Death by Powerpoint

Trewin Restorick runs down his awards from the best and worst of this year's sustainability events

19 Dec 2011, 00:05

Looking back over the year I am not sure whether to be amused or horrified by the number of sustainability events I have attended. To ensure that the time I've spent at these events has not been wasted, I have created my own personal event awards to pull out key lessons, the highs and the lows.

But don't worry, no one has to rent a tux for this, just join me in a promise to do better in 2012.

Green Hero Award

Climate change needs more charismatic communicators but there are individuals leading the way. The best has to be Tim Smit who I saw at the wonderfully eclectic Port Elliot Festival down in Cornwall. He talked about the dangers of being sucked into the niceties of the establishment and how this could blunt his undoubted zeal for change. He also bemoaned the tediousness of being stuck in a room with hardcore environmentalists, the experience of which left him with the desire to rush out and buy a new Ferrari.

Ellen MacArthur also provided a breath of fresh air with the very personal story of her conversion to the sustainability cause. Her presentation was an alluring opening track for a new CD and it will be intriguing to see how it develops.

Best CEO Award

This year has seen the emergence of a range of CEO sustainability champions. My winner is Ian Cheshire the CEO of Kingfisher who is speaking with refreshing candor and honesty about the scale of the sustainability challenges facing his business. Top of his agenda is how his company can ensure there is resource availability, how they can innovate, and how they can better engage consumers in the sustainability debate.

Paul Polman has also been remarkable at stating the level of ambition for Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan, whilst Jeremy Darroch at Sky continues to impress with his under-stated but rigorous approach to sustainability.

Tired technology award

Runner up for this award is the perennial favourite Powerpoint. Death by Powerpoint comes in many forms, but the worst is when companies can't stop telling you how brilliant they are. Listening along, you would think that either the sustainability challenge has been entirely resolved, or they are endorsing of Vic Reeves' assertion that 78.85 per cent of statistics are made up.

But the winner of the Tired technology award has to be the ICT sector. Four years ago Global Action Plan released a report called an Inefficient Truth stating that the sector creates carbon emissions similar to the aviation industry and that it could also be the solution through the use of smart technologies. In the subsequent years all I ever hear from the ICT sector is the same message. I am profoundly bored hearing about greener data centres, server optimization and the fact that cloud computing could cut UK carbon emissions by around 15 per cent. I know smart technologies, smart grids and smart cities could be transformative - just give me some solid examples rather than wishy washy ambitions.

Most over-used story award

Behaviour change has definitely been one of the most talked about subjects this year. For example, the "Please don't call us the nudge unit" in the Cabinet Office has started to describe how they are changing the wording on things like the Energy Performance Certificate based on the latest thinking around ideas such as social norms.

But the anecdotes and the evidence haven't quite moved on. Four times this year I heard the same story about the US hotel experiment encouraging guests to reuse their towels rather than getting them washed. For those who have somehow miraculously missed the story it is: 'Guests are more likely to reuse towels if they are told other people in their hotel room have followed this behaviour and if the hotel has already made a commitment to support an environmental cause'. Percentages of take-up vary in accordance with the above Vic Reeves' rule of statistics.

Best stop digging now award

There is really only one winner in this category. A spokesperson for L'Oreal talking at one of the Guardian Sustainability events had already tested the thickness of the ice by endorsing the use of air-brushing on model photos.

He then leapt straight into the hole by stating that it was partly due to his company's products that the public life of women in their middle to late age had been extended as they were now able to appear more attractive. The event facilitator Jo Confino could have thrown him a shovel to complete the job, but instead graciously offered a rope ladder of escape.

James Milner Award

After a particularly haunting memory many years back of being ill halfway through a presentation whilst wearing a portable mike, I'm always happy to get through all presentations in a year without incident.

This year however I am awarding myself the James Milner award. Like the ubiquitous Man City and England player I am always getting called in to fill in at the last minute. This means that I end up speaking on a whole range of subjects the scariest of which was being confronted by a church hall full of WI members. I had expected to speak for 10 minutes with my own Powerpoint presentation. Instead I was asked to talk for 30 with only a crucifix as a backdrop. I took a deep breath, started talking and prayed that a slow handclap wouldn't start...

Trewin Restorick is the chief executive of Global Action Plan

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