This blog will cover some news items related to Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility, Stewardship, Environmental management, etc.


First fuel-cell police car delivered by Chrysler

First fuel-cell police car delivered by Chrysler

AFP, 7 April 2006 - The first fuel-cell powered police car was delivered Friday by DaimlerChrysler, offering a boost to the emerging technology being developed by several automakers.

The car will serve in the Wayne State University Police Department as a prototype that could aid in research for fuel cell technology.

"We're pleased to be a driving force in this team effort to develop zero-emissions transportation," said Mark Chernoby of the advanced engineering division of Chrysler Group, the US unit of the German-US automakers.

The Mercedes F-Cell has a range of 160 kilometers (100 miles) and a top speed of 135 kilometers (85 miles) per hour. It will be refueled at a newly built hydrogen fueling station.

DaimlerChrysler has already developed fuel cell powered Dodge Sprinter vans and Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses, in addition to 100 fuel-cell vehicles in customer hands.

Companies such as GM and Toyota are also experimenting with fuel cell technology.

Japan is currently considered the leader in fuel cell technology, and plans to operate fuel cell powered trains sometime next year. A fuel cell car developed by the Japanese automobile company Honda can start in temperatures as low as 15 below zero (four degrees Fahrenheit).

Fuel cell technology is powered by a reaction between hydrogen, oxygen, and a catalyst, which releases energy into a fuel cell. Because the only byproduct is water, it is seen as a solution to pollution and rising oil costs. However, most experts said fuel cell cars are at least 10 years away from mass production.

This article is reproduced with kind permission of Agence France-Presse (AFP)
For more news and articles visit the
AFP website.


CSR communications - Targeted, inclusive reporting is the answer

CSR communications - Targeted, inclusive reporting is the answer
Roger Cowe (2)
10 Apr 06

Another batch of winners and another bucket of questions were revealed at the recent European Commission conference on corporate citizenship reporting, writes Roger Cowe
Congratulations to Rabobank, BT and Memo, who picked up awards in Brussels recently for the best European corporate responsibility (CR) reports.

But the conference which took in the awards presentation raised some familiar questions about reporting – and some new ones.

The most fundamental question is who these reports are for. The judging panel and the conference delegates provide the answer – CR experts, advisers, academics, and in this case accountants (since the awards were organised by Europe’s professional accounting bodies).

Yet Nikolaus van der Pas – the conference sponsor in his role as EU social affairs Director General – seemed to have a different audience in mind. He recalled that the recent EU Communication had talked of making reporting “accessible to the public”.


Getting longer

In practice, most of the effort in reporting is heading in the opposite direction. Paul Scott from Corporate Register said reports are still getting longer and more complex; accountants and others are beavering away on technicalities like the Global Reporting Initiative, the AA1000 series, and impenetrable assurance language.

All this is necessary to build rigour and to help companies produce reports which are credible and meaningful. But that should be the beginning of the communications process, not the end. After all, the financial reporting process produces huge, dense Form 10-Ks and annual reports.

But even private investors barely read the annual reports of companies they hold shares in. These formal documents are not the main means of communicating financial performance to the public. That is done by specialist communications or by intermediaries who are communications specialists (such as journalists).

The conference also highlighted another aspect of this audience confusion issue – whether reports are for shareholders or all stakeholders.

Ironically this is partly a product of successful efforts to get companies to take CR seriously – by proponents of the business case, and by the socially responsible investment (SRI) industry.

The business case necessarily focuses on financial returns, while SRI has encouraged companies to think in terms of CR risk – the risk to shareholder value.

Not just for shareholders

This is admirable, but it may lead companies to think only in terms of reporting on CR to shareholders, and to integrating CR elements in annual financial statements. In the UK, the ill-fated Operating and Financial Review (OFR) has added to this pressure.

It’s good to see CR covered in annual reports, but that is not the same as being accountable to all stakeholders. Reporting to shareholders should cover issues which are important to them. CR reporting should cover issues which matter to all stakeholders.

This confusion also helps to explain some of the difficulties of the materiality debate. The risk-based, shareholder-oriented approach focuses on what matters to the company. The accountability approach focuses on what matters to stakeholders. They give different answers on what is material.

Confusion, surely not...

Then there is assurance. Once again we see confusion about the audience for assurance statements. David Owen highlighted the fact that assurers often appear to be reporting to management.

Even in the context of financial statements, the auditors are supposedly reporting to shareholders about the document being presented by management.

In practice the detailed (unpublished) audit report goes to management, but at least it is usually mediated by the board’s audit committee. Assurance statements on CR reports surely need to be addressed to stakeholders.

But who are the stakeholders? Curiously, the Brussels conference also demonstrated some confusion here. One strand, elucidated by the trade unionist Dwight Justice, suggests that only “direct” stakeholders really matter.

This is partly a reaction to the prevalence in stakeholder dialogue of academics, journalists and similar experts, and an understandable desire to hear the voices of “real people”.

Admirable though this sentiment is, it should not result in the exclusion of intermediaries – such as trade union leaders and NGOs, as well as academics and journalists.

Such people bring valuable expertise to stakeholder dialogue, and make it practicable to engage fruitfully on what can be very technical issues across broad geography and subject areas.

Dialogue is an essential ingredient of CR. To avoid it being a dialogue of the deaf, companies need to be clear who they are talking to, and why, and stakeholders need knowledge and understanding.

Roger Cowe is a director of the CR communications consultancy Context .

Endangered species in a can? It's common knowledge that we are running out of oil. What's not so well known is that we are also running out of big fish

Endangered species in a can?
EC Newsdesk
10 Apr 06

Sustainable? Probably not
Sustainable? Probably not

It's common knowledge that we are running out of oil. What's not so well known is that we are also running out of big fish, argues Robert Ovetz
The harsh realisation that catches of big fish - marlin, sharks, swordfish and tuna - are declining rapidly is beginning to sink in.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation considers about 75 percent of all fish fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted.

The crisis can be seen most extremely across the Pacific, the world's largest source of tuna, where catches are shrinking along with the average size of the fish.

Today a 70 pound swordfish - which is too young to have even reproduced - is considered "a good sized fish" and can be legally landed in the US.

Just a few short decades ago the same fish averaged 300-400 pounds and could be caught close to shore with a harpoon.

Some small progress

In the past two years, the Pacific has seen quotas, restrictions on catches, freezes on effort and even moratoriums.

The US longline fleet had to shut down for the second half of 2005 in the Eastern Pacific. Japan and China were not far behind.

Just last December, the new international body with the unwieldy name Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission imposed a freeze on further efforts to catch bigeye and albacore.

Throughout the Pacific, it is widely documented that these two species have recently joined the lucrative southern bluefin tuna on the overfished list.

In fact, southern bluefin already has a step up on its cousins and is considered an endangered species by the World Conservation Union.

Shameful shark finning has also caused numerous shark species to plummet as well and a few sharks such as the great white to be considered vulnerable to extinction.

Disaster looms

All told, recent scientific reports document that the biomass of these large fish have declined by about 90 percent in the Pacific since 1950 - about the time that new technologies allowed us to fish further from shore for longer and catch more fish.

Since then, technology has eviscerated those last areas of the ocean safe from us only because we were unable to reach them and stay there.

The recent announcement last month by the US government that yellowfin tuna is also being overfished in Pacific will undoubtedly send a shockwave throughout the US and the Pacific.

We are now faced with incontrovertible evidence that the lions and tigers of the sea - the ones we feed our children for lunch - are disappearing fast.

Imagine the day when cans of tuna, a staple food source for millions of Americans, can no longer be found. According to the warning signs that day may already be here.

Bad for development, too

That's bad news for the dozens of impoverished Pacific island nations that have leased their national waters for pennies on the dollar to foreign industrial longline vessels to catch and export their fish primarily to the US, Japan and the EU.

For some of these nations, these meager licensing fees contribute as much as 70 percent of their GDP.

When greed and waste finally leads to collapse of these fish, millions of people throughout the Pacific will sink even further into poverty.

Canneries are already cutting their hours or even shutting down for want of fish. Stories of crews mutinying or being abandoned in foreign countries by captains who couldn't pay them abound.

The days of three cans of tuna for a $1, a vivid memory from my childhood, are long gone.

The way out of this crisis is to catch less and pay more while staying out of critical areas of the ocean.

It only seems fair that the countries with the resources should receive a far larger share of their $2 billion a year resource and still have some of the big fish around to attract far more lucrative game fishing tourism.

The US has taken the right step by restricting longline fishing for tuna in the Eastern Pacific and banning it on the West Coast.

Now it's time to put the pressure on other countries to do the same.

Otherwise we may start having to add these fish to the endangered species list.

Robert Ovetz, PhD is the Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator with the US-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project. He can be reached at: /

Brands in China - First-mover advantage awaits

Brands in China - First-mover advantage awaits

Steven Schwankert, editor of, believes a golden age for corporate responsibility in China is just around the corner
Ninety-five per cent of Chinese companies “do no charitable work whatsoever”, Steven Schwankert told Ethical Corporation’s recent Asia conference.

This gulf in action between local and international companies provides foreign brands with an opportunity to improve their reputations in China via corporate social responsibility programmes, which he sees purely as an offshoot of public relations.

Schwankert referred to a few examples of good and bad practice. He noted the example of an oil company working with the ministry of education in China to promote sustainability issues in schools, such as why disposable chopsticks are a bad idea. On the negative side, he said, one US company’s idea of corporate responsibility in China is to “hand over a million dollars to a random Chinese NGO with no transparency” in order to get the chief executive on the cover of China Daily.

However, he said, attitudes to this sort of activity “are changing now”. Chinese companies are now listing on foreign stock exchanges, he pointed out, and many are experiencing shareholder demands for information for the first time. This is driving interest in corporate responsibility among Chinese companies with overseas operations.

Schwankert predicts that Lenovo, the Chinese computer company that owns IBM’s PC division, will soon be doing much more on corporate citizenship issues globally. “They have lots of foreign managers,” he told the conference. Schwankert also sites’s Charles Huang as setting an example for chief executives in China on citizenship issues. Huang is a mountain climber and environmental activist, “really taking the lead in China” by using to “get the message out”. is also undertaking HIV advocacy work. Schwankert believes that this is a good example of “a very sensitive issue being tackled” in China.

In the next few years, Schwankert believes that foreign-listed Chinese companies will start to take the first steps on corporate citizenship in China, particularly in the run-up to the Olympics in 2008. Many of these companies, he believes, have hidden behind foreign brands and let them “take some of the heat” on early corporate social responsibility moves, but will now start to develop their own initiatives to improve their reputations in China.

From the European Commission - Corporate social responsibility: the European perspective

From the European Commission - Corporate social responsibility: the European perspective
EC Newsdesk
4 Apr 06

Vladimír Špidla, commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities explains the EU’s new position on CSR

Corporate social responsibility is taking on a new significance at the European level in the light of increased global competition and the worldwide reach of many companies. Europe needs to maintain and support enterprise and creativity in business, providing a climate favourable to sustainable growth, job creation and innovation. Through corporate social responsibility, business, in dialogue with stakeholders, can help to deliver this growth in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Over the past 15 years, business, supported by the EU and national governments, has made ever-greater commitments to corporate social responsibility. Leading European companies are increasingly examining their stakeholder dialogue, governance and product development in the light of corporate social responsibility principles and mainstreaming these within their business processes. Small companies – the engine of European economic growth – are also making a contribution, often through the adoption of a more informal and intuitive approach.

But there is still more that can be done. The European Commission, together with business leaders, is establishing the European Alliance for Corporate Social Responsibility to give a renewed impetus to efforts in this area. Its ambition is to make Europe a pole of excellence on corporate social responsibility. The alliance is a voluntary coalition of companies that share a vision of corporate social responsibility as a business opportunity that can generate win-win solutions for both companies and society. It recognises the primacy of businesses as the primary actors in corporate social responsibility, while acknowledging the supportive role public authorities can play in facilitating an open and constructive dialogue between business, employers, trade unions and civil society organisations.

The founding principle of this approach is that progress can only be achieved through commitment and mutual trust. Effective corporate social responsibility in the long term depends on a cultural change. The European Alliance for Corporate Social Responsibility is all about supporting that change within European businesses. It is about helping business develop the skills required for effective relationship building and dialogue with stakeholders, mainstreaming corporate social responsibility in the mindset of current and future business leaders as well as in their business processes, and it’s about providing tools for effective analysis and evaluation of corporate social responsibility initiatives within firms.

The alliance will explore and support creative ways to exchange and disseminate best practice on corporate social responsibility in a way that is relevant and accessible to business practitioners, policy leaders, consumers, investors and the wider public. Building on work already underway, it will promote multi-disciplinary research into corporate social responsibility at the European level, with a view to providing a better understanding of its impacts on sustainable development and competitiveness. Education has a major role to play here – tomorrow’s business leaders must be educated in the skills, knowledge and values of corporate global responsibility. The alliance will support the integration of these subjects into the curricula of business schools and other institutions across Europe.

Given the diversity of the European economy and the wide ranging scope of corporate social responsibility, the alliance recognises the need to engage on several priority themes: supporting the growth of small businesses; fostering innovation in technologies, products and services that meet the needs of our evolving society; helping businesses to mainstream social and environmental concerns in their ways of working, especially in supply chain operations; improving and developing skills for employability; better responding to diversity and the challenge of an ageing population; encouraging the integration of energy efficiency and environmental protection in production processes; enhancing dialogue; and improving the transparency of corporate governance. The alliance will address these priorities through “open coalitions of cooperation”, in which interested companies, experts and stakeholders will, with the support of the commission, develop joint projects piloting innovative solutions and approaches.

Corporate social responsibility is vital because it mirrors the core values of our society –respect for quality of life, the environment and human dignity. This does not stop at the borders of the EU; we must all recognise that the uptake of corporate social responsibility here has an impact on firms all over the world. The European Alliance on Corporate Social Responsibility is an important and progressive step through which Europe can continue to lead the way in building for future generations a world in which the needs of both people and nature are respected everywhere.

Useful link:

For and Against GM Food crops

Debate: Genetically modified food and the WTO ruling - All that glitters...
EC Newsdesk
4 Apr 06

GM remains a bad idea for all sorts of reasons, says Graham Thompson of Greenpeace UK
Why should we be worried about genetically modified food?

Last year an Australian project to engineer a GM pea was abandoned because rats developed allergic reactions when fed the experimental peas. Not the biggest food scare in the past few years, admittedly – the problem was picked up and the project abandoned. So where’s the danger?

Well, the tests needed to pick up this effect are not part of the European or US food safety regimes. Furthermore, the peas were “substantially equivalent” to normal peas – “substantial equivalence” means containing the same chemicals in the same quantities – and could have been approved on those grounds.

The problem was picked up through luck, and the pea could have been allowed through Europe’s allegedly over-protective, precautionary regime with no-one knowing about the health risk. They had already been deliberately released into the environment in field trials. Do we know that the GM crops already on their way to market could not cause similar problems?

The studies have not been done.

The vast majority of European consumers do not want to eat GM food. Unfortunately, as US trade representative Rob Portman recently noted, “public opinion isn’t the standard. The standard is a rules-based system in the World Trade Organisation. That’s why we’re in the WTO.”

This statement is truer than you might imagine, as if the WTO has its way, not only will we consumers not be allowed to keep GM out of our countries, regardless of how loudly and clearly we ask, but the consequences of what amounts to the enforced importation and growing of GM crops is that we won’t have the option of keeping them off our plates either. Widespread contamination will make non-GM food a thing of the past. The EU is even proposing a threshold of 0.9% GM for organic food. As things stand, zero contamination just won’t be possible. So much for consumer choice, and so much for protecting the environment.

Grand vision

But these concerns are trivial compared with the grand vision the GM lobbyists are selling. According to the sales pitch, it is vital for Europe to overcome its dangerously protectionist and unjustifiable precautionary stance on GM in order to allow the GM industry to do what it has allegedly been chafing at the bit to do for decades – eradicate world hunger.

The industry’s crops, however, aren’t quite up to the job. Florence Wambugu’s sweet potato, described by New Scientist magazine as “Monsanto’s showcase project in Africa”, has been comprehensively thrashed by a crop created at a fraction of the cost using traditional breeding methods, which has all of the positive attributes erroneously claimed by the GM variety and none of the worrying health and environmental risks.

Normally the GM industry can get its crops into the fields regardless of their merits, but as Wambugu told New Scientist, “[the GM sweet potato] has no commercial value to Monsanto, except as PR”.

Despite early promises of feeding Africa on the cheap, it turns out that this crop has an entirely negative impact on any farmers foolish enough to believe Monsanto’s PR. The sweet potato was claimed to double yields and increase resistance to viral attack. When the results of the field trials were quietly released, they showed that it halved yields and reduced resistance to viral attack. A Ugandan conventionally bred variety, on the other hand, does exactly what the GM variety was supposed to do but couldn’t. Monsanto continued to claim that its crop would feed Africa even as the field trial results showed its performance to be worse than average.

The current GM wonder crop, Syngenta’s “Golden Rice”, promises not only cheap and plentiful food but a cure for the millions of people suffering from vitamin A deficiency. Companies like Syngenta will tell you that the common sense solution to vitamin A deficiency, a balanced diet, is a luxury beyond the reach of the people they are trying to help, conveniently missing out the fact that these people had a balanced diet until companies like Syngenta introduced new agricultural technologies that wiped out everything in their fields except rice. Admittedly, as long as GM can keep the spotlight, the chances of more practical solutions being adopted are slim.

Golden Rice and the drawing board

“Golden Rice” has had to go back to the drawing board numerous times as it was discovered that to get any benefit one would have to eat many times more rice than was healthy, or even possible. Now that the scientists have managed to raise the beta carotene (the vitamin A precursor) content to a more practical level, they are wrestling with the problem that vitamin A is only created in the body through an interaction of beta carotene with zinc and fat, substances that are likely to be lacking in a poor diet.

This ailing research project into an entirely inappropriate techno-fix has been presented for years as a ready-to-go solution. In fact, “Golden Rice” as described in the PR remains a distant hope. To compensate for the failure of the technology, the front groups and think tanks that the GM industry pays to be its cheerleaders have ratcheted up their rhetoric to the point of blaming the anti-GM lobby for world hunger, blindness and infant mortality.

Only the front groups, mind.

The industry itself says things such as “If anyone tells you that GM is going to feed the world, tell them that it is not” (Steve Smith of Novartis Seeds) or “Nobody has ever claimed that GM is the answer to world hunger” (Monsanto UK’s director of corporate affairs, Tony Combes).
When the sales pitch is so overblown that even the biotech firms are careful to maintain plausible deniability, you need a real sucker for a customer. Europe isn’t that sucker. We don’t want to be guinea pigs for untested technology, we don’t want to hand control of what we eat to Bush or the WTO, and we’re fully aware that GM’s mission to feed the world is an immoral fraud.

Graham Thompson is a GM campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

This is one of two articles discussing the implications of GM food. For the opposing view, see 'Let them eat precaution: What the WTO decision on GMOs really means' by Jon Entine, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Debate: Genetically modified food and the WTO ruling - Let them eat precaution: What the WTO decision on GMOs really means
EC Newsdesk
4 Apr 06

Anti-science hysteria is dominating the debate about GM foods. That is a shame, argues Jon Entine
Call it “the spin wars”. In a leaked interim report in February, the World Trade Organisation sided with Canada, Argentina, and the US, ruling that the European-wide ban on bio-engineered crops has more to do with protectionism than precaution. But that’s not what you’d believe if you relied on the hysteria-grams flooding the internet.

Greenpeace blasted the WTO as “unqualified to deal with complex scientific and environmental issues”. Friends of the Earth scowled “European safeguards” were being “sacrificed to benefit biotech corporations”. The Consumers Union lambasted the “pre-emptive effort to chill the development of new policies for regulating GM crops”. The WTO, they chorused, is a puppet of nefarious biotechnology corporations aligned with bully nations force-feeding Europe with “Frankenfoods”.

Let’s separate the chaff from the wheat. If this 1,045-page report is upheld, Europe will not have to alter a single regulation or label. Consumers will not be forced to buy and eat food that they do not want. The WTO will demand the EU observe its own regulations – using sound science to evaluate new products. That has not been happening. European countries have been exploiting the controversy to protect their farmers and keep prices high.

Anti-GMO campaigners have been on the attack since the first generation of biotech crops – soybeans, wheat, cotton, and canola that generate natural insecticides, making them more resistant to pests and drought and reducing reliance on environmentally harmful chemicals – were introduced more than a decade ago. Why? Primarily because corporations brought them to market.

Solution to malnutrition

We are now entering the second phase of the revolution – addressing malnutrition and aiding smaller farmers. Nutrition-enhanced foods such as “Golden Rice” could help millions of malnourished children suffering from vitamin A deficiency. On the horizon are futuristic “farmaceuticals” – medicines made by melding basic agriculture with advanced biotechnology, creating new foods, such as potatoes transformed into edible vaccines against diarrhoea, a leading cause of death in the developing world.

Yet, in a dark, parallel universe of the privileged, egged on by “ethical investors” and funded by the organic and natural product industries, which thrive on food scares, protestors cite the lowest common denominator in fabricated scientific disputes: the “precautionary principle” – the controversial notion that innovations should be shelved unless all risks can be avoided.

They assert “Trojan Horse” genes could unleash a “genetic Godzilla”, causing environmental havoc.

Slogans like “better safe than sorry” may ring of moderation, but they are simplistic. The WTO acknowledged as much, ruling there is no mainstream scientific support for the precautionary principle, but leaving the door open to handling the GMO issue differently “if new scientific evidence comes to light which conflicts with available scientific evidence”.

Every activity involves risk. Conventional farmers use chemicals that have unknown long-term consequences. Should we ban conventionally grown foods? People die and fall ill eating organic foods caused by fecal contamination from dung – a “natural” fertilizer. Should we remove these products from the shelves? We are not about to stop vaccinating infants because of the unfounded fear that inoculations cause harm. Do we really want to make profound decisions not on the basis of what we know but on the basis of what we do not know?

There have been no documented health problems linked to GM crops and no evidence that genetic modification poses greater risks than crossbreeding and gene-splicing, which have given us such products as the tangelo and seedless grape. Noting that biotech crops are just as safe and healthy as conventional crops, and can be grown with less environmental hazard, the United Nations has urged their extension to the developing world.

Back on their heals, anti-GMO groups have attempted to reframe the debate in starkly political terms, citing the Biosafety Protocol, which Greenpeace claims should allow countries “to ban or restrict the import and use of GE [genetically engineered] organisms when there is a lack of scientific knowledge or consensus regarding their safety”. But this “international law” is actually only an extra-legal declaration.

The WTO saw through this hyperbole, pointedly writing: “There has been to date no authoritative decision by an international court or tribunal which recognises the precautionary principle as a principle of general or customary international law.” Should the Biosafety Protocol become law, studies have shown it would be a disaster for developing countries (and a boon for protectionist-minded Europe).

The hypothetical risk of biotechnology has to be balanced against the lives lost because new products remain trapped in a regulatory maze. In 2002, Zambia and Zimbabwe, wary of offending their major trading partners in the EU, cited the “precautionary principle” in rejecting donations of bio-engineered grain that could have helped feed ten million undernourished people, thousands of whom ultimately died.

Today in the Philippines, where 42% of the diet comes from white rice, a study by UN food experts estimates that “Golden Rice” could avert 879 deaths, 1,925 corneal ulcers, and 15,398 cases of night blindness each year. A Philippine-based anti-biotechnology group with ties to Greenpeace has aggressively lobbied against “Golden Rice” on the grounds that the benefits from beta-carotene are minimal – claims rejected by scientists.

Popular with the people

We should also be sceptical of polls suggesting consumers, particularly in Europe, are dead set against these innovations. “If you really want to understand whether European shoppers will buy genetically modified foods given the opportunity, ignore the agents provocateurs, the media, and the panicked reactions of the big supermarket chains, and look instead at the behaviour of ordinary consumer,” says David Bowe of the European Parliament’s committee on environment, public health and consumer policy. “When Safeway and Sainsbury’s put GM tomato purée side by side with their non-GM counterparts in 1999 the proof was definitely in the purée. The GM product was seen to offer real added value. It was less expensive and in numerous blind tastings consumers seemed to prefer the flavour. It sold as well as the non-GM product.”

Even with this WTO ruling, political realities suggest this subterfuge may not end soon. Greece and Hungary recently announced they would defy EU regulations and broaden their bans on GM-modified maize seeds, citing “toxicity”. No scientific research was presented to back up this allegation.

While not a silver bullet, GM technology offers unique tools to address international food needs. Biotech crops are grown mostly in major farming nations but farmers in developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, and in Eastern Europe, with hungry stomachs to feed, are vigorously embracing the technology. Last year, 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries grew biotech crops on 222 million acres, an 11% year-on-year increase.

There are valid concerns, including the degree to which corporations should be allowed to patent beneficial seeds, keeping in mind that Monsanto, Bayer, Novartis and other firms need to recoup their development costs, which have multiplied exponentially because of the country-by-country, complex and repetitive approval process.

But years of demagoguery have taken an enormous toll – polluting public opinion, profoundly altering the trajectory of biotechnology applications and damaging the financial wherewithal of corporations and university research projects. The biggest losers are the children, frozen out of the benefits of the green revolution that many of us take for granted.

Jon Entine, American Enterprise Institute fellow, is author of “Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture”.

This is one of two articles discussing the implications of GM food. For the opposing view, see 'All that glitters...' by Graham Thompson of Greenpeace UK.

Guardian Newspapers' social, ethical and environmental audit 2005 - Raising the media accountability game

Guardian Newspapers' social, ethical and environmental audit 2005 - Raising the media accountability game
Kathee Rebernak
5 Apr 06

In raising complex and oft-ignored issues surrounding journalistic responsibility, Guardian Newspapers’ responsibility report sends a challenge to the industry
Guardian Newspapers’ third social, ethical and environmental audit is an introspective and, for the most part, frank assessment of the company’s performance. It is also an unapologetic call for greater transparency and self-examination in the industry at large.

Stakeholders should leave the report comfortable that GN is listening to their concerns and making a sincere effort to respond to them. The challenge for the company in future reports will be to reach for even greater transparency, especially in discussing its environmental performance and supply-chain practices.

Transparency: the ‘parallel universe’

The report devotes a significant amount of space to issues of journalistic integrity and transparency, accusing its own industry of living in a “parallel universe”. That should come as no surprise; GN is owned by the Scott Trust, which “puts editorial integrity above short-term financial returns”. Of particular note is GN’s frank acknowledgement that it is “in the business of putting stuff inside people’s heads and therefore can be a force for good or evil”, and that even word choice can influence readers’ opinions.

These issues are quite complex, and GN carries its commitment to clarifying nuance and complexity in its news reporting to the explanation of its reader relationships and editorial dilemmas. The report spends 16 pages discussing editorial integrity in all its various forms, from transparency to fairness to fact-checking.

Yet GN does not carry its commitment far enough. While it acknowledges mistakes, such as a story containing editorial “improvements” amounting to misrepresentation, the report fails to discuss how GN reins in overreaching editors or deals with rogue reporters. GN should take the opportunity to improve transparency in this area in next year’s report. It can begin with a frank discussion of the Guardian’s handling of the uproar over Emma Brockes’s interview with Noam Chomsky last autumn, which ended with the decision to pull the interview from the GuardianUnlimited website altogether.

Those pesky metrics

The report poses the question “can we measure editorial content?” While the answer is obviously yes, complexities abound. GN engaged KPMG, an audit firm, to conduct a stakeholder engagement and analysis and provides a sample of the recommendations, including that GN appoint a corporate social responsibility “board champion” and develop more transparent complaints procedures.

In this brief discussion the report cites just one measure as indicative of performance: the number of violations of the Press Complaints Commission code of practice. Yet the commission upheld none of the 168 total complaints lodged against the Observer and the Guardian for violations of that code. Stakeholders may wonder at the value of these outcomes, especially given that the commission itself may suffer from the same industry hubris decried in the report’s editorial section.

That GN has undertaken such an effort, however, is encouraging. As it continues to ponder this issue, it might consider better ways to measure the impacts of its editorial content on society and perhaps, in so doing, serve as a model for its industry.

Short shrift to legal issues

The “legal” section contains a series of one-paragraph discussions that, in their brevity, seem to belie their importance to journalism. For example, the report fails to discuss the flipside of confidential sourcing, including the circumstances under which editors will grant anonymity, and how they manage to balance the need to protect sources with the need to check facts and ferret out questionable motives.

Stakeholder engagement: striking a balance

One of the more colourful, if not especially helpful, aspects of the report is the depiction, in the form of pie charts, of mainly positive reader responses to statements such as “news coverage is trustworthy”. In addition, the inside-front-cover spread highlights, in large type, glowing comments from readers of all three publications. Aesthetics aside, problems of self-selection render these comments more cloying than useful in allowing stakeholders to assess performance.

More credible and informative are the discussions of reader and employee complaints. The report rightly uses some of these as opportunities to illustrate the often delicate balance between environmental and social issues, on the one hand, and commercial considerations on the other. An example is GN’s response to readers’ environmental concerns over the practice of “polybagging” weekend sections of the Guardian and Observer. Alternatives to polybagging are not commercially viable, the report says, citing potential loss of business due to distribution delays and missing sections if it abandons the practice.

Employees: trying to get it right

The report details the company’s efforts on employment practices, addressing such meaty issues as equal pay, diversity, and performance appraisals. GN has launched new pay schemes and set 17 targets for, among other matters, a pay audit, diversity analysis and awareness, and training. Readers will welcome seeing the measurable effects of these efforts in the next report.

Having realised that it has been behind the curve in terms of diversity, GN seems to have made the recruitment and training of ethnic minorities a priority. The report describes several programmes designed to improve diversity and cites statistics on gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disability among its general workforce. What is surprising is that it offers no figures on ethnic minorities or women in management, especially given that women occupy the top spots at both the Scott Trust and GN.

The report seeks to tie its commitment to diversity to revenues from recruitment advertising that targets ethnic minorities and GN has established developing the “business case for diversity” as a target for 2006. GN should consider making these kinds of links for other aspects of its performance, such as flexible and home working and greater diversity, in coming years.

Environment: practise what you preach

The report’s main weaknesses are in the environmental section. The report divides the narrative between coverage of environmental issues and efforts to reduce GN’s environmental impacts; the former takes the prize. GN recognises its responsibility for keeping the debate alive by devoting “disproportionate space” to the subject, noting that its publications have collectively published more than 1,000 articles on climate change in the 12 months preceding the report’s publication.

The discussion of environmental performance seems scattered and vague. The report does present environmental impact data such as electricity and water use and CO2 emissions, and some initiatives are clear and forward-thinking, such as its decision to purchase green power for all of its sites beginning in 2007. Others, in particular the discussion of paper use and sourcing, leave the impression that, good intentions notwithstanding, GN has yet to form an environmental policy or strategy.

The report fails to explain some of its more interesting indicators, such as a 33% increase in water use per employee, and why it collects water and gas use data for the main building only. In addition, the report says that it will purchase carbon offsets for air travel “booked through [its] main travel agent”. Never mind those rogue reporters who book their own trips.

Such a scattergun approach raises the question of what is omitted, and why. One explanation may be simply that GN has not yet assembled the data to offer a more complete picture of its impacts and efforts. If that is the case, then GN should say so.

Readers will appreciate more complete data in future reports, or at the very least an explanation of GN’s efforts to measure impacts. Given that GN plans to audit its printing plants in 2006, this will probably be forthcoming.

Supply-chain practices: choosing words carefully

In discussing its supply-chain practices, GN says it considers environmental factors “wherever viable” and is “keen” to use its purchasing power to “encourage” suppliers to improve ethical and environmental performance. Such feeble and precatory language signals that the practices themselves are just as thin.

For example, at a whopping 114,000 tonnes per year, paper use is GN’s primary environmental impact, yet the company has no sourcing policy. GN says it is working on developing one in order to move toward a sustainable paper supply. Yet it has stated no measurable targets toward that end.

A general discussion about ethical procurement mentions that GN now requires suppliers to submit information on environmental performance and diversity and health and safety and has instituted a “points system” for determining acceptability. That GN awarded a recent contract to a supplier scoring only two of a possible five on the system may lead readers to wonder what GN deems “acceptable”. Stakeholders will welcome a more transparent discussion of supply-chain practices in future reports, including quantifiable targets and specifics as to how GN screens and influences its suppliers.

Targets: more specifics, please

A five-star system attempts to indicate the extent to which targets have been met. While GN seems to have met most of its 2004 targets, some that were unmet seem either to have disappeared altogether or to have morphed into more specific targets set for 2005-06. In some instances this is puzzling, in others an improvement.

For example, a nebulous and wholly unmet 2004 target, to “aim to reduce energy use in our buildings”, seems to have become several more specific (yet still unmeasurable) targets, such as to “investigate opportunities for adjusting the timing of zonal heating and cooling” in GN’s offices. GN should aim for greater specificity in stating targets, and in demonstrating progress towards meeting them, in order to enable itself and its stakeholders to better assess future performance.

By frankly addressing many of its challenges, especially with regard to journalistic integrity, GN has thrown down the gauntlet to others in its industry. Whether and how GN will pick it up again, in terms of its own transparency, environmental performance and targeting, will be a story well worth reading.

Useful link:

Sustainability - At the tipping point? Challenge your finance organization to adequately track 'whole system,' life cycle costs, risks and opportunities

nbl_header picture

Sustainability - At the tipping point?

NBL 15.2
Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I'm an optimist by nature, I'll confess. (A nature that sometimes seems hard to express in these times.) With that disclaimer, I told a business leadership conference last month that we're likely to look back on 2005 as the tipping point for "sustainability." Here's why.

In his 2001 bestseller The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell used the metaphor of epidemics to demonstrate how a small number of 'carriers' in a ready context can unleash massive and market-altering -- or world-altering -- waves of change.

His questions are potent, and still relevant: 'Why is it that some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and others don't? And what can we do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own?'

Momentous change is not always visible at the moment it happens -- in fact it doesn't always happen in a discrete moment. And a change can take on a nearly irreversible momentum long before it becomes the dominant phenomenon.

The 'sustainability trajectory' I've tracked over the past 35 years (since long before it was called that) has looked to me like a fairly consistent exponential curve of uptake. Whether the time span is the last three decades, or one decade, or five years, or two, the curve charting the uptake and penetration of these ideas has been exponential. (See diagram.) We'll see even more progress in coming years -- and still have major challenges ahead (see below). But 2005 may be the year of critical mass (to use another popular metaphor).

Here are a few of the milestones marking 2005:


General Electric's Ecomagination announcement was probably the one most people remember. GE is not only big, diverse, and technologically sophisticated; it also has one of the most respected management traditions; GE's most notable product isn't jet engines, medical equipment or financial services, but exceptional managers -- which makes this top-level, business-integrated initiative all the more notable, and potent.

Boeing announced that its new 787 jetliner (coming in 2008) will be 20% more efficient than anything comparable, and 70% more fuel efficient than the first commercial jet aircraft some 40 years ago. I'm someone who always pushes the companies we work with to take on audacious goals, but given the already optimized environment of aircraft design, this one surprised even me. (With growing concern about the greenhouse gas implications of air travel, it will be interesting to see how far this trend can go.


JPMorganChase was one of a growing number of major financial institutions signing on to the Equator Principles. Rainforest Action Network gets the kudos for pushing major banks to the table. The banks themselves get kudos for being willing to be pushed.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs pledged to make $1 billion available for investments in renewable energy, as part of a comprehensive 'Environmental Policy Framework' that bespeaks both a substantial grasp of the business risks and opportunities. According to an Alternet analysis, 'It's the first corporate environmental policy to hinge on the newly minted idea of "ecosystem services," which is a way of looking at the environment in terms of what [economic services] it provides for humans.'


WalMart's recent 'greening' announcement was notable (though it met with some skepticism) both for its potential scale of impact, and the indications of serious thinking behind it. As I wrote late last year: Does it go beyond lip service? That remains to be seen, of course, but it's a telling sign that WalMart CEO Lee Scott isn't just talking about 'greening' his stores. Here's what he said in Forbes: 'There will be a day of reckoning for retailers. If somebody wakes up and finds out that children that are down the river from that factory where you save three cents a foot in the cost of garden hose are developing cancers at a significant rates -- so that the American public can save three cents a foot -- those things won't be tolerated, and they shouldn't be tolerated.' Whatever you think about WalMart's social footprint, that's one thoughtful CEO.

Even among the acknowledged leaders, the bar keeps ratcheting higher. (I love it when that happens! Don't you?) Starbucks announced a commitment to a 20% renewable energy portfolio -- no small thing for such a rapidly growing company -- and Whole Foods trumped with a 100% commitment. (Making Whole Foods the second largest US renewable energy purchaser, by the way, right behind -- are you ready? -- the US Air Force! Interesting times, indeed!)


And then there were Katrina, Wilma and the two-dozen other major storms of last season. The fact- and science- averse among us may still claim to not be persuaded about global warming, but I'll wager that everyone else got the message in 2005. (For those who didn't, and who pay more attention to the pundits on Fox News than the executives at Swiss Re, one more hurricane season should do the trick.)

On the other hand

Not all the news is good news, of course, so this is not the time for complacency. If little things can make a big difference, the tipping point can tip the other way as well.

NASA's James Hansen, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Science, asserts that 'The Earth's climate is nearing, but has not passed, a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to avoid climate change with far-ranging undesirable consequences. These include not only the loss of the Arctic as we know it, with all that implies for wildlife and indigenous peoples, but losses on a much vaster scale due to rising seas.'

We face many serious challenges. The progress I'm lauding, and encouraging, is still too slow to avert major socio-ecological disruptions from climate change (the issue the general public is most concerned about, while scientists consider biodiversity loss to be even more serious). Major resource systems -- fisheries, forests, soils, fresh water, biodiversity, coral reefs and more -- are generally in decline worldwide. Most leaders -- in fact most people -- are still ignorant of exponential & long-lead effects, and lull themselves into the complacency of 'doing OK so far.' Grinding poverty still immiserates a third of the human family, and shames us all. The addiction to stuff drives our market. And the market still lies, by dismissing the inconvenient parts of physical reality as 'externalities'. In the face of all this, better still isn't good enough.

So what can be done to maintain the momentum, in the face of good news and bad? I'm reminded of labor organizer Joe Hill's admonition: "Don't mourn. Organize." It comes down to big pictures and small acts.

  • Be sure your leadership team is tracking big picture drivers like climate change and market expectations. (And if you think meeting the European product directives is challenging, just wait 'til China steps up to the plate.)
  • Get out ahead of Kyoto, and drive greenhouse gas emissions down aggressively. Even if you can't do it as profitably as BP has, do everything you can to insulate your organization from future energy shocks.
  • Engineer non-bio-compatible materials out of your supply chain. Whether because the European (and Chinese?) markets will reject them or because they have no place in living systems, they will be gone some day; your only question is 'will you wait until you have to change, or will you lead the change?'
  • Challenge your finance organization to adequately track 'whole system,' life cycle costs, risks and opportunities. If the tools to do it aren't there, invent them; schedule a brain transplant if necessary.
  • Communicate your aspirations, commitments, actions and results -- prolifically and fiercely -- at every level of your organization, and throughout your supply chain and stakeholder network. There's no telling where the next breakthrough will come from, and you want to be sure you have all ears open and all brains engaged when it does.
(For a longer discussion of both positive and negative trends, see my recent article in Corporate Strategy Today, and my forthcoming book, Risk, Fiduciary Responsibility and the Laws of Nature. You can listen to a preview here.)

(c) 2006 Gil Friend. All rights reserved.
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New Bottom Line is published periodically by Natural Logic, offering decision support software and strategic consulting that help companies and communities prosper by embedding the laws of nature at the heart of enterprise.

Gil Friend, systems ecologist and business strategist, is President and CEO of Natural Logic, Inc.

May be posted intact--including this notice--in any non-commercial forum.
Please inquire at "reprint_rights at natlogic dot com" before reproduction in any commercial forum.

Intel unveils PCs for India’s rural areas

Intel unveils PCs for India’s rural areas
By Anita Jain in New Delhi
Published: March 30 2006 10:45 | Last updated: March 30 2006 10:45

India office workerIntel on Thursday unveiled a personal computer designed for use in India’s rural areas as part of an initiative to set up 200,000 internet kiosks over the next two years in villages across the country.

Intel’s computer chips and motherboard will be used in units manufactured by leading Indian companies Wipro Infotech and HCL Infosystems. The computers are designed to withstand extreme heat and can be powered by car batteries and stationary bicycles to overcome the problem of unreliable or non-existent power supplies in India’s villages.

“India is one of our fastest growing markets and the rural population is untapped today,” said Frank Jones, president of Intel’s India operations.

Intel’s move follows the recent launch of an almost identical scheme by Microsoft to roll out 50,000 kiosks in villages over the next three years. Microsoft will manage its rollout, while Intel will leave the establishment of the kiosks to its hardware partners.

Both US technology giants recently announced massive investments in India, and their initiatives to boost computer literacy and internet access in India’s rural areas will be financed from those funds.

The programmes will enable villagers to fill out government forms and apply for jobs over the internet in their local languages.

Microsoft said it would invest $1.7bn in India over the next four years, while Intel is funnelling $1bn into the nation in the next five years. Both companies have said their rural initiatives are business ventures and not solely philanthropic.

“We are absolutely interested in helping grant these communities internet access but it is a business model for us and our partners,” Mr Jones said.

India may have built up a formidable reputation as an IT powerhouse, but its rural population remains woefully under-represented in the digital revolution that swept through the country a decade ago.

India exported $17.7m in IT software and services in the 2004-05 financial year, and an estimated $23.4m in 2005-06, according to Nasscom data.

Nasscom, the country’s leading IT association, said about 7m have access to the internet in the villages, compared with 63m in urban locations.

Describing rural internet usage as “abysmally low”, Nasscom president Kiran Karnik said the programmes from Intel and Microsoft were an initial step in bridging the digital divide between India’s rural and urban populations.

“I think it’s a great start,” he said. “The real viability will come when they [the PCs] are used for transactions.”

Mr Karnik said villagers would benefit much more once they could use the internet to sell their products, such as a farmer selling grain, or buy something they needed. “Nobody is providing a platform for them to do it today,” he said.

Business/NGO engagement - Assessing your partnership progress

Business/NGO engagement - Assessing your partnership progress
Tobias Webb, Editor
11 Apr 06

The good old days of engagement
The good old days of engagement

A new partnership brokering service offers advice on business/NGO alliances
Such is the demand for expertise on business/NGO partnerships two organisations - the International Business Leaders Forum and the Cambridge Programme for Industry - have recently set up their own training and brokering service in response.

As one of the longest-serving CSR-related NGOs and a leading centre of academic excellence they are well placed to do so. The resulting entity, the Partnering Initiative, boasts a useful combination of theory and practical experience.

Ros Tennyson of the Partnering Initiative told this publication’s recent packed conference on business/NGO partnerships that in her view, the big challenge for partnership participants is not the notion of partnerships that tackle social and environmental concerns, but how “partners can learn to work through the challenges” that such pacts present.

Some of these difficulties include “some loss of autonomy in partnerships”, she noted. Partnerships are much more difficult than going it alone since groups must “take account of other people’s decisions”.

Partnerships, she noted, alongside with their societal, reputational and innovation benefits, are a drain on resources for partners, particularly in terms of time, and to keep partnerships going “you have to keep revisiting the relationships”.

The challenge of giving up control

Sustaining freshness and innovation in partnerships is a challenge, said Tennyson. Long term Business/NGO alliances are “like a marriage, after the honeymoon period do you have a solid marriage?

Most partnerships, she said “are a combination of art and science. Government is not much good at them because “partnering means giving up control”.

Despite the challenges, interest in business/NGO partnerships seeking to tackle wide environmental issues and social problems is growing exponentially. The recent Ethical Corporation conference was first held in 2005, and the recent event featured over three hundred delegates, representing solid growth on 2005’s numbers.

In terms of assessing whether business/NGO partnerships work, Tennyson offered three steps for assessment:

- Has it been effective in achieving common aims?
- Has it provided benefit for all involved?
- Is this the best way to do it?

The real test of a good partnership, concluded Tennyson, is “if it stands up” to tough questioning on this final point.