Earlier this week I headed over to East London to join my friend Toby Webb for an Ethical Corporation ‘pubcast’. It’s a neat idea which, as you’ve already guessed, is a podcast done over a beer in the Gramophone pub next to Ethical Corporation’s offices. We chatted about the state of the corporate responsibility movement, some highs and lows of 2007, and the role of the PR industry in promoting responsible business. Toby then decided he’d like to do a second one about my work with the Rainforest Alliance and the growing movement in ethical certification, so we carried on and did that too. Only two small bottles of beer were consumed, before you ask, as you need to be on your guard when Toby is armed with a microphone and recording device. Besides that, he was off to the gym later. You can listen to our pub chat by clicking here.
Lunch with Martin Wright, Editor at Large of Green Futures magazine; the Bible of sustainability for what Martin says has become a very broad church of readers. Martin has recently revamped the mag and it looks great. I’ve been increasingly worried about carbon offsets recently (not least because I’m shopping around for a provider for Weber Shandwick), and have felt some of the bad press they’ve had must surely be unjustified. My own former client Climate Care, has come in for a lot of flak in the papers this year, and The Times did a major hatchet job on one of their projects in India. To my relief, Martin restored my faith in carbon offsetting, and is not just a fan of Climate Care but also the India project in particular, which he has visited and written about. It’s the first time I’ve heard an environmentalist evangelise about offsetting for a long time, and it was a breath of fresh air frankly.Now we need to restore the reputation of forest based offsets, which have also been the subject of unfair criticism, on the basis that you can’t guarantee the forest will still be there in 30 years time. Really? What is the Forest Stewardship Council for then? If you take certified forests, of course you can provide that guarantee, that’s what certification is for. Some NGOs are difficult beasts. 10 years ago they called for biofuel. Now biofuels are the enemy. They called for carbon offsetting, then trashed them as a licence to pollute. I’m exaggerating a bit of course, but a bit of consistency would help businesses really plan for the future. The worst thing is when environmental groups persuade businesses to do something and then decide it wasn’t as brilliant an idea as they first thought and start campaigning against companies for doing what they campaigned for in the first place. Eventually business will stop listening.
Every year FutureBrand works in conjunction with the Weber Shandwick travel practice in New York to produce and promote the Country Brand Index. This global study ranks countries as brands. It involves quantitative research, with over 2660 travel respondents (business and leisure) from seven countries. Additionally, 50 travel experts were polled on their perceptions of countries as brands. The survey covers all sorts of areas, including art and culture, shopping, nightlife, value for money, safety, and business friendliness.This year, a new category was introduced, and respondents were asked to identify those countries most oriented towards environmental protection. The results are interesting, and there are some surprises. Sweden tops the poll (OK, that’s not a surprise). Scandinavia in general fares well, with Denmark and Iceland both in the top 10. Bizarrely, Singapore appears third. When I was there in September several people told me that the small nation’s green spaces were gradually being lost to large scale construction projects. Although green initiatives are infinitely more visible in Singapore than some of its larger Asian neighbours, I wouldn’t have picked it myself. Its high ranking suggests the country is doing a good job presenting itself as eco-conscious, for sure. Interestingly, the UK, for all the political and media hype on climate change, fails to make the top ten at all. Arguably a slap in the face to all three main political parties who have tried to out green each other for the past 2 years. And a sign that no matter how much you talk about these issues, if there’s no fundamental action you won’t change perceptions. Australia squeezes in at number 9, despite the country’s refusal to adopt the Kyoto protocol. And the number 10 spot goes to the stunning Costa Rica, where my friends at the Rainforest Alliance are doing so much to promote sustainable agriculture and help farmers build better livelihoods, in harmony with nature. But it’s still a country where major challenges remain in preventing the catastrophic loss of forests and the biodiversity they sustain.
Greenpeace is always scaling buildings with one message or another. But here’s a first – a positive message. The campaign whizzkids have today conquered a building (nothing new there), but this particular building is the all new singing and dancing St Pancras station in London. To welcome the new Eurostar route, the eco freaks have put up a huge banner on the station’s building. For once, it reads ‘YES!’, instead of ‘NO’. Very smart move. Of course, the subtext is to remind people of their campaign against airport expansion and promote rail travel. Hence the small(ish) print on the poster “P.S. Gordon, no need for that third runway”, a reference to enlarging the hideously crowded Heathrow Airport still further. Whatever your views on that, Greenpeace UK continues, in my view, to be the best NGO of all at eye-catching campaigns, always with the crucial ingredient of the unexpected thrown in. See Greenpeace.
To the launch party for the new ‘QI’ (Quite Interesting) Annual at the Groucho Club in Soho last night. Usual mix of the great and good of British comedy. QI, which makes the quiz show of the same name on BBC 2, is the brainchild of my old friend John Lloyd (who has won more BAFTAs for the likes of Spitting Image, Blackadder etc than I have bought carbon credits). Enjoyed mingling with old friends and marvelling at John’s capacity to bring a collective IQ of about 8 billion under one roof on a cold London evening. Fortunately I managed to avoid getting into a debate with Jeremy Clarkson, whose crusade against sustainable development continues to ravage the minds of unthinking people with not a care for the one home they have, our planet. The point of QI is that everything is interesting if looked at in the right way. The sustainable development movement could learn much from the approach. After all, how much fun can you have with a press release about sustainable packaging?
I’ve been helping get a big new sustainability expo off the ground. It’s called BASE. A lot of old friends and colleagues are involved. We all believe this could become a watershed event in the debate about making sustainability truly profitable. The plan is to bring together a vast coalition of businesses, NGOs, government agencies and others to show, once and for all, that you do not need to trade profit for a greener, cleaner planet. One of my personal gurus, Tom Burke, is chairing our advisory board, and all manner of companies including Alliance Boots, Oracle, Kraft, and I’m pleased to say Weber Shandwick, are founding partners. Check out their website and see you there!
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Welcome to my blog, which will mainly focus on sustainable development issues and corporate responsibility in general. Having spent many years working in the NGO movement (with varying degrees of success, it must be said) before jumping ship to the business world, I’m struck both by the massive potential of the two communities working together, as well as the challenges such partnerships still face today. Recently I discussed this and other issues on Green.tv, a fantastic new initiative that is gaining real traction, as well as providing a great way for responsible businesses to showcase their sustainability work. Check out the interview and the rest of the green.tv site here.