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How carbon literacy makes a difference

An infographic sharing the small actions Fiona takes to reduce her carbon emissions

Probably like a lot of people, I sometimes wonder what I, as just one person, can really do to effect the change we need in the world. The news can be depressing – even overwhelming. It’s easy to fall into a fatalistic mood and think that nothing we do will really change anything.

Becoming Carbon Literate has given me a more optimistic view of things. At work, I’m surrounded by people who care about the challenges of climate change – and are doing something positive about it. I work closely with the Carbon Literacy Cartrefi Cymru (CLCC) consortium, a group of Welsh registered social landlords who came together to improve Carbon Literacy within their organisations by pooling their knowledge and resources. Cynnal Cymru worked with the Carbon Literacy Project to create a certified course tailored to the housing sector, and volunteers from each member organisation learned how to deliver it and then began rolling it out to their colleagues, providing the peer-to-peer training that is a key tenet of Carbon Literacy. I facilitate regular Community of Practice meetings for the consortium to provide a platform for support and networking, and the enthusiasm and hard work of the trainers are inspiring – and have so far resulted in more than 400 people becoming certified as Carbon Literate. With the consortium due to continue into 2023 and beyond, that number will continue to grow. As part of my own Carbon Literacy group pledge I’ve also been working with the Cynnal Cymru team to create content for our newsletter and social media, providing advice and tips on how everyone can reduce their daily carbon footprint.

Outside the office, I’ve been doing my best to reduce my own carbon footprint – and the training has given me the knowledge I need to make meaningful changes. It taught me that some of my preconceptions were wrong, and that something as simple as buying a new pair of jeans can have a huge carbon footprint. I’ve now restricted myself to only buying essential items of clothing, buying second hand if possible, and if not then choosing companies that have good sustainability policies. We’ve also just made the switch to a full electric car – it’s a bit of a step into the unknown, but should significantly lower our household’s carbon footprint. My individual Carbon Literacy pledge was to not take another commercial flight, but I’ve also become much more aware of the importance of the things I do every day. Taking a shower, making a cup of tea, even sending an email – everything we do has a carbon footprint, and thanks to the training, I understand much better now how to make changes to the little things that will have a much larger cumulative effect. The Carbon Literacy training bridges the gap between enthusiasm and knowledge, providing the keystone that informs what we do and the impact we can have. The choices I make now are far more informed, and I am confident that they are making a difference.

Find out more about our Carbon Literacy course

10 years of The Carbon Literacy Project

It was five years ago that I first met Dave Coleman, co-founder and director of the Carbon Literacy Project. He had come to Wales at the invitation of the then Director of the Size of Wales Project. They had met at the historic Paris COP summit where The Project was awarded TAP100 status. Dave presented the Carbon Literacy Project on a sunny morning to a small group of us in Cardiff. At that time, in 2016, the CL Project was only operating in Manchester and Scotland and Dave was looking for partners in other parts of the UK. I listened carefully, asked questions and then reported excitedly to my colleagues in Cynnal Cymru that I had found something that we simply had to get involved with.

We delivered our first Carbon Literacy course in 2017 and five years, 700+ trainees 200+ organisations and 1476 pledges later, I had the great pleasure to attend the tenth birthday party of the Carbon Literacy Project on Tuesday the 1st of November 2022 in Manchester.

In the early days after first meeting Dave, we worked together to introduce Carbon Literacy in Wales. Progress was slow at first but the recent exponential growth of the project in Wales is mirrored across the world. Globally the project is now on 43.5 thousand trainees and just under four thousand organisations engaged. Dave and colleagues have extrapolated the rate of growth and think a target of 1 million people trained could be reached by 2030 or earlier. Each month, the calculations push that target closer to 2022, month by month, as the enquiries, bookings and certifications continue to pour in.

I am very pleased to be able to say that I was the first certified Carbon Literacy trainer in Wales and that Cynnal Cymru was the first organisation in Wales to champion the project. We worked hard to establish it and prove its worth but hey look – this isn’t about me or us. Carbon Literacy is about everyone. We are delighted that more people are offering the training in Wales and as we say to all our clients, our role is to start you off. Ultimately Carbon Literacy works best when the trainee is being trained by someone like them…. When the conversations around climate change are embedded in the context of the participants and when actions are agreed in a collaborative atmosphere by peers challenging each other and holding each other to account. And everyone needs to get better at following up on the actions pledged and calculating/estimating the carbon savings that result.

Being in Manchester for the tenth birthday celebration felt like being part of a family. But every one of us there knew that while we could pause to savour the success, our pleasure could only be short lived. There is still an enormous mountain to climb. Global warming looms over us like a huge wave of destruction threatening everything we love and take for granted. There are powerful forces of ignorance and greed that push against the growing surge of citizen action and enlightened corporate commitment. People are asking us what we should be looking for from COP in Egypt. Our message is clear. Look for nothing. Look only to your own spheres of control and influence. Take care of your world. You are one of a growing number. Tipping points can be positive as well as negative and no-one knows which small action will start the avalanche or spark the revolution. The world does change for better as well as for worse. For one short evening in Manchester we smiled and enjoyed our achievements but the following day it was back to work. Indeed, some important colleagues missed the celebration because they were delivering evening Carbon Literacy training! This does not stop. It can not stop. Cynnal Cymru is ready to help you start your Carbon Literacy journey. We are waiting to hear from you.

Find out more about our Carbon Literacy and Train the Trainer courses

The Well-being Goals and business

At Cynnal Cymru, we turn sustainability aims into action and accelerate positive impacts towards a low carbon economy, a thriving natural environment and a fair and just society through the provision of advice, training and connections.

Earlier this year, we worked with the Future Generation’s Commissioners Office to identify how the Well-being Act was understood and being used as a sustainable development framework for some large private sector organisations in South Wales. Hafren Dyfrydwy, a provider of water and wastewater treatment services in North East and Mid Wales, invited us to discuss their ongoing contribution to the Well-being Goals at their Board Strategy Day.  Keen to work with leading organisations in Wales, we jumped at the chance.

On 4 October, Karolina and Sarah travelled to Hafren Dyfrdwy to participate in a dedicated workshop built around Hafren Dyfrdwy’s ongoing contribution to the Act; its relevance to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Company’s PR24 planning.  The Board also discussed approaches taken by other large companies in Wales to align their approaches to the Act.

The session was informative, as well as interactive and energetic. For example, we used the Future Generations Prompts as an catalyst to spark the Board’s strategic thinking and group brainstorming activities to map out future strategic activity and progress against each goal.

The workshop highlighted the excellent programme of activity that Hafren Dyfrdwy already does to contribute towards the Well-being Goals and prompted discussion around further opportunities to support their ongoing positive social and environmental impact. 

“Massive thank you to Sarah and Karolina for running a fantastic, creative and energetic session on the Well-being of Future Generations Act at our recent Board Strategy Day. It gave us real food for thought in terms of how we better bring to life our existing activities that supports the Act’s goals, and helped us think more broadly about areas where we can go further. Thank you again.”

(Tom Perry, Strategy Manager)

Dr Karolina Rucinska is our Sustainability advisor who often uses facilitation, research and workshopping methods in work with our clients. Sarah Hopkins is the director of Cynnal Cymru, with an expertise in fair work and sustainability in global supply chains and a firm understanding of the public and private sectors.

If you are interested in finding out more about our work, please contact us at shwmae@cynnalcymru.com to let us know how we can help.

Environmental volunteering: from nurturing nature to growing communities

Environmental volunteering is a great way to support the planet whilst giving back to your local community and there are many opportunities that can fit into your schedule.

Dr Karolina Rucinska, Sustainability Consultant at Cynnal Cymru shares her volunteering experiences with Oasis Cardiff and Good Gym:

This summer I will continue my work as a head gardener at Oasis Cardiff, a charity offering a warm Welsh welcome to asylum seekers and refugees. Oasis is based in a former church with a paved courtyard on a busy road full of takeaways. The area is littered and there are almost no trees or shrubs on the street apart from the ones at Oasis.  My job is to ensure they flower, attract birds and pollinators, and grow from strength to strength.  This year was particularly difficult because of the long periods of rain followed by drought but knowing that life is better with plants around us, keeps me motivated to do more.

When I am not looking at the garden at Oasis, I get involved with tasks at the Good Gym. It is a UK charity whose motto is, “Do good, get fit”. Instead of going to an actual gym, we walk, cycle or run to community centres, gardens, and allotments to do various tasks, from weeding and planting to building sheds and fruit cages. We are often referred to visit elderly people living alone who need help in their gardens too, so all in all, there are a lot of nature-based tasks.  It is hard work at times, but incredibly rewarding.

How to get involved:

Oasis Cardiff – whether to volunteer in the garden or to offer your teaching or cooking skills as a volunteer go to www.oasiscardiff.org/

Good Gym has currently got one branch in Wales, and it is in Cardiff. To get involved go to www.goodgym.org/

For nature-based activities in urban areas, I recommend getting in touch with Social Farms and Gardens or searching for a community gardening group via the RHS website.

Keep Wales Tidy – from organising a one-off clean-up to setting up a new community group, there really is something for everyone.

Volunteer with Keep Wales Tidy

Apply for a free nature garden for your local community.

You could also:

Attend a foraging workshop to truly realise how incredible plants are even in the middle of a city. I was lucky to be invited to one in Bute Park with Tizzy from Forager Cardiff, so I recommend getting in touch.

Take part in citizen science projects – The Springwatch website features a range of projects from hedgehog spotting to beetle sightings, you can contribute to find out how little or much wildlife is on your doorstep.

Make you garden a little more wildlife-friendly – the Gardeners Worlds website has some great tips for August.

What open source means to Afallen

Afallen is a small company that delivers sustainable projects in Wales. We aim to keep money and skills in Wales. We also champion and support open source ways of working as stated in our values:

“We champion the use of Creative Commons and open source solutions, and we embrace the right to online privacy, free from surveillance capitalism”

Without diving too deeply into the detail of Creative Commons (CC) or ‘free and open source software’ (FOSS), our ‘championing’ of the sector means that we want to see a world that is more supportive of a digital ‘commons’ that belongs to humanity, rather than the current headlong rush to grab digital assets, often creating huge wealth for the owners of companies, often at the expense of the privacy of individual users.

Without getting into the details of licensing, both FOSS and CC aim to generate public bodies of work (including code or software) that are available to everyone for free, and for any use. Perhaps the best-known example of this type of platform is Wikipedia.

Afallen is particularly interested in how the esoteric concepts that underpin a digital commons are embedded into how we work, and how they can add value for us and for the people and organisations we work with. In this article I will be focusing on FOSS, although CC has many similar benefits associated with it.

There are a number of different themes that are relevant to the perspective of a small business – equally applicable to small charities or not-for-profit organisations.

  • Values
  • Innovation
  • Learning and development
  • Cost
  • Anti-surveillance

Values

Firstly, as a values-based organisation, FOSS is strongly aligned with our corporate objectives of seeing a fairer, more prosperous and more environmentally friendly Wales. In fact, most of the Future Generations Goals are supported by using CC and FOSS products or platforms, in contrast to closed source or proprietary tools (see image).

As an example, most commercial products require an up-front or on-going licence fee to be paid in order to use the software. The software companies are generally based outside Wales, contributing towards economic leakage from Wales. FOSS software can usually be used for free, eliminating the barriers for payment to access it. 

FOSS products can be modified or adapted, particularly interesting in Wales where this functionality enables projects to be readily translated into Welsh; I am currently a volunteer translator for a number of open source projects, including Impactasaurus, Zulip, Open Collective and Pixelfed.

FOSS can allow older hardware to run more efficiently, reducing the need for frequent upgrades of computers, and reducing the environmental impact of organisational tech use.

Innovation

Entering the world of FOSS is to embrace a beautiful ecosystem of people, organisations and technologies that co-exist with the overall purpose of ensuring access to all for the code that is created under the FOSS umbrella.

There are literally millions of people working on FOSS projects globally at this instant; most of the code that you are using to read this blog post, from the operating system to the tech that allows the hardware to operate, will have an open source aspect. 

This huge and frenetic mass of activity is constantly propelling different software projects forward, and in ways that are often as advanced as their commercial counterparts. This process creates innovation, which is something that can be highly beneficial to small businesses.

Indeed, many FOSS projects are directed specifically at small businesses. The process of understanding your current organisational needs, and then figuring out how different FOSS components could offer alternative solutions, can result in surprising innovations, to the benefit of your organisation and clients. The ability to modify FOSS projects means that they can be altered for your organisation’s specific needs.

Learning and development

Closely tied to the innovation aspect is the opportunity to learn and develop skills associated with deploying FOSS platforms. As an example, my first experience with FOSS through business was to create a website for RenewableUK Cymru using WordPress. That led on to developing multiple websites for various events, and then onto hosting FOSS polling platforms for an awards programme.

Since leaving RenewableUK Cymru I have branched out further, and am now – despite not being a ‘coder’ – very comfortable deploying FOSS products such as online forums, direct messaging platforms, information repositories and peer-to-peer video calling. The astonishing thing for me is that this stuff is pretty straightforward; if you can copy and paste instructions, you can almost certainly do this yourself. Yet the implications are quite profound for me as an individual, building confidence and capacity that I am now also able to deploy pro-bono for the public sector and charity.

Cost

One of the most attractive features – for me anyway – about FOSS is that it is free at the point of use. This can make it a very interesting alternative to commercial applications.

Whilst there is a cost for hosting the software on your own server (I am currently paying about £5/month for each deployment of forum, messaging platform, information repository and website), those costs are generally a small fraction of the costs associated with the commercial equivalents.

For example, Slack, a popular messaging application, costs between £5-£10 per month per user for more than ‘basic’ use. An open source equivalent, Zulip, is totally free if self-hosted. For organisations seeking to reduce their overheads, these cost differentials can be alluring.

Anti-surveillance

Although this component of FOSS is not on the radar for many organisations, the ability to use software without ourselves or our customers being tracked online is an important consideration for Afallen. Many commercial platforms require users to abide by licence agreements that require them to surrender their digital privacy in exchange for the use of the platforms. Such requirements are not generally needed for FOSS software. 

As an example, our website is based on WordPress, the most popular and widely used blogging platform. We have eschewed third party add-ons that collect website visitor data, so when you view our website you know that nobody is tracking you. The social media feeds embedded on our website are Pixelfed and the Welsh version of Mastodon called ‘Toot.Wales’. Neither of them embed any tracking software on your browser when you visit.

Developing digital

If you’ve made it to the end of this article, you may still be scratching your head about how to start your FOSS journey. Here are some suggestions:

  • Send me a message or give me a ring – I am always happy to chat through ideas
  • Search the ‘Alternative to’ website for the software that you’re currently using, and see if there’s a recommended open source equivalent
  • If you don’t have the time or inclination yourself, recruit a Digital Degree Apprentice (it could be an existing staff member) to experiment and deploy FOSS assets on your behalf. The current Welsh Government programme, run by UWTSD, is an extremely attractive offer
  • Join meetings of the Senedd Cross-Party Group on Digital Rights and Democracy, which often discusses issues around FOSS in Wales

Transparency: An Introduction

With the rapid development of sustainability as a consumer priority, it is unsurprising that many businesses are prioritising increased transparency of their operations and their supply chain. As consumers will likely have noticed, many organisations are weaving ‘green’ narratives of environmentalism into their strategy and product development, but how beneficial is such marketing when an organisation’s core business model does not align with sustainable development principles?

This article is an introduction to transparency and its role within the sustainability agenda. It will briefly discuss what transparency is, the jargon and inaccessibility that characterises it, why it is important for businesses, and how it might be implemented. It will be the first in a wider series discussing the essential role of transparency in collectively working towards a sustainable future. The following pieces will touch on areas including self-reporting support for businesses, how transparency intersects with consumerism, and the complicated moral ethics surrounding transparency.

What is ‘transparency’?

The term ‘transparency’ within sustainability can vary depending on its context, and what exactly someone is attempting to measure, report and communicate. However, for the purpose of this article, I shall be referring to transparency as a ‘set of concrete criteria that is necessary to improve sustainability practice and standards…’ [Oxford Language]. Unfortunately, the ‘set’ criteria for transparency isn’t always so clear cut. It can be almost impossible to navigate the excessive terminology, frameworks, and information that exists out there without professional guidance.

Therefore, the next section will consider the prolific jargon that exists within such frameworks and information, and how the sustainable agenda may be inaccessible to both consumers and businesses with little to no prior knowledge. 

Jargon and Inaccessibility

As the global agenda of sustainability constantly develops, the integral need to intersect it with work to achieve equality becomes increasingly obvious. As certain academics are now beginning to explore, this link is essential in discussions around transparency, as the excessive jargon and overly complicated process of self-reporting can be weaponised against individuals to make the discussion inaccessible.

For example, look at the variance between the following terms:

  • Net zero – target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity by reducing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere [Oxford Language]
  • Carbon neutral – making or result in no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, especially as a result of carbon offsetting [Oxford Language]
  • Carbon negative – the reduction of an entity’s carbon footprint to less than neutral, so that the entity has a net effect of removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it adds [British Antarctic Survey]

With no clear understanding of these definitions, it isn’t surprising that many assume them to be the same thing and use such terminology interchangeably despite having very definable differences. As a result, these terms, which were intended to act as guiding frameworks, have become an added complexity to both those businesses trying to report their impact, and for consumers attempting to understand the impact of their decisions.

It is in this context that I introduce what is arguably the key term to understand such jargon: greenwashing. First coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, it refers to ‘a marketing tool used to deceive consumers into believing a product or brand is environmentally friendly.’

It originated due to hotels encouraging guests to reuse their towels to save energy, without actually implementing any other ‘green’ initiatives. Westerveld believed such a scheme to be profit driven and not of environmental benefit, and therefore marked it the first official example of greenwashing.

The varying nature of greenwashing can make it highly difficult to identify, especially with the complex jargon used to disguise it. After all, as this RTS article explains, it can characterise something as small as incorporating images of our natural environment into the packaging of processed foods, or even purposely misinforming ‘consumer practices through green marketing’ and presenting data in a skewed manner. TerraChoice Environmental Marketing have identified ‘seven sins’ that represent the most common greenwashing practices. Take a look and keep these in mind from both a business and consumer’s perspective. If individuals are increasingly aware what greenwashing actually constitutes, the subsequent accountability can put pressure on institutions and companies alike to sincerely improve their sustainability practice, rather than simply misrepresent it.

An example that previously featured in international news was concerning global fast-food company McDonald’s switch from single-use plastic straws to a paper alternative in 2018. This was part of a wider scheme to source ‘100% of their packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025’. Yet, following leaked internal communications, the straws were exposed as non-recyclable in 2019. This demonstrated the prolific use of purposeful misinformation and greenwashing within organisations to promote unrealistic progress towards sustainable agendas. 

Unfortunately, the continuation of greenwashing practices continue to happen with varying levels of accountability. This is not helped by the array of different reporting frameworks and sustainability standards that exist and sometimes contradict each other.

In response, many organisations or credible sites have begun to develop glossaries to simplify the language around transparency. In particular, this British Antarctic Survey glossary and this The Chancery Lane Project Glossary are incredibly useful for individuals just starting out on their sustainability journey.

Ultimately, disparate regulatory bodies can only go so far in mitigating such practices, so transparency and accountability are integral in countering this rise of misinformation. This is particularly relevant in the age of digitisation and globalisation, which will be considered more extensively in the following articles.

Why is transparency so important?

The role of transparency within business and corporate operations will be discussed more extensively within a separate article, so this section will provide an initial introduction into why it is so key in working towards the global sustainability agenda.

Companies are facing more demand by regulators, investors and consumers to be transparent in their environmental, social and corporate governance. Despite attempts by certain companies to displace blame for the climate emergency onto the individual [read this interesting article to find out more about the history of the carbon footprint], personal virtue and commitment to reducing our own ‘footprint’ is not effective enough on its own to prevent further change. Rather, collective action needs to be accompanied by policy and relevant transparency within businesses and organisations to successfully address our current situation.

Furthermore, analysing an organisation’s full impact doesn’t simply benefit international attempts to counter the climate emergency; it can have extensive benefits in responding to new patterns of consumption, increasing the perceived value of a brand, and improving supply chains. For instance, through openly sharing their operations and production stages, transparency can benefit businesses and organisations in two ways:

(1) the findings can help to improve standards throughout supply chains.

(2) it providers consumers and buyers with the necessary data to make fully informed choices.

In reference to point (1), this typically results through the identification and subsequent mitigation of social and environmental risks. This in turn encourages the implementation of minimum guidelines, as well as incentivising more ambitious industry standards. As research has demonstrated, the complex nature of global supply chains is one of the key contributors to unsustainable production practices, so increased transparency within the creation and distribution of products is essential.

Concerning point (2), such transparency across the board is essential in increasing the accessibility of information to all individuals. By providing consumers and stakeholders with the so-called ‘full-story’ at a comprehensible level, you can help remove the barriers that characterise sustainability policy and politics. This accessibility is essential in supporting individuals in making fully-informed decisions about the things they consume – after all, new evidence is showing that new purchase patterns are emerging in response to attitudes around sustainability and environmentalism. For instance, in the 2021 UK Ethical Consumer Markets Report, ethical consumer spending and finance was found to have increased by 24% in the space of a year. Moreover, this survey found that 52% of those aged 18 to 25 were “keeping an eye on the business practices of the companies they use”, and that a fifth of UK shoppers had stopped purchasing items from a brand due to their association with greenwashing claims.  

In this context, I want to explain the ‘value proposition’ of being increasingly transparent about your practices and operations. The term, defined as ‘an innovation, service or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers’, is a key tool used by organisations to demonstrate the benefits of their products or services to consumers. In this instance, by being so vulnerable with customers – as well as demonstrating a genuine commitment to improving your sustainability practice – you can align your priorities with those of the customer. In turn, you are opening your organisation up to public accountability, and thereby increasing the perceived value of your organisation from the perspective of your target audience.

How can businesses be more transparent?

  1. Self-report your impact and develop a sustainability strategy

Whilst many organisations are taking the first steps towards measuring their impact at an immediate and direct level (e.g., the emissions produced by your production, warehouse or shipping), calculating your emissions throughout your entire supply chain and life cycle is integral to achieving full transparency.

Whilst the second article in the wider ‘Transparency Series’ will focus on the frameworks and guidance available for self-reporting your emissions and carbon footprint, there are resources which can help in the meantime.

If you are struggling to develop a sustainability strategy and calculate your own impact, Cynnal Cymru can provide consultancy support to help you in your journey. Visit our consultancy page to find out more.

2. Pay your workers a Living Wage

Paying workers at each stage of the supply and production chain a real Living Wage is essential in ensuring the global journey towards net zero is a fair and just transition. Accrediting as an official real Living Wage employer can also have significant benefits for your business, as research conducted by Cardiff Business School demonstrated 86% found their reputation had improved as a result.

Cynnal Cymru is the official Welsh accreditation body for the Living Wage Foundation and can assist your organisation in uplifting your workers and ensuring your sustainability strategy works alongside the fair work agenda.

Find out more about the real Living Wage and how to accredit.

3. Be open and vulnerable with your consumers

As discussed in the article, being more transparent and vulnerable around your supply chain, production and process is arguably one of the top actions that businesses can take towards sustainable development. Not only can you identify areas for improvement beyond your immediate remit of control or knowledge, but you can also improve your relationship with consumers, encourage wider implementation of “kindness-economy” ideals, and provide consumers with the knowledge to make their own informed decisions.

4. Educate staff

Organisations are increasingly introducing company policy and guidelines specifically to deal with sustainability. However, if your staff are not equally well-versed in the values and standards you are wishing to implement, then sustainability policy can only go so far.

Cynnal Cymru provides both Carbon Literacy and Nature Wise training for individuals with any level of knowledge or experience. We can even develop bespoke training specific to your organisation or sector. Visit our training page to find out more.

Our members can benefit from up to two hours free specialist support and two free places on our training courses. Contact abi@cynnalcymru.com to find out more or register your interest.

Summary

To summarise, simply being honest with consumers and stakeholders about your environmental impact can have a significantly positive effect on your organisation. Not only can you identify areas where a sustainability strategy needs to be developed, you can encourage similar shared values of transparency and honesty within your sector. This increased accountability is integral in pushing forward the sustainability agenda, both within your organisation and beyond, as disparate regulatory bodies and frameworks can only solve part of the issue. Not to mention, from the perspective of a value proposition, transparency can increase the perceived value of your organisation by providing consumers with the information required to make fully informed decisions.

After all, the new generation of consumers are more and more concerned about the future of our planet, and their choices reflect that. As highlighted in this ScienceDirect article, the implementation of simple sustainability commitments are frequently criticised for being tokenistic and ‘lacking any clear implementation strategy’. Therefore, to engage with the sustainability agenda and respond to its impact upon consumerism, it is essential to analyse your organisation’s impact, implement the necessary strategy, and be open and honest about your challenges as well as your successes.

This article was written by our Development Officer, Abi Hoare, who has joined us on a one year placement as part of the Charityworks graduate scheme. This introduction and subsequent series was born out of previous conversations in the office about what ‘transparency’ actually means and how to make a complicated topic accessible to both businesses and consumers alike.

Community allotment

Public Good: Why we must value community environmental organisations

As we draw to the close of the Sylfaen project, I am reflecting on what we have learned.

The purpose of the organisations involved with Sylfaen is to protect, maintain, and enhance natural ecological assets in a way that not only serves their intrinsic well-being, but underpins the ecosystem services they provide to human beings. In plain language: they look after the environment so that the environment can look after people.

The organisation “Common Cause” presents a model of human behaviour based on research that explains things in terms of values. They claim that all human beings everywhere are governed by a common set of underlying values and that any human population can be segmented according to the values that are currently operational within their psyche. Typically, pro-environmental behaviours are driven by values in the “universal benevolence” or “transcendence” segment. The values in this segment also underlies behaviours that are directed to helping others. Business acumen, and the drive to succeed in business however, are associated with values in the “self enhancement” segment. The Common Cause theory claims that the values and behaviours associated with self enhancement are antagonistic to those of the transcendence segment. In other words, people who care about other people and the environment are not very motivated or competent business managers!

The good news, according to Common Cause, is that while business competence and universalism are antagonistic, there is a route between them. Furthermore, a person can hold conflicting values at the same time and their behaviours be driven by one set of values over another according to the most pressing need. So people who are motivated to act for the environment and the good of humanity can be trained to become competent, strategic and motivated business managers. This matters because like it or not, we operate in an economic system in which everything has a monetary value and goods and services are traded. Ecosystems and certain groups of people have been undervalued, marginalised and the harm done to them externalised from normal accounting. A sustainable future, the Wales that is described by the Well-being of Future Generations Act for example, does the opposite of this: the economic worth of ecosystem services is fully realised and all members of society are enabled to make a positive contribution.

At the Denmark Farm open day, representatives of other groups in the area talked about the constraints on income generation that they are experiencing. As I listened it became clear to me that these rural assets and their associated services were exactly the things that groups in urban areas needed. Here were the basic elements of a market place – someone with a need (the buyer) and someone able to satisfy that need (the seller). While the challenge is to bring these two together, the outcome would benefit the whole of society. How much public expenditure on drugs, primary care, social care and support services for diverse groups such as mental health patients, those seeking to rebuild their lives after incarceration, veterans, the elderly, the lonely, refugees, school children, low income families, people recovering from major illness, urban teenagers and many more could be averted if the therapeutic power of nature was more easily accessible? The community-based environmental sector needs to present itself as a cost effective solution offering financial and other co-benefits. These are of most immediate relevance to the NHS and local government but they extend way out into business and wider society.

So, the Co-op Foundation were absolutely correct in identifying the need to strengthen the financial viability and business management capacity of community based environmental organisations in Wales. These organisations need to be well managed so that they are a safe investment and a reliable contractor but they also need to develop the marketing & communication skills possessed by any successful business in order to attract potential clients. The Sylfaen project training programme covered all these aspects – financial management and planning, governance, communications and marketing – but this is only the first step. Organisations like the Wales Co-operative Centre, Cynnal Cymru and the Co-op Foundation need to work with the public and private sectors to create the market place in which these organisations can sell their services. A clearer understanding of ecosystem services is developing within the public sector and in big business but we also need local businesses to understand that ecosystem services also benefit them.

The extent to which community based environmental organisations can participate in purely commercial transactions is probably limited. We may well need to subsidise them in the same way that we are currently considering subsidising farmers for the ecological and public good they can provide. In any case, the recipients of subsidy need to be reliable, accountable and effective. So while the motivations of our community-based environmental organisations are non-commercial, we need them to be able to perform like successful businesses. The fact that a number of them have existed for several decades against all odds is a tribute to the business talent they already possess, but we must never take that for granted; and as a society, we must value what they provide and be prepared to pay for it.

Mission control: Take time and space to identify your vision and values

In early 2020, I began planning a bespoke training programme as part of my role on the Sylfaen Project.

The project, spearheaded by Cynnal Cymru, supported by the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Commercial Team and funded by the Co-op Foundation, aimed to work with a select number of community-led environmental organisations across Wales in order to give them stronger foundations for sustainability.

To my (very much pleasant) surprise, the most popular session by far was on the subject of Vision and Values. The reception was so positive in fact that two community councils who participated in the training requested I re-deliver the session to their board members, with one using it as the basis to go back to basics and set a revised 5-year business plan.

“The Community Councils used the session to question what it considered to be its core values, testing this in context with its constituents and users of community facilities by completing a similar exercise bespoke to our local communities. This has helped in enabling the Councils to challenge conventional ways of working and to plan a work programme based upon newly established values-based aims and objectives.”

David Davies, Cwmamman and Llanedi Community Councils.

So, why the need for a rethink?

Many people, companies and community groups underestimate the importance of properly aligned vision and values. Throughout my 20 years’ experience of supporting community organisations and businesses of all shapes and sizes, I’ve read countless business plans, and yet, more often than not, the process of identifying a vision and values is something of an afterthought.

In some cases, a set of relatively meaningless words are shoehorned in to support pre-determined actions. They state what the business or community group are going to do but give very little thought to why they are doing it.

Furthermore, even long-established companies and community organisations with a solid vision can easily get side-tracked. I have also fallen prey to this while working within community groups. Ostensibly golden opportunities can arise, in relation to funding for example, which appear too good to turn down. But, before you know it, these opportunities have deviated your energy away from your original purpose, derailing your mission, giving you less control over your direction and inevitably stifling your efforts to reach your vision!

Purposefully putting your why first

Quite often, what an organisation does takes precedence over why they’re doing it. It should be the other way around. Ethically driven private sector businesses, social enterprises and community groups will invariably have been established for a particular PURPOSE. It’s this purpose which inspires people to engage or otherwise invest their time, energy, and money. This is why it is so important to consistently revaluate vision and values to avoid mission drift, making sure they permeate everything you do.

Consistency is key

“To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit, to inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions, and to create value and make a difference”

Did you guess whose mission this is? When I ask this during my sessions, most people guess correctly. For those that can’t quite put their finger on it, this is the mission statement for Coca Cola. Okay, it may be corporate, but the lesson to be learned here is most people guess this mission statement from this single sentence. Why? Because it is imbedded in EVERYTHING they do and solidifies the way they are perceived. Think of any Coca Cola promotion and you’ll struggle to find one without the words ‘happiness’ or ‘refreshing’.

Regardless of our individual perceptions, the consistency and simplicity of their message translates worldwide. You may be far from a big company on a global stage but if you want people to understand, engage with, advocate for and invest in you, your purpose needs to be ever-present and at the forefront of your messaging.

This is echoed in Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ theory* where he states that the most inspiring companies start with why they do what they do, then work on how they do it before identifying exactly what they do.

  1. Vision and Mission Statement: Include your greatest aspiration for your community group or business. Consider WHY you do what you do and why other people will invest time, energy, and money in you.
  2. Values: This underpins, encapsulates, and promotes your organisation’s culture and beliefs in context with the vision and determines HOW you operate and act to achieve your aims.
  3. Aims and Objectives: These should state the exact details of WHAT you aim to achieve and how you intend to implement your vision, mission and values in day-to-day practice, all while understanding why you are doing it.

As you may have now guessed, I’m a very strong advocate for people starting their journey by firmly identifying and understanding their vision, mission, values, aims and objectives at the outset. It should not be a retrospective exercise based on what they already do. If the vision and mission doesn’t transcend through every activity and action, your desired impact will soon be diluted. So, my final piece of advice is to regularly take time and space to ask yourself whether what you are currently doing meets your original purpose and never stop asking why!

*(Sinek, S. (2009) Start With Why. Penguin Business)

Paul Stepczak is the Bids and Commercial Consultant within the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Commercial Team and has more than 20 years’ experience working in community and business development, providing consultancy and training to purpose-led organisations.

Sharing lessons through Sylfaen

Cynnal Cymru’s Sylfaen Project, funded by the Co-op Foundation, has concentrated on developing the financial and managerial resilience of community-based environmental organisations. In enhancing and preserving biodiversity, providing training and education, and bringing people together, these organisations deliver wide ranging benefits for local communities and society as a whole. It is essential therefore that they are well-managed, financially secure and accountable. In other words, it is in all our interests that they have strong foundations (Sylfaen is Welsh for “foundation”).

Like everything else, the project has had to adapt to cope with the restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic. The training in subjects such as marketing, business planning, use of social media, and governance, has been delivered online by our partner the Wales Co-operative Centre. The plan had been for training to be delivered through a combination of face-to-face seminars/coaching plus online sessions. Networking and peer support were a major component of the project design. While Covid restricted these aspects, the groups within the project have made the best of the opportunities available and we have been grateful for the flexibility and innovation of all partners in adapting to challenging times.

As spring 2021 unfolded however and Covid restrictions lifted, we took the opportunity to meet, visit each other’s sites, learn and be inspired. So it was on a beautiful sunny day in June, that we gathered for the final Sylfaen event, this time on Anglesey with our hosts Melissa and Tim from Llyn Parc Mawr Community Woodland Group.

This was an opportunity to hear more about how the group was established, their approach to woodland management, negotiating with Natural Resources Wales and the challenges that come with running a funded project in the middle of a pandemic! We also had an opportunity to try out some green woodworking skills and hear more about their future plans and aspirations.

After a ‘panad’ (Welsh for a cup of tea), and introductions sat around in the fantastic new timber framed shelter, we headed out for a look around the site – first stop was the new bird hide, both structures were recently completed by a small local business and paid for through their National Lottery Community Fund grant. Most of the timber comes from locally sourced Welsh redwoods, sadly they couldn’t use any of their own recently felled timber as Corsican Pine isn’t suitable for use in structures. They have however made good use of it with the help of volunteers and made benches for the bird hide.

Photo of people in a bird hide.

After spending some time watching the resident ducks, dragonflies, and damselflies we headed off the beaten track on a new path that Tim had been hard at work hacking away prior to our visit. It will form part of the new circular path around the lake and will open up parts of the woodland which have never been accessible before. A boardwalk and small bridge will be installed as this is a much wetter part of the site. Much of this area is broadleaf and adds a new dimension to the forest as Llyn Parc Mawr is mainly a conifer plantation and arboretum and was originally used as the nursery for Newborough Forest. The lake was built in 1988 as part of European Year of Environment and now forms a wildlife haven for an abundance of seasonal wildlife.

After a very adventurous trek through the “jungle” we found ourselves at the back of the woodland where NRW have recently clear felled a small section, the group have started planting here and Tim talked us through the decision process and how the new saplings are faring up in their new home. It was an interesting mix of species which includes Swamp Cypress which will help create a mangrove effect, Red Alder, Tulip trees, Spruce and Scotts Pine. A great mix of nursery trees and nitrogen fixers.

Small frog sitting in the palm of a hand

We made our way back to the shelter in time for a delicious lunch prepared by a couple of Llyn Parc Mawr members. We had time to watch some short films developed as part a social history project documenting the village and community’s fascinating history and includes stories from some of the older residents who remember the marram grass industry and forest development. You can watch for yourselves:

Pobl Niwbwrch a’r Moresg The People of Newborough and Marram grass – YouTube

We were joined for the afternoon by one of Llyn Parc Mawr’s new board members. We split up for afternoon sessions; Tim lead another walk and talk and was a chance to network and ask some more in depth questions on his activities. Melissa led a craft workshop where we made some gypsy flowers using a draw knife and shave horse. It was an enjoyable and relaxing afternoon learning new skills and chatting about future project plans.

Women demonstrating green woodworking skills using a 'shave horse'.

It was a great end to the Sylfaen project – participants have really enjoyed the opportunity to finally meet face to face, visiting each other’s sites and networking. The groups have found many synergies in experiences even though they are at different stages of development there’s always so much to learn and share – from attracting new board members to applying and managing funding, site management, running activities and sharing experiences over this unprecedented year of lockdowns. Perhaps the imposition of lockdowns has in some ways been a blessing; unable to run training sessions or engage with the public, colleagues have had more time to learn, reflect and review. Melissa, for example, has found the social media training very useful. It has helped Llyn Parc Mawr expand their reach and consequentially generate additional income. Having offered Forest School activities on site for a long time, the group is now being contacted by other organisations to run paid-for Forest School sessions on their behalf.

It was great to hear everyone has so many exciting plans and that from the hardships and worries we have all experienced in recent times, now more than ever there is a need and demand for community projects and volunteer opportunities. (We had such a nice time we even forgot to say hello to the resident red squirrels!)

This site visit report was written by Sara Wynne Pari, a local resident and colleague working in the community environmental sector. This illustrates the integrated and collegiate nature of community environmental work: we are united across Wales by a common purpose to halt the decline in biodiversity, address the nature crisis, and create a harmonious future for humans and the species with which we share this wonderful place. One of the key outcomes from the Sylfaen project was the confirmation of the need for community based environmental organisations to strengthen their links and develop an organisational ecology in which mutual interests are shared and practical/economic needs are met through collaboration. In 2021/22 we will concentrate on this and integrate our Eco Literacy work with the legacy of Sylfaen.

Where does the recovery begin? Thoughts from Cynnal Cymru

Many have noted that, if there is any silver lining to the global Covid-19 pandemic, it has been the way it has legitimised the desire for a radical re-haul of Welsh society to better meet the needs of current and future generations. The invitations to share ideas and work towards a better future have come from citizens and government alike. As a membership organisation that exists to accelerate progress towards sustainable development, the opportunities to ‘build back better’ – and avert the impending climate and ecological catastrophes – are things that the Cynnal Cymru team has been thinking about for a long while. When asked to decide on our top actions for the green recovery, we prioritised the following for government, public bodies, anchor institutions, organisations and thought-leaders everywhere. As our last point emphasises, this list is not exhaustive and is designed to sit alongside the asks from other expert fora to ensure that the recovery is not just green but restorative and just.

1. Make the emergency real

We echo the calls of Extinction Rebellion for public bodies to ‘tell the truth’. The scale of the climate and nature emergencies is hard to comprehend even for those of us working in the sector. The Future Generations Report calls for Wales to be an eco-literate country. We endorse this, particularly as there is now extensive evidence that peer-education of Carbon Literacy results in tangible individual and organisational change. Cynnal is currently pioneering development of a similar Eco-literacy course designed to make the science behind both these emergencies understandable and relatable to everyday actions. It provides learners with the tools to identify and implement actions they can take to protect and enhance natural systems and the confidence to help others understand and feel motivated to do so also. However, this sense of literacy cannot come just from the bottom. It needs to be exemplified from the top so that citizens feel that their actions have been validated and there is a collective will and effort.

Government, public bodies and other leading actors need to be bold in reiterating the scale of these challenges and ensuring that every action and investment is viewed through a climate and ecological resilience lens. This requires frequent, clear and consistent communication on a par with – and with the same level of urgency as – Covid-19 messaging and visibility.

2. Define and measure progress

There are many demands to build back better and there is robust research from CAT and others that a shifting of investment towards the well-being economy will meet multiple goals. The Well-being of Future Generations Act and Welsh Government’s recent membership of the Well-Being Economy Governmental Alliance, together with movements such as Extinction Rebellion, Citizens Cymru and WCVA’s recent think-pieces, provide the political, legislative and ‘people’s’ mandate to do this. Frequent reference is made to Wales’s pioneering WFG Act but work on how we measure if we are actually delivering well-being better since 2015 seems to have stalled. The Carnegie Trust recently published a series of blog posts on Wellbeing around the World with several posts on effectively measuring improvements in Wellbeing.

There is an urgent need to bring the national Well-Being Indicators back into public prominence and to use the literature on effective measurement of Wellbeing to set Milestones against these so that the public has a clear sense of direction as to where Wales is heading and a mechanism by which politicians can be held accountable.

3. Enforce the conservation hierarchy

In line with point 1, we urge a radical re-education of public bodies and others as to the benefits of mature green infrastructure and designated sites and the redirection of resource towards protecting, restoring and maintaining what exists before creating new. This particularly applies to the messaging around Wales’s national forest. Progress reports and campaigns must not just focus on creation of the new, as there is a danger that this will suggest that mature tree loss and new tree planting is replacing like for like.

Progress reports that instead focus on protecting and enhancing our national forest therefore may be more effective in reinforcing understanding of the benefits that existing mature trees provide and the cost-savings that are lost when they are removed. Before approving removal of mature trees, decision-makers must factor in the costs of:

loss of immediate ecosystem services 

planting and maintenance of compensatory planting up and until the point where this planting provides an equivalent level of ecosystem services plus

the costs of reduced ecosystem services provided by new planting in the interim

This could be done by implementing the recommendations in the Woodland Trust Manifesto:

I-tree reports for every urban area, showing the full lifetime value and benefits of existing trees, especially mature trees.

Update and improve tree protection legislation as part of a new Welsh Planning Act.

Stop council planning committees allowing developers to remove healthy mature trees.

Strengthen planning regulatory oversight to protect green space and irreplaceable habitat such as ancient woodland and veteran trees 

This would also support the recommendation in the Future Generations 2020 Report that Welsh Government work with Public Services Boards to deliver 20% tree canopy cover in every town and city in Wales by 2030.

4. Build capacity of community organisations

A voluntary contribution of 1% of profits for the planet has been suggested for private businesses and is a growing global movement. This contribution need not be financial but could also be in pro bono support.

The Skyline Project aimed to demonstrate the viability of communities managing local assets e.g. NRW woodlands to generate an income. We contributed to that project. The same principle has come up during our management of the Sylfaen project – three of the six project beneficiaries are aiming to manage local green resources for the dual outcomes of biodiversity and profit. We have found that a core missing element in this concept is that communities lack the governance skills to set up and run a suitable vehicle.

Dwr Cymru have piloted the idea that corporations and private companies can contribute to their CSR outcomes by not just sending workers on litter picks etc. but by donating time of senior managers such as finance, HR and marketing to help communities set up Community Interest Companies, Co-operatives etc. that are robust, accountable and effective. When such vehicles exist, with ongoing support from responsible businesses, then they have a better chance of successfully managing local natural assets and it helps avoid burn-out of trustees or volunteers taking responsibility for high-level and very time-consuming decisions, on top of other responsibilities.

We are suggesting that there is a nationwide, systematic programme to link larger private companies with community initiatives with the specific goal of managing natural assets to generate income, skills and biodiversity.

This could be complemented by requirements in public sector contracts to allow staff up to 2 days/month of employer-supported volunteering and/or time to share insights and learning via Community of Practice mechanisms.

5. Promote shared responsibility

In line with the Polluter Pays principle, we suggest structured mechanisms by which those that minimise or negate pollution don’t pay. It is not always obvious how and where the costs of pollution are met e.g. in cleaning drinking water or cleaning up litter. If it is possible to identify areas of higher or lower pollution prevalence, can these areas be rewarded either with lower charges or a proportion of the cost-saving to be allocated as a community pot. This would require a structured programme by which ‘the offer’ is well-publicised to areas or communities and there is timely and transparent measuring and reporting.

We also recommend exploring non-monetary currencies here such as time-credits whereby those that formally or informally volunteer for the environment can have this contribution to cost-savings recognised e.g. through reductions in Council Tax, the option to donate an hour of an expert’s time to a chosen charity (linked to 4. above) or another mechanism. There concepts may sound challenging but there are many skilled individuals that could help devise suitable mechanisms – no one organisation, public body or government needs to figure this out alone.

6. Set the ambition for Wales to be known as the ‘country of green careers’

With rises in unemployment predicted, particularly among the young, there is an opportunity to implement career pathways and a skills and training framework for conservation managers, woodland rangers, and enforcement officers to ensure there is the capacity and expertise to build ecosystem resilience.

There is a growing proliferation of apps to engage the public as citizen scientists to manage invasive species, report environmental crime, record iconic wildlife etc. It is time to also build capacity within regulatory bodies, industry and the utility companies to capitalise on this interest and to benefit from the cost-savings that would be enabled.

An investment in green jobs and career paths will show commitment to tackling the next crisis (point 1) as well as contributing significantly to the prevention agenda and the green economy. The TUC has written more about the need to ensure any new ‘green’ jobs are also fair jobs in this recently published report ‘A green recovery and a just transition’.

7. Understand the ‘disconnect’

We are drawn to nature but the litter in beauty spots, camping detritus in woodlands and sensitive flora trampled by walkers or mountain bikers suggest that we do not (know how to) tread lightly. Understanding what is behind this tendency – to be drawn to nature but then not care about trashing it – could help to address it, perhaps using insights from the  Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation  or other behaviour change expertise at other universities.

We also believe that our other suggestions – such as Eco-Literacy, the reframing of the natural environment as a credible, accessible future career prospect; and an increased presence of wardens, rangers, conservation managers etc – could lead to not only greater experience of nature but a cultural shift in thinking about how we value it.

8. Enable access

In line with a More Equal Wales, any strategy needs to ensure that there is equal access to the benefits that nature provides across our communities. We note the recent geospatial research by the University of Warwick, Newcastle University and the University of Sheffield suggesting that living within 300m of urban green space is associated with greater happiness, a sense of worth and life satisfaction, reiterated by the recommendation in the Future Generations report 2020 that there are standards to ensure people can access natural green space within 300 m of their home. Again this could link with the green jobs recovery for wardens, horticulturalists, local growers, natural play workers and therapists, social prescribing etc.

9. Cast a fresh eye on existing technology and innovation

In the search for new ideas, existing – and potentially scalable – innovations risk being overlooked. As CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain Report makes clear, ‘we already have the tools and technology needed to efficiently power the UK with 100% renewable energy, to feed ourselves sustainably and so to play our part in leaving a safe and habitable climate for our children and future generations.’

There is a wealth of information already within our institutions, networks and public bodies that may not be badged as a ‘sustainable and environmentally sound post-global pandemic recovery response’ but could nonetheless yield the same desired outcomes.

Examples of product innovation from Cynnal Cymru’s membership include BIPVCo’s thin-film solar cells or  BSB International’s Fire Dragon eco-friendly solid fuel – produced in Llanelli from 100% UK sourced ethanol. At the same time, we have many examples from members working in accordance with the ways of working in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, from Grasshopper Communications and its work to involve and engage communities to the housing associations coming together to accelerate decarbonisation of the social housing sector and the work of organisations like Dŵr Cymru and Wales and West Utilities to embody the stakeholder economy, for example with regard to vulnerable customers.

10. Create a more just society

Whilst a rapid transition to living within environmental limits and restoring healthy ecosystems will go a long way towards delivering sustainable development, we will only succeed if we also seek to recognise and integrate social and global justice. We know from our partners and members, and from our own work as the Living Wage accrediting body for Wales, that issues around social mobility, Fair Work, poverty and systemic discrimination also need to be addressed. This is as much a part of the ‘green’ as any other recovery package and links to other expert sectors, work programmes and strategies are essential to ensuring that our gains in one area are not undone by losses in another.

For several years now, the Sustainable Academy Awards have highlighted some of the most innovative projects and organisations in Wales accelerating progress towards a more sustainable future. The 2019 winners show that there are people in Wales that are already taking action to simultaneously tackle environmental issues and create a more just society

Next steps

We exist to accelerate progress on sustainable development in Wales so we are conscious that we need to back our words with action. Some of our next steps on the green recovery are:

Finishing the creation of an eco-literacy course and getting it out to consultation

Consulting with stakeholders about how to best measure progress and developing our advice

Linking the green recovery discussions to the Foundational Economy

Supporting decarbonisation of the social housing sector through the CLCC and involvement in Communities of Practice

Supporting the development of community led environmental organisations

Continuing to highlight the work of our members and Awards winners who are already ushering in the practical, intellectual, technological and cultural shifts for a sustainable green and just recovery.

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