Agile Sustainability Initiative

Green Recovery and What Agile Has to Offer

You may have heard the phrase Green Recovery. This is a widely adopted term for a set of reforms aiming to recover prosperity after the COVID-19 pandemic and make our society more sustainable than before. If it’s not immediately obvious what that has to do with Agile practices, read on!

Key takeaways

  • There is a window of opportunity as we address COVID recovery & climate crisis
  • Agile can get us beyond the conventional zero-sum approach to sustainability
  • A holistic view of success, including products, people, and planet, is key

The context 

In the emergence of the lockdowns of 2020-22, and in the context of the continued global climate crisis, leaders the world over promised to “build back better” so that the world we create together in the recovery from COVID-19 becomes more sustainable than the one we had leading up to it. This makes sense for two reasons.  

  1. Major changes of any type open a window of opportunity. Agilists embrace this principle all the time, like when we facilitate retrospectives or help teams adjust to changing business priorities. Green Recovery focuses on improving operations, reducing carbon emissions, creating green jobs, expanding renewable energy sources, etc., so it accounts for the future environment and climate justice for the planet and the livelihoods of everyone on it. Change is an opportunity, and as with any opportunity, you either grab it or miss it.
  2. The fossil-fueled ways we were used to living and working with before the pandemic, especially in the global north, were bound to all but ensure climate catastrophe — and there can be no going back.

The facts

What has become more and more apparent over the last few years is that “business as usual” is most UNusual. The numbers are in:

  • Air pollution contributes to 3.7 million human deaths a year.
  • One million species are threatened with extinction.
  • We’ve converted 75% of the land not covered by ice.
  • Six of the nine greatest threats to the world are directly related to the ongoing destruction of nature, destruction by us, humans, one species.1

With that in mind, we have fallen for the notion that sustainability has to cost money, or at least be at the expense of growing profit. We are used to the maxim. “You can have cheap, fast, or good: pick two.” When you end up with a compromise, you end up with something mediocre. 

In the Agile world, we have confronted this maxim. In an ever-changing world, we must focus on what matters, reduce the noise, reduce waste, seek value, and seek impact. There is a better way to do business.

The basics

“Being sustainable is not just about building products that endure over time. It’s also about the people, time, and energy involved in production and the consumption such products require. If any single part of the process cannot be maintained over time, it’s unsustainable.”

To quote the eighth principle behind the Agile Manifesto, “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Making those connections helps organizations to become more Agile, to deliver better value, to focus on impact — but also to build a sustainable future, to contribute products and efforts that improve our communities, our wellbeing and our planet.

The tumult of the last three years had some devastating impacts. In terms of our work, many of us saw months or even years-long projects cut back or cut adrift. The losses of time, effort, and funds have been real, and they can seem tragic. At the same time, we know from Agile experience that, while setbacks might be inevitable, contributing real and consistent value to people in need makes those setbacks less painful and gives the whole project meaning.

Moreover, we know that when we rally together and focus on what matters, we can make progress and generate value, not in years, not in months, but in days! Recovery from crisis calls us to be more Agile than ever — in fact, the work we do as Agilists is key to our progress from here. At the same time, we need to be smarter and apply a holistic view.

It’s no accident that the most important principles of our work can make a difference in the most important crises of our time. In part two of this series, we will look at some specifics of how Agile, particularly in software, can make a difference in sustainable recovery.

The call

What have you seen working well to bounce from setbacks? What does our craft have to offer? What is one thing that can give us a 15% edge?

1. Ines Garcia, Sustainable Happy Profit, (Get Agile Ltd, 2021)

We are stronger together! Let’s increase the awareness of the challenges we face and also of the Agile community’s possibilities to make a difference. Learn more about the Agile Sustainability Initiative!

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