Monday, 31 January 2011

Quotes from Davos

The delegates from the World Economic Forum have caught their flights and returned home. A lot of words were spoken giving a snapshot of the state of the world. Here is my selection:

“I call CancĂșn a big step for the community of nations.
But unfortunately, it’s also at the same time a very small step for the planet.”
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Bonn

“Our [WTO] accession is good for the world. It is 10 years of sharing benefits and joint development – although some countries were doubtful whether we were able to honour our promises... About 10 years have passed, and the answer is on the wall. Our exports have increased by 4.9 times, imports have increased by 4.7 times, and GDP has nearly doubled.”
Chen Deming, Minister of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China

“I will not call China and India as 'emerging'. We are 're-emerging', because together we contributed 52% of the GDP of the world, until the 17th century... It is a re-balancing of the world economy. It is historical distortions getting corrected.”
Anand Sharma, Minister of Commerce and Industry of India

“We [in Greece] have been doing everything by the book. We’ve done what the recipe says. So why aren’t the markets responding?”
George A. Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece

“Chancellor Merkel and myself never – and listen to me carefully here – never will turn our backs on the Euro. We will never drop the Euro…The Euro spells Europe. The Euro is Europe.”
Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France

“We will need to work together to manage the world economy so that it functions to meet our needs, rather than satisfying our greed. This means we will need to inject more compassion into our economic and social policy; that is not only fixated on growth, but on achieving growth with equity. And with promoting a caring and sharing society.”
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia

“It is not enough to have one’s own freedom. You have to respect the freedoms of others. This is the principle which is true for relations between democratic states.”
Dimitry Medvedev, President, Russian Federation

Monday, 24 January 2011

Sustainable Fish Supply

Last night for dinner we had delicious meal of salmon fillet in a watercress source. My wife had taken care to buy salmon with the Marine Stewardship Council logo certifying that it was from a sustainable fishery. As we had had a busy day, this was a pre-packed dish from the local supermarket. Looking at the packaging with the MCS logo and recycling information we are led to believe that we have purchased a sustainable product.

There must be people who, with the best of intentions, are making product purchase decisions in the belief that they are living sustainably. I make no such claim over last night’s meal. The packaging was an aluminium tray that we are told can be recycled. How many people wash out an aluminium container and take it to be recycled? We do, but it is a hassle and I am not surprised that most people will throw it in the garbage. The plastic film cannot be recycled. The outside cardboard in the only bit that is easily recycled.

Sustainable packaging would a minimum of packaging and the packaging would be either biodegradable or able to be burnt cleanly. This is not what is offered. For ease of logistics, ease of sale and ease of consumer consumption, the fish is delivered in an unsustainable package.

A more fundamental complaint is that the fish has been caught in Alaskan waters of the Pacific Ocean. I accept that these are certified sustainable fisheries, but can it be sustainable to ship the fish halfway around the world? I wonder if a North American reading this blog is tucking into a portion of salmon caught from a fishery in Scottish waters. I should be eating the Scottish salmon and my American friend that from Alaska.

Companies indulging in superficial sustainable branding should be very careful, the public are getting more knowledgably and less willing to be conned. Before printing packaging that announces the sustainability credential of a product, check the facts. Best of all, omit the packaging.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Reporting and Promoting Sustainability

What gets measured gets done.

Measuring the sustainability performance of companies is important to making progress. The insight that management guru Peter Drucker published in the 1950s is still valid today.

Two useful frameworks are: the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the Sustainability Reporting Framework developed by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). It is to be welcomed that the OECD and GRI have announced a partnership to give guidance to companies worldwide on how to conduct their business responsibly and report on their sustainability performance.

The big idea is that transparency through reporting on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors drives the sustainability of individual organizations and, ultimately, the global economy. GRI's key goal is to make sustainability reporting mainstream.

"By working with OECD, we can help responsible multinational enterprises lead the way to a sustainable future," said Mervyn King, Chairman of the Global Reporting Initiative's Board of Directors.

"This MoU not only attests to the excellent co-operation that already exists between the OECD and the GRI but also to a common determination to assist enterprises to become more responsible corporate citizens," concurred Richard Boucher, OECD Deputy-Secretary General.

It is good to see these initiatives come together to give global enterprise a framework to use. Whether it works will depend on two things. First, will corporations discuss sustainability as an item high on the agenda of board meetings? Second, will investors factor in sustainability into their decisions over where to invest and which shares to hold?

Measuring and reporting is effective if it is at the core of managing the enterprise. If the measures are reported in separate glossy publications that come out of corporate affairs, aimed at improving the corporate reputation, it is likely to be ‘greenwash’. The Annual Report signed by the chairman and CEO is more likely to be a true reflection on the company’s performance and aspirations for the future. This is where I will be looking.


Friday, 7 January 2011

2011 - The Year of Action

What is all this fuss over global warming? Last month was the coldest December in Britain since records began. We now have proof that global warming is a hoax.

Credit should go to the media that this is not the message that has been broadcast. Those UK climate sceptics who want to use this cold spell as ammunition have either understood that this would be wrong or the media have ignored them. There is good reason for this; it looks as if, on a global basis, 2010 was also the warmest year on record.

The UK's harsh weather was caused by unusual conditions with a sustained high pressure weather system that blocked mild westerly winds and brought cold air south from the Arctic. We know that one month, in one region, is not an indicator of global climate trends, but the cold does enter our subconscious. Global warming loses its urgency when the current struggle is to stay warm and keep from sliding off icy roads.

A better way to view climate change is the increased variability (such as the jet stream coming down from the north instead of from the more usual west) and more incidents of extreme weather events such as the floods in Australia.

We should not be looking for a clear point at which the climate flips to something very different and we can say that the climate has turned. If we reach such a point, there will be no way back. There will be an increasing number of weather events to support the predictions of the scientists. Does each of us need to have their house flooded and suffer from food shortages before calling for real action?

We can see the dangers of continuing to rely on the fossil-fuel economy. Of course it must be dismantled and replaced by something different. Yes, it will be hard to transform the economy; it gets harder every day we delay. 2011 should be the year of real action...