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Notes & comment...

LONDON - We’re back to sustainability this afternoon in a series of presentations...

• Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestle, spoke about his conviction that consumers are going to demand that the companies with which they do business behave in socially responsible ways, and said that Nestle has focused on three areas - nutrition, water and rural development - in which it believes it can have a significant and relevant impact.

In the case of nutrition, Bulcke said, Nestle is address nutritional deficiencies in the developing world with better products and by enhancing knowledge and awareness; water shortages are being dealt with through reduced usage; and, as an agricultural company, Nestle is working to be responsible about rural development.

Important point: Creating additional value through socially responsible behavior, Bulcke said, does not mean creating additional cost.

• Simon Crutchley, CEO of AVI Ltd. in South Africa, addressed the consequences of overfishing, explaining that the loss of wild fish could be “the most damaging activity on our planet. He explained that industry had to find an alternative to the 13 million tons of wild fish caught and ground up to be fed to cattle, chickens and even other fish - a practice that he said was tantamount to eviscerating natural resources for short-term returns.

Crutchley urged retailers to only deal with companies that are certified as having engaged only in environmentally viable fishing practices. And, he said, “sustainable wild fisheries need sustainable economics,” which today they do not.

While this is a problem, answers seemed to be in short supply.

• Douglas M. Baker Jr., chairman/president/CEO of Ecolab, gave an overview of current food safety issues, and made one comment that surprised me - saying that while raw milk accounts for just one percent of the milk consumed in America, it actually causes 70 percent of the dairy-related food safety problems in the US. What this suggests, he said, is the trade-off that sometimes needs to be made when one decides to be resolute about organics or so-called purer foods.

And, he added, “Humans are lousy risk managers, but...the most dangerous ones are the one that don’t realize that they are lousy at it.”

• And finally, Tony Juniper, an environmental activist in the UK, quite frankly explained why - at least environmentally speaking - the world is going to hell in a hand basket because of global warming, pollution, non-sustainable fishing and a variety of other factors guaranteed to make your hair hurt. (Juniper gets points for being the person at the conference to say “BP.”)

However, he said that companies willing to “reverse the historical relationship” between economic growth and environmental exploitation, and that are willing to work towards a zero carbon economy by the end of the century, have before them “one of the biggest business opportunities” in memory - if they are willing to take advantage of it.

And with that, everybody went off to a reception sponsored by Suntory to drink Japanese scotch.

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More tomorrow...

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