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What Kaizen and Sir David can Teach Mediators About the Green Pledge

As the first week of COP26 drew to a close, and fireworks lit the sky in celebration of Diwali and Guy Fawkes night, a group of mediators from across the globe gathered on Zoom to discuss the World Mediators Alliance on Climate Change Green Pledge. The event was hosted by John Sturrock Q.C of Core Solutions who, along with an international steering group, has led the initiative.

The “Mediators’ Green Pledge”, as it has become known, has been translated into 14 languages and has over 500 signatories from over 50 countries. The purpose of the Pledge is to promote more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices with the aim of reducing our carbon footprint and our impact on the environment and climate. 

The discussion centred around the practical steps we can all take to promote the Pledge and online or remote mediation, the challenges we might face in doing so and the vital role mediators can play in the “war on climate change”. In a show of shifting from rhetoric to action, we each made individual commitments to take steps to promote the Pledge and its objectives in the coming weeks and months. The conversation was rich, educational and enlightening and left me with much to reflect on. 

The coronavirus pandemic has been the catalyst which has mainstreamed the use of remote or online mediation. The need to keep people socially distanced and physically apart forced us to embrace new ways of communicating, working and resolving disputes. Over the last twenty months, video conferencing platforms have facilitated the resolution of civil, commercial, workplace and neighbour disputes from California to Christchurch. 

As restrictions lift and some degree of normality returns, many mediators and users of mediation are pondering where we go from here. Do we go back to face-to-face mediation as the default just because we can? 

Signatories of the Pledge have undertaken to encourage and promote the use of online mediation where it is “appropriate, accessible and acceptable to all concerned”, to travel (and in particular, to fly) only when necessary and by the most environmentally friendly means when it is. We further pledge to use electronic documents, environmentally friendly venues for any necessary face-to-face mediation, to take steps to reduce the environmental impact of our office or workplace and to raise awareness of the Pledge, amongst other things. Whilst the mediation business is not well known for its carbon emissions, we recognised we all have a role to play in reducing our carbon footprint. And we can all make small changes towards that collective goal. 

As I listened to discussions from around our Zoom room, I was reminded about how Sir David Brailsford transformed British cycling by applying a theory of marginal gains to bring about “continuous improvement”, known as kaizen in Japanese. Sir Dave’s application of this theory was that by making small incremental 1% improvements, the team could achieve a significant aggregated increase in performance. And he was right. From travelling with their own mattresses and pillows for a good night’s sleep, to embargoing handshakes to avoid illness, British track cycling went from one gold medal in 76 years to winning 7 out of 10 gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.     

There is undoubtedly a carbon advantage of going online. Two people spending an hour on Zoom at HD quality generates around 0.0037kg of CO2e, the equivalent of driving 0.01 miles in a standard car. A flight from Edinburgh to London emits 177kg CO2e per passenger whilst the same journey on a standard train emits 34kg CO2e per passenger. Driving from Edinburgh to Inverness emits 50.89 kg of CO2e per passenger which is reduced to 11.58kg of CO2e if you take the train. But look at the carbon savings you make from travel alone if you conduct that mediation (or meeting) online.

Of course, the Pledge is not just about reducing travel. For me, it’s about breaking down everything that we can think of that goes into how we practice mediation, how we work and how we live our lives, and then making small incremental improvements to achieve a significant aggregated impact. In the wise words of Sir David “we should think small, not big, and adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains. Forget about perfection; focus on progression and compound the improvements.”

And this is where the magic is. Because once you start to think small, you realise there are so many things you can do. From delaying an upgrade of your smart phone, tablet, laptop or computer to donating your old devices for reuse or recycling. From going paperless (it’s liberating!) to reviewing your data storage and getting into the habit of deleting what you no longer need. From considering the impact of your supply chain to where you buy your coffee and milk (and water, really?!). As our Zoom session demonstrated, getting a group or team together to look for ways to improve creates a contagious collaborative enthusiasm – people want to identify opportunities, share them with the group and by doing so, a level of accountability is also introduced. 

Beyond the Pledge, we discussed the vital role mediators can play in the “war on climate change”. The mediator’s natural environment is the bringing together of people with different perspectives and competing positions, to create an environment for constructive discussion and facilitating agreements to move forward. Mediators understand the importance of inclusion, trust and fairness of process. 

In rounding off our discussion we had the honour and privilege of a keynote address from William Ury, probably the world’s best-known peacemaker and negotiation expert. He talked about the “Green Grids Initiative – One Sun One World One Grid”, also known as the “One Sun Declaration”, where teams of facilitators have been working with governments who resolved at COP26 to act together to create an interconnected global grid from solar, wind and water power, to meet the world’s energy needs and to dramatically accelerate the global transition to a clean powered world. His key message was this: we are all “possibilists” – we believe in the possibilities of what we can achieve through what he called “radical inclusive collaborations”.

Commenting on the event John Sturrock has said: “As we heard at COP26, there is an urgent need to shift from rhetoric to action. Sometimes we feel there is little we can do in the face of global uncertainty. But each of us can do that little extra – and mediators have much to offer in the development of low carbon solutions in the years ahead and indeed in achieving more effective dispute resolution generally. We want to see the Mediators’ Green Pledge become a real movement for change.”


Rachael Bicknell

Rachael has quickly established herself as one of Scotland’s top commercial mediators. Since becoming a full-time mediator in January 2020, she has mediated over 50 commercial, civil and workplace disputes totalling over 400 hours of mediation time. She is the founder of Squaring Circles, winner of the UK National Mediation… MORE >

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