Corporate Eye

BAT’s A Lesson In Sustainability

News just in: British American Tobacco (BAT) is in sustainability trouble. Again … no, yet again.

Actually, forget it. BAT falling foul of sustainability standards isn’t really news any more.

The company is one of the great bêtes noires of a whole collection of pressure groups, each keen to use it as an example of what can go wrong when corporations are unchecked. Highlights from the past six years include:

However, many of BAT’s practices are legally acceptable and it has won awards from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants for its sustainability reports. So this should not be taken as a hatchet job on BAT.

It’s purpose, in fact, is simply to illustrate the point made in recent posts concerning the FTSE Environmental Technology Index and Caisse d’Epargne’s Financial Product Certification Scheme: that a company’s sustainability cannot be wholly measured using financial instruments.

For example:

I think I’m morally obliged to point out that I’m an ex-smoker. However, I’m in no way part of the Ex Smoker Mafia and I find the recent wave of anti-smoking legislation deeply unsettling.

However, you cannot measure a smoker’s freedom to light up in financial terms, only the cost of allowing and maintaining that freedom. Similarly, better ways of measuring sustainability have to be found to replace the crude instrument of the monetary impact a company’s actions have.

The following two tabs change content below.
A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.

Freedom is a double edged sword. It means you are free to do what you like, but then so are others. And what they like, might not be what you like. Worse, it might be harmful all round… but then, freedome is a doubled edged sword.

Hi Calvin,

Of course it is. This is what is at the centre of the market / regulation debate: do you allow the freedom and take the risk, or do you regulate against the risk and so limit peoples’ freedom?

Nevertheless, finance can only measure the outcome of freedom (or the lack of it), not the freedom itself.

Best wishes


No one needs to smoke but smokers want to smoke. “Wants” always win over “Needs”. Even when cigarette prices go up and literally burnt the pocket, most smokers I know are extremely unwilling to give up their addiction. Smokers know very well that they are burning their life away but that is their choice. They do have the freedom to smoke or to quit.

Hi Vivienne,

You’re absolutely right … and the only thing which finally forced me to quit was the ever rising price of cigarettes.

My point is that money cannot measure that freedom, only it’s outcomes. Similarly, money cannot measure sustainability, only its outcomes.

Thus, businesses need to re-evaluate their “wants” and “needs” to ensure they aren’t influenced by a similarly narrow, almost obsessive, focus upon money, so burning away the regulatory environment within which they do business .

Best wishes


Comments are closed.