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Promoting Quaker values in Business and the Workplace

Special News Update: Spring Gathering - Saturday 2nd April 2011 - Edinburgh

This is a Special News Update focusing on the Spring Gathering held on Saturday 2nd April 2011 at Edinburgh Central Friends Meeting House.

Click on this link to read Jo Poole’s minute for this event:


The title of the gathering was ‘Mainstreaming Ethical Futures - Inspiring Economies and Businesses for a Sustainable World’, and in his introduction Tim Phillips reflected that running businesses ethically was no longer seen as a radical thing to do, but was indeed mainstream and accepted, even if not universally practised. Tim highlighted how attitudes to business ethics have changed in the 12 year life of the Quakers and Business Group, and he hoped that perhaps our group’s messages had had an effect, at least within BYM and to an initial extent in the business world.

This was Q&B’s first event outside England, and what a different feel it had; with two Scots and an Irish speaker and a good number of Friends from Scotland and the North of England. The facilities at the Edinburgh Central Friends Meeting House were superb, with beautiful views of the hills. We were made very welcome. The gathering ran very well and we thank Nick Pyatt and Tim Phillips for their hard work in organising the event, and Winston Duguid for being Clerk of the Day.

We were inspired by our three morning speakers who gave their experience of involvement in an ethical approach to business life, and how they see the real practical issues involved. A clear message was that it isn’t plain sailing, but needs hard work, compromises have to be made and not everything will be perfect. We were asked to consider both the local and global aspects of our decisions, and to ask ourselves how we can run and work in businesses or communities that work for all concerned and ultimately leave the world in a better condition. So, what did they say?


Small is Beautiful

Lucy Conway from the Isle of Eigg described what many would think of as an ideal opportunity for islanders to build an ethically based community. And by and large they have done that in the years the Eigg Heritage Trust have owned the island since 1997. Lucy described their work as a balance between many aspects, including between what they have and don’t have, and between focussing on themselves as islanders and on sustaining their environment. And then between themselves locally and globally in the world they live. A good example of this last balance is in making the island more appealing for tourists, with investment in attractions such as a new museum, and yet not allowing any holiday homes.

Lucy described another example which showed great pragmatism concerning the islands 83% renewable energy. Energy from hydro, wind and the sun are all locally sourced (with diesel generators as a back-up) and provide valuable jobs for the islanders. And yet these schemes need equipment from outside the island and imported skills and knowledge. The islanders are very aware of their energy usage and use a traffic light system to warn them when energy usage is high and they need to cut back. Lucy said that this shows how good the islanders were at adapting to their environment.

Lucy concluded by saying that their community wasn’t perfect but it worked as it had determination and stamina, and people have real responsibility to each other. They all see the balance between what is personal to them and to the island, and provide each other mutual support and respect: ‘Love where we live and respect it’. http://www.isleofeigg.net/


Scale is Essential

A friend of the Quakers from the banking industry explained how we need to accept that the banking industry is global and that we gain from its reach and scale in a local context. And that after the serious and well publicised issues the industry has faced over the last few years, the industry is changing and no longer paying lip service to corporate social responsibility but accepting it as a fundamental and valuable consideration in its businesses. Our friend described how banks are now being questioned from inside as well as out, and at a senior level in language they understand, and that this is developing a better culture of debate and challenge.

The local aspect of banking provided by global banking players was illustrated in a number of examples, including where you can easily deposit money in say Edinburgh and take it out again in Malaga. Banks also help small business owners, such as people working in traditional industries such as agriculture and communities such as those on Eigg, to assess their risk in, for example, carrying out foreign cash exchanges when buying and selling goods.

Our friend described how banks regularly work together to provide funding for large international projects, and that this cooperation is seen as a very positive way to support these projects, and spread risk, and encourages open and transparent ways of working between the banks, which is also a positive way forward.


Small is Beautiful and Scale is Essential

Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker and the well know author of 'Hell and High Water', describes himself as an independent scholar, activist, writer, speaker and broadcaster: He’s certainly an interesting and captivating character. Alastair was our last speaker and did a fantastic job of linking much of the underlying messages from the previous speakers together and adding his own views on money. Alastair highlighted his own links to the Eigg community; he is a fellow islander from the Isle of Lewis. He was one of the four founding trustees of the Eigg Trust, a simple charitable trust which was the predecessor of the current Eigg Heritage Trust. This is the subject of Alastair’s book 'Soil and Soul'. Alastair believes that the Eigg community shows us how we can think globally and act locally, and that they are a good example of cooperation, mutualisation and exchange.

Hubris was a word Alastair used to describe the banking industry; a dictionary definition for which is excessive pride, or perhaps we can now interpret as ‘pride before a fall’. We were reminded that money is a basic commodity and yet it also represents psychological power. We are born equal and we remain equal until someone accumulates money: The processes of borrowing and lending with interest removing the equality as money is used to make money. As Alastair pointed out money is not evil, but the love of it is, and that boredom and laziness often start the rot, when people see that they can make money without labour.

So what are the alternatives – where can we change attitudes? One suggestion made was that rates of interest, such as on savings, should equal the rate of inflation. Another was to buy goods that last. Alastair pointed to the buildings around us in Edinburgh City Centre, many of which were built centuries ago of local stone. The buildings have lasted, will last further, and the stone is re-usable. Modern buildings of glass and concrete are short termist and unsustainable. Alastair finished by saying that we needed to develop a sense of ‘proportionality and subsidiarity’, where we delegate to a lower level, or to a less centralised function. http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/


Pasture-Fed Livestock Association

After lunch we heard some exiting news from Q&B member John Meadley. John told us about the development of the farmer-based Pasture-fed Livestock Association, recently incorporated as a Community Interest Company and of which he is the honorary company secretary. With 60% of the UK under pasture, there are many benefits. Pasture is one of the cheapest sources of nutrients for ruminants; it has the capacity to absorb carbon equal to that of forests, with well-managed pasture-based livestock systems being potentially carbon neutral; pastures can replace soya bean as a source of protein, are largely decoupled from fossil fuels and experience less price volatility as pasture is not a commodity that can be traded. The association will make a public launch later in the year.


World Cafe – and then the Quakers and Business Lecture - 2011

Much of the afternoon was occupied by a very thought provoking World Cafe, where we considered a range of questions concerning ethical business and sustainable living. The afternoon was then finished with the inaugural Quakers and Business lecture given by Alastair McIntosh, with the title ‘Behind and Beyond the Pornography of Consumerism’. A video of the lecture can found at: http://www.quakersandbusiness.org.uk/sg2011.html

Please watch it; Alastair is a very engaging and interesting speaker, and the lecture was absorbing.

And lastly to finish this news update from our weekend in Edinburgh: A number of us with long journeys ahead stayed into Sunday and attended Meeting for Worship with the local meeting. This was followed by a bread and soup lunch, which gave us an opportunity to spread the word of the good work done by the Quakers and Business Group. I was surprised how many people not only asked me about the group but took the opportunity to ask my views about how ethically or not today’s businesses are run.

In Friendship, Elizabeth Redfern, Assistant Clerk - Quakers and Business Group