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Monday, March 16, 2015

My new blog page ….

      I love blogspot! It has served me well for many years.
      Now it's time for me to integrate my two blogs into my new website. All my old posts from this blog and my training blog have been moved over.
      Please visit me there - http://www.clarefeeney.com/blog/.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sustainable enterprise and social enterprise - complementary approaches to the triple bottom line

      I've been thinking lately about sustainable enterprises and realised I was getting muddled with "social" enterprises. What's the difference? 
      Going to that font of all knowledge, the Internet, I found a definition of "sustainable enterprise" from the Financial Times Lexicon that said, "Sustainable business or sustainable enterprise are terms that are now being used by firms who are integrating sustainable business practices into their corporate and brand strategies whilst seeking to address both shareholder and stakeholder interests." After noting that "Sustainability is rapidly emerging as a critical element of business strategy, driven by a convergence of factors — increasing regulation, changing customer expectations, competitor and technology advances, value chain partner requirements, brand equity protection, and global risk management", Deloitte said that "The ‘Wholly Sustainable Enterprise’ (WSE) is defined as a company that generates continuously increasing value through application of sustainable practices in the entire base of activity — products and services, workforce, workplace, functions/processes, and management/governance."
      For "social enterprises", I found that while there is no accepted international definition, the European Commission noted that "their key distinguishing characteristics are the social and societal purpose combined with an entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector." They may take the form of a business, non-profit, co-operative or charity in order to become what Wikipedia defined as "an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external shareholders." 
      It seems to me from these and the many other definitions I found, that "sustainable enterprise" refers to companies that are improving their environmental and social performance, while "social enterprises" are set up from the start with environmental and social outcomes in mind, which their activities are dedicated to achieving. 
      That is, sustainable enterprise reflects the changes - even radical transformations - that existing organisations want and need to make in order to meet internal and external expectations around people and the environment, while social enterprises are new organisations that are set up on that basis.
      That's why I like the European Commission's definition - it highlights the creative, entrepreneurial attributes of the founders of new social enterprises. And many of them are set up by young people whose creative flair and business acumen allow them to think up the most wonderful - and often profitable - ideas. 
      That said, within a period of about six months, a friend of mine in her early 60s spawned about four viable ideas for social enterprises, all totally different and all meeting a real social and environmental need that no-one else seemed to be doing anything about. Clearly a field for the innovative thinkers of all generations!
      I'm sure that in the real world, these terms (and others) are used interchangeably - and rather than sustainable or social enterprises being better than the other, we need both processes to gain more and more traction, with existing organisations adapting to the social and environmental needs of their communities of interest, and creation of new ones that challenge our ideas of what business is and what it's for.  
      We could look at it as being approaches from along a spectrum meeting in the middle, where all organisations become sustainable social enterprises. We can also look at it as perhaps the two movements, both new and existing organisations, making their way up the same peak by scaling different flanks.
      It's the ascent of Mount Sustainability.
Here are the links to the sources listed above:

Deloitte on The ‘Wholly Sustainable Enterprise
The Financial Times Lexicon definition of "sustainable enterprise"
The European Commission's definition of "social enterprise"
Wikipedia's definition of "social enterprise
Interface's description of its sustainability journey and the ascent of Mount Sustainability

Monday, June 2, 2014

Clearing mangroves: don't blame the tree - look to the land uses

      They're calling it the Mangrove Chainsaw Massacre. Over-enthusiastic locals inadvertently clearing mangroves beyond the permitted area was one of today's hit stories on the national news. Local environmental interests were shocked, the regulatory body was embarrassed and the locals were delighted.
      Mangroves - you either love 'm or hate 'em, it seems. But despite their polarising effect, the poor old mangroves are the innocent victim. Weak competitors on land and unable to withstand deep sea water, they can only grow where the sea floor and tidal levels are in their Goldilocks zone - the narrow band around estuarine margins where the water is not too shallow and not too deep.
      It's human land uses that maintain the higher-than-natural rate of sediment inflow that extends their Goldilocks zone by building up the beds of our estuaries. It's our love of causeways like those that cut across so many of Auckland and Northland's estuaries that provides calm backwaters for the sediment to settle into.
      While there are growing community initiatives to remove mangroves, these people who have every right to want their sandy shores back again are playing King Canute with the tide of sediment flowing into our estuaries and our habit of putting roads where they will cut them off from fully interacting with their open harbour waters.
      Farmers, urban developers, utilities and transport operators all need to play their part in making sure that mangroves grow their fish in areas where they would naturally be found - and reducing the sediment problems that encourage them to extend their range.
      Below is a very old tongue-in-cheek essay of mine on "How to grow a mangrove forest". Still topical, it seems!
      Here is the radio interview and there are more of my short articles like this one here.

How to grow a mangrove forest: A recipe for losing beaches and filling in estuaries

1 sheltered coastal water body in any tropical to temperate zone
a rolling to steepish surrounding catchment (1 metric catchment = 1 imperial watershed)

a large quantity of forest clearance
quite a bit of farming
a few areas of forest, ideally on the steepest land
a concentrated area of urban development
several major roads and causeways

      Start by removing the original forest – this gives you a good start by releasing a pulse of sediment into your estuary or embayment before you add your farmers.
      Add your farmers. For best results, use cropland farmers – this will give you a steady supply of sediment from the land into the water (this is where you want your mangroves) that can equate to around 200 times the rate from the original forest. Grassland is fine if you can’t get crops, but in many places, will only yield about 10 times more sediment than the forest.
      Once the farmers are settled in, sprinkle your forestry up in the steeper areas to maximise runoff. While the sediment yield is only intermittent, it’s not bad at around 500 times more sediment than we started with, so this will make a good contribution to your mangroves.
      Now, add your urban development. Each new subdivision will only expose the soil for a short time, but you can have two bites of this cherry: firstly, make sure the major construction works expose as much soil to rain as possible and don’t add too much in the way of erosion and sediment controls. This should yield quite a decent dose of sediment to your waterway that could get up to around 2,000 times the rate from the original forest (which of course we have already carefully removed). While this will tail off as the area is grassed down and the individual lots go on sale, you will get another quite good dose of sediment once the builders come in and open up each site for house foundations, driveways and services.
      Over this time, gradually put in your highways all the way around your waterway, and make sure to put causeways across your estuarine inlets – they are just great for keeping in all that lovely sediment we’ve just added.
      Let stand for some time. You will see results within two or three years as mangrove seedlings start springing up on the areas where your fine sediments have settled out on the intertidal flats. However, the best results are obtained over a hundred or more years, by which time you could have a mangrove forest that has crept over your sandy beaches and extended well out into your harbour and over the shellfish beds further out.

Extra for experts:
This recipe is simple enough for all to use. Advanced chefs – follow the tips below for more!

      Farm tracks are a great sediment source. Widen them periodically and don’t put too much aggregate on them: runoff will pick up more sediment if they are bare. Races are pretty good sources, too – and if you keep long grass well away from the downhill side, especially at the lowest point, sediment will be able to get straight into the stream where it can head off down to the harbour very quickly.
      Croppers –regularly cultivate your soil to a great depth – this will dry it out and break up larger clods, making it easier for runoff to mobilise soil particles and get them down to the harbour for your mangroves. And wherever you can, run your machinery downslope so runoff can speed up.
      Pastoral farmers – the simplest way to get good sediment runoff is to get your stock into your waterways – on no account should you fence them off or plant the stream banks. A good bit of overgrazing will also help, especially when grass growth is poor over winter or in dry weather.

      While you may only fell every 20-30 years, you can still make a great contribution if you use minimal erosion and sediment controls on your roads, haul routes, skidders and platforms, especially if you don’t use cables on your steep land, fell right to stream edges and put your machinery through them.

Urban developers
      As indicated in the main recipe, you have two chances to maximise sediment runoff from your developments. However further variations are possible by sticking to the good old-fashioned methods of land development with major land recontouring and cut to fill. Try to avoid the new trend for water sensitive urban design and low impact development – it just doesn’t give the yield we want.

Roading engineers
      Opt for long causeways around your harbour wherever you can: they are not only cheaper than bridges, they will restrict the tidal flow much more, creating sheltered areas where sediment runoff from the whole catchment can more easily settle. Take a look at an air photo to see the difference they can make. Rural roads in particular are also great sources of sediment when you don’t re-gravel them too often. Avoid armouring or putting check dams in your roadside drains, so that the water can build up speed: this helps it erode out more soil and transport it more rapidly into the harbour.

Seriously, though – 

      Estuaries are vital coastal ecosystems that support significant inshore and offshore commercial, customary and recreational fisheries. In the temperate to tropical waters where they are found, mangroves play an invaluable role, providing shelter in a nutrient-rich environment for many species of fish, including residents that spend all their life there, mobile fish that come and go between ocean and estuary, transitory fish that enter estuaries for short periods of feeding or breeding, and migratory fish passing out to sea from streams or up to streams from the sea.
      But this is little consolation to people who live on or use estuaries and who over time have seen the loss of sandy or shelly beaches and offshore shellfish banks as fine sediment smothers them, enabling the mangroves to establish. It is even less consolation to know that the spread of mangroves is our own fault, the result of poor land use practices arising from past ignorance and the drive for development.
Environmental regulators are becoming more receptive to community desires to halt mangrove spread or remove them to restore swimming beaches – but locals, picking up isolated brand-new seedlings is very different from picking up a chainsaw: do get the approvals you need before doing anything major.

Call to action for communities and catchment managers 
      There is no point removing mangrove seedlings or trees unless we also cut off the artificially elevated supply of sediment that allows them to establish. The work starts from the ridge tops down, and it is the role of every land user to keep soil on the land where it belongs. Every catchment management plan needs to set up or beef up soil conservation and erosion control programmes in the watershed to progressively reduce the loads of sediment to the harbours, to support the community’s removal efforts.

Find out more: go to the Auckland Council website at http://bit.ly/1pAMPUo to find Technical Publication325, ‘The New Zealand mangrove: review of the current state of knowledge’.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Reflecting on levels of change

      Recently I've been reading a series of threads about climate change in which people are asking questions about what it would take for their international organisation to develop a shared understanding of the significance of climate change and a collective sense of appropriate actions to take. 
      It's been fascinating.
      At present I'm just ruminating about the many different levels on which action can take place - and where it is and where it isn't taking place. It seems to me at this stage of my ruminations that actions can be individual and collective, and also at different scales. 
      At the individual scale, the scale of ordinary people, plenty of committed individuals are already taking action, whether it's on one front like cycling in preference to using a private car, or on many fronts, such as also growing their own vegetables, being as energy and water efficient as they can, reducing their purchase of new items and minimising the amount of solid waste they create. These actions do make a difference and better still, they also encourage others to do the same - not least in the sense of overcoming the all-too-human tendency to apathy, cynicism and despair in the face of an issue that just seems too big. In many places we see groups of such individuals coming together in collective action like creating farmers markets and setting up Transition Towns. These also can make a substantial difference in reduced carbon emissions.
      At the institutional scale, again we see that growing numbers of institutions both public and private, are doing everything they can to reduce their own carbon footprint and be as socially, ecologically and financially responsible as they possibly can. They might also take some form of collective action by joining a responsible business association, working along their own supply chain or working with other institutions in their local geographical community. 
      At the sector scale, we can see examples of collective action by institutions working together with others in their sector, for example, green offices, green retail, green paper manufacturing, green shipping and the rest - each sector working with others to address the issues and opportunities they all face. This magnifies the results of their members' individual efforts.
      Still larger groups of institutions form at the global scale, with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and many, many more.
      One major sector that seems to be missing in action at both the individual and collective scale is government. Some individual governments are looking at using indicators of sustainable development and happiness indices - but for the vast majority, it's GDP and growth-focused business as usual. And of course we repeatedly witness failures of governance at the international scale when it comes to climate change treaty efforts.
      This is immensely frustrating when it's clear that governments can make a difference: when they raise the bar for environmental compliance, the result is innovation. As Michael Porter and Claas van der Linde said in a 1995 Harvard Business Review article, "How an industry responds to environmental problems may be a leading indicator in its overall competitiveness ... Only those companies that innovate successfully will win. A truly competitive industry is more likely to take up a new standard as a challenge and respond to it with innovation."
       Perhaps after all Paul Hawken was right when he famously said, in his 1992 book, The Ecology of Commerce, "Business is the only mechanism powerful enough to reverse global environmental and social degradation."
      Individuals and institutions are doing it. When will our governments catch up, and bring the groundswell of unwilling players up to the peak of the wave that the best of us are surfing?