The MC from Hell ...

"Hi everyone, the toilets are over there. Does that make you think about wee? I don’t think this mike is working? Hey … Can everyone listen? Oi! Okay, now where are my notes … Does anyone know what time it is? Should we have already started? Johnno? Whats that? Okay, I’m ready … now to begin with a long irrelevant anecdote …

- The MC from Hell

Having been a professional MC for over twelve years I've picked up a few tricks of the trade. After many ministerial launches, state environment award ceremonies, festival stages, professional dinners and conferences and many of my closest friends weddings and lots of community trivia nights and school fetes, I think I have enough experience to know a bad MC when I see one. And sometimes I cringe. 

Recently Claire and I went to a charity fundraising trivia night. I had hoped we were in good MC hands. It would be good to be carefree and answering the questions for once … how wrong I was. Let me give you a few tips on how NOT to MC that were all present on this one fateful night: 

  1. Do not use a sound system that is not loud enough. Simple yeah? 
  2. If people can’t hear you, you haven’t said anything. 
  3. The first minute is crucial. It's when everyone makes up their mind about whether they are on board with you. So do not ramble, mumble and look at the floor. Don’t mention the toilets yet. It makes people think about wee and poo and associate that with you. You could even try telling people what's going to happen. Or introducing yourself. 
  4. If you yell "Shut up everyone or I won't read out the questions" and no-one listens, do not be surprised.  If you do happen to yell this and it doesn't work, don't try it again many times. In fact, the people want to hear the questions. Whisper them and they'll listen. Do not repeat the shut up thing when reading the answers. In fact, showing anger or frustration with your audience in general is a bad move.
  5. Do not sell bourbon cans and UDLs at a trivia night if you would like people to participate beyond the first hour. This may have impacted on point 5. 
  6. Try reading out or displaying the scores occasionally.  Or at least let people know what round they are in how many rounds are left.
  7. Do not overload the evening with too many rounds, too many auctions and too many activities. Try and get people home at a reasonable hour. 
  8. Do not be boring and monotone.
  9. Do not set up a computer, a projector and try to download a video as you MC.  If you're going to use technology, set it up, get it ready and check it before the event has started. And make sure everyone can see the screen. 

You may not be surprised to learn that we didn't last the entire night. Surely it would at some point occur to an MC that the folks attending a trivia night are there to have a fun night out?

A good MC is on time, on message, is clearly heard, uses their volume and tone of voice, position, hands and body language to great effect, is clear about the program, enables everyone to enjoy themselves, interacts with the audience at their level, allows the audience to interact with each other, creates a sense of eventfulness, knows who is speaking and who to thank, has researched the event and the people, remembers names, is fully present in the moment, adaptable and ready for change and has a friendly knack of briefing speakers on time limits and then keeping them to time. They have helped set the agenda to ensure the flow is good and space is allowed for. An MC plays up their own character strengths, whether that is humour, being good natured, strict, solemn or fun filled.  

And if you want to be memorable for all the right reasons, take yourself and the audience on a journey outside their comfort zone to a really fun place: do something big, eventful and interactive that will be remembered forever. My favourite example was an Irish/Australian wedding where we held an Ireland vs Australia sing off. Molly Malone vs True Blue. It blew the roof off, set the tone for a very fun night and made everyone feel great. 

When a Green Team Stumbles ... and then Flies

Last year a green team I have been mentoring did some great energy efficiency work. Then the CEO, the green team manager, the year and the project all changed at the same time. Many green teams fall over at times like these. We all want to be on the winning team and a table with two people around it ain't winning anymore. But it is amazing how powerful renewal can be. Even strong teams should do it often. The Phoenix of mythology is a powerful change agent.

We met with the new CEO, who backed us in straight away. We developed a waste reduction plan for the Organisation, audited waste streams, checked the flexibility of waste collection contracts and next month we had five at the table. Things were heating up.

Next we checked out new bins, investigated composting options for catering and then spoke to the senior leadership group about the importance of the project. The dam wall burst.
Our meeting this week did not have enough chairs around the table. We had the CEO, OH&S, maintenance, volunteer coordinator, waste collection, Org support, catering and representation from another four departments. In one hour we worked through the practicalities of the new waste system in a blaze of positive, creative, excited thinking.

The best part was that one major and two minor organizational systems were completely redesigned in a way that will improve customer service, reduce waste to near zero and save money and time. Quite often when the right people are at the table, a small conversation about, say, composting leads to a deep process change that improves all aspects of operation. Amory Lovins once said that the sustainability game is the only one in town where you see a $50 note on the ground in your business, you bend down to pick it up and you find $100 underneath. Water, waste and energy are generated where the work happens and they are also business inefficiencies. Why pay for them? In removing them other inefficiencies, outdated processes and old systems are looked at anew and improved.

This organisation WILL reduce waste by 60% next year and they'll save money, impress customers, inspire their national group, improve business systems, look modern, lower purchasing costs and probably win an award. They are on a mission.
To get everyone involved it took perseverance, renewal, a big refocus and an exciting project that will effect everyone's job. It also took a few smiles. Never underestimate the power of a meaningful project that has a fun, inviting atmosphere about it.

Of course, the biggest cog in this chain of events was the CEO - genuine unconditional support from the top opens doors and cascades throughout an Organisation.

Watch this space for the results in 2014.

Facilitation that Flies

Ok, so you have all the right people in the room, you have two or three hours and you want to create a shared plan of attack. We've all been here and we've all seen it fly and seen it fail either spectacularly or with a whimper. I've facilitated workshops for 15 years with governments, community groups, teachers, green teams, businesses, conferences and not for profit board rooms and done so in hotels, bus shelters, classrooms, conference venues, community centres, lounge rooms and offices. People seem to like what I do. So here are a few of my golden facilitation rules:

The human brain can concentrate on a task for about 27 minutes. Change things up. Change the activity and the space.  Change the social structure a few times. Some people perform better in a big group discussion, some one on one. So build in some solo thinking/writing time, some one on one conversations, some group work around a table and some big group discussions.

Encourage different opinions: We don't like disagreeing face to face. But if you do disagree staying silent is the worst thing you can do for the success of the project.  Space shuttles have exploded, wars have been waged and planes come down because people stayed silent or blocked other opinions. The book Wisdom of Crowds has the best three rules for teams to follow. 1. Begin openminded 2. Different Opinions Rock 3. Hear from everyone. Any small group that follows these rules will be faster and smarter than any individual within the group. 

Cater for people's different strengths. Some people love to dream big, some like to plan, some like to learn/teach and some want to stuff the whole workshop and go and get started. All four of these types are crucial to ongoing success. I like to sort people into these four camps and let them go for it. Learning, planning, doing and dreaming small groups will cover a whole journey for you. If we're not doing one of them chances are we are going to fail.  A good large group report back and discussion on each and you'll have a great plan of attack.

Have fun, be human scale and build in Purposeful Informality. Oh dear I hear you say, here comes Ricky Gervais in the office! Awkward! And anyway, we have real work to do! Well I ask you this: do you want success or not? We are a social animal who thrives on connection and community. Provide the space for interaction and minimise officiousness, hierarchy and IT. Next, the part of the brain where insight occurs is directly next door to the part that responds to music, the arts and nature. Do you want people having insights or not? Finally, you don't build a team by having a plan, you build a team by enjoying yourselves creating the plan. We thrive when we are engaged and participating, not when we are bored and trodden on.  Have some fun. No one ever died laughing. 

Build Respectful Relationships. Learn names, build relationships, be respectful, make eye contact, draw everyone in and capture hearts. And play to the smiler. You cant take responsibility for the state of other peoples lives and minds. The frowner usually has something else going on. 

People love knowing what is going on, why it's going on, how it's going to happen, when the food/break is and when it is going to finish. It aint hard to tell em. I like putting a simple mind map of the agenda on a whiteboard so that people know where the session is at whenever they want.

Ecological Sustainability = Better Business

I wonder how much "old Greenie" prejudice costs business and society.  I can imagine  some managers still saying "Nah mate, the Green Thing is what treehuggin' hippies do! Holdin' up progress!"  We see this ideology versus new ideas battle every day. And boy has the definition of progress changed. Lego recently invested $500m in a wind farm as a "good long term investment" and so that they can put "wind made" on every Lego packet.  Meanwhile our Victorian government is blocking wind power and hundreds of millions in wind investment has left the state.  

Our government has been blustering for three years about how a Carbon Price will cost a certain print shop $2000. Hang on! A price on carbon is exactly the trigger that business needs to invest in efficiency, which will lower costs and open it's thinking to new economy ideas that will improve the business. Green inks? Sustainable papers? Water and toxin free processes? A green change of logo and marketing? These will increase market share, increase competitiveness and attract 21st century customers.

If businesses get caught out by a Carbon Price it means they have had their ideological head in the sand in the twenty years since world leaders decided carbon dioxide emissions must fall.  Old and outdated ideologies are always trumped by new ideas when the new ideas are just better a better way of doing business.  Just ask Kodak.

Creating a sustainable business means lower power costs, waste costs, water costs, paper costs, fleet costs and raw material costs.  All of these costs are rising. It also means new market possibilities, better products and services and increased productivity.

The added bonus is that these better businesses are also looking after the planet. That amazing home that gifts us free air, water and soil and beautiful wild places.  

Change takes courage, effort and creativity, but a better business is just, well, better isn't it?

Political Carbon Lies: what should my business do?

Our Prime Minister is lying. Our Environment Minister is lying.  They are both deliberately misinforming the public about climate change costs, the scope of the challenge, international action and the opportunities that come with action. 

On the other hand, so what. Margaret Mead once said "Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals.”

This post explores both of these ideas. 

First up, our Prime Minister/Environment Minister told us on Monday that repealing the price on carbon (which they misrepresent as a carbon tax) would save the average family  $550. ABC Fact Check declared this "outdated" and suggested the figure would be more like $134. The ABS said it's impossible to measure and this independent report said removing the carbon price is more likely to make bills go up.

But none of the media reports mentioned the elephant in the room. The whole point of putting a price on carbon is to create a market mechanism to change our behaviour. Post the carbon price national emissions dropped 4.7% compared to the year before.  The scope for reducing emissions is huge. A third of the average Australian power bill (around $1800) is wasted. That's $600 per household that a change in behaviour would save. And why stop at saving $600? The same year that the carbon price was implemented we passed one million household solar systems installed in Australia. That's 10% of Aussie homes. Once these systems are paid off in five years, these million homes will pay next to nothing for power into the future. Climate action saves money, unless we refuse to change: then it apparently costs us $134 a year. Woop de doo. Incidentally, Australians spend the same amount of money on alcohol as household power bills. 

And then there is the future cost of climate change. The 2006 Stern Review suggested that we can collectively pay now at 1% of global GDP to fix the climate or we can pay 20% later. Or we can not pay and end civilisation sometime later this century as we head 4-6 degrees warmer, sea levels rise a meter, new strains of disease emerge, extreme weather events abound and social, then political unrest and conflict follow.

Our current government is not only lying, they are attempting to be the first country in the world to remove a carbon price. They are also abolishing every other national climate measure that there is. They abolished the Climate Commission (the people paid to reestablish it) and want to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation  (an almost profitable fund to boost renewables) and "review" the Renewable Energy Target. Their "Direct Action" policy amounts to paying poor people to plant trees.

We have basically elected a front group for the fossil fuel industry.

With the release of the latest climate science the world is now moving fast. China will have a carbon price by 2020, the USA will reduce emissions 20% by 2020 and over 30 other countries already have a market mechanism in place to reduce emissions.

So what do we do at the business level? The entire world is grasping the problem and moving to reduce it. Our government is going backwards. This is where the Marg Mead quote above comes into this. We have to do it ourselves. We have a truism to help us: Done properly, reducing carbon SAVES money. If homes and businesses reduce their power bill and fuel bill they save money. 

Businesses I work with are always amazed at the savings given the political and media discussion about the "costs". One client reduced the power bill at 2 sites by 12% in a year without spending anything, by changing behaviour. That's more than twice the national 2020 carbon reduction target. Another large client changed every light bulb in a huge building to LED and dropped the power bill by 10%, so impressing the bean counters that they are rolling the program out Australia wide. A manufacturing client reduced the power bills in their stores around Australia by 15% in a year, saving tens of thousands of dollars. VECCI have found that small businesses in their Grow Me The Money sustainability program save an average $7000.

And the savings don't just stop at the power bill. Amory Lovins once said that the sustainability business is the only one in town where you notice $50 on the floor of your business, you bend down to pick it up and there is $100 underneath. Because many of the answers are cultural, by highlighting them and working through the solutions there are often other safety, OH&S and productivity savings that come along for the ride. The LED bulbs mentioned above also reduced globe maintenance costs, dust issues and poorly lit areas: not bad side effects for a health organisation. 

We all need to take control of our future, our power bill and the direction of our business. Our business leaders need a crash course in sustainability and organisational change, our Green Teams need a crash course in sustainability behaviour change and action planning and staff need to help identify new cleaner ways of working and go with the change. 

So how do I recommend you improve your business in the new economy? Leap onto the path to sustainability and save money, reduce waste and pollution, increase market share, help create history, improve your workplace culture, increase productivity, avoid fines, lead your industry, win awards and feel good. Globally, organisations are re-imagining themselves to exist healthily within the natural systems and cycles on the planet. The possibilities are endless and wonderful. For business, for society, for ecology.

And here's a final prediction for you. If the front group for fossil fuels masquerading as our government succeed in shutting down our climate measures, then they'll be back within a decade. The future is inevitable. The hit on our economic competitiveness and our reputation may take a while longer to recover however. Imagine trying to sell coal in 2030: It will be like trying to sell horses and carts, cassette tapes or typewriters. The world will have moved on.

Climate Science: Ready to think about what it means?

Here's my pick of the media the day after the fifth international panel report, followed by some thoughts on our next steps:

Our new citizen funded climate council report

Scientific American on what the IPCC and the report

Six big charts to understand the science from climate central

62 years of warming in one minute video

George Monbiot Column on climate breakdown

The Guardian coverage

The Age Reports

SMH editorial: What might our grand kids think of us? 

How hot will it get in my lifetime? Plug in your birthdate and find out

Interactive on the top 11 indicators of a warming world

NASA climate projections video: what the world will look like in 2099

The carbon budget: IPCC says 90% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground 

Ok, so you've read this far. Welcome to a different world view. The question is, what to do? We changed all the lightbulbs years ago. Well, Margaret Mead once reminded us that it's not a good idea to rely on governments to fix any problem for us. I suggest we should all try action in three areas:

1. Do it Yourself: Create an ecologically sustainable life. Give yourself ten years. Could you then decarbonise your life by 2030? Or put another way, how are you going to ditch coal, oil and gas from your life by 2030? Think about your home, your transport, your food, the stuff you buy and where your super/shares. Read, learn, try, think, fail, discuss, converse, retry and enjoy the challenge.

2. Engage Community: build a social movement in your workplace, your community and your street. Join or set up a local sustainability group. Talk over tea, run events, inspire others, plant a communal fruit tree and set up a tool swapping, car sharing, native gardening, bike fleeting, energy efficiency inspiring, solar powered adventure - together.

3. Participate - turn off the tv and get active: write letters, join councils, go to urban planning forums, set up campaigns, ring the radio and help change democracy.

So, what are you waiting for? Whatever you do, don't waste time and energy arguing. As Buckminster Fuller once said: Want to replace an old way of thinking? Build the new model and make the old one obsolete.

My 2008 Climate Change blog revisited

I wrote this blog in 2008. It's worth revisiting because some friends on social media seem to be arguing that because our government has changed, climate change is no longer real. Sticking our heads in the sand is a bad manoeuvre economically, environmentally and socially. We are about to lose most of our hard won government climate action: Our carbon price (which is working), the clean energy finance corporation (a commercial success) and the Independent Climate Change Commission (which advises on government targets based on the science). 

The only addition I could make to this piece would be: it is clearer now and worse now.  I have added these two links: A World Bank Climate Change video warning and a chart on the 97% scientific consensus. It is also worth noting that the International Panel on Climate Change is about to hand down it's next report on the state of climate science. Stay tuned to find out that it's worse than we thought. 

So here 'tis:

Human induced climate change is the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. The Pentagon has called it the biggest threat to USA security.  The atmospheric coal, oil, gas and land clearing carbon experiment is changing our climate faster than it has ever changed. There is now 30% more carbon in the atmosphere than there has been in 600,000 years.  The growth rate in global carbon dioxide emissions trebled between 2000 and 2006.  There have been higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere previously - when there was no life on earth. The International Panel on Climate Change (1000 climate scientists from 100 countries over 17 years) have concluded that human kind is to blame and that we have eight years to turn our carbon emitting ways around before run away climate change occurs.  The predicted two degree temperature rise this century could lead to the extinction of a third of all species of life. In the past 2 degrees has been the difference between a warm period on earth and an ice age.  The poles are warming five times faster than the rest of the globe. The summer arctic sea ice is now predicted to be gone by 2015: In 2005, this prediction was 2050. Ocean acidity is rising, which is lowering the ability of the oceans to sequester and store carbon. Mosquitoes and therefore disease are spreading in range, and altitude as temperatures change. 279 species of plants and animals have been observed moving closer to the poles. Ecosystems and habitats that have always evolved and moved with the climate cannot move fast enough for the current change. Category four and five hurricanes have doubled since the 1970’s. Extreme weather events generally are increasing including bushfires, droughts and floods. Ten of the past sixteen years in Australia have been the hottest on record.  Glaciers around the world are melting and retreating - in 2006 glaciers were found to have melted at nearly twice the rate as in 2005.  Across the Antarctic Peninsula air temperature has risen an average of 2.5 degrees in 50 years, the greatest rise in the world.  The International Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research says 87% of the glaciers on the Peninsula are in retreat.  A 2008 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report into climate change in the European Alps declared that in the past 500 years, the warmest years on record were 1994, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007.  Ski fields are shrinking globally.  The CSIRO says Australian ski-fields with at least 60 days of snow cover will shrink 38-96% by 2050.  Swiss Banks are now refusing to lend money to skiing outfits below 1500m. Scientists have warned that at current rates of ocean temperature change, the Great Barrier reef will be functionally extinct within decades.  One third of the world's coral reef building species are threatened with extinction because of climate change.  The island nation of Tuvalu is disappearing under rising sea levels.  The Papuan Cararet Islands people are currently moving their culture and heritage to another island as their own has been inundated with surge tides, which ruined their fresh water supplies.  The poorest nations and peoples will be hit hardest by climate change; there are huge social justice implications.  Our fossil fuel energy addiction must be broken.  Wasting of energy must cease. Globally we need emissions to peak by 2015, be 30% less by 2020 and 80% less by 2050 to stabilise the climate below the 2 degree rise.  In 2008, scientists are now telling us that reduced natural carbon sinks and increased feedback loops since these targets were set mean that we now need to reduce CO2 by 90% ASAP.  These targets are non negotiable: we cannot debate with physics, chemistry and biology. We must eliminate fossil fuel use within our lifetime and create a renewable energy revolution.  And jobs? The 60,000 people employed in the threatened Great Barrier Reef tourism industry out number those employed in our coal industry by a factor of three.  The loss of the reef would also lose us $4.9 billion annually. Professor Ross Garnaut's draft report released in July 2008 predicted  a 92per cent decline by 2100 in irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin; a reduction of at least 7.8 per cent in real wages; and a $425 billion loss in potential gross domestic product.  The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics predicts if we don't act on climate change, Australia's exports of key commodities will fall by up to 63 per cent in 2030 and by up to 79 per cent in 2050.  As for peak oil* - a recent report suggests that petrol could soon cost $8 a litre.  And the shrinking number of deniers? In a 2006 letter to Esso, the UK arm of ExxonMobil, the Royal Society cited its own survey which found that ExxonMobil in 2005 distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society said misrepresented the science of climate change. 

 ... And from the Australian government on Climate Change in 2008:
Carbon pollution is causing climate change, resulting in higher temperatures, more droughts, rising sea levels and more extreme weather.  The 12 hottest years in history have all been in the last 13 years and IPCC scenarios project temperature rises between 1 and 6.4 degrees over the next century relative to 1980–99.  Without action, scientists predict up to 20 per cent more drought months over most of Australia by 2030, more intense and damaging cyclones and rising sea levels with serious impacts on:
    * coastal property in Australia
    * low lying Asian mega cities
    * the Pacific Islands.
With one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia's economy and environment will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by climate change if we don't act now.  It threatens Australia's food production, agriculture, water supplies, as well as icons like the Great Barrier Reef, the Kakadu wetlands and the big tourism industries they support. Today we are already beginning to feel the economic and environmental costs of inaction on climate change. But if we delay action any longer, these costs will be felt even more by not only our generation, but also our children and grandchildren.

First, climate change is the greatest long-term threat faced by humanity. It could cause more human and financial suffering than the two world wars and the great depression put together. All countries will be affected, but the poorest countries will be hit hardest. Secondly, the costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of action.

- David Miliband, Secretary of State for the Environment, statement to House of Commons in response to ‘The Stern Review’ into the economics of climate change, 30 October 2006

“It is likely that the recent speed of global economic growth has increased the risk that the world is rapidly moving into an era of large scale climate change.”

- Professor Ross Garnaut, 2006

"It has been estimated that the fringe benefits tax concession on company cars produces about as much greenhouse pollution as a medium-sized coal-fire power station."

- Professor Ian Lowe, 2008  

 * The only subtraction I would make to this piece is that now we are drilling for oil in the ice free arctic and processing the tar sands, peak oil is looking further off. Which of course makes the situation worse. 

I could nuance other parts of the piece as the science has change and improved, but it's worth presenting as a whole.  

Nature: our health and economic inspiration

"We ARE nature. We live in community, not alone and any sense of separateness that we harbour is illusion."

~ Paul Hawken

Read on to understand our deep connection to nature - and how that understanding can revolutionise your business, your home and your health. 

If our civilisation is to thrive again we need a nature revolution - a massive increase in our understanding of, our relationship with and our connection to nature.

So how connected to nature are we? Many of us seem to think that the 'environment' is a thing 'out there', somewhere else.  A place we go to see on our holidays. We couldn't be further from the truth. You see, we are nature. Let's dive deep and see:

First stop is the air. All of the air on earth mixes completely within one year, which means that air from where you stand could be anywhere on the planet in a years time. So take a deep breath. Now breathe out. If you stand anywhere on the planet in a year's time you will breathe atoms from that breath back into your body. Think about that. Each breath we take contains atoms from the breath of every person who has ever lived. It follows that every breath you make will be breathed by every human being who is yet to live.  Now, imagine that air inside your body, flowing to every cell. Our lungs, flattened on the ground would be tennis court sized. There is no point where we can say the air ends and our bodies begin. We live in a matrix of air that flows in and out of every living species of plant and animal. Now, imagine one element in a breath. Every time we breath out, we breathe carbon dioxide. That CO2 goes into the leaves of every tree and plant on the planet. As David Suzuki says, we are the air. Whatever we do to the air, we do to ourselves. We need clean air to survive. 

Second stop is soil. The structure of every cell in our bodies comes from the food we eat, which comes from the living soil. Each handful of soil contains more living things than there are stars in the sky. We are what we eat. We need healthy soil to survive. 

Next stop: water. We are 60% water by weight. That water is the same water that has cycled the planet for eons, passing through dinosaurs, ice caps, underground rivers, plants, animals, cities and towns. We are, quite literally, made of water and a living part of the water cycle.  We need clean water to survive. 

Next stop: life. Our bodies are made up of 100 trillion living cells. 90% of those cells are microorganisms, fungi and bacteria. As Paul Hawken says, 90% of what makes us human is not human at all. Our bodies are a community of living things utterly dependent on each other. We need clean air, soil and water to survive.

Last stop: Energy. All the energy that our bodies' use comes from the sun, through our food via photosynthesis. Each second, inside our bodies, a septillion (that's a one with 24 zeros) cellular events take place, a number greater than the total number of stars, planets and asteroids in the known universe.  Can you imagine that? 

And speaking of stars, every atom in our bodies formed in the heat furnace of a dying star a few billion years ago. As Carl Sagan said, we are star stuff harvesting sunlight. We are solar powered.

So we are nature. There is no separation. We rely on an abundance of life to clean the air, the water and soil, the building blocks of life. 

Now let's take a selfish view and delve a bit deeper. We know that we are nature. But what benefits are there of reconnecting with nature? What do we gain from going outside and into the park? What does the research tell us?

Well, we now know that, in hospitals, patients who can see nature, even pictures of nature, have faster recovery times. We know that simply looking at images of nature makes us more positive and more emotionally stable.  We know that the presence of plants, natural light and fresh air in office buildings boosts productivity and lowers building running costs. We know that children who play in and eat dirt become more intelligent. We know that deep childhood experiences in nature lead to a greater chance of being an adult genius. We know that nature is calming and improves levels of wellbeing.  We know that the part of the brain where insight occurs is directly linked to the part that responds to the complex systems we see in nature.  We know that time spent in a forest over two consecutive days can lead to a 50 percent increase in the activity of cancer-fighting white blood cells. We know that people who live within one kilometre of a park or a wooded area experience less anxiety and depression than those who live farther away from green space. We know that gardening reduces depression.  We know that being in a natural place increases the quality of our sleep. We know that time in nature is associated with a decrease in blood pressure, heart rate and sympathetic nerve activity. We know that time spent in nature reduces stress, increases attention and increases connectivity in the brain, allowing us to focus more efficiently. We know that time in open natural space drastically reduces the symptoms of ADHD and behavioural disorders in children and that wilderness therapy has been shown to aid addiction and trauma recovery. 

So, being in nature is quite good for our health and wellbeing. But does our connection to nature go even deeper than that? David Attenborough was once asked when he developed his love of the natural world. He answered with a laugh that the question was wrong. He did not 'develop' a love of nature. He was born with it. He wondered how others are conditioned to lose that love. EO Wilson first coined the term "Biophilia", our innate love of, connection to and desire to be in nature. We evolved over millennia with deep connections to nature. In the last moment in history we have lost that connection and whether we know it or not, we need it back. 

Ok, so we are nature and we need to be in contact with nature. Fair enough. All well and good. But, "What about the economy?" I hear you say. You know, the economy we created that is divorced from, competes with and actively destroys nature? The one that is wreaking havoc with the weather, filling holes in the ground with our chucked out stuff, polluting our rivers and soil with toxins, destroying forests, filling oceans with plastic, depleting topsoil and losing species of life at a rate not seen before in history? The damage is so bad that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that the ability of the earth to sustain future generations of humans can no longer be guaranteed. Every living system is in decline. A third of all assessed species of life are now listed as threatened. Is all this the economy's fault?

Let's think for a moment about what nature does for our economy for free, whilst the economy tears nature apart.  Forests clean water for free. Bees pollinate and therefore feed us for free. 25% of our medicines come from nature. Forests contain disease - when they are cut down, surrounding human villages become more exposed.  In fact, a  1997 study valued the economic services that nature provides for free at three times the size of the global economy. The figure, whilst economically impressive, is a nonsense, of course. Without these services, we would have no economy. Clean air, soil, water and pollination are not exactly services we could do without. 

The economy needs to come home. The first step is to rule out Mars. Can we just do that now? Let's just assume that we decide to stay here on Earth.  So, can we create a different kind of economy?  Are there great economic possibilities for a nature inspired and nature restoring economy?  

It turns out, that with a bit of humility and an eye for design, we could learn quite a bit from nature. We know that nature has developed better sonar than we can, in bats, dolphins and other creatures. We know that mother of pearl self-assembles in the ocean and is three times stronger than our ceramics. That spider silk is stronger than steel. That some beetles can pull water from the air and survive in the desert. We know that mangroves remove salt from water without the need for masses of power. That butterflies get colour from shape, not pigments. That nothing sticks to a lotus leaf because of its nano-rough structure. That some sharks have a similar nano structure to their skin and no bacteria can attach. That a swallow can fly over an ocean with no fuel.  That muscles adhere to rock underwater like no glue we have created. That a million locusts can swarm together with no collisions. That ants and bees create incredibly efficient transport routes and communication lines. That termite mounds maintain a constant 20 degree temperature without electricity. 

Nature is a treasure trove of design success. As Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry points out, there is 3.8 billion years of design success in nature. Bad designs are extinct.  And all of these amazing species found in nature are doing the amazing things that they do whilst looking after the place that will look after their offspring. As Janine says, life creates the conditions conducive to life.  Could we not have an economy that works like that? If it's good for life, we do it.

So, what principles can we build a new economy upon that will enable us to stay here forever?  What principles does nature use? The Biomimicry folks have suggested these:

  • Evolve to Survive
  • Adapt to Changing Conditions
  • Be Locally Attuned and Responsive
  • Use Life Friendly Chemistry
  • Be Resource Efficient (materials and energy) 
  • Integrate Development with Growth

So, can our businesses or homes follow these principles? Well, what do you think? It's what the rest of life on earth does ...

Finally, I offer these two lines of thought, borrowed from the Sustainability Street Approach:

Go outside more often. Be in nature. Find a special spot and keep going back. Put plants inside. Plant a native garden. Watch the sunrise. Reconnect! It's good for your mind, your body and spirit.

Make the EnviroLinks: Connect your way of life and the natural world. The types and amounts of energy, water, waste and fuel that we consume at home and at work are impacting on nature's ability to sustain life. Do everything you can to reduce your impact.  The crazy thing is that reducing water, waste, power and fuel all save money. The amazing thing is that with a bit of thinking, learning, planning and action, a 50-90 percent reduction in water, waste, power and fuel is very doable. 

So, are you ready for the nature revolution? Whatever you do, you're doing it to yourself. 

The business costs of waste and pollution

For years we’ve been receiving, paying and then filing the power, waste, fuel and water bills without further thought. Those days are over. Power bills are set to triple by 2020, landfill costs have tripled and will almost double again by 2014. Water and fuel bills are on the rise. It just so happens that these costs are also the major environmental impacts of any business.

So how much can we save by reducing the bills? We achieved the following at Jimmy Possum:

“Ian helped us set goals and targets, benchmark our environmental impact, set up key environmental actions and educate all staff. Ian’s mentoring and leadership set us on a journey which has seen us achieve significant energy savings across the business. Indeed, we reduced the energy bills at our stores by an average of 15%. In one store this equated to a saving of $16k over a 12 month period.”

- David Hughes, Manager, Sustainability Program, Jimmy Possum Furniture

These savings don’t just happen if you work with us at Live Ecological either! VECCI’s ‘Grow Me the Money’ program has found that small business participants save $6,600 annually. This is no surprise: an urn running 24 hours a day can cost upwards of $3000 a year to run - a $50 timer that switches it off overnight can therefore save $1500 a year. Potential savings are everywhere, simply because we haven’t looked for them before. With careful planning, reducing these costs pays for the longer journey to a sustainable business.

The time is ripe to leap onto the path to sustainability, save money and reduce waste and pollution. And the other benefits? Want more you ask? With the fast-approaching green economy and the awareness of customers on the rise, you can increase market share; help create history; improve workplace culture; increase productivity; avoid fines; lead your industry; improve your products or services; win awards; and feel good.

Globally, organisations are re-imagining themselves to exist healthily within
the natural systems and cycles on the planet. The possibilities are endless and wonderful - for business, for society and for ecology.

A weblink ... Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface on the business case for sustainability

A book ... Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce, the seminal business/ sustainability book for the past 20 years.

Eliminating the Concept of Waste

Ok, so waste is the bin out the back yeah? We fill it, they take it away. Somewhere else ... 

That was our business philosophy in the second half of last century. Of course, from an environmental viewpoint we've known it wasn't  good for ages. Everything that goes to landfill ends up in the air, water or soil. It doesn't go away. There is no away. A few years back we discovered the Pacific Garbage Patch, a ten metre deep heap of plastic the size of a continent in the pacific ocean.  That's bad news for pacific gulls (don't click if you're squeemish). A polystyrene cup takes 500 years to breakdown, in which time 17 generations of our family have passed. That's a fair old legacy for a thing that keeps a drink warm for two minutes!

The bin out the back might be our physical link with waste, but the problem runs a lot deeper than that. It is estimated that 70 bins have already gone to landfill to mine and make the waste in our bin. If all the household bins in Bendigo were full, a weeks worth of garbage would pile 6m high on the Queen Elizabeth Oval. Multiply that by 70 and it would be very tricky to play football. 

From a business point of view we pay for the stuff to be made, then we pay to throw it away. We pay twice!  The business case for change is very good.  Dupont buildings division has reduced waste to landfill by 100% in three years. A reduction of 81 million tonnes. And the most surprising part? The project is cost positive: they actually make money providing resources to others. The Dupont Zero Waste target is shared by many other businesses

The journey to zero waste has five parts: 

1. Understand what you are sending to landfill. Look in the bin. Open up some bags and get dirty (or click here for a Vic Government waste assessment fact sheet). You will be surprised at what you find. In many places at least a third of the waste is just in the wrong bin.

2. Understand your waste system from workstation to the skip. Who is in charge? Who moves the waste around? Who collects it from you? What are you paying? Is your system consistent from workstation to skip? Do your employees use it properly? What can be recycled? 

3. Get behind the march towards zero waste and put a clear, effective system in place to reduce and divert waste from landfill. Take away landfill bins where possible, improve recycling systems, improve your system out the back and change purchasing patterns. 

4. Clearly communicate the system and the goal with staff, suppliers and customers. Run a waste reduction campaign for the first few months after implementing the new system.

5. Keep your eyes on the ball - change takes time and lapses happen.

One sentence: If you aren't for zero waste, then how much are you for?


The economy is in transition. We must open our eyes.

We are not having an economic downturn or a recession. Put quite simply, the 19th century economy is finished and we haven't yet noticed.

Today the city of Detroit announced that it is bankrupt. Detroit had a lot of huge 19th century industries that have recently disappeared. Now there is a lot to its story over many years and there is also a lot of exciting new economic development happening in Detroit. But the comment that pricked my attention appeared on Richard Florida's on twitter feed via a David Frum: "Right question about Detroit: not what happened to old jobs, but why did it fail to create new?"

I think Einstein new the answer to that question: "you cannot solve a problem using the mindset that created it."

In Australia we have largely ridden out the global financial downturn because of a massive stroke of lucky timing - the Chinese boom. The rest of our economy is just as stressed as everywhere else.  And now that the resources boom is over and global market doesn't want our coal anymore, will we head down the same track as Detroit? Or will we invest in the new economy that is bursting to get out?

The interesting thing about the new economy is that it is largely good for people and the planet as well.  Don't worry about the word sustainability. Economic progress is going that way anyway if we just open our eyes and let it emerge. 

I'll give you three examples: 

Ford recently announced that they were shutting down operations in Australia, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in tax payer handouts. Woe! cried the media. Our 19th century car industry should be helped out! What about the workers! Well excuse me for raising my hand and saying the unthinkable, but the age of the large personal car is over. We just haven't opened our eyes and seen it yet. And what if we did? Well Ford stopped making the small cars that people want a long time ago, Gen Y don't even want a car, European cities are charging them to enter and peak car use in fifteen major cities around the world was 2004. Car sharing and carpooling are exploding in popularity around the world as the web creates new trustworthy social networks in the sharing economy. Rapid public transport systems are replacing freeways the world over, walkability and cycling have been found to boost local economies and reduce health budgets. The transport economy is in transition. So it is laughable that in Victoria Australia, our government, which hasn't invested properly in any of these new economy growth areas, wants to build new freeways and refuses to release their non existent business case for it.  If they would just open their eyes they would see that there isn't one. Personal cars are finished as our main form of transportation. Ask  Copenhagen, Guangzhou and Korea.  All of these new economic opportunities also happen to be good for our health, our planet, tourism, urban design and the liveability of our cities.  

Our energy sector has fared no better. In Victoria we have basically banned wind energy (which is growing exponentially worldwide) wherever the wind blows and whenever a person within two kilometres doesn't like it. Hundreds of millions of dollars in twenty-first century investment has gone elsewhere whilst our government attempts unsuccessfully to sell our 19th century brown coal to a world hurriedly creating carbon constrained economies. We must open our eyes. The exponentially growing solar industry has been hit with government subsidy roller coaster ride contempt. Imagine trying to set up a business in that environment ... they are lucky that 10% of Australian homes wanted to put them up in a ten year period.  Politicians typecast solar as the playthings of rich inner city folk, when rural low income homes have been the people installing them.  And then there is energy efficiency. A recent report found that Australia’s poor energy efficiency investment will cost $26 billion in GDP by 2030.  Our energy companies have been privatised and have spent billions gold plating our 19th century power grid based on burning coal in Gippsland, when economic growth and energy employment now lies in smart, networked, distributed renewable energy infrastructure. If we opened our eyes and looked we would see that our future prosperity in energy is also good for our local economies, our health and the planet.

Then there is our forests. Why would we cut down our Victorian forests at a loss? They clean and store our water, saving billions of dollars in treatment costs, they clean the air, they stabilise the soil, they provide habitat for our faunal emblem the critically endangered Lead Beaters Possum, they are a potential ecotourism dream an hour from Melbourne and they pull and store huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Our government is cutting them down at a loss to make pulp to preserve this antiquated 19th century industry. If we opened our eyes we would understand their economic value to our state, let alone the ecological and aesthetic value.  In Tasmania, why would we try to build a pulp mill when no one wants one? International investors fled the project because the economics and the ethics did not and could not ever add up.  The government was still trying to flog the thing when it was a business basket case. And why? Because it could not see beyond the 19th century economy. They did not open their eyes.

When Tony Abbott says "We need to cut green tape" what he means is: I want to prop up the old economy. Well the old economy is struggling to survive because it's product is unsaleable, because it is being disrupted, because it is being outperformed and because it cannot afford to pay for its pollution costs.  If we opened our eyes we would see a great deal of a different kind of economic growth. A kind that respects people, place and planet.

So my final question is this: Do you really support economic progress or are you impeding it on ideological grounds? 

My vision for a future Prosperous Bendigo

Developed for the inaugural "Outside the Square" event in Bendigo. The video of the talk can be found here.

Welcome to Bendigo, March 27 2036.  My name  is Ian McBurney. I'm 58 and just became a grandfather. 

My son Tadhg has a screaming baby and doesn't know what to do with it and I have schadenfreude and I can't help him anyway because I've forgotten what it's like. 

I'm on cloud nine. The Australian cricket team finally made 200 in an innings yesterday, Carlton football club has folded, Karen Corr has been the mayor for twenty years and I finally have a hover board. 

So here is a day in my life. 

I woke up, got out of bed and gave my aging wife Claire a big kiss. 

I head out the front door and recycle a bottle. I laugh as I remember having a red bin. Nothing is designed for landfill anymore. Just like in nature, everything is designed for reuse and recycling. The Eaglehawk recovery shop employs hundreds to make inputs for industry. 

I walk to work. On the way I pass three local cafes, two parks, chat to five neighbours. I'm passed by hundreds of bikes and plenty of shared electric vehicles that I don't have to cross paths with. 

Remember owning cars? They sat there for 23 hours unused and we paid $10k for the privilege. I'm a member of Bendigo Carshare, Bendigo Carpool and a Bendigo person to person car sharing network. I now use a car twice a week and I don't judge my value by my car brand, but by how little I need it. 

As I walk I marvel at the lack of noise and bad smells as the web based goods hub at Marong now transfers goods in and around the town outside peak travel times in electric trucks and during peak times on scooters and bikes.  In real time.

There are veggies in front gardens, seats in nature strips where I can have a rest and the native gardens and wildlife corridors are gorgeous. We have really done well at bringing the bush that we love back into the city that we love.

As I walk there are children playing and I remember the first Child Friendly City plan when the city was dangerous for kids and made them car bound and increased obesity. 

As I walk I can't help noticing the glint off the north facing roofs as every house has replaced tiles and tin with a roof structure that collects solar energy. Sports clubs, council buildings, businesses and community halls are now part of the locally owned virtual solar power station. The rest of our power comes from the huge solar thermal plant up north and the three community owned wind farms in the surrounding small towns. 

I walk past three energy efficiency vans heading to businesses and houses. We have cut energy use by a third and created jobs in the process. 

I arrive at work at 10am. We all realized one day that we were working ridiculous hours doing meaningless work just to buy shiny stuff that then made us unhappy until we threw it in the bin. We now have more jobs for more people in more meaningful work. 

Thankfully the economic craziness of celebrity billionaires like Clive Palmer sank with titanic 2. Gina was on board, along with the Institute for Public Affairs and bank execs with bonuses over 30 million.  We had a bad case of Affluenza there for a while but we worked hard and we got over it. 

The sharing economy is thriving. Why own disposable stuff when we can share quality? My online reputation now matters big time. Without it life would cost a fortune. I share tools, food, shed space and my house on airbnb. 

Our economy and our environment and our society now thrive together. We grow local jobs, community, health and a diversity of ideas. 

Our manufacturing sector is remaking local things and exporting biomimetic products to the world. Bendigo Pottery is making self assembling ceramics at room temperature after learning from mother of pearl and Jimmy Possum is growing tables (water only once a week!) and our many small entrepreneurial businesses are collaborating and growing together in coworking hubs.

Our open spaces, lack of cars, seasonal food system and depth of community connections made much of our 2014 hospital redevelopment unnecessary. Half the building is now set aside for preventative health. 

Our environment is in recovery. We lost a lot and we will pay for it for centuries with extreme weather and impoverished ecosystems that struggle to provide clean air, water and soil.  We lost a lot but we didn't lose it all. 

Our economy is now designed around natures operating system:

Local and connected

Evolves to survive

Adapts to changes

Resource and energy effective

Life friendly. 

Integrates development with growth: self organising and bottom up. 

After work I catch the bus home. I have a conversation with a neighbour and we organise a BBQ. 

And then I'm at home. I love my home. My home creates excess renewable energy, collects, treats and celebrates its own water flows, has eliminated the concept of waste creates habitat for local native plants and animals, produces fruit and vegetables, celebrates natural light and air flows, releases oxygen, sequesters carbon and gains insulation from the living roof.  It's my favourite place. 

As I jump into my PJs I think about the effort we made to create our new city and economy. It was an amazing open ended, collaborative, ideas and action generating human movement. 

We realized that incrementalism was for losers. 

that top down was so 1850s, 

that change was everybodies job 

and that if enough of us WERE the Joneses the city would thrive and jump on board. 

And we realized that John Cage was right when he wondered why people were frightened of new ideas when we're scared stiff of the old ones. 

In 1890 the Bendigo gaslight board discussed electricity and their minutes record a hearty discussion about risk. They determined that electric lights would only ever be valuable for lighting large spaces like parks. 

In 1890 Lord Byron stated that heavier than air flying machines were impossible. 

In 1950 the IBM CEO said we would only ever have a global market for six computers. 

It makes me imagine the Easter Island Progress Association and their slogan "more statues = more growth"

Lets not be on the wrong side of history. 

Info? Tech? Meh! It's all about people.

I realised a while back that we have the technology (solar thermal, electric cars, LED bulbs, bike paths) and the information (google sustainability!) to create a sustainability led economy, society and organisation. What we do not have are the skills to enable a culture of change.  The brochure, the lecture, campaign and the technology only tack on trap (like whacking a tank on the side of an unsustainable building) have had their day. We need to understand people and change. Community development theory, the latest neuroscience and education principles are the key. All else follows. 

If those passionate about our planet and creating a sustainability led economy really cared, they would spend time understanding how to enable, inspire and teach others. As David Orr said once, we need to make this a party that everyone wants to come to.  

People skills seem like they are innate in some people and not in others. But they are skills that can be learnt, like we learn a musical instrument or a new computer game.  

What if the Mayans were right?

Ok, so the dooms dayers were obviously wrong. I didn't see fireballs, just fireworks and unless this is a dream I'm still alive and the world is still here. The Mayan calendar was  wrong.  

But what if they weren't talking about the end of the world but the end of an era? What if 2012 turns out to be a new dawn? Let's entertain that idea for a minute.  

Economic growth at the expense of society and the earth's natural systems pretty much died by 2012. That old economy made the super rich sickeningly rich and cut everyone else's unemployment benefits. It sold democracy and the media to the highest bidder, made us obese, turned sport into a business, fed off our insecurities, increased rates of depression, cancer  and attention deficit disorder.  It replaced community with cars, urban sprawl and reality TV. In short the old economy attempted to make the smartest animal in history into a stupid, unhappy and obese consumer of shiny disposable stuff (present company excepted of course).  It also trashed the climate, increasing floods, bushfires, extreme temperatures, raising sea levels and melting ice caps. It wrecked the air in China, where all out disposable stuff is made. It stopped a third of our major rivers flowing to the sea. It put mountains of plastic in every ocean. It took the fish from the sea and resulted in one third of all other species of life being listed as threatened.    

So the question is, does anyone still believe that the GFC was a one off recession?  

What if it turns out that 2012 (ish) was the dawn of a new economy? One that enables us to grow all that matters? Like meaningfully lived lives of fulfilled potential. Like regenerating natural systems. 

The new economy is on the cusp. Renewable energy, whole foods, local foods, biomimicry, ecologically sustainable design, the slow movement, energy efficiency, the sharing economy, electric cars (and many more) are all positive economic growth stories that grow our health, our economy, lessen our impact and make our cities and homes more liveable.

If we want more of this new economy we need to get involved in change making, to spend our money (including super) like people and the planet matter, to slow down a bit and to call the old economy and all its manifestations for what it is. A tired, broken mess.  Let's not buy into it anymore.

Wonderland Window 1980 - 2020

The Real Word: Half the arctic sea ice melts, one third of species listed as threatened, the climate heading for six degrees of warming, plastic spread through every ocean and 99% of everything in the economy in a landfill within six weeks.

Wonderland: The media is obsessed with topless Kate Middleton, politics debates whether gay marriage could lead to bestiality and the people are doing jobs they hate so that meaning can be derived buying the latest shiny disposable stuff, bigger houses and international travel. 

I think 1980 to 2020 will come to be known as the Wonderland Window. A time when we partied on with wilful ignorance and deep unhappiness while it was chillingly clear that our lifestyles of excess were on a crash course with the operating system of our planet. 

How can two such worlds exist at the same time? I think it's a combination of two things. One is industry funded politics, media, universities, think tanks, sport and culture. It is estimated that the oil/coal industry for example has spent 100 million in the last decade to create the appearance of doubt about climate change.The second factor is that we have replaced community with consumption. We used to derive meaning from community, family, song, togetherness, connection to country. We have lost this and in it's place we madly attempt to define our self worth and success through our ability to spend big at the shopping centre. Advertising cuts us deep. We compare ourselves to vacuous celebrities who are famous for being famous.  

When someone in the Wonderland Window mentions climate change everyone averts their eyes and feels uncomfortable and then puts up the blockers yelling: "Stop it you party pooper! Let's go shopping!" Politics and the media can keep spinning the lies because we want so much to believe them. 

It's tough to turn this around. It requires a deep understanding of culture change and the human brain. Of education and of community development. And as it is cultural it requires a lot of conversations and value sharing. 

And we all know that everyone in Wonderland has to come home eventually. What about you?