News Archive 2011
December 2011: Environmental Accounting
It's attractive, but very dangerous, to try to calculate a 'bottom line' for a firm's social or environmental performance.
Attractive, because key stakeholders are increasingly interested in knowing those kinds of details. But the main danger should be obvious: there's just no way to add up the disparate factors that make up a firm's social or environmental performance.
How do you add together litres-of-water-used plus hectares-of-habitat-destroyed? On the social performance side, how do you sum up number-of-women-in-senior-management plus fair-trade-contracts signed?
The answer of course is that you can't. You can't add up things that are represented in different units of measure.
That's not to say that you can't or shouldn't track and report these various numbers, but it casts a dim light on the prospects of arriving at a global assessment of a firm's social or economic performance. Unless, of course, you simply put a dollar figure on everything, in which case the math becomes quite easy.
That's what shoemaker Puma has done, with its new Environmental Profit & Loss Account (E P&L). It has attached a dollar value to its greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption, and compared that to the dollar value of the shoes it produces. And, interestingly, Puma is publicizing the fact that, environmentally, the company is in the red. Puma extracts more from the environment than it provides to consumers.
Now, in standard terms, any firm that uses more (in dollars) than it puts out (in dollars) is going to go out of business pretty quickly. But as Puma's Jochen Zeitz points out, that's not the case for many environmental inputs because so many environmental inputs are unpriced - that is, they cost a company nothing. Pollution, for example, when unregulated, costs a company nothing, and when under-regulated costs the company less than the cost such pollution imposes on others. So what Puma has done is put a dollar value on these things so that it can figure out what its environmental bottom line would be, if it actually had to pay for everything it consumes and emits.
There are two key problems with such attempts to calculate an environmental bottom line this way. One is practical: there just aren't uncontroversial ways to put a dollar figure on every unpriced environmental input. Certainly there are people who can provide methods for doing so; but that doesn't mean there's a clear, right way to do it.
The other problem is, well, philosophical. It's not at all clear that everything we want to say about environmental ethics can be summed up in terms of economic impact. What's the dollar value of the loss of a species? Is the value of beautiful scenery really captured by summing up how much each of us would be willing to pay to preserve it? Still, Puma deserves credit for this rather striking bit of transparency. Even though the "E P&L" is a pretty incomplete picture, it nonetheless does tell us something about the company's overall environmental impact, and its commitment to doing better.
More at: http://safe.puma.com/us/en/2011/05/puma-announces-results-of-unprecedented-environmental-profit-loss/
Nov 2011: Vale a great innovator...
"...you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life..." Steve Jobs
October 2011 - ISSP Conference
Julian Crawford and Nicole Croker represented EcoSTEPS at the inaugural International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) conference in Portland, Oregon, US recently. It was an uplifting event with around 200 self-styled 'sustainability professionals' from around the world. Julian spoke at a session with Hunter Lovins (Natural Capitalism, Carbon Capitalism) and Erik Assadourian (World Watch Institute, Vital Signs).
Julian also had the honour of introducing Karl-Henrik Robert of The Natural Step who was one of the Sustainability Hall of Fame Inductees. Another inductee was Gil Friend and his acceptance speech is reproduced below as a nice summary:
I was deeply honored last month when I was inducted into the inaugural member of the Sustainability Hall of Fame by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals -- both for the honor itself, and for the company I shared it with...
All of us stand on the shoulders of others, so it's an exceptional honor for me to be recognized together with those on whose shoulders I've stood. The other inductees have been my teachers and my heroes, and I'm humbled and moved to share this award with them.
I've known Amory Lovins for more than 30 years -- and learned from his physicist's way of thinking, his rigor, and his bold reinventing of how we think about energy.
Karl-Henrik Robert and I met only about 17 years ago, and I have been grateful each of those years for the unstoppable elegance of the Natural Step framework -- still the most dependable tool in my toolkit.
Bob Willard, maybe only ten years -- but speaking of toolkits, Bob has, probably more than anyone, been delivering the tools for making the sustainability business case.
And of course Ray Anderson, who we lost just a few weeks ago, who took all the things so many of us talk about and put them to work at the heart of a multi-billion dollar corporation -- with humility, grace and effectiveness. A prince.
There are many other sets of shoulders to mention, but I'll name just one. I began this work in 1972, when I spent a month at the World Game Workshop with Buckminster Fuller and his organization. In a month long design charrette for the planet, I learned -- I demonstrated for myself, in big picture, whole systems design, and in nitty gritty, down in the weeds analysis -- that there's no necessary barrier to human success on this planet, only our will. I signed on, back then, to contribute whatever I could to (in Bucky's words), "a world that works for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological defense, or the disadvantage of anyone." That's been my guide ever since.
And here we are today, working to transform the economy of an entire planet. This planet. In one generation. I'm honored to be in this work, and honored to be in it with you.
More at: http://www.sustainabilityprofessionals.org/2011-issp-conference-presentation-files
Sept 2011 - Business of Sustainability
The sustainability agenda and the economic growth agenda should not be in competition, Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott has told a sustainability forum in Sydney recently.
The timing was right to reclaim the sustainability agenda by demonstrating the reality that business was the natural home for such an agenda, Ms Westacott said. Global developments, the business case for sustainability and business creativity in practice were detailed at the forum, which was held by the Business Council of Australia with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Ms Westacott said businesses are already leading the sustainability agenda because:
• it believes in a leadership role
• it makes good business sense
• it is economic reality to want to reduce input costs
• it’s a magnet for investors and high-quality staff
• it’s fundamental to the social license to operate
• business has the capacity, resources and capital to drive innovation.
Excellent pdf downloads of the presentations here: www.bca.com.au/Content/101868.aspx
August 2011 - Global Footprint Network
GFN continues to do great work promoting and explaining the science and reality of ecological footprints. Their latest annual report is an excellent and compelling read: “Climate Change is Not the Problem.” Find out what is. Learn how all of the major ecological crises we face today are symptoms of a single, over-arching problem – and what we are doing about it. Read it here.
July 2011 - ISSP Conference
EcoSTEPS Director Julian Crawford is delighted to have been reappointed for a second two-year term to the Board of the prestigious ISSP (International Society of Sustainability Professionals) the premier representative organization for sustainability practitioners.
The ISSP Conference 2011, September 21-23 in Portland, Oregon, is the first ever face-to-face summit of ISSP members and other sustainability professionals. This unique event will focus on generating knowledge and solutions to help practitioners speed the adoption of sustainability within organizations. The program features learning and co-creation sessions on cutting-edge topics. Sessions are designed provide the skills, knowledge and tools from industry experts and provide you with the opportunity to influence the shape and future of the sustainability profession.
"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible." T. E. Lawrence, "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" British soldier (1888 - 1935)
Bill McKibben's Recent Op-Ed On Climate and Severe Weather Remixed Into Video
Watch it and reflect... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhCY-3XnqS0
April 2011 - The Great Disruption
The former head of Greenpeace International and the founder of Ecos Consulting, Paul Gilding, has written his first book, The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis Will Transform the Global Economy. After 50 years of climate debate we will finally - later this decade, he predicts - be forced to respond as we face immutable natural constraints.
Gilding has more business cred than most ''alarmists'' - he has advised companies such as Ford, DuPont and IAG. Yet his book anticipates an end to consumerism and the pursuit of infinite economic growth - as a function of necessity, not ideology.
''There is actually a quite profound threat and the responsibility is on us, business leaders included, to recognise that if we don't work this out within our system, we are sending a message to the world… That's a very dangerous message to send.''
Who will drive the change, someone asked? ''You,'' replied Gilding, ''and I say that quite seriously. [In the book I talk about] my illusions when I left Greenpeace and worked for big companies … and thought 'Hallelujah! I'm with the guys who are in charge. I can just talk them into what a problem we have and they'll fix it. I spent 10 years of my life doing that and then one day I realised they actually weren't in charge … because the system is simply too complicated, too diversified for anybody to be in charge anymore.''
Chief executives and prime ministers alike feel like prisoners of the system, says Gilding. It was only disempowering until he realised consumers - or those who refuse to consume - hold the whip hand. ''In actual fact, no one's in charge means we're in charge,'' Gilding says. ''In a practical sense, we can decide which companies succeed and fail.''
March 2011 - Five Stages on the Sustainability Journey
Article by Vijay Kanal:
Companies that are wondering about how to take their sustainability efforts to the next level may benefit from knowing that most leading sustainability companies – particularly the larger ones – progressed in several stages, and over a multi- year period.
Based on our work and research with dozens of companies, there are five major stages on the sustainability journey. They overlap to some extent, and not all companies started at Stage 1 but for most, these stages do apply.
1. Grassroots 2. Functional 3. Strategic 4. Ecosystem 5. DNA
But from my observation, few companies have evolved to this final stage because, as in life, it is very difficult to change DNA. Some other companies fall into the DNA-from-the-beginning camp. This is a tribute to their founders, but there are too few examples of companies such as these. The rest will need to progress to this stage over time.
But the ultimate stage is when we as a society don't have a discussion about sustainability at all because it is so ingrained in everything we do. Read more
February 2011 - Companies Must Radically Change – and Work Together
Outgoing Marks & Spencer chairman says business models must be geared towards sustainability and finite resources. Sir Stuart Rose has warned that companies will need to radically alter their business models if they are going to cope with a perfect storm of climate change, a growing global population, and finite resources. He also said that the retailer is only a tenth of the way to becoming a truly sustainable company, despite the success of its Plan A strategy, which itself is held up as one of the most ambitious of its kind.
In one of his last major speeches before he steps down at the end of 2010, Rose said the recession has masked the fundamental shifts in the way business will need to respond in order to access their resources, customers, markets and capital. He gave a stark warning that ‘there just isn't enough to go around. Period. No argument. So I believe we can't go on as we are.’
He said that companies that were built on unsustainable business models would only be able to survive for a maximum of 20 years. He also said that City investors are starting to recognise the importance of taking a longer-term view, rather than just concentrating on short-term profits: ‘It was absolutely the case that when I first raised sustainability with some of my investors, hey literally threw their hands up in horror and said 'how can you spend £200m without getting a guaranteed return on your capital invested?' Now they know that it's an imperative and it's going to be part of how businesses differentiate and succeed in the future. So I actually think it is changing. It's a bit behind but it's changing.
January 2011 - Maintaining our perspective and focus...
EcoSTEPS is proud that one of its Founding Directors, Julian Crawford, serves on the Board of ISSP (International Society of Sustainablity Professionals), which have just released its first annual report which covers the activities of the representative organisation for the rapidly growing number of members worldwide.
Cruxcatalyst is a terrfic blog that posts sustainability stories collected and curated by: "...an Antipodean sustainability transmitter and sponge, advocate of the just and ethical, appreciator of the unusual, humourous and odd..."
A Tetris of Debt
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