Responsible Business Summit – Day 1
In the first plenary Timberland CEO, Jeff Swartz (complete with suit and corporate boots), IKEA CEO, Anders Dahlvig, Eurostar CEO, Richard Brown, The Economist Executive Editor Daniel Franklin and Accenture’s Head of Global Strategy, Mark Spelman, all presented their individual perspectives to the question; “can responsible business save the reputation of capitalism?” Jeff S stole the show, and not just because of the boots. He charasmatically delivered an honest and self-deprecating appreciation of current consumption demands and realistically achievable sustainability targets in the shorter term. Look out for second-hand Timberland baby shoes! Anders, in a typically Ikea fashion raced through the retailer’s excellent practice, from pushing to far exceed many global standards to impressive UNICEF partnership. The discussion really opened up though with audience questions around focusing on economic growth as a business model, already wasted time against environmental targets, the inadequacies of political delivery and some specific core operational problems such as the need for shoe boxes, use of leather, transport of all products and all wishing they had begun their sustainability journey many years earlier. Hindsight was never so wished for.
The second plenary was the match of the day for me. Shell’s UK Chairman, James Smith was scheduled in alongside Craig Sams, President & Founder of Green & Black’s. James took to the stage with what looked like a PowerPoint that looked a little rough around the edges, the centre and the back to be honest. If anybody from Shell’s marketing dept had been near it they need shooting not sacking. The crowd where then given a by-the-numbers defensive presentation of Shell’s sustainability statistics and more than a handful of Adam Smith quotes to reinforce the business case for CSR. Shell just came across overly pragmatic rather than optimistic or hopeful for the future with an air of baby being weaned off milk. I’ve never seen Craig Sams orate before but his Green & Black’s story was told with passion and confidence. I described the session via Twitter (#rbs09) to be like watching David give Goliath an ethical spanking. James Smith is obviously a talented and traditionally raised businessman but Craig Sams’ values based motivation provided a palpable high ground no oil exploitation based organisation could hope to scale. They are two completely different companies in every way but the irony was that Mr Sams latest biochar adventure with Carbon Gold may very well potentially be on Shell’s future shopping list.
The afternoon breakout sessions I attended saw good, if a little off topic, almost generic CSR presentations around employee engagement from Alliance Boots, Transport for London with EDF Energy emerging well on specific content on show. Again the Q&A opportunity opened up more of the kind of information the audience were expecting on employees. Great practice was in abundance but I think we were all hoping for a little more innovation to be shared.
The final session had potential for greatness with the Head of CSR for the troubled Royal Bank of Scotland on the panel. The BBC’s Yogesh Chauhan gave a sound overview of their Outreach programme as part of this ‘Maxmise the benefits of your community efforts’ session, as would be expected from a public service broadcaster. I would like to congratulate Andrew Cave from RBS for a highly professional, open, honest and engaging presentation of a battered financial institution’s CSR and community investment activities. It was refreshing to hear that the same programmes are as relevant now as they have ever been to a bank that all but collapsed. Andrew also made an interesting observation that “CSR wants to be given the same priority as every other area in the good times but asks for special consideration when things get tough?”. Has CSR really evolved?
Bring on Day 2.