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So I’m at a Spheres of Influence reception this evening featuring Yosef Abramowitz of Arava Power in Israel.  Fascinating progress towards development of the first solar-based power company in Israel,   First 5MW plant (photovoltaic) to go on-line sometime with the next 18 months (interesting company and story, though not the point of this post).

While talking to a salesmen for a distributor of plug-in charging stations, he asked what I do.  I said that I’m a “sustainability strategist.”  He said “What’s that?”  To which I replied “I design sustainability initiatives for companies that drive value to the bottom line through environmental and social responsibility.”  He then queried “Is your background finance?”  I then asked the following questions to offer-up as an illustration:

  • Who makes your charging stations? 
  • What are the employee benefit and related HR programs in place for the workers in the manufacturing facility?
  • What materials make-up the charging station and from where are they obtained?
  • How are the stations transported, installed, warehoused?
  • What are the energy, water, air and waste programs at the manufacturer’s facility and offices?
  • For that matter, what are the distributor’s?
  • What NGOs have you partnered with?
  • How do you report, market and advertise your environmental and social stewardship?

I could go on and on…get the point?  He finally did, because he didn’t have an answer to any of these questions. 

So what’s wrong with this picture, beyond the obvious fact that he didn’t have answers to my questions?

See a Sustainability: It’s not the “What” but rather the “How!” and let’s sum-up how we can aim to paint a better picture.

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  1. Marilyn Pratt
    You make this gentlemen sound a bit clueless and I would caution against this approach.

    Investigative journalism according to wikipedia: “can be contrasted with analytical reporting. According to De Burgh (2000) analytical journalism takes the data available and reconfigures it, helping us to ask questions about the situation or statement or see it in a different way, whereas investigative journalists go further and also want to know whether the situation presented to us is the reality.”

    In that light, it seems to me that the probing questions you asked the President (Co-founder, Board Member) of Arava Power company, Yosef I. Abramowitz, are somewhat akin to that line of investigative questioning (which almost makes them seem an attack from this reader’s perspective.)

    It therefore makes sense that you balance your probes of Abramowitz’s company’s sustainability strategy and approach with an understanding of his company or collective (Ketura) history as well as the directorate behind the company whose practices you call to question.

    By doing a bit of investigative journalism it is easy to uncover some very positve things about the history of Ketura, a kibbutz in the Arava, about its founders, its work ethics and its labor practices.  With its pluralistic, gender equal, egalitarian and communal principles taken into account, I can easily understand why the questions you posed might have seemed surprising to the gentlemen you questioned.  He works for a collective, a socialistic organization.

    We do need to be very mindful of supply chain accountability, which I imagine is your point here, but please, do expand a bit and give a more balanced view of a company (Ketura) whose work ethics and HR model could serve as a shining example for a social and economic framework that is based on ethics and social responsiblilty.  That doesn’t exonerate them from doing dillegence with their suppliers, but to be fair, one must recognize them for their good labor practices in their mother company.   

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    1. Neal Levin Post author
      Hi, Marilyn.  A few clarifications:

      1. The gentleman with whom I was having the referenced dialogue was NOT Yossef.  It was a fellow event attendee, also there to hear Yossef’s presentation, and who is a local salesperson for the distributor of plug-in charging stations.  Yossef’s company is soon to be the only solar powered energy company in Israel.  His sustainability model, though in need of some significant refinement, is potentially first class.  He “gets it.”

      2. This was not intended to be either journalism or a probe.  The questions I asked the plug-in charging station salesperson are no different than those that I would ask ANY client of mine…and to my point, they are questions that we need to ALL be asking our employers, our vendors, the providers of our groceries and appliances, etc.  These questions explore a company’s true sustainability, much more so than the end product that the company produces (no matter how “green” it may appear to be.”  I didn’t want the answers to the questions so much as I wanted to know if the salesman had them.

      3. The fact that this salesperson has put himself in a space where sustainability is king yet he doesn’t have the answers to these questions is haphazard.  He appears to understand that now.  My guess is that he’s been undertaking some serious investigation into his own company since our chat…and that, my dear, is the point!  One more company looking at itself differently than it did before it met me.

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      1. Marilyn Pratt
        Phew! thanks for clarifying. It actually didn’t sound much in character for a nobel prize candidate- thinker, thought leader, community guy to be so clueless.  And yes, a vendor in the sustainability place that doesn’t know what a sustainability strategist is, needs some educating. Still it sounds like Yossef was talking to the salesman and was asking you what you do.
        And yes, the questions you posed to the vendor are valid ones. And yes, these are the kinds of investigations that we all should be considering when making buying decisions.  Dennis Howlett writes about Supply Chain Accountability at length here on BPX.
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  2. Hilary Hagblom
    Isn’t this a good thing from your perspective?  Doesn’t this mean that once you have educated the ‘masses’ on what sustainability is you will have an almost limitless number of ‘job’ opportunities available to you? 
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    1. Neal Levin Post author
      I certainly hope so.  In short, my “pitch” is simply an awakening to what one’s true potential might be, both in terms of social and environmental responsiblity as well as profitability.  However, not everyone awakens at the same pace.
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