Social Entreprise: Giving a meaning to life:)

My idea for this blog entry appeared just after the introduction to social entrepreneurship class. When the question about a meaningful career was given to us, I started to think about its connection to sustainability and sustainable business. In my opinion the concept of the word “meaningful” is or should be a key matter. A business in order to sustain in today’s world need to sell a product or provide a service that have a meaning to its recipient. Of course we live on a planet with 7 billion people, so the probability for a business to find its fans and users is very high. However, with the rising competition and development of technology all the business that weren’t able to adapt to the new situation didn’t survive, didn’t sustain.

On the other hand, having a meaningful business doesn’t assure a certain success. A very important part of a company, enterprise strategy is creating a “meaningful workplace”. It is a place, where workers believe that what they do brings an added value to the society. That feeling can come from the passion or believes of the employees, but can also be introduced to them. A good manager or CEO wants his employees to feel they are  part of something meaningful. If he or she wants his business to achieve success,  they will do anything to create this kind of atmosphere within the company. In my opinion this is the best and only really working way of successfully motivating the employees. But of course it is not that easy and not available for any kind of business.

The main conclusion for this blog entry is that we, as people, should look for a meaning in everything we do or at least try to. There are some things in life that won’t have any meaning for us, but will give us some other positive feelings, e.g. happiness, fun or adrenaline. And this is the moment where the cycle starts again. Maybe everything in life has some direct or indirect meaning (receiving a positive vibe can be a meaning of an action). In that case we shall all think if whatever we are doing can have a meaning to us as well as to others.


Apple’s struggle to CSR

Apple is definitely the leader in today’s IT sector. Even if it started as a computer producer now it is dominating other sectors too. For instance it has 73% of global mobile phones sales, which 3 years ago was unthinkable even for the past leader Nokia that now doesn’t even have a mere 1%. These successes transmit itself in high profits and probably an eternal place in the best companies in the world. One can say that it is a result of having a very well prepared strategy, high innovation level and very good marketing (I believe that there are few people in the world that wouldn’t like to have an Apple product, and even if they are against Apple computers they probably have an iPod). But only few customers are aware what is the real “cost” of their business.

From the outside the company looks perfect. Their computers are the most energy efficient products on the market, they use reusable materials to assemble them and try to be as “environmentally friendly” as possible. Being “environmentally friendly” has become a trend lately, but nobody really knows what it means. However, last May an explosion had place in one of Apple’s factories in China and killed 3 workers. Few months later a new explosion took place and injured 61 workers. It provoked a wave of criticism towards the company and experts started to investigate the company very deeply.

In the Apple interior Business Code of Conduct, they mention that workers should do whatever they can to provide a secure workplace. That includes meeting all the security rules provided by the employee. But as the two above mentioned incidents have shown this is not enough. Apple should know that sometimes things might go wrong and have to do everything possible to avoid this kind of situation. As one of our teachers has said and he was just repeating other human beings: “shit happens!”

After those accidents Apple has asked the FLA (Fair Labor Association) to write a report about labor conditions in Apple’s most important supplier Foxconn. The results weren’t that shocking and have showed how Apple’s backstage looks. In all of Foxconn factories the principle labor laws weren’t met. For instance in average workers were working up to 80 overtime per month, while only 36 are allowed by law. Moreover, they were made to work in example for 29 or 59 minutes, because they were paid by each half hour of overtime. Another issue was targeted to poor treating of interns. Foxconn has around 27,000 interns at any given moments with an average time of stay of 3,5 months. They were “used” to do not challenging work, but monotone and exhausting.

Foxconn has made some promises and want to fulfill them by 2013. On the other hand in the report written by FLA, one may have the impression that Foxconn do not feel fully culpable. Indirectly Apple is being blamed. If we start analyzing Apple Supplier Report we also can find all the information mentioned in the FLA Report. Apple is informing the report readers that he has required the supplier to change it’s behavior (in the majority of cases) or has hired a specialist to verify labor condition in its supplier factories. It is obvious that both are trying to avoid responsibilities for their actions.

In my opinions this example of Apple practice is enough to come up with a conclusion that Apple CSR strategy is not integrated into its business, because it doesn’t consider the social aspect. Until this issue will not be solved Apple will not have an integrated CSR strategy.


CSR in SME’s

CSR in SME’s has a totally different nature. Unlike big corporations that have CSR departments and make a lot of effort to promote their responsible image, SME’s need and have to incorporate this strategy into their business. I would even say that this is the only way small entrepreneurship may survive in this world. By being responsible and caring about their clients and employees an individual entity builds trust, which is in my opinion the most valuable quality in todays “Doing Business”.


EU policies. Common Agricultural Policy

When I think about European Union policies the first thing that comes to my mind is the Common Agricultural Policy. I would like to explain my reasons for my interest to this topic. First of all it represents almost the half of the total EU budget, around 48%, which accounts to approximately €50 billion. However it is projected that it will decrease to around 32% by 2014, following the new 2014-2020 financial perspective. Second of all it is one of the first common policies established by the European leaders and is still one of the most discussed and most controversial ones. The agriculture is a very important, and at the same moment delicate topic. Even if agriculture is not the dominant sector in any of the European countries the food security issue is extremely vital. As a citizen of this continent I am happy that our “local” products are being protected from the import of its substitutes from third countries. It is due to high cost of life in Europe and low cost of life outside. Farmers would not be able to survive if the prices would be leveled with the global trends. Unfortunately this is the only way, so far, to protect our own products. I really wouldn’t like to eat Chinese apples instead of my favorite polish “antonówka”☺

The biggest problem is that the story doesn’t end here. After the II World War western countries started to promote, little by little, free trade around the whole world. Of course they would leave the Soviet block alone. The free trade was and still is working perfectly until you belong to the privileged group of “western” countries. Coming back to the CAP, it is working very well if we consider only the EU. The biggest discussion is around the subsidies issue. Until this debate is not over the WTO Doha Round won’t be finished. Third party countries are complaining that the EU is not letting the almost any agricultural products to enter its market. It is especially painful for less developed countries, which economies are based on agriculture, that don’t have the opportunity to sell to this market. It is mostly due to its customs policies, so that the non-european products would not be competitive.

On the other side the EU is exporting a big share of its agricultural surplus, invading less developed markets with low prices and worse quality. Farmers also receive subsidies for export. It is a system that breaks totally the rules of the free market. Of course it is not that easy right now to make a u-turn and open the EU borders for foreign products, but obviously this system is not working, as it should be. In addition to that the system make the food MNC make higher profits. The prices are growing, portions are increasing, and production is getting out of control. All of this results in incredible amounts of food waste. In my opinion we, as the citizen of this planet, cannot afford neither permit to commit this kind of mistake anymore.


Portland experience #2

To connect my two posts I will give you an example of a social program done by Columbia Sportswear, one of the big

Gert Boyle. Founder and CEO of Columbia Sportswear

companies we have visited. We were told that an average kid in America spends only 15 minutes outdoors per day!! 15 minutes is the time you spend to get from your house to your car and than to school. The program they have developed consists of making the kids want to go out and actually know what to do outdoors. In my opinion it is a great way that combines their business improvement (outdoor gear) with an action that may change the society’s behavior.

Unfortunately I was a little bit disappointed at the end of the presentation that was given to us. Yearly Columbia spends around $10 million to social and sustainability purposes. Sounds good! The only problem is, that we should look at those $10 million out of $1.4 billion of their profits. It is really a scarce amount. The same kind of presentation we heard at Nike. We were listening for 3 hours about all the projects that Nike have developed and the numbers where even more disappointing. I am not saying that big companies actions are bad. I am just stating a very important fact that there is a lot of space for improvement in the CSR and sustainability field as far as big players are concerned. The biggest problem is that big companies will always be mostly focused on profits and as far as the social problems are concerned it is very hard to convince the corporations to do something in that field on a larger scale. It is just widely considered unprofitable.

We have also visited some smaller enterprises that not only are great business ideas, but also have a great positive impact on the environment. It was really inspiring, because in Europe there are less people that try to take things into their hands. In

Our visit to Portland Purple Water

America the individual initiative, innovation of entrepreneurs and leadership make it somehow easier to implement a lot of ideas into practice. One of the places we have visited was called Portland Purple Water. Jason Gravey is selling a rainwater harvest system with filters to use it in homes. In addition to that, he also provides an aquaponic plant growing system. It is a combination of hydroponics with aquaculture. In this closed cycle fish filter the water and provide nutrients for the plants to grow. Basically it is a simple way to become self-sufficient in both water and food supply.

The next brilliant idea was the Rebuilding Center. It is a place, where people donate old furniture or any building material that then is sold for a relatively low price. Not only the not wanted items are avoiding the landfill, but it has also become a place where architects or designers look for inspiration. One of the best parts of the center is that all of the items come with a history, what makes them so much more valuable.

Another business model I really liked was the Hot Lips Pizza. It is a small pizzeria that tries to follow where all of the ingredients for their pizza come from. The pizzeria itself is also designed in a sustainable way, so as little of energy as possible

Hot Lips pizza

is used. Such practices become really expensive, but this is how business should be done.

One of the most important things I understood is that, if one wants to have a sustainable and socially responsible business, one has to dedicate almost all his time and effort. It may sound too much, but what all of the speakers we met told us is that it is totally worth it. The satisfaction of making “the thing” right is incomparable to the amount of time and effort you give to it. The bottom line is that everybody should understand that sometimes it is actually pleasant to put more work and time, because at the end of the day we end up happy!!


Portland experience #1

After a 10 hours flight from Amsterdam, we arrived to the rainy north Pacific area. My first impression of the city of Portland

Portland with its Mt. Hood.

was that it looks like any other urban area in the USA. But looking a bit closer and starting the first observations I have noticed that the people are different. The Portlanders seem to be calmer and you can actually tell that they are more environmentally friendly. A lot of people that visit Portland say that it resembles more an European city than any other in America (maybe together with San Francisco). For instance, Portland has the highest share of people using bicycles in the USA. It amounts up to 6%, while other cities do not get through the 1% level.

We were very well hosted not only by the organizers, but also by the people living in Portland. As it is quite a distant place they don’t get much visitors from Europe. Everybody was very interested in talking to us, asking question and just changing experiences. We were mostly talking about sustainability issues, because this was the focus of our study trip, so it was very interesting to hear the North American approach. I will describe this issue in my next post. For now, I would like to focus on other thoughts I had during that trip.

Even though American society derives mostly from the Europeans, one can notice very easily that it is a completely different society culture and behavior wise. The core is the same but the small details are making the difference. As we were visiting all those companies and organizations to hear their approach towards sustainability and environment friendly solutions, I got inspired. Maybe it is not some great discovery or any new innovation. I felt as a global citizen more then ever, because I realized that there are people all over the world wanting to make a change. I felt that it is our planet and we all have room for improvement, no matter where we come from, no matter where we work. During our free weekend some of us (including me) went to the Olympic National Park, which was definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. All the four of us agreed that we are “in the middle of nowhere”.  While we were admiring the amazing landscapes being almost alone, it occurred to me that it is a key mission of any person to do whatever they can to make sure that future generation will also be able to admire those landscapes.

The Fantastic Four

Some other thought that I want to share, is how people feel and behave being out there, in the nature. We are used to living in the cities, which makes us totally disconnected from the rest of the world that surrounds us. In my opinion people become more human being “out there” than being closed in a concrete jungle, where they fight between each other for no particular reason. What we also saw is that people are so much nicer in the nature. They smile to each other, want to help, respect their environment and so on and so on. I believe that some changes should be made in order to change people’s behavior and the way they spend their free time. I realized that being “out there” in the nature and doing nothing, just living is more educational than doing tones of stuff in the city.


Low Carbon Economy Practitioners’ Guide Review

Work done by Hokuma Karimova and Piotr Wielezynski

Low Carbon Economy has become an important trend on the international politic scene. The demand for improved policies is growing significantly. This is the only way to motivate the governments not to postpone some measures to the future, especially in financially hard times. Considering that political and economical incentives focus on short-term gains, new policies have to strengthen the desire to follow the low carbon economy path.

There are two very important factors that may change the current situation. The first one is the technological development. There are some sectors, such as aviation and agriculture, where the current emission will be hard to decrease due to political pressure. Therefore investment in R&D is needed to obtain better technology.

The second one is crucial and it is related to changing the behavior of consumers. It is important because with increasing population more efficiency will be the key to a further provision of people needs.

The main conclusion is that it is a matter of political will and needed policy implementation, rather than technological possibilities or financial affordability.


Climate Change: Alto Tuluá Hydroelectric Power Plant (Colombia)

The main goal of this project is to build a minor hydroelectric power plant that will have a total capacity of 20 MW. The energy input will come from the Tuluá river. The main reason to build this power plant is to meet the expected increase in electricity demand of the Cauca Valley and also to improve the energetic system efficiency in general. The figure on the right provides us with basic technical information about the plant.

Basic technical data

It will be located in the middle section of the river, between 1,800 and 1,516 metes above sea level. Electricity will be generated by two 10 MW turbines, which will supply the Colombian electricity system 114. GWh per year. In addition to that, there are two parties involved in this project: Empresa de Energia del Pacifico S.A. (EPSA) E.S.P. and a spanish company named Gas Natural SDG S.A.

The main contribution to sustainable development is the fact that the electricity produced has no direct GHG emissions. the electric energy generated by the hydroelectric plant will partially shift the energy coming from thermal plants. It means that the project will contribute to a global reduction of GHG emissions. Moreover, it will contribute in the reduction of fossil fuel consumption and of course in the increase of renewable energy sources use. Those three issues are all part of the Colombian sustainable development priorities. There is another important contribution derived from the ones mentioned above. In fact it will help the region not to significantly depend on fossil fuel energy generation.

Colombia will also contribute from the technology transfer point of view. The technology needed to build such a plant comes from the most developed countries (like Spain). Attracting investment flows to Columbia (with which new technologies come) it will contribute to its knowledge improvement for future sustainable development projects. The society will become more aware of new available technologies and what they can benefit from it. In my opinion it is a very important aspect, because it may create a social pressure on the authorities to start following such innovative projects.

This project has also an important social role. The plant will be located in a poor region, where the quality of life is quite low. The power plant existence will contribute to regional development. Its region inhabitants might finally meet basic needs like sanitation, light or going even further better educational facilities. Apart from that the project will create jobs in three areas:

1.  Construction (316 direct jobs as workers or technicians)

2.  Execution of activities of the Environmental Handling (10 direct and 20 indirect jobs)

3.  Execution of 1% of the Investment Plan (15 direct and 15 indirect jobs)

Tulua river is situated in the Tulua county (darker orange in the middle of the map).

EPSA will also make different kinds of donations for the community development. They will cover special environmental training, institutional strengthening of the cleaning up policies, Environmental Handling Plan and others (infrastructure projects in education, cleaning up potable water or electrification).

 

The justification of the project is very simple. First of all it is a power plant that will cover the expected increase in electricity demand. It will use a clean energy source, i.e. water from Tuluá river. Moreover, due to it construction the volume of the river will not change. Among other justifications in the PDD document we can find that it is not a landfill gas project nor with biomass combustion. That the project does not replace fossil fuels by renewable energies in the site where the project activity is carried out. Moreover, the power density of the river is quite high and it surpasses 4W/m2.

The project will change the quality of life of the community not only by adding value (electricity, sanitation, education facilities) but will actually provide some of the inhabitants with jobs. As far as the environmental impact is concerned, if the hydroelectric plant wouldn’t be built, there would be another fossil fuel plant. It would degrade the ecosystem of Cuaca Valley and of course would badly influence the community. In addition to that the GHG emissions reduction would not be met in a same way.

In my opinion this project is a certain success if all of the stakeholders will meet with the expectations. Hydroelectric plants are one of the cleanest power plants available especially when they are build on low-scale. Moreover the project climate resilience is very high. Its good performance depends only on a relative high level of water in the river. The plant will be located in a region that fortunately has a lot of precipitations, so I do not think it will have a significant effect.

References:

1. CDM PDD – “Alto Tuluá Minor Hydroelectric Power Plant”, March 21, 2011


Rural Development: Land misuse

In this post I would like to tackle the issue of land misuse or as some may call it mismanagement and to show how is it related to food waste and respectively food security. People are used to think of problems in a very superficial way. We are not willing to understand the whole production process. For instance when we think about wind energy we think of a carbon free electricity source, but we don’t think about its production that emits quite a lot. The same thing happens with food. If I would ask an average person where does the food come from, the answer would be probably: “from the supermarket”. An average person may

Total arable land by country.

not be conscious of the whole chain that the “tomato” has to overcome to be eaten. At the beginning of this chain there is choosing a right place to grow, cultivate or breed future nutrition.

The main problem that I wanted to highlight is the relation of land misuse and food waste. It is quite logical. In developed countries we are running out of land. In most of those countries around 40% of land is used for agriculture. If around 1/3 of the food produced is being wasted, it means that 13.3% of the land is used for nothing. Not mentioning the fact that somebody’s work is being not respected. But this is another problem.

The next issue related to this is the fact that a lot of food wasted in rich countries has, what Tristram Stuart called, a low resources to calories ratio. These are tomatoes, dairy products and meat that need a big amount of resources as land, water or fuel. On the graph showed on the left side, we can see land use in the USA. 41% of land is used for grazing, while forests cover only 22%! “For example, it takes an average of around 31 million kcal of primary energy input to grow a tonne of tomatoes with a calorific content of just 170,000 kcal. By contrast, it takes just 600,000 kcal of primary energy to grow a tonne of bread-wheat, which contains 3-3.5 million kcal, an energy input/output ratio 918 times higher”. (Stuart, T., 2009) This example shows us what have to be considered, if we are thinking of a sustainable development. Each country should plan their food supply in advance taking into account all the resources needed. What is also crucial is to influence people diet habits, behaviors and general awareness. We as consumers have to know, how food that we are eating was made and how we are influencing the whole food system.

Another crucial problem are centralized big farms, from which corporations own a significant part. Regardless its big contribution to world food production there is still around billion people living in hunger, so quick solutions are needed. A recent analysis of adaptation work in Uganda has shown that small-scale agriculture is beneficial. First of all it can be easily and almost immediately implemented. As it is small-scale agricultures are working for them and know that if they won’t work well their harvest will be respectively low. Problems are solved on a local level, so their contribution to the environment is higher. For this project the main issue was soil and water conservation, which has reduced the planting costs by 75%. Moreover, the environment has also

One of big crop farms

benefited from farmers actions. Using fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides soil and water conditions have improved significantly. In addition to that, local farmers have become self-sufficient, what has highly encouraged other people to follow that model.

Maybe it is naïve to think that such actions could be implemented everywhere, but it is good to know that it is possible. Of course it will be extremely difficult or even impossible to break the current food system that is defended by world superpowers. However, people are becoming more and more aware of what is happening around them and I believe that we are slowly moving to a more sustainable food system. Nonetheless there is a lot to be done and following the example of researches such as the above may be crucial for our further development.

References:

1. Stuart, T., 2009, “Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal”

2. Munang, R. and Nkem, J.N., 2011, “Using Small-Scale Adaptation Actions to Address the Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa: Going beyond Food Aid and Cash Transfers.”

3. “Land in America” retrieved from http://www.thegreenworkplace.com/2008/08/land-in-america.html

4. Grywacheski, A., 2011, “Arable Land” retrieved from  http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~umgrywac/PLNT4600/mini1/mini1.1.html

 

 

 


EIA: Nord Stream

Nord Stream is a, or rather „the” gas pipeline that by the end of this year will connect Germany with Russia. The pipeline is being build offshore, thus avoiding the traditional and from an investment point of view rational land path. Because of its offshore positioning it has raised a lot of controversy, not only because of its potential environmental impact, but also because of its political and ethical aspects.

Nord Stream is owned by Nord Stream AG, a consortium that joins Gazprom (51% of shares), BASF, EON, Nederlandse

Nord Stream pipeline path

Gasunie and GDF Suez. The contract between Germany and Russia was signed in 2005 and the final agreement of companies was signed in 2006 in Moscow. The whole pipeline is going through the Baltic Sea and is crossing only Russian and German waters. The economic zones through, which the pipeline is passing belongs to Finland, Sweden and Denmark, which all gave their permission. It is going to be the longest sub-sea pipeline in the world having 1,222 km long and it is going to be completely finished by the end of 2012.

Of course the main concerns came from the four countries that have been “ignored” during the construction (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland). The whole project will cost €8.8 billion, while the onshore version would cost only €5 billion. It was explained that in long term it would be more profitable, because of the elimination of transit fees. For instance Ukraine alone will lose $720 million per year. It is also believed that Russia wanted to make a direct contact with Western Europe in order to have a higher influence on countries like Belarus, Ukraine or the Baltic Republics. It is highly influencing the energy security of those countries, as they may not have the support of the Western European countries (remember the Russian gas embargo on Ukraine in 2008).

A special unit used to lie the pipeline.

As far as the potential environmental impact on the Baltic Sea is concerned the official Nord Stream website is confirming that each country, through out which the pipeline is passing have carried out an EIA with positive results. In reality there are two serious environmental concerns. The first one is obvious and is regarding the construction process. It is necessary to dig an excavation 15 m wide. It will have an impact on the fauna and flora and also on the biodiversity of the Baltic Sea ecosystem. It will fragmentize some habitats that are living on the rocks of the bottom of the sea. The other main concern is the fact that the sea bed was disturbed during the II World War with naval mines, chemical waste, munitions and toxins, and other items. Thereby those toxic substances may harm the particularly sensitive Baltic Sea ecosystem.  Some of the mines where found by Nord Stream and were detonated under water.

Some ethical controversies were also raised along the project development. The former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder signed the agreement with Russia few weeks before he stepped down offering €1 billion of guarantee. Even though the guarantee was never used, Schroder was chosen to be head of shareholder committee of Nord Stream AG. Same thing happend with the former Finnish prime minister Paavo Lipponen, who also worked for Nord Stream AG after accepting its way through the Finnish economic zone.

References:

  1. Nord Stream AG Official website – http://www.nord-stream.com/environment/
  2. “Wartime Mines to Be Cleared from Nord Stream Route” – http://www.downstreamtoday.com/news/article.aspx?a_id=13974&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
  3. “Nord Stream costs Ukraine $720 million” –http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2011/05/20/Nord-Stream-costs-Ukraine-720-million/UPI-83611305917575/
  4. “Nie chodzi tu o rentowność” – http://www.naszdziennik.pl/index.php?typ=sw&dat=20090210&id=sw24.txt

 



Uso de cookies

Este sitio web utiliza cookies para que usted tenga la mejor experiencia de usuario. Si continúa navegando está dando su consentimiento para la aceptación de las mencionadas cookies y la aceptación de nuestra política de cookies, pinche el enlace para mayor información.plugin cookies