Microsoft, once the big, bad and bullying tech giant, has reinvented itself in recent years as a more progressive company executing impressive work on social enterprise and environmental issues. The company’s carbon neutrality strategy, which launched last year, is starting to show results in part because of investments in carbon offsets. Add to that Microsoft’s progress on biodiversity, leveraging technology for health care and an attempt to boost youth employment and technical skills, and the company has developed a strong corporate social responsibility program that is part philanthropy, part employee-driven and also pays heed to environmental stewardship.
Microsoft’s carbon strategy started with an internal accounting system the company’s finance department charged to each business unit. Those fees were deposited into a central fund from which Microsoft could then invest in clean energy or carbon offset projects.
So far, the company has invested in 15 carbon offset projects across the world. Here are a few highlights:
As more companies seek creative ways to retain talent, improve productivity, keep employees engaged and reduce health care costs, a robust bicycling program is one perk businesses should consider. The statistics should certainly encourage companies. Over 42 million Americans rode a bicycle in 2010, making it the second most popular outdoor activity in the country. Almost half of Americans in a recent survey indicated they wish for more bicycling amenities in their communities.
Plus bicycling is not only a healthy means of commuting, but is a cost-effective means of getting to work. The average American spends over $8,700 a year on car payments, insurance, fuel and other automobile costs. Contrast that figure with a 10-mile round trip completed on a bicycle, which can save that same commuter $10 when factoring car maintenance into the equation. And for employers located in pricey urban areas, parking is an expensive perk to provide for employees.
So how can employers cajole more employees to cycle more and drive less? First, they have to realize not everyone is going to two-wheel it to work. And obvious factors such as geography, climate and local bicycling infrastructure come into play. During a recent conversation I had with Tim Ericson, CEO of Zagster, he shared some pointers companies should consider when developing a compelling bicycling program.
You may not have heard of Kuwait Petroleum International (Q8), but this energy giant earns $20 billion in annual revenues, employs 4,500 people and runs operations on five continents. It also sold 11 billion liters (3 billion gallons) of automobile and truck fuel, mostly in Europe the past year at over 4,400 retail stations. Now Q8, a subsidiary of a state-owned Kuwaiti company, has issued its first sustainability report.
The report sends a signal Kuwait is ready to compete on the sustainability front with its neighbors to the southeast, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. The Gulf region is not necessarily known as a hotbed of sustainability, but both the UAE and Qatar are taking big steps in the research and development of clean energy and green building. Oil is a finite resource in the Gulf and the global natural gas boom will also have an impact on these countries’ imports. Plus concerns ranging from human rights to transparency also behove such firms to disclose details about their operations, which often span the globe.
So what is Q8 doing on the corporate social responsibility front?
Cascadian Farm, the 40-year-old organic cereal manufacturer and part of the General Mills’ portfolio of brands, has introduced a new cereal box liner made from “green” materials. General Mills touts this new innovation as the “first-ever” cereal bag made out of plant-based renewable sources.
For the $13 billion ready-to-eat cereal market, this new bio-plastic bag could be another tactic to lure customers back to a fledgling industry. Over the past decade, growth in cereal consumption has been tepid at best as more consumers seek breakfast outside the home and seek alternatives such as breakfast sandwiches or cereal bars. Perhaps consumers are finally waking up: the cereal phenomenon, after all, is one of the great 20th century food scams. Considering the cost of breakfast cereal, especially the overpriced products food giants such as Kellogg’s and General Mills manufacture, one does just as well having a couple pieces of toast and a multivitamin if he or she wants a healthy start to the day—and less waste, too, since there is only a plastic bag to toss once that loaf runs out.
But we love cereal, which shows why the both the high fructose syrup and GMO-laden options made by General Mills and Kellogg’s, as well as the healthier options found at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, still sell.
So is this green cereal liner a great innovation, especially for those of us who try to avoid or at least reuse plastic bags whenever we can? And is this new cereal liner is a great alternative for the disposal of dog waste or a garbage pail liner?
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.