Filed under: Uncategorized
Only a couple of months left before the final manuscript of our book is submitted – hence the sudden silence on this blog. And then probably things will change shape. I noticed that people are still checking in here – thank you, come back in the summer!
Image from here.
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If you’re talking about the impact of business in society, your usually talking about the supply chain – so I thought it was worth spending a couple of days Ethical Corporation’s Sustainable Supply Chains Summit this week. Here’s some highlights:
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT SUPPLY CHAINS?
Most of the horror stories about business happen in the supply chain: child labour, low wages, environmental damage, contaminated products – the list goes on. Getting on top of what happens in the supply chain is a massive challenge. The scale is extraordinary:
- Nestle alone has over 165,000 suppliers (source).
- H&M’s supply chain includes thousands of factories employing more than 1.1 million people (source).
- Companies like Unilever buy millions of tonnes of palm oil each year.
1. Where to start? Supply chains are huge and complex and the data is patchy. What really is the situation with palm oil deforestation? Where are the real child labour risks?
2. The supplier of my supplier is my supplier. Some products have dozens of companies in the supply chain – but the heat is on the end consumer brand, who carry the reputation risk.
3. Low leverage. Even big brands sometimes lack the real muscle to influence suppliers; increasingly, suppliers themselves are powerful corporations.
4. Implementation. Supply chains are large, complex and constantly changing, and consistent standards are hard to implement. Many big companies have grown by acquisition, and integrating diverse cultures is adds to the challenge.
5. Internal mindset. The buyers often view sustainability as a bureaucratic burden rather than a commercial opportunity. Business culture focuses on “making things happen’ and it often seems like this is more about preventing things from happening.
6. Supplier fatigue. Many suppliers are suffering from “audit overload”, dealing with dozens of different codes of conduct from different customers. Also, an audit-heavy approach can encourage suppliers to focus on just passing the audit, rather than really addressing the underlying issues.
1. Treat it as Risk Management. Many companies are building sustainable supply chains into their risk management processes – reporting into the risk and audit board committees. After all, if the supply chain fails, the whole business grinds to a halt.
2. Built it into R&D. Some companies are putting sustainability in the design brief – making the supply chain part of the innovation process. It isn’t just a risk, it can be an opportunity too.
3. Prioritise. It’s not possible to fix everything at once, so companies prioritise: one company focuses on its biggest, highest risk commodities (e.g., palm oil, hazelnuts). Another company starts by identifying its largest, riskiest suppliers.
4. Partner. It’s too big to do it alone – everybody is collaborating, either with NGOs (e.g., The Forest Trust on palm oil, the Fair Labour Association on child labour) or with industry coalitions (e.g., the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil on palm oil).
5. Incentivise. Some companies work to show how sustainability improvements can lead to commercial benefits to the suppliers, whilst building incentives and pricing into contracts.
6. Knowledge Transfer. The bigger corporates are really starting to act like industry leaders, convening supplier conferences and setting up social networks to allow suppliers to share best practice.
BUT SOMETHING’S MISSING….
One subject that received little attention: how do we get the investors and analysts interested in the risks and opportunities in the supply chain? I asked a few folk about this. Once sustainability director told me:
Our Investor Relations’ people come to the meetings, they nod and ask questions, but the never follow up. They’re not interested in telling our story. There’s no fire in the belly for this”.
We need to close that gap, to put together the investor story for having a secure, sustainable supply chain. That would bring about be a significant shift.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Filed under: Environment, Uncategorized | Tags: Forum for the Future, Low Carbon, Network Rail, Railway, Trains, Transport
Our report for Network Rail on the future of the railway was published last week – download it here. We worked with Forum for the Future, and I wrote a guest post for them on this – here it is.
Today’s Railway – the fastest growing railway in Europe.
Tomorrow’s Railway – part of a successful low-carbon economy?
The future of the Britain’s railway received a shot in the arm this week with the government’s announcement of £4.2 billion of extra investment. It’s a welcome step towards a railway fit for a low-carbon knowledge economy – but the national debate about the railway remains caught up in day-to-day issues: more seats, cleaner toilets, cheaper tickets, more reliability, more frequent services. Oh, and free WiFi.
All of these are important issues – but within the noise, we’ve lost sight of a bigger discussion: what is the purpose of the railway in the first place? What’s it for? What role does it play in national life, in our economy, in our national identity?
Network Rail had asked Blaise Projects (part of the Brunswick Group) to put together a programme to understand what the public really think about the role of the railway in the future. We turned to Forum For The Future to help us create a set of Future Scenarios – three distinct visions of tomorrow’s railway, and the role it might play in our national life.
The Future Scenarios were designed to stimulate debate about the purpose and vision of the railway. They’re not predictions, but representations of possible future pathways. They were created from a series of expert interviews, analysis and workshops. Here is a snapshot of each, based in the year 2025:
Scenario 1: City Hubs
The UK is more prosperous, with new types of industry and jobs. London is no longer the sole centre of business – several vibrant “city hubs” have sprung up across the country. There’s a less clear cut North-South divide. People can start businesses and find desirable places to live right across the country.
Scenario 2: Local Communities
The UK has stabilised as a low-growth economy. People have adapted to new ways of living and working. Many have moved out of urban areas – they work from home to save money and capitalise on local business opportunities.
Scenario 3: London – Global Hub
Economic growth has been modest. Prosperity is focused on London. As a result, more people are moving to the South East – as it’s the place to be successful. London grows as a global hub for business and culture but the economic divide has grown, creating a two-tier Britain.
We took these Future Scenarios into a national series of workshops – ten in total, right across the country, and including people from all walks of life, from chefs to nurses, plumbers to teachers. Over 300 people took part in these workshops, and the results were published last week in a report called Our Railway’s Future.
The scenarios helped throw the debate into the future, getting us past the day-to-day, transactional issues. In fact, we were all surprised by how engaged people were with the discussion about the future of the railway: people think the railways really matter, and that the industry needs to be more ambitious about the future. Here’s how the outgoing chairman of Network Rail, Rick Haythornthwait, described the outcome:
“The public have shown a great affection for their railway and strongly recognised its economic and social importance. This is a moment to grasp as we plan our railway for the next decade… the people want a strong, healthy, well financed railway that can deliver for today and for decades to come.”
This report shows why we should be ambitious for the railway: it plays an important social, economic and environmental role. As Forum’s founder Jonathan Porritt says in a piece he wrote for the report, “rail is the backbone of a low-carbon transport system”. This report shows that we can have a much more constructive national debate when we lift our eyes above the here-and-now, and fix our sights on the future.
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Tomorrow I leave for northern India. Disconnect, reconnect, etc. So, this blog is on pause. In the meantime, two daydreams about my trip. The first, a painting called Green Fields Of Manali, by Priyadarshi Gautam. The second, a photo from Chasing Himalaya.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Accenture, Apple, CEO, Dow Chemical, GE, Ikea, Intel, Nike, P&G, Quotes, Shell, Unilever, virgin, Volvo
These days it seems like business leaders are queuing up to talk about their role in society. That’s good, right? They’re saying all the right things. I’ve been hoarding a bunch of quotes – here they are below. But first – it’s always slightly scary when a new orthodoxy emerges (even when it’s yours), so some wise words from Warren Buffett:
“The five most dangerous words in business may be ‘Everybody else is doing it’.” Warren Buffett (source)
A new world view
“We are seeing the birth of a new perspective of the world, where ecology and economics are two sides of the same coin.”
Leif Johansson, CEO, VOLVO (source)
“We cannot choose between [economic] growth and sustainability – we must have both.”
Paul Polman, CEO, UNILEVER (source)
“Business is the force of change. Business is essential to solving the climate crisis, because this is what business is best at: innovating, changing, addressing risks, searching for opportunities. There is no more vital task.”
Richard Branson, CEO, Virgin Group (source)
“Solid, hardwired, rigid approaches to business are rapidly giving way to the fluid, open, flexible in literally everything we do and with ramifications we are all grappling with.”
Robert Pitfield, EVP, SCOTIA CAPITAL (source)
The company of the future
“In my view the successful companies of the future will be those that integrate business and employees’ personal values. The best people want to do work that contributes to society with a company whose values they share, where their actions count and their views matter.”
Jeroen van der Veer, Committee of Managing Directors, SHELL (source)
“The brands that will be big in the future will be those that tap into the social changes that are taking place.”
Sir Michael Perry, Chairman, CENTRICA (source)
“We see sustainability, both social and environmental, as a powerful path to innovation, and crucial to our growth strategies.”
Mark Parker, CEO, NIKE (source)
The need for collaboration
“Successful companies can only create solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems by working collaboratively. Business must engage — with communities, governments, customers and each other — because the status quo is not an option. It is not only possible for a global business leader to be a good citizen, but a requirement.”
Jeff Immelt, CEO, GE (source)
“The opportunity for businesses today is to become networks—with a culture of collaborative innovation, stewardship and integrity.”
Filippo Passerini, President, PROCTOR & GAMBLE (source)
“Business, government and civil society and people everywhere can leverage technology to work together in new ways to solve the greatest problems of our multi-polar world.”
Bill Green, Chairman and CEO, ACCENTURE (source)
“The new engine of innovation driven by collaboration, openness, stewardship and the power of the social web gives all of us an opportunity to drive even more rapid, meaningful change across global institutions”.
Michael Dell, CEO, DELL (source)
Going beyond the expected…
“It is not good enough to do what the law says. We need to be in the forefront of these [social responsibility] issues.”
Anders Dahlvig, CEO, IKEA (source)
“Corporate responsibility is about doing the right things right.”
Paul Otellini, CEO, Intel (source)
(as opposed to what exactly? Doing the wrong things wrong? Doing the wrong things right?)
It’s core business…
“In short, we are committed – through chemistry – to the betterment of global humanity. And it is this commitment that drives all of our strategies for growth and profitability”.
Andrew Liveris, CEO, Dow Chemical (source)
“We believe that better use of information and communication technologies can contribute in a big way to economic growth while offering opportunities to address global warming.” Stephen Elop, CEO, NOKIA (source)
Tomorrow is too late
“All companies face a direct impact from decreasing natural resources, rising populations and disruption from climate change. And what may be a subtle effect now will only become more intense over the next five to ten years. Never has business had a more crucial call to innovate — not just for the health and growth opportunities for our companies, but for the good of the world.”
Mark Parker CEO, NIKE (source)
“The time to take risks is when you’re successful, not when you’re sliding down the slope.”
Tim Mohin, ex-director of Sustainable Development, Intel and Apple (source)
I’m aware that all of these quotes are very Anglo-Euro-American. Partly that’s because I don’t speak mandarin. So a final piece of wisdom from the East:
“If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” —Chinese Proverb
And if you really couldn’t be bothered to read all the quotes, I did a Wordle of the entire post, so you can get the general idea:
Image from Jupiter Images.
There’s a lot of strong anti-corporate feeling about at the moment – UK Uncut and it’s cousin US Uncut are good examples. I’ve been working with some big corporates, clarifying the “social purpose” of the business – and I keep hitting upon an anti-corporate instinct. Of course, there are many examples of corporate wrong-doing – past and present – but there’s an anti-business impulse in culture that goes deeper than this.
Anti-corporate archetypes are strongly embedded in popular culture. The shady, inhuman, unaccountable MegaCorp is a universal enemy, featuring in everything from Charlie’s Angles and the A-Team to Superman, Terminator and Avatar. Corporates reaching a certain scale will trigger this unconscious archetype.
All of this is probably, on balance, a good thing. We should maintain a healthy suspicion of corporates, just as we do of governments. However, it shouldn’t obscure the positive role a business can play in society. I’m going to write a post on “the case for business”, focusing on the developing world, to show this. In the meantime, here’s some good old fashioned logo-subvertising that I’ve dug up recently.
Logo images found at IndyMedia, Android Massacre, Logo Design Love, Red Staple Chronicles, Friends Of Reason, Know More Media, Worth1000, Snippets & Slappits, AlexaMCG, Not My Tribe, Creative Greenius,
Filed under: Uncategorized
I’ve had some downtime this week. Not vacation, just not working: catching up with people, doing the assignments for my New York Times course, reading, stuff. I thought I’d share some of the interesting people that caught my attention this week. A sort of long-form #FF, I guess – just in case anyone’s looking for inspiration.
1. JONAH LEHRER @jonahlehrer
I’ve been cyberstalking this guy – Rhodes scholar and science writer with a great blog Frontal Cortex. He writes a lot about how we think, make decisions, etc. Here’s a clip of him talking about the benefits of daydreaming, and how our gadgets and gizmos can get in the way.
2. BRENDAN O-NEILL
Is it a co-incidence that enthralled rhymes with appalled? Both describe my feelings towards Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked. Nobody prods and pokes at my comfortable pro-social precepts better than he does. Some headlines of his well-argued proddings:
I disagree with much of what Brendan says, but he’s the best antidote to lazy thinking I know. Here he is in a panel discussion from 2009 piling into the “miserablism” of anti-consumptionism and the fear of greed (I especially like his take on the banker’s bonus witch-hunt):
3. STEVEN JOHNSON @stevenbjohnson
This week I read Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From – really one of the best books I’ve read for a very long time, a really enjoyable read. I decided to buy the book after listening to his LSE lecture, which is a really good precise. His TED talk is pretty good too:
4. CHRISTIAN LANDER @clander
Author of the blog/book Stuff White People Like, Lander is part comedian, part anthropologist, part list-maker. He likes to dig at our smug white middle class lifestyles – we’re all so post-racial and meritocratic, right? Or are we actually wrapped in privilege and lack of self-awareness? He has a good pop at TED (amazing more people haven’t done this). Anyway, he’s thoughtful and hilarious. Here he is doing a talk show last month:
Filed under: Uncategorized
I got a nice email from WordPress on New Year’s Day, telling me “You’re doing awesome!”. It was their Blog-Health-o-meter. Looks to me like I only just make it into the green – but anyway, I thought I’d share, in case anybody is vaguely interested.
About 7,000 unique visitors came to the site in 2010 – apparently that’s around 18 full 747s. Not a huge number, maybe, but I’m very pleased.
1. Why the Plane Stupid ad works – people still watching the polar bears.
2. The Crazy Chemist: talking about legal highs – angry Daily Mail articles.
3. Climbing the social media ladders – people seem to find the links here helpful.
4. How to be happy: Hug a Homo – gay friendly countries are happier places…
5. Work, not charity – about my Ethiopia trip with the Nike Foundation.
TOP REFERRING SITES
1. twitter.com – various links to specific posts.
2. mothergrapevine.com – Mother’s staff directory (since de-listed!).
3. facebook.com – never managed to figure out why I get hits from Facebook…
4. bluelight.ru – big discussion about legal highs.
5. blog.ted.com – links to a post about Hillary Clinton’s TED talk.
TOP SEARCH TERMS
1. crazy chemist
2. antidote jon miller
3. some people are gay get over it
4. fuck cancer
The big puzzle: each post gets a few hundred unique views, and I seem to have quite a few RSS feeds (…feeders?)… so why is the level of comment so low? I occasionally get people emailing me via the contact links, but hardly any comment. Any ideas?
Anyway, whilst we’re doing 2010 web stats – I thought this was interesting, from Google Zeitgeist. It’s the top searches for “how to…” and “what is…”. It paints an interesting picture (I had to look up “how to dougie” and “what is HPV”).
OK so this is the nerdiest post ever: a kind of that-was-2010 in the medium of maps. The first one is beautiful – an infographic from an intern at Facebook, visualizing the connections in people’s social networks. Source.
In October, map geek Kai Krause caused a stir with the below image of Africa. He wanted to show how the standard map projections actually shrink the size of Africa – but most people took it simply as a statement about the relative size of the continent in the global community. Source.
It’s easy to forget that the the internet isn’t actually just floating in the air, but is underpinned by a massive network of fat cables, spanning the globe. Great to see the level of web infrastructure investment around Africa, with investment from NGOs like the Aga Khan Fund and the World Bank. Source.
Looking forward, this next one is a prediction of world GDP shifts in the next five years – not a massive surprise, but nice to see strong growth in many African countries… and China looks like it’s about to burst. Source.
The next map shows where the delegates at this year’s Cancun conference on climate change came from – and it’s a distinctly different shape, and that tells its own story. Source.
A quick look at this map of life satisfaction and it seems that rich Western countries dominate – but almost a third of the top 35 countries have a GDP per capita of less than $20,000. In fact, the country with the highest reported life satisfaction – and by some margin – is Costa Rica. Source.
It was the year of mobile, with an “unprecedented intensity of innovation”, according to Morgan Stanley. This map shows countries where penetration is greater than 1 phone per person. Source.
One big change in the following map on gay rights – India decriminalized homosexuality in 2010, good news for a few million people. Still there are millions criminalized for their sexuality. Groups like Stonewall focus on domestic rights, and it doesn’t seem a priority for the major human rights groups. Source.
Google Earth Engine launched in December 2010, with a mission to map the world’s water and forest resources. Full description on Google’s blog.
Finally, another beautiful visualization. In April the skies above London were clear blue – not a vapour trail in sight – as planes were grounded due to volcanic ash. This video shows the air traffic starting up again.
The votes are being counted, and I just heard Lord Mandelson say, “without wishing to sound glib, I think the public may have won the election”. Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The media and the politicians are enjoying the idea that this was “the people’s election”, but the Electoral Commission estimate that only 56% of 18-25 year olds are even registered to vote. Not everyone’s feeling it.
Still, it’s been more lively than anyone expected. Here are some images to celebrate.