How an NGO report inspired a business woman to reinvent luxury

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.

Good Cause Trouble

Keynote at Syinconnect, October 16th, Singapore…

I’m pleased to be here as I’m in Singapore because the world is changing fast. You are the fasting growing economy in the world and have the 4th highest GDP per capita. The people who have traditionally taken a role in global affairs and addressed social and environmental problems around the world, whether rightly or wrongly, are mostly Europeans and North Americans. That’s going to change. And that can be a good thing, but only if we see more globally responsible leaders coming from places like Singapore. We need to see more compassion and action on the state of the whole world, from newly emerged powers. So I think inititives like Syinc are so important, as they are helping you, future leaders, to explore ways of contributing to your community, and then hopefully beyond.

We’re here at the weekend. Its a saturday morning and none of you have to be at work, and your lecturers dont have to be. The 2 day weekend is a great idea, a good social innovation. Any idea where it came from? I think it important to reflect on how change happened if we are to get insights into how to make it happen. So I looked into the history of the 2 day weekend. In the early 1800s in the UK, where Im from, the was a mostly a one day weekend…Sunday, the sabbath, and it was meant to be spent observing religious ideas. But there was a problem for the religious leaders, and also the growing breed of industrialists. As it was the only day off, a lot of Brits were doing what they like to do – getting drunk. So this made them bad church goers, and also meant they often skipped Mondays because they were hungover. So the church and industrialists got together and decided to give people a half day off on saturday, so they could get drunk then, and snooze their way through church on sunday, and be ready for work on Monday. So the half day Saturdays that I hear you had as you weekend here in Singapore until about a decade ago, you can thank the drunkard Brits for.

So where did the 2 days come from? There was one Cotton mill around 1900, where half the staff were christian, so took sunday off, and half were jewish, so took saturday off. The christians got upset with other people working on sunday, so the owners said sod it, we will close both saturday and sunday. Then, in 1926 the great car maker Henry Ford decided to give his workers 2 days weekends. He realised he needed to not only pay his workers enough for them to afford the cars they made, but also that they needed reason to buy a car. If they were only ever going to work on the bus, and then to church on a sunday, why would they need a car? However, if they had a whole day free to be able to go to the beach, or countryside, or visit relatives and so, then of course theyd want a car, not just a faster horse! So there was some enlightened self interest there. But many other industrialists werent happy with Ford. And so it took a the radical Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America to start a campaign for it in 1929. The history of trade unions is such that this campaogn meant people would have been harrassed, fired, beaten up, and certainly frowned upon by some. There was a struggle for weekends to become normal. But then the depression hit and so industrialists gave in, because there wasnt the cash flow to warrant full production. The innovation in 2 day weekends then spread around the world due to international business, trade unions and the International Labour Organisation, which had been established in 1919. Thats why it was the international firms in Singapore were the ones who in past decades gave staff 2 day weekends not the 1 and a half that local firms gave until recently. So, the history of the weekend, a major social innovation, which enables you to be here right now, shows that social innovations are often messy. They come about because of fudges between institutional interests, some enlightened self interest of elites, often a lot of struggle and strife, and then champions and advocates – all types of action were involved in getting the 2 day weekend to become normal. In that process some people will have been praised, but its important to see how many people will have had to suffer in that process, at the very least, losing their job or losing approval of their parents or peers for being activists. Its a theme Ill return to.

I’ve been asked to say a few words on why get active on social issues. So why get active? Well, first up, because there’s issues. Second, because they arent being addressed in ways that will sort them out, mostly because they are being caused by the normal way we do things, think of things. Third, because u can achieve things if u choose to. Fourth, because when trying u will sometimes hurt and fail, and thats important in life. Fifth, because to be active on matters of the world is a normal way to be, its about being conscious, alive, connected and not boring. I act not to save the world, but to make my species seem worth saving and my life worth living.

So what are the problems out there? Im writing a new book and decided to shrink some issues down into one day, so produced some statistics. They’re a bit depressing. In the last 24 hours, 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest have been lost. In a day, over a million tonnes of toxic waste have been released into our environment. In just the last 24 hours, 98,000 people on our planet died of starvation, tens of thousands of them children. In one day, 137 species have been driven into extinction. These problems, these people, are calling out for our action.

The second reason to get active is because these problems are not being addressed in ways that will sort them out, mostly because they are being caused by the normal way we do things, think of things. Traditional ways of organising to address problems have been undermined by globalisation. Governments now focus on being competitive in international markets, and so look at that beyond other issues – social and environmental issues can only be afforded within that framework. This means leadership is often lacking. Our money systems mean that more cash gushes up to elites than trickles down to the many. We have market fundamentalism where everything is about making money. We have hyper modernism where anything new and techie is great, so we dont easily stop and question whats the purpose of our rushing around. We have a mass media thats jingoistic and superficial about its news, and is celebrity obsessed, so kids now want to be famous when they grow up – for whatever reason doesnt matter, they just want fame.

Then forms of action that have a strong tradition in many parts of the world – protest – dont seem to work anymore. A million people marched in London against the war in Iraq before it started and when Blair was still saying all we needed to do was put pressure on Saddam so war was not inevitable. People didnt believe it.. a million people.. we had not seen that before. But it achieved nothing. Its unclear whether online activism is much of a substitute. Its easy to say you like or dont like something, through a tweet or status update or clicking like, but its much harder to actually do something about it. So in that context we need to be much more imaginative and creative about how we act on social issues. Its not a lost cause because we are an ingeneous species, and can come up with new ways of acting.

Which is the third reason for getting active on social issues – because we can have an impact. And that is why Ive been asked here, having taken unusual paths to prompt some largescale changes. I left Uni and went to work for WWF UK immediately when I was 23, just slighly older than most of you. I joined the Forest Unit and worked with a group of companies that had committed to sourcing all their wood and wood products from sustainable forests. The group was key to developing market demand for a certification system for sustainable forests, which is called Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC. WWF had been pressuring governments to agree to do something about tropical deforestation for years, and hadnt got anywhere, so along with other NGOs they had turned their attention towards companies that were buying the products. Some NGOs attacked the companies, and WWF positioned itself as a partner to help the companies ensure their wood was from good sources. It was an open plan office, and a chap from the WWF International endangered seas campaign was there and was overhearing the work I was doing. We had a few lunches and decided to see if the same idea of certification could be applied to fisheries, and so I helped develop the concept for the Marine Stewardship Council or MSC. Today forests certified under the FSC framework are 134,595,610 hectares. 4,000 seafood products are now available with the MSC ecolabel, sold in over 60 countries around the world. I decided this was all rather important work, and so cowrote a book about it when I was 24 yrs old. That book got in the hands of the head of Kofi Annan’s office at the UN, and they decided to do the same thing at the UN, and created something called the UN Global Compact, which is the largest corporate responsibility initiative in the world now, with about 10000 members. I didnt play a useful role in these developments because im well connected, I wasnt, and didnt achieve things because im super organised, rather, other than luck, which is always important, I think its because im a bit odd – Im rather fanatical about what I do. Although I was fairly shy back then, when it came to my views on what was wrong and how we need to act, I was very bold. But that is a double edged sword.

I got sacked from WWF. I ruffled feathers and didnt play the long game. I was always thinking about how could our impact be maximised. And always wondering about whether the NGO was being compromised. I wasnt in there to get on, it didnt occur to me. I saw that the size of the group of companies that were working to buy wood from sustainable sources was limited by the resources of wwf, which were basically me and an older consultant, who had a background in Shell. It had been an interesting career change for him. He was working 3 days a week from home and managed the membership of 40 something companies. I didnt think it would be right for the companies to pay fees to WWF to cover the costs of membership, as this would compromise the independence of WWF. But I didnt think the group should not grow. I thought we should go to a thousand companies, why not? So, I suggested to my colleagues we accredit an independent consultancy to run the group, and deal with the companies, and that WWF would inspect the operations of that consultancy to ensure the standards were being upheld. The consultancy could charge a fee per member company. This was one in a number of ideas that I was putting forward, way beyond my station as a lowly newby doing data support and analysis. As Id been doing the WWF International work on the MSC I was probably a little cocky about my ideas. Because I didnt have a personal agenda I was confident in my views being good for the organisation. Well, the older consultant didnt like this from me, I was becoming a worry for him. He liked his part time job with a small group of companies. So maybe thats why he exploded one day over something very minor, and then said to our boss he couldnt work with me anymore. The boss, an ambitious guy, always travelling, much younger than the consultant, had bigger things to focus on, didnt get involved to sort it out, so fixed the problem by letting me go. Maybe that was the best decision for him and the project given other priorities. At the time it energised me even further, and I set up a consultancy and wrote the book and various articles that then helped the wider movement of corporate responsibility.

Change isnt always easy or funky. Even creatives say that. Francis Ford Copolla, the famous movie director, says the best work you do will get you attacked the most, and probably fired. The same things that made me succeed also made me fail. But thats the fourth reason to get involved in social change – to push things as far as you can until you fail. Because you need to fail in other peoples eyes sometimes to be part of a movement of people creating something new. You have to be able to take risks, not do this for your own advancement but for a bigger cause. And set backs teach you and energise you. But I do wonder whether that set back may have energised me TOO much, and made me even more fanatical about creating change, putting the other aspects of my life, and other people, to the background. Thats something you have to watch for as you get passionate about a cause.

The fifth reason to be active on matters of the world is that is a normal way to be, its about being conscious, alive, connected and not boring. I act not to save the world, but to make my species seem worth saving and my life worth living. I say that because we dont know if its too late with cliamte change. Its most likely too late for us to avoid major suffering. Unfortunately because pride and profit have shaped our response we have launched an approach to climate policy which is fundamentally flawed, called carbon markets, and will take another 5 to 10 years to be more widely accepted for the nonsense that it is. So Im not in this field with a goal attachment – save X species, stop climate change, and then go on holiday. Its about being fully engaged in life, and learning along the way. Ive had to face up to how things I considered successes might even be failures. For example, despite those grand stats I mentioned, less than 12% of global forestry is part of any certification scheme, and it has been a massive distraction for forest campaigners from other activities to try and prevent deforestation. Were we misguided? What could have been achieved if we had put all that time an effort into another approach? We dont know, but we have to keep asking the questions, and unless we do that courageously, rather than in a way that seeks to justify our selves, our choices, our nice lifestyles, then we are not really engaged in social change, we are just profiting from others concerns for that.

Change requires trouble makers. The world isnt so sorted, people havent got all the answers. So its ok to cause a little trouble sometimes. After all, that’s probably what got you your weekend, so we can be here now, working out how to push things forward some more, meeting social needs in innovative ways.

Deepening Luxury in Delhi

Im just about to leave India after an amazing month. The International Herald Tribune conference last week was inspiring, and for me very affirming. Feedback from Christian Blanckaert, Laurent Claquin, Suzy Menkes and Anna Zegna, among others, about the impact of the report Deeper Luxury on their own work was wonderful to hear. Theyre all doing what they can to promote sustainable luxury. The transcript of my presentation follows. I was taking a bit of a risk, a Britisher going to India and leading an audience in a group reflection/meditation, but the reaction was positive (or those with a negative reaction were too polite to tell me!).

To follow up I wrote a piece in the local business paper, and an article in NYT and IHT mentions the talk.

Deeper Luxury, Presentation by Jem Bendell at the International Herald Tribune conference on Sustainable Luxury, Imperial Hotel, Delhi, India, March 26th 2009.

“Despite the difficulties, the choice of India and of sustainable luxury as the conference theme now has a feeling of serendipity about it, doesn’t it?

Since the IHT made their bold choice, we have seen dramatic events, both here and abroad. What does an economic collapse and a terrorist attack have to do with sustainable luxury? If sustainability is about how we live our lives and what we work for, then they are very relevant, because we must employ our best talents to make our world a better place, whatever our line of work.

India is probably the richest country in the world, in the truest sense of the word rich. Yet it is one beset by massive social and environmental challenges. Coming here to collectively imagine what luxury and sustainability might offer each other, is as important now as it ever was. So thank you IHT for organising what could be a watershed in the luxury industry, and perhaps, if we make it so, an important moment in the sustainability movement.

I’m here because of a report I produced in 2007 for the environmental group WWF. In Deeper Luxury, we mapped out the sustainability challenge and the reasons why luxury brands could do a lot more, ranked companies and provided some examples and tips, as well as a charter for responsible brand endorsement by celebrities. The report took off around the world. I even ended up in Tatler; a dubious indicator of success for an environmentalist. But today I wont go into the report. Instead I’ll say some things about the heart and the head of sustainable luxury management in light of rapid changes. I hope to allay any lingering doubts you may have about sustainability being the future of luxury, rather than just a passing fad.

At its most basic sustainability is about people being in harmony with nature, eachother and ourselves. As our societies have developed, our work and ways of living have had both a positive and negative impact on that harmony. You have likely heard that before. But right now I’d like us to take a moment to sense what restoring that harmony could feel like. You may find it helpful if you close your eyes for the next few moments.

So, now with you eyes shut, try to recall a moment when you think you won an argument, or clinched a deal, or got promoted. Think of how it felt.

Next, try to recall a moment when you were in nature, perhaps looking at a sunset, or where you completely lost yourself in the moment of something you enjoy doing. Try to taste that feeling.

Now contrast it with the first – the feeling generated within you when you won out on something.

Consider whether that first feeling is one of self-promotion – a worldly feeling, while the second feeling comes from your soul.

This is a reflection recommended to us by Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest who hailed from Mumbai, and integrated Eastern and Western philosophies.

He says the worldly feelings are not really natural. I quote “they were invented by your society and your culture to make you productive and to make you controllable. These feelings do not produce the nourishment and happiness that is produced when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. They were meant to provide thrills, excitement – and emptiness.”

He suggests we are weighed down by these worldly motivations for approval, popularity, and power. He is suggesting that, actually, less can be more, and “I” can become “we”. That is also a sustainability message. Because sustainability is not so much a challenge out there, but in here. It comes down to how conscious we are in our work. A sustainable luxury industry will flow from a sustainable luxury profession of people inspired by creating things and experiences that generate well-being for everyone involved, and restoring the biological diversity and balance of our planet.

Fear often holds us back from living and working in full consciousness. In our work on corporate responsibility in the luxury sector, there is a nagging fear that there is something fundamentally contradictory between luxury and sustainability. Some fear that we cant do that much, particularly given the current economic situation and the limited awareness of consumers in key growth markets.

One way to calm that fear, is to realise how greater social and environmental responsibility can often be a cost saver and a driver of innovation. That is what we sought to do in the WWF report. This morning I want to go further, and address four conundrums facing the industry that can hold us back from engaging fully, soulfully, in sustainability. So far I’ve only heard them expressed in quiet conversation by people who are aware of the challenge but not sure of how this sector can really deliver.

In hearing reassurances about the financial sustainability of brands and luxury groups we have been reminded of the strength of the Asian market. Their economies are still growing, middle classes expanding, and fashion consciousness rising. The difficulty I’ve been told about by some executives is that such consumers are not aware of social and environmental aspects of brands and don’t really care. In the past year, new market research points to a wave of environmental awareness sweeping through Asia.

Research done by some WPP agencies, found that Chinese consumers now see the environment as a higher priority than do their US and UK counterparts. 69 percent of the Chinese respondents said that they expected to spend more on environmentally friendly products in the coming year.

The graph on the screen is from the French agency IFOP, showing levels of concern assessed in June last year. It also shows emerging market consumers concerns are higher in Brazil, China and India. More unpacking and interrogating of the nature of this concern is required to gauge its relevance for corporate strategy, but it shows the awareness is now there.

Consumer awareness takes time to translate into consumer behaviour, because we cant chose what doesn’t exist, or behave differently when we are unclear about our options. As the connections are made between what we buy and the environment we live in, the commercial implications are huge. So it is time to empower the consumer with the right information and better choices. So the first conundrum is not so real.

At a global level some analysts say the world has lost almost half its wealth since September. The crisis is real and scary. As someone running a small consultancy, we have lost one major client already. My company also works on sustainable finance, and worked on a project which consulted with finance professionals in over dozen countries. The insight from this is that the current crisis is not something that will be “got through” before a return to “normal”. Instead, it marks a major shift in global power. At root it is a Western financial crisis. The impacts will not only be financial, but also cultural, impacting on the status of the West, and on consumer culture. The implications for luxury are therefore deeper than our immediate concerns about profit and loss.

Many of us here work in enterprises that are the very best at what we do, whether that’s watch making, boat building, resort management, and so on. The crafts themselves may be excellent, and the sincerity and quality discussed yesterday morning very real. But what groups us together in this room as “luxury” is not so much that excellence, but consumer perceptions of what “luxury” means and our need to understand how to continue to appeal to the consumer of “luxury” as much as the consumer of our particular product or service. If there ever was such a thing as a luxury industry, then it is now endangered, because of the economic situation. More people are thinking twice about any discretionary spending. They are questioning the true value of what they buy, and how it appears to others at a time of increasing hardship. The ability and motivation to buy what is, to some, unnecessarily expensive, will therefore decline. In such a context, luxury must become something meaningful and lasting, providing the most enduring products and experiences to consumers.

Therefore the economic crisis is ushering in a fundamental change in world power and consumer values that moves social and environmental excellence from an option to a category-defining dimension of luxury brands.

The social legitimacy of luxury becomes more challenging in situations of extreme inequality and absolute poverty. Within sustainability there is a principle of fairness and social equity. Some people consider that luxury involves excess, so it could never be moral while there is poverty. That’s quite a conundrum.

If you visit the Taj Mahal this weekend you will not be that far from the border with Madhya Pradesh. If you travel on, UNICEF says that in some villages 6 out of every 10 children you will see are malnourished, like these children, pictured a few months ago.

It’s natural to block out this other reality as we enjoy our own privilege. Because many of us dont know what to do about it.

The two world’s collided last week when the two Slumdog child actors from Mumbai’s slums fronted a fashion show. The success and subject matter of the Slumdog film has raised debates about poverty and child protection, and the role and responsibility of the creative industries, like film. One response to this situation is charity. Designers Ashima and Leena announced last week that a new Jai Ho Foundation will support children like Rubina and Azahruddin.

If done well, charity can help. But it rarely addresses root causes. In my 10 years as a consultant to the UN on development issues I have been constantly reminded of one thing. People with low incomes do not want our charity, but their dignity and opportunity – which basically means good education, a safe environment and decent work. Just like ourselves, no one appreciates pity. But solidarity and support is always welcome.

The economy of Madyha Pradesh has been booming but it doesnt trickle down well unless you have responsible businesses buying from responsible businesses. Therefore the best way to reduce inequality and poverty is for the products and services we make to provide decent work throughout the value chain.

To illustrate I’ll mention one breakthrough British luxury brand. For several years jeweller and anthropologist Pippa Small has been designing jewellery made by fair trade groups. Her range for Nicole Fahri’s store in New Bond Street is produced by a group of slum-dwellers in Nairobi using discarded brass and recycled glass. The product line is helping ensure the workers’ children go to school, has funded a crèche, is teaching them computing skills, and shows them how to run a business. Pippa believes the reason the Farhi range sells so well is, I quote, “because people feel good wearing jewellery that is doing some good, as opposed to exploiting people”. But she also notes that, I quote again, “buyers in big stores often don’t get it. They think that jewellery made in slums equals something horrible and dirty, rather than seeing that giving people skills offers them an opportunity to get out of there.”

I was pleased to find out last night that there are some similar innovations occuring in the high end fashion sector here in India. The brand Bombay Electric are working with WomenWeave, to source materials from women working in villages, so that high end fashion can promote social development.

So we need not ignore. We need not feel guilty. Neither actually helps. Instead, the conundrum can be resolved if luxury comes to embody a fullness of our ability to live in solidarity with everyone we influence. Its ambitious. But are luxury brands not always ambitious?

The last conundrum I’ll explore here is sustainable consumption. Luxury brands are promoting consumerism in countries at a time when we need to reduce consumption in order to avert a climate catastrophe.

We only have one planet don’t we. Yet some aspire to live as if we have 5. If everyone lived like Americans we would need 5 planets of biological resources to support us. But it’s not simply a Western binge. Estimates put Malaysia at 4 planet lifestyles, Dubai at 10. Some research suggests the Indian middle classes now have a carbon footprint higher than the average Briton. The impacts are profound. For thousands of years the river Ganges has been revered. The Himalayan glacier that feeds it is shrinking by 40 meters a year, meaning it could disappear altogether in 20 years, and with it the Ganges in the dry season. Water is precious, to some it can be sacred. The shirts on our backs each took a few thousand litres of water to create. If we cherished them more, we would use less water. As well as less energy and other resources. To cut carbon emissions we have to reduce our consumption of resources. We only have about 10 years to transform our development so we don’t tip the world into catastrophic climate change. If you don’t believe it, you’ve been living in a bubble, and need to read your Herald Tribune.

Some of us are here to work out how better to sell Western brands into this highly complex market. Key to that is promoting a consumer fashion culture in a country where style traditions are centuries old and slow to change. Yet we know our world can’t cope with another billion embracing unbridled consumerism and a throwaway society. It would be an epic tragedy for some of our brightest minds to work on that, at a time when we need their talent to create a sustainable future.

What’s the answer? Become the best. Offer the best environmental option. Luxury brands have the margin and mandate to create the most environmentally friendly products and services. Yesterday Anna Zegna gave you some real examples, as will Stella in a moment. The great thing about luxury brands is that the way consumers relate to them actually prefigures the way we need consumers to relate to all their products. To look after them, to repair them, to see them as becoming vintage not garbage.

So let’s not be pale green, seeking to reduce our environmental impact a little to protect our reputation. That would be understandable, but it wouldn’t be real luxury. Instead, lets seek to create products and services that are actually environmentally restorative. So that by buying them people help the environment. One example is the UN’s Biotrade initiative, which is working with brands to develop skins and other products that create new revenues to pay for the conservation of species and their ecosystems.

Once we have created environmentally restorative products and services, then lets integrate that into the marketing and advertising of them in new markets, to help guide that wave of environmental awareness into more beneficial environmental behaviours. We have the power to shape aspirations and can use it wisely.

My intention in addressing these issues has been to release possible blockages to you being in flow in your your work and life. Because sustainability must start with us.

I am here because I believe that luxury can lead, not lag, in the transition to a fair and sustainable world. Its designers, entrepreneurs and executives can become part of what I term in my new book, The Corporate Responsibility Movement – A movement that is pursuing a transition to a fair and sustainable economy through new approaches to enterprise.

Together with the luxury brands Timothy Han and EcoBoudoir, as well as the UN Biotrade initiative, and luxury marketing expert Marco Bevolo, we are creating an association to support this transition. The Authentic Luxury Association gives you the opportunity to become an expert in the strategic importance of social and environmental excellence, as well as its operational implications. Already over 200 luxury professionals have joined our online network, which you can find at

We need not be confounded by this time of global stress, but work towards a new form of luxury that embodies what is personally, socially and environmentally the best of human creativity. The reflection from the late Anthony de Mello helps us see that at this time of strife, our world needs from us simply what we need for ourselves: o be authentic, soulful and purposeful. So thank you, for being, simply, you.”


Links to the video of the talk will be posted there.

No (Luxury) Logo

When I saw a video of designer Tom Ford saying last week that he doesn’t have a logo in his menswear collection, it reminded me of Naomi Klein’s book No Logo. That might seem like a weird connection to make between an ex Gucci luxury designer and a famed anti-capitalist. In that book Klein wasn’t criticising the power of marketing and brands so much as the exploitative economic system they so effectively hide. Marketing is communication, and involves finding out what peoples needs are. And brands? We have used symbols since we walked upright. If brand marketing can promote awareness of the realities of production and trade then thats a good thing, because it’s our consumption habits that are chewing up people and planet and have to change. Its just got to be done authentically. That was one of the ideas behind the luxury industry project I worked on during 07 for WWF-UK. They spend the most on advertising and are the most aspirational brands… so if they could be the most sustainably and responsibly produced, traded, distributed, advertised and used, conscious consumption might spread further and faster. What follows is the press release put out by my company today on the reaction to the report so far…

Media Response to WWF-UK Report on Luxury Brands Could Be Tipping Point for the Industry.

(Media Update, Thursday 6th December 2007, Lifeworth, Geneva, Switzerland)
Last week over fifty newspapers and magazines from Britain, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Switzerland reported on the corporate responsibility of the world’s largest holding companies of luxury brands. For the first time they had been ranked on their ethical performance in the report Deeper Luxury: Quality and Style When the World Matters, which was published by environmental group WWF-UK. The news went ‘viral’ through trade journals and blogs on fashion, jewelry, and celebrities.
The report “could herald a huge change in the way global luxury brands operate,” states Fashion UK.(1) “The luxury goods industry looks like it’s having its own Nike moment,” suggests UN corporate reporting expert Dr Anthony Miller, referring to the mid-90’s criticism of labour practices in Nike’s supply chain that made the company invest heavily in its corporate responsibility programme. Within days, reported that “PPR Group commits to improving sustainability” as a result of the publication.(2)
Leading industry executives speaking at the International Herald Tribune (IHT) conference on luxury, in Moscow, on the day of the report’s launch, portrayed a growing awareness of the importance of ethical performance. Laurence Graff, chairman of Graff Diamonds, and Yves Carcelle, chairman and chief executive of Louis Vuitton, spoke positively of their company’s responsibilities. However, in Conde Nast, Lauren Goldstein Crowe contrasted “the words v. the reality,” citing the WWF-UK report as an opportunity for needed leadership on this agenda (3). Not surprising then that IHT had earlier refused an offer to launch the report at their conference. The newspaper did not feature the report, with the international business coverage being scooped by Vanessa Friedman at the Financial Times.(4)
“Press coverage has focused on the ranking, and on what these companies are failing to do right for the environment,” noted WWF-UK’s Anthony Kleanthous in The Guardian. “However, the main thrust of the report looks to a future in which the very definition of luxury deepens to include not only technical and aesthetic quality, but also environmental and social responsibility,” says the co-author of the report.(5) The longest chapter in the report focuses on the business reasons why that new approach to luxury is commercially viable. “We examined key commercial challenges facing the industry and found that greater depth and authenticity is a strategic response to many of them,” explains Dr. Jem Bendell of Lifeworth Consulting, the responsible enterprise consultancy contracted by WWF-UK to manage the research project and co-write the report.

“Modern technology means that what’s on the catwalk today can be copied and in the shops tomorrow, so brands need to offer something deeper than purely appearance. The same goes for counterfeiting.” says Bendell. “Sales growth in societies with high social inequality means that luxury brands face a crisis of legitimacy and a regulatory backlash, so their products will need to benefit the local economy with good jobs. The increasingly youthful profile of luxury consumers means luxury brands need to find ways to build in value to casual fashion items, without making them non-casual, with sustainability and ethics an obvious approach,” he explains. “The increasing availability of luxury items means that brands must find new ways of maintaining their cachet, rather than relying on the memory they were once scarce and exclusive. Deeper luxury is the strategic answer to all these challenges.”
Also an Associate Professor of at Griffith Business School in Australia, Dr. Bendell stresses the need for a paradigm shift in corporate strategy: “Consumer awareness should no longer be assumed as the only commercial driver for ethical excellence. Though counter-intuitive to traditional corporate strategists, this shift in thinking is fundamental to the contemporary business environment of global communications, where successful brands are behaving more like social movements.”

Tom Ford, the former Gucci top designer said on the eve of the report’s publication that “we need to replace hollow with deep.”(3) Ford’s business instinct rather than telepathy is key, according to Bendell. “There’s no one better than Tom Ford for spotting trends in consumer mood. The report details a variety of strategic commercial imperatives for deeper luxury. If executives don’t get it, that could be because they’ve had it so good for so long and have become complacent.”

At the IHT conference Tom Ford explained his emphasis on depth means that his own clothing label does not carry – a label. “In the report we explain that ‘no logo luxury’ is a growing trend that responds to consumers’ desire for authenticity as well as responding to the availability of counterfeits,” says Dr Bendell. If luxury is having its ‘Nike moment’, then “executives could do well to hire expert advice on the stages of corporate response to social challenges over the past 10 years, to learn from the experience of others,” says Sao-Paulo based sustainable enterprise advisor Roland Widmer. “Lifeworth is working with research and consulting partners to offer solutions to those executives in the luxury industry who really believe in achieving social and environmental excellence as part of the identity of luxury brands” says Dr Bendell.

And what of the reaction? “Some executives might be stung by the coverage, and some environmentalists confused,” notes Lala Rimando of the Authentic Luxury Network. “But WWF-UK should be applauded for sticking its neck out by publishing this report” says the Manila-based business journalist and consultant. “The scale of the environmental challenge is so great and pressing, and the reach of NGOs into Asian societies currently so limited, that if the brands that affluent Asians love can excel in sustainability, then awareness of sustainable living may grow in emerging economies fast enough to offer a chance of curbing global consumption and pollution within environmental limits.”
Lifeworth has launched the Authentic Luxury Network to bring together executives, designers, analysts and entrepreneurs who want to lead the creation of more sustainable and ethical luxury ( The company has also launched a site for people to keep up to date with celebrity reaction to the report and its proposal of a Star Charter for responsible brand endorsement (

Dr Jem Bendell will be presenting his analysis on the future of luxury at seminars in Singapore (in January 08), Manila (February 08), Brisbane Gold Coast (April 08), Dubai and Geneva (May 08). To be invited email luxury(at) In addition, a few places are available at a CSR Geneva dinner on sustainable luxury on December 10th 2007 (email tiago.pintopereira(at)
To download the report:

To contact Lifeworth Consulting:





Press coverage of the report includes:
FT Online

Tribune de Geneve


The Telegraph

What’s an NGO to do?

Around the world entrepreneurs are saying they can end poverty and save us from climate change, while turning a profit. Meanwhile politicians are often saying more radical things about wellbeing, quality of life, and a new direction for humanity than most mainstream NGOs. And recently the mass media and entertainment worlds aren’t ignoring the seriousness of key social and environmental challenges. In such circumstances what is an NGO to do? Over the last 20 years we have seen more advocacy from NGOs who recognised you couldn’t end child labour or tropical deforestation project by project, one factory or forest concession at a time, and so sought to influence government, intergovernmental and private sector policies. Perhaps the current responses, at least at the rhetorical level, indicate some success with advocacy by ‘global civil society’. Yet some suggest it means charities should step aside, because they aren’t competent to work at technical levels of implementation on issues like financing, auditing, and good governance. Many NGO people have agreed, perhaps, with their feet, by joining businesses, consulting firms and financial institutions.

It’s time for NGOs to work out their new niche. Some are nervously moving back towards a charity mentality of saying to people “give us some cash and we will feed those people or protect this animal”, or asset stripping their own brand through big bucks partnerships with companies that don’t address how the corporations internal practices worsen the problem the NGO is meant to be solving. This isn’t the way. Instead, its time to be more ambitious and more systemic. To see how the new interest from business and government can be leveraged for broader and deeper change. To try out new ways of solving problems and propose fundamentally different ways of organising things. Unfortunately lots of senior managers in NGOs don’t see that, or are scared of it. Some seem almost scared of their members, worrying that being more ambitious might upset them, lose them. Others just don’t have time for any creative ideas, as they are busy with time sapping form-filling to demonstrate to big donors how they’ve been good at following proper procedures. All this promotes a culture that doesn’t want to risk failure, and settles for projects that can help tick the boxes for funders. “The revolution will not be funded”, as Incite aptly put it in their book published in April.

This was the basic thinking about the need for new NGO approaches which I brought to my work with WWF-UK, as a senior strategic advisor to their work on business, trade, finance and international development. At the start the crucial thing for me was to work out ways for WWF to leverage other sectors, which have a lot more power than even the world’s largest environmental NGO, to transform markets so they function in ways that create more just and sustainable outcomes. Going back to the old model of merely moaning about stuff wasn’t an option. Engaging other organisations to reduce barriers and create incentives for systemic change was my main aim. Yet seeking to engage organisations poses its own set of conundrums. It’s key for an NGO not to fall into the trap of being a cheap consultant to industry or government, or get access by selling out the brand to a ‘partner’. And it’s key to have a strategy rather than just get hooked on a particular method or tactic. We shouldn’t think that partnership with a company or a company attending our meeting is a sign of success. It ain’t. Change is. Too many NGOs think you chose just one club to play a round of golf. Nasty reports and column inches – thats the 7 iron. Stakeholder dialogue and happy reports – thats the putter. But the clubs aren’t the game. You have to respond to the terrain. And so what is that terrain? Its society, stupid. So, NGOs have to get more savvy with their understanding of what society is and how it changes. I have a simplified model in my head based on integrating some insights from extremely boring social and political texts about things with pompous names like structuration theory and neo institutional theory. I see society as about people interacting with things and each other in ways that can be helpfully describe in 4 categories: assumptions, beliefs or norms, rules and resources. It’s a bit farcical that often people in the social change profession don’t have a sense of the terrain or a strategy for changing it. It leads to people becoming addicts of a particular approach, thinking that working only on values, or only on new ideas, or only on regulatory reform, or only through dialogue and networks, or only through protest, is the way. Dumb…. which wouldn’t be any of my business except when they take up scarce resources in organisations that should be innovating change.

Is this all easier said than done? Yep. But one way to illustrate what I’m saying is to give examples of the projects I helped set up at WWF, before I returned to Lifeworth Consulting.

  1. Stopping stupid lobbying: I worked with SustainAbility and Blueprint to shape up a project that would look at whether investors are asking companies to be coherent and progressive with their public affairs and lobbying activities. The aim being to encourage this in the investment world and thus in the corporate world and hence reduce the short termist and ideological crap we hear from some companies and trade associations on needed regulatory innovations to promote more long term real value creation (not just a derivatives bubble). And promote good lobbying too, like some are doing on climate change. The report has come out this week “Coming In from the Cold” and a range of follow up activity is being planned with investors who get the idea we need to see companies supporting value creation across an economy, not externalising costs onto other companies in their same portfolio. See for more info and talk to Seb Beloe there. Great clarity and style.. just like the head honcho.
  2. Getting money where it’s needed: I created a partnership with UNEP Finance Initiative to explore how to reduce the risks of investing in SMEs in the global South, and make it easier to do so. If we come up with ways of using philanthropic and government schemes to then leverage billions of dollars of private funds into clean tech in Africa which also creates lots of jobs and cash into the local economy then Ill be happy. So Im pleased to still be working as a consultant on this project. We even generated 40K funding from the Geneva government and then got nominated for a prize… already ( See for more info on our event on September 26th 07 and talk to Inderpreet Chawla there. A real spiritual warrior bridging the consciousness of his “rustic” Indian upbringing with global IT, finance and UN life. Love also to Jen Morgan, Andrew Gaines and Oliver Karius for helping bring this project to life.
  3. Getting corporate lobbying on the agenda in India: With the deputy director of UNRISD, Peter Utting, we devised a project researching how Indian firms are lobbying state and federal government and the implications for sustainable development. This will end up as a programme paper sent free to academics around the world, and hopefully some decent media coverage in India in order to put this issue on the agenda. Then, perhaps, once everyone has the info, we can help Indians to stop stupid lobbying in their own country, and promote more transparent and accountable lobbying. After all, what happens in a country with about 17% of the worlds population is more important than what happens in a country with about 1% (India vs UK). UNRISD are hosting a conference on these issues in November 07 in Geneva. See for more info. Your contact there is Peter Utting, a rare species in the UN system… which one? Perhaps an elephant… big brain, long memory, higher view, and always returning to the same ground of basic truths about power and democracy… so needed amongst a flock of sheep.
  4. Getting iconic brands and celebs to promote sustainability in emerging markets: The world needs sustainable consumption to become sexy in Asia, and fast. Otherwise we will all be stuffed by an inflationary resource crunch and climate chaos. What to do when NGOs really aren’t very sexy or known in much of Asia? Encourage iconic brands, celebrities and the mass media to do the job. So, one sector that is powerful in shaping aspirations, and using a lot of celebrities and advertising, is the luxury industry. Fortunately it’s also a sector known by decision making elites in very hierarchical societies. So, we have been looking at commercial reasons why the luxury industry might want to become champions of sustainability, and then how to engage celebrities with that. I’m pleased to be leading this project now with Lifeworth. We will launch our report on the future of luxury in November 07, along with an industry initiative bringing together those in the sector who want to lead change. More information will be coming soon at The chap championing this now at WWF is sustainable brands guru Anthony Kleanthous. Got even more style than Seb. Whatever do they teach them on that environmental course at Imperial? But if you think you can help with this project, please contact the much less stylish me.
  5. Enabling more transformative partnerships: Sometimes partnerships between business and NGOs are piecemeal and hinder not help broader change. Its time for a greater focus on partnering to achieve change not just within the partners but within wider society including market frameworks. So I created a project with the UN System Staff College who teach UN and NGOs and business people around the world about partnering, which is looking at the last ten years of learning on partnering and will provide strategic planning tools to help people plan more transformative partnerships. I’m glad to be putting in some pro bono work to co write the final report, which should be out by November 07. Hmm… that month is beginning to look a bit hectic. Your contact at is Dr Partnership himself, David Murphy, a man who taught me how to write and helped launch my crazy portfolio career.
  6. Enabling more big picture planning by NGOs: All those projects are external, but there is also an internal need in WWF to help the staff be strategic in their planning… and to work towards deeper and broader change. I thought systems science would be useful for this so brought in systems illustrator Rupesh Shah to help people with this approach and come up with some tools. Ajay Barai at WWF-UK is your contact for that project. A man who puts the echo into eco tourism if the photos of his bar nights at his own resort in Tioman are anything to go by: Was there in April…. wow…


jem in tioman april 07

For me all these projects are about promoting sustainable international development. But you won’t read anything about this kind of work in the development journals at the UN where I work as a Visiting Fellow. It’s as if the development profession prefer to think non westerners have only livelihoods not lifestyles, and that to promote a just and sustainable form of world development you’ve got to fly somewhere hot and poor like a modern day missionary… or perhaps tourist with ‘refined’ tastes.

I was only working with WWF part time and had to do lots of form filling and internal blah, as well as deal with the helicopter tragedy and then restructuring (see blog posting in September 06), so didn’t get to work more with them on public policy issues, responsible mass media, emerging markets, or business education reform. On the latter issue I’m pleased to be working with the Globally Responsible Leaders Initiative in my role as Associate Professor of Griffith Business School. The aim is to promote a transformation in business education offered by business schools. i.e. the institutions that too often turn out hardnosed hard hearted management robots. Lots of work to be done there then. See

If you are interested in this issue of how NGOs can carve out a new niche in their advocacy and bring a new level of professionalism to their social change work, let me know. The project I’m doing with UNRISD is looking at how NGOs work through networks to influence policy. Im planning on integrating the findings from this, the UNSSC Partnerships work, and my internal strategy advisory work at WWF, into an NGO strategic planning 1 day workshop. I will offer this in Australia in March 08 and London and/or Geneva in May 08. Ill be presenting some of the initial ideas to the strategy group of Global Action Networks Net in Geneva in November 07. See and your contact there is the effervescent Steve Waddell. He’s the Pope of new international community organising. Or perhaps the Madonna.

If I can Make it There (by video), I’ll make it Anywhere…

I’ve never been to New York. I even lived in America, but never made it to the 2nd largest financial centre in the world (London rules). So an invitation to launch my new UN report at the UN HQ was great. Kinda. I had just been in the pub with a colleague from WWF talking about climate change and his concerns about flying. It’s the fastest growing form of carbon pollution, and by making it far easier to whiz around great distances it means we maintain personal and work relations over greater distances… and so lock ourselves into a new pattern of pollution. Argh! I couldn’t go and launch my book on ‘NGO accountability’ and in the process add more crap into the atmosphere… I’m working with WWF, for God’s sake.

UN Launch

Already at +0.6 degrees, human-caused Climate Change is causing water and food shortages, increased storm damage, and river bank erosion, leading to millions more refugees. Hundreds of thousands of plants and animals are now under threat of extinction. Scientists say we have to keep climate change below 2 degrees otherwise it will go beyond our control. That will require a halving of global carbon emissions in the next 2 decades, which means that people like us (presuming you are in the consumer class) have to cut our emissions by over 2 thirds right now.

Yes, that’s unlikely. Especially when much of our emissions come from products from companies whose actions we don’t directly control. Which means our current form of civilisation is unlikely to see out this century. So why bother? Two reasons. First, we have to try, and if we slow the pace of damage the suffering will be less. Second, because I want us to be worth saving. There are various sides to the human character, we are all saints and sinners in different ways at different times. I have a hope that the loving, caring, thoughtful side of human character is our defining one. Climate change is a symptom of us losing touch with who we are, as part of nature, and results from the desire to consume stuff, as if more stuff makes us who we are. With this view, the means for combating climate change also become the ends.

This is not to say there are difficult balances to be struck. Some blithely say “my work to save the world offsets my emissions”. In some cases they may be right…. but whether someone’s policy or advocacy work stops tonnes of carbon being tipped into the air is impossible to judge, by them or anyone else. And the time and effort to work it out would be a wasteful exercise. To make the right decisions about this people need to understand the challenge, and be working on this for the right reasons. No flight is essential. But there are also other ways to reduce your own carbon emissions such as not running a car or keeping your heating down. Ultimately, personal lifestyle change is not the whole solution. I could fall under a bus and reduce my emissions to zero, but that wouldn’t change climate change one bit. We need major changes from industry and government to meet the challenge. But living more lightly and consciously on this planet is consistent with a demand for systemic change from business and government, not a replacement for it.

It’s for this interest in the way to live that I worked on NGO accountability. I think debates about accountability could help NGO staff to connect with a common purpose in promoting collective benefit. It’s time for NGOs to begin describing themselves not in terms of what they are not (such as non-governmental and not-for-profit), but in terms of what they are commonly for. There’s many ways to describe this common ethic, which is about expressing oneself in ways that help rather than hinder others’ expression, and the basis for all of Life’s expression – our planet. I also hope that by engaging in questions of accountability, NGOs will become clearer about issues of power, given how unaccountable power in society underlies many social and environmental problems that NGOs address.

To get a grip of accountability, we need to be clear on the type and means. There is bad type of accountability. “I was just following orders” they say in war crimes trials. But there is a good form of accountability to the intended beneficiaries of our work, and others we affect in helping them, if they have less power than those beneficiaries. In my dossier I call this ‘democratic accountability’, which is a situation where people affected by decisions or indecisions can affect them. An organisation can either promote or hinder democratic accountability by i) helping hold powerful organisations to account to those they affect ii) so long as when doing this they are accountable to affected 3rd parties with less power iii) so long as those 3rd parties are accountable in the same way. Once that bigger picture is established of the type of accountability needed, then we have to focus on the means. Too much has been done in this field that is about binding us up with paper and reports, or creating new hierarchies of reporting to people who don’t know how to be agents of downwards accountability. Instead, effective accountability processes need to encourage people to connect with their sense of purpose, be reminded of it, encouraged to explore it and what it means, to be clear on the WHY not just what and how. So I’m pleased at WWF a colleague of mine has launched a project on what the organisations beliefs are. That’s more important than additional form filling.

Last week I had lunch with someone from an international environmental organisation comprised of NGOs and governments, and she said they only just had video conferencing installed – and she didn’t even know where it was. As I walked out through their car park full of 4x4s, I thought if organisational accountability is seen in terms of paper, not people, and doesn’t encourage us to be more authentic and reflective in our work, then it will hinder us in meeting the challenges we face.

Thanks Elisa and NGLS for making it possible for me to walk the talk. As ol blue eyes almost sang… New York, New York, If I can make it there (by video), I’ll make it anywhere…

The UN webcast of the launch is at:

The report is at:

The UN did their own press release, edited version follows:

As NGOs Multiply, Study Urges More Public Scrutiny, by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 22 (IPS) – Just after the coastal regions of South and Southeast Asia were devastated by a disastrous tsunami in December 2004, hundreds of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) descended on Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives armed with relief supplies — and good intentions.

The massive humanitarian effort, according to a new study, was “testimony to the skills and power of many NGOs.”

“But it also heightened concerns about opportunities for the misuse and abuse of humanitarian funds,” says the 102-page report, titled “Debating NGO Accountability”, released here.

Within months, says the study, there were complaints in Sri Lanka about corruption in aid distribution, and the lack of strong political will on the part of the government to address the challenge. A series of about 30 articles in U.S. newspapers also raised the issue of ethical failures — including “sky-high salaries of top executives and expenses for offices, travel and perks” — while disputing the motives of some of the so-called humanitarian missions. “They highlighted conflicts of interest, failures to adhere to an organisation’s mission, questionable fundraising practices, and a lack of transparency,” says Dr. Jem Bendell, author of the study, which was commissioned by the U.N. NGO Liaison Service (NGLS).

Tony Hill, coordinator of NGLS, points out that the heads of 11 leading human rights, environmental and social development international organisations publicly endorsed the first global accountability charter in June last year — perhaps as a result of the increasing number of scandals involving charitable organisations. The organisations that signed the Charter included ActionAid International, Oxfam International, Amnesty International, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Transparency International and Save the Children Alliance….

However, Bendell, an associate professor at Griffith University Business School in Australia and director of the consulting firm Lifeworth, argues that “accountability” in itself is not simply a good thing, as it so often assumed. Rather, he says, it must be clear that groups must be accountable specifically to those that are affected by their decisions and actions. It is this concept of “democratic accountability” that lies at the heart of the study, and will allow NGOs to continue to develop as effective and important actors in the international arena, notes Bendell, who is currently advising the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world’s largest environmental organisation, on strategic development…

Asked if all international NGOs should sign the charter, Bendell told IPS: “Yes, it would be great for every major international NGO to sign the Accountability Charter.” He said the charter provides a basis for NGOs to come to a greater awareness of their common purpose in promoting public benefit, not private profit. “We need innovative approaches to be shared amongst charter signers, to find out the least bureaucratic and most meaningful mechanisms for promoting coherence with the human rights and democratic principles it states,” he added.

Yet these NGOs can only be as effective as their donors allow, he pointed out. So the study “emphasises the importance of the accountability of donors to those they identify as their intended beneficiaries.” He also said that too much money is spent on pet causes and political meddling, and not at all responsive to the needs of people affected by the giving. “And too much of these funds are generated from investments in companies and financial products with damaging impacts on society.”…

Asked about government regulation of NGOs, Bendell said that charity law and tax law are key mechanisms that governments use to regulate NGOs. “We would benefit from more sharing between governments on the best practices in these regulations to promote vibrant civil societies, with NGOs that are accountable to their intended beneficiaries and broad principles of human rights,” he added. (END/2007)

Colourful Cuba (cos your gray ain’t my grey)

I sometimes chat with my flatmate about what it was like growing up in the Communist East. We joke about how grey it was. In my books and films it was grey… the buildings, people, all shades of dull depressed and repressed grey. She tells me that books about the West that she read in East Germany showed the West as… also grey! “OK, so it was so grey in the East, that even our pictures of the West were grey!”.

Was an absence of neon lights and bright paints and colourful advertising actually grey? Its amazing how urban our thinking is… nothing is as colourful as nature. Walking through the UN today I saw paintings from an exhibition sponsored by Cuba. The artist from this communist country, Luis Antonio Espinosa Fruto, chose to paint all his pictures in… grey. But hey, they are bright, brilliant, beautiful images. They are all paintings of the natural environment in Cuba (continues below…).


Cuban nature is mentioned in the depths of a report published by WWF earlier this week. The Living Planet Report tells a shocking story of what we are doing to ourselves and our planet… as Frank Dixon said at a talk on Monday, “the science is telling us we are like the meteor that hit the Yucatan and wiped out the dinosaurs, we are the new great exterminator”. We really are behaving on this planet like we have another one to go to.

On page 19, in a section comparing the amount of resources each country is gobbling up in comparison to the social development they have acheived, as indicated by the UN’s Human Development Index, shows that only one country has achieved a level of social development and environmental protection that can be considered “sustainable development”. That country? Grey-painted communist Cuba. The journos seem to have missed that one in their coverage of the report.

This state of affairs should make us ask some serious questions about current forms of economy and capitalism… are they helping us get what we really want? Is the world any more colourful for its shining lights and gaudy adverts, if these help melt the glaciers, dry up the lands, and degrade nature? Is it any more colourful when people run the rat race to souless material excess while others are malnourished and oppressed?

I guess one reason Cuba comes out on top is because the HDI statistics dont place decisive weightings on certain political freedoms. Cuba probably comes out on top environmentally because of the US embargo has encouraged local production of foods for local consumption. Organic market gardening isnt a lifestyle choice for the middle classes wanting some more meaning to their lives, but a basic necessity for many Cubans. Whats the policy conclusion? That everyone needs to be embargoed by the US?

Open borders only work when you’ve got a fair game going on, with ground rules that mean you dont trade away the environment or people as mere ‘externalities’ that can be disregarded. The evidence from the Living Planet Report is more an indictment of the West than it is praise for Cuba. But, well done Cuba for reminding us that our brains are the only grey matter in nature, and its our choice to make them vitally brilliant or deadly dull.

Thank you Jill


On Monday 25th, at the start of my first day in the WWF-UK office, the death of WWF-UK’s Director of Programmes, Dr Jill Bowling, was confirmed along with 23 passengers on a helicopter in Nepal.

Jill was the reason I joined WWF. I have mixed feelings about NGOs, given the tendency for big egos to badly manage, sometimes confusing their public purpose and the values from which this arises, with their own status or that of their organisation. But Jill embodied a different approach. In the three times I met her, and few times we discussed on the phone, I found someone who was focused on the imperative of positive change for people and planet. Someone who wanted to support and enable talented and decicated people to achieve more than they could on their own. I was really looking forward to working with and learning from her.

Jill was in Nepal to mark a historic event, which illustrated both the need for and practicality of people living in harmony with nature and with eachother, to gain welfare, wellbeing and meaning from our living planet. “This historic step is an important landmark in the history of biodiversity conservation in the country… the devolution of power to local communities, especially with regard to natural resources and equitable sharing of benefits,” a press statement issued by the WWF Nepal said.

There was a memorial service in the offices of WWF-UK for Jill and Jenn Headley who had also worked at WWF-UK previously and died in the crash. Jill was a trustee of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation ( and a representative lead the service. To the staff he said of Jill: “you are her memory, you are her future.” Part of Jill’s legacy will be expressed though how we embrace the message of people-planet unity that underlay the important work in Nepal that she was there to celebrate.

This blog was meant to be about my random attempts at understanding things, and where failing that then just musing or laughing. With such sad and shocking news the only option is to seek some learning, some truth, some implication… thankfully Jill’s life is fertile for such lessons and legacy.

The week before, from the airport on her way to Nepal, Jill called me and apologized that she was not going to be in the office on my first day. Those little things speak volumes, don’t they? Thank you Jill.

Why was she there? An historic event:

WWF book of condolences: