China environment

Speaking about: business impact of sustainability in China

A good score, I thought: I was halfway through my session on sustainability in China and its impact on business when I asked the group of students in front of me whether they think business should care about sustainability and the environment in their operations.

All hands went up to indicate, yes, business should care.

I had hoped to have some discussion at this point between students saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. So I had to improvise a bit. But it was a good starting point to talk a little about why and in what way business should go about this.

My session was part of a week of events at the International Business School of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences on the theme of Become a global citizen – Engage with the world.

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What makes a city smart?

“How many of you have booked accomodation via Airbnb for this conference?”

It was the first question Molly Turner, Director of Public Policy and Civic Partnerships at Airbnb, started her presentation with but the answer seemingly surprised also herself: only a few hands were raised in the audience, consisting of several hundred people.

Undisturbed, she went on to talk about Airbnb and how it fits with the idea of a smart city – the overall theme of the conference I attended earlier this month.

Harnessing technological power to revolutionize how we live in cities

Her talk brought into the conference a theme which I felt lacking up until then: people. You can have all the high-tech applications available used in an urban infrastructure, but without people you have no city.

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sustainable organic food

Sustainable Me

Inspired a few years ago by Carolyn Steel’s Hungry City, I made a resolution to eat more local & more seasonal food, use less plastic when buying food and waste less food. It’s a tough resolution to fully achieve and I’m still far from consistent in my eating and grocery buying habits. But shopping at the local farmer’s market on Wednesday and planning my weekly menu is one of my best shots at getting there.

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This changes everything?

You know that feeling when you are really excited about something but then… nothing?

That’s kind of how I left Tuesday’s ‘A special night with Naomi Klein’, one of the events at this year’s IDFA festival and hosted by the John Adams Institute. I had been looking forward to this evening since I heard about it through a friend as it would focus on her latest book This Changes Everything on the link between climate change and capitalism.

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Tackling climate change: mainstream or frontrunner?

Yesterday afternoon I read an article on the website of the Telegraaf, the largest daily newspaper of the Netherlands, in which the paper shared the results of an online poll that had been running the day before. The statement being polled was: “Climate change is complete nonsense”.

The result: 61% agrees it is.

The more I read in the article about the rest of the results the more depressing it was. 80% doesn’t worry at all about the consequences of climate change and people believe environmental organisations are only in it for the money.

….

Half an hour later I was on my way to something I knew would make me feel a lot more positive again about what’s happening in the world: with a group of people at Den Haag in Transitie (DHiT), a local transition network, we were going to spend an evening talking about how the many local initiatives happening at DHiT link to major global issues such as climate change, environment, energy, etc. It was a really fun night where people were talking about solutions and opportunities to make changes and how to make those possible.

I came home energized, inspired and with lots of new ideas.

So what is more important or the most effective way forward?

Finding ways to get everyone on board or supporting those small groups of people way ahead of the mainstream in making things happen?

Event: Sustainability in India

Old Delhi

It doesn’t happen often that events are organized which specifically focus on sustainability & business in an Asian country. Some will focus on a specific area, such as business opportunities in wind energy or similar but tackling the wider topic is (admittedly) difficult.

So I was happy to come across a seminar yesterday, which was organized by the Netherlands-India Chamber of Commerce and Trade, on sustainability in India. I attended an evening on a similar topic focusing on China a few weeks ago and was looking forward to a more business-oriented approach to the topic that this India-event seemed to promise.

As in many other Asian countries, India is faced with a range of sustainability challenges which are connected to population growth, urbanization, the need for increasing access to clean water and electricity, to name a few. I had hoped that the event yesterday would be able to give a comprehensive overview of these issues – and what opportunities this can offer for Dutch entrepreneurs. It tried to do this, but mostly remained focused on the renewable energy challenge in India with speakers from PwC India and TERI Europe. An important topic, and one that has a lot of potential – especially when you consider the social multiplier effect of enabling more people to connect to the electricity grid in India: indirectly, this opens up more opportunities for healthcare, education etc all because people have access to better appliances, light etc. Renewables such as wind energy and solar power can play a very important part to enable this access. Growth numbers also indicate this opportunity, with 17% annual growth for renewable energy in India.

This potential was highlighted by the other two speakers from TERI Europe and from Start Green Venture Capital, who also mentioned shortly the need for water technology (advisory) services. However, the presentations remained quite exclusively focused on wind energy, and a little on other sources of renewables. No doubt that this is an important topic, though I had hoped for a little more perspective on the wider topic of sustainability and sustainable business.

Nevertheless, a good way to get a little more insight into opportunities in a country which I only know a little (and of that, my knowledge mostly extends to the maritime and creative industries). The afternoon gathered together an interesting mix of people, coming from various backgrounds. That – and the great food! – combined to make for a good afternoon.

Duurzaamheid: naar de basis?

Van maatschappelijk verantwoord ondernemen en duurzaamheid wordt vaak gezegd dat dit volledig in de kern van een bedrijf/organisatie (of persoon?) verweven moet zijn – intrinsiek moet zijn – om echt succesvol of gerealiseerd te zijn. Daar ben ik het mee eens, maar: wanneer is dit dan zo? En is het dan belangrijk om dit te laten zien en hoe?

Deze vraag zweeft al een tijdje door mijn hoofd, en werd weer aangewakkerd door wat recente gesprekken. Bijvoorbeeld met iemand van een grote organisatie die zich onder andere bezig houdt met milieu en duurzaamheid. Deze man vertelde trots dat duurzaamheid volledig in de missie van de organisatie verwerkt zit. Gelukkig, zou ik bijna zeggen, want het zou me erg verbazen als dat niet zo zou zijn.

Maar ik had wel een paar tegenvragen. Bijvoorbeeld over hoe een onderwerp dat ik belangrijk vind binnen dit thema – voedsel – terug komt in die missie en in die organisatie. Hoeveel keuze geeft het bedrijfsrestaurant voor biologische producten? Is er veel keuze voor vegetarische gerechten? Ja, hele kleine en praktische punten maar voor mij raakt dit wel een belangrijk onderdeel: Ik ben van mening dat je juist met keuzes over wat je wel en niet eet verschil kunt maken. En als een organisatie zegt dat duurzaamheid belangrijk is, dan is wat mij betreft het aanbod in de kantine daar een belangrijke indicatie voor: geef je je medewerkers de gelegenheid om andere keuzes te kunnen maken (zonder dat ze zelf brood of salades vanuit huis moeten meenemen)?

Terug naar dat gesprek. Deze vraag alleen al bleek moeilijk te beantwoorden. Eigenlijk viel dat toch best tegen, die keuzemogelijkheid in wat je kon eten. Tja….

Wat betekent het dan dat je toch als organisatie zegt duurzaamheid ontzettend belangrijk te vinden, maar je binnen je eigen bedrijfsvoering niet die dingen oppakt die zo zichtbaar zijn op dat gebied. Diezelfde vraag komt vaak bij me op als ik bekende Nederlanders, vaak nadat ze zijn teruggetreden na een succesvolle politieke carrière, hoor praten over de urgentie van dit onderwerp. Wat doen zij zelf? Maken zij zelf de keuzes – als consument – die bijdragen aan een duurzamere samenleving die zij – als burger – zeggen belangrijk te vinden? Zoals ik professor Kishore Mahbubani eerder deze week hoorde zeggen: wijsheid komt na het neerleggen van openbare bestuurlijke/politieke functies.

En nee, ook ik ben geen ideaal voorbeeld van hoe je je leven zo duurzaam mogelijk kunt inrichten – maar leer daar wel steeds vaker keuzes in te maken die ik belangrijk vind. Wie weet, misschien geldt dat ook voor de voorbeelden die ik hier boven noem. Hopelijk.

Books with impact

A few weeks ago I posted my favourite books on China: what are must-read’s on this country if you want to get an idea of what is going on in this country, according to mthld of course.

But I don’t only read on China (and in that case, that list possibly would’ve been longer). Especially some of the books which I’ve read on the topic of sustainability and corporate social responsibility have made quite an impact on how I view these topics and what I have done about them in my personal life. But not only that, reading about these issues and getting a better understanding of them has also led me to work towards a career shift. I’m in the middle of this career shift right now in which I will combine the topics of international business and CSR much more than I have done so far. Exciting stuff.

More will follow about that later, for now – what are these books that have made such an impact?

Collapse by Jared Diamond
Diamond is the writer of another fascinating book (Guns, Germs and Steel) which is a recommended read as well – but for me this book is the more interesting of the two. In this book Diamond describes what made the difference for societies to either be successful or to fail. Often, according to Diamond, the reasons behind this are in part environmental and also dependent on how societies work with their natural environment. He sketches how caring for and maintaining the natural environment properly is a critical factor in the survival of a society. Fascinating reading, which gave me a much better understanding of longer term effects of environment and of not handling it as well as we should.

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan
Despite the title of this book, this book – and the one-week experiment that resulted from it, the No Impact Project – has probably influenced my personal life and the choices I make the most. The book is the result of one year living with no (or at least very minimal) impact on the environment in the middle of New York City. Colin Beavan’s year goes to a lot more extremes than is considered comfortable living, but it also shows what is possible. By participating in the No Impact Project (twice, and it’s starting again in the Netherlands in spring 2013) I’ve discovered much more about the possibilities of changes in your own behaviour towards a more sustainable way of living than I expected.

Prosperity without growth by Tim Jackson
Is continuous economic growth possible within the limits of the earth? Jackson argues that it isn’t , but he also argues that economic growth is not necessary for prosperity. However, this does require major changes in the current economic system, and in this book he explains some of them and how to make them work. Persuasive reading, and especially recommended if you are interested in the economic & business side of sustainability.

The necessary revolution by Peter Senge, and others
This is another book which looks at the more economic side of sustainability and the changes needed both to make business more sustainable but also how this will impact the rest of society. It looks at creating partnerships across society and how this will enable change to happen. Interesting ideas, and it contains good examples and best practices.

The ecology of commerce by Paul Hawken
This is an older book on the basics of what sustainibility means for business, and how business can work with this. Still worth a read.

With the amount of books written about CSR & sustainability of course there is a lot more out there. For the moment however, these are my personal favourites – and of course I am always curious to hear your’s. What is missing from this list?

IMPACT

Today was another day at the university, one of the last course days of my course on CSR Management. The morning was spent on discussing methods of measuring (social) impact and a method of giving financial value to environmental impact. At the end of the morning a few people started discussing some initiatives which are aimed at creating more awareness amongst individuals and/or companies about sustainability issues.

Of course, I couldn’t resist and I pitched No Impact Week as well, especially because this week is having it’s second Dutch edition in November. Predictably, our course coordinator asked me what impact this week (I have done it twice now) had had on me personally.

And, predictably, I always think of the best answer afterwards. I said something about eating organic most of the time, using my Dopper for tap water, etc. But later on I realized something else – the impact it really had on me.

Taking on the challenge of No Impact Week (NIW) two years ago has slowly but surely put me on the path of a career shift, which is what I am currently working towards. Curiousity about what it would mean to my own life to live ‘No Impact’ for a week was what made me take on the first week. That has led to a growing collection of books read on issues on sustainability, gathering a group of colleagues the next year for the first country-wide NIW, attending seminars and conferences on CSR & sustainability etc. All of this has led to the realization that this is something I don’t just want to read about, but that I want to do something about.

And that meant going back to school as a first step. The course is almost done, I’m excited about my final assignment for the course which we are piloting in November and I can’t wait to find out what will be next in this journey to new discoveries.