The Sustainable Consultant

"A man of words and not of deeds
Is like a garden full of weeds
And when the weeds begin to grow
It's like a garden full of snow
And when the snow begins to fall
It's like a bird upon the wall
And when the bird away does fly
It's like an eagle in the sky
And when the sky begins to roar
It's like a lion at the door
And when the door begins to crack
It's like a stick across your back
And when your back begins to smart
It's like a penknife in your heart
And when your heart begins to bleed
You're dead, and dead, and dead indeed."

A couple of decades back, while management consultancy firms were in ascent, there was a joke circulating in business which I heard from a former colleague, during a presentation.

“We all know what a consultant is, don’t we? ”

(Mumbles from audience)

“He’s the guy who walks into your office and mugs you, leaving behind a report recommending that you’re mugged by 3 of his closest friends!”

Fast forward and we’re into sustainability consultants, where little has changed apart from the multiplier.

Guardian Sustainable Business now recommends 15 of it’s closest friends.

Though Henry Ford said ‘You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do’ building reputation on what other people do is entirely feasible.

At the top of the list for SAB Miller, who I approached in 2008 with a view to becoming part of their supply chain in Ukraine, it was Andy Wales who replied to me.

I’d described our efforts to raise awareness of HIV among street children and the impact of getting government to pledge creation of 400 rehab centres and increase adoption allowances.

Replying, he said  “Obviously this is very early days for our engagement in Ukraine. I think it will be some months yet before we are ready to engage with potential corporate social investment partners in that market”

Hanna Jones is someone I’ve responded to on the Guardian. It was our founder who’d called out CEO Phil Knight on campus at UNC in Chapel Hill around 1998 over the issue of Asian sweatshops. UNC’s legendary status in sport was not to be dismissed lightly.  “I only wrote the invitation” Terry Hallman told me, “but Phil Knight showed up within days, ahead of many other commitments”.

Though I don’t know Niall Dunn  BT were another  of our contacts in 2008, when they cited Terry Hallman as an Example of Excellence in the BT Better World Campaign  for his article describing ‘Death Camps, For Children’ in Ukraine.  It cost us $100 for a fax machine to send Terry’s signed acknowledgement from Ukraine representing a net outgoing for BT’s support.

The Guardian’s Sustainable Business editor Jo Confino lists himself among the “thought leaders”. It was a year ago this month,  when I sent him an article ‘Changing Capitalism for People and Planet‘ which described our focus of placing children in family homes  and referred to our academic efforts for Economics in Transition

Though none of this seemed to be of interest,  his blogs began to take on a strangely familiar theme of values based business   The last thing one needs when building a reputation is someone already walking your talk.  Unsurprisingly I’m blocked from commenting on either the Sustainable Business Hub or the Linkedin group associated.  Essentially it’s about silos and censorship, but most of all the editor’s ego.

Umair Haque is someone I noticed several years ago when I began curating a resource page for those who began advocating a change to capitalism.  The page title Economics for Humanity being rather similar to the title of his subsequent book.

Seemingly he’s not as aware of us, as I discover when reading his recent article about ‘The Next Big Thing’ where Haque suggests an organisation based on empathy, saying:

“Here’s how an organization designed for empathy might work. I’d go one step past “Undercover Boss“, and institute a new rule: Every year, anybody with the word “chief” or “senior” in their title spends two weeks at an orphanage for children affected by war crimes (without a retinue of liveried footmen and tuxedoed butlers). Here’s how one designed for compassion might work. I’d go one step past philanthropy, and institute a new rule: that should a series of real-world social objectives fail to be met, bonuses are slashed by fifty percent, and reinvested in said social objectives (I know, so unfair). Here’s how one designed for love might work. Don’t like it? Don’t do it? Not feeling it? Stop working on it. Love it? Pitch it, seed it, build it, live it. Sounds a little crazy, right? Not if you’re Zappos or Netflix.” 

Here’s how it was pitched 15 years ago to the President of the United States, Bill Clinton in tbe white paper for People-Centered Economics, with a core argument concluding:

“The Information Age can become the pinnacle of human civilization, the Golden Age.  Or, it can become the end of human civilization.  We get to decide which way to go, and act accordingly.

Dismissing people and consciously leaving them to die is probably not the way to go.

Economics, and indeed human civilization, can only be measured and calibrated in terms of human beings.  Everything in economics has to be adjusted for people, first, and abandoning the illusory numerical analyses that inevitably put numbers ahead of people, capitalism ahead of democracy, and degradation ahead of compassion.

Each of us who have a choice can choose what we want to do to help or not.  It is free-will, our choice, as human beings.”

The author, far from making a fleeting two week visit died in his efforts to apply a values driven business approach to orphanages, to displace them with family homes.   Civic activists who found his body,  published an extract from his letter to USAID and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The letter ends:

“Welcome to our brave new world. Except it’s not so new: learn to love and respect each other first, especially the weakest, most defenseless, most voiceless among us, then figure out the rest. There aren’t other more important things to do first. This message has been around for at least two thousand years. How difficult is it for us to understand?”

Isn’t this about more than just sustaining yourselves, while others die in action?

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