Christine Arena's blog

Why Play Matters More than Ever

Ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of media messages, e-mails, texts and tweets coming at you everyday, yet cut off from what gives you a deeper sense of purpose in life? Join the crowd. 

A recent Digital Lifestyle Information Survey from online content company Magnify.net reveals that most people, 64.2 percent, say the information streaming toward them has increased by more than 50 percent during the past year alone. A staggering 72.7 percent of...

Why the Hacktivists Are Winning

How do you hijack corporate culture, demoralize employees and derail multi-million dollar marketing campaigns? All too easily, it turns out.

Fueled by the internet and the public’s growing distain for corporate greed, hacktivism is a...

What in the World is Corporate Social Responsibility?

When academics, pundits and corporate heavy hitters take the stage to debate semantics, who wins? That question weighed heavily in my mind during last week’s “Great CSR Debate,” an event hosted by PR Firm Fenton and instigated by Professor Aneel Karnani’s controversial Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility.”

As the webcast beamed out live to an audience of over a thousand viewers, thought...

Trust and Consequences

Why do some companies win public trust and others lose it? That’s a question more people are asking themselves, as global faith in business remains unfortunately fragile. Turns out the trust deficit, a trend on the rise for ten years now, is more than a mere wrinkle on the face of capitalism. It’s a pressing concern for every shareholder.

When companies lose trust, they often lose capital. Case in point: Gulf disaster stocks BP, Halliburton, Transocean and Anadarko each sank between 25...

Microsoft’s Noblest Cause

Child pornography is the Internet’s most severe social problem. In recent years it has exploded as countless illicit images are circulated online – viewed by pedophiles and passed around from predator to predator. Since 2003, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has reviewed and analyzed almost 30 million of these images. It projects that an additional nine million images will be examined in the coming year. NCMEC also acknowledges that the scope of the child porn...

Top CSR Companies. Or Not.

Corporate social and environmental performance is all the rage in today’s investment environment. With increasing frequency, analysts are monitoring, evaluating, and ranking that performance. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) lists – ranging from Corporate Knight’s Global 100 to Ethisphere Institute’s Most Ethical Companies and Corporate Responsibility magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens – grow more plentiful and visible each day. Publishers...

A Necessary Journey

It was an unusually quiet plane ride home. Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz and Share Our Strength Founder Bill Shore had reached the end of a life-changing journey, after having spent several days in Haiti bearing witness to the unthinkable and helping to address earthquake survivor needs.

“We finally let off our last two passengers, celebrity artist Wyclef Jean and a young orthopedic surgeon from Grand Rapids, a father of four who had been in Haiti since day three performing emergency amputations with borrowed farm equipment,” Swartz recounts. “That gave me thirty-five minutes of one-on-one time with Bill, who I never get to be alone with. But I don’t think we said a word to each other the rest of the trip.”

Swartz and Shore were likely in shock. The full-blown mental processing of what they had just endured in and around Haiti would begin later, as they assimilated back into their previous routines. As part of his re-acclamation process, Swartz wrote a series of downloads to Timberland stakeholders – including a Fast Company blog post, which summarizes his takeaways, and a personal letter to employees entitled: “Bearing Witness to Haiti,” which provides a remarkable play-by-play account of his physical and emotional experience.

“I felt I needed to get this off my chest,” says Swartz. “So I wrote about the heroism of the many doctors we saw, the heartbreak of the destruction, the inspiration I felt with Bill and Wyclef, and the indignation I felt at the world’s well-intended but inept efforts to cope with this disaster.”

Gold’s Dark Side

Investors are hoarding it to hedge against the dollar’s weakness. Consumers are buying it up in ever increasing volumes. Gold seemingly adds up to big opportunities wherever you look, with US gold jewelry sales representing a growing $17 billion market and China gold jewelry sales reaching nearly 260 billion yuan in 2009. But the fact is that this precious metal has a dark side, too. As gold’s prestige and value increases, so do the implications of the trade itself.

“Most consumers don't know where the gold in their products comes from, or how it is mined,” says NoDirtyGold.org, a group that encourages retailers to cease carrying gold that comes from illegal sources.  “Gold mining is a dirty industry: it can displace communities, contaminate drinking water, hurt workers, and destroy pristine environments.”

Dirty gold is no marginal issue. According to a recent 60 Minutes report, dirty gold mining is rather pervasive, and is also responsible for “the deadliest war since WWII.” Five million people have reportedly died in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a war primarily funded by gold mined in the country by warlords, and then smuggled out to be sold in retail stores around the world. Could that bracelet you just bought at Wal-Mart have come from illegal gold originated in Congo? According to 60 Minute’s findings, it is a vague possibility.

Message from the Amazon

One hundred and five million barrels. That’s how much crude the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that we will consume per day by the year 2030. Pretty staggering considering the fact that delegates from nearly 200 countries just gathered in Copenhagen with the singular goal of solving the world’s carbon emissions problem.

Going in, there was significant skepticism about the developed world’s ability to collaborate with emerging economies in order to come to a workable agreement on how to share the burdens related to climate change. Now, with only a moderately aggressive climate change agreement in place, the IEA estimates that global oil consumption will continue to rise – and with it, greenhouse gas emissions, international tensions, and the race of top oil firms to tap into the world’s reserves wherever and however they can.

Deep in the trenches of Ecuador lies an unfortunate victim of the developed world’s unwillingness to more rapidly taper its addiction to fossil fuels. It is a primal rainforest – an incredibly pristine and biodiverse region, holding the greatest known selection of trees, insects and amphibians on earth. The Amazon rainforest serves a distinct purpose for humanity, providing essential nutrients, absorbing large quantities of carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen into the atmosphere. It is home to several indigenous communities, including the Achuar, Shuar, and Kichwa peoples, who have lived there for millennia.

Non-Toxic Toyland

If you’re like me you spend a fair portion of each holiday season assembling plastic toys made in China, which often arrive unassembled in several dozen pieces. I have to admit, I do so begrudgingly. Of course I appreciate that all holiday gifts are given with the best of intentions and that, in the spirit of the season, we should appreciate all we have and are given. But the truth of the matter is, however magical the color photos on any given toy box look, what rests inside the package is often another story.

Last Christmas and Chanukah my son received, among other things, the...

Web-Based World Change

Micro-lending website Kiva.org recently hit a major milestone. Since launching four years ago, the organization has facilitated $100 million in microloan transactions between individual lenders and low income entrepreneurs all around the world. Lots of charities target the poor, you may ask, so what makes this organization unique? It’s the approach.

In order to achieve its mission of connecting people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty, Kiva employs a strategy of inclusion. It turns what was once an opaque process in both lending and charitable giving on its head, creating greater levels of personal involvement and future commitment.

A few weeks ago Kiva founder Premal Shah described this process to an audience of thousands at the 2009 Women’s Conference, saying: “When you give to big organizations, you don’t know where your money is going. Here you do. There are short feedback loops and direct transparency. When you browse entrepreneurs’ profiles on Kiva, choose someone to lend to, and then make a loan, you know exactly where your money is going. You can see that you are helping a real person make great strides towards economic independence. Because of the technology we enable, you get an e-mail from that person and establish a connection. That makes it personal.”

What Shah describes also encourages the experience of web-based world change to go viral. People excited about a new process tend to spread the word, and Shah says Kiva has benefited tremendously from this natural momentum: “We don’t even have a marketing person at Kiva, it all just spreads from word of mouth. For every dollar we spend at Kiva, we raise $10 online.”

Nestle Waters' Hit and Miss

There is a great deal at stake in the bottled water business. Perhaps Nestlé Waters North America knows this better than anybody. The company presently controls approximately 41 percent of the $11.7 billion US bottled water market. Like every other competitor in the space, it faces shrinking category sales, as well as mounting pressure from groups complaining about the toll that water corporations take on the planet.

Bottled water activists point to plastic waste, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, the environmental effects of water extraction, water privatization issues and a range of social problems generated by the industry. Could such “road blocks” deter long-term growth for corporate bottled water empires? Nestlé thinks not.

According to a 2009 document entitled “The Future of Bottled Water” authored by Nestlé CEO Kim Jeffery, the company’s broad portfolio of bottled water products, including Poland Spring, Perrier, Arrowhead, Deer Park and Zephyrhills, are well-positioned to recover from the present economic slump. “Bottled water is perfect as it is,” the company says. “[There are] limited opportunities to innovate.”

New York’s Green Giant

Perhaps you’ve heard. New York’s iconic landmark, The Empire State Building, is undergoing a radical transformation: a $550 million renovation incorporating a comprehensive energy efficiency retrofit. The highly-publicized project is projected to save 38 percent of the building’s energy, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years and lower building costs by $4.4 million annually. That makes the building’s tenants happy, and it’s also good for the City of New York.

A whopping 65 to 70 percent of New York City’s carbon emissions are projected to come from buildings, whereas very few examples of pre-war commercial building energy retrofits exist anywhere in the United States. That means the Empire State Building is literally clearing a path for thousands of other buildings to follow. It happens to be doing so with a visible commitment to the principles behind the sustainability movement – people, planet and profit.

In an effort to build stakeholder advocacy and encourage more commercial buildings to initiate similar energy retrofit initiatives, owner Anthony Malkin of Empire State Building Company has made a remarkable commitment to transparency.  He has decided that the company will share all of the new processes and technology it develops and lessons it learns during the retrofit with the public. “It is my hope that people will be able to take a look at what we did here and be able to replicate the process,” he says.

CSR Debates "Capitalism: A Love Story"

Jeff Klein, CEO of Cause Alliance Marketing, recently posted a story indicating why he thinks Michael Moore’s new film “Capitalism: A Love Story” leaves out an important chapter. He writes: “While some capitalists work on Wall Street, and some of those Wall Street capitalists focus on money and their personal wealth at the exclusion of nearly all other things, many other capitalists build and run companies that focus on creating value for more than just themselves. Many of the capitalists on Wall Street invest in companies for reasons beyond their own self-interest and are actively participating in the emergence of Conscious Capitalism.”
 
Klein is a proponent of a “contrasting, more hopeful perspective” on capitalism. He optimistically points to purpose-driven companies that create value for stakeholders as well as shareholders, and books like Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose (Wharton School Publishing: 2007).
 
Being the author of several books on purpose-driven companies myself, I am familiar with the territory and can certainly appreciate where Klein is coming from. Still, even the most enlightened corporate responsibility professional has to acknowledge that, alongside the Whole Foods and Honest Teas of the world, there are the Citigroups and Halliburtons. Which companies control the most wealth? We cannot ignore the truths that Moore dramatizes, because they will not dissipate on their own.
 

Conspiracy Theory

Either Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne is certifiably insane, or he’s a genius. Perhaps he’s a blend of both. I have to admit, the guy fascinates me.

For the past five years, Byrne has waged an unrelenting crusade against the banking practice known as naked short selling, a financial sleight of hand that floods the market with nonexistent stock. Today that war has culminated into two Internet websites, a high-profile public relations campaign, and a $3.48bn lawsuit that Byrne has filed against 12 New York brokerage firms, alleging a “massive, illegal stock market manipulation scheme.” The case is still pending.

To get a sense of both the scale and significance of Byrne’s claims, take a few paces back in time. Years prior to the 2008 financial crisis, Byrne went on TV warning people of the dangers of naked short selling and predicting that a financial catastrophe was just around the corner.

“I think there is something going on in the American marketplace that has to be stopped,” Byrne told Bloomberg in November of 2006. “When it comes to light, it’s going to be something that makes Enron look like a tea party.”

Do people take Byrne’s warnings seriously? Not so much. Some call Byrne “delusional.” Others assume that Byrne exaggerates (he recently called Mad Money host Jim Cramer a “criminal” for his role in the market meltdown). Still others find his predictions downright irritating. CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo nearly barked Byrne off her show after he said: “Our economy is a house of cards. I think we’re on the edge of a global financial meltdown,” back in 2007.

Debunking the Myth of Sustainable Brands

Let’s face it: there is no such thing as a ‘sustainable brand.’ Achieving true sustainability means constantly thinking about ways of giving back more than a company takes from the environment and society. In essence, sustainability means creating tangible value for stakeholders.

While brands are important corporate assets, the value they create for stakeholders tends to be largely intangible in nature. Brands themselves do not physically pollute, clean-up, employ, invent, invest, engineer, design, reach out, assist, collaborate and singlehandedly, they cannot save the world....

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