Finding my ability to influence others

In my first blog I talk about my leadership aim to “inspire eureka” in others. Education and inspiring change is one of our core functions of my job, but something I realised that I was often leaving at work, where actually in fact there is so much more opportunity to influence others and inspire change in my personal life through encouraging family, friends and through other exploits in my free time. Not having a hugely “green-hearted” set of friends and family, I tended to shy away from this in fear of feeling like I was lecturing but now I realise the flaws in my thinking and that indeed it is positively welcomed with my nearest and dearest eager to learn more.

Firstly on the family front: where I’ve had certain family members that have been non-believers and to save the family argument I’ve kept my opinions to myself. I’m sad to admit that, but Christmas dinner is safer that way!! Instead, with my news intentions to be different, I’ve been slowly sowing seeds, engaging them in conservation and dropping undeniable sustainability nuggets of information that I know will be of interest to the family member at hand, e.g. hard core facts from studies on the financial over performance of strong sustainability companies vs weak ones for the finance nuts.

On the friends front: where I usually saved my sustainability passions and converations for when I’m at locally-organised green drinks, or with lunch catch ups with fellow sustainability counterparts at other organisations, I’m starting to share my knowledge and passions with those not normally that way inclined and inviting “non-sustainability” friends to come join me at talks or events related to sustainability and learning in fact they are delighted to join.

What I’ve found SO refreshing from the slight shift in thinking and in the way that I act with my loved ones is that they are starting to embrace sustainability and enjoying it, and I can feel their excitement in sharing with me new ways of living they are trying out, such as a friend that now does “Meat Free Monday” and parents trying out eco home cleaning materials and asking for more tips about what more to do. It feels so rewarding to be able to give advice and share more without feeling like I’m preaching.

I think this has been helped hugely by the fact that times have changed. Gone are the days where you could only get sustainable products that didn’t really do the job vs the non-sustainable alternatives. Sustainability is also everywhere in the media. So I believe people’s minds are ripe for changing with a little bit of nudging. I feel when I first tried to do so and got shot down, it was probably due to a lack of public attention to the topic and also through not using the right levers to convince.

I’ve also realised that there is more that I can do in my personal time by seeking out opportunities to build momentum in the community. On June 14, I organised an event on sustainable food and alongside it had a eco-marketplace where eco food suppliers could come to showcase their product – we had over 100 people turn up. Where I would normally say “I don’t have time” – I decided to say yes and realise now how rewarding and fun it felt to be part of driving sustainability in the community outside of my job.

The other small shift in mindset has been around being open to supporting the next generation of sustainability leaders. I was never not open to that (!!), but now I feel I’m actively seeking it out. In the last month, I’ve had several coffee catch ups with those looking to enter the field that have contacted me on LinkedIn or colleagues kids that are thinking about a career in this space. In doing so I’m realising how grateful they are and how important it is help these future leaders on their way in whatever way we can, be it through advice, introducing them to others in the field and offering to be a future mentor/sound-board as they continue on.

With this challenge I’m trying to find any opportunity I can to sow the seed and inspire eureka. Where I hope to do something more “wow” in time to come for this challenge, I definitely feel my outlook is different and welcome all opportunities to try and create change through my day to day interactions outside of work.

To focus my energies for the remainder of the challenge and to feel I have a clear tangible outcome – I would like to have completed  3-5 more talks at schools and/or universities (with one completed already as per my first blog).

Thanks for reading! And congrats on your efforts!!

fun-jumping

Thoughts on China’s low carbon developement

As I look from my bedroom window in Hong Kong, I see a mass of high rise buildings, surrounded by concrete and the hum of new buildings being erected – hammers, banging, and a pile driver some way away. As I sit here, I wonder, what is the cost of all of this growth and concrete?

Having spent the last 5 years living in Hong Kong, and experiencing as well as reading about, the vast growth occurring in Asia on so many levels, it feels so profoundly fundamental how Asia must be at the centre of the global fight against climate change and yet it doesn’t feel much/enough is being done to move the dial. To back this up with some stats: according to the Asia Development Bank, “Asia is the world’s most populous region, with high economic growth, a rising share of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the most vulnerability to climate risks. Its current resource- and emission-intensive growth pattern is not sustainable”.

Focusing in on sustainable energy systems, a reportby the World Economic Forum (WEF) has revealed that while most countries are making some progress to shift to more low carbon energy, the pace is not enough to keep climate change in check, and most notably in Asia.  On WEF’s ranking, Asian countries rank poorly, with most of South and Southeast Asian countries falling behind in the bottom half. The exceptions however are Singapore leading the region in 12th position and Malaysia in 15th. What I was most surprised (and worried) to see was China’s position– 76th out of 114. Given that China is the most populous and biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the world – are there any bright spots?

I would like to hope, yes there are. After all there have been some positive movements in the last 2 years that give cause for optimism.

China’s government rules with an iron fist in many ways and this has been equally prevalent in its commitments to the environment. There has been a vocal and strong commitment from China’s President Xi Jinping, pledging at the 19th Party Congress late last year to take significant action and take the lead in fostering international cooperation in climate change.

Climate change among other policy issues have also gained increasing importance within China’s broader economic policy agenda. In its 13thNational Economic and Social Development Plan (2016-2020), China included a chapter on “Actively Addressing Climate Change” which calls for actions to control GHG emissions in the energy and industrial sectors. Experts say China is taking on the mantle of climate leadership from the US, following Donald Trump’s pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

Recently there has also been a government push to replace petrol vehicles with electric ones; in a bold move Shenzhen is set to have world’s first all-electric public bus fleet.

Importantly China has also launched a large-scale  carbon trading market.

On the renewables front, China is investing over USD 100 billion in renewables domestically every year, and has also become the world’s largest investor in renewables overseas.

It has been suggested that China’s emissions have peaked. However, the Climate Tracker reported that China’s CO2 emissions rose in 2017, despite declining emissions between 2014-2016.  However, 2017 saw coal use increase for the first time in 3 years.

The question is, what comes next? According to the Climate Tracker: “If coal consumption does not continue to decline, and instead stalls at today’s levels, and no additional policies are introduced to limit other, non-CO2­ gases, China’s total GHG emissions could continue to rise until at least 2030”.

As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. China appears to be making the right sounds, and hopefully that continues.

Inspiring eureka in others

My leadership opportunity is related to the name of my blog site “Inspiring Eureka”, which is based on my conviction that engaging individuals to take individual actions is fundamental to the transformational change we need for sustainable development, and that by taking initiative to help others find their “eureka” and join the sustainability movement is an important responsibility the “enlightened” must take.

The theme of understanding what flips the switch is the focus of my group’s project which looks to understand the influences in lives of transformational sustainability leaders which shaped their worldviews and motivated them to take action. The influences we’re discovering as we continue to analyse the interviews include those that impressioned upon them as children such as growing up in beautiful nature and this developing an intense appreciation for it or having parents with a ecological worldview, but for others where they had their “lightbulb” moments later in life, it happened for example as a result of reading a transformational book, attending a powerful presentation or having an inspiring mentor – and when their minds were turned, something clicked and they could not go back.

My challenge I set myself was: how can I help create such eureka or lightbulb moments in others? After 9 years of working in sustainability and now being in a fortunate position where my learning is being supercharged through this course, I have a lot to share on the benefits and imperatives of taking action on sustainability, so how can I leverage my knowledge to inspire and influence others?

Firstly a few words on the importance in my mind on the power of the individual and the actions s/he takes. I believe there is a certain amount of derision attached to focusing on individual action as if focusing on that is a distraction from needed policy and institutional changes. Of course large scale change on these levels is absolutely crucial, but it doesn’t happen on its own, it happens when values-driven people fight for it. And if structural change happens without the support of people’s values, then they will resist or revolt against any change.

There are lots of cliches like “small actions lead up to big impact” but of course one person doing it in a silo will not lead to the transformative change needed in the world. But indeed we live within societies, families, and friendship groups – within systems where our actions have impacts and are interconnected with others. One “enlightened” family member may inspire a family and then their friends and from there their friends of friends, which in turn influences the marketplace which delivers products and services to respond to a growing set of socially and environmentally aware customers, and the domino effect goes on and on.

They say movements are started by just one person. Ray Anderson revolutized how carpets can be delivered after reading one of Paul Hawkins’ book, I’m not sure what Elon Musk’s influence was but I would love to know! Ambition on this scale doesn’t come easy but I do believe each one of us has a super hero strength to create change in our own way and help further the movement through small steps. Something that I feel best shows the magic of what one person can do is the video of one guy dancing in a park which quickly snowballs into a mass of dancing and elated crowds all following this one guy’s energy and positive influence. Definitely watch it, it will put a smile on your face! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ

So back to my leadership challenge. So I thought how can I share what I know in the hope of even planting a seed, and even further, helping to change someone’s world view (it might take me a bit more practice before I can graduate as a all-encompassing mind-transformer!).

While my job entails engaging and influencing internally and often externally if I am invited to speak at a forum or conference, I felt however there are opportunities in my own capacity to offer my help to give talks, or through one-on-one discussions provide mentorship, but not related to my company but on how we as individuals can become inspired and develop our capability for change. I feel there is added importance to influencing younger minds as they are potentially more malleable, optimistic and just starting off in their careers.

With this in mind and to get the ball rolling, I contacted one of our local universities where I had a contact and offered to give a talk on sustainability and said that I could be flexible on the exact topic to suit any interested departments. Turned out they were delighted to have an industry person come speak and there was a course that I would be suited to speaking in within a short month… a slight twist was they wanted me to come speak on systems thinking. Yes I know what it is and yes I paid attention to Jenny’s lecture on it in workshop 1 but was I in a position to speak to a room full of people on it? They did also ask me to talk to the business benefits of sustainability which I felt at least very at ease with. But determined to do this I put a systems cap and engrossed myself in Donnella Measows and Peter Senge with gusto!

I soon found the additional learning I needed to do to put together a slide deck in fact fascinating and so fundamental to understanding sustainability and even at being better at my job. So while I set out to share knowledge and hopefully inspire others, I too was gaining the benefit of deepening my knowledge and sustainability expertise.

Coming to the presentation, I ended it with a feeling of intense satisfaction. I felt the students were egaged and interested; I certainly felt there were things I could improve on for next time, but the fact that I got through it having never lectured before and feeling like the students were seemingly interested was something I felt huge joy about.

The next day, one of the students reached out to me to thank me for the lecture and also ask a bunch of further questions. I like to think/hope in one way I might have planted a seed in at least this person, and maybe more. Getting through to just one person is always a win for me and something I try to remember if I arrange a staff event and get a muted response, if even one person becomes engaged that is a win, because it’s not just them that starts to change, it’s those around them too that may also be influenced by their positive behaviours.

And so this is the beginning, but over the months of this leadership challenge I hope push myself to proactively engage others, to offer my services to talk at schools and universities, to mentor others and help shift mindsets in whatever way I can in those around me.

Thank you for reading!

To meat or not to meat?

I was a big meat eater… It never felt like a “proper” meal unless I had meat on my plate. Although being passionate about sustainability, like many, it is easy to disconnect the meat from the animal when chicken, beef or lamb comes neatly wrapped in packaging, no longer resembling what it was before. It is after all our common food, what we typically grow up eating, sitting around the table no matter the occasion.

Five months ago, I had my lightbulb moment while watching the film What the Health and became a vegetarian. I always assumed that becoming a vegetarian would mean sacrifice, needing to do without. The amazing part is it has helped me to find a love and passion for food that I hadn’t had before. By not having the usual go-to meat for my meal, it forced me to spend more time thinking about food, where it had come from, its nutritional benefits and the effects on my body and planet. This greater understanding somehow made every plate now a celebration of its goodness and its positivity – all of a sudden, I now loved food and respected it. I am able to keep my weight stable without dreaded dieting and those cravings which lead to classic “uh-oh” moments after devouring a giant bag of crisps and box of chocolates in 10 minutes no longer seem to happen, perhaps because I’m finding satisfaction in food.

Since we have recently celebrated “World Vegetarian Day” on October 1 and “World Vegan Day” on November 1, I wanted to recap and share what’s worth celebrating about what is now the trendy catch phrase “plant-based eating”.

Plant-based diets – which encourage whole, plant-based foods and discourage meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods – and which were once touted as a food-fads, are now going mainstream. According to research by HealthFocus, 60% of consumers say they are cutting back on eating meat and 17% of those aged 15–70 years claim to eat a predominantly plant-based diet and over half of those who had moved toward more plant-based eating, said they were committed to making it a permanent change.

I was also surprised to read in a recent article in the South China Morning Post that in the five years from 2015 to 2020, China’s vegan market is expected to rise by more than 17 per cent, to become the fastest growing vegan market internationally, standing as proof that the trend is filtering through too in the region where I call home. More and more I notice vegetarian restaurants popping up and supermarket shelves being stocked with vegetarian options, with business clearly seeing this as a new business opportunity.

So what’s at steak? (Spelling mistake and pun intended!). What are the main reasons why people are moving towards plant-based eating and what are the implications in terms of sustainable consumption and production?

Health benefits

Much research has been done to show the health benefits of a predominantly plant-based diet. Studies show that that those with plant-base diets have lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Others also report plant-based diets can lead to an increase in wellbeing, including more energy and reduced anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Environmental impacts

Annually, humans eat about 230m tonnes of animals, double what we did 30 years ago. The most popular animals are chickens, cows, sheep and pigs, and it is well documented that their production requires vast amounts of land, energy, food and water, and generate huge amounts of climate warming gases and physical waste.

A 2006 UN report calculated that the combined climate change emissions of animals bred for their meat were about 18% of the global total – more than all forms of transport put together. These figures included the full lifecycle, from farm to fork, including the transportation and energy needed to bring it to our plates. In 2009, the figure was further revised upward by two World Bank scientists to more than 51%.

A study by the University of Oxford of 30,000 meat eaters, 16,000 vegetarians, 8,000 fish eaters and 2,000 vegans found that meat-rich diets resulted in 7.2kg of carbon dioxide emissions versus a vegetarian and fish-eating dieting of 3.8kg of CO2 per day.

Of the meat products, beef production is the hungriest consumer of resources. Studies show that beef alone requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more greenhouse gas emissions. When compared to the likes wheat, and rice, the beef on a per calorie basis, beef requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases.

The same can be said for water. John Robbins calculates it takes 60, 108, 168, and 229 pounds of water to produce one pound of potatoes, wheat, maize and rice respectively. Compare that to the same pound of beef and that figure skyrockets to 20,000 sounds of water, or 9,000 litres. Again beef is the most resource hungry meet out there, replace that with chicken and the figure drops to 1,500 litres.

In understanding these impacts, I realised that my attempts to reduce my footprint by taking shorter showers, switching off lights and walking to work are dwarfed by the impact I can have through my diet. I have discovered so much enjoyment in food and realising how easy it is to be a vegetarian! Hummus, lentils, falafel and brightly coloured greens and veggies provide so much satisfaction and ingenious “meatless meat” products like Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger cleverly give you the sensation of eating meat while actually only tucking into plant-based proteins. (For any curious cats in Hong Kong reading this, take a visit to Green Common to test it out.)

Despite the growing tendencies towards plant-based eating, there are many still that energetically poo-poo the very notion of reducing meat consumption and share you off as a hippy or tree-hugger.

 

Whilst I knew something of the above health and social issues before making the switch, I only dug deeper after being confronted by a particularly shocking movie. I do wonder, why is it that in a resource constrained and climate change conscious world, reducing meat consumption still seems to fall largely at the fringes?