Wednesday, October 6, 2010

First impression of sustainability in Israel

For those of you who know something about my career aspirations, you know that when I graduated 10 years ago from Wellesley, I wanted to find a way to apply business skills to a social or environmental purpose.  That course in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Sociology really got me interested.  But first I needed to develop some basic real life business skills, hence the strategy consulting and CPG marketing jobs from 2000-2005.  I continued to look for opportunities to make an impact, and found that the Brandeis MBA in the Heller School of Social Policy and Management lets students learn about both sides of the tax fence - for-profit and non-profit.  At Brandeis, in a social entrepreneurship course, I learned about the blurring lines of for-profit and non-profit, growing interest in social enterprise, and a new term for these ideas about the interconnectedness of how we work and live - the word was "sustainability."  From there, I got involved with Net Impact.   Not long after I had the opportunity to get my feet wet in it, by joining the American Heart Association and working on the New York City launch of their newest cause marketing campaign - called Start!, the purpose of which was to engage Americans in becoming more physically active through corporate wellness programs.  This gave me first hand experience working with major corporations in New York City and Detroit from 2005-2009, helping them develop CSR strategies. 

In the U.S., interest in sustainability continues to grow.  Forward-thinking companies over the past 5 years have started implementing new functions in their organizations and producing sustainability reports to supplement their annual financial reports.  This growing interest has naturally created criticism and skepticism as well. But sustainability is being talked about and acted on more, and that at least seems directionally correct.  The organization that appears to be shaping the global approach to sustainability is The Global Reporting Initiative, based in the Netherlands.  Europe tends to be on the cutting edge of transforming it's businesses to sustainable enterprises.  If you're really interested in trying to understand sustainability (the word gets thrown around a lot, and the meaning as well as terms like CSR are always in debate), get ahold of the book, "The Triple Bottom Line," by Andrew Savitz. 

When we decided to move to Israel, I was excited by the prospect of living closer to the epicenter of this movement, and working more directly in it.  Israel has the most start-ups per capita of any country in the world.  They're in the middle of a desert, so natural resources, especially fresh water, are severely limited.  And they are surrounded by unfriendly neighbors.  These factors would suggest a strong impetus for sustainable development, i.e. figuring out how to be self-sustaining for the long-term.

I have been reading a blog this past year, CSR-Reporting, the author of which is based here in Tel Aviv.  The visibility of content coming out of Israel got me excited.  I connected with Elaine Cohen over LinkedIn, and she kindly invited me to an event in early September, just before we left for the holidays.  Her consulting agency, BeyondBusiness, organized a speaking engagement with Maala, the Israeli CSR Association.  They brought in Jo Confino, journalist for the Guardian in the UK.  He is a really interesting guy, having decided to work toward implementing principles of sustainability within his own organization.  This is particularly complex due to the purpose of his work in news reporting, as it has forced the organization to face more directly the reality that a news organization is never really unbiased.  The interesting thing to me is that they are aknowledging that they are not just there to "report" the news, but in some way to shape it (i.e. by encouraging greater organizational transparency, raising awareness about what sustainability is, etc).  I think this is promising.  Afterall, there is no such thing as unbiased news.  A person wrote it, which means that person had to decide what to include, and what not to.  They decided what the story was.  By becoming more transparent about the assumptions included, readers have the opportunity to possibly get closer to some kind of "truth."  Although, as my high school physics teacher always told us, "everything is relative."

Anyway, I like his ideas, I like that he is trying to raise awareness about the simple idea that culturally we've lost sight of planning for our future (that's what sustainability really is, afterall).  And I like that he is in a position of power that allows his voice to reach a broad audience. 

Regarding the event, I was surprised by the size of the group in attendance.  There were only about 30 people there.  I expected more, again, due to my assumptions about Israeli engagement with sustainability-related issues (which I am now questioning).

As I get settled here, I hope to learn more about what the impetus is locally for engagement in sustainable thinking and planning, and what the roadblocks are.  And I hope to find a place where I can contribute to overcoming those roadblocks. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post Alethea, so glad you could join us for the Jo Confino event... we should touch base again soon :) elaine