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Corporate responsibility: the trend you can’t ignore

Corporate responsibility: the trend you can’t ignore

Published on: | by Lelde Smits

British campaigner, writer, sustainability advisor and environmentalist Tony Juniper outlines why corporate responsibility is a trend you can’t ignore and the risks associated with not adopting an ethical approach to your business, speaking with the Capital Network’s Lelde Smits at The University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England.

Lelde Smits: Hello I’m Lelde Smits for the Capital Network and joining me here in Cambridge, England is Tony Juniper, sustainability advisor and environmentalist, writer of “What’s Really Happening to Our Planet?” And we’re asking Tony today firstly, why is corporate responsibility a trend that executives and individuals can no longer afford to ignore?

Tony Juniper: The days of irresponsible business are coming to a rapid end. The reason for that is very simple: the world is changing rapidly. Not only is there climate change but there is the resource depletion that’s taking place across the world. And then also the degradation of ecosystems, never mind all the social impacts that come with this.

People are no longer tolerating these kinds of impacts being caused by business without trying to take some kind of remedial action, and expectations are changing. Business to business expectations are changing, government regulations are altering, and, of course, consumers are choosing businesses that are behaving in what they would regard as a good way.

Lelde Smits: For executives and corporates that want to be responsible, what are your top tips in order to gain corporate responsibility for their companies and organisations?

Tony Juniper: I think any organization in the private sector, it has a range of impacts in the wild, whether they’re positive or negative and the first step really is to understand what those are. And rather than trying to brush under the carpet, the possible deforestation that’s in the supply chain, the pollution that’s coming out of an industrial pipe, the impacts on local communities that are being caused.

These need to be embraced, understood and then a discussion beginning with stakeholders to work out the way forward in being able to minimize those impacts at the same time as bringing the maximum on the positive side of the equation, whether that’s jobs or providing people with decent food or accommodation or whatever else it happens to be. But the first thing really is, let’s understand what the impacts are. For too long a lot of organisations have simply tried to deny them.

Lelde Smits: Finally Tony, what are the risks of not being responsible as a corporate and perhaps can you give us some examples of organisations that are doing a really good job and are leading in the field of corporate responsibility.

Tony Juniper: There’s a whole constellation of risks emerging around this new desire for responsible business from different stakeholders. So one level of risk, of course, is seen in changing government regulations so in this part of the world we’ve recently had announcements from European countries saying that the end of the internal combustion engine is coming. People didn’t expect that, we’re now moving towards electric vehicles and so if you have a supply chain and manufacturing that is built around diesel and petrol engines, that is now a massive business shift that is coming. But it’s down to irresponsible behaviours including companies lying about their emissions. That has led to this massive shift.

And then, of course, you have changing expectations between companies. So if you’re producing palm oil on an area that’s been deforested, you may find that there is no market for that. As all these things are combining in different ways, of course, all of it made much more of a risky environment by the instant transparency of social media. There’s no longer possible to say one thing and do another, and this is now the reality facing many businesses. Unfortunately, some have still not spotted it.

There are now many examples of companies having understood this new reality and trying to respond, including some really global organisations like Unilever (NYSE:UL) for example, as a consumer goods company. They do Marmite, they do Ryvita, they do margarines, they do soap, they do toothpastes – all these different products they’ve now tried to align with this new need to be looking at the environment from a long-term point of view, taking a strategic perspective on that and trying to reduce the environmental impact across the board. And that company said it’s going to half its environmental impact through looking at all of these brands and working with consumers to be able to lead to different impacts not only coming from the product but also the use of the product. This is really quite leading behaviour and others are beginning to do the same thing.

Lelde Smits: Tony Juniper, thank you so much for your insights today in Cambridge.

Tony Juniper: Great pleasure, very nice to meet you.

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