We are pleased to announce the return of our Member of the Month slot. This month we have invited Dr Jem Bendell to be featured and answer a few questions about his life and work.


Dr Jem Bendell is Director of Lifeworth Consulting and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at IE Business School, where he teaches the world's first MBA module in sustainable luxury.

He is also a judge of the Walpole British Luxury Association Awards, and a judge of the Sustainable Luxury Awards of Latin America, which he co-organises with CSSL and the Authentic Luxury Network.

Author of over 100 publications on corporate responsibility, his latest book, entitled The Corporate Responsibility Movement was published in 2009. He also helped write the CNBC and Luxury Channel documentary on sustainable luxury called Going Green:The Future of Luxury which is definitely worth a watch.





What do you do?

I write, teach, advise, and connect people. I live in Geneva, where people come from all over the world to follow their vocation. Apart from the bankers, I guess. So this "what do you do" question is a cliche in this town.

I remember when answering that question to my landlady in India I said I sit in front of a computer all day, because I think it makes a difference. She looked like I was mad. It made me think.

But, to give some labels... I'm a management consultant; advising international organisations on how to collaborate for sustainable development, and a professor in business schools teaching people about corporate responsibility, collaboration, and, more recently, 'sustainable luxury and design' on the MBA at IE Business School.

I seem to make connections where people don't see them, particularly between organisations and concepts in very different fields, and so I suggest how people can achieve more transformative social change through unusual  collaborations.

Thats why when I was advising WWF in 2006 I suggested we look at how to make sustainability sexy in Asia fast, by enlisting the help of fashion and luxury. Yet we found the leading companies rather disinterested, so we had to grab their attention, with a report in 2007 called Deeper Luxury. Grading the luxury brands like school kids certainly got their attention. Our new report, benchmarking the top jewellery brands, called Uplifting the Earth is also intended to get the industry doing much more on responsible sourcing.

I'd prefer to be doing more work helping brands become social and environmental leaders, but it seems there's still the need to push many incumbents to do more than protect their reputations. And i'm not prepared to do wishy washy work for proud cowards. 


What is the best part of your job?

Being photographed by Paulo Pellegrin and going to the launch of his exhibition was nice. Meeting some of the creative people in the fashion and luxury world has also been fun.

I come at this from the rather earnest fields of research, campaigning, policy and boring big business. So, to have been doing some work in fashion and luxury the last 5 years has been fun. But the most job satisfaction I get is from when I help affirm some of my students' feelings that its right to seek out work in the responsible enterprise field to be truly authentic and transformative. Too much education becomes about content and tools, and is gutted of the emotion and passion. I like it when the stuff I do in class on self-reflection and how to collaborate for really systemic change, seems to resonate, and influence people's choices of work. 


What is your greatest achievement to date?

It was reported in the FT, so clearly must be totally true, that Deeper Luxury sparked the luxury industry's engagement with corporate social responsibility. But is that a good thing? Or an illusion? I wonder. But i'm proud of breaking the mould with that work, as it wasn't so easy to make it happen.

Perhaps the greatest ripple effect i've had is with helping in the design of the Marine Stewardship Council, in 1996, when I was fairly fresh out of Uni. Fish certified as sustainable under the MSC now accounts for about 6% of the worlds wild caught fish, and it will soon double. But I still have the sense that we missed an opportunity by not including social issues in the standard, especially now that we see forced labour in fishing being one of the worst forms of  modern day slavery.

I'm currently working with the International Labour Organisation to help them see how to engage business in new ways to combat this problem. Maybe thats my greatest achievement: to still be doing the same stuff for the same reasons, not having sold out, despite it being a very insecure approach to work and life. 


What has been your greatest challenge to date and how did you overcome it?

This sounds like a job interview. Doing 5 jobs at the same time in 2006 was a problem. I overcame it by having no social life except a lover, and then by giving up a few of the jobs. Maybe i'm not very good at job interviews. What happened to the lover? Maybe i'm not very good at that either.  


What advise do you have for those interested in a similar career path to you?

Think about the funding. Think about the processes. I always got so excited by the ideas, the opportunities, the potential to impact, I often didn't lay the foundations.


What do you hope to get out of being part of the Ethical Fashion Network?   

I live in Geneva so can't engage in person too much, so initially I just want to share my research, such as those reports I mentioned, and invite information and ideas to include in my next book, which is out next spring. I've posted a couple of messages about that in your forums.

I'd  also like to find eco entrepreneurs in Madrid and Paris who can then be guests on my MBA courses. In future, i'd like to meet more of the people involved, and so share that sense of being a social movement, and that  feeling that we can address the issues of our time in a way that celebrates our consciousness, our engagement, our relevance.

As I said, i've been a bit earnest about my vocation, and i'd like to party a bit more with people who get the depth of our crisis, sense where that comes from, and are addressing it beautifully in their own ways. Is that this network?


To connect with Jem click here

Image by Paulo Pellegrin

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