Kumquat is the New S-word

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Kumquat is the New S-word

By Dave Armon, 3BL Media CMO
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People working in #sustainability can agree that their sector has an identity problem | Read: http://bit.ly/2foAfFx by @daveyarmon

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Friday, November 4, 2016 - 9:55am



If there’s any one topic that people working in sustainability can agree, it’s that their sector has an identity problem.

Acronyms abound. EHS, ESG, CSR and CR are just a few. There are professionals who feel that Social Purpose or Shared Value address both human rights and environmental issues. But just as many execs are solidly in the Sustainability camp. 

Joel Makower, the winning author and chairman of GreenBiz Group, says that the kids he interacts with will invariably describe the world they want to live in using sustainability language but without using “the S word.”

“We may be messaging it wrong,” Makower told attendees of BSR Conference Thursday in New York. 

“Replace the word sustainability. Just call it kumquat,” added the co-author of Makower’s latest book, retired U.S. Marine Col. Mark Mykleby, tongue firmly in cheek.

Regardless of how programs are labeled, big brands that are committed to connecting their core values with the world are sought out for inspiration and advice at events like BSR, which was attended by some 1,000 companies, NGOs and consultants. 

At PayPal, the digital and mobile payment company that spun off from eBay in 2015, management looked at the unique assets of the business and determined how the technology, workforce, merchants and user base could drive forward the vision of better financial health, said Sean Milliken, head of global social innovation for the San Jose-based company.

“PayPal is living its values.  Everything we do under our social innovation agenda is really tied to that purpose,” said Milliken, whose work includes partnerships with Kiva and Village Capital along with an annual holiday “Giving Tuesday” event that last year broke the Guinness World Record for most money raised online for charity in 24 hours ($45.8 million).

What was once strictly a payment platform, PayPal has expanded into a money transfer mechanism used globally to send money to loved ones around the world, said Milliken, adding that the lower rates create more capital for users and back tie to the United Nations’ Global Goals.

The PayPal “Humble Bundle” program allows users to select the cause of their choice to make donations online, with 100 percent of the funds going to the charity.

“We put the emphasis on consumer choice.  The last thing we want to do is to tell you what organization you should care about,” said Milliken, adding that PayPal’s technology can quickly emphasize urgent needs for funding. After the recent Nepal earthquake, $19 million in relief was raised through the channel.

When some BSR attendees questioned whether there is a downside to communicating about corporate citizenship work, Milliken urged transparency.

“You lead with information that is genuine and is relevant to who you are as a company,” he said.  “I don’t think you need to be hesitant at all. In fact, you should lean into it.”