The Green to Gold Business Playbook: half the story?

This year, I resolved to read one sustainability-related book per month. March’s book is The Green to Gold Business Playbook by Daniel C. Esty, and P.J. Simmons, published in 2011. 

I’m a strategist and communicator by trade, so for this month’s book I thought I’d try something outside my area of expertise: the scarily technical world of environmental management.

The Green to Gold Business Playbook is a practical guide to environmental strategy and management – not just to help companies ‘go green’, but to provide a “structured and analytically rigorous way of applying an environment or sustainability lens to your business strategy”.

My first impression was one of disappointment. Although the book covers a wide range of sustainability issues, social issues are presented as ‘optional’ throughout. What do I expect, you might ask, of a book with ‘green’ in its title? It’s a fair point… but, actually, in a context where ethics, labour rights, tax and other non-environmental issues are key to success, it’s rather misleading to present them as optional considerations for any business.

Putting that aside – and it feels strange to do so, because I think it’s a significant weakness in a sustainability guide – the book is a clear and comprehensive guide to environmental management. It covers the business case for applying an environmental lens to strategy (my favourite tip from this section: make sure your business case covers the costs of inaction on environmental issues) as well as details of ‘greening’ every aspect of a business, from IT to innovation.

There are also some great insights to be gleaned from case studies and interviews with leaders. I especially enjoyed Chief Sustainability Officer Kathrin Winker’s comments on restraint: “… there have been times I’ve tried to draw the big picture for others and gotten the response, ‘Kathrin, you overwhelm me.’ I’ve learned to look for ‘wedge issues’ where addressing the sliver of an issue provides an opening for broader thinking and action over time.”

But there’s one more disappointment to come. Despite its recent publication date, The Green to Gold Business Playbook feels dated. Its focus on managing environmental impacts means it doesn’t have space to deal with the macro-level changes that we now know are necessary to ‘green’ the world of business.

For example, the chapter on green marketing is all about finding niche ‘green’ markets and developing ‘green’ products, instead of making more sustainable products and services attractive to mainstream customers.

And, given the huge role that consumers will need to play in reducing environmental impacts (Unilever, for example, estimates that nearly 70% of the company’s environmental footprint takes place when consumers use their products), shouldn’t there be more than half a page on consumer behaviour change?

So, to sum up: if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to the basics of environmental management, I’d recommend this book wholeheartedly. But there are too many gaps – social issues, moving sustainability to the mainstream, truly engaging consumers – for it to be the last word on creating competitive advantage through sustainability.

Image: Gold by Luc De Leeuw is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Behaviour change: A project that’s getting it right

I was recently asked to speak at a waste prevention event organised by the London and Southern Counties Centre for CIWM.

Since I’m not a waste management expert, I wasn’t immediately sure what I could add. But it soon became apparent that waste management is a growing sector that’s changing fast: from the traditional models of collecting and treating our waste, to helping us prevent waste in the first place.

The transformation of this industry means that waste managers are facing a host of new challenges that will require them to develop new, ‘soft’ skills to add to their technical ones. Many of those will be in pursuit of one goal: behaviour change.

I had a great day hearing success stories of waste prevention programmes, learning how to nurture successful partnerships, and discovering the ‘art of management’. (Intrigued? You can download the speaker slides here.)

I spoke about the lessons I’ve learned managing change in large organisations, including the importance of understanding – really understanding – the motivations of the people you want to influence. It’s a vital step whether your goal is to persuade middle management to work towards your targets, convince your children to respect their bedtimes, or encourage householders to send less waste to landfill.

So I was delighted when one of the other speakers presented a project that had carried out its behaviour change research beautifully.

Let’s Get Cooking is a programme of over 5,000 cookery clubs across England that teaches basic cooking skills through workshops of around 30 people. It targets new mums and people who have just left home (life events when we’re most open to developing new eating habits) and has been running successfully for a number of years, helping participants eat more healthily and save money.

Zaya Fullerton of Let’s Get Cooking talked about the new partnership with the West London Waste Authority to add waste prevention guidance into the workshops.

For me, the most impressive part of Zaya’s presentation the effort the organisers took to understand the specific behaviours that can help prevent food waste, and to look beyond the obvious to find the best ways to help workshop participants change their behaviour.

1. They don’t just provide information, but look deeper

Some Let’s Get Cooking participants told the team that cooking from scratch would take hours. For those of us who know how to cook quick and simple meals, it’s tempting to see this as an information gap, and simply give the message that cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be time-consuming.

But without a good knife and some experience of chopping and peeling, cooking from scratch does take a long time; it’s not an information gap that needs to be filled, but a skills gap. So the programme focuses on basic cooking skills to ensure that cooking from scratch really is quick and easy.

2. They don’t fight the modern world, but make the best of it

Zaya reports that one of the big culprits in household food waste is ‘buy one, get one free’ (BOGOF) offers. They can be difficult to resist, especially for those on limited budgets who need to look for the best value they can – but the free food often ends up in the bin.

Importantly, the programme does not ask participants to stop buying food on BOGOF offers. Instead, workshops focus on planning skills such as shopping with a list, managing a freezer and reusing leftovers, so that the free items become part of meals rather than part of the waste stream.

3. They don’t take problems at face value, but challenge assumptions

Let’s Get Cooking’s research shows that people who are less confident in the kitchen can find themselves shopping for more food when there are meals ‘hidden’ in their cupboards. They ask the question “do you really need to go shopping?” and help workshop participants to identify the quick and healthy meals that are already there – things like omelettes, stir fries, pancakes and sandwiches – without feeling they should be following a recipe.

The results?

Almost 60% of people taking part in the programme say they’ve changed the way they cook and eat, and 98% say they have passed on what they’ve learned to others. It’s testament to the power of understanding your audience that they’ve had such brilliant success.

Well done, Let’s Get Cooking… I’m your newest fan!

Image: Café de Paris, Cooking Class by Jeff Kubina is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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‘The First 100 Days on the Job’: required reading

This year, I made a new year’s resolution to read one sustainability-related book per month. February’s book is The First 100 Days on the Job by Anne Augustine, published last year as a DoShort from Do Sustainability.

I wish, I wish, I WISH that I’d had this book when I started my first job in corporate sustainability… it would have saved me from more than a few mistakes!

Augustine has a background in business studies and on-the-ground experience in leading on sustainability within a large corporation, and combines the two beautifully. This short book contains just enough theory to make its concepts crystal clear, and plenty of practical advice from finding your natural allies to running a successful brainstorm.

The first gem is a pragmatic and business-focused summary of the need for sustainability to be integrated into corporations: “A shift is bringing the expectations of the world at large to the doors of organisations that have never acknowledged or responded to these challenges before.”

Far from drowning the reader in management-speak, Augustine draws on selected research that focuses the mind on key activities. For example, she notes that leaders who make a big impact concentrate on getting two factors right: creating clarity and setting standards (research from The Hay Group, quoted in Management Today) and builds on this research to outline how this can be done in a sustainability context.

Augustine is relentlessly realistic about where a sustainability leader’s energy is best focused. She notes that “some of the most courageous activities taking place are being done in spite of an apparent lack of a more traditionally defined business case” and advises how to develop a business case that is robust, clear and good enough – but spends far more time on the more pressing issue of engaging senior management, colleagues and other stakeholders.

The book is peppered with case studies from Augustine’s career, and so much of it struck a chord with my own experience, from the pressure to develop a strategy in double-quick time to being blindsided by ethical issues that no-one had spotted. (For the curious, her solution to the former is to create a short-term plan within three months, aiming for the full strategy within a year. And for the latter… well, cope with the negative PR when it happens, and don’t ignore your instinct on important issues, even if your materiality analysis argues otherwise.)

I don’t want to give away too much of this book’s advice – to get the full benefit, it should be read in its entirety. I’d recommend it without hesitation to sustainability leaders and those who aspire to a leadership role in this field.

And perhaps I should have paid closer attention … because, on second reading, it appears that Augustine shares my view that mistakes aren’t necessarily all bad. “You can and will achieve your goals. You will achieve things you didn’t set out to achieve. You will have to let some things go. And you will make mistakes.” So that’s OK, then.

Image: 100th day by Nicole Mays is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Want to join the sustainability leaders? Start asking this question…

Like many disciplines, sustainability has its own Premier League of companies: those who garner constant admiration for their achievements, and snaffle all the trophies going.

The leading companies – among them Marks & Spencer, Kingfisher, Interface and Unilever – are raising the bar at an astonishing rate, and pulling steadily away from their competitors. They’re producing innovative new sustainable product and marketing campaigns, digging further and more effectively into their supply chains, and going beyond standalone sustainability strategies to transform their core business models.

That makes it frustrating – and even a little confusing – to work in sustainability for a company that’s not an out-and-out leader. You’re working hard… so why isn’t your company one of those pulling ahead?

There’s no single action that means a company has transformed its thinking from sustainability strategy to sustainable business… but there is, in my experience, a rapid way to assess whether it is ready to make the change.

Ask this simple question of senior management:

Why does this company exist?

If you get the answer “to make a profit” or “to sell x”, or even “to build shareholder value through integrated service provision”, you’ve got some work to do.

Technically, they’re absolutely right; they’re just looking at it from the wrong direction. Because, fundamentally, your business is not selling a product or service: it’s selling the benefits of that product or service.

This isn’t an original thought; nor is it a complicated one. I guarantee your marketing team knows this inside out, and can list the benefits in order of importance to consumers. Soap isn’t just soap; it’s a way to feel clean, to protect your family and reduce the spread of disease. A holiday isn’t just a holiday; it’s relaxation, escape, or adventure.

But do your non-marketing colleagues understand it too?

B&Q, the chain of stores owned by Kingfisher, sells tools, paint and other home improvement products. Given this information, how would you make that business more sustainable? You might look at sustainable sourcing of wood, metal and other materials. You might consider the energy efficiency of the power tools you sell. You might also aim to hire staff who find it more difficult to gain employment. B&Q has done all of these things and more.

But once you begin to see B&Q as a company that enables people to improve their homes, many more opportunities present themselves. Kingfisher’s new Net Positive business strategy takes advantage of this type of thinking. Ian Cheshire, CEO of Kingfisher, said in a recent article for Guardian Sustainable Business: “We as retailers are examining how we might shift from selling items such as a power drill to selling the use of it, perhaps through leasing or fractional ownership”.

Leasing is an exciting new area for B&Q, and there will be many other obstacles to overcome before it becomes a reality. But had the company insisted that its core business was to sell home improvement products, this solution would simply not have presented itself.

So, if you want to help your business make the leap from good to great, start asking this question of your colleagues. If you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, make it a priority to help them understand the distinction. Otherwise, you’re destined to spend your days greening the same old business model instead of transforming your company into a model of sustainable business.

Image: Norwich Street Art: Why do you do this? by markheybo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Why we need to ask the difficult questions

This week, a key responsibility of corporations went truly global. Writing in the Observer, Chancellor George Osborne announced his intention to use the UK’s presidency of the G8 to “to drive a serious debate on tax evasion and tax avoidance”.

This can mean only one thing: the concept of paying a ‘fair amount’ of tax – for both individuals and corporations – is now beyond debate. It’s a victory for corporate responsibility on a basic but vital issue.

Or it would have been, if corporate responsibility had had anything to do with it.

In fact, the change was brought about by a series of corporate tax scandals: Starbucks, Google, Amazon and several high-profile individuals were ‘outed’ by the media as paying little or no tax.

It seems obvious now that paying a ‘fair amount’ of tax in the countries in which a company operates is a key component of responsible business – one so basic that, in 2013, it seems astounding that companies thought they could get away with avoiding it.

So why wasn’t this on the corporate responsibility radar before the scandal broke?

The answer touches on an uncomfortable truth about our profession. As much as our annual reports proclaim “sustainability is at the heart of everything we do”, those working at the coalface know that, in most cases, it isn’t really true.

That’s not because we lack creative ideas and robust processes for adding value through sustainability. It’s because, in the rush to add something, we don’t ask the basic questions about the way our companies work.

We find the most effective ways to donate a proportion of the company’s profits, but we don’t challenge the elaborate tax avoidance schemes that mean the company pays hardly any tax in some jurisdictions.

We lobby to embed sustainability criteria into supplier contracts, but we don’t contest the terms of payment that requires small businesses to wait months for their money, and the less-than-reliable payments process that means some of them wait longer.

We launch employee engagement programmes to change behaviour and improve morale, but we don’t raise a fuss to ensure that all employees are paid a living wage – which would likely be the greatest boost to morale there could be.

We develop new ‘green’ product lines, but we don’t have the power to stop selling products that are good for short-term business growth but damaging to society of the environment (see Gareth Kane’s excellent post on why this is the ‘acid test’ for a truly sustainable business).

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that all of the above are thorny issues, and none has a simple answer. But if the basics like these aren’t on your radar, then you’re not affecting core business, and that’s a wasted opportunity.

If there’s one lesson to take from the corporate tax scandals of the past year, it’s that corporate responsibility teams need to be willing to engage with the fundamentals of how we do business – even if that means sticking our noses into areas that have traditionally been out of our remit.

Today, as one of those fundamentals goes mainstream, it’s the perfect time to start.

Image: Question Mark, Ipswich, 13 December 2012 by ed_needs_a_bicycle is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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‘The Ecology of Commerce’: still relevant after 20 years?

This year, I made a resolution to read one sustainability-related book per month. January’s book is The Ecology of Commerce, first published in 1993. 

I first read The Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken’s treatise on a truly ecological capitalism, while I was studying for my Masters degree. I had a thousand questions: what does sustainability actually mean? What do we have to do? How can I help?

This time, I read it with a single question in mind: how has it weathered the 20 years since it was written?

I’m pleased to report that Hawken’s vision of a more sustainable economy is as eloquent and compelling as I recall. There aren’t many sustainability books that weave together a vision of ecological capitalism with the limitations of the long hours we work in the modern world, and who note our very real need for ‘human-scale’ activities.

The book begins, of all places, in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, where Hawken is receiving a prize for environmental stewardship. He has a sudden realisation of a sobering fact: “If every company on the planet were to adopt the best environmental practices of the ‘leading’ companies… the world would still be moving toward sure degradation and collapse.”

Since then, we’ve made real progress, even if there are still plenty of laggards who still see running a sustainable enterprise as “driving with the brakes on”. The early corporate paper- and energy-saving campaigns have (mostly) given way to sustainability plans that encompass the whole value chain. It’s great that a few leading companies (I’m not going to list them; by now we all know who they are) have understood that there are opportunities to be grasped by making deeper changes to their business models.

Markets work… but not for the environment

But have we made enough progress to make Hawken’s realisation obsolete? If all companies had their own Plan A or Sustainable Living Plan, would it halt or even reverse the degradation of ecosystems?

I think not, and I suspect Hawken would agree. Because while individual companies (and whole industries) have made strides towards a sustainable future, we haven’t yet addressed a more fundamental problem. The economy within which these companies exist still has the design flaw Hawken identified in the 1990s: “Markets are superb at setting prices, but incapable of recognizing costs.”

That’s nothing new to us working in sustainable business. We understand the need to internalise environmental costs: put a financial value on environmental services, goes the theory, and the market will value it properly. This approach has its limits – does it diminish the environment to suggest that its value is merely financial? – but it may turn out to be a vital component of our collective efforts to create a more sustainable economy.

For Hawken, though, our failure to incorporate environmental costs into price isn’t just bad for the environment: it’s also bad for the market. Markets need accurate prices in order to work effectively, and if companies seek to externalise environmental costs, the result is a simple market distortion.

That’s what makes the central argument of The Ecology of Commerce so clear and compelling – and palatable for business. Hawken is no revolutionary, at least not in the government-overthrowing sense, but a believer in the power of markets who simply wants to make them work better. To paraphrase GK Chesterson, there is nothing wrong with a free market, it is just that no-one has tried it out yet.

An unpopular solution

Hawken’s vision is “a system of commerce and production where each and every act is inherently sustainable and restorative.” In practical terms, the bedrock of this change is a programme of smart green taxes – not to raise revenue, but to “undo the distortions created by the relentless pursuit of lower prices, and to reveal true costs to purchasers”.

If the problem is market distortion, this solution seems logical. But regulation and taxation have rarely been as unpopular as they are right now.

The economic crisis has sent politicians racing down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, looking to reassure the electorate that they will fix the economy first. Even before the recession, the political tide was against tax and regulation as the preferred method of changing behaviour. One of the first acts of the current British government was to propose a ‘bonfire of regulations’. Nowadays, we favour behavioural economics to ‘nudge’ our citizens towards beneficial behaviours.

And as the evidence for climate change has grown stronger, the debate about the most appropriate response has become increasingly politicised – and, to many politicians, toxic. Last year’s Earth Summit wasn’t so much a failure as a non-event, prioritising economic growth over environmental protection.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that we’ve given up on the tools of government as a force for creating a more environmentally sustainable economy.

Don’t give up on government

So perhaps this is where The Ecology of Commerce is most relevant today.

Perhaps we need a reminder that, as laudable as today’s big sustainability goals, green marketing strategies and studies in behavioural economics are, we mustn’t forget to change the framework in which they operate.

Perhaps it’s time to re-think our attitude to green taxes as an instrument for changing behaviour. The recent high-profile stories on taxation – the proposed Robin Hood tax in the UK, and the public scandal around the amount of tax paid by Starbucks – show that taxation is a hot topic. At the same time, the devastation caused by superstorm Sandy has brought the realities of extreme weather events home to the residents of developed countries, and their leaders are beginning to react.

Perhaps now is the time to re-read The Ecology of Commerce and get some 90s perspective on our 21st century challenges.

Image: The Action of New York City by Trey Ratcliff is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Three things every new CSR manager should know

I love speaking to new Sustainability Managers, especially those who are moving from another role in their company. Often they’ve spent years manoeuvring themselves into a position where they could make a difference, and they’re always excited about the new role.

The most important piece of advice I give again and again is this: the real difference between a ‘normal’ job and a sustainability job has little to do with knowledge or skills. The key difference is one of mindset.

There are three big mindset changes that every new recruit to sustainability need to make:

1. Your role has changed

You’re no longer a ‘normal’ employee – you’re now a change agent. You need to start looking at your company differently, because a major part of your new role is going to be challenging those who set the business strategy to do better.

To do this well, you’ll need to understand the sustainability challenges facing the world, and how they are likely to affect the business – and accept that your colleagues may not see their relevance immediately.

You’ll need to tell the best story you can about your company’s sustainability record to external stakeholders, while pushing for more change inside the company.

In other words, you’ll need to be one step ahead, preparing your business to prosper in the future. That’s usually be one step behind those stakeholders who are most vocal in their criticism of your company.

In short, you won’t be loved by everyone all the time, and you’ll have to get used to it. Sorry.

2. You can already do 90% of your job

Just because you’re Sustainability Manager now, you don’t need to become an expert overnight on renewable energy, employee volunteering or thought leadership. You can buy in those specialist skills as and when you need them.

What an external consultant can’t bring to the table is your knowledge of what makes the company tick. That’s the most important part of your job: getting buy-in from the right people at the right time to make change happen.

Without your instinct and hard work, the company can have the most beautifully written sustainability strategy in the world – but it won’t be achieved.

Well done already for just being you!

3. Your new job is simple. It’s just not that easy…

All companies are different and your sustainability strategy will be unique – but the process you follow to get there is the same:

– Do your research. Competitor analysis is one of the best ways to interest your colleagues in sustainability. After all, who doesn’t like to check out what the competition is doing and help think of a way to beat them?

– Don’t be afraid to talk to stakeholders. Some of them will be critical, but they’re not enemies – they are the people who are going to help you shape a clear, relevant strategy. If you talk to them now, you’ll not only have a better strategy, but it will also get a better reception when you go public.

Make your strategy simple and clear. You’ll need a long-term vision and annual targets, key performance indicators and a plan to report on progress. And make sure you have some ‘quick wins’ as well as slow-burn projects, to show your stakeholders you can deliver.

But ‘simple’ doesn’t always mean ‘easy’. Each of these steps takes time, effort and constant reassessment.

You’ll find yourself on a steep learning curve that doesn’t really let up; the nature of sustainability is that new challenges arise all the time, and you’ll need to be ready to respond.

Don’t expect to achieve everything in the first year. It takes time to persuade people of the need to take action. Prioritise your goals, expect to work hard to achieve them… and remember to celebrate when you do!

Ready to go?

Image: Golfland start by Todd Dailey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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How your grandmother can help you write better sustainability reports

Today I’m feeling sympathetic towards politicians. Not all of them, you understand – just the particular few involved in the ‘mid-term review’ of the coalition UK Government’s progress.

In case you’re not up to speed, the story so far runs something like this:

The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition releases a mid-term review of its progress since it took power in 2010. The key message: although things are tough for the UK right now, in general their government is doing pretty well.

Alongside the review, it plans the low-key release of an extra document it hopes no-one will notice – an “unvarnished” audit of the coalition’s original pledges. They aren’t counting on a confidential briefing document describing the audit’s “problematic areas” being published in the Daily Telegraph.

Long story short: the audit gets lots of attention, and it becomes apparent it’s not as “unvarnished” as the Prime Minister claims. The opposition Labour party points out that key debt target will not be achieved on time, and the Institute of Government accuses the Government of telling a half-truth about tuition fees.

The government’s response? Their audit looked only at the coalition agreement of May 2010, and the pledges being criticised were not in this document. In other words, it doesn’t matter that the audit didn’t tell the full story, because part of it was out of scope.

Ouch.

I’m not here to argue who is right and who is wrong. The Government is technically correct to say that the pledges were made at different times, though I can’t help but feel that the date and time of a promise shouldn’t matter much when your stakeholders come to hold you to account.

No, I’m here to sympathise. The report’s authors faced a dilemma I’ve faced more than once. When you’re writing a sustainability report – or, indeed, any kind of progress report – what do you do when progress hasn’t been made?

Do you tell the whole truth, admit to a failure (even a temporary one) and risk embarrassment?

Or do you tell a half-truth and try to make yourself look good?

After all, it might not be your fault that you didn’t make progress. You might have worked really hard all year, only for someone else to scupper the project at the last minute. The target might have been formulated badly by a predecessor who didn’t think it through properly. Or something might have happened during the year – a merger, say – that meant the target was no longer valid.

Whatever the explanation, there only one rational response to this dilemma: tell the truth.

Let’s look at why…

1. You’ll be found out. You may not find yourself in a national newspaper, but in the era of the internet and amateur fact-checkers, someone will spot your lie of omission. You’ll look like a weasel for trying to ‘spin’ your results – and if there’s a faster way to lose the trust of your stakeholders, I’ve yet to hear it.

2. You’ll be forced to defend yourself. Defence of your lie won’t sound convincing, and it’s unlikely to placate your critics. At this point, you won’t look like a weasel so much as King Of All The Weasels, and your stakeholders will treat you accordingly.

3. You’ll sabotage all your hard work. Not only is it wrong to lie – no, it really is – it’s also counterproductive. Telling a half-truth undermines the value of your other achievements, and deprives you of the satisfaction of reaching your target for real. If you’re striving for change in a corporate environment, that sort of satisfaction is important to hold on to.

When I’m explaining a tricky concept, I often find it useful to ask myself, “how would I explain this to my grandmother?” In this case, it’s a simple modification to ask, “could I justify this to my grandmother?”

If the answer’s no, don’t do it.

Image: Grandmother by Monica Antonelli is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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My New Year’s resolution

I love this period in between Christmas and New Year.

With so many people on holiday, it’s that brilliant week when everyone else thinks ‘there’s no point in sending an email right now’, so my inbox is always beautifully empty.

In recent years, I’ve alternated between going on holiday myself, and coming into the office to get some real work done. I’m not sure which I prefer – but it seems whichever I choose, I invariably find myself drawn to reflect on the year just passed, and to set some big goals for the year ahead.

And then it all goes horribly wrong.

For some reason – maybe it’s just because I know people will ask if I’ve done it – I always feel the need to translate my big, daydreamy goals into specific new year’s resolutions.

They’re generally woolly (‘get fit’), too big (‘never, ever eat chocolate again’) or too small (‘get a proper laptop bag’) – and if they’re just right, I tend to forget about them by February. And so, of course, they go unachieved.

For anyone wanting to achieve a resolution, it’s sad; for an expert in behaviour change, it’s just embarrassing.

This year, I’m determined it will be different. I’m going to make sure I achieve my new year’s resolutions by applying some basic behaviour change techniques.

1. Set a specific, achievable goal. This year, I’m limiting myself to one realistic new year’s resolution: read one sustainability-related book per month. This isn’t, you understand, the sum total of my ambitions for 2013. But it is a specific, achievable goal that I won’t find a chore, and will be my only official new year’s resolution.

2. Make a public commitment and report back on progress. Now that I’ve written this post about my resolution, I’m already feeling pressure to achieve it. I’ll post a short review of each book here as I finish it, to show that I’m making progress.

3. Set reminders. I’ve just added reminders to my online diary at the beginning, middle and near the end of each month. If I want to forget my resolution this year, I’ll have to work pretty hard…

I’m going to choose the books as I go along, and try to mix new books with classics that I want to re-read. My book for January is Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce. Watch this space for the review.

All book suggestions are welcome – please let me know via the comment box below.

Wish me luck!

Image: New Years Eve at Borovets… by Klearchos Kapoutsis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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