Tag Archives: ethical sourcing

A structured rant

2 Feb

About two month ago I attended my first Ignite session.  Well, it was loosely based on the Ignite concept, which is now a global event where hundreds of people in several cities pitch ideas to thousands of their neighbours.  We were doing it on a much smaller scale, getting together with about 50 classmates to share entrepreneurial ideas or concepts they were interested in working on as part of an entrepreneurship project this term.

One of the organizers suggested that a great idea might arise from something that you were passionate about, or better yet, that makes you mad. Something that just bugs you, and might for example, cause you to start a somewhat obscure WordPress blog, as an alternative to yelling at the radio!

Although I highly recommend the cathartic effect of blogging, it might be argued that doing something to pound on, um… I mean work on, the thing that makes you mad might be somewhat more rewarding.  And since I’ve been practicing structured approaches to problem solving, I thought it would be appropriate to make a list of some of those things that have really been getting on my nerves:

  1. Mis-pricing – blame it on my first brush with economics last term. As the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! But it really bugs me that chronic mis-pricing of resources, and therefore the things those resources are used for, means that we have ended up not valuing things appropriately.  We need better ways of measuring those so-called “externalities” that traditional accounting systems have been unable to tackle.  We won’t have any incentive to manage resources differently until we are paying our way.
  2. Using old ways to solve new problems – enough of this! Doesn’t it make the tiniest bit of sense that new problems need new ways of thinking and responding? I am happy to acknowledge that there are lots of people in the world who get this. Sadly, it sometimes seems that only a few of them are actually in a position to do something about it.
  3. Climate change nay-sayers – I know, I know, I have a bias – but this is my list! Get off this bandwagon, seriously! Do you honestly believe that 7 billion people, and all the development that about a third of them are doing, will have no impact on our planet’s climate and ecosystems? Ever?

So these are my top three. It’s been really helpful to think about these things, particularly at this point in time, when I’m thinking about the rest of the MBA program still to come, and mapping out what I’d like to do post-MBA.

One final note. There is one more thing that made me mad (and not a little sad) as I’ve watched the ever-changing news coming out of the Middle East recently. I don’t know much about the history of the situations that have led to the events of the past several weeks, but it completely floored me to think that one young man thought his only option was to take himself out of the game by setting himself on fire on a street in Tunisia. It makes you wonder how many more people are on the brink of such desperation, whether in the Middle East, or somewhere much closer to home.

So, what makes you mad? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Starting from Zero

14 Jan

There are, as you might imagine, many enduring traditions at a university like Oxford. For example, you can be refused entry to write your exams if you are not properly dressed in formal academic dress or sub-fusc as it is known. You can read more about sub-fusc at exams on my classmate’s FT blog here.

A slightly more subtle tradition is the numbering the weeks of term.  This was also the custom throughout my elementary and high school experience, so there was some happy nostalgia when I rediscovered the practice.  Less obvious however, was the need for a Week 0 or ‘Nought Week’ as it is sometimes known. This week was Nought Week here at Oxford. There are no classes, but students are required by the rules of the university to be present. It’s an official part of the calendar and school rules, and there is one every term.

So what happens in Week 0? I like to think of it as built-in ‘brain stretching’ time – that transitional period between vacation and work that we have all found ourselves wishing for on the Sunday night at the end of a vacation, right before heading back to work on Monday. This week, we’ve attended presentations about electives we’ll be able to take next term, and several classmates have been participating in the VCIC venture capital competition.

My particular ‘brain-stretching’ moment came in a small seminar room, where about 20 of us gathered to listen to a presentation about a community wind farm project in Mexico.  There are many unique features about the project, a partnership of the Yansa Foundation and a local indigenous community in Ixtepec, which has designed as a social enterprise.  Perhaps one of the most exciting things about the project was the plan to formally quantify and verify the social and environmental impacts, beyond GHG emissions reductions, that the project will deliver.  These certificates will then potentially become a traded commodity, as companies and potentially countries, look for ways to meet their commitments to support GHG reduction and climate change mitigation.

But how do you measure something that doesn’t have a convenient scale, like dollars or megawatts or milligrams? It’s the ultimate ‘starting from zero’ kind of problem. Economists and accountants traditionally branded these things as ‘externalities’ that were conveniently left off the balance sheet because they were so challenging to measure. But times have changed. Imagine my complete delight when an hour later, the very last elective presentation of the day introduced a new course on impact valuation – the technical process of defining social, financial and environmental metrics and quantifying them, with a view to fully integrated triple bottom line assessments.

Clearly, we have some way to go before this approach to valuation of resources, and products and companies is mainstreamed. But it’s encouraging to think that ‘zero’ is not really nothing, but may be the start of a really big something! Here’s hoping you too can find a ‘zero’ in your world that becomes a brain-stretching moment for this year.

Where did you buy that?

4 Jun

I need you to do me a favour.  Before you read any more of this post, get up and go look at your stuff. Open your closet, your pantry, your super-duper designer shoe cupboard.  Look at your stuff, take it in.  OK, come back now.

Do you know where your stuff comes from? Who made it, grew it, helped get it from wherever it started to you? If not, you should.  Here’s why:

  • According to the International Labour Organization, there are about 215 million child labourers at work across the globe.
  • Tobacco is one of the main agricultural industries employing children. Children are being poisoned by green tobacco sickness as a result.
  • Multi-generational poverty in some of the world’s poorest places is the main reason that children often need or are forced to work
  • Unless companies understand their supply chains, you could be purchasing items made by children.

The fact is, sometimes a bargain isn’t really a bargain. Does it really make sense that you can purchase a “hand-made” item for as little as $5? Made in some country thousands of kilometres away from your local mall? How far you could you get on $5?

So what to do? Get the facts. There are plenty of brands out there willing to share their supply chains with you. They audit the factories and locations where their goods are made, ensure proper conditions for workers, and work to prevent child labour.  Some of them, like Nike and Gap, made this shift when others exposed their secrets. Today, Nike is embracing transparency and sharing how it continues to work on managing its supply chain. Other companies like Patagonia and Timberland have always focused on producing high-quality items in ethical ways.

Even if you aren’t in the market for fancy shoes, you can still make a difference.  Pay attention. Question the “deal”. Get to know more about how goods are produced.  Get to know the Story of Stuff.

Buy less, but buy better.Your wallet has power. Use it wisely.