Friday, November 30, 2007
Arrived in a riot-shaken Paris late on Wednesday. All a little reminiscent of when I was here in 1973, staying with the late Observer foreign correspondent Gavin Young at the Place des Vosges home of, I seem to recall, a branch of the Rothschilds. The streets were being heavily policed at that time, too, because of a state visit by Golda Meir. At times, it seems that Gavin and I had the streets to ourselves, except for the odd gaggle of Darth-Vader-like SRS police. My main memory of that extraordinary stay is a giant canvas and wood Siamese cat, which looked you directly in the eye, which I would gladly have adopted.
Apart from a lunch earlier today with colleagues at EcoVadis (http://www.ecovadis.com/), where I have just joined the Advisory Board, and in a setting also buzzing with police because it is across the street from the Prime Minister’s under-refurbishment home, Elaine and I kicked up our heels a little and visited a bunch of museums and the like. The Rodin Museum is also just along the street, so we took a stroll around that on our way back.
Bliss. And one of the things that interested me most was the Vélib’ cycle scheme (http://www.velib.paris.fr/), which has disseminated partout, partout, since we were last here. Really should be adopted in London, though the idea of sharing cycle lanes with even more innocents abroad conjures mixed feelings. Interesting to imagine a world in which EcoVadis-like supply chain principles were endemic – and you could look at a line of cycles, for example, through X-ray eyes and know exactly where they were made, by whom and with what social and environmental impact. Maybe one day products will tell you their stories on demand, though I suspect the temptation will be to have them tell fairy-tales and commercially concocted myths rather than unvarnished truths.
Reflection 1, with gold mask in background
By one of my favourite sculptors
Around the corner from the Place des Vosges
Elaine’s favourite Place des Vosges haunt
Cycles near the Jardin des Plantes
What’s ‘sparrow’ in Arabic? (A quick Googling suggests it mght be ‘Usfoor’ …)
Part of EcoVadis’ front door
Trompe l’oeuil outside EcoVadis’ door
Penseur 1, avec topiary
Penseur 2, avec Tour
Gare du Nord
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
BACK TO CHATEAU DE SUDUIRAUT
Elaine and I took the Eurostar from St Pancras last Sunday first to Paris and then on to Bordeaux, for an AXA Investment Managers event at the Château de Suduiraut (http://www.suduiraut.com/). Both of us still trying to get over ‘flu – which I think I picked up in The Netherlands last week and which has dogged us both through much of this week.
Still, amazing to finally be on the UK side of the Channel in a train that does what a TGV should. Spent part of the trip reading Donald McCaig’s astonishingly engaging sequel to Gone With the Wind, Rhett Butler’s People. Since Margaret Mitchell’s orginal book played such a key role in getting me to an excellent ‘O’ Level History result, after I read it while confined to the school sanatorium with chickenpox, have always had a soft spot for the saga – and McCaig has shot a different reality through the weft of Mitchell’s narrative which I found completely convincing.
Weirdly, Elaine, Gaia, Hania and I had been to Château Suduiraut almost 20 years ago, while on a trip around the wineries of Bordeaux. Château d’Yquem had rather sniffily turned us away when we turned up without an appointment, but we were greeted very warmly just down the hill, by the owner of Suduiraut, who took us around his establishment. We bought a number of bottles, one of which we still have, dating back to 1986.
Had tried a tiny bit of Château d’Yquem when we were driving back through France from Cyprus in 1959 and I was around 9 or 10. Pat, my mother, has had a bottle under her bed for decades to drink when the Grim Reaper finally comes calling. Since she died earlier in the year – to be semi-miraculously revived by my youngest sister, Tessa – there has been some dispute as to whether the bottle should have been drunk by now …
We had no idea until told by the taxi-driver on our way across to the Château that it had been bought not long after we went through by AXA – and significantly upgraded and expanded. The AXA event, over three days, focused on ‘Responsible Investment: The Future Agenda for Institutional Investors.’ Had been invited by Raj Thamotheram, AXA’s Director of Responsible Investment. The sessions were fascinating, kicking off with Michael Watkins of Genesis Advisers on what he calls “predictable surprises”. My task was to listen assiduously and pull together the threads on the morning of the third day, as a prelude to projecting where the responsible investment agenda might take us.
View into the courtyard from our room
View from bathroom
A classic year for SustainAbility, too
Elaine fights flu
Tall boy admirer
I’m snookered when it comes to table games
Robert mikes Raj up for our session
Elaine, me and Floris Lambrechtsen (Director, Double Dividend), also part of our session
The Road to Château d’Yquem
Danyelle Guyatt (Principal, Responsible Investment Team, Mercer), Elaine, Raj
Me, waiting for taxi to bear us away
Saturday, November 24, 2007
WINTER WONDERLAND CYCLE
Cycling in through Hyde Park yesterday morning, my eye was taken by the new wheel rising near the Serpentine. Apparently, it’s to do with an upcoming Winter Wonderland celebration. It’s rather as if the London Eye had sent spores drifting across west London, with its progeny mushrooming across the landscape. Took photos of the wheel as I cycled home, from far and nearer, and was struck by the way that the capsules they were beginning to hang made the sporulation image even stronger.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Up at the outlandish UK-equivalent hour of 03.45 to catch plane from Groningen to Amsterdam, then back to London City Airport. Had flown out on Monday to kick off the 2007 Energy Delta Convention (http://www.energyconvention.nl/). Very much enjoyed the first plenary session, with follow-on keynotes from Gerald Doucet (Secretary General, World Energy Council) and Gertjan Lankhorst (CEO, GasTerra). Also enjoyed the dinner last night at the AA-kerk, the old church in Groningen. I was told that in its heyday as a sacred structure people would be holding funerals at the same time that others were selling live cattle. I think I prefer the format last night, by the light of hundreds of little night-lights arrayed around the walls of the church. Had a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation with Roland Scholz, Chair of Environmental Sciences at ETH in Zurich.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Spent last night at Vinopolis with the participants in SustainAbility’s latest ‘Engaging Stakeholders’ workshop, which had been held out earlier in the day out at BP’s Sunbury-on-Thames site. Companies involved included Akzo Nobel, AstraZeneca, BASF, Bayer, BP, Credit Suisee, Deutsche Telekom, Dow, Dr Reddy’s and DSM – which only takes us from A to D.
Joined at my invitation by Ambreen Waheed, founder and Executive Director of RBI, Pakistan, who I met last year at a CII event in India. The evening started with a wine-tasting. Not sure if this was the link, but well over a deacde ago that I used to use the metaphor of wine-tasting when talking and writing about our early work on environmental and sustainability report benchmarking, using the language of crops, vintages, blends and so on. Several of those taking part used to work with SustainAbility, including Christele Delbe, who worked with me for several years some time back and is now Head of Corporate Responsibility at Orange and Nick Robinson, Strategic Advisor at BP.
Today it all moved to BP’s HQ in St James’s Square, where I chaired a panel session with three people from the social enterprise sector: Sabina Khan (Director of Policy and Research at Social Enterprise London, http://www.sel.org.uk/), Reed Paget (Managing Director at Belu Water, http://www.belu.org/) and Wingham Rowan (Project Director, Slivers-of-Time, http://www.sliversoftime.info/). Social Enterprise London is working to to establish the capital as a significant cluster of social enterprise, using the 2012 Oympics and Paralympic Games as a springboard to boost the sector. Belu Water, which I have known pretty much since its inception, was launched in 2003 and invests 100% of its profits in clean water projects in the developing world. Slivers-of-Time, meanwhile, helps working people sell slivers of their time in ways that suit their needs and lifestyles.
Then back to the office to work on a couple of upcoming presentations and to meet Paul Gilding and his son, with Geoff Lye. Quite a week.
Ambreen and I
Christele Delbe (left)
Sabina and Christele
Reed holds forth
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Spent the past couple of days taking part in ‘The Future of the Corporation’ summit, held in Boston’s deeply historic Faneuil Hall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faneuil_Hall). Orgnaised by the Corporation 20/20 team led by Allen White. Didn’t notice the grasshopper weathervane as I entered the Hall, even though it’s visible in my photo. Always feel I have a grasshopper mind, but hadn’t heard of grasshoppers being used to identify British agents and spies in the War of Independence period …
The session I moderated had a panel consisting of Arie de Geus, David Korten and Henry Mintzberg, and concluded with a discussion facilitated by Peter Senge. Arie noted that corporations are a relatively young species – and argued that evolutionary forces tend to be more important than any attempts to design corporations.
On the second day, Aron Cramer of BSR – moderating a panel including the likes of Bob Monks and Rosabeth Moss Kanter – noted that the challenge is not simply about the future of the corporation, but also about the future of the social contract more broadly. Monks opined that this was one of the most important meetings to have been held in Faneuil Hall, given the increasing asymmetry between the power of business and that of society more generally. Given that much of the work on the Declaration of Independence was done here, it is not surprising that much was made of the need for a Declaration of Interdependence – an early form of which was produced in 1992 for the UN earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (http://www.davidsuzuki.org/About_us/Declaration_of_Interdependence.asp).
In my introductory comments, I mentioned reading Ronald C. White, Jr.’s wonderful book Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural on the flight in to Boston – and noted how much of the future design of the United States Lincoln managed to herald in just 703 words. I also pointed to the bust of Frederick Douglass, behind me and alongside that of John Adams. The book concludes with Lincoln asking Douglass, a sometime critic, what he thought of his just-delivered speech. “Mr. Lincoln,” Douglass replied, ” that was a sacred effort.” My point here was that the impact of a conference like the one we were embarking upon would not be measured by the quantity of words, but by their quality – and the quality of the thought-trains and relationships they catalysed.
One comment that sticks in my mind came from Mark Goyder of Tomorrow’s Company in one of the World Cafe sessions, in relation to our natural tendency to focus on CEOs and companies currently seen as heroic champions of the sustainability agenda: “Today’s peacock,” he said, “is tomorrow’s feather duster.”
For me at least, Charles Handy was the most moving speaker of all, kicking off the meeting and helping draw it to a conclusion. The challenge, he quietly noted, is to do one’s best at what one is best at – in the service of others. Even more moving, though, was the moment when Bob Massie arrived in the Hall with his wife Anne. Though he remains profoundly ill, it was glorious to spend some time in their company. in the end, such company, conversations and relationships are the warp on which the weft of civil society is woven, ultimately determining its ability to constrain and shape corporate behaviour.
Faneuil Hall 1
Faneuil Hall 2 – with grasshopper weathervane
Inside the Hall
Peter Senge centre-stage
Design – or evolution?
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
It’s Monday, it must be – Boston. Interesting night at the Omni Parker Hotel, where all the alarms went off at 03.30 in the morning, and an urgent woman’s voice roused us all from bed. In the lobby, I had the pleasure of seeing Boston firemen (people) coursing about in all their tackle – and of being unexpectedly hugged by Talia Aharoni of MAALA, based in Israel. Worth getting up for.
Otherwise, today was mainly spent out at Harvard Business School Press’s offices in Waterton, filming interviews about the new book, The Power of Unreasonable People, doing a lunchtime session with much of the HBSP team, and then working with the marketing folk in the afternoon. All very encouraging. Then back to hotel for a pre-conference session with the likes of Allen White, Arie de Geus, Craig Cohon, Deborah Doane and Talia. Am hoping to avoid firemen tonight.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
SHAKEN AND STIRRED
Quite a week, with among other things trips to Frankfurt (for the third annual Horasis China Europe Business meeting, where I spoke at a session on sustainable growth) and, today, an in-and-out trip to Geneva with Sophia Tickell to talk to Pamela Hartigan and her colleagues at the Schwab Foundation. On the flight in, the plane hit wind shear over the lake and began an energetic rocking and rolling – with the result that the pilot rocketed back up into the skies for another 15 minutes or so of turmoil. Can’t remember when I’ve felt so shaky, but effect wore off once we got into our swing with the team.
Have been reading Lincoln’s Greatest Speech, focusing on his second inaugural, as I travel. By Ronald C., White, Jr., it’s an eye-opening introduction to a critical turning point in American history. When everything was shaky. So much packed by Lincoln into just 703 words. And so wonderfully unpacked by White. The book was given to me earlier in the week by a colleague from our D.C. office, Jonathan Halperin. Stirring.
A note this morning from David Grayson about the late Robert Davies: “As I was wide awake and have been up since 4am this morning (and am now fortified by too many cups of coffee), here in Boston, I have been going through Robert’s blog:http://www.seeingthepossibilities.com/. I don’t think I had previously understood what he was doing with this blog – in the time remaining to him, to download and share some of the key things he had learnt. I keep hearing that wonderful phrase: “our lives are too short not to share what we know” – and here was the consumate campaigner/social entrepreneur – “and who we know so that the world can profit and the journey to sustainability be a little shorter.” With all the hot-links to other resources and people, it is really Robert’s ‘book.’ Maybe, we can all promote hot-links to the site too?”
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Up to York yesterday, for sixtieth birthday of Elaine’s longest-standing friend, David Bradbury. Early in the evening, before dinner, we walked around Yorkminster, which was illuminated by a system that responded to sound, including people talking. Synaesthesic.
– posted by John Elkington @ 11:07 PM
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Have always struggled with nationality, variously thinking of myself as Terran, European or English, but – probably because I was brought up elsewhere in the waning days of the British Empire – rarely British. Still, if I follow the cascade down, perhaps the most granular form of identity I ever experienced related to being an adoptive Frestonian. For six years in the early 1990s, SustainAbility occupied the top floor of The People’s Hall in what 30 years ago was declared the Free and Independent Republic of Frestonia.
There were Frestonian passports and stamps – all part of a declaration of independence from Britain. Our space was the National Theatre, though it had previously been variously used as a storage space for church organs and a brothel, I seem to recall. All this brought to mind by a piece by Joe Moran in today’s Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2204555,00.html).