Thursday, 28 January 2016

Is the CSR manager really dead?


In recent months I have seen a number of opinion pieces asserting that, since CSR should ideally be embedded in corporate strategy and culture, there should no longer be any need for CSR managers. In my view, this completely misses the point. There are other areas of business that are considered to be everybody’s responsibility and yet nobody is suggesting that the subject-matter experts are not needed. A company where all staff take responsibility for controlling costs does not fire its finance team, nor does a company with a strong health and safety culture dispense with the services of its health and safety manager. Indeed, one might argue that companies with senior subject-matter professionals are more successful at embedding the principles of their area of expertise into the business, since there is a dedicated person or team creating the structure, narrative and performance metrics that are necessary to weave it into the daily work of people in other disciplines.
There may still be companies where having a CSR manager is seen as a kind of “ethics offsetting” – making CSR the responsibility of one person so that none of the others need concern themselves with it - but this approach is simply untenable in these days of the connected consumer with strong views on fairness and transparency. But effective CSR is too complex – and arguably too important – to be approached by simply writing it into everybody’s job description. Somebody needs to be scanning the horizon for emerging social or environmental risks, keeping abreast of new legislation, looking for opportunities to demonstrate leadership and drive momentum towards ever-higher standards of ethics and transparency, not just in their own organisation but across business in general.
Of course, whether CSR Manager is the correct title for somebody with this role remains moot. Terminology has long been a challenge and no doubt will remain so, not least because the landscape is constantly changing. When I first began working in this area, the headline issue was the ozone layer and the internet hadn’t even been invented. These days enlightened business leaders are expected to deliver data-driven responses to a wide range of environmental and social priorities, voluntary initiatives and disruptive business models in an era of radical transparency and consumer activism. In setting their strategy they have to determine materiality, align with frameworks like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, engage meaningfully with disparate stakeholder groups and embed processes and metrics that deliver against publicly-stated goals and targets. Whatever name we choose to give them, it’s hard to see how all of this could be achieved without the support of experienced subject-matter experts.

Friday, 18 December 2015

COP21 - does it really matter whether global leaders sign up?

Before, during and after COP21 I was struck by the increasing number of positive stories about low-carbon and resource-efficient innovation. It finally seems that the majority of businesses have woken up to the fact that sustainability can be a source of commercial and competitive advantage, rather than a compromise made to pacify policymakers. And, at the same time, policymakers finally seem to be coming round to the point of view consistently put forward by former Treasury advisor Lord Stern that climate change action and economic growth are not competing alternatives.

I’ve been frustrated in the past by the amount of focus placed on the risk factors associated with climate change and resource constraints instead of the opportunity that these challenges present for business. The visionary entrepreneurs had the right ideas, but not the scale needed to drive rapid transition. But the tide really seems to be turning and mainstream businesses are blazing a trail towards ambitious targets, game-changing technologies and disruptive business models. Consider this handful of examples from some of the biggest global corporations:

Coca-Cola is on track to be water neutral by the end of 2015

Ikea stopping sales of all except LED light bulbs

H&M launching recycled jeans and a €1M competition to close clothing loops

Nissan unveiling a concept for the 'fuel station of the future'

All of these were announced the same week in late August 2015, simultaneously with the publication of a report from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) concluding that the private sector could cut more than five hundred megatons of greenhouse gas emissions in the next five years, simply by scaling up existing green initiatives, and another from Citi that calculated the global savings from energy efficiency to be worth $1.8trn to business.

As we wait to find out whether sufficient countries will sign up to the pledge that emerged from COP21 the signs are that big business is finally ready to seize the initiative from policymakers, grasping the commercial opportunity and press ahead regardless - towards a future where policy scoops up the laggards rather than propelling the front runners. Given their track record it’s hard to be optimistic that global governments will finally sign up to binding and ambitious carbon targets  they agreed to in Paris. But if big business is already off and running towards the big prizes, perhaps – just perhaps - it no longer matters.

Monday, 2 November 2015

What's YOUR plastic bag?

A conversation with a hospitality industry professional at a sustainability breakfast recently touched on the subject of the plastic bag ban and its value in the transition to a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy. We concluded that, while there a numerous activities that undoubtedly have a greater adverse effect on carbon emissions, the ban has value as a highly visible activity that takes place in the mainstream, thereby hopefully acting as a gateway to more meaningful action by consumer.
That got us thinking about our own sectors and our respective equivalents. The hotel sector was among the first to encourage its customers to help it reduce impacts – I can no longer remember a time when the ubiquitous “leave it on the floor and we’ll wash it, hang it up and we won’t” sign didn’t appear in hotel bathrooms. In office imaging it’s paper – signified, for many of us, by the “think before printing this email” footers. These have become so commonplace that their impact is often dismissed, but that doesn’t necessarily negate their subliminal power to contribute to the nudge effect of gradual behaviour change, especially when considered cumulatively.
I can now catch a bus that is conspicuously powered by renewables, ride into town past numerous houses with solar PV panels, do my shopping using re-usable bags – even choose for my supermarket shop to be delivered at a time when the vehicle is already in my area. There’s an active local Freegle group and, off the end of the main shopping street, a repair cafĂ© and bicycle kitchen. Each of these small, incremental steps towards a more sustainable future may contribute little individually but together increase the visibility of low-impact options and edge us towards the tipping point where sustainable choices become the norm.
As sustainability professionals in businesses, we’re advised to analyse our emissions and focus first on the actions that will have a direct positive impact, but perhaps we’re missing a trick. For most organisations, the greatest opportunity for positive change lies in galvanising our customers into action – and, as M&S shows, if we do so with sufficient commitment it can transform our commercial outcomes too. It every business identified its own “plastic bag” and sought to engage its customers in a symbolic, highly visible act of sustainable living – better still, if it incentivised and rewarded it – then behaviour change might just become an unstoppable force.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

WEEE isn't working


The world is full of perverse incentives and misplaced interventions, and the UK WEEE legislation is the embodiment of both. The EU’s aim for its waste legislation is to drive resource efficiency and create a circular economy, and at the beginning of July it announced new, more ambitious targets but without major adjustments to the UK’s application of the directive we will surely miss them.


The WEEE producer compliance system is fundamentally flawed, for several reasons. Firstly, because it operates on the basis of volume targets so it is geared towards collecting the maximum amount of ewaste, not deriving the maximum value from the resources contained within it. Secondly, because it doesn't measure whole device re-use or parts re-use, both of which are preferable to recycling from the point of view of the waste hierarchy and essential components of a circular economy. And thirdly because it imposes a cost on the EEE producer which is based purely on market share and takes no account of how easy it is to recover value from the device. As a result, the most expedient process for recyclers is to bulk up ewaste and shred everything, resulting in low-grade recyclate that has little value as a manufacturing resource. Even if a device is working, or repairable, the collection process damages it beyond repair. And there is no incentive on WEEE producers to improve the design of their products to facilitate repairability or material recovery at end of first use.


Compare that with an ICT asset recovery company that inspects devices to determine what can be refurbished or cosmetically improved and resold for second use, what can have spare parts harvested for use in repairing other devices and what can be dismantled so that single metals or polymers can be recovered and returned in as-virgin quality for other manufacturing processes. A large proportion of ICT equipment has sufficient intrinsic value to fund the recovery processes, generate a profit margin for the asset recovery company and even return some value to the producer or the user. Many such programmes offer social value, by making donations to charity or funding education projects. This approach supports the resource stewardship agenda, returns value to the economy and creates jobs, but no account is taken of it in the government's WEEE targets.


Many suppliers of ICT equipment in the B2B sector now find themselves in the same position as Kyocera. We are compelled to pay into a compliance scheme which hardly any of our customers use because the alternatives are preferable from both an economic and an environmental point of view. Indeed, when we retire old IT kit we use a free asset recovery service with added social value in preference to the WEEE compliance scheme we offer our customers. The current WEEE legislation will miss its targets because it serves nobody but the compliance partners - and yet according to recent press reports they can't make it pay either. We need a better system, and quickly.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The ice bucket challenge and water scarcity

There’s an emotive internet meme that illustrates the contrast between a group of Americans dousing themselves in ice water for the #icebucketchallenge and an African child being fed a bottle-cap full of water.  A serious point made about the relatively scarcity of that precious commodity in two geographies, but sadly eschewing the challenge in aid of Motor Neurone Disease (the UK name for that debilitating and fatal condition) will not help those who are thirsty. Yes, I’ve done the challenge, but not without considering the wider impact of my actions. After reflection, on balance, I decided that to support those with the disease was a good thing and that – after a year in which flooding was more of an issue in my country than drought – we could afford a bucket of water.

It’s easy to criticise symbolic acts taken to raise awareness and funds for charity, but the important thing is that, on balance, the good strongly outweighs the cost. Everybody who participates should understand that the action does not in itself benefit anybody – it’s the giving it prompts or the awareness it raises that counts. I know when I do the Live Below the Line challenge that I’m not really experiencing what it’s like to live below the breadline, but I get to raise a little cash for organisations that support those who do and I spend more time reflecting on their situation than I otherwise might.

The #icebucketchallenge has really captured the public imagination. Some are doing it for their own preferred charities, others are finding creative ways to make it their own with costumes, props and crazy scenarios and as long as nobody puts themselves in danger that’s all fine too. I’ve found it uplifting to check my Facebook account and see it filled with my friends doing crazy things for charity. And yes, it’s good that we’ve having fun while we do it, too.
So my advice is do the #icebucketchallenge mindfully, and if any aspect of it tweaks your conscience then find a way to alleviate that with appropriate action. If you’re worried that it encourages people to waste water, use what’s left over from washing up, collected in rain butts and so on, and invite your friends to find creative sources of used water (hygienically, one hopes!). Concerned that the charity concerned may be associated with animal testing? Choose a charity you’d prefer to support and give the friends you nominate the reasons why.
In a world where selfishness, prejudice and inequality cause so much conflict, the viral nature of the #icebucketchallenge has kindled a generous spark in many of us. As such, it has enormous power to be a uniting force for good – so let’s not dismiss and criticise it, but look for ways to make the good just that little bit better.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The trouble with WEEE

As one of the biggest metal recyclers announces that it plans to withdraw from WEEE recycling, the cracks are beginning to show in the legislation designed to promote recycling of ewaste. Fears have been raised that Sims departure from the market puts achievement of the UK's WEEE targets in jeopardy, but actually the problem goes deeper than that.

The real reason the government compliance schemes can't meet their targets is because there are much more commercially appealing options available. WEEE producer compliance schemes charge the producer a membership fee and a handling fee. Customers typically pay for collection of their WEEE. Yet in many market sectors - especially IT equipment - there are services available which actually return revenue to the organisation returning the unwanted kit. These services are fully compliant with waste legislation, and typically operate higher up the waste hierarchy than WEEE producer compliance schemes. But the WEEE they process doesn't contribute to the government compliance targets.

The WEEE producer compliance system is fundamentally flawed, for several reasons. Firstly, because it operates on the basis of volume targets so it is geared towards collecting the maximum amount of ewaste, not deriving the maximum value from the resources contained within it. Secondly, because it doesn't measure whole device re-use or parts re-use, both of which are preferable to recycling from the point of view of the waste hierarchy. And thirdly because it imposes a cost on the EEE producer which is based purely on market share and takes no account of how easy it is to recover value from the device. As a result, the most expedient process for recyclers is to bulk up ewaste and shred everything, resulting in low-grade recyclate that has little value as a manufacturing resource. Even if a device is working, or repairable, the collection process damages it beyond repair. and there is no incentive on WEEE producers to improve the design of their products to facilitate repairability or material recovery at end of first use.

Compare that with an ICT asset recovery company that inspects devices to determine what can be refurbished or cosmetically improved and resold for second use, what can have spare parts harvested for use in repairing other devices and what can be dismantled so that single metals or polymers can be recovered and returned in as-virgin quality for other manufacturing processes. A large proportion of ICT equipment has sufficient intrinsic value to fund the recovery processes, generate a profit margin for the asset recovery company and even return some value to the producer or the user. Many such programmes offer social value, by making donations to charity or funding education projects. This approach supports the resource stewardship agenda, returns value to the economy and creates jobs, but no account is taken of it in the government's WEEE targets.

Many suppliers of ICT equipment in the B2B sector now find themselves in the same position as my employer. We are compelled to pay into a compliance scheme which hardly any of our customers use because the alternatives are preferable from both an economic and an environmental point of view. Indeed, when we retired old IT we used a free asset recovery service with added social value in preference to the WEEE compliance scheme we offer our customers. The current WEEE legislation will miss its targets because it serves nobody but the compliance partners - and yet apparently they can't make it pay either. We need a better system, and quickly.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Doing the Moonwalk with the KYOCERA Walkabillies

On the night of Saturday 10th May, 9 KYOCERA Document Solutions UK staff and 3 of their friends and family members walked round London in their bras as part of the Moonwalk to raise awareness and funds to fight breast cancer. As it was our first time, we opted for the “half moon” – a power-walked half marathon distance of 13.1 miles. The Moonwalk is designed to be a personal fitness challenge as well as raising funds and awareness to fight breast cancer and we were keen to ensure that even those who take little exercise could get around the course in a reasonable time. Thursday became training day, with 10 mile walks along the banks of the River Thames after work for those based at our Reading HQ. Some members of the team have also been attending Zumba and body conditioning classes together, and we’ve all seen our fitness levels increase. As the big day – or night – approached, we were feeling confident we could set a pace of around 4 miles an hour and finish comfortably within our target time of 4 hours.

Our training schedule was interrupted by the KYOCERA partner conference which took place over the preceding three days. The early starts, late nights and tempting food and drink were perhaps not the ideal final preparation but at least the conference gave us the opportunity to let our channel partners know what we were doing and to boost our fundraising with their generous donations.
On the day, we were dismayed to see that the weather was not going to be kind to us – strong winds and heavy rain showers were forecast and as we were shivering as we queued to get in to “Moonwalk City”. Things were more comfortable in the huge pink tent that is erected on Clapham Common as Moonwalk HQ – we enjoyed a hot meal, shed the layers covering our decorated bras and applied eyeliner and red lipstick to complete the rockabilly look that was this year’s theme. The Moonwalk’s founder, Nina Barough, introduced videos about the support for cancer patients made possible by grants from organisers Walk the Walk and two bands entertained us with music from the 50s. Then after a warm up session, we were off.
The start is divided into groups to avoid overcrowding but unfortunately some of the participants either didn’t respect or didn’t understand the instructions. Our group – the third out of six – had to be held back as too many people had left in the first two waves and it was just past midnight when we finally passed the start line. The congestion meant that the first two miles took us over an hour, and being made to stand still while overcrowding eased meant that we got very cold. The route snaked backwards and forwards across the Thames and up on the bridges the wind was really biting, although it wasn’t so cold when we were sheltered by buildings and it hardly rained at all; as the miles passed we got up to our training pace and began to enjoy ourselves.

We certainly got to see a different side of London – we passed iconic landmarks like the Millennium Wheel, Houses of Parliament and the Shard and saw the lights from the bridges reflected in the Thames. We got plenty of support from the volunteers, who must have got much colder than us as they stood for several hours along the course to ensure our safety, and from passing vehicles. It must have been quite a sight to see 17,000 people – men as well as women – walking through London in decorated bras, and it certainly felt like we were part of something special. In the coldest hours just before dawn, that camaraderie was important in giving us the will to keep going, especially in the final mile which was uphill. We felt elated as the pink tent came back into view, and emotional as we passed the finish line just after 4.30 am and collected our medals.
We completed our challenge, but more than that – it feels like a lasting bond has been created between the team. The shared experience of training together, decorating our bras and then supporting each other through the night as we walked has definitely brought us closer. Everybody completed the course, and thanks to our thorough preparation we didn’t even suffer a single blister, although one team member has since been diagnosed with a stress fracture in her foot. We’ve already smashed our fundraising target of £1,300 – the total is already over £2,300 and we still have pledges to collect. And some of us are already talking about attempting the full moon next year …

A big, warm “thank you!” to everybody who supported us, from the KYOCERA Walkabillies: Audrey Pickering, Coralie Coppock, Lou Marris, Mandy Hinton, Michelle Dunn, Olivia Stokes, Sandra Rogers, Sarah White and Tracey Rawling Church from KYOCERA Document Solutions UK, plus Debbie Skinner, Gillian Beeson and Leona Quinn.

To support the KYOCERA Walkabillies you can pledge here : https://moonwalklondon2014.everydayhero.com/uk/kyocera-walkabillies