Monday, April 25, 2011

CSR in Nigeria

By Wayne Visser

A few thoughts after my trip to Lagos last month ...

I am not naive enough to believe that CSR heralds a new dawn for Nigeria. The general consensus was that most companies are stuck in the Ages of Philanthropy and Marketing. Nevertheless, CSR has the potential to advance transparency and to create a platform to discuss the ethics of business and government. It also has the potential to be corrupted, which sadly is already happening in some instances where corporate sponsorship of government ‘CSR projects’ is practiced as an indirect form of bribery.

Shell Nigeria's reputation seems as sullied as ever, 15 years after the Ken Saro Wiwa fiasco. It seems like a viscous cycle of destructive relations. According to Tony Attah, Manager of Sustainable Development and Community Relations, 90% of the oil spills in 2009/10 were as a result of saboteurs, vandals and those trying to steal oil from the pipelines. Also, the Nigerian government takes more than 90% of the earnings of the business through taxes, royalties and their own equities (it has a 55% equity stake in the company).

Of course, there are examples of good practice, such as the Global MOUs between companies and communities, and conservation projects like the Chevron preserved urban forest which I visited. Yet even here, one senses that these are fragile fortifications against a relentless tide of oil-slicked growth and car-jammed urbanisation. I was there during the scheduled first weekend of elections, but these were postponed due to printed ballot papers not arriving in time. The Nigerians take it all in their stride, as if fighting the behemoth of inefficiency is as futile as cursing the manic traffic.

One encouraging initiative is the Social Enterprise Reporting Awards (SERA), run by Trucontact. It was refreshing to see reporting where a level of verification (including site visits) takes place, and where the UN Millennium Development Goals are used as criteria to judge "CSR Projects". On request, I helped to redesign the questionnaire for 2011 (initially, literally on the back of a serviette/napkin, although we worked on it in more detail later), so that the awards will start measuring Strategic CSR, rather than the current Philanthropic & Promotional CSR focus. Judging against Transformative CSR (CSR 2.0) may be a little ambitious at this stage.

If all goes according to plan, I will be back in Lagos around 15-17 June to speak at the 1st Africa Roundtable Conference on CSR and November, and again in November to deliver more CSR training hosted by Trucontact. Meanwhile, I wish this complex, intriguing, vital country well. After all, as my poem puts it, Lagos Lives.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Top 40 Sustainability Books of 2010 - Part 2

Cambridge Top 40 Sustainability Books of 2010

1. Accounting for Sustainability (Anthony Hopwood, Jeffrey Unerman & Jessica Frie

2. Adaptation to Climate Change in Southern Africa (Steffen Bauer & Imme Scholz)

3. A Blueprint for a Safer Planet (Nicholas Stern)

4. Building Social Business (Muhammad Yunus)

5. Cents and Sustainability (Michael H. Smith, Karlson ‘Charlie’ Hargroves & Cheryl Desh)

6. The Climate Files (Fred Pearce)

7. Corporate Community Involvement (Nick Lakin & Veronica Scheubel)

8. CSR for HR (Cohen)

9. CSR Strategies (Sri Urip)

10. Dynamic Sustainabilities (Melissa Leach, Ian Scoones & Andy Stirling)

11. The Economics of Climate Change in China (FAN Gang, Nicholas Stern, Ottmar Edenhofer, XU Shanda, Klas Eklund, Frank Ackerman, Lailai LI and Karl Hallding)

12. Factor Five (Ernst von Weizsacker, Karlson 'Charlie' Hargroves, Michael H. Smith, Cheryl Desha & Peter Stasinopoulos)

13. Freefall (Joseph E. Stiglitz)

14. Globalizing Responsibility (Clive Barnett, Paul Cloke, Nick Clarke & Alice Malpass)

15. Finders Keepers? (Terence Daintit)

16. Harmony (HRH The Prince of Wales, Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly)

17. How Bad Are Bananas? (Mike Berners-Lee)

18. Innovative CSR (Céline Louche, Samuel O. Idowu & Walter Leal Filho)

19. Integrated Sustainable Design of Buildings (Paul Appleby)

20. Nature and Culture (Sarah Pilgrim and Jules Prett)

21. The New Pioneers (Tania Ellis)

22. The New Rules of Green Marketing (Jacquelyn A. Ottman)

23. Next Generation Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid (Ted London & Stuart L. Hart)

24. Our Choice (Al Gore)

25. Peoplequake (Fred Pearce)

26. The Positive Deviant (Sara Parkin)

27. The Power of Sustainable Thinking (Bob Doppelt)

28. Prosperity Without Growth (Tim Jackson)

29. Requiem for a Species (Clive Hamilton)

30. Responsible Business (Manfred Pohl & Nick Tolhurst)

31. The Responsibility Revolution (Jeffrey Hollender & Bill Breen)

32. Smart Solutions to Climate Change (Bjorn Lomborg)

33. The Spirit Level (Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett)

34. Sustainability Education (Paula Jones, David Selby & Stephen Sterlin

35. Sustainability in Austerity (Philip Monaghan)

36. The Sustainable MBA (Giselle Weybrecht)

37. Tackling Wicked Problems (Valerie A. Brown, John A. Harris & Jacqueline Y. Russell

38. Too Smart for Our Own Good (Craig Dilworth)

39. The Top 50 Sustainability Books (Wayne Visser & CPSL)

40. The World Guide to CSR (Wayne Visser & Nick Tolhurst)

Top 40 Sustainability Books for 2010 - Part 1

By Wayne Visser

In 2009, I worked on a project for the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability (CPSL) which resulted in the publication of The Top 50 Sustainability Books[1]. The book draws together some of the best thinking over the last 50 years and more on the most pressing social and environmental challenges we face as a society.

For The State of Sustainability Leadership Report 2011 just published by the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability, I took a fresh new look at books, this time focusing on 2010. The Cambridge Top 40 Sustainability Books of 2010 list was compiled by CPSL with input from its Senior Associates. We selected those books which we believe are most relevant for today’s leaders. Comparing this list to our Top 50 books, we can observe a number of changes:

  • The ‘All Time Top 50’ list included a fairly balanced coverage of social and environmental issues. By contrast the ‘2010 Top 40’ list is heavily skewed towards environmental challenges, and dominate by climate change.
  • The Top 50 contained numerous treatise on capitalism and globalisation, while the Top 40 (in the wake of the financial crisis) has shifted almost exclusively to a focus on the economy.
  • The Top 40 also has a much stronger emphasis on business responses and creating change. In fact, it is altogether a more pragmatic list, with titles that contain words like ‘plan’, ‘how to’, ‘strategy’ and ‘guide’. This shift to action-orientation is a positive development, as is the increase in the number of female authors (28%, as compared with 17% for the Top 50), although the gender imbalance remains worryingly low.

Among the books on our Top 40 list that have been creating a real buzz are Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level and The Prince of Wales’s Harmony. Jackson’s book revives a much older debate about ‘economics for a finite planet’, led since the 1970s by the likes of former World Bank economist Herman Daly (Steady State Economics and Beyond Growth). Jackson restates the challenge starkly: "Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries. But question it we must." While others like Jonathon Porritt (in Capitalism as if the World Matters) argue for ‘smart growth’ instead of ‘dumb growth’, the global financial crisis has given Jackson’s more uncompromising zero-growth position a renewed resonance.

Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level, subtitled ‘Why More Equal Societies Always Do Better’, is a highly complementary companion to Jackson’s book. Using a plethora of data and analysis, the authors build a case that countries should focus on equity rather than growth in order to create healthy societies. In countries of equal overall wealth, argue Wilkinson and Pickett, less equal societies suffer more social ills – shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives; higher rates of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction; poorer relationships between socio-economic classes; and higher environmental impacts through resource consumption. The book has created some controversy, and some dispute the authors’ arguments. Nevertheless, its message is timely and urgent.

Harmony is an entirely different book, which looks at social and ecological problems through a more aesthetic and philosophical lens. The Prince of Wales, together with Tony Juniper & Ian Skelly, range far and wide across the intellectual and practical territory of sustainability, questioning many widely held beliefs and modern assumptions about nature and society. The book reveals The Prince’s deeply held perspectives on the interconnectedness of life, and illustrates how this can be (and is being) applied to secure a more sustainable future. Far from being retrogressive or Luddite in its approach, this beautifully presented and data-rich book proposes combing the best of modern science and technology with the wisdom of traditional ways, in order to restore the balance between humans and nature.

Harmony has now been made into a documentary film, which premiered on NBC in November 2010. It follows the great tradition of other educational films over the past ten years, such as The Corporation (2003), Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), An Inconvenient Truth (2006), The 11th Hour (2007) and The Age of Stupid (2009), to mention but a few. In 2010, two new films that continued this tradition were Carbon Nation, which is described as “an optimistic (and witty) discovery of what people are already doing, what we as a nation [America] could be doing and what the world needs to do to prevent (or at least slow down) the impending climate crisis”[2], and GasLand, which is an investigative documentary about the “trail of secrets, lies and contamination”[3] behind the natural gas drilling boom in the United States.

I look forward to hearing your views and suggestions about what books and films are pushing the envelope in 2011.

[1] Visser, W. & CPSL (2009) The Top 50 Sustainability Books. Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing.

[2] IMDB, The Internet Movie Database –

The State of CSR in Australia (Guest Blog)

Guest Blog by Leeora Black

When we began analysing the responses to our State of CSR Annual Review 2010-2011, one of the things that most struck me was the ambiguous signals that Australian businesses are giving about the role of CSR in their organisations.

On the one hand, it’s clear – and very heartening – to see that more organisations are seeing value from CSR that goes beyond reputation and risk management. Businesses are seeing applications of CSR contributing to real value creation through new ways of working (e.g. saving costs through utilising more cost-effective resources, more efficient supply chains, employee work flow), new products and services and new business models – with the latter helping develop new markets and enhance existing market opportunities.

But on the other hand, most of the almost 500 managers and executives who responded to our survey said that getting organisational buy-in is the biggest single obstacle to their success with CSR.

Clearly, there is still something at the core of many organisations that says they don’t get it. What’s going on here? Why has senior organisational management still not fully comprehended that the opportunities flowing from CSR require full strategic consideration?

I think the issue lies with the nature of the CSR function itself: probably the most cross-functional, cross-silo business discipline to emerge so far in the history of management. It requires a profound level of cross-business functionality and integration to be effective. This is a real challenge to most companies, which are founded on vertical accountabilities.

There are opportunities for change, however.

Organisations typically change because changes are forced upon them from outside. This could be a catastrophic event (a natural disaster impacting on their business, a corporate scandal à la Enron); it could be a profound change in the business environment (such as via the introduction of a carbon tax); or it could be changing requirements from their stakeholders.

Businesses experience these impacts to varying degrees and in different ways. In Australia, some organisations may be impacted by all three. However, I see the most widespread impact coming from the changing expectations of stakeholders. They are becoming more sophisticated in their expectations of organisations, and this extends to their expectations of how CSR is operationalised in businesses.

Just as awareness of ‘greenwashing’ has expanded, many stakeholders are all too aware of whether a business treats its CSR activities as an opportunity for risk minimisation or reputation enhancement at the expense of genuine collaboration and value creation.
Our report’s research emphasises stakeholder engagement is the key capability for organisations to deliver enhanced CSR performance, with its positive business flow-on effects.

There are three reasons why this should translate into a more integrated strategic role for CSR:

1. Issues raised by external stakeholders will increasingly be aimed at the strategic intent, rather than the local impact, of the business.

2. Stakeholders can often drive innovation through working with businesses to address issues of mutual interest. For example, Procter and Gamble has opened up its innovation process to people outside the organisation and expects to reap $3 billion in annual sales growth as a result.

3. There will be fewer ‘low hanging fruit’ for organisations to harvest in business improvement processes. At the same time, increasing regulation will drive a need to innovate to reduce costs. CSR holds the promise of helping to solve this problem.
Change is part of business and successful ones adapt and move forward. The adoption of a more comprehensive approach to CSR will help achieve this.

How do you think CSR can help organisations adapt to change?


Dr Leeora Black is Managing Director of the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR). The question of how to manage large and complex organisations for responsible business outcomes is a major focus of her consulting work. Why not visit the ACCSR Blog at

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The CSR 2.0 Principle of Scalability - The Limits of Ethical Consumerism

What makes Wal-Mart such a good example of scalability is not just its size, but the principles underlying its actions, such as mainstreaming sustainability, measuring total impacts, empowering customers, working with suppliers and setting audacious goals. The lesson of history is that the ‘ethical consumer’ is the enemy of progress!

That may seem like a crazy thing to say, but here is why I say it. Simply put, by creating a premium-priced, niche market for ‘ethical consumption’ (whether it be organic, fairtrade or eco-friendly), companies have been able to present a responsible front to the world, while leaving the vast majority of their products – which are, by implication, less than ethical – unquestioned and unchanged. At the same time, a small group of usually well-to-do Western consumers have been able to ease their conscience by feeling that they are making a positive difference.

Now let me be clear. I am not against organic or fairtrade or ecofriendly products per se. That would be insane. Clearly, there are groups of producers – usually poor farmers in the Third World – that have benefited from these initiatives. What I am against is the voluntary nature and premium pricing of sustainable and responsible products. The combination of these two factors has ensured that, with one or two exceptions, these products have never gone to scale. As compared with the total and ongoing impacts of mainstream shopping habits, ethical consumption, laudable as it is, has remained marginal at best and totally insignificant at worst.

Let’s look at some of the facts. The UK Soil Associate launched the world’s first organic standard in 1967 and Germany launched its Blue Angel eco-label in 1978. The first fairtrade coffee, introduced by the Max Havelaar Foundation, was in 1988, and the Rainforest Alliance launched its SmartWood certification in 1989. So we have had more than 40 years of ethical consumption. And where has that left us? Well, certainly, it is a growing trend. In the UK, where the proportion of ethical consumers is among the highest in the world, a survey of 4,000 consumers by PwC found that shoppers buying Fairtrade products rose from 20% in 2005 to 50% in 2008 and organic food purchasing increased from 22% to 43% over the same period.

However, this £300bn sector accounted for just 4% of the UK retail market in 2008 and only 60% of basic grocery products had sustainable alternatives, falling to 40% for some sub categories, such as clothing and non-food items. According to the PwC survey, the high prices associated with fairtrade and organic products remained the main inhibitor to further growth. On average, the price premium for environmentally and ethically-friendly products – taken across 75 items at the UK's top six grocers – was 45%. Almost 50% of those shoppers surveyed said they were unwilling or unable to pay this premium, claiming that on average they were not willing to pay a premium in excess of 20% for greener alternatives.

How then do we explain polls, like the one done in 2009 by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation among 14,500 people across 15 countries, which found that more than half said they were ‘active ethical consumers’? Well, as all professional market researchers will tell you, these figures are horribly skewed due to what’s called the ‘socially acceptable response bias’. You are basically asking people if they are ethical, or if they care about poor farmers in the Third World, or if they are okay with trashing the planet. What would you answer? The simple fact is that, as he UK’s Sustainable Consumption Roundtable says, ‘we know that there is a considerable gap – the so-called ‘value-action gap – between people’s attitudes, which are often pro-environmental, and their everyday behaviours.’

This is an extract from Chapter 8 of The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business. For more information and ongoing updates, follow the The Age of Responsibility Blog

Copyright 2011 Wayne Visser

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CSR International website - Malware attack & Update

The CSR International site has been taken offline to sort out the Malware
attack. My apologies for the inconvenience. We hope to be back live soon.

There are some exciting new developments in the pipeline, including the ability
of members to interact, post on the website and join a professional institute

So watch this space ...

Wayne Visser
Founder & CEO

Informative 5-star review on Amazon of "The Age of Responsibility"

5.0 out of 5 stars - A fine and fascinating book, 1 April 2011

By Dr Mike (UK) (Amazon TOP 500 REVIEWER)

Link to review online

I have read quite a lot about the recent financial collapse and feared that this would be yet another overview and analysis of these events. However, I was pleased to find that it was much more than that.

The first part of the book is a summary of various ways that firms conduct themselves. the author sees these as evolutionary stages, but whether or not you agree with that is irrelevant, because you can read without that assumption.

Stage one is Greed. The firm works solely for its own profit, and this is justified by the trickle-down theory of wealth, which, from the examples given, appears not to be working too well. There are some obscene case studies here, such as Barings, Enron, Lehman Brothers, WorldCom and even the Dutch East India Company. Although executive greed is generally mentioned here, the same greed pervades the whole company structure, financial markets and banking too.

Stage two is Philanthropy, and is exemplified by Carnegie, Rockefeller, Buffet and Bill Gates giving most of their personal fortunes back to society. This exemplifies the trickle-down theory of wealth, but is at the cost of what their companies have done to society and the environment in the first place. Also, of course, too few companies or individuals do what Gates has done: most hang on to their wealth or distribute it only to their higher ranking employees.

Stage three is Marketing. One has only to look at oil, gas and tobacco to see examples "greenwashing" the worst exploits of a company to make it appear that all is well and good. Lobbying is the primary tool used.

Stage four is Management. Cadbury is an example of a firm that put welfare and sustainability at the forefront and to challenge the supremacy of shareholders in governing the direction a firm takes.

Stage five is Responsibility. Here a company tries to build sustainability into itself, as in Interface.

The author then builds a new model for Corporate Sustainable Responsibility (CSR 2.0) which builds on the mistakes inherent in the original CSR (CSR 1.0). This uses ideas such as Creativity, Scalability, Responsiveness, Glocality (think global, act local) and Circularity.

The whole book is buzzing with ideas, and would be worth buying just for the ten case histories examined in detail. Whether you are a die-hard capitalist or communist you will, I think, get a lot out of reading this book. It is all too easy to distort the message of capitalism and over simplify the issues of wealth distribution, pollution and sustainability into the mantra "capitalism works". Yes, it creates wealth, but society has to moderate its worst excesses just as it needs to do that for any individual in society. After all, a company has rights, by law, and should therefore have responsibilities too.

This is one of the best books I have read in the past year. Thoroughly recommended!