Nobody wants one in their back yard

Who want a two by two kilometre and 100-meter open pit mine in their back yard or for that matter several square kilometres of land, plastered with 130-meter high windmills? Well the answer is simple nobody. Local communities together with special interest groups have been good at creating media stories on how the “little” man gets brushed aside by big business and sometimes with good reason. It could seem like that business in general and multinational companies especially have been struggling with getting on the same “wavelength” as the communities where they conduct their business.

Industries like mining and big renewable energy projects are especially exposed as they involve heavy machinery, removal of vast amounts of dirt, dangerous working conditions, damage to the environment, destruction of nature and farmland. And a lot of the time all these activities translate into a massive impact on the social life of the surrounding population. So it is not strange that the locals finds it difficult to accept they should be subjected to this kind of influence. Factors like these are all well known and the companies involved have created a wide range of systems and tools in order to cope with both the positive and negative side effects of their activities.

Teghut dumpster 3

There have been mining in the world in the last 5000 years and its effect on society is well documented. Companies who are active in the industry knows that local communities are confronted with uncertainty as to what the future brings and have put in-place management systems and organised in order to confront these challenges. Sometimes these systems are to the benefit of the local population and sometimes not. Even though social risks are well known and described in numerous cases it remains the principal reason why mining projects have to close down after start of operations. In practice this means that mining companies are left to experiment and relay on the knowledge they can get when things goes wrong, either in their own back yard or when one of their competitors get in trouble. However, we are now seeing companies in other industries being confronted by some of the same risks and having the same types of difficulties handling the risks that local communities present.

Most people agree that the renewable energy sector by their very nature is working for a common global good. They help us reduce CO2-emissions, limit the impact of global warming, makes us free from the geopolitical implications associated with fossil fuels and creates a healthier local climate. However, they are also confronted by local communities who are not too keen on them setting up shop in their neighbourhood. These companies are making the very same mistakes that mining companies did that historically have resulted in closed down projects. For windmills and other great alternative energy infrastructure projects the story is repeating itself as we place windmills in areas where people complain about noise or that protected forests are destroyed in order to make room for some of the extremely huge mills that we are now able to produce. While we continue to argue about the pros and cons of alternative energy the fact remains that we do not want these structures where we live and we can muster significant resistance against projects which are perceived to be destroying local communities. The result has been that all major windmill projects in Denmark are now being moved to the sea despite the fact that this will drive maintenance costs up and make green energy more expensive. This development could ultimately mean that green energy will not be competitive with fossil fuel and in the end destroy the sector, as a real energy alternative.

Companies faced with social risks have tried in different ways to mitigate issues with local communities. The most common approach that companies have taken when confronted with these types of risks is to implement a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) system that is designed to address stakeholder grievances in the local communities. These systems can take many and have different implications for the company that uses them. Evidence of this trend is clear if one takes a quick look at multinational companies and their websites where they routinely communicate they aren’t just in business to make a profit. A lot of companies actually goes as far as to communicate that their goals are equally focused on servicing the communities for a broader and bigger social purpose. It has been shown that CSR has been an effective way for companies to show that they are good corporate citizen with a conscience. And has been a way for them to communicate and convince local communities, nongovernmental and governmental organisations that they are working for a common good that will serve social, environmental and economic aims.

However, fieldwork shows that local communities might not be too keen on the sometime very fluffy speeches given by corporate executives. These communities do not only get their information from the company when trying to make sense of a proposed project but get insights from a wide variety of sources ranging from other community members to NGOs and government officials. This means that while the CSR systems might look good on paper they often miss the point that they are not the only way that communities get information and create an opinion about a given project. And by interviewing community members it actually shows that CSR systems are giving rise to even more risk as they provide ammunition in instances where companies say one thing but do another. Like for example when companies communicate a zero environmental impact on water sources but communities experience mud in their drinking water. Or when companies document that their windmills make no noise but people living close by creates headlines when telling the press about their sickness history.

Teghut tail 3

While research into social risk is still in an early stage it shows that companies have little control over how stakeholders sense making processes surrounding the projects that they propose. It also shows that CSR might not be the “miracle cure” that most of us would like it to be and could actually be counterproductive to the aims of the company and society at large. So called normal people will continue to make their own mind up around the world that they are part of and they will continue to change their mind when and if they get smarter. Even though companies would like to think that they can influence their surroundings by claiming that certain things are true such as green energy and windmill projects are for the good of everyone, it does not make the individuals affected by such project think that this is necessary true in their local community.

The language of of sustainability

The concept of sustainability is universal and at the same time have a unique national twist which gives it meaning beyond the words themselves.

Language Translation Meaning
Afrikaans volhoubaarheid
Albanian qëndrueshmëria
Arabian الاستدامة
Armenian Կայունություն
Azerbaijani Davamlılıq
Basque iraunkortasuna
Belarusian Устойлівасць
Bengali সাস্টেনিবিলিটি
Bosnian Održivost
Bulgarian устойчивост
Catalan sostenibilitat
Cebuano tayuyon
Chinese (simplified) 可持续发展
Chinese (traditional) 可持續發展
Croatian Održivost
Czech udržitelnost ability to continue with something infinitly
Danish bæredygtighed
Dutch duurzaamheid durability
English Sustainability
Esperanto daŭripovo
Estonian Jätkusuutlikkus
Filipino pagpapanatili
Finnish kestävä kehitys
French développement durable
Galician sostibilidade
Georgian მდგრადობა
German Nachhaltigkeit
Greek Αειφορία
Gujarati સસ્ટેઇનેબિલીટી
Haitian Creole dirab
Hausa dawamamme
Hebrew אחריות סביבתית
Hindi स्थिरता
Hungarian Fenntarthatóság
Icelandic sjálfbærni
Igbo nkwado
Indonesian Keberlanjutan
Irish Inbhuanaitheacht
Italian Sostenibilità
Japanese 持続可能性 likelihood of continuation
Javanese sokongan
Kannada ಸಂರಕ್ಷಣೆ
Khmer និរន្តរភាព
Korean 지속 가능성
Lao ຄວາມຍືນນານ
Latin Duis
Latvian ilgtspējība
Lithuanian tvarumas
Macedonian одржливост
Malay kelestarian
Maltese sostenibbiltà
Maori whakapūmautanga
Marathi टिकाव
Mongolian Тогтвортой байдал
Nepali स्थायित्व
Norwegian bærekraft
Persian توسعه پایدار
Polish Zrównoważony rozwój
Portuguese Sustentabilidade
Punjabi ਖਨਰੰਤਰਤਾ
Romanian durabilitatea
Russian устойчивость
Serbian Одрживост
Slovak udržateľnosť
Slovenian Trajnostni razvoj
Somali Sii jiritaanimadu
Spanish sustentabilidad
Swahali endelevu
Swedish Hållbarhet
Tamil சஸ்டெயினபிலிட்டி
Telegu జీవనాధారము
Thai การพัฒนาอย่างยั่งยืน
Turkish Sürdürülebilirlik
Ukranian стійкість
Urdu اترجیوتا
Vietnamese phát triển bền vững
Welsh Cynaliadwyedd
Yiddish סוסטאַינאַביליטי
Zulu ekuqhubekeni

Be glad that you are stupid

Are you stupid? In order to know what you do not know you need to be smart enough to understand that you do not know it all and that being stupid in the ways of the World really makes you smart. So here is to all the stupid smart people of the World

CSR is about focusing on the little things

It seems odd that when corporations show their commitment to society through CSR they get the most out of doing something about the little things. Companies that are successful looks at what they do well and tries to figures out how this impact communities that they are active in, in ways they could not imagine if they did not have the tools provided though CSR.

When reviewing the many definitions of CSR that is out there it gives little or no clue how actually to conduct social responsibility. It would seem that if one just followed conventional wisdom it would be hard if not impossible to satisfy even the simplest requirements given by all these different classifications.

“The Social Responsibility refers to the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society.” Bowen, 1953 in Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, which commonly regarded as the first milestone in modern CSR research and practice.

Another more modern definition have been issued by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) through their guidance on social responsibility “Responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare of society; takes into account the expectations of stakeholders; is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and is integrated throughout the organization and practiced in its relationships.”

Both of these very fine definitions give little or no clue to what companies should actually do to both successful in terms of profit, development and continued competitive advantage, and at the same time being in tune with societies moral compass.

But some companies have actually done quite well trying to combine their CSR with their core business. Just to give a few examples.

Danish Novo Nordisk has committed themselves to the task of “Changing diabetes” and have successfully introduced new products like Victoza inline with their core mission statement

The Swedish fashion company, H&M have under the statement “Conscious” has with worked to create sustainable fashion through a comprehensive CSR system that reduce risks in their supply chain.

Vivendi, the French telecom company, have initiated a program that promotes the safe use of the Internet to youth.

All of these initiatives are small when it comes to the efforts that the company needs to put into them because it is embedded in the “what we do” part of their business, but even so that have a huge impact on their outreach to the communities they are active in.

So even though it would seem that these successful companies are focusing on the “little things” they do represent a significant societal impact exactly for that reason.

A glimmer of hope for the “little-man” and you

I always enjoy stories about the ”little-man” against the system and with this story from china where a guy and his family refused to leave his home hit the mainstream news I was instantly captured.

Even though the ”little-man” usually looses in the end these is something about these stories that make them more than just news. They capture our imagination about our own struggles in life and make us think bout how we would react. And even though we would properly give in, just like the “little-man” does in the end, it would give us the idea that for once we fought the systems and for a small glimmer in time we had the feeling that we were winning.

It is something to remember when the system is trying to keep you down.

Before (believing that winning is possible)