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Leadership Worth Sharing: climate emergency special

Welcome to this special episode of our podcast, Leadership Worth Sharing, in which three of our climate working group members talk about what they have been doing at their organisations to tackle the climate emergency. You will hear from Emma Gibson, Director of London Travel Watch, Janet Thorne, CEO of Reach Volunteering, and Gus Alston, CEO of the Stonegrove Community Trust about their first steps, challenges and motivation to get the work started.

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If we’re not at the forefront of taking action, then I think we’ve really reneged on our responsibilities as civil society organisations

Janet Thorne

Be authentic and open and say we know we don’t understand all of this. And we’re going to work on it together. And we reserve the right to change our minds on how we approach this and how we can be the most impactful.

Gus Alston

Transcript

Maisie Hulbert  00:04

Hi, I’m Maisie Hulbert Policy Officer at ACEVO. Welcome to this special episode of our podcast, Leadership Worth Sharing, in which three of our climate working group members talk about what they have been doing at their organisations to tackle the climate emergency. You will hear from Emma Gibson, Director of London Travel Watch, Janet Thorne, CEO of Reach Volunteering, and Gus Alston, CEO of the Stonegrove Community Trust about their first steps, challenges and motivation to get the work started.

Emma Gibson  00:40

So I’m Emma Gibson. I’m the director of London Travel Watch, who are a passenger watchdog in London, and I’m here today with Gus Alston and Janet Thorne. And we’re here to talk about what we could do as leaders of charities and voluntary organisations to help tackle the climate crisis. So I’m going to ask Gus and Janet to introduce themselves first and their organisations that they work for. Janet, do you want to introduce yourself first?

Janet Thorne  01:08

Thanks, Emma. Hi, I’m Janet. I’m the Chief Exec of Reach Volunteering. So we’re a smallish national charity that connects up people who want to volunteer, their expertise, either as trustees or on operational roles with charities and social purpose organisations. We do that mainly through an online matching platform.

Emma Gibson  01:25

Thanks, Janet. Gus, go ahead.

Gus Alston  01:27

I am Gus Alston. I’m the CEO of the Stonegrove Community Trust, we’re a small resident led charity that operate a community centre in Barnet. And we focus very much on local resident led social action.

Emma Gibson  01:41

Thanks, Gus. So neither of you lead organisations whose central mission is to do with climate change. So I want to ask you first, what is the challenge that you faced about embedding that into your mission or your vision, and values? And how have you gone about embedding kind of climate into your existing work. Gus, I’m going to ask you first.

Gus Alston  02:05

So interestingly, it was quite easy for us to get the organisation on board, so it was quite easy for me to get the trustees on board, they really wanted it, I think we’ve got quite a young Trustee Board, we’ve got a very local resident led Trustee Board. And I guess the reason we focused on it is because although we’re focused primarily on this idea of resident led social action, the vehicle we use for that is quite slow. It’s slow, iterative work. And so this was a way for us to push forward strategically, on a sort of big ticket item on something that we felt that the community would support and join in with, whilst we also worked, you know, in the area of community organising and the things that they wanted to lead on. For us, the challenge has been more practical. I think a lot of people in the sector are talking about how there is more support now for climate action. But realistically, we found it very difficult to raise the funds for the practical actions that we want to take. And we found that maybe the funds aren’t yet quite following the language at the moment.

Emma Gibson  03:12

Thanks, Gus. Janet, can you tell us about your experience and the challenges you’ve had?

Janet Thorne  03:18

I’ve been wanting to do something, I’ve been feeling very motivated to do something on climate action for a couple of years at least. But I was sort of struggling to think how I could do that through Reach, because we’re just like, a matching platform that connects volunteers, and trustees with charities, and it’s quite a sort of neutral, it’s not even cause specific, you know, and I was, it felt like a bit of a stretch to try and connect that to the climate crisis. But I think, probably my growing sense of the urgency, but also, we’ve been doing a lot of work and having quite a lot of conversations in our organisation of equity, diversity and inclusion. And I think one of the things that those conversations does is start you on the conversation of well, what kind of society we’re trying to build. And you can’t really, you can’t really not go there with those sorts of conversations. And I felt like that concern laying a bit more of a groundwork for a broader conversation with the board. So finally, I just sort of decided to go for it. So I put a paper up to the board, asking them to really recognise… I thought, well, what I’ll do is I’ll draw the dots between Reach and the climate crisis, which ultimately, it’s the biggest challenge facing humanity, and therefore, the biggest challenge facing civil society and the people that civil society serves. So therefore, it’s got to be the biggest challenge that Reach is addressing. So I kind of put that into a paper, asking the Board to acknowledge the urgency and importance of the climate crisis to Reach directly and committing us to make it a strategic priority. And it was very kind of heavy on intent and light on practical action because we don’t yet know really what we’re gonna do and we don’t really have the resources to do much of it. But I felt it was really important to set it out and set out our stall. And I was a bit nervous about how the board would respond. But actually they were all just like, yeah, that makes sense. Let’s do it. And it went through, just about two months ago we did that. And it’s given, it’s given me now a rationale and context and really moving the work forward. So it’s been really, really useful. And I was just surprised by how easy it was to do it, actually.

Emma Gibson  05:20

Yeah. Well done, that’s really interesting. And Gus, it sounds like you found that relatively easy as well with your trustees. Have you got any kind of tips on how to kind of have that conversation?

Gus Alston  05:32

I think it comes back to what Janet was saying about linking it to why are you doing it? How does it help your wider strategic aims? How does it help you to move forwards? And I think also, there’s, there’s something about what you’re committing to. So we went very bold and quite fast, we committed to zero net carbon for our building and our charity by the end of 2022. And for me, what that allows me to do is then potentially argue some quite radical solutions that might cost some extra money back to the back to the trustees because they’ve agreed we have this aspiration and this ambition. So yeah, there’s a there’s something about linking it. But there’s something also about for for maybe more practical organisations, ones who are very on the ground, running a building something about you know, giving yourself a target, even when you know that you may not achieve it. And there are a lot of complications along the way.

Emma Gibson  06:25

As you know, charities are founded for social good. Obviously it sounds like you think it’s a really important thing, that charities kind of consider climate change, do you think we have more of a responsibility, say, than public or private sector organisations to tackle this issue? Where were you coming from when you were approaching this with your trustees?

Gus Alston  06:50

So I mean, I actually believe I’m not sure this is the most popular view. But I believe we have a higher responsibility as charities and as social organisations than others, to think about how we do what we do. I think the flip side of that is the if you look at where the power and largely the money lies in society, it’s proportionately not with charities. We can do a lot, but we cannot turn this around by ourselves. That has to be private sector, it has to be government, and to some extent, individuals that I do think they’re the smaller part of this really, in terms of, you know, wider systemic change.

Emma Gibson  07:30

Janet, what’s your view on this question about the role of charities?

Janet Thorne  07:34

Yeah, I very much agree with Gus, actually, on sort of all of those points, I think charities have got a big role and responsibility in tackling climate action. And I think the responsibility is really there if you just look at, if you look at your charity’s purpose, and why you’re there, who you set up to serve, then it doesn’t take too long before you get the conclusion that actually, you absolutely have to act, whether you work with young people or in health or in heritage, or whatever sector, it’s pretty much the climate climate crisis is pretty central to how you’re going to make any sort of significant change over the next few years. But I think it is like Gus says it’s, it’s interconnected. There’s no way that one single charity can really make much impact or even the civil society as a whole can do it without business and government as well. But I think if you look at civil society, civil society always played a role, hasn’t it, where the government and business have perhaps been unable to or unwilling to take action or don’t understand what the action is, or, you know, they always take, they’ve always stepped into that gap, be it, you know, leading on HIV campaigning or homelessness, or refugees, just look at the pandemic and see how, you know, more broadly, civil society stepped into the breach, with all the mutual aid and all sorts of things. So, charities have always taken this sort of role and absolutely have to. I think it’s, it’s, it’s very much their responsibility to do it. Well, I could I could talk on this for hours. But I’ve been looking I just recently about a couple of months ago, all the leading health journals, medical journals, did a joint editorial in which they said that the leading, the biggest single health global health concern is climate, in fact, not climate crisis itself, but political leaders’ inability to take action that will keep us below 1.5 degrees and they spelt it out you know, they spelt out the risks about deaths from from heat, from malnutrition, from flooding, and fire, from more pandemics, etc. So kind of use their expertise really to spell out exactly why. But that kind of joint action and saying this is the biggest thing you know, and sort of calling out political leadership I thought that was really powerful and I’m sort of feel like that civil society should be doing that too. Perhaps even more so, you know, if we look at our, our need to, you know, because the we all know that the climate crisis is going to hit unequally, just like the pandemic has, but even more so, it’s going to hit marginalised groups more, more strongly, it’s gonna, it’s gonna affect all of our beneficiaries, but it’s also going to really deepen inequality. And so if we’re not kind of at the front forefront of taking action, then I think we’ve really reneged on our responsibilities as civil society organisations.

Emma Gibson  10:22

I’m gonna ask you both, but maybe Gus first, why do you think charities have struggled to act in this space sometimes, and, you know, as leaders, what makes it hard to kind of take the first steps if you like.

Gus Alston  10:35

So I think a big part of the challenge does come back to resource. If we want to take action on one thing, then we have to not take action on something else. You know, we don’t, we have finite amounts of money, finite amounts of staff time, and we have to take that away from one thing to take action on another. And so I think at the moment, that’s actually becoming even more challenging, whilst we’re all talking about the environment, and as Janet mentioned earlier about inclusion and diversity, I’m actually coming across a lot of conversations, which are sort of not now. You know, we can’t do that now. It’s a particularly challenging time, people are in crisis. And I think that boils down to that’s that’s sort of always been the argument about the environment. You know, the argument is that, yes, it’s important. But what are the consequences of taking action? You know, globally, what would we have to do? What difference will it make to our living standards? You know, can we afford it? Can we do it? Rather than the, you know, can we afford to do nothing? Can we afford not to make real progress?

Emma Gibson  11:41

I know when I took a paper to my board on this, in the summer, it was a really packed board meeting agenda. And someone said, Oh, can we just talk about that in three months time at the next one, and I had to really kind of argue to hold the space and say, Well, you know, this is the year of the climate, we can’t wait until, you know, if we wait till September or November to talk about it that’s, you know, that’s too late. So yeah, sometimes there are a lot of other kind of competing priorities, aren’t there trying to get this on the agenda can be tricky. Janet, what’s your thoughts on this from your experience?

Janet Thorne  12:13

Yeah, I mean, I think what you’ve both said is completely true. And, you know, the lack of resource, the lack of time. And it’s a difficult thing to think about. I think there’s, with boards in particular, I think I had a recent conversation with someone who said that their board was reluctant to do anything that wasn’t really, really obviously connected to their mission. Is that sort of sticky, and there’s a political environment in which it sort of stick to your knitting. You know, we’ve seen some challenges to the National Trust, organisations about have they gone beyond their remit? So I think there’s probably some board caution there as well. Although I don’t know how widespread that is, I wouldn’t want to overstate that. But I think, in addition to the sort of very real problems of lack of time and money, I think there’s a, this is just a big challenge in thinking about the climate crisis in general, you know, it’s a really hard thing to think about. And actually, so many people just aren’t really thinking about it for that reason, they’ll kind of maybe read one article on it, accepted it’s an issue, but then just sort of compartmentalise that in their brain, because it’s a hard thing to think about. So I think that is really behind a lot of it. And I think, you know, there’s a lot… I think our press and our political leaders, and all sorts of things are sort of colluding with that, you know, it is not the headline on the newspaper every day. I saw an article on the BBC a couple of months ago, but they talked about how European countries would be basking in 50 degrees heat in the future, you sort of stop and think, okay, when it’s 50, I’m not really gonna be basking I might be dead, you know, I think there’s a sort of general colluding with, let’s not think about it, because it’s really difficult. What strikes me about that is okay, so this is the biggest issue that all of our organisations are going to need to deal with. Surely, it is just our jobs, you know, however difficult it is, it is our jobs, as civil society, as leaders of our organisations to address that, you know, if that’s the biggest thing that we’re going to need to engage with, we can’t just stick our heads in the sand and ignore it, because it’s not going to go away, it’s just going to get worse. And the sooner you engage with it, the better, you can have some chance of influencing a more positive outcome. So there’s kind of every reason for doing it, you’ve got to do it. And there’s every reason for doing it now. But I think it’s helpful when people talk about, share what they’re doing and talk about what they’re doing, because it sort of it kind of provides encouragement and support and even just that resolve, I think what’s helped me take some action is seeing others do it and think, Okay, you’re doing it, you’re stepping up to the mark, I already feel like I need to as well. And some of that’s been looking at what young people have been doing, you know, who don’t have even the resources or the leadership positions or anything, but they’re still getting on and doing it. So sort of feel like we all need to sort of just suck it up a little bit and do it like we’ve had to deal with other difficult issues. So if you look at sort of something like racism. So there’s a lot of leaders who haven’t really never really engaged with that topic before. And it didn’t seem to be the kind of thing that they needed to deal with in their organisation. And they’ve sort of had to go on a bit of a painful journey in the last couple of years of recognising actually, they really need to. And just because it’s difficult, and just because it’s wider than maybe their, their organization’s remit is not a good reason for not engaging with it. And I think it’s, you know, I think people will be looking back in a couple of years time then, what were we thinking, why were we not engaging with the most important issue of our time? So…

Emma Gibson  15:29

Yeah, no, thanks for that, Janet. And so I mean, I guess that brings me on to kind of, where do we start? We’ve talked about the importance of taking kind of small steps and starting somewhere. I mean, what were the initial things that you did? You know, what kind of things, you know, if you’re going to start, what’s the first thing that you did? Or what’s the second thing that you did? Gus, do you want to tell us a little bit about your journey?

Gus Alston  15:52

So the first thing we did was to set out this aspiration for becoming zero net carbon and the timeline. Now, obviously, in order to know that we had some chance of achieving that, we had to know what some of the actions might be to do that. So I think the starting point is to measure where you are. And I say that, you know, for organisations looking at the more practical side of this maybe so for us, that was applying to the City Bridge Trust to do an eco audit programme, and working out what the environmental impact of our work was. At that point, we knew where we needed to put the effort in order to get maximum environmental impact. So what we’ve done so far we have installed essentially, some heating control systems doesn’t sound very exciting, makes a big impact. We’re working towards currently funding and installing a large solar array on the roof of the centre. That’s probably about the biggest impact we can do. We’ve, we’ve done feasibility studies on other things that don’t work. You’ll see in the news, endless tool, can you particularly see, you’ll have heard Boris Johnson talk about how many heat pumps we’re going to have in the UK. For us, heat pumps don’t make any sense. But we’ve done the work, we’ve worked that out, we know now we need to move forward to another way. Now currently, we’re exploring what to do about our business waste, that’s actually over 50% of our carbon footprint, and obviously has all these other knock on effects. And we’ve identified a supplier we’re going to work with that will make that a zero net carbon. I think part of the challenge here is kind of understanding what you’re doing, you know, I was involved in a project to put solar panel on Kench town city farm or to plan that before I left and then it was funded after I left. And I’m quite geeky. I like learning about solar. I like learning about heat source pumps, I’ll sit there with the laptop out on my lap in the evening looking at these things, we don’t have time to do it in our normal days. I think I think another tip I would give and this is kind of not really an environmental tip. But my first action on anything I want to do is to think who do I know who knows more about this than I do. And in this case, it was power up north London who the community energy company we work with. But if you’re based in London or England, you’ve got London Community Energy, England community energy, you can go and find the groups that do this work. And often they will give you the initial advice for free and then you might fundraise for some project planning as you go. But they will come in they will tell you can you get solar? Can you get a heat pump? What are the most impactful things you can do? And they will work with you to implement those as you go. So yeah, big shout out to those kinds of groups.

Emma Gibson  18:40

Yeah, thanks for that. So it sounds like doing this audit was your kind of important first step. And it sounds like you did something really thorough with an external agency. Certainly, where I work at London travel watch, we did something much more kind of lightweight and internal. As a way of auditing the kind of things that we do like our water use and where we get our electricity from. We don’t own our own building, we have a landlord. So we couldn’t kind of install heat pumps or solar panels, all we could do is try and convince the landlord to renew with a renewable energy tariff next time they were updating their, you know, their electricity supplier. So I think, you know, you can have a big, all singing and dancing audit and you could do something that’s a bit lighter as well, depending on what kind of organisation you’re running. Janet, I wonder if you’ve got any kind of top tips on your kind of first steps and kind of where you started?

Janet Thorne  19:35

I think it’s just a matter of just going for it and you, you know, it’s a, it is confusing, and it’s not necessarily that easy to sort of think of a whole kind of concrete laid out plan. So to some extent, you just don’t wait for that to emerge. You just have to get going and take a first step. And that could be a really practical step like some of the ones that Gus has outlined, although he just told quite a bold ambition but or it could you know, for us,  we don’t have an office, we’re an online digital service. So there was no, there wasn’t many practical things that we could do really. So kind of going, setting it out as a strategic objective, and asking the Board to commit to that was really the first thing I could do. But you know, I kind of had to go to them with a, it was kind of pretty light on on what we were going to do, because that’s just still to emerge. So it was really asking them to say, let’s prioritise this and work out what we need to do. And I think being willing to go with that kind of, you don’t have all the answers, just get going with what you know, is probably my top tip, really, just go for it. And you will find that first step, whatever that first step is, is easier than you think it might be. And then once you’ve taken that first step it becomes, the next step becomes much clearer. And I think that’s, that’s the kind of that’s yeah, that’s what I would encourage. So, for example, now that we’ve made that commitment, I’m now finding myself, I’ve got the sort of the rational excuse to go and talk to others, I see that young trustees movement are starting to talk about this, I’m like, Well, now I can sort of engage with them, because we’ve made a commitment to it. So it makes the next step of actually, you know, actions that you hadn’t even anticipated that makes them more possible if you just get going. So just get going.

Emma Gibson  21:12

Absolutely. And I think the first thing that I did was actually outside of the structure of thinking about an actual kind of climate plan. I joined this organisation, less than two years ago. And so it was a new pension provider. And I just thought, well, I want to know where my pension is going and what it’s being invested in. And is it being invested in fossil fuels? Because that hasn’t been an issue for me in previous places I’ve worked because it’s always been invested in sustainable funds. And so I think that was the first thing that I did. And I managed, it took me a long time to get some answers. But I did in the end, find out that none of our pensions were invested in fossil fuels. And I guess that was the kind of first thing that I did. And then that kind of led me on to thinking like, Okay, what more can we do? So I kind of agree, you’ve just got to start somewhere, and everybody’s starting point is going to be different. And have you seen anything else that anybody else, other organisations have been doing? Are there any other kind of initiatives that you’ve spotted other organisations or people doing that makes you kind of feel hopeful? Any other kind of examples of good leadership?

Janet Thorne  22:16

I’ve been sort of actively trying to collect these recently, because first of all, when we were looking at our own, when I was looking at Reach’s work, I was trying to look for inspiration from others and actually couldn’t find much initially, I kind of asked the question on Twitter and got kind of interesting range of responses. I think there’s a lot more going on than we realise. It’s just not all of its that visible. So even just this morning, I came across, I mean, I know nothing about the heritage sector, but I came across heritage declares and some other work within the heritage sector. And they’ve got such interesting things to say about it, you know, they’ve got… heritage sector is all about handing things on to the next generation, after all. So they’re kind of, their whole mindset is about sort of sustainable practices, and all these sorts of things. And they, and so they’re talking about that, and what can they do not only to make their work more sustainable, but to contribute their expertise to climate action is really inspiring. And I’m sure there’s loads of other examples from other sectors. But specifically, I really like p3 have made a commitment to climate action and a bit like Reach in the sense that they’re not one, you know, that they span quite a lot of different causes. What I found that they, they though, I’m going to quote it actually, in their intro, they were saying that as the directors were signing up to their commitment to do it, and they said, they would see it as a breach of their duties as directors of a charity to continue to behave as though there is no, not a climate emergency. And I thought that was very powerful. I thought, wow. So I think we could, we could all be doing that. And the funders have made a great commitment on climate action, actually. Although, you know, we need to see it through to organisations to be able to act, but I think the person who’s saying to me, the things I find most inspiring is Kirsty MacNeil from Save the Children who’s talking all about the kind of leadership revolution we need really to be able to engage well with climate crisis. She’s talking about, well I won’t do full justice to it, but she talks about engaging with climate crisis as an existential threat, not just one topic, which you can decide to postpone to the next board meeting. To get on and to actually, like we’ve just been talking about to just get on and do stuff, even if it’s imperfect even, don’t wait until you’ve got all the answers, to draw on our specialisms and contribute those and to have a sort of a movement mentality, which is to say to have a broader not just to be leading your own organisation, but be looking at how you can connect with others and leading more broadly. And I think those are really inspiring lessons for us all to learn from.

Emma Gibson  24:43

Absolutely brilliant advice, isn’t it? Gus, what about you, have you got any examples that have inspired you?

Gus Alston  24:51

So one I found quite inspiring and I’ve just had a long weekend away in Sheffield, not for work just for for some walking in the peaks and to I guess get myself back to nature and relax a bit, and there’s an organisation there that I’ve always thought really impressive, which is hilly city farm. So City Farm in Sheffield, they’ve got the South Yorkshire energy centre there. And when you go in a lot of it looks a bit old and dated now, but that’s because they were doing it so long before I saw it anywhere else. You know, they’ve got a heat pump there that goes into the ground when I saw one there, I’d never heard of a heat pump. So I think what they’ve done is really impressive, and it’s very much linked into poverty, fuel poverty, but it’s all of the different ways of engaging so they do give people advice on their energy bills. And then actually, I’d like to highlight something that’s happening in Barnet, which I was sort of responsible for co-founding but I must say I haven’t actually done any of the work. And that is the Barnet VCS. So voluntary and community sector Environmental Network. And that’s been really interesting that that happens monthly now, there’s a newsletter, I think got probably 70 to 80 members, you might have 40 to 50 people at a single meeting. And what that’s done is it’s really made it very clear that there’s loads going in Barnet that none of us knew about. And bearing in mind, you know that word environmental is so wide. So this is everything from people looking at green spaces, people looking at picking up litter, there’s a Barnet based organisation that plants trees to help offset climate change. So there’s people working in Barnet, who are national or local who are involved in every part of it. And I think that is really powerful. It’s about bringing people together, I do think there was a real lack of, I don’t think I’ve seen much leadership, nationally from the organisations that bring together charities. So until I saw the ACEVO group come up the climate crisis group, which I obviously applied to join, I haven’t seen a lot about from the larger sort of the infrastructure organisations you might call them, about bringing us together around this. So I think, I hope that now we’ll see a lot more of that both locally and nationally.

Janet Thorne  27:13

Yeah, I agree entirely with Gus about that, ACEVO is showing some leadership, which is brilliant, you know, NCVO, I actually looked to see what they had. And they were just framing it as sort of environmental management, about managing their supply chains and stuff. And I thought that’s a real, there’s a real opportunity for them now to step out and maybe lead the sector in a much more positive way. You know, like Gus’ point about the city fund, about the heat pumps, being sort of both environmental and dealing with fuel poverty, there’s… when you look at the climate crisis, everything is interconnected, isn’t it, which can make it really overwhelming and make it feel like too much to to engage with. But it’s also a huge opportunity as well, because by tackling the climate crisis, you also have the opportunity to make a lot of other things better. It’s what I saw someone dubbed multi solver approach. Basically… So you know, by improving, I mean, Emma, this would be your area of expertise, but by improving public transport and cycling, then we’re improving, we’re cutting emissions, we’re reducing pollution. But we’re also making neighbourhoods nicer to live in, we’re increasing health, tackling obesity, mental health, all sorts of things. And that’s very true of sort of greening spaces and things like that as well. So there’s a lot of ways of tackling, of coming up with solutions, which also tackle inequality and all sorts of things which are very close to our heart. So there’s a brilliant opportunity there. And it’s about joining the dots and seeing the interconnections and working collectively. And I think there’s a real you know, it’s exciting when you look at it through that lens.

Emma Gibson  28:42

And while you’re talking Janet, I was thinking about, because you’ve put in parallels about how as leaders, we have conversations about race, and the difference between maybe quite a passive approach to thinking about climate change, or just, you know, not being racist. And going that extra step, which is actually you know, becoming an anti racist organisation, or becoming an organisation that’s actively looking at climate change as an existential crisis, as you’re saying. So, in terms of, you as leaders, some of the conversations that certainly I’ve had have been more challenging than others, say, with my staff, or with trustees or other stakeholders, I know when I was discussing with my staff recently about bringing in a vegetarian-only catering policy, there was certainly, you know, strong opinions being expressed about, what? we can never have a cocktail sausage or chicken wing ever again, at any of our events? Are there any kind of difficult conversations that you’ve had or more challenging conversations and how have you kind of tackled explaining why this work is really important.

Janet Thorne  29:53

That’s the question I’m still trying to work out the answer to. I sort of managed to do it at the strategic level, but that’s kind of one step removed, isn’t it? I find that if I would bring it up with anyone, they tend to sort of either glaze over or sort of avert their eyes. So I’ve clearly not found the right way of talking about it yet. And I think that’s not just it’s not just to be problem, I think, as my daughter would say, there’s I think there’s, it’s a really it is a difficult conversation to have, isn’t it? Because it, it bleeds into much wider, is much wider than just the workplace, isn’t it? It bleeds into your wider life. And that in itself makes it a we’re not so used to having those kinds of conversations, and we need to get better at it, I suppose. Because you have to really what it’s about is processing, isn’t it, really looking at it and thinking, what is this actually going to mean? What are the implications of this kind of the kind of changes that we’re likely to see? How is that going to affect our lives, the lives of our beneficiaries, but even the lives of our families? And, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a hard thing to do. And I’m, I’m sort of mindful, you know, I’m kind of want to bring it up with my staff team, because I know a lot of them haven’t thought about it that much, certainly in the context of our work. How do I do that in a way that is supportive and encouraging, and doesn’t just leave everyone sort of feeling terrible? And I’m still trying to work that one out, I know that there is a way because it’s about hope, and stuff like that, but I’m still finding my way. So Gus, give us the answer.

Gus Alston  31:14

So I definitely don’t have the answer. I think the challenge for me has come in a couple of places. The first one was the trustees saying to me, is this achievable? And this was around the zero net carbon planning. And I at the time said, Yes, and I tried to not show the fear in my face and keep a straight face. And luckily, it looks like it might be it looks like we might hit our target. But I became less and less optimistic of that as time went on. And it’s only recently that a bit of hopeful funding or good, good probability funding has kind of fallen into place, but the right time that I think it might still happen. So I think there’s something there about, you know, is it realistic, what can you achieve, but on this occasion, I was very much a kind of shoot for the stars, and maybe, you know, maybe land on the moon sort of approach and see where we get to. So I think a big challenge here is we’re not experts. So we’re going for zero net carbon. And one of the reasons we’re doing that is because it’s quite a good headline, it’s quite a good way to attract people’s attention and have a conversation. But we know that it might not be that that’s always the most impactful thing we could be doing. It could be the wrong target, it could take us in the wrong direction. And so we’re acknowledging as we go and trying to learn about it. And I would sort of question, you know, in a more sort of, in this kind of global sense, you’ve got Cop26 coming up, we’re talking about zero net carbon. But it seems to rely on this idea that all of us can reduce our carbon to a certain level, and then pay to offset some of that, which essentially, is a way of, you know, one half of the world pay in another half of the world because we want to generate more than our fair share of carbon. So I really question whether zero net carbon in a global context means a great deal, or what does it mean, and I’m really grappling with that myself. And to be clear, we are going to utilise some offset. And we are going to count some things that we do against other things. So for example, we are putting on I think our solar panel array if we were to build it tomorrow, according to London Community Energy website, it would be the second largest community owned solar power solar array in London, if you take off some of those in schools, which are huge in huge premises. And so we will offset some of the additional we put back into the grid against our other activities. But this idea of paying other organisations I’ve struggled with, and at the moment, I’m still going to do so I think there’s a challenge there. And also, I guess a challenge for me to the others around me to just be authentic and open and say we know we don’t understand all of this. And we’re going to work on it together. And we reserve the right to change our minds on how we approach this and how we can be the most impactful.

Emma Gibson  34:07

Yeah, and we reserve the right to not be perfect, right? But we’re doing our best and we’re making a start. Janet, is there anything more you want to say on that idea?

Janet Thorne  34:16

Yeah, I just so agree with that. And I think it’s…  None of us know, what the right way is of tackling climate change. And all of us, including world leaders are kind of making it up as we go along to some degree and trying to work out what’s the best way. And as humanity has delayed action for so long, that we’re now in a place where really only we need pretty radical solutions. And so that in itself is a bit, means that we don’t you know, it’s not all laid out, there aren’t established paths you can follow. But just if you you know, sort of taking Gus’ point about trying to work towards net zero and carbon offsetting and then all the questions that raises so even in really quite practical level, it becomes quite complex. And I think that’s all the more reason why it’s absolutely fine to say, we really don’t know what the right answer is, we’ve got an intent, our intent is to try and do something about it. We’ll be open and honest about our learning. And we’ll try and learn from others wherever we can. And that’s the only way to approach it. So I think if you’re a leader who’s used to, you know, having a really nice control over your, your, your goals and your milestones and everything like that, then I think you kind of have to be able to just let go of it and say, this is messy. This is, you know, we’re not sure. But we’ll, we’ll be serious and about our intent, the direction that we’re going. And we will keep asking whether this is the best way and be ready to change and pivot if we need to, which is, after all, the kind of way that you need to lead anyway through change, that we’ve had to lead through the pandemic and that we will need to lead through the next few years. So I think it’s about kind of becoming a little bit more confident and willing to just share and be authentic and share that we don’t know all of the answers, but we’re open and we’re learning.

Janet Thorne  34:19

And I think that’s a brilliant note to end on. Thank you very much Janet and Gus for sharing your thoughts really, honestly with us.

Maisie Hulbert  36:16

Thank you so much for listening. And a special thanks to Emma, Gus and Janet, for taking part. If you’re interested to know more about the work ACEVO is doing in this space, please check our website, acevo.org.uk and our hashtag on social media #AcevoClimate

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