Global Briefs Nov-Dec 2008

Barometer Launched to Measure CSR Disclosure

The recently launched ‘CSR Asia Business Barometer 2008’ by CSR Asia, compares the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
disclosure of the 20 largest listed companies in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. More companies are seeing the value of making
commitments to responsible business practices and disclosing their practices.

Some of the findings include:

  • Company (codes and policies) are the most reported CSR issue (scoring 59 percent), compared with workplace and people scoring only 19 percent. This seems to imply a continued lack of trans-    parency on Asia’s thorniest CSR issue, namely labour conditions.
  • The companies’ overall score remains low (30 percent), but there is some national variation, with Hong Kong scoring best (42 percent), as compared with Malaysia (29 percent), Thailand (25 percent) and Singapore (24 percent).
  • The top companies – China Light and Power and HSBC, both listed in Hong Kong – scored 93 percent, as compared with the poorest performer – Hong Kong Land – scoring only 3 percent. The top company in Malaysia was BAT (British American Tobacco) Malaysia; in Thailand, it was Siam Cement, and in Singapore, City Developments. Publicly available reports based on a robust data collection and reporting framework can be an excellent communication tool to inform stakeholders of CSR strategy, approach and performance. (Shared by CSR International and CSR Asia)

Annual Summit Highlights Key CSR Issues in Asia

The annual CSR summit, organized by CSR Asia, was held in November, at the Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand. Amidst a growing call for companies to engage with CSR initiatives in Asia, the event was poised to explore hot topics unique to the Asian context, which would bring new insights for businesses, governments, NGOs and other CSR practitioners.

The rise of CSR up the agenda in Asia was reflected in the Summit’s attendance. There were over 300 participants this year. CSR Asia itself reflected this growing interest in CSR, with 25 staff in offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shenzhen, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Dhaka and Ho Chi Minh City. The event attracted a diverse group of organizational representatives – not only corporate CSR types, like the head of water for Coca-Cola and supply chain for Hewlett-Packard – but also NGOs and consultants focusing on corruption, HIV/AIDS, climate change and labour justice, to mention a few.

Until fairly recently, CSR in Asia was largely equated with philanthropy and supply chain issues, specifically labour conditions. Now, there is a marked shift to environmental issues, specifically water, but also deforestation and climate change, as well as product responsibility. The relationship between the financial crisis and CSR has already emerged as a hot topic, with Mr. Kasit Piromya, Director of International of the Democratic Party in Thailand, stating that governments will have to tackle the systemic greed of the financial markets and overpaid CEOs if CSR is to be at all effective in future.
(Shared by CSR International, an online blog dedicated to connecting and empowering corporate sustainability)

Non-executive’s Role in Corporate Governance More Crucial than Ever

Independent non-executive directors should help drive corporate responsibility – but how?

Non-executive directors play a vital role in shaping the strategy and governance of UK companies. Independence from management should allow them to take a broad, long-term view of strategy, and gives legitimacy to their role in scrutinising management plans.

Corporate responsibility has become a board-level concern for UK non-execs only recently, says Craig Mackenzie, senior lecturer in sustainable enterprise at the University of Edinburgh. “In the last five years it’s become much more formally significant for non-execs of big companies,” he says.

UK corporate governance guidelines require London-listed firms to report on their performance against business ethics and corporate responsibility standards – or explain why they do not. Boards are free to decide how they will manage and oversee corporate responsibility concerns, and what role non-execs play in the process.

The breadth of experience non-execs bring can be valuable in pursuing ethical business agendas, particularly in cross-fertilising best practice between sectors and bringing expertise and insight from other walks of life, head of corporate governance at the UK’s Institute of Directors Roger Barker says. He adds that the increasing involvement of bilinon-execs in corporate responsity is part of a general trend since the government-commissioned report by the late Sir Derek Higgs of 2003, which recommended expanding the non-exec director role to improve corporate governance.

Citing the complex financial products in the banking sector, Barker suggests a lack of in-depth operational knowledge may inhibit a non-exec’s ability to ensure ethical standards effectively. The ethical scrutiny role can create moral dilemmas for non-execs when there is a conflict between short-term profits and doing the right thing.

Some may say grappling with that moral dilemma is what being a company director, executive or non-exec, is all about. There seems little doubt that in the current economic climate, the judgment calls are only likely to become more frequent and difficult. Because it is non-exec directors who, more than any other board members, are charged with taking the longer-term view, their role is arguably now more crucial than ever.
(Shared by Ethical Corporation, an independent media firm)

Organic Food and Farming Conference

A Conference on “Managing Competing Values in Organic Food & Farming” was held in November 2008 in Bristol. The Conference focused on two key subjects including: ‘How can organic farming contribute towards the development of ‘sustainable communities’ in rural areas’ and ‘How do farmers and other actors in the organic food chain define and work towards the protection of ‘non-market values’ – and what works against them?’.

In this conference, eminent researchers and professors highlighted issues such as

  • Organic farming and its impact on the community
  • Local or global sourcing
  • Fairtrade
  • The role of supermarkets
  • UK and international perspectives

This Conference was part of a sequence of five interactive, participatory one-day workshops to be held over the next twelve months. The workshops will focus on the key areas of food production, supply and retailing.

Attendees from all areas of food production, distribution and retailing as well as regulatory bodies and research will contribute and share their experiences, views and beliefs.

New Architecture and Urban Phenomena

‘Balkanology, New Architecture and Urban Phenomena in South Eastern Europe’, an ongoing exhibition at the Swiss Architecture Museum,  in South Eastern Europe, explores contemporary architecture and urban design from a trans-disciplinary perspective, not just at national level as its title might suggest, it also puts architecture into a global context.

Balkans generally refers to South Eastern Europe, a region with varying geographical definitions. Going beyond clichés and the pathos, the Balkanology exhibition focuses on the impact of recent socio-political changes on architecture and urban planning, drawing a variegated picture of urban development in the region and the forces that determine it.

Curated by Kai Vöckler, the exhibitions focuses on two main themes:

  • The way inhabitants solved the lack of housing and initiated construction projects on their own account.
  • A comparison between outstanding yet hardly known buildings of socialist modernism in Yugoslavia with contemporary architecture.

Since the collapse of the socialist economic system in ex-Yugoslavia and Albania and the war that lead to the split of Yugoslavia, a new form of urbanization typified by extensive informal building activity has appeared on the territory. Inhabitants have taken the issue of housing shortage in their own hands, and they have started building new dwellings from scratch and adapting existing edifice for their own purposes.

In this context, the term Balkanization takes a radically different meaning: it stands for the improvisation and adaptation skills of architecture. Some of the many questions the exhibition aims to raise include: how can a combination of governmental and social control offer the best possible basis for a successful retro-active ‘post-regulation?

These unregulated forms of urban developments have often bypassed the expertise of architects. This makeshift architecture has nevertheless developed its own style and culture characterized by a new intermeshing of spaces through visual worlds communicated by the media, migratory movements and cash flows.  (Shared by World changing, a nonprofit media organization)

planetEco Redesigning for Devastated Communities

Sustainability incorporates lessons leaned from history in order to improve on design to avoid fatal flaws and in this case, to prolong the lifespan of a structure as it relates to its surroundings.

The brand new, modern, eco homes being erected at a rapid pace are redefining the 9th Ward and are being built for the original home owners who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The focus of this project is on the impressive and innovative green aspects of the project itself and how it serves as a model for building a new neighbourhood from the ground up in a sustainable way. The new home designs are by a combination of local, national, and international architects.

Even though the new homes in the 9th Ward include solar panels, energy efficient everything, and other elements that we think of when we think of sustainability, perhaps the single most important feature of these homes are their stilts. If the ocean should ever intrude again, these new homes could be high enough off the ground to clear the floodwaters, a simple solution to end the debate about whether or not to rebuild the 9th Ward at all.

To date, the 84th house, out of 150, has been paid for through sponsorships and donations.

(Shared by TreeHugger, an online media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream)

Guerrilla vs. Gorilla

Due to escalating violence, Congolese rangers have been run out of the country’s Virunga National Park, threatening the safety of some 200 mountain gorillas that live there. “There are documented cases of the gorillas getting caught in the crossfire and getting killed,” says a park spokesperson. “It’s the chaos of war and they are right in the middle of it.” Only about 700 mountain gorillas remain in the wild.

The three African nations that still have mountain gorilla populations have agreed to cooperate on a new plan to save the critically endangered primates. Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo hatched a 10-year programme to enhance security in the parks and forests that the gorillas call home, as well as other measures. The countries have also agreed to programmes aimed at mitigating the harsh poverty in communities surrounding gorilla habitat, which often leads locals to poach wildlife and clear more land. “For the first time, the three countries have decided to protect the great apes which are threatened with extinction and insecurity in the region,” said Moses Mapesa of the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The multination plan is largely seen as an important step, but plenty of challenges remain. Notably, armed militants still control a large part of the DRC’s Virunga National Park where over half of the world’s remaining 720 mountain gorillas live.

(Shared by Grist, an online environmental news magazine)

World’s First International Renewable Energy Agency

A consortium of European governments is developing the world’s first International Renewable Energy Agency.

The agency, known as IRENA, will serve as a global cheerleader for clean energy. It plans to offer technical, financial, and policy advice for governments worldwide, according to a joint announcement from Germany, Spain, and Denmark – the project’s leaders.

Renewable energy is on the rise worldwide as governments attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create domestic energy sources. Despite a variety of international organizations that are helping with the clean energy transition, IRENA’s leaders said that no single agency addresses the local, national, and international needs of both developed and developing nations.

The international organizations that currently focus on renewable energy include the International Energy Agency (IEA), World Bank, Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), Renewable Energy and Energy Efficient Partnership (REEEP), and several United Nations agencies.

In the past year, global renewable energy sources have increased dramatically. More than 250 gigawatts of capacity, excluding large hydropower, exists globally. Clean energy investments surpassed $148 billion in 2007, a 60 percent increase from 2006, according to the U.N. Environment Programme.

Several countries in charge of the IRENA initiative, including Germany and Denmark, are home to some of the world’s leading producers of renewable energy technologies.

At a conference in Madrid last month, IRENA’s 51 participating nations agreed that the agency’s first projects would be presented in January 2009. The involved nations currently include nearly all of Europe as well as Australia, Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates.
(Shared by Worldchanging, a nonprofit media organization)

Rice Husks Generating Electricity in India’s Villages

There are 350 million people in India without power living in small villages; and those communities harvest 92 million tons of rice harvested every year. In a typical village, about 1500 tons of rice is harvested every season, yielding 500 tons of husk and 1000 tons of edible product, states Robert S. Katz, a Knowledge & Communications Associate at Acumen Fund. The farmers either burn the husk or allow it to rot in the fields. Rice husk is the outside of a rice kernel. Rice husk is cellulosic, which means it can be heated up and released for energy – the gas released is similar to methane. It also contains silica, which is released as a waste product when burned.

A rural electrification company, Husk Power Systems (HPS) is using husk to make electricity. The gas that is made out of the husk is filtered, and then run through a diesel-like engine to generate power. HPS is operating in 5 villages, and currently powers 12,000 people’s homes. HPS utilizes a proprietary technology to run 35-100 kilowatt mini power plants, delivering pay-for-use electricity to un-electrified villages in India’s “Rice Belt.”

The co-founder of HPS, Chip Ransler says, “We’re using an older technology – gasification – which has been around since World War II. We retrofit machines to work with multiple types of raw material – not just rice husk, but corn husk and wheat husk, too. We work with two Indian manufacturers to build gasifiers with the right specifications.”

According to Ransler, in the next 5 – 10 years: “We think we can power 2500 villages – 750,000 people.” To date, five pilot projects have become operationally profitable within six months, delivering sustainable, environmentally-friendly, low-cost energy that is dramatically improving the lives of over 12,000 rural Indians.

Innovative and Sustainable Design Structure

The recently built Women’s Healthcare Centre in Burkina Faso is truly an innovative structure, driven by the ideas of sustainability and ethical awareness. It has been built by FARE Studio, a design production facility based in Rome and also won the Health Category Award at the World Architecture Festival.

It mixes local materials, simple technologies, careful siting and control of sun and wind to build an off-grid, solar powered facility. The entire complex is built on a raised platform to allow ventilation under and to separate it from the dust and mud. Then the buildings are constructed from a sun-dried brick cast on site. The bricks don’t do well in contact with a lot of water, so they sit on the raised plane for protection from below, while above, a sun and water screen protects the buildings.

Breezes can flow below the floor and below the roof, keeping the buildings cooler without mechanical ventilation. The roof also gathers rainwater. The buildings are plastered and painted, with slogans in five languages as a graphic element.

The Women’s Health Care Centre was built with local trades in fifteen months.
(Shared by TreeHugger, an online media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream)

New Tsunami Warning System Launched

Indonesia launched a sophisticated new tsunami warning system designed to give coastal residents enough time to flee or seek shelter from an impending tidal wave. The national system aims to protect the inhabitants of the archipelago’s vast coast and prevent a deadly repeat of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 168,000 people in Indonesia alone.

But even as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono inaugurated the system in Jakarta, officials conceded it would be several years yet before it is fully complete and the whole coastline protected.

According to Thomas Rachel, Germany’s parliamentary state secretary, in Jakarta: “We are starting the world’s most advanced tsunami early warning system able to issue the quickest possible warnings with a high degree of reliability.”

Indonesia, with its 17,000 islands, remains especially vulnerable because it sits on the meeting point of three of the earth’s tectonic plates, leaving 60 percent of the coastline at risk from tsunamis.

The new high-speed warning system connects a series of seabed sensors that detect the earthquakes that may set of a tsunami, information that is relayed to buoys on the surface. Deep-sea pressure gauges monitor any sudden variations indicating that a tsunami is in motion, data that is enhanced by the notion of the surface buoys that carry global positioning systems.

All the information is relayed by satellite to the tsunami early warning centre in Jakarta, which is connected to 11 regional hubs across Indonesia.
(Shared by Worldchanging, a nonprofit media organization)

Sustainability can Enhance Competitiveness: Report

In the current economic crisis, the ability of companies and countries to be competitive has never been more important. Sustainability can enhance that competitiveness, according to a news briefing published today by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). ‘Competitiveness and Sustainability: building the best future for your business’ has been written by leading sustainable development charity Forum for the Future.

The report is the first publication in a new series, which forms part of the ICAEW’s broader thought leadership programme “Sustain-able Business”. The series aims to offer a platform for corporate responsibility and sustainability experts to express their views on issues which will be of interest to the business community.

The paper outlines three determining factors which companies will need to address:

  • Industries at the start of supply chains will have to pay more to harvest, extract and get access to many primary products.
  • As ecosystem services decline, the framework conditions within which businesses operate, will change.
  • New business opportunities will emerge. Demand will grow for more efficient ways to use eco-system services for meeting needs or mitigating impacts.

According to David Bent, Head of Business Strategies at Forum for the Future and Vice Chairman of the ICAEW’s Corporate Responsibility Committee and author of this report, “The recession is a perfect storm warning of how sustainability issues are driving the context in which businesses compete. High prices for energy, food and commodities plus unsustainable levels of debt are the long-term drivers of unsustainable development. When we look at future trends it is plain that the questions of sustainability are a fundamental part the competitiveness of any company or country.”

(Shared by CSR International, an online blog dedicated to connecting and empowering corporate sustainability)

Auction of Carbon Permits in UK

The E.U.’s first carbon-permit auction was held in November 2008, raising some $80 million, as bidders fought for the right to emit greenhouse gases. Previously, all of the emissions permits allocated to UK businesses under the European Union’s trading scheme were given out free. According to the Financial Times, “the government has pledged to auction another 80m permits in the next four years, which is likely to bring in revenues of more than £1bn.” The identities of bidders has not been disclosed, but electricity producers are expected to be the main buyers as they had their free allocation of permits cut by 30 percent.

The government considers the auctions as a model which it hopes would be followed by other European countries. According to Angela Eagle, exchequer secretary to the Treasury, “This is the most economic, efficient and effective way of [making companies pay for their emissions].”

“The free allocation of permits in the first phase of the scheme, from 2005 to 2008, enabled power companies in the UK and other countries to make windfall profits by raising electricity prices to cover the notional cost of having to buy permits, despite receiving them free,” reports the Financial Times. The government said that the auctions should not result in further electricity price increases, as the cost of permits had already been factored in.

The UK is pushing for power generators to have to pay for all of their carbon permits in the third phase of the EU scheme, from 2013, arguing that electricity producers tend to be well-insulated from international competition.

A late amendment to the climate change bill is expected to receive royal assent by the end of this year. This initiative will make it easier to obtain subsidies for small-scale renewable energy projects. Any project producing up to 5MW of electricity – equivalent to about three to four wind turbines – will qualify for a “feed-in tariff” rather than the current subsidy system. Under such tariffs, generators are guaranteed a higher price than normal for their electricity for several years.

Greening the Supply Chain in Emerging Markets

A Report by the World Environment Center, titled “Greening the Supply Chain in Emerging Markets: Some Lessons from the Field.” looks at successful strategies for improving the performance of supply chains throughout the developing world. The report is second in the new GreenBiz Reports series by thought leaders in the green business arena. It examines the definition and scope of “Greening the Supply Chain” initiatives, discusses the value they contribute to business, identifies selected key factors to success, presents an approach for managing successful GSC projects and reviews what remains to be done through business management, government policy making and financial management partnerships.

Greening the Supply Chain initiatives are part of a process for implementing a sustainable development plan for corporate business strategy aimed at achieving improved environmental, health and safety performance; increasing efficiencies in the use of energy, water or other natural resources or raw materials; reducing the environmental and societal impact of business operations upon local communities and the global biosphere; and expanding economic and quality of life enhancing opportunities that result from the company’s business activities.

One of the lesser understood factors in the governance of global companies, especially with respect to management of their supply chains, is the limited number of their own employees that are located on-the-ground in developing market nations. Greening the Supply Chain (GSC) initiatives have emerged as one means to compensate for this limitation; they also aim to assist companies to achieve greater economic efficiencies and alignment of sustainability objectives across their operations while working with hundreds and, at times, thousands of independent supplier firms with differing objectives and capabilities.

Cleantech Investments and Economic Stimulation

The short-term blowback from the global financial panic has been pretty logical: A flight to value and safety and reallocation of assets to deal with longer-term risks of the new economy. So what does this mean for cleantech investing?

While it is true that the short-term panic means an interim dry-up of financing, the same can be said for nearly all venture capital, private equity, and even public equity. But the fear that cleantech projects may take a back seat to economic recovery efforts ignores the fact that cleantech is still being embraced by many forward-thinking U.S. companies and investors – and may just be the driving force behind economic stimulation.

Bill Gates is one of the $100 million in investors for algae-based fuel technology company Sapphire Energy. T. Boone Pickens has over one million signatures on his Pickens Plan petition, and is investing $10 billion to build the country’s largest wind farm. Even Warren Buffet is seeing long-term value in General Electric by investing $3 billion in the world’s leading manufacturer of wind turbines, energy-efficient hybrid locomotive engines and other eco-friendly products. The bottom line is that these investors are not philanthropists; they recognize these as money-making opportunities in the long term.

Clean energy is also an excellent hedge against long-term downside risk. Despite extreme turbulence in the short-term, carbon emission limits, public sentiment and climate change itself represent significant financial risk to every company’s bottom line. The risk of increased regulation,
combined with volatile energy prices for oil and other fossil fuels, all favour clean energy in the future – and in some cases, already do.

According to Mark Fulton, global chief of climate change investment research at Deutsche Asset Management: “The current crisis is making the necessity of tackling climate change an opportunity to stimulate growth through investment opportunities. Encouraging investment in renewable energy is a key focus. Energy efficiency technologies are obviously highly desirable in economies facing recession. Infrastructure stimulus can be tied directly to climate- sensitive sectors such as power grids, water, buildings and public transport which present a vast field for the creation of new technologies and jobs.”

How to Create Green Jobs and a Low-Carbon Economy

A report “Green Recovery” by economists at the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute was released in October, by the Center for American Progress (CAP).

The report shows that a $100 billion green economic investment could create 2 million US jobs in two years – not to mention the wonders it would do for breaking our dangerous fossil fuel addiction and cleaning up the climate.

A groovy new map on the CAP website illustrates how allocations to 34 states from this “green recovery programme” would translate to net job creation and the dent this would make on each state’s unemployment rate.

The CAP programme proposes to boost public investment (and leverage private capital through loan guarantees) in six energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies: retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency; expanding mass transit and freight rail; constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems; wind power; solar power; and next-generation biofuels. 

(Shared by Worldchanging, a nonprofit media organization)

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Author Information

Rutaba Ahmed is Managing Editor of tbl. She holds a Bachelors in Business Management from University of Georgia, USA and a Masters in Communications Studies from University of Leeds, UK.

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