Tim Longhurst's Blog

Shove your “sustainability report” in your smoke stack

July 3rd, 2006 · No Comments

There’s a yet-to-be-released study from Scotland that looks set to add to my conviction that Corporate Social Responsibility is a dangerous farce.

Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper has run an article under the headline, “Study slams ‘trivial’ social responsibility reports”.

The report is authored by Jan Bebbington and Rob Gray and as soon as I find the full report, you’ll read about it here. In the meantime, here are some teaser lines from the Herald article:

Less than 4% of the world’s 50,000 major companies produce reports on
“corporate social responsibility”, she points out. And the quality of
the reports that are produced is “almost universally trivial”…

The study warns: “The danger is that the very concept on which the
future of the planet depends – sustainability – will be emasculated,
appropriated and destroyed by assertion in the interests of

“We believe we must treat the current crop of
‘sustainability reports’ with the profoundest mistrust as one of the
most dangerous trends working against any possibility of a sustainable

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Category: Corporate craziness

The Myth of Corporate Social Responsibility

December 4th, 2005 · No Comments

csr.jpgAre Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs a public relations placebo, designed to give the impression that businesses are determined to create a healthy and sustainable world, while in reality they operate with little real change? Are CSR programs, sustainability indexes and responsibility tables lulling us into a false sense of security?

Deborah Doane from CORE Coalition has outlined her concerns. Having read on this topic for some time, it’s great to see a single article bringing together some of the obvious flaws in the CSR model.

“There is room for markets to bring about some change through CSR, but the market alone is unlikely to bring with it the progressive outcomes its proponents would hope for.”

CSR Myths

I could probably add a few more myths to the list, but here are Deborah’s four:

Myth #1: The market can deliver both short-term financial returns and long-term social benefits.
Myth #2: The ethical consumer will drive change.
Myth #3: There will be a competitive “race to the top” over ethics amongst businesses.
Myth #4: In the global economy, countries will compete to have the best ethical practices.

Alternatives to CSR

Doane’s CSR alternatives include shifting the corporation’s ‘duty of care’ include all stakeholders, better product labeling and tougher regulations, as regulation “brings with it predictability, and, in many cases, innovation”.

Read the ‘CSR Myth’ article here

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Category: Corporate craziness

CSR Summit: Ray Anderson notes

November 29th, 2005 · No Comments

anderson_photo2_1_1.jpgHere are some of my notes from a presentation made by Ray Anderson. Ray is the Founder and Chair of Interface Corporation, a ‘modular flooring’ (carpet) business that claims to have set sustainability at the core of its business model. You can see Ray Anderson talk about his business in the documentary, The Corporation.

Please understand that the following are my notes from Ray’s presentation made via videolink to the CSR Summit in Sydney. They may be paraphrased and were jotted by hand and typed later. They are not verbatim quotes, but are provided in good faith that some of the information may be useful.


This presentation is about how a living planet could lose its biosphere.

You and I are required to be thinkers.

Our biosphere will be lost: one polluted river at a time, one regulatory rollback at a time, one invasive species at a time, one obsolete college system at a time. In a complex tangle of millions of ways, piece by piece, the biosphere we rely on for our survival is being threatened.

We are on a long slippery slope. We are losing our world one strand of the biosphere at a time.

And we will fix it one changed mind at a time.

The book, “The Death of Birth” changed Anderson’s perspective.

Human kind is at resource overshoot of at least 120%.

As we plunder the Earth, we are stealing the future from our grandchildren.

1) Living systems are in decline.
2) The culprit is the industrial system.
3) The largest institution in the world, industry, is the only institution with the power to address these massive challenges.

To be part of the solution, you must commit your company to take the road to sustainability.

This is a problem that neds leaders: I’m a recovering plunderer.

I am helping my organisation climb Mount Sustainability.

The peak of Mt. Sustainability?
ZERO impact
ZERO footprint

The seven sides of Mt. Sustainability:
1) Eliminate waste through QUEST
2) Benign emissions
3) Renewable energy
4) Closing the loop
5) Resource efficient transportation
6) Sensitificy (something?)
7) Redesign of commerce

We must end the TAKE – MAKE – WASTE linear model of production.

We need to help achieve the buy-in of the vision.

We need to win in the marketplace by doing good.

Blend of cause and effect, effect and cause, into one giant feedback loop.

You can’t make green products in a brown company.

Biomimicary: nature as inspiration – this is key to the future.

We must end our predelection with perfection: Break the old paradigm of industry that every output must be the same.

Humans are comfortable with nature.

We must become ethically enlightened species.


IMPACT = Pollution x Affluence x Technology

We must change technology:

Fossil fuel driven
Focused on resource productivity

Only 3% of the products we produce have value after 6 months.

We must cut the oil umbillical chord with the Earth.

We must address externalities through full cost accounting: the kind of accounting that would bring the cost of war in Iraq into the cost of a barrel of oil, making a single barrel valued at approximately US$200.

We must shift the design paradigm from “Nothing left to add” to “Nothing left to remove.”

We require a vast redesign of the system.

Jerard Diamond’s COLLAPSE reminds us that cultural survival and biological survival are not linked: you can have a thriving society that masks the fracturing biology.

What is the prevailing paradigm? The flawed world view? Consumerism.

It treats the Earth as if it were infinite.

The oil peak is coming to remind us how flawed this view is.

We need to think seven generations forward to realise that we are linked with nature.

Contrary to advertising claims, consumption does not lead to happiness.

The environment is the parent, the economy is the child.

The hurricanes in the US (Katrina, Wilma, Rita) are the elephant in the room, reminding us that climate change is real.

We challenge nature at our peril.

Business is shaping minds and governments. How are they doing so far?

Who is being heard?

Who will lead?

Why not you?

CEOs who are founders and inheritors will be the first to lead their organisations to sustainability. The hire+fire CEOs will be forced to follow.

We need to increase our level of awareness.

Interface has sponsored a “Chair of Natural Systems” at Georgia Tech to examine the way natural systems create strong, light products using freely abundant minerals at relatively low temperature.

Know what’s going on in the world. Be leaders.

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Category: Our living planet

CSR Summit

November 28th, 2005 · No Comments

csrsummit.jpgIn case you are interested in what’s been keeping me busy over the past few days, it’s preparing to speak at the CSR summit in Sydney. It’s sponsored by the Australian Industry Group, which represents “10,000 employers in manufacturing, construction, automotive, telecommunications, IT & call centres, transport, labour hire and other industries”. It’s great that they’re supporting a conference on Corporate Social Responsibility. I’ll upload my notes from the conference around 2nd December.

“Corporate Social Responsibility is no longer something business can safely put on the backburner. It is becoming recognised as an important driver of innovation, a new way to get into fresh markets, a means for companies to differentiate themselves and can be significant in attracting investment. CSR is also a good way for businesses to engage staff and the community and, properly implemented, can lead to reduced costs and improved profitability. As Australia’s leading industry organisation, Ai Group is pleased to support Australia’s Inaugural CSR Summit and I encourage your participation.”Heather Ridout, Chief Executive, Australian Industry Group

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Category: Our living planet

Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into Corporate Social Responsibility

July 20th, 2005 · No Comments

aph.gifDo companies offer the world anything except products and pollution? Should they offer more? Or less?

“Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) and “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL) attempt to measure the contribution companies make (positive and negative) to their communities.

While these concepts have been around for a few decades, application by large organisations has only started taking place in recent years.

I have my reservations about these concepts. While the motivation of people who advocate them is often very positive, I find the implementation of CSR / TBL is often cynical and off the mark. Rush Mottling’s recent article on CSR may give you a sense of its limitations.

Well, guess what? The Australian Parliament is holding an inquiry on this very topic, so watch this space as my submission is knocked together.

Here are some details on the inquiry…

Click to continue reading “Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into Corporate Social Responsibility”

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Category: Tim's Projects