Thursday, December 18, 2014

If you are interested in sustainable and ethical cotton, then read this

This post is to alert you our new March 2105 event, all about ethical and sustainable cotton sourcing, production, manufacturing, transportation and retail.

The event, called "Sustainable and ethical cotton sourcing - How to get it right, and make it pay for your business", will be on 16th-17th March, 2015 in London.

The Sustainable Cotton Forum will bring together highly experienced practitioners and key NGOs around a focused agenda, in order to get to the core of the key issues surrounding the cotton supply chain.

The agenda is designed to be highly interactive (NO PPT!) and engaging so the issues discussed are those that really matter to you and your peers.

  • Cotton sustainability: what does it all mean anyhow? Outside organic and fairtrade, what do we mean by sustainable or ethical cotton?
  • Hear from 12 major brands how they made the business case for serious cotton action on sustainability - and how they measure and report progress
  • Meet leading experts in the field who have spent decades working on sustainable cotton - and learn from their experiences
  • Engage key stakeholders. Learn about the farmer, ginner and trader perspective on sustainable cotton

Speakers include:

  1. Alison Ward, CEO, CottonConnect
  2. Marcus Bergman, Head of sustainability, Gina Tricot
  3. Stephen Cawley, Head of sustainability, John Lewis
  4. Henrik Lindholm, CSR manager, Nudie Jeans
  5. Eileen Mockus, CEO, Coyuchi
  6. Iain Summers, General manager of industrial wear and product innovation, Mark’s Work Warehouse
  7. Anna Karin Dahlberg, Production support manager, Lindex
  8. Pramod Singh, Project manager India, Better Cotton Project, IKEA
  9. Libby Annat, Controller of ethical trade & sustainability, Primark
  10. Rachel Singh, Business manager, Shell Foundation
  11. Phil Townsend, Sustainable raw materials specialist, Marks & Spencer
  12. Liesel Truscott, European and farm engagement director, Textile Exchange
  13. Klara Shrivankova, European programme and advocacy coordinator, Anti-Slavery
  14. Janet Mensink, International cotton programme coordinator, Solidaridad
  15. Lena Staafgar, Business director, Better Cotton Initiative

And lots of other key experts more details, full details here: and here's the full agenda. Hope you can come along.

If you register before the end of this week, you get some money off too. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Human Trafficking: What tools are available to measure and address businesses’ impact?

This LSE blog post looks to be an excellent summary of issues, responses, tools and solutions related to the human trafficking debate. Really worth a read or save.

Immigration debates and the future role of business

Immigration, it seems, is everywhere these days.

In today's short term, economically fearful, and hyper-connected Europe, though, the debate is now framed increasingly through the lens of blinkered national interest.

That's also true in some other regions.

One only has to look at the sad state of UK politics and the media hysteria around migration to prove that point.

Unfortunately for those of us who believe in a more integrated, flexible, open world, the immigration debate, and the raised voices of those against progressive policies, will not be going away any time soon.

As OECD member country societies age, they will likely become more fearful for their immediate future and perhaps less interested in global issues.

This is starting to cause a major problem for large companies. That problem will only grow. It will be a two sided set of pressures too. On the one hand fewer younger 'indigenous' workers will be available in OECD nations.

On the other, those ageing populations will object, more and more loudly to new people being allowed into their countries.

Tax-revenue-less economic recoveries, such as in the UK right now, won't help the problem of rising healthcare costs either.

So business, big business, has a direct interest in lobbying for more people to be allowed in than many right leaning governments will want to permit in the coming years.

This much is all fairly obvious.

But there's another point to make, and it's this.

If we want to stop what right leaning newspapers and political parties call 'the huddled masses' of often under-educated immigrants coming to OECD nations, or let's say Europe, simply closing borders is unlikely to help much.

Sure, it may reduce some numbers for a while. But determined migrants find a way. Just ask the US border patrol.

The answer to migration from poorer nations to riches ones, which hugely disadvantages those poorer nations in many ways, is going to be local, national and regional development.

So whilst every large company is going to have to take a position on immigration in the coming years (particularly given climate change impacts) they will also need to more deeply consider their role in development.

The politics of immigration, and the dangers they represent for business, means this will become both more pressing, and more strategic. It will take years to make a difference.

In combination, companies investing and profiting from growing emerging markets will need increasingly to demonstrate that they deliver value in those countries. Or they will lose out.

There are complementary trends in play here: A need for skilled and some unskilled labour, and progressive migration policies in OECD nations, combined with a need for development in non-OECD countries.

Companies who want to show they have progressive influence that advantages their business will need to join up the two into planning that contributes genuinely to both these needs.

Country reporting on economic / social / environmental impacts is definitely a start. So are partnerships with development NGOs and engagement with richer country governments on skills and labour needs.

The question is, what comes next, that can make a substantive difference to these two vital areas?

I'd suggest starting with emerging market products and service offerings that create local employment, involve local sourcing and generate profits locally which can be re-invested, at least in part, for further sustainable growth.

Harder to do for some industries than others, I know. Here's an example.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Five questions for Stuart Orr on water risk, sustainability and opportunity

Stuart Orr and Guy Pegram have written a new short eBook on water sustainability.

'Business Strategy for Water Challenges: From risk to opportunity' is published by DoShorts.

I sent Stuart a few questions about the book and his views on water sustainability.

TW: We’ve been hearing a lot for years about ‘water crises’ and the need to focus on it. Are we making serious progress in terms of policy and action in the countries with which you are familiar? 

SO: I think the short answer is no.

There’s lots of talk and even some good policy on the books, but the failure of implementation remains the biggest issue. This lack of political will shouldn’t be surprising – water remains somewhat invisible to policymakers as they drive other agendas.

Take energy production: with the drive to reduce carbon emissions, water concerns take a back seat. And since it’s a cross cutting resource – touching on agriculture, energy, health, transportation – it’s everyone’s job and no one’s job.

The good news is that there is change, with clear signals for water goals coming out of the Sustainable Development Goals process and a new focus on water and investment/reform from development banks and even private sector finance. And finally, because business is identifying water as a substantial risk, it is moving up the agenda. We have to accept that this is helping our cause a great deal.

TW: What about big business? Nestle’s chairman Peter Brabeck says the water crisis is bigger than climate change, in the short term. But is there much real action outside the big companies with vulnerable supply chains?

SO: First, I wouldn’t agree that it’s just big companies reacting. And second, I think many are reacting for the wrong reason.

In my experience, the small and medium-sized companies – the links in the supply chains of large companies – are the ones who really understand water risk. They are embedded in local communities and don’t have the luxury of pulling up stakes.

There is some fantastic progress with small companies, sometimes in partnership with the big guys, but often alone. Many large companies are grabbing the spotlight, positioning themselves to look good on water, but often with little substance. You can decide for yourself who they are, but capturing the accolades for ‘doing good’ will always be a goal for some companies.

Weeding out those who are in it for green business awards from those who see long-term systemic risk is part of the process.

I certainly have to spend that time to know who is actually willing to work hard and be pushed and who is not.

TW: Has the UN CEO Water Mandate succeeded, or is it just a club of companies who were taking action anyhow?

SO: WWF has engaged the CEO Water Mandate since 2008 and we see it as a very important initiative to support business. Many of the companies involved are engaging in their own work or in other industry groups, but the Mandate uniquely provides solid guidance to steer companies through what is sometimes a very confusing space.

Water is a new topic for many companies, and responding to water challenges is significantly different from carbon. So the Mandate’s guidance on accounting, disclosure, public policy and collective action are incredibly helpful for business. The feedback I have heard from members is very appreciative.

TW: Your organisation, WWF, has partnerships with many companies on water stewardship. How do you know when a partnership is working? What are the measurables?

SO: In fact, we have very few relationships on stewardship for some of the reasons I mentioned above: We want to find the best partners who are in it for the right reasons. It’s true that we work closely with H&M, for example, because they are a sector leader and we believe that together we can make a real difference in their business and bring much of the textile/fashion sector with us. We mapped WWF priority river basins where H&M has a significant presence.

By focusing on these production centres, we can engage beyond H&M’s supply chain and really start to shift the industry’s role in managing water sustainably. There are many ways we measure progress, but counting litres ‘saved’ is probably the least significant. Because in the end, we are not here to make companies more efficient, that’s not our job.

We are pushing them much further into collective action and policy dialogues with other stakeholders and government. We are concerned with process and governance level indicators. But generally we know that if it’s starting to seem easy, or that we know all the answers, we’re doing it wrong.

TW: Your new short book has lots of practical tips on what companies can do on water, what would you say the five key takeaways from the book are?

SO: The book is written for people who haven’t really engaged the water topic yet. Hopefully it will help sustainability professionals as they begin their own company journey on water challenges. So I think the top five takeaways would be

1) Understand your risks, not just your footprint
2) Plan accordingly (look at our progression ladder)
3) Take your time to get this right – engage, ask questions, learn
4) Avoid gimmicks and “quick wins” – they’re just a waste of time
5) Play the long game – this issue is not going away

'Business Strategy for Water Challenges: From risk to opportunity' is published by DoShorts.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Life cycle thinking and the next industrial revolution - guest post by Paul Hohnen

In a guest post, Paul Hohnen reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and makes some recommendations on how the real potential of LCAs might be unlocked

Any successful transition to sustainable development will depend on a shared understanding of the social and environmental impacts at the organizational and product level.

Which is why Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and related reporting and monitoring will be so crucial to our collective efforts to move to a Circular (or Closed Loop) Economy.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, LCAs are tools that can be used to assess the environmental (and, some would argue, other) impacts of a product, process or service from design to disposal and re-use.

Judging from a recent international conference held last month in Lille, France, LCAs and Life Cycle thinking are attracting increased interest and application, but are still some distance from achieving mainstream recognition and support.

On the positive side of the ledger, it was common ground among the almost 300 participants from 25 countries that Life Cycle thinking offered user companies and regulators multiple benefits.

These included greater transparency about material and energy use at the product and corporate level, opportunities for cost reduction through innovative changes in design or manufacturing processes, and improved communication with interested stakeholders (including consumers, through clear and trustworthy environmental labelling).

There was also general agreement that a mature and common methodological framework had been provided by the ISO 14040 series standard.

While some concerns were raised about the potential for recent national and EU initiatives in the space to create confusion, French and EU representatives were reassuring on the issue of compatibility.

For example, while the EU Commission is currently piloting a ‘Product Environmental Footprint’(PEF) and an ‘Organisation Environmental Footprint’ (OEF)  as part of the follow-up to the Communication on

Building the Single Market for Green Products, it is doing so in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including many ISO users.

Although the outcome of the PEF/OEF pilot phase will not be known until 2017, and policy recommendations developed in the period 2017-18, the process seems very likely to ensure complementarity with ISO, even where the proposed EU approach might go further, in pursuit (among other things) of encouraging competition based on life cycle environmental performance and of supporting the Circular Economy.

On the less positive side, my sense was that three factors are still inhibiting the wider and more rapid adoption of LCAs.

The first are the ongoing philosophical and methodological differences within the Life Cycle Assessment community itself.

For example, while some experts argued in favour of a narrow range of simple indicators and metrics (e.g. carbon emissions, water use, etc.), others warned about the risks of ‘greenwashing’, where companies could use overly simple LCAs to tell any story they liked.

Similarly, while some participants insisted that LCAs should confine their focus on a product or company’s environmental footprint, others wondered whether social and economic factors (including job creation potential) shouldn’t also be factored in.

In a world where ESG indicators are becoming more important to both consumers and investors, this seems to be a fair comment.

Differences such as these increased the risk of losing important regulator and business audiences looking for a simple, practical and cost- effective sustainability operating system that helped ‘democratize’ LCA among key users and their stakeholders.

This links to a second limiting factor: the difficulty of effectively communicating the benefits of Life Cycle thinking to the C-suite.

As with sustainability arguments in general, I had the sense that the LCA community – with support from regulators - needed to make more effort in helping make a more compelling business case for the routine adoption of LCAs.

This might include, for example, not only providing greater transparency on the commercial benefits (e.g. increased innovation, productivity, supply chain transparency), but also the adoption of language that business leaders understood.

Here, accounting firms and ICT experts have a role to play in helping develop software and other systems that can better make the LCA/business performance case, and in proposing economically effective incentives to regulators (e.g. tax relief) for any additional costs for firms (and especially SMEs) using LCAs.

Academics, too, might help document and profile the quiet and successful progress that many companies are already making by using LCAs to improve performance.

Finally, I had the impression that not all regulators had fully seized the transformative potential of LCAs and their vital role in the transition to sustainable economies.

While France, Germany and the EU Commission and some others had shown leadership in putting in place policies to catalyze action to advance the practical use of LCAs to drive changes in consumer behaviour, there was not yet the level of high level and sustained political support globally – including among the BRICs - that would be needed to take LCAs to scale.

The proposed UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be agreed next year for the period to 2030 would be an appropriate place for both regulators and business to call for the enhanced recognition and use of LCAs along global value chains.

Here, I detected a need also to ensure greater consistency at the policy level, where too often one set of regulations encouraged deeply unsustainable behaviour (e.g. subsidies to fossil fuels), while another set  (e.g. on ‘zero waste’ manufacturing) incentivized innovation, and material and energy efficiency.

Like so many sustainability tools (think of reporting), LCAs are not – and, I suspect, will never be – perfect.

It would be a mistake, however, to use this as an excuse for not giving greater recognition to their irreplaceable role in reflecting the complexity of products and their environmental impacts as we move towards the next Industrial Revolution.

Paul Hohnen was the plenary session moderator at the 4th [avniR] Platform/cd2e Conference ‘Life Cycle in Practice’, held in Lille on 5-6 November 2014. The views in this article are his alone.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ten key lessons on stakeholder engagement in emerging markets and two case studies

Here's a short, rather obvious presentation taken from a recent workshop with 15 leading executives, CEO and experienced managers.

I'm delivering it tomorrow (ok today almost) at this event. I'll report back on anything relevant.

17 further lessons on stakeholder engagement in emerging markets can be found at:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Six great productivity tips from Daniel Pink

More of this sort of thing is here. This below is from his occasional eNewsletter. Worth signing up to.

1. Honor the 2-Minute rule.
This one comes from the great David Allen, whose Getting Things Done methodology I’ve used for 15 years. In short, if you’ve got something to do that takes less than two minutes, do it right now. 

2. Don’t waste your most productive hours.
A growing stack of research shows that each day, we reach our peak productivity a few hours after waking.  Don’t devote that window of time to checking email or playing around on social media. Use it to do your most important work.

3. When in doubt, resort to the Pomodoro Technique.
I’m never proud when I pull out this trick, but I’m always glad I did. Pomodoro is a method for breaking large tasks into small chunks. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work nonstop without doing anything else. Then take 5 minutes to do whatever you want. Then do another 25-5 cycle. Lather, rinse, repeat.

4. Take a systems approach to email.
We could spend all day answering email — but we shouldn’t. So instead of being drip-tortured by your inbox, find a way to deal with all at once — in large batches during non-productive hours. I also use AwayFind.

5. Mark your progress.
Teresa Amabile’s research has shown that the single largest day-to-day motivator is making progress in meaningful work. But sometimes it’s tough to see the progress we’re making. That’s why I use the brilliant tool, IDoneThis. (Disclosure: This tool was so valuable to me that I invested in the company).

6. To make a good decision, ask the right question.
The Heath Brothers taught me this technique. If I’m faced with a decision, and I’m not sure what to do, I ask myself, “What would you tell your best friend to do in this situation?” Usually, the answer is clear. 

What 300 stakeholders think are the ten most critical issues for 2015

Guest post by Tara Holmes, communications manager, Future 500

Each year, Future 500 releases a report of what we predict will be the Top 10 most critical issues driving stakeholder engagement in the coming year.

The report is a breakdown and summary of these issues based on our own internal research as well as feedback from approximately 300 stakeholders within our network, including funders, activists, companies, and policy makers.

Tara Holmes, Future 500
As in previous year’s, this year’s report echoes existing and developing shifts in the marketplace and highlights noteworthy and influencing trends in the private sector, in politics, and on the ground, that are driving change.

The report also consists of recommendations for engagement based upon our on-going stakeholder research and outreach.

While some of this year’s issues remain a constant on our annual list – human rights, fossil fuels, and utilities, for example – this year, we’re noticing a marked shift towards the sharing economy, a growing economy that’s putting power and access back into the local community.

The popular apartment sharing service, Airbnb, for example, is worth $10 billion alone.

We’re also witnessing a growing trend calling for brands to “take a stand” on social and environmental issues through precompetitive collaboration. This movement is shifting towards a new norm of regulatory action—not regulation by law, but regulation by retailers.

In addition, this year we’ve seen significant and monumental movement in the push for zero-deforestation across the supply chain.

In the wake of zero-deforestation commitments made by Asia Pulp & Paper, Wilmar, and Golden Agri Resources, brand after brand and suppliers like Cargill, have adopted policies to rid their supply chains of deforestation and are becoming a model for others to follow.

Marine debris and ocean acidification also made our list this year as our oceans continue to be a battleground for energy production, food production and waste.

The atmospheric rise in C02 caused by climate change also threatens our global seas and the issue therefore continues to gain increased attention and funding across both industry and activist groups.

Future 500’s Top 10 Stakeholder Issues Report connects a wide range of stakeholders from across a myriad of backgrounds and sectors to highlight pressing sustainability challenges in the year ahead.

As we move into 2015, we anticipate these issues will develop even further across sectors and amongst stakeholders.

To get a more detailed breakdown, and to read the full Top 10 Report, please click here.

Here's a two minute video about the report. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

If you know anyone looking for a dynamic job in sustainable business / corporate responsibility...

...then this role below may be of interest.

At Innovation Forum, we're hiring a conference producer. But we don't really like to call it that.

The role involves a lot more. We want to hire a cool colleague, who helps us grow our company.

The job, at first, involves researching event agendas, recruiting speakers, shaping agendas around them and their company, and adding a little edge and bite to keep all attendees on their toes.

Then the job involves marketing the event, whilst organising another one.

The events are all high level, international sustainability and innovation forums.

We hold them in London, New York, DC, Singapore and anywhere else we feel there is a market for them.

The job is really one of end to end project management, it needs research skills, sales and people skills, marketing skills and logistics common sense.

It's a lot of fun. And the money is highly competitive. We offer uncapped earnings, which is unusual in the events industry.

The job is ideal for someone who can really multi-task and is looking for skills and experience development whilst learning huge amounts about sustainable business and literally helping set the agenda.

About us: Innovation Forum is a young start up with decades of experience. Based in hipsterville Shoreditch in London, the right person will join a team of five, including me, which is expanding rapidly. A new website is due shortly, but our old one shows some of what we do, here.

 If you know anyone, please ask them to contact with a short note saying why the role would interest you and a CV and also take a look here and below.

Thanks for reading, and perhaps passing this on.