What can I do about climate change, personally and as a facilitator?

I Declare A Climate Emergency

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.

WHAT CAN I DO, TO CALM THE CLIMATE?

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.

sustainable facilitation easy hacks

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.


See also about me, how I work, who I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together. Please do not delay before contacting me – the earlier I hear from you, the more chance that I will be able to help and the more helpful I may be able to be.

Register now on Eventbrite for my free facilitation webinars, and for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels.

Climate Change

This article was written for ICAI Winds and Waves, December 2015 issue.W&W 1215-cover 1000x667Welcome to this December 2015 issue of Winds & Waves, the online magazine of ICA International, entitled “Climate Change”.

The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) was so named, when first separately incorporated in 1973, to reflect its social mission of ‘human development’. This was to restore balance to the social process by strengthening the weak cultural (meaning-giving) dynamic in society, relative to the dominant economic and allied political dynamics that provide sustenance and order.

The wider context for the social process, now as then, is the natural environment of our planet. As the environmental impacts of our still-unbalanced social process have escalated, and become more clearly understood, so ICAs have increasingly sought to broaden their global perspective to include the environmental as well as the social and the spirit dimensions of human development.  Reflecting this trend, former CEO of ICA USA Terry Bergdall describes ICA’s mission in his 2015 ICA Handbook as ‘to build a just and equitable society in harmony with Planet Earth’.

COP21: Thousands join London climate change march, November 29

This issue is published in the month that 196 parties to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference have negotiated a global agreement on the reduction of climate change at ‘COP21’ in Paris – an extraordinary achievement, and the result of an extra-ordinary process. The conference was preceded on 28-29 November by worldwide civil society actions, intended to ‘send a message to world leaders in Paris’, involving over 785,000 people and 2,300 events in over 175 countries according to 350.org.

Many have remarked on the radical transformation of our global economy, and therefore also of our politics and culture, that will be required for us to achieve even the goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to pre-industrial levels, let alone the more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees that was also agreed in Paris. This certainly represents a daunting challenge. Like every crisis, however, climate change represents an opportunity as well. To paraphrase Naomi Klein in ‘This Changes Everything’, referenced here by Richard & Maria Maguire in Australia, climate change presents the clearest and most compelling case we could wish for that such a transformation of the social process is indeed required, and in the interests of all of us, urgently. With the Paris agreement of the world’s governments now in place, both the challenge and the opportunity for civil society is clear. As our own ICA mantra has it, “These are the times” and “We are the people”.

In this issue you will find stories of how ICAs and ICA colleagues participated in those climate actions in November, and how they are responding to climate change in their work more broadly, in Australia and the USA, and in Canada, DRC & Peru. You will also find stories of how the social process has unfolded over 40 years in communities that hosted some of ICA’s original Human Development Projects of the 1970s in Chile, Guatemala, and Indonesia & Malaysia.

As usual, this issue includes stories of a variety of methods and approaches to human development around the world.  These include facilitating conciliation in Ukraine, transformational action planning in Taiwan and facilitation learning labs in Hong Kong; story telling and oral history in the USA and the Torres Strait Islands of Australia; philanthropy in India and micro-enterprise in Chile; medical support in DRC and impact assessment in Kenya; Montessori pre-school education in Sri Lanka and youth volunteering in Tajikistan; and dialogues, book studies and reflective blogging online.

You will also find book reviews on personal transformation and sexuality in India, on social transformation and gender in Nepal and on dynamic ageing in the USA; plus reflections from Venezuela on ‘swimming with the current’ and social chaos, from Japan on the evolution of leadership styles and from Ukraine on culture and organisation development.

ICA International has been delighted to be able to support a upsurge of face-to-face regional gatherings of ICAs this year, first of East & Southern Africa in Tanzania May and then (reported in this issue) of West Africa in Cote D’Ivoire in September, Europe MENA  in the Netherlands in November and Asia Pacific in India in December. We are looking forward to a regional gathering of the Americas in Peru in April, and keen to support all the regions to expand and deepen their regional and inter-regional interchange next year.

We are delighted to welcome two new Associate members to ICA International, both approved unanimously by our online General Assembly this month.  SCR Kenya and NCOC Kenya were both nominated by ICA Kenya with the support of ICA Uganda and ICA Tanzania, and both are led by long-time colleagues of ICA in Kenya.

We are grateful to the 28 ICAs who have responded recently to our global survey on members’ usage of, capacity for and aspirations for ToP (Technology of Participation) facilitation methods, and to the ICAI Global ToP working group that is analysing the responses in order to make recommendations for peer-to-peer support and collaboration among ICAs in implementing our new global ToP policy.  We urge members that have not yet responded to continue to do so – please contact us to ask for a link to the online survey form.

We are also grateful to the ICAI Global Conference working group for its work with Initiatives of Change (IofC) exploring possibilities for a joint conference in Human Development at IofC Caux in Switzerland or elsewhere, now perhaps in 2017 or 2018.

We are grateful as ever to the tireless editorial team of Winds & Waves itself, who work so hard to enable us to share these stories and insights on human development  in this magazine three times each year.  I echo the appeal of Peter Ellins in this issue – please do contribute to the magazine next year, and please contact us if you may be interested in joining the team to support with commissioning, reporting, editing, layout and design, social media, or in any other way.

Thank you finally to our contributors and our readers, and to all our members, partners and colleagues ‘advancing human development worldwide’.  I wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all who are celebrating them.

Enjoy this issue, and please share it and encourage others to do so!