The Big MacDonald’s environmental intervention

You don’t become the world’s greatest restaurant chain by chance. Over a quarter of a million people have been through the MacDonald’s University Hamburgerology course and as it takes only 1% of people who apply, it’s harder to get on to it than it is to get in to Oxford or Cambridge. I’m told you get taught the science of how the chairs are designed for you to sit comfortably for 12.5 minutes – the time it takes for your coffee to get to a drinkable temperature after you finish your meal and are ready to vacate your table. One of London’s most talented restaurateurs, Alan Yau, created Wagamama after training with them. Like many of you, I remember as a teenager getting excited when a MacDonalds came to our local high street. But the Big Mac is not just celebrated by kids. One of the founders of Meatliquor was part of a round table I attended a few years ago at 10 Downing Street on the future of dining and when he got asked which is the best burger in the world, he unflinchingly said the Big Mac which at first startled the rest of us and then we largely saw what he meant. Now MacDonald’s is gaining reputations for things most people would never imagine. Just this morning I’ve read not one but two phenomenal interventions they’ve made on protecting our environment and helping bring an end to animal cruelty. As reported by my friends at Good Business, they are tackling a very unglamorous subject: “fatbergs” – blocks of fat, oil and wet wipes that clog up sewer systems and cost the UK an estimated £100m each year. They are introducing new washing machines for their employee uniforms to extract the grease in them and convert that into biofuels for their lorry fleet. It takes a brave and confident brand to publicise an intervention which will make many people think about how much grease their operations generate in the first place. And from my colleagues at the Sustainable Restaurants Association I also learn that in the US they have made a commitment to only using cage free eggs by 2025. Because of the huge quantities they will be buying, the supply chain will have to dramatically change its practices to keep up with this demand, which will drive down the prices of cage free eggs for others to be able to afford. Food snobs may turn their noses up at the thought of praising a fast food business, though that misses a huge point: impact and purpose in business is great in micro social enterprises but when it gets embedded into the core of a major global brand at such scale, we are witnessing a game changing moment. Now MacDonald’s, please pay your employees fairer wages and we’ll be loving what you do even more.

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Is there a business solution to everything?

My latest column for The Independent

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My year as High Sheriff of Greater London

I’ve been very flattered by the hundreds of messages from both friends and strangers in the last couple of days since I was sworn in as High Sheriff by the Lord Chief Justice. I was offered the role around five years ago, so I’ve had plenty of time to prepare for my year ahead.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the position, which I imagine is most of you, allow me to give a bit of background.

Each year, the Sovereign appoints a High Sheriff for each of the 55 counties of England and Wales as her representative in respect of justice. The post is the oldest secular office in the United Kingdom after the Crown, and dates back to Saxon times.  It is independent, non-political, and unpaid.  Greater London covers thirty-two London boroughs, 607 sq. miles and has a population of about 8.2 million citizens.

The powers, wealth and duties of the High Sheriff peaked about nine centuries ago in the days of Robin Hood. Then, as the King’s man, or Reeve, in the county or Shire, he collected all the taxes, oversaw all the law and order, and so acted as customs man, chief of police, lead prosecutor, judge and jury.

Since then, and for those who know me this will come as a bit of a relief, we have lost all our powers and almost all our duties. But one of those few surviving solemn duties is to make awards under the 1826 Criminal Law Act introduced by Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing, for members of the public who have shown outstanding acts of bravery in helping stop crimes they have witnessed.

The rest of the year is pretty much for the incumbent to decide how they use their time in office. I intend to focus on domestic abuse, modern slavery and the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, a long-time passion of mine. Gangs and knife crime tend to dominate headlines and I don’t particularly intend to add my voice to that debate as there are many experts in this field, though I will be encouraging former gang leaders I know who have turned a corner to step up and engage more because of the authenticity of their experiences.

But I’m open to any suggestions you may have and you can contact me via with your thoughts.

I’ll be using this blog to provide regular updates on my activities and share what I think will be a cocktail of inspirational and saddening stories of what London is fully like.


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Why veterans make great entrepreneurs

Me in The Independent

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Soft tools for hard problems

In the six months or so that I have been chairing Equal, it’s become clear to me that conventional tools alone won’t break this awful disproportional treatment that black people and Muslims in particular face in the criminal justice system. As David Lammy says in this Guardian article, there is no silver bullet.

Whilst we continue to work with the Ministry of Justice and other government bodies to help them get their houses in order, we can also develop tools and mechanisms of our own. The tendency towards criminalisation among young black and Muslim men in particular is not going to go away unless a raft of new measures get initiated.

A decade ago I helped initiate a programme at Mosaic, then part of Business in the Community, looking at creating a mentoring programme for the ever rising numbers of Muslims ending up in prison. We need to revive initiatives like that but make them more widely engaging. We know for fact that released offenders are dramatically less likely to end up back in crime if they have a job yet in many Muslim communities, business owners don’t offer up such opportunities.

If we believe in the mantra “we’re all in this together”, Muslim owned businesses need to step up and play their part. The business owners need mentoring as much as the offenders.

With young black men we’ve been hearing for years that growing up without a father figure triggers social exclusion, mental health issues and then so often a drift into crime. But the discussion largely remains just that – talk. There are so many successful black men who’ve climbed through humble and troubled environments to scale the heights of professions, business and culture whose journeys and achievements should be actively vocalised so that they are seen as more than exceptions to a rule but instead seen as creating paths which others can credibly follow.

So here are two things I want to initiate – firstly, a vehicle to take to the next level what we started with Mosaic and create a platform for Muslim owned businesses and senior executives to be convinced of their role to play in reducing re-offending and then find ways for them to do so. Secondly, we need to create an active network of successful black people who would be willing to spend a little time going into schools, community groups and prisons to talk about what success looks like and how they achieved it.

We must of course continue to chip away at conscious or unconscious institutional bias but we can also create our own tools at the same time which are presently lacking in our armour and with a bit of a push getting the right people together, we can start to fix.

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Where education fails, employers must step up

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Do you know why I couldn’t create The Cinnamon Club today?

Me in The Independent on banks and how they can help start-ups like they did with me 20 years ago

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Recall issued on the mantra of our time

I imagine like most people when they first meet John Elkington, I was a bit awe-struck when we had lunch about a year back. After all, this is the man who created the term the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) that was to become the mantra of responsible capitalism based on businesses assessing their impact on three measures: people, profit, planet.

Unless businesses addressed the environmental decay we are witnessing worldwide, he argued some 25 years ago, as a core commercial driver sustainability would never be achieved.

Thousands of businesses have adopted this way of thinking and indeed, it is woven into the project plan I have written for what I hope will be my next commercial venture.

So I was intrigued when a mutual friend told me the other day that John had issued a “product recall” on the idea. Manufacturers, he says in an article for the Harvard Business Review, have to do this when a fault is detected – the quicker the better. Management ideas, he argues, never do the same.

The reasoning behind the recall from what I’ve understood is that whilst TBL has become the principle by which many businesses are now driven, the world’s environmental problems continue to rocket at a far bigger scale than the number of corporations stepping up to reverse this.

Whilst large scale multinationals may not have picked up the ball with TBL action quite as rapidly as many of us would have liked, the enabling tools at macro scale are increasingly being made available. From the UN Sustainable Development Goals to the head of the world’s biggest private equity firm saying that businesses without social impact at its core would in time become extinct, John has a point: why are more firms not doing more?

For small and medium sized businesses, it’s different; we can commit and change very quickly. Not only can an owner/founder act on their concerns wider than profit as conventionally defined, we are already doing so, as I reported on recently. Indeed, even at “The Queen’s Bank” Coutts there was an event this week which I was invited to full of SMEs either sharing their social impacts and sense of purpose or enquiring on how to build them. Times are certainly changing on that latter dial – one lady in the audience said that when she started her business 20 years ago her sole purpose was to pay her mortgage.

Today that approach seems incredibly out-dated.

But I imagine John’s concern is two-fold: firstly, that too many large corporations still think that way and secondly, those with a broader perspective aren’t delivering sufficiently for us to yet herald the age of a new, responsible capitalism.



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Why small businesses should broadcast their social impacts more

An article by me in The Independent today

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The financial case for mentoring

An article I’ve written for the International Business Times

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