Ethical Performance
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Speaking up for sustainability

July 2014

I’ve worked in this ‘space’ - as so many in ‘the sustainability space’ like to call it - for almost 18 months now. Like all new jobs, it often takes a while to get used to the vocabulary and jargon of a particular sector. When I worked in the pharmacy press for example, there were zillions of acronyms to get used to – ABPI, PSNC, PAGB, RPSGB, NPA, to name just a few. I didn’t think I would ever remember them all (and what they stood for). But it does all eventually sink in and then you become familiar with them. And then, horror of horrors, the jargon becomes second nature and by dint of that fact, acceptable. You’re in the club at last!

Indeed, using the accepted jargon of an industry makes you part of an exclusive set – and that sometimes feels good - but when it comes to CR and sustainability that’s not a good thing. Apart from the fact that everyone seems to have a different interpretation of what sustainability means to them and their business, having any kind of accepted jargon makes CR and sustainability unhealthily exclusive when what we all want it to be is the direct opposite.

I remember at my very first BITC Responsible Business week back in March 2013, Justin King, then ceo of Sainsbury’s, commented that he too disliked the terminology/language of the sustainability/CR set.

Over a year on and I worry that the sustainability industry – and its jargon – keeps the CR/sustainability discussion apart from the mainstream. The whole point of responsible business practice is to get CR and sustainability embedded into the business model.
To ensure that the ‘sustainability space’ isn’t a bolt-on or an added extra. To ensure that it’s actually part and parcel of the norm.

Speaking recently to Christian Leitz at UBS about the UN Principles about human rights and how they apply to the banking sector, we touched on the fact that while there are lots of experts in human rights and lots of experts in banking, people who know about both is a very limited community. The Thun Group which he convenes is trying to address that (see the summer edition of Best Practice).

But it’s a big problem. There are too many events and occasions ‘in the space’ where we are preaching to the converted. We need to keep remembering that CR is meant to be part of a whole; a whole new approach to responsible business practice. We’ll never achieve it if we insist on the elitism of sustainability speak or continue with the creation of a whole sustainability industry of its very own.

Collaboration is therefore key. Commenting on some recent research from the Charities Trust, Professor Phil Harris, Dean of the University of Chester’s Business Faculty, said: “The future for resolving complex issues in society will be a partnership of the best companies, people and third sector organisations aided by government. To achieve results the best organisations and people have to come together, whether it be in education, on the environment, health care issues or sustainability. Working together brings results.”

Amen to that. And inclusivity – in all its aspects, including language – is key too.

UK & NI Ireland | Sustainability


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