On the weekend that David Attenborough addresses members of the public who are taking part in the UK’s first climate assembly, starting in Birmingham, I am heartened to know that more and more of us are seriously raising and addressing concerns about climate change, and challenging and supporting others to do so as well. I am heartened too by the increasing recognition of the role that engagement, deliberation and facilitation have to play.
This is a question that I have been pondering more and more myself, especially as I take something of a sabbatical this winter in Sitges, in Spain, to give me some extra time to “reflect, write and learn, and to look ahead to my next seven years of freelance facilitation“. That seems to be working, even though I have found little time for writing and most of the time I have devoted to learning has been spent studying Spanish. My last couple of blog posts have helped, and I didn’t even have to write them. I reflected on my career and my facilitation practice with James Smart in an interview with Session Lab, and on the importance of values in facilitation with Helene Jewell for the IAF Facilitation Stories podcast. And I have done a little reading and research, including estimating my own personal and professional carbon footprint.
What I have learned, and what (more) can I do?
Carbonfootprint tells me that the average annual carbon footprint for people in the UK is 6.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), for the EU about 6.4 tonnes and worldwide about 5 tonnes – and that the worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 tonnes. It’s free carbon footprint calculator tells me that my own carbon footprint for 2019 amounts to about 10.3 tonnes – 6.2 from flying and 4.1 from everything else.
It comes as no great surprise then that the single most effective way for me to reduce my own carbon footprint is to fly less. I flew 31 single flights in 2019, all within Europe, 8 personal and 23 for work. That compares to 24 and 25 in 2017 and 2018, however those two years included two trips to the Middle East, two to North America, one to Africa and one to Asia & Australia (and a few business class upgrades), resulting in emissions of around 12-13 tonnes per year from flights alone. So, while I have already somewhat reduced the carbon impact of my flying, I think it is clear that I am still among the minority of problem flyers in the UK that needs to stop taking so many flights.
Reducing the rest of my carbon footprint will be harder. Travel and household energy are typically the areas of highest personal carbon impact, and it seems that mine are otherwise already low. I live in central London, I don’t own a car and rarely hire one, and I travel otherwise largely by bus and train or on foot locally. So the carbon footprint of my non-flight travel amounted to around 0.2 tonnes in 2019. I live in a small, modern and well insulated flat, and I understand from Ecotricity that their supply of 100% renewable household gas & electricity already contributes precisely zero to my carbon footprint. An equivalent supply of non-renewable energy would otherwise contribute around 0.9 tonnes.
The remainder of my emissions are from ‘secondary’ sources, largely consumption – of food, drink, clothing and other products & supplies, use of appliances, and recreational and professional activities. For me these amounted to around 3.8 tonnes in 2019 – 1.5 on hotels, restaurants and the like (much of that for business), and 2.3 on the rest. Already I have substantially reduced my meat and dairy intake in recent years, albeit primarily for health reasons. I have never had much interest in shopping or expensive hobbies and I don’t keep pets. Traveling less could certainly reduce the contribution of my hotel & restaurant consumption.
What does that leave?
As well as reducing our own carbon footprints, we can all use what influence we have to challenge and support others to reduce theirs as well. This can include how we vote, and how we spend and invest. Also how we donate and volunteer, and how we exercise influence and leadership in our in our own workplaces, communities and societies. I have long taken environmental and sustainability considerations into how I vote, and in my choice to invest in an ethical pension. I could donate and volunteer more, and I could pay more attention to how I spend and invest. I suspect that I could make much more of an impact in how I exercise influence and leadership, and particularly in my professional role as a facilitator.
As facilitators we can, of course, take care to use recycled flip chart paper and refillable marker pens, and venues that provide these and that recycle and use renewable energy. There are some more ‘easy hacks’ here. Such measures can be worthwhile for the indirect impact they can have by influencing others, as much as for the direct impact of reducing emissions themselves.
However, the greatest contribution to the carbon footprint of a facilitation contract is likely to be associated with any travel, board & lodging involved in meeting face-to-face. That would include our own as facilitators, of course, but especially that of the group – and even more so for a larger group and where air travel may be involved.
So, we can seek to work with clients in the contracting and design process to limit and reduce the carbon impact of the facilitation process as a whole – for example by choice of venue and design of face-to-face events, but also by the use of more online facilitation and blended or hybrid approaches (those that involve face-to-face and virtual elements in sequence or at once).
We can also choose not to seek or to accept work that would likely involve a high carbon impact, perhaps by referring a distant client to a trusted colleague or IAF Certified Professional Facilitator located closer to the group or the venue. We can of course also choose to seek work particularly from groups and organisations that are working to respond constructively to the climate crisis and not from those that are not.
We may find ourselves faced with new ethical dilemmas. If I decline a facilitation contract, could that result in a higher carbon impact than accepting it and working with the client to reduce its carbon impact? Or could it result in a less effective and socially beneficial meeting or process without affecting the carbon footprint? If I decline to travel to provide facilitation training to a distant group that requests it, could that result in more flights and a greater impact due to participants’ travel to my scheduled public courses in London and Brussels?
We can also share and collaborate with each other as facilitators, to explore what else we can each do and what we can all do together and as a profession. This post is inspired in part by just such conversations at recent IAF England & Wales facilitation meetups and our 2019 annual conference, including for example on Greening our practice with Penny Walker and on Climate Conversations with Susannah Raffe.
I am looking forward to considering how IAF E&W can support more of such collaboration at our annual face-to-face Leadership Team meeting in Birmingham this coming week. I hope that the global Board of IAF may be having a similar conversation at its annual face-to-face Board meeting, that is taking place in Kuala Lumpur as I write.
I understand that it is planned already to hold fewer, larger CPF assessment events in order to reduce assessor travel. Will that reduce or increase travel and carbon impact overall? Will this year’s single IAF Global Facilitation Summit in Sweden, the home flygskam (flight shame), have a higher or lower carbon impact than the usual 3 or 4 regional conferences each year? What can be done to limit the carbon impact and maximise the beneficial social impact of this year’s summit in particular, and IAF as a whole?
We can also choose to ‘offset’ emissions by supporting projects that aim to tackle climate change and help to improve the lives of some of those most affected. In 2019 I ‘offset’ 72 tonnes of CO2e by donating £540 to Climatecare, roughly equivalent to my total personal & professional carbon footprint since I went freelance in 2012 – on that basis, improbably good value!
What (more) shall I do?
I am declaring a climate emergency.
I shall seek to limit and reduce my own personal & professional carbon footprint – my aim is to contribute no more than the current UK average within 5 years, ie. a reduction of around 37% from my 10.3 tonnes in 2019 to 6.5 in 2024.
I shall seek to use what influence I can to challenge and support others to respond constructively themselves as well, both personally and professionally – starting by including a short statement to that effect at How I work and in future proposals to clients.
In particular, I shall seek to:
- fly less, and travel normally by rail (and perhaps sea) to destinations that can be reached within a single day or overnight journey
- travel less overall, and mostly to places accessible to London without flying – that includes Sitges, in case you were wondering
- consider carbon impact as well as price and convenience in deciding whether and how to travel (and never air miles)
- make the most of travel by taking time to take advantage of and enjoy both the journey and the destination
- work more with groups and organisations that are working to respond constructively to the climate crisis, and less with those that are not
- work with clients to limit and reduce the carbon impact of our work, including by choice of venue and process design and by the use of more online, blended and hybrid approaches
- consider the likely carbon impact as well as likely value (to the client, to me and to the wider social good) of prospective work in deciding whether to accept it or perhaps refer it
- collaborate with other facilitators to explore what else we can each do, and what we can all do together and as a profession, and with IAF on what we can do as an association
- support projects, campaigns and politics that aim to to respond constructively to the climate crisis
- periodically reflect on my progress relative to these goals, and share what I else learn and plan as a result.
In addition to the links shared above, my thinking on this has been informed also by other posts of Penny Walker including What can I do to calm the climate and Managing the change to sustainability, and by Business declares a climate emergency, The Man in Seat 61 and Trains vs. planes: What’s the real cost of travel? Top of my reading list is now Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide.
What questions are you asking yourself, what have you learned and what will you do? What can you contribute to my own thinking and plans? Please do add a comment below, or contact me.