The latest “North West Sustainable Business Quaterly” meeting (see our review of the last one) has once again failed to surprise; efficiently delivered speeches, a not-too-long question session, small table discussions followed by networking. All washed down with good food and wine (sponsored by CICS). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The meetings are run by Macclesfield-based M4C, and tonight’s topic was “Climate Change: Why Business should take notice”
The first speaker was Terry Gibson, of the Global Network for Disaster Reduction. He pointed out, citing work by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters that the vast majority of the increase in reported disasters during the century has been climate-related (especially hurricanes and tornadoes). He used Bangladesh and Pakistan as examples of where changes in population levels, land-use and deforestation can leave populations vulnerable (something on debt, the legacy of colonialism and unfair terms of trade might usefully have been added).
Next up was Madlen King, of head of the climate change programme at Lloyds Register of Quality Assurance. Her presentation was on “limitations of existing standards and the possible future.”
LRQA, if you didn’t know (I certainly didn’t!) is “a leading UKAS-accredited provider of management system certification, verification and training… [whose] unique global Business Assurance approach focuses on helping clients reduce risk and improve performance through their operations.”
She quickly ran through the existing standards – mostly coming from the United Nations process that formally kicked off in Rio in 1992, with the Kyoto Protocol following in 1997, but with a mention of voluntary standards too. These all concentrate very much on emissions reductions and accurate data gathering, but do not look at adaptation, climate risks and the impact of risks on long-term viability.
These risks are physical (your factory getting wiped out), processing and production (the supply chains that provide your factory’s raw materials getting wiped out/interrupted) and reputational (your customers deciding that you are crummy carbon criminals).
She pointed out that there have been some interesting recent developments; at the UN level guidelines for monitoring and reporting National Adaptation plans have been adopted. In the United States the Securities Exchange Commission (stock market watchdog) issued guidance in 2012 that some companies have to follow, making them report on the “material” climate risks (again, around their supply chains). And in the UK the Companies Act (Bill?) 2012 is looking at mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.
King concluded with the observation that in the absence of political leadership, investors were making the running She pointed to the Carbon Disclosure Project, but also to the likelihood that the next version of ISO14001 (footnote 1) will look not just at an organisation’s impact on the environment, but on how that organisation might be vulnerable to environmental pressures. It’s not quite the overthrow of rapacious monolithic technocratic capitalism and its replacement by eco-sensitive human-centred development, but you have to start somewhere, eh?
To be brutally frank, the speakers’ fluency and succinctness deserted them slightly during the question and answer session. Specific questions – many about the UK context – got fuzzy answers or were misunderstood (and in one case, perfectly legitimately, the speaker offered to refer it on to someone with more specific knowledge). It’s a pity, because the questions were (and yes, I asked one) unusually focused (that is, nobody gave a thinly-veiled mini-speech of their own.) All that aside, props to Terry Gibson for responding to the inevitable “what about population, eh?” question by saying, “Okay, but what about Western consumption patterns” (I paraphrase).
Everyone then moved onto six discussion tables around strategy, communications, supply chains and the like. Each of these had a moderator to ensure conversation flowed. My discussion topic table was quite sparsely attended (nothing to do with my personality, honest), and the sensible decision was made by the convener to scrap the topic and have a more general discussion, which covered a lot of useful material.
Punctual as ever, the formal proceedings concluded at 7.45pm, with wine and nibbles on display. Half an hour later, most everyone was still there, which is a good-ish indication of an event’s success, no?
Verdict: It’s a free event. Free food (a little light on vegetarian options, true. And almost totally awol on vegan options, it’s truer). Free wine. Good speakers. Lots and lots of time for networking, with rules against selling. Great views of Manchester. Efficient and perfectly-pitched organisation, without the downside of being spammed.
The only thing I can’t figure out is why these events aren’t massively over-subscribed. The next one is on Thursday 13th December, again at Bruntwood’s City Tower. The speakers are Alan Knight (ex- Sustainable Development Commission) and Mike Berners-Lee . See you there?
1. Basically, rules about how an organisation behaves around environmental issues before it can boast it is ISO14001-compliant. We ran a story about the local law firm Pannone earning its IS014001 wings back in January.