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Icestone CEO: "Buy American and Ask Questions" - An Interview with Miranda Magagnini

Today, I visited Miranda Magagnini, Co-CEO of one of New York's leading ethical companies, IceStone at its headquarters in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Brooklyn site, which used to be owned by the U.S. Navy to produce the USS Missouri and other famous war ships, is now home to IceStone, which is waging its own battle for a better world by creating green alternatives to stone surfaces and counter tops. The company, which Miranda runs with Co-CEO Peter Strugatz, produces durable surfaces made of recycled glass and concrete. Their product is not only made from recycled materials but is also recyclable itself. The company has achieved an extraordinary level of certification, including LEED, Cradle to Cradle GOLD, and B Corporation.

Miranda was especially proud of their company's B Corporation Certification since big companies simply don't have the ability to be transparent enough to get B Corporation Certified. There are only 190 B Corporations, including Seventh Generation, Good Capital, and Greyston Bakery (listen to our interview with CEO Julius Walls, Jr. here). IceStone's logo is featured prominently on the B Corporation website. Miranda also showed me a stunning table made from their refined collection (pictured in photo from their website). She also had some cautionary advice for would-be ethical consumers.

“Smart” Banks?

“Bank” used to be one of those oh-so-solid words that made you feel grounded. As in “bank on it” or “you can take it to the bank.” You could count on it.

But since the fall of 2008, the start of the Economic Collapse of the New Millennium, “bank” has taken on new, negative meanings.

“Bank” now stands for loan shark lending, IBG deals (“I’ll Be Gone” after the commission is booked), overleveraged assets, consumer gouging, and Just Plain Stupid business practices.

The wonderful term “zombie banks” has entered the language, describing institutions that are open for business—they look “alive”— but are paralyzed by their failed financial policies.

SustainLink is trying to change our view of all banks as working for the Dark Side by introducing a new phrase: “eco-intelligent banks.” By “eco-intelligent,” SustainLink means those select financial institutions with a commitment to sustainable practices.

 A research and score-carding firm, SustainLInk has launched a profiling service that reports on banks and credit unions that are doing good business in a good way. SustainLink reviews banks to evaluate them for their triple bottom line strategies. Only those that qualify as “eco-intelligent” are profiled on SustainLinks’ site.

The first group of these “smart banks” has been chosen. You can see the proud winners at www.sustainlink.net.

Japanese Women Reassess Gender Equity

The Japanese are one big family, it is often said. Small trends and changes in the family mood are amplified and exaggerated in the press--no matter if the trends are real or imagined. In fact, there is a whole industry, involving TV commentators, the print press, social scientists, and small businesses, that taps into these blips. One of the most salient trends I detected during my recent trip to Japan (visiting Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kushiro) was a subtle shift in the attitudes of young women toward gender equity.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a story about a new trend in Japan--again whether it is real or imagined is debatable. The article (titled "With Jobs Scarce in Japan, Women Become Professional Flirts") said that some women are choosing to become hostesses in order to survive during the recession and that the image of hostessing as a job has gained some respectability. The article's sensational photo featured a single mother who works as a hostess (oh no, Japan's mothers are becoming prostitutes!).

I asked a Japanese friend, who is an MBA candidate in Japan, about this article and she said that the deeper issue is that single women in their late 20s and 30s are kicking up their search for financial stability. This drive includes doing previously shunned jobs or searching for husbands by engaging in "kon katsu" or "marriage hunting," which includes the use of websites that help women find men. Given the U.S. media's fondness for exoticizing Japan, what are we to make of this new trend? During my recent trip, I was eager to find out.

After talking with many people during this trip, my view is that this trend is both much ado about nothing and much ado about something very subtle, but not necessarily what one would expect on the surface. Keep in mind my view is based on conversations only, not quantitative analysis.

Mieko Nakabayashi: Japan Must Stop Wasting Money

I just saw my old friend and former colleague Mieko Nakabayashi. She is now a bright star in the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) who is running to represent Kanagawa's first district in Japan's lower house in the Aug. 30 national election. In many ways, she epitomizes Japan's opposition the DPJ: She is hard-working, innovative, and conservative on budget issues.

Mieko was doing "yuudachi" (evening campaigning at subway stations, targeting people coming home from work). This aspect of Japanese elections is the core of democracy here; the candidate and her staff burst on to the public squares near commuter railway stations to make the case for their candidacy. A DPJ politician who introduced Mieko harshly criticized former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's deceptive administration, which he said only focused on postal reform. Today is the first official day of Mieko's campaign and she is working from 6am to 9pm each day to get her message out:

True to her unique background working on budget issues at the U.S. Senate years ago, she is a blue dog (in fact, her campaign color is marine blue, a link to Yokohama's maritime culture), fiscal conservative. In line with the top pillar of the DPJ platform, her key message is, Japan must stop wasting money. It is already the most in debt rich country in the world. Like the GOP in the United States, Mieko compared Japan's budget to a household, asking passersby whether they would feel OK with running a household with such high levels of debt (to income).

Middle Path Policymaking in the US and China

A couple of years ago in anticipation of a Democratic White House and a new approach toward trade policy, I advocated a revised definition of "fair trade:"
 
Adam Smith showed that economic freedom allows people to maximize their potential to the benefit of all society. But total freedom, as Thomas Hobbes argued, leads to a short and nasty life. The Aristotelian notion of moderation might help reconcile this paradox: Trade should be neither too free nor too regulated.
 
Moderation, the "golden mean," and the middle path have recently come to characterize the current administrations of the two largest economies (using PPP) and largest emitters of CO2--the so called G2, China and the United States. Based on our conversations in China during our last two trips in the past year, two themes keep coming up: One is that although China's fate is tied to that of the United States, many Chinese feel fairly confident that their economy will pull through the financial crisis with no major political instability. In fact, some Chinese have sounded downright triumphant about their country's more influential status and its potential economic robustness.
 

Social Media and CSR: Buzz Words, Trends, Topics, Opportunities for Business and Nonprofits

By John Howell, Online Media Director, 3BL Media

Some days, it seems as if every other blog, news brief, RSS feed, and newsletter hails social media as the great communications opportunity of the 21st Century for news and information related to corporate social responsibility.

As someone immersed in this new and rapidly growing field, I can report that yes, social media does offer amazing possibilities, especially for companies and organizations working with all things CSR. The Twitter-Facebook-LinkedIn tool kit seems a potential game changer for leveraging the transparency, encouraging the dialogue, and soliciting the feedback that CSR stakeholders require.

There are also, as always, a few things you should know. Call them the “3-D Rules” of social media for CSR. Pay attention to them and you’ll get an in-depth picture of the opportunity—and the questions still to be answered.

Definitions. We nod when we hear “social media” as if we all agree on what it is. While there is a general idea that is generally accepted, there is debate on whether all social media is effective for business purposes.

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