Tag Archives: environment

Rethinking business

12 Nov

It’s absolutely unbelievable that the previous post is dated October 6th! If I didn’t know better I’d say some blog-bug hacked in and changed the date.  But it’s probably fair to say things have been a little bit hectic!  As I hinted in my last post, the beginning of term has been a storm, characterised by a whirlwind of assignments, group projects, careers events, guest lectures, MBA class elections and more! And that’s just the weekdays!

Despite the controlled insanity, it’s been very interesting to reflect in some quieter moments with a few classmates on how the things we are being taught really could play out in the real world.  One emerging theme is the concept of “rethinking business”.  What is a business for? This question came up in our first week of classes in just about every course.  Some of the concepts hinted at the traditional – to make money, to create and capture value, to innovate – but others also acknowledged a broader sense of purpose – to do all those things with an eye on the big picture of society.

I’ve been very fortunate in the past several weeks to attend events with an incredible list of speakers, two of whom resonated deeply with me personally by capturing different facets of this concept of greater responsibility.  The first was Stephen Green, the chairman of HSBC Holdings plc, speaking at the first Pears Business School Partnership lecture.  You can read more about the event here, but the key takeaway for me was his assertion that companies must transition from treating corporate social responsibility as a solely philanthropic or “do good PR” issue to using it as a core business strategy tool that selects investments in social and environment issues as a component of a successful business model.

The second speaker was Bob Dudley, the newly appointed CEO of BP.  The Confederation of British Industry’s Annual Conference was the location for Mr. Dudley’s first public appearance since taking office on October 1, 2010.  While much of his discussion centred around the in-depth internal analysis and stock-taking within the organization following the Gulf oil spill, he also clearly acknowledged that BP has had to completely rethink its role as a business, and is working on forging a very different relationship with areas like the Gulf where it does business.  Regular readers will know that I’ve written more than once about BP, and I still believe those opinions were founded and appropriate for the time.  Time will tell whether BP actually is able to achieve their objectives under Mr. Dudley’s leadership, but I will say that his personal commitment through his speech is not in doubt.  We can only hope that the new BP that emerges from this disaster will continue to be fully engaged in its broader responsibility as a global company.

So what is a business for? No doubt this will be a central theme revisted in posts to come, but I can say that we are working on defining this for ourselves in a way that centrally integrates the idea that perhaps a better question may turn out to be “Who is a business for?”

Ready to change how we think

28 Sep

Going to business school is a personal decision, based on all kinds of things.  What you do now, what you’d like to do next, what new ideas you have, how interested in business you are, and a host of other factors that shape your thinking through the application and acceptance process.  Notwithstanding this very personal vision, many of the experiences my classmates and I have shared so far have been somewhat “broad strokes”, touching on the traditional areas and sectors that the “typical” business school student is likely to be interested in.

But what if you are not typical? Clearly we all like to think of ourselves as unique, and to some extent we all are. But equally, in a business school setting, there are going to be several people who delight in the idea of 12-hour work days as investment bankers, thrive on the excitement of the trading floor, and leap out of bed at the thought of complex financial modelling.  I’m not one of them, I’ve realised, but figuring out what I don’t want to do early on is a good thing, I think.

What I really want to do is change the way we think about stuff and the people and companies who make it, sell it, use it and deal with it when we’re done.  I’ve written about stuff as a consumer and as an owner, and realised since moving into a small student bedroom that living with less stuff is not only possible, but kind of peaceful.  I’ve been practising my “elevator pitch” to my classmates, and researching companies, organizations and people who already seem to be thinking about stuff differently.

Now, it’s early days on the research front, but I thought I’d share some cool things I’ve found so far.  Some of these may be familiar, while others may spark some new interest.

  1. Look to your right, over there in the side bar.  Click on The Story of Stuff and see with Annie has to say about things.
  2. Check out this blog post by Joel Makower, the founder of Greenbiz.com, and a “guru of green” I think has some neat things to say.  The book he recommends is now officially on my list.
  3. While you’re browsing through the blog roll, stop on by The Clean Bin Project, which chronicles the great things Jenny and Grant did and learned in living “waste free” for a year. I was lucky to meet these two about a week before they took off on a cross-Canada bike tour this summer, and they are doing something special.

So here’s what I’m ready to test through business school, and hopefully get some of the best brains I know (my classmates!) to think through this with me:

  • How do we make better stuff? The kind that’s good for the environment, and for people, and for the companies that make them?
  • Is a stuff vs. services conversation something we’re ready to have? And who should we have it with?
  • How much, and what kind of stuff, is “enough” in a finite world, a closed system with limits on all kinds of resources?

You probably have ideas about your stuff too. Let me know what you think – say it out loud.

Better programs, better products

19 Jul

Sometimes we can’t help it. Those of us living in the rest of Canada find ourselves shaking our heads at Ontarians. Maybe the record heat is making them cranky, but it seems they’ve been up in arms since Canada Day about so-called “eco-fees” that came into effect on July 1, 2010 to cover the cost of recycling a range of household hazardous materials like left-over paint, aerosols, batteries and the like. This would seem to make sense to me, considering these materials contain pretty nasty stuff that ought to properly disposed or recycled.  But, amid a flurry of complaints, and some pretty haphazard publicity about tax-grabs and confused consumers, the “people” have spoken and today, the Ontario Environment Minister caved and recalled the fees.

It’s a pity, because these types of programs really work. We in British Columbia have had similar charges in place for many products for several years.  In fact, on July 1st, fluorescent tubes, cell phones, thermostats, batteries and a range of other electronics also became part of the province-wide recycling system. It’s called Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR, and it’s a policy tool being used successfully in BC, a few US states, and widely across Europe to deal with materials that are hard to dispose of or need special handling.

So why is this important? Producers make products, which we as consumers buy. Traditionally, we would buy them, use them, and throw them away when we were done.  Most often, these materials ended up in landfills which cost a great deal to manage and maintain safely, and were typically operated by local governments and paid for by all taxpayers.  That means that everyone paid the cost of disposal, even if we didn’t all use the product.  More importantly, it let the producers off the hook for being responsible for their products at the end of their useful life.

But EPR is a game-changer.  By sharing the responsibility for the product between the producer and the person who bought it, used it and threw it away, a whole new way of dealing with waste is possible.  First off, people tend to be more careful about what they buy.  Buying just enough paint for your new reno means none to dispose of at the end, and being able to recycle batteries means no harmful chemicals threatening our health.  Producers get in on the act too, making better products that either last longer or are easier to recycle, since it’s now be their job to manage the products once we’re done with them.

So back to the “eco-fees”.  These are the charges attached to the products governed by the EPR policy.  They go to the producers, usually represented by a non-profit organization whose job it is to take back the products and make sure they are disposed or recycled safely.  No money goes to the government, no taxes are snuck into other programs. The producers have to report annually on how much of their products were sold, and how much they recovered through take-back programs for recycling. And producers, especially for mega-brands like Sony and Toshiba, are starting to take this further, trying to figure out how to use EPR to make their products stand out even more to the discerning consumer.

Let’s hope that the retraction by the Ontario government is temporary, and that with a better organized communications plan, they can roll the program out with success.  It’s time to put your money where your mouth is!

In the interests of full disclosure, I work in the recycling business and have been a strong advocate of EPR programs for many years.  I also love to shop.

The spin on the spill

9 Jun

This is one of those classic yelling-at-the-TV moments. In the middle of watching AC360 on CNN, calm music of a commercial invades, and there is Tony Hayward of BP doing his “we will make this right” speech. Have you seen this thing??!!!

First off, the teleprompter-induced squint has got to go – way to look like you couldn’t speak from the heart on one of the most heart-wrenching events in US history. And secondly, thanks for “taking full responsibility for the clean-up” as the crap-o-mercial goes on to say, really, that’s very generous of you.  What about taking responsibility for the events leading up to the spill in the first place??!!!

What absolutely blows my mind is the continuing idea, in the face of thousands of blog posts, hours of television and radio coverage, pounds and pounds of print news, that they can somehow “spin” this issue!!  From an upwardly spiralling flow rate from the well that is now being challenged by the Flow Rate Technical Group, to the continuing denial of sub-sea oil plumes, these guys are trying to tweak our perspective on this whole sad and sorry mess.  And clearly, this is in their best interest, as ProPublica.org reported this week.

So here is my call to the blogosphere, the new and old media, and every single person who knows someone else, sat next to someone on the bus, or stood behind a guy at the coffee shop.  Do NOT stop talking about, writing about, debating about and researching this issue.  Never, ever give up.  The collective voice needs to drown out the spin, no doubt about it.

Just like Mr. Hayward, we need to say it out loud. Minus the squint, if possible.

Boy are those guys in trouble

2 Jun

So hands up out there how many of you have drilled a deep-sea oil well in more than a mile of water? OK, so not that many of you. Me either.

However, I have drilled oil wells on land, back in my early career.  Now, I won’t for a minute pretend that I have all the answers, but I have to tell you that it blows my mind that BP has only NOW got around to trying the two most basic things to control a well blow-out – a top kill and capping the well!! And we are at Day 43! What the heck were they thinking? Gee – let’s wait and see if they notice?

Anyway, what really gets me is the almost total silence on the deaths of 11 workers, and the injuries to many more.  Eleven people lots their lives, and we have just moved on. What was the safety record on the rig? How prepared were people for the type of accident that occured? Could it happen again?  Let’s hope that the hearings and the possible criminal investigation will make sure that those 11 people are remembered, and that their deaths will not be in vain.

Time to hold ourselves accountable, folks. Time to get off the “crude cocaine” our economy is built on.  Friends don’t let friends do unsustainable fuels.

Glad you could join me

2 Jun

Hello? I’m here!!! Can anyone hear me? Is this thing on?

You’ll have to pardon me, I’m pretty good at yelling at inanimate objects. In fact, one of the main reasons I started this blog is that I really needed to find an alternative to yelling at the radio every day on my way home.

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably come across things in the news, on TV or online that really make you want to grab a megaphone and head out on to the street, just to speak your mind.

Since I’m new here, maybe I won’t yell today. First impressions and all that. But just you wait … the folks at BP have yet to let me down … but that’s a story for another day. First impressions and all that.

Wendy