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25 November 2013

Business Ethics: Compliance vs Conscience

pencil figure checklistOn Saturday there was an interesting, provocative piece in the Telegraph by Charles Moore on the 'Crystal Methodist' Paul Flowers/Co-operative Bank scandal. He argued that the Bank's much lauded ethical stance is what got it in trouble - that by emphasising 'compliance' with ethical/corporate social responsibility systems, they took personal judgement, or 'conscience', out of the system, freeing individuals to act in an unethical way. He scales this up to claim "this obsession with Ethics is one of the great curses of our time."

Here's where I agree with Moore:

  • Some people do use ticking boxes as a shield to avoid taking personal responsibility.
  • That if the Co-operative were truly ethical, it would ensure that a qualified competent person was in charge of its customers' money (BTW: I am one of those customers & so is Terra Infirma Ltd).
  • Far too many organisations that have a CSR/ethical policy still screw up.

But on the fundamental point, that the bank was corrupted by an obsession with compliance with its ethical systems, I must disagree.

For a start, there is no evidence that the crash was due to Flower's political leanings or beliefs. Indeed, the first bank to go belly up in the 2007 credit crunch was Northern Rock, then chaired by Matt Ridley. Ridley is almost the antithesis of Flowers - right leaning, highly pro-market, a climate change sceptic and, we must presume in the absence of evidence to the contrary, clean living. The only thing the two of them have in common is that both were almost entirely unqualified and inexperienced to run a bank. It was incompetence that put both institutions in peril, not politics.

Then, imagine trying to run a large organisation in the absence of a compliance system and relying entirely on personal ethics and judgement? How could you ensure there was no slave or child labour in global supply chains without a system of audits? How would you ensure that your waste wasn't ending up in a lake somewhere without a duty of care process? How would you know that your recruitment process is not discriminatory without monitoring diversity? None of these things can be delivered simply by individuals in organisations acting spontaneously on their conscience - even if they all had spotless halos shining above their heads.

What Moore is guilty of is the classic newspaper columnist's false 'or', because you can have both compliance AND conscience. And of course you can have neither  as we see in so many organisations, and plenty of scandals there too.

I would go so far as to say the modern organisation needs both. You need policies so people know what is expected and the systems to make sure you are following through on your policies. But those systems should never insulate any of us from making the right ethical judgements. That's ethics.


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12 August 2013

CSR Hits the Headlines (as per usual...)

newspaperWhat do on-line bullying, zero-hours contracts, on-line porn filtering, the tax affairs of Starbucks, lads mags' covers, the tax affairs of Google, Page 3 of the Sun, the tax affairs of Apple, the phone hacking scandal, working conditions in Chinese factories, the tax affairs of Amazon, the living wage, the horse burger scandal, the Rana Plaza garment factory fire, the fall in wage levels, electricity prices, pay day loans, bankers' bonuses, the pay of charity Chief Executives, the tax affairs of Vodafone, the impacts of shale gas on local communities, the tax affairs of the water utilities and Oprah Winfrey's Swiss shopping complaint all have in common?

  1. They’ve all hit the headlines in recent months;
  2. They're all corporate social responsibility issues;
  3. They're all issues at the core of the business, not some peripheral issue that can be easy solved by a CSR manager.

Why then is CSR still seen as a fluffy like-to-have rather than a core business priority?


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29 April 2013

The Real Tragedy of Bangladesh


As I write, the official death toll from the collapsed Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh has hit 380, hundreds remain unaccounted for, and the eponymous Mr Rana has been nicked by the police trying to flee the country.

Who is responsible for this tragedy? Mr Rana and his fellow factory owners? The Bangladeshi authorities? The big brands who use such suppliers? Western consumers who think a £2 T-shirt doesn't come at a bigger price? Global capitalism?

That debate will run and run - and to me it's an impossible question to answer except "all of the above." The more pertinent question is "who's going to step up and fix it?"

Inevitably some journo/polemicist was going to play the contrarian card - step forward Alex Massie of the Spectator who has been declaring that while such sweatshops are awful, they're better than the alternative - hardscrabble subsistence farming. While that is indeed true, it's a false choice - a moral-cop out to justify the status quo. This is the real tragedy of the Bangladesh disaster - that so many people think such events are somehow inevitable.

There's a clear third option - decent working conditions for all.

The inevitability position is blown out of the water by the brands who have "fixed" such problems in their own supply chains. 15 years ago, Nike was a dirty word amongst the international social justice movement, but it has driven standards down through its supply chain (although some concerns remain). Marks & Spencer sponsored a low-carbon, high quality lingerie factory in Sri Lanka. Apple has been shining a torch into the darkest corners of its supply chain - and publicising what it found there.

These brands know that investing time, effort and money into their supply chains creates a win-win-win-win for the consumer, the brand, the supplier and the worker. So we can either do that and everyone's happy or we could all just shrug our shoulders and say "Que sera, sera" - and that would be a real tragedy.


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12 November 2012

C.S.R? How about T.A.X?

Today some top honchos from Starbucks are up in front of MPs to explain how they organise their tax affairs. The papers have been full of articles recently about the minuscule amounts of tax some of these big companies pay - some of them pay no corporation tax whatsoever. Everybody from Vodafone and Amazon to U2 and Jimmy Carr have been accused of going way beyond what the man or woman in the street would think was fair.

I'm a businessman. I love business and I'm not averse to earning a profit, far from it. And I employ an accountant to make sure that I pay all the tax I should and not a penny more. So what's the difference between me and, say, Starbucks?

Well, I'm playing by the rules and the spirit of the rules - my accountant takes my income, deducts legitimate/bog standard allowances and I pay tax on the rest. These corporations have made an art-form of shifting cash between parts of their businesses around the world simply to minimise that bill.

Of course Governments should legislate - by insisting on a minimum tax on turnover, banning corporate entities which have no trade other than tax 'efficiency' and/or placing punitive taxes on those that do. There's an element of tragedy of the commons here - any one country that 'gets tough' on tax avoidance may lose out if others stand back - so an international agreement may be required, which in turn would take years of negotiation on past performance.

But what about the businesses themselves? Many of these companies claim to take Corporate Social Responsibility seriously. Well, paying tax is a moral and social issue - think of all those countries around the world which are struggling with huge deficits and who could ease their painful austerity programmes if companies operating on their turf paid fair taxes?

Is any captain of industry going to show moral leadership here? Maybe propose a code of conduct for others to sign up to? Anyone?


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23 April 2012

Taxi for Addison Lee!

Do the words "Gerald Ratner" not mean anything to boss of London taxi boss John Griffin? Jeweller Ratner famously described his own products as "crap", implying that consumers were fools to buy them and make him rich. Griffin recently made a sub-Clarksonesque joke about it not really mattering if motorists wiped out a few grannies on bicycles. And guess what, surprise, surprise, the cycling lobbing and a whole bunch of other people took offence. #boycottaddisonlee trended on Twitter, Addison Lee's iphone App suddenly won over 250 negative reviews, high profile individuals have publicly announced they're cancelling their accounts, and of course it's all over the media.

What gets me about Griffin's blunder is not just the ham-fisted offensiveness of what he said, but his lack of awareness of where his company is in the low carbon economy. Taxis are an important part of a flexible public transport system and Griffin is currently locked in an argument over access to cycle and bus lanes which the traditional London black cabs are allowed to use, but from which private taxis are barred. This is a legitimate argument - other cities allow private taxis and vans into "no car lanes" - but London has a tradition of favouring black cabs and their drivers' famous "knowledge". Instead of making common ground with other public and low carbon transport users, Griffin simply instructed his drivers to use the lanes illegally, making headlines and causing much embarrassment to the Prime Minister - Griffin is a major Conservative party donor. Talk about making friends and influencing people.

We live in an age of brands and it is interesting to see how brand reputations have risen and fallen over the years. Some which were regarded as evil a few years ago like Nike and Microsoft have largely recovered on the back of the former's supply chain improvements and Bill Gates's philanthropy. Google and Apple were once 'saints' but have been tainted by censorship in China and working conditions in the supply chain respectively and have since tried to claw back some credibility. Ratner's as a business never recovered from the boss's wee joke and we'll only see in time how badly the Addison Lee brand is damaged by Griffin's Neanderthal attitude. But the lesson we can take from these examples is how vital CSR is to the brand. Chief Executives are the ultimate guardian of the brand and to do their job properly they need to respect their customers, their suppliers and wider society - and keep the off-colour jokes for the pub.

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29 February 2012

Anger, Activism, and Corporate Social Responsibility

As the Occupy tents get carted away from St Pauls Cathedral, my mind went back to the discussion we had at Tipping Point Newcastle last week about the role of pressure groups in the corporate sustainability movement. Although my politics are rather mainstream compared to the archetypal dreadlocked, anti-capitalist Occupier, I always respected them for holding attention on the swamp turbo-capitalism had got itself into, and expressing anger at what happened: the greed/idiocy of the financial sector in allowing a debt bubble to grow and burst, the failure of those in power to prevent it and where the burden of digging ourselves out of the resulting hole has fallen. But can activism make a difference? Is anger enough?

I’ve never been a natural activist in the Occupy sense. Having had my Damascene conversion to a green life mission after witnessing acid rain damage in the Russian Arctic, I checked out the local Friends of the Earth group when I got back to the UK as I thought that might be a good place to start. The activists at the meeting I went to agreed to go to the station and give train users sweets to thank them on behalf of the planet. I couldn’t think of anything more patronising and pointless so I went and planted several hundred trees with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers instead. Ross Perot famously said “The activist is not the person who says the stream is polluted, the activist is the one who cleans up the stream.” That has been my attitude ever since.

So where is the role of pressure groups in Corporate Social Responsibility? Well, Greenpeace’s rating of electronic manufacturers, and targeting of Apple as a laggard using a brilliant spoof website in 2006, was a genius piece of campaigning that reaped rewards – creating competition between businesses and penalising those in last place. Forum for the Future did the same for whole cities with their sustainable cities index, now sadly defunct. Campaigns against rainforest destruction, acid rain and, more recently, fracking have been very effective at making decision makers and, often, corporates stop and think.

But activists can undermine their self-appointed position by cherry-picking or twisting scientific evidence, being against everything and/or failing to understand the hopes and fears of ordinary people.  Dogmatism has undoubted held up progress in many areas - the nature of many environmental problems mean a less than ideal solution now can be much more effective than holding out for an ideal solution in a decade (or never as the case may be). At the risk of writing the shortest possible tautology: pragmatism works.

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16 February 2012

The Impact of "Deniergate" on Corporate Reputations

If you haven't heard the news, a leak from the US libertarian think tank the Heartland Institute has spelt out both a number of corporate funders and, allegedly, its tactics to undermine public trust in mainstream climate change science. The documents, if genuine*, haven't really revealed much that many of us haven't guessed was going on, but it is instructive to see written down such humdingers as:

"This influential audience [the readership of Forbes magazine] has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out."

"providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain - two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science." 

[my emphases]

This is what I said in my book The Green Executive about the need to dissociate from such groups:

Deliberate disassociation 

The flip side of joining positive organizations is true – if you want to appear environmentally enlightened, you need to distance yourself from bad company. Ever since Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, catalogued the effect of pesticides and herbicides on eco-systems, there has been a coordinated attack on the green movement by certain sections of industry. Whether the issue is persistent organic pollutants, the health effects of passive smoking or, more recently, climate change, there have always been elements who would prefer to invest in dubious tactics to maintain the status quo rather than change their ways.

For example, the industry-backed and disingenuously named Global Climate Coalition spent 13 years feeding exaggerated accounts of the uncertainties in climate change science to the press, despite their own scientific advisors protesting to the contrary. The Coalition eventually withered and died in 2002 as members such as Shell, BP and GM decided to disassociate themselves.

Associating with any such organizations will backfire on green efforts. The hyenas mentioned in Chapter 4 are particularly hard on any organization perceived to have be saying one thing while doing another.

Having a zero tolerance to industrial resistance to sustainability can be used to demonstrate commitment. In 2009 a number of high profile companies including Nike and Apple left the US Chamber of Commerce in protest at the Chamber’s stance on President Obama’s climate change bill. By doing so they sent out a message to their customers, their peers and the government that they were taking the green agenda seriously.

Realistically, though, I'm not sure this issue will make the headlines the way the 'climategate' e-mails from climate scientists did - after all, we expect lobby groups to lobby for their own interests, and the Institute doesn't receive public funds, so there isn't much of a 'scandal'. The story certainly hasn't made the printed media here in the UK, just on-line articles and the Twittersphere.

So what about the reputations of those - including some companies featured in my book - who have donated to the Institute albeit not to the climate programme? I believe that the damage will be limited this time around, compared, say, to more newspaper-friendly stories like working conditions in Apple's supply chain. But these kinds of revelations can accumulate into a bigger story if left to fester. I stick by the advice I gave in The Green Executive - anyone who wants to protect their CSR reputation should steer well clear of such organisations.

* The Heartland Institute claims one document on climate change is fake, although it appears to replicate the content of the other documents which the Institute admits are genuine.

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1 February 2012

Adam Smith's Invisible Brain

I was watching BBC's Daily Politics on Monday to catch the latest on the RBS bonus affair that I had just blogged on, and, lo, there was an item on responsible capitalism. They focussed on B&Q, an excellent example of responsible business, but fell into the old trap of thinking the scope of corporate social responsibility begins and ends with supporting the local community. But then, in the interests of balance, up popped a chap from the Adam Smith Institute to declare that CSR was "a tax on the consumer."

Deep breath.

Count to ten.

This is the economics of Milton Friedman - that the only responsibility of an business is to maximise profits for shareholders. Well, we're still living with the consequences of that sort of thinking - the sub prime bubble, Ponzi-style financial "products", bank crashes, debt crises, the age of austerity etc, etc. Throughout history, unrestrained markets - in this case financial markets - have bubbled and burst with painful consequences - not least to the shareholders that Friedman claims should be put first, second and last. Left to itself, Adam Smith's famous invisible hand sometimes punches us in the face.

Let's face facts. Business operates in society, society exists in the environment. To state the bleedin' obvious, businesses - and therefore the supply side of the economy - are made up of people. The demand side of the economy is made up of people. Business is a social issue, people delivering value to people in return for financial reward. You can't get away from that.

And even from a narrowly financial point of view, CSR is good business. Marks & Spencer has made a tidy profit on Plan A, doing the "heavy lifting" on environmental and social issues on behalf of their customers who clearly see that as added value rather than an added cost. B&Q is the fourth largest home improvement chain in the world, so their environmental and social projects have hardly held them back. Procter & Gamble is the highest ranked consumer goods company on the Forbes Global 2000 list, yet they give away their water purification product for free to people in developing countries.

As a consumer I buy from all three because of that added value. And would you rather have shares in a responsible, successful business like these as opposed to worthless shares in an irresponsibly crashed bank?

The title of this post is tongue-in-cheek, by the way. I'm not saying the guys at the Adam Smith Institute are stupid, in fact they are possibly a little too clever to fully understand the real world around them. A little less IQ and a little more EQ (emotional intelligence) might set them in better stead.

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30 January 2012

Stephen Hester, The Bonus and CSR

The Stephen Hester Bonus saga reads like a really good episode of The West Wing - or indeed my current favourite political drama, Borgen.

The President/Prime Minister inherits a 83% public stake in one of the banks that collapsed through greed and stupidity in the economic crisis. With it comes a newish Chief Exec, Stephen Hester, a board of directors and multi-million pound salaries and bonuses. Each year these make the headlines to much grumbling but no outrage until this year when the public, now feeling a tight squeeze on their own incomes from the Prime Minister's austerity programme, start to get angry and the Opposition starts to land a few telling blows. Sensing a threat, the bank's board of directors threaten to resign if they are over-ruled - arguing that Hester has been doing a good job and should be paid what was agreed.

The Prime Minister has a big dilemma - stick to the contract and take a big political hit, or sacrifice the contract (if he can) to send out the message that everyone is in it together, risking disruption at the bank which could cost the taxpayer more than the bonus. As he mulls on these options, Mr Hester finally decides that it is not worth £1m (he has plenty of those) to become the most hated man in the country and says he will voluntarily give up the shares. The PM sighs a big sigh of relief. Credits roll.

There was another story in the press last week which made fewer ripples, but was just as interesting from an ethics point of view. David Harnett, boss of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, accused people who pay domestic cleaners and builders cash in hand of encouraging tax evasion. That's the very same David Harnett who made 'sweetheart deals' with big corporations allowing them to pay less tax than they should - at a cost to the Treasury of some £20bn. So it is OK for big business to dodge tax - as long as the cleaner on minimum wage doesn't.

I could make lots of political points here, but the issue that is most relevant for this blog is the difference between the individual and the organisation when it comes to responsibility. We talk about corporate social responsibility, but what we are really talking about is interaction between the individual ethics of a group of people. One of the craftiest ways to hide an unethical decision is to make it by committee - and remuneration committees have been blamed for the wage inflation which has UK directors' pay rising much faster than stockmarket results would suggest they should. Likewise HMRC is clearly tougher on individuals than they are on organisations - cleaners don't get sweetheart deals - but why let the big guys off?

At the end of the day, organisations are made of people and those people must take responsibility for their own decisions - as Stephen Hester has belatedly realised. Maybe the term Corporate Social Responsibility is a little misleading as corporations cannot have ethics - instead we need more Executive Social Responsibility.

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15 November 2011

Green Academy: CSR and Stakeholder Webinars

We will be holding two Green Academy on-line sessions on 7 December 2011. Each session lasts for one hour. You need access to a computer with sound or a computer and a telephone. You will receive a workbook to apply the learning to your organisation prior to the start of the session.

This month's sessions are:

11am GMT: Introductory level: Stakeholder Engagement


  • Why engage stakeholders;
  • Effective stakeholder engagement;
  • Motivating your staff;
  • Communicating your successes.

Cost: £45+VAT. To register for the introductory level session click here (Paypal)


2pm GMT: Advanced level: Corporate Social Responsibility - The Ethical Angle


  • The case for responsible business;
  • Business and ethics - the big issues;
  • Fostering trust;
  • Corporate Civic Responsibility;
  • Classic moral dilemmas in business.

Cost: £45 + VAT. To register for the advanced level session click here (Paypal)


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5 October 2011

Trust - the magic ingredient

Do people trust you?

Do they believe you will do what you say you will do?

Do they believe you are telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Well if you are serious about green business or corporate social responsibility, then trust is the magic ingredient. To facilitate change inside the organisation as a Green Executive, you must be trusted as an individual. To reap the rewards of green business in your marketplace and indeed the jobs market, your organisation must be trusted.

Marks & Spencer is a trusted brand. Its Plan A sustainability programme was developed to protect that trust in the 21st Century.

Apple is trusted to create great products, but it is not trusted on green issues or supply chain working conditions.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis lists Bennis lists five Cs for trust:

  • Competence: the technical and managerial competence to engage properly and deliver on promises;
  • Constancy: that you can be relied upon to do what you says you will do, even when the going gets tough;
  • Caring: stakeholders have to feel that their welfare is of genuine concern;
  • Candour: openness, transparency and honesty;
  • Congruity (or authenticity).

How many do you score on? How many would your boss get? The organisation?

If you've got it, cherish, nourish and protect it - it is priceless.

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28 September 2011

Pay: The Final Frontier of CSR?

I'm reading last year's ethical must-read, The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. The central thesis of the book, if you're even further behind the curve than I am, is that virtually every social ill (poor health, imprisonment, low life expectancy etc, but weirdly not suicide) is worse in unequal societies like the USA and UK than in equal societies like Japan or Sweden. The book caused a minor political fuss as free-marketeers denounced it as a left wing tract, however the authors point out that equal societies can be either big-state like Sweden or small-state like Japan, so the left/right distinction is irrelevant. Whatever the authors' politics, it is hard to argue with the numbers - and it is a book full of data.

So what has this got to do with business? Well, as Business Secretary Vince Cable pointed out recently, in 1998 the average FTSE 100 Chief Executive's pay was 45 times the UK average salary, but in 2010 that factor had risen to 120. So certainly in the UK, the corporate pay structure is increasing inequality and thus, if you accept The Spirit Level's thesis, contributing to a whole raft of social problems.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to debate what our political leaders could and/or should do to address this issue, but given CSR stands for corporate social responsibility, business leaders cannot idly waive responsibility either. Unfortunately, best practice on executive pay seems to start and end with transparency.

Many third-sector organisations set a maximum ratio between best and worst paid in the organisation - should the for-profit sector follow suit? Wouldn't that set a "responsible" business out from the crowd?

Any volunteers?

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12 September 2011

Greening the bean counters

I usually start off my seminars by asking delegates why their company should go green (try it - much more effective than you telling them why they should go green). The first answer is almost always "Save money" and, after compiling a list of other reasons, this is identified as the most important.

I always challenge that answer. The delegates have explained how customer pressure is a factor, yet they then discount this in favour of short term cost cutting - maybe it's the current economic climate to blame. I usually point out that, without customers, the bottom line is an irrelevance.

There is always more scope for increasing sales than cutting costs. This is an essential truth to get across to anyone doing investment appraisals of green projects - they need to factor the scope for raising the top line into their calculations, rather than just a simple return on investment (ROI) assessment.

Interestingly those who seek to raise the top line will cut costs into the bargain - Marks & Spencer's Plan A programme was never intended to save money - but it has. But if you take a penny pinching attitude and expect a direct ROI on projects, you will never back the ambitious ideas that will set you apart from the pack in the market - missing out on the big rewards of green business.

So, don't forget to get the bean counters greened up and aware of their importance in the Sustainability performance of the organisation.


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7 September 2011

The problem with CSR standards

The mining giant Glencore has just released a corporate responsibility report as it promised when it listed on the London Stock Exchange earlier this year. I'm not going to comment on the company's performance as this has been done at length by many others, but I noticed this telling passage in the Guardian:

The company said it also collected statistics on "permanent damage injuries", and had other figures for health and safety, but that it only publicly disclosed what was required by the Global Reporting Initiative [GRI] standards.

This last statement bothers me. It used to be that industries did just enough on corporate responsibility issues to stay within the law - compliance, no more, no less. Then everyone started talking about the benefits of going "beyond compliance" and from that a number of standards emerged to guide companies, including the GRI mentioned above. But instead of embracing the spirit of transparency that the GRI is intended to spread, Glencore have simply treated the GRI like a regulation of old - compliance, no more, no less.

While having standards is both useful and important, to really benefit from CSR the "beyond compliance" ethos must continue - each standard must be seen as a minimum baseline, not a rigid framework.

In this particular case, greater transparency will drive better performance, and will avoid the kind of negative publicity Glencore have generated by sitting on these stats. If you have a skeleton in your cupboard, kick it out!


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23 August 2011

Green Executive Review Round-up

When you read this I'll be off on holiday for two weeks visiting family in Belfast. So we'll be on holiday blogging routine - about twice a week rather than thrice - and the topics may reflect the holiday spirit.

First up, there have been quite a few reviews of The Green Executive since its publication, so I thought I'd do a quick round up.

Elaine Cohen on said:

"The Green Executive is an essential book for those who want a leadership view of how to make a business sustainable, from how to address the risks to how to exploit the opportunities. The book is nicely populated with models, frameworks and ways to advance, and is pitched exactly right to make it interesting without getting bogged down in academic texts. Using tools that include Gareth Kane's Sustainability Maturity Model or his summary of new and emerging green markets, green executives may just become a mainstream feature of business."

Jessica Shankleman on BusinessGreen said:

" his lively new book The Green Executive, a well written manual designed to help business leaders improve the environmental impact of their company."

Nick Smith in Engineering & Technology said:

"But it doesn't have to be this way, argues Kane in his well-informed and public-spirited new book. Why not, instead of tinkering around the edges of sustainability, go the whole hog and make it a pillar of your corporate DNA? There are, as he explains, sound commercial reasons for following this track."

Florian Kaefer on the Sustainable Futures Blog:

"only a few books really stand out from the crowd... One of those outstanding books comes from Gareth Kane... Sustainability leadership – what CEOs and business leaders need to know in terms of sustainability, is aptly summarized in Gareth’s new book The Green Executive."

And a couple of readers on have left comments (none yet on

"I would strongly recommend this book to any organisation"

"This book is a must read for businesses everywhere."

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19 August 2011

The Media and CSR: Actions and Words

After years of sitting on the fence, the UK's Daily Mail has lurched towards the views of the climate denialists, particularly when it comes to green taxation. According to Nicholas Schoon of the ENDS Report this followed a lunch between the editor Paul Dacre and Nigel 'just saying' Lawson.

But, as Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute pointed out in a tweet this week, the website of DMGT, owner of the Daily Mail, gives a quite different impression:

At DMGT, we know that to be successful in today's world, we need to respond appropriately to global challenges such as climate change, environmental damage and social and ethical issues. To us corporate responsibility (CR) and sustainability require that we manage our businesses and brands responsibly for the long-term success of our Group and the communities we serve.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation owns the spiritual home of climate change denial, Fox News, and the almost-as-hardline The Australian, but the old tycoon is on record as saying:

Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can't afford the risk of inaction.

We can set an example, and we can reach our audiences. Our audience's carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours. That's the carbon footprint we want to conquer.

Becoming carbon neutral is only the beginning. The climate problem will not be solved by one company reducing its emissions to zero, and it won't be solved by one government acting alone. The climate problem will not be solved without mass participation by the general public in countries around the globe.

Uh? If cognitive dissonance could kill, I would drop stone dead.

I uncovered a similar dichotomy when I challenged an executive from our local press. She had been boasting about the group's admirable "Go Green" campaign so I asked her how she squared that with their papers' anti-wind turbine and anti-airline tax stances. She didn't seem to understand that CSR could extend to the choice of words of reporters, sub-editors and columnists to the issues concerned, and just flannelled.

It's a big question - can media organisations claim to be responsible if they are taking an "irresponsible" editorial line?

To twist the old maxim, is it a case of "do as I do, not as I say"?

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17 August 2011

CSR is the Law!

I still hear people trot out the old line that the sole responsibility of a business is to act in the best interests of its shareholders - by which they usually mean maximising short term profits at the expense of all else. Here in the UK, at least, this isn't exactly true. In the 2006 Companies Act, directors' duties are defined as:

S172 Duty to promote the success of the company

(1) A director of a company must act in the way he considers, in good faith, would be most likely to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members [ie shareholders] as a whole, and in doing so have regard (amongst other matters) to—
(a) the likely consequences of any decision in the long term,
(b) the interests of the company’s employees,
(c) the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others,
(d) the impact of the company’s operations on the community and the environment,
(e) the desirability of the company maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct, and
(f) the need to act fairly as between members of the company.

[Emphases are mine]

In other words company directors are obliged by law to consider long term issues, employees' welfare, communities, the environment and the company's own reputation when making decisions.

So CSR isn't just a like to have, it's the law.

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18 July 2011


I was delighted at the weekend to be sent this amazing picture by Melvin Redeker of him reading The Green Executive while on a kayaking trip around the North Sea island of Noss. Melvin is a business speaker and photographer who has mission to reconnect business with the natural world - you should check out his website here for the wonderful pictures if nothing else.

Well this got me thinking, what makes someone pick up a business book like The Green Executive after a hard day's paddling in the open sea? Well the simple answer is that I packed the book full of stories.

When I started the book I didn't want to regurgitate the same old case studies over again, so I interviewed 18 senior managers/directors charged with transforming their business. These interviews took on a life of their own, so I included a transcript at the end of each chapter as a short intermission called "The View from the Front Line". I found the stories were inspirational - somehow we managed to duck their PR machines' blue pencil of death and got some really personal insights and anecdotes. Virtually all the feedback on the book - reviews and on Amazon - has lauded the interviews.

None of this is surprising - humankind has always revered the story. Very few of us would willingly wade through a book of stats, equations and mathematical proofs, but whole industries depend on stories, from the Take A Break style magazine through to blockbuster movies.

So how can you use storytelling in your green communications? In exactly the same way I used it in the book - sprinkle anecdotes and personal stories through your reports, websites and other publications. One of the interviewees from the book, Julie Parr of lawyers Muckle LLP, used a story of how one partner was taking waste paper away to use as horse bedding in their in house magazine. OK, it's not the most exciting thing they are doing if you are a sustainability geek like me, but for the rest of the world (the people we need to communicate with) it the story is far more engaging than a bar chart or a picture of hands cupping a sapling.

So go on, what's your story?

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6 July 2011

News of the Screws and CSR

It's hard not to feel a bit of schadenfreude over the plight of the News of the World ex-editor now News International bigwig Rebekah Brooks after the latest round of allegations regarding phone hacking. When the story was about invading the privacy of the rich and famous, only a few people cared. Now it seems it was routine to hack into the phones of the victims of terrible crimes and their families - the very people the sanctimonious NOTW claimed to stand up for - and the public have rightly been outraged.

While I usually restrict my posts here to the environmental rather than the ethical elements of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), there are many elements of the story you can read across:

1. Hypocrisy kills trust. NOTW's invasion of privacy of those they claimed to represent is the killer story here. Likewise when BP claimed to be going "Beyond Petroleum" then didn't, they were held up to ridicule.

2. The buck stops at the top. Brooks' claim that it was "inconceivable" that she knew that this was going on holds little water. If she didn't know, she should have - implicated or incompetent? Tony Hayward of BP showed a similar lack of personal accountability during last year's oil spill and became a international figure of ridicule  - "I want my life back!" before he was shown the door.

3. Brand protection is everything. While the NOTW can no doubt take a short term hit in terms of sales, the real damage will come from advertisers taking their trade elsewhere. Ford have announced they will do so and a number of others are considering their position, urged on by a social media campaign. NOTW is contaminated - the others don't want cross contamination of their brand. This is similar to how a huge number of top brands have blacklisted Asia Pulp & Paper over rainforest destruction.

4. These things don't go away - the phone hacking occurred 6-9 years ago. Likewise the Indian courts are still pursuing those responsible for the 1984 Bhopal disaster, jailing several people last year. "Getting away with it" is a long term job.

My advice to News International? Eat humble pie and Brooks at least should fall on her sword. That might give them a chance to claw back some trust.

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20 June 2011

Doing the right thing: for the planet or for your business?

During the Business of Sustainability sessions last week I was asked about the green executives I had interviewed for my book, The Green Executive - were they doing what they were doing because they felt it was the morally correct thing to do, or was it because it was just good business sense?

The answer of course is "both" - they were passionate about their values AND it was good for the business.

But the reality is a bit more subtle than that. The executives were almost all highly passionate about doing the right thing, but they were astute enough to realise that if what they proposed wasn't good for the business then it wouldn't be sustainable in the small 's' meaning of the word. A dose of healthy business pragmatism was required.

In other words there is a "sustainability sweet spot" where personal passion for the planet and business acumen overlap - see my Venn diagram below.

If you are passionate about the planet, but ignore the business case, then either you will be ignored yourself or ultimately you will damage your business (or organisation). On the other hand, if you are only coming to sustainability from a purely business point of view you will probably lack the vision and perseverance to deliver real change. If you hit the sweet spot then you are a true Green Executive - and this is what sets the guys I interviewed for the book apart from the also-rans.

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