Green Element Weekly podcast interview with Martin Baxter from IEMA
So welcome Martin. Thank you very much for joining us on the green element podcast. You are, well, for me you are IEMA. I’ve known you for quite a few years now, I think pretty much since I started I think back in 2004. Would that be about right? Well, that could be a when you started. I’m afraid I go back even further than that, so I’m really looking forward to this podcast listen to you and what are you up to?
So, can you tell us a bit about who IEMA are and what’s what you do?
Yeah. Sure. Well firstly we’re a professional body for environments and sustainability professionals. So, we have about 14,500 individual members who are working in roles. I mean, we have members in over a hundred countries. So, footprint is quite big, and members are doing great work. They could be working in corporate sustainability and Environmental Management roles. They might be working in Impact assessments. They could have a corporate role that maybe they have facilities in 30, 40, 50 countries and around the world or they could be a site coordinator on environment health safety and possibly bits of quality as well. So, our membership spans a really sort of extensive part of the profession of people who are working to make the world a better place through the world of work, and that’s really exciting.
It is a Huge remit, massive remit,
Yes, it is, and that’s just the nature of you know, what we’re trying to do vision is transforming the world sustainability. So, part of that is having a huge membership which is doing great things. And then it’s also the work that we do to catalyse an amplifier that either by what we might call changing the rules of the game. So, some of the work that we do with International standards organization (ISO) using the experience and expertise of our members to inform what Global standards might look like and being able to provide input and developments of those. So, an obvious one is ISO 14001.
There you are integral to that formation, weren’t you?
Yeah. I mean, we played a very big role in this latest revision that was published in 2015. We set out a view of what we wanted to see back in 2012 and spent three years making sure that that standard was going to be fit, not just or you know here and now, but actually into the future and we know that some of the content of that standard wouldn’t have been in there without IEMA’s inputs and you think over half a million organizations are using that standard in 200 countries around the world. Then you get an idea of how an organization with members can scale up and make a much bigger difference. I think that’s for as this how do we scale what we’re doing to be truly transformational.
It is a fantastic standard as well. As you know, what 15 years ago. I never thought I’d ever say that why can’t people just be more environmental so good at the way that it is constructed and structured and it’s got everything in there that helps you become more Environmental. Even if you don’t certify to 14001 – use it as a structure and is a benchmarking tool to enable you to be more environmental really.
I mean, it’s music to my ears because the I now have the delightful rolling chairing the group that’s responsible for that standard and some other standards on valuing environment and some informal economic standards. So, I have a committee and I so with about a hundred countries. It’s pretty big meeting actually, but great fun to try and get everybody on the same page and in something that’s really Progressive. So yeah, it’s quite fun.
Is it online or do you have to meet up?
We do quite a lot of work online. But could you imagine an online meeting with people in a hundred different countries? Just so we have international calls all the time with various groups, but occasionally we get to meet up. So yeah, that’s part of the negative impacts associated with some of the things that we have to do to deliver hopefully more positive outcome.
How did you get into this environmental world as it were?
When I was doing my a-levels I was going to be an accountant. I had loads of opportunities to go into account and see that was what I was going to study at a university and for one reason or another I didn’t get the places and it was okay. What am I going to do? What am I really interested in and really well in geography and that was something that really caught my eye. I did an undergraduate degree in Earth and Life studies and then I did a master’s in environmental assessment and management and that was the platform for me being able to get a role actually in a predecessor of IEMA back in the early nineties, which just happened to be based fairly close to where I was actually cycle to work to their back at point in time. I did my dissertation there on World Bank one of the several processes and International Development organization in front of assessment approaches. And from that I managed to get a role right at the bottom of the organization and I’ve been able to stick with it what’s been real fun? And a real privilege is being at the Forefront of the development in terms of time scales of lots of new and innovative. In ways in which important is being dealt with in organizations and in the economy and society as a whole. So, whether it was working environment impact assessment strategic and formative assessment getting involved in the development of whole new set of Standards on Management Systems. being able to see how trading of carbon so starting to put a price on carbon and the development of say UK missions trading schemes and then into the whole world of international standardization from the late nineties. So yes, so that’s been a bit of a roller coaster and it’s interesting because a lot of the work that I got involved in. It doesn’t have a real manifest impact tomorrow. So, I mean, it’s quite long term some of this and so trying to put the building blocks in for a much better future recognizing the that it takes a long time to see the positive outcomes of what you’ve done. That’s an interesting challenge just professionally.
and the you must have seen that looking back at the last got 25 years, you must have seen so much change.
Absolutely. And I think what’s really happened is that this whole agenda and the imperative of tackling the environment in a way in which we can start to think about how do we enhance natural capital and the environment that which will depend on has become much more mainstream. So, the extent that the radio today vegan textiles and inform the impacts that they have in terms of clothing and all the rest of it and you know something about clinical waste but this is all news and it’s every day you see mainstream news pieces covering the environment in much better integrated into the way in which organizations are writing. And so, it’s become far more mainstream and that’s absolutely essential because we can’t do it on our own. We need to be a catalyst for other people doing the right things.
out of curiosity as I know the answer is it from me from my point of view? Do you think there’s been a change in thought within the larger corporate Sands companies and organizations? Have you seen a sea change, or have you seen a different way of looking at things?
Yeah. its far more holistic now so many more organizations are looking at the interdependence between environment and their supply chains and procurement processes and really building it in sue their purchasing decisions. They’re thinking much more about how they build environment into the design and development and delivery of their products and services. There’s a long way to go because in isolation, no organisation can solve these problems and therefore getting organizations working in Partnership and to understand what we need to do and putting the framework in place for them to be delivering what we want as a society for our future. I think that’s where you know joining those things together is really important as well.
I think that’s I mean that’s that then leads onto the new 14001 update because there’s a lot of emphasis on supply chain. Yeah that fits exactly into that because how can you influence as a large organization or even as a small organization with a big kind of foot, as it were, like for example, some of the B corps, although some of them are actually quite small organizations do have a fairly big influence with their people that are now supplying who they are now thinking “Oh God actually”, if they’re doing that we should potentially be thinking about that.
Absolutely. I mean firstly, we can all do better. And secondly, I think it’s about taking this responsibility for what you do and how you do it. And I think that’s really important. Interestingly, we’re working at the moment on proposals for the new environment act the UK, which is really exciting time and we’ve produced an interim report, a comprehensive blueprint on what we think was to be in that act. One of them is a new duty of care for the environment that will apply to businesses. because at the moment you can do anything to the environment as an organization unless there’s a law or a regulation that says you can’t the notion that we can continue to add to The Regulators or advocacy absolutely every potential bad thing to the extent of we are objecting single-use Plastics in terms of, because coffee cups with plastic linings or with regulating cotton buds or random taxes on this and then that’s really where the end of pipe is with when we wait till there’s a problem where then you’re trying to fix it and that’s just not responsible and it’s not responsive enough. So, what we’re proposing in this new answers to foot the site actually, you know organization, you have a duty of care to the environment a little bit like duty of care for health and safety. But we want to be able to do is to drive a culture where an organization will integrate the environment into the way in which it does business and be responsible for not just getting the product out of the door but thinking about what happens to that other than If It’s Love or is there a better way of doing things. and that could apply it with small organizations as well. If you think about coffee shops, they don’t have to give people Plastic stirrers. There’s this really really simple that’s a choice that they can make quite easily. It’s not going to affect its ability. Then I’m going to go out of business and yet if every coffee out there in the world in the country said they’ve come to that conclusion, but we’re not going to use them then it would be supplying plastic ones if you go upstream and look at the producers, actually, they can actually buy the nation of requirements of think about this and then there’s so many solutions around left people to do the right thing because genuinely and generally I think organizations work to do the right thing. they don’t want to be part of the problem they know and what they don’t want is then suddenly somebody tantrum that says you’re doing this wrong. And you stop right now is that can’t move fast enough. Yeah. It was putting the issue on them to Think Through the solutions much earlier on so that we can avoid problems and then flagging up whether our environmental issues that we really do need to address longer term and getting early signals for them so that they can tackle these before we get these motion all the rest.
And you were talking before we started about your working quite closely with governments of bringing all this so the floor and you’re quite excited about how much in influence, is that right? or impact, that you’re able to be having as well on it.
We set off 18 months ago, or some 18 months ago with half a dozen others from different organizations to say, okay, we can see that there is an opportunity to make positive change. How can we do it? and there’s this what you might call an unfrozen moment. Were at this point in time. Almost everything is up for grabs. So, and very soon everything will get locked down again because we will be in a post BREXIT, this is what we’re doing and away we go and so a lot of work was done first the around things like the imponderable principles and role of the European commission and being able to hold member states to account. So, this the creation of this new independent body so actually goes but in a way that recreates the status quo; because we’re trying to wrap out what we already have and yet if you stand back we have 40,000 people dying prematurely from poor air quality every year in the UK. We have declining water quality from diffuse pollution and agricultural inputs. We have a declines in biodiversity. Our soil quality is declining, so we had to do something and the current framework of governments on environment is managing decline. So what we’re proposing is a much more ambitious environment paint and just recreating the status quo in the UK to develop a completely new or a much clearer framework which could deliver and women who enhancements and meet the objectives that to be fed cup and set back in what 2011 in the natural environment white paper of enhancing the environment over a generation. So whole set such as and formed from that gain, maybe not just for new development but also for maybe some existing land managers users and this broader duty of everyone to responsibility fit into a broader narrative about how do we create an environment that’s going to deliver the next 30, 40 years and enhancements in biodiversity and natural Capital assets.
That sounds that sounds really exciting, it’s nice. Mostly I just recently read the government white paper on what they’re they are now currently they put out of if no deal happens. What’s going to happen in kind of there is no change. basically, I’ve read that there’s going to be no change. We’re not going to be changing anything. But what you’re saying is really positive. I mean, I know that you can’t predict the future and particularly in politics being around enough to know that there’s so many different things that go on within the political world. How confident do you are you that this potentially could happen?
Well, I think if I look back the UK and as swing the lead in a number of areas; both within Europe and when we’ve decided to do something because it’s working to do so, and the biggest example is the climate change. The climate change Act is a fantastic piece of UK legislation was not driven by European directives and regulations. This was a self-generated UK Global Leadership on creating a governance framework for how we going to tackle climate change from a UK perspective and how we’re going to adapt and what’s really interesting for me is the language points has survived a number of political Cycles. It was a Labour government that brought it in. We then had a coalition government. We then had a conservative majority government for a short period of time and they were in a conservative minority government. Actually, what we’ve seen is although, you know, 2014 question mark about what the members going to do with the acts. But if I look back to you know the way in which the industrial strategy in the green growth strategy who come together to really say actually a low-carbon economy and a low-carbon future is absolutely integral to our future industrial strategy and our future Prosperity. That gives me a lot of Hope but says, okay. Well, we’re doing it for attention album and but actually there are lots of things that we need to be doing that for as well. So that gives me the hope that it can be done clearly. There is a lot of political turmoil at the moment and that makes things challenging what we’ve done in this blueprint is actually something that we could have done a long time ago. And I think this is one of the things that we become a bit more striking for me is that A lot of time and effort is spent negotiating directed and regulations at European level and yet we’ve been pretty complacent as a country. So, there is policy makers whether it’s also people like me and others whether it’s the whole profession in accepting that the easy way to transpose things is just to do it as they are and actually say, how can we make the best of this to deliver much more Progressive and formidable future. So, we’ve been hoodwinked by this phrase gold plating but actually then you just end up with a whole load of Silo mentality that we’ve got to do this because this director says do that instead of standing back and saying what is it that we want. I think that what we’ve put forward in the blueprint as part of this Broadway initiative with a number of other organizations is something that, firstly, is should be of so appeal to all political parties and I think well, you know for us this is not about party politics. This is about creating the right future and the conditions in the framework within which that can be delivered. And so, our hope is that all political parties we want this because it’s the right thing to do and there’s an inevitability that we have to tackle the environment in a better way we depend on it for auto-tuned clean air and hold the rest of it. So, these are the foundations on which we’re going to be successful and we can’t just keep under undermining our asset base and destroying our asset base as months. You get to a point that actually the services that we get from that and not going to be delivered.
Yeah. Yeah, I would say I’m pretty a political, but I’d also say that if you look around the world and if you’re lucky, I mean I have troubled and I’m lucky enough to say that trouble quite a lot. I reckon that we have a sum of the state stablest governments, Like We complain but actually we’re pretty lucky to have and also I would say I can’t think of a government in my lifetime that hasn’t been forward thinking and thinking about the future and thinking about everything people may not necessarily agree with everything that if that particular government has but in hindsight, if you look back we’re pretty lucky to have the government’s that we’ve had and have the people in power that we have had as well.
Absolutely, and you know, nothing’s ever going to be perfect. But if I look at the Oxford Cambridge growth Corridor and the notion that there’s going to be one and a half million new homes over the next 20 or 30 years. The notion that you can do that without understanding how you’re going to get water to those people and you can have be able to get food and energy and all the rest of it in a way which enhances their lives or the lives of people there and doesn’t destroy natural cap. So, there’s them that they can’t be supported. Well, you know, these things have got to be part of the delivery of a UK economic future. Yeah, so that’s exciting too.
Yeah brilliant. I mean it sounds amazing what you guys are doing. So IEMA as an organization are based in Lincoln. Yes, know we’re based in Lincoln. Not them. I’m worried that I was just about to say the wrong place ha-ha.
Yeah, we are based in Lincoln.
How many people are based in Lincoln?
30, 32, something like that. We are a small organisation in terms of individuals in comparison to members. Hopefully, a big positive footprint. and how do we double down and tackle some of the negative impacts that we have. and, you now. the key to that is the delivery of services we have to members, and the change that we have made by far has been transform magazine. We produce a magazine, and to be honest most people prepare it in paper format. and if you look around we are the only magazine that has no packaging whatsoever. we looked at lots of options. we go from a plastic wrap, which is lightweight but is plastic, so we don’t want to go with that. we can look at starch-based wrappings, or paper and all the rest of it. But ultimately what we managed to do is remove all packaging and the magazine just goes there, your name and address is printed on the back, and I tell you that magazine goes to New Zealand, the UK, it goes all around the world and the worst complaint has been a few people who have said it’s been a bit dog eared. The overwhelming majority said wow, and the campaign our members, because they get magazines from other organisations, so they are saying “if IEMAS doing this, why aren’t you just getting rid of all your packaging and just doing it like this”. so, it’s been a fantastic innovation that my colleagues managed to look and find that is one of the ways we could tackle the issues. and the other big one is our webinar program, the notion that you have to travel to learn and find out about things, so we have thousands of people who are able to take bite-sized opportunities to find out about things that are either directly related to their role or, the really exciting thing for me is that we are able to dip into subjects and topics they would never have travelled to learn about. and actually, by the webinar program we help them dip into something and broaden their horizons. I remember back in 2016 we did a webinar on ‘payments systems free services’, now that is at the time, and still is a fairly new concept and idea, and yet we had 350 people on that webinar learning about something, which is fantastic, because it shows me there is a real appetite from people to learn and developed their understanding. What also is something we hadn’t realised until we were speaking to member, particularly consultancies, or larger organisation will get together big groups of people and watch a webinar collaboratively, and then off the back of that have discussions about what they have learned, what they can do in their organisations. so, they will have half a dozen people in the room dialling into one of the IEMA webinars and using that for broader professional development.
I listened to one yesterday, and there was 600 people on it. The risk one you did last week.
Yeah, the ability to give people access to really good information, ideas and thinking experiences without having to travel is a huge carbon saver. These are just a few of the thing, I mean obviously we try and reduce our energy usage. and we try and do a lot of travel on train, that good because it’s quite productive. So, I can squirrel away wherever I am.
Great, brilliant, aren’t they? I always go in the quiet carriage and tell the team not to phone me, I am in the quiet carriage ha-ha.
Exactly, and yeah occasionally we have overseas travel to do and that tends to be flying. so, we will purchase a gold standard offset. Last year we were at the UNFCCC, IEMA is subject to certification by the member states and a designated body by the UNFCCC and we have a proposal in at the moment, we are waiting to hear about some side mounts that we will be running which we did last year because my colleague Nick was the vice-chair on the ISOs panel on climate change committee. So that’s looking ahead, you build climate change thinking into all aspects of standardisation, so whether its products for all its members, whether its sector based arrangements, so that’s really, for a small number of people here, we are leveraging the power of our members to influence the international organisations is one of the things we have being doing for quite a long time, and that gives us the opportunity to help shape things in a way which connects back to our vision which is transforming the world to sustainability.
Brilliant, can you think of anything for our listeners to get started and to be more sustainable with the experience you’ve got. What’s the one thing someone can take away from this podcast?
The one thing for me is to be very ambitions. the higher you are with your ambition and the bigger the scale of the thing that you want to do, the more empowering it becomes and hopefully I’ve given you some insight into what we do. and we do it because a) were passionate about it, so let your passion come through. but really aim for some big things.
Yeah, and don’t worry about failure.
Yeah because the closer you get to that big thing being successful, actually if you don’t quite hit it, you will have done something amazing. If you start with small scale improvements, they add up on average and create more scale. SO be big and bold and bright and brave and go for it.
Love it ha-ha, thank you so much for today. it has been absolutely fascinating and thanks again for being on the Green Element Podcast.
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