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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Reflecting on levels of change

      Recently I've been reading a series of threads about climate change in which people are asking questions about what it would take for their international organisation to develop a shared understanding of the significance of climate change and a collective sense of appropriate actions to take. 
      It's been fascinating.
      At present I'm just ruminating about the many different levels on which action can take place - and where it is and where it isn't taking place. It seems to me at this stage of my ruminations that actions can be individual and collective, and also at different scales. 
      At the individual scale, the scale of ordinary people, plenty of committed individuals are already taking action, whether it's on one front like cycling in preference to using a private car, or on many fronts, such as also growing their own vegetables, being as energy and water efficient as they can, reducing their purchase of new items and minimising the amount of solid waste they create. These actions do make a difference and better still, they also encourage others to do the same - not least in the sense of overcoming the all-too-human tendency to apathy, cynicism and despair in the face of an issue that just seems too big. In many places we see groups of such individuals coming together in collective action like creating farmers markets and setting up Transition Towns. These also can make a substantial difference in reduced carbon emissions.
      At the institutional scale, again we see that growing numbers of institutions both public and private, are doing everything they can to reduce their own carbon footprint and be as socially, ecologically and financially responsible as they possibly can. They might also take some form of collective action by joining a responsible business association, working along their own supply chain or working with other institutions in their local geographical community. 
      At the sector scale, we can see examples of collective action by institutions working together with others in their sector, for example, green offices, green retail, green paper manufacturing, green shipping and the rest - each sector working with others to address the issues and opportunities they all face. This magnifies the results of their members' individual efforts.
      Still larger groups of institutions form at the global scale, with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and many, many more.
      One major sector that seems to be missing in action at both the individual and collective scale is government. Some individual governments are looking at using indicators of sustainable development and happiness indices - but for the vast majority, it's GDP and growth-focused business as usual. And of course we repeatedly witness failures of governance at the international scale when it comes to climate change treaty efforts.
      This is immensely frustrating when it's clear that governments can make a difference: when they raise the bar for environmental compliance, the result is innovation. As Michael Porter and Claas van der Linde said in a 1995 Harvard Business Review article, "How an industry responds to environmental problems may be a leading indicator in its overall competitiveness ... Only those companies that innovate successfully will win. A truly competitive industry is more likely to take up a new standard as a challenge and respond to it with innovation."
       Perhaps after all Paul Hawken was right when he famously said, in his 1992 book, The Ecology of Commerce, "Business is the only mechanism powerful enough to reverse global environmental and social degradation."
      Individuals and institutions are doing it. When will our governments catch up, and bring the groundswell of unwilling players up to the peak of the wave that the best of us are surfing?


Monday, June 17, 2013

Honour well-deserved for Nganeko Minhinnick, environmental champion

      Māori, New Zealand's indigenous people, are often both the first and last to stand for environmental values in this country. Let me share one of my earliest experiences of the immense value for everyone in this country of Māori environmental kaitiakitanga (guardianship or stewardship).
      Every June on the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, the New Zealand government recognises citizens whose work has made a difference in some positive way to the community. This year, Ngāneko Minhinnick of Waiuku was appointed to be a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to Māori and conservation.
      It's an honour that is richly deserved. I first encountered Dame Nganeko back in the 1980s when I was a very junior water resources scientist with the then Auckland Regional Water Board, now part of the new Auckland Council.
      In 1975, the Treaty of Waitangi Act set up the Waitangi Tribunal as a commission of inquiry to provide formal legal and political opportunities for Māori to seek redress for breaches by the Crown of the guarantees set out in the Treaty of Waitangi.
      On behalf of all the hapu of Waikato–Tainui, Nganeko Minhinnick brought what became known as  the Manukau claim, concerning the Manukau Harbour and its environs. The claim, Wai-8, alleged that, by failing to protect the Waikato–Tainui hapu in the use, ownership, and enjoyment of their lands and fisheries, the Crown had not met its Treaty responsibilities. And, further, that Crown policies in regard to discharges and water rights had caused ‘a serious and continuing deterioration in the quality and quantity of seafoods available to the Waikato–Tainui hapu’. The claim sought recommendations that the bed of the Manukau Harbour and the control of its waters be revested in the hapu; that a moratorium be imposed with respect to the granting of water rights affecting the harbour until such time as the ancestral and Treaty rights of the hapu had been investigated and protected; and that the Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967 be repealed and replaced by legislation that acknowledged, protected, and enhanced the rights of Maori people with respect to water and soil conservation matters.
      The decision was released in July 1985, and among its findings were recommendations that that legislation of the time be amended forthwith to enable Regional Water Boards to take into account Maori spiritual and cultural values when considering water rights applications, to provide specific reference to Maori fishing areas and the values pertaining thereto in the laws affecting water rights, to provide for the review and reformulation of existing water right discharges that have not been approved by Regional Water Boards to bring them into line with current standards and to require that Maritime Planning Schemes and Regional and District Planning Schemes have regard to the relationship of the Maori people, their values, culture and traditions to any land, waters or resources. These and many other recommendations vindicated the claim.
      Another recommendation was to the Ministers for the Environment and Works and Development, that following the release of the Manukau Harbour Maritime Planning Scheme, the Commissioner for the Environment be asked to advise on the formulation of a Manukau Harbour Action Plan with definite commitments to take positive measures for the restoration of the harbour having regard to the Tribunal's finding that the deterioration of the harbour seriously prejudiced the enjoyment of fisheries protected by the Treaty of Waitangi, and that positive action was needed more than policies of containment to remove that prejudice.
      The Auckland Regional Water Board didn't wait for the completion of that Planning Scheme - it set about scoping what a Manukau Harbour Action Plan might look like and gaining funding for a three-year Action Plan to “set up a comprehensive water quality management framework for the Manukau Harbour and catchment to ensure the quality of the Harbour and its tributaries are suitable for a wide variety of uses for present and future generations".
      With the support of Pat Clapham, then Chair of the Water Board, and the other Board members, the project started in 1987 and finished in 1990. The Water Board took on specialist staff to look at urban and rural pollution, teamed up with Tainui and a range of research, government, community and business interests, and blitzed the entire Harbour and its contributing watersheds.
      The final report documented the state of the Harbour and its contributing streams at the start and end of the project and such was its success that it kept on its by then highly expert temporary staff and mainstreamed the Manukau approach into its work over the rest of the Auckland Region.
      Dame Nganeko was then enterprising enough to get herself elected onto the Water Board, and was able to carry on her mission of environmental improvement. I saw many people of goodwill who had previously been sceptical of Māori aspirations for the environment (but were too polite to say so to her face) realise that such improvements were not only technically and financially possible, but also widely beneficial to the community as a whole.
      Dame Nganeko's work in the Manukau is by no means her only achievement and she remains active in environmental protection. The Māori verb to "praise, pay tribute to, congratulate, eulogise, greet, thank, commend, acclaim, compliment, praise, acknowledge" is "whakamihi". Dame Nganeko has well-earned all such praise.

Click here to find out more about the Manukau Claim and see the decision.
Click here to see the newspaper article about Dame Nganeko's award.
Click here to find out more about the Treaty of Waitangi.
Click here for the online Māori dictionary.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The nature of cities - a collective blog on cities as ecological spaces

     Friend and colleague Mark Hostetler recently posted a blog about Conservation Developments with a unique web site called the Nature of Cities.  It is a blog space that hosts the thoughts on urban ecological spaces of a collective of writers from all over the world.
      Mark's recent contribution asks, "How functional is a conservation development in terms of conserving biodiversity?"  He defines conservation development as "an approach to the design, construction, and stewardship of a development that achieves functional protection of natural resources, while also providing social and economic benefits to human communities." 
     But how well do they work? Mark poses four key evaluation questions - and as someone who (it has to be said) almost nags her clients about monitoring and evaluation, I believe he's making an important contribution.
      Even better, his blog is lengthy enough to give a really thorough answer to his four questions. They are:

  1. What kinds of tree protection and natural area conservation strategies have been employed?
  2. Is there a long-term environmental education program for residents in the conservation development?
  3. Do the Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) address any environmental issues?
  4. What types of plants are used for landscaping within the conservation development?

      I've taken a good look at Mark's blog and the list of other postings - they look excellent.
      What questions can we ask about the ecological functionality and effectiveness of our own development projects?

Click here to read Mark's blog and on the links below to find out more about Mark's work. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Setting up the conditions for creativity

      A couple of weeks ago I spoke on innovation at a conference on that theme for the civil construction sector. One of the many fascinating things about creativity is its need for the right conditions before it can emerge - both in our brain and in our organisations.
      The brain is a very energy-hungry organ: just 2% of our body weight, it appropriates 20% of our energy intake to fuel its work. Yet oddly, when we're daydreaming or even just staring vacantly into space, its energy use is much higher than when we're intensively focused on a task. This intensive focus is important and productive, and when in that project execution mode, we feel satisfyingly efficient - but we're not necessarily being creative, as Gay Claxton noted many years ago in his marvellous book, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind.
      By contrast, when we're in "vacant" mode, a number of major areas in the brain start working together in what neuroscientists now call the "default network", when the brain seizes the opportunity to get back to its most important work - sifting, sorting and finding patterns in the vast amounts of sensory input that bombards us every day. It's not surprising, then, that brain science and studies of famous thinkers and modern innovators are leading us to the conclusion that this default mode is a key supporting condition for creativity to emerge.
      One example is that of the eminent German chemist Kekule, who for many years had been trying to work out the structure of the benzene molecule. Giving up on his research one winter's afternoon, he left his desk and sat in an armchair in front of the fire. Dozing off in comfort, he envisioned a snake with its tail in its mouth - and awoke to realise he'd solved the problem: the snake represented the benzene ring.
      Even with such insights, however, our moments of inspiration can wither and die without the right organizational support. It's too easy to think that bright ideas are all we need, but while they're necessary, they're not sufficient. Stephen Shapiro says that companies wanting to nurture creativity must dedicate a budget and set up supporting processes to bring bright ideas to maturation. Norman Chorn suggests organizations also need a CCO - a Chief Creativity Officer. This person needn't be burdened with the responsibility of being the source of all of a company's creativity, but he or she does need to understand and support the creative and entrepreneurial processes that Chorn and Shapiro talk about.
      So after several months of intense work leading up to the Frankfurt Book Fair, I'm about to give my default network some dedicated time by going on a week-long meditation retreat. And I'll be taking a notebook with me....

Find out more about Guy Claxton's thinking here. And click on their names to find out more about the work of  Stephen Shapiro and Norman Chorn.