What Jackie Weaver and Handforth Parish Council can teach us about sustainability leadership

Unrivalled chaos. That is one way to describe the viral footage of the Handforth Parish Council meeting that has seen Jackie Weaver become an overnight sensation. But even amongst the discord on how not to run a meeting, there are lessons for CSR professionals looking to engage others on the climate crisis.

What Jackie Weaver and Handforth Parish Council can teach us about sustainability leadership

You’ve probably all seen it by now – and if you haven’t, watch it and then come back and read this. Members of the Handforth Parish Council in Cheshire have become internet sensations following the video publication of Zoom meeting-turned-civil-war which went viral on social media.

Jackie Weaver – who has been interviewed by a host of mainstream media publications – and her cohort of councillors rose to fame overnight following footage of the zoom meeting, which consisted of insults, challenged authority, member kick-outs and laughter.

With phrases from the video trending on Twitter across the UK, many have watched on with bemusement at the unfolding of the meeting. Yet amongst the madness of the meeting, there are some key learnings for sustainability professionals, many of which are having to turn to Zoom to conduct their own meetings with other stakeholders. Here’s what we can learn from Handforth Parish Council disasterclass in discussions.

1) Listening and empathy are superpowers

The Handforth Parish Council meeting quickly dissolves into chaos as numerous members interrupt one another at varying decibel levels. The messages are lost in the cacophony of insults and laughter and, truth be told, nothing of note gets confirmed.

So, when aiming to talk to others about the climate crisis, be a bit more like Julie’s iPad – become a spectator to what others are saying. We’ve been told at edie numerous times that the ability to listen to others is a sure way to uncover their biases, pre-conceptions, challenges and hopes, all of which can be used to finetune your message on the importance of embracing sustainability.

Whether it is trying to nudge behaviours of staff or trying to get the boardroom to sign off on a net-zero strategy, listening to their reasoning will allow you to shape ideas that capture their best interests.

2) Challenge established norms

Jackie Weaver has been heralded as the hero of the meeting, remaining calm, composed and lighthearted in the face of insults and shouting. Whether or not she read the standing orders, or indeed, had the “authority” to kick other members off remains a contentious point on Twitter, but her willingness to challenge previous approaches to Handforth Parish Council meetings has undeniably led to results.

The current coronavirus pandemic has proved that business cannot revert to business as usual, and it is the role of the sustainability professional and disruptive sustainability start-ups to challenge existing business models. With businesses forced into new ways of working, now is the time to get your organisation to embrace change permanently, rather than temporarily.

3) Read the standing orders (scientific advice)

The bellowing cries for Jackie Weaver to “read the standing orders” is my favourite part of the viral clip, but even in the hilarity of its delivery, there is some wisdom to it.

Sustainability is subject to constant change. Things we deem green have unintended consequences or trade-offs, and the pace at which society embraces sustainability quickens as its understanding and awareness improves.

This also creates the threat of greenwash, which some companies are using to position products, services and strategies as sustainable to get in front of a swelling market. Fortunately, consumers and NGOs no longer take a corporate’s word as gospel, they want facts to back up claims and it is only by “reading the standing orders” that businesses can ensure they are truly sustainable.

Whether its alignment with the IPCC special report through the setting of science-based targets, or uncovering the true impact of a product through lifecycle assessments, supporting your strategy and communications with climate science is crucial to becoming a sustainability leader.

4) We all have the authority to act

Unlike the Handforth Parish Council where only Jackie Weaver had the authority (Zoom host permissions) to boot people off the meeting, the climate crisis gives everyone an impetus to act.

You don’t need to be able to recite the science to know change is required to alleviate the worst impacts of climate and ecological breakdown, but for those that do, they can empower others to act.

Sustainability professionals should think about how their organisation’s products and services enable customers and consumers to live more sustainably. The rise in servitisation and take-back schemes in home décor and fashion, for example, showcase that consumers will embrace sustainable models. Additionally, plastic-free isles and reverse vending machines in supermarkets also deliver expected change. We all have the authority act, and businesses can harness this by showcasing new innovations that embrace the low-carbon economy.

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