Sustainability Gathering 2016

On Tuesday Sustainable Nation Ireland (http://sustainablenation.ie/) held the Sustainability Gathering, a one-day event in Dublin Castle bringing together industry and policy-makers and consisting of back-to-back panel discussions on business, investment and policy for sustainability. The event blurb stated that it was aimed to “discuss and showcase the many ways that Irish businesses can grab a share of the estimated €85 trillion which will be invested in global sustainability and resource efficiency by 2030″.

Four panels were held, bookended by an introduction and wrap-up. Stephen Nolan, CEO of Sustainable Nation Ireland, introduced the Gathering, observing that he hoped the day would provide some insight on how corporate Ireland can work with government to “show government the opportunities in this space”. He opened with some examples of Irish corporate engagement with sustainability:

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He also highlighted the findings below from a recent KPMG survey that illustrates that 74% of Irish companies “recognise sustainability as important to business strategy”.

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The next introductory speakers were Pat Cox, Chairman of the Sustainability Gathering and former President of the European Parliament, and John Mullins, Chairman of Sustainable Nation Ireland, who briefly discussed sustainability at a policy level. Pat Cox suggested that the Irish government must set GHG emissions targets in every sector, and develop actionable sector-specific plans. He noted that emissions in all sectors are going up and that we need to be mindful of the EU’s increasingly ambitious targets. His recommendation was “policy innovation” and he suggested that the government needs to open conversations with a range of actors, for example, talk to taxi drivers about switching to electric vehicles. We need “dialogue focused on deliverables, not diagnosis”.

They also considered the impact of the political situation in the US post-Trump. Pat Cox noted that not all industries in the US are committed to sustainability e.g. the motor industry, while John Mullins warned that corporate America will continue to lobby in its own interests.

This discussion was followed by four panels, all chaired by David Murphy of RTE. A brief summary of each panel follows below.

Panel 1: Providing a supportive policy framework, an insight

Speakers:
• Eamonn Confrey, Principal Officer Decarbonisation Unit, D/Communications,
Climate Action & the Environment
• Des O’Leary, Principal Officer Climate Finance, D/Finance
• Dr. John O’Neill, Principal Officer Climate Policy, D/Communications,
Climate Action & the Environment
• Declan Hughes, Assistant Secretary General Action Plan for Jobs,
D/Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation

This discussion featured four policymakers from three different governmental departments, and offered a fascinating insight into the government view on private and public sector collaboration.

Eamonn Confrey discussed electric vehicles, and suggested that the public sector can be an early adopter. He also noted the importance of giving certainty to investors, a theme that was picked up by a number of speakers during the morning.

Des O’Leary suggested that the private sector was a crucial driver of renewable energy, and John O’Neill agreed that government would like to engage more with the private sector. John drew our attention to the national climate change mitigation plan, which will be published for consultation in next few weeks. He suggested that climate policy is currently top-down, and that more engagement is needed at a regional level. He also suggested that innovation is required on adaptation as well as mitigation, noting that a new national adaptation plan will be published mid-2017.

Declan Hughes spoke of productivity, sustainability and resilience in agriculture and highlighted the role of ag. tech and ag. machinery. He noted that the industry is aiming for an increase in output with a decrease in input. He also stressed that the delivery of policies requires “ownership at a local level”, referring to the case of the proposed Apple data centre in Athenry (latest news here).

When it came to the audience Q&A environmental campaigner Duncan Stewart (of RTE’s Eco-Eye) said he was disappointed with the level of the discussion and suggested that there was no leadership coming from government, just “lack of action and lack of joined-up thinking”. He called for the establishement of a “high price on fossil fuels”. The panel responded that this would result in competitiveness issues for Ireland, and burden sharing in terms of tax. John O’Neill suggested that taxation is only one small element of policies that need to be changed and promised a range of issues in the forthcoming mitigation plan.

Panel 2: Mobilising Finance for a Sustainable, Low Carbon Economy

Speakers:
• Colin Hunt, Managing Director Wholesale & Institutional Banking, AIB
• Peter Cripps, Editor-in-Chief, Environmental Finance
• Helena Anderson, Head of Capital Investment, UK Department of
Trade & Investment
• Manus O’Donnell, CIO NTR Plc

The second panel focused on investment for sustainability, with insight on both lending to businesses and large-scale insitutional investment.

Peter Cripps suggested that investors are now relatively confident when it comes to solar and wind energy, and emphasised that it is “crucial to get institutional investors on board”. He has observed an increase in demand for more data from investors such as carbon footprinting for companies, and also a push back on carbon footprinting not being enough. Peter discussed the upcoming FSB guidance on climate-related risk (due on 14th December from the TCFD) and suggested that investors are concerned about the risk of overvaluation of fossil fuel-related assets, a point Manus O’Donnell also echoed. Peter Cripp also noted that new legislation in France on ESG reporting will come into effect next year (see here for info). He also drew our attention to the work of the Grantham Research Institute on carbon budgets (http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/publications/).

Peter identified a number of trends related to sustainability and green investment:

  • Shareholder action becoming more common, as in the case of a number of mining companies
  • Green bond market – this is still tiny but has seen an explosion of interest. He highlighted Irish company Gaelectric as one to watch in this area.
  • Companies now reporting carbon emissions. Here he referred to the recent Carbon Disclosure Project report on Irish companies.

Later in the discussion, he proposed a couple of policy directions for Ireland. The first was the PACE housing scheme in the US, where energy efficiency upgrades are made to homes but the debt is attached to the home rather than the owner. Second was a Green Investment Bank as in the UK, which he suggests can help to make investors more comfortable with the riskiest stages of investment.

Helena Anderson gave us the UK perspective, arguing that Brexit will not effect the UK government’s investment in green finance. She suggested that institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies are becoming more comfortable with risk, and cautioned that “huge amounts of public funding crowd out the private sector”.

Colin Hunt of AIB noted that there is a capital gap in the early, more risky part of funding. He suggested that “financial innovation” is required. From his perspective it is government, not business that needs to be convinced to invest in sustainability, and he urged government to provide the regulatory framework. He highlighted this open letter from US companies to Donald Trump. He closed with the point that talk of a “Green IFSC (Irish Financial Services Centre) lacks credibility when Ireland is failing to meet its EU climate targets. In his view “we have a mountain to climb”.

Panel 3: Enterprise led, Solutions driven

Speakers:

• Jim Fitzharris, Group Secretary, Smurfit Kappa Group
• Tom Mitchell, Head of Ireland-U.K. (EU’s largest climate tech platform)
• Ronan Furlong, CEO Alpha Innovation, DCU

• Tom Mitchell, Director UK and Ireland, Climate-KIC

• Christine Boyle, CEO, Senergy Innovations

• Seemab Sheikh – Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Denmark in Ireland

Jim Fitzharris gave us an introduction to sustainability reporting at Smurfit Kappa, observing that the only way you know what you’re doing is to manage and report on it. He also said that he would like to corporate Ireland “upset the applecart” and really push renewable energy.

Seemab Sheik gave a fascinating insight into Danish economic and environmental policy. She said that their approach to sustainability began during the 1970s oil crisis, when they realised they could not be dependent on imported fuel. Denmark is now branded as “State of Green” and she explained that this branding allows them to bring all actors together. When asked later in the Q&A how government reacts if industry responds to new policies with “no, that’s too expensive”, she indicated that they simply explain to industry that they will lose out if they don’t adjust.

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Denmarks’ State of Green branding image

Tom Mitchell discussed the various initiatives Climate-KIC plans to bring to Ireland, including a green entrepreneurship education platform. He suggested that more regulation increases innovation, citing the EU emissions trading scheme as an example

Christine Boyle told the story of her company Senergy, which aims to provide low cost solar energy, giving an insight into the challenges of starting and growing a renewable energy business. Support is available from sources like DCU’s Alpha Innovation, which, as Ronan Furlong explained, has helped organisations such as Exergen get valuable EU funding. Ronan also observed that he is now seeing innovation at business process level as well as a technological level.

A brief interlude after the panel was the presentation of the Sustainable Business Leadership Award 2016 to Sean O’Driscoll, President of Glen Dimplex. In his short speech he suggested that energy efficiency and renewable energy must be developed in tandem. He called for the electricification of heat and transport and clear policies and strong regulations to make this happen. He indicated the the primary energy factor for electricity must be revised, as it is currently at a disadvantage compared to fossil fuels.

Panel 4: Positioned to Lead, Ireland’s opportunity

Speakers:
• Sean O’Driscoll, President Glen Dimplex
• Diarmaid Ferriter, Professor of Modern History UCD
• Sean Kidney, CEO Climate Bonds Initiative
• Fergal Leamy, CEO Coillte

In the final panel Diarmuid Ferriter spoke of the new political challenges presented by 2016. He observed that politics now faces many new and modern challenges such as climate change. He suggested that Ireland must champion a green agenda and push it to the best of our ability internationally, in a variety of different international fora. He also argued that climate change education should be compulsory in schools and that society must “get our heads around” the idea of climate-related taxes. Asked about the US situation, he commented that in Ireland we get an “east coast, liberal view” on the US; we don’t hear much about the “spectacular inequality” in the country (see the Guardian’s Anywhere but Washington series for some indication).

Continuing the US theme, Sean O’Driscoll suggested that the US will ignore the Paris climate change agreement and that “China will use it to get one up on the US”. He referred to the problem of “trapped assets in developed countries that industries will want to protect”, not such an issue in developing countries. On Brexit, he drew our attention to this ESRI report on the sector and product-specific impacts on Ireland.

Fergal Leamy discussed renewable energy, suggesting that it can be one of Ireland’s competitive advantages. However he also called for clearer policy, telling us that Coillte hesitated on investing in wind farms because of the lack of a planned policy framework.

The last word of the panel was left to Sean Kidney, from the NGO Climate Bonds Initiative. He began by outlining the reality of climate change, stating that “our future is currently unbelievably grim. 2degrees warming is the ambition. We are currently at 4degrees”. His advice was that “we need to bridge the gap between capital and deals”, suggesting that this is where financiers come in, and this is also where Ireland comes in with innovation. He also advised that the shift must be signaled from the top, at Prime Minister level.

The last speaker of the day was Jim Gannon, CEO of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), who had some homework for the audience. He urged us to respond to public consultations on climate change action and to get our views across to policy makers:

“We need to lead by example. We all need to act and engage”.

 

 

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NUIG 1916 – 2016 Conference

Last weekend NUI Galway held a national conference on the theme of “Ireland 1916-2016: The Promise and Challenge of National Sovereignty”, in honour of the centenary of Irish independence. The four day conference brought together speakers from academia, industry and media to take a retrospective and prospective look at Irish politics, economy and society in the past 100 years and into the future.

The presence of some leading sociologists, economists and political scientists made for stimulating and in-depth sessions on societal, economic and policy issues, which have significant implications for sustainable development, and business, in Ireland. A few of these sessions were of particular interest in the sustainability/business context and these are reviewed below.

Economy and Society

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Prof. Kevin O’Rourke presents his paper alongisde some of his respondents

First up is Friday’s session on “Economy, Society and Well-being of Citizens”. The keynote speech was delivered by Prof. Kevin O’Rourke from the University of Oxford, who spoke on “Independent Ireland: a comparative perspective”, a review of Irish economic history from 1916 – 2016, in comparison with other European countries. The data presented clearly illustrated how, having grown in line with Europe from 1926 – 2001,  Ireland suddenly became an economic growth “overperformer” at the turn of the Millenium.

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Irish GDP volatility 1960 – 2014

Prof. O’Rourke went on to discuss Brexit, suggesting that we have to hope that the UK chooses a “soft Brexit”, but that countries will invariably look after their own self-interest. He pointed out that this was something Ireland is no stranger to, citing our corporation tax-rate. He highlighted that tariffs on exports to the UK may be imposed by the OECD and we will need a transitional trade deal while Brexit is occuring over the next couple of years. Prof. O’Rourke also talked us through the the Irish export figures, observing that the EU is a far more common export destination for every sector except agriculture. He closed by cautioning that “the kind of hyper-globalisation we’ve been so good at exploiting is becoming politically unsustainable throughout the western world”.

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The destination of Irish exports, as presented by Prof. O’Rourke

After Prof. O’Rourke’s paper, five respondents from different scholarly perspectives gave their views on the session theme and, to varying extents, the paper.

First was Prof. Alan Barrett of the ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute), who focused on the Society and Well-being aspects of the theme, and in particular on the topic of children’s welfare. With reference to the 1916 proclamation, he asked: does Ireland treat all its’ children equally? The ESRI has set about answering this question through the Growing up in Ireland (GUI) survey (http://www.growingup.ie/index.php?id=9), where 18,000 children have been interviewed and tested at various stages of their lives. The report has revealed some startling findings on the link between social disadvantage and learning, low birth weight and obesity, such as those illustrated in the slide below. His conclusion was that, no, every child in Ireland is not getting an equal start in life.

20161111_151222The panel considers Prof. Barrett’s findings

The next respondent was Prof. Mary Corcoran from Maynooth University’s Sociology Department, and she spoke of the concept of “everyday civicism”. She defined this as social civility, the “everyday interactions” that “create the latticework that hold society together”. She noted that in the wake of the recession, participatory spaces of different kinds have sprung up where exchange, democracy and debate is taking place, such as urban allotments, public libraries, festivals etc. So although we may have “lost the plot”, she said, we’ve also demonstrated “a lot of resilience, resourcefulness and civicism”.

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“We may have lost the plot…” Prof. Mary Corcoran

Tony Foley of Dublin City University then spoke of the historic lack of indigenous manufacturing entrepreneurship in Ireland. He suggested that this has not emerged due to a mismatch between cost base and technical capability. Dr. Eoin O’Leary of University College Cork began on a similar theme, observing that although 80% of Irish R&D is spent by MNCs, they are three times less likely to innovate than Irish companies. He put this down to Ireland’s “rent-seeking” economic policy, suggesting that we have a “dissociative” approach to policy, supporting FDI over indigenous industry, and that the government needs to create conditions for “bottom-up” economic development.

20161111_201704 20161111_201723Dr. Eoin O’Leary’s suggestions for Irish economic policy

Lastly, Dr. Conor Skehan of Dublin Institute of Technology discussed the urbanisation of Irish society, highlighting how much the distribution of our population has changed in the past 100 years, and particularly in the last 20.

The session closed with a brief Q&A, which featured several audience questions related to sustainability. In response, Kevin O’Rourke expressed his support for climate-related trade tariffs*.

Education

The Saturday morning session was entitled “The Challenges, Promises and Responsibilities of Education in the 21st Century”, where the keynote speaker was Prof. Louise Richardson, Principal of the University of Oxford, who presented a fascinating paper on education and terrorism. She said that although it is tempting to see education as an antidote to terrorism, the reality is not that simple, citing several prominent terrorists who were qualified professionals with a third-level education. She discussed the theory of “relative deprivation”, suggesting that this can affect radicals in poorer countries. Prof. Richardson emphasised the importance of encouraging students to think critically, act ethically and have empathy with others.

She also briefly discussed access to education, presenting the sobering statistic that 4 out of 5 children in well-off areas of Dublin will get to University, compared to only 1 of every 7.5 in disadvantaged areas.

This was a theme taken up by the first respondent, Prof. Dympna Devine of UCD, who argued that ineqality in education is a violation of childrens’ moral right, and suggested that there has always been chronic under-investment in education in Ireland, even during the boom. In the Q&A later she suggested that it is “extraordinary” that the private model now dominates early years education in Ireland and that this raises fundamental questions around power. She also drew our attention to UNICEF’s work on child poverty (e.g. see https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/UNICEF_SOWC_2016.pdf).

Second respondent Prof. Fionnuala Waldron of St Patricks College (Dublin City University) spoke on education for democracy and climate change education. She suggested that the goverment should focus on funding these issues, rather than some more niche concerns, using this cartoon to illustrate her point.

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Prof. Waldron spoke eloquently on education for democracy: “we must learn to act in solidarity with people who are not like us; to recognise our shared humanity”. She suggested that climate change education currently takes a “rear view mirror” approach, focusing on past policies and whether climate change is happening, rather than considering future scenarios. Education for sustainable development must engage “head, heart and hands” (e.g. see http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/14676370810842193).

Prof. Willie Donnelly of Waterford IT then focused on University partnerships with industry. He cited the internet as a notable challenge to education in the 21st Century, suggested that it is jeopardising our critical thinking. He also commented in the Q&A later that Irish Universities need more encouragement from the government on multi-disciplinary work. The final respondent was Dr Niamh Hourigan of University College Cork, who suggested that the big challenge for Universities is to “be the critique of neo-liberalism”.

The last word was left to Louise Richardson, who suggested in response to a question from the audience that Universities perhaps need to separate themselves more from industry than they have. We need to remember that:

“The purpose of a University is to create cultivated human beings, not simply supplying a skilled workforce”.

Politics

The closing plenary of the conference was a discussion on “Political Futures and New Paradigms”, featuring Prof. Brendan O’Leary of the University of Pennsylvania. Prof. O’Leary began his talk by highlighting the “Ireland 2116” map below, pointing out that if climate change continues at current rates both Galway and Dublin will be under water in 100 years.

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Ireland 2116: the title slide for Prof. O’Leary’s talk

He then identified a number of current political “megatrends”, stressing that Ireland is not immune from these trends:

  • De-democratization
  • Power of the rich
  • Purchase of the media and the judiciary
  • Erosion of social democratic parties
  • Estrangement from political parties in general
  • Xenophobia
  • Neoliberalism and its discontents

Prof. O’Leary went on to discuss the currently “unsteady equilibrium” of the EU, particularly in the context of Brexit. He used these cartoons to illustrate how Brexit has been perceived around Europe.

Image result for tom janssen brexit Image result for gatis sluka british pound                         by Tom Janssen (Netherlands)                                         by Gatis Sluka (Latvia)

He then discussed the various soft and hard UKEXIT options, with the help of the following slide [apologies for the very poor quality photo].

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UK-exit options, as presented by Prof. O’Leary

He has proposed his own UKEXIT option, “Dalriada”, where Scotland and Northern Ireland remain part of the EU. Details here: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2016/06/27/de-toxifying-the-uks-eu-exit-process-a-multi-national-compromise-is-possible/.

Prof. O’Leary also discussed the possbility of a united Ireland, suggested that there is a Northern Irish case for unification in terms of economic benefit. This point was taken up by the first respondent, Dr Niall Ó Dochartaigh of NUIG, who pointed to the results of a RTE/BBC NI survey on unification which suggested that the majority of respondents are “open to debate, discussion and persuasion”. Dr Ó Dochartaigh discussed the nature of democracy in light of recent political events. He suggested that “democracy is about debate and change, not about stasis”, encouraging us to remember that politics is about challenging the majority: “it is not in our power to keep things the way they are. We need to respond to changes in imaginative ways”.

The final respondent was Prof. Jennifer Todd of UCD, who argued that in fact Dalriada could be more radical. She noted in her talk that “identity politics doesn’t work” and suggested that politics hasn’t taken this into account. For further reading on the topic, check out this article on identity politics and the US election: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-identity-politics-couldnt-clinch-a-clinton-win/2016/11/11/ed3bf966-a773-11e6-8fc0-7be8f848c492_story.html

*For more into on climate change and trade, here’s a couple of references:

https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/booksp_e/abstract_trade_climate_change_e.pdf

http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWDRS/Resources/477365-1327504426766/8389626-1327510418796/Focus-C.pdf

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CSEAR Ireland 2016

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Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick

Last month the CSEAR Ireland conference was held at the University of Limerick, bringing together social and environmental accounting scholars from all over the world. CSEAR is the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research, based at the University of St Andrews, Scotland (https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/csear/). The first annual CSEAR Summer School, which is now usually hosted by St Andrews, was held in 1990 and conferences around the world have sprung up since – North America, Australia, South America, Spain, China – and for the first time this year, Ireland.

The theme of the conference was “Public Interest and the Common Good”, which proved a catalyst for some great discussions on the purpose of accounting and why accountability, and social and environmental accounting research, matters (or not?)

Plenary

Much of that debate occured in Thursdays’ plenary on “Accountability and the Public Interest” featuring keynotes from Prof. Jesse Dillard, University of Florida and Dr. Mary Canning of University College Dublin. Speaking first, Mary Canning discussed how we define “public interest” and the “common good”, citing among others Cochran (1974) and Willmott (1990) (see references below). She used the work of Dellaportas and Davenport (2008) to explain that the accounting profession has moved to the “abolitionist” perspective on public interest, which in fact privileges the pursuit of self-interest. Mary closed with a number of thought-provoking research questions for accounting scholars.

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Mary Canning’s suggestions for further research

Jesse Dillard spoke next in interactive style, encouraging audience participation from the start and turning the plenary into a lively debate. He suggested that it is the responsibility of academics to act as conscience, critic and counselor to business and the accounting profession, partcipating in and perhaps influencing the public discourse on accounting. He observed that “we are creating a whole new discipline called accountability”, but questioned whether the term is an open signifier or a vacuous one. Jesse suggested that we need to clarify the meaning of accountability and work on “building a conceptual infrastructure around accountability”, and perhaps his framework below is a useful place to start.

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Can transparency enable participation? Jesse Dillard’s take on accountability

Jesse then went on to discuss the theory behind accountability. He suggested that it is about trust, or lack thereof: “if I trusted you entirely I wouldn’t need accountability”. Ultimately he encouraged us all to think about why we were there at the conference, why do we care about accountability and why does it matter? We are rationalists, he argued, with a faith that human beings will make rational decisions. Therefore we call for accountability and transparency in the belief that those accounted to e.g. the public, regulators, will act on the information then provided e.g. boycott or impose penalties on companies.

Other sessions

Apart from the plenary, some excellent papers were presented throughout the day, and a few are summarised here, with apologies to the authors whose sessions I didn’t manage to attend.

Earlier on Jesse Dillard presented a paper on accounting and accountability in a fascinating organisation – a cattle ranchers co-op in Colorado (http://www.countrynaturalbeef.com/). Himself and co-author Madeline Pullman posed a number of intriguing research questions:

  • Can a commercial enterprise survive in the long run with its primary objective being something other than maximising shareholder value?
  • What would that organisation look like?
  • What types of accounting systems would be facilitative?
  • Is the economic result the means or the end?

The key objective of this organisation, rather than maximising shareholder value, is to keep the next generation on the ranch. He suggested that the organisation has developed its own management and accounting system based around supporting its key objective, and that this is what enables the organisation to survive.

Matthew Scobie from the University of Sheffield looked at accountability in the deep sea oil exploration industry in New Zealand, drawing on a range of interviews with actors in the accountability arena, including local activists. He suggested that there were many different “accounts” within the arena, it was in fact “overwhelmed” by accounts. For example, the protests of the activists were informal systems of accountability. However, there were few expectations of accountability – people didn’t trust the organisations involved and expected the government to look after the country’s natural resources. The paper promises to be an interesting read once it is published. Also useful to note is the paper on accountability in football by Cooper and Johnston (2012), which Matthew drew on for his theory development.

All the way from the University of Florida, Dennis Huber explored the conceptual framework around the “public interest”, focusing on its treatment by the US Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). He highlighted that the FASB definitions of financial statement users do not mention the public. The mission of FASB and the SEC, he argued, is to protect the market, not the public interest.

Brigitte de Graff, Vrije University, Amsterdam, presented an interesting paper where she used the literature on management fashions, including Abrahamson (1996), to ask if integrated reporting  (iirc.com) is a management fad. She found that integrated reporting does fit the management fashion trends, and noted that natural and manufactured capital is not mentioned at all in IR, making it an incomplete framework. Her paper led to a thoughtful discussion, with one audience member suggesting drily that if integrated reporting is fashionable maybe that’s a good thing because it may disappear soon. See Thomson (2015) for a further critique of IR.

On Thursday afternoon Markus Milne, Professor of Accounting at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, presented his beautifully-titled paper co-authored with Rob Gray: “The Unbelievable in Pursuit of the Inconceivable: Empiricism and the Social Construction of Corporate Environmental Performance”. Key to this paper was a critique of what the authors called the “over simplification” of measures of corporate environmental performance (CEP) in large quantitative studies. He argued that all of the different measures used are to do with the firm, not the environment; “this is a narrative about the organisation not about ecology” and “ecology is partitioned off because it’s too hard”.

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Markus Milne explores Corporate Environmental Performance measures in the literature

Per Milne and Gray’s thesis, these measures take on too much significance and become reified, they “become the thing”, when in reality the issues from an ecological perspective are so complex that it is “inconceivable that we could track effects back to causes”. During the presentation Markus also drew our attention to a number of related books, for future reference:

Image result for Tom's river book                               Image result for our stolen future

The final paper of the day came from conference organisers Sheila Killian and Philip O’Regan of UL, who presented their fascinating early stage case study on accountability in the Makana township in South Africa. In response to water problems, a company, MobiSAM, has set up a “Social Accountability Monitor” (http://www.blog.mobisam.net/) which residents can use to report water problems. Citing the work of Cooper and Owen (2007), Killian and O’Regan suggested that this changes the way people can engage with accountability process; they can be more empowered actors. However, they have not yet decided on the answer to their research question: “is accountability being created at all?” Jesse Dillard might call that an appropriate way to close the day.

Links to in-text references

Abrahamson (1996) – http://amr.aom.org/content/21/1/254.short

Cochran (1974) – https://www.jstor.org/stable/2129473?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Cooper and Johnston (2012) – http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/09513571211225060

Cooper and Owen (2007) – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0361368207000219

Dellaportas and Davenport (2008) – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1045235407000706

Munzio et al (2016) – http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/44207774/Muzio_Faulconbridge_Gabbioneta_Greenwood_final_onlinbe_version.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ56TQJRTWSMTNPEA&Expires=1478853201&Signature=4rT35mBBRdTyDIjDsX2vzEUx1Bk%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DBAD_APPLES_BAD_BARRELS_AND_BAD_CELLARS_A.pdf

Thomson (2015) – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1045235414000756

Willmott (1990) – http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-349-09786-9_16

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Jeffrey Sachs on the SDGs

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Pre-lecture gathering at UCD’s O’Reilly Hall

Yesterday University College Dublin presented the Ulysses medal for outstanding global contribution to Prof Jeffrey Sachs, a leading development expert from Columbia University. Prof. Sachs then gave an inspirational lecture on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs), along with a short Q&A.

Prof. Sachs was introduced by Prof. Paul Walsh, UCD’s Professor of International Development, who stressed that academia must work in partnership with government, civil society and private sector to achieve the SDGs. He discussed Prof. Sachs’ work with the UN on development economics and highlighted a quote from his book The End of Poverty: “markets cannot meet the needs of the desperately poor”.

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Personalised SDG seats in O’Reilly Hall

After a brief introduction in which he stressed the role of Universities in achieving the SDGs, Jeffrey Sachs discussed what he identified as two distinct perspectives on economics:

  1. Society has the potential to produce anything – it has choices. This enables us to ask the question – what are our possibilities? e.g. could we “produce” a low carbon energy system, could we “produce” the end of poverty
  2. The market view –  the supply-demand equilibrium is the outcome of the economy. What happens is what producers and consumers want to happen, and the “invisible hand” is how resources are allocated. However, resources can be allocated in ways which result in outcomes such as poverty and pollution.

Prof. Sachs argued that we must engage with the first perspective and “remember what is possible, not just accept what is. We must ask what we should be doing to make life better for humans on the planet”. He urged us all to engage with our moral agency and not “get stuck as spectators”, remembering that the “true end goal” is human well-being, not property rights.

Prof. Sachs went on to argue that the SDGs are readily economically achievable, and our inability to achieve them is a “moral, psychological problem” rather than an economic problem. He used the example of SDG4 – Quality Education: the cost of every child in the world receiving a secondary education would be US$40 billion per annum, ostensibly a large amount. But if we add up the GDP of all the OECD nations, the total comes to c. US$50 trillion, of which the 40billion is a tiny 0.08%. Prof. Sachs noted that “we are constantly spending money on things we don’t need and yet to achieve the SDGs it would not cost more than 3% of our economy”. He added that we have 1800 billionaires in the world, who between them have US$700 trillion; arguing that “this could be done with 2000 people”.

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Jeffrey Sachs speaks on the Sustainable Development Goals

In the Q&A session Prof. Sachs was first asked what he had learned from working on the UN’s Millenium Development Goals, which preceded the SDGs. He answered that “it’s hard to get the world’s attention on anything like this. Are we aware of these issues? We’re competing with a lot of things, with a lot of basketball games on television, with Kim Kardashian”. He also noted that there is a public scepticism that development aid might all be lost or misspent, stressing that we need systems that resist corruption.

Asked what Ireland must do to achieve the SDGs, his advice, which he had also highlighted earlier in his talk, was to “ask someone who knows…mobilise expertise and use it effectively”. Citing the need for renewable energy, he urged us to get experts to understand the problem, analyse it, and ask: what are the choices here? Economists can then be brought in to suggest policy e.g. carbon tax, electric taxi fleets. He also criticised Ireland’s sustainable development strategy as generic and not focused on problem-solving. We can judge for ourselves here: http://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/migrated-files/en/Publications/Environment/Miscellaneous/FileDownLoad%2C30452%2Cen.pdf

Prior to the lecture UCD held an exhibition showcasing its development education courses, including the PhD in global development (http://www.ucd.ie/hdi/education/phdinglobalhumandevelopment/) and the joint Masters in Development Practice with Trinity college, a course facilitated by 40 different universities around the world (http://www.ucd.ie/hdi/education/summaryoftcd-ucdmastersindevelopmentpractice/).

The UCD Centre for Humanitarian Action also featured and now runs a 16 month MSc. It provided us with the Irish Consultation to last year’s World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), for which it was the Secretariat. The consultation discusses six thematic areas (see below) and offers recommendations for the WHS and for the Irish Humanitarian community in relation to each area. There’s lots of info on the Centre’s website at http://cha.ucd.ie/.

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Irish Consultation to the World Humanitarian Summit 2015 – Contents

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Visions 2100

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Earlier this week the Dublin launch was held of Visions 2100, a book which brings together the visions of 80 people, including many environmental scientists, policy-makers and campaigners, imagining what the world might look like in the year 2100 (http://www.visions2100.com/).

The book’s editor John O’Brien, entrepreneur, author and MD of his own cleantech company, envisaged the book as a way of gathering ideas on how to address climate change. Everyone is invited to share their own vision on the book’s website. In the book contributors such as Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, and Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, outline their 2100 vision in (usually) less than 200 words.

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At the launch four experts spoke on climate change and their vision for the future, while John O’Brien chaired a Q&A. John Gibbons, an Irish Times journalist who hosts his own blog on climate change (http://thinkorswim.ie/) entitled his vision “The Age of Madness”, featuring a look back at 2015 as a time when “everyone was competing with everyone else – for money, resources, status”. He stressed the importance of a clear vision and suggested that Ireland has shown a lack of vision in undermining the EU 2030 climate targets.

Next was Aideen O’Hora of Sustainable Nation Ireland (http://sustainablenation.ie/), who argued that we must have a global perspective on climate change and when creating a vision for the future, citing the example of migration of people around the world. She also mentioned the EU’s Climate-KIC initiative – http://www.climate-kic.org/ – and a couple of its programs, Climathon and Climate LaunchPad. Her message was that action starts with a conversation.

Academic and activist Dr Cara Augustenborg (http://www.caraaugustenborg.com/) highlighted the importance of localised environmental and social sustainability, using the example of local food production in Cuba. She suggested that “we need to replace the consumerist dream with wellbeing, equality and connectedness”. Dr Augustenborg also drew our attention to an excellent video by GOOD magazine – If the world were 100 people, which features this infographic:

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Finally, barrister and former Minister Alex White spoke of how his most difficult job when in office was persuading colleagues of the urgency of what needed to be done on climate change. He suggested that “the argument doesn’t travel very far unless people see it close to them” and that the further away the target is e.g. the year 2030 or 2050, “the more alibis people have to do nothing”. He cited a lack of political leadership as a significant issue and argued that a “great national project” is needed.

In response to a question from the audience on what needs to change for the optimistic Visions 2100 to be realised, Mr White called for a national dialogue on climate action, a forum including everyone, especially farmers. Cara Augustenborg echoed that climate change must become a “doorstep issue”, where voters urge politicians to address it. She also stated that if she was in charge of the country for a day, she would take over the media and broadcast wall to wall climate science. On the same question, John Gibbons suggested that the national curriculum needs to be rewritten, bringing climate and sustainability education into every level.

So now it’s our turn… submit your 200 word vision at: http://www.visions2100.com/#!write-your-vision/rjqdl

 

Brexit and Corporate Accountability

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In Wednesday’s Irish Independent I write about how Brexit could threaten the EU’s Anti-Tax Avoidance Project:

http://www.independent.ie/business/brexit/brexit-could-sink-the-eus-corporate-accountability-drive-34897477.html

For more on the topic a good source is Tax Research UK, the advocacy group run by Jeremy Corbyn’s economic advisor Prof. Richard Murphy (http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/). I also found the EU website a useful source when writing the article, such as this FAQ: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-2265_en.htm.

Finally, here is how the EU is hoping to proceed with its Anti-Tax Avoidance package over the next year or so:

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Source: ec.europa.eu

 

Inspirefest Day 2

Day 2 of the Science, Technology and Arts Festival brought us another fascinating mix of keynotes, panels and Q&As on topics broadly related to STEAM. The day was all about challenging biases, discovering new ideas, and searching for solutions to the big problems.

The Collaborative Economy

The day kicked off on the theme of the “Collaborative/Sharing Economy”, featuring a keynote by Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase and a panel discussion with Jules Coleman of on-demand cleaning company Hassle.com and Nilofer Merchant, author of Onlyness.

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The panel discuss “What now for the Collaborative/Sharing Economy”

Robin Chase gave a fascinating presentation on the collaborative economy, presenting her “Peers Inc” theory, based on bringing together individual strengths and industrial strengths. She explained that we all have different strengths and that we invented organisations to do things we can’t do. The collaborative economy exploits the opportunity of “excess capacity”, whereby people share assets that already exist and are paid for e.g. cars, houses. She suggested that there are three ways to gain added value from excess capacity:

  1. Slice it e.g. Zipcar and UpWork
  2. Aggregate it e.g. AirB&B and Waze
  3. Open it up e.g. through open data (see McKinsey open data report, 2013)

Robin argued that “people and platforms are inventing the collaborative economy and reinventing capitalism”, citing companies such as Ebay, Linux, Skype, Youtube and Wikipedia, and new forms of capital such as crowdfunding. She suggested that we are moving away from industrial capitalism to a collaborative economy where the lines are blurred between private and public assets and between employee and self-employed.

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She also explained persuasively how the collaborative economy can contribute to addressing climate change, an issue for which her passion came through. Leveraging excess capacity allows us to decouple economic growth from environmental impact; AirBnB is now larger than the Hilton hotel group, but without building any hotels. We can also tap exponential learning, as in the case of education organisation Duolingo, which can help people to learn a foreign language in just 34 hours (as opposed to the college standard of 130 hours). Robin also stressed that because the collaborative economy gives us access to a diversity of peers, “the right person will appear” and this also enables real-time adoption of services. She cited the example of AirB&B in Cuba, when 2,000 rentals appeared within 6 months of the relaxing of trade relations with the US.

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AirBnB Cuba

Robin Chase closed with four principles of the collaborative economy:

  • Shared networked assets deliver more value than closed assets – they can be used more efficiently or more value can be extracted from them
  • More networked minds are greater than fewer proprietary minds
  • The benefits of shared open assets are greater than the problems associated with them
  • In the sharing economy we get more than we give e.g. we can post a small piece of information on Wikipedia and we get access to a huge database of knowledge

Reiterating her passion for addressing climate change, she declared that the collaborative economy is what we need to “speed the pace of evolution to prevent revolution, to tackle climate change and inequality”.

Social Enterprise

Today featured several inspiring female social entrepreneurs. Elena Rossini is a filmaker  who focuses her work on empowering women and girls. She has made a film about the Lottie doll (lottie.com), a doll that challenges stereotypical notions of “toys for girls”. The point of the Lottie doll is that it is about what the doll does, as opposed to how it looks.

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We also heard from Mary Carty, who co-founded Outbox Incubator, a social enterprise which supports girls in STEM, with fellow entrepreneur, STEMettes founder Anne-Marie Imafidon (http://outboxincubator.com/). The organisation launched last July with a program for 115 girls from 6 countries. Mary commented that “in this society, we cap the ambition of our girls, and we do it unconsciously. We want safe careers for our daughters”. She argued that the new “safety” is skills, confidence and a network. Last year’s Outbox has launched 29 companies.

Mary’s presentation was followed by an Outbox Incubator graduate, Niamh Scanlon, who was named EU Digital Girl of the Year 2015. She has already created the Apps “Autojournalist” and “Please Charge my eCar” and also mentors on the nationwide CoderDojo program. Niamh was joined on stage for a Future Leaders Q&A by several equally impressive young female STEM entrepreneurs. Vanessa Greene, fed up with the proliferation of beauty vlogs on Youtube, has started her own STEM blog looking at music and technology, while Edel Browne has founded Free Feet, which helps Parkinsons’ sufferers with tremors.

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Some very very young entrepreneurs on the Inspirefest stage

The story of a social enterprise in a very different setting came from Jamila Abass, who has co-founded MFarm to help farmers to get a fair price for their crops. She observed an information gap in the supply chain; farmers and buyers were existing in two different planes and could not talk to each other, there was no communication between the informal and the formal market. Her solution was to enable direct communication between small farmers and buyers. She told us that “the African Green revolution is happening at a time when even the poorest farmer has access to a mobile phone”. Through Mfarm farmers receive texts detailing up to date market prices. They can also communicate with each other, form a co-operative and combine what they are selling, along with getting text advice from agricultural experts. Jamila also outlined how Mfarm diversified and expanded to respond to the challenges of the distributing products in Africa. To do so it also became a logistics company, collecting, packing and marketing products.

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How MFarm collates pricing information and passes it on to farmers

Finally, Liz Jackson is the founder of The Inclusive Fashion & Design Collective, the first fashion trade association for people with disabilities. Her advocacy organisation grew out of her frustration at the lack of products made for people with disabilities. Fashion and other designers practice “universal design”, but she has conceptualised “neo-universal design”, where “you design for the exception”. In her excellent speech, she stressed that neo-universal design needs to be adopted as a business model, “not as a CSR halo”.

Design

A section of the morning focused on Design, including a panel discussion on “Designing Human-centric Products and Services for the 21st Century” with Alan Siegel of Siegelvision, Mark Curtis of Fjord, Lorna Ross, Director of Design at the Mayo Clinic and Lara Hanlon, a designer at IBM studios. Lara highlighted the role design can play in engaging people with climate change by explaining her work on edible insects. Inspired by the challenge of food security in the face of climate change, Lara designed an education platform on “entomo” (insects as food), incorporating infographics, videos and yes, recipes (http://www.entomoproject.eu/#entomo). The panel agreed that design is crucial in making tools like this appealing to the public.

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Gourmet insects with Entomo

Donal Holland also introduced us to his fascinating work with “soft robotics” i.e. robotics made with soft materials, which makes them easier for humans to interact with. Robotics like this have a wide range of health applications, from helping people with neurological injuries to move their arms and legs to supporting people with heart defects. He and his colleagues have also done some STEM outreach, such as the website http://softroboticstoolkit.com/, which has since been used by over 90,000 people. The website also provides open source designs which students can use to build their own robots. The research team are building moulds using paper and 3D printer templates and have been testing these designs with kids all over the world.

Venture Capital and Investment

One of the afternoon sessions was “The Investors”, incorporating several keynote speakers and a panel discussion. Adam Quinton, founder of Lucas Point Ventures, highlighted that only 6% of venture capitalists are women. He also drew our attention to sexism in Silicon Valley (http://www.elephantinthevalley.com/). Claudia Iannazzo of Pereg Ventures called for multinationals to be stronger on diversity, to set clear diversity targets and to be more thoughtful when organising events to attract and retain employees, e.g. replacing paintballing and golf outings with more universal activities.

A potential solution to the lack of women in venture capitalism was offered by Vicki Saunders from Canada, founder of SheEO, which supports and finances female entrepreneurs (http://www.sheeo.world/). She began her keynote by questioning the current system of investing and access to capital, explaining that the speculative economy is 50 times greater than the value creation economy, capital is aggregated into a small amount of hands, and SMEs, which make up 90% of the economy, are starved of capital. How SheEO works is that, in communities around the world, 1000 women come together through an online platform, pick 10 female-owned companies in their area and give them low-interest loans. The entrepreneurs also get access to networks, expertise and buying power.

The Fringe and some closing thoughts

Off to the Fringe again on Friday evening and to a highly anticipated festival event, Zoe Philpott’s play Ada.Ada.Ada. To a full house Ada Lovelace in her LED dress explained how she wrote the program for Charles Babbage’s “analytical engine” aka the world’s first computer, based on Babbage’s 5000 drawings. The performance included an audience participation exercise which aimed to recreate a basic computer circuit with string, cards and simple mathematics. The play was followed by a beautiful performance from Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan and her band.

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Zoe Philpott prepares before Ada.Ada.Ada.

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Lisa Hannigan performs on the Fringe main stage

In summary, an appropriately inspiring two days. A few general thoughts looking back on the conference:

  • Every conference should have a Fringe. It was wonderful to see the technical ideas we heard about during the day interpreted in an alternative and artistic way.
  • Lunch each day was excellent, and showcased some Irish food companies (see below). But it came in a lot of packaging, with not a recycling bin in sight. Although everything is recycled off-site, and extra food donated to social enterprise FoodCloud, an event like this is a great opportunity for promoting recycling at source.
  • Where was the maths (Ada Lovelace excepted)? As one delegate noted, there was a lot of focus on STE, but little M. An opportunity to get some interesting speakers in this area next year.
  • Finally, after two great days at Inspirefest, I’m no longer worried about kids getting involved in STEM and STEAM, but what about the humanities? Surely there’s an opportunity for a tie in conference next year…hopefully called “Oh the Humanities”!

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Hanging out at the Fringe bar (left) and lunch (right)

Inspirefest 2016 Day 1

Today was the first day of Inspirefest, a two day conference in Dublin which describes itself as an “international festival of technology, science, design and the arts” (http://inspirefest.com/). The format is similar to a TEDx but more interactive: one stage hosts keynotes throughout the day and there are also panels and Q&A sessions. Then at 6pm everyone bundles into buses to the Inspirefest Fringe in Merrion Square for music, theatre and the interactive expo tent.

The official theme of the conference is STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) with a focus on innovation and diversity. Most of the entrepreneurs, academics and executives speaking over the two days are women. Inspirefest is the brainchild of Ann O’Dea, founder of tech news website Silicon Republic (https://www.siliconrepublic.com/), who has championed women in technology, and the inagural festival was held last year. In opening the conference, she stressed the diversity of speakers – 70% are women and many are from very different backgrounds. She noted the richness and depth of conversation that diversity can bring, and encouraged attendees to look at the diversity on stage and think: “wouldn’t it be a good idea if that was the same in my organisation”.

Disclaimer: there were so many amazing speakers on the day and unfortunately I haven’t got the chance to mention them all, but hopefully the below gives an idea of what went on!

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“The world needs curiosity, it needs understanding, it needs knowledge” – Enda Kenny opens Inspirefest

Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave the opening address, speaking of the importance of diversity and of supporting women in STEM. He stressed the role of the STEM careers program in secondary schools and noted that “the gendering of certain careers continues – STEM subjects are still seen by many girls as being for boys only”.

Education

Education and diversity, and diversity in education, were the focus of much of the day, with speakers and panels on STEM and STEAM. In a panel discussion on “Building an Inclusive Education System in STEM”, Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, raised the issue of quotas to increase the number of women applying for research funding. He and Chair Ann O’Dea agreed that without a level of positive discrimination, talented women will remain “hidden” in the system.  Good news came from Christine Loscher, Research Director at Dublin City University, who announced that DCU is renaming all of its buildings, and 50% will be named after women. She also highlighted that female students at third level need to see that other women hold key decision-making positions in the University, to know that “it’s possible”.

STEM career stereotypes also came up, with Mark Ferguson pointing to a survey which revealed that the number one factor for secondary school students when deciding what job they want is that they will “fit in”. Equally, parents want the same thing for their children. He suggested that we need to challenge the stereotype of a scientist as a man in a white coat with “slightly mad hair”, or, as Ann O’Dea pointed out, the idea many girls and young women have that they are “hopeless” at maths.

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How do we get away from the “mad scientist” stereotype?

One woman who challenges those stereotypes is Zoe Philpott, who took the stage to talk about education in STEAM, and particularly her projects to link technology and the arts. Despite being told by a University tutor that she shouldn’t do coding because she was the “artistic type” and “a girl”, she immediately set up a dotcom on graduation. Since then she has worked in various creative ways to foster science education through technology and art, via projects including robots, crowd games and a collaborative event with the charity Girl Effect, which recreated for users the experience of a young women growing up living with poverty in Ethiopia. Her performance piece Ada.Ada.Ada., which takes its inspiration from Ada Lovelace, inventor of coding, will take place as part of the Inspirefest Fringe on the evening of Friday 1st July.

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Ada.Ada.Ada. (left) and an installation from “Girl Effect live” (right)

Zoe also took part in a panel discussion on “STEAM: The Convergence of Tech and Arts”, along with Noel Murphy of Intel and Nora O’Murchu of the Interactive Design Centre in University of Limerick.  The panel considered the “productive convergence of Science, Technology and the Arts”, or what Ada Lovelace called “poetic science”. As Zoe Philpott explained, with the “triptych of arts, science and mathematics, you can come up with visions greater than what we see before us”. She also used the “stone soup” story (http://www.michaelppowers.com/prosperity/stonesoup.html) to illustrate that when working on interdisciplinary projects people can cut through discipline-specific jargon by concentrating on the task itself.

The panel also noted that, in Art-Industry collaborations, the artist must maintain authenticity within the corporate context. Nora O’Murchu gave a fascinating example of this in the form of the “Empathy Machine” created by artist Joanna Hopkins – http://www.joannahopkins.com/#!the-empathy-machine/c14u3. The artist created a pop-up booth with a virtual avatar that, in the style of a therapist, would ask anyone who entered how they were feeling. However, to illustrate that “technology is not the answer”, the Empathy Machine was deliberately flawed, the message being that what is most important is the well-being of society and the humane way we must look at the world. See more about Joanna Hopkins’ work here:

Diversity

Throughout the day we heard from a number of social entrepreneurs and activists who are working to promote equality and diversity. Alexandra Bernadotte is the founder of Beyond 12 (http://www.beyond12.org/), an organisation which aims to increase the percentage of lower income students graduating from college in the US by supporting students at the intersection between school and college. She highlighted that in the US, only 8% of individuals from the lowest income quartile can expect to earn a Bachelor’s degree by their mid-twenties, compared to 82% in highest income quartile. Based on her experience of growing up in Haiti and ultimately graduating from Dartmouth and Stanford, she observed a considerable gap in the standard required at school and at University; schools were producing students that were “college eligible, but not college-ready”. Beyond 12 works at three levels, Track, Connect and Coach (see below). Alexandra stressed the role of technology in supporting a social enterprise; it allows Beyond 12 to “amplify” the work it is doing.

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Beyond 12’s approch to bridging the gap between school and University for low-income students

Mid-morning featured several fascinating keynotes on “Change Through the Power of Social Media”. Lian Bell of Waking the Feminists (http://www.wakingthefeminists.org/) shared how she used social media to gain support for her campaign for equality and economic parity for all people working in theatre. Sinéad Burke, blogger and PhD student, (http://minniemelange.com/) explained how social media enabled her to bypass people judgement of her physical appearance. Frustrated with the media’s tendency to define women according to what they wear or who their partner is, she began to interview inspirational women on her blog. Sinéad has secured interviews with many famous women by promising that “I won’t ask you about your husband, your children, how you achieve a work-life balance and what you wear to work”.

How women are portrayed in the media was a thread taken up by Judith Williams, Global Head of Diversity at Dropbox. She drew our attention to unconscious bias; when we see someone who is “like us”, for example when reviewing a job application, we immediately get a good feeling and are more likely to hire them. Judith pointed out that, as recently as 2013, 83% of Google doodles featured men, who were chosen as significant contributors to science. Now that they have broadened the criteria to include people who contribute to society, the ratio is 50:50. Furthermore, as Alexandra Bernadotte also pointed out, diversity is not just about women. Judith Williams illustrated this point using the example of Louboutin “nude shoes”, which were recently made in a variety of colours after an employee pointed out that her legs were not beige.Google-Doodle

A diverse Google doodle

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Nude, not beige, Louboutin shoes

Diversity at work was one of the afternoon’s unofficial themes. In a panel discussion on “Workplace Diversity and Inclusion”, Ellyn Schook of Accenture implored delegates to not only use our own voices to create change in our organisation, but also to listen to other people’s voices. She outlined how an Accenture employee was the catalyst for the company’s new policy of allowing parents – both mothers and fathers – to work from home for a year after birth or adoption. Judith Williams urged that we need to “be allies to people who are different from us”

In a panel discussion on Board Participation and Executive Leadership, Lauren States, Harvard Leadership Fellow, stressed that diversity, in bringing different perspectives to a problem, boosts innovation and competitiveness. Raju Narisetti, a Senior VP at NewsCorp, stressed that female representation at Executive level is a significant issue: more companies in the S&P 1500 have CEOs called John than CEOs who are women. Diversity has also been a focus for Enterprise Ireland, and CEO Julie Sinnamon explained that through their work, 22% of start-ups are now founded by women, compared to 7% before this work began. The panel agreed that there are not enough women at middle and top management level.

The focus on business continued with Katherine von Jan of Salesforce, who spoke of how people can maximise their potential at work. She suggested that “retention tactics” e.g. yoga at lunchtime, foosball tables,  which have become popular, particularly in tech companies, and are often much lauded, actually “create a mousetrap that holds you in the job you’ve outgrown, to keep things more efficient for the organisation”. These retention tactics, she argued, limit the potential of employees. Monica Parker, founder of HATCH, also spoke of job satisfaction, using her company’s research to illustrate that “we have created a culture that worships at the altar of overwork”. She also highlighted that a sense of community with the people we work with is essential for job satisfaction.

Inspirefest Fringe

Turning to the evening program, the Fringe festival in Merrion Square kicked off with ResearchFest, supported by the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland, where eight PhD students were given the opportunity/terrifying task of explaining their research in simple terms in three minutes, with (the caveat that strikes fear into the heart of every academic) NO SLIDES. All of the presentations were brilliant and the winner was Shauna Flynn of DCU, who used the analogy of lego blocks to explain how she is working on maximising the amount of transistors on a computer chip. Quite an achievement considering the actual title of her PhD is: “Plasma based surface nano-patterning of semiconductor materials using block copolymer lithography”.

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The ResearchFest presenters – eventual winner Shauna Flynn fourth from right

This was followed by a performance by Echo Brown of her stunning play Black Virgins are not for Hispters (http://www.helloechobrown.com/). The play is far broader than the title suggests; it is a compelling story of race, gender, self-worth, inequality, and urban poverty, and received a standing ovation from the crowd. Finally, we were played out by  all-female Bray trio Wyvern Lingo. Come back tomorrow for Friday’s report, featuring Tech, Finance and more Fringe!

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Wyvern Lingo on the Inspirefest Fringe stage

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The bucolic surroundings of Dublin’s Merrion Square

Cloughjordan Ecovillage Experience Day

On Saturday 25th June Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Co. Tipperary held one of its regular “Ecovillage Experience” days, where people are invited into the ecovillage to learn about more sustainable living. The day is a balance of classroom and interactive elements, combining presentations on the history and science behind the village with tours of the community farm, research gardens, green enterprise centre and some residents’ homes.

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At the entrance to Cloughjordan Ecovillage

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What it’s all about

The first residents moved into the village in 2009 and it is now home to over 100 people in over 50 houses. The village is powered by a wood power heating system (soon to be supplemented by solar) and, according to a recent study, its ecological footprint of 2 global hectares is the lowest in Ireland. This is equivalent to one planet living, as opposed to our standard 3 planet living.

Walking around the village, it is striking how the common spaces and “gardens” are natural, rather than cultivated spaces. Some of the residents had “edible gardens” and one of the highlights of the village is the apple tree walk, featuring 65 varieties of native Irish apple trees. In the future it is hoped to build a large kitchen on site and produce Cloughjordan ecovillage food and beverage products.

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Artichokes in one resident’s edible garden  

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Thriving wildflowers on the village streets

Enterprise is a feature of the village. The Riot Rye Bakery is on site, and runs regular bread-making workshops (http://www.riotrye.ie/), while the co-operative Sheelagh na Gig bookshop and cafe is in Cloughjordan village (http://www.sheelaghnagig.com/). Djangos eco-hostel is situated at the pedestrian entrance to the village. The impressive WeCreate centre has also been created, with shared workspace and the “FabLab”, complete with laser cutter and 3D printer. Individuals or organisations can rent out these spaces.

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Riot Rye Bakery, with fuel for the wood-fired oven

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The 3D printer at the Fab Lab (left) and some Fab Lab creations (right)

The village is registered as an educational charity, and provides certified permaculture courses, along with workshops and courses for schoolchildren in the Fab Lab. Academic research has also been conducted in partnership with the village; during our tour we visited the “RED Gardens”, where eco-villagers are exploring how much land is required to grow enough food to sustain a family, using a variety of different farming methods. See more on the RED Gardens Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhzIpo2yIYg.

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Onions in the polytunnel at the RED Gardens (left) and the entrance to Apple Tree walk (right)

The community farm operates adjacent to the village, and each villager takes a share of the produce every week, with the excess sold on site at the entrance to the village on Cloughjordan’s main street. The farm is an operational example of Community Supported Agriculture, with the aim of connecting producer directly with consumer. A biodynamic farming method is used, as are horse-drawn ploughs. The vegetables included in Saturday’s excellent lunch illustrated the quality of the farm’s produce (particularly when combined with Riot Rye bread).

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Polytunnel on the community farm (with grapes in the foreground)

Prospective residents of the ecovillage must subscribe to its eco-charter when designing a house or starting a business there. Many of the houses we saw were built using permaculture design principles, and alternative materials such as hempcrete and cob were often used. All of the houses have extremely high BERs (Building Energy Rating), with over 6% of Ireland’s A rated houses situated in the ecovillage.

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Cob house in the village

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This ecovillage house contains the European offices of the US South by Southwest festival

Our hosts explained that the ecovillage is striving to be a sustainable community, building resilience through growing together, building together, celebrating together and using a consensus-based approach to decision-making. Future plans include co-housing – where a number of invidual houses are built in a cluster, with a “common house” containing a laundry room, large kitchen and guest bedrooms – and a community ampitheater. In August of this year, the village will host the All-Ireland Permaculture Gathering. In the meantime, residents have the book swap and Unicycle-versity to keep them busy.

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Book swap in the market square (left) and Unicycle University (right)

For further reading, here’s some resources and links on ecovillages and self sufficiency:

Home

http://www.siebenlinden.de/index.php?id=1&L=2

https://www.findhorn.org/aboutus/ecovillage/

http://www.cultivate.ie/

http://files.diydharma.org/other/John_Seymour-The_Complete_Book_of_Self_Sufficiency.pdf

http://www.ottoscharmer.com/sites/default/files/e2e_ulab.pdf

https://www.greenbooks.co.uk/gaian-democracies

Brexit: Business, Sustainability and Ireland

Two days to go to Brexit. On June 23rd the UK will vote on whether to Leave or Remain in the European Union. What does this mean for sustainability, business and for Ireland?

Business

Straight to what is for me the most interesting issue here: corporate accountability. In the event of a Brexit, the UK would no longer be subject to EU legislation on reporting and transparency. This includes the forthcoming Directive on Integrated Reporting, which  from FY2017 will require the EU’s largest businesses (approximately 6,000 companies) to report on social and environmental issues. Furthermore, the EU has begun to implement the first steps of a comprehensive anti tax-avoidance package. In 2015 the EU proposed a Directive which would require the EU’s largest companies to report on how much tax the company should be paying in each country it operates in, versus how much tax it is actually paying. Brexit would mean that UK companies would not be subject to these regulations, and represent a step backwards for corporate accountability. Some further info on the EU’s plans here:

http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/taxation/company_tax/anti_tax_avoidance/index_en.htm

http://ec.europa.eu/finance/company-reporting/docs/country-by-country-reporting/160412-factsheet_en.pdf

Brexit could also shift the balance of power between business and society in the UK. Enrico Reuter writes in The Conversation that, while the EU promotes economic competitiveness over social well-being, if the UK were left to its own devices, it would have an even stronger focus on competitiveness, with less regulation. He points out that:

“the EU, for all its obsession with pleasing businesses, does continue to hold the UK back from some of its more radical attempts to prioritise business interests over employment rights. It has, for example, stopped the UK from repealing the working time directive or undermining parental leave

http://theconversation.com/yes-the-eu-values-businesses-over-people-but-is-britain-any-better-57181

Finally, in a more general way we can turn to the Guardian to find out how Brexit would affect British business. This is a straighforward, informative article considering the implications for employment, multinationals, agriculture and research funding for universities:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jun/18/british-business-after-brexit

Ireland

Britain is our largest trading partner; we export 15% of all goods produced here to the UK. Here’s the Irish government’s official argument for Remain, as outlined by Enda Kenny in yesterday’s Guardian, where he cites four reasons for his position – the economy, the “EU itself”, the relationship between Britain and Ireland, and Northern Ireland:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/20/ireland-fearful-neighbour-leaving-eu-northern-ireland

For a more in-depth view, TV3 recently aired “Matt Cooper’s Brexit Dilemma”, where the broadcaster considers the impact of Brexit on Ireland through interviews with academics, business people and politicians:

https://www.tv3.ie/3player/show/969/109691/0/Matt-Cooper%27s-Brexit-Dilemma

There’s also an useful opinion piece in the Irish Times about Brexit, trade and the Irish economy:

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/opinion-potential-brexit-already-impacting-irish-exports-1.2640969

Right down at the individual level, the Irish Times looks at how Brexit might affect Irish citizens. Seguing into the next topic, this article also contains some small but telling facts about how much the EU has done for the environment i.e. banning powerful vacuum cleaners and, from 2022, menthol cigarettes.

http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/brexit-and-you-six-ways-your-life-might-change-after-thursday-1.2691910

Sustainability

Jonathon Porrit, writer and former leader of the Green Party in the UK, has been vocal in his support for Remain, citing a long list of EU legislation created to protect the environment. In the blog post below, he also highlights a useful table produced by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), which illustrates the implications of Brexit for the environment under two scenarios: the “Norway scenario”, where the UK remains a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), or if it chose to sit entirely outside all European institutions.

http://www.jonathonporritt.com/blog/brexit-and-environment-sorting-out-fact-fiction

Perhaps the key message when it comes to sustainability is that a Brexit would be a step away from the “common future” envisaged by the Brundtland report on sustainable development. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are based on collaboration, not isolation. As Porrit’s consulting firm Forum for the Future suggests:

“Our sustainable future will be based on people choosing to work together to common goals, beyond the boundaries of sector, age group or nation, recognising our fundamental interdependence. A Brexit would be a massive lurch away from ‘our common future'” (http://www.jonathonporritt.com/blog/so-whos-gagging-eco-movement-eu-referendum)

Or as the Guardian argues in its’ excellent Brexit editorial: we need the UK to “keep connected and inclusive, not angry and isolated”.

“All reason tells us that the great issues of our time have little respect for national borders… corporate power, migration and tax evasion to weapons proliferation, epidemics and climate change. Not one of them can be properly tackled at the level of the nation state” (The Guardian, 20 June 2016)

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/20/the-guardian-view-on-the-eu-referendum-keep-connected-and-inclusive-not-angry-and-isolated