Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Water wars, fascinating article on water and the environment in the middle east

Scary read, but essential 
This article by Fred Pearce in Yale Environment 360 provides pause for thought.

Entitled "Mideast Water Wars: In Iraq, A Battle for Control of Water" it's a helpful reminder of the power of the natural environment.

Fred's book "When the Rivers Run Dry" from a few years ago is a frightening tour of water risk.

Nestle's chairman, Peter Brabeck, believes water is a bigger looming crisis than climate change, given timescales.

The two are of course inter-connected. But water is definitely a shorter/medium term risk in terms of sustainability.

The Colorado river, the Mekong, the Murray, the Indus, the Yellow River, all of these, and how they are 'managed', have a major impact on how we live today, and will do in the future.

What can a sustainability-minded company do about this most macro of issues, this vitally important mega trend of water risk?

Footprint management and use reduction in the supply chain is of course the first step. The second?

Becoming more involved in supporting institutions that raise awareness and help lower risk.

The UN CEO water mandate is one such. There are others, depending how much your company wants to, or can, get engaged in helping tackle, of raise awareness of the challenges.

Of course, water is just one of a myriad of risk issues facing companies. Priorities are everything.

Water though, needs to be fairly high up the list for any company with a significant footprint.

UPDATE: An eagle eyed reader of the blog made this useful comment:

"Particularly pertinent given the fact that Coca-Cola have just abandoned their $20m bottling plant in India due to the uproar about how it was treating water sources.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The top five mistakes companies make in engaging stakeholders

Wayne Dunn
I've known, fished with, and worked with Wayne Dunn since about 2007.

He's one of the most knowledgeable and experienced advisors in the field of CSR and sustainable business that I have met in my years in the field.

When I first met him he was working on a plan to take submerged timber from lake Volta in Ghana and elsewhere around the world.

He's done all sorts of interesting jobs all over the world, so I thought his advice on what stakeholder engagement means to him since 2014 would be useful for readers.

My questions and his practical responses are below. I think you'll find they are worth ten minutes of your time.

Wayne is a Professor of Practice in CSR at McGill University and the President & Founder of the CSR Training Institute.

I recently worked with Wayne on CSR training in Ghana, during which we trained three cabinet ministers and thirty other senior corporate managers and NGO reps on some of the latest thinking.

There's a link at the bottom of this post to a two day workshop Wayne and I are running in London on October 30-31. That's all about stakeholder engagement in emerging markets

Here are my questions and his answers:

1) Has corporate stakeholder engagement lost its meaning because it's so casually over used by companies today?

It gets real meaningful real quick when your operation gets shut down by disgruntled stakeholders and their allies!

The reality on the ground, where business meets community is usually way different than the language of corporate websites and presentations. Call it what you will; and yes, many phrases are over-used so much the words are nearly meaningless.

Still, how companies engage with local stakeholders, and how they can organize operations and activities to bring meaningful benefits to local stakeholders, can often mean the difference between long term success and shuttered operation and damaged brand.

2) I would suggest FMCG companies and extractive firms are the leading sectors in viewing engagement as strategic, would you agree?

Absolutely.  And I think that is driven by their vulnerability.

Extractive firms have complex permitting processes to navigate at start-up and ongoing.  These create intervention platforms for unhappy stakeholders and their allies.

They provide a process that allows stakeholders to publicly communicate their concerns and they can often delay, disrupt and sometimes kill projects, damage corporate reputational capital and derail individual careers.

Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies are vulnerable because they have so much value tied up in Brand.

In today’s always on, instant global communications world disgruntled stakeholders can find ways to reach consumers and influence how they think about brands. This can have big and quick impacts on sales and profitability (and on companies and careers).

Both sectors are vulnerable to the impact that disgruntled stakeholders can have so finding ways to deliver value to stakeholders and engage effectively with them is highly strategic.

3) Big companies now understand that stakeholder engagement is just good risk management, but how many really see the opportunity side? Surely without that, firms risk slipping into complacent box ticking?

Stakeholder relations can be an effective risk management tool, but simply ticking the boxes only gets a company part way there. There is a big difference between strategic stakeholder engagement and compliance focused engagement.

With the ever-increasing number of global standards, reporting frameworks and engagement protocols it often feels safer to focus on compliance.  It is an easier story to tell and easier to manage.

Unfortunately, a purely compliance based approach too often misses key strategic opportunities; opportunities to create value for stakeholders and company. And these strategic opportunities that can create new value for stakeholders and company are often the best opportunities to mitigate risk.

Coming from a hockey background (I’m Canadian, eh?) I see strategic engagement as more like offense and compliance focused engagement more like defense.

The balance between offence and defense; strategic and compliance, is not easy to find.  Effective stakeholder engagement takes both.  You don’t win many games with just one.

4) Give us some examples of companies who do engagement well, or have done it well

There are many examples of projects, or even business units, that do stakeholder engagement well, but not nearly so many where a large company does it well across all of its operations.

One of my favourite examples comes from the 1990s. Cameco Corporation, the largest Uranium mining company in the world at the time, was a leader in developing the Saskatchewan (Canada) uranium industry.

The industry was based in northern Saskatchewan with a population of 40,000 people, largely Indigenous) scattered over 250,000 square kilometres.

Literacy levels were low, there was little history of industrial employment and many families were only a generation away from a nomadic lifestyle on the land.

There were regulatory requirements around consultation and benefits but Cameco realized that it had to find a way that local indigenous peoples would benefit directly and substantially. That required a strategic approach.

By late 1999, 450 aboriginal employees, representing about 45% of the site operations workforce, made Cameco one of Canada’s leading industrial employers of aboriginal people.

A northern supplier development program was finding new and innovative ways to engage local people in the industry supply chain. Today northern suppliers, many of them indigenous, are supplying ½ billion/year in goods and services.

However, despite the incredible success Cameco was having in Canada with stakeholder engagement and benefits this wasn’t consistent across the company.

In 1999 the company’s share price along with its reputation and its operations in Kyrgyzstan took a pummelling. The impacts of an accident and a cyanide spill were compounded exponentially because of poor or non-existent relationships with major groups of stakeholders.

5) You work a lot in emerging markets, what are the top five mistakes you see companies making in stakeholder engagement, and what does it cost them when they do?

1. Defining stakeholders too narrowly. Too often key groups of stakeholders are missed and this means missed opportunity for companies and stakeholders.

The group that I see missed most often is the international development community

Agencies like the UNDP and development partners like Britain’s Dept for International Development (DfID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), etc. are committed to MDG priorities such as education, health, poverty alleviation and gender issues

These objectives are shared with community stakeholders and the company and can create huge opportunities for synergy and collaboration and benefits for community stakeholders.

Unfortunately, many companies define their stakeholders too narrowly and miss these opportunities

2. No balance between defense (compliance) and offense (strategic opportunities). It is not easy to maintain a balanced approach to compliance and identifying and developing strategic opportunities for stakeholder engagement and value creation.

3. Going defensive too quickly. Community/stakeholder meetings, especially in the early stages of a project, often seem to start negatively with people lining up to voice displeasure and concern over one thing or another.

For company representatives, especially senior executives, there is often a tendency to ‘correct facts’ and provide balance and perspective when faced with seemingly endless negative comments. This is a mistake!

I’ve been in hundreds of community meetings and the negative comments and complaints at the beginning are often more about local community politics and posturing than they are about anything the company has done or is doing.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t often real and meaningful grievances and issues, just that the best approach to the early stages of a community meeting is to simply listen.

I’ve found that by sitting and listening the complaints and feelings and issues can come out and, generally, at some point, the energy will shift and a constructive dialogue can develop.

Of course, it doesn’t happen this way all the time, but in general it is best to simply listen and hear in the early stages of a meeting.

4. Concealing self-interest. Let’s be clear. Companies engage with stakeholders and strive to create local value and benefits for them because the company sees that as being in their own self-interest. If they didn’t, why would they spend the time and money.

Too often companies will try to position their engagement and CSR work as being more about the interests of local stakeholders and because the company is ‘good’.

This can not only create an awkward donor/recipient type of relationship and undermines a company’s credibility, but can also lead to questions on the sustainability of the company’s efforts.

If the company is only doing it because it is good for local stakeholders then it seems like it would be easy to cut from the budget if financial challenges arise.

Far better to openly acknowledge self-interest and fully engage stakeholders in the search for those areas where company and stakeholder interests can come together.

5. Communication. Too much, too little, too promotional, too simplistic. And often not disseminated in a way that will reach the intended audiences.

Here's two day workshop Wayne and I are running in London, with others, on October 30-31. That's all about stakeholder engagement in emerging markets. The experts taking part in this workshop have experience at working with companies such as Arcelor Mittal, BP, Anglo American, Rexam, Golden Star, BHP Billiton, Shell, and many others.


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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

As a manager, when your company doesn't really care, what can you do? (updated)

With the news that Kara Hurst, head of the Sustainability Consortium is to join Amazon as a senior sustainability executive an important question arises.

"If you work in sustainability/CSR in a company that doesn't really care about the agenda, what can you do about it?"

There are two ways to answer this question.

One is the standard way whereby you make the usual case that sustainability/CSR enhances:

- Reputation in general
- Employee attraction, motivation, innovation, retention and productivity
- Investor attraction (albeit limited)
- Licence to operate when things go wrong
- B2B partner and supplier relationships
- Local and national government relations
- Your ability to meet current and future environmental requirements
- NGO conversations and partnerships
- Community satisfaction
- Executive career paths
- Your ability to innovate and see short/medium/long term risks
Etc etc

The second is much harder.

Amazon should know all of the above. But founder Jeff Bezos doesn't seem to take these points seriously. Presumably other senior managers follow his lead.

So what can you do if you join a company that just doesn't want to do much?

Perhaps Amazon now wants to do more. It's possible. Apple proved that a recalcitrant firm can listen to external voices and make a key hire that changes things.

It's equally possible they have hired Kara Hurst just to look good. 

(Let us hope she will lead the changes that former US EPA boss Lisa Jackson is credited with at Apple. Presumably you don't make senior hires like his unless you are serious. Time will tell)

Amazon aside, if your bosses just want you to be window-dressing, what can you do except resign?

I don't know. I have a few thoughts, but I have a feeling some readers do too.

Look forward to your ideas. 

UPDATE: After first publishing this post on Friday 22nd as an experimental approach to crowd sourcing some ideas/solutions, as usual I had a few comments from readers which may form some kind of answer to the above question.

The general mood from commentators was, if you can't be taken seriously as a change manager or catalyst, then go work somewhere you can make a difference. 

Others pointed out that defining "not caring" is quite tough, and there are nuances to consider. 

Here's a few points to consider when dealing with a company which today, only wants to do the minimum:

1) The compliance agenda counts 
For example, even in a company such as Amazon, which has dealt with the sustainability agenda by largely ignoring it, they have to comply with environmental regulations. So how can you creatively use the creeping regulatory agenda on green issues, combined with increased transparency demands, to build interest in getting ahead of that regulation, and make a business case out of this. 

2) Re-frame sustainability/CSR as business efficiency. Take out all the jargon, all of it. Focus entirely on teams of empowered employees driving money saving programmes. Pretty soon the greener / sustainability agenda will provides some useful stats (think basics like fuel, lights, transport, logistics etc)

3) Talk about offsetting political risk (this is the license to operate model but on a macro level) in emerging markets. Many countries are becoming much more aggressive with foreign companies, so dig up some examples of where shareholder value has been affected and link these with better operating practices. 

4) Push harder on the innovation agenda. A bit like point two, removing all jargon and making the links based on evidence is the way to try persuading your board to engage in sustainability/CSR.

If I receive any further comments from readers I will update this post further. Meantime here's a link to a relevant article I wrote last year on this area.

It's called: 

This slide deck from 2013 that I put together may also be useful:



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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sustainable business: "the problem with 2020 targets is that they’re just way too distant" - Guest post by Scott Poynton

Scott Poynton gives a personal view on why the deforestation debate should focus on action now and not targets for future improvement

Poynton: Has 'sustainability' become meaningless?
I have seen many bad things, close up and personal, over the last 20+ years working on deforestation issues.

I believe that our path to survival lies through the goodness of the human heart, but I often despair at some of the things I see that human heart doing – really bad things that destroy the environment and people’s lives.

It creates a genuine feeling of despair that despite all we’re doing, despite all the efforts of the NGOs, despite the good things done by many businesses, ultimately we will lose our forests, we will plunge the world beyond climate change thresholds and we will create real horror.

And yet, at the same time, from despair springs hope so I tend to oscillate between being hopeful – where I like to think I spend more time – and feeling despair.

It can change in a moment based on a phone call, a human interaction or an interaction with nature. Mostly I try to put those feelings aside and just keep going, just keep pushing.

One of the things I despair about is that the whole concept of “sustainability” has become so bastardised that it’s nigh on meaningless.

It has become a throwaway term and so long as a business has a sustainability policy or a sustainability manager, they become insulated, to some degree against the change process.

Business as usual

Grand reports and all sorts of proclamations often hide the fact that business as usual continues unabated and that all that has happened has been participation in meetings, discussions and not much else.

So when I see the term “sustainability” being thrown about to cover inaction, I get pessimistic.

I’d like to see more action and on the ground change. Then folk can call it “sustainability” or whatever they want. We seem to have become enamoured by the process rather by genuine achievement of urgently required ends.

We should first ask what outcomes we want and then celebrate our progress toward them.

No one speaks so much about ends and that is why at TFT we use such sharp language as No Deforestation and No Exploitation.

These are ends we seek to achieve and I become optimistic when people are ready to embrace these ends rather than speak about ill-defined “sustainability”.

The targets problem

It’s become clear that 2020 deforestation targets aren’t going to deal with the problem. This is because the pace of deforestation in places such as Indonesia where the destruction has already been so immense, continues unabated.

If we don’t move more quickly, we aren’t going to save those last remaining forests and the critical species like the Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephant and orang-utans that live there.

This is a human tragedy, a deep human failure. On top of that, we can add a further human tragedy that continues to unfold as indigenous people and local communities continue to be displaced and disrespected. We’ve just got to move a LOT more quickly.

The problem with 2020 targets is that they’re just way too distant. If you’ve got a 2020 target, you’re not going to get serious about delivering it until at least 2018 … people really do need to be honest about that.

All these announcements about No Deforestation by 2020 are just unhelpful noise because it effectively gives suppliers a license to continue business as usual for the next six years.

It takes the pressure off and I’m disappointed that NGOs, including those that I respect very much, such as Greenpeace, are celebrating companies committing to 2020 for No Deforestation as a victory.

More ambition

It isn’t a victory to allow six more years of deforestation in a context where many forests will be destroyed in that period. So we’re asking people to be much more ambitious.

Set targets that mean you have to start acting NOW, today. And report how you’re going transparently, honestly, so that others can see and judge your progress themselves.

And if you work with TFT, we’ll kick you out if you don’t start real action today. We don’t have time to ponder what we might or might not start doing in 2019.

The other side of the story is that the change we need is not one company at a time.

We need whole industries to transform and the change processes for that to happen are so huge, complex and gruelling that we need to start working through them immediately if we’re going to get anywhere in the years ahead.

If we only start in 2018 (or later), we’ll not be where we need to be, if at all, until way after 2020.

It’ll be easy to deliver No Deforestation targets when there’s no more forest to cut down so let’s recognise that we’re setting these targets to save forests, not to win some award or be hailed as an environmental hero or to get more funding for more campaigns while suppliers carry on business as usual. Policies count for nothing; it’s change on the ground we need and we need it now.

Scott Poynton is executive director of The Forest Trust. He will be speaking at the Innovation Forum deforestation conference in London on 28-29 October. Other speakers include McDonald's, Nestle, Unilever, Ikea, Wilmar, New Britain Palm Oil, Waitrose, Mondelez, Marks & Spencer, Mars, Greenpeace, TFT, WWF, Sky, Aviva Investors, Oxfam, Robertsbridge and many others.

Brochure here, and embedded below:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Coffee and climate change "one degree changes the taste dramatically"

Here's a short, informative and very interesting video about coffee and climate change:

KEW GARDENS - Beyond the Gardens: The Forgotten Home of Coffee from LONELYLEAP on Vimeo.

Some of this you may know, if you've looked into the topic before, but the little run through of the history and genetic diversity angle is well worth a watch.

Here's the link if you can't see the embedded video.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Business, conflict and peace, a quick Q&A with Andrea Iff at swisspeace

Andrea Iff
I recently met Andrea Iff, head of business and peace at swisspeace, at a conference in London.

I was intrigued by her job title, and the work her outfit does with business.

So I sent her a few questions and she sent some brief responses.

This Q&A is shorter than the usual but definitely worth a read.

As I mentioned in a previous recent post, community issues, licence to operate, climate change, they are all connected and effected by human relationships. Peace building, peace making and stability are all part of the mix. Read on and you'll see what I mean.

TW: What does swisspeace do?

AI: The Swiss Peace Foundation swisspeace is a practice-oriented peace research institute.

We analyse the causes of violent conflicts and develop strategies for their peaceful transformation.

TW: I have never met anyone whose job title is head of business and peace. What has business to do with peace? 

AI: After conflict, all sectors of a society need to engage in re-establishing sustainable peace, not only development agencies and governments, but also the private sector.

Due to the inherently political nature of the distribution of revenues, jobs, services - as well as benefits and associated costs - the private sector interacts strongly with peace and conflict dynamics.

TW: Lots of companies do business in fragile states. Where do they start if they want to think harder about making a positive impact in those countries?

AI: Most of them do not yet think about positive impact but are still concerned with trying not to have a negative impact, meaning not to trigger or worsen latent conflicts.

One area which can have significant impacts on key drivers of peace and conflict (i.e. poverty and economic disparities) is job creation.

TW: Should companies deliberately do business in countries run by dictatorships or in undemocratic states, on the basis that good, operations, policies, processes, lobbying and partnerships can make a positive difference?

AI: This is a case to case decision which depends also on the political economy of a particular sector or the kind of business in a given country.

If companies do, it is important to do their ‘enhanced’ due diligence and ask questions like: What kind of spill-over effects and linkages can be created with the local economy?

Who are the suppliers and local partners and how are they selected?

And finally, how do we work with government agencies?

TW: Which companies would you say take the most progressive positions on how business is connected with peace, or in fragile states?

AI: Businesses have yet no interest to be connected to neither conflict nor peace. While the extractive industries are the ones that are most often confronted with these issues and have developed guidelines on conflict-sensitivity, there are no studies to what extent these are known, understood or implemented.

Often, companies do not need to do more, but do things differently.


Here's a few relevant upcoming meetings for readers interested in the above:

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.

How business can tackle deforestation

Collaborate effectively with suppliers and NGOs, understand policy and enforcement trends (sponsored by Robertsbridge
28th-29th October, 2014, London. More details here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Stakeholder Engagement in Emerging/Frontier markets, October 30-31 2014, London

If you are interested in how companies can learn from each other on stakeholder engagement in difficult conditions in emerging markets, the below event might be for you. I'll be teaching on it as will three great colleagues who have 50 years experience doing this between them. Hope you or a colleague can join us in London for this later in October (30-31).

How to effectively engage stakeholders in frontier markets

An exclusive two-day executive training workshop, certified by the CSR Training Institute
30-31 October, 2014, London

Details and agenda here: http://innovation-forum.co.uk/stakeholder-engagement.php

Brochure below, direct link to it on Slideshare is here.

Indigenous/community rights a good example of where green meets social

Social drivers to protect - or cut down forest - are vital to grasp
(photo taken by the author, January 2014, Sumatra, Indonesia)
Traditionally, in the CSR field, social and environmental issues were handled by different sets of executives.

One group of more science-based folk worked on environment, whilst another, more community and philanthropy-oriented executives took on social issues, and what their company might do about them.

Today, some execs tasked with complex global sustainability challenges might look nostalgically back on those simpler days.

(But they were much duller days too)

Global corporate sustainability footprint issues such as tackling and preventing deforestation are now rapidly colliding with human rights, agricultural/raw material sourcing, corruption, and institutional and government capacity (or lack thereof).

This article from SciDev.net demonstrates this well.

It's about how when communities have secure rights to their land, deforestation rates are much lower.

Pretty obvious, you might say, but the link between social (their rights) and environmental (carbon/deforestation) has not always been made clearly enough.

I know for a fact that many companies committed to preventing land clearance or conversion have nowhere near enough social expertise available to effectively tackle the human complexities of making their policies and targets actually happen.

General Mills, Cargill, Smucker, and P&G have all recently announced various serious commitments to supply chain sustainability. Looking at the response of campaigners such as Rainforest Action Network to just one recent announcement, (Cargill), you can see how tough it's going to be, yet also how essential for the companies to get right.

Making clear links between environmental goals and social causes and solutions will be key.

Community engagement with rubber tappers in Sumatra, Indonesia
(photo taken by the author, January 2014)

The article, based on findings from a World Resources Institute and the Rights and Resources Initiative points out that:

"Deforestation and carbon emission rates are being reduced dramatically in areas managed by indigenous peoples and local communities with fully protected legal rights to forests."

"...an estimated 37.7 billion tonnes of carbon stock are held in 513 million hectares of government-recognised community forests — equivalent to 29 times the annual emissions from all passenger vehicles in the world."

"Using high-resolution mapping data, the study found that the deforestation rate in protected indigenous community forests in the Brazilian Amazon was less than one per cent from 2000 to 2012, compared with seven per cent outside these areas. The deforestation rate outside indigenous community forests produced 27 times more carbon dioxide emissions in the same period."

"The study noted that when indigenous communities have no or weak legal rights, the forests they live in tend to be more vulnerable to destruction and become a high source of carbon dioxide emissions."

"In Indonesia, out of 42 million hectares of community forests, only one million hectares are legally recognised by the government. Oil palm concessions now cover 59 per cent of community forests in West Kalimantan. While Indonesia boasts the sixth highest above-ground biomass in the world, it has become the world’s second largest carbon emitter mainly because of extensive deforestation."

The link to the full WRI Report is here. Well worth a read.

WRI boss Andrew Steer notes that: "Our report finds that existing legal rights for community forests in the Brazilian Amazon and other areas could prevent 27 million hectares (66 million acres) of deforestation by 2050. That translates to 12 billion tonnes of avoided carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to three years' worth of carbon-dioxide emissions from all Latin American and Caribbean countries."

Those are some big numbers.

Companies who wish to demonstrate that they want to tackle global footprint issues in forestry, agriculture and carbon, to name a few, are going to need to publicly recognise the need to tackle the issues of social and environmental together. Teams will need to be designed, built and resourced.

We'll be exploring how to make this work, here.

Whilst a few companies are starting to do the above, many others are still in denial, still focusing on energy efficiency, waste reduction, community and philanthropy work.

The example above clearly demonstrates that environmental is social.

It shows that when companies make 2020 or 2015 commitments around one issue, such as sustainable sourcing, they'll need to be thinking hard about the others that govern the success of those. They need to consider the resources that need to be allocated to meet their targets.

To meet some of these, they'll need to be thinking a little more holistically about how deforestation, human rights, corruption, and institutional and government capacity fit together. Then they'll need to work out what they can do to tackle these issues, as an industry. The Consumer Goods Forum and WBCSD are good examples of where companies are coming together in this way, slowly. Other more niche groups such as the Palm Oil Innovation Group are starting to try and show the way for some companies.

Not easy.

CSR used to be fairly simple. Real (more) sustainable business is a lot less so.

Here are a few relevant events packed with leading brands and NGOs coming together to talk about all this:

How business can tackle deforestation
Collaborate effectively with suppliers and NGOs, understand policy and enforcement trends (sponsored by Robertsbridge
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.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Are we actually making progress on preventing deforestation? Q&A with Mongabay.com founder Rhett Butler

Rhett Butler, founder, Mongabay.com. And yes, he does give a damn 
If you don't read Mongabay.com then you should. It's an excellent, independent site on rainforests and has covered the deforestation debate for many years.

I was in Indonesia with Rhett Butler, its founder, a few months back, looking at APP concessions (slideshow here). I found Rhett incredibly knowledgeable and learned a huge amount in a few days from him. Mongabay also accepts donations, so take a look here.

(We're donating 10% of the net profits of the first of our annual business/NGO summits on preventing deforestation (Oct 28-29 in London, details here) to Mongabay.com)

I asked Rhett for his views this week on a number of the key issues surrounding business and the prevention of deforestation, including campaigning NGOs, his responses are below, and are well worth a read.

TW: You've run a environmental reporting and news for many years, today, broadly speaking, are you an optimist or a pessimist on the environment?

RB: I'm generally optimistic that we're moving toward addressing a number key environmental issues. I specifically focus on forests, where there may be better progress than in other areas.

For example, Brazil's deforestation rate has fallen dramatically in the past decade due to a combination of factors, including policy interventions, pressure from environmentalists, stepped up law enforcement, technology, new protected areas, and private sector initiatives.

There are new initiatives that are greatly expanding our capacity to monitoring forests, while there is growing awareness of the environmental costs of business-as-usual practices.

Finally there has been a wave of zero deforestation commitments from companies that provides new leverage in addressing drivers of forest destruction.

TW: Mongabay.com has followed the deforestation debate for a long time. But despite progress, regulation and enforcement of basic law still lags, so are we just seeing a thin layer of top brands making commitments, or does suggesting that underestimate their power to change the industry?

RB: In many countries the private sector effectively drives regulation and enforcement. For example in Indonesia, decades of lobbying by big forestry companies have led to massive land grabs, sky-high deforestation rates, and large-scale degradation.

But now that some of the largest players are adopting forest-friendly policies - a product of pressure from their customers and environmentalists - they are starting to push for better law enforcement and policies that will incentivise them to become better forest stewards.

After all they don't want to disadvantage themselves by being the only ones with sustainability commitments - they want to benefit from their leadership positon.

At the same time, commodity roundtables like the RSPO are setting standards that may establish best practices and influence local regulations.

The private sector - especially market leaders - generally moves faster than the government. But regulation is important to push the marginal players, who often cause the most environmental damage, toward more sustainable practices. The laggards aren't going to care about sustainability unless they are compelled to do so.

TW: What's your view on consumers? We know they care, they are interested, but struggle with the complexity, as does labeling. Is it just about brands building trust with consumers or do you believe they can and will make a difference in their purchasing habits, one day?

RB: Right now I think consumer preference is second to brand risk.

Most consumers aren't aware of the issues to the extent where it affects their buying preferences, except in particularly egregious cases (views toward palm oil might be getting close to this threshold in some markets). But most companies are nonetheless very aware of the risks.

The market is very competitive and buyers can be fickle so if committing to more responsible sourcing doesn't break the bank - and may even have other benefits like streamlining operations or reducing contamination risk - then it can make a lot of sense for companies.

 TW: You've met the big forestry companies around the world, you've met their suppliers and documented their efforts, negative, and positive, on deforestation issues. APP has done a deal with Greenpeace. APRIL is still arguing. Meanwhile firms such as Wilmar seem to be making 'game changing' commitments. Are you convinced by their, and APP's efforts to date, and what is your view on APRIL and their ongoing spat with NGOs?

It's been really interesting to watch the zero deforestation policies emerge and evolve over the past 2-3 years.

APP's was perhaps the most shocking for me, but so far, the commitment looks strong. There are lots of signs that APP is serious this time, as opposed to past false starts.

That doesn't seem to be the case yet with APRIL, which has lately employed some of the questionable approaches APP used before its big commitment in February 2013.

Wilmar's policy is incredibly ambitious. It could really be a game-changer for the palm oil sector.

5) Do campaigning NGOs spend too much time on brands and not enough on Governments and legal enforcement/policy creation?

To generalise, campaign groups like Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network focus more on brands because they are more responsive targets than governments.

Companies have the will and capacity to move quickly especially when their reputation is at stake. Legislation and policy enforcement are slower processes.

The added upside is that once a company tips, it might become an advocate - directly or indirectly - for the policies being pushed by the green group. So that might lead to law enforcement or policy change.

Exposing an especially bad actor can also spur a government to take legal action or clean up loopholes.

For example, Indonesia has cracked down on companies after environmentalists or the media has put a spotlight on damaging activities.

In Brazil, Greenpeace's soy, cattle and timber campaigns have been followed by action by public prosecutors.

6) One of the key areas in tackling deforestation seems to be agreement about how to calculate High Carbon Stock land versus non high carbon stock land. Do you see this debate being resolved any time soon?

The fact that the debate is happening at all is an encouraging sign. I wouldn't have imagined five years ago discussions of this nature taking place.

Whether progress is being made is a fair question. In my view, I think the fact that there is actually work being done on this front by the biggest players in the pulp and palm oil sectors is an indication that companies are taking the issue seriously.

I'm not close enough to the process to predict when the Palm Oil Innovation Group camp and the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto group of companies are going to be able to harmonize their standards.

But in the meantime, it seems likely that campaigns are going to continue to pressure the APRILs and IOIs as long as they continue clearing high carbon stock areas.

Undefined commitments to cease clearing once an HCS standard is in place won't be enough for Greenpeace, RAN, and others.


Some further reading from this blog on the topic of deforestation is here.

Upcoming Innovation Forum events in 2014:

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

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.