Lafarge Sustainability Stakeholder Panel
Click for my concluding report in laying down my position on the panel, 2013
9. Updates on my involvement with the Panel:
As many who read this website will be aware, for 13 years I was one of the people who battled the proposed Isle of Harris superquarry in a National Scenic Area of Scotland. Initially we were up against Redland, they got taken over by Lafarge, and finally I ended up leading the negotiations that resulted in Lafarge laying down their appeal process and leaving Harris. In May 2004 I was invited to address 87 of their senior executives in Bergamo, Italy, on what we did and why - click here to read the address. One outcome of this is that I have now been invited to help Lafarge with its efforts to become a more sustainable corporation by becoming a member of the Lafarge Sustainability Stakeholder Panel (see also Utopies website - Lafarge's consultants in the process).
I have no faith in the capacity of corporations alone to take ethical issues seriously ... but I do have faith in the ability of key individuals within them to shift their weight to the side of the ethical watershed that leads things in a better direction rather than a worse one. As such, I entered into a discernment process with colleagues over whether I should accept the Lafarge offer, and if so, on what basis. The outcome is that I have accepted, on an expenses only basis, and one that leaves me completely free and open as to how I play it. As part of that process, I have reproduced, below, the correspondence from the discernment process, and will in future give report on this page as the what develops.
This page is maintained to account for my involvement with the Lafarge Panel. I'm sorry it's such an untidy page. My website is maintained to provide information and I just don't have time also to make it look good. What's here is a growing account of my involvement with the Panel on a basis, these days, more of "pull" rather than the "push" of before. Here's the basic information or where to find it, but no frills.
From Michel Picard, Vice President Environmental Issues at Lafarge, Paris, 20 Oct 2004
Sent: Monday, October 25, 2004 2:14 PM
Subject: Lafarge Sustainability Stakeholder Panel
Dear superquarry colleagues & CHE Fellows
I wonder if I might raise a point of discernment with you?
As many of you know, when Lafarge pulled out from the Harris superquarry they urged public debate about the future of the minerals industry. Some of us have recently responded to that via the articles in ECOS (see http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/2004-ecos-lafarge.htm ).
Lafarge have now come back and invited me to join their Sustainability Stakeholder Panel. I have provisionally agreed to this, but before finally confirming I would just like to check that there is no strong feeling amongst those of us who fought the superquarry over so many years that this would be inappropriate. In the case of those of you who are CHE Fellows, I want to ensure that folks generally would be happy with CHE (via me) being so associated.
The main argument against going for this is that it could be seen as co-option.
The main argument in favour is that we all use corporate products, so if we're serious about sustainability we need to work with the corporations when the conditions are right, as well as against them when they're wrong.
I would not be accepting any payment from Lafarge for doing this, though I would need them to pay my travel for an annual meeting in Paris - this year to be on the theme of sustainable building and architecture. Lafarge's invitation specifically states that "joining our stakeholder panel does not deprive you, in any fashion of your freedom to criticize and/or oppose Lafarge on specific projects or initiatives."
Personally I feel comfortable with this, but I'd be grateful to hear from any of you who feel strongly one way or another. I need to confirm quickly on this as this year's meeting is on 17th November. If you have views that you think I should consider, would you be good enough to send them to me within 24 hours? My sense is that if I received several strong opinions against I should decline; otherwise go with it.
To: Michel Picard, Vice-President Environmental Issues, Lafarge, 27 Oct 2004
Outcome of discernment on Lafarge Sustainability Stakeholder Panel
Dear Michel (cc. Gaelle & Superquarry & CHE colleagues)
I have now taken advice over your offer to make me a member of the Lafarge Sustainability Stakeholders' Panel, and the general consensus from colleagues and associates is to "proceed, but with caution and full transparency". I have summarised all the responses below (in most cases made anonymous) - they make interesting reading, and I thank everybody who managed to find a moment to help me with this in such a tight time frame.
I am happy to accept this role, as a Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology, on the following understandings:
a. That it in no way compromises my freedom, both explicit and implicit, to adopt a critical and even oppositional stance towards Lafarge if moved so to do (we have already agreed on this).
b. That you pay full expenses, but no other material personal benefit (also already agreed). I do, however, reserve the right to seek external funding to help me with this work, such as with the grant I received from the Network for Social Change to help with the meetings we had on Lewis and Harris over the past year. Any such help received will be declared to you and on my website page where I declare all major funding sources for my work - http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/aft.htm .
c. That the input of my time will, one trusts, be mutually beneficial, and my rationale for giving time to Lafarge is a continued honouring of the "dignified exit strategy" that we evolved with respect to the Harris superquarry, in which I pledged that if you pulled out from Harris people like me would strive to help you on the sustainability front.
d. That we continue the policy of full transparency so that there is nothing about my engagement with Lafarge that I cannot openly share with all my colleagues (as documented on p. 47 of my recent ECOS article with Luc and Jean-Paul of WWF).
e. That we recognise that just as this could make me vulnerable to the charge (and reality) of corporate co-option in a greenwash exercise, so it makes you vulnerable to, as one of your colleagues put it in Bergamo, "setting Greenpeace loose in Lafarge"! Accordingly, we can proceed fruitfully only by maintaining the spirit of due mutual respect established over the past year, and the hope that humankind can indeed move towards an industrial ecology in a manner that justifies such an attempt at working together.
f. That the current agreement is initially for just one year, and we can mutually review it thereafter.
If these terms are not acceptable to Lafarge, we should lay the matter down. Otherwise, I shall very much look forward to meeting with you for the discussion about sustainable architecture in Paris on 17th November. That day just happens to be my 49th birthday ... but remember, under the terms of clause b (above), "no other personal benefit" is permitted. You see, we Scots really do benefit from something of the Calvinist spirit!
Best wishes / amities,
Summary of Responses to Discernment Process
A member of the LINK quarry opposition group: "My view as a planner is that your presence on such a group would provide a welcomed balance and I can't see any problem."
A leading authority on planning law: "Thank you for the information. While I have no strong opinion re you joining the Sustainability Stakeholders Panel - I do hold concerns. Locally in the Peak District National Park - Lafarge have recently been granted an extension to their major Quarry in the National Park (Hope Quarry and Cement Works - Castleton) the extension was small and was granted - tho' a smaller annual extraction rate than requested was required. There is need for a public debate particularly in view of the latest interest in enlarging a quarry in Shetland (Sunday Herald 10/10/04 - Shetland Times etc.) and two recent Reports.... I am sure you will be aware of caution and concerns held by many people - however I do note the content of your penultimate paragraph relating to the fact that you retain the right to criticize...specific projects or initiatives. Do please keep me informed of progress - I retain a strong interest in minerals use/application etc."
The director of a major environmental NGO: "We have] a policy of extreme caution about getting involved with such things - too often we have found that groups have been approached in one part of the world and then used as greenwash for activities somewhere else. That being said, I don't see that as any reason to object to you taking on such a role - especially given your well developed sense for bulls**t and attempted cooption. I'm sure you won't let your involvement be seen as any endorsement by the other organisations involved in the campaign. I hope you find it interesting and worth the effort."
A literary editor: "Thank you for having put me in copy of this e-mail. I believe this is an important and highly sensitive point. According to Nicanor Perlas's view, and the threefolding of society (Shaping globalization: Civil society, cultural power and threefolding ), it is vitally important to remain in the civil society, instead of slipping in the economic sphere. I don't exactly know what it entails to be a member of this panel, but I trust your discernment to be careful ! It could ruin your authority position as a speaker on these subjects..."
A professor of sociology and expert on globalisation: "In my view you should accept the place and expenses to support your attendance."
A CHE Fellow working in environmental audit for a major accounting firm: "I would support this form of engagement. I think it is a great opportunity to move the agenda forward."
A CHE Fellow and lecturer: "Co-option ... could be very subtle. I don’t need to know all this now, but in general I wonder if we’d need a bit more background (that you may already know) about what’s involved. For example, it would be helpful to know more about the role of the stakeholder panel, what kind of teeth it has in engaging in ‘critical friend’ inquiries, its relationship to shareholders, and how it defines ‘sustainability’ etc.. Also, whether there is any possibility that the relationship could grow towards a partnership whereby the broader CHE might be able to engage in different ways – potentially offering other Fellows opportunities in collaborative ways with your work.
"These are questions on my mind not just in relation to Lafarge, but potentially catalysing our network in the other contexts CHE Fellows find themselves in with corporates... It would be great to find ways that Fellows were able to support each other, ideally on a paid basis, in this kind of important work.
Verbal reaction from an old friend on Scoraig: "Oh well - I knew they'd get you sometime!" (but changed his mind on talking it through).
An indigenous community leader on the Isle of Harris: "I am quite happy to see you participating in this Stakeholder Panel, and whilst I appreciate the concerns of other bodies and individuals, I believe it is a positive way towards a sustainable future for the industry (which somehow or other has to survive) but with minimal impact on resources and humanity."
A French environmental think-tank executive: "The French philosopher Alain said: Un fou ce n'est pas quelqu'un qui a perdu la raison, c'est quelqu'un qui n'a plus que la raison!"
A former CHE director: "If you're happy with it, so am I! Interesting old world, isn't it?"
A leading anti-quarry campaigner who was resident on Harris: "Go for it! (But keep your eyes open, needless to say …)"
Osbert Lancaster, the current CHE director: "I think this is an interesting opportunity. Regardless of whether you do this as an independent or as a Fellow (if it's possible to make such a dualist split), I think it is essential for your credibility that you not only criticise Lafarge (where appropriate), but are seen to do so. This could be by having a page on your website showing copies of your correspondence with them etc. Might evolve into a discussion list.... And this could take up a considerable amount of time. As could defending the engagement!
"If you are prepared for the time that might be required to do this properly, and Lafarge are happy for this (or at least some of it) to be in the public domain, I say go for it.
"This sort of critical engagement is perhaps not new. What would be new would be doing it in the open - this will demand an even higher level of rigour on the part of the 'critical engager'. Different people would doubtless do this is in different ways, but whatever you decide to do could be one model for CHE Fellows' engagement with such issues. (I need to think about my work with the Parliament in this regard - of course this has a different contractual, relationship.)
"There is an issue of funding such engagement that we need to come back to at some other time, though my immediate thought is that funded action research might be one route. (IE being paid to do, reflect and communicate about this stuff).
"I think it would be good to go for it as a Fellow. A challenge to the rest of us too.... I think it is about the challenge of doing things for real,
actual engaging, as opposed to opposing (which is of course also valuable). Both Lafarge and Parliament illustrate different constraints. Interestingly one of the main common issues is reputation 'management' - theirs and ours!"
As many readers of this newsletter will know, the Harris superquarry saga finally came to an end earlier this year. Lafarge, the French company that had taken over Redland, laid down its formidable appeal process.
My own part in this was persuasion towards a “dignified exit strategy”. It was a tough internal decision for the company But as a senior executive concluded, “We have to create value for shareholders, but we want to do it by respecting some values. The combination of both dictates our decisions. We recognise that if we are acting in the best possible way from an environmental standpoint, we will get a competitive advantage” (Sunday Herald, 4-4-04).
Over the course of our negotiations, both trust and respect were mutually established. An outcome is that I’ve now been invited to join the Lafarge Sustainability Stakeholder Panel. It advises on such moves as the company’s acclaimed target of cutting CO2 emissions by 10%. The current working theme is sustainable building practices.
Agreeing to become a “critical friend” of my “auld enemy” in this way raised challenging ethical questions – ones common to other CHE Fellows like Wayne Visser, Samantha Graham and Christoph Bey with their work on corporate ethics, and Osbert Lancaster’s role in advising the Scottish Parliament on sustainable purchasing.
Are we simply being co-opted and used as greenwash, neutralising our activist credentials in so doing? Or is it that we all have to own up to using corporate products in everyday life? Is it therefore our duty to attack where necessary, but to help where possible – a simultaneous “push” and “pull” dynamic?
The outcome of my own discernment amongst CHE Fellows and superquarry fellow-campaigners may be found on the web at www.alastairmcintosh.com/general/quarry/lafarge-panel.htm . I’ll be regularly updating this page to express total transparency. I’ll also continue to be advising several other communities (currently 5) that are struggling with quarrying issues.
As Mrs Thatcher famously said, “It’s a funny old world”!
I arrived at the Lafarge offices to be shown upstairs to the corporate dining area. Rather to my astonishment, what was described to me as "almost the entire Lafarge top brass" were present - some 20 vice presidents plus Bernard Kasriel, the CEO - as well as 4 staff from Utopies, a corporate environmental consultancy who were facilitating the day, and the 7 of us on the Stakeholder Panel. The other members of the Panel comprised 2 from the NGO world (Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud of WWF international and Simon Zadek of AccountAbility and formerly of NEF), an ethical investment analyst (who said that Lafarge is quite highly rated) and trade union representatives.
Over lunch both Katrina Litvack, the investment analyst and myself were seated beside CEO Kasriel, and I asked questions aimed at appraising how far sustainability was central to Lafarge's corporate strategy as distinct from being part of the window dressing.
After lunch we convened in a board room to hear three excellent presentations on sustainable architectural and business practices - see http://utopies.com/Lafarge/ . The basic drift of these was that 40% of European energy consumption is consumed in running buildings, with 7 - 20 years' worth of running costs being tied up in the energy embodied in original construction. Much of this energy consumption could be rendered unnecessary were there to be a shift towards sustainable practices by, for example, rewarding architects according to the energy efficiency and future likely market values of their creations. The ecological footprint of the average European is 6 hectares, whereas with 6 billion people living on a 12 billion hectare planet we actually only have 2 hectares each to play sustainably with (I noted that in this respect Scotland's population density precisely equates with the average of 2 hectares or 5 acres each). All of this was standard ecological thinking, albeit very well presented. My interest was to see the reaction of the Lafarge top brass. I spoke about 3 times, and the following is a summary of my input:
It was my impression that these points were carefully listened to. Indeed, I was approached afterwards by executives who said that they were pleasantly surprised that I should be concerned about their profitability, and who noted that the most senior executives appeared to have been listening unusually deeply throughout the afternoon's proceedings.
My bottom-line conclusion was that attending the event was a worthwhile expenditure of energy. We'll see what happens from here on.
To the MBA Alumni's Sustainability Executive Roundtable conference on business & NGO relationships at INSEAD, France, 18 March 2005:
Alastair McIntosh was one of the community leaders who fought the proposed
Each member of the Lafarge Sustainability Stakeholder Panel gets to write a short report that is published in the annual Sustainability Report (PDF download). Obviously, this is aimed at corporate image, but I, and others on the panel, were keen to see how far Lafarge would go in publishing what we really thought. I have to give them credit on in this respect - they have accurately compiled what we individually and collectively thought, and published the report (as of around May 2005) giving our opinions as well as documenting their achievements. Below is my opinion (space limited to 800 characters), some supplementary points that I made that were used, and at the bottom, part of our collective statement in which I played a significant role in drafting. I find it impressive that they have published this given that many of our points go to the heart of corporate strategy.
Of course, words come cheap, but I have to say, I feel that there is a good spirit in the senior executives at my old enemy, Lafarge. For a corporation, I consider they try hard to tackle criticisms of their business. This is why I suggested we used the term "critical friends" in the report. I also have to say that with our superquarry situation on Harris, they did right by us, and I am well aware that others elsewhere who might have seen a less favourable face of Lafarge might feel less warmly disposed to the company than I now am with good reason.
In the course of this past year on their panel I have only been approached only once by activists who feel that they have a grievance with Lafarge. I have told them that I can't take on their cause like with Harris, but if they send me a summary of the facts I'll take them up with the Panel if these facts fail to accord with the company's sustainability policies. So far, nothing has been sent to me.
My Statement - 2004 Sustainability Report (on p. 7)
We all use quarry products. That is why, as an ecologist, I am a Lafarge
stakeholder. My acid test questions are:
Is Lafarge learning to do more with less
damage to the planet? Yes … and I am impressed by its targets for
emissions and site restoration.
Is it creating wealth by developing ingenious new
sustainable building solutions? Frankly … not enough yet, but this path
is being explored.
Ultimately, I would like to see a corporate strategy that inspires and leads the transformation of our unsustainable industrial, consumer and policy culture. I want to see vision and technology that generates success stories of which Lafarge staff can be hugely proud. With sustainability now a “key value driver,” the company has made a good start. I trust that ethical investors will watch with interest.
to the question: Does the information provided by Lafarge in the rest of the report
answer your disclosure expectations?
I was delighted to see the high level of charitable giving, and the
frank reporting of political contributions. However, I have serious doubts
about the ethics of political giving – especially when 2/3 of it goes to the
Republican Party? Is this good policy?
I am pleased to see the progress being made on procurement, and would
urge that this is developed in accordance with sustainability as well as the
I am concerned, as a pacifist, to see that Lafarge employs armed guards
in some of its facilities.
In general, I am impressed by the level and depth of reporting, especially in areas where competitors do not do the same.
Material from the Stakeholder Panel's View on the Report (see p. 29 of the PDF) to which I made major contribution
The panel's mission is to serve as "critical friends who challenge Lafarge's approach to corporate responsibility, suggest improvements and form each year a critical opinion on Lafarge's accountability in this field.....
....The report is still too focused on efforts made and not enough on results achieved and the dilemmas encountered. Some of our recommendations remain unaddressed, especially those dealing with Lafarge's long-term corporate strategy....
....In the long run, to tackle challenges such as CO2 emissions in the developing world or dependence on primary raw materials, we consider that Lafarge should shift from the making of incremental improvements to a global rethinking of its core business. We believe Lafarge should move from seeing its business as the production of primary building materials towards vertical integration that seeks to provide sustainable building solutions with accompanying new product lines. This would allow Lafarge to minimise what they take and maximize what they make....
..... For next year, we would like to see our work with Lafarge more focused on strategic issues with a stronger link with the decision making process....
[The full report and other Lafarge sustainability material is available via this link]
The following report has been prepared for inclusion in the newsletter of the Centre for Human Ecology, autumn 2006. A PDF of the 2005 report is here - my contributions on pp. 23 & 50)
In the November 2004 CHE newsletter I described how, after 13 years of contributing to a successful battle by many players against Redland which was then taken over by Lafarge, the plans for a superquarry in a National Scenic Area on South Harris had been dropped. To crown it all, the Paris-based corporation had come back, and invited me (in an unpaid role, but with necessary expenses covered) to join their Sustainability Stakeholders’ Panel.
As I wrote in the
newsletter at that time:
to become a “critical friend” of my “auld enemy” in this way raised
challenging ethical questions – ones common to other CHE Fellows … with
their work on corporate ethics…. Are we simply being co-opted and used as
greenwash, neutralising our activist credentials in so doing? Or is it that we
all have to own up to using corporate products in everyday life? Is it
therefore our duty to attack where necessary, but to help where possible – a
simultaneous “push” and “pull” dynamic?’
Where does it all stand two years on? Basically, I still don’t have an unambiguous answer to that question because, I suspect, there is none. What I have done over this time is to use my position to continue to push the company to sail as close to the wind as it can in advancing “sustainable” initiatives. Lafarge is the world’s largest cement producer and it operates in 75 countries. Its CO2 emissions are double that of Switzerland, and so when, as they have done, they take more costly steps than most of their competition to cut emissions, it does make some difference. And yet, as with all these debates, the gap is vast between true sustainability and how we in the West are living (and thus, driving via the corporations whose products we all use). It is difficult to argue that my involvement with the likes of Lafarge achieves much more than tinkering at the margins. On the other hand, should we do nothing, just because we can never do enough?
What I do see in Lafarge, and I have now spent quality time with many of the senior management all the way up to Bruno Lafont, the new Chief Executive, is that these are people who are determined to run their business but who, equally, welcome pressure on the industry as a whole to do so at the highest social and environmental standards that competitive pressure will allow. There, of course, is the rub. Every time any one of us buys the cheapest product, we feed the competitive system. And that’s probably the main thing that I’m observing in my involvement with Lafarge. We may hate “the system,” but whether we like do so or not, we are all part of it. To a degree that is more uncomfortable than many can face, if we look in the mirror we will see corporate reality reflected back. I sometimes think that the most valuable influence I have with Lafarge is owning up to this complicity. Without doubt, doing so makes it easier for their senior management to face up to our side of the agenda - the environmental imperative. It also helps to shed the sanctimoniousness that the “other side” often see in the green movement.
When he was appointed about a year ago, Olivier Luneau, the new Senior Vice President for Sustainable Development and Public Affairs, came to Glasgow to spend an evening with Vérène and I. His message was simple, and as sufficient time has now passed I think I can share it. He said that they were well aware of and share the concern that WWF, other panel members and I have expressed that they are not moving fast enough in developing product lines of sustainable building materials. However they were (at that time) in a period of transition between CEOs, so they would request our patience for little bit longer until that the new CEO had opportunity to establish his own approach.
That could be dismissed simply as a stalling measure, but it seemed reasonable to me. However, in writing my piece that has now been published in the 2005 report, I made a point of keeping such questions firmly on the agenda. Here is what I wrote (speaking for the Panel as a whole), and this, really, summarises where my involvement with Lafarge currently stands.
affirms Lafarge’s robust stance on quarry rehabilitation and restoring
biodiversity. However, there are aspects of biodiversity and landscape that
carry both human and intrinsic meaning, and which can never be fully restored.
As such, we see large-scale quarrying as a fundamental problem, albeit one for
which we are all responsible as consumers. We therefore welcome Lafarge’s
growing integration of its quarrying policies with recognition above in this
report that, “The key challenge is to minimize the use of raw materials.”
And we pose the strategic question: “What corporate policies would be
necessary if nearly all new quarrying was to be ceased, and building materials
were to be created almost entirely from recycled sources of material?” Just
as Toyota have set the goal of developing “the non-polluting, accident-proof
saloon” by 2050, with 5% of resources invested in necessary R & D, so
the panel looks to Lafarge leading the equivalent for the construction
Fellow of the Centre for
Report on the past year's participation on Lafarge's Sustainability Stakeholders' Panel
(The 2006 Report PDF can be downloaded here. My personal comment is at p. 41 and the Panel's collective comment at p. 44)
Over the past year I missed the two major meetings of the panel. The one in Lyon clashed with a prior engagement and the one scheduled for December 2006 happened at a time that my wife was having pregnancy complications that ended, very sadly, with the stillbirth of our child. In April 2007 I was able to attend the meeting held at Dunbar here in Scotland. It turns out that Friends of the Earth Scotland have wound up their campaign at Dunbar, and I met with the chair of the Community Council who spoke well of Lafarge's community relationships at that site. I have to say that this impressed me, since community councils while fairly powerless in Scotland do usually reflect grassroots feeling. He was all in favour of Lafarge, and as I looked round the site I could not (at a visual level) see a lot that could be complained about - which is not bad for Scotland's main (in fact, I think they said, only) producer of cement.
My minimal involvement on the Panel this past year did not preclude some active engagement, especially via Michel Picard by way of speaking with him again on a joint platform with Claude Martin, previously Director-General of WWF International, at INSEAD near Paris. There were a lot of bankers at this event, and I upset some of them by going on the attack because I just found their language of ethical investment so very boring. I challenged them from the floor (during a break-out group) on this, suggesting that they could maybe consider being a little more creative and life-giving in how they were looking at ethical investment - and I could see that some of them were rather offended. At the same time, one of the INSEAD students stood up and said, "I wish that more of my colleagues were here to hear this being said!"
Michel and I have now drafted our papers for publication by INSEAD, and the interesting part is where we draw our contributions together with a challenging debate to one another about what happened on Harris with the superquarry, and the dynamics of stakeholder involvement. Once this is published I will flag it up on this site. It is rare to see a corporate insider and an activist each say how they experienced the same campaign. It was also ironic to find Michel and I each advising the other on one another's pieces ... it felt as if we were both concerned to see the truth of the matter told, and I think that when our pieces are published they will shed some interesting insights.
Immediately after the Dunbar meeting, I was invited by our head of Department at Strathclyde University, Prof David Miller, to debate with visiting scholar Joel Kovell of the American Green Party on the theme: "Engage with or end capitalism? Which way to Sustainability?" I was challenged as to why I agree to sit on Lafarge's Sustainability Stakeholder Panel. I said that Lafarge had done right by us on Harris, and that we all use the company's products. I can see the imperfection of engaging with capitalism in this way, but I do not see any better options on offer.
I have been invited to speak at the Salon du Livre Insulaire - Les Trésors des îles écossaises (Treasures of Scottish Islands Book Festival) on the Isle of Ushant-Quessant, Brittany, 21-26 August. This presented an interesting dilemma. Lafarge have a proposal to extract marine sand in Brittany, and the festival organisers told me that some activists opposing this will probably come to talk to me about what happened on Harris. I told Lafarge that this was happening since, if I had kept it quiet, they may have wondered if I was cooking something up! They offered to brief me on the proposal, but I declined, saying that I didn't want any contact that could be construed as lobbying. At the same time, I took the opportunity in the bus back from Dunbar to ask Olivier Luneau about it, and I will, nearer the time, check the web for more information. It is not my wish to get involved in a campaign in Brittany provided that anything Lafarge does accords with its stated environmental policies. When I visit Brittany I will tell them the Harris story just as I would with any other place where I speak.
Because I missed two meetings, I have claimed very little by way of travel/subsistence from Lafarge over the past year - only some €200 for cancelled bookings and the Dunbar travel. INSEAD paid my travel to their event and a lecturing fee of €500, but that was not from Lafarge. A dilemma that came up this year is that this involvement with Lafarge takes up about 6 days of my time a year, and I am entirely self employed as a writer, lecturer and activist. It had been suggested to me that as part of claiming expenses but no fees from Lafarge, it would seem reasonable to claim my office running costs. The average cost of running my "office" is about £40 per working day. I asked Lafarge, and they said that, yes, they would pay this for six days a year if I so wished. However, on thinking it over further, I have decided against invoicing them for this. It would be too open to misunderstanding or to being turned against me. I have therefore decided that it is probably better to be left in the ironic position that, in effect, I, the activist, help to fund a multinational corporation!
I do ask myself what point there is in being on this panel. Sometimes, like with so much environmental endeavour, it seems like a tiny amount of benefit against a massive problem. But then I consider that cement making produces between 5 and 10% of world CO2 emissions, and that Lafarge is the biggest player in the game. I know that their efforts to reduce emissions and to restore sites etc. are costly, so it is important that they have "critical friends" to help justify this effort. The effort is not, of course, enough ... but then, is anything any of us are doing "enough"? I think that for me what being on the Panel does is it keeps me in touch with the realities of a business world that I might otherwise lose touch with, and so forget where a great many people are coming from in how they look at corporate social responsibility and sustainability issues. That is valuable. I also feel that my involvement continues to be "right" in terms of how Lafarge withdrew from Harris - it is, in a sense, an appreciation from the mountain. After all, we environmentalists put out the message that if those around us become more "green" then they'll benefit from it, so this is just a small example of putting my money where my mouth is. All of this feeds in beneficially to my wider work - my teaching and campaigning insights - and that is how I justify the time to myself.
That said, I feel that I have nothing new to say to Lafarge, but that there is a role to be played in continuing to reinforce the same message. For the time being I intend to continue doing that. This past year's sustainability report is now published and my personal statement is on p. 41. Here is what I said:
Lastly, I was prompted to update this page today on receiving an email from Olivier Luneau. It announced that Lafarge has been included in the new FTSE4Good Environmental Leaders Europe 40 index, which comprises European stocks included in the FTSE4Good Series that received the top environmental score of 5. He says that Lafarge are the only company in their industry in this new index, and credits the Stakeholders'' Panel with having contributed to this achievement. Again, the sceptic in me asks how much such indexes are forms of "greenwash", and I know that partly they must be so. At the same time, if people don't try to do something on the grounds that they could never do enough then humankind would be in a sorry state, and so I was delighted to read of Lafarge's achievement, and I wrote back to Olivier and to Michel Picard as follows:
The Sustainability Report for 2007 can be downloaded here. My personal comment is on p. 32 and the Panel's collective report on p. 23.
(Sorry, I wasn't able to make time to update this webpage and write a personal report that year - it had been a pressured time due to family circumstances and getting a book out on climate change and the human condition).
The 2008 Lafarge Sustainability Report can be downloaded here. My personal comment is on p. 27. The Panel's collective comment is on p. 23.
On p. 16 there is a mention that I addressed nearly 200 of Lafarge's senior executives from around the world at Baveno, Italy, on the theme: "Supping with the Devil? Why I serve on the Lafarge Stakeholder Panel".
In this presentation I described how my involvement with Lafarge's CSR (corporate social responsibility) had come about via the Harris superquarry issue, and that this is by virtue of Lafarge having applied its CSR principles on Harris, although there was considerable internal debate and discomfort in making such a costly choice. I outlined how the global attitude to CSR is fast changing, and how the Panel helps to identify issues that are upcoming so that Lafarge can lead change rather than lag behind it - in such areas as C02 reduction, site restoration, sustainable building solutions and persistent pollutants. Bruno Lafont, as CEO, had told the meeting that action on climate change for Lafarge is not an option - it is happening and going to continue happening - and I urged that managers of national business units need to carry and embody this message through all levels of the organisation. We live in a world of globalised communication. We socio-environmental activists are constantly watching. The "reputational management" of a company like Lafarge cannot risk being damaged by permitting shoddy operations in some parts of the world, thus the imperative is to raise the level of the competitive level playing field everywhere. What matters most about CSR is what it does for our own internal motivation, and the ability to keep our personal values consistent with what we do at work. This affects not only reputation, but also, recruitment and morale. Doing the right thing as best one can therefore carries hidden benefits.
I do not accept payment from Lafarge and so did not seek payment for giving this lecture. However, the delegates were all issued with a copy of my book on climate change, Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition, and since it wouldn't be doing to be giving charity hand-outs to a multinational corporation I let them go at full recommended retail price - £8.99 for 200 copies. Travel and subsistence expenses reclaimed for attending Lafarge meetings during the Apr 2007 - Mar 2008 period were €973.33 (about £700).
One of the points that we raised on the Panel this year was that persistent pollutants, especially mercury emissions caused by certain types of limestone geology, are rising up the international agenda. We have therefore been urging Lafarge to get ahead of the game and take action to monitor and upgrade relevant plants now. This came out particularly in a review that I undertook during the summer of 2008 for WWF International on its partnership with Lafarge. One outcome was the recognition that our Panel has not had on it competent technical expertise on persistent pollutants and related matters of health and safety. In response to this, Lafarge asked who we might recommend. Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud of WWF International proposed Dr Frank Rose, a retired director of ICI (chemicals) and formerly head of their industrial safety. Lafarge have accepted this recommendation, Frank accepted, and is now on board and very sharp indeed at challenging Lafarge, especially on their commitments to health and safety in the workplace. This sort of interaction has been very positive in allowing the Panel to feel that it is controlling its own process and not being told what to do by Lafarge. We have all commented, as a Panel, on how impressed we are by this, and how much more effectively we have seen the Panel working as time has gone on.
Just as our collective report was going to press we were informed by Lafarge that they had been fined by the European Union for anti-competitive practices. Details of this are given in their financial report. However, the Panel added in the following statement to its collective report (p. 23) to lay down a marker of its concern over this matter: "The panel is aware of the 2008 anti-competitive issues summarized in the Lafarge Annual Report on page 14 and Note 29, but we have not yet had access to any detailed information or the opportunity to discuss these and therefore cannot express an opinion. Lafarge have agreed to our request to put these matters on the agenda for the next Panel meeting so that they may be discussed in depth."
This went on the agenda of the November 2009 Panel meeting held in Paris with CEO Bruno Lafont chairing. The Panel were given a briefing and full opportunity to question senior Lafarge executives, including the finance director. A short statement on this will be given in our 2009 collective report. Frankly, I found myself out of my depth with this issue. I do have a financial MBA, but the ins and outs of European anti-competitive law, its politics, and the grey areas of interpretation such as affect the entire construction industry were beyond my field of expertise. However, they were competently fielded by other panel members, especially Frank Rose and Karina Litvack (of F & C Asset Management). As our 2009 collective report will show when it is published, we took note of measures being taken by Lafarge to tighten its procedures.
I think it would be true to say that the Panel's main sense of achievement this past year is that we have been working closely with Lafarge on questions of corporate influence, including lobbying and anti-corruption measures. We have been very impressed by their willingness to share with us the practical dilemmas, and we have been pressing them towards ever-greater transparency. The main outcome of the past year is their Lobbying Charter, which will shortly be appearing on their website. My fellow panellists who know industry norms better than I do consider this to be a leading-edge statement which, while not perfect, takes on many of the challenging points made by the Panel and will set the standard to which Lafarge expects its business units worldwide to adhere to.
On 21 Jul 2000 (part of the 2008-09 reporting period) the Panel made a visit to Lafarge's gypsum plant at Lippendorf near Leipzig in Germany. Here, in a perfect example of industrial ecology, gypsum created by removing sulphur from a lignite (brown coal) burning power station is transported by a conveyer belt to Lafarge next door, where it is made into plasterboard, thereby obviating the need to quarry virgin gypsum. We were very impressed by the overall "feel" of the plant and its employee relations. In terms of future site visits, I have told Lafarge that I have now seen enough outstanding plants, and, in any future visits, would like to see situations where, usually as a result of a result of a new acquisition, they are trying to clean up a problematic situation. A visit to sites in Morocco has been proposed for 2010. These visits give me a problem since I don't want to be globe-trotting for the sake of it, and my time with Lafarge is unpaid and I try to limit it to 6 days a year. I have not yet decided whether to go to Morocco where one of their plants is part-powered by a wind farm, but whether I do go will depend considerably on how much we will be looking at ongoing problems in the course of being resolved.
As the 2009 report is not yet published I can't release the Panel statement, but I can share my personal one, which is as follows. This year I have chosen to comment on Lafarge's evolving commitment to relationships with local communities. One of the concerns I have flagged up with Lafarge is how companies in their sector go about opening up new quarries. It is a difficult area since, like we saw on the Isle of Harris, issues of "national need" have to be balanced against local concerns - thus the evolving issue of PIC - "prior informed consent", or, as the industry and governments would often wish it, merely, "consultation". Lafarge have welcomed me raising these issues, and I had a meeting with some of their key staff about this in Paris on 18 Feb 2010. I do not want to say too much about such discussions in public since they are often exploratory discussions to which they are willing to listen, but not wanting to be pushed into a corner by given the competitive and legislative frameworks within which the operate. However, I can say that for my purposes the time taken is justified as socio-environmental activism from within, rather than from outwith, and that the depth to which this happens is made possible only because mutual trust and respect has been built up. Is this being "sucked in" by Lafarge, or have they, as one of their own people once said to me, "let loose 'the Greenpeace' within Lafarge?" My justification for involvement continues to be a debt of gratitude for the way the superquarry on Harris was withdrawn from in a dignified exit strategy, and the fact that all of us, me too, use quarry products and must take responsibility. I am always clear to them that my first loyalty is not to Lafarge, but to communities, and to nature. This works well, and while I have the problem of not being able to take payment, it creates a rich dynamic that informs other third party work for which I do get paid (my personal financial accountability is here). At the same time ... there's part of me that feels irked that, for example, updating this webpage has just cost me a sunny Saturday morning! On community issues, I have pasted below my Personal comment to the 2009 report, as it is not yet formally published.
I share these issues not just because personal accountability is important for activists who "walk between the worlds" and are therefore open to being misunderstood, but also because they're crucial issues for our times more widely. What goes on this page is not read by many people, but it is read by students studying sustainability, and by industry observers including people in the mining industries, social activists, and investment brokers. I was contacted last year by one Dutch family investment advisor (a family involved in brewing was all he'd say) wanting to quiz me as to whether Lafarge's Panel had real integrity, or was it just greenwash. I also had a fascinating exchange at a WWF International training event for One Planet Leaders. I was using Lafarge as an example in the course of my lecture when Kayode Ogungbuyi, a businessman from Nigeria, jumped up, and said, "I want to comment on what Alastair McIntosh has just said about Lafarge's values".
I thought, "Oh no ... if there's anywhere it's not adding up it's probably Nigeria." I was mindful of a discussion I'd had with a Shell executive 2 years ago, who had told me how difficult it can be to deal straight in Nigeria.
The first picture below (courtesy Joss Tantram) shows my body language as Kayode leapt forward to make his point ... and I was thinking no just of the challenge, but also, the follow-up that might be necessary as regards Lafarge's Nigerian operations.
And the second picture is our response when Kayode said, "I just want to say that everything he has told you, is true!" He went on to explain that his business shares the same office block as Lafarge. He said that, at first, the Nigerian business community were rather astonished by Lafarge's ethics. They even fired a manager who had slipped up on H & S issues. But then, they saw the local share price of Lafarge rising, and good people wanting to work for them, so now they're having second thoughts and looking at their own ways of working.
That is the kind of encounter, by no means unique, that makes me think that Lafarge's CSR is more than just spin and greenwash, and justifies the time the Panel spends in its work. That does not mean that there are not pressing social and environmental issues on which to work - including issues of capitalism itself, and the sheer volume of nature's resources that consumer societies relentlessly demand.
One last point related to this - in Marion Hellman of Building and Woodworkers International and Eric Brassart of the European Works Council we have 2 senior trades unionists on the panel, and I have especially welcomed the manner in which labour concerns have increasingly been integrated in with the work of the Panel, and that Lafarge have permitted this and not kept the panel to a narrow definition of "sustainability" as being about only the environment. The future lies in a human ecology that integrates both environmental sustainability and social sustainability with the deeper values of what it means to be human. The contributions of Marion and Eric to the Panel have been particularly important during a period of global economic retrenchment, as will be apparent in our 2009 collective Panel statement.
Personally, I do not believe that capitalism is the best answer to this. I am a community-based person inspired by a spiritually-based mutualism such as I grew up with on the Isle of Lewis and have written about in Soil and Soul. But if we are to be realists as well as idealists we have to work with what we've got ... at least, until such time as we can buy quarry products from the local co-op. And I have to concede that Lafarge seem to do a good job within the competitive confines that they have to operate. My view is that this is because the organisation's culture values human values, and that draws in and retains people who are attracted by this. I've had quite a few Lafarge employees tell me that working for Lafarge is a more "human" experience that working in other companies they've been with, and I want to see that sort of approach rewarded, and made to work, which is why I have remained on the Panel. Travel expenses claimed during the Mar 2008 - Apr 2009 period were €452.60 (about £350) plus the costs of the Lippendorf travel, though at the moment I can't find the invoice for that one - it must have been handled differently - though it would just have been the airfare, taxis and meals in transit.
Lafarge's 10th Sustainability Report is now available for download at the following links:
I am a contributor to and signatory of the Lafarge Sustainability Stakeholder's Panel collective comment at pp. 10-11 and my personal comment this year is on p. 35, as follows:
I became a member of the Panel in 2004 and I continue to watch, and to seek to contribute to, Lafarge's efforts to raise not just its own environmental and social standards, but also those of the building materials industry as a whole. In their annual sustainability reporting the two most critical sections, in my opinion, are the report of the CEO (p. 3 in this year's report), and the collective report of the Sustainability Stakeholder's Panel of which I am a member, on pp. 10-11. Other sections are important too, but are specific to differing aspects of the business.
I find it interesting that Lafarge are now referring in the report to having a "Stakeholder Panel" without the adjective, "sustainability." This doesn't mean that environmental sustainability is no longer there. It is just that, over the years, the Panel's remit has widened as trust in the "critical friend" way of working has paid off. Lafarge now routinely come to the Panel to take soundings on issues that include matters like governance (e.g. the Lobbying Charter) and social issues, as well as environment.
It is on the social front that I see some of the most exciting developments just now. Senior staff seem to be very conscious of the challenges posed in the world today by corporate power, and how it can play out in sensitive areas of the world. I will not attempt to speak for the Panel as a whole, but my impression is that there is a dogged determination to "do the right thing" coming from the top (Bruno Lafont) down wards. This is always with the awareness that a corporation is not a charity, and that there needs to be a win-win synergy with shareholder expectations in a competitive market place. As such, a lot of our Panel discussions about difficult issues that Lafarge raises revolve around questions such as"exposure" in the markets and reputational risk relative to other norms in the industry. I find this very exciting. It enables Lafarge's executives to look shareholders straight in the eyes and to say, in effect, "We are taking steps that may at times be costly, but which seek to optimise shareholder value." It also enables people like myself, or the reps on the Panel from bodies like WWF and UNDP, to look their constituencies of concern in the eyes and say: "Lafarge cannot be perfect in an imperfect world, but they are most certainly throwing their weight onto the right side of the ethical watershed."
In this past year one of the issues that I have raised, arising out of the history that brought me onto the Panel in the first place, is the standing of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, and its concept of "free, prior and informed consent" of communities. See p. 7 of the 2010 Report where Lafarge address this, the Panel's reflection of it on p. 11, and my personal comment on p. 35.
This is a fast-evolving area that industries like gold mining are having to become very aware of. With the support of others on the Panel, I have flagged it up for quarrying too. It is my hope that this will not be used as a stick to beat Lafarge with, but rather, as a signal to the industry more widely that indigenous peoples, and local communities generally, have to be seen as partners with extractive industries. There can be little room for idealism here because the question being raised is deeply challenging to extractive industries. I, for one, am impressed that Lafarge has signalled its recognition of the UN Declaration. At the same time, I am aware that there are many grey areas to work through in the future. Lafarge has already been raising those grey areas with the Panel - for example, with the Brittany Sands question that was spoken of in a previous Report. It is not that we, as Panelists, are having to press Lafarge to look at emerging issues. It is that the issues themselves are arising as the dynamics of the business unfolds in a changing world. When Lafarge raises them with the Panel, usually through a live case study, our part as a Panel is to say:"Well, this is where you might want to consider that leading edge practice is pointing towards." But nobody expects overnight results. I, for one, would be quick to defend Lafarge in the importance of moving at a speed that the markets can be educated in, understand, and thereby come to reflect the value of. That is vital to make change sustainable. Indeed, sometimes I have said to Lafarge staff:"If there is anything that somebody like me suggests to you that will not in the long run enhance the Group's value, then do not listen, or it will be bad for your business." The Group's huge progress over the past decade on matters like biodiversity planning, site rehabilitation and emission reductions per unit of production testifies to the win-win nature of this approach.
Where next for Lafarge? In the past year, Olivier Luneau has retired and he has been replaced by Kareen Rispal as Director of Sustainable Development and Public Affairs. The Panel have assured Kareen and her team of its full support in drawing up the next set of sustainability objectives for 2020. We are aware of some very exciting thinking going on at top levels in Lafarge about how corporations should see their role in society in the future - thinking resonant with leading edge thought at Harvard Business School. It is not my place to expand on that here, but suffice to say that enough is happening to keep somebody like me actively engaged on the Panel. Both the Panel and the Group are aware that it is one thing to set polices etc. but quite another to see that they acquire traction right through the ranks and across some 80 countries. I can only say that it is deeply heartening to see Lafarge's executives working on ways that seek consistency of traction at all levels in the group. Our Panel reports make clear that there is still plenty way to go, but the trajectory gives cause for encouragement.
On a personal level, I am entirely self employed as a writer, activist and freelance academic, and so the time that I put in to Lafarge, which is completely unpaid, is costly. The Panel meets twice a year,and in recent years, this there has also been a third meeting to show Panel members round plants and see directly how challenging issues are being addressed. I have been on 2 of these site visits, but last year with Morocco, and this year with Spain, I have had to decline as I just cannot offer that amount of time. I am aware that this limits my ability to stay completely on the ball with what is happening, but that's just how it has had to be.
My expense claims for Lafarge meetings are declared whenever I do my tax accounts, and for the financial year ending March 2011 they amounted to £556, this being travel and subsistence for attending meetings.
Lafarge's 11th Sustainability Report is now available for download at these links:
My personal statement for the year is on p. 8 under Governance and Public Positions and says:
I am especially pleased that, building on last year's progress, on p. 7 of the 2011 Report (as linked above) under Values and Governance Lafarge have made the statement: "Finally we recognize the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance, and the United Nations Global Compact. We are committed to reflecting those principles through the Group’s policies, and in our day-to-day practice." I believe that such a raft of recognitions is probably a "first" for a major extractive corporation, and for these indications of intention Lafarge merits high commendation.
Our Panel's collective report is this year published on pp. 26-27 of the document which we played a significant part in helping to produce: Sustainability Ambitions 2020. It is likely that the format for next year will change due to new European regulations that require environmental reporting to be a part of the main corporate report, and this significantly reduces the amount of space available while, at the same time, raising the perceived importance of environmental issues to the financial picture.
I accept no payments, whether direct, indirect or charitable from Lafarge for my service on the Panel, but I do claim full expenses, and during the financial year ending March 2012 for which I make up my tax accounts these amounted to £865 travel, subsistence while attending meetings and minor out-of-pocket items.
In July 2012 (added in advance of next year's report) I made a site visit to Lafarge's Ravena plant at Hudson in New York State while in the state on other business. My notes on this visit are given here and the Powerpoint that I gave to their staff and local environmental groups in attendance is here.
By next year, 2013, I will have completed 10 years service on the Lafarge Panel. As it takes up a lot of unpaid time I have decided to call it a day at that, and I have indicated that I intend to stand down after the completion of our 2012 report, usually around April. I have found it a rich experience and a powerful learning journey, but will save my full comments for later.
and Laying Down my Place on the Panel
Lafarge's 12th Sustainability Report is now available for download at this link. All previous reports are archived at this link. I was particularly pleased to see (and I endorse) the two highlighted comment boxes on pp. 42-43 stating:
In the 2013 Sustainability Report (the 13th, published May 2014) I was pleased to see the announcement that Robert Wild of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has agreed to replace me and his panel comment on p. 41: "Last year I stepped into the space vacated by Alastair McIntosh .... Lafarge’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People was a motivation and I am pleased to see this embedded in the company’s business ethics." It's good to see a sense of continuity being followed through.
The embeddedness of UNDRIP to which Robert refers is again reiterated in the Business Ethics section of the report where Lafarge state, p. 11: "Our Code of Business Conduct states that Human Rights must be addressed in business-decision making. In addition, Lafarge adheres to the major business ethics frameworks born from the United Nations: the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (also known as the “Ruggie principles”)." I wish Robert Wild ever success in joining with his Panel colleagues and the Lafarge executive in helping the group to uphold these key principles. To the best of my knowledge, Lafarge was the first global extractive (i.e. mining/quarrying) corporation to have affirmed UNDRIP so explicitly.
My personal statement in the 12th report of 2012 (as published around May 2013) - reflecting my final year's work on the Panel - was as follows.
During that year I incurred £1,152.59 in travel and subsistence expenses reclaimed from Lafarge. This was considerably higher than usual because of the site visit to Lafarge's Ravena plant in the USA where I claimed travel expenses in excess of the costs covered by Friends of Hudson, who had invited me to New York State for other reasons. The report on that visit remains on my website at this link.
Throughout the ten years I have served on Lafarge's Sustainability Stakeholder Panel I have never accepted any payment other than for receipted travel and subsistence expenses. I have also never accepted or suggested charitable donations in order that there could be no question about my independence. However, after I had announced my departure a charitable donation of €10,000 (about £8,000) materialised in the bank account of the Govan-based GalGael Trust of which I am a founding director. It was a closing "thank you" from Lafarge, totally unexpected, and as they'd not even asked me about it, and it came after I had signed off my part in the 2013 report, we responded with warm gratitude. It was used towards the cost of refurbishing the GalGael's community kitchen.
I chose to lay down my role on the Panel because such a high level of unpaid input when self-employed was proving costly, and also, I felt I'd given of my best and was maybe reaching my sell-by date. After standing down I sent an open letter to Bruno Lafont, Lafarge's CEO, reflecting on the experience and my views of the group's ethical endeavours. This can be viewed in PDF at this link and is my testimony to a very rich time with Lafarge - one that is quite astonishing when one considers how it all started.
Anent which, April 2nd 2014 marked the tenth anniversary of that memorable day when three of Lafarge's senior executives came to the Isle of Harris and announced that they were withdrawing from the superquarry proposal that had been initiated by the British company, Redland, that they had taken over. Earlier this year I was contacted by the National Trust for Scotland. They were seeking contributions to a feature in their magazine on what environmental treasures are worth conserving for posterity. I could think of no better suggestion than Roineabhal and the surrounding social context that it has sustained down the ages. The article is below.
Last Updated: 02 April 2021