Earlier this year the CEO of Apple made headlines after a heated exchange with a challenging group of shareholders. After repeated interrogation about the profitability of Apple’s renewable energy investments, Tim Cook told the group: “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons you should get out… We want to leave the world better than we found it”.
Following in this vein, Sonu Shivdasani, Chairman and CEO of the Soneva Group opened the fifth SLOW LIFE Symposium today on Soneva Fushi. Speaking to the room of 30 delegates, he described his belief that “companies need to have a purpose more that keeping shareholders happy and employees engaged… that the companies that create the problems – must fix them”. Putting his words into action, he announced the creation of a new SLOW LIFE Foundation seed fund of $100,000 to explore feasibility and incubate initiatives resulting from the Symposium.
Repeating participant Peggy Liu, founder of JUCCCE, described how progress on China Gateway, an initiative born out of the 2013 SLOW LIFE event, focused on increasing understanding and collaboration with China. The programme has been working to break down cultural misunderstandings between Western and Chinese influencers in order to progress global climate negotiations.
Pavan Sukhdev, founder and CEO of GIST Advisory and lead author of the UN TEEB reports, spearheaded a talk around finance for a sustainable world. Participants grappled with the issue of externalities and the failure of current risk models to recognise ecological value at risk. This is particularly alarming when considered alongside the potential tipping points of the Planetary Boundaries framework, which sees us already transgressing boundaries on biodiversity loss and the nitrogen cycle and see us in the danger zone on climate and phosphorous.
When asked why pension funds are not investing in funds that will guarantee a sustainable future for their investors’ old age, Pavan replied: “You may as well ask a panther to be vegetarian.”
Progress has been made in recent years on robust, proven methodology for measuring externalities, but this does not guarantee the transition from a minority activity for a small number of socially-minded companies to adoption as public policy. Participants were reminded that a damning report on the health effects of smoking was published in 1937…but it was not until 40 years later that public policy intervened in the advertising of tobacco products.
It was also acknowledged that the concept of natural capital as a way to measure ecological externalities is controversial amongst environmentalists, with opinion divided about the merits of ‘commoditising nature’. Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth UK, has received public and private pressure from within the environmental movement for his championing of natural capital: “It can be perceived as distancing us from the intrinsic value of nature, but actually the opposite is true. By applying the measure of natural capital, we demonstrate that we are currently using the wrong measures of progress.”
Participants took a sometimes challenging look at food security, farming methods and agriculture within the parameters of planetary boundaries, the nine potential ‘tipping points’ that allow us to define the safe ecological zone for the planet. If these boundaries are crossed, there is a risk of ‘irreversible and abrupt environmental change’. Johan reminded delegates that, “…It is incredibly important to recognise that all our systems – coral reefs, rain forest, everything settled in during the unique stability of the Holocene. We have now entered the Anthropocene and we have reached tipping points. The fight between organic, conventional, intensive farming is a false fight. Do any of them meet the planetary boundaries?”
Boundaries on land use, water use, phosphorous and nitrates require us to view the concept of sustainable agriculture through a new lens. The pressure to grow more food for more people with less water and the same amount of land increases the need for innovation in farming, particularly for smallholder farmers.
Rikin Gandhi, CEO of Digital Green, is bringing technology and social organisations together to improve agriculture, health and nutrition in India. Videos of best practice farming methods and of innovations that have worked and can be replicated, are made by farmers for farmers, and most importantly, in local languages. Digital Green has seen huge success with System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which sees yields increased by up to fifty percent and water use reduced by an equivalent amount.
Chris West, Director of the Shell Foundation, stressed the importance of business-based solutions to increasing smallholder farmers’ problems accessing markets. The Shell Foundation has concentrated efforts on looking at how they can disrupt supply chains to better connect smallholders with retailers in a way that is scaleable.
Source: SLOW LIFE Symposium