Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Starbucks, optical illusions, Danisco, H&M and blog traffic

I am not a fanatic about blogging stats. I write about what interests me and what I have an opinion about. I try to do so in a way which will be both informative and entertaining, and, sometimes, persuasive. I don't feel I am in competition and I don't do anything specifically to improve my blog stats, other than some tweets and retweets. From time to time, I take a look behind the scenes. Blog stats can tell you a lot about what your audience finds interesting. What do people search for, for example, that brings them to this blog? Checking out CSR Reporting Google Analytics, I found that the top ten key search terms of all time (around  two and a half years) on this blog are:

CSR Reporting: Hah! Now isn't that a surprise. This is the second item in a Google search for csr reporting. What's the first ? Wikipedia's Corporate social responsibility page.

Optical illusions: After scrolling through 400 returned search items (out of a possible 11,300,000), I could not find any reference to the CSR Reporting Blog. Funnily enough, though, my most read post of all time was about optical illusions.

Elaine Cohen: Yep, that's me. I suppose this is no surprise either. There are 11,000,000 returned search items with my name in them somewhere, but the CSR Reporting Blog is top of the list. No separating me from my blog, I guess.

Starbucks CSR Report 2010: The fifth returned search item for this search term is actually a post I wrote about Starbucks 2009 Sustainability Report. I did also write a post about Starbucks' 2010 report and some of the challenges they face, and no, I was not sipping a caramel frappucino at the time.

Best CSR Reports: This search terms brings the CSR Reporting Blog up in first place with a post called The Top Ten Reports of 2010. Guess that means I will have to do another post with the top ten of 2011 in a few months :).

Elaine Cohen Blog: The first item returned in this search is this blog, followed by antother four links to me and my writings in different places. However, the sixth item that turns up is Elaine Cohen Chow Champ, my namesake blogger who is a food writer, educator, and an all-purpose healthy food promoter. Healthy food? Hmmm. Hope she likes ice cream.

Danisco: Here again, I can't see exactly how this search term delivers anyone directly to this blog as it does not show up anywhere in the first 15 or so pages of items returned out of a total of over one million. I did write a post about Danisco's 2009 Sustainability report so I guess it's in there somewhere.

Starbucks Sustainability Report 2010: This returns (as the third item) the same post on the Starbucks 2009 Sustainability Report as the previous Starbucks search.

Starbucks Corporate Responsibility Report 2010: Ditto.

H&M CSR: The first item returned with this search is  a post I wrote about the H&M old clothes in New York fiasco which caused a little uproar and almost certainly a revision of warehouse procedures at this global fashion chain (the fiasco, not the post!) .

What have I learned from all of this aside from the fact that many, many people are interested in Starbucks' sustainability performance? I guess I now know that, if I want to increase my blog stats, I must write about Starbucks, optical illusions, Danisco and H&M. Maybe I will try that for a few months. It may get a bit boring but at least the stats will go through the roof :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reporting. How the GRI does it.

The GRI has published its fifth Sustainability Report covering the fiscal year July 2009 - June 2010. It's a departure from the join-the-dots indicator-by-indicator style reporting of previous reports (where the report used the GRI Index as a template and responses are number by number). Instead, this report actually has a (nice) title other than "Sustainability Report" and it has around 16 pages of narrative, 15 pages of GRI Index and 10 pages of Annex (a collection of data tables and a governance description). It is a self-declared not-externally-assured report at Application Level A.

This report is entitled "Paper, Planes and People", the "three things that are important to ongoing success of the GRI". (Ice-cream apparently is not essential for the GRI). GRI's consumption of all these "things" has been increasing as the organization has been growing and expanding in reach. 12 staff were added in fiscal 09/10 (30% more people) and 1,082 kg of paper (23% more than prior year). CO2 emissions resulting from air travel were 613 tonnes (double 2007/8 but a 13% reduction over prior year, excluding GRI conference -related travel).

For those of us who have an interest in the success of the GRI - organizational stakeholders, sustainability reporters, sustainability professionals etc - the GRI own report does provide some nice insights about the workings of the organization, a 52 strong staff based in Amsterdam. Clearly, GRI is conscious of its own direct sustainability footprint and is doing many of the right things to keep it in check. These include:
  • producing an annual sustainability report;
  • offsetting all GRI conference emissions;
  • increasing amount of recycled materials in communications to 92%;
  • use of Webex and Skype to avoid business travel;
  • staff commuting is via bicycle, bus, train or walking shoes;
  • diversity in hiring;
  • health and safety (ergonomics) benefits for employees;
  • etc.
The report is also includes details of GRI's financials for the year.

GRI's sustainability performance goals for 2010/2011 include offsetting business travel emissions, providing more precise and comparable data on energy consumption, sustainable procurement policy, finalizing the sustainability, environmental, diversity and human resources policies and improving sustainability performance management methodology. Improving gender balance on the Board is also stated as an aspiration.

This is all great and exactly what we could expect of an organization whose core message is sustainability and transparency. It's good to see GRI walking the talk in this way.

The real questions for me as I consider the GRI report is to what extent we, GRI Stakeholders, should be content with a  report about  direct impacts and outputs (the things that the GRI is saying, doing, using) versus a report about the outcomes the GRI can reasonably claim to have influenced. To what extent should we expect the GRI to be a model of reporting, delivering a balanced representation of its impacts and outcomes, as a showcase for all current and potential reporters of what can be done with the GRI Framework? Now, in fairness, the GRI published earlier this year a Year in Review report which covers the same timeframe and describes the activities of the GRI - the reach of the Reporting Framework and the way reports are used, with case studies and details of advocacy activities etc. To get the whole picture, you need to look at both reports. My thoughts below, about what I might have expected from the GRI GRI report, relate to both reports, as if they had been published as one.

Use of a Materiality Matrix: The important issues for an organization and its stakeholders should be reflected in a Materiality Matrix (as recommended in the GRI framework). In the GRI GRI Report, the material issues are listed as a set of 11 generic issues (such as "materials", "energy", "transport", "employment" etc) which were developed for the GRI report covering the year 2007. Once again, the GRI writes  "Following internal discussion, it was decided that the same issues remained material for GRI in this reporting period.". Ideally, one would expect some external stakeholder engagement in the determination of material issues.

Equally, material issues do change from year to year. Between 2007 and 2010 the world, and the business world, as well as the GRI itself, has changed quite signifcantly. The global financial crisis and pressures on sustainability budgets. The rise of social media. The development of online reporting. The stronger moves to integrated reporting with new organizations taking a new lead. The changes in local legislation relating to reporting in several countries. The publication and development of  ISO26000 and other sector codes and frameworks including the changes in the UN Global Compact reporting requirements. Geopolitical changes and the development of emerging economies. New pressures from investor groups. Personnel changes at the GRI. There are a whole host of issues which could be immediately tabled as issues important to the sustainability of the GRI as an organization and of importance to GRI stakeholders, beyond the direct impact of the GRI and how many kg of paper the organization recycles. I believe this should be reviewed more thoroughly for the next GRI Report.

A review of risks that the organization faces: This is required by Reporting Indicator 1.2 and the GRI claims to report this in full. However, the word risk does not appear in the GRI report with the exception of the GRI Index. Disclosure of the risks the organization faces should be part of sustainability reporting. This might include: Reputation risks, Funding risks, Lack of increased reporting uptake risks, Travel risks, Currency Risks, People, paper and planes risks, Climate change risks, Ice cream overdose risks (Ok, that one may only apply to my business).  

Commentary on the number of GRI-based reports published: This is the top-of-mind hard measure that reflects the outcome of GRI activity. The GRI downloadable reports list shows 1,121 GRI-based reports published in 2008, 1,519 in 2009 and 1,865 in 2010. This represents substantial growth and expansion of GRI influence. The GRI often claims that significantly more reports are influenced by or inspired by the GRI Framework, even if the GRI Index is not included and I believe this is true. Also, new reporters take some time to deliver first reports so there may be quite a number of new reports in the pipeline. Overall, so far, an estimated 6,000 reports are published annually, globally, so the GRI share is still small, through growing at a faster rate than overall growth. Having said that, the real potential is with those tens of thousands of companies which are not yet reporting and the step change in reporting numbers has not advanced beyond relatively small incremental changes in the number of reports each year. The reach of reporting is covered to some degree in the Year in Review report which also contains some interesting perspectives about how reporting contributes to delivering improved performance and impacts on society. However, the deadline for the GRI's objective to have every large and medium sized company in OECD countries required to report on sustainability performance by 2015 is looming dangerously close.

Commentary on the quality of GRI-based reports published: I have, of course mentioned report quality before. It fact, it's sort of a mantra. The GRI's Mission is "To make sustainability reporting standard practice by providing guidance and support to organizations." This doesn't refer to quality, so maybe quality of reports is not an acceptable measure for the GRI. But can GRI really have no interest in the way the framework is used?  Is it just about pushing out reports or is it about creating a useful, comparable, decision-making-platform level of business transparency which also supports sustainability performance improvement? If it's the latter, some commentary about GRI approach to reporting quality and use (and abuse) of the guidelines might be appropriate.

Assurance: Assurance is part of the credibility process of transparency. Even limited assurance is a stepping stone. GRI doesn't assure its report due to "budgetary constraints". However, limited assurance by a stakeholder panel, which I am sure GRI would have no trouble in organizing, would not have to cost so much money, if any. I am sure there are many who would do this pro bono.  For GRI, this, I feel, is more about demonstrating a commitment to assurance rather than about actual verification of the numbers, which are not overly complex or significant in a small organization. GRI does say it aims to use assurance for the next report. 

Report publication timing: My personal view is that a reasonable timing for the publication of an annual Sustainability Report is up to six months after the end of the reporting period. For a small organization, where a global roll-up of data is not necessary (GRI includes only the Amsterdam hub and not other global Focal Points), this could be even quicker. Clearly, GRI is a very busy organization and achieves much with a small team. Reporting always needs resources, not only budgets, and in small organizations, this is probably the most difficult thing to allocate when facing a multitude of priorities. However, as reporting is the backbone of the GRI message, perhaps it could be managed in a more timely way in future. This GRI report is published in August 2011 for a reporting period ending in June 2010. 14 months.  

It does seem, however, that GRI is considering some changes to its reporting in future and has established an internal  Sustainability Management and Reporting Team (SMART). Things such as wider stakeholder consultation and assurance as mentioned above appear to be on the SMART to-do list. Perhaps some of the points I mention above might also become agenda items for the SMART discussions. In the current report, CEO Ernst Ligteringen states: "GRI’s biggest impact is helping more organizations to report and thereby help change their sustainability performance." As a GRI Organizational Stakeholder, and reasonably seasoned reporter, I make no apologies for hoping that GRI will to aspire to exemplary reporting. OK. Just one small apology. Sorry!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

20 Questions to ask your Sustainability Reporting Manager

You are the CEO of a company that has been publishing a Sustainability Report for the past few years. On balance, you enjoy the report and find that it is a good reflection of your sustainability performance. You haven't received any awards but you have received some positive feedback from your Board, some customers, suppliers and your own management team. After a few years on the reporting cycle, you have some questions about the costs of producing the report, the time and resources involved, the presentation of the report and the impact the report has on stakeholders. Usually, you are pretty hands-off and leave people to get on with things. However, you feel it's time to understand the Sustainaibility Reporting process a little more closely. You have invited your Sustainability Reporting Manager (SRM) for a little chat. Well, actually, an interview. Because you want answers. Here are the 20 questions you should plan to ask your SRM. You might not want to ask ALL of them in one session!

How are you?
This is as good a question as any to start an interview with. Ask genuinely and listen to the answer. You never know what might emerge that's worth your knowing.

What's new?
Many many moons ago, I attended a Leadership Program which included a strategy session run by the inspiring Ram Charan. One of the things he talked about as a feature of great leadership, which has always stuck in my mind, was the fact that a leader is always asking questions and eager to listen to the answer. Just as a simple question such as: How are you? can be a real floodgate opener, so can the question: What's new? be an opportunty to learn lots about what's top-of-mind in your business and also about the person you are asking. Anyone who answers the question What's new? with the answer: Nothing much has obviously checked out of life for a while, because in life, work and in sustainability reporting, there is always something new.

What aspect of our last Sustainability Report are you most proud of ?
A positive and open ended question for a gentle introduction to the subject. The SRM should be able to talk with enthusiasm about the sustainability report and in response to this question is free to select the things that personally gave her the most safisfaction. Whether these things are the same as those which are important to you, the CEO, or to the business, will give you an idea as to how well your SRM is aligned with the business and with your aspirations. The response may also enlighten you about things you may not have realized were such a big deal  as you read the Sustainability Report.

What specific objectives were established for the Sustainability Report and how were they met?
There are many different types of possible objectives for Sustainability Reports. These may relate to the collaborative process of developing the report, the cost, the adherence to an agreed timetable without a last minute rush, the amount of time invested, the quality of the output (which may be the report content, design or presentation) or objectives might also refer to the range of feedback received after publication of the report. Of course, we are assuming that your SRM did actually establish objectives. If not, that begs another question.

Was the Sustainability Report prepared in accordance with an action plan and clear timetable and to what extent did performance align with these plans?
The reporting process is no less important than the product of the process. Quality process usually means quality report. Also, the reporting process can often be an example of how of other cross-functional projects are managed in the organization. Any reporter who begins without an action plan, timetable and allocation of roles and responsibilities (usually a Steering Team for the report is preferable) is heading for a last-minute scramble, headaches and much conflict before the report is finally published. As CEO, you should be interested in embedding good process in your business, as well as delivering a good report.

How many work-hours of our company employees were invested in the production of our last report?
The report budget often does not include the woman/man/hours of company employees engaged in the reporting process. It includes consulting, design, PR, marketing, printing and all other accociated and easily quantifiable costs. However, doesn't employee time also cost money? As a consultant, I log all my hours and can tell you exactly how much time (and therefore money) I have spent on anything from a major client project right down to this blog post or volunteering work. Knowing the time and cost of your reporting process is half the way to managing it more efficiently.

How much of our Sustainability Reporting budget was spent on external consultants?
Of course, I am biased, being a Sustainability Reporting consultant:) but it is always worth having some external help when writing your Sustainability Report. However, you should know how much it is consuming of your total reporting budget.  

Was the Sustainability Report produced in line with budget? If not, what was different?
Sustainability Reports have a talent for coming in over budget. The SRM is a business manager and must know how to manage budgets. This question is more about understanding if your SRM has it covered than understanding the gory details of what was spent where.

How many of our employees have read the report and how many have provided feedback?
Aha. This is a great question. If your Sustainability Report is not reaching your employees (supported by a proactive process of dialogue) then you are probably not gaining all the potential benefits of reporting. How can employees reflect the company's Sustainability Performance to external stakeholders if they are not familiar with the report? Your SRM should be in close collaboration with the HR function to ensure that the internal organizational processes include engagement with the Sustainability Report.
How many new recruits read our Sustainability Report and did this infuence them in accepting a job with our company?
Everyone likes to quote figures about how potential new recruits (including the zillions of Green MBA and Net Impact grads that join the job market each year) seek socially responsible employers. But once and for all it might make sense to check whether those who joined your company were actually influenced to do so by your sustainability performance.

How many Managers have used the report in discussions/presentations/meetings with external stakeholders?
Your Managers are your sustainability ambassadors and the Sustainability Report is a key tool in their arsenal, whatever their role in the company. If they are not using your Sustainability Report, your SRM is not engaging them effectively. Your SRM should have her finger on the pulse of how your Sustainability Report is being used in the organization.

What insights have you gained from the last Sustainability Report that will be helpful in producing the next report?
Every report is a learning process. How does your SRM learn from experience? How does your SRM value continous improvement? This question will enlighten you.

What did we choose not to report on and why not?
Almost all reports are trade-offs. Legal, marketing, finance, HR team members almost always have something they prefer not to disclose for different reasons. In many cases, these "Secrets" may not be critical to the report's integrity but in some cases, they might be quite telling about the organization's challenges. As CEO, you would probably want to know what your people are fearful about disclosing and why.

What were your disappointments in producing your last Sustainability Report?
Maybe there weren't any. Maybe the report turned out exactly as your SRM envisioned. Maybe not. Understanding how your SRM measured up to her own expectations may tell you a little about the organizational issues your SRM faces in driving sustainability processes. These are the issues where a helping hand from the CEO might just be what is needed.

Who were your greatest allies in the company in producing the Sustainability Report?
Yes, here is the list of people to give fat bonuses to at the end of the year:)

Whose support did you need but did not get?
This sounds a bit like a whistleblowing question, but that's OK, occasionally. I think the CEO should know who is blocking the process. If sustainability is important to you as CEO, and reporting is a key part of that, you need to have set your expectations clear. If your people are blocking progress, you might want to consider how this should affect their performance review, bonus or career development prospects. As a minimum, you might want to talk to them to find out what prevented them from being collaborative.

Why should we continue to produce a Sustainability Report?
This is a fundamental question that every company should ask itself before re-embarking on the process another year around. The answer may not be the exactly the same each year and its worth taking a few minutes to articulate specific hopes for this cycle of the reporting process. NB: The response, "because we reported last year" is not really quite good enough.

What are your objectives for the next report and how will you measure success?
Following on from the existential "why are we doing this" question, the obvious next thing to ask is "how will we know if we have done it well".  As a minimum, you should expect to hear  quantitative targets such as adherence to budget and on-time publication, but equally, qualitative targets about the process of reporting should not be overlooked. Does your SRM intend to get feedback on the process of developing the report? Did your SRM run an effective Reporting Steering Team in which people have had the opportunity to influence? If your report is the single-handed work of your SRM and a consultant, you can bet there's something essential missing.

What help do you need from me in the next reporting cycle?
Asking the question doesn't commit you to providing all the help requested, but it does give you an idea of the state of mind of your SRM. The SRM should be pleased to receive help and support from the CEO and I can think of hundreds of ways the CEO could support the reporting process. An SRM who responds "nothing, really" to this question is probably not doing the best possible job.

Fancy some ice cream ?
How can you have a conversation about Sustainability Reporting without ice cream?

When should we have another little chat?
Be prepared for a non committal response :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ground turkey: off the sustainability menu

Cargill, salmonella, turkeys, one person dead, 77 reported sick, 36 million pounds of ground turkey meat recalled. If you are in the US, you can't have missed this story. One of the largest food product recalls in US history. The practice of adding antibiotics to animal feed is common in the US to maintain animal health and help animals grow more quickly and therefore become more productive. However, the claims are that antibiotic use eventually leads to animal resistance to the drugs and this can cause contamination which is passed on to humans. Also, consumption of antibiotic flavored meat and poultry can over time cause human resistance to certain antibiotic strains. The food safety issue is a complex one and this story shows highlights one of the most basic areas corporate responsibility for livestock food manufacturers. Antibiotic use in animal feed has been banned for use in Europe for some time. In the US, in June 2010, the FDA published draft guidance intended to help reduce the development of resistance to medically important antimicrobial drugs used in food-producing animals, but the practice is still widespread. The recommendation is that antibiotics should be administered to animals only to assure animal health and only under veterinarian supervision.

I had the opportunity to learn more about this issue during the past year while working with Fenton Communications to prepare a very interesting sustainabiilty report. The talented Fenton team led by Susan McPherson handled all the great design work and my role was researching and writing the report. I am referring to the 2010 Sustainability Report for Novus International, a privately-owned US-based global company and a world leader in animal nutrition and health, specializing in the development and manufacture of food additives and supplements for livestock.

Novus International has been around for twenty years with a vision of helping to feed the world affordable, wholesome food and achieve a higher quality of life. Novus products are truly innovative and support global sustainability needs to help deliver more, safe food to the increasing global population on track to reach 9 billion in 2050. The report is called Innovation with Integrity, and has is structured around some of the core, critical sustainability questions that Novus people ask themselves every day, for example:
  • How does Novus innovation increase global food availability?
  • How does Novus innovation contribute to improved nutrition?
  • How do we increase food capabilities for future generations through science and education?
  • What role does integrity play in running our business?
  • How do we inspire our employees to excellence with integrity?
  • How do we make a contribution to the global economy?
  • What are the priority sustainability issues for our stakeholders?
  • How do we collaborate with customers to meet their needs?
  • How do we make quality a top priority at Novus?
  • How do we ensure a sustainable supply chain?
  • How do we respect animal well-being?
  • How do we contribute to the sustainability of our communities?
  • How do we work to protect the environment?
Novus's Animal Health Programs and scientifically-developed products utilize dietary antioxidants and combinations of gut environment modifiers to naturally support beneficial bacteria, defeat harmful bacteria like salmonella and enhance digestion and absorption without reliance on antibiotics. Novus feed additives give livestock producers a choice to significantly reduce the amount of antibiotics used in livestock production and therefore reduce food safety risks.

Not only this, many Novus products increase the bioavailability of food that is fed to animals, therefore reducing the amount of feed necessary to maintain healthy and productive poultry and livestock. This has major environmental benefits as lower volumes of feed are required and lower volumes of waste are generated. Finally, all of this has a positive economic impact, helping farmers to reduce costs while increasing productivity. Novus works closely with thousands of customers in 100 countries to apply locally-relevant solutions for safe, healthy and cost-effective livestock food production. In emerging markets, this can enable small farmers to develop economic independence and a secure livelihood for themselves and their families, often raising the economic standards in entire villages and regions. 

The move away from broadscale use of antibiotics in farming just seems to make sense. Would you want to live on a permanent diet of antibiotics if you weren't actually sick? Why would you want your food to come from animals that have consumed vast quantities of antibiotics every day of their lives? Novus offers alternatives to this and and many other sustainability-critical questions relating to meat, poultry and fish production and consumption. And, as a highly engaged and responsive business, I am sure they would appreciate your feedback on their third Sustainability Report (GRI checked at Application Level B). 

On a personal note, I have to say it was a pleasure and a privilege working with the delightful Susan McPherson and Fenton and Novus on the production of this report. I personally interviewed a wide range of Novus people from the CEO, through to the entire Executive Leadership Team as well as Novus people throughout the world from China to India to Belgium to Spain to USA to Africa and more. In each conversation, I did not fail to be impressed with the sense of mission that each and every one displayed and their strong commitment to making the world a place in which food is safer, more available and affordable and offering higher nutritional benefits. Also, Chief Sustainability Officer, Joyce Cacho, PhD, drove the process to ensure absolute rigor in application of the GRI framework, which as any reporter knows, is not always the easy option. Keenly innovative, highly conscious of social and environmental issues, aligned behind an imperative of integrity, systematic, responsive and clear on priorities, I was left convinced that Novus International is a business which is run on embedded sustainability principles and practices.

Now, I wonder how many antibiotics my daily dose of ice-cream contains.... 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dripping Sustainability

I was pleased to read a great article by the fabulous sustainability writer @LeonKaye on the Guardian Sustainable Business Water Hub about how water stewardship provides a return on investment and that The Campbell's Soup Company has gained competitive advantage from investing millions in water management projects. You can read the article here.

This is the sentence that caught my eye :

"The company urges the growers of its top five agricultural ingredients – tomatoes, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and jalapeno peppers – to adopt more efficient practices such as drip irrigation and the construction of retention basins to curtail rain runoff."

You may not realize it, but this sentence demonstrates an exemplary approach in supply chain management by a food manufacturer who is zooming in right to the basic building blocks of the company's value chain to encourage more sustainable practices at ground level. In this case, driving a change in agricultural practice to include drip irrigation represents a major shift in the way such crops are grown and yields major environmental benefits and productivity gains. This leads to greater and more efficient food supply, far beyond the direct benefits to Campbell's Soup. Drip irrigation is currently used only in about 4 - 5 per cent of world irrigated fields. Moving the agri-sector to drip is truly a step towards advancing sustainable food production for a 9 billion world.

Quick course in drip irrigation.

What is it: Drip irrigation is an irrigation method which saves water, fertilizer and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either above ground or sub-surface, through a network of valves, pipes, tubing (driplines), and drippers.

Why it saves water: Most agricultural irrigation is done using furrow or flood irrigation. Essentially this means that water is pumped or transported to the fields and is allowed to flow along the ground among the crops. Flood irrigation is inefficient as too much water gets to certain parts of the field and not enough to others. In fact, about half the water doesn’t actually reach the crops. The drip irrigation method channels water directly to the crop, and using specialist technology, ensures that the crops get exactly the right amount of water, no less, no more, and at the exact time they need it.

Amount of water saved:  Depending on the method, drip irrigation can be up to 100% more water efficient, though a general average would be 50 – 70% water saving versus traditional methods.

Why it saves fertilizers and chemicals: Chemigation and nutrigation work on the same principles. By drip-dosing fertilizers and nutrients to crops, none is wasted, doses are accurate and far smaller quantities are used. As much as 50% of chemicals can be saved using this method.

It is probably not necessary for me to explain why all this is so important, but I will.

Drip irrigation is a truly sustainable method for agriculture which minimizes water consumption, minimizes energy use through efficient operations, minimizes use of chemicals, delivers improves yield quality with low crop waste levels and in general offers many farmers a cost-effective solution to develop a viable agri-business, thereby enhancing local community development and quality of life. In developed markets, this can be of major assistance in reducing the burden of resources required by the demands of our consumer society. In emerging markets, it can mean the difference between poverty and a respectable livelihood for many local farming communities.

It probably is necessary for me to tell you why I am so interested in this, so I will.

Netafim Ltd. is a client of my company, Beyond Business Ltd. Netafim has been a world leader in drip irrigation technology and application since its founding in 1965 , delivering drip solutions to thousands of farmers in over 100 countries. The more I learn about drip irrigation and the different technologies involved, the more I find it fascinating. I won't go into too much detail here (you will have to wait for Netafim's first Sustainability Report to be published in 2012 :)), but a one example to give you the general idea:

Netafim has developed a Family Drip System, which is perfect for the small farmer for use in plots of up to 2000 sq. meters. It works on gravity with no pump or other energy requirements in open field or greenhouse crops. Being a relatively simple system, it is low cost making it accessible to most small farmers. This system is now used widely in Africa and other emerging markets.

Take a look at this short clip about how this system has transformed the lives of a settlement in Kamale, Kenya. The livelihood of everyone living in Kamale depends on farming. Prior to using an irrigation system, the women of the settlement would wake at 5 am to fetch water from far-away sources. One women tells how she was not able to breastfeed her child because she spent so many hours per day just fetching water. Incredible!.  

So the question remains, when the world is crying out for water efficiency and when the food security of future generations is already under threat, why is this seemingly perfect solution used only for 4-5 % of global irrigated fields? Why is this not an absolutely no-brainer? In Israel, Netafim's home base, over 75% of crops are grown using drip irrigation. In the past 30 years, agricultural output in Israel has increased fivefold without any increase in water consumption. "Greening the desert" has been both a necessity and a major achievement, as only 20% of Israel's land is arable. Today, more than 50% of Israel's crop exports come from semi-arid areas such as the Arava desert.

Despite major advances using drip irrigation in recent years, there seems to be two main reasons for the lack of uptake at mainstream level. First is that irrigations systems require an initial investment, which given the often small scale of farms, may be too hefty for family farmers to afford without government assistance or NGO support. Second, so I've heard, is that the farmers are by nature a conservative and tend to use methods which have been taught through generations and unwilling to risk a crop in the hand for two in the bush.

This is why the Campbell's initiative is so important. By making sustainable farming methods a condition of supply, and by partnering with farmers to help them adopt new technology, major sustainability changes can be achieved. This approach offers incentives right throughout the value chain: Campbell's get a more cost-enviro-efficient raw material, farmers get better yields and access to customers and markets, we all get higher-quality, less chemicalized food, and more if it, and Planet Earth lives on to support our descendants.

By the way, as an ice-cream addict, I am thinking of having Netafim make me a special drip-irrigation system to deliver ice cream to my spoon at a constant rate 24/7. Bet they didn’t think of that one! (ahem.. my patent, please).

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sustainability due diligence... over coffee

One of the things I always wonder when I hear about acquisitions of smaller companies by larger companies is to what extent sustainability due dilligence formed part of the acquisition deliberations and whether an assessment of social and environmental risks was included in the analysis and final decision to buy. So when today, I learned of Strauss Group's acquisiton of the Russian Ambassador Coffee brand, my first thoughts went to whether this new purchase will be a sustainability asset or a sustainability liability. Strauss Group is developing its sustainability journey and coffee is an important and highly strategic part of the company's portfolio. Strauss's most recent sustainability report can be found here.
A review of the Ambassador brand website reveals values:  Professional, Open minded, Ethical, Trustworthy, Competitive, Smart and also that all coffee processing from harvesting to transportation of beans is certified by the FNC (Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia)- a Columbian state body, founded in 1927 as a business cooperative that promotes the production and export of Colombian coffee, representing more than 553,000 coffee growers, most of whom are small family owned farms of less than about 4 acres.

What is also interesting about the FNC is their Sustainability Report, which covers eight decades! Yes, that's right. Most companies have trouble reporting sustainability performance for one year, but the FNC has managed to cram the years 1927 - 2010 into one report of 175 pages. You can download it here. It's a first report of the Federation and includes a GRI Index and actually, probably anything you ever wanted to know about Columbian coffee. One learns so much from Sustainability Reports, as I have said before on this blog.
So here's an example - a  little Columbian coffee quiz (Answers below. No prizes. Just answers):
  1. What is a coffee cherry?
  2. What is Juan Valdez's mule called and what does she remnind us of?
  3. Who is Juan Valdez?
  4. What effect did corn and bean intercropping have on coffee growers' income in 2010?
  5. What is intercropping?
  6. What actions can be taken to preserve coffee quality and contribute to the sustainability of coffee growing regions ?
  7. What is the most popular flavor of ice cream in Columbia?  
The FNC report is primarily a good news report about the activities of the Federation to preserve, protect and promote the Columbian coffee industry, ensuring fair prices and added value options for specialty coffee and sustainable livelihoods for the coffee growers of Columbia, as well as encouraging the development of environmentally friendly cofee growing. After a brief glance at the report, it does seem that the Federation is making a positive difference. While this type of report does not quite conform to the GRI framework as it refers to a sector rather than one company, and relies on case studies and stories rather than actual data about the impacts of the sector, it does offer some interesting insights into sustainability issues and challenges in the coffee business in Columbia. Perhaps the real power of a Federation such as this whose members are small family operations would be to actually harvest data from the member companies on certain social and environmental parameters to measure sustainability impacts accross the board. I have written about association- type reports also in the past. It's a delicate balance between a sector marketing effort and a materiality driven sustainability performance report. The FNC's report is pretty much like most of the others, tending towards the marketing end.

Anyway, I wonder if the team at Strauss Group who finalized the Ambassador deal read this report or considered sustainability aspects of this newly acquired business prior to signing away $10.4 million. Perhaps in terms of coffee sourcing, there maybe cause for optimism, but this, of course, is only one aspect of the overall deal. 

And for those of you who have waited patiently for the Quiz Answers, here they are:

  1. The fruit of the coffee plant which is picked when ripe. Each cherry contains 2 coffee beans.
  2. The mule is called Conchita and she is a reminder of the challenging mountain topography that produces mild Colombian coffee.[Sic].
  3. The icon of Columbian coffee, created in 1960, representing trust and family values. 
  4. It made them an additional $123 million.
  5. Coffee trees can be planted in an overlapping, inter-mixed fashion, called intercropping, with other plants such as tamarillo fruit trees, plantain, blackberry and cocoa trees, among others. Some of these crops, such as corn and beans, help to increase the productivity of the land.
  6. Planting across slopes to help avoid soil erosion; reliable seeds; ecological seed-beds; pest, disease and weed control; shade-systems for coffee cultivation; environmentally friendly milling processes which use less water and result in less waste water.
  7. Chunky Monkey. Coffee flavor. Of course.  

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)
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