B Corporations

Interesting idea from the US here: a few years ago a group of companies got together and decided to call themselves “B Corps”, a moniker they define as companies that “meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency” (http://www.bcorporation.net/what-are-b-corps). To become B Corps, companies must take a “B Impact Assessment” which certifies whether or not they meet those rigorous standards.

I first came across the idea of B Corps through this article by Waddock and McIntosh (2011), and I’m including the link to the article here because it’s a good summary of what’s going on out in practice in the general area of business and sustainability/corporate responsibility.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8594.2011.00387.x/full

Back to the B Impact Assessment (BIA), when they log on businesses can fill out a survey, get a BIA score and compare their score with that of their peers. It’s all very much within the business case paradigm, with the focus on competitive advantage and “attracting investors”, but it’s a interesting idea and there’s some innovative organisations behind it e.g. Seventh Generation, Patagonia. Think of the companies you know… wouldn’t you love to know who scores what! Here’s the link to the BIA and also to B Corp’s main page, where they have some good links and case studies:

http://bimpactassessment.net/

http://www.bcorporation.net/

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Irish Times “Corrib Impact” series

The Irish Times has a great feature today on the local impact of the Shell gas pipeline in Co.Mayo, which is due to start pumping gas in the next few months. It’s a really interesting study of the myriad positive and negative consequences when big business comes to a small town. There are some great figures in the article, such as the €7million Shell has invested in community initiatives since 2007, or that peak employment on the project was 1500 people in 2009. The article is the first in a “series”, so keep an eye out for further stories.

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/the-corrib-impact-pipelines-protests-and-prosperity-1.2264368

An accompanying article focuses on the impact of Shell’s arrival on local businesses, mostly construction and engineering firms. It’s fascinating to read how the individuals involved struggled between growing their business and maintaining their relationships with their friends and neighbours:

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/the-corrib-impact-business-boomed-and-friendships-died-1.2264312

Some “sustainable living” blogs

In their editorial in the latest issue of Organisation and Environment, Starik and Collins (2015) discuss the challenges of a “more sustainable” lifestyle, with reference to their own lives and careers. I particularly like how one of the authors admits that a student once told here via an evaluation form that “you live too close to uni to drive to work”!

http://oae.sagepub.com/content/28/2/131.full.pdf+html

The article closes with a number of further reading resources, my favourite of which is the US blog http://www.treehugger.com/, which has loads of great news stories and ideas and also a specific business section.

Reading treehugger sent me on a search of so-called “sustainable living” blogs and I’ve listed some of the most interesting I came across below. Many people are focused on one specific issue, often food or gardening, but there are also plenty of well-rounded, imaginative bloggers out there. Check out these:

http://myzerowaste.com/

http://moralfibres.co.uk/

http://plasticisrubbish.com/

http://www.ways2gogreenblog.com/

http://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/

Shadow Accounting

I’ve been reading quite a bit about “shadow” or “silent” accounting recently i.e. when a third party creates an independent “account” of an organisation’s social/environmental activities. It’s kind of a “counter-accounting”, where the reader gets to hear the negative things about the organisation that they don’t exactly shout about in their Sustainability Reports. It has some support among some of the more critical Social and Environmental Accounting researchers, but there isn’t a huge amount of work on the topic.

Researching shadow accounting brought the work of War on Want to my attention. This organisation is a UK-based NGO which focuses on raising awareness of global justice and poverty reduction issues. Its key campaigns at the moment are focused on Palestine, a living wage, sweatshops and “the business of war”.

It turns out that in the past War on Want has published some interesting shadow accounts in the form of alternative reports on companies like Coca-cola, Anglo American and Asda (Wal-Mart). The reports are a fascinating insight into how companies really operate in developing countries. Access them here:

http://www.waronwant.org/about-us/publications?start=80

Finally, a great recent academic publication in the shadow accounting area is the article below by Thomson et al. The authors do a case study of the work of anti-smoking group ASH and compare it with the rhetoric of British American Tobacco (BAT).

http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/AAAJ-08-2013-1439

Accounting and Happiness

The other day I came across a really interesting article in Critical Perspectives on Accounting on “accounting and happiness”:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1045235414001075

In his paper Lamberton presents a review of the “happiness literature” (who knew there was such a thing!), with a particular focus on Buddhism. He ultimately argues that accounting is contrary to the four seals of dharma (a key concept of Buddhism) and therefore contributes to suffering rather than happiness.

On the way, Lamberton touches on a number of happiness “theories”, one of which is the link between happiness and material wealth. While vaguely aware of the idea that happiness peaks at a certain level of material wealth, I didn’t realise that this is an established theory, named the “Easterlin Paradox”.

In 1974, economist Richard Easterlin used data from 30 surveys, covering 19 countries between 1946 and 1970, which measured both people’s subjective happiness and their incomes. He found that people’s happiness did not increase as their country got richer. Easterlin writes, from his US perspective, that the country ought to question its’ “mass consumption society”.

Further evidence comes from Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth report, a really excellent document which I’ve referenced here before. Jackson refers to the “life-satisfaction paradox”, where happiness in (rich) developed countries increases exponentially with income up to a certain point, then plateaus. As the graph below illustrates, people in the US may earn more than we in Ireland do, but we, apparently, are happier!

picaSource: Worldwatch Institute State of the World report 2008

Ultimately, Jackson’s message is simple: “there is a strong case for the developed nations to make room for growth in poorer countries” (Jackson, 2009:32). In short, we don’t need more money to make us happier; and there are other people who need that money more.

How to Change the World

There’s a new documentary coming out which focuses on the use of “mindbombs” – meaning an image which can shock us into action – a phrase coined in the 1970s by Bob Hunter, co-founder of Greenpeace. How to Change the World explores how Greenpeace uses images like the ones above to get people’s attention about climate change and other urgent environmental issues. Here’s the trailer and an article from the Guardian about the film:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/11/how-to-change-the-world-greenpeace-power-mindbomb

This got me thinking about how organisations in general use images to get a message across, and particularly the lovely photos companies use to fill up their Sustainability Reports. For example, take these images from BP’s 2014 Sustainability Report. Who know the oil business was so pretty!

Pipelines at the Sunrise Energy Project, an oil sands operation in Alberta, CanadaKwinana Refinery at sunset, Australia

For an academic take on the use of graphs and images in corporate reporting, here’s a really nice article by Hrasky in Accounting Forum. She suggests that “less sustainable companies” are more likely to “pursue legitimacy symbolically” i.e. there’s some soft-focus green-washing going on.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0155998212000154

News from Nowhere and Atkins et al (2015)

I just read a great article in Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal (AAAJ) by Atkins et al, which offers a really fresh look at the sustainability accounting literature. The authors take their inspiration from News from Nowhere, a 19th Century work of Utopian fiction by William Morris (the British textile designer famous for patterns like this):

News from Nowhere imagines a socialist Utopia, which the protagonist encounters through a vivid dream, and Atkins et al do the same. They describe a meeting of sustainability accounting academics where one of the participants falls asleep after returning home. She then dreams of a Utopian Britain where she attends a community meeting. There, “stakeholders” express their views individually through song.

Aside from all the trippy stuff, the article offers a great contextualisation of the sustainability accounting field, along with a review of the Utopian literature from an accounting perspective. The authors conclude by calling for monetisation of climate change costs and reporting of such information in Annual Reports. Here’s the link to the article and also a link to a PDF of News from Nowhere:

http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/AAAJ-09-2013-1485

http://www.sfu.ca/~poitras/Morris_News-from=Nowhere.pdf

No Oil in Ibiza

Interesting news today that Scottish company Cairn Energy has pulled out of its plans to “prospect” for oil off the coast of Spanish party island Ibiza. The company has denied suggestions that the environmental campaign against it had any impact on its decision. It also decided not to publish the results of the environmental impact assessment it had done on the area.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/04/ibiza-victory-oil-firm-abandons-search

So, frustratingly, it looks like we will never know if this negative “stakeholder feedback” had any effect on Cairn Energy’s behaviour, or if they simply didn’t find any oil off Ibiza. As the story above reports, another oil company recently abandoned plans to drill off the Canary islands, not because of the protests against it, but because there was no oil to be prospected.

Finally, this story inevitably reminded me of the anti-oil protests here in Ireland over the past 10-15 years or so. The ongoing Mayo v. Shell battle is chronicled in the 2011 film The Pipe, which is well worth watching, and the protest movement, “Shell to Sea”, are still going. You can see their latest work on their website, below.

http://www.shelltosea.com/

Ecotherapy

Reading Tony Juniper’s new book What Nature Does for Britain has inspired me to investigate a topic I’ve been interested in for a while now: ecology and mental health. Discussing the things nature does for us that we often take for granted, Juniper devotes a chapter to the link between nature and mental health. He refers specifically to Ecominds, a recent UK-wide project funded by the mental health charity Mind:

http://www.mind.org.uk/ecominds

The interesting thing about this is that a lot of small social enterprises grew from the project and are still operating successfully, from community farms to adult education centres to “green gyms”. There’s a list of the funded organisations here:

http://www.mind.org.uk/media/447386/ecominds-directory-of-projects.pdf?ctaId=/about-us/policies-issues/ecotherapy/ecominds/slices/feature-list/

It’s harder to find these kinds of organisations in Ireland (there are surely entrepreneurial opportunities here…) but one great example is Slí Eile in Co. Cork (link below). While Slí Eile gets 85% of its funding from the government, the success of some of the UK-based enterprises proves that these ecotherapy organisations can be fully/partially self-sustaining. I’ve also provided a link to an interesting article about Slí Eile. Please, someone set one up in every county!

http://www.slieile.ie/

http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/getting-back-to-good-mental-health-on-a-community-farm-311604.html