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  • Water is everybody’s business

    9:29 am on September 17, 2014 | 0 Permalink | Comment
    Tags: , efficiency, energy, , Sweden, UN, water

    How can a bottle of Coca Cola become a platform for action to protect the world’s most precious resource—water?

    The first week of September, the Swedish capital of Stockholm sees waves of policymakers, engineers, academics, corporate representatives, and water specialists convene at World Water Week, the leading annual global event addressing global water and international development issues. Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the theme this year was the nexus between water and energy. Energy efficiency has long been on the agenda of global business, but increasingly, water is being called “the new oil”, and gaining higher priority as floods, drought and inadequate water management disrupt business as usual.

    At World Water Week 2014, the relevance of water to business, and the importance of multi-sector initiatives in solving global water crises, were the focus of panels featuring speakers from Coca Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and BASF, among others. Carlo Galli, Strategic and Technical Adviser for Water Resources at Nestlé, argued that “water is everybody’s business”—it was therefore essential to bring civil society and the private sector together to solve water catchment and management problems. Multi-sector collaboration around a shared resource also gives corporations an opportunity to build stronger relationships with local communities.

    Liese Dalbaumann, Director of Water Stewardship at PepsiCo, described a successful development initiative in India to restore naturally occurring ponds, that helped Pepsi’s production and benefited local communities. For companies like PepsiCo and Coca Cola, access to quality water is “an existential problem”, explained Joe Rozza, Global Water Sustainability Manager at Coca Cola. It is a core business risk—essential for business continuity. As companies wake up to this, their products have the potential to become “a platform for action,” argued Rozza: corporations can mobilize public support for water conservation by appealing to their consumers. Change the Course is one such initiative, using new media portals and corporate sponsorship incentives to increase flow in American rivers.

    Business can also play an important part in water governance. As Håkan Tropp, Managing Director of Knowledge Services at SIWI, underlined: “some companies are stronger than countries.” Major corporations can therefore use their unique convening powers to build societal engagement around improved water quality, quantity and access. This year’s Stockholm Water Prize laureate, Dr. John Briscoe of Harvard University, stressed the need for innovation and the incentive of economic growth for solving water issues. He also acknowledged the importance of youth in moving these solutions forward.

    WWWeekAminaMohammed

    In the closing plenary of the week-long conference, Amina Mohammed, Special Representative to the UN on the Post-2015 Development Goals, reiterated the interrelationship of energy, water and development and the urgency of “not just talking it, but also walking it.” 2015 is set to be a year of transformation as the global community shifts from poverty-focused Millennium Development Goals to a sustainable development agenda. Water is right at the heart of today’s global development challenges; it’s also key to solving them. A holistic approach is needed and to focus action, SIWI has released the Stockholm Statement on Water, summarizing the week’s discussions on the centrality of water in building resilient future societies. It features five key themes:

    • Water for health
    • Water for sustainable growth
    • Water for agriculture
    • Water for energy; and
    • Water for climate

    Going forward, Amina Mohammed suggested that efforts should be centered on “creating an enabling environment” for innovative approaches to multi-sector engagement on these issues. World Water Week is already making that possible.

     

    This is a guest blog from One Stone contributor Marielle Velander, MSc Candidate in Anthropology and Development Management at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Her research focus is on innovative ways of communicating sustainable development and global water issues.

     
  • Breaking down the door to the boardroom

    10:23 pm on August 20, 2012 | 0 Permalink | Comment
    Tags: boardroom, MInistry of Finance, State-owned companies, , Sweden

    Some 58 companies, at a combined value of almost 600 trillion Swedish crowns, collectively employing almost 100,000 people. When it comes to investment power, the Swedish government has substantive influence over the Scandinavian marketplace. Its Minister for Financial Markets has recently decided to flex his owner-muscles to ensure that sustainability strategy finds a permanent place on the corporate board agenda. With its fire-power, the Minister’s move is bound to change the conversation in the country’s boardrooms.

    This government prides itself on its vision of sustainability and has long touted business partnerships to achieve it. It has been using its role as regulator and motivator to help transform the marketplace with some degree of success. Laying out clear rules is something Swedish government does rather well. But obviously, more needs to be done.

    State-owned companies Vattenfall and Telia could have both used better board-level competence to understand the connect between sustainability and business strategy.

    The Swedish way of tackling corporate sustainability challenges has always been the systematic way—relying heavily on management systems and standards. This work seldom reaches the ears of board members. While UK companies like BT, BP and Unilever have oversight on sustainability strategies at board level through their countless CSR and social and environmental accountability committees, competence in this area is sorely lacking on C-Suite levels in Sweden. That’s something that the Swedish government intends to change.

    A couple of months ago, Peter Norman, Minister for Financial Markets, tasked all board chairs, CEOs and sustainability managers at state-owned companies to set relevant sustainability goals by 2014 and develop strategies for meeting these goals. The announcement signaled that the government intends take a proactive stand to raise the competence bar among board members.

    With a few exceptions, this country’s companies still focus too heavily on process and performance measurement—a recipe for risk management. But times are changing the corporate landscape. Bold leadership and forward-looking strategy are key ingredients for value creation. Without a doubt, this is an initiative that makes perfect sense for any long-term investor.

     
  • Relax and Enjoy the Paradigm Shift

    8:06 pm on February 28, 2011 | 0 Permalink | Comment
    Tags: , , Sweden

    You cannot speak for very long to Karl-Henrik Robert, the founder of The Natural Step, without getting a fresh perspective on the world’s trials and tribulations around sustainability.

    Perhaps it is his slight, endearing Swedish accent as he exclaims, “It is baloney!” in response to a question about world finances and our current speculation-based money system. Or his truthful reply – “We’re in deep shit” – when asked how well we’ve done creating a sustainable economy.

    Maybe it is just Robert’s infectious optimism. Yes, we’re in deep shit. The deep shit that makes some of us working in sustainability morose and melancholy. But Robert suggests it could be the deep dark just before the dawn…of a new business paradigm.

    The Natural Step (TNS) is in many ways the standard-bearer of sustainability. If you are searching for a comprehensive definition of the very word, Robert created it, and TNS has got it.

    And while no doom-and-gloom naysayer, Robert isn’t afraid to admit to some trepidation about the fact that the world is so reluctant to disconnect the growth of material flows ( i.e. making more stuff from finite resources) from economic prosperity.

    To him, however, (this is the good news) we’re basically just in-between paradigm dominance. The old, dinosaur-like paradigm (that links economic growth to material flows) seems to be strong because it’s so huge it can still generate a lot of growth even though it is rotten.

    Robert says though we can’t quite see it yet, a new clean energy paradigm – is emerging. It doesn’t look that promising if we compare it to the old dinosaur. Yet on its own it is growing exponentially (think wind power, solar photovoltaics, etc.) from quite small starting points.

    Sooner or later, Robert says, the two curves – the dinosaur growth curve and the sustainable energy growth curve – will intersect. And that’s where paradigm shift will happen.

    “It might be painful,” Robert said. Though he takes some comfort from the idea that the faster we move toward the new paradigm, the fewer the repercussions will be, he’s a little worried that the role models and leaders needed for quick shifting are, well, insufficient.

    For once paradigm shift kicks into gear, he says, “There’s no going to the library to try to figure it out. It will already be upon us.”

    When I see how hard it is for promising climate-saving, clean energy technologies to make it to mass-market commercialisation, it does feel slightly hopeless. But Robert says that there really isn’t any choice. Businesses that wait too long to really take stock of their own situations, determine a sustainability strategy, and then create a step-by-step implementation, will lose out, as it will cost them the most when the paradigm does shift.

    The comfort comes from the realization that though sustainability as a concept may sometimes seem tarnished, in fact it’s the paradigm-in-waiting, ready to take over when business-as-usual (finally) flags.

     
  • Culture of understatement

    4:01 am on January 11, 2011 | 0 Permalink | Comment
    Tags: 'Ethical Corporation', , performance, strategy, Sweden

    In Scandinavia, actions speak louder than words. The country prides itself on its ingrained culture of understatement. They call it jantelagen, and it forbids anyone from feeling superior to their neighbors.

    Transfer this to corporate sustainability and you get a focus on process, performance measurement, getting your house in order and a long-standing appetite for global management systems and standards. In fact, there are 14,000 companies with ISO14001 certification and Sweden ranked 4th in the number of ISO14001 accreditations in the world in 2010. This is indeed impressive for a country with a population smaller than Belgium.

    Sweden’s corporate performance stood out most when sustainability was perceived as risk management. But we’ve entered into a different era. Bold leadership and forward-looking strategy is the way sustainability performance is being gauged now, and Swedish pioneers are being marked down by their traditional discretion.

    In 2010, four Swedish companies made the DJSI World index (Electrolux, Volvo, Sandvik and SKF). This has shrunk from six in 2005; Ericsson, H&M, Atlas Copco and Gambro have since lost their standing. This loss in recognition is a big deal here. The question is whether these shrinking numbers in the DJSI World coupled with the huge Scandinavian interest in the index have played a role in the recent decision to launch the DJSI Nordic.

    Introducing a new index tailored to the Scandinavian way of doing things isn’t going to cover up the core challenge for these companies.  When it comes down to it, Sweden’s approach towards sustainability isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. To regain their position, Swedish companies need to shake off ‘jantelagen’, stand tall and find a stronger voice. In practical terms, it means defining bold strategy and long-term targets, and talking vision and leadership.

    If you want to read more about One Stone’s take on Swedish corporate sustainability, check out the UK Ethical Corporation’s Sweden Country Briefing. The link leads you to a short content synopsis. You can access the full report as a subscriber or by taking out a 2 week trial subscription.  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

     
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