CSR is Powerful Stuff

Responsible Business Summit – Day 2



My first session from the three available at each time was titled ‘Convince the board to increase investment in corporate responsibility’. Like most, and it was the best attended of the three on offer, practitioners and advocates are always looking for any insight into selling the business case for CSR and this appeared to be a good place to start the day. ING Group’s Manager of Business Ethics, Arnaud Cohen-Stuart delivered an good example of dealing with an investment package (connected to a company that produced landmines) that had ceased to fit ethically with the Group’s position and how this process was managed. Not exactly sticking to the question but worth listening to none the less. Acciona – nope, quite a few in the room hadn’t heard of them either – gave an overview of  their ‘cheese for CSR’ as they matured (couldn’t resist it) from a traditional construction company to a producer of renewable energy. The presenter, Juan Ramon Silva from Acciona had one of those titles that scares the hell out of me, as Head of CSR and Marketing. Poor Andrew Marshall-Roberts (do you need a double barrelled surname to get on stage today?) from Standard Life had become separated from his slides and recovered remarkably well from his mind map and actually delivered what the brochure had initially suggested. In particular he focused on the need to understand the invidual people that make up your board and the personal drivers that inform their decisions. How often we forget that those inhabitants of  the ivory towered bastions of capitalism actually have real lives and emotions too, it’s just hard getting past their moats.

The lack of a double barrelled surname obviously spurred moderator Jo Confino of The Guardian into enthusiastically taking the panel to task, and refreshingly steered the Q&A into a challenging debate around the role of a CSR Exec. Poor Arnaud was on the ropes for a short time following a question from Gerd Hofielen of Apropo-Global. Gerd asked why there appeared to be a disconnection between the CSR activity within ING and the very publicly visible mistakes made by the  financial side of the business. It briefly raised the point around how far should / can CSR Execs push the businesses that pay them? Arnaud had probably earlier lit the fuse for this thread with his statement that “CSR is not an internal NGO”.

It was at this point in the Summit’s proceedings that Mark Line from Two Tomorrows (as also did Simon Propper from Context Group later on)  inquired about the apparent difference from the topics advertised in the conference brochure and the content of the presentations (or should I say almost pure adverts in a couple of cases) given. The general nodding seemed to reinforce the unspoken agreement from the rest of the audience.

Session 2 was one of a number around the topic of supply chain management. This was always going to be a more gentle 60 minutes than the first but it delivered a truly motivating demonstration of the new exciting strategic partnership between Starbucks and Fairtrade. With senior executives from both organisations displaying such unity it was heartening to see figures stating that 100% of UK & Ireland espresso will be Fairtrade by the end of 2009 and a commitment to double Fairtrade purchases in the same time frame. A representative from Nestle appeared to enjoy pointing out just how small Starbucks’ percentage of the total coffee market was in a valid question relating to guaranteed market prices to producers but couldn’t take the shine from what was an excellent demonstration of robust values and partnership.

virgin_media“Embedding Corporate Responsibility in your company: your guide to making money from your ethical strategy.” was next with Novo Nordisk predictably impressing all, KPMG advocating a more integrated approach in a very KPMG way but the star of this show was Virgin Media. As relative newcomers to the formal CSR strategic world their approach definitely followed their company ethos. Bold, direct, innovative and a touch of anti-CSR establishment describes Stuart Poore’s presentation of their ‘CR Manifesto’. The other presentations were excellent but Virgin’s was exciting and definitely had an edge by focusing on very direct organisational issues it was clear that they wanted to steer their CSR journey in their own boat, which I, for one, found refreshing. I’m sure the contemporary and energetic graphics played their role and why not play to their strengths? The thought of Virgin bringing their marketing arsenal to bear to promote an evolved version of CSR in a similar vein to their current ‘Powerful Stuff’ marketing campaign could inject new impetus into an often staid strategic agenda.

The graveyard shift at the end of my Day 2 fell to Timberland and Caterpillar on yet another supply chain topic. The title was aimed to stir debate but failed. “More scandals in 2009 if budgets are slashed?” never really ignited the proceedings as the discussion around cutting CSR related budgets had been covered comprehensively throughout the Summit. The majority of those presenting were definitely saying that budgets were not being cut disproportionately to other cost centres, with some saying they had seen no change in available resources regardless of economic climate. A final gasp question nearly fanned the flames when the presenters were asked about how they would select which suppliers would lose work as global demand drops, but like so many times before the answer was the same, we’ll stick to our ethical / environmental / sustainability policies as values don’t change. Some suppliers will inevitably suffer. Best price is always key just not always the decision maker.

Overall it was a great Summit. Like always there were great figures from the CSR and Sustainability world, with inspiring and educational speeches and displays. The audience numbers may have been a little down on last year but the agenda has evolved and will continue to do so with an albeit slow but inevitable determination.

Next year post-Copenhagen should be worth the ticket alone.

Click here for the summary to Day 1 of the Responsible Business Summit 2009.

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