Tag Archives: business

Postgrowth Business Models

This is another post along the post-growth vein, please read We’ve had Enough Growth for some background on this.

Subject for this evening: business models.

We’re used to two major business models in the West today: corporations and private companies.

Corporations are legally obliged to maximise profit margins for shareholders above all other concerns. Shareholders being people who have invested money into the corporation and understandably want a good return on their cash, while in most cases, not working for the company and rather swanning around building up an impressive investments portfolio.

Private companies are owned by one or more partners and the profit goes straight to them. Their main motive is also to turn a profit, but they’re not legally bound to maximise it at any cost, so they might decide to pay their cleaners slightly more and make slightly less, for example.

The co-operative model brings democracy into the business world.

The co-operative model brings democracy into the business world.

Those are the two major ones, but several others feasible models (notably co-operatives, not-for-profits and social enterprises) are here and there in the economic landscape.
In terms of the post-growth concept, profit automatically leads to economic growth. That’s why every business person is chasing it like the end of a rainbow. But, in a situation where we – shock – don’t actually want to grow the economy – bear with me – then it follows that we don’t want profit. Not as such, any way.

But if that means we cannot have business, then that’s quite a stumbling block. The truth is, business is an extraordinarily effective way of organising human effort. Even though (at 20) I’ve never had a paid job more stimulating than waitressing, I still enjoy the aspect of working with other people towards a common goal. As much as I love the concept of volunteering, business just gets things done on a scale that wouldn’t happen if people were just doing something as a leisurely project.

So, can we have business without profit?

I think so, actually. The reason being, profit is only really needed to grow the economy – of course vital in our current situation, but counterproductive in a post-growth situation. Think about it. A business definitely needs to make money, because it needs to cover its costs, including paying all staff a decent wage, and it will probably need to reinvest money back into itself from time to time for one-off improvements. As long as the partners pay themselves a good wage, I don’t see that extra profit is actually necessary to keep the business going.

I’m probably missing something, so if you know about this stuff then please feel free to comment. But this is how it looks from a common-sense standpoint.

Diversity in an ecosystem makes the whole system more resilient. Similarly, I think diversity in the economy makes a more resilient economy. If we had loads and loads of small not-for-profit companies, community-interest companies, social enterprises and co-operatives, rather than a few corporate giants, I think this would deliver much more social value. We’d have a rich web of economic enterprises working to meet real social needs, while providing secure employment.

I’ll be posting again soon with more post-growth ideas!

On trees, excitement, books and writing

Hello lovely readers! I’m sorry to admit I’ve been neglecting my blog slightly these last few weeks, and I’ve only just noticed why. It’s my summer holiday from university and I’m back in my hometown for a couple of months, visiting my family and my old friends. I realised today that the reason I haven’t been writing is because I see it as something I do when I’m at home. That is to say, in the city where I study and have my own flat with my boyfriend, it’s very much part of my daily routine to read up about environmental news and theories and write blog entries about my little discoveries. Here in my small and eccentric hometown I’m accustomed to doing nothing more than taking my little brother to the park and drinking cider with my friends.
But seeing as I’m here for quite a while this time, rather than the fleeting visit that’s been the norm since I moved away, I really need to get into the habit of writing here as well.
So that’s quite enough of my rambling, now I’ll get on and tell you a couple of things that are more relevant.

  • Firstly, I’m very excited because I got a message from my dad today (who lives in Portugal and is a computer enthusiast) saying that he’s going to set up a new internet business for carbon-offsetting by tree-planting. I know there are several of these kinds of businesses already, but as he says, many of them charge quite a substantial amount of money, and some simply give money to people who were going to plant trees anyway. That’s great because such projects deserve the financial support, but it doesn’t mean any extra trees are going to get planted, if you see what I mean. Anyway lots of his friends in rural Portugal own land, plus the cost of basic things like seeds is very low there so he won’t need to charge much. The best bit is, he wants me to do the writing for the website, explaining the project to potential customers. This would mean I can a) help my dad b) support an ethical green enterprise and c) build my writing portfolio. Win win win!
  • It’s my 20th birthday this coming Tuesday (the 16th July) and I’ve asked my mother for one or two books on post-growth economics. As you may of read, I was bowled over by Enough is Enough and I’m desperate to learn more about the concept. It makes so much sense to me, and yet seems too good to be true. To think that there might actually be a way to attain the kind of sustainable, equitable and compassionate society that seems so out of reach on a bad day – it’s incredibly exciting. When I’ve researched more about post growth economics I’ll write properly about it, but for now please check out my review of Enough is Enough, or this FAQ by Make Wealth History (which, incidentally, is one of my favourite blogs at the moment).

I hope you’re all having a wonderful summer and I promise I’ll be more on it with the writing from now on!

Wind power. Not my image.

The Environmentalist/Energy Tycoon Alliance?

Not my image.

Beautiful wind turbines. Not my image.

I personally really don’t like the big energy companies. I’d quite like to see them crash and burn. Individual satisfaction aside, it turns out that’s not particularly likely nor as good as it sounds. This is because:

  • They will fight tooth and claw against carbon regulations, and are in fact already doing this. And they have a lot of political sway. 
  • If they did collapse, due to not being able to burn their reserves, this would trigger a huge economic crash, plunging us into an international depression. The recession that began in 2008 will look like a hiccup in comparison.

So as much as I’d love to see ExxonMobil, BP and the rest go bust, the consequences would be awful.
This fact has caused me to think of an idea that could arguably be described as environmental treason.

Teaming up with the bad guys.

Yes, I did just say that. I think we need to persuade the CEOs of the big energy companies that they can make as much, f*ck it, more – money from investing in clean renewable energy. An energy revolution is already brewing and bubbling, but if they got involved it’d be done and dusted in like half a decade.

The down side is loads of ethically-void, selfish, undeserving millionaires would carry on being rich.

The up side is these guys have the funds to roll out renewable energy systems throughout the whole world really quickly. This would sort out our unsustainable energy insecurity, mitigate climate change massively, create millions of green jobs and prevent an unfathomable amount of pollution. And avert an economic crash. In fact, it’d be great for the economy.

Sounds pretty good, huh?

Unfortunately though, another issue is this could quash small ethical companies like Ecotricity and Good Energy. That’d be rubbish. I mean, they’re vision would be realised but the wrong people would be profiting from it. I wonder if there’s any way around that?

And what do you think, am I crazy to suggest such an alliance?

Sun farm. Not my image.

Sun farm. Not my image.

A photo of my first veg box!

The Edible Treasure Trove

A photo of my first veg box!

A photo of my first veg box!

As you may know, I’m a university student. I may be incredibly wealthy compared with many people around the world, but compared with other people in the UK I’m pretty skint. This means that for the last year I haven’t been shopping in my local healthfood store nearly as often as I’d like and have instead been sulking around the crowded aisles of Aldi. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Aldi is a super super cheap supermarket. I know, shoot me now. If it makes it any better I also shop at an independent Indian food shop and I used to go to the farmers market before my lectures started clashing with it. But it’s still pretty poor for an aspiring environmentalist. Also, the fruit and vegetables from Aldi are horrible. Always tasteless, sometimes mouldy.

SO – enter the organic local veg box.
That’s right, I’ve finally got it together and signed up with Riverford Organics.

Above is a photo of my first veg box. Aren’t the colours wonderfully vibrant?

Anyway, they had a stall at the Brighton Veggie Fest last month and the vegetables looked so lush and the guys running it were so friendly that I took a leaflet and decided to sign up right away. After a quick (ok three weeks) jaunt across the country to see my friends and family over Easter I decided to order the Mini Fruit and Veg box for £13.45 per week.

This is going to cause quite a dent in my weekly budget as I’m used to spending only £20 a week on all my food. However, if I was working full time (even at minimum wage) I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at this cost as I know you get what you pay for when it comes to quality.  Aldi was a lot cheaper but the veg box option is better in several other ways:

a) It’s organic, fresher and seasonal, making it healthier and tastier
b) It’s more convenient, as it’s delivered to your door
c) It’s more ethical, as it’s supporting a smaller business rather than a supermarket
d) It’s better for the environment, as there’s much less food miles and pollution
e) It inspires a more varied diet, because you get different seasonal veg
f) It helps you keep in touch with the seasons and with the Earth

There’s also another benefit specific to my situation. I love fruit and will eat it as a snack if it’s available, but the fruit from Aldi was so horrible I never ate it, leaving me tempted to snack on other things such as crisps. Now I can grab an organic apple instead when I’m feeling peckish!

For all these reasons I would really recommend checking out their website or indeed another local veg box scheme that operates in your area or country. Bare in mind that there are loads of boxes to choose from, varying in size, price and contents, so there’s bound to be one that suites you.

For the record, here’s what I got in my box last week:

  • Broccoli
  • Aubergine
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Courgettes
  • Apples
  • Oranges

All the produce was in great condition and tasted wonderful. The apples were especially good!
I’m planning to juggle around my finances so I can afford to keep this up.
Working on a tight budget is all about prioritising!

Not So Innocent

I’ve always been a big fan of Innocent Smoothies. They taste delicious, they’re healthy, they sometimes come with little hats and they always come with jokes and witty quips on their bottles. What’s not to like?

Well, a month ago I would have simply answered that with “well, they’re pretty overpriced and they’re not organic” but now things have turned a little sour for the fruit-filled favourite.

Bombshell: they’re now over 90% owned by Coca Cola.
Innocent? I think not.

A friend of mine told me this when she saw me drinking one the other week, and I was so shocked complained about it to my mum but she wasn’t that surprised. She said they’d been gearing up to this for a while. The Guardian says Coca Cola bought 18% of the company in 2009, and a further 38% in 2010, so this isn’t really new at all. What is new though, is that they now own over 90% of the company and will now be making all of the important decisions.

The Guardian’s article quotes Richard Reed, one of the founders of Innocent, stating that:

“Our aim was to make Innocent a global brand and take its ethical values to the world’s consumers. We decided that we would be able to do a better job of that with Coke.”

I’m sorry, but since when was Coke any kind of ethical pioneer?

One of my course-mates has been doing quite a lot of research concerning water scarcity in poor countries, and Coke has time and time again come up as a culprit. Apparently there’s plenty of cases of them digging wells in water-deprived areas, taking all of the clean water for their factories and leaving the area polluted – with local people unable to do anything about it.
Not to mention their end product is a disgusting toxic dental bill and addiction waiting to happen.
Or that they make millions of pounds out of childhood obesity. From production to marketing to consumption, this is a company that makes all of its money by exploiting people (and natural resources of course) and none of it by doing anything good.

I have to say I’ve lost all respect for Innocent over this shameful sell-out, and I want everyone to know they don’t deserve their name anymore.

They won’t be seeing the inside of my purse again.

On Paper Cups & Apathy

Not my photo. Gathered from the wondrous bounty of Google.

To supplement my student loan, I have a part-time job working in the cafe and shop at my university campus. This is all hunky dory generally, but today I had a very dismaying interaction with one of my bosses, the chef in the cafe. Basically I casually queried why we always use paper cups for tea and coffee rather than real cups. I’ve wondered this since my first shift but after hauling seven bin-bags of rubbish – a significant amount of which was just cups – outside at closing time, it was in the forefront of my mind. In answer he exclaimed that it would cause too much washing up. What! God, I didn’t realise running a cafe involved washing up! Next he’ll be telling me serving decent food requires buying decent ingredients! Anyway, I mentioned that most cafes actually employ somebody to do the washing up – which he doesn’t. He also said we don’t have enough space. We actually have three sinks. The last cafe I worked in had two tiny sinks and was busier than the one in question and yet seemed to get by with real crockery. I think this is all a shocking waste and if this is the 3rd greenest uni in the UK (apparently so) then I don’t even want to think about what the others do. After we came to this standstill, my boss wandered off to attend to some form of paper work, and had obviously been mulling this over because he came back to me and said ”anyway Tegan, I don’t mean to be horrible, but this world is screwed until the bloody orientals and the yanks change their ways…”. That’s a direct quote – I can assure you I don’t speak like that. He added something about the Chinese not caring about anything – but in more offensive language. I was pretty shocked by all this… He could have just admitted that they use paper cups because it’s the easy option, there’s no need to blame other countries for his business model, and there’s certainly no need to get all racist about it.  I disagreed with his statement on so many levels that I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to say that wouldn’t risk losing my job. I just ignored him and swept the floor. I honestly can’t believe some people actually think like this. I thought perhaps Starbucks paid us to use their special cups or something… Which would still be a stupid reason. But ‘because America and China still cause loads of environmental damage so there’s no point in us making an effort’ is even stupider. As if we’ll ever get anywhere if we don’t bother doing anything until everyone else is doing it perfectly! Not all seven billion of us can be last! Aaaaaargh.

I’ll end my rant with something a bit more positive though. I had a really good lecture on sustainable development today! It was very introductory  and to be honest it didn’t tell me much that I hadn’t already read about, but it set the tone for what we’ll be doing later in the year and I’m so excited about it. It was by my course leader, Dr Jenny Elliot – I find her so inspiring because she’s involved with sustainable development projects in Africa as well as her teaching. I’m looking forward to learning about some  trends and projects that’ll prove Mr Paper Cup Man’s negative viewpoint to be flawed. We’re not ‘all screwed’ unless we give up. And why would we want to do that? We can create a positive future!

”Triple Bottom Lines” for Companies

Some businesses make lots of money while doing really bad stuff, such as exploiting people and causing pollution. Some businesses make lots of money while doing some good things, often by having some kind of foundation linked to the company. And some businesses make money by doing good things, such as Ecotricity, for example. This last category is what I want to write about today.

Companies that create economic value not just while but actually by creating social and environmental value.

I’ve been reading the New Economic Foundation’s (nef’s) report called The Great Transition (free to download) which has this idea as a central principle. They write that we need to undergo a ‘great revaluing’ which would make the prices of goods and services reflect their true costs and benefits. This at the moment is not the case. As you will be well aware, environmentally and socially responsible items are often much more expensive than ‘orthodox’ damaging alternatives. A good example is organic food being more highly priced than non-organic. After such a revaluing, the price of paying fair wages and either preventing or clearing up any pollution and attending to other side effects of production would be factored into the price… So ‘’good’’ goods and services would end up being cheaper than ‘’bad’’ ones. This would completely change everything. It would make the good choice the easy and normal choice.

Coming back to business, did you know it is actually corporate law that companies must place generating profit for their shareholders above anything else? Nef thinks that instead of sole focus on the bottom line, companies should have to produce value across a ‘’triple bottom line’’. That is, across the environmental, social and economic sectors. That way making money would still be important but it would be one of three main objectives. Or, another way of looking at it would be that a company’s main objective is to create social and environmental value, and that money is what they get as the reward for doing their job effectively.

Imagine that?!

After being unemployed for ages, I’m now working full time in a local vegetarian café and saving up for uni. The reason I’m telling you this is so I can comment on how much I like the feeling of camaraderie that comes from being part of a team and collectively getting something done. Of course that relates to any form of organized action, but there’s no denying that business is definitely a powerful and impressive feature of society. Through businesses, things are achieved that would never of been if just left to a bunch of individuals. I mean, it’s a part of evolution and a pre-requisite to civilization, isn’t it, to specialize and organize each other and make bridges and hospitals and art galleries and everything. And although it’s easy to criticize power and money (especially when you have little of either) it is astonishing how they motivate a group of people and cause them to work as an efficient team.

My point by all this is just that business is a powerful tool, and it’s my school of thought that powerful tools are best ‘’put to good use’’ and certainly not fought against or anything tiring and pointless like that. In the world today there are hugely destructive businesses that could easily be blamed for many problems in this world, and there are also many inspiring innovative and positive businesses to be happy about. I’m inspired by nef’s vision and hope that in my lifetime I will live in a society where businesses have to take a triple bottom line approach… Where every year they showcase their achievements across the environmental, social and economic sectors. Where co-operatives are common and employees are often shareholders of the companies they work for. Where companies are heavily fined if they cause pollution and the money is used to clean it up. (Meaning it’s better for them to not do it at all). Where prices of stuff in the shops reflect the true prices, so the most ethical products are the cheapest ones. Where local businesses are crucial assets to their communities and supply quality jobs and training schemes… And benefit the environment rather than ‘damage it as little as our budget allows’.

I hope to see all these things come to fruition, and as soon as possible! Wouldn’t it just transform things so amazingly if the best and easiest way to make money was by making a positive effect on your environment and society?

Things like this will only happen when the next wave of entrepreneurs, politicians and economists take the reins, and that’s us, isn’t it? So come on, let’s get down to business!

Supply & Demand and Demand & Supply

People like shifting blame.

There’s a famous psychological study that suggests that the more people witness a victim in distress, the less likely any one onlooker is to do anything. This is because everyone’s thinking ‘’someone else will do something’’. Hmm… Dangerous.

A similar thing happens on a much broader scale with all sorts of issues. Today I’m thinking about it in terms of the demand and supply of non-sustainable or non-ethical, energy-intensive or wasteful commodities. Is it my fault if my stripy jumper that I like so much and which kept me warm in the autumn of 2011 when I couldn’t afford a coat was made in an inhumane sweatshop by an Asian child? Or is it New Look’s fault?

When confronted about their bad practice, whether it’s the high levels of pollution in production or the throw-away nature of the product or some other vice, the response of industry is generally something like: ‘’Oh it’s not up to us. We just produce and sell what the consumer demands!’’. Oh. Really. Well as one consumer to another, I think it’s fair to say that we only buy what’s available. Obviously. How could we purchase items that don’t exist? For example, not long ago people were being urged to ‘do their bit for the environment’ by changing their light bulbs for energy-saving ones. Of course it seems laughably naïve to suggest that just changing light bulbs could amount to anyone’s ‘bit’ – but that isn’t my point. My point is that now in the UK all light bulbs except energy-saving ones are in the process of being phased out. Soon they won’t be ‘energy-saving’ – they’ll be ordinary. This is a step in the right direction! And the step has been taken by the government, by retailers, manufacturers and energy companies. I can’t really imagine the ‘all powerful consumer’ minding too much. Do you look into the near future and see streams of irate customers flooding Screwfixs, Properjobs and B&Qs across England, with placards reading: ‘’Down with low energy bills! BRING BACK THE 60W!’’. Can’t really see it myself…

Of course I’m not saying we’re powerless. Anything but! Among other things, the strategy of ‘voting with your wallet’ is well-known and effective. You can use your money to simultaneously help fund local or ethical businesses and show the rest of the market what would win you over. For example, increased spending on organic food shows the industry it’s becoming more popular and scares agrochemical companies. It causes Tesco to widen it’s organic range and to lower the prices of that range. I guess this is what people mean when they say it’s up to the consumer. But equally, if Tesco were to extend their organic range and make it more affordable of their own accord, it is highly likely that they would enjoy increased sales of organic food. And, if the government stopped subsidizing the use of agrochemicals in farming and instead subsidized organic agriculture because of the benefit to human health (reduced cost to the NHS) and ecological biodiversity (tourism), then organic food everywhere would be much cheaper than non-organic food and practically everyone would buy it exclusively.

So who’s it up to? Well, all systems are systemic and interconnected, with knock-on effects rippling out in all directions. No one seems to want the responsibility, we all agree things should be done – but by someone else. Just bare in mind that everyone’s thinking that. So when it comes to supply and demand or demand and supply, it’s both.

We may have different sized stones but we all have the power to make ripples.

Innocent?

In my last post, I wrote about cute ‘product image’ and use of humour making green products more lovable and successful. And of course you can’t really talk about this cutesy friendly style of marketing without mentioning who brought it to popularity: Innocent Smoothies.

I love Innocent smoothies. They have adorable ingredients lists reassuring the noble drinker that there are no rubber ducks or kitchen sinks inside, and I am instructed to “shake it, baby” before I open the carton. And not to mention, they’re verrryy delicious, especially the banana and strawberry. Mmm.

And yet, I didn’t put them in my list of favourite green brands because they aren’t organic, and I feel they should be, and that this lack threatens their innocent status, if you will. Also selling smoothies to McDonald’s was a bit of a sin.

So as you can tell, I was under the impression they didn’t do much in the way of championing respect for the environment. But happily, their website reflects otherwise. Take a look at their ethics page. They actually do all sorts of stuff like using recycled plastic for their bottles, using renewable energy in their offices and donating 10% of profits to the Innocent Foundation, which funds rural development projects in the countries they get their fruit from. How good is that? I must say my opinion of them is very much improved and they may even of earned themselves an honorary place in my list. I bet they’d be thrilled.

Bright Green & Rolling In It!

There’s this bizarre thing where all too often you see really ethical innovative products/companies that just aren’t that successful because their marketing, packaging, advertising and general PR just isn’t very good. It’s really annoying. I think it’s because they’re run by people who have admirable passion but little business skill.

Anyway, here are my Top 5  favourite brands that have decent eco credentials AND top it off with coolness. In no particular order, here we go.


1) Method
http://www.methodlaundry.com/

Man, this is the closest anyone can get to being excited about laundry detergent. I just love the way their website is so clean and cool, and their ‘How to Use’ video is beautiful. They are all smug about having this fancy ‘smart clean technology’ which I’ll admit I don’t entirely understand, but what it means is it’s super concentrated- you have enough for 50 loads of laundry in one little bottle and of course that makes it greener because you’re generally using less stuff. And their totally transparent about their ingredients, which I wish more people were, and 95% of them are natural and renewable. It’s non-toxic and biodegradable (none of that nasty water pollution) and they have a cute and helpful squirty pump thing. This is the future.

2) Booja Booja 
www.boojabooja.com

First of all, they’re called Booja Booja. That’s enough to make them awesome. Also their icecream and truffles are mouth wateringly delicious, I especially recommend the raspberry chocolates. They’re all vegan and organic, and they don’t ever sell to supermarkets because they find them unethical. What I love most though, is that in the boxes of chocolates they have these little ‘boojagram’ cards, that say things like: “The universe is an illusion created by women with balloons”. And before you ask, yes, I do collect them.


3) Remarkable
www.remarkable.co.uk

Remarkable are a fantastic company. They make gorgeous stationary like the above notebook from recycled materials like tyres, plastic bottles and waste cardboard. This is why I recycle, being able to see something good and worthwhile coming from it like this. And they’re famous for their conversational quips dancing along rulers and telling you to ‘send me back to my maker’. I might buy one of these today actually I need a new Ideas Book.


4) Life’s Not Fair But My Knickers Are
www.lifesnotfairbutmyknickersare.com

I have some pajamas from this company and they’re so pretty and soft and comfortable. As you can most likely tell by the name, all their underwear is made from fair trade cotton, which is of course a very good thing. (Incidentally I wrote a very relevant article for my college paper on cotton recently, I’ll post it). I like them because they haven’t fallen into the trap many fairtrade clothing labels do of over doing the wholesome look. Their website has professional looking models doing shoots for the different collections, pulling seductive poses over vintage tables full of dainty china. I like that.

5) Um, Yeah
So when I first wrote this post (waiting for the bus) I intended it to be a ‘Top 5′ kind of deal, but soon came to the sad conclusion I don’t actually have a number 5 that fits my criteria. See this is what I mean, we need more of these kind of companies. Humour and prettiness wins people over, there’s no denying it. I’m hungry for the ethics and style combo, so if you spot any innovative flashes of genius that could be a number 5 on this list, tell me now!
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