Bath Business and Society

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

Tagged: sustainability

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

 

Careers in sustainable business - the Two Loops theory

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📥  Business and society, Education, Employers

 

As September approaches, our current Masters students look ahead to starting their careers and a new cohort begin their studies in Sustainability and Management.  Many of them will be considering whether and how they can make an impact on society and industry. In this piece, current MSc students Sanum Jain and Elliot Johnston use the Two Loops theory to consider where their work and fresh ideas can have the most impact and instigate the most change.

 

What is the Two Loops theory? 

The Two Loops theory, developed by the Berkana Institute, is all about change within our social and economic systems. According to the theory, socio-economic activity can be split into two ‘loops’. The first loop is the ‘incumbent loop’ - which represents the status quo, the way things have ‘successfully’ operated for decades. The second is the ‘disruptive loop’ which represents progressive change and alternative ways of doing business or operating in society.

The theory states that as the incumbent loop reaches its peak in output, ‘disruptors’ start considering more efficient and socially progressive ways of operating. Breakaway individuals look to invest in these ideas, taking intellectual and financial capital out of the first loop and starting to build up the second ‘disruptive loop’. The best way to visualise this is as two waves. As the incumbent wave crests and reaches peak economic output, the disruptive wave starts to build in its shadow.

 

 

Change in the energy industry

The concept of waves of progressive change is particularly relevant to sustainable development. Let’s use the energy sector, specifically fossil fuels and inefficient energy grid systems, as our representation for the first loop. We would argue that we currently sit on the downward curve of the first wave. While non-renewable fossil fuels are still our main source of energy, the threat they pose to our planet is increasingly recognised. At the peak of the coal, oil, and gas industries, pioneers began to experiment with alternatives - nuclear, wind, solar - beginning the disruptive second loop.

The viability of these new technologies has increased and before long the renewable energy industry - or the disruptive loop - will usurp the fossil fuel industry in terms of output. This threat to incumbent firms is already being felt. Large oil companies are making huge investments in renewables in a bid to survive society’s shift away from fossil fuels, as exemplified by Total’s acquisition of SunPower. Such acquisitions are an example of corporate movements beyond traditional CSR, which tends to focus on mitigation of the negative impacts ‘business as usual’. These forays into the disruptive renewable energy industry are representative of what incumbent firms need to do to stay relevant.

 

What does this mean for sustainability

The Two Loops theory does not only work on an economic, practical level.  We believe it should be seen as a representation of a prevailing narrative within business and society.

Seen through the lens of the Two Loops theory, incumbent firms own the concept of sustainability, but they approach it from an institutionalised position. Most firms engage in philanthropic activities for the sake of reputation gains and slowly adhere to the pressures of stakeholders to implement responsible business measures.

We could identify the second loop, which intends to represent an alternative, disruptive vision of how the world could be, as a developing system of innovative, mission-driven organisations and social entrepreneurs whose goal is to solve problems, bring change and benefit society.

Unlike the energy sector, the social endeavours of businesses are at an earlier stage of development, but change is coming. We have seen organisations emerge who represent a shift in the status quo.

Divine Chocolate, for example, is proving that employee owned cooperatives can shift a company’s focus towards a more positive impact for its stakeholders. We have also seen the introduction of Community Interest Companies (CICs), businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are reinvested in the business or in the community, rather than distributed to shareholders. CICs help to protect the mission of smaller disruptive organisations and prevent any dilution of the integrity of the second loop.

 

Creating change in the workplace

What might this theory mean for us, as young people preparing to enter the workplace? Understanding and appreciating the potential for industries to work differently is something that will be key in instigating further change. Thinking about what these changes might look like could provide us with a different path as we start to navigate our professional journeys.

In the context of the Two Loops theory, we may have only considered the option of working for firms that make up incumbent loops. It is very easy to assume these firms will continue to operate in the way they always have, and during the early steps of our careers, maintaining the first loop may seem like the sensible option.

But, as the next wave of business professionals, we believe that it is imperative to look ahead at the future of careers, our industries, and society. We will have the opportunity to contribute to strategy, operational, and CSR efforts within the companies we work for. We will have the chance to act as change agents within these firms. This might lead us or those around us to head out and act as pioneers in new firms that start the next disruptive loop, or we may stick around to help the incumbent loop move closer towards the disruptive loop before it fades into insignificance,

We don’t know if the journey towards a truly sustainable world lies in this next disruptive loop, or the one after that. What we believe though, is that if progress is going to be made we should be using our education and newfound skills to take a risk and invest our careers into nurturing an alternative, progressive, disruptive system.

Image by Daniel Parks

 

 

Thriving in the cold - the challenge of sustainable development in the Arctic

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📥  Business and society, Environment

 

Despite the sometimes questionable reputation of the extractive industries, it's possible that mining can contribute to comprehensive sustainable development in the Arctic. Partnerships with host communities can create value for stakeholders and promote inclusive economic growth. In this post by Bath MBA graduate Pernille Moeller, we look at two very different mining projects and examine how their contrasting approaches affected the outcome of their bids.

 

To most, the Arctic offers a window into the effects of climate change - into what may be described as the trailer to the world’s slowest disaster movie. But the Arctic is about more than melting icecaps and polar bears. It is also home to large indigenous groups who are struggling with poverty and lack of economic opportunity.

Sustainability (as traditionally defined by the Brundtland Commission) is a two-legged beast. We need "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". In theory, economic growth, environmental protection, and social equality will promote each other in sustainable development, but practice can at times prove harder than theory. For the Arctic it may seem there is a certain trade-off between what we think of as international sustainability versus inter-generational justice.

As the world is slowly waking up to the fact that melting ice has real and massive consequences for the rest of the world, the knee-jerk reaction has been to conserve and protect the pristineness of the Arctic. We might define this as international sustainability, ie at least a few places are left untouched in the world.  However, conservation tends to only cater to the environmental aspect of sustainability. It rather conveniently forgets about the needs of the present, such as the need for a diversified economy to withstand the increasing pressures from climate change.

Greenland holds significant amounts of natural resources: oil, gas, iron, diamonds, rubies, zinc, hydropower. The list is long and large parts of the island are still only superficially mapped. Mining is likely to be the key that can unlock economic sustainability for the territory. To leverage this sizable potential, foreign expertise and capital is needed. High rewards are often linked to high (operational) risk, and the logistical challenges in Greenland are significant. Infrastructure is lacking at the most basic level: no two towns are linked by road and trained labour is scarce.

To succeed in this challenging, but potentially very rewarding market, requires a particular approach. A comparative analysis of two incoming companies indicates that this success is determined by  partnership, social capital and perhaps just something as simple as genuine respect.

The two companies in the analysis were both early to the market, but different in every other respect.  The first company, one of the world’s largest producers  of aluminum, proposed a £2 billion operation that  would take raw aluminum from Africa and ship it to Greenland. There it would make use of the plentiful cheap energy from hydropower for its highly energy-intensive refinement process. The second company had just one other smallish mine in Arctic Canada, their operational model depended on less than 100 people and their product (red rubies) was local and well-known.

On paper, the large multinational seemed so much more capable than the smaller company. It was the smaller company, however,  that successfully entered the market, while the multinational’s bid failed.  Both companies sought partnership, but did so in significantly different ways. The multinational went in with a state ambassador and negotiated hard for favourable conditions with politicians and high level officials. The smaller project also sought partnerships but on a much more local level.  Its  strongest advocate in the permit process became the small settlement which now hosts the mine. It also chose to establish a local office early in the process, which enhanced the perceived legitimacy of the project.

Close ties to government can be tricky, not least when you seek to extract natural resources in developing economies. There is risk of corruption, and the reputational risk from that may outweigh the initial benefits. Buy-in from local government certainly helped both projects, however it was the real partnership with the local settlement that secured the smaller company a steady supply of workers and the necessary licence to operate. Time, an essential component of social capital, was a vital ingredient.

Local rumour has it that when the first liaison team from the multinational arrived, there was a major storm. Delays meant a chief executive’s luggage had been lost. Local officials offered to help secure the gentleman a new outfit. However, he refused the offer, as he wasn't intending to stay long enough for a change of clothes to be needed. Looking back, that might have been the moment when everyone should have realised that this was not a partnership worth pursuing.

Extractive industries in highly fragile ecosystems are controversial. Most of us have an urge to protect what little pristine nature is left. However, blocking commercial investment may jeopardize sustainable development, because business – when done well – can be such a powerful tool for inclusive growth and poverty alleviation. This case study shows us how understanding the context in which one plans to operate is crucial to a successful bid. Early explorers to the Arctic learned the hard way how incredibly difficult it is to survive on one’s own in a harsh and unforgiving environment. That is still a relevant lesson for the explorers of today.

 

About the author
Pernille has spent the last decade working and living in Nuuk Greenland, focusing on issues relating to climate change, international cooperation and inclusive growth. She worked for the Government of Greenland for a number of years in roles including Head of Office for Climate and Energy. She currently runs a social enterprise in East London, also aimed at marrying inclusive growth and prosperity with environmental sustainability. Originally trained as a political scientist, she is a graduate of the Bath MBA.
Image: Construction of transmission cables near Qorlortorsuaq by Nukissiorfiit

 

Careers in sustainable business: risk consulting in financial services

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📥  Business and society, Education, Employers

 

In the first in our series on careers in sustainable business, University of Bath alumnus Joe Hill of FTI Consulting speaks with current MSc students Elliot Johnston and Sanum Jain about how he helps firms tackle the ethical challenges of the financial services industry.

Hi Joe, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Could you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now?

I’m a consultant in FTI Consulting's Financial Services team. We work with financial institutions of all shapes and sizes, from multinational global investment banks to small wealth management firms in London - there’s a whole spectrum.

We tend to help firms in four areas that are relevant to sustainable practices in financial services. These are: governance, financial crime (prevention rather than participation) regulation, and conduct.

Generally, we help clients to manage their regulatory risk and their reputational risk. Within the perspective of sustainability both of those are crucial, because in financial services it’s all about people’s confidence in the system. People need to have access to financial services, and they need to have confidence in those services. The industry’s lifeblood is people’s trust in these institutions that trade on their behalf.

 

Did your education at the University of Bath play a part in your desire to pursue a career in the sustainability-related parts of financial services performance or was that career goal something you found earlier?

Well, I studied politics and international relations at undergraduate level, and the global governance and accountability module I sat at Bath pointed me towards the space between politics and business as a place I’d like to explore professionally. When FTI came calling after I had graduated, the opportunity offered a perfect marriage of my interests. In that regard, taking part in the global governance and accountability course was important and quite pivotal in leading me toward this profession. It offered something that the rest of my Masters degree didn’t: a focus on the importance of ethical and sustainable corporate performance.

Interestingly though, now I’m in London I’ve found that sustainability is considered an essential part of financial services performance. This is partly due to the proximity of the 2008 crisis as well as the stringent regulation that is now prevalent. While I was at Bath, the reputation of the financial services industry was at its nadir, and this was an issue that was openly discussed on the course. My classmates brought a range of cultural and contextual ideas into the discussion from a sustainability perspective. Such diverse thinking has been crucial in driving sustainability up the financial services agenda, with increasing international collaboration over issues such as money-laundering and tax evasion.

 

You’ve mentioned the damage the financial crisis did to the financial services industry eight years ago. Is the industry still recovering from that damage? And what do you think are the biggest challenges faced by the industry now?

In a post-2008 world, there’s still a big rebuilding job to be done after faith in the industry was shattered. Financial services play an absolutely vital role in everyday lives which means the industry simply can’t afford to keep getting this stuff wrong. Opportunities in the ethical and regulatory space within the industry have opened up since the 2008 crisis and many firms have stepped up to try and rebuild faith in the industry. One of the most immediate challenges in the industry is addressing the disparity between a firm’s espoused culture and the actions of its employees. There is also the wider challenge of ensuring equal access to financial services.

Access to financial services is a sustainability issue that is not easily solved. Everybody should have access to financial services. Sadly, in reality, it can sometimes be difficult for people both in the developing world and even here in the UK to have access.

Ultimately, financial services should be available to everyone, easily accessible and act as a safeguard to ensure that our economic system works effectively. However, lots of different factors continue to play a part in the ability of financial services to achieve these goals. Things like whether people have valid documentation, which isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds, or whether regulations actually discourage banks from taking on certain individuals because they’re deemed to be riskier customers. You can end up in a situation where those on lower incomes are struggling to gain access to proper financial services, yet they are the people who would benefit the most.

 

How does all of this effect what you do at FTI?

While at its heart what FTI's Financial Services team does is management consulting, we know that the issues we’re working on have a wider societal importance. We know that the consequences of the City getting things wrong are pretty severe, which everyone saw play out after 2008, so it is nice to be working on something and knowing that it has a positive impact. The interesting thing about financial services, I guess, is that it had to “switch on” more quickly to the fact that operating in a way that benefits society actually goes hand in hand with being profitable, perhaps more so than in other industries. As we’ve seen with the LIBOR and PPI scandals for example, behaving badly means fines and remedial costs which can have a big impact on bottom line performance.

In terms of the systemic importance of what we do, sustainability and its importance is really integral to everybody who works here. Hopefully that will become more of a factor now because firms are judged so heavily on their sustainability credentials these days. That can only be a good thing.

 

Image by Ken Teegardin

 

How too much information can stop people from being sustainable consumers

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📥  Consumers, Environment

 

Writing for the Conversation, Dr Peter Nuttall and Prof Avi Shankar consider the challenges of becoming a "sustainable consumer".

Most people would agree that living more sustainably is something to strive for. With £13bn worth of food being wasted each year in the UK and global temperature records being broken every three years, being green is more important than ever. But it’s a lot easier said than done. The Conversation

For the vast majority, trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle is restricted to the weekly recycling of bottles, paper, plastics and food waste. And consuming less also represents a tricky issue for governments when consuming more this year than last year drives economic growth.

An enduring issue remains: what actually is “sustainability” and what does “consuming sustainably” mean in the first place? As David Harvey has pointed out, it can mean almost anything people want it to mean.

In its simplest form, though, sustainable consumption asks that people consider the impact their choices (when it comes to buying things or using energy) will have on future generations’ ability to make their choices. Sadly, the likelihood of the majority acting in this way is small. Most of their everyday consumption choices are made habitually or emotionally and not rationally. As Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman noted, people are prone to think fast, driven by our habits and intuitions – and not slowly or thoughtfully.

Information overload

So: how can governments, NGOs – even businesses themselves – encourage people to consume in a more sustainable manner? Currently, the dominant logic is to provide people with more information so they can make more informed decisions about what they spend their money on.

While this may succeed for a minority, in this view information is assumed to be a precursor to changing people’s attitudes and – in due course – their behaviour. The problem is that there is little evidence that information provision does this at all.

It’s also problematic, as people suffer from information overload. Too much information can cause confusion and, if it’s not relevant to them, people will simply ignore it.

However, even people who’ve taken on board the sustainability message find difficulty in practising it. This finding emerged from data collected by one of our former PhD students Cristina Longo (now a researcher at the University of Lille’s business school). To understand the trials and tribulations of trying to live more sustainably, Longo conducted an ethnographic study and embedded herself in the local Transition Network community, a movement that promotes sustainable living.

She spent two years hanging out with people already highly knowledgeable and committed to living a sustainable lifestyle. She attended talks and meetings, and participated in guerrilla gardening, taking care of neglected public spaces, before interviewing members of the community.

Our analysis of these interviews highlighted some major problems when it comes to living out sustainable values – even when you’ve got the best intentions. The paradox of sustainable consumption appears to be that the more you are aware of the issues at stake, the harder you find it to actually live out your values.

Dilemma, tension, paralysis

The more knowledgeable people become with regard to the myriad issues surrounding sustainability, the more this knowledge becomes a source of dilemma. For example, Tessa, a member of the Transition Network with a longstanding interest and understanding of sustainability issues, told us of her “green beans from Kenya dilemma”. For her, green beans from Kenya were definitely a no-no, because of the food miles incurred in flying the beans over. However, she found the clarity she had on this position was undermined when she learned of the social and economic benefits of growing green beans for the local Kenyan farmers.

Also, for those already committed to sustainability ideals, not being able to live up to them becomes a source of considerable tension. Veronica, for example, recounted a story about a talk she’d given on reducing carbon footprints. Afterwards, she drove past a family who’d been at the meeting, who were cycling. Being confronted with not practising what she was preaching was very disconcerting for her. Irene, too, wants to eat locally sourced organic food whenever possible, but on her limited budget finds it expensive to do so. This existential tension that both Veronica and Irene experience is in large part self-inflicted.

We’ve found that the more knowledgeable people become, the more it can result in paralysis or the inability to act on one’s sustainability ideals or goals. One informant Kate described a knowledge tipping point. As she accumulated more and more knowledge that she attempted to put into practice, she also experienced an awareness that her efforts would ultimately be unsustainable. Judith experienced something similar too but saw her failure – in her case to not buy anything shipped over from China – as part of an overall learning process.

Clearly, being a sustainable consumer is problematic and embedding sustainable ideals into everyday life is fraught with difficulties. Until society’s obsession with growth is addressed at a much wider level, sustainable consumption remains a fantasy.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: Recycle by Mike

 

Business students need a new perspective not a new framework

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📥  Business and society, Education

 

Two current students on the University of Bath’s MSc in Sustainability and Management, Sanum Jain and Elliot Johnston, discuss the impact that business ethics and sustainability modules have had on their business education. They pose the question: can we talk about business ethics being as important as business economics as part of a management degree?

Management students have the opportunity to sit an array of compulsory and elective courses during their time at business school. As sustainability students, the business ethics module was a mandatory requirement for us, whilst few traditional management students saw this course as an attractive elective. However, it soon became apparent that this course would shape the way we navigate business in a way we think is important for every management student, regardless of specialism.

We became well-versed in the theories of business ethics and came to understand how sustainability needs to be considered as integral to strategy rather than a side-lined marketing tool. Furthermore, we were exposed to the factors that could affect our ethical decision making as agents within a company. Now we field questions about profit making in the face of sustainability limitations, as if we are living in a world where ethical decision making and profit making are mutually exclusive. Our peers in other classes may often label us ‘idealists’ for voicing a perspective we have gained through business ethics. We can't help but wonder if this would be the case if business ethics was compulsory across the School.

Within the first week of studying at Bath, we were introduced to a variety of frameworks upon which we were to base our understanding of business. Most notably, in business economics, we were introduced to Michael Porter’s Five Forces Framework and his Theory of Competitive Advantage. The theory of competitive advantage teaches students about low cost strategies and product differentiation strategies to maintain a focus on profit maximisation, with the end goal of achieving a larger market share. This theory provided the backbone of business strategy from which many other concepts have branched. But not for us.

Our module in business ethics introduced us to a deeper perspective, challenged us to ask more existential questions about business and to understand the ‘why and the how’ behind profit. However, this was not a prescriptive course. We weren’t provided with a specific framework to follow. We engaged in case studies that explored the actions of individuals just like us who had behaved unethically for the benefit of their employer. We delved into the problems created by globalisation, analysed the responsibilities of corporations in the modern world, and looked at the theories we might use to understand how complex ethical problems can be approached in a business environment.

We didn’t just gain a perspective through which to view the business world. Business ethics added a dynamic to the content we were introduced to in our other courses. We were encouraged to question our own values and the way we might view decision making in other realms such as marketing and operations. Furthermore, it led us to understand who we are personally, in relation to the corporations who may hire us in the future.

As sustainability students, we are not alone in our way of thinking. Indeed, Michael Porter himself is now an advocate for sustainable development created through business. In his recent TED talk, he called for commercial organisations to address social issues with alternative business models in order to create “shared value”. At the same time, he called competitive advantage seeking differentiation factors “trivial” in the face of greater challenges.

“Shared value is capitalism, but it's a higher kind of capitalism”, Porter said. “It's capitalism as it was ultimately meant to be, meeting important needs, not incrementally competing for trivial differences in product attributes and market share. Shared value is when we can create social value and economic value simultaneously.”

This isn’t a debate as to which framework should be taught in lieu of another. Michael Porter’s business theories are undoubtedly imperative to a management student’s education. However, even Porter recognises the need to change the perspective from which we learn and operate. Knowing what we know, it is the responsibility of business schools to ensure that the next generation of the workforce are equipped to tackle the ethical challenges they might face. We know from research conducted in our own School that this is starting to happen, but more could be done. Conventional management frameworks should be taught through the perspective of business ethics in order to create managers of the future who can successfully contribute to a sustainable world.

Image: businessmen by David Drexler