Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Sustainable New Year!

Despite the abundancy of gloomy predictions for CSR for 2009, I believe that CSR and sustainability will continue to evolve and gather more supporters. There are at least 3 reasons to be optimistic about the future of CSR:

1. A new era, Sustainability 2.0, is fast on its way;

2. The number of companies willing to initiate sustainability programs is increasing as is the demand for Chief Sustainability Officers (CFO);

3. There is someone out there willing to give you $5k for your outstanding idea of how to improve our world.

Happy Holidays to you and your families!
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Monday, December 29, 2008

About irresponsible investing and bad management theories

While on Christmas break, I read some good pieces on topics that have significant bearing on CSR and its future, which I'd like to share with you.

About irresponsible investing practiced by foundations

1. Shaky Foundation and Bernard Madoff on Marc Gunther's blog.

2. Wall Street fraud leaves charities reeling in International Herald Tribune.

About the huge role business schools have played in shaping today's poor business thinking and management practices

1. Bad management theories are destroying good management practices by Sumantra Ghoshal.

2. In theory there is no difference between theory and practice by Mallen Baker.
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

How businesses can make us better consumers

World Business Council for Sustainable Development released an interesting report on how businesses can help us consume sustainably. Wait, aren't we already great, green, demanding consumers? Do we need help from businesses? Oh, yes! And not only from companies, but also from governments and civil society!

One of the main findings of the report is that although willing to live sustainably more than ever before, we usually fall short to do so mostly because we are: 1)ignorant, 2) selfish, 3) cheap and 4) subject to the "I will if you will" mentality. This sounds like a big problem. And it is, particularly as you learn about global consumption trends and their impacts. But this situation also presents an opportunity for sustainability-aspiring businesses.

Forward-thinking businesses could and should help us and future generations by: 1) producing high-quality & affordable sustainable products & services; 2) making them easily available and 3) leveraging our increasing reliance in purchasing decisions on our social networks and online communities. Sounds like a win-win situation to me. What do you think?
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

CSR career advice from Michael Hastings

Did you get inspired by the achievements of the ethical leaders of 2008? Do you want to work for a responsible company that is walking the talk? Do you want to get the opportunity to make your contribution to improving your communities?

Then you will probably appreciate this video piece from Michael Hastings, global head of Citizenship and Diversity at KPMG, a global network of audit firms, operating in over 140 countries with over 100,000 professional staff. It is also one of the world's best companies to work for. As Hastings puts it well,
"CSR is the opportunity for every individual working for an organization to be a positive contributor to the needs of the community around them, the needs of community in the nation, the needs of the community in the wider world."
So here we are. CSR is not anymore only about companies making the right choices. CSR is increasingly becoming also about individuals choosing the companies that are committed to make the right choices.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Congratulations to ethical leaders of 2008

The Ethical Corporation published the 10 top ethical leaders of 2008 and includes the following personalities and their great achievements:

1. Barack Obama, US President-elect, for making the perfect start to addressing the world’s biggest challenges in 2009

2. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and philanthropist, for outlining the opportunity side of responsible business with his vision for creative capitalism.

3. Richard Lambert, director-general, Confederation of British Industry, for proactive business leadership in setting the UK climate change agenda.

4. Donald MacDonald, chairman, UN Principles for Responsible Investment, for leading the UNPRI through the most significant year of its history.

5. Jessica Sansom, sustainability manager, innocent drinks, for turning the innocent founders’ commitment to sustainability into tangible results in the supply chain.

6. Howard Pearce, head of environmental finance and pension fund management, UK Environment Agency, for proving that asset owners can call their fund managers to account on ethics – provided they are committed enough.

7. Chris Wille, chief of sustainable agriculture, Rainforest Alliance, for helping to take ethical food and drink into the mainstream market.

8. Patrick Alley, director, Global Witness, for well-chosen campaigns on corporate complicity in human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

9. John Ruggie, UN special representative for business and human rights, for getting the business and human rights agenda back on track.

10. James Hansen, climatologist and head of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, for outspoken and informed criticism of government and business inaction on climate change.

So, if you are wondering what you can do to make this world a better place, there is a great deal to be learned from and inspired by these distinguished personalities.
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Can seven CEOs stop climate change?

The news is that IBM, Tesco and Dell score highest on their climate-change strategies in their respective industries. With Mallen Baker's reflections on the significance of perception indices in my mind, I'm not going to get too excited about that. Instead, I'm looking at a less cheerful fact in the Ceres' press-release :

... the report found that many other companies are still largely ignoring climate change, especially at the board and CEO level. For example, only 11 of the 63 companies have their boards receive climate-specific updates from management, only seven of the CEOs among these firms have taken leadership roles on climate change initiatives and none of the companies have linked C-suite executive compensation directly to climate-related performance.
So it looks like the trend of thinking & acting green - heartfully embraced by majority of Generation X & Y-ers - is not that appealing to the majority of companies' executives. Yet, if there is any hope for avoiding an environmental crisis, it stems from the assumption that a critical mass of companies, that is their boards and CEOs, will commit unilaterally to act environmentally responsibly and sustainably. Until then, it's only 7 out of 63.
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Friday, December 12, 2008

Is recycling becoming a luxury?

It looks like the recycling industry is suffering in this economic downturn like everyone else. Here is a short video about increasing recycling prices. That's bad news for some of us who feel good and green by having the opportunity to recycle.

But it doesn't have to be so gloomy everywhere. Recyclebank is in business and manages to reward recycling enthusiasts, too.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Green buiding is the smart way forward

I went to USGBC NY Chapter's Annual Party last night because my new friend, Melani, the ecobroker, suggested it would be worth-while. And she was right. As most events in NYC, this one was a mixture of good things: good-looking people, diverse professionals, stylish venue, excellent wine and plenty of great food.

Beside acting as the event's photographer, I talked to a couple of USBBC members about their business and the green aspect of it:

1. European companies - such as Trespa- have turned green much earlier than their American counterparts. Therefore, in their US operations, they are well ahead with life-cycle analysis, waste management strategies and green construction technologies.

2. Design firms - such as Thornton Tomasetti - are leading the movement toward green real estate by producing structural designs with consideration for reduced heating & air-conditioning costs and greener construction materials. Although the demand for new buildings has sharply dropped lately, there is much potential for green upgrade of existing buildings.

3. The reality that global "environmental and economic problems are here to stay" has settled in with the real estate and construction industry in US. "Going green" is perceived as the only smart way to continue. And this is good news.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Should human rights regulations for companies be mandatory?

Today the global community celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Businesses, along with governments, share the responsibility to protect and ensure fundamental human rights. Although the existing regulations are voluntary, many multinationals have been held accountable - particularly over the last decade - for committing or tolerating human rights abuses. As a result, about 230 companies have instituted internal human rights policies.

And because having such policies does not automatically exclude human rights abuses around the world, the debate is now centered on whether to make existing regulations mandatory for companies. In a commentary for Corporate Watchdog Radio, Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch argues that regulation of corporate human rights practices can expedite resolution of important problems in this area worldwide.
As we’ve learned from the ongoing real estate and financial crises, industry self-regulation doesn’t always work. Especially when companies go abroad to do business in some of the world’s most repressive or unstable places. That is why we need governments to regulate the companies that are headquartered in places like the US or the EU to make sure that there are rules in place so companies must respect human rights at home and abroad.
What do you think? Would this be a viable solution to curbing human rights abuses by companies?

Below are a couple of materials on this subject:

1. Working for Scrooge: 5 Worst Companies for the Right to Associate" by International Labor Rights Forum
2. 2009 Shop with Conscious Consumer Guide by SweatFree Communities, for those of us who'd rather buy clothes from companies that comply with international fair labor standards.
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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sustainability and how businesses do it

This is a trailer to a great video - Architecture to Zucchini - about how businesses around the world think and act sustainably.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Can you produce cigarettes and be responsible, too?

The debate on what is decent for tobacco companies to get involved in beside cigarette production and sale continues. In the center of the debate is the World Health Organization' Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. 160 signatory governments have committed to curb promotion of smoking through advertising and protect health policies from tobacco companies' influence. According to this article in The Economist, recently health officials from these countries convened in South Africa and concluded that
"there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the interests of the tobacco industry and the cause of public health." Moreover, "anything that could make tobacco firms look like decent citizens, doing their bit for public service, ought to be avoided."
This is a pretty tough conclusion. What does this mean for the CSR strategies of tobacco companies? This might be one reason why their CSR activities are so far from their core operations. On one hand, if your core product kills people of all ages, can you ever hope to be given credit and recognition for any other type of socially responsible activity? On the other hand, once you are allowed a legal existence and operation, shouldn't you also be allowed to display a more humane face? I still don't know. What about you? What is your take on this?
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Sunday, December 7, 2008

How companies can save the world

An excellent piece from Wayne Wisser, CSR professor and writer, about how CSR might eventually evolve into a much more collaborative and far-reaching effort.

However, this optimistic scenario would better start happening soon and fast. By virtue of their urgency, our environmental problems might take us all by suprise much soner than we expect, very much like the current economic recession, suggests Mallen Baker, CSR expert and blogger.

I agree with Baker's conclusions. Moreover, I think that global corporations - the corporate citizens - have the power, resources and responsibility to lead the cooperation with world governments to avoid hard-to-imagine environmental, economic and social consequences.
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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sustainability Leaders: Bob Willard

The new series "Corporate Sustainability Leaders" is dedicated to leading experts who are doing a great job at educating corporate executives and spreading the word about the importance and benefits of becoming a more responsible corporate citizen.

Today this series features Bob Willard from Canada. His site, Sustainability Advantage is a great resource for the business case for sustainability. I find this video of 2007 still very persuasive. And if you know where I can get video or audio materials featuring other sustainability experts, please drop me a line!

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Friday, December 5, 2008

How green are construction and real estate sectors?

Today I went to the Corporate Showcase and Recruiting Fair organized by the US Green Building Council NY Chapter and its branch for young professionals Emerging Green Builders. I was mostly interested in learning about the green side of companies in the energy, construction and real estate industries. What part of their operations incorporate green aspects? From my brief conversations with company representatives, this is what I managed to find out:

1. Engeneering companies such as AKF Engineers and ARUP produce sustainable engeneering designs that can save a lot of money in utility costs.

2. Design and consulting firms like Cook+Fox & Terrapin work closely with construction companies like to design green buildings, while companies like Power Concepts consult residential buildings on smart ways to decrease their utility costs by implementing energy efficient technologies.

3. My favorite at this showcase event was the Swedish construction company Skanska because it appears to be only construction firm active in US that is ISO 14001-certified (an important environmental standard). It is also a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, member of UN Global Compact, member of the World Economic Forum Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, the only construction company among the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations and, in 2007, was # 1 in the Top Green Contractor and the Sustainable Contractor of the year in UK. Impressive!
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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Better blogging and sustainability resources

After getting some hints from Chris Brogan on making a blog more interesting, I went looking for relevant video material on sustainability issues. One specific project - Earthsayers.tv - made my search easy. Although I first learned about this project from the Inspired Protagonist, reading about it again on Creating Sustainable Value made me explore it in depth.

So I found the Naturally Successful on YouTube, a video about a new type of enterpreneurship, the evolutionary, the green, the environmentally and socially sustainable type of business. The general idea: opportunities are limitless for a value-driven business. I was also pleased to see and listen to Mark Albion, Founder of Net Impact, a great organizition that I've recently joined!

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Green businesses and CSR 2.0

In my effort to grasp the exact and relative meanings of CSR in New York City, I attended a networking and social event organized by the NYC Green Business Networking Meetup. But let me start at the beginning. Meetup is an online tool that enables people to create, maintain and expand groups around shared interests for the purpose of advancing a cause, networking and socializing within that area. I think Meetup is a great resource and many people around the world are already using it. Actually, I liked it so much that I created the first ever The New York Corporate Social Responsibility Meetup Group (see the logo & link on the right).

So what does CSR have to do with green business? From as much as I learned at this meetup last night, the new, innovative and green (= environmentally sustainable) way of doing business has every chance of becoming the mainstream way of doing business in the near future. The main message of the guest speaker, Steven Salsberg of the Salsberg Group, was that today's businessmen should stay tuned to the needs and priorities of the new, most numerous generation - Generation Y. And it turns out that environment is what this generation most cares about. Therefore, more and more businesses in such industries like hospitality, catering, food retail, construction are starting to understand the significance both in turns of environmental impact and their profits. Sustainability considerations are gradually integrated into the main product of these businesses which either re-become profitable or increase they profit margins. There is demand for greener products, it is growing fast and enterpreneurs are making the most out of emerging opportunities.

The practice of green business reminded me of Wayne Wisser's - CEO of CSR International - concept of CSR 2.O. Here he lists the main features of CSR 2.0. In my view, green business incorporates at least several of these characteristics, and namely: innovative partnerships, new-wave social entrepreneurship, a change in scale from few and big to many and small and a change in application from single and exclusive to multiple and shared. Therefore, green businesses might eventually come to shape and influence the practice of corporate responsibility.
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