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Career Idealists: Motivating Today’s Business Students

Despite a deteriorating reputation of managers due to the ongoing financial crisis, business administration and management studies still rank among the most popular academic programs around the globe. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, about 200,000 out of 2.4 million students in Germany were business majors in 2011. This means that almost one in every ten students in Germany was studying business at the time.

Whoever said Sustainable Change isn’t Within our Grasp wasn’t at WRF Beijing.

At the World Resources Forum (WRF) in Beijing, all environmental experts agree on the fact that today we need to take actions to tackle the problem of resources scarcity. Problematic, however, is to pinpoint who should lead the change. Prof. Munashinghe, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, gives a very pragmatic answer: “ Market share is the key element to understand where governmental policy should focus.” If the market has oligopolistic characteristics, policy actions should focus on the supply side. In an oligopsonic market, the opposite policy maker should take actions on the demand side to make the consumer aware about possible solutions path for the environmental issue. This solution is very important because it give a simple tool for policy maker to focus their strategy on the right market actors and therefore gain in efficiency.

The Birth of the Chinese Social Entrepreneur

This article is based on a talk with Livia Macedo from MakeSense Shanghai on social enterprise in the world’s second biggest economy. As we count down the days to the World Resources Forum (October 21-23), our attention has been turning increasingly towards fascinating China where it will take place.  Given the novelty of the Chinese social enterprise scene, I sat down with Livia Macedo, who is actively involved in the Shanghai hub of the social enterprise network called MakeSense, to talk about the prospects of Chinese social entrepreneurship. Livia, a former mentor of the Choice movement for social enterprise in her home country Brazil, has carried out a market research on social business in China as the national coordinator for edge, and at the same time she has been advocating social enterprise for Shanghai university students, locals and expats alike though the MakeSense gang.  

On social enterprise emerging in China:

This has been the title of an article published in the Spring issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review. Recently, the BBC reported about social entrepreneurship being not only a growing trend in China, but also a philanthropic activity with bigger potential than traditional NGO actions. What’s more, China daily wrote about the increasing popularity of social enterprises.

How Can Social Entrepreneurs Engage the Public?

Business can be beautiful! This is no oxymoron. It has already been proven by the growing number of innovative set-ups in the world that create products which not only serve the purpose of personal utility or indulgence, but they also bring about positive environmental and social change in the world. However, we, as consumers, haven’t heard as much about the products as their appeal would lead us to believe. Known by the names of social enterprise and social entrepreneurs, the two concepts have been around since the early 1980s. These business models brought to life to solve social and environmental challenges through the entrepreneurial approach of trading and making profit have been the “next big thing” ever since I started my university studies some five years ago.

Environmentally and Economically Sustainable Businesses

How can businesses develop products that are both environmentally and economically sustainable?  Many company executives see green initiatives as a financial burden that are only pursued out of good will.   Some environmental projects require large initial investments or involve changing the structure of an operation.  However, many initiatives that reduce the environmental impacts of products also reduce costs for businesses and improve their bottom line.  At the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) conference titled “Greening the Supply Chain: Best Business Practices and Future Trends” on Thursday, April 26, many strategies were presented by various companies that have improved both their environmental and economic sustainability. (more…)

The Grand Dame of Water: Maude Barlow is Controversial and Charming

By all accounts, Maude Barlow is one of the preeminent international firebrands championing the rights to water for both humanity and nature.  She sat down with me on March 16 at the Alternative World Water Forum in Marseilles to enjoy some Mariachi and to talk some frank talk about water rights and why the market-based, private-sector argument is wrong-headed. (Audio of the interview available for listening at the bottom of this post.)

Barlow has been called the ‘Ralph Nader of Canada’ and the ‘Al Gore of Water,’ but neither of these titles really seem to do her growing international stature and her undeniable charisma  much justice.  Barlow is a figure in her own right and a dynamo that might leave these American counterparts in the dust at just about any forum of Congressional hearing.  The title of this article proposes an alternative moniker – the Grand Dame of Water. Barlow, one of the driving forces behind the recent UN declaration on the human right to water, turned down the opportunity to debate World Water Council President, Loic Fauchon.  She says that it’s an “old debate and they know where I stand.”  By going to the World Water Forum, she believes she would have legitimized what she denounces as little more than a “trade show” backed by the World Bank.  While Barlow felt the WWF-6 to was hollow and empty, the cross-town Alternative Forum had an undeniably vibrant energy. Barlow, a Canadian, opposes the Keystone-XL Pipeline, which if built, could run from her home country through the Ogallala Aquifer in the United States.  She is even more opposed to the alternate route, which would “punch a hole through Rockies” and bring bitumen from the tar sands to Canada’s western coast for export to Asia.  “There is no pipeline that you can build that isn’t going to leak at some point…the beginning part of the XL Pipeline has already leaked in Michigan,” she said. Barlow believes that pipelines are like arteries to tar sands development, which both feed the development process and require more extraction for infrastructure finance.  She believes that the best solution is to “cut the arteries…and starve the beast.”
She is completely opposed to the idea of market mechanisms playing a role in the development and management of water resources.  “It’s a dangerous development and I think the move to put a price tag on nature is insane,” she says.

How can cash-strapped municipalities find funding for water projects?

As discussed in my previous post, there are a number of ways to finance water projects. However the topic of what options cash-strapped municipalities with low or non-existent credit ratings have for financing their water projects requires a more intensive look.  This is a big concern for municipalities around the world because they need to somehow finance expensive water and sanitation projects, such as putting in new pipes to expand water and sanitation coverage and maintaining and updating aging infrastructure. Following the session on “Where Does the Money Come From? Moving Forward on Strategic Financial Planning for Water” at the 6th World Water Forum, I sought to find the answer to this question.

Show Me the Money!!! (For Water)

How can municipalities finance their water projects? The short answer:  taxes, tariffs, transfers, bonds, loans, and grants. The long answer was divulged yesterday by a panel of finance experts who discussed strategic financial planning for water at the World Water Forum in Marseille, France. The crux of the issue was best outlined through a post-panel interview with Richard Torkelson – Managing Director, ButcherMark Financial Advisors LLC and Board Member for UNSGAB. I asked him “How can you effectively adapt a strategic financial plan in countries where the governments are working on cumbersome, if not outdated, laws and policies?” He responded that “the awareness of the need to change has almost gone off the curve.

Businesses and Water Stewardship: The Formation of an International Standard

Businesses must be actively involved in the management of water resources.  Businesses depend on quality and reliable supplies of water for direct and indirect uses including drinking, agricultural production, energy production, transportation, cleaning, resource extraction, processing, and so on. Many businesses use a significant amount of water in comparison to other users, so it is vital that they properly manage water resources in order to ensure the future supply.  However, there currently is no standard framework for planning, classifying, and documenting the water stewardship efforts by businesses. It is in the interest of businesses to invest in sustainable water use because water scarcity affects the ability to produce and transport goods, which affects investments and business risk. The Alliance for Water Stewardship, formed in 2008 by a variety of organizations including World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, is in the process of creating an International Water Stewardship Standard.  This proposed standard was presented at the session titled “Corporate Water Stewardship: Moving Toward Verifiable Sustainable Water Management” at the World Water Forum 6.  This standard focuses on the industrial site, watershed, and supply chain.  It will certify specific industrial sites on their water stewardship at three levels – Certified, Gold Certified, and Platinum Certified.  The session was led by Alexis Morgan, the Global Water Roundtable Coordinator on behalf of WWF, and the panel including Karen Golmer from Sealed Air, Romit Sen from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry(FICCI), Geoff Townsend from Nalco, and Jason Morrison from UN CEO Water Mandate.  

Current Business Practices

Although the relationship between water and the success of businesses may not initially be obvious, many businesses acknowledge the relevance of sustainable water supply.  Romit Sen of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry shared the results of a survey that found 60% of businesses reported being impacted by water availability today and 78% of businesses reported expecting to be impacted by water availability in the future.

The New Industrial Revolution Is Coming? No, It’s Already Here!

It’s a gorgeous day in Provence for the start of the sixth World Water Forum! The excitement is high at Parc Chanot in Marseille as ministers, delegations, media and students arrive in droves. The Marseille Rêve Choir, along with the Bamboo Orchestra and 250 children from schools around the city, kicked off the Opening Ceremony at the Palais des Événements, singing a beautiful song composed by Eric Benzi specifically for the event. The lyrics certainly echoed the sentiment that’s coursing through the venue – it’s time to move beyond talk and get our hands dirty finding real solutions to pressing global water issues. The buzz comes from the title and goal of the WWF6 – “time for solutions.”

Business-sandcastles washing away

Dominika Czyz reports from the oikos FutureLab 2011, 14-15 November, St Gallen Switzerland. Business today is like a castle made of sand, said Joanna Hafenmayer, Sustainability Officer at Microsoft Switzerland during oikos FutureLab workshops. The old business model of ever greater consumption, with growth at any price may fall apart easily. It is only the companies that reduce environmental impact while increasing social and economic impacts that will survive tomorrow. Business may succeed only by accelerating the transition to a sustainable future.

Ranking the Titans: Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes

Corporate reporting and assessment frameworks are powerful tools to help investors and consumers choose their investments and products wisely. In the wake of the World Resources Forum 2011, corporate sustainability assessments are an important tool to help consumers and investors drive change towards a less-resource-intensive world. One of the oldest, the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI) started in 1999 as a way to list the top 10 percent of sustainable global companies for investors.  SAM,  a boutique sustainable investing fund, invites the largest 2500 companies each year to submit sustainability data for DSJI scoring; companies are added and dropped from the list based on their performance.  The process is third-party reviewed by Deloitte Consulting. Two companies that attended the World Resources Forum 2011 are ranked on the DJSI; Kraft Foods and Syngenta.