Tag Archives: sustainability

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?”

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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.

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.