Why business is wrong about Sustainability

Posted April 26th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

You know, I used to love Laurel and Hardy.  I’m one of that generation who grew up with them regularly on BBC2 in the afternoons, along with other black and white classics.  This, of course, was in the days when there were less than a handful of channels and all broadcast quality instead of commercial pap.

Recently I got into a debate with members of the business community about CSR and sustainability.  It’s a subject which really motivates me and if I have a weakness it’s the need to rake over it time and time again.

However, what got me in this debate was the view which was being expressed about the difference between CSR and sustainability.  It was, I have to say, a little Laurel and Hardy.

The consensus seemed to be that CSR was all about the short term actions a company took while sustainability is all about the long term strategy a company employs.  Other than that the two were indistinguishable.  This is like saying Laurel the tall one, Hardy’s the fat one, but other than that they’re both white men in bowler hats.

While this may be true about Laurel and Hardy, it’s not true of CSR and sustainability.

CSR *is* about the actions a company takes.  However, these actions are made according to how the company believes it can add value to its positive impact and mitigate its negative impact.  What is considered valuable, damaging and responsible will vary from industry to country to culture and it will also vary over the short to medium term.

Sustainability is all about resource use: mineral, natural and human and the rate at which we’re consuming those resources. This does not vary: using something more quickly than its replaced is universaly unsustainable, just like borrowing more money than you’re making is.

To have a viable long term company you have to think about sustainability, yes, but sustainability can be addressed just as immediately as CSR.  For example, our scale of oil and mineral use it utterly unsustainable.  Companies can address that today just as they are addressing issues of social inclusiveness or environmental degredation.

A CSR correspondent of mine recently noted that they were distraught by how few companies and consultants in the area who still don’t get CSR.  “It’s not about giving to random organisations and NGOs,” this person said in paraphrase, “It’s about shaping the corporate strategy around social and environmental goals as well as financial ones.”

Similarly, I’m distraught about how companies and consultants still don’t seem to get sustainability.  It’s not about aligning your strategy to the changes which will happen tomorrow; it’s about ensuring you don’t over consume today, which in turn makes tomorrow viable.  Leave it until tomorrow though, and there simply won’t be one.

So CSR and sustainability both address the same spectrum of issues represented broadly in triple bottom line economics.  However they’re not a double act like Laurel and Hardy: much more like Dudley Moore and Richard Prior.  Comedians, yes, with the same aim of getting people to laugh and examine themselves.  However, there the similarity ends.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tom-margie/1536404154

The Conference Junkie: Preaching to the Converted

Posted April 20th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

At the recently concluded Charities@Work conference, JP Morgan Chase’s VP and National Director for Employee Engagement and Financial Education Michael Carren challenged the attendees to return next year with a colleague.

What he said isn’t atypical for a conference. For organizers, these forums—especially annual ones—mean new business opportunities and a bigger, better event the following year.

And when one of the organizers says this, the reaction is usually one of ambivalence: Sure, of course you want to increase your attendance.

But for once I agree.

As I go from conference to conference this year (Count stands at 11 so far including two that we’ve organized), alternatively presenting, speaking on a panel or simply attending, I’ve realized that, no matter how good the events are, they’re all suffering from the same problem.

That is: We are preaching to the same crowd.

We’re talking about CSR, business ethics, social responsibility, life skills, business skills, leadership skills and so much more…we’re learning from each other’s experiments and sharing our challenges.

But are we extending the dialogue to our colleagues when we return to our desks?

After all, we are returning to a bulk load of work and an endless cycle of deadlines and deliverables. We are not sharing what we learned with our colleagues, and we are certainly not using the key takeaways to crowd-source solutions within our organizations. Even if a small percentage of us is taking the time to spread the wealth, are we doing it effectively?

Are we delivering the message across departments? Across management hierarchies? Are we making it make sense?

Because if we were, the attendance demographics would change every year: Networking breaks would have newer faces, fresher perspectives, evolving challenges. Every lunch/dinner break would mean meeting people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

But that isn’t happening.

I know. Most of us don’t have the time.

“We’re Not Sitting At the Same Table”

At the Business Civic Leadership Center’s (BCLC) annual conference earlier this week, I happened to share a table at lunch with Microsoft’s Senior Director of Global Community Affairs Akhtar Badshah and Ann Cramer who is the director of IBM’s corporate community relations. They shared similar sentiments: Why this continued disconnect? Why do the marketing, legal, compliance, community relations, and HR teams remain so misaligned on what CSR means for their roles, and their impact?

Referring to my recent workshop with the students at the University of Minnesota on CSR and job hunting, I asked Cramer what could help reduce this disconnect. Her answer resonated: We’re not talking enough, we’re not educating ourselves enough, we’re not sitting at the same table, she said.

Never Too Late for a New Year’s Resolution

So why not share some of the wealth and use next year’s budget to send someone else from your company to some of these conferences, especially the ones that have become permanent dots on your annual calendar?

Even if just a handful of new attendees get the message and are able to contextualize it to their daily job, that’s a win in my book—and I’d wager in your company’s long term growth as well.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ter-burg/4998348395

Some of the latest sustainability reports

Posted April 17th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Every few months from now on will we here on TheEnvironmentSite.org post some of the latest Sustainability Reports we have come across over the past weeks. This list is simply for information purposes. We are NOT recommending these reports but simply want to make you aware of these new publications.

Here are some of the latest reports we wanted to mention in the post today:

UPDATE: Some more reports that I was informed about today:

We hope you will find this list useful. If you do or do not please comment below so we know about it. Thanks!

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fsse-info/516326731

Externalities: costs passed on to the outside

Posted April 14th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Externalities is a term that economist use to reference costs and benefits which are not directly carried by the company involved. They are usually passed on to the consumer, government or the environment. As with many things, they can be good or bad. The trouble is that sometimes you cannot tell until later.

You can find examples of passed on externalities in many areas. The chemical industry, the coal industry, the automotive industry, the alcohol industry and just about any business which seeks profit above all. They operate in a manner which mandates finding ways to shed costs and put them on the shoulders of those outside their system. The entire fossil fuel machine would not survive if they did not follow this principle.

There are two kinds of externalities. Economist call them positive/negative externalities or costs. Positive benefits are those that improve the lives outside the system. A prime example of a positive externality is the school system. The general goal is the creation of a smarter worker, but educating the populace is the hidden benefit or externality. The examples of negative benefits are so numerous as to be unlistable. The corporations will quickly lay claim to the positive, but will completely deny the negative.

The biggest guilty party is the fossil fuel industry. They completely avoid taking any responsibility for the current global situation and will go any extreme to deny their part. To see a perfect example look into mountaintop removal for mining coal. Across the country big coal companies are simply blowing the tops of the mountains off to get the coal underneath. They fill the valleys with waste products from the process which leaches into streams and water tables. This leads to increased health problems for those living in the area which someone else has to pay for. This is just one of multitude of costs that are passed to other people so companies can claim that coal is cheap.

If you want a bigger picture just go to any search engine and type in pollution, fossil fuels and health problems together. The external costs of oil production, coal production, combustion engine and many other things we take for granted are dumped into someone else’s lap.

Further References:
Wikipedia: Externalities
Environmental Externalities and Air Pollution
Harvard study: Coal costs US public up to $500 billion annually

Dee Neely is an avid technologist, writer and green activist. She is the Knoxville Green Activism Examiner for Examiner.com. You can follow her on Twitter as cayceedeeneely.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/christianrevivalnetwork/2724218930

Competitive Intelligence: What’s Unethical About It?

Posted March 21st, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Where would you draw the line at collecting intelligence about competitors?

A new survey by consulting firm Fuld & Co. shows that while financial services firms and tech companies might be the most aggressive in collecting intelligence, other industries aren’t that far behind. As reported by the WSJ, “104 business executives were presented with hypothetical scenarios that gave the executive an opportunity to collect intel about a competitor, but straddled the ethical line. Participants could rate the scenario as “normal,” “aggressive,” “unethical” or “illegal.””

The results seem partly on target, but mostly worrying.

For example, “One scenario asked whether it was all right for the executive to remove his identification badge during a trade show, which would make it easier to speak to competitors without them knowing his identity.”

The result: “Most industries rated removing the ID badge as aggressive, while health-care and pharmaceutical executives thought it was unethical.”

But the report didn’t restrict the questions to public forum etiquette. “The executives were asked if it was alright to sign up for an interview at a rival company’s job fair to see what they could learn from a recruiter.”

Result: “Every industry thought the tactic was unethical except for government, which merely found it aggressive.”

While I’ll let you get over the fact that this scenario suggests our government has a completely different outlook on ethical behavior, overall the report seems to give health care and pharmaceutical brownie points for being squeamish about their approaches.

One factor detailed by the Journal: The level of regulation weighs heavily on the consequent level of squeamishness.

While each industry seems to be toeing its own line of ethics vs. competitive intelligence, risk for most means higher profits, and as Larry Kahaner, author of Competitive Intelligence says in the report, “The more money that’s involved, the less squeamish people become. “If companies have gotten away with stuff over the years, they don’t clean up their act.”

Is it then okay to assume that the surveyed companies probably have some sort of written guidelines on intel collection?

A third, says the report, neither have guidelines nor do they share them with employees. What you don’t know doesn’t hurt. Right?

–By Aman Singh, Vault.com

Aman Singh is the Senior Editor, Corporate Responsibility with Vault.com and the author of Vault’s CSR blog: In Good Company. Her area of work includes corporate social responsibility, diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at companies. Connect with her on Twitter @VaultCSR.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/3699665986

We are looking for more bloggers – Apply today

Posted March 16th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

We need more bloggers as TheEnvironmentSite.org is moving into its next development phase. Over the next few weeks we are planning to increase our coverage of environmental, sustainability and reponsible business (CSR) topics from across the globe.

So are you interested in blogging about these topics on a site that has thousands of daily visits and a thriving online community?

If so why not get in touch and start or continue your blogging career with us. Just fill out the form below and we will be in touch shortly.

On the proper way to limit overpopulation

Posted February 22nd, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

There are people who say that there is no overpopulation, and there are people who say that there is overpopulation but we shouldn’t do anything about it. I say that there is overpopulation and we should do something about it, but this article of mine is not about convincing people of this approach. I search for the answer to this question instead: how to limit population size in the proper way if we want to? I share my best current thoughts about the topic, allowing you to evaluate and rethink them.

Overpopulation was not a big problem in the ancient times, because wars, famine and diseases kept population size in its natural limits. The rise of civilizations and technology seems to have changed this situation, because we can feed many of the hungry in Africa, and we can cure most of the diseases, and we do it, because we are humane. Even wars cannot control population growth properly now, because we should not risk a nuclear war. If these three things – war, famine and disease – are not available to control population size, what other options do we have?

Some thinkers may come up with the advice „Go back to nature”, which would mean we should force mankind back to a state similar to the one which was prior to civilization. There are two problems with this approach. The first is that most of us don’t want to lose the advantages of civilization, for example comfort, security, power and information. The second problem is that the „Go back to nature” principle cannot be brought into effect in practice. At least it cannot be brought into practice in our times.

We can see one thing in common in war, famine and disease: all control overpopulation by increasing the number of deaths. As we don’t want this, we have only two options: the first is to find another planets to live, the other is to limit the number of births. As finding another planets to live seems to be a hard-to-believe option, we have to think on the possibility about limiting the number of births. After a so long introduction we can continue with the main thoughts of my writing.

The question is how we could limit the number of births in a sustainable, liberal and ethical manner. If some people may voluntarily choose not to have children, or to have less children, because of environmental thinking, then it is probable that in evolutionary time those would proliferate who don’t care for the environment as much and cannot control their instincts. Thus this solution wouldn’t be sustainable in evolutionary time, and it wouldn’t be just either. We have to compete for the rights of reproduction, because this is the law of natural selection.

There are some laws which control the way how we compete for reproduction, for example the law which says „Do not kill” or the one which says „Do not steal”. Other laws may be created to limit birth rates, like the one-child-policy in China. I can see two problems with the one-child-policy: firstly, it’s not liberal, and secondly, it doesn’t seem to be sustainable in evolutionary time, because those would proliferate who beget triplets. The conclusion from this is that birth control laws should work as evolution works.

We have come to the conclusion which we may call the principle of birth control: The more able, the more useful and the more fit for life should be encouraged to reproduce, and the less able, the less useful and the less fit for life should not reproduce or should have only one child. Implementations of this principle may differ in time and place, whether is should be measured by money or something else, how liberal it should be, whether punishment is necessary or is reward enough for the children of the compliers, and whether or not those may be encouraged to have a sexual relationship who should not beget children. After all, the principle remains the same, unless we can go to another planets to live. This principle would make the lives of the children better, because they would get the wealth they need. This principle would also help to reduce the monetary differences between people, because the money which would be inherited would be distributed between the children.

Until now, I couldn’t find a better solution than this, so I encourage people to start thinking about how to implement it.

Written by Arpad Fekete, a member of TheEnvironmentSite.org

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48722974@N07/4538714228

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