Made a Difference

by Ted Cleaver

The day turned out to be quite the surprise. One of the two speakers nailed it. First of all, he says, consumers are clueless and relying on them for change towards sustainability is hopeless. He’s the President of CSR for a major retailer. The quote that stuck: Consumers are “social rebels in surveys and economic conservatives in the market.” So true. Or do you, does anyone, make a conscious decision based on criteria such as carbon footprint or social responsibility when buying FMCG’s? Hardly. I have a serious disdain for statements like “we’re too busy with Facebook, YouTube, and IPhones.” That doesn’t cover the complexity of the issue. It’s rather that the issue is exactly that, too complex. Who in the world would keep track of which raw materials go into the thousands of products they buy?

Well, said retailer offered a workshop in the morning, the first I attended. Now I know that all own-brand products have a certificate relating to product integrity. A-brands? Can’t do business without ‘em, even if some are well known for unethical behaviour. 75% of consumers state cost as the major selling point. The companies mission is, naturally, profit maximisation. A key takeaway however is that the ethical crusaders sense less resilience from their colleagues towards change now, after a decade of spearheading a sustainable vision. The workshop ends with a business case and presentations. My team is awesome. We have a supply chain student, one marketing, one IBA, one law, and me, sociology. I present our idea. The three other teams never had a chance. We win a nice book, one that I intend to discuss with Tony Montana at some point – basically any interesting topic is worthy of discussion with him.

Lunch was sweet. One thing I like about conferences, theme days, events, seminars, and the like is that you always meet interesting people. A couple of good conversations later the second workshop starts. Construction. Not really, I was brief yesterday; it’s project management of construction projects. A field I am wildly enthusiastic about. The construction industry and our building stock are the second biggest contributor in the world to CO2 emissions. Progress in this sector is major. And this company does fantastic work. They also presented us with a challenging business case. Come up with a concept and function for a designated vacant building, make a financial plan and assess risks and opportunities, keeping in mind 8 trends in the industry. Teams of five or six, 40 minutes, some data, and the possibility to call someone for extra technical specifications. Again, my team was cool. I started the pitch and ended it, with three other team members making major contributions to our presentation. The two other teams did pretty well, but lost in the end. As winners my team and I were invited to the boardroom – of this company I actually admire for quite some time – for champagne and lunch. Life is good.