Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Despite Our Growth

Just returned from the annual Cylch conference - always a good event and from what I saw and heard, no exception this year - so well done again to the Cylch for that.

This morning, we were treated to a sort of clash of the titans - Jonathan Porritt spoke first, noting recent economic events and referring to what he called the end of broken capitalism, not all capitalism but the kind of capitalism we've seen for the past few decades. Jonathan linked this sort of capitalism to what the Tories would call our 'broken society' and of course to our broken planet/natural systems (I can't recall the exact term). He highlighted the need to recapitalise not just our banks (needed to support wellbeing) but also to recapitalise our natural systems and our society. Cost unknown - necessity, absolute.

So who to follow Jonathan onto the stage? Jane Davidson, Mark Lynas, John Houghton, Gordon Brown, Alistair, Darling, Lord Peston or our own Morgan Parry? No, today it was the task of Felix Gummer, corporate affairs spokesperson for TESCO, to meet Jonathan's challenge for a radical rethink of our relationship with capital in its various forms. Felix, who according to this article is the son of John Gummer, did a sterling job of explaining what TESCO has been up to over recent years. You can find out all about this at the TESCO Corporate Responsibility site. Felix said that TESCO had reduced its' per sq.m carbon emissions by half since 2000 (possibly 2002), which sounds fantastic. I checked this up on the TESCO website where it states:

"In 2007 our Group carbon emissions were calculated as 4.47 million tonnes* of CO2e (carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases). This was an increase of 8.6% on the previous year, while our floor space grew by 14% over the same period. We have therefore reduced the overall Group carbon intensity per square foot of net sales area by 4.7%." (Click for source link)

This doesn't seem to tally with a 50% drop in emissions, espescially considering the above measure appears to refer to net sales area and not an all-operation encompassing floor area. It would be interesting to get some clarity on the actual (all-encompassing) per sq.m CO2e emissions of not just TESCO but other large retailers as well - until then I'll reserve full judgement.

I'm not going to use this blog as a means to criticise TESCO, Felix or any other retailer. Jonathan summed up the situation well in responding to an audience question. If regulation does not force change within a market, people will operate within the constraints as are - whatever the imperatives for change. If TESCO were not the dominant player in the market, somebody else would at least be having a stab at growing a retail business akin to that which TESCO has created. So it is good news that TESCO are doing all sorts of tweaking and improving but it is only relatively good news and relative, let's be honest, to spiralling environmental, social and economic unsustainability.

But the good news......

Felix used a phrase today that I will probably never forget - largely because I've never heard it before and partly because I was so surprised to hear it. It's a phrase that has set off some huge questions in my mind. The only question I can answer so far is 'does this make a great comedy name for a CSR strategy?' - 'yes'.

'Despite our Growth'

Is that phrase, Jonathan, the 'Death of CSR'?

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