In an article posted last month on Salon.com, Julia Carrie Wong outs Silicon Valley for a lackluster response to the tech backlash embodied by protests of Google employee buses in San Francisco. She says “charity is not enough” and rightfully points out the relative stinginess of “community benefit agreements” that the city signed with tech companies in exchange for tax breaks. And while skyrocketing rents and higher-than-average eviction rates have their roots in a long-term housing shortage caused by intense bureacracy and local opposition to new developments, the effects of a booming tech industry in an otherwise slow-moving economy are very real in the Silicon Valley.
But to charge that tech companies and their now infamous employees are THE cause of displacement and gentrification seems misguided. It begs the question: Exactly how should tech companies be responding to their outsize effect on the local economy?
Proving that being green really can get you more of that other green stuff, Unilever CEO and leader in corporate sustainability Paul Polman received a £431,775 ($722,230) bump to his already hefty annual bonus in large part for his work on the company’s sustainability goals.
As Bloomberg reported earlier this week, in Unilever’s Annual Report the Board of Directors mentioned Polman’s “leadership, including progress against the delivery of [Unilever Sustainable Living Plan] goals and his overall contribution to making sustainable living commonplace,” as a factor in choosing a 137.5 percent “personal performance multiplier” on his year-end bonus.
In comparison, Unilever’s CFO, Jean-Marc Huet, received a 110 percent personal performance multiplier.
Among his fellow multi-national CEOs, Polman has been one of the most vocal proponents for integrating environmental and social goals into overall business planning. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan was formed under his watch and aims to halve the company’s environmental footprint by 2020, among other metrics. He has also broken away from the pack in his approach to shareholder duty. Rather than focus exclusively on shareholder returns, he has actively sought out the kind of investors that agree with his “build a bigger pie” approach to business, which emphasizes the long-term value companies can reap from a more environmentally and economically stable world.
The International Fund on Agricultural Development (IFAD), a financing agency within the U.N., on Feb. 20 stuck a five-year global agreement with Unilever that aims to better train and connect smallholder farmers to the marketplace. The partnership–the first of its kind between IFAD and the private sector–will aid Unilever in reaching its ambitious goal of integrating 500,000 small farmers into its supply chain by 2020 and provide training on sustainable farming methods. The new initiative was announced at IFAD’s annual governing council meeting by Unilever CEO Paul Polman at a panel event called Small Farmers=Big Business.
No specific activities have been announced, and it is unclear where or when the partnership will unroll. So, why is this story even interesting? Two reasons: One, it shows that Unilever is taking food traceability concerns seriously and looking to get a jump over other large multi-nationals on the issue; and two, it shows Polman’s genius in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) realm. The partnership also raises some questions over just how a multi-billion dollar corporation is going to do business with one-acre farms in Timbuktu—an arrangement that often, to say the least, has mixed results.
Tulane University announced on Monday that it would offer a $1M prize to any entrepreneurs, inventors or researchers that can come up with a market-driven solution to the “dead zones” that arise in the Gulf of Mexico, and elsewhere around the world, every year.
Dead zones are caused by hypoxia, a condition in which vast areas of water are depleted of oxygen and thus unable to support any marine life. In the Gulf of Mexico, the cause of these dead zones can largely be traced to the agricultural lands of the 33 states for which the Mississippi River is the main drainage point. Excess nutrients from fertilizer runoff and sewers enter the Gulf and cause a boom in micro-organisms like plankton and algae, which feed off of these nutrients. As these massive micro-populations die, the process of decomposition sucks the oxygen in surrounding water, killing other marine life that cannot escape the so-called dead zone.
When it comes to chicken, the truth isn’t so simple after all.
Supermarket giant Kroger Co. faces a potential class-action lawsuit for allegedly deceiving consumers about farming practices with its “Simple Truth” brand of chicken products. A consumer in California filed a suit against the company earlier this month at a Superior Court in Los Angeles and is seeking class-action status, reported Reuters.
The suit alleges that Kroger deliberately misled consumers with labeling on its Simple Truth chicken products that claimed the animals were raised in a “cage-free” and “humane environment” when in fact, the case claims, the chickens were raised under standard commercial farming practices that involve packed pens and electrocution before slaughter.
Some coal mining companies are getting a bargain on federal land and skirting export royalties, buoying their profits at the expense of taxpayers, according to a report released by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this month.
Initiated last year by committee chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who will soon step down to join the Senate Finance Committee, the report found that several state Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices sold tracts at below-market prices to mining companies and also shared information with the companies during the leasing process, which would violate protocols for the “blind lease” process used to get taxpayers a fair deal on public land sales. The same report also found that coal companies in several Western states booked coal exports through trading desks, thereby skirting the 12.5 percent export royalty payments due to taxpayers.
A separate report from the Government Accountability Office released earlier this month found that the BLM’s federal coal leasing program lacks sufficient oversight and sometimes fails to properly value the land it sells to mining companies, costing taxpayers an estimated $200 million in lost revenue.
Besides raising serious questions about federal and state employee misbehavior, the revelations also beg the question: How much does coal, the cheapest and most used energy source, really cost U.S. taxpayers? If we look at all the ignored costs of coal–preferential land leases, direct subsidies, not to mention collateral damage to public health and the environment–is this fuel source really the cheap, patriotic option that we should continue to subsidize, and how do the costs, all considered, stack up against renewable energy sources?
Today, multinational giant Dow Chemical officially launched a new agriculture support program in Russia as part of its commitment to mitigate the environmental impacts of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. DowSeeds, a unit of their agricultural division, is working with five large-scale farms across Russia to introduce their Nexera canola seed product alongside farm training programs to “optimize water and fertilizer use,” while also increasing yields. The pilot program, part of Dow’s “Sustainable Future” greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction program for the Sochi Olympics, focuses on canola farming and purports environmental, economic — and even health benefits. If you are wondering how the agriculture program ties in with the GHG mitigation program, read on.
Dr. Nicoletta Piccolrovazzi, Technology and Sustainability Director, and Sergey Belyavskiy, Business Development Leader of Dow Olympic Operations detailed the agriculture program exclusively to TriplePundit.
Yesterday, Ford Motor’s Global Trend and Futuring Manager (yep, actual job title) Sheryl Connelly unveiled the top ten trends shaping the world in 2014 as part of the motor giant’s second annual Looking Forward with Ford report.
The business of selling cars, it would seem, has gotten a lot more sophisticated than the horseless carriage of the Henry Ford era.
As Ford’s in-house futurist, Connelly and her team map the political, social, economic and cultural trends that are shaping the way people think, behave and buy around the world. They look at population and economic data, but, judging from this year’s crop of trends, they are also paying very close attention to data from social media. It takes three years to bring a vehicle to market at Ford, so it pays for the company to predict the needs of the near-future consumer, maybe before the consumer really recognizes those needs himself.
The 2014 trend report, the first to look globally, paints a picture of a consumer market that is simultaneously enthralled with and wary of the relentless pace of technological innovation. It’s a market that is starting to question the value of the “always-on” hyper-connected lifestyle, but is already dependent — maybe more than we’d like to admit — on the virtual embrace of technology, the adrenaline rush of a new “like” or a new follower.
Here’s a look at the top ten trends Ford expects to shape the market over the next 1-3 years, including a big shift in sustainability thinking:
Wilmar International, the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, announced a new set of sustainability measures designed to eliminate some of the most environmentally-destructive practices involved in palm oil production. According to details on the new agreement published by Reuters, the Singapore-based food products supplier and its subsidiaries promised to avoid any additional destruction of rainforest land or peatland — an important source of carbon sequestration. The company also stated that they will better protect worker’s rights and communities where they operate.
Palm oil is used in a wide array of food and non-food consumer products, and is an especially common ingredient in processed, packaged food. Some experts estimate that one in two products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. But even if you read the tiny label on that pack of potato chips, you might never know if it contains palm oil or not since manufacturers are often label palm oil as “vegetable oil.” About one-third of the world’s vegetable oil is made from processed palm oil according to GreenPalm, a sustainability certificate trading platform for palm oil and its derivatives.
There is an inherent tension in a sustainability campaign run by a company that produces millions of consumer products each day and bases its growth strategy on reaching “more customers, more often.” But with its November 20th launch of a new website and social engagement platform called Project Sunlight, Unilever is addressing some of that tension in a new marketing campaign that turns the spotlight on consumer actions to create a more sustainable mode of global consumption. (Unilever CMO Keith Weed discussed the reasoning behind the campaign yesterday here).
Project Sunlight is a means for Unilever to engage with its customers, while also showcasing the work it has been doing internally to lessen the negative environmental and social impacts associated with manufacturing and consumption. The Anglo-Dutch company launched a corporation-wide sustainability campaign in 2010, not long after Paul Polman joined as CEO. Polman has been one of the most outspoken C-suite advocates for pushing more sustainable business practices and set ambitious goals for Unilever: to double revenues to €80BN while halving its environmental impact by 2020.
Ten budding social entrepreneur teams pitched their hearts out on November 19 in New Orleans for a chance to win $5,000 in launch funding. In its fifth year, the PitchNOLA: Community Solutions contest is organized by local socent incubator Propeller and Tulane University’s SISE program and the Levy-Rosenblum Institute for Entrepreneurship. This week, it pitted the semi-finalists head-to-head for an elevator pitch session a la Shark Tank: in front of a packed audience and three expert judges ready to critique each presentation.
The ideas ranged from local, sustainably-sourced parade supplies to a date rape drug detector to a teacher training program that aims to put more African-American males at the head of the classroom. Whether for-profit or nonprofit, all contestants targeted a specific social and/or environmental issue plaguing New Orleans. As the city continues its economic rebound eight years after the devastation of Katrina, entrepreneurs of all kinds have emerged as a critical force for job creation and improvements in healthcare and education.
Here are a few of the next crop of up-and-coming change-makers in the Big Easy:
Walmart is entering the burgeoning “green cleaning” products market with a new line of non-toxic home cleaners that it says combines affordability, environmental friendliness and effectiveness. Using its generic brand name, the retailer announced last week that the Great Value Naturals line of four different cleaning products would be available at 2,000 stores across the country before a subsequent online launch. But with a patented technology in the mix, the “natural” ingredients remain somewhat of a mystery.
The new line was produced in partnership with a Florida-based company called Agaia using their patented Evolve® cleaning technology. The partnership marks the first foray into consumer markets for Agaia, which specializes in commercial cleaning applications ranging from hotels to bunkers. Their commercial and consumer products are based on their Evolve compound, which received a patent in June of this year.
Less than six months into New York City’s Citi Bike program and it is already being declared a success. Early adopters might have encountered some technical kinks and there are still some issues surrounding accessibility and kiosk placement. But the numbers so far tell a home-run story for Citi Bike.
Since the May 27th launch, NYC bikers have collectively pedaled 9.4M miles and taken over 4.7M trips on the bright blue two-wheelers. With annual memberships just $95 (a monthly subway pass is $112), New Yorkers now have the convenience and affordability of a bike-share program, at no taxpayer startup cost. User revenues keep the program running and the city has even suggested they might eventually turn a profit.
But the real winner in all this might be Citigroup, the international financial services behemoth and Citi Bike’s namesake corporate sponsor.
According to new analysis by USA Today, more than 10 percent of the corporations on the Standard & Poor’s 500 index – a stock market gauge of 500 of the largest publicly-traded U.S. corporations – did not pay any taxes last year. Using data from S&P Capital IQ, the report’s authors found that 57 of those 500 companies paid an effective tax rate of 0 percent or less, even if they turned a profit – and it’s all completely legal.
The report is a striking contrast to the oft-heard refrains of “overtaxation” by corporate executives. Well-known corporations like Verizon Wireless, NewsCorp and Met-Life were among those on USA Today’s zero-liability list, along with lesser-known IT and real estate companies like Agilent, Seagate and Kimco.
Some of the companies listed were not profitable, and therefore had no tax bill, but others did finish the year in the black. The statutory tax rate (i.e. the rate on the IRS books) for profitable corporations is 35 percent. But the effective tax rate, which is calculated by dividing the company’s overall tax expenses by its pre-tax earnings, is often significantly lower, thanks to regulatory loopholes and creative accounting measures. Another report, released in July by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), showed that profitable large companies (defined as having assets of $10M or more) were taxed an average of 12.6 percent. That is just below the median effective tax rate for middle-class Americans.