Corporate Sustainability Strategies – a feel-good gimmick or good for the planet’s bottom line?

Corporate Sustainability Strategies – a feel-good gimmick or good for the planet’s bottom line?

The failed attempt of voluntary corporate sustainability strategies to save the planet.

Corporate sustainability strategies developed in response to the resource constraints of the 21st century.  These constraints are the result of over population and over consumption and their damaging effect on the health of the earth.

Even the gentle Sir David Attenborough has joined the chorus of people arguing for fewer people in the interest of more biodiversity and a quality environment in his speech People and Planet in March 2011.

We have been trying to persuade companies to engage in voluntary corporate sustainability programmes of all kinds in order to address the obvious negative impacts of the way the ‘developed’ world does business.

Corporate sustainability strategies or planned abandonment?

However, do we ever stop to consider if it actually makes sense for a particular industry to engage in sustainability programmes or should it rather be a question of planned abandonment of this particular industry/product/ manufacturing process?

Water courtesy coca colaTake the issue of water. [Read more…]

Business and human rights (part 3): advantages of the human rights framework for CSR

The debate on business and human rights has become a central theme on the international and national corporate sustainability & responsibility agenda.  The world has changed significantly with the majority of large-scale projects – including those delivering basic human services – being privately rather than publicly funded. This has led to a new set of obligations and demands from business.

Part 1 of this series offered four key introductory texts into the subject, part 2 looked at The Role of National Human Rights Institutions with links to various players; today I will review the advantages of the human rights framework for corporate sustainability and responsibility, a link often overlooked by practitioners.

Human rights refer to the basic rights and freedoms all human beings are entitled to.  [Read more…]

Valentine’s Day – it’s about love, isn’t it?

Valentine’s Day – it’s about love, isn’t it?

20130209-081937.jpgDid you know that Saint Valentine’s Day is said to derive from a christian tradition involving a Pope in 500 AD?

These days, Valentine’s Day has become a symbol for consumerism with ideas for Valentine’s Day gifts for him and her and ‘experiences’ at varying costs being promoted relentlessly weeks before the occasion. I resent the commercialisation of such a precious gift: the love and affection between two lovers. And that is why I am making the case for no Valentine’s Day or slow Valentine’s Day – borrowing from the slow cooking movement -and it goes like this: [Read more…]

Business & human rights: the basics (part 1)

For the past decade or so I have been keeping abreast of  developments in business and human rights in Australia and abroad and have just updated an introductory reading list for a forthcoming workshop.  I would like to share the key documents with those of you who need to get across the topic quickly without compromising quality.

Whether you are a law student, a sustainability or corporate responsibility professional or simply an interested individual – if you want to save time sifting through the vast amount of material and wish to get to the substance immediately – look no further. The list of articles below is organised in priority order:

[Read more…]

Bring on the education revolution to save the planet!

Bring on the education revolution to save the planet!

What do Australian children need and what can the public and the government do to help protect them and make the future more secure?

Children are naturally vulnerable and most people wish to ensure they are protected and grow up to reach their full potential regardless of their background and circumstances. There are many individual issues that affect the quality of childhood. These include their health & mental health, the provision of sufficient opportunities and the quality of their education to name just a few.

In addition, there is one overarching issue that affects all of us, a common denominator that has not found its way into policy and practice yet: the safety of our planet. Sustainable management of our resources is being discussed this week at the Rio + 20 summit and this is extremely timely.

We have known about the negative environmental impact of large scale economic activity for at least four decades. The assumptions upon which we have based social service delivery to protect children have changed and continue to change. Nothing is simple anymore but children need to inherit a clean and safe environment as the minimum foundation to prosper.  So what do we have to do to attain a sustainable lifestyle for them? How will the effect of climate change influence the delivery of social services to children? What does climate change mean for the policy and practice of protecting children? [Read more…]

Rio + 20

by Terence Jeyaretnam, Director of Net Balance (, one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms. Terence is based in Melbourne.

A businessman would not consider a firm to have solved its problems of production and to have achieved viability if he saw that it was rapidly consuming its capital. How, then, could we overlook this vital fact when it comes to that very big firm, the economy of Spaceship Earth and, in particular, the economies of its rich passengers? E F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, 1973

Erosion of natural capital has continued over the past 50 years, despite the heightened awareness of environmental impact of industrialization and population growth. Over the fifty years, there’s been a multitude of international conventions, giving birth to a large number of new institutions and protocols on sustainable development. They have proved just one thing – that there’s no silver bullet for the environmental predicament. [Read more…]

social investment implications of 7 billion people

social investment implications of 7 billion people

Dusseldorf Mediahafen

At the end of  October 2011 it is estimated that the world population will have reached 7 billion people – an achievement and challenge at the same time.

This article focusses on just three challenges and corresponding opportunities that might stretch the traditional mindset for social investments by corporates, trusts and foundation and governments. All three are interdependent and addressing one can have postive impacts on the other.

1: Addressing [Read more…]

let’s break the population taboo

let’s break the population taboo

Ulaanbaatar Mongolia

Following consultation for a population strategy for Australia, the Australian Government has just released its ‘Sustainable Population, Sustainable Communities’ strategy and ignored the most important factor: the negative unsustainable environmental impact of population growth. How is this possible when submissions pointed these implications out so eloquently and conclusively? What a missed opportunity to engage in a mature debate about population control and pave the path to a sustainable Australia that considers itself part of a global community and wishes to maintain a decent quality of life for all.

Unfortunately, the Australian Government is not alone – although this is by no means to be interpreted as an excuse.  The much loved  and extremely well respected Sir David Attenborough, known for his wonderful nature documentaries, pointed out in his President’s Lecture at London’s Royal Society of Arts: ” … the [UK’s] Government’s ‘Foresight Report on the Future of Food and Farming’….[It] shows how hard it is to feed the seven billion of us who are alive today. It lists the many obstacles that are already making this harder to achieve – soil erosion, salinisation , the depletion of aquifers, over-grazing, the spread of plant diseases as a result of globalisation, the absurd growing of food crops to run into biofuels to feed motor cars instead of people – and so on. … …It recommends the widest possible range of measures across all disciplines to tackle this.. but doesn’t state the obvious fact that it would be much easier to feed 8 then 10 billion people.” [Read more…]

from earth hour to earth day

from earth hour to earth day

Did you know that  2011 to 2020 is the United Nations Decade of Biodiversity, that this year is the International Year of Forests, that 22 April is Earth Day and 5th June World Environment Day, celebrated since 1972? If yes, you belong to a relatively small group of ‘insiders’ and if not, why not?

Earth Hour on the other hand – the one day a year where we are prompted to symbolically turn our lights off for one hour is known by millions around the world. How come the latter has become a global phenomenon and yet directly related, mature environmental awareness raising initiatives lack momentum?

The United Nations has celebrated World Environment Day on the 5th June since 1972. So how can we focus the millions of people who symbolically turn their lights off on rapid action for the environment, including forests and biodiversity?

Apart from collaborating with Earth Hour organisers to ensure it is more than a feel good exercise (more about this here), we can learn and transfer those social marketing lessons.  Any social campaign that moves us to change our habits needs to: [Read more…]

confessions of an Earth Hour sceptic

Saturday the 26th of March was Earth Hour – a social marketing phenomenon that started in Australia in 2007  and is now known around the world. The high visibility of switching off lights makes Earth Hour  a corporate responsibility dream.  In just 5 short years it has captured the imagination of a global audience with its initial intend to

” make a bold symbolic statement about the critical issue of climate change and to engage Australians in taking action”.

This rapid growth must make it one of the most successful social marketing campaigns globally.

I have been an Earth Hour sceptic since its inception, wondering how on earth switching the lights off for one hour could possibly assist in moving us towards a sustainable lifestyle – although I did switch off our lights on Saturday at 8.30pm.  I do, however, recognise Earth Hour’s potential to build on its success and speed up positive social change.

My main concern is that this ‘bold symbolic statement’ let’s us off the hook, offers an easy way out. [Read more…]