CSR…misunderstood and necessary.

If “to be great is to be misunderstood”, as the poet said, then CSR is definitely one of the greatest things in the world.

Aman Singh, in her great blog about CSR, recently wrote a post with a provocative title: “In the Classic Battle of CSR vs. Sustainability,  We All Lose” in which she was discussing the results of a recent survey showing that MBA students didn’t seem to care for Social Responsibility. She asked a very relevant question: “Is this an  issue of stakeholder differences or once again a case of the age-old contest of terminology, i.e., what IS the difference between CSR, sustainability and corporate responsibility?”

The very same day an article in The Economist, mentioned in another great blog post by Davidcoethica, described how Milton Friedman’s views on CSR were perceived around the world, showing that “the world’s most Friedman-friendly country is the United Arab Emirates”, with 84% agreeing with his famous assertion that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

The word “social” probably contributes to the confusion.  Anti-CSR advocates, ironically on both sides of the ideological spectrum, Milton Friedman’s followers and anti-capitalism movements, focus on the word “social”, arguing that companies are legally bound to maximise profits to shareholders and that corporations can only be ‘socially responsible’ if they are being insincere. And who wants to work for such a company?

Working for a company engaged in sustainability strategies seems a lot cooler than working for a company that promotes ethics and socially responsible business practices. But actually, beyond the words, the objective of corporate social responsibility is to contribute to sustainability and sustainable development, as defined in the Brundtland report, “a development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” As businesses are the main consumers of world resources, human and natural, and the world economy moves increasingly closer to the limits of its resources, companies have no other choice but to act responsibly. How can companies contribute to sustainable development? By integrating social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interactions with their stakeholders, according to the EU definition for CSR or, as a the software company SAP puts it in its sustainability report, “holistically managing economic, social and environmental risks and opportunities.”

This definition is closed to the one that Alberto Andreu Pinillos, Global Director of Reputation, CSR, and Sustainability at Telefónica, used in a recent interview for this blog: the DJSI’s definition for Corporate Sustainability: “a business approach that fosters value creation in the long-term for shareholders, taking advantage of the opportunities and the effective risk management, related to social, economic and environmental development.”

We have to get used to the “semantic battle” around sustainability – a buzz-word? – CSR – an oxymoron? – Ethics – boring?

In my opinion the debate around those concepts also help to make them more visible. The issue though is that spending too much time debating the terminology and concepts is a distraction from what really matters: execution. CSR and sustainability are no longer a “nice to have” for companies. It’s a “must have” and more importantly a “must do”.

See, the war is not between CSR and sustainability…CSR contributes to sustainability..big time!

 A real issue, in my opinion, is the gap between “embracers” and non-embracers. The recent Sustainability and Innovation Global Executive Study, a collaboration between MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group warns that a gap has grown “between companies that embrace sustainability-driven strategy and management” and companies that don’t. That’s a real issue.

Lavinia Weissman : “Las razones por que apoyo a Bob Massie como candidato al Senado de Estados Unidos para el 2012”

This week, Aequology’s Blog publishes a Spanish translation of Lavinia Weissman’s recent blog post , “Why I Endorse Bob Massie’s Candidacy for U.S. 2012 Senatorial Race and Election“, that she wrote for CSRwire – @CSRwire . Lavinia’s post has received plenty of support, especially on Twitter, and it seems that Bob Massie’s candidacy is particularly welcomed and celebrated by the CSR and sustainability experts and practitioners community. Please feel free to leave your comments and to invite your Spanish speaking friends & NGO’s on Twitter to #massie #csr #csrwire .

Esta semana, Aequology’s Blog propone una traducción al español del blog de Lavinia Weissman escrito para CSRwire, en el que explica los motivos de su apoyo a la candidatura de Bob Massie, celebrada por la mayoría de los expertos en CSR y sostenibilidad, para las elecciones al Senado de Estados Unidos de 2012. Compartan ustedes sus comentarios en este blog o en Twitter con las palabras claves  #massie #csr #csrwire .

“Las razones por que apoyo a Bob Massie como candidato al Senado de Estados Unidos para las elecciones de 2012

…y por qué creo que es importante para ustedes…”

Lavinia Weissman

 

 Por Lavinia Weissman

“Aunque los asuntos políticos del Estado de Massachusetts puedan parecer poco atractivos para los lectores de CSRwire Talkback, se pueden sacar conclusiones de esta particular carrera para el Senado de Estados Unidos. Por fin, tenemos en el Estado de Massachusetts un candidato al Senado que tiene la capacidad de liderar el cambio en aéreas como el medioambiente, la salud y la economía sostenible. El sábado 15 de enero pasado, Marcy Murningham informaba que Bob Massie, cofundador y editor emérito del Murningham Post, había anunciado su candidatura al puesto de Senador por el Estado de Massachusetts en el Senado de Estados Unidos para las elecciones de 2012.

Ofrezco todo mi apoyo a Bob y ya me he incorporado como voluntaria en su equipo de campaña. En las 8 horas que siguieron el post de Marcy, empecé a difundir la noticia a través de los medios sociales en las comunidades virtuales del Estado de Massachussets a las que pertenezco. La semana pasada empecé a organizar un evento local, en Jamaica Plain, Massachussets, la comunidad donde vivo, para poder invitar a Bob a que conozca mis vecinos.

Acudo a votar en todas las elecciones pero tengo la sensación que mi voto ha perdido sentido. Suelo dar mi apoyo a candidatos independientes porque considero que los partidos políticos han perdido su capacidad de dedicarse a los problemas más relevantes del día a día. Esta falta de enfoque es un obstáculo a la supervivencia de los ciudadanos de a pie y a su capacidad para mantener su familia, por falta de un sistema educativo y sanitario que evite  correr el riesgo de bancarrota personal al enfrentarse a un problema de salud.

La candidatura de Bob trata sobre aquellos asuntos que más me preocupan. Desde que dimití del Comité de Dirección del Partido Demócrata de California donde viví en los años noventa, los líderes del Comité Nacional Demócrata me han invitado a volver y participar porque (en mi opinión) les interesa mi contribución simbólica como mujer y madre soltera. Creo que el motivo de tal invitación a entrar en el juego no es más que la voluntad de tener entre ellos una madre soltera que no viva de las prestaciones sociales. En ningún momento me dio la sensación que iban a mejorar los asuntos que  más me preocupan tal y como el desarrollo sostenible, la educación o la salud.

Bob es un candidato que tiene la experiencia tanto a nivel personal como profesional para trabajar en el Senado de Estados Unidos e impulsar la magnitud de este cambio. Puedo decir sinceramente que ninguno de los otros candidatos, incluso el titular actual del cargo Scott Brown, tienen el perfil de Bob ni han demostrado una capacidad similar de liderazgo. Muchos no habrían sobrevivido a los problemas de salud que tuvo Bob, seropositivo, cuando contrajo Hepatitis C por culpa de las inyecciones que le suministraban para tratar su hemofilia. Gracias a un trasplante de hígado, su salud está ahora estable. 

Después de haber ganado la primaria como lugarteniente del Gobernador en 1994, el ticket de Bob – con Mark Roosevelt – perdió contra el ticket republicano Weld/Celucci. Bob se convirtió en el Presidente de Ceres, la coalición más grande de organizaciones ecologistas e inversores institucionales del mundo. Bob también creó y dirigió el Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) creado por las fundaciones MacArthur, Ford y la de las Naciones Unidas.

Como fundador del GRI, Bob diseñó, junto con los otros fundadores, la misión de elaborar un estándar internacional para la elaboración de memorias de responsabilidad social empresarial. A día de hoy, GRI es una organización independiente  con base en Ámsterdam y oficinas en San Francisco y Nueva York, cuyas directrices se han adoptado por más de 2000 empresas a nivel mundial.

La carrera de Bob Massie y su pasión por aprender le han llevado a desarrollar un liderazgo de pensamiento que atraviesa el sector de los negocios, las organizaciones gubernamentales y no gubernamentales para influir en el cambio.  Entiende el efecto domino y los demoledores círculos viciosos a los que se enfrenta una persona con problemas crónicos de salud o que suponen un importante riesgo para su vida. Entiende las implicaciones que suponen muchos años de destrucción al planeta y a sus ocupantes por culpa de toxinas medioambientales y sustancias químicas nocivas, así como los efectos del cambio climático en la aceleración del calentamiento global.

Lo más importante de todo (y es un hecho poco frecuente) es que Bob tiene un corazón grande y lleno de compasión.  Él es el líder que necesitamos en este período de conflicto continuo en el que vive sumido nuestro país; un período al que nos enfrentamos con mucho más estrés del que ninguno de nosotros hubiera podido imaginar. Sin ese corazón y su compasión, Bob no podría haber reunido la salud necesaria para ser candidato a este puesto.

Por favor, al igual que yo hice,  ofrezcan ustedes vuestro apoyo a Bob Massie en su candidatura al Senado por Massachusetts 2012.”

Sobre Lavinia Weissman

Lavinia Weissman http://www.workecology.com es Coach de Sostenibilidad para Ejecutivos y Experta en Medios Sociales. Se dedica a proyectos (educación, preparación, visión y ejecución) que incorporan valores de sostenibilidad y Responsabilidad Social de le Empresa. Su pasado como responsable de programas de salud explica su pasión por hacer posible lo imposible: mejorar la salud de las personas con enfermedades crónicas. 

Lectores de Talkback: ¿En su opinión, qué cualidades debe tener un líder? Compartan ustedes sus ideas en Talkback!

Traducción: Frederic Page Business Consultant/Roberto Sánchez Ruz Licenciado en Traducción por la Universidad Pompeu Fabra de Barcelona, España  robert_ruz@hotmail.com

Diversity in the Boardroom: a risk or an opportunity?

In a recent post, founder and CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting, Lucy P. Marcus, asks Why Board Diversity Really Matters?  Should Board Diversity be seen as an opportunity, a possible way for companies to increase their profitability, or as a risk, an obstacle to social integration and cohesion within the Board? What do you think?

Research shows that diverse groups tend to be more creative and perform better on problem-solving tasks than homogeneous groups, so I was wondering if what is true for the workplace in general is also relevant at the Board level. I personally believe that it is…If we consider diversity, as the author does, in the broader sense of the term, i.e. not just a matter of gender but also age, race, ethnicity, experience, or even sexual orientation for example, then we can conclude that more diversity at the Board level will have a positive impact on the profitability of the company, as Board members will find new, and more creative, ways to face challenges, especially during economic downturns, spot talent, within and outside the company, and, more importantly, develop innovation.

As mentioned by SEC Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar in a speech at Stanford Law School in September 2009, diversity in the boardroom results in real value for both companies and shareholders :

“The California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s (CalPERS) recently commissioned a report that found companies that have diverse boards perform better than boards composed of directors with similar profiles in terms of ethnicity, gender, and skills sets. The report — Board Diversification Strategy: Realizing Competitive Advantage and Shareowner Value — stated that companies without ethnic minorities and women on their boards eventually may be at a competitive disadvantage and have an under-performing share value. The report also found that a selected group of companies with a high ratio of diverse board seats exceeded the average returns of the Dow Jones and NASDAQ indices over a five-year period.”

The definition of diversity is an important factor to consider. I tend to use it, as Lucy Marcus does, in the broader sense of the term. However, if the definition is too broad, then it could be used as a convenient excuse to hide the real issues. For example, age could be used to give a false sense of diversity in a company which Board is composed of young and older white men only. That’s why I think that using gender as the primary indicator to measure diversity would be the right way to “raise the bar”. I personally believe that this world needs more women at key leadership roles – both in politics and business – as women have the ability, that men rarely have, to choose their subordinates, collaborators and peers based on a wider range of criteria than men do. For men, co-optation remains one of the main ways to select and promote collaborators. I mean by that, that the more women there is at the Board level, the more other minorities will follow, developing diversity.
In fact, one of the main argument I’ve heard against diversity is that it may prevent social integration and reduce cohesion within a group. Diversity is therefore seen as risk that could for example slow down the decision-making process and divide teams. Obviously that would be a grave issue at the board level. However, just like Lucy, I see Board Diversity as a big opportunity rather than a risk…What is your opinion?

Notes from the volcano: the current state of renewable energy in Spain

Last December, Spain clearly established itself as the world leader in renewable energy by exporting electricity to its neighbour France for the first time. Heavy rain and strong winds during 2010 have boosted renewables – principally hydro, wind and solar power – that managed to meet 35% of Spanish demand last year.

Mount TeideI spent the last week in Tenerife, the largest and most populous of the seven Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa. My main objective was to discover Mount Teide, the highest elevation of Spain, 3718 m., a World Heritage Site that is the third largest volcano in the world from its base. I also wanted to check on the development of local projects for renewable energy.

“How many architects does it take to save the world?” asks Colin Kirby a British journalist who lives in Tenerife. ” Well, he says, you can start by inviting 397 from 38 countries, hand-pick the best 25 and let them loose on a 14 year project.”

That’s exactly what the ITER, the Institute of Technology and Renewable Energies, founded by the Tenerife Island Government in 1990 to promote applied research in the field of renewable energy, did. The project, that started in 1995, culminated last year in the launch of 25 innovative bioclimatic homes.
The houses, heralded as the “green architecture of the future”, generate zero carbon emissions, are self-sufficient and do not depend on external energy sources. They are also Tenerife’s commitment to responsible tourism, a project that aims to encourage sustainable practices throughout the tourism industry and interaction with the local culture. The houses, but also the visitors centre, that has a selection of rooms and a spacious auditorium for training, talks and conferences, can be rented.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit a dozen of these 25 houses. They are simply amazing. Facing the Atlantic Ocean in a natural setting worthy of a visit, with some of the most beautiful and least known beaches of the island, the site is composed by a total of 25 detached single-family houses in a plot of land of nearly 50,000 m2 facing south (first of a series of passive solutions to improve energy efficiency), designed by architects from around the world. The price for these houses rental goes from 200 to 300 Euros per night. Each house can accommodate up to 6 people.
ITER also has three wind farms in operation, testing grounds for renewable technologies and a desalination plant among other facilities.

The Institute has a major role to play, locally, but also at the global level to promote renewables. Locally, the island of Tenerife, with a permanent population of just over one million, that can increase up to 1.5 million during peak tourist season, is relying mostly on imported diesel, resulting in very high-priced electricity, to meet local demand, in excess of 800 MW on peak power generation, with a significant carbon signature.
At a more global level, the result of the ITER long-term project is a model of residential complex that can be exported and reproduced anywhere in the world.

Tenerife is not short of energy-related projects. Research is underway to see whether heat from Tenerife’s active volcano can be harnessed as a new renewable energy source. The study is being carried out by Australia-based Petratherm on behalf of ITER. It is aimed at displacing and/or avoiding the island’s reliance on imported fuel sources while concurrently reducing the island’s carbon footprint.

According to a recent update by the Australian company, its local arm, Petratherm España, in conjunction with its 50% exploration partner Enel Green Power, has finalized the selection of a highly prospective geothermal target on the active volcanic island of Tenerife. Petratherm España is now undergoing the drilling approval process in preparation for a planned geothermal test scheduled for the 2nd quarter of 2011.

A local resident who knows the project well says that he “personally would rather see the money spent on research into bio-diesel fuel harvesting using algae farming.” Tenerife, he says, “would be an ideal place to farm algae due to the amount of sunshine we have here”. He explains that Algae can grow prolifically and double it’s volume in 24 hours under the right conditions. According to him, Algae also absorbs greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide so there would be a trade-off here with carbon emissions from the continued use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels will always be necessary, the problem is that they are becoming depleted and Algae farming could be a great solution for Tenerife. Algae farming can produce bio-diesel fuels and ethanol very cheaply with some very positive ecological benefits.
He concludes that “this sort of technology is already being used in Mexico with some great results, a lot of the research has already been done so it would not be costly to investigate this option.”

Renewables are currently at the center of public and media attention in Spain, not only for the fact that it started selling energy to France for the fist time but also because of the political debate around them.
Javier García Breva, a top executive at Arnaiz Consulting, former MP and President of the Fondation for Renewables, said recently to The Guardian, about the performance of Spain in renewables that “even five years ago no one would have believed these figures were possible. No one expected renewables to grow so fast. They have unlimited potential.
However, both the Spanish Government and the opposition alike don’t seem to share this vision of the future. The former has recently introduced a highly criticized series of measures that limit the, generous, subsidies to the photovoltaic (PV) industry, while the latter has joined the chorus of those who say the world is betting on other technologies while “we’re running it alone with renewables.”

The Government’s Royal Decree 14/2010, the law that proposes to retroactively limit the number of production hours that are eligible to receive the government’s feed-in tariff, has probably a lot to do with internal and external pressures coming from the fossil fuel lobbies and with the drastic cutbacks imposed by the current economic turmoil.
The opposition’s attitude seems to be the consequence of a narrow-minded political strategy due to the upcoming local, regional and general elections.

Finally, the greening of the Spanish grid, unfortunately, has not benefited the consumer, with prices likely to rise by 9% in 2011. The government sets electricity prices which have no direct correlation with production costs. This policy doesn’t help as the debate about the country’s strategical choices is biased by political considerations. More transparency, regarding the cost and benefits of each source of energy, is urgently needed.

The S-Word, CSR 2.0 and the Creation of Shared Value.

In my previous post, I reacted to the fact that Advertising Age had named sustainability one of the “jargoniest jargon” words of 2010 that they “wish you would stop saying.” Although I agree that some of the vocabulary used by sustainability practitioners is actually jargon, I didn’t agree at all when asked to stop using the “S word” : Here you go. SUS-TAI-NA-BI-LI-TY.
There’s undoubtedly a need for a better definition of what sustainability actually means and the same goes for the acronyms usually related to this concept, such as CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility – sometimes amputated of its Social part, CR – or ESG – Environmental Social and Corporate Governance.

As one of the ambitions of this blog is to be a space that helps clarifying the concepts, I recently asked several key actors in this field to share their definition of sustainability.

Alberto Andreu Pinillos, Global Director of Reputation, CSR, and Sustainability at Telefónica, one of the world major operators in the telecommunication sector, leader of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) in its sector, for the second year in a row, in 2010, says that its company “likes the DJSI’s definition for Corporate Sustainability: a business approach that fosters value creation in the long term for shareholders, taking advantage of the opportunities and the effective risk management, related to social, economic and environmental development’.

This definition provides to Telefónica the guiding principles to define and execute its corporate sustainability strategy.

1. Managing risk: according to Alberto Andreu the objective of this “defensive strategy” is “to minimize the negative impact” of the company’s global activities: supply chain, integrity, privacy, data protection, health & safety, electromagnetic emissions, etc.”
2. Managing new opportunities: here, the objective of what Alberto Andreu describes as an “offensive strategy”, capable to “generate more revenues related to social business”, is to “maximize the positive impact” of the business, “putting special focus on green ICT, accessibility ICT for handicapped & elderly people, and reducing the digital divide.”
3. Managing stakeholder engagement, through “the implementation of social programs (conducted mainly by Telefónica’s Foundation), developing social networks, and working with the stakeholders to build the digital agenda.”

But one of other reasons why some commentators tend to affirm that the terminology around CSR and Sustainability is jargon, is that, on top of a lack of clear definition, there’s still many ongoing discussions and debate around the concepts themselves. Which, in my opinion, is a very good thing.

HBR CREATION OF SHAREDVALUE

For example, in this month’s Harvard Business Review, Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer, in an article that explains “how to reinvent capitalism—and unleash a wave of innovation and growth by Creating Shared Value, write that “creating shared value (csv) should supersede corporate social responsibility (csR) in guiding the investments of companies in their communities.
According tho them “CSR programs focus mostly on reputation and have only a limited connection to the business, making them hard to justify and maintain over the long run. In contrast, CSV is integral to a company’s profitability and competitive position. It leverages the unique resources and expertise of the company to create economic value by creating social value.”
The authors give an example that illustrates quite well their CSV approach: fair trade purchasing. ‘Fair trade aims to increase the proportion of revenue that goes to poor farmers by paying them higher prices for the same crops. Though this may be a noble sentiment, fair trade is mostly about redistribution rather than expanding the overall amount of value created. A shared value perspective, instead, focuses on improving growing techniques and strengthening the local cluster of supporting suppliers and other institutions in order to increase farmers’ efficiency, yields, product quality, and sustainability”.

Another example is what Alberto Andreu, Global Director of Reputation, CSR, and Sustainability at Telefónica calls “CSR 2.0”. ‘Doing new business with social impact” – he says – requires the creation of “an external ecosystem”. “For instance”, he explains, “to launch new ICT solutions for disabled people you must create an external network with governments, NGO’s, civil organizations, employee associations…”. That’s what he callsCSR 2.0, because you can’t do these kind of business on your own, you need a complex ecosystem. CSR 2.0 is doing things with others, through a network.”

Alberto Andreu says that, in 2011, one of Telefónica‘s priorities is to “better link CSR to new business opportunities” and for that, “supporting social entrepreneurs to maximize the positive impact of our business on the community” will be key. The main focus areas for the company will be “green IT and the development of ICT solutions for handicapped & elderly people.”

This approach echoes what Porter and Kramer describe in their HBR article, when they write that shared value is not about personal values. Nor is it about “sharing” the value already created by firms—a redistribution approach. Instead, it is about expanding the total pool of economic and social value. In the Fair Trade example one of the clear benefits of a shared value approach is that “this leads to a bigger pie of revenue and profits that benefits both farmers and the companies that buy from them”.

Porter and Kramer also write that “companies must take the lead in bringing business and society back together“, emphasizing that shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. The solution, they say, lies in creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. “Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress.”

Alberto Andreu definitely sees the connection between company success and social progress when he describes the strategy of the company and the results so far. “CSR 2.0, he wrote in a paper for the Reputation Institute of London, in may 2010, “requires identifying new income sources with a positive impact on social development, new ways of reducing costs, as well as understanding the impact of responsible behaviour on margins and customer satisfaction.” Corporate Responsibility is not something new at Telefónica that released its first CR report in 2002 and when asked about the results of Telefónica’s effort in this domain, Alberto Andreu says that he’s particularly proud that his company is leading the DSJI for the second consecutive year but he also gives two examples of how CR activities effectively contribute to the company’s profitability:
1. One of the major impact of the company’s CR effort, he says, is that they “give the company a premium price on the market”, adding that “companies included in the DJSI have delivered a premiun of 0.48 pp on the markets vs those companies not included in DJSI, in a 8 years series.”
2. Furthermore, he explains that “some years ago, the company did an internal research to link their financial metrics to CSR and corporate reputation”. The conclusion they reached was that “the behavior of these financial indicators explained 11 percent of the variations produced in the corporate reputation”; “That is to say, he explains, “the variations that are produced in the client’s perceived reputation impact Telefonica’s financial results.”

According to Porter and Kramer, the new paradigm they describe, reconnecting company success with social progress, “will require leaders and managers to develop new skills and knowledge—such as a far deeper appreciation of societal needs, a greater understanding of the true bases of company productivity, and the ability to collaborate across profit/nonprofit boundaries.”
For Alberto Andreu, these new managers will also have to be change managers” inside and outside their organization.

You can follow Alberto Andreu on Twitter at @aandreup

Tweeting about Sustainability : the Jargoniest Sin.

Advertising Age named sustainability one of the “jargoniest jargon” words of 2010 that they “wish you would stop saying,” together with Touch Points or 360, among others. I don’t agree with this and I don’t think people should stop using the word sustainability. On the contrary, we all should be pursuing a more sustainable business, life, career or even relationship! I agree that the concept of sustainability is elusive, sometimes misused and unfortunately abused.

And it’s up to us, sustainability practitioners, to help clarifying the concept and using the word in an appropriate and relevant way. Technically, CSR, ESG or SRI, main components of a successful corporate sustainability strategy, could qualify for Jargoniest Jargon Acronym of the year contest, but that’s another story…

As far as I’m concerned one of my commitments for 2011 is to contribute, with this blog and my twitter account @carbonimpact, to a better use of the word sustainability. For example, I’ll try to further define the concept of sustainable career, explore the role of middle management in the execution of corporate sustainability strategies and analyse how sustainability management software can effectively support companies.

One last thing, the original meaning of jargon was “making a twittering sound or noise“, then I imagine that tweeting about sustainability must be the jargoniest thing ever! One of my favourite “tweeting sustainability experts”, John Friedman, @JohnFriedman, didn’t miss the irony but we both agreed that we’d keep on tweeting about sustainability!

 I wish you a sustainable 2011!

2011: The Year Of “The Sense Of Purpose”?

  

“People without a sense of values can make a great deal of money, but they will have an ache in their heart”.

 With this quote by Jack Ma, one of the contributors of this month HBR special report, let me wish you a happy sustainable and responsible 2011!

  

2011: The Future of Work

In a special report, The HBR agenda 2011, published by the Harvard Business Review this month, two dozen business and management leaders explain what projects they’ll take on in 2011.

The contributors address a broad range of topics; most of them related to the future of work, as well as leadership issues, such as succession planning, the decision-making process at CEO level, or the management of new forms of teams, multicultural or highly flexible like the “sand dune teams” described by Harvard University Professor J. Richard Hackman.

  http://hbr.org/web/extras/hbr-agenda-2011/j-richard-hackman

 

 

2011: The year of the $300 house?

Vijay Govindarajan’s “$300 house project” and his agenda to make it happen, which he shares with a contagious passion, is definitely a great read.

http://hbr.org/web/extras/hbr-agenda-2011/vijay-govindarajan

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 For further information, I strongly recommend to check the project’s official website  http://www.300house.com/ .

 

2011: The awakening of “a sense of purpose in our companies”?

Two contributions, in the HBR special report, focus particularly on Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility.

First of all, Daniel H. Pink, the author of various books about the changing world of work, wonders if companies “have reached the limit of the profit motive” and asks if “the path out of our economic doldrums” will come from the “awakening of a sense of purpose in our enterprises” rather than a “tighter focus on profits, processes or productivity.”

 http://hbr.org/web/extras/hbr-agenda-2011/daniel-pink

2011: Celebrating the Year of Sustainability in China?

One of the other contributors of the HBR special report, Jack Ma, Founder and CEO of China’s Alibaba Group describes the effort that his company is undertaking to drive a sustainability strategy that can benefit not only to the Group itself but to China in general.

http://hbr.org/web/extras/hbr-agenda-2011/jack-ma

“A company our size has a responsibility to do the right thing” writes the founder of the Alibaba Group, which employees around 20000 people in about 60 countries, adding that “people without a sense of values can make a great deal of money, but they will have an ache in their heart”.

The Chinese Group, founded in 1999, is a family of Internet-based businesses that includes business-to-business international trade, online retail and payment platforms and data-centric cloud computing services. The scale of the company is quite impressive; it’s like Ebay for business to business (B2B) transactions, like Amazon for business to consumer (B2C) transactions, like Paypal, with an escrow function, like Google for affiliate marketing, and they also run China Yahoo! and are expanding into many other areas.

One thing that I found remarkable is that Alibaba decided, 2 years ago, to ban trade in shark fins on all its sites which was a particularly difficult decision in the local cultural context. I read the HBR article the very same day I watched for the first time the amazing documentary “Oceans”. The movie is a wake-up call. It shows how beautiful life is in the Oceans, but it also explains how fragile it is. There’s a sequence where sharks are being brought out of the sea and their fins cut off just to be used for soup. The bodies are subsequently thrown back into the sea meaning that these sharks have been condemned to death.

http://disney.go.com/disneynature/oceans/

After reading the HBR article I decided to find out more about the Group’s sustainability and CSR activities. I checked its website and read its 2009 Annual Report, as the company, unfortunately, didn’t produce any separate Sustainability or CSR report. The amount of CSR information provided in the Annual Report is quite light with only 4 pages dedicated to this topic for a total of 152 pages.

 http://img.alibaba.com/ir/download/201004/E_2009AnnualReport.pdf

However, it doesn’t seem to be because the Group hasn’t been involved in this area. On the contrary, browsing the web I found quite a lot of activities that deserve to be highlighted.

Alibaba in the Community

Alibaba is engaged in the development and support of local communities through its Ali-Loan program, introducing proprietary credit scoring models developed by the Group to facilitate loans made by their partner banks to our customers in China. Since the launch of Ali-Loan, the Group say they have facilitated more than RMB6 billion of loans to more than 3,000 of their customers.

Talent Incubation

It also provides e-commerce and management training and education services for small businesses and individuals in China through both offline learning centers and an online learning platform.

 Community Volunteerism and Sichuan Earthquake Relief

 The Alibaba Group says that it encourages employees in its Group companies to become active in community service programs.

After the tragic Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, Alibaba reacted immediately by sourcing urgently needed goods that were key to the rescue efforts, launched an online campaign for donations from its employees and members of its websites and formed a relief team made up of employees and volunteers from outside the company.

The team made a number of trips to Sichuan to provide first-hand earthquake relief and delivered a large shipment of stationery supplies donated by employees which benefited nearly 1,000 local students. As winter approached, the team also organized a clothing donation drive for the earthquake victims and Alibaba waived the membership fees for supplier members based in the earthquake areas, in order to help them get back into the business of providing jobs and economic stability to their communities.  

 Environmental Protection

Alibaba.com has been promoting environmental issues from within the organization by running a series of campaigns under the name “Orange Alibaba, Green Earth”. The campaigns aim to promote energy and resource conservation by its employees. The company also launched a “Tradeshow Alliance Environmental Protection Fund” in October 2007 to promote environmentally friendly and energy-efficient tradeshows. The proceeds were donated to the China Environmental Protection Foundation.

In the HBR article Jack Ma writes that employees who demonstrate “a commitment to the environment might merit a better parking place”, which is, undoubtedly, in China’s crowded cities, an outstanding employee benefit. But, if I may suggest an alternative, rewarding employees’ commitment towards environment with free or subsidized electric bicycles or “e-bikes”, would be more consistent with Environmental Protection, rather than encouraging employees to commute to work by car.

In May 2010, the Alibaba Group announced that it would begin in 2010 to earmark 0.3 percent of annual revenues to fund efforts designed to spur environmental awareness and conservation in China and around the world.

Integrity and Compliance

Finally, in its company website, Alibaba Group, says it’s committed to the highest standards of business conduct in its relationships with each of its stakeholders, including its customers, suppliers, shareholders and other business partners. This commitment is reflected in the Alibaba Code of Business Conduct, requesting employees to conduct all business with outside parties in a manner that reflects the Group values of integrity, fairness and trust.

In the HBR report, Jack Ma writes that he believes that, “in China, environmental change will come about only through education.”

With an average employee age of 27, like many companies in China, the Alibaba Group has a great opportunity: through its corporate sustainability strategy and CSR activities, it can infuse strong values that will shape the future of the company’s, and the country’s, workforce and leadership.