How to study Sustainability – with Meg Jones

“Sustainability” is a term getting used more and more, and acted on more and more. So how can you gain more knowledge in this area if you have the desire to enhance your education in sustainability?

Well that’s what my guest today has done. I’m Adrian Maidment, and I’m talking with Meg Jones, from The Shine Collective, who recently completed the  University of Cambridge’s Business Sustainability Management qualification.

Sustainability Links:


Adrian: Sustainability is a term getting used more and more and acted on more and more. So how can you gain more knowledge in this area if you desire to enhance your education and sustainability? Well that’s what my guest today has done. I’m Adrian Maidment and I’m talking with Meg Jones who recently completed the University of Cambridge’s Business Sustainability Management course.

Kia ora Meg.

Meg: Kia ora Adrian. Nice to see you even though this is only going to be audio. Really nice to see you. And hear you. Excellent. That’s the most important part. Yes.

Adrian: So I guess maybe, the qualification sounds flash, but maybe we should just start with a bit of a background of why you were interested in doing the course.

 Or, or sustainability in general. Sustainability.

So I’ve always had a passion for sustainability. It’s that driving urge to leave the planet in a better place than we found it. My mother was a bit of a hippie and she had a love for whole organic foods and gardening and I guess that’s kind of what started it for me.

And I’ve, as I’ve got older, my definition of sustainability has expanded to include planet, people, and biodiversity, which seems to be a common thread. The stats on all three of those things are pretty grim. I was looking to complete a qualification that would broaden my understanding of greenwashing and green hushing out there. It’s, it’s reassuring to get reliable information from reputable sources. So that’s. Really why I, why I went with Cambridge in the end.

And maybe I guess also kind of ties into your, your career, doesn’t it? Because you’re a strategic communications director slash business owner at The Shine Collective.

Meg: Yes, so The Shine Collective is a strategic communications agency. We are 12 years young. We’ve got a couple of offices, one in Tauranga and one in Rotorua and a little satellite office in Hamilton. 12 staff. Oh, and we forget our remote worker down in Mahia, can’t forget Nikki, so we’re doing more and more work in this area, so it’s something that we’re all pretty passionate about.

What is Greenwashing?

So we, we all know when people are doing bad stuff and they just try and rush over it. And we see that a lot, whether that’s just putting some sort of fake green tick on your product, just even making your widget green because people will naturally think it’s more effective calling it non-toxic when there’s no evidence to suggest it’s not non-toxic, etc.

This is basically lies and we’ve seen so much evidence of that over the years. And the public are getting wise to it. We’re just not going to stand for it anymore.

Adrian: It’s a bit like when you buy the pavlova and they say it’s fat free. Yeah, guilt free. It’s all sugar. All the things. 100 percent sugar.

What’s Green husing?

That sort of, and then we’ve kind of got a little bit more clever with our greenwashing. So that’s where the green hushing comes from. So that’s when you kind of hush up all the bad stuff you’re doing and only talk about the good stuff. So it’s just as bad, really. Oh, you haven’t heard that green hushing.

 And one of the things we’ve been looking at is that wanton slavery and it’s often found in supply chains, which are now making things like wind farms and solar panels, but actually the, it’s got forced labour that are creating those things. So it’s about unpacking things a little bit more.

So what specific knowledge or skills were you hoping to gain from this qualification? Well, that particular one, I did look at a whole bunch of them all around the world. That one had really good ESG topics. That’s, you know, environment, social governance topics that really appeal to me.

And I spoke to a number of other graduates. So I could get a real feel for what a course would involve and rather than scare me with Oh my gosh, you know, how many hundreds of hours of reading you’ve got to do. It found, I found that the, the reading was something that really attracted me to it was really a depth for each module and they also gave it to you.

In a way that you can contextualize it to a local viewpoint rather than just having it global. And I was really interested to see how other countries are creating change through education, collaborations, and partnerships. So that was kind of why Cambridge was my, my go to choice in the end.

Course structure

 you can choose between a 9pm or a 2am lecture, New Zealand time. Oddly enough, I went for the 9pm lectures on a Friday, so that’s pretty harsh. So yeah, that was a bit of a learning curve. The first kick-off session was, I think, trying to think if that was three o’clock in the morning, that was pretty grim.

 But you just, It’s only for eight or nine weeks, so it’s, it’s short, so you can suck it up. So is it like a lecture a week and then you go do some research sort of thing? Yeah, it kind of reminded me that same intensity when I was doing my MBA quals. It’s, it’s that kind of, you go in there for the weekend, they slam you with information and then you work like crazy to get your assignments out and try and get all the readings in.

 What were the key topics you had to cover?

So the eight modules were broken down kind of a crash course introduction to all things sustainability, which is pretty broad as you know creating leaders for tomorrow, policy and regulation which is pretty dry ball, as you can imagine production, consumption, design and technology, communication and education.

And then the final module was pulling it all together. What did you have to do, like write an essay or? You’ve got to write a full sustainable. sustainability plan for an organization that you choose, that you work on in modules one and two, and then you come back to it in module eight to put everything together for your company that you’ve chosen to do.

So I chose one of my clients. Oh, okay. So it’s kind of quite practical and in the results side of things. Yeah, absolutely. So for people that haven’t ever dealt with some of that stuff, it doesn’t go into looking at your emissions reductions, et cetera. You can choose kind of what aspect you want to look at, but it gives you a really good overview of all the different things you should be thinking about when you’re writing that stuff.

Did you get to meet classmates?

Yeah, you did. So when we had the lectures, you then break out into small groups, which was quite fun because there were more than 400 students from all over the world. Got to see, you know, pyjamas and things and all kinds of creeds and forms and hairdos. And some of them were fascinating.

Some of the jobs that they were in and quite a few people from New Zealand and Australia, actually. Yeah. Surprisingly. Is there many people who have done this before? Or is it sort of just sort of kicking off? No, no, there’s graduates from all over the world and I was really lucky that I, spoke to Gemma Hignett formerly of TUI, and she, she’d already done the course, probably the module before me, or the semester before me, so she could give me the good overview, and I spoke to someone who had done the Harvard college.

Of course as well but I think this one went out in the end. What was the hardest part of maybe studying from online or? Yeah, I guess doing your nine to five job and then adding this extra on top. There’s a lot of reading. And it was pretty much full noise. The time that they estimated that you had was really understated.

I mean, you could probably do it in that, but you wouldn’t actually get the benefits from it because you really need to do those readings, but Gemma had given me all that information going in. So I knew what that was like, and I have since gone back, they give you, I think it’s eight weeks, six weeks after the course finishes, so you can go back and rewatch the videos revisit the course lectures which.

It’s really good because one thing I did find quite overwhelming was that first lecture you’ve got all the tutors talking and then you’ve got all the questions going off in the feed on the side and people putting links in and all the rest of it but you can’t kind of Concentrate on both, or I, I couldn’t, it was a little bit overwhelming.

I think I came off that first one, I’m just going, holy shitballs. What is that about? But a lot of the other students found it the same. So there was a lot of other comments like that, because it does make you think, wow, am I completely inadequate that everyone else is juggling all of this information simultaneously.

So what was the, maybe the thing you got out of the course the most? Geez, learning wise, maybe, or personal either way, I think probably I’ve met some really cool people and through that, I’ve been able to collaborate on some pretty cool projects already. It’s been super helpful in coming to grips with the changes we’re seeing in Aotearoa.

You know, we’ve got that modern slavery legislation coming through. We’re probably going to see changes to the emissions trading scheme. So it’s quite nice to have had that more global understanding of what’s going on in the rest of the world. You know, cause it’s quite easy to forget we actually are just a tiny blip.

We’re so consumed by self and, you know, at the moment everything’s all about the elections, right? Nobody else cares. We’re so small and it’s that kind of realization that we can’t just be thinking about New Zealand. We’ve got to be thinking globally, because otherwise nothing’s going to make any real change.

Were there any big overseas issues?

 There’s lots, there’s lots of projects happening all of the time. People doing good shit everywhere. And that was quite reassuring because, you know, we, we do get a lot of negative stuff in the, in the media on, you know, the world is burning type thing, but there is actually a lot of really cool projects.

And if you go onto the UN sites and the, you know, so many tools that you can go to. I can send you some links if you want. Oh, yes, if you go, nice. Yeah, because there’s just lots of cool stuff. People collaborating, they’re going beyond that competition now. They’re collaborating with their competitors to find some of these solutions that the world needs, which is really quite reassuring.

The World Economic Forum, I don’t know if you follow them on, on LinkedIn, but they have some great stories of projects that are happening all over the world. And I love that stuff because you kind of need to see the good side of it.

Otherwise, it’s quite easy to get quite depressed by all the other side of it. Hmm. Hmm. I was saying I went to field days and found all these interesting. People doing interesting stuff just down the road. I’ve never heard of them. Yeah. Yeah. Field days is a good place to. Eco gas.

Yeah. We’re doing a project for one client. How’s it, what are you sort of going to apply into your day to day job?

How does the learning transfer to your job?

I guess the biggest way is because we do a lot of corporate reporting. We put together people’s annual reports and their sustainability reports and that type of stuff.

So actually being able to guide them authentically is really key. You want them to be able to tell their stories in a way that is authentic and it’s not going to get them in the poo, whether that’s regulatory or just bad press. So that’s been pretty helpful already. We work with one client who’s the chair of the sustainable business council.

So a lot of this stuff is directly relative to the conversations I’ve been having with him. And when you’re talking to the CEs of some of these organizations, you don’t want to come across as being a bit of an nupty, so it’s quite nice to have a little bit of a background information and it is a bit more understanding of what they’re a broader context.

What’s a couple of key things businesses should be considering in their sustainability? I think people just need to start, Adrian. I’ve heard so many people say, Oh, we don’t have enough data yet. We don’t know what we’re doing.

 And even just like with measuring your carbon outputs, even a small office, you can be doing that. You know how much copy paper you’re buying. For example, you can see how much you’re going through. You can. Talk to your staff how they get to work. You can look at the way they’re getting around while they’re doing that work.

You can be looking at your electricity suppliers. You can go to get a green energy supplier. There are places around that do use renewable energy, etc, and you don’t have to stick to the, the tried and true. So there’s lots of small things that you could be doing for, as an SME.

You know, we, we are 98 percent SMEs, New Zealand. We’re not all the big Fonterra’s and the warehouses and Briscoe groups that can afford to have dedicated people.

 I think a lot of people start off where they kind of get sustainability lumped into their ordinary day job and it’s just like a tack on but we’re now seeing it’s moving away from being purely about an add on to separate roles, and that was the pleasing thing during this course, and actually at the last climate leaders meet conference in Auckland, that I remember when I first went to that sustainable business conference, must have been five years ago, right?

Yeah. There was like maybe one person from each institution and they were, that was it, trying to lead the whole sustainable effort on their behalf, but now they’ve got teams of people that are actually getting involved. So that’s really positive. And I think for us that work in our little small businesses, there’s plenty of things we can do, you know, and it does all make a difference whether that’s replacing, you know, we should be taking out.

Keep cups, you know, just simple things like that. It seems like it’s, well, is that going to make any difference? But actually if everybody stopped taking those plastic cups that go straight to landfill, that’s quite a dent. A lot, a lot of businesses, you know, on their websites now isn’t it? It’s got all the sustainability, what they’re doing.

Yeah, and as from a consumer perspective, don’t take that as face value. You do actually need to have a look at what they’re saying and have a look at some of their products that they’re putting in. Things I know in, in The beauty industry, for example, there is so much rubbish that’s put in shampoos and beauty products.

If you need to be looking at that stuff to know what it is you’re putting into your system and actually also how that’s impacting the planet.

Maybe someone’s on the fence about doing the course. What would you sort of consider the key benefit? How long did you get through the course?

If it was nine weeks, but then you had another six weeks, did you say? Oh, once you’ve had it in your final assignment, they leave the course offerings open, so you can go back in. So you’ve got to finish it in that period of, what was it, nine weeks? Yeah, every week there’s an assignment that you’ve got to submit.

 And I’m a nerd, so there’s no point in putting something in half assed. You just gotta go for gold. That’s how I always look at it. I think if you’ve been thinking about this for a while, and particularly if it’s been a tack on to your job, and I see that a lot in comms, people kind of start there, or it’s in procurement, people put that into their, into their role there.

You really need to be having a broader understanding of what it all means and how it all connects from a global perspective. So I think, you know, and if you are the person like me that likes to go down some pretty deep rabbit holes, it’s a really good place to start. It’s not going to get you all of the information that you need, but it gives you the pathway to find the information that’s specific to you and your industry.

So I think that’s really useful. The tutors are incredibly giving of their time. So as well as you have a class chat that goes on every week, you can actually email them independently and ask them specific things, which I did because again, I’m a nerd and you can just get plenty of diversity of thought, tap into some really cool people.

And, you know, you’ve got the reassurance that the information that you’re getting is being verified. Because a lot of it, as you know, is just greenwashing.

 Any final thoughts you’d like to leave people with on, maybe, the course?

I guess it just harks, harks back to that. It’s not one person doing one thing, or one organisation, or even one country.

It is collaboration, and that’s what that programme really brings into perspective. Because we can’t… Be working in isolation anymore, and whether that’s our government working in isolation or as individuals, it’s really got to change and we’ve, we’ve got to see that mind shift if we’re going to make a real dent in, in saving the planet and, and the planet.

Earth doesn’t need us, we need it, so if we don’t hurry up, we’re going to run out of time.

And a positive thing?

 Well, I’m an, I’m a grandmother now and I’ve got a grandbaby one on the way. So it’s like, I want to leave this place at a beautiful space for them to grow up in. I want them not to have to go out with radiation masks or whatever the heck that might look like.

I want them to be able to walk on the beach and not have to worry about tripping over plastics or whatever else is there. I want them to be able to eat fish. Like we did as kids. So that to me is really important. I think we, we are the guardians of this generation and we need to start acting like guardians.

It’s not about profit. It’s about looking at other stuff. So I think that is positive that there’s lots of other people that feel the same way. There you go. That’s, that’s better. It’s good. Yeah. Thank you Meg. You’re welcome, Adrian. Go get this started. Yeah. No. Is there anything else you want to mention on your list?

Oh, just you know, there’s lots of information out there. People are really giving of their time. If you’re a bigger organization looking to do your sustainability reports, of course. Reach out to the Shine Collective, we’re always here to help, have a yarn, have a coffee. But generally there’s just…

 We might as well mention your website..

 We are

. Thank you Meg. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *