Earlier this summer fellow 3p writer RP Siegel covered the launch of Step Forward Paper, a printer paper made of 80 percent wheat straw – the rest is traditional tree pulp – available at Staples. The actor Woody Harrelson, a veteran political and environmental activist, is one of the product’s most visible backers. For now the paper is manufactured in India, but the company has big goals to expand and build a mill in North America that will be off-grid and churn out paper made from 100 percent agricultural waste.
Innovations like Step Forward are welcome in a world where the population is increasing, the middle class is growing and resources are constrained. Furthermore, some pulp and paper companies, including Asia Pulp and Paper, have had a dubious environmental record. The idea of a tree-free paper is certainly tantalizing; but could it really scale and become a viable alternative the way Harrelson and Step Forward promise?
Many of us have worked for organizations that offer discounted health club memberships, but what about a discount for a bicycle? With all the fretting over Obamacare here in the U.S., one way in which businesses can save money on health care costs is by encouraging bicycling, even occasionally, as an option for employees to move to and from work. From America’s bicycling hub of Portland to countries around the world, evidence suggests employees who cycle to work can save their companies money.
To that end, bicycling even became one of the planks, albeit a small one, within President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA). But as MarketWatch has explained, a fund for bicycling infrastructure became a straw man and object of ridicule for opponents of the law. Many cities hence ignored any funds tinged with the “Obamacare” label to build expanded or new bicycling infrastructure in their communities. Exceptions can be found, however. Madison County in Illinois recently leveraged an AHCA grant to install new bicycle racks, and Austin, TX, scored similar funds so a local nonprofit can teach basics about bicycling in an urban setting.
Discussions over Obamacare aside, concerns over health, especially Americans’ struggle with sedentary lifestyles and obesity, are in part behind Americans’ increased interest in bicycling. Meanwhile the decrease in funds for large public transportation projects, and concurrent political infighting, has often made those expensive options politically toxic—so municipalities are exploring other options for bike lanes and other bicycle-friendly ventures as a cost-effective way to boost mobility within their communities. But this is not just about traffic: evidence suggests bicycling can save companies money, especially on those ever-spiraling health care costs.
So what are potential health care savings as the result of employees taking a bicycle to work?
Can a Cisco certificate boost gender equality in the Middle East? More women in Saudi Arabia are able to complete higher education, but they still have a difficult time finding gainful employment. Depending on the source cited, the unemployment rate for Saudi women is as high as 34 percent, five times the unemployment of men in this nation of 28 million.
Scholarships for women to study at home and abroad have surged the past decade, but far too many women still graduate from college only to find themselves sitting at home. Several factors are behind women’s unemployment in Saudi Arabia: society’s frowning upon unrelated men and women mingling in public, work and schools, as well as other societal attitudes towards women related to the fact they cannot vote or drive.
Cisco is one company working to increase professional opportunities for women under the constraints Saudi society imposes on anyone living and working in the country. Throughout the Middle East, Cisco has worked with universities, technical colleges and education ministries to embed technical training within these schools’ curricula. The results could add up to a more technically-savvy workforce, better jobs for women and more long-term business opportunities for the Silicon Valley-based networking equipment giant. To learn a little more, I interviewed Cisco’s Nevine ElKadi via telephone from her Cairo office.
Hell hath no fury like Donald Trump scorned, but there is evidence the onetime 1980s icon of American wealth and excess is fading from bombastic cool to babbling codger. The Donald’s growing irrelevance is showcased tonight at 9:00 pm EST/PST on HBO, which covers the saga of Donald Trump and his tiff with the Scottish government on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (remember him?).
Sports reporter Bernard Goldberg reconnected with the Donald and his foes around the city of Aberdeen, where Trump’s plans for a mega-resort, a golfing “metropolis,” have run into several roadblocks in recent years.
When I received the DVD preview from HBO yesterday, I was not sure what to expect. Was this going to be a puff piece for sports and golf fans? Or was it going to be a PR piece building up Trump, who is used to bullying in order to get what he wants?
As more companies realize the benefits of having an ambitious and transparent corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly taking a look at what they can do for the environment, communities, or both. And as more professionals, especially ones finishing school and starting their careers, seek a job as a CSR officer in any form, they confront the same challenge:
There sure aren’t a lot of those CSR jobs at the moment.
So what is someone keen on CSR to do? And how can a company interested in doing more for the community, but does not have a dedicated CSR officer or manager, move forward?
New England-based LBG Research, a community investment research nonprofit, offered suggestions in a briefing issued last week.
Details are not yet final, but President Obama has finally allowed retrofitting the White House roof to allow for solar panels. No, this is not a plot from HBO’s hit series Veep: it is finally happening. The final total of panels will range between 20 and 50 solar panels according to Think Progress and the Washington Post—perhaps enough to power a few flat screen TVs or power the equivalent of 15 seconds of flight on Air Force One. It is a step that is surely attracting all kinds of buzz in and outside of Washington, DC, one either seen as a token effort, a sign of leadership on sustainability, or as a yawner. The installation falls on the heels of a 2010 promise Obama had made to install a rooftop solar system.
So while Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy roils those on both the left and right, and the solar panels will hardly be enough to make a dent in the 132-room mansion’s energy consumption, the panels at the very least show the current administration is leading by example on clean energy policy.
Unilever now asks customers, stakeholders, entrepreneurs, inventors—anyone, really–to submit ideas for a next-generation sustainable shower. Launched this week in Europe, this competition culls ideas for showers that will save water and energy, yet will still offer that refreshing morning, or evening, experience. Submitted ideas will then be crowdsourced so people can vote on the best concepts. The top prize wins €5,000, and four runners-up will split another €5,000. Unilever will work with the creative firm eYeka to find a new shower that will “wow” the multinational “with an original and revolutionary design for the next generation of showers.”
Participants in the contest just have to follow a few guidelines. The shower had better recycle water. Such a contraption must fit in a space where a conventional shower is generally located in a bathroom. It has to be affordable, pleasurable and also “deliver a better sensorial experience.”
Reading through a recently released Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report at first reveals the obvious: eating more fruits and vegetables is healthier for you. But the report, The $11 Trillion Dollar Reward, goes further and places a dollar value on the benefits of a healthier society. The UCS study suggests a revamp of our nation’s agriculture policy is in order to get more local fruits and vegetables on the table and less reaching out of a car window to grab another bagged fast food meal.
According to UCS, American’s obsession with fast food and processed food comes at a high cost in wages and of course, health. The price of treating strokes and heart disease reached $94 billion in 2010, and that cost could triple by 2030. Financial savings are possible, too: if Americans just ate an additional serving of fruit or vegetables a day, cost savings would total $5 billion while 30,000 lives would be saved annually. And if citizens followed the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nutritional guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption (which of course are not matched by this agency’s policies), $17 billion in costs, and 127,000 lives, would be saved. With all benefits tallied up, UCS suggests total savings in healthier lifestyles, and longer and more productive lives, totals to $11 trillion.
So what does UCS suggest happen in order to encourage the increased consumption of more fresh fruits and vegetables?
[Ed note: Want to learn how to write a great CSR report? Consider an upcoming GRI-certified sustainability reporter training in Silicon Valley or Seattle]
Integrated reporting is moving slowly in the United States, but across the pond, more organizations are joining this movement to merge financial, environmental, social and corporate governance data. Late last week Deutsche Börse Group became the 100th organization, and first stock exchange, to participate in the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) pilot program designed to transform corporate reporting. With 765 companies and a combined market capitalization of almost $1.6 trillion dollars, Deutsche Börse’s decision to join the two-year-old IIRC’s Pilot Program Business Network is a big step forward for corporate reporting and transparency.
Deutsche Börse’s addition to this program is not much of a surprise. The exchange has a robust corporate responsibility section on its website, and has already published an integrated report that scored the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s most comprehensive rating, an “A+,” for 2012. So how will integrated reporting benefit in the long run?
This week the government of Japan inked an agreement with the southeast Asian nation of Laos that will permit Japanese firms to earn carbon credits and assist the landlocked country of 6.2 million with the reduction its carbon dioxide emissions. This is the seventh such agreement under the Joint Crediting Mechanism (JDM) between Japan and a developing country.
Curiously, the country that hosted the Kyoto climate talks over twenty years ago and sparked the eponymous protocol is now launching carbon credit programs on its own. Compared to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which emanated from the Kyoto Protocol, JDM programs are solely between the two governments: Japan’s and the other country with whom such an agreement is signed. One complaint of the CDM program is that companies wishing to launch carbon credit programs must go through a lengthy and layered process under the auspices of the United Nations—Japan’s program, on the other hand, skips such steps entirely.
So why would Japan venture on its own with its own low-carbon scheme?
Is strategic philanthropy smart business? More and more companies are donating goods, services or cash for good causes—causes that fit a company’s overall strategy. Corporate philanthropy often gets a bad rap, but the reality is the largesse of industrialists past and present has helped build a strong America. Regardless, past corporate scandals, globalized supply chains with dubious social impacts and environmental degradation together mean companies just cannot cut a check and say they are “doing good.”
So they are doing more, and yes, partly out of self-interest. One company embarking on a strategic philanthropy agenda is the multinational company, SAP. The company has recently ramped up donations of its technologies across the world. At first glance, they are compassionate, but there is more behind giving out free software for a good cause. As in the case of many companies, emerging and “frontier” markets are the last places where SAP can grow, and these countries offer potentially huge rewards and returns. So strategic philanthropy as part of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) in emerging markets agenda, is wise, yet complicated, policy.
At the same time, watchdogs both local and global behoove a company to be a good community and social citizen. Furthermore, in an age where professionals want more than a paycheck, and in fact, want to work at a company they believe has a strong social purpose, programs like that of SAP’s are the building blocks to employee engagement and entrenching themselves as solid, responsive stakeholders. For SAP, this is not just about keeping smiles on the faces of employees at its Waldorf headquarters, or Palo Alto and other regional offices—establishing programs for social good is also a way to groom and develop local talent to sustain the company’s long-term future. Last week, I spoke on the telephone with Brittany Lothe, SAP’s Director of Global CSR, to learn more about the company’s approach towards strategic philanthropy.
Can a cash infusion from China help save Detroit? While downtown Detroit has experienced much revitalization, in part thanks to Dan Gilbert and Mike Ilitch, much of the city outside Motown’s center and the Woodward Avenue corridor suffers. Once home to over 1.8 million people, the city’s population cratered over the past decade and now stands at just over 700,000. Speaking of home, the government of this city of houses, not apartments, has razed thousands of homes. Many have been empty for years; homeowners simply walked away from others as that option was a more favorable proposition than trying to sell or rent them.
As the city stumbled into what is now the largest municipal bankruptcy outside of Orange County’s 1994 crisis, countless houses faced few prospects other than demolition because no infrastructure exists to support them. Despite a declining population, an incompetent and often corrupt city government was still determined to provide services at the level of a city of almost 2 million people when only one-third that number actually lived there—and often failed at that.
Now, tales of Chinese investors willing to snatch Detroit homes by the handful are all over social media sites in China and the U.S. press. Could a massive investment in homes and offices help Detroit recover?
Can a little Dead Sea venture named Naked Sea Salt heal divisions in the Holy Land? Everyone has a say in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from powerful lobbying groups here in the U.S. to states in the Middle East apoplectic over the mere mention of Israel. The reality is, while people abroad squabble, Israelis and Palestinians will live side-by-side for the foreseeable future. Could commerce be a path to peace, similar to the development of the European Economic Community (which led to the European Union) and its role in healing Europe in the years after World War II?
Well, it may only be a grain of progress, but Naked Sea Salt is an example of how Israelis and Palestinians are working together on an economic goal. On the edge of the Dead Sea, a small social enterprise harvests salt the way it has been done for centuries. The CEO of the company, Ari Fruchter, attempted to raise money on Kickstarter, and he more than succeeded: the campaign passed its fundraising goal within 48 hours and is close to tripling it.
GM is joining the growing crowd of companies joining the “landfill-free” agenda. Many companies tout their “zero-waste” policies in their factories – claims that often lie on a slippery slope. “Zero waste” is a noble, but impossible goal: hazardous waste, for example, adds to the complexity because local regulations often govern how such materials are disposed. Nevertheless, “landfill-free” is becoming the mantra at GM, a curious car company amplifying its talk about “sustainability.” The company says it is on a mission to slash waste globally, with the two latest landfill-free facilities in Thailand and South Korea.
Waste diversion efforts are about more than saving on disposal costs: they are a way to inspire innovation and competition within a company as well as engage and motivate employees. Last week, I had another conversation with John Bradburn, GM’s manager of waste reduction efforts, to learn about what the automaker has done to slash waste across its global operations.
If you are not familiar with Maersk, you should be. The Danish giant touches your life more than you would think, and the $57 billion shipping behemoth is also transforming, albeit slowly, how it conducts business. The results could have an impact on how products are shipped across the globe’s oceans. And starting this summer, the company has ventured into “green shipping.”
No group of stakeholders can put pressure on a company to the degree investors can, and this is even true of the titans within the shipping and logistics industries. Earlier this summer a cross-industry coalition, the Sustainable Shipping Initiative, hosted an event at which a Dutch bank representative noted the way in which containers ships are financed will slowly change. More investors will demand transparency and environmental performance—as in those pesky, or in the case of the shipping industry, the massive amounts of carbon emissions emitted into the earth’s atmosphere.
We all hear the mantra how we should all be “buying local,” which is a noble, but often unrealistic idea for several reasons. First, international trade has been the foundation of the global economy for centuries. Companies’ supply chains are becoming more complicated, which means your car, mobile phone, or to creep you out — your favorite snack — could have parts, or ingredients, from several countries. And consumers in a more mobile world want and covet products from the homeland—walk into your local Costco, check your metropolitan area’s demographics, and scope out some of the products available in that local warehouse store’s aisles.
At the same time, shipping fuel is amongst the filthiest energy used on the planet due to its sulfur content. Additionally, it contributes almost three percent to global CO2 emissions—or about the same amount as a major global economy. And with 90 percent of international trade relying on ships and boats, emissions will only go up if the industry does not change.
So what is Maersk doing?