Ladies and gentlemen.
It is particularly splendid to see so many members of Business in the Community here today and particularly heartening that so many of you have remained such loyal members, despite the ravages of the recession. There were anxieties that quite a lot of you would disappear and not want to get involved while things were so difficult; but the fact that you've remained, so many of you, is remarkable I think, and an enormous credit to you. Needless to say, I am much looking forward to listening to the report back session of my Seeing Is Believing programme later, which really has proved to be such an effective means of informing business leaders of their wider role in society. Its success I think is down to those who run it and I would just like to thank the leaders of the 2013 programme ahead of our meeting. Also, to thank Steve Holliday and the twelve Ambassadors he has led, who have helped demonstrate that the engagement work done by B.I.T.C. is key to defining the approach business has to take if we are to create responsible business leaders of the future. And I cannot let this opportunity go by without also thanking Mark Price and the Board he has chaired so brilliantly for all that they have achieved with B.I.T.C. And I am delighted that we have persuaded Mark to remain as chairman, at least for a short while yet! I am particularly grateful to Mark and the business contributors to my Countryside Fund whose cause-related marketing efforts since 2010 have enabled grants worth £3.87 million to over 120 rural communities. That is estimated to be around sixty-four thousand people who in some way or another who have been helped in rural areas alone. But we do need more businesses and companies with direct links to the countryside, its products and services to contribute. If Duchy Originals can give £75,000 a year, so can others who are far larger in size!
And incidentally I was down in Somerset this week and it is, I think, a classic example of what happens if we pay little attention to the accumulating impact of climate change on the larger picture what we're increasingly finding now, I think, is that we're having to deal with the symptoms, and tinker with them, which is going to become ever more expensive. And just visiting some of the farmers who've been flooded twice now, and we're all told it's just once in a hundred years. And that's what one farmer was telling me, that Lloyds bank had told him, when they were very kind and helped him after he was flooded last year once in a 100 years now it's happening again, but for weeks and weeks and weeks. What it does of course is to kill off the soil, and you have to apply huge amounts of lime, to try and bring the soil back again. And it's just perhaps a bit of a reminder, possibly, and a wake-up call, that we have to take a longer term view because if you're going to grow anything and farm it, the weather is hugely important in all this, you can't just suddenly remove the help from people. And therefore it seems to me that we need to pay a little bit of attention to the long term issues that we're facing, which indeed has already been discussed fortunately this morning.
And ladies and gentlemen, we have just heard one example, I was going to say from Doctor Speth, of a company doing all it can. Jaguar Land Rover as BITC's Responsible Business of the Year for 2013 really does deserve our congratulations for its commitment to apprenticeship schemes, and its support for so many sustainable projects worldwide. And interestingly the company has found this is not only the right thing to do, but drives innovation within the business and enables it to remain competitive. B.I.T.C. has been at the forefront of forging this whole approach and we now have plenty of proof that by participating in its programmes and campaigns, companies have become much more mindful of the communities they serve, recognizing that good business is actually good for business!
Of course, being a “responsible” business goes far beyond concern for the financial bottom line. Running businesses, as you know far better than I, you are very much on the front line. What you do not only drives the economy, it is pivotal in creating healthy, stable and, therefore, resilient communities, without which society really has no hope. If you think about it, that “stability” in society is what attracts so many investors to this country - if you ask them why they want to invest here, as I do from time to time on visits overseas. But to maintain that stability, it has to be invested in and that is why, as members, you play such a crucial role in helping to build resilience and skills in many of our more deprived and struggling communities.
To that end, I must just thank Marc Bolland for the tremendous leadership he has shown as Chief Executive of Marks & Spencer - B.I.T.C.'s Responsible Business of the Year 2012 - in encouraging large employers to invest in building these skills and resilience in young people. Marc's personal commitment to the 'Make Your Mark' programme has been invaluable - supporting an initial cohort of 1,000 young people, with hopefully more to follow next year.
And Ladies and Gentlemen, I need hardly say that I am indebted to those companies which have seen the point of offering some of their professional skills via Business Connectors to those in struggling communities so that they can master the means of helping themselves more effectively. In this regard it is enormously heartening that B.I.T.C. has announced today the secondment of its one hundredth Business Connector. Interestingly, Anglian Water has extended the secondment of their fenland connector for a second year, because they have seen such benefits in their local relationships by being part of the programme. So that I think is rather encouraging in terms of being able to keep this very valuable programme going.
So the idea of parachuting top business skills into disadvantaged areas has been incredibly effective not just for the communities that have benefitted from the knowledge and connections they acquire, but also for the companies themselves. But can we do more? Hardly surprisingly, I would say yes - on all levels - particularly when it comes to establishing a more genuinely sustainable approach to long term economic and human activity. In such a constrained and pressured planet that, according to many expert scientists, has already seen us exceed its planetary boundaries, such an approach is becoming desperately urgent.
Going back to Jaguar Land Rover, it is just one of the many companies that have contributed to thinking around sustainable marketplaces, but I cannot help thinking that linking the workplace to the kind of consumer awareness raised through, for instance, my START programme, which we got going some years ago, could do much more to help transform thinking. If we have 850 member companies here today, that represent around nine million employees, which is a huge constituency. So I wonder whether each of you would ever consider holding your own START-type open days for your staff, retired staff and their families (that's the point)? if you involve nine million people directly, the chances are you reach twice as many indirectly. It is a matter of recognizing how pivotal your position is in society. You are, after all, the catalysts for change, which is why the Future Leaders programme, provided by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership in partnership with B.I.T.C., is so important in its critically transformative work, in helping, above all else, to build resilience. Funny isn't it how that word resilience has suddenly appeared as the new word to be used in the last few years.
Ladies and gentlemen, twenty-nine years ago, when I first became President, and no-one had had an interfering old busybody like me to get in their way, none of this got very far! However, perceptions seem to have changed a bit and I am relieved to say that the recommendations developed, for instance, by my Accounting for Sustainability Project are being embraced by more and more of the finance community, both in the corporate world and by government departments. Embedding natural and social impacts within decision-making is no longer seen as economic madness. Organizations are starting to see that thinking about sustainability is necessary if they are to “future-proof” themselves against the mounting environmental and social factors that now threaten economic stability. Crucially, organizations are also improving the way they communicate those integrated strategies with their stakeholders and Integrated Reporting is now being adopted and supported by companies, investors and regulators around the world.
Of course, we still have a long way to go, and to that end, I am very pleased that my A4S project has formed a new partnership with B.I.T.C. I hope this will help drive the shift in culture so that it becomes the norm for businesses and their investors to think beyond the next financial quarter and have in mind their impact in the next quarter of a century, and how this will impact their on-going commercial viability.
With regard to long term thinking and escaping from the conventional straitjacket of short-termism, I was particularly fascinated by a meeting I had recently with the C.E.O. of the Dutch multi-national, Royal D.S.M. Under Feke Sijbesma, fifteen years ago, D.S.M. began to refocus its operation completely onto a much more sustainable and responsible footing. It ditched its huge and profitable fossil-fuel based petro-chemical business and turned to biotechnology and life science. For example, by building a $250 million plant in the U.S. which converts organic waste that would otherwise be burned or go to landfill, it is concentrating on the manufacture of second generation biofuels that do not affect global food production in the way the first generation do. It is also developing technology to extract methane out of the atmosphere as well as CO2. But to do this, their C.E.O. had to close the door on those investors who refused to take the long term view. He told them “it was the end of the circus.” And yet, D.S.M. is now delivering to those investors who were prepared to do so, the highest yields the company has ever seen. Increasingly, it is becoming possible to demonstrate that sustainability and healthy profit margins are not mutually exclusive. But it does take vision and dogged determination.
Dogged determination, of course, is what Sir Winston Churchill had back in the 1930's in the run-up to the catastrophe of World War Two when he faced, as now, a wall of denial and scepticism. And yet the threats to economic stability we face today are arguably far greater than those faced in 1939. With climate change already making some parts of the world uninhabitable when once they supported healthy communities, and with global trends threatening to swamp local action, business has to recognize its role within society, which is why B.I.T.C.’s idea of a new contract between business and society is so important. We can only achieve the transformation we need by encouraging enlightened business leadership to see its relationship with society as a mutually beneficial partnership, one that puts in as much as it takes out; one that has its sights not just on profit, but on doing what B.I.T.C. stands for releasing the untapped power of this country’s social capital and nurturing a more balanced, more dynamic and much more sustainable economy in the future.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.