Welcome to The Sustainable MBA Blog!

“The Sustainable MBA: The Business Guide to Sustainability” is a book for anyone interested in what the business sector can and is doing in sustainability. It is a practical guide with lots of tips on how to get involved and how to really bring these ideas into your job, whatever job that might be.

This blog is a space for me to share some of my thoughts, in bite sized pieces, about sustainability and business. As you can see I haven’t updated this blog for some time now. I will be bringing it back to live very soon so stay tuned. Many teachers, from high school all the way to executive education, use these blogs as conversation starters in the classroom. Please feel free to share, comment, agree or disagree or suggest your own.

For more information about the book and my other projects please visit www.project-insideout.com.

Thanks for visiting.

Baking and Ethics

Baking and EthicsLast week I got completely sucked in by the TV show The Great British Bake Off. I’m not sure what happened but not only did we watch the whole 4th season (and completely feel they chose the wrong winner!) but I then woke up Saturday morning feeling that I had to bake. So I did. I made everything I had a craving for. It started with vanilla marshmallows, some left plain and a few dipped in chocolate. Chocolate chip cookies, really big gooey and delicious ones. Then there were mini chocolate donuts, half dipped in vanilla icing and the others in chocolate. Finally, the piece de resistance, chocolate macaroons with a chocolate filling, 4 batches of them, each batch more macaroon like than the last. I would have kept going but I ran out of weekend….and sugar.

So why baking and ethics? Well, while I was whisking up a storm I was thinking about how similar baking and ethics are. There are so many different ways to bake; you can be innovative with the fillings, the flavours, the colours, the textures. But at the base there are a series of basics that you need to get right, you need to do in order for your baking to be successful. You cannot skip these steps, or try to cheat. With baking there are very specific cooking times, resting times that if they are not followed, will result in something that really doesn’t look or taste very good at all. Is this not the same deal with business? Every business works in very different ways, different people, culture, products, ways of operating. But there are some basics, like ethics, good governance, being legal, that you cannot skip or cheat, that you need to follow in order to continue to be able to do business and have a strong, healthy company.

Perhaps business school students should be offered baking courses instead or/and in addition to ethics class. A very practical way to learn how patience and doing things the right way from the start can bring about success while still affording you an incredible amount of flexibility and ability to differentiate yourself. Plus all that sugar will help fuel late night study sessions. I’m sold.

Taking your time

Heathrow has been talking about putting in a new runway for some 30 years. In that time China has built 30 new runways (at least!). Sometimes it is important that we take our time to make decisions, especially when there could be a significant impact on the environment, on the society, on culture etc. Sometimes we need to just get on with it and make the changes! A lot of things when it comes to sustainability I often say just get on with it and learn as you go. But putting in a runway, putting in a new piece of equipment, doing something major requires a lot more thought and planning and that can’t and shouldn’t be rushed in to. At the same time prolonging the decision doesn’t help anyone either. What we need is an approach somewhere between Heathrow and China, take your time to make carefully considered decisions, but don’t take too long or we’ll never get anything done!

Sand Dunes

If you take the ferry from Noosaville to Noosa Heads near Brisbane, the driver of the boat will tell you all sorts of stories about the area. One of the stories he told us was about a relatively large island of sand we passed, covered in native plants which now provides a barrier between the houses on the beach and the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. It surprised me to hear that this sand island was actually man made. The story, as I remember it, as that many years ago a cyclone hit the area and the waves were so big that they were destroying the houses that had been build right along the edge of the water. Usually along the coast there were trees which would absorb those waves so they didn’t affect the rest of the houses in the area but here houses had been build right on the edge of the water. The owners of the house lobbied to get the government to spend a lot of money, millions of dollars, to put in this artificial sand island and to cover it with native plants to make it look natural. Since then because the island isn’t supposed to be there, every couple of years the government has to spend more millions not just to keep the island intact but also to dredge the waters around the island. These water were usually dredged naturally by the tides coming in and out from the Pacific but now the extra sand and barrier of this island was making that impossible. So since this was put into place the government has spent billions and all for a group of maybe 20 houses that at the time were only worth about 40,000AUD each.

Today they realise that the island is more trouble than anything else and have implemented the more reasonable solution; to not allow people to build close to the water and to build in a natural barrier of beach and trees to absorb any waves that may hit the area. Thing is, since that initial cyclone, the area has never experiences any waves whatsoever!

There are a lot of decisions that we make, whether it is from within government or business or as consumers that have a long term impact. Looking back this seems like the most ridiculous solution to a problem ever, the most expensive, the most time consuming and you wonder if anyone actually thought through things properly when it happened. I’m sure you can all identify solutions similar to this that your local or national governments have allowed to slip by. Hopefully something like this wouldn’t happen today…or would it? How do we stop things like this from happening in the future by putting the welfare of all over that of a select few?

All or nothing

On a recent flight I watched a documentary about the health care system in the US. I had heard before that the US spends more money than the rest of the world on health but still has the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer etc. The documentary also goes into details about how in the US medical professionals prefer to treat using drugs so most Americans are taking a cocktail of pills every day, many of which they don’t need. The first fifteen minutes of the documentary was focused on convincing you that there is a problem with how Americans look and deal with their health and they do an excellent job. You are easily convinced that something is wrong and something needs to be done about it and soon. So you keep watching the show, anxiously awaiting the solution. What can I do to make a difference in my own health, to take control of my life? The solution proposed? Stop eating meat and switch completely and immediately to a 100% plant based diet. They then go on to show many pictures and videos of meals made solely of plants. They all look terrible and mushy, and frankly quite boring. So in the end the documentary is a complete waste in my opinion. After convincing me that something needs to be done, I felt let down when they proposed only one solution – one that is so far away from most people’s realities that the chances of them doing anything about it is slim to none. No in-between solution was provided, such as limiting meat intake and having one day when you don’t eat meat.

This happens a lot in the field of Sustainability. The media, NGOs, business are very good at telling us what is wrong and why we need to urgently act on different issues whether it is as a consumer, as a citizen or as a society as a whole. The problem is that the solutions that they often propose are so extreme that it is very difficult for people to get involved, to get engaged, to do their part. The solution to sustainability and overconsumption is not to buy nothing. This isn’t a solution that consumers could ever take on board. Buying less yes, buying smarter yes, but buying nothing at all – never.

If we want to see change come about, in any part of sustainability, we need to work on how we communicate not just the background information about the problem, but more importantly the full range of options for individuals in terms of solutions to allow everyone to be able to get involved.

Empty Promises

A few months ago we had to replace the light bulbs just outside our garage. We went to Home Depot, the local home everything store, and spent 20 minutes going through what seemed liked hundreds of options for bulbs. There were white, off white, yellow, colourful lights, lights that twinkle. There were LED lights, eco friendly lights, or just good old cheap light bulbs. We settled on the eco lights that they offered even though not only were they the most expensive option, but they were a lot more expensive than other eco light bulbs we had bought in the past, in particular in Europe. We bought them not only because they are more energy efficient, but largely because the promise that they would last many times longer than the cheap bulbs made the economics work out

When we got home we replaced one lamp with a cheap bulb that was left over from the previous owner and the other with our new eco bulb and went back to our business. Literally a couple of months later one of the lamps went out. We assumed it was the cheap bulb…but no, it was our new eco light bulb! We have already had to replace it a couple of times while the cheap bulb is still burning bright. So in this case, the cheap bulb is definitely the most ecological, and economical choice.

So my question now is what happened? When we lived in Cambridge UK we always used ecobulbs and loved them. They did exactly what they promised and for very little more price wise. Here in the US we try products that promise their eco credentials and seem to be constantly disappointed. The boxes promise all the right things (although it is difficult to tell because eco labels and many other words such as 100% natural are not regulated here in the US) but when we open the box it isn’t what we expect. How can we expect consumers to make the right choices if we are making it pretty much impossible for those same consumers to do so?

It is obvious that something needs to be done in the US when it comes to labelling and eco product quality. Don’t get me wrong, there are many products I have found here that work perfectly well and have all the eco credentials I am looking for. When I speak to locals they are constantly telling me that they don’t want any regulations, let the market be free. So what now? Any thoughts from my US readers?

History in the making

Recently I read a story about the history of ice in England. The story starts at Lake Wenham near Boston in the US where, in 1844, the Wenham Lake Ice Company started shipping large chunks of ice from the lake over to England. There they set up a store in London where each day they displayed a fresh block of ice in the window. No one there had ever seen ice before quite like this and people lined up outside the window to look at the ice. Several businesses started to order their ice, including the royal family. From here other businesses started to see the potential of selling ice to the English public. The Norwegians even changed the name of a lake near Oslo to Lake Wenham so that they could tap into this growing market. Having ice changed everything. All of a sudden food could be kept and it could be transported. So Lake Wenham played a big role in history as we know it today.

Apparently if you visit Lake Wenham today the whole lake is surrounded by a tall fence because the lake is now part of the water supply for the city of Boston. There is no sign, note, placard or anything anywhere around the lake or the town that mentions the Wenham Lake Ice Company or the role the lake played.

I’m guessing there are many many places like this around the world today, places that we pass by everyday on our commutes to work that have incredibly fascinating and rich histories but don’t look like anything to us. It may be an old building, a dusty monument, a strangely shaped tree. The land where your house is built itself could probably have a whole history book written about it. Problem is, it isn’t that easy to find out the story of what is around us and it is very rarely spoken of. I wish I could take a look back in time and see the history of what happened on the land that our town house is built on…I wonder what fantastic stories it would include?