Enterprise risk management (ERM) has long been a growing priority of corporate executives and boards — not a surprise since political, economic and social change can occur quickly. But a study issued by the business reporting firm Workiva suggests sustainability-related risks should be part of a company’s core ERM analysis. Climate is an obvious reason, as many businesses learned after Hurricane Sandy two years ago. But other factors, from supply chain management to confronting water scarcity, are behind why the study’s authors insist businesses need to take sustainability seriously if they are to remain viable for the long term.
Sustainability is more than highlighting environmental and social risks, however. The Workiva report insists that in order for sustainability to be part and parcel of a company’s risk management plan, buy-in has got to start at the top, board- and executive-level, with a solid corporate governance structure. And before those groans start coming out of the boardroom, it’s important to remember that many reports already out there prove that a company focused on being sustainable and socially responsible is one that also enjoys an improved financial performance.
But how should sustainability-related challenges be implemented and monitored?
I only got 10 likes in the last five minutes
Do you think I should take it down?
Let me take another selfie. . .
–“#Selfie,” by the Chainsmokers
Most of us who live on social media know that companies such as Instagram allow you to use their services on the condition that they can use your services, royalty-free, without any notification.
That was one reason why I avoided using Instagram at first, although almost 6,500 photos later, I got over those privacy concerns pretty quickly. Not that anyone would want to use photos of my dog, my dome smooshed into a bike helmet, or me doing a yoga backbend in front of the Taj Mahal. Maybe. But I also do not pose for selfies brandishing my middle finger, with my tongue wagging out, or passed out buried in a pile of empty Corona bottles (I only drink local or organic brews). Triple Pundit doesn’t need the embarrassment, nor do any of my business clients. But for those of you that love to post pics of your shopping expeditions or favorite junk foods, be aware: Your selfie could very well be dissected and analyzed by the digital marketing startup Ditto.
One of the more welcome trends in recent years is the increase in partnerships between NGOs and businesses to work on sustainability challenges. The nonprofit has the expertise and capacity to work on issues from water to land rights; companies in turn have the funds, technology or brand recognition that can help raise awareness and scale these programs. One of the latest high-profile partnerships is between Unilever and the World Resources Institute (WRI), which have worked together to further a much needed agenda: increase transparency in agricultural supply chains to stall the pace of deforestation.
WRI has long included deforestation within its body of work, which makes it a natural fit to partner with a company such as Unilever, which uses palm oil in many of its products. And the growing demand for palm oil over the past decade is one of the major factors behind global deforestation. Despite growing awareness about deforestation’s catastrophic effects, the felling of trees, mostly to create farms and pastureland, continues. In fact, University of Maryland study suggests the rate of forests lost between 2010 and 2012 was the equivalent about 50 soccer fields every minute of every day — over a span of 12 years. Last month’s Climate Summit in New York resulted in a pledge to restore 350 million hectares of forest worldwide by 2030, a massive undertaking considering that landmass is about the size of India. So, can the Unilever-WRI alliance help?
If plant-based protein becomes the norm — and meat production becomes only a minor, not major, contributor to the world’s problems coming from carbon emissions and pollution — then much of the credit should go to Stanford University researcher Patrick Brown. The professor of biochemistry, who has spent much of his career on genetic research, has taken on a new quest: finding alternatives to animal farming. And one of his ideas is a plant-based hamburger that oozes out blood like the real thing.
His brainchild is Impossible Foods, a Redwood City, California startup that has scored $75 million in venture capital funding, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company is developing fake cheeses and meats, including his beef substitute that uses plant-based molecules to recreate a more environmentally friendly, and humane, alternative to steak and hamburger. In his quest to change how we eat, and put a dent in the global meat industry, he is focusing on the environmental argument while trying to develop a product that has the taste and texture of the real thing — eschewing the emotional and ethical arguments typical of the anti-meat crowd.
Buying cleaning products has long been a murky process. Few laws requiring companies to disclose the chemicals are on the books — so of course, most companies do not list what they put into those bottles. But for some public health advocates, required ingredients disclosure has been their rallying cry. Now more companies are responding in kind. For example, Clorox recently announced an expansion of its “Ingredients Inside” program and an updated release of its smartphone app that aims to educate customers about the company’s portfolio of cleaning products, from bleach to room fresheners. Fragrances, those pesky additives where it is almost impossible to sort out how they are formulated, are the latest addition.
And indeed, that is quite a laundry list of fragrances Clorox uses in all of its products. But that list is it — no other additional information about these ingredients was released. Consumers who want more information are directed to a Wikipedia page, or the International Fragrance Association. One can also download a list in PDF format if they want to learn the industry names of the fragrances. So, are these updated apps and disclosures actually helpful to consumers, or is this just marketing in the guise of transparency?
This week, Collectively.org launched. Described in a press release as a “super brand coalition” platform to “raise awareness and inspire millennials to adopt a more sustainable way of living,” I first thought it was a joke. I rolled my eyes as the email also included a pallid quote from Barack Obama and forwarded it onto the editors here at Triple Pundit with a snicker (which is why, PR people, get to the point right away).
Yes, the “super brand coalition” threw me off, as I envisioned a posse of luxury brands going into the Middle Eastern desert to root out terrorism. But when I scrolled down that same email yesterday, it turns out this is partnership between Forum of the Future and some of the world’s biggest and iconic companies: Marks & Spencer, Unilever, Google, Nike, BT and others are sponsoring this new site while VIRTUE, a division of edgy VICE Media, is curating the site.
And according to sustainability writers out there, that background poses a huge problem for Collectively, and the knives are out. “A slew of major corporations,” and “backed by corporate sponsors,” are among the complaints being lobbed at this new site—as if somehow corporate involvement is a bad thing. The “feel good” stories on Collectively are mocked, and the site is even chided for not covering other stories such as the Aral Sea’s disappearance (shame on us at Triple Pundit, as admittedly we barely covered the disappearance of the world’s fourth largest freshwater lake).
But is the criticism fair, with Collectively not even up and running for a week?
While international marketing executives scratch their heads over how to expand business in a world saturated with products (are Africa, India and Latin America the last frontiers for global business?), more companies may want to focus on socioeconomic, not geographic, markets to find new opportunities. After all, the “bottom of the pyramid,” as in the world’s lower-income wage earners, are as much as 70 percent of the world’s population. Some businesses understand this and sell products accordingly—for example consumer packaged goods companies that sell cleaning products in sachets instead of massive boxes. Now SC Johnson, the Wisconsin-based cleaning products company, is joining this small but growing crowd in Ghana, and contributing to local efforts to reduce the risks of contracting malaria.
The program, nicknamed WOW, launched in 2012, though SC Johnson has researched and tested this business concept for almost a decade. A pilot program in Bobikuma, Ghana, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) west of the capital of Accra, kicked off earlier this year. With support from Cornell University and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this membership-based club allows families to pool their money together to buy cleaning and pest-control products and reduce the transmission of malaria. Besides allowing families to share resources, the communal nature of selling these products allows for sharing tips about keeping homes clean and safe from malaria-carrying mosquitos. Now the program has expanded.
The commercial aviation industry has long been unstable and struggled to make a profit, in part because of the volatility of fuel prices. Consolidation and cost-cutting have improved many airlines’ financial performance in recent years, but they are only one epidemic, fiscal crisis or political time bomb from reeling. That is one reason why for several years, many airlines have experimented with adding biofuels to conventional jet fuel in order to harness energy security—and try to reduce those pesky carbon emissions that are difficult for the airline industry to avoid. Now Gol, the second largest airline in Brazil, is testing farnesane, a clear fuel sourced from sugar cane.
The partnership between Gol, Amyris, a California-based biofuels company, and the French energy giant Total culminated in a flight earlier this summer between Orlando and São Paulo, which was powered by conventional jet fuel blended with 10 percent farnesane. For now Gol has commited to using the 10 percent blend on select international flights between the U.S. and Brazil. Then last month a Lufthansa flight between Frankfurt and Berlin was also powered in part by farnesane.
Whether you revile or revere Airbnb, you cannot dispute the role the company has had in expanding and legitimizing the sharing economy. Sure there have been a few trashed homes here and there and the company is in an ongoing tussle with stubborn New York City business interests—the latest salvo is a coalition of “concerned citizens” who launched a site allowing Airbnb users to locate sex offenders and building code violations. The fact that NYC’s hotel occupancy rate hovers around 88 percent shows that Airbnb is hardly a threat, but in fact is really a complement, to hotels. And that is why more business travelers are using Airbnb when attending those conferences or sales meetings.
And why wouldn’t they? Take New York, where average hotel rates are approaching $300. In San Francisco, they are over $200 a night. (In fact, the city of San Francisco has finally realized that Airbnb is here to stay and voted to legalize and regulate short-term rentals.) And those rates are before a major conference hits town, which sends hotel prices up even further—if you can score one during one of those massive tech conferences at Moscone Center. So if you don’t want to walk from the Tenderloin to the SOMA in San Francisco, or get stuck in L.A. traffic because those hotels in Santa Monica or downtown were beyond budget, Airbnb could offer a more comfortable stay, with more workspace and room to chill, than an overpriced hotel room.
We have all had that moment where out of convenience, or desperation, we call up the local pizza joint and order a pie. And why not? Pizza covers all (or most) of the food groups, is satisfying, and can be eaten anywhere. The only caveat is that manky cardboard pizza box in which your instant meal is delivered. Awkward, bulky, and quite gross to look at after you’re done devouring your Hawaiian or meat lover’s special, that tomato sauce and cooking oil-stained box may not be compostable or recyclable.
But never mind, Ecovention’s GreenBox, or the “pizza box of the 21st century” as described by Fox News, is continuing to make a difference in the pizza industry—six years after we first touted this innovation here on Triple Pundit. This recyclable pizza box has its own Twitter account, has been showcased on Rachael Ray’s show and keeps you updated on the latest pizza creations on its blog. And of course, in case we forget, it’s 100 percent recyclable.
Travel has certainly become easier the past twenty years thanks to discount airlines and the web, but the effects are not always positive. Increased carbon emissions, more environmental degradation and the world’s cultural homogenization are amongst the results cited by those concerned about cheap and easy travel. But one emerging travel publisher is leveraging the latest technology with increased interest in responsible travel, and in turn aims to bring water to those who need it most: Ecoalsur.
Based in a coworking office in Montevideo, Uruguay, Ecoalsur is a group of travel writers, adventurers and techies who seek to inspire travelers to see the world in a more environmentally and socially responsible way. For now the ground Ecoalsur covers is Latin America, though the firm’s network of writers has started to write about Africa and more regions across the world are on the horizon. In addition to highlighting responsible travel opportunities from the Uruguayan coast to Patagonia to Chiapas, this social enterprise focuses on another task: bringing clean and safe water to South America’s Gran Chaco.
Approximately 84 percent of all households in Kenya use solid fuels for cooking. This rate spikes to 95 percent for Kenyans who live in rural households. So as they have for generations, most families in Kenya use cookstoves three times a day to prepare their meals. But the results are negative all around: deforestation, increased carbon emissions and a massive threat to public health. The Alliance for Clean Cookstoves estimates over 36 million Kenyans are affected by household air pollution (HAP); over 15,000 deaths in Kenya annually are directly related to HAP. One social enterprise, GreenChar, is trying to reverse that trend.
GreenChar is trying to take a different approach from other cookstove initiatives that have launched, and failed, in Kenya, Africa, and in other developing regions such as India. As an article in Nature earlier this year outlined, the fact that one-third of the world’s population uses solid fuel to cook food takes a toll on our environment, on families and on their communities. But despite the best intentions, scores of cookstove projects have failed, for a bevy of economic and cultural reasons. An 18-year-old social entreprenuer who recently graduated from high school, however, hopes to buck this discouraging trend.
With all the fuss over corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol and other potential replacements for gasoline the past several years, it is easy to forget that ethanol is an important component in detergents. An effective, if not the most environmentally friendly surfactant, ethanol helps keep those fabrics clean. For years, corn-based ethanol was an important ingredient in Procter & Gamble’s Tide detergent product line. But that is changing as P&G, in a joint announcement with DuPont, have announced a shift towards cellulosic ethanol that has been 10 years in the making.
This is an interesting development for those of us who have observed the ethanol industry the past several years. In part, the debate over fuel vs. food has kept us captivated, and then of course there have been the endless media advisories from startup companies promising a massive ethanol breakthrough “in six months!” Scores of six months’ later, the reach and scale of P&G and DuPont’s partnership could help cellulosic ethanol become more important in our country’s energy, and chemical, portfolios.
A recently released study suggests stronger power plant standards to cut carbon emissions could save lives and offer significant health benefits. The study, a joint effort by Harvard University, Boston University and Syracuse University, evaluated the impacts of various policy options to reduce power plant emissions on public health. The timing is important considering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released carbon pollution standards, named the Clean Power Plan, for the first time in June. The suggested standards included a range of policy options, and the three universities’ researchers evaluated the three likely policy frameworks that would represent strategies for high, moderate and low targets for future carbon emissions reduction targets.
The study evaluated these three different carbon emissions policy scenarios for power plants to gauge which one would have the largest positive impact on public health. The first scenario, with the lowest targets and therefore the most energy-company friendly, would have only generated modest carbon emission reduction and created an uptick in public health risks. Another, the most rigorous plan on the compliance side, with high emission reduction targets but allowing no local flexibility and lacking any energy efficiency measures, reduced carbon but offered limited improvements in public health. A more moderate approach, which allowed for local flexibility in meeting the EPA’s proposed rules, actually showed the most potential for reversing mortalities and hospitalizations attributed to climate change.
The Coke vs. Pepsi “cola wars” was one of the 20th century’s greatest marketing campaigns, or scams, depending on your point of view. Both companies have become massive food and beverage giants while somehow perpetrating the myth that there is actually a taste difference between their flagship products (though insisting you can taste the difference between Coke and Pepsi is like saying you can taste the difference between a Whopper and Big Mac). But fast forward to the 21st century; while these companies are still strong, sales of fizzy drinks are flat. Some, such as diet soda products, are in decline or losing market share. Can stevia-based drinks reinvigorate the soft drinks industry?
The reasons Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s sales of their most venerated products have struggled are all over the map. Obesity rates and their connections to sugary drinks are one. Health concerns over aspartame, sucralose, and years before, sodium saccharine are another. In a society where many younger consumers want to serve the latest and coolest in their mason jars, cola drinks don’t exactly cut it. There is also much more competition than there was a decade ago. Walk into a convenience store and the variety and colors of cans and bottles demonstrate Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s competition. The soda giants even own many of these newer brands — any recent growth they’ve seen has come from new products, not sales of their older brands. Now two new products boasting calorie-free stevia root, Coca-Cola Life and Pepsi True, are set to hit shelves in the United States, and both companies hope they can reverse the slow but notable long term downtown in soft drink sales.