Sustainability, Tips, Work

How big is your footprint really?

Your Carbon Footprint that is…

We are proactive in reducing our carbon footprint and being aware of our impact and possibilities to reduce our impact on our environment.  In addition to trying our air travel, through Climate Friendly, and wanted to offset the emissions of our other (essential) emissions-intensive activities.

Climate Friendly works with corporations, businesses and individuals to measure, manage, and offset their carbon footprint, by  providing a quick and easy calculation tool, to take action immediately.  While these tools allow you to calculate offsets for flights, electricity and car travel, we wanted to offset more than those things, so we sent an email to Climate Friendly to see if they could help.  They quickly responded and sent us spreadsheet for us to fill in and  return to them to finish the calculations.

Before we could complete the spreadsheet, we needed obtain certain figures, make calculations and implement procedures to produce more accurate figures — so we thought we’d share how we went about doing it…

The first figure we tackled was our electricity, dividing the KW usage (from our electricity bill) by 5 working days, divided by the staff members.

For paper consumption, we went through our invoices and extracted all paper purchases i.e. A4 80gsm, A4 110gsm, FlipChart per 60gsm etc. worked out an average over the period of time and tracked it in a spreadsheet.

Taxi travel and freight figures were extracted from our cashflow reports from our accounting system.  For paper waste, we didn’t empty our 7 litre recycling bin for 4 weeks and measured how much we filled it for that period.

At the end of the day these figures are not absolute, but by continually measuring our consumption, our hope is that we’ll no longer be grappling for figures, working on guesstimates or making assumptions.  We’ll have a more comprehensive understanding of how big our footprint really is.

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Business 2.0, Sustainability

Guest post: Corporate Responsibility — engagement and transparency

We’re delighted to have urban and social planning consultancy Urban Affect on board as a partner. In this guest post (reposted with permission), principal Allison Heller shares some of her thoughts on CSR and social engagement.

A new year is often a time of reflection among businesses on strategic directions and corporate goals. For many firms, sustainability — environmental, social, economic — is fast moving up the agenda.

Raised regulatory standards and consumer expectations are today demanding far more from companies than an annual CSR report and a handful of associated token initiatives. The genuine integration of sustainability within an organisation may require significant organisational change and improved stakeholder engagement.

The Centre for Social Innovation — a partnership between the Universities of New South Wales, Melbourne, Western Australia and the Swinburne University of Technology — has been undertaking research on this shift taking place in the corporate sector in recent years. Researchers Gianni Zappala and Sarah Adams’ 2010 paper, The Integration of Corporate Responsibility: Evidence from leading companies in Australia & New Zealand (PDF 266 KB), considers the level of integration of sustainability principles and practices achieved to date.

The paper defines Corporate Responsibility (CR) as “understanding and minimising a company’s negative impact or footprint on society and a broad range of stakeholders including the planet and environment, its employees, the communities in which it operates and the governments which make the laws.” It utilises data from the Corporate Responsibility Index (CRI) benchmarking tool developed by Business in the Community in the UK in 2002, which is applied annually in Australia and New Zealand by the St James Ethics Centre.

The reseach found that “corporate responsibility is on the whole well integrated into the way that leading companies in Australia and New Zealand are doing business.” However it suggests that firms could improve in four key areas, including ensuring improving CR training at board level and improving the extent and quality of stakeholder engagement.

The following criteria are suggested as a measure of firms that have achieved genuine integration of CR principles:

  • Adopt a holistic conception of corporate responsibility or citizenship;
  • Have board level governance systems to oversee CR policies and practices;
  • Have senior leaders that champion CR internally and externally;
  • Have a range of structures and systems to integrate CR across the business, including risk management systems, stakeholder consultation schemes, sustainability training for managers and employees, establish and monitor key performance indicators for CR, and
  • Have an open and transparent approach to CR information disclosure (eg undertake assurance of their CR reports).

There is no denying the challenge for corporates in moving to greater levels of stakeholder engagement and associated transparency. However in many cases this is a necessary first step on the road to more sustainable, productive and profitable business. Which companies will rise to the challenge in 2011?


Micro-financing Rwanda’s Coffee Farmers

As part of Zumio’s quarterly giving program of donating 1% of net profit to organisations doing good within the community, we have chosen to support Project Rwanda Coffee Bikes.

Coffee Bikes was founded in 2005 by Tom Ritchey after he visited Rwanda in 2005. Being a bicycle enthusiast himself, he soon realised that the bicycle could be a important tool in rebuilding the country.

Rwanda has nearly 500,000 small farming coffee producers who have an average of 200 coffee trees each.  Each small plantation is managed like a small garden, and is owned by a family. These farms produce the highest quality coffee bean, as the soil is a rich volcanic grade and the farmer is able to give a high standard in cultivation.

As a farmer can not afford to buy a vehicle or an animal to transport their harvest, they are forced  to carry their load and walk  to a collection point, taking them up to 12 hours to do so.   Unfortunately the coffee bean begins to deteriorate from the time it is harvested until the time it is pulped, thus reducing the profit for the farmer if it takes too long to get to market.   By providing the farmers with these specially designed coffee bikes, it dramatically reduces the transport time to 2-4hrs, thus yielding the farmer a higher profit for their harvest and supplying a superior bean.

It is a micro-finance system and designed around the pay it forward concept, where you invest $300, the farmer pays it back over 2 years and once the debt is paid the money is recycled, allowing another farmer the opportunity to finance a bike, with the cycle continuing.

The coffee bike (aka cargo bike) opportunity is not only for coffee farmers but is also extended to farmers who harvest other crops and other goods, such as potatoes, cassava, milk etc.  50 donated cargo bikes were also used to distribute mosquito nets and malaria treatment to help prevent deaths, their goal is to Eliminate Malaria Deaths by 2015.

Cargo Bikes are  helping farmers to rise above poverty, giving Rwanda the potential of creating a prosperous rural economy.


Support for local refugee initiatives

Regular readers may recall that Zumio has a quarterly giving program where we donate 1% of net profit to organisations doing good within the community.  I just wanted to take a moment to mention who we’ve supported for the past two quarters.

Given the continued attacks on refugee rights that seem to flare up in response to electoral pressures, we decided to theme our giving for this past few months on initiatives that support refugees in our local community.

Asylum Seekers Centre NSW

The Asylum Seekers Centre supports Sydney-based (and in some cases regionally-based) refugees by “providing a welcoming environment and front-line support for community-based asylum seekers.”  The centre receives no government funding and relies on philanthropic support and public donations.  They recently ran an appeal highlighting a shortfall in funding due to a significant increase in the use of their services — so we are grateful of the opportunity to provide at least a little support to help them achieve their fundraising goal.

The Social Studio (Melbourne)

The Social Studio is “a dynamic space where clothing is created from the style and skills of the young refugee community.  Recycled and excess manufacturing materials are gathered from local industry and re-configured into original clothing.”

We loved the fact that the Studio combines so many positive benefits into one initiative — sustainable garment manufacture, refugee support, promotion of “social inclusion, community and vitality” through their mobile shopping carts — and we’re delighted we can be participating in their community in some small way.

Check out the site, consider donating, or if you’re in Melbourne, keep an eye out for their “pedal powered pop-up shops” to purchase some of the clothes produced by participants in the initiative…

Business 2.0, Sustainability

Social innovation in business

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (but clearly not a lot of blog writing!) about the idea of social innovation in a business context.  This ties into some previous thoughts I’ve posted about values and sustainability as a lens for innovation.

Two articles that I’ve come across recently expand on this concept.  The first is from Tim Draimin and focuses on shifting from Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Social Innovation.

In the article Tim references Michael Porter’s thoughts:

Michael Porter suggests that CSR has evolved.  He speaks about a concept he calls “shared value” or “corporate policies and practices that enhance the competitiveness of the company while simultaneously advancing economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates.”

The thinking goes that while traditional CSR programs are often viewed as an adjunct to the core business, something that happens “to the side”, the idea of CSI is that the benefit comes from the core business itself.  (While I do have reservations about the Corporate Social Innovation moniker, I do think the concept has merit.)

This is akin to what Adam Werbach outlines in his book Strategy for Sustainability when he talks about North Star goals and aligning sustainability goals with core business activity.  To my mind this also very much aligns with the concept of “betterness models” as put forward by Umair Haque.

I was reminded of this article (which I read quite a few weeks ago now) when I came across Dan Gray’s post on delivering short-term “quick wins” for sustainability within the context of a longer-term sustainability agenda.

In his post he says:

The authenticity of your commitment stems from the materiality of your actions – i.e. beyond the thin veneer of charitable giving, cause-related marketing etc., that commitment should be self-evident in the very products and services you provide, and the manner in which you conduct your daily business.

And goes on to quote Jonathon Porritt:

In an ideal world, all actions taken by a company to enhance its own commercial success should simultaneously generate benefits for society, over and above those that come directly through the use of that company’s products and services.

There are, of course, a number of cultural drivers that make consideration along these lines important for businesses moving forward, and I think they tie into the shift we’re also seeing in relation to social technologies (social networks etc.).  A quick summary of my current thinking is that people are seeking:

  • Human connection: as organisations have grown in size and become more and more depersonalised, people are wanting more human interactions and personal response.
  • Authenticity and transparency: from greenwashing to the GFC, the market’s trust has been eroded.  People are looking for organisations to say what they mean and mean what they say.
  • Co-creation and collaboration: people are taking a more active role in developing the products and services that they use.  And if they don’t find what they’re looking for, they will often create it themselves.
  • Environmental and social responsibility: global warming, looming limits to natural resource consumption, pollution and waste; respect for human dignity with fair wages and conditions — people want to support organisations that take these issues seriously, not just as something “to the side”.

Building a business (or service/product/brand) that resonates in this new “economy of meaning” requires a rethinking of an organisation’s role in more than “market” or financial terms.  But also, I think, a re-evaluation of an organisation’s relationship with customers/constituents, stakeholders, and the environment.

And I believe that it is in this rethinking that significant opportunities for innovation can be found.