Purpose as compass, guiding star, anchor, rudder: Purpose 2015, a conference in sixteen pics

Sally Hill & Yvonne Lee from Wildwon, creators of Purpose 2015

Sally Hill & Yvonne Lee from Wildwon, creators of Purpose 2015

For the last two days I’ve been immersed, overwhelmed, inspired, altered, repurposed, connected – actually, it’s really hard to find the right word for what it was like to be at Purpose 2015, a two-day conference held in Sydney’s Darlinghurst filled with exceptional people (many from Melbourne) all doing good business. The conference said: ‘Let’s do good business together. It’s 2015 and the future belongs to business with purpose.’ Aptly enough, it was run by the game-changing ‘meaningful experience agency’ Wildwon (founded by the super inspiring Sally Hill and Yvonne Lee), and their many extraordinary partners and supporters. Wildwon is exactly what it says it is: a meaningful experience agency. Everyone I talked to (and I talked to a lot of people, it was that kind of event) was having a meaningful experience. Wildwon is also a certified B Corporation, which are purpose-driven socially and environmentally aware corporations – the rock stars of the new economy.

The Wildwon team (minus the many fabulous volunteers)

The Wildwon team (minus the many fabulous volunteers)

I’ve been thinking of ways to describe the experience of this conference since yesterday morning when the best MC ever (yes, superlatives all round) Matt Wicking asked us to describe with a simile how we were feeling. Like an electrical storm, an atom bomb, immediately came to mind. I felt my brain was exploding with new ideas and people and connections. But storms and bombs are so destructive. So just as well I was sitting next to people who had gentler more receptive responses than mine. One said she felt like a sleepy pussycat, content but tired from taking so much in, just absorbing it all; another felt like an underground stream burbling away deeply.

Matt had a way of making rousing introductions, pithy summaries, witty asides, soulful insights. Oh, and he also wrote and sang a song. Unique in my wide experience of conferences and MCs. More about Matt’s song at the end. (Among his many talents he’s a musician.) In the meantime, here’s one of his asides that made us laugh. When thinking about the meaning of ‘purpose’, he said he sees purpose as a compass or guiding star. Abigail (Forsyth) sees it as an anchor. Someone else spoke of it as a rudder. Clearly we’re all at sea. (Which is after all pretty much what life is.)

Here’s Purpose 2015 in a few words and pics. With more to come in 2016. (Everyone mentioned below is inspiring and their work exemplary, good for the planet and everyone on it, so check them out.)

Setting the scene at the Eternity Playhouse

Setting the scene at the Eternity Playhouse

The opening plenary was ‘Reshaping capitalism and redefining success in business’, facilitated by Alicia Darvall of B Lab Australia (the home of the certified B Corporation), featuring Matt Perry of Conscious Capitalism Australia and Felicity Ford of the Future Business Council. I also spoke.

Then there were four talks run concurrently (here’s the program). I went to ‘Measures beyond money’ which featured Matt Bell, Climate Change & Sustainability at Ernst & Young Australia; Josi Heyerdahl of WWF Australia (who spoke a lot about natural capital); and Stuart Palmer from Australian Ethical Investment. It was facilitated by Matt Wicking.

Matt Wicking, Mat Bell, Josi Heyerdahl and Stuart Palmer

Matt Wicking, Mat Bell, Josi Heyerdahl and Stuart Palmer

Next I went to ‘More for less’. It was run by Candice Quartermain from Circular Economy Australia and featured Malcolm Rands from ecostore; Jason & Kim Graham-Nye from G Diapers; and Clinton Squires from Interface. (Yeah, not a great pic.)


Clinton Squires, Kim Graham-Nye, Candice Quartermain, Malcolm Rands & Jason Graham-Nye

The closing plenary of Day 1 was led by Karen James from On Purpose Hub and featured James Chin Moody from Sendle; Simon Griffiths from Shebeen and Who Gives a Crap; Mark Daniels from Social Traders; Suzanne Boccalatte from Boccalatte; and Ben Burge from Powershop.


Simon Griffiths, Suzanne Boccalatte, Ben Burge, Karen James, Mark Daniels & James Moody

Day 2 opened with ‘Stories that started with purpose’. Three pioneers in purpose-driven business told stories about their inspiring lives and the evolution of their successful businesses: Damien Walsh from Bank Australia, Audette Exel from Adara Group and Abigail Forsyth from KeepCup. It was moderated by Matt Wicking.

Matt Wicking, Damien Walsh, Audette Exel and Abigail Forsyth

Matt Wicking, Damien Walsh, Audette Exel and Abigail Forsyth

Here’s Audette in action. She set up Adara 18 years ago to ‘unleash the power of business and make money for the disadvantaged’ – which, as she said, is an ‘incredibly complex place to be in’. The people on the slide behind her are heavyweights of high finance who’ve just signed on to back Adara. As she said, she’s ‘changing the world one investment banker at a time’.

Audette Exel

Audette Exel

Next I went to ‘Values-led leadership’ facilitated by Sarah Fortuna from the Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne with Jason Clarke from the Minds at Work Centre & the Centre for Sustainability Leadership; Jirra Lulla Harvey from Kalinya Communications; and Stuart Palmer from Australian Ethical Investment. This talk was in The Commons and it was crowded and I was right up the back, so again, not the greatest pic, but you get the idea.

Jason Clarke (imagine him at the left), Jirra Lulla Harvey, Sarah Fortuna & Stuart Palmer

Jason Clarke (imagine him at the left), Jirra Lulla Harvey, Sarah Fortuna & Stuart Palmer

Next up with the excellent title ‘Shit, did we just interrupt the green conversation?’ were The Unfuckers Caroline Shields and Vanessa Morrish.

Vanessa Morrish and Caroline Shields

Vanessa Morrish and Caroline Shields

Then suddenly it was the closing plenary: ‘Meaningful work’ with Jason Fox from Making Clever Happen, Kyra Maya Phillips writer & author of The Misfit Economy, Sarah Fortuna (as above) and Michael Bradley from Marque Lawyers.

Sarah Fortuna, Michael Bradley, Kyra Maya Phillips and Jason Fox

Sarah Fortuna, Michael Bradley, Kyra Maya Phillips and Jason Fox

Here are Michael, Kyra and Jason in action. I’ll be blogging more about them and about all the talks and speakers mentioned here in 2016, so stay tuned.

Kyra Maya Phillips, a writer speaking with her hands, thinking on her feet

Kyra Maya Phillips, a writer speaking with her hands, thinking on her feet

Michael Bradley, a lawyer who embraces, trusts & gives

Michael Bradley, a lawyer who embraces, trusts & gives

Jason Fox, a self-described introvert being extroverted on a stage

Jason Fox, a self-described introvert being extroverted on a stage

And then Matt Wicking did his thing – which was to sing a song he’d written inspired by the sentences below. He said ‘I had another introduction in mind initially but wrote this one backstage just before coming out. Sometimes the right thing comes to you from the blue.’

1. We are not simply machines, computers, rational decision-makers.
2 We are human animals, part of and indivisible from the rest of nature.
3. We are emotional, intuitive embodied beings.
4. We make sense of the world through story, through metaphor.
5. Music is a form of magic. We have forgotten how important it is. And how powerful.
6. My purpose: to bring my whole self to everything I do – my head, my heart and my hands. And to help others doing good work in the world to do the same.
7. Given all of that, when Wildwon asked me to perform a song as part of my MC duties here at Purpose, I could hardly say no. (Song: Cape Grim by Matt Wicking)

Matt Wicking singing the conference

Matt Wicking singing the conference

Sally Hill saying her many thank yous

Sally Hill saying her many thank yous




Posted in Can accountants save the planet?, Six Capitals, The Earth and environmental activism | Leave a comment

‘We need a paradigm shift equivalent to the flat-earth round-earth shift’: World Forum on Natural Capital, Edinburgh 2015


Jonny Hughes, co-founder of the World Forum on Natural Capital

I’ve just spent two days listening to dozens of experts speaking about the interaction of business and the natural world. On 23 and 24 November 2015 I was in Edinburgh for the second World Forum on Natural Capital (the first was in 2013). The event drew 600 people from 45 countries to consider the impact on the planet of commercial activity and to discuss early efforts by business, governments, NGOs and others to address its negative effects – notably, by attempts to measure what has become known as ‘natural capital’. I’ve written about and defined natural capital here before, but here are two divergent views of it from the conference, the first from Catie Burlando from the Commission on Environment, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP), the second from economist and natural capital exponent Dieter Helm:

‘We’ve seen a shift in discourse from biodiversity to natural capital. This has brought a shift in who’s invited, who’s involved. Now the issue is for business and private sectors, not for communities and social organisations. I don’t see much here about the impact of natural capital accounting on the ground. We need to bring social issues into the framework. Right now natural capital is driving an agenda and the financing of it. I understand why developing communities might want to engage with this kind of framing, but it’s important to ask if this framing is the best one.’  Catie Burlando, CEESP Inter-generational Youth Adviser, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

‘Everything nature provides – the most important building blocks of the economy – is free. Natural capital is not woolly like sustainability. Natural Capital is or it is not. It gives us some rock to base environmental arguments upon. When we’re trying to operationalise this concept of natural capital we have to be absolutely clear about what we’re trying to do: we want to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it. So the UK government created the Natural Capital Committee to think about it. The assets that matter are renewable natural capital. Scientists push us to understand the thresholds that are important and economics provides the maintenance rules. We must not let the aggregate of natural capital decline. There can be no depreciation; this is very challenging from a corporate accounting point of view and from a national accounting point of view. So we need a balance sheet of natural assets.’ Dieter Helm, Chair of the Natural Capital Committee, Professor at the University of Oxford and a professorial research fellow of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

Dieter Helm is one of the leading advocates of natural capital accounting. In his book Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet (2015) he defines natural capital as ‘elements of nature’ which ‘directly or indirectly produce value to people, and can be broken down into ecosystems, species, fresh water, land, minerals, the air and oceans, as well as natural processes and functions’.

So you can see from Burlando and Helm’s different views of natural capital that there was a wide range of perspectives and interests aired at the conference despite its promotion of natural capital and its primary focus on business. For me this diversity was represented most compellingly in a session on the second day called ‘The ethics debate: challenge and be challenged. The world of natural capital is complex, with ethical dilemmas that we need to tackle as we consider social, economic and environmental factors. Expect a lively discussion!’

And lively it was. Chaired by Danish economist and environmentalist Inger Andersen, Director General of IUCN, it featured the ubiquitous Pavan Sukhdev, Founder-CEO, GIST Advisory (and leader of TEEB, or The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity); Catie Burlando; Dr Mike Hannis, Research Fellow in Environmental Ethics, Bath Spa University (and author of Freedom and the Environment: autonomy, human flourishing and the political philosophy of sustainability); Samuel Vionnet, sustainability expert & founder, Valuing Nature; and Alicia Montoya, vice president, new & social media, Swiss Re.

For me the most persuasive view came from Pavan Sukhdev, which is perhaps not surprising because he’s been ardently advocating natural capital accounting since TEEB was established in 2007. But I was surprised, because I’d expected to be more persuaded by Mike Hannis, who opened by saying that he thinks the idea of natural capital is fundamentally problematic, a view I mostly share. For Hannis natural capital is problematic by definition, because it’s a metaphor that reframes nature so it can be dealt with by finance and economics. The danger comes if valuing nature means pricing it, ‘because pricing things can endanger them’. Hannis said not all cultures value the natural world in a calculative way that lends it to framing in terms of ecosystem services and other natural capital accounting concepts. And that arguments about the costs we save by protecting nature only reinforce the value of money, not nature.

Sukhdev agreed that natural capital is a metaphor and said he distinguishes between value and price, and between private and public goods. He said that what TEEB considers to be the valuation of nature is different from what Mike might think – and different from the way in which activist, writer and Guardian journalist George Monbiot presents it in his vehement attacks on natural capital (for example here and here). As Sukhdev pointed out, ‘Economic valuation is always implicit or explicit. It cannot not exist.’ And currently the implicit price of nature is zero. This encourages businesses, governments, us, to pollute, burn, extract and chop down its various components with little regard for the environmental consequences. Sukhdev is attempting to address this by giving nature economic value, hence his advocacy of natural capital accounting.

By the end of the session Hannis found himself agreeing with Sukhdev about natural capital. When asked by an environmental activist (who said he’d taken up natural capital accounting because he’s found it gives the natural world some clout in policy debates) what his alternative would be to natural capital Hannis said: ‘I agree with Pavan.’ Pavan is persuasive. The language of natural capital is catchy. And it’s creeping into the broader debates about the natural world. Scientist and global warming activist Tim Flannery used it in his speech at the global climate march in Sydney last Sunday when he referred to the Great Barrier Reef as an ‘asset’.

Catie Burlando presented the most coherent and articulate challenge to natural capital by arguing that it’s only one of many possible ways in which we might frame debates about human interactions with the natural world, others being the various understandings of the natural world of indigenous cultures. (Incidentally, Burlando’s  concern with language and framing is the approach George Monbiot takes in his criticisms of natural capital, drawing on cognitive linguist George Lakoff‘s work on language, metaphors, frames.) I was extremely pleased that Burlando had joined this panel at the last minute. I think it’s incredibly important that the widest possible range of voices are heard in any discussion of how we can best manage our interactions with the natural world so we don’t keep destroying vast swathes of it. Burlando was one of the conference’s few dissenting voices and therefore an extremely important one. Another was ecologist and filmmaker John Liu (more on him below).

The conference was massive and I’m still processing its many threads and implications. There were four fascinating plenary sessions featuring dignitaries such as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and HRH Prince Charles, as well as natural capital experts including Dr Pushpam Kumar, Chief of Ecosystem Services Economics, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); Kristin Rechberger, CEO Dynamic Planet; and conference director Jonathan ‘Jonny’ Hughes, CEO of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The rest of the conference was devoted to sessions in four parallel streams: understanding and managing risk; innovation and tools; focus on finance and investment; and policy dialogues.

This is just the smallest glimpse into one of the big themes – ethics – raised at this important conference. I’ll be writing more and more deeply about the World Forum on Natural Capital in 2016, especially about the people who are implementing natural capital accounting in various ways, as well as the launch of two key natural capital documents, the Natural Capital Protocol and the Peatland Code. But for now, here’s a little about two inspiring people I met in Edinburgh: John Liu, and Matthew Thomson. Liu is a documentary filmmaker who tells extraordinary tales from the natural world, like Green Gold, his documentary about the successful rehabilitation of destroyed ecosystems. He said: ‘It’s possible to rehabilitate large-scale degraded ecosystems. It’s possible to rehydrate dehydrated biomes. It’s possible to lower temperatures.’ He spoke about the real problem we face in our relationship with the natural world: money. ‘We’re creating economic theories which say natural systems are valued at zero and the products we extract from them create the value and are the basis of money. We need to understand that the future is in biotic systems that naturally replenish and we all depend on. We have inflated the derivatives and devalued the fundamental value of life, nature. We need a massive paradigm shift equivalent to the flat-earth round-earth shift. We need the truth.’

Watergate Bay Hotel

Watergate Bay Hotel

And Matthew Thomson runs a successful business – the spectacular looking Watergate Bay Hotel on the Atlantic Ocean in Cornwall – which believes that ‘business and the environment should go hand in hand‘. He’s also on the board of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership, so he’s a perfect example of someone working to bring commerce into a more harmonious relationship with the natural world.

The critical importance of this juncture between business and the natural world was acknowledged last week by Guardian Australia when it launched an Australian branch of Guardian Sustainable Business (GSB): ‘Business, alongside governments and citizens, will lead the way towards a more equitable, sustainable future. Along with our UK and US counterparts, GSB Australia will investigate the social and environmental impact of business in Australia.’

Starting tomorrow in Darlinghurst, Sydney, there’s a two-day conference devoted to these very themes: the social and environmental impact of business. Called Purpose 2015, it will feature a wide range of speakers including Jane Spence, Founder of the Hello Nature Project; Matthew Bell, Executive Director, Climate Change & Sustainability Services Ernst & Young; Kyra Maya Phillips author of The Misfit Economy; Stuart Palmer, Head of Ethics Australian Ethical Investment; and James Chin Moody whom I’ve written about here. I’ll be speaking tomorrow morning about the relationship of business, society and the natural world. I hope to see you there. (And I’ll be blogging about the conference here, so stay tuned.)


Networking drinks in Edinburgh, complete with kilt

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50,000 people march for the Earth: Global climate march 2015, Sydney

climatemarch1I’m back in Sydney from the fascinating and very thought-provoking World Forum on Natural Capital 2015 in Edinburgh (to be discussed here, later this week). So I was among the estimated 50,000 people from babies to grandparents who marched for the Earth in Sydney yesterday from the Domain down Macquarie Street (#peoplesclimate). Here’s some of what was said, followed by some pictures:

‘COP* 21 is the most important meeting of world leaders in our lifetime.’ For the first time cities and mayors have a role in the Summit. 51 percent of the world’s people now live in cities, which cover only 2 per cent of the earth’s surface but spew out over 80 per cent of its emissions. Clover Moore, Lord Mayor City of Sydney
*COP stands for the Conference of the Parties, the supreme body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

‘We cannot speak of climate change without acknowledging the devastating effect of mining on Aboriginal people and land.’ Reece Proudfoot, campaigner and Sydney Climate March 2015 organiser

‘Australia has to take seriously Indigenous conceptions of the earth.’

‘This is the beginning not the end.’

‘This looks like the biggest climate march this country has ever seen. It has come just in time. We are in danger of losing the Great Barrier Reef. We will lose that asset* if we don’t act today. We need steep cuts in emissions. Sadly there are no easy fixes for the climate problem.’ Professor Tim Flannery
*Here Flannery adopts the language of natural capital accounting which I’ll be writing more about when I cover the World Forum on Natural Capital 2015.

‘Watching this on tv tonight will be the CEOs and board members of the biggest companies [BOOS* from the crowd]. They know us as customers. Now they know you as protesters.’ Professor Tim Flannery
* I’ll be discussing what I see as the problem with this default position (opposition) when I write here about natural capital.

At the end of the speeches, performances, music in the Domain, Darren Percival and the Cafe at the Gateway of Salvation sang the civil rights song ‘Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around‘. The march was moving in every way. Here’s how it looked from the ground:











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World Forum on Natural Capital November 2015 – and Purpose 2015

At last, my first blog of the spring after a long winter of hibernation with my PhD. I’m off to the World Forum on Natural Capital on 23 and 24 November in Edinburgh. As its website says: ‘The World Forum offers a unique opportunity to hear the latest developments, learn from real-life case studies and connect with leading players to help shape the emerging dialogue’ on natural capital. I’ve written here about natural capital (and my ambivalence about it) several times and it’s going to be the focus of my trip to the UK.

I’m chairing a panel called ‘Putting familiar tools to better use’ with speakers Michael Beutler (Director of Sustainability Operations, Kering), Erin Meezan (Vice-President, Sustainability, Interface Inc) and Andrew Vaughan (District Manager, Tilhill Forestry). They’ll be talking about how businesses can modify tools they already use ‘to help manage natural capital opportunities and risks more effectively. This “quick fire” session will look at using existing business management tools, such as risk registers and balance sheets, to help new adopters rapidly get to grips with natural capital.’ I include the quote marks because I’m quoting the Natural Capital Forum. And also because I’m not totally comfortable talking about things like soil, air, plants, bees, ants, worms, all living things – the entire ecosystem of the Earth – in commercial terms of ‘opportunities’ and ‘risks’, and yet it seems this might just be how we must start to consider them. This is one reason I’m very keen to go to the Natural Capital Forum, to have a close look at what is going on at what I think is one of the most critical junctures of our times: the interface between business and nature.

And closer to home, I’m also going to Purpose 2015 in Sydney on 7 and 8 December 2105, where I’ll be speaking with some incredibly inspiring business leaders, like James Chin Moody (TuShare and Sendle) and Helen Souness (Etsy), whose work I wrote about in May. The conference will bring together people from ‘the kind of companies that solve problems rather than cause them. The kind that have a healthy bottom line, but also a healthy perspective on what the world actually needs.’ So it looks like I’m back in the business zone.

I plan to blog about both conferences, so stay tuned.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

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From economics + accounting + ‘saving the planet’ to poetry and novels: a little monkishness till November

This weekend I’ll be at the Women of the World Festival in Brisbane, which looks fantastic. I’m speaking on Sunday morning in a session called Mother Earth: Women Saving the Planet with four amazing women: Senator Larissa Waters; sustainable farmer Lynne Strong; founder of Nomads Palace, Sam Cook; and GetUp’s Anne Coombs, who’s chairing the panel. Here are the details:

10.30-11.30, Sunday 21 June 2015 Mother Earth: Women Saving the Planet
The very name ‘Mother Earth’ conjures the truth about our planet and place on it. At a time when its future is threatened, what will it take to ensure the survival of the Mother Ship? There are many women whose lives are dedicated to this task – and their approaches are varied and perhaps surprising, and call on skills and knowledge which are much broader than waving placards in front of bulldozers. Who are these women? How did they come to be involved in this important work? What are the pressing challenges in their special fields? And how can we help them to make a difference?
Venue: Room 360, Building Y, Queensland University of Technology, Gardens Point campus, Brisbane

And then I’m going to leave questions of accounting, economics and ‘saving the planet’ behind until November, to work on the novels of Alexis Wright and Kim Scott for my PhD. And to read more poetry. I’m missing poetry like water in a desert.

But first, to wrap the economics and planet-saving posts for a while, comes the news today that Pope Francis has called for action ‘here and now’ to tackle climate change and halt the ‘unprecedented destruction’ of ecosystems.


Also, there’s a new film called The True Cost about the way the fashion industry is destroying its workers and the planet, which looks like required viewing. Executive director Livia Firth says she first became aware of the true cost of our global fashion industry in 2009:

‘I went to Bangladesh in 2009 with Lucy Siegle and for the first time in my life I saw the impact of what I was wearing was having miles away from me. It was like having someone throw a bucked of iced water on you … Today, as Lucy puts it, “brands, retailers and consumers have all become fantastically adept at divorcing fashion from the very fact that it has been made by an army of living, breathing human beings with resources which are depleting the environment”.’


And last on the economics front, an update on two books I mentioned here in April:

1. The Economics of Good and Evil: The quest for economic meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street by Czechoslovakian economist Tomas Sedlacek. So far I’ve read only the first three chapters, which are:

Introduction: The Story of Economics, From Poetry to Science
1. The Epic of Gilgamesh: On Effectiveness, Immortality, and the Economics of Friendship
2. The Old Testament: Earthliness and Goodness

And so far, so good. It’s uneven and sometimes feels poorly translated, but there’s enough original thinking and provocative teasing out of the economics contained in these religious texts (the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Old Testament, so far) to make me very keen to return to it in November. The idea is a brilliant one: to reconsider economics as the cultural phenomenon it so evidently is and to examine its emergence in the myths and religions of the ancient world, and their manifestation in the economic thinking we’re more familiar with today. Or, as Sedlacek puts it, ‘to look for economic thought in ancient myths and, vice versa, to look for myths in today’s economics’.

2. Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? I mentioned I was reading this book at the end of April. Based on the title, blurb and first few pages, I was very excited by the prospect of reading it. For anyone who might be interested, unfortunately for me it did not live up to its promise.

Which might be the perfect moment to turn to poetry. Thanks to a beautiful poem by Seamus Heaney, ‘The First Words’, which Alexis Wright chose as the epigraph for her extraordinary novel Carpentaria, I discovered this poem by Heaney called ‘North’. It got under my skin.

I returned to a long strand,
the hammered curve of a bay,
and found only the secular
powers of the Atlantic thundering.

I faced the unmusical
invitations of Iceland,
the pathetic colonies
of Greenland, and suddenly

those fabulous raiders,
those lying in Orkney and Dublin
measured against
their long swords rusting,

those in the solid
belly of stone ships,
those hacked and glinting
in the gravel of thawed streams

were ocean-deafened voices
warning me, lifted again
in violence and epiphany.
The longship’s swimming tongue

was buoyant with hindsight –
it said Thor’s hammer swung
to geography and trade,
thick-witted couplings and revenges,

the hatreds and behind-backs
of the althing, lies and women,
exhaustions nominated peace,
memory incubating the spilled blood.

It said, ‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
your hands have known.’


Posted in Economics, Novels, poetry, book news, poetry, Six Capitals, The Earth and environmental activism | Leave a comment

Rock Stars of the New Economy II, or Benefit corporations Q&A – and WOW Brisbane 2015

So now, as promised, I’m concluding last week’s post on the benefit corporation (the new generation corporation which is changing the world) with the highlights of the Q&A session which followed the talks by benefit corporation maestroes Rob Michalak of Ben & Jerry’s, Etsy’s Helen Souness and James Chin Moody of TuShare and Sendle.


Rob Michalak answered a question about the 2001 takeover of Ben & Jerry’s by multinational consumer goods corporation Unilever: did this compromise Ben & Jerry’s social mission?

Michalak said that to deal with this possibility, Ben & Jerry’s had made an acquisition agreement with Unilever for perpetuity which created an agreement for what he called ‘a super B Corporation’. It allowed for Ben & Jerry’s to own its Social Mission while Unilever owns B&J’s Economic Mission. Ben & Jerry’s created an independent board which could legally challenge Unilever if it took Ben & Jerry’s off their social mission. Michalak called the acquisition agreement ‘a super agreement, a kind of innovative detente, the first in the world’.

Michalak said the acquisition brought together a company with progressive vision (B&J’s) and one with global scale – and no one knew how that would work together. He praised the vision of current (since 2009) Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, noting Polman’s criticism at the 2015 World Economic Forum of quarterly reporting (because it encourages short-termism in an era when decisions should be based not on profits over the next three months but on the wellbeing of future generations). Also, according to Michalak, Polman has been to Ben & Jerry’s Vermont headquarters twice since he’s been CEO of Unilever – and given ‘it’s very hard to get to Vermont’, this is amazing.

In answer to a question about making his business global, James Chin Moody said yes, he wanted to, and that: ‘It no longer matters where you are. What matters is when you are.’ Which I thought was an extremely neat distinction to make in a global economy which is, according to Moody, no longer about place but about timezone. He said Perth is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this shift, because it shares a timezone with about one third of the earth.

Helen Souness said that marketplaces are virtuous circles: the more buyers you pull in the more sellers you pull in the more buyers you pull in the more sellers … and etc. She said Etsy is ‘globally local’.

Replying to the question ‘Is there a conversation with government from B Corps?’, B Lab’s executive director Alicia Darvall said that they’re having informal conversations with the Australian government; they’re talking with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about collaboration. And she cited San Francisco as an example of supportive government: there are some 180 benefit corporations in San Francisco and they’re given a 3-point bonus in the tendering process. She called the legislative reform which is spreading through the USA to create a new legal form to allow benefit corporations (in 27 states to date) ‘game changing‘. B Lab Australia is looking closely at the legal situation here and would similarly like to create a new legal form in Australia for benefit corporations. (This is an extremely exciting possibility.)

James Chin Moody said that certain government bodies won’t talk to you unless you become a non-profit, or are a non-profit. In this way, he said, local government can influence the governance structure of an organisation. He said the culture in Australia is too black and white: it understands either profit or non-profit organisations, but no mix of the two, such as the hybrid benefit corporation. Moody likes benefit corporations because they can ‘have a foot in both camps’. In Australia we need to realise that it’s ok to do good and to make money.

When asked how she and Etsy have built such a good work culture, Helen Souness said: RECRUIT good people in the first place. And make sure they stay close to their community. Souness said when she was interviewed for her job at the Etsy HQ in Brooklyn, NYC, the Chief Financial Officer asked her what she made (presumably her existing wage in dollar terms). To answer, Souness showed the CFO what she made (her own craft creations) for her daughter. I like her style.

And here are the parting remarks from the rock stars of the new economy:

Rob Michalak: ‘It’s cool to come to work every day and say, What are we going to solve today? It’s a puzzle.’

James Chin Moody: ‘Can you narrow your purpose right down, measure it, and align your business model with it?’ His purpose, narrowed right down? To get rid of landfill.

Helen Souness: ‘Let’s get away from the short term. We must make decisions for the long term.‘ As an example, she cited her former company, the employment business Seek, which during the GFC lost 50% of the jobs it had to fill – i.e. 50% of its business – but instead of cutting its own employees in accordance with conventional short-term thinking, it kept its staff on. Seek realised its people were where its value lay. It made no redundancies during the GFC. This is the sort of revolutionary approach to thinking about value – revolutionary because it takes account of value other than financial value, aka the bottom line, money – that I think the new ‘six capitals’ accounting paradigm might (MUST) make possible.

To conclude this benefit corporation evening, here’s a few of the socially-minded businesses in the audience or mentioned on the night:

Australian Ethical Superannuation, which had just won Fund Manager of the Year
Bread & Butter Project, Bourke Street Bakery, which ‘reinvests 100% of its profits in baker training and employment pathways for communities in need’
Conscious Capitalism Australia (‘Conscious Capitalism is a philosophy based on the belief that a more complex form of capitalism is emerging that holds the potential for enhancing corporate performance while simultaneously continuing to advance the quality of life for billions of people.’)
StartSomeGood, a crowd funding organisation dedicated to social change projects
Good on You, which rates brands based on their impact on people, animals and the planet. Their aim is to make it easier for you to know the ethical nature of every brand, starting with makeup and clothing.

In other news, I’ll be in Brisbane on 20-21 June for WOW Brisbane 2015. I’m on a panel called Mother Earth: Women Saving the Planet on Sunday 21 June which sounds fascinating. I hope to see you there.

And then I’m heading into intense writing mode, so I’ll be blogging here only sporadically. I’ll be out and about again in November, when I’ll be in London with Six Capitals and in Edinburgh for the World Forum on Natural Capital 2015.

See you in the spring.

Winter roses

Winter roses

Posted in Economics, Other news and marginalia, Six Capitals, The Earth and environmental activism | 2 Comments

Rock Stars of the New Economy: B Corps and Rob Michalak, Helen Souness + James Chin Moody unplugged at UTS’s Dr Chau Chak Wing Building

Last Thursday night I went to hear three ‘rock stars of the new economy‘ speak about their businesses, which are all benefit corporations, a new corporate form which is changing the world. Benefit corporations are for-profit businesses which must make a positive impact on society and the environment (and in the USA are legally obliged to do so). The rock stars were speaking at UTS’s striking new Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by Frank Gehry (see below). They were Rob Michalak (Global Director of Social Mission for ice-cream giant Ben & Jerry’s), Helen Souness (Managing Director Australia & Asia of online craft and vintage marketplace Etsy) and James Chin Moody (CEO & founder of giving community TuShare and of Sendle, Australia’s first carbon-neutral parcel delivery service, who was formerly known as James Bradfield Moody, as featured on the ABC’s New Inventors.)

They were electrifying.

Inside UTS's new Gehry building

Inside UTS’s new Gehry building

First up we were welcomed by Suzanne Benn, Professor of Sustainable Enterprise in the School of Management at the University of Technology (UTS) which hosted the evening. Introducing her subject and the big buzzword of the evening (and of our era) – sustainability – she said it’s a highly contextual thing. Sustainability relates to a discipline or an industry sector, a business context. In 1999 when she was first teaching at UTS, they realised they needed to do something about corporate sustainability and introduced the idea in their business classes. She said in those days students would stand up and walk out when they heard the word ‘environment’ in an economics class. But sustainability belongs in economics classes not only because there’s a moral imperative for it, but because there’s a business case for it.

You can’t survive in business unless you’re good at collaboration – and so UTS is launching (this week, so stay tuned) the Hub of Sustainable Enterprise. It will have two key areas of research:

1. The circular economy, which is about extending the life of resources material, energy and intellectual. About reusing.
2. The sharing economy, not just through organisations like AirBnB and Uber, but the general idea of sharing rather than owning. She said there’s a huge economy developing in this area.

Benn said the future of sustainability looks really interesting in all its multiple dimensions and interdisciplinarity. She quoted Paul Polman, the avant garde CEO of Unilever, who said that sustainability is pushing us to innovate. And the fact we have a ‘not very supportive government’ in Australia means we have to do more ourselves.

Alicia Darvall, executive director of B Lab Australia & New Zealand, then introduced the first speaker, Rob Michalak of Ben & Jerry’s. She said that the three rock stars would be speaking from the point of view of 2030 about why they had become benefit corporations and how this had contributed to the success of their enterprises.

Rob Michalak

Rob Michalak

Rob Michalak said that what Ben & Jerry’s did was include the people on the margins of the economy. The business started in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont, with two guys wanting to be part of the community. Ten years later, in 1988, they wrote their mission statement with a social purpose. Their mission has three parts – Product, Economic, Social – which are all of equal importance, hence their horizontal representation across the screens above. All parts must thrive equally.

In 2012 Ben & Jerry’s became a B Corp, which is a benefit corporation certified by B Lab, a non-profit organisation founded in Philadelphia in 2006 which pioneered the new legal corporate form. It was one of the first – and most high-profile – businesses to do so. Michalak said that a lot of B Corps didn’t tank during the global financial crisis because people stuck by them. He said they’ve tried to do the numbers on social purpose – to demonstrate quantitatively how a business’s social purpose favourably impacts the bottom line – and although they’re yet to prove the correlation, they know social purpose is valuable financially. Perhaps because their business is about ensuring that ‘all the stakeholders throughout the value chain prosper as we prosper’.

Helen Souness

Helen Souness

Helen Souness was up next. She said Etsy‘s mission is ‘to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world. We are building a human, authentic and community-centric global and local marketplace.’ Etsy now has over 20 million active buyers. Pointing to the image behind her – Mr Grit, the huge Etsy owl which sits in its DUMBO, Brooklyn, NYC, headquarters – she said ‘His collective unconscious is coming out of his head.’ For her this is emblematic of the creativity of Etsy, its work and the people who do it. Everyone is creative.

She said it was ‘really fun’ to think about the success of Etsy in terms of its B Corp nature from the point of view of 2030. She said she thinks in 2030 ‘we’ll see the economic impact of what we’re doing is extraordinary.’ At the moment, about a quarter of their people are making their entire income by making (clothes, jewellery, furniture, etc) or curating (vintage goods). Etsy has opened a global market for creators. To make a living as a creator requires courage, emotional support and practical help. Starting out in business is incredibly challenging, and Etsy provides the support and practical help. Etsy takes a cut of only 3.5% from its creators, which according to Souness is the lowest take in the market, so the ‘Etsy economy requires enormous help to make this possible’. Etsy is booming in developing and regional economies; today a third of Etsy Australia’s sales are regional. And over 90% of Etsy’s creators are women, and over 90% of them work from home.

Souness said that part of their social impact is ‘the way we operate as a community, we’re all about people (not about e-commerce)’. The business operates through teams, small, self-managing groups of Etsy sellers. Sometimes the groups are global on the making or business side – like the group interested in the trending fad for mid-century German ceramics – and sometimes local. It’s a collaborative model not a competitive model. One example of a successful local Etsy group is the Brisbane-based BrisStyle, which began with eight people in a coffee shop and has grown to a collective of over 350 members with an annual report and an office space (BrisStyle HQ) provided by the Brisbane council. There are 350,000 people collaborating around the world in this way.

Etsy has become an educator in selling online and craft entrepreneurship programs. For example, in manufacturing towns where the economy has slumped but there are still so many people with ‘making skills’, Etsy lobbies to make doing small and micro business less stressful in regulatory and other terms. (And in 2014 Etsy took the ‘maker movement‘ to Washington.)

Souness spoke about the connections that develop between people – makers and buyers – through Etsy, so you see meaning in what you’re buying. For example, she bought a pussy willow brooch and the woman who’d made it told her it was made from an actual pussy willow she’d found in an Oregon forest and turned into a wax model to make a mold to cast the brooch. Such connections make Etsy like an old-fashioned market. It’s about thinking locally and knowing the provenance of our stuff. Etsy also stays very close to what their staff are doing, for example, through Eatsy Food, which serves employees lunches twice a week, bringing them all together to eat and talk.

According to Souness, Etsy became a B Corp for all the above reasons (social mission etc) and also for transparency and accountability, for ‘the way it made us measure our environmental impact’, which is essential when you served around 40,000 meals in your office in 2014. She said in 2030 Etsy would look back and be incredibly grateful for that transparency and measurement brought by being a B Corp.

Etsy’s Australian headquarters are in Melbourne, where there are now 40 B Corps – versus Sydney’s 12. One dynamic and exciting B Corp pioneer driving the new business model from Sydney is James Chin Moody, whom Souness introduced by saying that he was ex CSIRO and ‘used his big brain to disrupt and reimagine how a sharing economy works’.

James Chin Moody

James Chin Moody

For me Moody was especially thrilling. Why? Because his business not only doesn’t create stuff. It is designed to reduce waste. Given that I don’t care for stuff beyond the essentials of life – and am obsessed with minimising garbage and appalled by the amount of needless stuff the global economy is programmed to generate (‘free’ foam reindeer antlers in shopping centres at Christmastime?!), this was pure music to my ears.

Moody, who trained as an electrical engineer, is concerned with the amount of waste we generate. He wants to reduce landfill. Speaking from 2030, he said the average Australian household threw away $1000 worth of food in 2015. And how efficient was a car in 2015? People from the audience guessed, starting from around 40% efficient. No. In 2015 a car is 1.5% efficient. Some 85% of the energy it uses turns to light and noise. Only about 10% of that energy actually moves the person.

When he was working at the CSIRO Moody learnt that resource efficiency regarding waste would be the big driver of the new economy. In 2015 he did the sums: people used to (in 2015) live with huge amounts of stuff in storage. A lot of stuff had inbuilt expiry dates because: people grew out of it; it was media used once only (here Moody gave storing a book as the example of media waste, which bookish types who read and reread might not consider so wasteful); people buy stuff like kitchenware and phones and store it in the attic when it’s no longer used; it goes out of fashion. But despite all this stored stuff, only 5% of 100 billion useless stored items ever made it into a second pair of hands. So they (Moody and his colleagues at TuShare, presumably) asked themselves a ‘great question’: why is it that 95% of stuff isn’t finding its way into a second pair of hands? Because it’s too hard. There’s too much friction in the system.

Moody looked into his bin. The bin cost $5. Most people thought it was a bin. But Moody et al realised it was $5 user interface to a billion dollar business. The reason these things weren’t being recycled is that it was too easy just to throw them into the bin. This insight led to TuShare.

They realised that the easiest way to recycle this stuff was not by selling, renting, bartering or trading it. The easiest way was by giving. Because you don’t negotiate with a bin, you just toss stuff into it (aka you give stuff to it). So he built a giving market, which in turn built ‘social capital’ – people feel good about giving, they feel generous and get satisfaction.

But this new giving marketplace had one big problem: it’s really hard to get stuff from one place to another. They needed to find a way to deliver door-to-door. And the transport system had to be online, tracked and affordable. They needed to work out how to shift stuff for less than $10. And then they found another huge pile of waste: empty trucks generated by ecommerce. The trucks that deliver the goods bought online had massive idle capacity on their return journeys. So Moody et al decided to fill that space. And they did. By using this space, in 2015 they could shift 10 kilos of stuff door to door anywhere in Australia’s major cities for $10 and anywhere in the country for $17. And so a second business – Sendle – grew out of the primary giving business, TuShare. Moody et al had created a sharing economy and a logistics economy. They now provide a logistics service for the circular economy.

And Moody realised something else while he was at CSIRO, which is why he made his businesses B Corporations: in the new economy business needs to have a purpose. And benefit corporations are designed for a clear purpose of one sort or another. (His purpose: to reduce landfill.) He found value was beginning to shift. Since the industrial revolution value had shifted from commodities (such a agricultural produce) to products (the mass production of the factory era) to services to experiences (the airlines were the first to realise the value of experiences). Value has continually recomposed itself. So what do experiences recompose themselves into? MEANING and PURPOSE. According to Moody, who explains this in detail in his 2010 book The Sixth Wave: How to succeed in a resource-limited world.

B Corps are driven by purpose and meaning. Moody realised that the more his businesses fulfilled their purpose – reducing landfill – the more value was captured and created. It was a virtuous cycle. Speaking from 2030 (when benefit corporations have become the norm), Moody said ‘Can you believe in 2015 they actually had things called propriety limited corporations?’

TuShare and Sendle became B Corporations because B Corps are about meaning and purpose.

And here the presentations ended.

This is the longest blog post I’ve ever written (and I like to keep them short), so I’ll also stop here. But after the presentations there was a fantastic and incredibly inspiring session of questions and answers, which I’ll save for another day. But to give you a taste of it, the three rock stars posed the following questions which the audience was asked to ponder in groups for ten minutes before the Q and A:

Rob: What can we do better together than we can do alone?

Helen: How is your business connecting to its community?

James: What is the true purpose of your business?

And after the whole event, we all stood round talking and eating Ben & Jerry’s choc fudge brownie ice-cream. The room was buzzing. (For some reason, perhaps because I’d become too absorbed in the talk, I forgot to take a photo of James Chin Moody while he spoke. He’s the guy beneath the yellow sign in the pic below.)

After the event

After the event

And here are more vistas from the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building last Thursday night.








Posted in Economics, Other news and marginalia, Six Capitals, The Earth and environmental activism | 6 Comments