Commit!: The Day After – and E-waste
Two days in New York City at the CR Commit! Forum connecting with folks who take IT sustainability and corporate social responsibility seriously was certainly time well spent. Perhaps most exciting was to meet those folks I’ve been connecting with online and on the phone over the last few years, but had never met in person. And meeting folks who are actively trying to move their organizations forward is definitely gratifying, and in some cases, inspirational.
The conference itself, however, suffered from “first conference pangs” and I’m sure will be better next year, benefiting from this year’s experience and a venue more receptive to the organizers; requests, such as, not using bottled water on stage. The prevalence of bottled water was perhaps emblematic of the wide range of values embodied by the many attendees and presenters. There really was no universal hymnbook, no set of core values universally held, despite the presumption that there was. With a mantra focused on asking organizations to commit, my question is, “Commit to what?”
One repeated plea seemed to be to commit to being part of the Global Reporting Initiative – though reporting through the GRI is not what “most” organizations represented are doing. And frankly, there was really no open debate as to whether reporting through the GRI is a good idea or not – some discussion of the risks and how to avoid them – but no “Oxford-style debate” on that topic.
I was inspired by one 10 minute tale proffered by Compass Group and the tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida. Admittedly forced into recognizing the gross injustices Florida tomato-pickers face, in the fall of 2009 Compass agreed to higher tomato prices to help laborers. In April 2010, food service giant Aramark followed suit.
Missing, I believe, was education on issues that could help organizations challenge their status quo on sustainability. Too many folks seemed more focused on reporting than on actually effecting change. From my e-waste centric vista, for a purportedly sustainability savvy crowd, the knowledge gap is considerable. Every one of the organizations present is generating electronic waste. Only a few of the corporate sustainability/CSR leaders understand the environmental, social and brand risks at stake. In my mind, a conference that’s asking for commitment needs to do a better job of exposing the shortfalls. I’d like to see folks come away more committed to trying to effect change, and less self-congratulatory.