sâmbătă, 17 decembrie 2016

Two-speed Europe

Wayne Visser - The World Guide to Sustainable Enterprise: Volume 3 - Europe, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, 2015

After taking the best part of a year to get through the first 3 volumes of this tetralogy, I feel obliged to admit this is a difficult lecture when approached as regular literature. Its utility is indisputable, but it works a lot more as a ready reference book rather than a lecture to be done in a few sittings. I will therefore reiterate when I said in the review of the first volume, that it would work more as a website (whose need is, I think, increasingly acute) than the static and prone to redundancy format of a book.

Just like the first two volumes, the regional division is debatable: there is a clear and very necessary distinction between the sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA region in the first volume, but the second groups under the label of Central, Eastern and Southern Asia countries as diverse as Kazakhstan and Japan. A fairer division would have been probably the ex-Soviet space, SE Asia (the Sino-Indian space) and Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, though in the actual book Kazakhstan would be the sole representative of the first region.

Europe is a bit more straight-forward, at least at first sight: despite a number of people and organizations fighting against it, the two-speed Europe is still visible, and the unofficial border between the West and Eastern Europe still runs largely along the same line as Churchill's Iron Curtain. On one hand we've got the countries that have known a steady and sustained economic development after WWII, whereas on the other the former Communist countries only started their path to a free market economy in the early 90s, hindered by high levels of corruption and the need to completely reform the economical system.

At a closer look, we can run further divisions: Scandinavia, for instance, is well ahead in terms of economic development, human development and other indexes, measurable or subjectively determined, while some of the Southern European countries have been recently plagued by cases of corruption or bad management (such as Italy or Greece). In the East, countries tend to take economical leaps forward once they join the European structures, mostly the European Union, which causes countries like Albania or Serbia to fall behind economically. And if you want further distinctions within these almost arbitrarily determined sub-regions, that's also possible. But for the sake of functionality, let's stick to Western Europe and Eastern Europe.

Overall, the narrative on Europe seems to be much more consistent than on other continents, due probably to geographical closeness and historical communication links between countries/regions and despite the cultural differences. A big part of this is the European Union: encompassing 28 countries, the EU is a very peculiar construct that, the more time passes, the more it makes its member countries to look and act like one. And all the countries in Europe are either part of the EU, aspiring to be part of it or close partners in one form or another (EEA, Schengen space).

And the narrative seems to be that Europe is more or less at the forefront of human and economical development and environmental consciousness, Whilst it is obviously subjected to various challenges at regional, country or country-bloc level, it is in Europe we encounter the countries that top the Human Development Index, some of the most developed economies in the world, the most advanced legislative framework in terms of protecting human rights and the most progressive environmental consciousness. The book only snapshots the state of sustainability, development and human rights in the countries analyzed and does not attempt an analysis or an explanation for this state, though I am sure there are plenty of academic papers on the subject.

There are a lot of interesting snippets in the book, obviously, a lot of policies that work in some countries which can be transplanted in others and a wide range of case studies with companies to be used either as examples or as partners.

For instance, Denmark is measuring a notion called 'power distance', defined as 'the extent to which the lower ranking individuals of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally'. Another interesting bit in Denmark is Specialisterne, 'the world's first IT company with an affirmative business model built around the special skills of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)'.

A very interesting case is Greenland, where the environmental conditions are clearly hostile and the entire state policy is steered towards growing its ~56.000 people past the subsistence threshold. Therefore Anne Mette Christiansen of Centre for CSR Denmark , the writer of the chapter on Greenland, is actually advocating FOR mining and exploitation fossil fuels. Not what one would expect from a supposed environmentalist, but this says a lot about what local context means.

And, for all the environmental talk, we can find from the book that 'solid fuels such as coal make up 81% of primary energy production in Poland.' Still a lot of work to do in the sustainability & responsibility field in some places, such as Nestle, which is given as an example of a responsible company despite a former CEO of declaring that access to water is not a basic human right. Do you want more? There is more. UBS is apparently another responsible company, even though it has maintained an organizational environment that produced people like Kweku Adoboli. Come on, Switzerland, get a grip!

So yeah, this is where we are. We have to take the good with the bad, I suppose, and the book only provides a state-of-the-art and not a blue print. The blue print needs to be created by all of us. I suggest we start by pretending 2016 never existed.

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