9 billion good reasons to invest in Social Entrepreneurship

Blog post for the subject Social Entrepreneurship

Whatever was sustainable on a planet of 6 billion people, will no longer be sustainable on a planet of 9 billion people. A quick read through the newspaper headlines and we can see that society is facing some serious challenges in all areas of sustainable development; economic recessions and unemployment; climate change and resource depletion; social inequity and poverty.

While these issues can represent a threat to some businesses, to others they represent opportunity – the opportunity to solve one of these societal challenges AND make a profit. This mission, to do good and be useful to society, while also earning a living, is at the heart of what it means to be a social entrepreneur. The key to social entrepreneurship is therefore the alignment of business to one of these societal challenges.

While the alignment of business to ‘making the world a better place’ sounds all well and good, does it actually make good business sense? Is social entrepreneurship worth the investment when compared to traditional business models? I think the answer is yes. Yes, because social entrepreneurship models still satisfies a fundamental principle of business, that is, delivering value in exchange for a return.

However, the fundamental principle that is different about social entrepreneurship models is that the type and scope of this value concept has shifted. It has shifted towards a value concept that is increasingly in demand. A value concept that is increasingly in demand because of the increasing pressures from a globalized and growing society in the 21st century. A global society that is still struggling to work out the formula for how to do ‘less with more’. For example, how can we feed 9 billion people without destroying the planet? How can we reduce social inequity while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions? It is in such challenges where social entrepreneurs find the drive to create innovative new business models which create value for many, instead of just value for a select few.

Therefore, unlike other current business markets, a promising reason to invest in the social entrepreneurship market is because there will continue to be an increased opportunity for social entrepreneurs – so while it is common today to read of successful social entrepreneurs, already out there defining new meaningful ways to do business, the good news is that there is (unfortunately) a huge market of different social, environmental and economic challenges still waiting to be solved. With governments increasingly overwhelmed by the mounting number of societal challenges, the time has never been better to invest in social entrepreneurship as a means to bridge the gap.

One organization, B Lab, a non-profit that certifies these purpose-driven companies alone reports to have registered 30,000 of these social entrepreneur based companies which together represents some $40 billion in revenue.

Another statistical reason to invest in social entrepreneurship is a simple one. If we “consider each individual as a mine of gems of inestimable value”, given that we will soon be 9 billion people on this planet, from a resource perspective, this represents an increasing resource of “mines” filled with valuable innovative ideas. In other words, while in some arenas the growing population represents a threat, in the social entrepreneurship arena, the more people, the better, and the more potential we have to generate innovative society-changing ideas.

However, social entrepreneurship is more than just a good idea. I remember one day when I was in Australia and going home after university with a friend. We were contemplating what we were going to after we finished our studies. After a moment of silence, I exclaimed “I just want to come up with a good idea!” – a moment later, my friend and I burst out in laughter at the simplicity and obviousness of this statement – I didn’t say I want to come up with an amazing idea or an excellent idea, just a plain old garden-variety good idea! Today, I look back on this statement with even more insight into the world of social innovation, understanding that even having an amazing idea is not enough. The point I am making here is that like with any investment, to invest wisely in social entrepreneurship means more than just investing in idea generation.

So what should a savvy social entrepreneur investor look for? Well, savvy investors should look for social enterprises that balance idea generation with implementability of the following:

  1. Urgency – how urgently does the target market need this idea implemented?
  2. Capacity – does the enterprise have the resources (i.e team work) to implement the idea?
  3. Capability – does the enterprise have the skills to implement the idea?
  4. Passion – and finally and perhaps most importantly – does the enterprise have the passion to implement the idea, even in the face of obstacles?

Finally, there is one more, good collaborative reason why we should invest in social entrepreneurship. With the rise of technology and co-working spaces (such as the HUB) which allows individuals the ability connect to other like-minded individuals, the barriers to implementability are quickly being broken down. More and more people are discovering that there is no business like social business and there is 9 billion good reasons to invest in social entrepreneurship.


Jane Jacobs Goes Down Under

Blog post for the subject Sustainable Urban Planning

What would Jane Jacobs have said if she had taken a trip down under and through the Australian city of Melbourne?

Known as Australia’s “Garden City”, Melbourne is the second biggest city in Australia and home to 4.2 million ‘Melbournians’. And for the second year in a row, Melbourne has been ranked number 1 as the world’s “Most Liveable City” by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey. Undertaken each year the survey assesses 140 cities worldwide based on five broad categories: stability; healthcare; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure.

Jane Jacobs was an American writer and activist famous for challenging the concept of rational urban planning. Her influential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities argued that urban renewal did not respect the needs of most city-dwellers. Instead, Jacobs believed that urban planning needs to reflect human communities, which are anything but rational, and characterized by complexity and chaos.

The question then stands, how did Melbourne become such a liveable city and would Jacobs have agreed with the planning behind this ranking?

In 1985 the Melbourne City Council created a strategy to develop the city as “A 24 hour City that looked and felt like Melbourne”. In other words, urban planning that created modern development but maintained or enhanced the inherent culture and character of the city. Over the past three decades, the city has gradually developed with this strategy in mind. As a result, in 2013, Melbourne is definitely ‘a city on the go’ – a city that is attracting many people from abroad and in my (slightly biased) opinion, Australia’s most vibrant city in terms of culture and economy. A city that provides a variety of mixed use venues, fantastic parks and many people friendly spaces and streets that are all well connected. At the heart of this development has been a local design culture – local projects and programs that have facilitated public dialogue to determine design value. To this effect, I think Jacobs would have approved of Melbourne’s local design planning principles, as she affirmed:

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

This notion, that cities offer something for everybody is especially important in Melbourne because of the multicultural profile of the people who make the city a whole. The city is comprised of many different ethnic areas which provide Melbourne’s rich migrant communities and sub-culture movements with their own space. For example, there is Victoria Street – home to Melbourne’s Vietnamese community. There is Lygon Street in Carlton – home to Melbourne’s Italian community. There is Smith Street and the city’s many famous hidden lane ways and allies – which are home to Melbourne’s thriving sub-culture scenes. And of course there is China Town in the heart of the C.B.D, along with many other distinctive cultural areas each with their own identity, which together shapes Melbourne into the ‘melting pot’ that it is today.

It is this concept of space and understanding what ‘a space’ represents to who and why, which is fundamental in the design of Melbourne. I believe Jacobs would have strongly agreed with this planning principle as she states in her own words:

“The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks that can thus give back grace and delight to their neighborhoods instead of vacuity.”

It is therefore this principle of planning for “everyday diversity” which I would recommend is critically important for many cities around our globalizing world, from Miami to Amsterdam to Dubai to Bangkok, now experiencing increased migration from different cultural and ethnic groups. There is undoubtedly great potential in diverse urban populations, but to unlock this potential (and overcome the challenges) requires a balance between both ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ planning. No matter how “rational” or how well designed a public space, if a space does not accommodate for the diversity of the people who make up ‘the public’ then there will be people marginalized from this space. Marginalized populations within a city ultimately undermine its social cohesion and therefore its long term “liveability”.

However, Melbourne is not without its sustainable urban planning challenges. Melbourne recently experienced a very serious drought and faces severe ongoing water problems because of climate change. The city also currently has a very high carbon emission profile. Thankfully though, it seems the city of Melbourne is not going to have to fight these challenges alone. Melbourne is apart of the G40 which is a network of the world’s megacities committed to sharing purpose and solutions in order to address climate change. Melbourne also has several of its key city councils involved in the I.C.L.E.I initiative, which is a network of local governments for sustainable cities. Together global initiatives and network such as G40 and I.C.L.E.I, will help Melbourne by providing an effective forum where it can collaborate, share knowledge and design meaningful an measurable solutions to overcome its planning challenges in the years to come.

This process of designing integrated solutions is central in the European Union’s policy publication Cities of Tomorrow, which recognizes that the great challenges of urban planning in Europe have no “straightforward or simple solutions”. While global networks and initiatives may be able to facilitate solution sharing to some extent, in the end, each city faces its very own unique realities and challenges. Therefore, as I believe is well demonstrated by the city of Melbourne, ultimately what will best position cities to face their sustainability challenges is the type of approach taken to determine what solution fits best given the situation. The Cities of Tomorrow publication supports this view by confirming that, “it is clear that different levels of fixed government structures alone are not well suited to addressing the future challenges in a sustainable way”.

The publication also highlights that the key to sustainable planning will be adapting government structures to better respond and capture the multi-dimensional nature of the challenges in terms of the social, the environmental and the economic factors. Such an integrated approach however requires time and we must keep in mind that the cities of tomorrow are only achieved because of the plans of yesterday – the city of Melbourne is today enjoying the benefits of extensive planning from 30 years ago. The lesson here is that policy makers should get connected and get integrated. However, as discussed, Melbourne is not a perfect city because it is inhabited by people. Therefore, while policy makers should always aim for perfection, even with the best integrated approaches, the reality is that the cities of tomorrow will probably never be perfect. In conclusion, while policy makers should get connected and get integrated, they should also get real and keep policy adaptive, because cities will always face sustainability challenges of some kind, a view best summarized by Jane Jacobs who wrote:

“Being human is itself difficult, and therefore all kinds of settlements (except dream cities) have problems. Big cities have difficulties in abundance, because they have people in abundance.”

 


If you can’t join em’, beat em’

Blog post for the subject CSR in Small & Medium-Sized Enterprises

Research shows that given a choice, today’s consumers will increasingly support businesses that practice sustainability and make investments in the community. Large organisations dedicate considerable budget and employee hours to developing and reporting on Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, but where does that leave the little guy? Is CSR too complicated or expensive for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?

Despite the initial preconceived barriers we might have about the potential of SMEs to ‘do good’, they can, and do, have a big impact on society. For example, in the OECD economies SMEs and micro-enterprises account for over 95% of all firms, which represents 60-70% of employment and 55% of GDP. To that effect, SMEs and micro-enterprises also create 80% of pollution.  They may be small but their role in the pursuit of sustainable development is vital. Typically though, we only blame large multinational corporations for issues such as pollution and our expectations for SMEs to be perfect corporate citizens tends to be low in comparison. However, without a change of mentality from SMEs about their role in society, the pursuit of sustainable development may be a long one.

What is central to changing the mentality of SMEs is clarification and accessibility – for them CSR is not about meeting international sustainability standards or writing glossy reports. It is instead about creating real local benefits – improving the communities where employees and customers live and work. SMEs will not be able to join big business on sustainability platforms like the Global Reporting Initiative or the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, instead they need to focus on where they can beat them. If you can’t join them, beat them. That is, SMEs need to utilize their extensive local knowledge of resources, high global adaptability and innovation capacity to create local and specialized CSR initiatives that represent real benefits for them and real benefits for the communities in which they operate, or increasingly in a globally connected world, those communities where SMEs choose to make a difference – as with the case of the glasses manufacturer Warby Parker, who through their business strategy “buy a pair, give a pair” were able to create a profitable market niche while at the same being active problem solvers by applying their core business competency to social and economic development issues in developing countries. This example shows that by making CSR a strategic part of their business plan, SMEs have a big opportunity to differentiate themselves.

However, while CSR may represent different opportunities for different sized organizations by accessing different tools and methods, one thing remains true. Regardless of a organisation’s size, what undermines any CSR engagement is the importance for an organisation to understand its purpose and to define how it can share the value of its purpose to promote competitiveness and create benefits for its stakeholders.

 


Climate Change and Cornerstones

Blog post for the subject Sustainability Policies in the E.U

The European Union’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is the cornerstone of the E.U’s climate policy. It also happens to be the cornerstone of both my doubts and optimism that we will be able to successfully mitigate climate change through economic market-based approaches. In this post, I will first discuss the key policy debate currently surrounding the EU ETS, namely, the increasing debate about supply side management. Next, by examining the position of Poland as an example, I will aim to give an overview of the policy making process in the EU and identify the different actors who can shape this debate and thus direction of policy. Finally, I will conclude with an analysis of both the costs and benefits of this process and whether it is effective in terms of reaching the broader EU goals of sustainable development. From this, I will explain why the ETS remains a cornerstone of both my doubts and optimism for the future of today’s long term decarbonization objectives.

According to the EU ETS Directive, the objective of the ETS is to “promote GHG reductions in a cost-effective and economically efficient manner”. That is, the ETS is designed to facilitate the distribution of carbon allowances across the EU market to those who can cut emissions with the least economic impact. Through this market approach, another long term objective of the ETS was to create a situation where an increasingly scarce supply sent clear price signals about the price of carbon in the future for investors. However, due to over-allocation in phase I, international credits and the economic recession, there is now an over-supply of allowances in the market which has resulted in market not meeting this broader price signaling objective. Even though the ETS is working as any market economic market should, the ETS is not just any economic market. It was create for a purpose. That purpose is to facilitate the EU in achieving its sustainable development goals outlined in the European Energy Efficiency Plan 2020 and The Low Carbon Economy 2050 roadmap. This lack of a clear price signal in the market is therefore is a threat to the success of the EU’s ability to meet these broader goals.

Given the current situation of the market, the key debate that now surrounds the ETS is regarding how to address the over-supply of allowances and how to increase its effectiveness. A range of different options have been thrown around the union as proposals on how to best fix the market. While some demand side measures have been suggested, the majority of debate focuses of the issues of how to manage supply over phase 3 and 4. At the top of list has been the European Commission’s proposal to ‘backload’ the auctioning of future allowances from 2013-2015 to 2018-2020 (Phase 3). This proposal supposedly has the potential to address the current over supply and strengthen the future policy framework which could also help to provide increased certainty to future investors about the long term price of carbon. However, this backloading proposal would have different impacts on the different member states and this proposal is currently being reviewed and contested through the EU policy reform process.

In order to introduce the actors in policy reform process in the EU I will examine the position of Poland. What is Poland’s problem with backloading? Well, Poland believes that the backloading proposal will severely disadvantage its use of the allowances it was allocated for free to compensate it for the transition of its existing carbon intensive energy sector. The backloading proposal represents the possibility that these allowances may be cancelled. Poland therefore is facing the risk of loosing considerable value in its ETS based transition incentive ‘compensation package’.

Therefore, Poland wants the European Union member states to reject the European Commission’s backloading proposal based on free-market principles. That is, that this proposal would amount to intervention in the market and that intervening with new measures like backloading would just add more uncertainty for investors about the regulatory framework of the market. Moreover, Poland therefore distinguishes between the role of the EU in creating the market to reduce emissions and the right of the EU Commission to play with market price.

So how does the EU settle its policy proposal debates? Well, with more “amending Directive” proposals of course. The Commission had to submit another proposal which would give it the ability to amend the existing ETS legislation. The original proposal was therefore delayed while this second proposal is being approved by a committee of member state representatives. While the majority of member state support the backloading proposal, Germany is still deliberating over the proposal and its official position. Given Germany’s weight in the EU, the debate could still take another turn if Germany decides to reject the proposal. Given the lasting debate surrounding this proposal, the European Parliament has now been called into action in order to allow ‘the people’ of the EU to now have their say.

As the above example shows, policy debate through the EU involves many different actors and can be influenced from top-down (European Commission), from the individual member states (i.e. Poland/Germany) and also from the Parliament who are representing the EU’s citizens. Furthermore, this example shows how challenging it is to make sustainability policies fly and function in the E.U. Sustainability policies in the EU, face not only the prerequisite of cooperation among its members but now also faces new challenges presented by its current socio-economic situation, such as the case with the ETS. If the member states and different actors do not see eye to eye, then the policy process is extremely slow, as in the case of the amendments to the ETS directive which is still failing to alleviate the concerns in the market.

In conclusion, the ETS was undoubtedly an ambitious project by the EU and they have paved the way for the rest of the world to follow and learns from its mistakes. However, given the global cooperation required to tackle climate change, the very fact that even within the EU community this market-based approach has been so difficult to agree on, would it ever be possible to implement a truly global and thus effective carbon market so that reductions in the EU were not just in vain? Furthermore, the market based approach, as we have seen in the ETS is highly susceptible to unforeseen events and given the urgent need for climate change mitigation, I have my doubts whether this approach is appropriate. We need clear signals about the price of carbon now and not before its too late. Nevertheless, the creation of a ‘functioning’ economic market itself is on the other hand a reason for some optimism because it shows that there is considerable political will and effort being devoted to achieve long term sustainable development goals even in the face of economic recession. Furthermore, with the E.U currently in discussion with Australia about linking the EU ETS with the Australian Carbon Pricing Mechanism, there may be some signs of hope that one day a truly global emissions trading scheme could be created that would be appropriate for mitigating a truly global problem. However, given the ongoing challenges faced by creating an effective carbon market just within the E.U, the question undoubtedly stands…how long would such a market take to create and would it even be effective in time to limit climate change below devastating levels to our planet?

 


Innovate, learn to cook tofu, or die!

Blog post for the subject Rural Development and Food Justice.

Innovate, learn to cook tofu, or die from starvation – these are the three general options I propose we will have in the 21st century with regards to the way we design our food systems and the way we eat (or don’t eat).

I will start with the most undesirable of the options. Option 1: food shortages, land conflict, famine, malnutrition and death from starvation for potentially billions of people. There is an old Chinese proverb that says “if you do not change direction you may end up where you are heading”. And according to the Oxfam Grow Report, we are heading into the perfect storm scenario for increasing world hunger: massive population growth, natural resource scarcity, environmental destruction and to top it off increasing threats from climate change, which will further undermine our already failing global food system. A food system which, at last estimate, already leaves nearly a billion people facing hunger as a daily reality. The current food system is inherently wasteful and environmentally destructive. Nothing has ravaged the earth’s natural environment (land, water, air) like modern industrial agriculture. For example, it is estimated that across the Latin America region, rainforest is cleared at a rate of 11 acres a minute in order to grow crops, like soy.

However, at the heart of this destructive agriculture drive is not our demand for tofu (soy) but it is our increasing global demand for meat and other animal products. There is a lot of talk about waste in the food distribution system…for example, tomatoes or apples being thrown out either because they have gone bad or because they don’t look pretty enough for supermarket shelves. While this is an important issue to be reconciled, I will argue that this is nothing compared to the scale of systematic misapplication of food resources wasted in the design and culture of our current food system. For example, a staggering 97% of the world’s soy crop is now fed to livestock. In other words, we are clearing our rainforests in Latin America to either graze animals or grow food to feed to animals…not to mention some other alarming facts about livestock productions in terms of air and water resources:

1)Amount of water required to make a hamburger: 2,400 litres

2)Contribution of livestock production to the greenhouse effect of climate change: 18% (transportation sector: 13%)

So on one hand, we have nearly a billion people living in hunger, and on the other hand we are feeding almost half of all the grain produced in the world to livestock? Animals are terribly inefficient converters of plant protein. For example, it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. During this conversion, not only do we have a net loss of food calories, we also waste our precious land and water resources, and this process contributes more to climate change than all our cars, trucks, boats, trains and planes.

So, if we could continue with this option into the future, it will be a race to the bottom of our natural resources, and it will be those at the bottom who will be hit the hardest. Therefore, how our food is produced is arguably as great of an environmental concern as the type of car we drive.

This bring us to Option 2: significantly decreasing our meat consumption, learning to cook tofu and adopting a mostly plant based diet. What has made humans such a successful species over the course of history is the ability to adapt our diet to our environment in order to survive. If ever there was a time when we needed to adapt our diet for our survival, the time is now. However, there is an old English proverb that says “you can’t teach an old dogs new tricks”. And our eating habits are deeply embedded in our culture and difficult to change. Unfortunately, I am increasingly skeptical about the ability of the current population to voluntarily quit eating meat – over the last 50 years, meat consumption per capita has grown exponentially. Even if the world’s meat consumption per capita stagnated, population growth alone would keep the absolute consumption steadily rising. The only thing that will seemingly stop this devastating trend is involuntary measures as a result of resource depletion. That is, it has been estimated that by 2050, if the world’s population wanted to eat the same amount of meat as the world’s rich countries now consume, using current production methods, we would need 67% more land than the earth has. Surely, we will want to avoid this forced diet change and catastrophic situation where we have destroyed our natural environment for the sake of steak.

To this effect, we now need to to start exploring new methods of meat production and this brings us to Option 3: innovation – meat without the cow and without the environmental impact. What has also made humans such a successful species over the course of history is our ability to innovate through technology in order to break the status quo and resolve our impending challenges. There is an old African proverb that says “when the music changes, so does the dance”. For example, 19th century cities depended on horses for transportation. A growing population and urban development meant more horse. More horses, meant more manure. Moreover, there was also increasing demand for valuable land to stable the horses and also increasing demand for hay to feed the horses, which required more farm land devoted to feeding horses instead of people, which in turn meant more horses coming into the cities to deliver the food and therefore more manure. At the end of the 19th century, it was predicted that by 1950 cities like New York and London were doomed to be buried alive in horse manure. However, thanks to the invention of the automobile, The Great Horse Manure Crisis never happened.

It is therefore our ability to innovate and embrace new technology that I believe will resolve our impending food/meat system crisis. Using the latest in stem-cell technology, scientists in the Netherlands have already grown the world’s first strips of cow muscle tissue, without the cow, with the goal of cooking up the world’s first lab-grown hamburger in the coming years. If this production method becomes commercially viable, what gives me the confidence that consumers will accept it, is the fact that if consumers really cared where their meat products on the supermarket shelves came from, why would we be increasingly consuming meat the way it is currently produced through industrial factory farming?

 

 


What Happened Down Under?

Blog post for the subject Project Management

The construction of the Sydney Opera house is often cited as a textbook example of bad project management. The Sydney Opera house was originally planned to cost 7 million dollars and take 5 years. In reality, it took 16 years to complete and the final price tag for the project was more than a 100 million dollars. So what happened down under that made this project such a blow out in terms of cost and time?

At the heart the problem was poor leadership and bad management of the different stakeholders (designers, engineers, construction). As a result the Sydney Opera House project technically failed because there was no accurate project planning as to how the project design goal might be achieved – that is, most of the delay and cost blow out was due to the roof design…how to actually create those iconic sails?

The project only found the solution to this design challenge during the Execution & Controlling project stage. Because an appropriate feasibility phase was not executed, the ability of the project team to anticipate key challenges and risks in the subsequent phases in the project life-cycle was severely compromised. The identification of the sails design requirements should have been preliminary to any estimating, planning and assessment activity, but stage 1 construction of the foundations was ordered to begin before the the engineering company had completed their design.

If the Australian government had known the real facts of what building the Opera House would involved I imagine it would have been a ‘No-Go’. Nevertheless, even once it became apparent there was a complete lack of knowledge about the design requirements, the government, as the definitive stakeholder in the project was committed to achieving its project goal (for political reasons).

Poor stakeholder management and leadership persisted throughout the project – for example, the original designer left the project and he was not well managed and as a result he withheld the original designs he created and effectively became a “significant blocker” to the project, causing even more delays and costs in terms of re-designs.

Evaluating the Sydney Opera House project based on time and cost, it undoubtedly failed. However, in Australia today, we see the Sydney Opera House as a success story – it provides continuous income and fame to the country. Nevertheless, the construction of the Sydney Opera House demonstrates the need for clear project management skills which is ultimately undermined by strong leadership and stakeholder analysis skills.


Natural Resource Management Session Slogans

Blog post for the subject Environment & Natural Resource Management. We had to create slogans that captured the content of each session….

Session 1 : Introduction to Environment & Natural Resource Management

Habitation, Population, Regeneration: just some of the key principles for environmental preservation

Session 2: Biodiversity and Environmental Impact

Biodiversity: power in numbers

Session 3: Sustainable Management of Natural Resources

(Inspired by Trainspotting)

Choose life. Choose renewable. Choose recyclable. Choose Inexhaustible. Choose sustainable management

Session 4: Social Factors & Natural Resource Management

If poverty proliferates, environmental exhaustion eventuates

Poverty and environmental protection: can you do the dissection?

Session 5: Environmental Pollution

Pollution as a Boomerang: you can try and throw it away but it will come right back at ya’

Pesticides as pollution. Pollution as a pest. Who are the polluters and who are really the environmental pests?

Session 6: Market Tools that Support Sustainable Resource Management

Certification: promoting responsible industries and empowering consumers

Course Summary Slogan

The Future of Natural Resource Management: Policy that Promotes Natural Processes


Where Did All The Fish Go?

Press Release blog post for the subject Environmental and Natural Resource Management

Press Release

For immediate release: Sunday, January 27th, 2013
Classification: General Public

Where did all the fish go? According to the WWF’s 2012 Living Planet Report, we have eaten them. The 2012 Report is the world’s latest, science-based analysis on the health of our planet and the impact of human activity. One central theme of the report is the relationship between our diet and the state of our natural resources. And research reveals that in order to fill our increasingly large global stomach, we are emptying our oceans.

The report documents how “a nearly five-fold increase in global catch, from 19 million tonnes in 1950 to 87 million tonnes in 2005, has left many fisheries overexploited”. Not sure what overexploitation looks like? The images in the report on page 85 show just what efficient fishermen we have become. Thanks to the advance of technologies used by intensive industrial fisheries, such as trawling operations, we are emptying the oceans of fish and other seafood at rates faster than the species can regenerate. Oceans cover 71% of our planet. It is hard to imagine that it is even possible for humans to deplete such a vast natural resource, but believe it or not, we are.

The report details the demise of marine species such as the Northern bluefin tuna and the Atlantic cod. The Northern bluefin tuna is a species on the verge of extinction. “The Atlantic cod has declined by an average of 74% over the past 50 years” and in for some Atlantic cod fisheries, such as in Newfoundland off the coast of Canada, the population has now collapsed beyond the point of recovery.

Not only does intensive industrial overfishing threaten a valuable free food service that many of people around the world depend on, but the collapse of many predator species that we target for our food will also impact the balance and functioning of the ocean’s entire eco-system. To this effect, the other valuable environmental services that the ocean provides us such as tourism and carbon sinks will also be heavily impacted if this mismanagement of our fisheries continues.

The question then stands. How can we prevent this from happening? Can we have our fish and eat it too? According to the report, yes we can, but only if we “consumer more wisely” and understand the impacts of our food choices. That is, we need to bring our consumption back to sustainable levels, where by our natural resources can regenerate faster than what we use. With this in mind, the future of the oceans is in our hands as consumers. We need to mobilize our consumer power to support sustainable fisheries.

Not sure how you can make sure your consumer power counts? The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an important mechanism for tackling the current overexploitation of our oceans and an important tool to help consumers support environmentally responsible and economically viable fisheries.

For more information about the current state of our planet, visit the World Wildlife Fund’s 2012 Living Planet Report at www.panda.org/lpr.


Shades of Grey

Video blog for the subject Marketing Fundamentals

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Have you done your steak-holder analysis?

Blog post DP4 of 4 for the subject Socio-Economic Development Perspectives

A stakeholder is any person or group with an interest or concern in a particular issue. A stakeholder analysis is the process of identifying those who are affected by a particular issue.

In my previous blogs (DP 1-3) I have provided three examples of unsustainable and unethical industry practices:

DP 1: The meat industries and factory farming: animal cruelty, environmental damage, food waste

DP 2: The chocolate industry and exploitation of raw materials from developing nations: child labor, inhibition of local community development

DP 3: The seafood industry and overfishing: species extinction, environmental damage and the depletion of a critical food resource for millions in developing nations

What I have tried to demonstrate through these examples is the relationship between our consumerism and the wider developmental consequences of something as intimate as our food. In other words, I have tried to show that through our everyday consumer decisions, we are not the only stakeholders in the decisions we make between us and the companies we buy our products from. Rather, ultimately we are stakeholders in the decisions between us and the welfare of others – the welfare of the animals that we use for our food, the welfare of the people who produce our food, the welfare of the people who don’t have enough food and the welfare of our environment and its capacity to sustain future generations. This said, the reality is that the majority of today’s consumers are disconnected and do not see the other stakeholders when walking down the supermarket isle – they only see the cheapest eggs and not the cost-cutting cruelty necessary to make them so cheap – they only see the different flavors of chocolate and not the different standards of economic and social fairness – and they only see the sushi at the end of their chopstick and not the species at the end of the line…

This disconnection between us and where our food comes from is by no means accidental. Societies that pursue economic efficiency and prosperity as the model for development, typically produce consumers who value more for less. And to meet this growing demand of more for less, industries have had to change the way they operate. But here’s the catch, if we knew what industries have typically done to create these economic efficiencies, we probably wouldn’t want to buy the product after all. As a result, companies commonly employ clever marketing strategies to try and hide the reality of their supply chain (i.e. ‘Farm Fresh Eggs’ that really come from a factory, not a farm), or companies simply just deflect corporate responsibility altogether (i.e. the chocolate industry in DP 2).

Industrialization and the impact it has had on sustainable development around the world is not unique to the food industries, for example, the clothing industry and exploitation of labor standards or the chemical industry and toxic pollution. However, given the intimacy and necessity of food, the decisions we make send a message of what type of food systems we want for our future. More importantly, what type of food systems we need in order to feed a growing population and provide food security for those already scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

The question then stands, how can we create food systems that provide enough for everyone, without compromising our environment and disregarding the welfare of other species that we share our planet with?

If we continue up the factory-farming industrial path, I believe we will fail in all aspects of development. Because a society that chooses to exploit and disregards the rights of animals in order to produce it’s food, will probably also continue to view others in its global community who are lower in the social food-chain with the same disdain and controlling mentality.

But what about government intervention, regulation and control? Surely, our governments protects us from buying products that are counterproductive to the goals of sustainable development? Unfortunately, the answer is no, not really – the power of industry and its lobbies combined with governments current focus not to hurt GDP in the name of economic development has left the consumer at the mercy of the market.

The good news is that we don’t need the government to change the way industries operate. Civil society has the potential to take back control of the marketplace, as exemplified in the below three cases:

How we can end factory farming

How we can end exploitation for our chocolate

How we can protect marine species from extinction

In conclusion, it is easy to feel powerless to influence the developmental challenges of our time. Poverty and hunger, child labor, species extinction….but the truth is, we have the power to create change through our consumerism by voting with our fork three times a day. Factory farming doesn’t abuse animals to produce cheap chicken because the law requires them to. They produce cheap chicken because consumers buy it. In this sense, both the problem and solution are in our hands…

At the same time, the reality is that the following conditions need to be present in order for change to occur; a) consumers need to be informed, educated and reconnected to where their food is coming from; b) consumers need to actually care enough about the developmental consequences of their decisions; c) and finally consumers need to be able to economically engage with the products that represent sustainable development – for people living in poverty and suffering from hunger, I imagine their concern is just where their next meal comes from and not how it was produced. To this effect, in the context of global food systems, consumer change will not be effective in isolation. Therefore, the ability for consumers to bring about sustainable global development will only be effective if we can at the same time bring about universal access to education and bring those at the bottom out of poverty. Everything is interconnected. This is my perspective on development.

 



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