rise in interest in employee engagement, CSR and social enterprise and the frustration with hierarchical organisations, Semler’s ideas present a fresh, innovative and (most importantly) commercially advantageous alternative to the ‘traditional’ organisation.
Here are some notes that I made (as well as others that I’ve borrowed from an Amazon review, which are worth repeating)!
* Make each business unit small enough so that those involved understand everything that is going on and can influence the outcomes.
* Allow employees to set their own quotas.
* Demonstrate trust by eliminating symbols of corporate oppression as well as the perks of status.
* Share all information and eliminate secrets. You can’t expect involvement to flourish without an abundance of information available to all employees.
* Every six months bosses are evaluated by their subordinates and the results are posted.
* Salaries are public information unless the employee requests that they not be published.
* Encourage employees to rotate jobs regularly in order to encourage holistic understanding of the company, as well as to ensure employees remain ‘fresh and interested’.
* Enable employees to set their own travel arrangements and encourage employees to treat expenses as they would their own money.
* Allow employees to set their own salary. Consider these criteria: what they think they can make elsewhere; what others with similar skills and responsibilities make in the Company; what friends with similar backgrounds make; how much they need to live on.
* Share 23% of pretax profits. Employees vote how the pool will be split. They must vote to determine the manner of each quarterly distribution. In practice they always vote for equal dollar shares.
* Substitute the survival manual for thick procedure manuals. Eliminate policies and rules wherever possible.
* Job rotation; 20% of managers shift jobs each year.
* Set up workers in their own businesses as suppliers to the company.
* Encourage memo headlines and subjects so that people can understand issues quickly. Never send memos that are longer than one page.
* Eliminate the wearing of wristwatches whenever and wherever possible. It is impossible to understand life in all its hugeness and complexity if one is constantly consulting a minute counter.
* Either you can create complex systems so as to manage complexity, or you can simplify everything.
Interviewed by Tom:
I met with Jonathan Winter of Career Innovation last week. Jonathan and his organisation’s mission is to improve the way people work within businesses and I greatly enjoyed the, albeit all-too-brief, chat we had in the fleeting English summer sunshine.
Here are some of Jonathan’s enlightened answers to some of the big questions I fired at him:
1) You mention you had a ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ for Career
Innovation. Tell us a little bit more about that and why you think it’s
important and how it will change the world.
We need a step-change in the way organisations and workers connect.
Our research shows that over half of all highly-educated workers feel
their skills & abilities are not well used. This is a huge waste of
talent. It suggests to me there is not a shortage of talent at all -
just a shortage of motivation! So our goal is not only to help some of
today’s best known companies to adapt, in our role as a research-led
“innovation lab”, but also to model some of the new structures for
tomorrow’s best companies. Ultimately our goal is to “be the change”.
2) Your organisation has studied people in the workplace for over a
decade, if you could pass on 3 pieces of advice to a new manager, what
would they be?
I think there would be only one piece of advice: Never mind the
structures and processes for managing people, just make sure you invest
the time to listen to what your team members are really looking for in
life and work, and then have an honest conversation about what’s
possible, and act on it uniquely for each person. Contrary to popular
belief, fairness is not about doing the same thing for everyone, it’s
about listening to everyone and treating them uniquely.
3) What world issue keeps you up at night and how might an
organisation go about mitigating this sleeplessness?
What a big question! For me, poverty comes first. This means poverty
of spirit and relationships as well as body. But the priority has to be
on the obvious places where – on a huge scale – people are suffering
materially. Each of us has a different role to play in addressing this.
My own passion and commitment is around business and enterprise, and the
role of enterprise (including both private and “social” enterprise, and
blends of the two) in creating wealth, raising levels of education, and
offering purposeful work. So what do I think all organisations can do? A
good start is to do build a good business, a healthy organisation, and
make sure our products & services (and by-products) do more good than
harm. Those are the kind of organisations tomorrow’s best (and
greenest?) talent will want to work for. That’s why Career Innovation
invests our time and energies helping companies to “make work more
inspiring” through our research, innovation events and interactive