Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category
By Dr Wayne Visser
Margaret Mead once said, ‘The only person who likes change is a wet baby’, to which Hunter Lovins added ‘and the baby squalls all the way through the process.’ So change is never easy, especially on the big issues of sustainability. In thinking about this, I have found Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher’s Formula for Change rather useful: D x V x F > R. This means that three factors must be present for meaningful organisational change to take place. These factors are:
D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V = Vision of what is possible; and
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision.
If the product of these three factors is greater than R (Resistance), then change is possible. I have seen sustainability change efforts fail for all four reasons. Deep-seated resistance often exists because the benefits of the status quo to those in power are considerable. Sustainability initiatives, especially if they are integrated into the core business, are often seen as extra burden. For instance, an operations manager of a plant really doesn’t want the extra hassle of collecting emissions data for a sustainability report, or subjecting his staff and facilities to an audit.
Most often, I think, the dissatisfaction that we may feel with the state of the world or the company’s actions really isn’t widely shared enough. Jonathon Porritt, author of Capitalism as if the World Matters, after many years in the sustainability game (he started the UK’s Green Party and chaired the government’s Sustainable Development Commission among other things), told me: ‘Looking at people all over the world today, rich and poor world, they are not remotely close to a state of mind that would call for anything revolutionary. There’s no vast upheaval of people across the world saying, “This system is completely and utterly flawed and must be overturned and we must move towards a different system.” There isn’t even that, let alone an identification of what the other system would look like.’
Likewise, on creating a compelling vision, Porritt concludes that ‘we have not collectively articulated what this better world looks like – the areas in which it would offer such fantastic improvements in terms of people’s quality of life, the opportunities they would have, a chance to live in totally different ways to the way we live now. We haven’t done that. Collectively we’ve not made the alternative to this paradigm, this paradigm in progress, work emotionally and physically, in terms of economic excitement. We’ve just not done it.’ Taking first steps is something companies are generally much better at, especially picking the so-called ‘low hanging fruit’. But the reason these steps so often don’t get beyond the pilot or peripheral stage is because the other two factors – dissatisfaction and vision – are not strong enough.
Another way to think of change in a structured way is Peter Senge’s concept of the learning organisation, popularised in his book, The Fifth Discipline. He described the five interrelated disciplines as follows: ‘Systems thinking [the fifth discipline] needs the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, and personal mastery to realise its potential. Building shared vision fosters a commitment to the long term. Mental models focus on the openness needed to unearth shortcomings in our present ways of seeing the world. Team learning develops the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture that lies beyond individual perspectives. And personal mastery fosters the personal motivation to continually learn how our actions affect our world.’
In a follow-up book, Learning for Sustainability, Senge, together with co-authors from the Society for Organisational Learning, apply the fifth discipline model to sustainability. In particular, they emphasise connecting the inner and outer work that needs to be done: ‘Connecting the inner changes in how we manage and lead with the outer effects our organisations have on larger systems; connecting the inner changes in mental models and personal visions with the outer changes in management culture; and connecting the inner changes in who we are as human beings with how we act and interact.’
In seeking to create change for sustainability, Senge and his colleagues once again emphasise the interconnected nature of all change processes, and the critical role of business: ‘There has never before been a time when the social, ecological and economic conditions that challenge political leaders in any one part of the world have been so interwoven with what is occurring in so many other places. This phenomenon has arisen through the ever-growing web of interconnectedness spun by institutions, especially multinational corporations. Collectively, these organisations determine what technologies are created and how they are applied around the world: which markets develop and which are largely ignored. These institutions determine who benefits from the world economy and who does not.’
Given the interconnectedness, the key to change, believes Senge, is collaboration. To illustrate his point at an MIT Sustainability Summit 2010, Senge asked the question: What would it take to get rid of disposable cups? Who would have to work together to eliminate disposable cups? The answers suggested include everyone from Starbucks and its competitors to paper manufacturers, food service providers, recyclers and municipal governments. To make real headway on really tough sustainability issues is a ‘massive undertaking in collaboration’. What’s more, the parties that need to collaborate often aren’t naturally inclined to.
Senge concludes that a good guy/bad guy mentality can be a barrier to such collaboration. ‘You’ve got to wake up and say “We’re all part of the system”. You know who is causing the destruction of species? You and me. You know who’s causing the huge waste problems around the world? You and me.’ Once you become more open-minded to this possibility, then you can look for collaborative solutions. ‘Look for small steps of things you can do together with people with whom you traditionally would never have cooperated — and do something useful, no matter how small.’
By Dr Wayne Visser
About 2.4 billion people live in water-stressed countries, according to a report by the Pacific Institute. Water demand in the next two decades will double in India to 1.5 trillion cubic meters and rise 32% in China to 818 billion cubic meters, according to the 2030 Water Resources Group. China is home to roughly 20% of the world’s population, but has only about 7% of the world’s water. That means there are around 300 million people living in water-scarce areas. According to a World Bank report, water scarcity and pollution reduce China’s gross domestic product by about 2.3%.
When I interviewed Fred Pearce about his book, When the River Runs Dry, he told me that, for the average Westerner to get through the day, it takes about a hundred times their own weight in water – that’s every day; not every year, every day. The water used is mainly to grow the things that we eat. Pearce gave me some of the facts and figures: To grow a kilogram of wheat takes about a ton of water, a kilogram of rice takes more. Once you start feeding grains to livestock to produce meat and dairy products, the numbers are even higher. To produce enough meat for one hamburger takes about 10,000 litres of water, which is about 10 tons. If you are a vegetarian you are not doing too much better because it typically takes 4,000 litres of water to produce one litre of milk.
That’s for food. What about drinks? Coca-Cola sells 1.5 billion beverages a day in over 200 countries and uses about 2.5 litres of water to produce one litre of its products. The company received its water wake up call in 2002, when residents of Plachimada, a village in India’s southern state of Kerala, accused the company’s bottling plant there of depleting and polluting groundwater. Two years later, the local government forced Coke to shut down the plant. In 2006, their situation got worse when a New Delhi research group found high levels of pesticides in Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s locally produced soft drinks, resulting in several Indian states banning their products. Coke denied any wrongdoing, claiming that bore-hole water fed farming was mainly responsible for lowering the water table and that the pollution claims were unsubstantiated. However, the public perceptions battle had already been lost.
Speaking to Time magazine in 2008, Jeff Seabright, the company’s vice president of environment and water resources, admitted that Coke had mishandled the controversy. ‘If people are perceiving that we’re using water at their expense, that’s not a sustainable operation,’ he said. This realisation resulted in a serious shift in Coke’s strategic positioning of its CSR towards tackling water as priority number one. ‘It’s great that companies used to hand out checks for scholarships or to clean up litter,’ said Seabright, ‘but increasingly the real relevance is using the company’s core competence to address issues that are of societal concern.’ And for Coke and the communities in which it operates, the concern is water.
Coke realised that it needs to be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. As a result, it has put resources into water at an unprecedented scale. In 2007, the company announced it would spend $20 million over five years to help the WWF preserve seven of the world’s major rivers. It also set up the $10 million Coca-Cola India Foundation, which began installing over 4,000 rainwater harvesting programmes and providing clean drinking water to 1,000 schools across the country. More significantly, in June of the same year, CEO Neville Isdell flew to Beijing and pledged that his company would become ‘water neutral’, saying, ‘Water is the main ingredient in nearly every beverage that we make. Without access to safe water supply, our business simply cannot exist.’
Coke uses the term ‘water neutral’ to describe the ratio of ground water usage by any user as against the quantity put back into nature. It is a contentious topic and not everyone believes it is possible. But the scale of Coke’s ambition – and indeed the progress it is making towards its targets – is going a long way to advancing the CSR 2.0 circularity agenda. Speaking in 2009, Coca Cola India’s Director of Quality and Environment, Navneet Mehta, said: ‘Our target is to neutralise all ground water usage by the company in India by the end of the current calendar year and become water neutral for all products and processes by 2012.’ Mehta reported that the company had already achieved a replenishment level of 82% on its annual ground water usage in India and that their ground water usage ratio had improved over 42% between 1998 and 2008.
The second largest beer manufacturer in the world, SABMiller, has also been working hard on understanding their water footprint, and launched a joint-report with WWF-UK in 2009 called ‘Water Footprinting: Identifying & Addressing Water Risks in the Value Chain’. The report reveals that in South Africa, the total water footprint is equivalent to 155 litres of water for every 1 litre of beer, while in SABMiller’s Czech operation the overall water footprint is significantly smaller at 45 litres of water to every 1 litre of beer. In both cases, the vast majority of this (over 90%) comes from the cultivation of crops, both local and imported.
Efforts like these of Coca-Cola SABMiller are being supported by the Water Footprint Network, which launched its Water Footprint Manual in 2010, covering a comprehensive set of methods for water footprint accounting. It shows how water footprints can be calculated for individual processes and products, as well as for consumers, nations and businesses, and includes methods for water footprint sustainability assessment and a library of water footprint response options. It’s time for us all to make less of a splash – either we ‘drop down’ our water consumption, or we ‘dry up’ our very source of life.
By Dr Wayne Visser
One of the ways the business case is determined is that each region, country or community has a different combination of CSR drivers. I will start with the five typical CSR drivers that are local (or internal) drivers, namely pressures from within the country or community.
1. Cultural tradition
In many countries and regions, CSR draws strongly on deep-rooted indigenous cultural traditions of philanthropy, business ethics and community embeddedness. For example, in a survey of over 1,300 small and medium-sized enterprises in Latin America, Antonio Vives found that the region’s religious beliefs are one of the major motivations for CSR. In Asia, a study by scholars Wendy Chapple and Jeremy Moon reached a similar conclusion, namely that ‘CSR does vary considerably among Asian countries but that this variation is not explained by [levels of] development but by factors in the respective national business systems’. And in Africa, I have found that the values-based traditional philosophy of African humanism (ubuntu) is what underpins much of the modern, inclusive approaches to CSR on the continent.
2. Political reform
CSR cannot be divorced from socio-political reform processes, which often drive business behaviour towards integrating social and ethical issues. For example, the political and associated social and economic changes in Latin America since the 1980s, including democratization, liberalization, and privatization, have shifted the role of business towards taking greater responsibility for social and environmental issues. Likewise, more recently, the goal of accession to EU membership has acted as an incentive for many Central and Eastern European countries to focus on CSR, since the latter is acknowledged to represent good practice in the EU.
3. Socio-economic priorities
CSR is typically shaped by local socio-economic priorities. For instance, while poverty alleviation, health-care provision, infrastructure development and education may be high on many developing country agendas, this stands in stark contrast to many Western CSR priorities such as consumer protection, fair trade, green marketing, climate change concerns, or socially responsible investments. Stephen Schmidheiny questions the appropriateness of imported CSR approaches, citing examples from Latin America where pressing issues like poverty and tax avoidance are central to CSR, but often remain left off of international CSR agendas.
4. Governance gaps
CSR is frequently seen as a way to plug the ‘governance gaps’ left by weak, corrupt, or under-resourced governments that fail to adequately provide various social services (housing, roads, electricity, health care, education, etc.). Academics Dirk Matten and Jeremy Moon see this as part of a wider trend in developing countries with weak institutions and poor governance, in which responsibility is often delegated to private actors, be they family, tribe, religion, or increasingly, business. A survey by WBCSD illustrates this: when asked how CSR should be defined, Ghanaians stressed ‘building local capacity’ and ‘filling in when government falls short’.
5. Crisis response
Crises often have the effect of catalyzing CSR responses, albeit mostly of the philanthropic kind. For example, the economic crisis in Argentina in 2001 marked a significant turning point in CSR, prompting debates about the role of business in poverty alleviation. Similarly, Hurricane Katrina in the USA and HIV/AIDS in South Africa had the effect of galvanizing CSR. The examples are endless, be they the industrial accidents of the 1970s and 1980s (Seveso, Bhopal, Exxon Valdez), the environmental and human rights fiascos of the 1990s (Shell, Nike, McDonald’s) or the corporate governance and natural disasters of the 2000s (Enron, Katrina, Sichuan).
The rest of the CSR drivers are more global (or external) and tend to have an international origin.
6. Market Access
The flipside of the socio-economic priorities driver is to see these unfulfilled human needs as an untapped market. This notion underlies the now burgeoning field of ‘bottom of the pyramid’ (BOP) strategies already discussed. CSR may also be seen as an enabler for companies in developing countries trying to access markets in the developed world. For example, a survey of CSR reporting among the top 250 companies in Latin America found that businesses with an international sales orientation were almost five times more likely to report than companies that sold products regionally or locally.
7. International Standardisation
Codes are frequently a CSR response, especially in sectors where social and environmental issues are deemed critical, such as textiles, agriculture or mining. Often, CSR is driven by standardisation imposed by multinationals striving to achieve global consistency among its subsidiaries and operations in developing countries. For example, a study by Wendy Chapple and Jeremy Moon in Asia found that ‘multinational companies are more likely to adopt CSR than those operating solely in their home country, but that the profile of their CSR tends to reflect the profile of the country of operation rather than the country of origin’.
8. Investment Incentives
The belief that multinational investment is inextricably linked with the social welfare of developing countries is not a new phenomenon. However, increasingly these investments are being screened for CSR performance. Hence, socially responsible investment (SRI) is becoming another driver for CSR in many countries. Often, this is as a result of global SRI funds and indexes, like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and FTSE4Good, but the influence of regional and national SRI instruments is also on the rise, with Brazil and South Africa among the first to go glocal in this respect. In addition, there are sector-based indexes emerging, like the ICT Sustainability Index launched in 2008.
9. Stakeholder activism
In the absence of strong governmental controls over the social, ethical and environmental performance of companies in some countries, activism by stakeholder groups has become another critical driver for CSR. In developing countries, four stakeholder groups emerge as the most powerful activists for CSR, namely development agencies, trade unions, international NGOs and business associations. These four groups provide a platform of support for local NGOs, which are not always well developed or adequately resourced to provide strong advocacy for CSR. The media is also emerging as a key stakeholder for promoting CSR
10. Supply chain integrity
Another significant driver for CSR, especially among small and medium-sized companies, is the requirements that are being imposed by multinationals on their supply chains. This trend began with various ethical trading initiatives, which led to the growth of fair trade auditing and labelling schemes for agricultural products. Later, poor labour conditions and human rights abuses resulted in the development of certifiable standards like SA 8000. Major change has also been achieved through sector-based initiatives such as the Forest Stewardship Council and more recently, through the ‘Wal-Mart effect’, involving choice editing to source only from sustainable and responsible suppliers.
To conclude, the art of finding a ‘glocal’ business case is to determine which of these 10 incentives and pressures are the strongest and most applicable to the local context.
By Wendy Wilder
The Case of Viyellatex
What do we really mean by sustainable supply chains? How are suppliers in developing countries practicing responsible business?
Although the answer varies by country and company, many companies in Bangladesh are going beyond the traditional notion of CSR as philanthropy and are making significant contributions to social development in ways that enable business success and economic growth.
One company I had the privilege to visit while in Bangladesh is Viyellatex, a ready-made garments manufacturer that supplies leading UK retailers. The company’s approach to corporate sustainability is to “ensure growth, expansion and profit by being socially and environmentally responsible”.
The company’s social programmes reflect a belief that a healthy and educated population is needed to develop society. Viyellatex embraces responsible business throughout the organisation and the surrounding community.
In the nearby community, Viyellatex plans to open a school for 30 physically handicapped children this summer. The school will be named Bikash, which means ‘to blossom’ in Bangla. To me, this symbolises responsible business at Viyellatex – enabling employees and community members to grow their capacity.
Nearby, Viyellatex, USAID and Save the Children run seven schools for pre-school children, each in the centre of a local community. At one school I visited, 30 children with big brown eyes sat quietly in a circle listening to the teacher and practicing their ABCs. As with all kids, they like going to school to play games and, as an afterthought, to learn new things. The intent is to give these kids a foundation for learning and to encourage parents to send their children to primary school.
To encourage growth among its employees, Viyellatex provides training and social benefits to all employees, including an on-site medical centre and crèche to encourage women to remain in the workforce while upholding family responsibilities.
Inside the clean, brightly-lit factory, I met physically handicapped workers, two of whom recently won an award sponsored by Marks & Spencer for their achievements. This forms part of a larger partnership with The Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) to provide training and employment for people of all abilities.
To me, suppliers such as Viyellatex are not only providing education and employment opportunities, they are slowly influencing change within society, helping people to see the value of education, and the contribution both men and women of all abilities can make to their personal growth as well as that of the nation.
Among a population of 161 million people, an estimated 55 million are below the age of 14 and an estimated 51 million are women between the ages of 15 and 64 (CIA World Factbook, 2012). This demonstrates significant potential for social and economic development of Bangladesh if more women and children are given opportunities similar to those offered by Viyellatex.
By Désirée Tennant
By the people, for the people
The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness are well documented (1, 2). For the HR and OD practitioner, a best case scenario implies optimal employee health, happiness and resilience translating into employee loyalty and engagement, sustainable high performance, reduced absenteeism, and, lest we forget, employees that turn out as model citizens in civil society contributing to its robustness. Right?
But are CSR divisions collaborating with HR/OD divisions on this aspect? In the world of ‘who’s producing the best CSR report’, enter the new rivals of, ‘who’s got the best corporate well-being strategy, or happiness index’? My question is, ‘Are we looking at the correlation between the two’?
A typical menu of health offerings included in a UK corporate wellbeing strategy, in the name of corporate ‘duty of care’ to its own employees may include medical insurance, health screening, health cash plans, employee assistance programs, dental plans, gym memberships, vaccinations and cycle to work schemes (3). Other employee well-being benefits may extend to health screening and awareness days, free fresh fruit, walking odometer fitness initiatives, occupational health services, stress management training, healthy canteen options and nutritional advice, physiotherapy, stop-smoking support and various insurances (personal accident, long term disability and critical illness).
Trawling through various documents from the UK, employee volunteering fails to make an appearance in the increasingly popular corporate wellbeing strategies. Surely this is an opportunity lost and a gap in CSR practices. The latent potential in these connections is enormous, both for the individual employee, the corporate culture, the communities / beneficiaries themselves and the CSR agenda itself. Here is my hypothesis: if volunteer-employees and prospective community stakeholders co-evolved a ‘best-fit’ strategy, not only would the community remain empowered but the employee would feel a sense of community and contribution to their employer’s CSR agenda. The result would be reciprocal well-being.
The Business Well-being Network’s annual report asks the question, ‘How many organisations extend their CSR strategies to include supporting resilience – and aim to send resilient people out into the world?’ (4) Surely, this is the responsible thing to do, both for the employees’ well-being and for the community as a key stakeholder? The same report does point out, however, that, ‘we do not yet understand how people, groups and organisations interact with and contribute to a “Resilient Society”.’
What has become interesting are the apparent expectations from Generation X and Generation Y for greater meaning in their work. To use part of Fairlie’s definition, we are talking about ‘life meaning, purpose, and coherence [including] generativity or service to others.’ (5) Hence, involving employees in volunteering is a way not only of forming collaborative community partnerships and advancing the CSR agenda, but also of improving job satisfaction and meaning in life.
Mark Williamson from Action for Happiness concludes that ‘proponents of sustainability would be wise to embrace this new focus on wellbeing too, for it brings something crucial that the environmental movement has long been lacking: a positive and hopeful vision.’ (6) I think he is right and we already see signs of the shift, with happiness and wellbeing likely to be in the global discussions on sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference this June.
- Borgonivi, F. (2008) Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness. Social Science and medicine 66, 2321-2334
- New Economics Foundation (2008) Foresight project on mental capital and wellbeing.
- Simply Health’s engaging employees through health and wellbeing report (2011). Retrieved on 9 April 2012 from http://www.simplyhealth.com
- Well-being, good work and society-time for change (2011/2012).The business well-being network annual report. Retrieved on 9 April 2012 from http://www.robertsoncooper.com
- Fairlie, P. (2011) Meaningful Work, Employee Engagement, and Other Key Employee Outcomes : Implications for Human Resource Development, in Advances in developing human resources 13 (4) 508-525
- Mark Williamson in The Guardian, Sustainable Business on “The serious business of creating a happier world: The first ever United Nations conference on happiness reflects a growing momentum to redefine our notion of growth. But will happiness gain a place at the top of the world agenda? Retrieved on 12 April 2012 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/united-nations-happiness-conference-bhutan?newsfeed=true
By Nishant Tiwari
Energy is a basic need for us all. Whatever we do in our daily life, energy is involved. Today, more than 85% of the world’s current energy is supplied through fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas, petrol and diesel). But what will happen in a few decades when these traditional sources of energy are in decline? Meanwhile, energy demand is increasing at 1.6% per year – driven largely by developing countries – with more than third of this growth expected to come from coal. By 2030, the world will demand 45% more energy.
The question is: How do we move away from dependency on fossil fuels and towards more sustainable sources like solar, wind, biomass and biofuels (ethanol), while still meeting the expanding energy needs? One of the current challenges with renewable energy is that it tends to be fairly inefficient – power is lost between generation and transmission. New materials for conductors and transformers are therefore a key area for improvement. A tried and tested method is Combined Heat and Power (CHP), where excess heat from power generation is used to heat homes and buildings, rather than released to the air as ‘waste’ steam. This principle of channelling excess energy to good effect is also used in hybrid cars.
The UK government has committed to increasing the proportion of energy from renewable sources. This will enhance the security level of energy supply and create various opportunities for investment in technology innovation. For example, if wind plants are established for generating power, other industries will be required to manufacture windmills, suitable generators and boosters.
Similarly, Australia has a Clean Energy Regulator, which has taken significant steps towards promoting a clean energy future, including introducing a carbon pricing mechanism, renewable energy target and carbon farming initiatives. Also in India, the government supports funding and accessibility of small scale renewable energy generation, such as biomass plants and stop dams. At the same time the big brand in power, BHEL, uses solar power for lighting in their plants and townships.
The World Energy Council (WEC) established the concept of the 3 As of energy sustainability: Accessibility to modern, affordable energy for all; Availability in terms of continuity of supply and quality and reliability of service; and Acceptability in terms of social and environmental goals. These 3A’s underpin their scenarios of energy policies to 2050. In terms of progress to date against the 3 As, the Africa region is lagging, Europe leads and Asia is mid-way to achieving the targets.
This suggests that it is time for the world to be bold on sustainability energy policy. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, ‘The only limit to our realisation of tomorrow will be our doubts about today.
By Veena Cute-ngarmpring
A combination of a global and local conceptual framework
CSR in Thailand is still largely philanthropic. This includes CSR programs that not only give direct financial support to the community, but also provide indirect assistance through community projects that aim to generate long-term local socio-economic development. Practically, the CSR concept has acted as a driving force for many corporations’ development activities, serving as a guideline for initiating and implementing community projects that generate a positive contribution to the society.
What makes CSR in Thailand unique, however, is that it builds strongly on a local development concept called the ‘Sufficiency Economy Philosophy’, which was initiated by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In general, the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy is focused on building a strong economic foundation and self-reliance at a local community level, as the basis for long-term local development. The philosophy contains three main components: moderation, reasonableness and self-immunity, which is supported in turn by two characters – knowledge and integrity.
CSR and the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy share many common characteristics, such as community-based development, local networking, stakeholder participation, partnership and collaboration and the importance of community context and local wisdom. Hence, the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy plays a supportive role in strengthening and leveraging the potential of CSR to respond to local conditions, economic activities and a community-based lifestyle.
A case that illustrates that illustrates both the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and a CSR approach is the Green Net Cooperative. The organisation is a social enterprise for marketing and distributing organic agricultural products to domestic and international markets. However, the Green Net Cooperative also works closely with the small-scale farmers in rural areas to give local producers access to knowledge, markets and productivity management.
Furthermore, the Green Net Cooperative has established the Earth Net Foundation for supporting self-reliance among local producers through knowledge sharing projects like ‘Farmer Field School’ and ‘Participatory Technology Development’. Among other things, farmers who are members of the Green Net Cooperative are encouraged to develop their self-sustenance from their own farming activities by not only planting crops for sale, but also growing vegetables, raising livestock and farming fish for their family’s consumption.
To conclude, in Thailand, the key to successful CSR is not the scale of philanthropic expenditure, but rather that development projects be implemented with a proper sensitivity to the locality.
By Dr Wayne Visser
Part 9 of 13 in Wayne Visser’s Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.
CSR 2.0 responsiveness goes beyond traditional partnerships and CSO effectiveness; it is also about innovative ways to collaborate. I want to flag several Web 2.0 inspired experiments in responsiveness that are opening up sustainability and responsibility solutions to the public. One is a platform called the Eco-Patent Commons, which allows companies to share their intellectual property for the common good. The Commons was launched by WBCSD and covers issues like waste, pollution, global warming and energy. ‘The premise of the Commons,’ says Björn Stigson, president of the WBCSD, ‘is that the free sharing of these patents leads to new collaborations and innovation aimed at helping others become more eco-efficient and/or operate in a more sustainable way.’
The Eco-Patent Commons’ publicly searchable database already contains over one hundred eco-friendly patents from companies like Bosch, Dow, DuPont, Fuji Xerox, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes, Ricoh, Sony and Taisei. Xerox, for example, has eleven pledged patents that cover a process that cuts the time it takes to remove toxic waste from soil and water from years to months, as well as a patent that covers technology that makes magnetic refrigeration less harmful to the environment.
Dr. John E. Kelly III, IBM Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research, believes that ‘innovation to address environmental issues will require both the application of technology as well as new models for sharing intellectual property among companies in different industries … In addition to enabling new players to engage in protecting the environment, the free exchange of valuable intellectual property will accelerate work on the next level of environmental challenges.’
Similarly, Donal O’Connell, Director of Intellectual Property for Nokia, thinks that ‘environmental issues have great potential to help us discover the next wave of innovation because they force us all to think differently about how we make, consume and recycle products.’ Nokia have pledged a patent designed to help companies safely re-use old mobile phones by transforming them into new products like digital cameras, data monitoring devices or other electronic items. ‘Recycling the computing power of mobile phones in this way could significantly increase the reuse of materials in the electronics industry’, concludes O’Connell.
Even more significant than the individual patents that have been added is the shift in thinking that this signals among some of the largest companies in the world. It is true none of them are exactly ‘giving away the family silver’ – they are not opening all their patents – but they are demonstrating responsiveness on a scale never seen before. They are recognising that the global problems we face are larger than whatever individual solutions can accomplish. If we are truly going to be effective in tackling our most intractable challenges, we will need the wisdom of crowds and the collective efforts of millions of entrepreneurs.
A similar, more recent initiative is GreenXchange, a collaborative platform initially launched by Creative Commons, Nike and Best Buy. Partners include 2degrees, nGenera and Salesforce.com. The fact that Creative Commons – a non-profit organisation that previously developed licensing programs to help in sharing creative and scientific content – has branched into the environmental arena is good news, not least because it brings a sophisticated understanding of the legalities of proprietary content, yet combines this with a commitment to open-source sharing.
The main difference between the Eco-Patent Commons and GreenXchange is that companies that contribute patents to the GreenXchange will have the option of charging users a fixed annual licensing fee and can also restrict any licensing by rivals or for competitive use. In addition, even if no annual fee is charged, patent users must register so there is a record of who is using what technology. The structure is more complex than the Eco-Patent Commons, but John Wilbanks, GreenXchange coordinator and vice president for science at Creative Commons, believes it will yield greater numbers of high-quality inventions. ‘We don’t depend on altruism,’ says Wilbanks. ‘This system helps the environment while enabling a firm to make money from patents in applications outside its core business.’
Wilbanks cites a fictional example for illustration purposes: Nike’s air-bag patent for cushioning shoes is crucial to its core shoe business, but may have environmental benefits in other industries — perhaps in prolonging the useful life of tyres. GreenXchange could enable Nike to license the air-bag technology selectively to noncompeting companies.’ Although this example may be speculative, Nike’s commitment to the concept is not. According to Kelly Lauber, a global director in Nike’s Sustainable Business and Innovation Lab, by sharing its water-based adhesive technology and working with footwear makers, average levels of environmentally harmful solvents used by Nike’s suppliers decreased significantly.
Nike has issued a GreenXchange booklet in which it lays out the challenge: Will the pursuit of sustainability create the new Google? The new Nike? The new disruptive view of business models, markets, profits and consumers? The answer is almost certainly yes. The conclusion is that ‘it’s time to dust off the research, the assets, the knowledge, the innovation you’ve developed on sustainability. Imagine the impact it could have if we gifted it to the world.’
Whether it is the Eco-Patent Commons or GreenXchange or some other platform for open-sourcing sustainability and responsibility that eventually prospers and becomes the new collaborative standard, the genie is out of the bottle. The idea is out there that, when it comes to technologies, processes, products and services that have potentially life-saving or earth-saving impacts, there is a moral obligation to share these with humanity. No doubt these collaborative platforms have started in the environmental space because, as was the case with reporting, green issues are easier to quantify and design solutions for. But we can expect them to spread rapidly to the social space as well. And as they do, they will shine a spotlight on those companies that are truly embracing the CSR 2.0 principle of responsiveness.