Archive for the 'supply chain management' Category

New Publication: “Redefining ecolabels to improve sustainability and trade in developing countries: Lessons learned and recommendations from a UNEP project”

cover page of Redefining ecolabels to improve sustainability and trade in developing countries--Lessons learned and recommendations from a UNEP project

In 2012, at the invitation of the United Nations Development Programme (UNEP)  Sustainable Consumption and Production branch, I had the pleasure of interviewing and working with dozens of stakeholders from over a dozen countries to explore how ecolabels are encouraging sustainable development and improving international trade opportunities. The report “Redefining ecolabels to improve sustainability and trade in developing countries: Lessons learned and recommendations from a UNEP project” explores both the history and background of ecolabelling as a tool to promote sustainable production and consumption and to evaluate a specific five-year UNEP project.

You can download the report here on the new (and very informative) Sustainable Production and Consumption Clearinghouse.

More about this report from the introduction:

This report aims to evaluate to what extent the project succeeded in reaching its intended goals, to draw lessons learned, and present recommendations for future actions. The report contains four major sections. Section I introduces readers to ecolabels and the differences between different information systems, provides an overview of how these systems are used in developed and developing countries as well as introduces the major challenges, opportunities, and debates around voluntary labelling and standards globally.

Section I also traces the debates about ecolabels as possible barriers to trade. This includes possible implications of recent World Trade Organization cases and other issues affecting the discussions on Technical Barriers to Trade, and the relevance of this UNEP project to the debates, including the importance of working with established rules, practices, and disciplines that avoid unnecessary barriers in developing and using internationally-accepted ecolabels.

Section II introduces the UNEP ‘Enabling developing countries to seize ecolabelling opportunities’ project and partners, and the assessment methodology.

Section III of this report focuses on the assessment of the project results in relation to its goals. This section is based on interviews with key stakeholders in the project, as well as background research. It reviews the project as a whole, including a sector and country analysis. It describes the baseline situations and major developments that happened during the five years of the project.

Section IV provides lessons learned and recommendations to project partners and other stakeholders on further improvement and future projects. Suggestions are targeted toward all stakeholders involved in the ecolabelling field.

The report’s methodology is based on the compilation and review of all project documents and relevant literature on trade and ecolabels. It also involved interviews with participants from the project, including funders, implementing bodies, country partners, and some target enterprises when available.

Collaboration for Sustainable Development: 2011, 2012 & Beyond — And a Note of Appreciation to my Collaborators

emulating the saintI’d like to share what I’ve been working on in 2011, along with some inspiring thoughts for 2012 and beyond.

Since moving from Beijing to Thailand in mid 2010, I’ve had the pleasure to work on a number of projects with many outstanding organizations and individuals. I have continued to travel to China every two to three months on various projects to grow relationships and extend trust in face-to-face meetings. I look forward to continuing and deepening collaborations in 2012 and beyond.

These projects have given me the opportunity to grow relationships in China, Asia, Europe, North America, and globally through new approaches to my interests, such as multi-stakeholder governance (mainly international multi-stakeholder voluntary sustainability standards), competitiveness (through a sustainability edge), sustainability information transparency (getting data about sustainable development to the decision makers who matter most), sustainable leadership (leading from ones higher purpose), international sustainability standards (potent tools to grow a just, green global economy), and the management of complex and visionary change (life, research, writing, and communicating).

This post is both a note of appreciation to my recent collaborators, a description of what we have been working on, and thoughts of what is to come:

The ISEAL Alliance: Advising on China Engagement and Sustainability Information Transparency: I continue to advise the ISEAL Alliance (the global association of international sustainability standards) and its members (leading sustainability standards like FSC, MSC, SAI, FairTrade International, GoodWeave, the Alliance for Water Stewardship, Rainforest Alliance, and other) on approaches to China engagement. I also work to help ISEAL and its members adapt to the growing “radical transparency” or “sustainability information transparency” space ushered in through new information technology and leading companies and organizations like GoodGuide, the Ecolabel Index, the Sustainability Consortium, EkoBai, and many others.

ISEAL Alliance membersFor 2012 and beyond: I have been collaborating with the ISEAL Alliance and its member standards since 2008 when I represented AccountAbility in China and helped organize a meeting in London between standards bodies and some of China’s top trade researchers in a project between the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Chinese State Council’s Development Research Center, and the Swiss SECO, detailed in the paragraph below.
I work with the ISEAL Alliance because I foresee that the potent combination of dependable, measurable multi-stakeholder standards, and the tools to bring this information to decision makers will continue to dramatically improve the sustainability of global trade. I advise ISEAL on China because sustainability standards are a crucial aspect of civil governance that provide pathways for China to have its sustainable development efforts recognized in global markets. Additionally, the development of new standards with Chinese participation in setting the “rules of the game” are crucial to China’s soft power and its peaceful integration into a the emerging world order. For more information, you can read the IISD report I co-authored on “Advancing the Sustainability Practices of China’s Transnational Corporations.” (external link).



WWF/USAIDRoundtable on Responsible Live Reef Food Fish Trade in China: I was hired by the WWF Coral Triangle Network Initiative, with support from USAID, to design an initial strategy and work plan that brings together the key business and government stakeholders in mainland China and Hong Kong to improve the sustainability of the trade in live fish from the Coral Triangle region. Greater China’s role, as the largest buyer of this fish (sold mainly in restaurants and hotels), is one key to ensuring that coral ecosystems are protected from overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices.

plant wonder in Confucian Temple, Shanghai

For 2012 and beyond: Like WWF’s important and game-changing Market Transformations Initiative (see Jason Clay’s inspiring TEDx talk), this project aims to involve companies and governments in protecting shared resources in biodiverse regions. The work is difficult and many existing incentives encourage unsustainable practices, but I always enjoy a challenge, especially when it involves mechanisms for helping China become a more trusted neighbor and regional player. From an economic perspective alone, it may be easy to overlook such a small portion of the overall fish trade value chain, but when you factor in the reputations of hotels, restaurants and greater China itself, I predict that increasing the sustainability of this kind of commodity value chain will become part of China’s charm offensive in the years to come. Other commodities with soft power kudos available for China’s taking? Palm oil, sugar, fish, timber, and soy, to name a few.

"tiger howl rock" (left) and "listening to the rain" pavilion (right)

"Tiger Howl Rock" (left) and "Listening to the Rain Pavilion" (right) at Shanghai Confucius Temple, where I taught a class on sustainability and leadership in the Chinese context

DotEco: Greater China Liaison: DotEco is an innovative project to develop the .eco top-level domain name as a space managed by and for the international environmental community. If the .eco bid is accepted by the internet governance authority, ICANN, .eco would be the first “community-priority” domain name and set a precedent for non-commercial, collaboratively-governed top-level domain names.

For 2012 and beyond: I hope that my work to bring on leading Chinese environmental NGOs like the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, Friends of Nature, ChinaDialogue, and the Global Environmental Institute helps prove to ICANN that “.eco” is a universally-recognized environmental signifier. I hope that the .eco bid is approved and becomes a new international mechanism to provide accountable, robust, and peer-managed sustainability information on and for organizations around the world. Read more about the project at DotEco.org

 

arum arresting me

Global Leadership Program of Berlitz: facilitator of a pilot executive leadership training program: I was asked to lead a half day session on leadership and sustainable development in the Chinese context. My goal was to change enough hearts and minds of the assembled business executives to at least offset the carbon footprint of my six hours of flying from Chiang Mai to Shanghai. Based on feedback, I think we more than accomplished this, as well as gaining a better understanding about how to achieve success–sustainably–in an Asian context. Many of the pictures in this post of the Shanghai Confucius Temple where I led this leadership session.

For 2012 and beyond: As this was a pilot project, we shall see whether next year takes me to other locals. Teaching a class like this about leading from ones higher ideals was very invigorating and I would relish the opportunity to develop the potential of both myself and others through future sessions in China and elsewhere.

classroom setup in wenmiao

Classroom at the Confucius Temple in Shanghai

GIZ, International Expert to the German International Cooperation’s Sino-German CSR Project in Beijing: This pilot project was a scoping exercise to develop a platform for exchange on international sustainability standards in China. While standards continue to play greater roles in China’s sustainable development and initial roundtable work was successful, stakeholders were more of the opinion that individual collaborations by standards bodies and stakeholders in China were higher priorities than a platform per se.

2012 and beyond:  Understanding and acting in China’s unique domestic sustainability standards context and also maximizing the benefits of existing and future sustainability standards to aid China’s sustainable development requires continued research and resources. These twin goals of helping international standards bodies act more strategically in China and helping Chinese standards stakeholders (like farmers/producers, government standards bodies, civil society groups, and private sector actors) remains one of my top professional priorities for the foreseeable future.

WTO Tribune/Golden Bee: I continue collaborating with the WTO Tribune, one of China’s pioneering corporate social responsibility research, consulting, and policy organizations on a number of projects to increase the sustainability and competitiveness of Fortune 500 enterprises operating in Chinese and international contexts.

2012 and beyond: Much has been written and said about the development of corporate social responsibility in China (including by me).  I am confident that China’s governmental, private sector, and civil society organizations, including the WTO Tribune, will continue to blend the best of international and domestic theory toward more transparent, accountable, and effective sustainable development practices.

 

ChinaDialogue: I authored two pieces for ChinaDialogue, one on “China’s Opportunity to Embrace Sustainability Standards” and the other on Apple’s supply chain practices, “An Open Letter to the Next Steve Jobs.” My writing on Apple was inspired by work by Ma Jun at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs on exposing alleged environmental abuses by Apple suppliers.

2012 and Beyond: I continue to be inspired by ChinaDialogue and its collaborators like Ma Jun, along with other environmental pioneers in China, just as I continue to be inspired and amazed by China’s breakneck economic, social and environmental transformations. Apple responded well to the pressure put on it by Chinese NGOs, Chinese and international media, and consumers by holding meetings with many NGOs on how to improve its practices. The media and international NGOs need to continue to put pressure on the electronics sector, which remains far behind in its sustainability action as compared to its technological wow factor. Still, getting a laggard like Apple to improve its practices should be counted as a victory for workers and the environment. But we cannot rest until all living beings on this planet live in dignity and in clean surroundings.

Beijing earth art murals

 

Personal (Projects)

Gardening: I continue to cultivate a garden in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai. I am also helping friends launch a site celebrating the beauty of urban gardens called Urban Micro Garden.

Days as Tramps: I continue to edit the text of Work in Progress, a book that is headed soon to eyes near you, maybe even yours!

Learning Thai: I have begun learning Thai in the one-year course at the Chiang Mai University Language Institute. I am overjoyed with my teacher. If anything, the course is too fast. By the end of the year, we are expected to read, write, and speak Thai fairly well. So far so good!

Puppy: Beaffin the puppy is the newest addition to my family in Thailand.

If you’re still reading, thanks for taking an interest. Now take a deep breath. Are you living a life that is honest to yourself and your ideals? Are you giving your body the nourishment it needs? Are you sharing your appreciation with the people who matter most to you? I hope you take a moment to find your direction and “move confidently in the direction of your dreams.” (Thoreau) Or, as Abraham Lincoln said, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”

In closing, I wish all of my collaborators, friends, and allies, along with all who live passionately to give nature a voice in human affairs…

All the best in 2012!

 

Ok, one last thing…as an Easter egg to fellow Old China Hands, below is a picture from 2010 that you won’t find in the capital. Not that this picture makes “luxury” seem so appealing anyway. (For those non China Hands, Beijing banned “luxury” advertisements in 2011). The depicted image, in truth, isn’t an advertisement, but a partition to a giant housing development that workers had their own uses for!

complex value luxury -- outdoor advertising in beijing

Apple Inc. Making Progress on Sustainability In China, Though Workers and the Environment Still Deserve Better

Say it with apples

Ever since I got a sneak peak at the evidence Chinese environmental groups recently leveled against Apple, I’ve been researching, gasping, and writing about some appalling practices and how to improve them. Not only does the production of personal electronics rank low on social and environmental impacts, but Apple’s practices put it at the bottom of a very gross barrel.

Since I’m trying to make things better rather than sink into misery, I thought it was time I update a little of the progress that’s been made since I wrote my “open letter to Apple.” (original version here,  to ChinaDialogue version here).

Note: I have always been a big fan of Steve Jobs and feel saddened by his early demise. I note that it is important to grieve, but grief is not a reason to stop making progress on this very important issue. On the contrary, I think that Apple should work to improve the social and environmental impacts involved in manufacturing its products as a way to burnish and secure the legacy of its founder.

Apple Opens Up, But More Progress Needed

First, and most importantly, Apple apparently has broken its silence and agreed to speak with NGOs and other stakeholders about the alleged social and environmental issues at its suppliers in China. (See the ChinaDialogue article “Apple Breaks its Silence” by Xie Xiaoping).

This is positive–even amazing–news which shows, just maybe, that Apple’s sustainability team is waking up to the power of effective stakeholder engagement.

For a very informative look at how a big brand used stakeholder engagement to overcome major difficulties, read the MIT Sloan Review article “How Gap Inc. Engaged With its Stakeholders” by industry veteran Sean Ansett and colleagues.

Conclusions from “How Gap Inc. Engaged With its Stakeholders” that Apple might benefit from:

  • Stakeholder engagement is not easy; the process is often expensive and slow.
  • Identifying and prioritizing stakeholders can enable a company to focus on developing relationships with a few key stakeholder organizations.
  • Over time, Gap’s stakeholder engagement strategy has improved perceptions of the company.

I hold my breath that Apple will increase sustainability information transparency. The company still seems to see its supply chain as a risk to its brand, rather than an opportunity to engage and bolster its brand, much less begin to lead the IT industry toward greater transparency and responsible management of manufacturing impacts.

Holding Tech Companies Accountable through Stronger International NGO and Media Action 

Secondly, I take issue with how the press characterized the August 31, 2011 revelation in the IPEA report “The Other Side of Apple (II): Pollution Spreads Through Apple’s Supply Chain” story as simply about how Chinese environmental groups were accusing Apple of misdeeds, rather than investigating the claims themselves. I am glad the story made headlines, but not investigating further seems like bad journalism.

On a larger and wider note, the press has almost universally failed to address the more systematic concerns the report brought up, like whether Apple should be exempt from taking responsibility for the ways in which its products are made. Some stories are exceptions, which I note below.

I guess I should be happy that the story got headlines in almost every major newspaper. I just hope the issues do not get swept aside. Now that the world is over the shock of the loss of Steve Jobs, how long before the admiration Apple fans have gets wedded to a serious movement to hold technology companies to account?

As he told TechCrunch, Monologist Mike Daisey characterizes Apple’s current manufacturing processes as  Apple’s “terrible sin.”

He also points the finger at himself and everyone listening to say it’s “irresponsible for us not to consider” these issues. I completely agree with him. In fact, Daisey has become one of my favorite public figures, not just for his consciousness-raising work on Apple (I have yet to see, read or hear his latest work “the Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”), but because he is also so articulate, expressive, and expressive while also being very socially aware, and engaged enough to do something about his feelings.

Daisey rightly points out that “there are no nonprofits within the tech industry that are even concerned with these issues.” He adds, “There’s no one even petitioning these companies in the first world to have independent monitoring in the third world.”

Daisey states (incorrectly) that there is “nobody [monitoring] on the ground in China.” What I would say is that there are not as many people on the ground as there should be. There are a number of international voluntary standards and company codes of conduct that are dedicated to improving working conditions in China and around the world. His point, I think, is that Apple and other tech companies have chosen to spend more resources trying to prevent consumers and the public from seeing what is happening in factories than on improving conditions there. Such backward stances by these companies go against the historical currents of our times, which flow toward more transparency, not less, and hopefully, over time, lead to more sustainability outcomes that improve everyone’s circumstances. In an era of economic globalization, we need solutions like international voluntary sustainability standards adequately applied to lift everyone’s boats.

To illustrate just how silly it is to try to prevent supply chain transparency, even NGOs and consumers in China are starting to wake up to social and environmental issues. (See this story on Al-Jazeera, from which the picture above was taken).

This video of Mike Daisey is very eye-opening, entertaining, and visionary (sorry, the video doesn’t seem to be displaying, despite the embed, so click here to view the video, accompanying TechCrunch story, and other videos from the interview):

 

Other Stories about Apple

Thirdly, since writing the open letter to Apple, I have come upon many more resources and articles about Apple and I’d like to share them. A big thanks goes to folks like Rich Brubaker at CollectiveResponsibility/All Roads Lead to China/CEIBS and other comrades in the sustainability sector in China. I thank Rich, in particular, for introducing me to Mike Daisey’s work.

Here are some other stories about Apple and Jobs that I haven’t linked to elsewhere in this post:

The Human Side of Tech Manufacturing

Lastly, through reviewing this information, I have come to see more of the human side of global manufacturing. Yes, I’ve toured factories in China before, yes I’ve read statistics, written reports, interviewed manufacturing company presidents, attended stakeholder meetings of international labor standards like Social Accountability International (SA8000) in China, read Peter Hessler’s books, and so on, but I had never thought about workers in quite the same way as after seeing this brief documentary/video “Dreamwork China,” which interviews and photographs Foxconn workers:

Click on Dreamwork China to see more.

I look forward to watching how journalists, supply chain experts, responsible investment gurus, CSR managers, members of civil society, researchers, policy experts, and others respond to Apple’s invitation to help get its house in order. I hope these stakeholders work together to implement a long-term vision and spur Apple along the noble path, even if it strays.

Bad eco-labels are just another form of greenwashing…

I really enjoy GoodGuide and the GoodGuide blog, to which I have long subscribed and read.

I just posted a comment to GoodGuide’s blog on a post about how they are using eco-labels (sustainability standards) to help GoodGuide users differentiate real sustainability claims from greenwashing. This is a great development and could be really helpful, except that there are just too many eco-labels and they are too hard to tell apart!

I’ve reposted my comment here, or you can skip to the GoodGuide Blog post to read it there.

Bad eco-labels are just another form of greenwashing…

GoodGuide’s focus on eco-labels is an outstanding development. Congratulations on the move!

What’s missing for most consumers is a simple and systematic way of differentiating between labels, which is where I hope GoodGuide can someday soon fill a gap. As an example, take FSC and SFI, two of North America’s largest forestry certification schemes. Studies consistently point out that FSC has better impacts on the ground. FSC’s strengths in auditing, stakeholder engagement, and –often crucially — chain-of-custody management (how certified product is kept track of), make it a different class of standard entirely. SFI is often described as simply “turnkey” certification for the forestry industry: ie, greenwashing by another name.

Continue reading ‘Bad eco-labels are just another form of greenwashing…’