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Environmental improvements: start now, make gains, save the patient


When it comes to making environmental improvements, it’s better to take small steps, starting right away and get immediate and incremental gains.

Imagine you’re diagnosed with a life threatening condition and doctors tell you there are two alternative treatments:

The first will involve a series of tried-and-tested surgical procedures carried out over of a period of nearly a year. It will mean regular hospital admissions and discomfort, but it’s low cost, you’ll start to get better straight away and will be cured within a year.

The second will only be available in about a year. It, too, involves surgery, but this time it’s a single and complex operation lasting many hours, is vastly more expensive, and uses some experimental techniques. In the meantime, your health will continue to deteriorate but you’ll avoid the discomfort and disruption of multiple hospital stays.

In short, your options are: do it now, with a well tested approach and see immediate improvements, or hold out for a largely experimental technique that delivers all the pain in one go, but where things get worse before they get better.

Which would you choose?

I know I’d rather put up with several rounds of surgery in order to see my health improve from the outset, rather than wait – particularly as there’s a risk I may not live long enough to benefit.

It’s the same when it comes to delivering environmental improvements.

Why wait to deliver environmental improvements?

Maybe I’m just impatient…why wait until everything is ‘just right’, essentially allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good, when you can begin right away and start living your improvements?

But people do.

For instance, when working with companies that want to implement an environmental management system for accreditation to ISO14001, I’ve found there are two approaches that people generally take: they either want to do it piecemeal, implementing policies and procedures as they go and reaping the environmental rewards (the right way!) or they want to wait until every single policy, procedure, work instruction, check list and form has been created before they attempt to implement their new system.

I can see why people might prefer the second approach, but all it really does is make it very cumbersome and difficult to implement, leaving you to discover all the flaws simultaneously, whilst putting off until tomorrow the benefits you could have had today.

It’s a bit like UK energy policy. Carry on burning coal for 25% of our electricity and wait until we have industrial scale energy storage to support intermittent renewables and cold fusion nuclear reactors? Or switch to cleaner burning natural gas and benefit from reduced CO2 and particulate emissions whilst we continue building renewables capacity and ‘conventional’ nuclear power stations?

Think BIG, start small, act now!

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a business improvement and performance coach called Caroline Hampson.

She instilled a fabulous ethic in me, which is to think BIG (create a grand vision of what you’re trying to achieve) but start small (so you don’t get overwhelmed) and act now (or you’ll keep putting it off and risk never actually doing it).

It’s a great mantra, and you can apply it to just about anything, including implementing environmental improvements in your business.

See also: Measure It to start your journey to improved sustainability and resilience TODAY! 

For example, thinking about improving how you manage waste? Imagine what you’d ideally like it to look like a year from now, then start making little changes right away. In your vision, you might be seeking to cut waste and costs by 20% but rather than wait until you’ve mapped all your processes to find out where your waste comes from so you can start to reduce it, you could start by making sure you’re using the right size skips in order to keep your emptying frequency (and therefore transport costs) to a minimum. A really simple, immediate gain. And whilst, on its own, it may only be small, added to all the other changes you’re going to make, it will eventually be part of something big.

Apply that logic to all the environmental improvements you want to make and pretty soon you’ll be benefiting from all the advantages of doing so.

“Start now, make gains, save the patient”

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  • Michael Roberts says:

    Now this is a very Darwinian and evolutionary approach – how to get fro goo to you via the zoo in a billion steps over 4 billion years!!

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