We need CHANGE, not fine-tuning…!

www.sorenandersson.com

…when my father grew old he devoted at lot of his time to handicraft and woodwork – I never once saw him use a sandpaper to change one of his works, only to fine-tune it…

“Our Business-as-Usual is Sustainable; we only need to fine-tune it a little …”

This seems to be the most common Sustainability-approach these days.

Ever since I read that the January 2014 Global 100 ranking of the world’s 100 most sustainable large publically traded companies included ten oil and gas companies [?], and that the December 2013 Climate Counts rankings of corporations with the most sustainable carbon emissions included five oil and gas companies [?], it has become even more obvious that fewer corporations than first anticipated are really addressing Sustainability.

How can a corporation with a basic business-concept to exploit unrenewable fossil fuels ever make it to a “Sustainability Top-list” – it is utterly ridiculous!

…and what does it say about current sustainability performance measurement schemes and the other companies on that list…?

A list promoted and broadcasted by its publisher, Corporate Knights Capital, as “the world’s pre-eminent corporate sustainability index”, “The most transparent and objective corporate sustainability assessment in existence” and “Companies named to the Global 100 Index are the top overall sustainability performers in their respective sector”…

With the latest IPCC-report at hand, summarizing and strongly emphasizing the urgent need to rapidly abandon all dirty fossil fuels in coming decades, this list, the way the list is promoted and the way corporations try to dodge from responsibility is… I’m really out of words strong enough here!

Basics

In a number of previous articles (here, here and here) I have tried to put focus on an extremely important issue when it comes to Sustainability and Positive Impact.

“Being less bad, doesn’t mean that you are Good”

– William McDonough

To be Positive you have to be “Above Zero”…

www.sorenandersson.comIf a corporations economic output is below zero we always refer to it as a loss. This loss doesn’t become a Profit until it reaches above zero – simple mathematics!

At the same time when corporations relate to the other sustainability aspects, People and Planet, they always start where they are, and every small reduction in negative impact is then broadcasted as “More sustainable”…
Any reduction in negative impact is of course good, but I don’t understand why corporations who would never dare to replace “reduced loss” with “increased profit” unless they first pass zero – so blatantly act otherwise when dealing with other sustainability aspects…

This simple mathematics may seem “arid” but it is extremely relevant in the context – below zero is always un-sustainable regardless how much below it is.

And, of course, Sustainability is about TOTAL IMPACT, not only about whether your company cars are running on Biogas or if you are recycling office-paper…
It’s about scope 1, 2 and 3, Upstream and Downstream or whatever you choose to call it.

Benchmark – irrelevant…?

www.orenandersson.comI am pretty sure that our planet and the major part of society don’t care about GICS-codes or whether a corporation is outperforming its peers on specific issues within its business-sector – if you are below the sustainable bottom line you are unsustainable.

This is regardless if your peers are performing worse or better!

The more I think about it – comparing companies from a Sustainability perspective in the same business sector according to a basically economical matrix, is it at all relevant?

Just look at sector ‘Energy’ (10) – isn’t there a huge difference between an all Solar-energy company and a Fossil fuel company… What about ‘Materials’ (15) – any difference between a company dealing with palm-oil and a company running a FSC-certified forestry…

If you then also exclude “Total Impact” – the benchmark is almost irrelevant.

…Destroying our planet in a more “elegant manner” than others,
still means DESTROYING OUR PLANET…

…how do you compare the sustainability of two energy companies with basically the same reported Sustainability KPI:s according to the “methodology” but where one is focusing on exploitation of Tar-Sands and other fossil fuels while the other is mainly into Solar and wind energy…

Sanding off the edges…

There must be something wrong with an approach that before addressing the fundamentals starts to address specific details… If the fundamentals are not right there is very little point in “fiddling” with details – it could even obscure what really needs to be done.

Many scientists and other really smart people have realized this in almost every field, just think of the Maslow-pyramid, the Kyoto-pyramid or the Waste-pyramid.

www.sorenandersson.com

But when it comes to Sustainability this fundamental approach all of a sudden isn’t relevant anymore – at least not yet…

An example:

  • We know through science that CO2-emissions must be quickly and substantially reduced.
    (by 40-70 % before 2050 according to the latest IPCC-report)
  • We have a fossil-fuel industry determined to extract their proved fossil fuels reserves.
    (Link to article in “Mother Jones” and a previous blog-post here.)
  • We have more than 1 Billion fossil-fuelled cars and growing annually with > 4%.
    (Link to a previous article on an industry sending “double messages”  here)
  • We are making more than 3 Billion fossil-fuelled air-plane rides annually, increasing by >5%
    (Link to articles on yet another industry dodging the problem here and here.)
  • More than 900 million people are facing food scarcity or starvation every day
    (Link to a previous article on food-waste here.)
  • Inequality in the world is bigger than ever.
    (Link to a previous article on the extreme inequality here.)
  • We have a fixation on GDP-measurements to show human prosperity.
    A system that doesn’t distinguish if the underlying activity increases or actually devastates the standard of living for humans… (Link to previous article here.)

The fundamental issue here must be that we need to leave a substantial amount of fossil-fuel in the ground – this is where the discussion must start. With substantially less fossil fuels available, we need to rethink transportation systems, supply-chains, food-distribution etc.

…instead we are; discussing whether Scope 3 emissions “maybe” should be included in Corporate Sustainability reporting, giving credit to Fossil-fuels companies by highlighting them on Sustainability Top-Lists [?], systematically subsidizing the fossil-fuel industry on a global scale, giving the the car-industry a pat on the back for reducing fuel consumption incrementally in small steps while growing their total sale at high pace, allowing the air-line industry to refrain from Taxation on fuel…

The list is ever so long – and then some…

Addressing Total Impact…

If we continue to avoid addressing Total Impact and believe that the free-market economy (Link to article about a “rogue Free Market”) will solve this, we are not going to see real change before it is too late.

Waiting for the political and legislative processes to develop new laws with overall coverage in all related areas is going to be too late and the “lock-in effect” will drive our society even further into a dead end!

Corporations bringing a product or a service to our society need to take responsibility for and carefully monitor if the Total Impact of their business, including all supply-chains and upstream/downstream activities are Sustainable – this is what Corporate Social Responsibility really is about.

…we urgently need to stop “sanding off” the edges, stop searching for excuses and instead Team-Up across all sectors of Society for Real Transformative Change!

We only have “one shot” at this – There is no Plan B!

  • dkantz

    It appears to me that S.Andersson overlooks the track record of social changes in which transformative processes have always been accompanied by and, in part, driven by political shifts. Furthermore, across the entire range of all the positive options advanced, it is clear to me that they are not embraced by either conservative nor centrist perspectives. An unusually radical set of progressive societal transformations and policy initiatives is required.

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