Weekend reading: travel & food

Marrakesh/ tajines

I’m slowly joining everyone else in summer mood, which is the cause of the delay in this week’s selection of articles. But I hope these will still be interesting for you to read; and they are tied together with a bit of a seasonal theme.

At first, inspired by the book Hungry City, I had intended a food-theme for this week. But because it’s summer, shouldn’t it be about travel?

But what better combination than travel and food? For me, the strange things I get to eat when I’m travelling to foreign places are definitely part of the attraction of exploring a new place, as you can tell from this flickr-set devoted to food on my travels
.

Organic food giant
This week, Forbes published a profile of Hain Celestial, the world’s biggest natural food company. Interesting to see how a company like this has grown throughout the years.

China’s West
From food to travel, and another profiling article, this time of the Chinese city Urumqi way West as published in the Atlantic this week. This city, or rather Xinjiang – the province it’s located in, is still very high on my China-travel wishlist. I got as far as Western Gansu years ago, but will still have to make it further West some day… (when I speak Chinese!).

Afghanistan’s child jihadis
And from Urumqi heading south, I’m looking forward to making some time this week to read this article on Afghanistan child jihadi’s. Should be an interesting read.

A week across Southeast Asia

View across the city/KL

My work focuses mostly on China and Japan. But sustainability and CSR are topics where ever you go in Asia. And this week was a good reminder of that.

Since writing a previous post on it, I’ve registered for the CSR Asia Summit which will take place on September 17/18th in Bangkok. Of course, this will also be a good opportunity to find out more about CSR developments in Thailand. And I’m in contact with a few Dutch located in Bangkok to discuss if we can set up some kind of collaboration while I’m there. Exciting stuff!

Moving a little further geographically south, earlier this week I had a skype chat with a Dutch entrepreneur based in Malaysia. I love talking to fellow entrepreneurs who are busy setting up their business as well. We were talking about the local environment for his business and touched on what he sees happening locally with regard to CSR & sustainability, which is still quite undeveloped but gaining more interest from companies. A hub for the Southeast Asian region south of KL, Singapore is another place where sustainable development is becoming more important. Though this seems to come more from necessity than ethics or a sense of social obligation: Singapore only occupies a small land mass and is feeling the need to be more efficient in the use of energy, smart logistics or creating green space in the city (which then goes on rooftops).

A nice discussion in preparation for a meeting today: how to start working on a successful market entry in Singapore as a small-sized Dutch company. Including: do’s and don’t’s, who to contact, what steps to take and what kind of additional information is necessary to decide that Singapore really is a potentially interesting market for a company focused on sustainability.

Good week, showing again that sustainability and Asia increasingly go hand-in-hand.

MVO in Japan: deel 2 online

Ik schreef er vorige week al over: het artikel (in twee delen) voor Katern: Japan over maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen in Japan, en wat ik daarover te weten ben gekomen. Tenminste, er is natuurlijk nog veel meer te vertellen dan alleen deze twee delen, maar dit geeft een aardig goed beeld.

Deze week is het tweede deel online gegaan, met daarin aandacht voor wat ik mis in de Japanse ontwikkelingen rond MVO. Zoals bijvoorbeeld aandacht vanuit het bedrijfsleven voor ketenverantwoordelijkheid wanneer bijvoorbeeld een bedrijf actief is in het buitenland. Maar ik schrijf ook over de andere rol van NGO’s en de invloed die dit heeft op het MVO-debat.

Wat is MVO in Japan? (deel 2)

Dit artikel werd eerder gepubliceerd op Katern Japan

Maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen in Japan, welke thema’s horen daar wel en niet bij? In deel 1 besprak ik wat Japanse bedrijven juist wel doen op dit gebied. Maar er ontbreken vaak ook onderwerpen in hun beleid.

Verschillende thema’s die internationaal veel aandacht krijgen, zijn tot nu toe relatief weinig terug te zien in het MVO-beleid van Japanse bedrijven. De meest opvallende hiervan vind ik bijvoorbeeld mensenrechten en ketenverantwoordelijkheid: thema’s die al snel een internationale – maar niet alleen – dimensie hebben waarbij het niet meer uitsluitend gaat over de activiteiten van het bedrijf in Japan zelf. Het lijkt wel alsof zodra een thema de grens over gaat (bijvoorbeeld arbeidsomstandigheden in een Japanse fabriek in Zuidoost-Azië) dit niet meer gezien wordt als een MVO-thema maar als een arbeidsthema waar een visie op verantwoord ondernemerschap geen echte rol speelt. Of in elk geval niet meer de verantwoordelijkheid is van het moederbedrijf in Japan. Dat is best gek: zeker vanuit Europa komt er steeds meer aandacht voor de verantwoordelijkheid van het moederbedrijf die uitstrekt naar dochterondernemingen, maar ook naar leveranciers en soms leveranciers van leveranciers.

Je ziet dus ook dat in Japan ontwikkelingen zoals de verdere praktische toepassing van de UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (het zogenaamde Ruggie framework) achterlopen op internationale discussies. Dit is jammer, want een aantal Japanse bedrijven hebben een flinke internationale positie en kunnen dus een sterke rol pakken om de negatieve impact van bedrijfsactiviteiten in – met name – minder ontwikkelde economieën te verminderen.

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Weekend reading: bribery & business, China in the Mekong, and food in the city

Welcome to my new blog space! And my first post written here is, because it’s Saturday, my online discoveries from the past week.

Bribery & business in China
Last week I spoke to a co-worker about CSR in China, and she mentioned that in her view corruption is one of the most difficult issues in China for foreign companies. And the FT is talking about this issue this week, following the bribery scandal at GlaxoSmithKline that broke recently as well. Bottom line: the line between what is business as usual and what is bribery is very blurred.

On environment and China in the Mekong
As usual, this section includes something on China and the environment. China Dialogue has posted several interesting articles this week. One of these talks about how to deal with companies who are heavy polluters.

The second article I’d like to highlight discusses China’s strategy in the Mekong region, mostly focused on infrastructure. But what consequences does this strategy have for topics such as the environment and food security?

To fly or not to fly?
The following article touches on a more general topic, but one which is a bit of a personal dilemma as well: flying. The Guardian’s Jo Confino asks whether it’s okay for sustainability professionals to be jetting all over the world – as many do, including myself (though not nearly as much as some others). For travel within Europe I try to stick to train travel. And I was recently a bit shocked that people from cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam think it very normal to fly to Paris, especially if your work is about promoting sustainable business. But what to do about the trips to Asia… travelling overland isn’t really an option. In a way, it’s even more of an incentive to really make those trips count.

Book recommendation
And not really an article that I found this week, but a recommendation if you’re looking for any books to take on holiday. I’m currently in the middle of Hungry City by Carolyn Steel. I’d heard a lot about it for the last few years or so, and finally got it last week. So good. Really recommended if you love food, but also when you are interested in how cities work, what impact food has on communities etc.

Wat is MVO in Japan? (deel 1)

Dit artikel werd eerder gepubliceerd op Katern Japan

Staat maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen op de agenda in Japan?

Hoe maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen Japanse bedrijven? Eigenlijk kon ik tot voor kort deze vraag niet goed beantwoorden, terwijl deze vraag over Nederlandse bedrijven juist steeds vaker gesteld wordt. Maatschappelijk Verantwoord Ondernemen (MVO) krijgt ook steeds meer aandacht van de consument, bijvoorbeeld te zien aan het nieuws over en de reacties op de ingestortte fabriek in Bangladesh in april.

Maar over MVO of duurzaam ondernemen in Japan hoor je maar weinig. Dit terwijl Japan toch de derde economie ter wereld is en een aardig aantal Japanse merken household names zijn geworden, ook buiten Japan (denk maar aan Sony of Mitsubishi). Staat MVO eigenlijk wel op de agenda bij bedrijven in Japan?

Met deze vraag ging ik recent op pad in Tokyo. Ik wilde weten of MVO een relevant onderwerp is voor het Japanse bedrijfsleven, en welke thema’s dan in het bijzonder aandacht krijgen. Niet alleen is dit relevant in de Japanse context, maar dit is ook van belang voor de internationale discussie over wat MVO is en wat de internationale gemeenschap van het bedrijfsleven mag – en kan – verwachten.*

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Online bij Katern: MVO in Japan

Osaka / rooftop urban garden

Hoewel ik het hier al weer heb gehad over een volgende werkreis naar het Oosten, ben ik momenteel nog druk bezig met het opvolgen van gelegde contacten en opgedane kennis in Tokyo toen ik daar in mei was. Want dat was een erg succesvolle week, dus daar wil ik juist veel mee gaan doen in Nederland.

Door te laten zien wat er in Japan speelt op het gebied van MVO en duurzaamheid (zoals duurzame stedelijke ontwikkeling, waar ik gisteren ook over schreef) hoop ik ook aan een Nederlands publiek te tonen dat hier interessante dingen gebeuren en dat er raakvlakken liggen voor Nederlandse organisaties.

Maar waar laat je dat zien? Bijvoorbeeld via de (nog relatief jonge) site Katern: Japan waar vandaag mijn eerste artikel over MVO in Japan verscheen. Binnenkort verschijnt deel 2.

Pedestrian space: essential to liveable cities?

Walking...
via Flickr/David O

Attractive and well-maintained public pedestrian space is probably essential to a smoothly functioning democratic society, because we are forced to develop and maintain a civic awareness there, our activities are visible and we can meet as equals Lees meer

Weekend reading: solar power in Japan, bikes in China and more

Saturday morning, and I’m writing this in a luscious green garden with the sound of birds and a windchime. Perfect start of the weekend. Today’s selection of articles is not a very extensive one. Either I’ve not being paying attention this week or we are really heading into summer.

Solar power in Japan
Speaking of summer – and sun – I caught up on this article from last month on the development of the solar energy industry in Japan, and its potential economic drawbacks by increasing the electricity bill for consumers in a country where electricity already is expensive. Although the article starts off by saying that this could hinder the economic policies set in place by current PM Abe, it doesn’t really elaborate further on the effects on Abenomics.

Stories from Chinese factory managers
One topic that seems to be part of this series almost weekly is the environment in China. While there is a lot of discussion on government policy, response from civilians and, of course, the pollution itself, I haven’t seen many stories highlighting the perspective of one of the sources of this pollution: the factories. Steven Zhang is a Fullbright scholar in China, and his (seemingly new) website Made in China shares his discussions with factory managers on environmental pollution, waste water treatment etc. Looks like an interesting website to continue following.

Bike-sharing in China
China holds many growth records, but did you know that China is also the fastest growing bike-sharing location? Via UrbaChina I just found this post sharing how China & Taiwan are exploring new ways to make using a bicycle more attractive again, including starting up bike-sharing schemes.

Chinese art in Groningen
And closing off with another slightly older post, I just looked up a previous edition of the SinArts Newsletter to read Alex’s review of the current exhibition Fuck Off 2 in the Groninger Museum. Will be going there tomorrow, looking forward to it.

The power of networks

social networking
via Flickr/Sean MacEntee

I’m an active user of all kinds of social media, as you can tell from some of the links on this blog. But, there are plenty of things that I don’t like about social media – or rather, that I dislike in how people use it.

For example, one of my pet peeves on LinkedIn is receiving an invitation to connect from someone I’ve never met who doesn’t include anything personal in that invitation.

Who are you?
Why do you want to connect with me?
Why is it interesting for me to connect with you?

These are some of the questions that immediately pop up when I see yet another one of these emails popping up in my inbox.

Ususally, I ignore. (So, if you are reading this and I don’t know you, but you once sent me an impersonal LinkedIn invitation: now you know why I didn’t accept) Sometimes, I’m in a good mood. And I think, ‘Sure, I’ll reply. Why not?’

When I do, I accept an invitiation, but also reply with a message to the sender to find out more about this person and the things we might have in common. I like knowing my network – that doesn’t have to mean we go way back, but I want to have some idea of who you are. Of course, this appraoch doesn’t always work. And those people, after time, are deleted from my contact list again. But sometimes, the results go way beyond anything I had expected.

One of these invitations a year ago ultimately led to a small project to help his company set up a location in Tokyo – and, incidentally, was my first project as an entrepreneur. And this week I finally replied to another one of these invitations which had been sitting in my inbox for a while staring at me indecisively. It’s now a few days later, I’m also in touch with one of his contacts and together we’re talking about a possible collaboration to work on in September. It may not happen, of course, but just the idea that this is a possibility leaves me amazed at the power of (online) networks.

It’s also a good reminder to just do this more often: connect and talk to people. It’s the only way to make social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter (and probably all the others) work in the way you would like them to. Anyway, I guess this article (in Dutch) pretty much sums that up as well.

And probably, it’s the only way anything in the world works.