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


Parents Joining Facebook, Kids Horrified

Pas mal drôle!


Food needs 'fundamental rethink': The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation

Food needs 'fundamental rethink'
By Mark Kinver 
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

A sustainable global food system in the 21st Century needs to be built on a series of "new fundamentals", according to a leading food expert.

Tim Lang warned that the current system, designed in the 1940s, was showing "structural failures", such as "astronomic" environmental costs.

The new approach needed to address key fundamentals like biodiversity, energy, water and urbanisation, he added.

Professor Lang is a member of the UK government's newly formed Food Council.

"Essentially, what we are dealing with at the moment is a food system that was laid down in the 1940s," he told BBC News.

"It followed on from the dust bowl in the US, the collapse of food production in Europe and starvation in Asia.

"At the time, there was clear evidence showing that there was a mismatch between producers and the need of consumers."

Professor Lang, from City University, London, added that during the post-war period, food scientists and policymakers also thought increasing production would reduce the cost of food, while improving people's diets and public health.

"But by the 1970s, evidence was beginning to emerge that the public health outcomes were not quite as expected," he explained.

"Secondly, there were a whole new set of problems associated with the environment."

Thirty years on and the world was now facing an even more complex situation, he added.

"The level of growth in food production per capita is dropping off, even dropping, and we have got huge problems ahead with an explosion in human population."

Fussy eaters

Professor Lang lists a series of "new fundamentals", which he outlined during a speech he made as the president-elect of charity Garden Organic, which will shape future food production, including:

  • Oil and energy: "We have an entirely oil-based food economy, and yet oil is running out. The impact of that on agriculture is one of the drivers of the volatility in the world food commodity markets."
  • Water scarcity: "One of the key things that I have been pushing is to get the UK government to start auditing food by water," Professor Lang said, adding that 50% of the UK's vegetables are imported, many from water-stressed nations.
  • Biodiversity: "Biodiversity must not just be protected, it must be replaced and enhanced; but that is going to require a very different way growing food and using the land."
  • Urbanisation: "Probably the most important thing within the social sphere. More people now live in towns than in the countryside. In which case, where do they get their food?"
Professor Lang said that in order to feed a projected nine billion people by 2050, policymakers and scientists face a fundamental challenge: how can food systems work with the planet and biodiversity, rather than raiding and pillaging it?

The UK's Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, recently set up a Council of Food Policy Advisers in order to address the growing concern of food security and rising prices.

Mr Benn, speaking at the council's launch, warned: "Global food production will need to double just to meet demand.

"We have the knowledge and the technology to do this, as things stand, but the perfect storm of climate change, environmental degradation and water and oil scarcity, threatens our ability to succeed."

Professor Lang, who is a member of the council, offered a suggestion: "We are going to have to get biodiversity into gardens and fields, and then eat it.

"We have to do this rather than saying that biodiversity is what is on the edge of the field or just outside my garden."

Michelin-starred chef and long-time food campaigner Raymond Blanc agrees with Professor Lang, adding that there is a need for people, especially in the UK, to reconnect with their food.

He is heading a campaign called Dig for Your Dinner, which he hopes will help people reconnect with their food and how, where and when it is grown.

"Food culture is a whole series of steps," he told BBC News.

"Whatever amount of space you have in your backyard, it is possible to create a fantastic little garden that will allow you to reconnect with the real value of gardening, which is knowing how to grow food.

"And once you know how to grow food, it would be very nice to be able to cook it. If you are growing food, then it only makes sense that you know how to cook it as well.

"And cooking food will introduce you to the basic knowledge of nutrition. So you can see how this can slowly reintroduce food back into our culture."

Waste not...

Mr Blanc warned that food prices were likely to continue to rise in the future, which was likely to prompt more people to start growing their own food.

He was also hopeful that the food sector would become less wasteful.

"We all know that waste is everywhere; it is immoral what is happening in the world of food.

"In Europe, 30% of the food grown did not appear on the shelves of the retailers because it was a funny shape or odd colour.

"At least the amendment to European rules means that we can now have some odd-shaped carrots on our shelves. This is fantastic news, but why was it not done before?"

He suggested that the problem was down to people choosing food based on sight alone, not smell and touch.

"The way that seeds are selected is about immunity to any known disease; they have also got to grow big and fast, and have a fantastic shelf life.

"Never mind taste, texture or nutrition, it is all about how it looks.

"The British consumer today has got to understand that when they make a choice, let's say an apple - either Chinese, French or English one - they are making a political choice, a socio-economic choice, as well as an environmental one.

"They are making a statement about what sort of society and farming they are supporting."

Growing appetite

The latest estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that another 40 million people have been pushed into hunger in 2008 as a result of higher food prices.

This brings the overall number of undernourished people in the world to 963 million, compared to 923 million in 2007.

The FAO warned that the ongoing financial and economic crisis could tip even more people into hunger and poverty.

"World food prices have dropped since early 2008, but lower prices have not ended the food crisis in many poor countries," said FAO assistant director-general Hafez Ghanem at the launch of the agency's State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008 report.

"The structural problems of hunger, like the lack of access to land, credit and employment, combined with high food prices remain a dire reality," he added.

Professor Lang outlined the challenges facing the global food supply system: "The 21st Century is going to have to produce a new diet for people, more sustainably, and in a way that feeds more people more equitably using less land."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/12/27 19:24:38 GMT

CSR Doesn't Pay: Managers should try to act more responsibly. But they should not expect the market to necessarily reward them--or punish their less responsible

Thanks to Barry Graham for this note and link

There was an interesting article that I came across in "Executive Leadership" which I read each month.  David Vogel wrote about CSR in Forbes recently.  IBM gets a positive mention in there.

The title is misleading, he's not saying that CSR doesn't pay, but does warn against assuming that the market will reward companies for practicing CSR.  I googled him and he seems to have good credentials, and on the whole seems to be an advocate of CSR judging by his publications.

Corporate Social Responsibility
CSR Doesn't Pay

David Vogel
 10.16.08, 6:00 PM ET

We increasingly hear that corporate social responsibility has become a business imperative. Newspapers, magazines and books glowingly describe the business benefits of behaving responsibly--and caution managers about the business risks of a poor CSR performance.

Executives are repeatedly informed that by demonstrating concern for the environment, human rights, community development and the welfare of their employees both in the U.S. and abroad, they will make their firms more profitable. Their firms will gain a competitive advantage by appealing to the growing numbers of socially and environmentally oriented consumers, investors and employees.

The belief that corporate responsibility "pays" is a seductive one: Who would not want to live in a world in which corporate virtue is rewarded and corporate irresponsibility punished? Unfortunately, the evidence for these rewards and punishment is rather weak. There is a "'market for virtue," but it is a very limited one. Nor is it growing.

One can certainly find examples of firms with superior CSR performance that have done well, as well as firms with poor CSR reputations that have performed poorly. But there are at least as many examples of firms with good CSR records that have not done well and firms with poor CSR reputations that rewarded their shareholders.

The good news is that firms with superior CSR performance have not performed any worse than their less virtuous competitors. But the disappointing news is that neither have they done any better. For most firms, most of the time, CSR is largely irrelevant to their financial performance.

Revealingly, the long-term performance of socially responsible investment funds has been no better, or worse, than those of funds that use other criteria to predict future shareholder value.

Part of the reason why CSR does not necessarily pay is that only a handful or consumers know or care about the environmental or social records of more than a handful of firms. "Ethical" products are a niche market: Virtually all goods and services continue to be purchased on the basis of price, convenience and quality.

Although ethical mutual funds have grown in size, they have had no measurable impact on share prices. Mainstream investors still rarely consider a firm's CSR record in deciding which shares to buy, sell or hold. While many business students now profess an interest in working for more responsible firms, their less responsible competitors appear to have no difficulty in attracting top talent.

Starbucks provides a good example of the limited importance of CSR to financial performance. The firm enjoys a strong CSR reputation due to its generous labor policies and its commitment to improve the earnings and environmental practices of coffee growers in developing countries.

Yet since the beginning of 2008, its shares have recently declined nearly 50% (at last glance the S&P 500 is down "only" 36%). The stock's disappointing performance has absolutely nothing to do with CSR: It is entirely due to the firm's overexpansion and, most recently, the increasing unwillingness of consumers to pay as much for a cup of coffee as for a gallon of gasoline.

Other CSR icons, such as Levi Strauss, Gap, Whole Foods and Timberland, have also fared poorly in the marketplace.

General Electric has been widely applauded by environmentalists for its "Ecomagination" line of more energy efficient and environmentally responsible products. These products have sold well, prompting many observers to conclude that for corporate America, "green" has become the new "green."

Before the recent market chaos, GE's share price had been stagnant for nearly six years. Whatever GE's current or projected earnings from Ecomagination, as well as from the firm's substantial investments in alternative energy, they have been overshadowed by Wall Street's disappointment with GE's overall earnings. In fact, GE performed much better under Jack Welch, who was not known for his interest in environmental responsibility. Moreover, GE also continues to make substantial, and highly profitable, investments in the financing and construction of coal-fired power plants, indicating that there is still money to be made by less environmentally responsible behavior.

The firm with possibly the world's poorest environmental reputation is Exxon Mobil, largely due to its reputed indifference to the problem of global climate change and its continued focus on fossil fuels. Yet Exxon-Mobil is one of the world's most profitable corporations. Over an extended period of time, it has performed far better financially than BP, which changed its brand to Beyond Petroleum to emphasize its responsibility to help reduce the world's dependence on fossils fuels, and which, unlike Exxon-Mobil, has supported mandatory greenhouse gas reductions.

The contrast between Exxon-Mobil and BP reveals another limitation of the business case for corporate responsibility. It is often difficult to distinguish responsible and irresponsible firms. While BP may have a more responsible record than Exxon-Mobil when it comes to the issue of global climate change, Exxon-Mobil has recently been far more successful in preventing accidents and avoiding oil spills. It is thus not obvious which firm is more 'responsible.'

To take another well-known example: Merck has been widely applauded for its development and free distribution of a drug to cure river-blindness, a dreadful disease which affects tens of millions of the world's poorest people. Yet this same company withheld important information regarding the safety of its highly profitable drug Vioxx.

These examples are not unusual: Few firms are consistently responsible--or irresponsible--across all their business operations.

One can find examples of successful firms for whom CSR has been a core element of their business strategy. Patagonia and Seventh Generation come readily to mind. Other firms such as Dupont, Alcoa and IBM have reaped substantial savings from reducing their energy use while Toyota has successfully marketed hybrid cars.

But it is important not to generalize from these examples. To assume that the business environment has fundamentally changed and that we are entering a new world in which CSR has become critical to the success of all or even mostfirms is misinformed. The market has many virtues, but reconciling corporate goals and public purposes is unfortunately not among them. Managers should try to act more responsibly. But they should not expect the market to necessarily reward them--or punish their less responsible competitors.

David Vogel is a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of The Market for Virtue: The Potential and Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility (Brookings, 2005).

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