The top six read articles 2016

2016 has been an exciting and challenging year for all of us. If there was one adjective that could describe it, I’d have voted for “uncertain”.

 

The world has lived in stormy times. We’ve seen the Western political establishments being shaken up with the rise of populism. Worldwide inequality levels were steadily increasing and many blame globalisation as its cause.

 

Despite the political turbulence business remained true to its promise and the world has seen ratification of the Paris Agreement.

 

Ranging from blockchain and modern slavery to food security and responsible tax, we’ve compiled a list of our top six read articles in 2016. We hope it will help our corporate sustainability community to navigate through uncertainty while preparing for 2017.

 

GLOBAL GOALS – TELL EVERYONE: CUSTOMERS, SUPPLIERS, COLLEAGUES, FRIENDS AND FAMILY!

“The Global Goals represent probably the biggest set of BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) that the world has seen before”, argues Joe Franses of Coca-Cola European Partners. He shares his key take aways on how to break this down and run a successful Global Goals' workshop.

 

COULD THE BLOCKCHAIN REVOLUTIONISE SUSTAINABILITY?

The Internet is missing one thing and the blockchain has it - trust. Jessi Baker, co-founder of Provenance, describes how a new technology called a blockchain might change how we trust companies,  information, and how it empower us as smarter citizens.

 

CAN TECHNOLOGY HELP US TO FEED THE WORLD?

In the next 50 years as diets become richer, experts estimate that to feed a population of 9bn people, more food should be produced than has been during the past 10,000 years in total. Vincent Doumeizel of Lloyd's Register explores how to work together to produce safe and sustainable food.

 

ARE WE ENTERING THE RESPONSIBLE TAX ERA?

Corporate tax avoidance has been a primary ethical concern for the British public since 2013, and businesses must increase transparency to regain public trust. Is it an ethics issue or a result of legal loopholes? Michael Solomon of Responsible 100 asks how far are we from a responsible tax society?

 

WHAT EU REFERENDUM COULD MEAN TO THE UK ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY?  

What would Brexit mean for the UK's environmental policy? In this exclusive blog, David Baldock, executive director at the Institute for European Environmental Policy, argues that the EU has made progress on environmental issues, and outlines the two main scenarios if the UK should vote to leave the EU. 

 

MODERN SLAVERY AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BUSINESS

Forced labour and child exploitation have been guilty secrets lurking in international supply chains for centuries. With the voice of business carrying greater weight than that of conscience, business has a key role to play in addressing modern slavery, says Aidan McQuade of AntiSlavery International.

 

Photograph: Flickr/ victoriacarlson.

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Are cross-sector partnerships a remedy for Brexit?

The trend towards innovative, mutually beneficial partnerships could be the perfect antidote to the Brexit blues.

 

Regardless of the competing viewpoints on whether the long-term impact of Brexit will be positive or negative, both sides of the campaign agreed that there will be short-to-medium-term pain for the UK economy, for anywhere between five and ten years [this is assuming Brexit still goes ahead following the recent High Court ruling that parliament must vote on triggering Article 50]. This will see people losing their jobs, business investment slowing, the value of the pound reducing, and the price of goods and services increasing.  The wider impact will be a reduction in tax revenues for the government and, consequently, more public spending cuts.

 

All this is likely to hit the poorest in the UK the hardest.  

 

An increase in unemployment and living costs, combined with further public spending cuts, will also hit the charity sector as its income reduces, whilst the demand for services is likely to increase.

 

So, how can cross-sector partnerships help? 

 

If the economy is slowing, doesn’t than mean that companies will have less money available to donate to charitable causes?  Indeed, companies that view charitable giving as a purely nice-to-do, philanthropic activity may reduce or stop giving altogether.  This is why the shift away from basic transactional relationships (a one way agreement whereby a company agrees to donate or raise a set amount of money), towards more value-led, mutually beneficial partnerships is exciting and very timely. 

 

This shift had already started happening pre-Brexit, but, as Claudine Blamey, Head of Sustainability and Stewardship, at The Crown Estate highlights:

 

“economic and political anxieties [caused by Brexit] should only reinforce a need for companies to minimise future risk, cut costs and find innovative new ways of doing business.”

 

Some of the most interesting partnerships we have seen developing over the last few years have been around product innovation - partnerships that are centred on the creation of a new product or service to solve an identified social or environmental issue.  Three such partnerships are outlined below. 

 

Vodafone and Garvan Institute of Medical Research

 

Cancer affects one in three people.  Researchers need to crunch huge amounts of data to test hypotheses and derive insights that will help uncover new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.  However, progress is hindered by limited access to supercomputers to help perform the millions of computations required.  To combat this, Vodafone and Garvan Institute of Medical Research have partnered in Australia to develop the Dreamlab app.  The app uses the processing power of idle smartphones (e.g. overnight when people are asleep) to solve a piece of the cancer research puzzle.  If just 1,000 people used the app, cancer puzzles would be solved 30 times faster.  By demonstrating a commitment to tackling this issue, Vodafone is building a connection with the 33% of the population who are affected by cancer. 

 

Barclays, CARE International UK and Plan UK

 

Globally, 2.5 billion people are considered financially excluded, or ‘unbankable’, with no access to financial services, such as savings, bank accounts, or credit.  Since 2009, Barclays have been working with CARE International UK and Plan UK to tackle this issue by taking a savings-led approach, rather than a credit-led approach, to micro finance.  Banking on Change aims to improve the quality of life of the world’s poorest people who are living on less than US$2 a day. It combines the expertise of each partner to give people the opportunity and skills to save and manage their money by setting up informal savings groups.  Having access to these basic services can transform the lives of vulnerable individuals, especially young people.  For Barclays, it’s an opportunity to learn about a new market and introduce the individuals to formal banking services when they are ready.  It's win-win.

 

WWF and LiveWell

 

Obesity is at epidemic proportions in the UK. Additionally, our consumption of meat is unsustainable and having devastating effects on the environment.  To tackle both of these issues, Sodexo have partnered with WWF on their LiveWell programme.  LiveWell is WWF-UK's flagship programme which aims to encourage businesses and policy-makers to facilitate the adoption of diets which are both healthy and sustainable.  Sodexo serves around one million meals every day in schools, hospitals, workplaces, sports stadia, army barracks, and prisons.  Together they developed a set of 10 food principles that are healthy and good for the environment.  Using these principles, the company developed meals under the Green & Lean banner, and started serving these in schools up and down the country. 

 

"Green & Lean is an exciting development for us. We’re finding that consumers are more and more interested in the provenance of their food and want to make ethical, sustainable and healthy choices." - Edwina Hughes, Sodexo UK and Ireland’s corporate responsibility manager.

 

This is another clear example of mutual benefit.  With consumers making buying decisions based on the behaviour of companies and the origins of the products they produce, it’s vital that companies work with experts from the charity sector to legitimise the efforts they are making to have a positive social and environmental impact.

 

So where does this leave us?

 

Brexit is likely to cause widespread instability and an economic slowdown which is likely to hit the poorest hardest.  As demand for charities’ services increases, so does the need for innovative solutions that can help organisations tackle and solve the social and environmental issues we face as a society.  Cross-sector partnerships can be part of the answer.  A partnership based on product innovation allows a company to identify and develop new market opportunities, develop the skills of their employees, and further build their reputation with consumers, whilst helping solve society’s problems.  It really is a win-win scenario.

 

Rick Benfield is founder and CEO of thirdbridge @rick_benfield.

 

Photograph: thirdbridge.

 

 

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Get ready to vote: EU referendum

With just a few days to go, you may want to remind yourself of all pros and cons of remaining or leaving the EU based on the environmental equation. Here’s a summary of the top arguments in and out drawn from the opinions that Caroline Lucas MP, Michael Liebreich, Lord Callanan, Professor Paul Ekins OBE well expressed at the Crowd’s Referendum Debate. 

 

CASE FOR REMAIN

 

Cross-border nature of environmental problems. They don’t queue at borders waiting for their passports to be checked. They are by their very nature cross-border, and therefore need cross-border solutions. 

 

The EU harmonises European policies. It is desirable especially for energy and environment polices of European countries to be harmonised on the European level rather than on the national level. 

 

The EU prevents race to the bottom through offering a vital level fields of minimal environmental legislation across Europe. The EU multiplies British influence, ideas and values. 

 

Keeping control and influence. UK politicians will have a positive influence over the EU rules that will continue to affect Britain regardless if they’re a member of the EU. 

 

The EU is more democratic than UK as it gives weight to European democratic values and legitimate aspirations of the member states for the national sovereignty. Brussels proposes the legislation, which is then discussed in the European Parliament (which is directly elected from all member states) by proportional representation – some see this as more democratic than the UK Parliament. 

 

Sovereignty is best exercised in collaboration with other countries. The EU has more clout on the global stage then the individual member states.

 

UK interests in energy and environment would be better pursued inside the EU. It’s impossible to imagine that UK would not want to be a part of the single European market. The UK exports 45% into the single market, 2/3rds of which are goods. 

 

Leave campaign doesn’t have a clear picture of what Britain would look like in the case of Brexit. The majority believe it will be similar to those of Norway and Switzerland, which means having access to the market, but in return having to adopt the vast majority of the EU environmental legislation. But they don’t have a say on formulation of the legislation.  

 

Climate change is the biggest threat the humanity faces. The best minds and technology are needed as fast as possible to tackle the catastrophe. By working inside the EU, humanity has a better chance of responding quickly. 

 

CASE FOR LEAVE

 

Not all good environmental things come from the EU. For instance, since Kyoto protocol, the US has made faster progress in phasing out coal than the EU. Or for the past 17 years, emissions from the energy sector in Germany have not budged. 

 

Some of the most important environmental legislations are driven by the UK. This includes peat care, establishing the marine reserve, the carbon floor price, and the decision to phase out coal by 2020. The EU’s ETC don’t work. 

 

Look at deeds not words. Investment in clean energy in the EU is half of what China is investing in clean energy today.  

 

The EU only talks about leading on the environment, but is not leading. The EU response to the VW emissions scandal was to double the Nitrogen Oxide emission cap for diesel cars. This is not the response of a block that is leading on the environment.

 

Europe lacks an understanding of environmental innovation. The environmental problems can only be solved through innovation. Much of the UK’s tech innovation research is outsourced to the EU, and most of the Horizon 2020 budget is spent on socio-economic rather than environmental projects.

 

The EU takes the environmental debate out of Westminster. The existence of Europe means a lot of environmental lobbing is focused on Brussels rather than Westminster, which takes debate and education out of the UK. When policies then arrive from Brussels, they are then seen to be imposed by the mother ship – without being socialised first. That can make them unpopular.

 

The EU is slow to reform and lacks flexibility. It didn't reform when UK threatened to leave. What makes one think it will reform if Britain stays?

 

The society has every technology we need to solve climate change. Challenge is rather socio-cultural and political. 

 

There is no need to become a part of a superstrate in order to take actions on environment and energy. Collaboration can continue without being member of the club. 

 

Elina Yumasheva is head of content at The Crowd.

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86% of London’s corporate sustainability experts want to remain in the EU

On the 11th May The Crowd hosted a debate on whether the UK is better off remaining in or leaving the EU from an environmental policy perspective, with over 200 corporate sustainability executives. The final poll result was emphatic: 86% voted to remain, 9% to leave, and 5% were unsure.

 

Was it a victory for remain or for intelligent debate? What startled us most was the positive atmosphere in the room after the debate. With much of the national debate focusing on emotion and sound bites, both sides can quickly become fearful of the wrong outcomes. Thanks to the passionate but intelligent positions of our experts, there was a feeling that both outcomes could be OK as long as we have the right people making decisions.

 

We had some of the leading minds on both sides of the argument, with tight moderation by Axel Threlfall. We began with an overview of our environmental policy relationship with the EU from The IEEP’s David Baldock, who made it clear that there needs to be a lot of upside if we are to undergo a period of considerable environmental policy uncertainty. The remain argument was articulately made by Caroline Lucas MP and Professor Paul Ekins, with support from Lord Marks. Michael Liebreich and Lord Callanan made the case for leaving the EU.

 

There were so many good points, but here are four arguments that we found striking.

 

The EU undermines our cultural willingness for environmental policy

 

Michael Liebreich made an argument for leaving that we hadn’t heard before, and which generated a lot of conversation afterwards. He said the existence of Europe means a lot of our environmental lobbing is focused on Brussels rather than Westminster, which takes debate and education out of the UK. When policies then arrive from Brussels, they are then seen to be imposed by the mother ship, which increases them being unpopular.

 

“The fact is why would any NGO bother doing all the campaigning for all these things to influence the Tory party, my party or to change the debate in this country when quite clearly you get funded in Brussels to do so. And then the results are imposed… The politicians don’t really mind because they can turn out and say it’s Brussels fault.” – Michael Liebreich said.

 

The EU provides important environmental policy stability

 

One of the grounding arguments for remain is closely linked to the nature of the UK election cycle. When a newly elected government changes environmental policies it weakens the business case for key internal decision makers, diminishing the company’s willingness to respond. The EU protects against such volatility and gives credibility and security for companies to invest. Businesses would rather have a slow moving stability rather than fast moving volatile political environment.

 

Environmental problems need to be solved through collaboration

 

We had a healthy debate on air pollution, with all panelists agreeing that the London has one of the worst air pollution in Europe. For Lord Callanan that’s a sign that the European approach isn’t working. But for Caroline Lucas it is an example of why we need to collaborate more on policy. “Environmental problems do not queue politely at borders waiting for their passports to be checked. They are by their very nature cross border and therefore need cross border solutions.” Echoing his partner point, Professor Paul Ekins says: “if you want to collaborate, you have to be a member of the club.”

 

The EU lacks an understanding of environmental innovation

 

A big thrust of Michael Liebreich’s argument was that we need innovation to tackle environmental challenges, and he cited Elon Musk as example of why we can be optimistic. His views drew a lot of discussion on Twitter, #crowdforum. Michael told the audience that very few Horizon 2020 grants go towards environmental innovation – there are only 2 graphene projects, for example – whilst there are hundreds of social engagement projects. “We can only make environmental progress through innovation. Europe is not innovative” – he said. 

 

At the beginning of the debate, Axel Threlfall quotes some of the latest public polls, which are showing around a 45% Remain vote. The question we’re pondering over is why we got such a different outcome for this vote from the national vote. Is it because environmental policy requires more collaboration than other areas of policy making? Is our community just more collaborative than the population at large? Are we lacking in little Englanders? Whatever is the answer to that question, one thing we know for sure is that if the vote on the 23rd June is for Brexit, this community will feel a significant sense of loss.  

 

Watch the full EU referendum debate here.

 

Elina Yumasheva is head of content at The Crowd. 

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What EU referendum could mean to the UK environment?

Several aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU have been chewed over, or at least skimmed over, in recent weeks as the media has laid its own foundations for the referendum. Largely absent from the cavalcade however have been some of the areas of policy where the EU is most active. Amongst these is the environment. Environmental policy has become a joint effort between the EU and its constituent countries over the last four decades and now it would be difficult to unpick the purely national from the European, as noted by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee earlier this week. 

 

There are at least three reasons for this. First, many of the key environmental issues are cross-border by their nature. These include the response to climate change, the management of the marine environment and the conservation of migratory species. Second, there is an economic logic in agreeing common standards and approaches to many issues inside a single market where there are no barriers to trade. Common technical barriers, for example on polluting emissions from cars, on the levels of chemicals and heavy metals in consumer products and the energy efficiency of electrical appliances, prevent indirect barriers to trade and avoid giving competitive advantage to countries adopting lower standards. Third, there is the historical reality that governments have proved more comfortable in making long term decisions, for example in reducing water pollution and building a low carbon economy, when their neighbours and partners commit to the same obligations as well. This is partly a question of political courage. Facing possible short term opposition and potential costs for the sake of longer term gains is more palatable if others are doing it as well. The chances of facing unfair competition from those less committed to sustainability are greatly reduced when there are relatively consistent rules applying throughout the EU. 

 

Nearly all the studies examining the EU’s record on the environment come to similar conclusions. Standards have been raised, pollution has fallen, new processes and targets have been put in place; the influence of European countries in international negotiations almost certainly is enhanced by acting together within the EU. Decisions can be slow as there is extensive discussion and consultation; some are difficult to change which can be a drawback but the solidity of the policy provides industry with greater regulatory predictability than purely national law. Club membership has both merits and frustrations, not unexpectedly. However, the recent reports from the House of Commons, a group of academics led by Andrew Jordan and Charlotte Burns and my own institute, IEEP, all agree on how much progress has been made with the collective approach. They also agree that the UK has been an influential player in establishing the now substantial edifice of EU law. 

 

So what next? Government witnesses to the Commons Committee thought that Brexit would trigger a “long and torturous” negotiation on environmental policy and there would clearly be a period of extended uncertainty. This is a concern for both the environmental community and the body of industry that is affected by EU law on the environment, climate change, energy, agriculture and fisheries. 

 

Beyond this largely unavoidable outcome, my institute has agreed that there are two distinct scenarios that could arise if the UK were to vote to leave the EU.

 

Under one, the UK successfully negotiates membership of the EEA, which is not a foregone conclusion. Often referred to as the “Norway” scenario, this would entail an obligation for the UK to follow most EU environmental legislation (with a few important exceptions) while being excluded from decisions about making or amending such legislation. Opportunities to tailor EU law to UK concerns, often taken in the past, would greatly diminish. 

 

Under a second scenario, outside the EEA, the UK would be free to choose its own environmental legislation, within certain limits imposed by international law and the requirements applying to goods exported to the EU market. This would be a major undertaking, complicated by a legitimate role for devolved administrations within the UK to pursue their own, more distinctive approaches if they wished to. Outside the EU Single Market, the UK government would be more tempted to seek competitive advantage (including cutting administrative burdens) where they could. So it is not unreasonable to expect an attempt to roll back a number of environmental standards under this scenario. 

 

Despite the relative silence of the media on this topic, these issues are highly strategic and the choices far from trivial. 

 

David Baldock is Executive Director at the Institute for European Environmental Policy. He will speak at The Crowd’s EU referendum debate on 9th May alongside Caroline Lucas MP Green Party, Michael Liebreich BNEF, Lord Deben The Committee on Climate Change, and Lord Callanan House of Lords. More info is here

 

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