Tag Archives: sustainability paradigm

An Industrial Past and a Sustainable Future


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I have always been fascinated by the industrial revolution that began in Manchester. Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a beautiful tumult – new way of doing things, new way of thinking, new world order. Commerce and trade bustled more in Manchester than in any part of the world. The Guardian once wrote. “What Manchester does today, the world does tomorrow.” Indeed, Manchester was the epicenter that rocked the world.

Now, imagine my exhilaration when in the autumn of 2010, I finally set foot on Manchester’s soil to pursue a long-awaited dream. That bohemian Britannic mood was palpable in the air and I can almost feel the metallic vibe of Manchester’s historical importance as the birthplace of the industrial revolution. And yet, the urban blight and pollution that characterized that era is no longer visible. Forward-looking architecture punctuates the skyline with environmentally designed buildings that are made even more stunning with their bizarre structure. What I saw is a city moving forward in a sustainable manner. The spirit of sustainability is evident in the University of Manchester where I spent a year to pursue further education under the auspices of the Foreign Commonwealth Office as one of the three Filipino Chevening scholars that year.

 

Leaving an Indelible Mark

The university’s business school is the only academic institution in the world to offer a Master of Science degree in corporate communications and reputation management. The business school encourages the application of original thinking. The historical role of business and its relationship with society produces quite different articulations of the sustainable development agenda. A credible business reputation does influence the interpretation of sustainability and therefore, the appropriation (or non-appropriation) of resources to make it happen (or not). My dissertation pursued a research topic that showcased a sustainable business model in the Philippines.

Booth Street West became my second home in Manchester. It houses the business school where I attended classes. A month after I joined the university, professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the grapheme, which at just one atom thick is the strongest material known to man. The university now has 25 Nobel laureates under its belt. For the first time in living memory, this red brick university has more Nobel Prize winners on its staff than either Oxford (which has none) or Cambridge (which has two). Nobel winners who teach at the university are former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz and Sir John Sulston who cracked the DNA sequence of the nematode.

There is joy to be found in working in an interdisciplinary environment, much more in a multi-cultural mix. In my course, the Brits are the minorities and we Asians are the majority. The coursework expanded my understanding of the different facets of the sustainability paradigm and provided new skills that I can definitely use when I go back to work.

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Seasons and Lessons

Like the changing of the seasons, Manchester is a continuing transformation. It may no longer be the workshop of the world but it certainly influenced modern-day capitalism and politics. To experience its culture, to learn more its history and to take inspiration on what it is doing for its future – all these motivate me to be an influencer of change in my own right, to be able to tell the world our story and how Filipinos are perfecting a renewable energy technology as a solution to the climate change problem. Today, I work for a renewable energy company where its impact reaches 18,000 households and 9 million customers. Unlike too many companies today, it does not use sustainability to greenwash bad practices. I am proud to be part of an organization that leads the business sector in this way of thinking.

With the many exciting things that the Chevening scholarship has brought me, I know that my journey is just beginning. Manchester is demonstrating that a toxic past can be washed away and replaced with a cleaner future. Its future is green and bright and I see no reason why ours here in the country should not be.

 

This blog post is a re-print from the alumni story in the webpage of the UK Embassy in Manila.


Philippines: The Path to Sustainability


 

Channel News Asia is featuring the Philippines in a program titled “Philippines: The Path to Sustainability.

As posted on the web blog of AMEA  MArket Intelligence, the program gives an insight to how Philippines is moving towards sustainability in its key growth industries including, tourism, renewable energy and human capital development. More than just the most up-to-date information, it also includes interview soundbites from key stakeholders including: Ramon R. Jimenez, JR. (Secretary – Department of Tourism Philippines), Jesse O. Ang (Resident Representative Philippines, International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group), Reynaldo B. Vea, Ph.D. (President and CEO, Mapua Institute of Technology), Richard B. Tantoco (President & CEO, Energy Development Corporation) and Br. Narciso S. Erguiza, (President and Chancellor of De La Salle University).

Among the success stories that will be featured is that of Energy Development Corporation’s. Energy Development Corporation is the pioneer geothermal energy company that paved the way for renewable energy in the Philippines. Today, the country is set on building its energy capacity from sustainable power like wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. The business model of  Energy Development Corporation in particular is demonstrating that an extractive energy project could actually coexist with nature.

 


Communicating Sustainability: The Indigenous Perspective (Part 1)


Corporate commitment to sustainable development has changed considerably and with it, the propensity to publicize sustainability reports on a regular basis. Sustainability reports have been seen to rise in recent years. The auditing giant KPMG conducted a survey and reviewed the sustainability/corporate social responsibility disclosures of 2,200 multinationals that included Global Fortune 250 and N100 largest companies (measured by revenue) in 22 countries (KPMG International Survey on Corporate Responsibility Reporting, 2008). Said survey found that sustainability reporting in 2008 increased by 35 percent from its baseline data in 2005. Seventy-four percent of the top 100 U.S. companies published corporate responsibility information in 2008, either as an integrated section in the annual report or as a stand-alone document. A bigger 80 percent of the Global Fortune 250 revealed that they have been reporting on their environmental and social performance. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the organization that created the widely accepted sustainability-reporting framework recorded a rise of 58 percent from 2007 to 2008. In 2010, there was increase of 22 percent sustainability reporters.

In 1997, CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) began working on a standard non-financial reporting framework akin to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). CERES was able to catch the imagination of entities that eventually became partners in developing the Global Reporting Initiative index. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joined as a partner in 1999, the same year that an exposure draft was released. In 2002, CERES set up the GRI as an independent body with a mission to “integrate and unify the many standards in the marketplace into a single, generally accepted sustainability reporting framework, encompassing environmental, social, and economic performance” (GRI website). The GRI released its first reporting framework and guidelines in 2000, its G2 revision in 2002, and its current version, G3, in 2006. G4 is currently in the works and a new version is expected to come out in 2013. The G3 guideline is being adopted voluntarily by about 1,500 companied worldwide. G3 has core contents and are subdivided into three parts.  Part 1 covers reporting principles, including materiality, stakeholder inclusiveness, sustainability context, and completeness. Part 2 covers standard disclosures in three areas that should be included in a sustainability report: strategy and profile, management approach, and performance indicators. Part 3 covers the 79 performance indicators used in reporting the firm’s performance in the main categories of economic, environmental, social, labor and human rights sections.

The literature showed that research on corporate sustainability reporting has been conducted mainly on multinational companies. There is too little literature available on local companies. Much of the knowledge that we have about sustainability reporting is gained from the experiences of multinational companies. More often than not, their sustainability reports use the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework as the most preferred reporting guideline. GRI was developed by an agglomeration of international non-governmental and people’s organisations and could be argued that its international orientation may have neglected the unique reporting contexts of local companies. In the Philippines for instance, the first GRI-based sustainability report was first published in 2005. Since then only 13 other local companies have started producing similar reports. GRI-based sustainability reporting is a phenomenon that is obviously being observed in large multinationals. Yet, how do we also observe the experience of non-multinationals when it comes to the adoption of GRI? Why is it not catching up among local companies and how is this affecting the comparability of their triple bottom line performance when compared with that of the multinationals’?

In adopting the GRI sustainability reporting framework, what benefits accrue to the firm? Would the same benefits apply to both multinational and local companies? But before these benefits could happen, what are the challenges that the firm faces vis-à-vis adopting the framework. Again, would the challenges be the same for both multinationals and locals?

Aiming to shed light on the phenomenon of corporate sustainability reporting in general and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Framework in particular, this author has took on the challenge of conducting a research on why companies are producing sustainability reports and especially how the sustainability communication process is being implemented by non-multinationals. What is the experience of local companies as opposed to those of the multinationals, which have already generated ample attention in previous studies? The GRI guideline is especially interesting as it is a global guideline and there is a certain interest to see what the experiences have been so far from using the guidelines. This research also wants to know whether GRI is the way to go if the company is thinking about its Triple Bottom Line reporting.  Are the GRI guidelines useful for a company and for what purposes?

In the next six days, a Philippine-based company will publish a B+ GRI Sustainability Report that will undoubtedly be the country’s first ever corporate report to attain the highest level of application and comparability as far as the Global Reporting Initiative is concerned. This unfolding event highlights two very interesting facts:

1) A non-MNC from an emerging economy has embarked on one of the most rigorous reporting exercises quite unseen in companies of its kind before;

2) The local company has exceeded its reporting target by employing a more stringent set of indicators specific only to its industry or sector thereby demonstrating the ability to use indigenous approach to an otherwise predominantly Western business practice.

On the second installment of this article, I will be posting the details of that highly anticipated sustainability report on the day of its launch. There is a vast void of knowledge that is yet to be fathomed when it comes to understanding the commitment (or non-commitment) of non-MNCs’ sustainability reporting practice. By focusing the spotlight on this ground-breaking report, perhaps we can begin to rationalise the significance of such a practice especially for a country that is still grappling with the idea of sustainable development vis-a-vis business viability in the 21st century.

Stay tuned for the next sustainability update.


The MBS Chronicles: Sustainability, Business & Society


Starting with this entry, I will be posting some of my memorable learning experiences while studying in the University of Manchester. The opening salvo of this chronicle-type series will cover sustainability as the new paradigm of corporate social responsibility…

Is sustainability just a buzzword? Or is it a reinvention of the environmentalism fad that caught the imagination of people in the 90’s only to evaporate in the post-9/11 era? People of my generation often wonder how we could ever fit in today’s weary world – have we become passive recipients of the burgeoning capitalist phenomenon or have we had enough of this post-modern apathy that has been plaguing our so-called couch potato existence?

It was against this backdrop that I found myself going to the United Kingdom to pursue a masters studies. With the naïveté of a freshly minted international student in Manchester, I left that mooring on sustainability tucked in my pocket because I had to face the demands of postgraduate studies in the business school. A few months later, I found myself dipping back into that pocket to take out sustainability and ponder upon it again when I took an elective module called Skills in Sustainability and Social Responsibility (SSSR). By enrolling in the module, I expected to discover better, and perhaps original, ways of looking at sustainability challenges and most importantly, provide creative solutions to the sustainability problems. The appeal of the class is its problem-based learning (PBL) approach, which was totally new to me.

Sustainability and Social Responsibility

At the beginning of the module, we were re-introduced to the concept of sustainable development. When I saw those three circles overlapping to create a common centre, memories from high school and college days came flooding back.  The concept of sustainability as a universal goal is the result of a conference spearheaded by the United Nations in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972. It was from that conference that the Brundtland report titled Our Common Future was commissioned. In gist, sustainability is a macro-level framework used in addressing the so-called trilemma of our world – how to reconcile the conflicting natures of economics, environmentalism and equitable development. When I joined the corporate world, this was viewed in the triple bottomline paradigm – financial, ecological and social sustainability. It challenged firms to consider the ecological and social equity dimensions of doing business.

Corporate sustainability and the triple bottomline approach (Elkington, 2006)

Most people confuse sustainability with the narrow concerns for ecological/environmental preservation. However, for those who had been working in responsible corporations, sustainability is viewed as a balance between financial gains and social/environmental impact. Progressive businesses are now viewing financial sustainability as something that is rooted in the firm’s long-term viability vis-à-vis sustainability of supply chains. It is not enough that firms pay taxes and follow laws. Codes of conduct and business ethics pervade the entire business system and while ensuring that responsible business is also practiced by its suppliers and partners. A stable economy and a healthy environment are not conflicting ideals, rather they should be treated as complementary goals that could actually be achieved in the 21st century sustainability paradigm. Most importantly, this paradigm does not exclude the community and the people that live in it. This is the third circle that completes the new paradigm, and yet most people do not immediately see this circle in the sustainability equation. This third circle is used to address the problem of social inequity. The other two circles, which strive for economic stability and environmental preservation converge with the third to meet the basic needs of man as well as create opportunities to satisfy each person’s aspiration for a better life.

In the business sector, the idea of running a sustainable operation is mostly rooted in the practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR). A company practices CSR because satisfied customers and happy stakeholders are desirable ends. Other firms practice CSR because it is a moral duty asked of them in a society of wants. A firm’s sustainability character can often be defined by its adherence to CSR and how it is being implemented as part of the overall corporate strategy. In the 21st century sustainability paradigm, the third circle has elevated stakeholders to a higher level of influence in that dimension. R. Edward Freeman sparked the stakeholder theory discussion in his book Stakeholder Approach to Strategic Management (1984) and this definition is most often quoted in CSR discussions: “[Stakeholder] is any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives.” This stakeholder definition had always been at the centrepiece of the problem-solving strategy in our class. We have experienced the complexity of addressing stakeholder demands in the cases about water footprinting and food tracking. There were numerous stakeholders that were identified in those cases and recommending a solution was not easy knowing that trade-offs will definitely happen. In situations like these, a good track record in delivering CSR programs could be the best justification that a company could use, either lessening the reputational damage or shielding the organisation from unwieldy crisis situations.

Enabling Change

As far as enabling change is concerned, I am of the belief that there is much work to be done. Since the Brundtlandt report, sustainability has made inroads but the journey is nowhere near its destination. Multilateral agreements and intergovernmental cooperation on sustainable projects are some of the results of that idea. I am mostly appreciative of the impact that sustainability had on the academe. One of the positive effects of Brundtland is that it launched the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development from 2005-2014. The University of Manchester goes one step in the right direction by integrating sustainability in the higher education curriculum. One can see the sustainability effort being devoted by the university through its policy on sustainability and through its course offerings that focus on the applied sciences of sustainability studies. Even if MBS has not offered a solely sustainability-based program yet, I believe that creating this particular module is also in congruence with this recent development. We are nearing towards the end of that decade and our mere participation in the SSSR class demonstrates the influence it has had in our academic and professional pursuits.

Here at the Manchester Business School, we are constantly reminded to apply original thinking. For a foreign student like me, there is a two-level process of learning in MBS: discovering new ways of thinking and doing things and relating them into our own individual contexts i.e. country of origin, racial background, undergraduate study, professional orientation, etc. For students who already have work experience prior to studying here, there is yet another process that needs to be undertaken, that of the process of un-learning old habits.  As a PR practitioner back in my country, there is a wealth of practical knowledge that I had acquired from being involved in actual projects. To be able to understand and appreciate new knowledge, one has to learn how to check biases and to keep an open mind. Later on as critical thinking is required, one would have to revert to the shoes of a professional practitioner and examine whether or not the new learning is closely related to reality: is the theory and model responsive to real-life problems? Can we actually use it to frame the problem? Does it offer an appropriate solution to the dilemma at hand? Most importantly, do we have access to the right information? How could we use these to provide solutions to the case problems given to us?

The interplay of societal institutions combined with the historical role of business and its relationship with society produces quite different articulations of sustainability for each project given to us. I realised that the questions posed in those projects highlight the need to explore how economic institutions either enable or constrain the business’ articulation of social responsibility/sustainability.

The Learning So Far…

By breaking away from the usual elective courses that my other classmates chose, I realized that I pursued both my needs to experience a different learning environment and to interact with students outside the ambit of corporate communications and marketing. SSSR polished my knowledge on sustainability, expanded my understanding of the different facets of the sustainability paradigm and to a certain degree, provided me with extra professional skills that I will definitely use when I resume work in the Philippines. Armed with all these wonderful experiences, I am now more confident that I can go back to my country and complete the sustainability project I temporarily left.  Sustainability is a destination that we aspire to reach with the selection of the sustainable pathways that we choose as we proceed along the journey. I will return richer with ideas, wiser with experience.

View of Sackville Street Building from Renold Building where we held our SSSR classes. Sackville is one of the university's oldest buildings coming from the merged UMIST campus.


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