Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Topic: Sustainability

Make green the new black - sustainable fashion meets Black Friday

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📥  Consumers, Research, Sustainability

 

The fashion industry has the fourth largest environmental impact of any industry in the UK, exceeded only by housing, transport and food. Yet it's all too easy to forget this impact, not to mention ethical concerns around supply chains and factory working conditions, in the rush for Black Friday bargains.  In this post Amira Battle, a first year PhD student at the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society, considers the tensions between consumerism and sustainable fashion.

 

Black Friday is one of the largest shopping days of the year, with consumers spending an estimated $5 billion in the US and £2.6 billion in the UK. As consumers and retailers count down to the big day, ethical and environmental concerns are quickly forgotten.

So what is Black Friday? It’s the “official” beginning of the Christmas shopping season as goods are sold with steep discounts. And it has become much more than one day, with promotions and discounts spanning the weeks leading up to and post the day itself.  The UK is still finding its feet with Black Friday, but many Britons have added the date to their shopping calendar. Clothing and fashion goods, alongside electronics, are among the most desired items during the holiday season, bringing in over $40 billion to US clothing stores.

 

What does sustainability have to do with fashion?

Clothing production and consumption has significant social and environmental impacts throughout its life cycle and has often been critiqued for its lack of sustainability.  Environmentally, the fashion industry has the fourth largest environmental impact of any industry in the UK. Socially, the working conditions in many factories could be described as dubious at best. From faintings in factories in Cambodia and factory collapses in Bangladesh to the destruction of textile industries in developing countries, the impact of the fashion industry on social and environmental sustainability cannot be underestimated.

The fault lies on both sides. Many fast fashion and luxury brands prioritise volume of production, quick turnaround, and sales over sustainability. Falling for the charm of lower priced clothing that mimics runway trends, shoppers value cost and look over ethics.

At the same time, people's motivations in fashion buying are not straightforward. People may consume for fun and entertainment, to bond and socialise, and to create identity through consumption. Black Friday sales heighten these aspects by enabling consumers to buy items they might not otherwise be able to afford. By emphasising the apparent scarcity of items and time available to buy them, retailers create a sense of urgency that compels people to spend money. The result is that Black Friday sales provide a temporary relief to consumers' inner discontent; however it's estimated that buyers will be left with £441 million worth of regret from these purchases, and regret leads to increased waste.

 

Sustainable Shopping Habits 
Even if you have a desire to consume and still “do good”, it's difficult to know how to shop for fashion sustainably. As a part of the research for my Masters degree, I conducted a study to explore what practices people thought were sustainable and unsustainable in fashion consumption.

Participants in the study were unsure about what qualifies as sustainable, but found it easier to identify unsustainable habits. These included buying items unnecessarily, impulse purchasing, following trends, and not considering materials or sourcing whilst shopping. These habits become even more pronounced in peak sales seasons: it can be difficult to be mindful in the face of a 2 for 1 offer.

 

Alternative Approaches to Black Friday
So how will you approach Black Friday? At the other end of the consumer spectrum, you could choose to buy nothing. Many would argue that the best way to be sustainable is to consume nothing at all. Instead of celebrating Black Friday, you could participate in Buy Nothing Day, signing up to go 24 hours without buying anything. If this proves too much of a challenge, organisers suggest that if you must shop, try to support local, independent brands.

I would further this advice with some suggestions of other ways to consume fashion sustainably this holiday season. Discussions with participants on sustainable approaches to fashion buying, as well as a review of the literature, offered some of the following ideas:

  • Buy only what you need, love, and know that you will wear
  • Shop secondhand as it gives an item of clothing a new lease on life
  • Consider renting a holiday party outfit. Instead of buying a new outfit to wear once, renting allows you to have a new look for every party whilst also extending the longevity of existing clothing items.
  • Make a shopping list to reduce impulse purchasing and mindless consumption.
  • Check out Ethical Hour’s Twitter campaign #Shopethicalinstead for ethical and sustainable gift ideas. Many of these items are made with environmental and social sustainability at their core.

Black Friday sales season will never be green, but not spending or spending purposefully may be a step in the right direction.

Header image by John Keogh under licence CC BY-NC 2.0

 

 

Remembering Malcolm McIntosh

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📥  Business and society, Sustainability

 

On Saturday 18th November, friends and family gathered to remember and give thanks for the life and work of Malcolm McIntosh. Malcolm was a leading writer and thinker in the business and society field, and a Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Bath. Here, Andrew Crane pays tribute to a much missed friend and colleague. 

 

Friends and family gather to remember Malcolm at the Tate Modern

When I first met Malcolm, he rather alarmed me. Now, when I say I met him, what I really mean is that I bought his book on corporate citizenship – this one – way back in the late 1990s when I was a newly minted PhD student and Malcolm was – well, I will come to that in a minute; Malcolm has never been easy to pigeonhole.

So it would be several years later that I actually got to meet Malcolm in person and later again that we became friends. But, in that first intellectual meeting between me the reader and Malcolm the author I was not sure I actually liked him all that much. I was at the time one of those academics who was – as Malcolm would always disparagingly describe us – rather too preoccupied with obscure scholarly journals that no one ever actually read.

But here was a book that ignored all that academic baggage and captured for the first time the messy and exciting new world of corporate responsibility that was emerging at the time. Like much of Malcolm’s work, it was an exploration of real life practice – of the problems and solutions that were being experimented with by companies at the time – and it was filled with practical, good advice on how to be a more responsible company.

So of course, upstart wannabe intellectual that I was – I hated it. I found it too hopeful and not nearly academic enough for my liking. Where was the criticism? The theory? The intellectual posturing?!

But here it is, fresh off my bookshelf. I still have it some 20 years later. And for many years I actually used it exactly as it was intended – with MBA students and executives who were looking for answers and examples rather than the abstract theory that I had to offer from my own work. Malcolm, along with his co-authors, provided a rich source of inspiration and good ideas.

It is something that his work has continued to provide, right up to his latest book, In Search of the Good Society. In it, you can find some of the best health advice you can get, along with insights on art, prosperity and political economy among other things.

Malcolm's last book, In Search of the Good Society, published by Routledge

It is quite a mix. But as I mentioned, Malcolm has always been rather hard to pin down. Of course, that is probably exactly how he always wanted it to be, too.

When this earlier book came out, he was listed on the jacket as “an independent teacher, writer and consultant”. Now that probably isn’t a bad description for his whole career. Even when he had a formal position – as a Professor, as a Centre Director, as a Special Advisor to the UN – he was just as independent as when he was officially “independent”.

Malcolm, as anyone who knew him soon realized, always had his very own way of doing things. And it never looked too much like everyone else’s way of doing things.  He always crossed-boundaries between academia and practice and he had little time for academic disciplines or departments. His latest book, for example, is so wonderfully ambitious in its scope – part travelogue, part art appreciation, part health memoir – that it is almost impossible to categorize.

So University Vice Chancellors would typically either love or hate him, or very often both at the same time. Other academics also didn’t always fully appreciate him, but those that did, turned to him again and again for inspiration and a healthy dose of straight talking. Students naturally gravitated to him because he was so full of new ideas. And practitioners were often drawn to him because he understood them but also challenged them in ways that no one else did.

And I personally found him constantly invigorating. I asked Malcolm many times over the years to give classes to my students, to speak at conferences or examine the theses of my PhD students – and most recently, to join us as a Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Bath. But I never really knew what I was going to get. That, of course, was a great part of the appeal with Malcolm. He was always so alive with learning and new insights wherever and however he would find them. You could never predict which direction he would head in next.

So, my own relationship with Malcom – our friendship over the 15 years that have passed once we did eventually bump into one another – has always been a source of fun and intellectual stimulation. If I ran into him at a conference whether in London or New York or KL or Cape Town I would naturally seek him out. He would of course have just flown in from somewhere else and have tales to tell aplenty of his travels. He never, ever, seemed to get bored or tired of visiting and learning from other places. And of course, he would have that twinkle in his eye, and that great hearty laugh, as he unwrapped another little nugget of worldly knowledge – or he unravelled another of life’s ironies – or he castigated (but always with such humour) the continued failings of us all to get to grips with the problems of the world.

Because, at the heart of it all, Malcolm always, always, always had an unending drive to make the world a better place. His work, really, was a means to an end. He was an unstoppable optimist, ever believing that things could one day be better, and that knowledge, love and understanding were the keys to getting us there. He was constantly planning something new, building institutions, writing books, launching new initiatives, and hacking his own path through the status quo. And it was such a pleasure and an honour to be swept up in all that with him.

Memories of Malcolm

So what can I say except that, like many people, I will – I am – missing him terribly and the planet will be a poorer place without him. Right up to the last he was planning the next thing, ready to fire off another book to complete his trilogy. Sadly, it was not to be this time. But he has left us a wonderful repository of knowledge and insight. And in his time here – whether through his work or simply the way he chose to lead his life to the absolute fullest – he helped move us all a little bit closer to the better world, to the good society, that he wanted for all of us.

 

 

Tackling climate change at the University of Bath

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📥  Environment, Sustainability

 

The Bonn Climate Conference is drawing to a close, with world leaders calling for strong action to implement the 2015 Paris deal. As a university, there are three main areas where we can have an impact on sustainability and climate change: through our own policies and behaviour; through teaching; and through research. Previously our MSc students have written about the impact of business ethics teaching on their attitude to future employment, while others have discussed their research on sustainable consumption, environmental regulation and waste reduction. In this piece, the University’s Energy & Environment Manager, Peter Phelps, discusses the policies and plans that shape our institution’s impact on the environment.

 

Cutting our carbon footprint

The University of Bath was the very first UK university to set carbon reduction targets back in 2003, and our 2010 Carbon Plan was held up as an exemplar for the sector by the Carbon Trust. We are now preparing our latest plan, which must respond to the Clean Growth Strategy recently launched by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. This sets out the government’s approach to implementing the next phase of UK strategy under the Climate Change Act (2008) across areas such as power generation, industrial efficiency, green finance, domestic efficiency and transport. It particularly highlights the key role of the higher education sector in leading by example. The strategy includes new carbon reduction targets for the whole public sector, of 30% by 2020/21 against 2009/10 levels. Additionally, mandatory reporting and the potential for extra funding for efficiency improvements have been outlined.

Despite growing as an organisation, we have cut our carbon footprint over the last ten years: taking growth into account we have cut our emissions per student or per building floor area by a third. Typically, many energy efficiency improvements are ‘behind the scenes’. We constantly work to improve building efficiency by enhancing controls to reduce consumption. We have reduced water use through improved leak detection and usage monitoring. Other hidden improvements include increasing our self-generation of power through our ‘mini power stations’ whereby we produce 8% of our own electricity on campus and recycle the waste heat.

Smart meters and controls are increasingly in the news as these make their way into people’s homes – we have been at the forefront of this for several years with our automated network of 2000 smart meters. We use this data and our sophisticated controls to respond to national grid shortages to minimise our peak electricity costs, and deliver a targeted approach to energy management.

A more visible example of our investment is the £1 million we have invested in LED lighting in the last year. The Library, for example, has had all lights on Levels Two to Five replaced by the latest high-efficiency LED lighting with sophisticated automatic controls. This has cut lighting costs by 70%, reduced maintenance costs significantly and transformed the appearance of the whole building. Our lighting systems are state of the art with all lights, switches and sensors controlled by data networks. This control network has grown to be the largest such system in Europe; installed in fifty-five university buildings the Estates team are able to control over 30,000 devices from a single location.

We bring best practice into our approach to designing and procuring new buildings, and set challenging targets for our architects. We’ve also doubled our solar panel capacity, and our campus now operates with a 100% renewable energy supply.

Cutting carbon in this way also saves money – we are saving around £1.5m every year on utility bills due to our improvements - and this is against a backdrop of expected future increases in electricity costs of around 40% in the next few years.

 

Solar panels on the Chancellor's Building, University of Bath campus. Image by Nic Delves-Broughton

Recycling

As well as focusing on how we can reduce energy use, we have schemes to tackle the other “Rs” – reuse and recycle. Our recycling rates have increased from 36% to 54% in two years, and we are the first UK university to introduce large scale coffee cup recycling. We have installed 25 coffee cup recycling bins around campus, giving staff and students the opportunity to recycle all disposable coffee cups. The cups are taken to a recycling facility in Cornwall where they are made into items such as pens and pencils. The scheme, along with the promotion of reusable cups and containers, has the potential to divert over 650,000 disposable cups per year from the general waste stream.

In the last couple of years, we have launched an end of term waste scheme. Last summer, the University collected 27 tonnes of ‘end of term’ unwanted food, clothing, crockery and appliances. These were donated to charity, raising over £22,000 for the British Heart Foundation and making a significant dent in the amount of items sent to landfill.

Student action

We run the award-winning ‘Student Switch Off’ and ‘Leave No Trace’ campaigns in our student residences and hospitality outlets. Our students are increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of not only their own activities, but also the practices of the University, as evidenced by the latest SU Top 10. This states that “when students graduate they want to be ethically concerned citizens alongside their academic achievements…We hope to work to a more sustainable University by examining our environmental practices and finding key initiatives that can be adopted to make a more green university...”

As discussed in an earlier post, it is students who are leading the way in incorporating awareness of public impact into their private decisions.

 

Conclusions

We have managed to cut our carbon impact as an organisation despite growing significantly, but this has been a real challenge. Perhaps we haven’t always been as ambitious as we could have been; perhaps there are echoes of this in the UK’s performance as a country, and also in our own behaviours as individuals. The challenge for the country, the University, and all of us, will be to respond to these internal and external pressures, and to plan for the future in a suitably ambitious way.

Read our latest Energy & Environment report in full

 

Header image of University of Bath campus by Nic Delves Broughton

 

Six tips for making interdisciplinary research work

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📥  Business and society, Research, Sustainability

 

Interdisciplinary work holds lots of promise for business and society research, but it is also highly challenging. Sarah Glozer, Deputy Director of the Centre of Business, Organisations and Society, summarises the advice from our recent event about how to make it work in practice.

 

As universities, journals and funding bodies call for greater interdisciplinarity in our research, we brought an international group of academics together last night to debate one key question: how do we make interdisciplinary research work in the context of business and society research? Over food, drinks and a good dose of speed networking, we debated the challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinarity. Here are our top six tips for success.

 

1. Keep it practical. The best way to galvanise interdisciplinary interest around an issue is to get your hands dirty. See the issues first hand and focus on a specific problem or challenge with real-world impact. Trying to artificially force researchers together from different disciplines and expecting to see ‘something new’, risks getting stuck in the weeds. Get out there, find your common problem, and take it from there. This is about making it matter and developing problem-based teams.

 

2. Look for the easy wins. It is arguably easier to make novel contributions and have more meaningful impact in interdisciplinary teams. Knowing your respective subjects so well, it is easy to identify gaps when you start comparing across disciplines. We are trained to have deep areas of specialism, so let’s exploit these. Issues of business and society cannot be dealt with by each of us on our own, and so think about what skills you can bring to the table and don’t be afraid to make broad assertions early on to establish common ground.

 

3. Speak the same language. In interdisciplinary research, it is important to really integrate the scope of the work across the team, not just pay lip service to ‘collaboration’. Make sure that all parties are involved from the get go to avoid being perceived as convenient ‘add-ons’ and make sure to generate a shared package of work. This is about identifying capabilities (and points of disconnect) from the outset, and being transparent. This might even involve going back to basics… What’s the point? Why do we need an interdisciplinary perspective here? What’s the added value?

 

4. Set a goal. Interdisciplinarity requires a change in mindset. We need to be open minded and define a shared goal. In business, the goal of collaborative efforts is making money. In academia, what is the goal? More importantly, in business and society research who are our key stakeholders? Yes, we want to solve problems, yes, we want to generate good scholarship, but is there more to the project than this? An aligned goal and a joint framing of questions sets the core focus and breaks down silos.

 

5. Build relationships. We need to learn from each other and so we should base teams not just on skills, but also attitude. Interdisciplinarity teaches us to be tolerant, but most importantly, we learned last night that the best projects are those where we establish healthy ways of working. Let’s enjoy this. Interdisciplinary research can be exciting and stimulating. If it’s a pleasure, we are learning. And if we are learning, we are likely breaking new ground. The successful teams are those that embrace ignorance and aren’t afraid to get out of their comfort zone. It is easier to do this with researchers you can call friends, or where there is mutual respect for one another’s work.

 

6. Break the mould. Let’s be clear about the challenges. This isn’t easy, particularly for early career academics. We need to create the right environment and recognise that we have different measures of output in different disciplines. Are we talking impact, funding or journal rankings, or all three as measures of success? Whilst we have the intention to be interdisciplinary, the system can sometimes stifle creativity. How do we get the gatekeepers to really buy into this? How can we work to break the mould for early academic leaders of tomorrow?

 

Prof Andy Crane, panellists and guests at CBOS Interdisciplinary event, held at No15 Great Pulteney. Photo by Sarah Glozer.

 

To round off the event, the panellists were asked for their final comments on the question, ‘What advice would you give to inspire interdisciplinarity in business and society research?’

  •  “It’s about solving problems and changing the world. We have to be open to new perspectives.Adam Joinson, Professor of Information Systems, University of Bath

 

  • Listen, talk and form a gang. You can make a new field. Just look at the business ethics area which was formed from the interaction of moral philosophers and social scientists.Laura Spence, Professor of Business Ethics, Royal Holloway, University of London

 

  • Form educational systems across disciplines and learn from one another.Mette Morsing, Mistra Chair of Sustainable Markets and Scientific Director at Misum, Stockholm School of Economics

 

  • There are differences and diversity even within disciplines. Let’s recognise this and identify synergies. Don’t just focus on the lowest common denominator.Julie Barnett, Professor of Health Psychology, University of Bath

 

  •  “Impact, stimulation and let’s recognise power. What structures enable and constrain our activities?David Cooper, Professor in Accountancy, Alberta School of Business

 

Feature image by cactusbeetroot under CC BY-NC-2.0

 

Global Climate Change Week - turning ideas into action

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📥  Environment, Sustainability

 

Today marks the start of Global Climate Change Week, which aims to encourage academic communities – including academics, students, and non-academic staff at universities – in all disciplines and countries to engage with each other, their communities, and policy makers on climate change action and solutions. In this piece, Aurelie Charles describes how the University of Bath is marking the week, and considers how students are leading the way in taking a multi-disciplinary, partnership approach to tackling climate change.

 

In October 2015, in the build-up towards the COP21 meetings in Paris, a group of staff members at the University of Bath organised themselves to take part in Global Climate Change Week (GCCW). GCCW is a global initiative taking place across universities worldwide to bring together staff, students, and local communities in order to raise knowledge and awareness of climate change. We started by inviting all students on campus, regardless of their field of study, to attend lectures around issues of sustainability. These lectures were already embedded in the university curriculum and spread across faculties from Chemical Engineering and Architecture, to Management and Social and Policy Sciences. Last year, numerous events took place in our arts centre, the Edge, across campus and in lecture theatres. Since GCCW started, a COP21 Implementation group has also been set up, bringing together academic and non-academic staff members to promote teaching and learning activities both across campus and in the university curriculum, supported by the Teaching Development Fund.

In this year’s GCCW, we are supporting an event led by Bath Sustainability Postgraduates, a group of Bath postgraduates who are leading the way in closing the gap between individual intention of climate action and actual behaviour. The event takes place on Wednesday 11th October in the Harvest area of the Edge from 11am to 3pm. The aim is to bring together students and staff in one-to-one discussions on how to reduce our daily carbon emissions. As part of this event, we will also be launching the first university wiki on sustainability. This will be used to gather together all relevant resources around sustainability on campus, with a database of units across faculties addressing sustainability issues, but also advertising events happening on campus during the year.

In effect, there is much more to come this year in terms of public engagement events and learning activities around sustainability on campus, and students are leading the way. The Students' Union is running its annual Go Green week in the last week of October, and other student-led groups such as Student Switch off, People and Planet, and our Green Champions are all feeding into the self-sustaining loop from individual awareness to public action.

Student leadership is inspiring and this is precisely the highlight of all these initiatives. With our support, students are preparing themselves for a sustainable future. They are going beyond subject-specific knowledge as they are not afraid to build bridges across disciplines in order to address our current major global challenge. Kostas Iatridis  recently wrote about the necessity of public-private partnership in order to address our environmental challenges, which echoes in many ways Mariana Mazzucato’s voice for such partnership to think about and to finance inclusive growth. Yet, our students are already wiring their brains to go beyond the public-private divide and beyond the mental barriers of disciplinary knowledge. They are already aware of the necessity to embrace the public impact in our daily private decisions.

Image by Garry Knight