March 27, 2011 Leave a comment
March 23, 2011 Leave a comment
Earlier Today, I attented the presentation of the book ”Sustainable Innovation Strategies – Exploring the cases of Danone and Interface” by Marc Vilanova, a Lecturer and Researcher at the Institute for Social Innovation at ESADE Business School, that organized the event, and Pax Dettoni, an independent consultant for social and human development projects.
The event was broadcasted live on the Social Innovation Institute website and on Twitter.
Here’s a summary of the key points of this interesting event, supported by some of the tweets that were shared on the Internet and my personal comments.
- The introduction speech was delivered by Antonio Fuertes, the Corporate Responsibility & Reputation Director at Gas Natural Fenosa, sponsor of the project and event. One of the reasons companies like Danone and Interface are successful, he said, is that sustainability and innovation are part of their DNA, that’s been achieved through teamwork, by “touching the heart of their people”, by accepting that sometimes you have to loose in the short term, in order to find solutions to complex problems.
Antonio Fuertes made also a very interesting point about innovation: what matters is not “what” to do but “how” to do it.
- Miriam Turner, Innovations Director for InterfaceFLOR EMEA, explained how sustainability is part of the company’s core business, present in any innovation, in order to achieve its “Mission Zero” by 2020. This ambitious plan, in an industry that was among the main negative contributors to the environment few decades ago, is based on product innovation, a culture of “successful failure”, biomimicry, and a strategy of “Open Innovation”.
This is particularly remarkable, because if the outcome of innovation is often at the center of companies’ communication efforts & marketing strategy, the process that leads to innovation is usually a company’s best kept secret. By “sharing the innovations so they can reach their potential”, InterfaceFLOR is creating a successful ecosystem based on mutual trust with its partners.
Employees are at the heart of the strategy, as their employer is actively helping the internal entrepreneurs “to get out of the closet” and become Ambassadors, a program that supports the 2020 mission goals.
- Franck Aimé, VP HR at Danone, shared the success story of a company that is a pioneer in Corporate Social Responsibility since its funder Antoine Riboud said at the beginning of the 1970´s that the responsibility of a company didn’t stop at the gate of the factory. Since then, the #1 world leader in dairy product has developed a 5 pillars strategy to support Health, People – its employees, Local Communities -particularly those who can’t afford the products, Nature & Life – the children.
A project that the company can be particularly proud of is their collaboration with Muhammad Yunus, the “father of microfinance”, in Bangladesh, creating a network of small production units, providing employment to women and ensuring that children can access to dairy products. This project was challenging for the company as it had to think “out of the box” to address challenges such as the size of the factory (typically a Danone factory produces 500 000 tons a day, there it was only 500), the milk (difficulties to get fresh milk) or the distribution model. In any case Franck Aimé insisted that this was not charity and that there was a business goal, even if the profitability was limited.
It’s interesting to note that the current economic downturn has not diminished the sustainability efforts of both companies, as they are convinced that sustainable innovation is an essential part of their business model.
- Marc Vilanova closed the event with the presentation of the key findings of the book, that you’ll be able to access soon in a pdf version on the Institute website. Enjoy!
A successful sustainable innovative strategy requires:
Inspiring leaders that know how to engage employees and senior executive, and develop an organization that is both competitive and sustainable.
Leaders who are non-conformists, such as Ray Anderson, the founder of InterfaceFLor, and who are able to create a sustainable culture within their company, with sustainability being part of the business strategy, not just a nice accessory.
Sustainable products and services, with a long term product strategy.
An “innovative innovation” process.
An organization that allows “successful failures”.
More importantly: a genuine organization. Honesty and Transparency.
A sustainable innovation strategy is no longer a “nice to have”, it’s a must have.
March 19, 2011 1 Comment
Don’t we ever learn? Aren’t B-Schools able to see their responsibility in the trouble we got in the last years? And take the necessary steps to correct their past mistakes, going back to the original premises of their curriculum?
MBAs were originally designed at the end of the 19th century as a “professionalization” instrument to prepare managers of large corporations to lead those for the public’s good, not for short-term gains. Unfortunately, the dominance of economics by the neoclassical school in the 1980′s imposed the idea that managers are free agents who should continually seek their highest incomes with no loyalty to their employers and no social responsibility.
Ignoring or laughing at the teaching of ethics and values-based leadership is the type of thinking that got us into so much trouble today. Will we ever learn?
March 17, 2011 2 Comments
“Every soldier should be a warrior first”…
“The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”…
Before the first peacekeeping mission was launched in 1948, a soldier was often regarded as nothing more than a warrior. With 98,582 uniformed peacekeepers deployed in the world at the end 2010 (United Nations), the military role has shifted from warrior to peacekeeper, and soldiers have been given new tasks involving assisting local populations, training police, restoring governments, supporting rescue efforts or reconstruction.
The “Warrior Ethos” still has supporters though. General Peter Schoomaker, the US army chief of staff, expressed alarm in 2003 that soldiers in Iraq “considered themselves to be support troops — cooks, mechanics and supply staff — rather than fighters”. He’s wrong.
As for the second quote – do I really need to mention the author? – although it’s the title of an article that was initially published in The New York Times Magazine on September 13, 1970, this theory still has some strong supporters too. They’re wrong. The same way the military role has evolved to meet the needs of the last century, the role of business has changed too.
In the aftermath of the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Akhila Vijayaraghavan, a Justmeans staff writer for CSR and ethical consumption wrote an amazing article: “Beyond Business, CSR: Help Pouring in for Japan From Companies.”
UPS, Bayer, Abbott Laboratory, Walt Disney, Microsoft, VISA… the big names, the multinational corporations, the very ones that should be applying without mercy “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” mantra, “are opening out their hearts and their wallets” wrote Akhila.
“Even small businesses are pitching in” she added, writing that “The Extreme Pita restaurant in Riverside (sister city to Sendai) is donating a portion of sales. The Takami Sushi Restaurant in downtown LA is donating 100% of all restaurant profits. In Phoenix, Stingray Sushi has created a Recovery Sushi Roll for $12, all of which will be donated to the American Red Cross.”
Akhila Vijayaraghavan´s article reminds me how wrong my 2 opening quotes are.
Support the Red Cross.
March 12, 2011 Leave a comment
Here’s an interesting conversation about brands, sustainability and consumers behaviours in this 14 min video provided by Environment Leader.
As their concerns about the environment are growing, consumers require more information about the products they purchase. Relying on buying habits is not a strategy. Companies that proactively provide information about their products, through advertising, detailed labels, sustainability goals and reporting etc. will do better in the long run that others. Transparency is the right way to go.
Brand itself is an essential piece of information. If customers don’t get the information they need to make responsible buying decisions, about, for example, the carbon footprint of products all along the supply chain, they will use the company’s reputation as a purchasing criteria. Companies that perform well in sustainability will have a competitive advantage.
Most of SMBs however can’t rely on the power of their brand or reputation, but still, they should aim to create success by ensuring long-term sustainability and communicate about it. That’s one of the reasons why I believe that SMBs should be encouraged to produce sustainability reports and learn how to strategically engage their stakeholders and particularly their customers. They need support for that.
Instead of dedicating more resources to control and validate the larger corporations sustainability reports, as established in the recent law for a sustainable economy, the Government in Spain – and the EU for that matter – should rather support financially small and medium businesses sustainability planning and sustainability reporting initiatives.
March 11, 2011 Leave a comment
The BBC reported on Thursday a massive misleading sales in the UK. Nearly 15,000 people who registered with Groupola , a group buying website, to purchase an iPhone 4, “were not told that only eight phones were on sale at the discount price of £99″.
Most people were left disappointed, but the business consequently had thousands more people’s details available to it when sending out daily e-mail alerts. The good news is that the company, run by Marcko Media, has been censured by the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT), and consequently had to apologise and said those responsible no longer worked there. The same investigation also revealed that an employee of the group, pretending to be a consumer, had posted on social media positive feedback and comments about the “bargain”.
Markco Media, created in 2006, is a startup company, that apparently doesn’t have the skills, the experience, the idea or more likely the strategic objective to develop responsible business practices. I’ve met many similar companies, especially startup companies. To be fair with them, the problem was not necessarily that they didn’t want to engage in responsible business practices but they simply didn’t know “how to” or failed to see the importance or ROI to do so. Most of them didn’t consider Corporate Social Responsibility a strategic priority, seeing it as a domain reserved to large companies only, that seem to be more under public scrutiny anyway. The recent CSR law in Spain, that makes CSR reporting “mandatory” for companies with more than 1000 employees, sends unfortunately the wrong message. In my opinion, CSR is not just for large corporations. Developing responsible business practices and taking in consideration stakeholder concerns and interests in the overall strategy is essential to any business.
So, what do you think? When it comes about CSR, does size matter?
February 18, 2011 3 Comments
I had a great week. As the sun is back in Barcelona today, and the week-end is so close, there are plenty of explanations behind my good mood. One of those explanations is definitely my lunch with Guy Bigwood, MCI Sustainability Director on Tuesday. Although my favourite soccer team has had a tough time on Wednesday, I had a fantastic evening with my friends on Thursday. Then, this morning, I read two very interesting articles that I’d like to share with you:
“That’s the question experts sought to answer at The Economist’s Intelligent Infrastructure conference held at Pace University, where principals of major architecture firms gathered to define green building and how it relates to their own urban designs.”
In the article, some of the architects share their vision of how we can build a more sustainable planet through green architecture. Among many great contributions, I particularly liked Llewelyn Davies Yeang chairman Ken Yeang’s idea that true green building is “a seamless integration of four eco-infrastructures”:
I like this approach. It also reminds me how important it is to choose, not only the colours, but more importantly, the words carefully. Specially when talking about sustainability.
This aspect is particularly clear in the other article that I wanted to share:
Written by Sally Uren, a “Deputy person @forum4thefuture. On a mission to create a sustainable future” as mentioned on her Twitter account, this brilliant article gives very smart pieces of advice to sustainability practitioners. Among them, Sally mentions the importance of “Using the right language.” She writes:
“Tailor your language to make the case as compelling as possible – use the language of business. So it’s ecosystem asset, not rainforest; it’s supply chain security, not running low on resources, for example.”
I couldn’t agree more. Using the language of business and, even more importantly, adapting your vocabulary and style to the personality of your interlocutor is fundamental, specially when presenting sustainability to political and rational decision-makers, as described by Sally in her post. Those two types of personality styles are more likely to be found in a Board room than the emotional one. The ideal situation would be to have a good balance of those three styles in a Board room, individually or as a team. That’s why diversity is so important as discussed in a previous post.
Well, in case you have to present some day a sustainability project in a Board room full of “emotional decision-makers” I can recommend the following video sent by my friend Gaelle, a brilliant manager at SAP. She has the right balance between emotional, rational and political decision-making styles, and she’s passionate about sustainability.
Enjoy and have a wonderful (green or multicoloured) week-end!
February 10, 2011 6 Comments
It seems quite challenging to describe what CSR is in 140 words or less. But it’s a great exercise. Leon Kaye, GreenGoPost.com‘s Founder, Features Editor & Lead Writer at Triple Pundit , Business Consultant and Balkans Advocate recently asked the CSR crowd on Twitter to give it a try : #CSR and #Corpgov in Tweet-Speak: Express Yourself in 140 Characters (or Less!)
I decided not to use one of the many definitions written by others that I’ve read about the topic in last few years. Instead I tried to define it with my own words and came up with the following definition:
CSR= an opportunity for companies to ensure a sustainable growth while meeting the needs & concerns of their stakeholders
I wanted to avoid buzzwords but, in my opinion, the objective of Social Responsibility, including Corporate SR, is to contribute to sustainable development, so I couldn’t leave this word apart. Stakeholders? Well, employees, shareholders, customers, partners, providers, as Todays’ business world is far more interconnected than it was when Milton Friedman expressed its now infamous idea that the only responsibility a business has is towards its shareholders, nobody can deny that the value demanded by customers, employees, job seekers has created a profound market shift that companies can’t ignore. As SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Peter Graf, put it recently, “sustainability is a trend as important as Internet or the globalization itself” and, “it’s here to say”, creating a world of “new winners and losers”.
That’s the reason why I’m using the word “opportunity“. Compliance is not a strategy, going beyond business is, and it’s also a fantastic opportunity for companies to manage successfully the new market shifts around value creation: value demanded by stakeholders as previously said, value delivered by the company through its products and its supply chain and the value graded by financial markets, governments and NGOs. Companies that fail to see CSR as an opportunity simply won’t survive.