Professor Jem Bendell

Notes from a strategist & educator on social & organisational change, now focused on #DeepAdaptation

Archive for the ‘Corporations’ Category

Fixing the Global Jobs Crisis: time to leave assumptions behind

Posted by jembendell on June 6, 2012

Mass unemployment is becoming a headache for all world leaders. At the World Economic Forums (WEF) in Davos, Bangkok and Istanbul, people were talking about how to address growing unemployment.

To find real solutions to this global jobs crisis we need to be clear on the cause of the problem. Some of the conversations I heard at the WEF revealed widely shared yet questionable assumptions about key causes of unemployment. The key myths are, as follows:

Myth 1: “Unemployment is due to falling demand.”

Are people’s needs really falling? Or just the amount of money in circulation to employ people/assets to meet those needs?

Myth 2: “Unemployment is due to technology displacing human labour.”

Could we not design systems of ownership and revenue distribution so that the income from technology frees us to work creatively and caringly for each other? How can we govern technology to release us to a world of service, not a life of redundancy?

Myth 3: “Unemployment is due to the cost of hiring and firing.”

Why then do some countries with high wages and labour standards, like Scandinavia, have less % unemployment? Where would competition between nations to lower costs of hiring and firing lead us?

Myth 4: “Unemployment is due to a lack of skills and appetite for the new types of work.”

The world has more skilled labour than ever before, and more labour mobility than ever before, and many people with Masters degrees can’t get a job.

Myth 5: “Unemployment is due to the option to claim benefits.”

Why then was the existence of benefits not keeping people out of the workforce before the recession? Why do some countries with the most supportive welfare states, like Scandinavia, have less % unemployment?

These assumptions may arise from a general lack of understanding about the first key function of a currency, which is to help connect assets, including people’s time, with needs. If a currency becomes scarce in an economy, then there is less ability for exchange. That means needs go unmet, and assets go underutilised. Its called unemployment.

I recorded a short interview for the social media corner of WEF in Istanbul to explain where we need to start looking for real solutions to the global jobs crisis.

Posted in Corporations, Occupy, Sustainable Development, Talks | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Collaborative Consumption and Beyond

Posted by jembendell on May 9, 2012

Do you have a car pool at work? Car-sharing revenues in North America have been predicted to reach US$3.3 billion by 2016. There are many start-ups in this field, including Zipcar, which floated last year for US $174M. Enabling the more efficient exchange and sharing of products and services, in order to increase human well-being while reducing the consumption of natural resources, is a key dimension to the sustainability transition. The increasing penetration of the internet means new systems of exchanging and sharing products and services, are growing, in many areas. Facebook’s CEO has even emphasised the potential for developing new sharing enterprises as key to its future financial success, after floatation.

These developments in “collaborative consumption” bring a new dimension to the existing forms of alternative exchange systems, such as business barter networks or countertrade agreements, and community currency systems that help connect underused assets with unmet needs. Countertrade accounts for around 20% of world trade, while one national barter network now involves 1 in 5 small or medium sized companies in Switzerland, amounting to over US$1.5 billion a year. The new sphere of peer-to-peer financial-lending has taken off, and predicted to reach US$5 billion next year. It appears to be a time of disruptive innovation through new forms of sharing, exchanging, renting and co-owning.

Some of these activities are important to sustainable development, and, therefore, to the broad field of responsible enterprise (whether we label our work corporate social responsibility, sustainable business, social enterprise, shared value, responsible or impact investment, or some other term). For business executives to contribute to a positive sustainability outcome from these developments requires enhanced understanding of how to explore ways to become involved, including by adapting their own business models.

Which means there is an educational need, for those of us interested in enabling the sustainability transition. Lifeworth Consulting is conducting research on these developments, for presentation in July at the EABIS colloquium at IMD (in Lausanne), and in September at the Necessary Transition conference at GBS (in Brisbane). So, if you are currently employed, and would like to receive the results of this research, please participate in our 5 minute survey, it would really help:

http://www.lifeworth.com/survey-responsible-enterprise-collaborative-consumption

Please, click that link!

Thanks, Jem Bendell

Lifeworth founder and Adjunct Professor @ GBS

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Lifeworth, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Dear Economists – please throw new light on money

Posted by jembendell on March 12, 2012

Dear Economists

It has come to my attention that you’ve taken a battering in the last few years. Apart from a handful of you, the massive failure to predict the financial crisis, and the peddling of tried-and-failed theories of how to get out of said crisis, seems to have diminished your profession’s standing. Some politicians are even listening to sociologists, who say you have have nothing useful to offer on systems for achieving greater well-being, rather than mere economic growth. Perhaps rather unkindly, some now wonder whether your assumptions about self-interest have been a severe case of projection.

I don’t like to see anyone in such a bind. Especially when I sense there is major opportunity for a turn around in your fortunes. Although I’m one of your poor-cousins (i.e. a sociologist), for the past couple of years I’ve been reading some economics, mostly on monetary systems, and mostly by those I think you call “heterodox economists.” As an active reader, I jotted down some questions that I wanted answering. As I read on, it seemed that these questions were not yet answered! I looked everywhere (well, at least not just on wikipedia) and could not find data on them. So if you work on the following questions, not only could your answers become seminal, secure yourself tenure, you might even gain a spot in the next ‘Inside Job’ movie! I hope you read on and come back with peer-reviewed articles in the coming years.

1) How much money is there is in the world, and how much debt? If the amount of debt is much higher than actual money, what mathematical models can you offer for how this will be resolved, and with what implications for overall utility?

2) Which governments do not issue bonds to private banks, or to (semi-)privately owned central banks, but issue their own money (or issue bonds to government-owned central banks that do not then sell those bonds on to private banks – the same as issuing their own money)?

3) Which governments used to issue their own money, but no longer do, and when did these changes take place?

4) How do the non-GDP aspects of the Human Development Index correlate with the periods and places of governments issuing their own money? (Just take out the “income” component from the HDI and if you have got the information on monetary policy and central bank ownership, then bingo).

I realise some of you may have a more neo-institutional approach (dare I say sociological?!), and are interested in how economics is discussed in the media, or used in public policy. So for you, I also have a couple of research questions to suggest:

5) Of the news coverage since 2008, what % of the coverage on “financial crisis” also mentions “monetary reform”? I ask, as when searching on Google, only 3% of websites mentioning “financial crisis” also mention “monetary reform”. If you find similar statistics from trawling databases of news coverage, could you create follow up questions to reveal why there is this lack of analysis?

6) How are countries receiving advice, assistance and training on monetary issues, and what interests and evidence are involved in that advice?

7) How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?

“As many as need the light.”

Ok, so I knew the answer to that one. But could the answer instead be “as many as know the light is needed?”

I’m asking these questions as they relate to my own interests in sustainable enterprise, exchange and development, and I’m not about to retrain in your wonderful arts (sorry, “science”). If you want to know why more non-economists would like you to research these issues, you can view my TEDx talk on the “money myth.” For some output from economists already engaged in related matters, I recommend “Where does Money Come from” by Professor Werner and colleagues. Other, fairly elementary, resources Ive listed on my blog.

So, dear economists, please throw new light on money. I’m waiting for illumination. Posting links to peer-reviewed work in the comments section below would be great.

Sincerely,
Professor Jem Bendell

Adjunct Professor at Griffith Business School
Distinguished Visiting Professor at IE Business School

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

In your town soon?

Posted by jembendell on February 29, 2012

In 2012 Ill be in the following cities, so if you could organise a talk or seminar, please get in touch (more info on Lifeworth website)

Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Beijing, Brisbane, Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Istanbul, Madrid, Paris, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, or Zurich.

Posted in Corporations, Sustainable Development, Talks | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Word (cloud) on Davos 2012

Posted by jembendell on January 25, 2012

It’s a packed agenda at Davos. So what does this elite multistakeholder gathering tell us of what leaders are thinking about? Its impossible to go to everything on the schedule, so I put the agenda through Wordle to get a sense of the topics. Unfortunately the word “Occupy” only appeared once, so didnt make it to the word cloud.


What do you think? Something important missing from the agenda?

The content doesnt indicate the level of interest in the topics; and some sessions are so full I missed the sign up. A session on the art and science of happiness filled up super fast, yet the mental health session still languishes with single figure sign ups. Yet might our collective insanity be the one unifying thing we can start working on to create a better world? Or are we just too busy getting on getting on? I rest my case.

Later on I’ll do another word cloud, excluding the procedural words, to reveal some key themes. But now, time to run madly to the next session…

Posted in Corporations, Sustainable Development | 4 Comments »

Teaming Up for Massive Change in 2012: notes on my work with Lifeworth

Posted by jembendell on January 10, 2012

Everywhere we turn, we hear people asking “how long can it go on?” Whether it is financial crisis in the West, environmental pollution in the East, or increasing prices and natural disasters everywhere, there’s a growing sense of dystopia, and of the need for more fundamental reform of our economic and political systems. Mass protests can remove leaders, but what creates a lasting positive shift in society? And what are YOU doing about it? Rather than ask “how long can it go on”, it’s time to ask “how can we move on with essential changes?”

As I read leading commentators on business responsibility and sustainability sharing their insights on trends for 2012, I saw a new boldness. People are recognising the need for ambitious goals that address root causes, including economic governance failures. At Lifeworth we have been seeking to contribute to a sustainable economic transformation and published a variety of works on that theme over the past ten years. In that time I’ve seen the more critical analyses initially ignored by leaders in favour of less challenging narratives. Yet this year I think we will see more opportunity for ‘radical’ suggestions for change to be discussed and trialled. In that sense, despite the fears, it’s the year we have been waiting for. But rather than adding to the many predictions, I’ll summarise Lifeworth’s efforts that could be of relevance if you seek to team up to strive for far greater positive change than you might have before.

The first area for transformative action in which we are engaged is policy innovations for scaling responsible enterprise and finance. Rightly or wrongly, government budgets cuts are happening in many countries. The implications for them to regulate businesses for social and environmental objectives are beginning to be felt. How then can we promote and reward better business practice, without increasing the costs to government? Leveraging private standards of social or environmental performance is one option. In work for the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), we looked at public policy innovations to scale the number of firms adhering to voluntary standards like the Forest Stewardship Council. This appeared in the World Investment Report, with the full academic study published elsewhere. The idea that these forms of ‘collaborative economic governance’ are a pragmatic response to the twin challenges of sustainable development and government efficiencies, was fed into the policy discussions leading to Rio+20, happening this June. The need now is to create systems for collecting innovative public policies for scaling responsible business, analysing which work well in what contents, and disseminating this to government officials worldwide. If you can help on this project, do get in touch.

Yet we must go further than coping mechanisms in a world of irresponsible enterprise and governance failures. The second area for transformative action, therefore, is redesigning financial systems for more fair and sustainable outcomes. Although commitments to responsible investment have existed for some years, the translation into investment practice and the realities of corporate leaders has far to go. The limitations of current environmental, social and governance (ESG) practice in empowering investors to act is one of the stumbling blocks which we analysed in 2011, sparking lively debate. Our interest in ESG is because of the potential for progressive investor influence, which is a historically novel situation. In 2012 I hope we see the emergence of a progressive voice from investors on matters of public concern. Aside from investor-business relations, the public voice of the progressive investor has been slow to emerge. The Carbon Disclosure Project has shown that on climate change investors can sound a new tune on public policy. In 2012 and beyond, we could see other forums, particularly the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), providing opportunities for progressive investors to promote policy debates that better include social and environmental priorities. Whether they will be able to counter-balance the more regressive investor resistance to financial re-regulation will be interesting to watch.

In 2012 we will continue to participate in fora that discuss the need for transformation of economic systems for sustainable development, including the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, The Finance Innovation Lab in the UK, and the Griffith University conference on transition, in Australia. As I explained in an interview for Griffith, the key stumbling block to progress on tough issues is our limiting assumptions and oversights about the real causes of our crises. During the next months I’ll be asking world leaders what they think are the key activities to drive massive positive change that weren’t possible before now, and who they need to work with to make that happen. Identifying such pressure points for massive positive change will inform our philanthropy advisory during 2012, and beyond.

One area where I think there is currently a woefully lack of attention, funding and action is in “sustainable currencies”. Current monetary systems are incompatible with the goal of a fair and sustainable economy, and thus we need greater efforts at reform, as well as at developing secure, scalable and community-owned alternative currencies and barter systems. It is, no doubt, a difficult area for many to grasp; as I experienced myself. Yet in 2011 there were strides towards greater understanding by sustainable development professionals, through the work of New Economics foundation (nef), among others. My TEDx talk on the topic reached over 12,000 views in a couple of months. As austerity bites and unemployment persists, new ways of getting people working for each other without putting governments further into debt will inevitably rise up political agendas. In 2012 we will help through collaboration with Community Forge and The Finance Innovation Lab, amongst others, and promote the uptake of ‘sustainable currencies’ as an innovative social development mechanism, through fora such as the Geneva Forum on Social Change.

What does this renewed emphasis on systemic change mean for specific industry sectors? I think the main implication is to be more ambitious in attempting to mainstream change for sustainable development. That is a third area for seeking transformative action. That has been our approach in the work we do in the luxury and mining sectors. With the organisation Fair Jewelry Action we researched and published “Uplifting the Earth: the ethical performance of high jewellery brands.” In this report we mapped out a transformative agenda for responsible jewellery, where the industry can contribute to sustainable development. From this basis, we aided De Beers’ stakeholder consultations, and worked with the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) on their training for the jewellery industry, which will be rolled out from Antwerp this year. The Spanish version of the report was launched at the world’s first Sustainable Luxury Awards, in Buenos Aires, co-organised with CSSL and the Authentic Luxury Network. The aim of these awards is to encourage sustainable innovation in the luxury sector; this year’s awards are scheduled for November. The insights from our work on transformative corporate responsibility in the luxury sector were refined for the launch of the world’s first MBA module on ‘Sustainable Luxury and Design’, which I teach at IE Business School, in Madrid. Students learn how sustainability is the smartest and most elegant paradigm within which to design anything. At the other end of the value chain, in 2012 we are working with Channel Research and the German development agency Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to encourage disclosure on the social, environmental and economic impacts and contributions of mining companies in the Congo. There are few more challenging locations for mining to align better with the goals of peace, human rights and development.

A fourth area for transformative action in 2012 is enhancing the way UN agencies and civil society organisations engage companies. There are now many cross-sectoral partnerships, and the relationships they established hold the potential for greater changes. Largescale change goals need to be connected back to practical steps that can deliver benefits in the near term for various partner organisations. That’s the thinking behind a spate of new resources on more transformative partnering that were released in 2011, including reports from the UN Global Compact, and my own book, “Evolving Partnerships: engaging business for greater social change.” During 2011 we applied our approach to developing transformative alliances in our support for the International Labour Organisation’s fight against forced labour. In 2012 we aim to help the development of their Global Business Alliance against Forced Labour.

Despite the shocking persistence of slavery today, and the general dystopian tone we hear from thoughtful people in international fora, or indeed, because of such darkness, we need a bright vision for life on Earth. That is why we are helping the Future Perfect Festival in Sweden in August. It will celebrate the brilliance and fun of sustainable lifestyles, sustainable businesses and sustainable communities. It will shine rays of light on a better way of life, beyond the dark mountains of outmoded and destructive ways of thinking, working and living. Our ability to understand values, and articulate them in professional contexts, is important when working towards a positive vision. My colleague Ian Doyle has therefore been teaching ‘voicing your values’ class at Grenoble Graduate School of Business, and we will be integrating this into various lines of work in 2012. In our forthcoming book, Healing Capitalism, Ian and I will seek to integrate both the personal and systemic levels of analysis, to aid transformative action.

In summary, we hope our 2012 will involve the following arenas of transformative action:
1) Policy innovations for scaling responsible enterprise and finance;
2) Redesigning financial and monetary systems for more fair and sustainable outcomes;
3) Mainstreaming contributions to sustainable development within specific industry sectors (including luxury, mining etc);
4) More ambitious collaborations between UN agencies, civil society organisations and companies;
5) Visions of sustainable ways of living, pathways to achieve them, and values competence to walk that path.

To better develop our work, this year we become a Swiss non-profit association. We will remain a network of independent associates, and will continue to deliver in partnership with other service providers, for a limited number of clients who seek to create meaningful change. If you can help us have an impact in these areas, I’d love to hear from you.

Professor Jem Bendell
Founder and Director, Lifeworth.com and Lifeworth Consulting
Adjunct Professor, Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise, Griffith Business School
Distinguished Visiting Professor, IE Business School

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Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth, Sustainable Development | 2 Comments »

Economic governance is key to any useful outcome from Rio2012

Posted by jembendell on December 2, 2011

Readers of my blog will note that at the beginning of the year I reflected on the coming Rio2012 Earth Summit, and what it could be useful for. Since then the preparatory committees have got somewhat lost in definitional issues about what the “green economy” really is… oh, the farce of humanity’s efforts to do something together for our common future.

Dark grumblings aside, during the year Ive been doing some work on the economic governance needs for more sustainable development. Some of the results of that are out, with the UNCTAD World Investment Report discussing public policies for scaling CSR (I helped with the research that went in to it), and a new journal article just out where we go into some depth on a new paradigm of collaborative economic governance for sustainable development.

The UN Non Governmental Liaison Service published my opinion piece about the need to focus on economic governance, in their “Road to Rio 2012” publication. But it was in a publication from Singapore, for the region’s enthusiasts in social enterprise, corporate responsibility and voluntary sector, where I let summed up some basic points…

“If Rio 1992 was about governments calling non-state actors to act, Rio 2012 may be about non-state actors calling on governments to join them in creating greater change.”

“…the continued lack of major global progress towards sustainable development, towards true integration of environmental and developmental priorities, should make us question [the] lack of attention to economic systems and
government roles.”

“Twenty years after Rio, with the old debates and fears of the Cold War well gone, we should be able to show more maturity in exploring how systemic flaws in our economic systems could be changed to improve social or environmental outcomes.”

“…it will take effort and courage, rather than mere intellect, to articulate and implement a global policy agenda that tackles some of the economic causes of social and environmental problems.”

The pdf of “Towards Rio 2012 And Collaborative Governance For Sustainable Development” is available from Singapore Management University at http://bit.ly/ukwagD

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development, United Nations | 2 Comments »

Will Swiss Economic Ideology Harm Global Health and Humanitarian Efforts?

Posted by jembendell on August 18, 2011

The Swiss franc has increased 30% against the US dollar and 20% against the Euro since last year. The pain felt by Swiss businesses is being well documented. But less well documented is the effect of this currency imbalance on international efforts to promote health, peace, human rights, and humanitarian action. Switzerland is home to many international organisations, including United Nations agencies and international charities. Many have their assets and grants denominated in US dollars or currencies other than the Swiss franc, yet their fixed costs of buildings and staff are in the extremely overvalued Swiss francs. Consequently their budgets are being ravaged by the currency imbalance, leading to mass redundancies and the cutting of various programmes, at key organisations for world affairs, such as the World Health Organisation to the International Labour Organisation. Those with seniority in such organisation are more able to hold on to their jobs, so the harder-working and far less well-paid staff are often the first ones to be shown the door. Although there need to be efficiencies found in international organisations, a sinking-ship mentality is not the way to achieve it.

The current efforts to reduce the value of the Swiss franc, by the Swiss National Bank, are reported by the Financial Times to have completely failed. Their tactics have been to increase the volume of Swiss francs, and slash interest rates. Yet as the international financial markets are spooked and want to buy Swiss francs, banks are simply buying up the excess francs. Not only is this causing a problem for Swiss businesses, it is creating a massive future risk for the Swiss economy when one day people decide they don’t need to hold so many francs. In addition, in efforts to keep the Swiss franc down, the government’s debt is spiralling. That will be compounded by recent commitments to spend billions in bail outs to suffering businesses. Such bail outs will be open for mishandling and corruption and propping up inefficient companies – especially if they are spent quickly enough to have any effect. But worse, these bail outs are like a sticking plaster for a haemorrhaging wound, as systemic solutions are required. If we compare prices across the border, the Swiss franc might even be 100% overvalued already, and the Western monetary crisis is only beginning its latest phase. This is no momentary problem. Imagination beyond old ideologies is required for systemic solutions.

The answer is so simple. The Swiss government could impose a currency transactions tax on any purchase of Swiss francs or assets/instruments denominated in Swiss francs. This transaction tax would reduce the demand for Swiss francs, and generate revenues for the Swiss government. These new revenues could be used to pay down the wholly unnecessary new Swiss government debt, and finance a new emergency international cooperation fund. That fund could issue core-budget grants to Swiss-based non profit organisations and international agencies for them to maintain or increase their employment of non-senior staff. In terms of the UN, this would mean staff below P-3 level. Such staff spend a greater percentage of their wages on local businesses than more senior staff, who invest it abroad, or drive over the border to get cheaper goods, services and property in the Eurozone. Targetted action like this would maintain a key element of the Swiss economy and society, and its contribution to the world.

The arguments against a currency transactions tax have always been vacuous, ideologically driven and about protecting short term profits. Its not workable? Tell that to countries like Brazil who have had a transaction tax for years. It will dent confidence in the economy? Well what do we mean by economy? The current market for the franc? That needs denting! The longer term prospects for the economy require effective denting right now. Given that leading Eurozone nations want to impose a similar tax in future, this is a great opportunity for Switzerland to lead the way. There are strong business arguments for a currency transactions tax, due to the effect on cooling volatility, and strong government reasons, by making up for falling tax revenues. We documented these issues in a report for the Swiss charity Bread for All, yet we found bankers and top government officials wedded to an unthinking belief in no new policy innovations to harness financial markets for the productive economy, public finances or common good.

Why is it such a crisis when the world wants to own your national currency? It should not have to be a crisis, indeed it could be a major opportunity for the Swiss people and the wider world who benefit from its role as a home for agencies of international cooperation. The only thing stopping this being an opportunity is the ideological blinkers of top bankers and politicians who are currently exhibiting zero creativity in transforming this situation from crisis to opportunity. Impose a transaction tax, to release Swiss business from the high franc, pay down the government debt, and fund a more dynamic international cooperation community. If such effective action isn’t taken, some citizens may start asking if the private ownership of 45% of the national bank by private banks like UBS in some way compromises its ability to take action in the public interest. And if such action isnt taken, we will see once again how economic ideologies in certain circles can harm the lives of poor and vulnerable people many thousands of miles away.

Professor Jem Bendell: http://www.twitter.com/jembendell

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Geneva, Reports, Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Fashionably Hated: on social change, media and the self

Posted by jembendell on August 6, 2011

I thought my mum and dad, and my colleagues’ family and friends, might be proud. It would be the 2nd time a report I co-wrote appeared in the Financial Times. The last one was Deeper Luxury, which 3 years ago helped kick off more engagement in CSR by some luxury brands. The new report is on jewellery, and the result of 18 months work, mostly pro bono by myself and my dedicated and inspirational colleague Ian Doyle. But I haven’t sent my relatives the FT link. The article patronised us, with arguments that our co-publishers Fair Jewelry Action have debunked point by point. Fortunately the report has been well-received in the industry press, with Diamonds.net doing a succinct overview.

When I read the FT article I was surprised. Surprised at how much I laughed! I thought I cared about being respected. We all do a bit, don’t we? But reading it seemed cathartic. For some years now, with my colleagues at Lifeworth Consulting, we have been trying to persuade some in the industry to be more ambitious in their responsible enterprise goals. We have got somewhere with some brands, but mostly its the start ups who get it and they don’t have funds to pay for our help. Managers from the big brands, however, often depress me with their fancy lunches, seminars and excuses. We offered this study for free to help those in larger firms who really want to lead, and we got trashed.

I recall the enlightened perspective of Chris Marsden when he worked at BP in the 1990s: “if Greenpeace didn’t exist Id have to invent it.” Not that we are Greenpeace – our report is far too boring, as its for industry and focuses on giving specific advice on business strategy. I suppose for every Chris Marsden there are a thousand corporate cogs. There are many proud cowards in luxury brand management.

A lesson I see for myself and anyone who works in social change within a professional context is to never confuse being respectful with being respected. To respect others and hear them out, understand their situation, is key, but to worry about being respected is imprisoning. We need more people in social change who don’t give a xxxx about being disliked and will risk their own situations to seek and then live by their unfolding truths. Its this sense of liberation that made we want to share experience here. Its important because there are now so many events of the eco-chattering classes about how to achieve systemic change, from Tallberg to Davos and beyond. By giving the mic to those with status they perpetuate the idea that those having a high status role have an insight rather than an affliction, and that calling for bigger changes is a means of change rather a way to let off steam by blaming others and situations before returning to normal life. Instead, we have to risk our acceptability, our respectability, our livelihoods, and the expectations of our families, in our daily lives at work, if we are to really explore how we can create systemic change.

But the FT article also made me realise something about journalism today. Real investigative journalism is disappearing from the mainstream press. I don’t mean the kind of illegal snooping on people to get gossip to print in tabloids, that has caused a lot of trouble in the UK just recently. I mean proper investigative journalism where issues of public importance are looked at in detail. Nick Davies did that at the Guardian to expose the phone hacking scandal, so it still exists, but is rare. The system of mainstream journalism, where owners want profits, desire happy (luxury brand) advertisers, and journalists need access to brands, and to pump out stories quickly to develop their online traffic for new ad revenue, means that the time and resources for investigative reporting have been crushed. Research has even found that many (mostly freelance) fashion journalists are also on the payrolls of PR firms and individual brands.

In that context its tough for a fashion journalist like Vanessa Friedman to write about our 58 page study one minute, and speculate on the Duchess of Cambridge’s dresses the next. The absence of investigative journalism is so accepted now that journalists can even complain about others not investigating enough, such as Vanessa complaining we didnt investigate further about Burmese rubies, without spotting the irony. Why don’t the journalists look into it?

INSEAD Professor Mark Lee Hunter told me the other day that investigative journalism is so undermined by the economics of media right now that non-traditional journalists, from bloggers and NGOs, will have to develop the skills of investigative reporting if we are to maintain some effective public discourse. He has produced a handbook with UNESCO to help. Perhaps hybrid models of media, where mainstream publications work with investigative bloggers, helping to guide and ensure their approach and credibility, will be one way of coping. What Jo Confino and colleagues are doing at Guardian Sustainable Business could be one indicator of such a situation. Other publishers may prefer to pretend they have it all under control and can produce credible articles without resources. Such pride will eventually turn them into PR agents’ megaphones.

These changes are bigger than any one person. Some may get all self-righteous about individuals at News of the World. But rather than single out individuals, we need to push for reforms in media ownership rules, so that there is diversity of owners as well as organisational types, with not-for-profit and community media having important roles to play.

We all get influenced by our colleagues and the day to day work. For instance, at Lifeworth Consulting, our desire to be helpful to people leading change in the industry may have blinded us somewhat. Rather than further investigating the issue of Burmese rubies, which was not our aim, or within our capability, when we found evidence that the EU embargo might be being broken, we should have referred this particular matter to law enforcement. Therefore I have started making the relevant enquiries about which parts of law enforcement should be informed.

So on reflection it is good that Vanessa Friedman paid the report some attention, despite the flaws we see in her article. I’m told the key thing in fashion journalism is you must not be ignored. In the rough and tumble of somewhat gossipy and cutting reporting: what doesn’t kill you… makes you more fashionable. So my real regret is that Vanessa didn’t speculate on what suit I might be wearing at my next speech.

If you are in the industry, or write about it, please read our report ‘Uplifting The Earth: The Ethical Performance of Luxury Jewellery Brands’

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Lifeworth, Media, Reports, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

How an NGO report inspired a business woman to reinvent luxury

Posted by jembendell on July 22, 2011

Can an NGO report inspire a new enterprise? An enterprise which after just 3 years is booming and winning business awards for turning waste into luxury accessories? The WWF report Deeper Luxury helped Kresse Wesling identify a market niche, turning waste firehose into high-end design. You can hear Kresse explain how she sees creative opportunities where others see trash, in her TED talk. Her success with Elvis & Kresse demonstrates how a shift in perception uncovers new opportunities. Given how the big brands mostly grumbled about the Deeper Luxury report when we launched it at the end of 2007, its gratifying to see how such ideas can be generative in the right hands.

With Fair Jewelry Action we recently followed up the report with “Uplifting the Earth” which maps out a progressive agenda for the jewellery industry. Once again, we heard grumbles from incumbent brands about our analysis, and it is the newer, smaller brands who are leading the way with innovations in responsible sourcing.

So let incumbent executives can grumble… the future is for people like Kresse. Indeed, it’s time for more “disruptive luxury”. Which is the name of my talk at the launch of the world’s first sustainable luxury awards, in Buenos Aires this coming November.

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