Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Apparently a week or so before she died, Mother Teresa approved the name ‘NunBun’ for the cinnamon bun discovered at a Nashville coffee shop in 1996 – and widely held to show a striking resemblance to herself. She agreed on the basis that the Bongo Java cafe, where the thing originally emerged from the oven as part of another routine baking, desist from using her own name to describe the bun. Now it has been stolen, The Times reports today.
The paper then recalls similar stories, where an Indian woman in 2003 chopped open an aubergine to find the seeds spelling out ‘Allah’ in Urdu, the Florida woman who found the likeness of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich (she sold it for $28,000 on eBay when it – the sandwich – was a decade old) and the burnt fish finger thought to be a likeness of Jesus, and dubbed ‘The Son of Cod’.
The reason all of this caught my eye was that in 1970 Elaine and I were returning with friends from a long journey through Europe to Greece, and found ourselves in Venice. She and I had wandered off down a maze of alleyways, where we stumbled across a workshop where a wood-carver sat in a state of shock, or ecstasy. A day or two earlier, he eventually told us, he had split open a block of wood to start carving a prow for a gondola, only to find a startling likeness of Jesus in the heartwood. He hadn’t been able to do anything since. Yet more evidence that the human brain is a pattern recognition organ primed to see whatever it wants/expects to see.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
PARAKEET AND SNOWFLAKES
As huge snowflakes – some the size of small chicken feathers – fell thickly from the sky this morning, a lone parakeet flew among them, trying to grab them in its beak. The snow was falling so hard it was difficult to see the bird’s colours, but the shape of its tail was unmistakable. Wasn’t sure whether it was being playful or, because this was its first experience of snow, bewildered.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
CHRISTMAS DAY’S A BLUR
Hania at electronic shrine
The four of us drive down to Little Rissington for Christmas with my parents, my sister Caroline and brother Gray – and his family. Or at least that was the idea. We so rarely use the car these days that it apparently feels neglected – and refused to start. We had to call the RAC. Still, we got there by lunchtime, though by some electronic demonry the fact that we had lost power meant that the CD player refused to work unless we gave it the magic word – and after all these years we had no idea what it was meant to be. So we did quizzes as we sped westward and G and H harmonised around Elvis songs, which was much more fun. Once there, we unwound. Gray’s daughter, Lydia, commented how much he and I look alike. When I looked back at the photographs, I could see what she saw. At some point, however, someone seems to have touched the wrong button on the camera, so many of the images came out blurred – some spectacularly so. People didn’t just look unwound, but unravelling. In the end, though, I got to quite like the spectral effects.
Pat goes spectral
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Jack Black: our Christmas fairy
Wonderful Christmas Eve dinner, cooked by Gaia and Hania, featuring inter alia scallops and gilthead bream – and the wildest chocolates, from a family friend. Made by L’Artisan du Chocolate (www.artisanduchocolate.com). My favourite: Sea Salted Caramel, made with unrefined sea salt from Brittany. As the day ends, Gaia and I watch Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. Can’t imagine why it didn’t do better. Unbelievably beautiful cinematography. Even as I was watching I couldn’t wait to see it again – the first time that’s happened to me.
Unbaconed scallops are mine
Friday, December 23, 2005
Racing between worlds, it has been a huge, ongoing pleasure to receive emails from people – some known, many not – around the globe, a fair number of whom have simply stumbled across this site. So for anyone who has come upon this entry, for whatever reason, let me extend my very best wishes for 2006 – and everything that comes before.
The image is from an exhibit (referenced in the 24 August and 4 October entries) I wandered back and forth across when with VW in October. The legs belonged to a boy who came sliding through as I took the picture. An assisted case of serendipity (see CounterCurrent, http://johnelkington.com/babelfish.htm), in that I saw him coming in peripheral vision. That’s the nature of my job, really. Scanning slightly wider horizons than most people’s work schedules allow them to. And, for me at least, the image caught the multifarious ways in which we all severally view the Earth and all that rides with it around the Sun.
THE YEAR WINDS DOWN
The week has been a blur of activity, trying to get various projects tidied away before the break: among them, the OFR process with USS (see 16 December entry); working on content for the pilot issue of Value magazine, which I have been developing alongside Laurance Allen (former publisher of The Harvard Business Review) and Jed Emerson (www.blendedvalue.org), particularly on the slightly provocative article I have done on the Davos 2015 agenda; a proposal to a major foundation; and down-to-the-wire discussions with Harvard Business School Press on the new book with Pamela Hartigan – which now looks quite hopeful, though the writing schedule looks perfectly horrid. Still, that’s next year …
Meanwhile, I have also been receiving a steady flow of emails from people who have been prowling around this site and reading the blog, which is very encouraging. Some 28 months after I started the blog, it has become more or less second nature – and, often, a useful prop for a sometimes erratic memory.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
When SustainAbility first began to work with Ford, quite a few years ago, we raised climate change as a key issue. This stance was reinforced when we co-organised (with BSR) a major multi-stakeholder event for the company – and one of the three priority issues that surfaced was climate change. Not a message that most of the auto industry wanted to hear at that stage, with so much of its future fortunes seen to ride on the back of highly profitable (if highly climate destabilising) SUVs. Now, several years later, Ford has become the first auto-maker to embrace the concept of climate stablisation – in its first climate report, published today (http://www.ford.com/NR/rdonlyres/e6vzmdwyz2ycyehpwvuj5sdkrmfknipsreoyznmwwfqtzlwqfbfbcq44ckquxgn5xfir532knjvkq3ovbyhuscz7sfh/fordReptBusImpClimChg.pdf).
Friday, December 16, 2005
SA/USS OFR ROUNDTABLE
In recent days, I have been working with (Dr) Raj Thamotheram of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) on pulling together a roundtable of those concerned about the Treasury’s recent announcement of the abandonment of the Operating & Financial Review (OFR) requirements on major UK companies. I chaired the event today, at USS’s offices in the City. By pooling our contacts, we attracted an impressive turnout from companies, the financial world, NGOs and consultancies that have helped clients up the OFR learning curve.
The summary of the session, which was held under the Chatham House Rule, will be published shortly.
On a personal note, it’s clear that Gordon Brown has set a cat among the corporate responsibility pigeons. Indeed, I can’t help feeling that he is becoming dangerously cloistered, with little personal feel for the corporate responsibility and sustainability agendas – despite his statements on the international poverty agenda. The sense is that he didn’t really know what he was doing, throwing the CBI and other business interests what he imagined to be a bone, only to find his ankles being snapped at by a growing army of NGOs, socially responsible investors and leading companies. The Government is now saying that what it was really trying to do was to ‘recalibrate’ reporting requirements …
Now we have to reclaibrate his recalibration. Although SustainAbility hasn’t been at the vanguard of the OFR movement – largely because our work on corporate transparency, reporting and accountability is more international – the OFR requirement has been seen as one of the leading models in this area. So we are doing everything we can to ensure that this issue is properly aired and addressed. Our new Chair, Sophia Tickell, wrote a letter on the subject to the Financial Times in the immediate wake of the announcement (http://www.sustainability.com/news-media/news-resource.asp?id=399) and we also signed a letter of protest from NGOs (http://www.sustainability.com/news-media/news-resource.asp?id=404).
Then back to the office to take part in a (very energetic and productive) teleconference with the SustainAbility Board.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Flew down to Lisbon yesterday to speak today at the annual top management meeting of Sonae Sierra, the shopping mall developer (http://www.sonaesierra.com). Hadn’t heard of them before the invitation arrived, though was given a very useful background briefing by Julie Hirigoyen of David Cadman’s Upstream Consulting. It’s a sector with many challenges, though Sonae Sierra turn out to be way ahead of their competititors in the responsibility stakes – and this year, the fifth in this series of top management forums, the theme was ‘sustainability’. Hence my keynote.
Confess, though, that Richard Sandbrook (see previous entry) was very much on my mind as I was whisked at 140 kph through Portugal in a succession of taxis, against a backdrop of blurring tower blocks, shopping centres and windmills, both ancient and modern. Would our 1970s incarnations have seen what we have managed to achieve in the subsequent decades as real progress As I type these lines, Alvin Lee is singing the line ‘Getting Nowhere Fast’ on my Mac. But I think that Richard – like me – would say that, while demographic and commercial pressures continue to undermine global ecosystems, we have made significant progress in waking up many parts of business and the financial world. The real problems today are often, paradoxically our failure to truly convert citizens and – as a result – politicians and governments.
I started my keynote with three astounding images of the plume of smoke from the Hemel Hempstead explosion on Sunday. Made the point that we noticed the combusion of that oil because it happened in an instant, whereas if it had been burned on our roads or in the jetlanes of Europe we wouldn’t have noticed. As I stood by the Atlantic while waiting to do my session, a thin pall of smoke streamed out to sea from a fire on a nearby headland, a micro-scale version of what happened on Sunday. Most people probably saw it as cloud.
After the presentation, had a fascinating lunch with Belmiro de Azevedo (Sonae Sierra’s chairman) and Álvaro Portela (CEO and a great supporter of the triple bottom line approach), before another breakneck journey back to Lisbon, where I took part in a SustainAbility strategy session by mobile phone – with people coming in from as far afield as Zurich and San Francisco. The wonders of modern technology, though for my money nothing beats sitting together on a sofa.
Santa flies past in Lisbon airport
Álvaro Portela, CEO, addresses not just bottles but Sonae Sierra top managers
Pool, with smoke skein
Shadowed as I wait to speak
Windmills and pylon
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
What a year: Marek Mayer, David Pearce and now Richard Sandbrook. Though I knew it was coming, the announcement of Richard’s death in The Times today was still a shock. He had a quite extraordinary influence on our agenda. First met him in the very early days of Friends of the Earth UK, then periodically worked alongside him on projects at IIED in the 1980s, when I was between my ENDS and SustainAbility incarnations. As with many activists of the era, my mental image is of him in wreathed in cigarette smoke, a whirlwind of activity.
One thing that sticks in memory: driving together down to a conference in, I think, Malvern when we were both rapporteurs for the UK response to the World Conservation Strategy, which resulted in the 1983 publication of the UK Conservation and Development Programme. We were so deep in conversation, I managed to hit one of the gateposts driving into the yard at my patents’ home in Little Rissington. The collision hardly disturbed Richard’s stream of consciousness delivery.
While I did the industry report, Seven Bridges to the Future, which formed the first chapter in the eventual, encyclopaedic tome, Richard addressed the UK’s ‘overseas environmental policy’. Much of the process happened at the Royal Society of Arts, one reason why I have since had a great deal of affection for the RSA. It helped keep the green flame at least sputtering during the often-grim Reagan and Thatcher years.
Most recently, I caught up with Richard (who had gone on to a range of roles, including helping to found Forum for the Future) courtesy of Tim Smit of The Eden Project, where Richard was a non-exec director. Tim convenes a ‘Breakfast Club’ in Cornwall of long-standing environmentalists, partly in an attempt to broker a burying of hatchets and to build new constellations of effort designed to crack problems which, if at least in the realm of climate change, seem even more challenging than we started out in the late 60s and early 70s.
POSTSCRIPT: Nice that Jonathon Porritt’s obituary of Richard in Friday’s Guardian notes that “with people like John Elkington and Tom Burke, [Richard] pioneered a collaborative way of working with big business which has become common practice” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1668531,00.html).
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
KING KONG AND BT
Great breakfast with Carlos Oppe, followed by a sofa session with a couple of the Ecodes team, exploring ways of working together. Then back to Stansted, where I waited in a cold, ghostly environment overseen by a glowing King Kong poster for the next train to London. In the evening, headed across to the BT HQ for a dinner hosted by Larry Stone (BT’s company secretary) and Chris Tuppen (who has long led the charge at BT on issues like the environment and corporate responsibility). Around a dozen people had been invited to hear the results of an MBA dissertation-related survey that had been carried out by Herman Schepers. On a side table, a new game that BT has developed: The Better Business Game. Lively discussion in the BT boardroom, high above a glazed atrium and looking out onto the Dome of St Paul’s, then home.
King Kong waits for a train
The Better Business Game
Monday, December 12, 2005
Flew to Zaragosa, via Stansted – first time I have flown Ryanair. Functional, but hardly a pleasure. Zaragoza (frequently rendered as Saragossa in English, derived from the Latin, Caesaraugusta), is located on Ebro river – and is the capital city of Aragon. Was invited by Ecodes (http://www.ecodes.org), the Fundacion Ecologia y Desarrollo, to speak in a series of ‘Tomorrow’s Company’ lectures, previous speakers being Hernando de Soto and John Kay. Walking to the Ecodes office, spotted a stork nesting high overhead: apparently they used to migrate south, but these days often don’t bother. Lunch at the Club Nautico de Zaragoza, alongside the churning Ebro, with people representing government, busienss and NGO sectors.
Ecodes did the Spanish translation of SustainAbility’s recent report, The 21st Century NGO, and that was a key part of my theme for the evening, the event held in the Hotel Boston. In the audience, Carlos Oppe, a longstanding family friend, who asked a challenging question: with a major Expro on water due in Zaragosa in a few years, will anything be done to clean up the highly polluted Ebro? The answer wasn’t reassuring. Really liked the Ecodes team – and am hopeful we can develop a closer working relationship with them in future.
Just around corner from Ecodes office
Stork and nest
Lions guard bridge over Ebro
Bridge footing ploughs upstream
Words like sustainable, development and dialogue feature in Ecodes decor
Sunday, December 11, 2005
UNDER A DARK CLOUD
Geoff (Lye) woke to a boom and his Oxford house shaking early this morning, as did our neighbour – and they were some 80 miles apart. Then Elaine noticed a dark black cloud overhead here when she went out to get milk later on. Apparently an oil depot has blown up in Hemel Hempstead. Given that a fair amount of aircraft fuel is stored there, one of my first thoughts was whether my flight to Spain would still be happening tomorrow morning …
Satellite’s eye view
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Spent much of the day with the Trustees of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, in their new office in Charlotte Street. Huge progress has been made with the B&HRRC website – and with the organisation’s expanding global network. Listening to Annabel Short recounting the story of having to clean the floors and assemble the Ikea bookshelves put me in mind of when Julia (Hailes) and her mother led the cleaning up of the Augean Stables at The People’s Hall, providing SustainAbility with our first truly independent offices many years ago. Just as SustainAbility started off in our Barnes home, so the Resource Centre – while supported by Amnesty – has been housed in Chris Avery’s flat. I think I have a reasonable sense of what a liberation the team’s move to Charlotte Street must have been for him.
One of the highlights, for me at least, was when Annabel gave a potted history of the denizens of Fitzrovia, including a nearby brothel in which flagellation was a speciality of the house. When I Googled one of the women involved, a certain ‘One-Eyed Peg’, I discovered that “the queen” of flagellation “was undoubtedly Mrs Theresa Berkley, of No 28 Charlotte Street, Portland Place” (http://public.diversity.org.uk/deviant/ssflg1.htm). She ended up a very wealthy woman, apparently.
“Her instruments of torture were more numerous than those of any other governess. Her supply of birch was extensive, and kept in water, so that it was always green and pliant: she had shafts with a dozen whip thongs on each of them; a dozen different sizes of cat-o’-nine-tails, some with needle points worked into them; various kinds of thin bending canes; leather straps like coach traces; battledoors, made of thick sole-leather, with inch nails run through to docket, and currycomb tough hides rendered callous by many years flagellation. Holly brushes, furze brushes; a prickly evergreen, called butcher’s bush; and during the summer, a glass and China vases, filled with a constant supply of green nettles, with which she often restored the dead to life. Thus, at her shop, whoever went with plenty of money, could be birched, whipped, fustigated, scourged, needle-pricked, half-hung, holly-brushed, furze-brushed, butcher-brushed, stinging-nettled, curry-combed, phletbotomized, and tortured till he had a belly full.”
And here we are campaigning against torture! More positively, the early social entrepreneur Robert Owen had lived literally next door while founding things like a labour exchange and a school.
At one point during the day, I tool a photo of a rather lovely ginko tree in the street below, which still had a blaze of yellow leaves. Chris Marsden, who chairs the Board of Trustees, noted that many trees are holding on to their leaves much later this year. Indeed, The Independent this morning noted this could be Britain’s first “Green Christmas”. Once again, as the sun began to set, the Millennium Wheel turned up on the horizon, several of its capsules glistening to the south.
Friday, December 09, 2005
A slightly frantic day, trying to get various articles and slide presentations done ahead of next week, alongside celebrating the tenth anniversary of Geoff Lye joining SustainAbility – which represented one of the major turning points in our history. Then, after most of the team had gone off to ice-skate at the Natural History Museum (with my bruises and workload, I didn’t go), 5-6 of us headed off from the office to the Angel, where we had booked a delightful upstairs room at Frederick’s for our Christmas party.
First time I had been on one of those giant accordion-like buses that I struggle to pass on my cycle as they clog up London’s streets. sadly, this week also saw the final demise of the old Routemaster buses, one of the truly great aspects of the London ecosystem over the 30-some years I have lived in the city. The Routemaster’s passing is a tragedy, in many respects, not least the ability of riders like me to jump on and off at will. But this was a wonderful evening, with younger members of the team bringing in CDs to play on the restaurant’s sound system – which, to my delight, included everything from Nina Simone to Elvis and The Kinks. There’s hope for future generations yet!
Kavita skating, taken by Tell
Suzi, Tell, Kelly, Geoff and Ritu
Thursday, December 08, 2005
2010 + 2012 OLYMPICS
When I was in Vancouver earlier in the year, I suggested to Linda Coady – who heads the team trying to build sustainability principles into the 2010 Winter Olympics, to be held in Vancouver and Whistler – that the 2010 team should meet up with the 2012 London Olympics team. One reason was that I had recently intereviewed David Stubbs, wholeads the sustainability side of the London Organising Committee’s work, for SustainAbility’s newsletter, Radar (http://www.sustainability.com/network/global-influencer.asp?id=244), and had instinctively felt that they would get on. This afternoon, as a result, I found myself chairing a joint session between the 2010 and 2012 teams at Canada House, involving a range of external stakeholder organisations, from Bioregional, Demos, IIED and the International Business Leaders Forum through to the London Sustainability Exchange and WWF-UK. Overall, an excellent discussion – and Linda noted that this was an historic moment, the first time that two Olympic organisers had convened to discuss how to collaborate on the sustainability dimensions of their work. Afterwards, a delightful dinner at Inn the Park, in St James’ Park. Emerged very late to see the Millennium Wheel hovering over the Admiralty in the east.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
BLACK & BLUE ICE
Cycling in to the office this morning, I hit a patch of black ice at a fair speed and whilst cornering – mercifully with no other traffic around – and ended up with swollen joints and a mass of bruises. Having returned home to get patched up, and receive a lecture on not cycling on frosty mornings, I cycled on. A wonderful morning, though by the time I got in various bits of the body were starting to seize up.
Frost patterns on our Volvo
Sunday, December 04, 2005
As Elaine and I left for a walk in Richmond Park late this morning, I noticed the winter sun slicing in low and catching a pair of frogs on a vase in the front room. Later, as we walked around the Park, it seemed so mild we even thought of looking in a pond or two for frog-spawn, partly because some of the plants in the garden seem to be coming into blossom weirdly early. But we didn’t: couldn’t imagine that frogs would be that stupid.
That said, there have been some strange selection pressures at work. Over the years, we have loosed a fair few frogs in the Park that we have found and rescued in the streets of Barnes – largely, I suspect, because people bring frog-spawn or even tadpoles back for garden ponds, and the inevitable happens. Even had a fair old row once in the Isabella Plantation with a man who was carrying a great big black plastic sack of spawn. But frogs haven’t been the only things on our mind, not least because Jim Salzman, a professor at Duke University and a long-standing member of the SustainAbility Council, is staying at the moment, en route to a regular teaching jaunt in Sweden.
The Times carried a front page teaser on the Freeplay Foundation yesterday, as Kristine Pearson had said they would – and a two-page spread featuring the Salvation Army (one of the older social enterprises in the UK) and Freeplay (one of the newest, http://www.freeplayfoundation.org). Slightly weird concatenation, but wonderful breakthrough for Freeplay.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Drafted in late in the day as rapporteur for the Climate Change session at the UK Presidency of EU conference on ‘Investing in the Future’ (http://www.csr.gov.uk/feature.shtml), which focused on the finance sector’s take on corporate social responsibility. Fascinating gathering of the tribes, four floors below ground level along the Albert Embankment. Someone said, as I checked in my coat, that I must get bored with attending all these events, meeting “all the usual suspects,” but it turned out to be quite stimulating: there were a bunch of people I hadn’t seen for ages – and many more I had never met.
(Lord) Richard Holme chaired, noting that the bird design for the event (see photos) could be interpreted either as wild geese or dead ducks. Truth be told, at least to my mind, the event hovered somewhere in the middle: an extraordinary advance on the situation a decade or so ago, but – as ActionAid put it towards the end – not brilliantly effective in terms of identifying actionable new steps for the UK and EU.
One highlight was the report tabled by the CORE Coalition (www.corporate-responsibility.org), A Big Deal? Corporate Social Responsibility and the Finance Sector in Europe – although it contains a case by The Corner House of alleged bribery on behalf of Halliburton in relation to a 2002 project part-financed by the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), whose Advisory Council I chair.
The man of the meeting, though not present, was Chancellor and would-be Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He is increasingly seen – by all sides of the debate – as having screwed up royally in terms of his arbitrary cancellation earlier this week of the Operating & Financial Review (OFR) for large UK listed companies. Speakers from every side of the debate expressed emotions ranging from incredulity to incredulity (sic). As I noted in my summing up, while I have sometimes argued that we need a new generation of political leaders, if this is what we can expect from Brown I’d almost prefer to have the Conservatives. Better the enemy you know.
Investing in the Future 1
Investing in the Future 2
The reaction to the announcement on Monday of my new role and job title – ‘Chief Entrepreneur’ (http://www.sustainability.com/about/about-article.asp?id=374) – has been uniformly positive, even excited. Except for the heavenly (Baroness) Barbara Young, Chair of the UK Environment Agency, who declares it: “… the ultimate in poncey titles. One definitely for Private Eye. Does the man have no limits, I ask myself …”
When we were celebrating the management changes at SustainAbility yesterday evening, Matt (Loose) asked me whether I felt any diffeernt as the result ? The answer is yes, in the sense of in-the-process-of-being-liberated, but also no, in the sense that much of what I have done in recent years I will continue doing – only, hopefully, in a higher gear. But it’s odd how one result, God help us, is a strange sense of permission for leaning even further out into the future, the unknown …