Here are some musings on the – rather sad – state of corporate accountability in 2015. It is a report of a conversation I had with the folk at the SustainAbility consultancy.
The biggest obstacle to sustainability is our mindset. See my Guardian article on why we need a new one.
The idea of increasing the flow of funds to social enterprises is a great idea. But how do we know that they really are social enterprises? Would Unilever count? What about Green & Black’s? See my Guardian blog here, which discusses some of the problems of knowing what to measure.
Large fishing companies are trying to privatise one of the few remaining wildernesses: the contents of the sea. The UK Association of Fish Producers (UKAFPO) is a secretive organisation with no discernible website. It is likely its ultimate sponsors are large, wealthy companies that already monopolise the majority of the British catch.
UKAFPO is suing the government because it has decided that UKAFPO members should not retain the right to its unused quota for fish and this should be allocated to smaller fishermen. Smaller fishing boats make stronger (and prettier) communities and they often fish more sustainably than larger, industrial fishing boats. UKAFPO’s argument appears to be that they have invested as though they owned the full quota, so they ought to keep it. If that’s the case, it is a very poor argument indeed.
But even more is at stake: why should anyone own the wilderness? The nearest we can get to that these days is to leave the ‘ownership’ in the hands of the state.
If I were an employee of Barclays, I would be very concerned right now. What if I don’t feel like abandoning my own ethics and adopting someone else’s? Apparently Barclays’ CEO has said that all employees must adopt a new code of ethics or go.
But suppose that I don’t mind changing my core values as a person in order to remain employed. What am I being asked to do? One of the ‘behaviours’ within the new code is: ‘Value sustainable progress as much as immediate achievements.’ Does this have anything to do with sustainability or not? It’s hard to tell.
And I might also be concerned that the recent scandals to hit the bank have mostly been about how Barclays treats its customers. So should I worry that Barclays’ old Quaker values included one about ‘fair dealing’, but the new ones do not?
I am reminded of Groucho Marx’s attempt at CSR: ‘These are my values. And if you don’t like them…well, I have others.’
My new short e-book, Making the Most of Standards, looks at sustainability standards. Which ones are important? Why are they so boring? How do they relate to each other? And how do you choose amongst the thousands out there?
Here is a panel I chaired for an ACCA virtual conference in the autumn of 2012. The panelists are Luke Wreford from WWF, David Aeron-Thomas from Forum for the Future and Tony Manwaring from Tomorrow’s Company.
The session covers issues such as what the green economy is, what it will mean for companies, what its key sectors will be.
WBCSD, the business-for-sustainability club, has got the idea of limits. WBCSD’s vision 2050 set out some scenarios for business sustainability. Now WBCSD plans to update this through linking up with the Stockholm Resilience Centre and putting numbers on how far businesses can go, based on SRC’s nine Planetary Boundaries.
This is good news. And it would be even better if this approach were adopted by more than the (admittedly significant) WBCSD membership.
But the translation of global limits to boundaries for the activity of an individual business is not straightforward. It also carries huge implications for business-as-normal. So it will be interesting to see if the likes of BP and Coca-Cola, for example, commit themselves to limiting their activities.
The Carbon Tracker Initiative points to an obvious problem: it’s no good having oil you can’t burn. At least if you are a company that sells it.
It follows that a large part of the valuation of the world’s major stock markets is founded on the psychology of the bubble – they are an ‘irrational exuberance’.
But how come people get so duped? An official answer runs like this:
“(1) initial errors in forecasting the future based on the representativeness heuristic; (2) the emergence of excessively rosy forecasts because of overconfidence and excessive extrapolation; (3) the amplification of skewed positive forecasts across a financial market through group polarisation; and finally (4) the resetting of those forecasts to an excessively cautious level in the subsequent market crash.”
But this is merely a description of what people do. There must be a deeper answer. What makes it impossible to step back from the hype? What makes it impossible for people to see the environmental constraints on endless growth?