Greener products are now available within every industry and are a part of our everyday lives. But they didn’t get to be so ubiquitous just because they are better for the planet. Whether they were promoted as such or not, sales of green products grew because they were appreciated by a growing chorus of consumers for the value they provide—expressed as safety, comfort, good taste, or simply convenience.
Last Friday, April 9, 2010, something wonderful happened at Princeton University.
David W. Miller, Director of Princeton’s Faith & Work Initiative, attempted to tackle the monumental job of “civilizing” the economy. No small task for anyone let alone the unusually courageous and innovative Miller. Formerly the Executive Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, Miller also taught a popular course in the Management School, “Business Ethics: Succeeding without Selling Your Soul.”
As we head closer to Earth Day, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, I wanted to update you on all the exciting elements we have planned for the next two weeks. Yes, while we all relate to the significance of the day as consumers who are gradually changing from chemical to natural, synthetic to organic, this Earth Day resonates with us at a much more personal level as informed professionals. With a static national unemployment rate and the economy barely past its recessionary level, we have a new decade of business to get used to. A green decade, that is.
And I say that not only because every expert I have spoken to predicts that the green job market will be responsible for propelling us out of this recession, but also because the few states that have managed to deter the rising unemployment scale are the ones who have taken on renewable and alternative energy projects as their mainstay for job creation. So, whether you are a job seeker, an executive or a professional looking to make a career move within your company or to another, the basics of the needs, demands and specializations the green job market offers will serve you well in your career path.
There is also another aspect that distinguishes Earth Day's 40th anniversary from any other year. It's the fact that CSR as a policy, a strategic choice and as a conversation is finally beginning to make a conscious presence in the office. While there is a long way to go for corporate social responsibility to be immersed in the way business is conducted, the argument and the discussion for its case is finally making the transition from advocacy to active board room contentions.
Cliff Burrows, President of Starbucks Coffee U.S., spoke about their efforts to limit the environmental impact of coffee consumption at Fortune Magazine's Brainstorm Green conference. According to Burrows, they have made big strides in how coffee is grown and now one of their largest impacts is the coffee cups. Out of the millions of coffees they sell every day, only one percent are served in reusable mugs.
In the quiet beauty of Iowa farmland, a middle-aged unemployed “tea party” protestor, Randy, screamed his displeasure at the healthcare reform bill into a megaphone. He joins the ranks of radical activists mounting increasingly violent attacks on supporters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Randy and other equal-access healthcare opponents have medical insurance and they don’t want to share their good fortune.
If your company consistently runs social responsibility programs, but you doesn’t take the time or have the confidence in its programs to make sure I know about them, it’s doing me and itself a disservice.
Like Walgreens or Rite Aid, CVS is a national pharmacy chain. There’s no visible differentiation between it and its competitors. Maybe the aisles are cleaner and the coupons better, but maybe not.
Earlier this month, I quoted business people regarding the value they derive from serving on nonprofit boards. While it is widely understood that nonprofits have much to gain from the expertise and resources that board members bring to bear, it is also useful to recognize that board members gain from the experience as well.
Here is a second set of comments from board members who serve on a wide variety of boards-- regionally, nationally, and globally.
“A green economy needs to just be the economy,” said Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, a board director at InterFace Global and member of the closing Town Hall session at the 20th anniversary Globe 2010 in Vancouver. - a sentiment which would be shared by many and echoed throughout the conference.
Held every two years, Globe Foundation gathered over 10,000 participants from more than 80 countries to focus on a variety of themes that included Corporate Sustainability, Climate Change and Energy, Finance and Sustainability, Urban Infrastructure, Clean Technology, and Water: Impacts on Business.
According to many speakers, this year the conference seemed different – more participants, more women, and a greater number of students and young professionals. One young woman, summed up her generation’s challenge with a question to the panel – as she looks for her first sustainability job, should she work for an oil and gas company and try change them, or work for something new and different? Nicholas Parker, Executive Chairman, Cleantech Group LLC in San Francisco, CA, encouraged her to “work in the lion’s den and help create the change we, and they, need to be.” Those fossil fuel companies, Parker asserted, are facing necessary and inevitable transformation and we should all welcome and support it.
Consumers have very little understanding of which companies trying to be more sustainable and which ones are not. Duh, you say? Well, that conclusion was driven home by reading MapChange 2010 from the brand agency Change.
This sustainability brand map study looked at the perceived and actual sustainability scores for 97 companies in 10 sectors and found that they didn't exactly always mesh. Some companies that were highly sustainable were not perceived as such while some of the less responsible companies were perceived to be more sustainable. Depending on who you talk to, that is another example of a communications failure or an opportunity (or both).
Some of the results were quite eye-opening. In the food and beverage sector, Organic Yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm had the highest actual sustainability score but a below-average perception, which was inverse that of Kraft, Kellogg and General Mills.
In the household sector, the perception of Clorox far exceeded their actual sustainability score (perhaps because of their recently launched Green Works brand endorsed by the Sierra Club?) while L'Oreal didn't get the acknowledgement they deserved.
But perhaps the most interesting to me was the Internet/Software/Media sector brand scores. In this sector, the perceptions of net giants Google, Yahoo and Amazon all exceeded their actual scores, while the perceptions of General Electric and News Corporation were much worse than their actual scores. GE was surprising considering their highly visible ecomagination brand and their high ranking in other surveys. And News Corp's well-publicized goal of making their operations carbon neutral appears not to have helped their public perception (perhaps they need to use language the public understands, rather than "carbon neutral").
Recent economic times have spurred uncertain thoughts and reactions around terms like “lending” or “investments.” However, there is an emerging loan market that is working toward making a positive, significant impact on the lives of the impoverished globally. The market that I am referring to is the “microlending” market. Recent reports have estimated that there are more than 30 million microloans worldwide and at a growing rate of 30-40% per year.
So, why are so many individuals participating in microlending…
I used to consult with nonprofits as part of a firm. What I’m about to write comes from my observations doing this work.
We can do more good and do it more quickly with a for-profit model.
Nonprofits aren’t bad, their model just has some flaws. A nonprofit has two tasks: to serve its cause or constituents and to raise money. A for-profit’s only task is to satisfy its stakeholders. The by-product of doing this well is making money.
A nonprofit doesn’t get to the ‘good’ fast enough. There’s a lot of preparation to get started on fighting the cause or delivering services. Nonprofits paid our firm to tell them how and where to raise money. They paid us to do the research and write the proposals. But they weren’t off the hook for time. They still needed to spend time with us on their programs, budgets and contacts. They still needed to woo grant-makers, find new ways to grab donors’ attention and write follow-up reports. All this time took them away from their mission and the cause they were fighting.
Think of a guy who decides to take up running. He spends the first weekend researching and shopping for running shoes. The second weekend buying running shorts, the third weekend mapping the perfect route. On the fourth weekend he goes (but only if it doesn’t rain). That’s how I see the nonprofit survival model.
Compare this to the guy who decides to take up running. He grabs the closest pair of shorts that he probably slept in, laces up the shoes he has lying around and walks out his front door. He’ll move his legs like runners do and figure the rest out from there. That’s how I see for-profit start-ups. Able to get to the mission quickly and willing to course correct along the way.
There is more than meets the eye in what we know about how women buy (poetry not intended). And, fortunately for us, that means we’ve got a lot of information at the ready to help better serve the sustainably minded consumer.
Once upon a time in a far off land of sea monsters and fairies, there was a man named Adam. Now Adam was not the First Man. He was, however, the first man in his society to write down his ideas of man controlling his own economic destiny without the heavy hand of kings. Adam was a moral man and wrote that one’s “enlightened self-interest” and innate moral code should guide him in all matters of money and commerce.
Several years ago, I attended a forum in Washington, DC on supply chain responsibility. At the time, I was managing corporate social and environmental responsibility communications for two different clients, both with vast, global supply chains. Supplier responsibility was an area of constant focus and opportunity for these companies.
The forum was a quiet, routine affair as these things go, and polite. I saw a few participants looking a bit sleepy at the end of one session in particular – where representatives from three Fortune 500 multi-nationals spent the better part of an hour outlining the steps their companies had taken to eliminate child labor from their supply chains (the inspections and audits, on the ground partnerships, tracking and reporting).
Everything changed when, during the Q&A period, a young woman in the audience stood up and posed a question to the panelists. She worked for a small NGO with operations in India, and noted that many families there desperately rely on the income of all family members – parents, grandparents, and yes, children. She spoke briefly but compellingly, painting a picture of poverty and need that most in the room couldn’t comprehend. The panelists look puzzled, and there were murmurs of surprise and disbelief throughout the audience.
According to Harold ("Terry") McGraw III, Chairman, President and CEO, The McGraw-Hill Companies (NYSE: MHP), nonprofit board service is a key qualification for any executive he might hire or promote. In a private interview with me, Terry McGraw explained that "If I don't see that [board service], I'm discouraged about the candidate. I want to see how complete a person is. Board participation tells me a lot about someone's interest and experience in teambuilding and openness toward coaching.
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.
The latest Cone Trend Tracker reports that 59% of American consumers "are more likely to buy a product associated with the [nonprofit-corporate] partnership," and that 50% of consumers are "more likely to donate to the nonprofit" when nonprofits partner with companies.
With just over two months left until I graduate from business school, I’ve started to reflect on what I’ve accomplished over the last two years.
Without a doubt, the most fulfilling experiences of my MBA program have been the chances I’ve had to engage in real-world consulting projects for corporate and nonprofit clients.
In the last four semesters, I’ve worked on some pretty terrific marketing and corporate social responsibility projects – including brand audits, marketing research plans, stakeholder communications strategies, and social media tactics.
But perhaps my most satisfying consulting project was a sustainability reporting and stakeholder engagement plan for Praxair, a $9B Fortune 300 industrial gas manufacturer in Danbury, CT. I’ve talked about this project in past posts, and I was thrilled to see that Boston University recently issued a press release about this engagement (including a quote from yours truly!).
These consulting projects have been the most rewarding part of my MBA, but they’ve also been the most challenging and time-consuming. In the end, though, I’ve signed up for all of them without hesitation – in large part because I (and many of my fellow MBA classmates) believed they’d serve as proof of our experience to potential employers come recruiting season.
We stand at the threshold of a moral crossroads in American business. Which way will we turn in the new decade is the dilemma before us. Do we retreat to old and tired patterns of indifference? Or do we find the courage to cut a new and hopeful path to the common good?
The heated debates of healthcare, bailouts, banking reform, financial regulation, usury laws, consumer protection, home loan modifications, small business support, social assistance programs-all point to one fundamental issue - the battle for a moral framework. What do we value in America? Easy Money or Hard work? Self-interest or Community? Vengeance or Forgiveness? Indifference or Compassion?
Do we continue to let 45 million Americans suffer without healthcare as long as we have access to it ourselves? Should we protect unsuspecting or reckless consumers or leave them at the mercy of profit hungry scams? Do we let the jobless and homeless fend for themselves because we are comfortable under our own roofs?
In the end, all of these economic debates come down to one thing: love. Love for our neighbor, love for ourselves, love for the planet, love for humanity. Love for those who are starving, hungry, desperate or forgotten. Love for those whose only hope of relief from suffering comes from you and me and our generosity.
Michael Moore’s latest movie was called, Capitalism: A Love Story. At first, the concept seemed hostile and sarcastic, yet the more I pondered its irony, the more I recognized its truth. Capitalism in its current anarchic state is all about love or rather the lack of it. Love in the Ancient Greek agape sense of the word.
There is a fascinatinginterviewwith Chip Heath in the latest Mckinsey Quarterly (free subscription required to access), titled:Making the emotional case for change. Heath's thesis is that building a rational, analytical case for change is not enough to make change happen. You also have to appeal to people's emotion. You have to motivate them to want to change.
I'm constantly amazed at how much businesses underestimate the impact of the emotional side of communications. Politics understands it. I dare you to find a politician running a campaign TV commercial that references anything remotely resembling an issue (unless it's an attack ad). Ditto for sales and marketing. But for some reason, business leaders seem to think that data alone is good enough to make their point. "If I could just show them this graph" or "they need to know the facts." As Heath explains, that alone is not enough to drive change.
This blog is (primarily) about external green communication, but before you can do that you have to have internal alignment. This article gives some great examples and tips for how to get that internal alignment. Take Heath's example from GE and how they got their team to start thinking in terms of ecomagination: