The hosting; immaculate
The presentations; fascinating
That question; crucial.
The “North West Sustainable Business Quarterly” (the clue in is in t’name) meetings are held high above the city streets, on the 24th floor of the City Tower. Many (not all!) of the attendees are high-to-medium flyers. But the topics of the events are far more down-to-earth.
Last night for example, after the customary warm welcome and shout out to the awesome caterers (Good Mood Food) and sponsor (The Energy Solution Group) , the assembled 60ish people (nice demographic mix too- not just follicly-challenged white men) heard about … supermarkets and showers.
Julian Walker-Palin, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Asda Stores Ltd gave a fact-filled presentation (1) on just how much information Asda gets from its customers on their views on sustainability and who should be doing what.
Richard Wright, Behavioural Science Director at Unilever gave an equally useful talk about the lengths Unilever goes to understand who uses the products and how they use them. A recent study captured data on how long people spend in the shower (on average, 8 mins, oddly less than the self-reported 14 mins).
Their presentations were pretty much like what I suspect the work behind underpinning them is – detailed, thoughtful and meticulous and delivered to time and budget. If this is “greenwash,” it is the most subtle kind you could imagine. It’s far more useful to think of it as ecological modernisation on steroids.
Detailed, thoughtful, meticulous and on budget; but missing something… The crucial question came from Eric Woodcock, a professor of project management.(2)
He pointed out that while the presentations both showed how the footprints of products could be reduced, “the number one thing is for people to consumer far far less.”
The response came – and it’s a reasonable one – in that there are many people on the planet who are not consuming enough – (enough food, enough hygiene materials, enough energy.)
This is not something that advocates of a steady-state economy – be they Professor Kevin Anderson, or Steady State Manchester – would argue against. It’s true in so far as it goes. It does however sidestep the question of what is to be done about the “West” (and portions of the “developing” world, of what happens when aforementioned ecological modernisation collides with Jevons’s Paradox…
The bitter truth is that those over-consumers, consuming three planets or five, don’t have talons, oversized incisors or green saliva. If we want to look at the people whose consumption habits are leading future generations to an unimaginable hell, we need only look in our mirrors.
That the NWSBQ events can’t help us with that dilemma is no criticism at all; far more shouty and “right on” groups have failed far more miserably.
The only mystery to me is that the events – always hitting the sweet spot between efficient and friendly – aren’t even more over-subscribed. The next one, on “Social impacts in the supply chain” is on Thursday 12th June. Book here.
Disclaimer: Nobody paid for this article to be posted/hosted or the links in it. But I did scoff some lovely food and (only one!) glass of wine.
- I’m not being ironic. Just because I don’t like multinationals doesn’t mean I refuse to applaud a decent presentation.
- The NWSBQ is held under the Chatham House rule, but I have permission from both Mr Woodcock and the hosts to name him.
UPDATE: Here’s NWSBQ’s write-up of their event.