How being mindful of pacing, resilience and community is bringing Oxford, U.K., into the low carbon future.
by Anne Augustine
Part of the DōShorts series
Having left my last corporate role as Sustainability Director at a global company at the end of 2011, where I had been advisor and even interim manager to other global businesses, it seemed to me to be far too hard. Far too hard to the point of irreversible personal cost. I was tired, disillusioned, and questioning more than I had ever questioned about whether those of us in the sustainability movement could even make a dent, let alone make lasting change happen.
And so 2012 was about nourishment – reading, sleeping, asking myself about what and where next. Staring at walls. A lot.
I trained as an executive coach. I wrote a DōShort. I learned some new words that now shape how I try to live my life – challenge, improvisation, resilience, human centred design, wholeheartedness and compassion. I immersed myself in a several thousand-year-old emerging movement called Mindfulness; and was lucky enough to be part of the first ever-public cohort of the Google-developed Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute leadership program.
And at the beginning of 2013 I started a new role as Programme Manager for Low Carbon Oxford – taking on not just the transformation of one organization, but an entire city.
Oxford is much like any other urban area – a complex system of people, infrastructure, communities of interest, institutions and history. Unlike most other urban areas, Oxford is the home of one of the world’s most iconic universities. Whatever Oxford does, it does it on a global platform. So it has to get it right; and be world class in the process.
Where do you start? How do you start? Friends jokingly suggested I should try reading my DōShort, The First 100 Days on the Job: How to Plan, Prioritise and Build a Sustainable Organization. Ha, ha, ha, they went. Ha, ha, ha I went. For a while, I didn’t look at my book. I thought – well, I wrote the book, I must intuitively know the content and be living the guidance?
And then it hit me – the underlying current of what I was trying to say in the book. And the lessons I needed to relearn:
Pacing. Resilience. Community.
Any kind of change, and especially change for a more sustainable future, is compelling. But not everyone sees the same urgency as you. Not everyone sees the abundance of opportunity as you. Not everyone sees the obviousness of change as you. And sometimes, things just take a lot of time because of the number of moving parts.
Oxford City has a goal to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020. Extending that goal into the County, home to over 600,000 people, clusters of science and research parks, over 100 large employers and thousands of small businesses, is by 2030.
Right now, Low Carbon Oxford works with 30 of these organizations in the City. And while the network accounts for more than 40 percent of the industrial and commercial footprint of the City and approximately 60 percent of the domestic footprint; it’s not the complete picture.
There’s a dual challenge: to encourage the network’s organizational members to deliver on their low carbon commitments, to collaborate and innovate. That’s a job in itself. And then there’s the gap between the 30 leading organizations, 300 communities and the thousands of SMEs who make up the whole footprint.
Low Carbon Oxford is a lean team with big ambitions. We’re going to have to take more time than we’d like. And all the time that we are reducing this footprint, Oxford continues to grow and develop economically and socially. What’s the environmental impact of that?
Pacing. Resilience. Community.
The Tipping Point
One person can initiate a movement. It’s happening all the time whether it is played out online or happening in the grassroots of communities. But a movement doesn’t accelerate overnight, it needs a tipping point.
For example, after 10 years of negotiation, a community group in West Oxford finally achieved the planning approval, local buy in and funding to install a micro hydro project that will generate enough green electricity for 50 homes, and create a £2million income stream for community projects.
Oxford PV, one of Oxford University’s many spinouts, has developed a new photovoltaic technology that has the potential to deliver low cost, efficient solar cells that can be incorporated into glass building facades. A genuinely disruptive technology invented here.
We need more of these stand out achievements – in community groups across the whole County, businesses and the third sector working together, and more innovative new businesses that can provide low carbon energy more cheaply, more easily and with fewer finite resources. As inspiring as these projects are, they’re not yet mainstream.
Pacing. Resilience. Community.
Change Requires Robust Action
Things just won’t go to plan, no matter how well defined that plan is. Sometimes that’s a good thing and the outcomes far exceed your expectations. Other times it, and you, are a disaster.
And leading change is lonely. Change only happens when people feel emotionally connected to that change. Until then, you are the lunatic tilting at windmills.
One year on from writing that DōShort, and actually using it myself as a guide for my own first 100 days as programme manager for Low Carbon Oxford, there is one overriding theme that stays with me.
More than anything, I now realize that change doesn’t happen without action. Even if you don’t know where to start. Start anyway.
In the absence of complete and perfect information you are still expected to lead and to act. It is the timing of decision making rather than the decisions per se that will set you apart. Harvard Business School academics Bob Eccles and Nitin Nohria call this “robust action” which “accomplishes short-term objectives while preserving long-term flexibility.”
Long Term Strategy
You need to act in parallel with the development of a longer-term strategy, and with large doses of uncertainty, and in the context of an organization (or municipality) that will be constantly shifting in response to internal and external stimuli.
- You need to listen and lead.
- You need to have a sense of true north and get the small stuff right.
That is multiplied by a huge factor when you’re talking about an entire city.
As I said: pacing, resilience, community.
About the Author
Anne Augustine (@convergency_uk) is a former senior sustainability leader for global businesses, including EDS/HP and Edelman. She is now program manager for Low Carbon Oxford, a citywide network focused creating an inclusive low carbon economy, and is also training as a business psychologist.
CSRwire readers can use code CSR15 to save 15% on Anne's book The First 100 Days on the Job: How to Plan, Prioritise and Build a Sustainable Organization or any other 90-minute read in the DōShorts Sustainable Business Collection. Personal subscriptions to the entire collection are also available.