Mark Shayler is the author of December’s Bigeye Book Club selection, “You Can’t Make Money from a Dead Planet.” In this episode, Mark discusses practical examples of achieving sustainability without compromising business success. We discuss the circular economy, regenerative agriculture, the impact of climate anxiety, and communicating sustainability messages effectively. Listeners receive a 25 percent discount on Mark’s book at KoganPage.com: use promo code BIGEYE25 at checkout.
Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:
Mark Shayler: It isn’t business that’s wrong; it’s the way we’ve been running it. There’s no such thing as a bad material; there are bad systems. I’m very keen that we differentiate rather than vilify.
Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: fresh perspectives on marketing and advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. The United Nations Conference on Climate Change, COP28, ended last week. Representatives from nearly 200 countries gathered in Dubai in an effort to coordinate global climate action. this year, In Clear Focus has featured several guests discussing sustainability, the roles that brands can play in the transition to renewable sources of energy, and ways that we can identify and reduce our carbon emissions. Many of our conversations highlighted the importance of creativity, business innovation, and effective communication strategies in addressing environmental challenges. So it’s perhaps fitting that the Bigeye Book Club selection for December is “You Can’t Make Money from a Dead Planet, The Sustainable Method for Driving Profits.” The book’s author is Mark Shayler, an experienced and respected environmentalist, sustainability consultant, public speaker, and author. In 2001, Mark founded his consultancy APE, which helps businesses adopt sustainable practices positively impacting their environmental footprint and their profitability. Mark is also a founding partner of The Do Lectures and runs workshops promoting innovative business solutions. To discuss his new book and some of its key ideas, I’m delighted that Mark is joining us today from London, England. Mark, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Mark Shayler: Thank you. It’s such a joy to be here. And, you know, we talk about clear focus as something that is normal, and it isn’t. We live in a very occluded time. So, having a moment to focus and have clarity is an utter joy for me. So thank you for this.
Adrian Tennant: Well, you’ve been working in this field for three decades, but what initially sparked your interest in sustainability and environmental issues?
Mark Shayler: I’m old. I’m 50 – I’m not old, I’m 55. And when I was growing up in the seventies, we had to do regular projects and we got marked for original originality. And I was really concerned that I wouldn’t do what everybody else was doing, which was, frankly, football or the war. That’s what they were doing in the seventies. And my dad came up with an idea. He said, “Well, there’s this body called Greenpeace who are fighting to protect the whales.” And I thought, “Well, that sounds interesting.” So, I did a project called Greenpeace and the Whale. and I got marked, I think six out of 25 for originality. Nobody else had done it, but I’ve got a low mark. But in the middle of all of that, I came across a philosophy that was native North American, which essentially said, “Until the last river is poisoned and the last fish has been eaten, we won’t realize that we can’t eat money.” And that’s paraphrased it and done it no service at all. But that really struck me. And even at age … what would I have been … nine? Even at that age, it struck me as utterly true. And I thought, “Okay, this is interesting.” Then you fire that with my love of geography and all things that aren’t art and aren’t science but are both of those things. When it comes down to my specialism, I’m really focused on being broad rather than being narrow. And consequently, love this idea of combining subjects in different ways, and environmental science and geography gave me the option to do just that. Then I then did a degree on it. From then you can’t get out of it, can you?
Adrian Tennant: It’s pretty committed. Well, as I mentioned in the introduction, you’re Founding Partner of The Do Lectures. Now, you wrote two books for their publishing arm: “Do Disrupt: Change the Status Quo or Become It,” in 2013, and “Do Present: How to Give a Talk like you’ve always wanted to,” published in 2020. So, Mark, were these informed by your experiences consulting with organizations?
Mark Shayler: Yeah, they were, but it’s interesting. I’ve kind of written my books in reverse order in terms of my career. initially, as an environmental consultant, I worked a lot with businesses on green stuff. And then, over time, that shifted into innovation. But I wrote my books in reverse order. Do Disrupt is about purposeful disruption, innovation for good, and taking an idea and turning it into something that could be bigger than an idea. It could be a lifestyle, or it could be a business. And it’s very much a coloring book. it’s a do it, fill it in. DIY book. And I did that one first because at that point, which was 10 years ago now, that’s when most of the interest was. And the title has dated really badly in many ways. You know, that word is used by lots and lots of people now, and it’s a real shame, but I’m really proud of that little book. It sold 20,000 copies, people like it, and it’s something I pick up from time to time to give myself a kick in the pants. And then I wrote Do Present. My story’s really interesting. As an environmental consultant, occasionally, you get asked to speak at a conference. I’ve got a very gentle and funny and nice style of presentation. And then people come up to you and say, “Where did you learn that?” And, of course, I didn’t. I just picked it up. But I thought, “Well, hang on a minute. There’s something here that could work.” So I put a course together called Present, and we ran that, and it kept selling out. And then I thought, “Well, the course is great, but what if people don’t have 200 or 300 pounds to come on the course?” So I thought, “Well, I’ll write the book, and the Do Book Company was really keen that I did write the book and that published. The timing was spectacularly bad, Adrian! The timing – it came out on April the 2nd, 2020, when no one was doing any public speaking. But, but it’s done all right, you know, it’s over the last three years, two years, it’s sold all right. So they’re the two books. One was about finding your passion and one was about finding your voice to enunciate your passion. And then the book that I’ve always been wanting to write is the one that was published recently, which is 32 years. It’s been on slow in an oven, and, yeah, it’s emerged very gently, that book has!
Adrian Tennant: Well, that’s your third book, “You Can’t Make Money from a Dead Planet.” What prompted you to write it?
Mark Shayler: Lots of things happened all at once. We all stopped. 2020 made us all stop and think, and we all saw how nature rebounded just a little bit, just a little less film on the canal, just a few more foxes running around. And I think we all had a focus of attention pulled onto the greener part of our lives. Number two, COP26, here in the UK, truly fired up a desire to change business. And I’ve always said business has created all of the world’s problems – well, business and religion, but we’ll focus on business – has created all of the world’s problems. It’s the only thing that can solve them. And I wanted to put a pro-business manifesto together, which said it isn’t business that’s wrong; it’s the way we’ve been running it. There’s no such thing as a bad material; there are bad systems. I’m very keen that we differentiate rather than vilify. And so I wanted to write it from that perspective. And I’d also, during lockdown, written numerous really short courses that I pulled together and we were teaching over the months. And so I had content, I had some content, that was fresh, and I thought, “Yeah, people need to hear this right now.” The time is perfect. That the focus on sustainability is urgent I think. There was a third element here that I hadn’t really factored in, and that is the spreading of the conspiracy theory “alternative truth” world, which basically says it’s a scam. And I was seeing people who had a logical brain being pulled into perspectives and views of the world that I didn’t think did their intellect any justice and that were, frankly, scientifically unproven. So I thought, “No, there needs to be a correction of that curve as well.” And so that was another reason to write it. Of course, the fourth reason is a raging ego, but that’s not that important in this case because it’s not about me, right? It’s about – it’s about what we do as businesses.
Adrian Tennant: Alright. How did you come up with the title?
Mark Shayler: Okay, so me and my publisher disagree on this. I think the title was mine, and the subtitle was his. He likes to say it’s a joint effort, which is probably saying the same thing, right? But it goes back to that Native North American verse, you know, “You can’t eat money, and you can’t make money when there’s nothing to make money from.” In order to turn goods, and therefore have an impact on life, you need to take raw materials, add labor, and you get product, profit, and waste. It’s the old Marxist equation of production. That’s not a political Marxist; that’s an economic Marxist: the old Marxist equation of production. And in the time since Marx wrote that equation, every part of that has changed. Raw materials have become increasingly rare and expensive. Product has become profligate. You know, hands up if you want more stuff in your house. There is a level of abject poverty that is disenfranchising and breaking, I’m not romanticizing that at all, but most people have too much stuff – most people in the northern world have too much stuff. And then you’ve got labor, which is expensive, rightly so, because we’re removing the abuse of lower income and cost economies. And then waste has got nowhere to go. Away has gone away. So, every single element of that equation has shifted. And profits are arguably too high and too concentrated, not distributed fairly enough. So, I just thought, “You know what, there’s something here around making money, and we vilify it. It’s not making money that’s bad. It’s how we make money.” So the subtitle being, “How to drive sustainable profits” wouldn’t be the words I would use. However, they get the points across really, really clearly. And I wanted to, I wanted something that would sit on the shelves and jump out at you. And the title gets a lot of love. It gets some hate, actually. It’s quite interesting. some people say, “Well, obviously,” and you just think you say that, and yet … and yet! So that’s where the title came from. And it’s a, it’s a nice title. I like it.
Adrian Tennant: Avoiding waste is a central theme of the book. Now, in the context of circular economy principles, you write about two recovery cycles: the natural cycle and the technical cycle. Mark, can you explain what these are and why they matter?
Mark Shayler: Yeah. So, in nature, there is no waste. Every single thing that grows, that is created, gets broken back down, and its constituent parts get reused, sometimes they need to be processed by an animal, eaten, and then defecated out, and they become something else again. Sometimes, they just break down. Animals themselves would just break down and go back into the soil. And yet, we’ve created systems where we’ve not even thought about the waste end of that equation. So, the circular economy is about tying up the loose end that is waste back into the loose end that is raw material so that we get a circle. Now, the natural cycle is the easiest one of the two of them. The natural cycle is where you’ve got a material or a product that can break down into natural elements again. So that would be anything that kind of like food-based packaging, mushroom-based packaging, using cardboard that can be broken back down and go back into the natural cycles of nature. The technical cycle, that’s where we give nature a hand. So we would take, for example, a speaker, or the laptop that we’re talking on. And you would say, “Okay, well, aluminium content’s really high. Let’s strip that out. Let’s reprocess that and turn that into new aluminium. Okay. We’ve also got some glass. That’s a challenging thing to do. How do we take the glass out? Can we reuse it? Or do we need to regrind it into silica and start again?” With clothing, you’ve got both the natural and the technical cycles in one place. So you’ve got cotton and wool, which are natural materials, which will, in time, break back down. And then you’ve got polyester and nylon, which are man-made, more person-made materials, which need some help to be broken back down. And we’ve seen a whole shift of attention to chemical recycling in that world, and that’s a really good thing. But people often are suspicious of businesses making money from doing good, right? Just crazy. So the circular economy is saying, “How do we design our product so that we can free up these raw materials on the natural cycle or we can free them up on the technical cycle, and what happens afterwards?” It’s not just one cycle. This is designing products for second, third, and fourth use and or materials for second, third, and fourth use. And that’s just business sense. You know, the word “Eco” comes from the Greek word “Oikos” meaning “home,” and the word “Eco” sits in “Economy” as strongly as it sits in “Ecology.” And one means keeping your house in order in terms of measurement, and the other one means keeping your house in order in terms of quality. The two things are the same, and at some point, economic models have shifted them, pulled them apart, and said, “Fight!” And that’s never been the way it was intended to be. They were supposed to be working together. That’s what I try and do in the book.
Adrian Tennant: You highlight research that shows climate anxiety is profoundly affecting young people around the world. So Mark, are there any reasons to be cheerful?
Mark Shayler: Yeah, loads of positive things that we’re seeing. But climate anxiety – it’s a real thing, you know. We’ve got significant amounts of young people, in particular, totally terrified about what’s coming, and we’ve made that worse by saying, “Oh, well, it’s up to your generation to sort it out!” The Boomers are really good at this, “Well, you know, it’s all in your hands now.” That’s not enough – right? That is just not enough. So, you know, I’ve got four kids, I’ve got one granddaughter, another granddaughter imminent, and I don’t want to hand them a problem. I want to hand them a series of tools that are the solution. So this fear of, I guess you could call it climate and societal collapse is real. it’s real and so we’re seeing huge amounts of referrals back into the health services for people who are totally bewildered about what to do. Millennials, in particular, they’re a kind of split personality about this. They say they care, and then their behavior doesn’t always follow through, just witness any festival after a whoop of Millennials have left. And there is very little evidence of care. And I find that a bit sad, but I understand it, right, because they think, “Well, we messed up anyway. We might as well leave the place like this.” But it’s a terrible thing, but there is some good news, right? So the things that cheer me up: Green electrons, right? We are generating more and more renewable energy right now. And when I started doing this work all those years ago, the carbon impact of a kilowatt of electricity in the UK, in Europe, this is, was about 560 grams of carbon per kilowatt. It doesn’t matter the detail, just hold that figure in your head. Yesterday, it was about 212 grams of carbon per kilowatt. Three weeks ago, it was 83 grams of carbon per kilowatt. Because the cheapest form of new energy is renewable energy. By miles. And yet we’re subsidizing non-renewable energy. There’s some crazy governance issues around this. And it isn’t just sun and wind because, you know, life support machines need to work at night when it’s dark. So, it’s more than that. We’re seeing some fascinating research, predominantly, I mean, all over the world, [but] Iceland, New Zealand lead the way on this. But here in the UK, we’ve got a project called the Eden Project in Cornwall and an incredible leader, a guy called Tim Smith. And, they’ve drilled down a borehole. They’re at about five kilometers, five and a half kilometers down now. And they’re bringing water up that’s superheated, high-pressure water, at about 165 degrees. They’re able to drive steam turbines, clearly, directly from that. And Tim’s vision is that within ten years, we could have a net zero electricity supply in the UK and that, I mean, that’s amazing, right? That’s a phenomenal opportunity, and obviously, it has an impact on the way we move around. And EVs – and there are all kinds of issues there as well – but it’s a good thing. So geothermal energy, solar, and wind. Amazing. And then the other thing that interests me is plastic pollution. Whilst I’m not, I mean, I’m not anti-plastic. I’m a plastic realist, right? It’s in the wrong place and used badly and profligately by many, many people and many organizations. And that’s just got to stop. It shouldn’t be in the oceans. But for some things, it’s exactly the right type of packaging. And you know, we look around and the paint on the walls and the carpet on the floor, it’s got an element of plastic in it. Our clothes have got an element of plastic in it, but there isn’t one business and one consumer that doesn’t know about this now. So, it’s a removal of unnecessary plastics. Absolutely. It’s happening left, right and center. And we will see some teething problems. We’ve seen this with the removal of single-use carrier bags, and we’ve moved to thicker carrier bags. That’s actually, in the UK, that’s actually increased the amount of plastic going into the carrier bag market because the bags are thicker and we still don’t use them properly. It’s interesting, that the US, significantly better, stuck with paper bags all the way through; there’s a lot of sense in what’s happened there. And then we’ve seen this huge rise in electric vehicles, and there’s a proviso here. I’m going to talk about raw material extraction in a minute. But, in terms of reducing the energy intensity of a kilometer or for the US market, a mile traveled, electric vehicles have a really important role to play. Their longevity is significantly longer than people thought. We’re now getting 10-year and ten years since the first mass-scale EVs were placed on the market, and they’re performing well. And the secondary market for the batteries, you take them out of the EV, and they become part of your solar array, your power wall. That’s happening enormously quickly. The challenges we have here are on some of the raw materials that were the so-called rare earths, which tend to be dug out of the ground in countries that are less economically and politically stable, where regulation of labor is probably a little bit behind where we’d like it to be. So we’re still seeing child labor in the removal of some of these materials. The way that the big companies are dealing with this is they’re buying land, they’re buying mines. And they are managing that process. We’re a long, long way from good yet. Trust me. And potentially, we’ve got hydrogen, but I’m not entirely convinced about that. But if you look at 9 out of the 10 or in fact, more than that 99 out of the 100 LCA’s I’ve seen on electric vehicles versus traditional vehicles, electric vehicles come out as having a lower lifetime impact than the traditional vehicles. And then we’re beginning to change the way that cities are built and designed. Seattle’s actually a really good example here from 30 years ago; the Seattle sidewalk project kind of leading the way, and San Diego is doing incredible things. And actually, New York is amazing. And Chicago, astonishing. Where you’re able to move around cities more easily, more freely, without the use of huge amounts of petroleum-based transport. Public transit is not ideal, apart from in the big cities, but increasingly, we’re seeing cycling and walking rise to the top, and we’re going to see more and more of that. Building cities that are more mixed-use, rather than having these zones that you have to travel through from home to work. Why can’t you live near where you work? Why can’t you work near where you live? And we’re beginning to see some really interesting learning taken from Central Europe, and applied to cities all over the world. And then, the one that I think gives me the most joy and hope is the way that we grow our food. And we’ll wrap this up as regenerative agriculture, which is a system of agricultural development where you’re using mixed crops. You’re not having monocultures, you’re not taking down hedge rows, and you are not plowing the soil and leaving it open to wind, rain, and heat exposure. You’re overwintering. You’ve got cover crops so that you’re protecting the soil. You know, we’re 55 years away from losing productive soils forever. Fifty-five years of harvests left, and they won’t just go off a cliff and drop. They will decline, and they’re going to decline at the same time as the population is still growing. So being able to grow better quality, more nutritious food for more people whilst protecting the very thing that produces that food – this is Nirvana. This is where we have to go. And regenerative agriculture is a system of low chemical or non-chemical intervention in farming that protects the soil, increases nutritional content, and has been shown to increase yield. So let’s just sum up the benefits: Cheaper food, more sensitively grown, that fixes the soil and makes you. I’m all for this. Now, there are some interesting stats here, and they move around a little bit, so I’m not going to quote anyone in particular. But, if we can increase organic and carbon content in the soil, we can probably reverse climate change within the next 50 years. Now that – that is astonishing, and that’s just using agriculture – and we increase biodiversity.
Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.
Adrian Tennant: Each month in partnership with our friends or Kogan Page. The Bigeye Book Club features books by industry thought leaders. Our featured title for December is “You Can’t Make Money From A Dead Planet: The Sustainable Method For Driving Profits,“ by Mark Shayler. The book provides insights and tools for aligning business practices with sustainability, covering topics including net zero, circular economy, and zero waste. Mark combines explanations of current challenges with examples of successful, sustainable businesses and brands. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of this month’s featured book using the exclusive promo code, BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all Kogan Page titles, including pre-orders and their free paperback and ebook bundle offer. Shipping is always free to the US and UK when you order directly from Kogan Page, and it supports the authors as well. So, to order your copy of “You Can’t Make Money From A Dead Planet,” go to KoganPage.com.
Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Mark Shaler, environmentalist, sustainability consultant, and the author of this month’s Big Eye Book Club selection, “You Can’t Make Money from a Dead Planet.” Well, in “You Can’t Make Money From A Dead Planet,” you share your mantra, which is: “If sustainability is costing you money, then you’re doing it wrong.” Could you give us a couple of examples of where you’ve helped clients successfully integrate sustainability and saw significant benefits?
Mark Shayler: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve got loads. okay. S, working with a company called Belkin, I think they’re California-based actually, and they make computer peripherals, USB products, leads, cables, stuff like that, keyboards. Working with them and changing the size of the packaging that’s all I did. I just looked at the product size, and I looked at the box size, and I said, “How do we make those two things better?” We saved them 3.6 million pounds annually across about eight products, purely by putting things in the right size box. We saved thousands of tons of carbon. Here’s the big benefit, Adrian. Because the boxes were so big, you could only get three on a shelf. So by lunchtime, you had to restock the shelves, or there was nothing to buy. And so by making the boxes smaller, we could get eight on a shelf, so sales increased significantly. So it’s one of those, it saved them money, they’ve had less distribution costs, less storage costs, and they sold more. So that’s one. Number two, RS Components. They’re again another US-based company. they’re the world’s largest supplier of electronic components, peripherals, and, like diodes, really small stuff. And with them, we managed to design a new lighting system. So these high bay lighting systems for warehouses use much less energy, so it’s LED-based. But LEDs, there’s a perception that LEDs don’t get hot. They do. You have to manage the heat off the back of an LED really effectively. Otherwise, when it gets hot, it gets like a cataract growing over the lens. It thickens, and the light output diminishes. And so we built in a new heat sink to get the heat away. And this made it really expensive. It was about $250 per light. And so we wanted to come up with a more equitable way of selling it. So that other people could afford it, even if they weren’t really wealthy. We talked about leasing, and within the circular economy, leasing is a great example, but we didn’t want to lease it because that’s not where they wanted to go. So, we actually gave them a buyback price. So they bought it at 100 percent of the price. And after two years, we guaranteed we would give them 70 percent back if they wanted to sell it back to us, upgrade, move offices, whatever it was. it was a really good model. And interestingly, profitability did not reduce. It actually went up because sales rose by 8000 percent – 8000%. That is colossal. Now, there’s an element of that around the maturation of the technology, I’m not going to deny that at all. But interestingly, they’ve rolled that out into other areas. Again, working with another white goods manufacturer – I was working with a company called Hotpoint – who’re now known as Indesit – they make washing machines. And we just did a really great teardown. “Now, why does this machine break? What’s the main reason it breaks?” “Well, it breaks because the main control board gets wet.” Okay, so this is an environmental project, remember? “The main control board gets wet?” “Yeah, yeah.” “Okay, so why does it get wet?” “Well, it sits underneath the water inlet valve.” “Does it have to sit underneath the water inlet valve?” “No.” “Shall we move it?” “Okay.” “When it does break, how easy is it to repair?” “Oh, it’s a devil because you’ve got to get it out, and you’ve got to pull the machine out. It’s a real hassle to the householder.” “Shall we put it at the front under a panel? Shall we put it in the door so you just take the door off, and then the householder’s not bothered?” So we did a load of these really simple design changes that not only reduce manufacturing costs. Little things like when you punch the hole out of the front – or in your case in the US, the top, ’cause you are all top loaders – you take the top out, you’re left with a sheet of metal that’s spare. You punched it out, and then you were buying small pieces of metal to make switches, buttons, and hose clips for the inside. So we just used the big sheet. So we did it. This is just lean, this isn’t environmental. Massive environmental savings. And, and I think the savings there were 3.1 million a year, in the same kind of range as Belkin. So really simple stuff done well. Now, here’s the challenge: because as a customer, most environmental goods and services are slightly more expensive because the industry has put sustainability as in any other business in the marketing process, and it needs to be at the heart of the innovation process. So we’ll pay a bit more for green. We don’t need to do that. We can deliver green products that are less money, that last longer, and that are democratized, that everybody can afford them. And a really good example here is a pair of denim jeans. Handmade denim jeans or artisan-made denim jeans cost about 200 a pair, but they tend to be guaranteed for life, right? So they wear down, I’ll send them back, they get repaired. They’re the cheapest jeans I can ever buy at the most expensive price of purchase. If we can change the model so that those jeans are bought over a longer time or leased or funded in some way, then everyone can afford great jeans, and you don’t need as many pairs. Because the average person buys two and a half pairs of jeans a year. And you can only wear one at a time. And after five years, you’ve got a significant number of pairs of jeans there. So, how do we simplify this? Better for longer. Change the business model so that it doesn’t just become a middle-class concern. And we don’t derail the economy. We use fewer resources. We don’t put more carbon out onto the planet. And we attach our happiness, not to new, but to the stories that our clothes tell for us. That has to be the way that we go.
Adrian Tennant: You provide several downloadable frameworks on a website that accompanies “You Can’t Make Money From a Dead Planet.” Mark, how do you anticipate readers using these resources?
Mark Shayler: So I wanted to write a book that was interesting for the customer but essential for the business. So, I take people from zero to net zero. That’s the aim of the book. Now, some people will pick it up, and they won’t be at zero. They’ll be at level 10, and that’s fine. There’s still stuff in there. But what I’ve done is I’ve assumed that you don’t have a clear purpose other than making a profit. That you don’t have a clear how and a clear what. And so I start with why. I start with Simon Sinek’s Start With Why – that’s built into the book. So go from there into how you do what you do, and then what do you do? And then I give people a framework to understand how to write a policy and a strategy. These things sound boring, but they’re really important because that’s the things that you share when you go and get on for tenders or when you’re trying to get new work in. And then I produced a framework where you can understand how to identify and then rank the environmental impact of your business or your organization. And then, I give some links to carbon measurement tools that are available to put numbers on that. And then, I created a framework that builds on the great work of Forum for the Future in terms of developing what we call a regenerative business, a business that doesn’t detract but actually adds. It leaves the world in a better place than it found it. Now, this is new ground. We don’t have a roadmap for this. The closest is that Forum for the Future work. So I’ve taken that and I’ve built that into a suite of tools and matrices that help you work out where you are and how to go higher, how to improve it. So the second half of the book is, I think it’s like a DIY guide to take you from, “Oh my God, I’ve got to do something” kind of persuaded into, “Oh, I can do this, and it isn’t going to harm. In fact, it’s going to help my business.”
Adrian Tennant: Now, assuming they’re making real progress, how do you recommend that businesses or brands effectively communicate the impact of their sustainability efforts to consumers – or citizens – or people? Insert your word of choice there!
Mark Shayler: This is a brilliant question. So, I really thank you for asking me because I alluded to this earlier. Sustainability wasn’t any other business in the marketing team. “What can we say? Can we claim net zero? Can we claim carbon neutral?” And then back to the day, “Can we claim waste zero?” And we’re thinking about it the wrong way. If we’re thinking about the adverts, when we start this journey, we’ve got the cart before the horse. We need to think about the impact. And then when we begin to tell our story. Look, people want stories. They want to understand why your business cares. Therefore, even if it’s toothpaste, we all need to align with lower toxins, less environmental impact for toothpaste, for example, and, of course, white teeth. Consequently, this DNA, this part of you, it needs to be seen. So when you communicate it, there has to be an authenticity. You can’t start talking about net zero if, over the years, you’ve actually been exactly counter to sustainability. You’ve built gas-guzzling cars, or you’re in the waste industry, or you’re in the oil, you know, you can’t bolt it on. So, number one, you have to be it in order to say it. Number two, science is the key here. The focus of attention on greenwashing is massive, and scientific claims need to be justified with science. Now, this is going to be really hard because the citizen, the customer, the consumer – wants it in a really simple line. You know, “Better for the planet, better for you,” or whatever it is. You can’t say that anymore. You have to say, “Less carbon footprint from gate to fork,” or “Less emissions, when compared to our previous product.” And then load a small print, giving you the science. You have to do it that way now. So, we have to use science rather than emotion. The emotions are already there, and we have to stand by what we say. We can’t zip it onto a company that hasn’t done anything. We have to earn the right to have this conversation with the consumer, citizen, and customer.
Adrian Tennant: Okay. I want to stay with this for a second, Mark. Are there things that businesses should definitely avoid?
Mark Shayler: In terms of terminology like that, yeah, “Carbon neutral.” Doesn’t mean anything, right? Be really clear. Be really clear. “We balance our carbon emissions by offsetting 70 percent of them, and we’re reducing the other 30%.” Be really, really clear. Those awful phrases, “Nature-friendly, environmentally-conscious,” or anything like that, remove. It doesn’t mean anything, and it actually makes you look bad. And as a result of people looking bad, we’re now moving to this position where we call it green hiding or green hushing, where you’re hiding what you’re doing. You might be doing great things, but you are not going to go out there and say it in case someone throws a tomato at you or worse. So, avoid those blanket phrases. Number two: Avoid comparisons with other brands. Compare yourself to how you were, or the industry, the sector average. So don’t make this a war. Look, we risk friendly fire here. We’re all trying to improve. You can use sustainability as a competitive advantage in cost down and awareness up, but don’t do it at the expense of somebody else. Do it relative to the sector. Then don’t try and invent something. You know, we’ve seen this with Budweiser recently, right? Like we saw the huge furore. You know, you’ve suddenly zipped on something to a brand that had no history there in front of an audience that was probably less interested than other parts of the community, and you get this huge backlash. So you can’t do that. So you have to have a really compelling journey. So we realized that. I’ll tell you who did it really well, and rest in peace, Ray Anderson from Interface Carpets did this really, really well at the end of the 1990s, where they just went, “Do you know what? We’re part of the problem. But we can be part of the solution.” And they ended up doing a whole load, a raft of stuff that was so good it changed the sector. But if you do that, you’ve just got to keep going, otherwise your competitors will catch you up. And I guess the other big don’ts are, don’t become your campaign. Work is really important, and sustainability is important. Stay true to your core purpose as a business. Stay true to the thing that your business is trying to do and make sure it does it with less impact. And value the customer you already have because they are significantly cheaper and significantly more profitable than the one that you want to get. Others will find you. You don’t have to shout about it. Your other customers will tell them.
Adrian Tennant: Mark, what do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Mark Shayler: Oh, that’s a really good question. Thank you. And when I write a talk, I always start with the audience afterwards. What do I want the audience to do afterwards? And with this, there were two or three things and it’s split by audience. So, firstly for the business audience, I really hoped it would galvanize and structure an approach to understanding their impact and then, very quickly, reduce it. So I want people to read this, whether they’d be an SME, a small business, or whether they’d be a large organization that’s kind of just got stuck in the weeds with the policies and the commitments and they’ve forgotten why they’re doing it. I want it to wake them up and give them these steps so they can get to a reduced impact. Number two, I wanted to dispel some myths. A few myth-busting parts of this book where I’m saying, “I know you think this, but here’s the science.” and I wanted just to kind of make people think a little bit more broadly rather than look at the common narrative that’s given to us by mainstream media. And then thirdly, and this is for the audience that is not in business, because this is, the first half of this book is about understanding the problem and understanding why we need to take action. And that’s as important to – you know what I’m going to say? – the citizen, the customer, and the consumer, as it is to the organization making products for them. And I guess there’s a fourth element as well here, which is around trying to understand that everything’s changing, and if you don’t change as a business, You will feel out of sync and a little bit left behind because you’ve lost relevancy. So part of this is around trends and marketing and relevancy. And I think that’s an important bit of it, to be honest. Mostly, when they pick it up, I want them to laugh. You know, I’ve written it in a way that I’ve tried to be very human and really, I won’t say humorous, but I’ve tried to make it as light-hearted as a serious book can be. And I wanted people to feel like that.
Adrian Tennant: Mark, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, your consulting service, or speaking, what’s the best way to do so?
Mark Shayler: The best way is to go to my personal website, which is MarkShayler – S-H-A-Y-L-E-R – dot com, and everything’s there. My business is on there and all of the books and all of the resources you can download for free. They’re all on there, and you can get hold of me on any of the platforms.
Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like a copy of Mark’s new book, “You Can’t Make Money from a Dead Planet,” you can save 25 percent when you order directly from the publisher at koganpage.com using the promo code BIGEYE25 at checkout. Mark, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.
Mark Shayler: Thank you. I loved it.
Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Mark Shayler, the author of this month’s Big Eye Book Club selection, “You Can’t Make Money from a Dead Planet.” As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation, along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at Bigeyeagency.com. Just select ‘Podcast’ from the menu. Thanks again for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.