Do you speak Spanish?

I haven’t been very active on Aequology’s Blog lately. The reason is that I’m also blogging in Spanish everyday at www.negociosostenible.es which is definitely time consuming but totally worth it.

Moreover, there are plenty of excellent bloggers in the English speaking CSR & Sustainability community.That’s why I’ve decided to focus on Negocio Sostenible.

So if you speak Spanish, join me! If you don’t, learn it! It’s a great language that opens the door to a large community in Spain, the Americas and, as a second language, in many countries around the world.

I’d also like to share with you some of my favorite blogs in English:
The CSR Reporting Blog by consultant and author Elaine Cohen
The Valuestream Blog by Supply Chain & sustainability expert Dave Meyer
Taiga Company by Sustainability expert Julie Urlaub,an amazing person and great professional.
For a fresh approach on those topics I also recommend A Touch Of Green by Juan Villamayor a sustainability & CSR consultant who I know personally and lives in Barcelona.

Finally, a great resource for Sustainability topics is Fabian Pattberg’s Blog. Fabian also shared few months ago his list of favorite blogs. Enjoy!

The state of Corporate Responsibility in Europe: 10 trends from the 2011 Responsible Business Summit

The state of Corporate Responsibility in Europe: 10 trends from the 2011 Responsible Business Summit.

Brain drain in Spain: interview with one of the young professionals who has left the country.

In an article about “Spain’s lost generation of graduates“, The Guardian recently reported that rising unemployment was leading to an exodus of young Spaniards looking for better opportunities abroad on a scale not seen since the 1960s. This massive departure of educated and professional young people looking for better pay or living conditions is a source of concern for many, although the exact numbers are not easy to figure out according to a recent article in Actualidad Económica (in Spanish).

Experts disagree both on the volume and the consequences of this “brain drain”. They agree on the causes as unemployment among graduates aged 29 or under is running at 19%. Regarding the consequences, some experts are extremely pessimistic, considering that the amount of money spent on the education of those graduates is lost as many will tend to stay abroad, while others believe that those young people will some day come back to Spain with a set of personal, professional and languages skills that will benefit to the economy and to the society.

Sustainability is directly affected by this “exodus” as Human Capital Management is a key element to build a sustainable business. Companies should include in their sustainability strategy the way they plan to get the resources they need in the long-term. Nothing can confirm the prediction that those young professionals will come back to Spain after they’ve developed their skills abroad. At least, a company shouldn’t rely this hope. Instead, a sustainable business should include in their recruitment strategies how they will target Spanish professionals who live abroad.

I’ve interviewed Alex, one of those young professional who recently decided to move to Germany, to understand why he decided to leave Spain and what spanish companies  can learn from this:

Aequology: Hello Alex, can you tell us who you are and where you work?
AM: Hi, my name is Alejandro Martinez, and I am employed by www.misterspex.es, Spanish division of www.misterspex.co.uk ,  German leader in online sales for prescription glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses. The company, a personal project launched by Dirk Graber with little capital investment, currently has over 140 employees. A successful business story and a new capital injection has led Mister Spex to venture on an international strategy. After launching projects in France and the UK, the company has recently placed its eye on the Spanish market because of its promising future in e-commerce on a mid-term basis. Mister Spex’s headquarters, located in Berlin, host fully autonomous IT, logistics, customer service and marketing departments. I personally work in the marketing department as an SEO specialist, and combine these tasks with website content creation and management.

Aequology: Why did you decided to move to Germany?
AM: Coming to Germany was both a personal and a professional project. Although I had been in love with Berlin for a few years, I wasn’t strong or brave enough to go for it. The tremendous financial crisis in Spain and the fact that I wasn’t enjoying my personal project as a translator brought me to travel to the only European that enjoyed economic growth in 2010. Besides a promising environment, numerous government aids and an alternative lifestyle that I am extremely attracted to, Berlin hosts numerous start-ups that make the effort of taking risks and train motivated people who are eager to learn and renew themselves. My experience tells me that this kind of approach would be absolutely inconceivable in Spain. Generally, German companies do not focus on short term benefit, but undertake actions believing they will be positive in the long run.

Aequology: How’s the workplace in Germany compared to Spain?
AM: Besides German companies’ predisposition to undertake risks, I have sensed that managers and administration boards are much more open to suggestions. If you have a good idea, they will take it and make the best possible effort to execute it. Besides, I feel lucky because, although I work in the marketing department and Scrum methodology was initially conceived for the IT departments, Mister Spex decided to apply it to the whole company. This method allows projects coming from management to be carried out in a transversal way, communication is 100% open, and, consequently, motivating your peers, feeling integrated in the group, and identifying mistakes becomes much easier. To some extent, this reflects that, indeed, innovating in Germany is much easier than in Spain.
I would also like to highlight that e-commerce, an incredibly attractive field for all countries due to its low investment costs and high profitability, was solidly established in Germany quite some time ago and is now working at full speed. Te constant news informing about the German’s urgent need for technicians and computer engineers are the best indication of this fact. Focusing earlier on this sector has allowed Germany to remain one of most powerful and solid economies, since they have managed to diversify their economy.
Last, I would like to highlight that in Germany it is the companies who assume the biggest risk. In order to have a hired person with a net monthly wage of 1.000 Euro, companies must provide private insurance, pay higher taxes, and provide social benefits, among other things. This does not only allow workers (who, in turn, pay 40% of their salary in taxes) to be aware of the social network supporting them and preventing them from being socially excluded if they become unemployed, but is also a useful tool for the German economy to maneuver because the government always has available funds. In my opinion, the German’s financial system is the key to them being, by large, the strongest country in Europe despite the high immigration rate and tremendous social costs, which would be inconceivable for other countries. I can’t think of a better place to be in Berlin right now!

Aequology: Thanks Alex!

Sustainable Innovation Strategies: the cases of Danone & Interface

 

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.

Words: why you should use “sustainability” instead of “CSR”

Alberto Andreu, Chief Reputation Officer & Sustainability Manager with Telefonica, a global Telco MNC, expressed his views about the current Sustainability vs CSR debate in an article for VaultCSR. I know that many people believe that arguing over words is unnecessary and a waste of time, which I can agree with to a certain extent. But, still, using the right terminology is important as we are facing a problem of public perception. I believe that most of the CSR/sustainability leaders and practitioners actually share common values and the issue is not really to agree or disagree on values, strategy or practices but to make sure that a larger audience get the right message about the role that businesses play in building a sustainable future, for themselves, their employees and owners, and for society in general.

Even if it’s mainly a problem of perception, I agree with Alberto Andreu the concept of sustainability describes better the strategy of a company, and its initiatives, that support sustainable development (defined as development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs).

In most companies “CSR initiatives” do include actions that cover the 3 dimensions of sustainable development: economic, environmental and social, but the general public tends to see the third aspect only.

As I said, it’s probably a problem of perception, but for many stakeholders:

Sustainability = future/ CSR = present (or even past) actions.

Sustainability = strategy/ CSR = policy

Sustainability = risk & opportunity management / CSR = compliance

As said in a previous comment, some could argue that sustainability = green but, in my opinion, this perception is less problematic than the other (the one that relates CSR to charity) as companies have demonstrated that there’s a clear business case for sustainability initiatives related to the environment (energy consumption reduction, carbon footprint, water…).

Words matter because they can be an excuse for some companies to do nothing when we all know that they should act now.

MBA in CSR…I mean MBA.

Catherine Chong,  an MBA candidate specialising in corporate social responsibilities (CSR) in one of the top school with sustainability or ESG (environment, social and governance) curriculum in the UK, shared on her blog a “cri du coeur”.
In her post, Why are you laughing at my MBA?, she explains how a member of the academic staff gave her the advice, in private, to take the general MBA title rather than the MBA in CSR, and how she can observe a general cynicism regarding her career option.

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?

CSR, Warriors and Peacekeepers

 

“Every soldier should be a warrior first”…

“The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”…

Norwegian Peacekeeper during the Siege of Sarajevo, 1992 - 1993, photo by Mikhail Evstafiev.

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.