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A Global Reach For Doing Good

July 26, 2010

With governments constrained to the limits of their borders and with an event horizon no further than the next election, delivering change on global issues is challenging. However big corporations already have a global reach and the decisions they make, individually and collectively, can make a real difference. It is in big businesses’ interest to act in a way that investors appreciate and society values – this means operating openly, ethically and in a way that is seen to be ‘doing good’.

In an article in last week’s Sunday Times Andy Wales, head of sustainable development for SABMiller argues that there has been an appreciable shift in the boardroom towards a mindful approach to responsibility, away from philanthropy and onto improving the quality of life for workers and the local environments. This effect of this is that NGOs, who in the past had campaigned against these big corporations, are now working in partnership with them. An obvious example is in the area of climate change which is as much a risk to business as to the people. SABMiller are working hard to understand the risks of water scarcity as “[we] know that most of the water used to make a product such as a pint of beer is not used in the brewery itself but rather to grow the crops such as barley that go into the beer.” In understanding global climate change they can project the effects this will have on their business and start taking mitigating steps and have “established the “Water Futures” partnership with WWF to build practical schemes to protect the watersheds that our business, local communities and ecology all depend on.”

The cynics among us may suggest that this is simply self-interest; the main focus is in cutting costs and keeping the business afloat through changing times, and if that means there is a positive benefit to the local people, then so be it.  However here Andy Wales goes on to provide the example of BAA advocating back in 2002 that air travel be included in the EU carbon cap trading scheme. As of 2012 it will. Similarly “at the Copenhagen summit last year the global airline industry presented a goal to cut its net emissions by 50% by 2050.” We feel that when a whole industry is looking to take these measures, there is a real sense of unity rather than protectionism. Perhaps this has been brought on by a new generation of people who have grown up more environmentally and socially ‘aware’, now affecting decisions in the Board Room.  We’re seeing social responsibility becoming integrated into long-term business decision-making. Whether you have a cynical view or not, it may be that such a potent combination will make more of a difference than the combined effects of governments’ policies.

This blog was written by Oliver Jevons

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