Thursday, July 24, 2014

Complex biofuel supply chains and the deforestation risks - Q&A with Neste Oil’s Simo Honkanen

Simo Honkanen
In an exclusive interview with Innovation Forum, (my new business) Neste Oil’s Simo Honkanen explains why supplier transparency and knowledge where your resources come from are essential for tackling deforestation

Which supply chains are most at risk from deforestation impacts? How can a company check for deforestation risks in its supply chain?

Any supply chains where the end producer does not know the origin of its feedstock, or is not determined to improve knowledge on their supply chain is at risk.
The renewable fuels industry is strictly regulated, particularly for example in the EU, and fuel producers are accountable to trace back their feedstock. The companies in this business are now making significant efforts to manage their supply chains from a traceability and regulatory point of view.

There is a common, global task for all supply chains that are using large areas of agricultural or industrial land to take forests and ecosystems better into account in their business.

Collectively, we simply have to become better at this. In today’s world where information is seamlessly moving from one continent to another, and everybody has access to the data, it is also in the interests of producers to develop transparent and responsible operations. These, in turn, contribute to a more positive general perception of businesses with forests in their supply chains.

I personally believe that there has to be a commitment to improve continuously knowledge across the whole value chain and expand the scope to see the wider impacts of companies’ operations.

How can a company check the risk for deforestation?

Companies should think about the origin of their feedstock and learn how their potential suppliers are thinking about sustainability.

At Neste Oil, we are firm believers in stakeholder engagement and try to have a dialogue with as many relevant stakeholder groups as possible – in order to learn but also to try and ensure we have as positive an impact as possible.

It can be a good idea to have external partners to work with risk assessment. We have been in cooperation with TfT (The Forest Trust) now for a year and half. In 2013, they started by doing an external risk assessment of our suppliers, and now they are moving forward with engagement sessions focusing particularly on deforestation. It is a good experience so far for all parties involved, including our suppliers.

Stakeholder engagement matters, and has worked for Neste
To what extent do you think that deforestation is a “hidden” risk for companies? In other words, is it a risk that many don’t appreciate?

Supply chains are getting longer and more complicated. There is now a clear public expectation that companies should take wide responsibility over their whole value chain.

Where a company does not know its supply chain thoroughly, deforestation can possibly become a “hidden” risk.

On the other hand at Neste Oil we have seen a tremendous development among the commodity companies over the years we have been active in biofuels. Improving supply chain transparency and engagement is a topical question among all stakeholders at the moment. Good evidence for this is the rise of voluntary certification systems and stakeholder engagement pushing towards “no deforestation” pledges.

What do you think are the pros and cons of (a) a certification and/or (b) a “no deforestation” approach to the problem?

Both certification and “no deforestation” approaches are needed.

Certifications form a common, measurable basis for performance. It is a system that can be audited and offers systematic way to see a company’s performance. In many cases certifications are multi stakeholder initiatives, which mean dialogue and interaction between many stakeholder groups. Therefore, developing a certification system may sometimes be a bit time consuming.

A “no deforestation” approach is an important commitment from a company to operate business in a certain manner. It is looking to the future and is in some cases a commitment or statement of change. We at Neste Oil believe in engagement and recognise that the issues surrounding deforestation are sometimes very complicated. Therefore it is important that all relevant stakeholders are included in the dialogue and work for jointly accepted solutions.

Both approaches are important, and they should be seen inclusive rather than exclusive.

How do you assess the risk to your supply chains from deforestation?

We always want to know how and where our feedstock is produced before we sign a supply contract. Biofuels are very strictly regulated in our main markets and knowing the whole supply chain is a legal requirement.

Before a contract is signed we also carry out our “sustainability due diligence” procedures for the supplier, where we go through supplier’s sustainability practices and how sustainability related matters are being managed. By following this procedure for a number of years we have gained quite a good picture? measure on the awareness of the sustainability related matters among the producers.

Our experience is that that vegetable oil industry has done significant progress in sustainability awareness and practices in last six to seven years.

We require that for instance all our palm oil suppliers are engaged in recognised certification systems, such as RSPO-membership, and ISCC or RSPO-RED certification.

It is very important that our vegetable oil, or any other feedstock, is not coming from “no-go” areas that are forbidden by European legislation. Therefore all agricultural land history has to be known, and if the land is recently taken in use as farm land, it has to be proven that no valuable land or forest has been converted to oil crop use.

How has your company gone about addressing these risks?

Our sustainability and supply teams have a very close working relationship with our suppliers. We also talk to many other stakeholder groups, including regulators and NGOs in our various markets, and assist our suppliers to understand legal regulations in detail. Issues concerning (for example) greenhouse gas emissions are important in this sense.

Our latest initiative is our cooperation with TfT. They did a risk assessment of our suppliers and now we are moving forward with engagement programme, led by TfT, and based on our commitment to zero deforestation.

We have seen a number of companies, both producers and buyers, moving in the same direction with deforestation commitments. This is a very positive development.


Simo Honkanen is senior vice-president sustainability at Neste Oil, and will be participating in Innovation Forum’s deforestation conference in London on 28-29 October. He'll be talking about creating a traceable supply chain in renewable feedstock. Full details and a brochure are here.
The conference is sponsored by Robertsbridge

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Some useful reading on sustainable palm oil

Here's a few selected interesting pieces below from the site I help run on sustainable palm oil: http://betterpalmoildebate.org

I hope readers find them useful, there's a free regular newsletter on the site you can sign up to too.

Not too late to spare Africa from palm oil’s trail of forest destruction
The development of Africa’s palm oil industry does not have to echo the environmental and social woes often associated with its south east Asian counterparts, argues Filip Verbelen.

Is your bank financing deforestation?
When dealing with financial institutions, few people ever consider their money may be funding deforestation, human rights abuses and land-grabs, writes Anne van Schaik.

CSR Asia report highlights need for inclusive business opportunities for smallholders
The private sector is pivotal in creating inclusive business opportunities for smallholders in the palm oil industry, explains Richard Welford.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

So how DID Marks & Spencer gain £145 million from sustainable business?Q&A with Adam Elman

Marc Bolland in the suit some other CEOs get annoyed about
 If you are familiar with the concepts of sustainable business (actually it should be "more sustainable") and corporate responsibility then you will be familiar with iconic British-based brand Marks & Spencer.

There are probably three main reasons for this.

First, they've made serious commitments to changing their business, supply chain, and even their customers, for the better.

Second they have delivered on some of it, and spent time calculating the value of doing so.

Thirdly, they go out and talk about it.

They let their people out of the office, to external events. It also helps that their people are all quite personable, articulate, and open to challenge and ideas.

This has annoyed some retail brands, who are, to be honest, often (but not always) not quite as good as them. I mean at both public relations and some areas of sustainability.

One retail CEO I had a meeting with not long ago moaned to me about the Marks & Spencer boss: "If I see Marc Bolland on a stage one more time, wearing that damned suit made of bottles..." he said.

He trailed off after that.

I tried asking what it was about the "damned suit" that annoyed him.

He wouldn't quite tell me.

My suspicion is that he was annoyed because M&S talk about sustainability a lot, and his firm does not.

It was cultural jealousy.

(The company the CEO runs is actually quite good at a lot of the important sustainability stuff, but culturally seem unable to talk about it that much, or to be as ambitious as they might be, which is a shame)

It's very hard to compare companies, and I'm a bit sick of other retailers sniping to me about M&S with comments such as: "they've got too many targets, they can't do the really hard ones, it's all PR" etc etc.

Yes, other retailers, they are good at PR.

So what. Their PR is pretty well done. 

Get over it.

Become better yourself, and do it right, or you'll end up like Tesco and their product carbon labeling debacle of some years ago. Or worse, horse meat in your products.

And in my view, having studied the company, admittedly from afar, for nearly 15 years, M&S are doing a lot.

A lot that others don't do. Also a lot that others are also doing, but don't talk about so well.

Are M&S better than, say, Sainsbury's, who don't do sustainability PR quite so well?

I think that is the wrong question.

Trying to work out an answer is not the best use of time. It takes us in the wrong direction. It is too complex to answer right now. There are too many variables, different inputs and impacts.

The right question is how are M&S doing versus how they were doing five years ago? Or two years ago? Particularly in tough trading conditions. (they are great at selling food, but struggling in non-food)

We're not nearly ready to start comparing M&S and their competitors across the board.

On some policies, yes, on some comparable areas (GHG emissions per square foot, fish policy, cotton or palm oil targets, or whatever) then maybe.

But not across the board.

This is why I worry that competing to be listed by groups such as Dow Jones Sustainability Initiative can send companies in slightly the wrong direction. Strategy best comes from within, not without.

The tail should not wag the dog.

We should focus on how M&S, and other retailers, are doing today vs. yesterday and the challenges of tomorrow, how much better that might be, what they can't yet do, and what the benefits of all this are for society, shareholders and the environment.

I've wanted to write the above for a while, and have done so in the past in some forms.

I feel better now. Other opinions are of course available, and your statutory rights remain unaffected.

Right, back to M&S in detail.

I recently sent Adam Elman, head of global Plan A Delivery at M&S, some questions I thought he might find a bit tricky in places (no point making it easy, I am not a PR man after all).

Below are his responses. I think they are quite interesting. But judge for yourself.

Adam Elman: Plan A is now more external looking
Me: You’ve recently provided an update on Plan A progress. What are the headlines?

Adam Elman: Plan A in 2007 was the technical plan (now business as usual for us, so better farms, factories, sourcing etc) and Plan A in 2010 was about embedding it into our ways of working (making it how we do business, so scaling across hundreds of sites instead of just trial sites, building it into board bonuses etc).

Plan A 2020 is very much moving into the engagement phase.

It's about recognising that we can’t produce systemic change on our own and engaging with our customers, our employees and our stakeholders to help drive the change needed to make M&S a more sustainable business.

There are 100 commitments again and it takes M&S and sustainability through to the end of the decade.  Highlights are:

·         M&S operations worldwide, not just the UK, now carbon neutral;
·         Launch of a Global Community Programme to increase the scale of the social, environmental and economic benefits of supply chain Plan A projects;
·         Make Your Mark extended to help 5,000 young unemployed people by 2016 and Marks & Start employability programme launched in international markets;
·         Sustainable learning stores to be launched overseas and UK stores to be adapted for future climate change challenges;
·         Energy efficiency target increased from 35% to 50% per sq ft by 2020;
·         UK stores to raise £1 million every year for local charities and plan to raise £20 million for health and well being charities by 2020.  

 Me: There’s a number of cost savings attributed to Plan A. What is that overall number in 2014 and how is that broken down / calculated? Does it impress investors giving you a hard time about your non-food business?

Adam Elman: We reported a net benefit of £145 million for Plan A in 2013/14. That takes the cumulative total to £465 million since 2007.

We calculate these numbers by looking at Plan A in granular detail, breaking it down to every level of activity we do under the Plan A banner and calculating the costs and the financial benefits.

It is important to note that there are a whole number of benefits that we don’t monetise, for example supply chain resilience, staff motivation, brand momentum etc.

More and more our investors are taking note and increasingly, in a post Rana Plaza, Horsegate world, the investment community recognises how important sustainability is. However I think we are a long way off it being at the top of the agenda in the city. I

ntegrated reporting is helping (we’re part of the pilot programme) and we’re very lucky at M&S to have some highly active investors in this field, for example Danny Truell of the Wellcome Trust (one of our biggest investors) sits on our Plan A Advisory Board.

Me: Critics of Plan A say that lots of the targets/commitments are little things big retailers are doing anyhow, and the really hard stuff you don’t do, then gets lost in the detail. Fair comment?

No I don’t think that’s a fair one. I believe our track record speaks for itself – first major retailer to be carbon neutral; zero waste to landfill since 2012; 5,000 people facing barriers to the workplace now in work (Marks & Start), four million garments recycled every year (Shwopping), 100 per cent responsibly sourced wild fish, to name but a few.

All very difficult to achieve, all transformational rather than incremental change.

With Plan A we are trying to tackle all the big issues that affect a retailer of our size and these include some of the tough issues that are on the horizon right now e.g. customer use of product, transparency, youth unemployment etc.

We’ve also worked extremely hard to embed Plan A across everything we do, across all our people and across our supply base – Plan A isn’t delivered by the small number of people in the Plan A team, it’s the whole of our business working together to drive change.

We believe we’re really open about progress against the commitments (for example via our annual report and stakeholder event) and if we don’t achieve a commitment or are facing unexpected challenges, we say so and invite feedback and debate as to why.

Wood is a good example. Our original Plan A commitment was for 100 per cent the wood we use to be FSC or from an equivalent sustainable source.

We didn’t achieve it, we hit 88% by 2012. But we’ve pushed on, not given up, extended the commitment, enlisted help from industry experts as well as working very closely with our supply base and are determined to succeed.

We’re now at 96% and we’ll keep reporting every year until we get there.

Me: Critical feedback; M&S is very good at external engagement, but too much praise is bad for anyone. So how do you use stakeholder engagement for critical feedback? Particularly with regard to stakeholder panels or advisory groups?

Adam Elman: Agree, we welcome feedback of all types and want to be challenged on Plan A. And the stakeholder/NGO feedback we get does help shape Plan A. That’s happening, informally, all the time and there are a number of more formalised ways in which this happens.

We have an Advisory Board that includes many leaders in this field, people who aren’t afraid to tell us what they really think! Jonathan Porritt is a great example. We have our annual stakeholder conference which includes a Q&A and a number of breakout sessions to discuss specific topics in more detail.

We also partner with a number of NGOs (Oxfam, WWF, UNICEF etc) who regularly shape Plan A and our thinking on sustainability.

Feedback also comes in abundance from our employees and customers, with social media a significant listening tool for us, as well as customer focus groups and internal conferences.

Me: You’ve made some significant commitments around having a zero deforestation commitment and are active in the Consumer Goods Forum on this issue. Why this, why now?

Adam Elman: We’ve been working on deforestation as an issue since Plan A began and we created a specific commitment in 2010. As we become clearer on the big issues on deforestation and the real hot spots, we can target our work more effectively and start to deliver significant change in our supply chain.

Co-chairing the Consumer Goods Forum is helping enormously as we’re very clear that we can’t deliver transformational change on our own and leading with others like Unilever means our work can deliver a bigger impact.

Me: Making money from sustainability, rather than saving on costs, what evidence is there that you have done this to date?

Our customers, employees and stakeholders expect M&S to be good in this space. Trust is inherent in the M&S brand and as a result Plan A helps us differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

That’s the competitive advantage that Plan A gives us and why we need to drive a Plan A quality into every product we sell (currently sitting at 57%).

Innovation is important here, you can never sit still, recent great innovation stories include waterless flower deliveries and Pure Super Grape skincare products, made from grape pulp used to make M&S wine.

Latest reporting from M&S on their sustainability progress is here. It's a nice website, take a look.

-----

Thanks to Adam for the above. There are some really useful responses there. I note that the responses to the last point didn't quite answer the question. But given it was a really tough one (how do we separate out the variables?) I wonder if it was too simplistic a query in the first place, to really answer definitively.

Did I ask all the right questions above? Probably not. Let me know what I might have queried. 

Overall I think M&S is showing good progress in difficult trading conditions. It's not easy being a retailer and an iconic brand. (say ahh everyone, but you know what I mean)

Can they improve? Of course. But I have no doubt that despite current financial results oriented bumps in the road, they will.

I'd just like more and more detail on the really hard challenges and potential solutions in the future.

I'm not the first stakeholder to say that, I know, so am looking forward to next years report.

(Commercial moment, remember, a guy has to eat: Mike Barry, head honcho of Plan A @M&S is speaking at this event on deforestation and supply chains on October 28-29 in London. No, it is not free. But it will be very good, so you should come along. See the lovely colour brochure we made about it here with one click
The conference is sponsored by Robertsbridge.

If interested in business and human rights, read on

We've put together a meeting of interesting companies and NGOs that you might like to join us for.

Details are embedded below and are also online here. It's on November 10 in London.

Those taking part include execs from Unilever, John Lewis, Anglo American, BP, Aviva, ABB, First State Investments, Novartis, Oxfam, Bechtel, Reed, Nestle, New Look, RBS and quite a few others.

Blog readers can have a discount to come along.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What does a burger truly cost, if you factor in carbon and obesity?

Yummy? Not really when you crunch the numbers
We don't know for sure.

It depends on which model you use, on whose basic numbers you work up or down from.

But what a burger costs society and the environment is definitely a lot more than you pay for it at McDonald's.

This article in the New York Times explores some ways of 'costing' burgers and their impacts on society.

If you consider the pace at which these kinds of methodologies are being developed and increasingly used, this becomes a really interesting story. Where else might these be applied?

The possibilities are endless. But we can guess. High impact activities first. In this case, burgers.

Here's a few extracts to, er, whet your appetite:

On climate change costs:

"The big-ticket externalities are carbon generation and obesity. Environmental Working Group’s “Meat Eater’s Guide” (2011) estimates the carbon footprint of beef cattle at 27 pounds of CO2 equivalent per pound; the use of “spent” dairy beef in burger meat reduces that slightly, but we can say that each pound of burger meat accounts for roughly 25 pounds of CO2 emissions. (Cheese counts, too: It produces 13.5 pounds of CO2 equivalent per pound, and even bread has a carbon footprint.)"

"The cost of this carbon is hard to nail precisely, but the government’s official monetary valuation of greenhouse gas pollution is roughly $37 per metric ton of CO2 emissions. Many experts, however, double that rate; others multiply it nearly tenfold. So the monetary value of the carbon emissions produced by the average cheeseburger might range from 15 cents (the official government rate), to 24 cents (conservative independent sources) and $1.20 (high independent). The average of these three estimates comes out to 53 cents per burger."

And on human health impacts:

"The link between obesity and a handful of deadly chronic diseases — arthritis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers, among others — is well documented, as is their enormous economic burden. Direct medical diet-related costs are currently pegged at about $231 billion annually.

These numbers above would mean that this cost of burgers is about $4 billion per year (from fast food burgers only!), which averages out to 48 cents per burger. (Some put these costs five or six times as high, and there are indirect costs as well; again, we’re being conservative.) And between 2010 and 2030, the combined costs arising directly from diseases related to obesity could increase by an additional $52 to $71 billion each year. This could double the cost per burger in additional health costs alone."

Let's say that again shall we?

"And between 2010 and 2030, the combined costs arising directly from diseases related to obesity could increase by an additional $52 to $71 billion each year. This could double the cost per burger in additional health costs alone." (read full article here)

Wow. Ok, so there will be folks who disagree with these numbers.

These numbers may not even be right.

But imagine if they are more right than wrong.

Extrapolate this example to where we're heading on pricing externalities.

Consider the acceleration of this kind of research, and what it will mean for business.

More thoughts on this area on the blog soon.

Food for thought (sorry!)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Business and human rights, back on the UN agenda

Where paragons of human rights virtue gather
Well, well, here we are again. Global regulation for multi-national companies on human rights.

Sounds familiar? It should. We've been here quite a few times before.

But that was back when "emerging markets" (was there ever such a disconcertingly vague term?) had less power, less desire and less focus on regulating large companies.

Now, it's not just left wing governments that might want to find a way to regulate big business on social issues. Any nationalistic-minded politician who wants a poll boost or nationally-based business filip might like to have a go.

And so it is that Ecuador, backed by South Africa, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela all back an international treaty on business and human rights.

No surprises there, but others voting for the measure in June included China, India and Russia.

Now that's a different ball game. Isn't it?

The answer is that we don't know yet. The devil is always in the detail.

This seemingly well researched piece from MintPress news notes that any treaty, according to US sources, would only apply to countries which signed it, and also that:

"As it stands today, for instance, the language of the Ecuador resolution appears to focus solely on multinational corporations, leaving national companies accountable solely to domestic legislation and regulation.

As John Ruggie, the Harvard professor who led the drafting of the Guiding Principles as a U.N. rapporteur, wrote in a nuanced analysis  published Tuesday, this would hold foreign companies involved in last year’s Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh solely responsible for the catastrophe. The treaty would place no liability on the garment factory’s local owners for the fire and building collapse, which killed more than 1,100 workers."

Here's some more on it all from the Huffington Post.

Here's the view of John Ruggie, which is always worth reading.

It's worth noting that the MintPress piece says that:

"...analysts have told MintPress that only around eight governments worldwide have come out with national action plans on how they will implement the Guiding Principles, as urged by the Human Rights Council in June. Despite its strong support for the Guiding Principles, the U.S. also has yet to release such a plan."

So whilst the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights remain hugely under-used, it's perhaps no surprise that countries with dodgy human rights records will use that as an excuse to favour their own companies and discriminate against multi-nationals.

This is a medium term issue, as it will take a couple of years at least to unfold. But as part of a broader trend of emerging market nations looking to "take back" (in their own views), power from western governments and companies, it's well worthy of note.

The question then, is how can large companies concerned about human rights respond to these broader trends? Trends which may have significant impact on business operations in the next ten years and beyond.

More on that on this blog soon, and later in the year we are bringing the key players together to discuss just that in London on November 10th

Two reasons companies need campaigning NGOs, and how they can support them when under attack

Campaigning social and environmental NGOs are increasingly under attack around the world.

From the well-known example of Russia, to Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh, campaigners are seen by some as threats to growth, the status quo, overall development, state power and even democracy itself.

As emerging/frontier markets become richer and more confident, business and political voices seeking to protect the status quo (not the band, they are fine) are taking more and more action to restrain NGOs.

Some of their complaints undoubtedly have some merit.

It is true that Western funded NGOs are very active in emerging markets in campaigning.

They do disrupt business operations. They change reputations. They push investors to ask difficult questions. They drive change.

It's also true that they ruffle a lot of feathers whilst doing all this.

And they are not always right.

Pejorative, but often effective

We've seen in the aid industry, particularly in Africa, that dumb systems can be applied to big problems, with predictably inefficient results.

Campaign groups can be controversial not just in their aims, but their practices. Global Witness has been sued for using journalism rules to protect methods. Lines are becoming blurred between citizen journalism, investigative journalism, and campaigning, whilst the law struggles to keep up.

Other campaign groups illegally record meetings. Others break confidences.

They would argue this is small beer compared to the challenges they highlight.

They are mostly right about this. The end does justify the means, they say. They have a point, mostly.

Campaign groups are increasingly highly effective on a global basis. A backlash of sorts was always due as a result.

Greenpeace has catalysed significant change in recent years, particularly the last ten, in areas from soy, to leather to general forest protection, ICT, recycling, and many others.

They focus on big brands because doing so gets results. It might be 'unfair' but if that saves a forest, or a species, or stops communities being poisoned, then it's worth it. That's a fair point.

Rainforest Action Network, although smaller, have helped stop things like mountaintop removal and pushed brands and palm oil businesses to improve.

And several managers in companies have told me how Oxfam's Behind the Brands campaign/ranking has been really helpful in driving changes in FMCG companies.

Behind these front line campaigners often sit more focused and implementation focused groups, such as TFT, Canopy, Care International, Save The Children, Rainforest Alliance and many others, who often get less credit than they deserve.

It's fair to say that overall, this trend of campaign groups (however we define who sits in the categories of "campaigner" versus 'implementer", which can be a false distinction) being more active, and their opponents becoming more vocal, will only grow.

Whilst global and local media continues to struggle to find a business model, and social media and desires for accountability rise, that seems a fair statement.

So if you work for a large company, and you have observed this trend, what should be your view on what, if anything, you can do about it?

This is a really tricky area. Some leading companies have overt positions on supporting civil society development.

(It's worth noting that at least one social science academic I know argues that campaigning NGOs can't be considered part of civil society, because they don't represent, on the whole, the average views of citizens)

That mild digression aside, big companies increasingly need campaigners to do two key things:

A) Help them spot risk, and even opportunity (Unilever and Oxfam in Indonesia as one example amongst many) 

B) Help them, or society/government to level the playing field once practices have been improved amongst the large companies and some of their suppliers

So if you are work for a progressive company, and support the ideas and objectives of campaigning NGOs even if you don't always agree with their methods and messages, how can you help them when they are under attack in emerging markets?

These attacks usually come from industry associations, 'free market' guns for hire, fake NGOs and, of course, opportunistic/nationalistic politicians.

Here's a few thoughts:
  1. Support your international - and local - partners vocally. This can be via statements on your website, posted to social media, but also in Op Eds in newspapers. Make the case for plurality of views, for the benefits of engagement, point out how useful NGOs can be for early warning systems and on the ground feedback and implementation.
  2. Make sure this is reflected by the actions of your locally incorporated business, key partners or joint venture entities. It's more compelling in Delhi if it comes from your local HQ, not London, Paris, New York or anywhere else outside the country.
  3. Push industry or issue-based associations to defend the rights of NGOs to make their views known, similarly to the above. What about a joint letter signed by CEOs, in support of plurality and diversity of views in country X or Y?
  4. Help push campaigners to demonstrate how their actions can and do drive value locally, not just in the broader global sense, but how preventing deforestation, or safeguarding community rights benefits all.
  5. Encourage campaigner self reflection. Accountability is too loaded a term, but reflection is not usually a strong suit of campaign groups. Can they learn from any current controversy, what might they do differently in future, if anything?
  6. Encourage governments and their agencies and institutions to stand up for campaigners. If emerging market politicians are happy to have cash from foreign aid agencies, can they be spoken to privately about the hypocrisy of attacking campaign groups at the same time?
  7. Consider a 'complicity audit' in your overseas businesses. Are you 100% sure that your Indonesian, India, Bangladeshi or Russian subsidiary, partner or key supplier isn't somehow supporting anti-campaigner actions with political donations, dodgy grants or industry group support? 
I appreciate the above suggestions are not right for everyone, that some good ideas are missing (no doubt!) and that doing any of the above is often beyond the remit and comfort levels of many sustainability and corporate responsibility functions.

But attempts to silence dissenting voices are increasing, and they are dangerous for company sustainability progress as they are for NGOs, in different ways (see A and B above).

So if your company can take public position on climate change or water resources, why not a public position on the rights of campaigners to make their views known in emerging markets?

Not as easy a sell upstairs perhaps, but I would argue just as important in the long term.


We're bringing together some of the most progressively-minded large companies and NGOs on October 28-29, and November 10 in London. On Oct 30-31 we're also hosting this, specifically on emerging market stakeholder engagement

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Three focused, detailed and practical sustainable business events for your diary

Upcoming Innovation Forum events in 2014:

How business can tackle deforestation
Collaborate effectively with suppliers and NGOs, understand policy and enforcement trends

28th-29th October, 2014, London. More details here.

How to effectively engage stakeholders in frontier markets (emerging markets)
An exclusive two-day executive training workshop, certified by the CSR Training Institute
30-31 October, 2014, London. More details here.

Business and human rights
How to get beyond policy, manage risk and build relationships
10 November, 2014, London. More details here.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Hello Innovation Forum, goodbye Ethical Corporation

Forums, all about innovation. Come along to one of them.
Recently, after 13 years, I left Ethical Corporation to start a new company, Innovation Forum.

There's a number of reasons behind this, as some of you who know me, will be aware.

It was a difficult change to make, given I had founded the business and directed its "strategy" (such as it was) since 2001.

I remain on good terms with the shareholders and team there, and wish them the best. Let's just say we disagreed about the future direction of the business. Two of my former EC colleagues, Ian Welsh (editor for a decade) and Oliver Bamford (now COO of our new entity) have joined me at Innovation Forum.

Back in the day, I published (I use the term loosely) the first edition of the now-shut-down print edition on 3rd December 2001, the day Enron declared bankruptcy. We've seen a lot of changes since then, but more about that another time.

There's one important reason though, that I am excited about the new business, which is why I am writing this post.

It's the word "innovation", and how we plan to interpret it in our new set of events and publishing model.

Yes, Innovation Forum is an events and publishing business. One does what one knows. But, also, as I have discovered, having dabbled in advisory work and more in training, one does best what one enjoys most.

My skill appears to be in bringing together the 'right' people, and trying to provide them with useful information.

That's about it, but it's what I enjoy, and where I feel I can make a difference, alongside continuing to do a little in advisory work and developing the online sustainability training business I run with Mallen Baker.

Innovation Forum is going to be different from Ethical Corporation though. Not more of the same, but more of different, if that can make any sense. I hope you'll agree when you see the products. That's probably the best way to put it. I hesitate to define the differences myself, for perhaps obvious reasons. You can judge by what you see. They key word will be "focus", I think.

Of course the term "innovation", is hugely misused, alongside "strategy", "engagement" and myriad others.

But innovation is really what's going to get us out of the troubles of an unsustainable world.

R&D and design innovation, product and service innovation, systems innovation, management and inventor innovation, the list goes on.

Ethics will always be important, but as a term, is actually too defensive if you think about how the meaning is translated into action. This is my conclusion, perhaps 15 years later than ideal, but that's how it works. Perhaps I am a slow learner.

Innovation, by its nature, is forward looking (another cliche I know!), and feels to me, progressive and outward looking, about opportunity as much as problem solving.

So Innovation Forum is taking a highly focused, thematic approach to sustainability and human rights events and publishing, with a lot more to come in 2015.

We're focused on new solutions, learning and ways of sharing that knowledge, ways which are better than before.

That, for now, is our link to innovation. But there's more to come, a lot more.

Beyond these two current areas of deforestation and human rights, we're also focusing further on innovation in sustainability in 2015. More details to come on that soon. We'll be doing a lot.

Alongside our upcoming events in London later this year (more details below) we're working with governments in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia on regional responsible business forums which will focus on sustainable innovation as well as risk mitigation.

More details on these will be forthcoming, as will our publishing work, and programme of events in the US, planned for 2015.

Meantime, here's what we're up to right now, below.

I hope you can join us at one of these.

If you'd like to get in touch about any of this, I am on tobias.webb@innovation-forum.co.uk

Upcoming Innovation Forum events in 2014:

How business can tackle deforestation
Collaborate effectively with suppliers and NGOs, understand policy and enforcement trends
28th-29th October, 2014, London. More details here.

How to effectively engage stakeholders in frontier markets (emerging markets)
An exclusive two-day executive training workshop, certified by the CSR Training Institute
30-31 October, 2014, London. More details here.

Business and human rights
How to get beyond policy, manage risk and build relationships
10 November, 2014, London. More details here.

Monday, June 30, 2014

How business can tackle deforestation

Yes, deforestation free products are possible

"Collaborate effectively with suppliers and NGOs, understand policy and enforcement trends"

Yes, that's part of how it's done. 

The other part is around redesigning tracking and traceability systems, reformulating incentives and a whole lot of other work. 

Removing deforestation related supplies, suppliers, components and products from your supply chain is a really tough task.

Thanks to increasing mapping technologies, raised understanding of just how little natural forest is left and its value to people, biodiversity and the climate, companies are starting to take serious action.

The change since I started following this area back in about 2002/3 is astounding. In policy and now target terms (and increasingly performance terms) we've seen progress made more in this space than in some other areas of sustainable business. It's hard to be exact but some of the changes are incredible. 

Think about Asia Pulp & Paper's commitments, and the increased pressure on APRIL. 

Consider Wilmar's targets. Mondelez's aims, the anti-deforestation objectives set by Mars, Nestle, Unilever.

And under the big brand radar smaller but important companies, such as in clothing, packaging and publishing, are changing how they view - and tackle - these issues. 

Greenpeace have played a major role in helping make all this happen. So have TFT, whose role is not as clearly understood, or appreciated, as it might be. WWF, Canopy and the Rainforest Action Network have also been important actors.

Most of the above companies and NGOs are coming together on October 28-29 in London to discuss all this, what it costs, what it means, and where next for them, and other industries. 

I hope you can come and join us. It will be both fascinating, and a great learning experience for us all. More details are here, I promise you this is worth a minute to take a look at.