Categories
community management policy poverty religion social enterprise social work values

Social justice management framework

Bonnie Robinson is exploring the intersection of social justice and management.  She is drawing on a career in social services and putting it into practice in her role as Chief Executive of HBH Senior Living, focussing on meeting the needs of vulnerable older people.

Talking points:

Change comes about from change at systemic level

You can make a difference to individuals’ lives, and we should, but it shouldn’t be all you do

We need a funding system which allows for much greater flexibility and innovation.

We are actually here to help people have fullness of life and allow them to continue to grow, not just provide medical or disability care.

It’s about acting to achieve positive change.

It is not morally tenable to make a profit out of distress.

I’m no longer marching in the streets waving placards, but I’m trying to shift people’s thinking about an issue.

Social justice and sustainability are interwoven – a lack of justice is not sustainable

Challenge things that need to be challenged

 

 

 

Categories
education Inequality sociology values

Transforming education

Vaneeta D’Andrea is Professor Emerita, University of the Arts London. An edcuator and sociologist, Vaneeta literally wrote the book on improving teaching and learning.   Vaneeta has a belief in the role of values so we talk about where those came from, and how that has influenced her career including what she describes as the disconnect in education.

The obligation to the other people we share the world with.

Opinions are valid, but that’s not evidence in my class.

Challenge of how to make people consider lives of other people more seriously

Sustainable: try to act in ways that will sustain the planet.    We’re seeing the impact of a non-sustainable world on the current generations.

Success: funding for research what it means to be a “western academic” – the role of affirmative feedback.

Superpower:  Experience.  47 years of experience in higher education.

Activist: Yes.  I won in 1972 a sex discrimination case against my employer.  It was a precedent that allowed other people to make claims.

I don’t see (activsim and teaching) as mutually exclusive.  I don’t have an agenda about my activism in my teaching, I just try to model what I consider to be good human behaviours and hope that people respect that.

It’s a question of what you accept as evidence.

Motivation: Opportunity to work with people and chance to facilitate their learning and my learning – the opportunity to learn something every single day of my life.  Being a learner and helping other people learn.

We don’t have a tendency to be able to abstract – we’re very concrete thinkers – we have to have something concrete in front of us, we have to see that this action affects this action, affects that action.   Unfortunately with issues around sustainability, you can’t see immediately the impact of that one decision, say to recycle that piece of glass. And you can’t make the leap of that to the climate problem. So when scientists say they can see this relationship, people feel threatened by that – because they think “well I don’t see it”, what are these smart guys trying to do, and then there’s this resistance to the smart guys because we can’t see the relationship, we can’t go there.   Questions around sustainable practice are really challenging because of that level of abstraction that’s required.

Challenge: More of these projects learn something everyday.   Helping institutions reconceptualise their learning and the way that they function – and bringing a sociological perspective to that.

If you slow down you will stop.

Miracle:  Progressive governments to make the lives of more people better.

 

 

Categories
education values

Bringing sustainability to the centre

Bangor University is renown for its approach to sustainability.  And at the heart of that is Dr Einir Young.  She is  Director of Sustainability at Bangor University and runs the The Sustainability Lab.   With initial training in agriculture – “the basis for human survival” – Einir now works with many organisations to find effective solutions to complex ‘sustainability’ issues, focusing on generating prosperity through respecting people and living within the resource boundaries of the planet.    We talk about this, and the impact of the Welsh Wellbeing for Future Generations Act.

 

Talking points

 

How people relate to their natural resource base – we’re so pampered.

With you, rather than to you or for you.

Sustainability: Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland)

Success: Still being here, not just in a corner, instead bringing the issues it into the centre of what’s going on in the university and seeing other people joining in.

Superpower: The power of persuasion, the ability to convey an argument in a persuasive manner.

Motivation: I’m from a very optimistic family and I believe in Wales, I believe that Wales has something to offer the world.

Activist: There are three types of people in the world: people who make things happen, people who watch things happen and people who don’t know what happened. Personally I make things happen.

Challenge: I would like to think that I have left a legacy, being about to retire happily believing that my interests will carry on after I leave.

Miracle: Independence for Wales in a sustainable world, where Welsh language is widely spoken ( at least in Wales )

Advice: Don’t give up, it’s worth the slog.

 

This conversation was made with help of the Sustainability Lab at the Bangor University.

Categories
climate change economics philosophy religion values

Investing in people and the planet

 

 

 

The way we run our investments and the way we run our business models and the way that we run our economic models, we are not living within the capacity for the Earth to support human life.

 

Samuel Mann: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who is making a positive difference and applying their skills towards a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Dr Robert Howell whose new book, Investing in People and the Planet, is published by …

 

Robert Howell: It’s available through Quaker Books, so if you go to the Quaker website and you’ll be able to find it there (quaker.books@quaker.org.nz).
Samuel Mann: So let’s take a few steps back. Where did you grow up?

 

Robert Howell: Napier.

 

Samuel Mann: What was it like growing up in Napier at the time?

 

Robert Howell: It was very interesting because … I went to Victoria University and spent ten years in Wellington then came back to Napier as city manager and when you come back as city manager, you see the city through different eyes. Did you know that the largest storm water pumps in the country are in Napier? And the reason for that is that the earthquake my parents went through – the 1931 earthquake, so that was part of my upbringing but it never did it’s job properly. It only raised the land so far and the water didn’t drain, so coming back and looking at it in different eyes was great. Looking back now, my father wasn’t rich but we were well looked after and we had a reasonably good upbringing. It was Pakeha didn’t take much to do with Maori but it was a reasonable education and some happy times.

 

Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Robert Howell: Originally, I looked at being a minister of religion but I went to university and I guess that was part of my growing up and I didn’t become a minister of religion.

 

Samuel Mann: So what did you do at university?

 

Robert Howell: Well, I did philosophy originally. I’ve got a masters in philosophy and then I went … I had to years in broadcasting and then went the health sector and eventually I joined a small innovative unit that was headed up by management consultants to improve the efficiency of Wellington Hospital and I didn’t know nothing about management and even less about hospitals, I learned a hell of a lot.

 

Samuel Mann: Can I just take another step back. Why philosophy?

 

Robert Howell: Well it was part of the religious stuff, but when I look back now, I guess I had a skill and an innate desire to sort out the basic fundamental questions on life. I wouldn’t have put it like that, they just interested me. So that was part of the philosophy stuff.

 

Samuel Mann: Did you know at the time what you were going to do with it, or didn’t it matter?

 

Robert Howell: No, because I was growing up and searching and the thing about philosophy is that it gave you the intellectual tools to be able to examine the fundamental issues – that’s not the only discipline, of course, but it’s one of them.

 

Samuel Mann: So was it a shock going from answering the fundamental questions of life to improving the efficiency of the health service? That sounds quite operational.

 

Robert Howell: Well, I guess the searching has not stopped and I’ve always tried to be open to new initiatives and I didn’t grow up just by doing philosophy, you don’t grow up. In actual fact, when I got married – being married with my wife for about five years – she had education and sight training and she decided that to keep those alive, when our kids came along, she’d do marriage guidance training and her doing that led me to do that training and I would say part of my growing up was learning those basic skills to be able to relate to people and start talking about my feelings and talking about feelings of others, and those skills were just as important as the intellectual skills that I’d developed with philosophy.

 

Samuel Mann: So what have you been searching for?

 

Robert Howell: That’s a very good question. I guess I was wanting to … Because I was brought up in an evangelical religious framework. Christians like “is there a god and if there is, what is a god?” I decided that the personal, so-called ‘being’ that manipulates the world from outside and that’s part of a method of storytelling. It’s relevant for some people but not for me, and then I guess I wanted to just start learning about some of the ways in which the world worked.

 

Samuel Mann: And if there is a God, what’s he playing at with all the wars and climate change?

 

Robert Howell: Well. I don’t use the term ‘God’ now.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay.

 

Robert Howell: My wife was a Quaker and over thirty years, osmosis took place and Quakers – or one of the attractions of Quakers is that they don’t have a creedal affirmation. They have a lot of emphasis on personal experience. The Maori word for the Quakers of New Zealand ‘te Hāhi Tūhauwiri’ which means the group that stands shaking, blown around, buffeted by the wind of the spirit and I prefer to talk about spirit, rather than god because the term god has been so badly abused. When George Bush says that God led him to go into the Middle East, then I don’t want to use that term. So I talk about a spirit in terms of certain sorts of experiences that have profound impact on one, in terms of thinking about the purpose of life, the mysteries of life, the beauty of life and those sorts of experiences – when you feel one with the world. Doesn’t happen all the time of course.

 

Samuel Mann: How do you mix that with doing the job, whatever it is? Eventually you found yourself back in Napier, running the city. Is it always in your head, is it something you do at home? What’s the relationship there?

 

Robert Howell: Can I just go back to the hospital? I saw that my role in the hospital was to help to work at a practical level, helping people, use taxpayer resources more efficiently. I saw that if I could get a better buck for the way in which the system was run, then that was a good contribution to society. So I was brought in initially in Napier by a reforming mayor to improve it, and we did. So I was seeing my work and during that I developed skills and had training and my PhD was really in how do you measure the community’s health for planning purposes? Which led me to use my philosophical skills to say “what is health?”

 

I rejected the medical model, so I developed a different kind of model for health for those purposes. So it was using the philosophical skills but then embedding it with a more strategic planning framework and I guess I brought, to my work, as a change-agent, as a CEO, as a consultant, as a university teacher, I brought a strategic perspective. So the strategies, strategic processes and how we design and run our organisation. So that’s what I developed.

 

Samuel Mann: Did you do your PhD while you were working?

 

Robert Howell: I was able to … the Hospital Board gave me one day a week  – while I was working – to work on the PhD and I did that for two years. I basically read and then I got a medical research council grant to go to the States for two and a half months, and Britain for two months – that was full time – and then I came back in the light of all that experience and did all the fieldwork and wrote up and that was on a medical research council grant.

 

How I got into the council was that there was no immediate niche for me to get back into the health area – and I was home in Napier – and a new mayor had been elected and he didn’t want a town clerk, he wanted a city manager and he wanted somebody who could reform the council and that was part of my task – very difficult, the council was very divided but we managed to make some significant changes.

 

Samuel Mann: I’m just looking through your CV over the following ten years and there’s a whole pile of stuff in there. You’ve certainly kept yourself busy and working a whole lot of different areas.

 

Robert Howell: Yes, at times it became very awkward. In part, my wife was what I would call a social entrepreneur. So she developed a language school in Napier. She was one of the early pioneers in that area – brought Japanese students – and I met some Japanese people and when I left the council, I developed an agricultural College. College is a bit grandiose. It was really a cross between a community high school and a college, but it brought … We had one-year courses, amongst others and brought Japanese students out, gave them three months English training and then put them on farms – dairy farms – beef and sheep, horticulture and so on – practical experience stuff and then, at the same time, I started links with Massey University and they wanted me to run a course in local government and I linked up with Massey people and we did a lot of reviews of that local government process five years down the track.

 

One of the research projects I did was to look at the way in which governance had been changed because part of the problem of running local authorities is that I was in charge of … I forget how many staff we had now … About a thousand or something like that, a budget of about fifty million. The majority of the Councillors were in businesses that had no more than two or three staff, so the processes of organising a large operation were quite difficult for them and they wanted to get hands-on and really, the whole question of the role a council or a board and its relationship with the stakeholders was the subject of a study that I did, to see whether the reforms in the eighties had made difference … Shorter answer – they hadn’t – but during that process, I did a identified a model by Carver, an American researcher and then I used that subsequently to teach and consult that whole governance area.

 

Samuel Mann: When you’re working in the council, or in fact, any organisation, any business that’s operating at that kind of scale – in the tens of millions of dollars – is it possible to apply those principles that we touched on before the beauty of life and the peacemaking and all that sort of stuff? Does it work in that kind of organisation?

 

Robert Howell: When I first went to the council, I used more of my marriage guidance stuff because the council was divided, so it involved a lot of listening and then putting in the systems to be able to make the organisation more efficient and I think that … I mean, I see strategy and organisational design, if it’s done properly, is good problem solving. What you’re doing is avoiding the fisticuffs conflicts and you’re providing a method of resolving those issues in a nonviolent kind of way. So strategy, for me, is part of a nonviolent process if you like.

 

Samuel Mann: Eventually you found yourself in Auckland doing various governance things and is it about that time you started getting interested in responsible investment?

 

Robert Howell: What happened was that I wanted to get a consulting job with some Anglican trusts about governance, okay? And their basic job was investing, it was a bit of a mess, there were a lot of them. I never got the job, but then I got invited to be the Quaker representative on the CCANZ – the equivalent of the National National Council of Churches. So I persuaded them to set up a committee to look at church investments as a good background for me to do more consulting on this – a selfish as well as an altruistic motive and eventually, that morphed into looking at investment in not just a religious way, but a more fundamental way for everybody and I set up the Council for Socially Responsible Investment that was open to everybody, and if I could take you down where that led me, was that I then began to say “what are the kind of measures that one should look for, to know that a company is being responsible to the environment, as well as to humans – human Earth as well as the human-human relationship?

 

To cut a long story short, that took me to two think tanks. One was a Quaker institute for the future, which was set up in North America by the Quakers and the other one was sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand – based in New Zealand, of course. The beauty of those is that they were multi-disciplinary. There were scientist, economists, lawyers – a real mix of people and I learnt a hell of a lot from those groups. The first one was the state of the Earth for sustaining human life is pretty fragile, very fragile, far more than I ever had appreciated. Secondly, a significant reason why that is the case is because of our economic models and our financial models and the third thing was that that’s related to our ethics, and that was what really interested me in going back to my original philosophy. So I went back and did some philosophical stuff. I started reading stuff that I had sort of touched on about forty years ago, but then read quite widely in that area and what I was able to do was bring a public policy perspective as well as an integrating perspective.

 

So it’s part of trying to get a handle on all of this. It was a very fertile time for me. I’ve done a – what I call – a ‘wiring diagram‘ (see article). It’s on a one page and on the left-hand top are the three or four ethical positions like Aristotle, utilitarianism, the social contract and mapped it out, how over – in Aristotle’s time – over centuries, how they have moved from just being concerned about human-human relationships to include a human-Earth relationship. So all the significant philosophers today, have extended those traditions to deal with those issues.

 

So that was at the top. In the middle was all the economic models and how they have changed and at the bottom was the science and the major scientific discoveries and then I had little dots, related to major changes that had occurred and I found that was my way of making sense – now, I’ve given that as a lecture for over fifty-plus times and people have found it very helpful. So what I was able to do was provide an overview, an integrating perspective, to look at how the science and the economics and the ethical stuff had change in significant ways, but there were gaps, you see? The economic model that we have today is still based on crude utilitarianism and they haven’t made the changes.

 

The other thing that it helped me to do was really, then start to think, “well, what does this have for investment” and then that took me back to the journey that this book is about because this book is … Even though I wrote it in a month and sort of corrected it in about two months, with sending it out and proofreading and all that stuff that you’ll know about … It’s really a summation of what I’ve learnt over the last ten to fifteen years and how about ninety percent of the world’s investments are unethical.

 

I made some surprising discoveries. Did you know, for example, that while the New Zealand government was taking on the French government and the American government and the world generally, over three decades, about nuclear weapons, during all that time government investments were invested in the nuclear weapons industry?

 

Samuel Mann: No.

 

Robert Howell: No, a lot of people don’t. So part of what I’m on about is saying to people there is a connexion between the way you invest and your values and so what I’ve tried to do is make that connexion and to say it’s really important as individuals that we make that connexion and here are the tools to be able to put your values into practise as a taxpayer and as an individual investor. How do you select the KiwiSaver fund that is consistent with your values? How do you sort out which fund – managed fund or insurance company, or bank – how do you sort out whether they are actually caring for people on the planet? How do you get through all the PR hype in simple terms and start to use the power that you, as an individual have, to be able to make those changes? That’s what the book’s about.

 

Samuel Mann: You’ve said ninety percent of the world’s investments are unethical …

 

Robert Howell: Managed funds and sovereign wealth funds.

 

Samuel Mann: … Does unethical there, mean can operate without consideration of ethics or does it mean, somehow bad? Or is bad by definition if you’re not thinking about it?

 

Robert Howell: If you go through my Wiring diagram, that gives you all the sophisticated discussion, but at the very bottom line, for me personally, what it means is one needs to develop a principle for dealing with people – a human-human ethic, and then you need to deal with the human-Earth ethic. So for me, the human-human ethic is based on fairness. That’s the term that I would use. Other people use similar sorts of terms that have got similar sorts of mileage but just in simple terms, that’s the core concept.

 

In terms of human-Earth, I would say rather then exploitation – exploiting the Earth for human utility – one should respect the Earth. There are other terms – Schweitzer used reverence for life, there are lots of other terms, but for me, respect. So I want to then say of the companies that the New Zealand superannuation fund invests in and ACC and the KiwiSaver funds and my bank and my insurance company, the universities, the councils, do they meet those principles? Are they based on fairness? Do they actually abuse people in a fundamental kind of way – and I’ll give you an example with Nucor in just a moment – and do they actually respect the Earth, so that humans can live within the capacity of the Earth to support human life.

 

Now, at the moment, the way we run our investments and the way we run our business models and the way that we run our economic models, we are not living within the capacity for the Earth to support human life. Those are the two fundamental principles and I then have a series of more detailed questions that enable one to tease out whether that’s the case.

 

Just to give you an example of Nucor.  Nucor is the largest steel company in the United States. A number of years ago, it got pig iron from Brazil. That pig iron was produced using charcoal that came from the forests of Brazil from slave labour. A group of people in the United States, including – but there are others – the interface centre for court and responsibility, which is a grouping of Protestant and Catholic and Jewish investors with about a hundred billion under investment. They are the world’s best shareholder activists. So they ring along to Nucor and its management and its AGM and they put resolutions to say to Nucor they would adopt as policy, not to buy any pig iron from Brazil that was produced with slave labour and they also wanted Nucor to fund two groups in Brazil to independently verify that Nucor was doing what it promised to do. Now that took three years of negotiations.

 

So, here is a company Nucor that is using slave labour for steel. It doesn’t meet the human-human perspective. It’s not fair. So that’s one example. Plenty of examples in the human-Earth relationship. All the big Australian banks are invested in coal – fossil fuels. If we don’t get out of coal, if the world doesn’t quickly get out of the use of coal, we are into a two degrees Celsius plus warming. Now that’s got major implications and that’s likely to happen at the moment. That’s likely to happen the decade 2030 – starting 2030. It’s less than fifteen years away. So from a New Zealand point of view, a two degree warming … We have just had, recently, fires in Christchurch. In Auckland we’ve had heavy downpours which have caused quite considerable infrastructural damage. In the North of Auckland we’ve had a nine month drought, okay?

 

You get a two degrees Celsius warming, you’re going to have more droughts, more floods, more heavy rainfall and you’re going to have it more often. That’s going to have a major impact on New Zealanders, it’s going to have a major impact on our economies. Now, that’s just New Zealand, you need to look at what’s the impact in terms of Australia and some of our major partners we sell our milk and various other things to. It’s going to have a major effect on China.

 

So there are a number of companies that are simply not preparing us to be able to deal with this sort of scenario. So there’s an example of how you can apply the principles, in terms of human-Earth and human-human.

 

Samuel Mann: One of my favourite definitions of sustainability is ethics, expanded in space and time, and what I do in some of my teaching is expand on the trolley problem – the train racing down the track and it’s going to kill three people but you can save them but it’s still going to kill one and you can do students’ heads in quite quickly about getting them to the edge of utilitarian ethics, what happens when one of them is you grandmother, that kind of thing. My question is, well if you had a third alternative and you could divert it into a forest, what would you do? And if it’s just an empty forest, then the forest. But what if it’s got the last two remaining orangutan in it? You’ve got a much deeper understanding of this than me.

 

Robert Howell: These are lifeboat choices, aren’t they? Look, when you’re in the middle of a war, it’s really difficult for these choices and so what I would prefer to do is to slow the train down in the first place, okay? This is the strategic perspective that I bring and let me quote you an example of Shell – not my favourite company, but in late 1960s/70s they set up a strategic planning unit.

 

Now, at that time, Shell was saying that strategically we look at the oil that was supplied last year and sold and we had two percent and you had a gradual rise in the graph over a decade or so. The Strategic planning unit was asked to look at some of the strategic options and they said “well, instead of two percent, what if it’s twenty percent, what would we do as a company if all of a sudden the oil increased by twenty percent?” And then they started to say “well, these are the things that we could do.” Then the Arabs came along and did exactly that and Shell was very well placed because they’d done the thinking beforehand to be able to deal with how to respond to that.

 

Except, the shipbuilding sections – the tanker section of Shell – they didn’t want anything to do with this strategic planning stuff, right? And so when the Arabs increased the price of oil, they kept building ships until they had so many ships that they didn’t know what to do with them. They keep falling over them etc. Then they realised that in fact, the strategic stuff was actually relevant. So what I want to say is there are certain things that I can’t do. I think the time for averting significant climate warming … The easy options are gone.

 

I just think we are faced with some very difficult places and people will die and ecologies will die, animals will die. Nothing I can do about that but what I can do is start to encourage fellow colleagues – people like yourselves and people listening to this radio to say “let’s start preparing options for how we’re going to deal with adapting to these situations” and one of the advantages of the Shell analogy is that once you’ve done that, you can actually read the signs. The Shell people in the tanker division weren’t reading the signs and there are people in New Zealand, including our government, who bemoan the fact that another hundred year flood as arrived since the last five years and another one’s going to come and they’re not reading the signs. How many fires do you need, how many droughts do you need?

 

Well, if you start thinking about the scenarios and the signs we’re talking about, then you do read the signs and then you’re in a much better position to start preparing options. Some of those options are going to be very difficult. Can I give you another train analogy?

 

Samuel Mann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Robert Howell: I’m very critical of the SRI industry – social responsible industry – because I think that they have been captured by a model that’s not valid and that’s the United Nation’s principles that are responsible investment, it’s not a valid definition. A whole variety of reasons I can give for this but I’ll leave those to one side, you can come back to me if you want to. Now, what that means is that the New Zealand Superfund claims in its annual report “we are a responsible investment because we’ve signed up to the UNPRI,” but they’re invested in Exxon Mobil and they’re invested in Rio Tinto and a whole series of other companies that are really notorious for the way they treat people and the way they treat the planet and so the UNPRI is seeming to do something, it’s what I would say walking southward on a northbound train. It gives you the impression that you’re going in one direction when you’re actually going in another direction. That’s my other train story.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, I’m going to add another one then and – to further extend the space and time thing – if we could have an alternative track where we put the train onto some sort of space time loop, that it disappears for ten years, but then it’s going to come back in ten years and instead of two or three people, it’s going to kill off some large number – a thousand people, what would you do? And it really does my head in to think that I’m the person that’s supposed to know this stuff and my gut reaction is to go for that one. Why are we so bad at the ethics of the future?

 

Robert Howell: If you’ve got two hours with me to go through the psychology of decision-making, I might answer that. Let me give you a couple of suggestions. I think that if you’re a young family with kids, you’re worried about where you’re going to live, how you’re going to pay for your house, how you’re going to get a job that’s going to give you enough, etc., you get focused on the immediate short-term. It’s very difficult to start making significant changes out of that.

 

So you get bound up into the business-as-usual model. So that’s one thing. The second thing is that if you want to move away from the business-as-usual model in the company … I mean, I’ve bought an electric car, I’m getting solar panels in the house, getting more water tanks – because we’ve just shifted where we are in Auckland – but there are certain things that I … If I really wanted to be purely sustainable, I’d find it very difficult because how do I look after somebody who’s sick, who needs an ambulance? The ambulance at the moment uses petrol, so what do I do? Do I deny using an ambulance to take somebody to hospital because it’s using petrol? So, you’re faced with really difficult choices.

 

So what you do … I like the analogy of the good Samaritan. The good Samaritan came along and saw somebody lying in the gutter. The good Samaritan was a Jew, the guy lying in the gutter was not. He helped him. Bound up his wounds and took him in. Didn’t bother to save the world, he just wanted to help that guy. So my suggestion, my focus is, where you have the opportunities to help people in small little ways, do it. Because if everybody did that, then the world would change and that’s why I come back to investments. People say “oh, its too hard, I don’t understand finance” etc. But in my book I try and spell out in very simple terms, what we, in very simple ways, can do to use our little money to actually start making some changes and when you do that for others it’s very powerful. Not sure whether answers your question, does it compare?

 

Samuel Mann: I think so. What it leads me to is a question of can you live ethically, when, as you’ve just described, we almost can’t live sustainably?

 

Robert Howell: Well the short answer is no. The society that we live in at the moment – the food we eat for example, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is the food sustainable? Do we get tomatoes from Italy? If you’re going to the supermarket and then go through as much as you can – because the labeling’s pretty terrible – ‘made in New Zealand from New Zealand and imported stuff’, but if you really did an accurate assessment of our food and how sustainable it was, it wouldn’t be. Well, one of the alternatives is to actually grow your own food, but if you’re a mum with three or four kids, there is some food that you can grow – you can grow your herbs and get a little garden going, but it’s sometimes quite difficult to be completely organic and … You can pay a bit more for organic food, but your choices are limited. So you do what you can and you try and persuade … So, that’s why I say go and start using your money because that’s a way of helping people to make the changes.

 

Samuel Mann: So if it’s so very difficult for us to live sustainably and ethically, is there a pathway to a positive future?

 

Robert Howell: Erm, I think that we all make mistakes. Aristotle talks about ethics in the terms of being an apprentice – which I like – that is that you have to learn how to be good and it takes a while and there are some things that you need to learn at seventy that you can’t learn when you’re twenty. So it’s an ongoing process and there’s some very difficult choices on the way that don’t make it easy. My wife died from cancer two years ago. I thought that I knew how to handle grief because I’d been trained as a marriage guidance counsellor, you see? But I didn’t. So that was a really difficult learning time for me, okay?

 

The year she died, there were some good times but there were pretty difficult times, but the year after, trying to learn to live with her – my close intimate partner for forty-five years … rat-shit year. Terrible. And it really posed, for me, some very difficult, personal, moral questions about should I have a new partner? When? How? My family didn’t want that. A number of people said “don’t do it Robert, don’t do it,” yet losing that companionship was just terrible. So how did I prepare myself for that? Well, I thought I had but I hadn’t. So life throws at you stuff that you don’t know, okay? So, you’re going to make mistakes, that’s life. What you have to do is try and be as resilient and capable. Use the strengths as you can.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you have a word that you use to describe what we need to be doing? Do you use ‘sustainable’, do you just use ‘resilient’?

 

Robert Howell: I think ‘sustainability’ has lost it’s credibility like ‘God’. It’s become a PR term – sustainable companies. Well I want to know what they’re actually doing. I want to know what their ecological footprint is. I want to know what their policies are in terms of human-Earth ethics. I want to know what they’re doing by way of planning for a world that’s going to have two degrees plus Celsius warming. Those are my three questions of the companies. When I go to annual reports and when I talk with banks and so forth, my questions are where are your policies dealing with the human-human, human-Earth relationships and the policies and your codes and conduct, so forth. Secondly, where’s you ecological footprint? Are you actually measuring that? It’s not just CO2 or CO2 equivalent, it’s water use and effect on species and so on. And thirdly, what are you doing to prepare for a two degrees celsius plus warming world? Sustainability and resilience are part of those questions and those stories.

 

Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these conversations, we’re calling it ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes’, how would you describe you superpower? What are you bringing to the good fight?

 

Robert Howell: I’m not sure I like the term ‘a hero’, okay? What I would want to say is that if people can learn from the journey that I had, then I’m happy to talk about it. I think that the experiences and the stories and the learnings that I’ve had are not well-known. Not many people know about the government investing in nuclear weapons industries while they were opposing the French and the Americans. So I’m wanting to make those stories known. I’m wanting to alert the people in public office and organising organisations – both public and private – that the world is really facing some very, very serious challenges.

 

The thing that I brought to the think tanks – which composed of scientists and economists and so forth – was a public policy perspective and an ethical perspective. I asked questions like “what are your values and how do you integrate that into the dialogue?” So that’s what I bring. The knowledge of fifteen or so years of strategic perspective, talking about that journey. If that’s of value to people then I’d be happy to be known for that.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, I’ve got four more questions and four more minutes, so minute per question. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Robert Howell: Yes.

 

Samuel Mann: You talk about shareholder activists, is that the …

 

Robert Howell: That’s part of it, yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: What’s the activist role you have?

 

Robert Howell: Ah, well at the moment, I’m working with 350.org, amongst other organisations and I’ve been in dialogue with the Auckland council about its investments. I’ve taken them to the ombudsman and I’m providing examples and strategies and things to 350.

 

Samuel Mann: Have you always been an activist?

 

Robert Howell: No, because when I go back to the start of my career, what I felt is that I could best contribute to society if I worked within organisations to help them be more strategic and efficient, getting better value for money – if you got better value for money then that was a major contribution to society. So I’ve tried to do a lot of working with people. One story I haven’t told you about is that in the nineties I initiated a project to work with the Indonesian police bringing nonviolent training to the police in Indonesia and that was working with the New Zealand government to get funding and working with a group in Yogyakarta. So I was working within the system. But I’ve got to the stage now where I think a more public activist advocacy role is necessary.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, we’re now down to thirty seconds per question. What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Robert Howell: There are times when I get pissed off and angry. At times I want to finish on … There’s a bit of stubbornness about me. I don’t like people getting away with hypocrisy and stuff and also I’ve got three grandchildren.

 

Samuel Mann: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you like to have happen?

 

Robert Howell: That’s a difficult one. Well, I really would like the government to face up to these issues of climate warming and the fact that our economic model is bust, and start doing a proper dialogue and regulating. I called New Zealand government in New Zealand the Volkswagon of the Pacific because they’re cheating. I’d like them to be honest and engage with not just the money people of New Zealand, but everybody.

 

Samuel Mann: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Robert Howell: Read my book to be enabled to ask the right questions about which bank you choose, which kiwisaver fund you want, where you want to put your money and join with others to be able to make those changes.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much.

 

Categories
computing design values

Values: Working on problems that really matter

Batya Friedman

Multi-lifespan information systems, starts with premise that there are certain categories of problems that we’re unlikely to solve in a single human lifespan.

Dr Batya Friedman is a Professor in the Information School at the University of Washington. She tells us how her early interests in science, arts, education and politics all came together in value sensitive design. Batya’s recent work in multi-lifespan information systems has lessons for sustainability – in particular, the implications for intergenerational equity.

Talking points

Interested in how people organise society, and the choices they make, what sort of society we want to build and what tools we want to build – those themes have stuck with me.

Science museum…exploring residues that we create when we do any kind of work. What is the work we are doing, and when does that justify the kinds of waste we are producing?

I was teaching in a situation where we had 8 computers for 15 kids, traditionally the teacher would allocate them, but I turned it around to the students a and said how are we going to share these? And they came up with policies, and we would vote on those, and them implement them, and then reflect… the policies started to change as the kids saw what the implications and consequences where for this small community, and so they took those things into account as they allocated the resources they were using. It put in their hands this issue of resource allocation., and they were able to have their own conversations about what’s fair, what’s just, how do we create a caring society in our classroom around these kinds of resources. There wasn’t any whining about access to technology, there was mature conversation. The students learned to express what their needs were, what their desires were, and to listen to what other kids’ needs and desires were
graduate

(Thesis) Kids understand canonical things – stealing a bike, a car – the nature of the harm is clear, but when you move to the digital realm, it isn’t so clear to them what are the natures of the harm.

When we have new technologies and the conventions around them are not well understood, the adolescents I worked with fell back on moral reasoning – trying to identify harms, and then trying to identify the harms, and then coming up with a way of acting in the world that was respectful of the harms that they understood.

Human beings are tool users, and our tools become a part of what we do and how we go about being in the world. So there’s no strong delineation between a tool-use act, and a non-tool use act

We act in the world and we act with our tools

And as we act in the world, we ask ourselves these questions…am I hurting somebody by engaging in this action, is this fair…what’s the nature of justice, am I building community, am I being a good friend to somebody, am I being generous? These questions these qualities are part of how we want to be in the world, and technologies are an integral part of that.

The issue isn’t whether there is technology of a tool there, the interesting moment is when we introduce a new technology that gives us a very different way of acting or being in the world and we are unfamiliar with the ways in which it will intersect with all the other things we are doing.

By being conscious and intentional about some of the value implications that we are more likely to have effects that are positive or at least to avoid some of the more egregious negative impacts.

Designers of technology don’t control all the aspects of how these technologies will be appropriated and used by society, but they do control some of the important pieces. And if we don’t attend to those then I think there may be inadvertent consequences where had we been attentive, we could have been proactive on something positive.

Does the technology embody values? – yes, the architecture of the technology makes somethings easier and other things harder if not impossible.

Historically the greatest protection on privacy was just the amount of effort it would take. Rules and practices evolved from a time when you had to physically go down to the courthouse and look at records if you thought something was amiss, but it was accessible to you, you could examine them if you thought there was good need. Now you can do that search from your house, with very little effort. That balance between privacy and transparency, that delicate balance in place for a certain kind of technology, that has been changed. So the question for society is what balance do we want between privacy and transparency, then to put in place the technical infrastructure so we can experience that balance that we think is beneficial for society.

We hold a multiplicity of values, and they all sit in delicate balance with each other, just like the strands of a spider-web. If you pick up one value, put pressure on one part of the web, all the other values move with it. Two things can be in tension and together that tension holds them up. These tensions and how they sit in relation to one another is the nature of human life. So the question is how do we hold onto them. Take something like calmness, or the desire to be left alone, and also the desire to be part of community, also to be able to be responsive if someone has a need or emergency. We value all of those things simultaneously – holding onto that is the design challenge.

We can question the presumption about building more and more widgets. How many microprocessors do people have? We can ask is that sustainable? In therms of the resources, power? We’re building things now with the presumption of 24/7 access to power and network, and people are increasingly putting data and activities that are critical to their lives into infrastructure that needs to be on and functioning 24/7. We created this idea of 24/7 ubiquity, we can question that.

Multi-lifespan work, starts with premise that there are certain categories of problems that we’re unlikely to solve in a single human lifespan.

Multi-lifespan because of the nature of the problem: 1. limitations of the human pscyhe…lasting peace…first generation agree to keeping children alive, second generation grow up in environment where they don’t feel threatened, maybe third generation can really build a peace. 2. tears in social fabric (Rwanda) 3. Environmental timescales

We need to recognise that these problems and solutions are going to unfold over longer periods of time.

How do we engage in this longer term design thinking? We can help people understand where their lifespan fits, how that relates in to environmental time-frames, so you can begin to see how decisions in your lifespan can begin to affect and mesh with what might be going on on an environmental timeline. We can think about doing supporting people doing co-design 20-40 years in the future. What might be the systemic conditions in 40 years? then we can bring people back to “well what if we made some different design choices now?”

We’re at the start of the development of systems of international justice – just like where democracy was 200 years ago.

While can be discouraged about how our societies are evolving, we can point to areas of real progress, and that’s really important to hold onto

Take skeptism seriously, then go build something

Starting to do the work, slowly doing the work as best one can, trying to having eyes open to complexity, then over time one has a proof of concept about how you could make progress.

Working on problems that really matter is important

You could spend your life working on things that you know you can solve, but if you and others don’t really care about those problems, then maybe there’s a better way to spend your time.

If you work on something you care about, even if it is really hard, and you fail, or you don’t make progress, at least you know you are working on something that really matters.

For me if failure isn’t a actual possibility, then it doesn’t meet the criteria of a problem for me to work on.

There are things that really matter to us where we know we can do better.

(Learning from stone carving) Continually working the whole, without ever being able to see the whole. I’m comfortable going into a project not knowing where it is going to end or what it will look like at the end. You can use principles and be adaptive in the goals, and as you move into the project you can understand better what the next move will be. If I try and prescribe things, the solution ends up being brittle.

(Superpower) Systemic thinking and approach, it is organic and in some ways spatial or visual, and listening..to context, situation, to technically what is there, and then wait until I know how to act. Time is crucial. The same with research, we can be designing a system, and we don’t know yet what the next right thing to do is.

(Success) 25 years ago even saying you were working in values and technology was considered out there, now there are many people doing this.

(Activist) Not in a traditional way, but I am beginning to think of myself as a public intellectual, playing that role.

I would like to participate more in a public conversation about what kind of science and technology we should be engaging in. I would like us to be more thoughtful about which technology we should build out – that is a choice. What sort of society do we want to live in, what technologies do we want to support that?

Yes, I do work on margins, and those margins are always moving. What are the hard questions, but also what are the socially ethically important questions with respect to our tool use and infrastructure building?

(Motivation) Curiosity about each day

(Challenge) Crossroads…art, some big ideas, but also pushing at those margins, multi-lifespan work. And contributing to public discussion… different forms of expression…theatre, animation, artefacts…stories.

(Miracle) Peace

(Smallest thing biggest impact) Sleep: I mean that, seriously, a lot of aggressions and micro-aggressions…when people are exhausted they get cranky, if everyone on the planet could get a really good night sleep on the same night and reset

Advice: Slow down. Get a good nights sleep and wake up in the morning without an agenda, just opening your eyes and looking at the world and what it is offering and take that opportunity. Our society is so goal directed, we don’t see what is in front of us.

This conversation was recorded at CHI2016.

Categories
business design values

Value driven bikes

Wishbone - Richard Latham and Jennifer McIvor

Richard Latham and Jennifer McIvor are the passion behind Wishbone Design Studio. And that passion has created a successful international business firmly embedded in sustainability and quality.

Because we declared our values early on – sustainability and quality – we were attracting customers of that same ilk, the pressure on us was not to drop standards, but to raise them.

Talking points

Wishbone is a family business, we’re located in Newtown in Wellington, and we design and manufacture for a global market high quality childrens products – ride-on toys, most of our products have wheels – and we’re making them with sustainability as a background principle.

(Rich) I wanted to make stuff…industrial design

I don’t want to make rubbish, so from that perspective if you’re making quality product you’ve inherently got a sustainable ethic to it.

There are a lot of cheap Chinese toys in the world, and we didn’t want to make cheap Chinese toys. We manufacture in Asia but we focus on quality, we focus on guaranteeing that the bits and pieces that we put in the box are worthy.

(Jen) I studied law, I wanted to find way I could practice law that would pursue a passion. And I discovered environmental law and international law…(eventually) I became a diplomat.

Sustainability has been a key principle for me, I wouldn’t describe myself as a greenie. I’m interested in policy around environmental issues.

Starting a business was an exciting opportunity to pursue sustainability through the private sector.

(Jen) I’ve always had a love of natural world, I love the outdoors, I derive a lot of energy from it, and I thought if I’m going to be a lawyer, I thought how am I going to connect those dots? (and The Lorax, adds Rich)

I was making stuff for my children in our New York bathroom.

My supply chain (during the initial design) was Home Depot – what I could work with. When we came to production we could address those things – we looked at the glues, the materials themselves so we could be sure they weren’t going to corrode or rust,

Wishbone Design Studios started with three principles – simple, smart, and sustainable. The first two referred to the functionality of the product and how it transformed, and the sustainability was the manufacturing ethos.

There is no plastic in our packaging, it’s all recycled board. Even the packaging itself, we realised that we had to have a box to put the product in, but what happens when it gets home? So we printed an image on the inside of the box so it becomes a play space and a cut-out mobile.

These sustainability things are adding value.

(Is it harder not to make rubbish?) In a competitive marketplace your product is more expensive. People make cheap rubbish because they are trying to hit a price point, we have never really been driven to look at that. It is a factor in business, obviously there’s no point making world’s best widget if no one is going to buy it – so we’ve tried to navigate the fine line between being commercially viable and making the best product we can.

We launched just as the 2008 crisis hit. So we were very aware that the world was encountering a major financial crisis, and money was suddenly not what it was, and consumption patterns were not what they were. At that very moment we were working on our brand, what are our core values we want to instil into everything we do? Our product design but also our employment strategy, our partners choices – fundamentally Richard and I are not major consumers of material goods…

At the time the world was suffering this financial crisis, it would be a fair assumption we thought that there’s a good market of consumers tat would revert to traditional values rather than speedy consumption of goods from discount sources. They would go looking for the one item that might indeed cost a little more but would last longer.

We thought that there was this old school value that would enjoy a renaissance, and it was coincidence that these are the values that we live by, and so that was the brand, and we might have an opportunity to start a new brand right in the thick of a global financial crisis.

The product could suit a child as young as one, and we intended for them to still be riding it when they were five. So that put the pressure on to make sure it would last four years – in the life of a children’s toy that’s quite a long time. And we would hope that they would pass it on to a younger sibling.

The back page of the instruction manual, we printed a car-ownership style registration page

Another principle is 100% repairable product. We wanted to make products that would never end up in the landfill.

That our bikes hold their value for second-hand resale is a matter of intense pride.

It’s a conscious strategy to promote the second-hand market.

It’s counter-intuitive to business where the more stuff you make the more stuff you sell, we say, no, we’ve got this product that we like to see being resold amongst a community of user, we can service it and keep it usable. An endearing quality we’re building, the value set of our brand.

We’d love our bikes to be second generation products…passed on to their own children…that for us is an inspiration, that we can produce something so well that it will be there not only for a family and its siblings, but potentially for a second generation of those children.

We use the phrase that we’re designing a new generation of classic children’s toys. Modern design together with old school value.

The limited edition bikes…started out as cosmetic seconds bikes, we took the frames out of the skip, added artwork to them and increased the value. That is part of our DNA, seeing an opportunity, taking something that was rubbish and making good out of it.

Because we declared our values early on – sustainability and quality – we were attracting customers of that same ilk, the pressure on us was not to drop standards, but to raise them.

The last thing you want is to be culprit of green-washing. So we adopted policy early on of stating what we do do. We describe the steps we have taken in areas of sustainability, corporate social responsibility – this is what we do do, and here’s the truth about everything else, and here are our aspirations for the next 12 months.

This bike is made from carpet.

Communicating the values of the business through product.

A matrix of new ideas coming together. Theoretically the world’s a better place because produced this product that sets a benchmark – it can be done, you can take recycled residential carpet and produce a children’s bike.

So now we’re asking how far can this go? How can we take the product learnings…this is just the beginning of the path..

We have to deliver a product that delivers functionally something better than everything else, the fact that it’s made from recycled carpet is a secondary point. It’s just inherently in the product.

Sell more stuff not our business model. We made a decision one year, our business plan was to be sure that the following financial year we didn’t sell an additional unit. The hardest thing we do is manufacture well. We will make and sell to those who want it, and we will do a good job of that. Our goal is not to just sell more.

We are a model of a family owned creative business.

(Success) Global consumers are looking to get the products that they need from brands that represent who they want to be…people want a cleaner

(Activists?) Futherist thing from activist…trailblazer. Fine line. Never going to beat chest and try and preach, but I would like to think we care doing things in a interesting and creative way – which other people can get some inspiration from.

(Motivation?) Five core values, the first: get close. It’s about the human element.

We both get out of bed in the morning, not to sell bikes, but to have the joy of the interaction with people

There’s a hook to it, now other people are dependent on us to sell bikes. There is a responsibility there that we’re coming to terms with.

We’ve never driven to make 1000s and 1000s more of what we already make, we’ve never been driven to have major staff numbers

(Challenges?) Growth, learning discovery…maturing…knowledge base…scope…technology strategy.

Maintaining values as we scale…trying to find people who understand our value sets…culture within our business internationally.

(Miracle?) Not having to work so late at night.

(Advice?) Have stamina…so many times we’re looked each other and asked are we idiots? Confidence – there is a bigger picture here, and we’re on a path to achieving it. Knowing we’re doing the right thing.

(How will you know when you’re there?) (Jen) We’ll never get there. (Rich) When I sold the first bike, I thought was there…

Categories
social-ecological transformation transition towns values

Values-based change agent

Pella Thiel

When you appeal to the rational economic man, you strengthen those values, prime those values, and the intrinsic ones become weaker. If I tell you that installing these solar panels will be cheaper, then you become less interested in unity with nature, social justice – a beautiful world. And what we know is that a beautiful world, thinking and action for a sustainable future rests on those intrinsic values.

Pella Thiel an ecologist and change agent who chairs the board of the Transition Network Sweden, Omställningsnätverket, and is also working with values for transition within the Common Cause network. She is also facilitating End Ecocide Sweden.

Pella works to create meeting places that build the trust in the possibility of the big changes necessary for a sustainable, just and meaningful world.

Talking points

Addressing ecocide is a prerequisite – we can’t have thriving local communities if we don’t put an end to the destruction being done as an everyday thing.

Our current system…we think it’s OK to destroy living systems

What makes a success is when people devote time to themselves – how they are, how they work, how they interact with each other. If you can create a healthy group where people actually want to be there becasue it is fun and people support each other, that is a success factor.

Be welcoming of lots of different actors, a space holder for change to happen.

Being positive without closing eyes to severity of the situation we are in.

Transition, most horrible things and most beautiful things happen at the same time….when we actually say this has to change. if you are an addict, it is not until you realise I can be alive and I can be dead, and this is the choice I have to make.

Do we have to convince everybody? This is a stress – “we have to reach everybody, we have to be palatable enough for the middle class, everybody needs to be in this change”, which is true to a certain degree, but from what we know about big shifts in complex systems, they don’t happen that way – that suddenly many people do something different, on the contrary, they happen because a small amount of individuals do things from a very different logic. Maybe 5%, maybe even less because we are so interconnected – if a few people can spread a message that many other people resonate with…maybe even fewer than 5% to tip the system.

This path we are on is not going to take us any further, so we get to choose the path we want. So then the question is options for change – mostly the transition message that we can deal with this together.

We can deal with this together, if we do it together it’s not that scary, it can be fun, meaningful and connecting.

We have invested heavily in the current picture, and it will be difficult to leave…but we can make money frmo other things, and that money will be serving us better. Serving the complex we live in much better, much healthier, less stressful and less lonely than we are today.

Ecocide is mass damage and destruction of ecosystems where people and other organisms live. And what we’re working on…international law against ecocide.

The movement is to have Ecocide recognised by the Rome Statute…the most severe crimes – crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes…they are tried in the international court.

This will have to be a process as we find out together, what do we accept and not accept. Today as a society we do accept mass damage of nature – and we know where that is taking us, we’re well into the 6th mass extinction.

Our collective actions are taking us to a place that doesn’t benefit any of us. We have to change that, and that’s not easy, but if we don’t begin…

Common Cause…the role of values in how we act and think, and how that relates to sustainability. Values provide guiding principles, that tell us what’s desirable, what’s normal and what’s important.

Values change and shift all the time. If we what change, we need to be conscious of values.

Values influence everything we do, but we are usually unaware of them. We don’t usually notice societal values, what values are strengthened in our society – what is perceived as desirable, normal and important in a society

Extrinsic values: if you get a reward for what you do, how people see you, material wealth, status, power…and then there are intrinsic values- they are more related to the context you are in: relationship to nature, friends and family, social justice, equality, and things such as creativity.

For us to be able to act on bigger than self issues, we have to act on intrinsic values – so they have to be the strong ones.

I caution against good and bad values, but its normative in the way that if want to move in the direction that is more collective – and just people, but also taking into account the interests of other beings, even landscapes, then we have to be focussing on the intrinsic values. –

Selfish, rational economic man…that’s really strange thinking, that we could build a society that is good for all based on the interests of individuals that don’t care about that whole society. That’s a sad picture of people being very very small – and we aren’t that small. We’re big, we have big hearts if we can believe in those big hearts.

When you appeal to the rational economic man, you strengthen those values, prime those values, and the intrinsic ones become weaker. If I tell you that installing these solar panels will be cheaper, then you become less interested in unity with nature, social justice – a beautiful world. And what we know is that a beautiful world, thinking and action for a sustainable future rests on those intrinsic values.

Transition needs a whole shift in thinking, and by appealing to your economic gain from that, you will undermine and cause collateral damage to those intrinsic values and weaken your ability to participate in the transition.

We need to go even deeper than an overthrow of capitalism. Using money as a measurement is really shallow.

We measure money, but that’s not the interesting stuff – people are interested in healthy relationships with politicians, neighbours, their children’s teachers, healthy food, beautiful setting – those are the things we should strive for.

The best things in life, money can’t buy. We know that, so why do we keep focussing on money?

How can we strengthen each other by sharing the strengths we have?

In an ecosystem it is many relationships that builds resilience and it is the same in our communities.

We can’t sustain the system we are living in now, and I don’t think that we should, so sustainability is not really very interesting, what is interesting is transition to resilience, perhaps a regenerative sustainability.

We shouldn’t have sustainable business, we should aim to have regenerative business.

If you work with values, and talk about the values you want to strengthen, then you do a lot of good, even if you don’t explain things very much. People don’t act on information, people act on values.

We need to give people a reason to act based on values.

(Success) The awareness of Ecocide law.

(Activist) Yes. I actively do things for something I believe in.

(Motivation) How important these things are to me – the living systems of the earth, the future of my children, it hit my heart how much I care for those things, and it goes a long way

(Challenges) Microscale…on the farm where I live, a healthy community, that trusts and cooperates to provide our food.

(Miracle) That all people started to believe in their own power to create good communities for themselves and for others, that they would believe in their own roles as change agents.

(Advice) Believe in your own power to create the change that you want to see in the world. And take some time to reflect on what is important to you, then manifest that in some way – draw it, write it down, tell someone else.

This interview was recorded in early September 2015.

Categories
business marketing values

Valuing value

Phil Osborne

If you can be a better consumer, then we can change the world.

Phil Osborne teaches and researches marketing at Otago Polytechnic. We talk about the role of marketing and the relationship between values and value, before exploring what the sustainability agenda can learn from marketing.

Talking points

At the heart of marketing is exchange, it connects producers with consumers

Products become redundant in a new view of marketing

Value is subjective

Things only become valuable when we use them.

In the 60s-80s we had this surplus to get rid of, and we didn’t think about why customers wanted to buy these products.

I see value as in economic value with a little v, and Values with a big V. Values is what society or individuals are starting to see as worthwhile.
So, value in terms of a market exchange comes from the Values of society.

Marketing is a child of the industrial revolution which privileged the view of the firm – they made massive gains in the factories and efficiencies. Look, society is must better off because we can produce these things. And because society was supposed to be better off, the production view was privileged. But now this has flipped, the service dominant logic asks “is it products we want, what do we do with those products?”. So service dominant logic is still about exchange, but exchange of service.

Marketing had a lot of currently useful generalisations, and at present, a lot of those are no longer useful.

At heart of marketing ethics is a satisfied customer.

How do measure satisfaction, I think there’s an ethical way of doing that. If they are getting their product or service delivered in an unethical way, it’s likely to impact on their satisfaction. The ethics of marketing becomes very transparent. The snake-oil salesman is a generalisation for a reason – people don’t like that approach.

Ethics in business school has become a much larger and more obvious subject to deal with since Enron example, and what happens when you let businesses run away with the efficiency model.

In developing sustainable practitioners, that ethical transparency is gives to sustainability – ethics in the end is an individual choice, organisations don’t actually make decisions, individuals within the organisation make decisions.

If you are in a organisation and you feel like they’re about to do something unethical, it’s only individuals who can make that change.

“Is it legal?” has been the standard in business, but that is changing, I say “if your grandmother knew you were doing it, how would she feel about it?”

Students find it hard to think about their great grandchildren, so my analogy allows them to plug into the understand of their grandmother – but this is really about getting them to think about the future.

We’re on cusp of dawn of the end of dinosaurs of organisations. Questions being asked: How do we create organisations that allow employees behave ethically. How do we reward whistle blowing? This is a positive thing, an age of these questions being asked. And they’re not being asked around the water-cooler any more, well they are but water cooler is the internet and the boardroom.

Marketing has always been about sustainable business, the heart of marketing is about relationships. And those relationships can only be sustained when we are doing things that we each like.

Marketing can bring to the table the role of representing the customer at that table – the marketer is the customer’s voice in the organisation. The voice of sustainability among customers is becoming larger and larger – and the marketer is the one that is going to carry that voice into the organisation.

So how to we value sustainability? It typifies the dominance of the paradigm that we want to value it somehow, to put a number on it. And we can put a number on it in that customers are starting to think about maybe I’m not going to buy that thing because it is cheap because I don’t know what their organisational practices are like.

Brands indicate a level of trust. In the future I think we’ll see that the brands and trust value will enable us to understand the value that customers are putting on sustainable practice.

(how do we wade through the marketing greenwash?) Greenwash was the marketing response when we still had that sales response – let’s trick our customers into thinking we’re green by putting dolphins on there. The can’t do that anymore. We might have gotten away with that in the 70s or even the 90s. Nowadays you put a dolphin on there and someone is going to go and track why that dolphin is on there.

Customers have a role in not falling for greenwash. And call it out

(Are you an activist?) Yes. I’ve had 7000-10,000 students over the years. If I’ve made even half of them consider their practices differently and decide not to stuff a leaflet in your letterbox without any understanding of what that is doing, then I’ve made a few changes.

I think we’re all activists as consumers, we all have the chance to be activists. If all you take from understanding marketing is being a better consumer, then we can change the world.

Marketing is no longer a simple relationship. Society’s conversation about sustainability is influencing consumers’ beliefs, which then has to influence the marketing conversation. It is not longer a delivery of products – a monolithic dyadic conversation dominated by the marketer to a dialogical, learning together, thinking about what is best for society.

(Motivation) Making a difference.

(Challenge) Changing the perception of marketing.

(Advice) Become a more conscious customer, every time you spend money with an organisation you are voting for its continued existence. So think about whether you condone it.