Are you walking on the organic side of your local grocery aisle yet? If you count yourself among the growing number of consumers who are making an effort to bring healthier food choices into their diet, Target has its sights set on your business. The big-box retailer recently introduced Simply Balanced, their new organic line, that it likely hopes may convince some consumers to skip a trip to their local farmers’ market or Trader Joe’s. According to Target, the Simply Balanced collection, that is scheduled for a full rollout next month, will have an assortment of about 250 products, from snacks to frozen seafood. Nearly half of the line is organic, and three-quarters of it is GMO-free. Simply Balanced also has food labels that are easy to decipher, and affordable price points.
Following the current national trend pushing GMO labeling legislation and eradication, such as Whole Foods’ commitment to labeling GMOs in all their stores’ products by 2018, Target took a stand against GMOs in their new natural store brand by pledging to eliminate them from the entire line by the close of 2014. Additionally, the retailer plans a 25 percent increase in their organic food selections by the end of fiscal year 2017.
By Lisa Marie Chirico
Consumers have a new partner to help them track their daily water use thanks to appliance manufacturer Electrolux. The company recently launched a Facebook application, YourWaterMark, that promises to go a step further in water conservation by helping individuals assess their water use outside the home as well. The arrival of the YourWaterMark app is well-timed. The planet’s crucial need to conserve water is part of our new normal. By the year 2030, the demand for fresh water will eclipse the supply by 40 percent. Now, nearly one in nine people lack access to clean water. In American households, water use is high, with the average family of four using up to 400 gallons daily, according to the U.S. EPA.
Electrolux’s YourWaterMark app is part of the company’s ongoing commitment to sustainable business practices. The company is a recognized leader in the Durable Household Products category by the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. “As a home appliance manufacturer, we know that it’s crucial for us do our part when it comes to sustainability,” said Henrik Sundström, Vice President Group Sustainability Affairs at Electrolux. “We’ve already surpassed our 2012 water reduction goal, set out in 2010, of reducing water usage by 20 percent in our operations,” he continued. “Our commitment extends to our appliances as well. Electrolux dishwashers use at least 40 percent less water than was used just 10 years ago, and our eco-friendly washers use 63 percent less water than washers from just 10 years ago,” he added.
When you hear about fast food chains lobbying on Capitol Hill, you probably assume that whatever their cause is, it probably doesn’t have much to do with you. This is not one of those times.
Fast food chain, Wendy’s, along with White Castle, headed to Washington, D.C. recently to put their stake in the ground regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS program was created in 2005 under the Energy Policy Act, and established the first renewable fuel volume mandate in the United States.
The chain restaurants, who partnered with their industry’s trade association, the National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR), don’t agree with the RFS mandate, and lobbied to repeal it. The group contends that fuel manufactured from corn, soy, and other agricultural crops pushes food and commodity prices up. In addition, if left unchanged, the RFS will cost chain restaurant operators up to $3.2 billion each year the mandate remains in effect. These costs are then passed along the supply chain, impacting farmers and franchise owners, and are eventually transferred to diners and consumers nationwide. In addition to lobbying against the RFS, the group also supports the bipartisan RFS Reform Act, which eliminates corn-based ethanol requirements, among other measures.
Let’s face it, it’s good to be first, at least if you happen to be the first to do something worthwhile. In the ongoing debate about the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food, Denver, CO-based Chipotle Mexican Grill made what may turn out to be an important food history “first” in the United States.
The chain, which operates more than 1,450 restaurants across the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and France, recently revealed that since March, they have labeled all the ingredients in their menu items, including GMOs. This makes Chipotle the first American fast food chain to voluntarily display the presence of GMOs in its products.
According to Chipotle’s spokesman, reaction to the identity of the chain’s ingredients has not affected sales. “If anything, it engenders more trust when you’re more forthcoming about the food you serve,” he said. Chipotle is going beyond labeling GMOs, they also intend to eliminate them from their ingredients as much as possible. Yet, the chain’s new labeling won’t win high marks with diners looking for total transparency since it is only available on the restaurant’s website, and not on their in-store menus.
Consumers searching for greater clarity in food labeling have reason to rejoice. Ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s, a division of Unilever, decided that more transparency was in order. The Vermont-based company, the first wholly-owned subsidiary to gain B Corp Certification, recently announced their plan to completely eliminate all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from their entire product line by 2014. According to the company, about 80 percent of their ingredients by volume are sourced non-GMO in the United States and Canada, and all their products made in Europe are already non-GMO. “We have a long history of siding with consumers and their right to know what’s in their food,” Ben & Jerry’s stated.
According to the company’s website, although their goal is for all 80 flavors to be Fair Trade Certified and sourced with non-GMO ingredients by the end of this year, the conversion will continue into 2014. Ben & Jerry’s cites complexity as the reason for this – a single flavor of their ice cream can contain almost 40 different ingredients.
By Lisa Marie Chirico
Immigration reform is grabbing its share of headlines lately. The Senate voted 84-15 to begin consideration of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” compromise legislation this week. Tim Pawlenty, president and CEO of The Financial Services Roundtable and former governor of Minnesota, recently commented, “If you think of this (immigration reform) as a stew instead of a roast…there’s enough elements for compromise here.”
Mr. Pawlenty makes an astute point. It seems that nearly everyone is weighing in on immigration reform. From Mark Zuckerburg, who recently launched the organization Fwd.us to advocate for the legislation, to environmental organizations such as Greenpeace who are fighting the “immigration is bad for the environment” myth. Aside from border security and amnesty, the annual H-1B visa cap is another pressing element of this issue, especially for foreign-born fashion models and computer programmers.
To help illustrate the current plight of these two professions, let’s pretend for a moment that the competition for H-1B visas is the World Series, and it’s the programmers versus the models. Can you guess who could brag about consecutive sweeps? Believe it or not, it would be the models. In the heated competition for H-1B visas, fashion models who desire to work in the United States are handily taking the lead with a 51 percent success rate, in contrast to computer programmers, who have only a 28 percent success rate for acquiring H-1B visas. Is beauty prevailing over brains when it comes to who is chosen to work in the U.S.?
By Lisa Marie Chirico
Sustainability is a word that is not often associated with financial services. Today, words with a negative connotation, such as greed and hubris, seem more closely aligned with this sector. What is the likelihood of this changing? More importantly, is there any incentive for investment funds, banks, insurance companies, or real estate firms to truly practice sustainability as we know it?
If true corporate sustainability is intended to go beyond conservation and energy efficiency, it’s apparent that financial services has a way to go. Rife with crises over the past thirty years, from the crash of 1987 (Black Monday), to the economic crisis that ignited the recession in 2008, to their ongoing attempts at reform such as the Dodd-Frank Act, and the Basel III accord, what remains unclear is exactly how companies within the financial sector can comfortably fit into a sustainability model. One key to forging a true path to sustainability might directly lie in social and governance performance, from customer transparency to risk management. It’s also evident that a bit of humility would probably go a long way.
According to the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), sustainability performance encompasses environmental, social, and governance factors that have the potential to affect long-term value creation and/or the public interest. SASB’s definition of sustainability echoes the belief that at the heart of what it means to be sustainable, lies a responsibility to one another and to the planet. If profits remain the single motivating factor for a company, the door to sustainability will likely remain closed.
By Lisa Marie Chirico
Maybe John Milton got it half right. During his fiery rant in “The Devil’s Advocate” he blames God for setting the rules in opposition after giving man instincts, but ultimately concludes that free will plays a big role in our lives. For companies who create products that are deemed unhealthy, such as soda and cigarettes, consumers’ free will takes center stage. Corporate profits have swelled over the years thanks in part to consumers saying “yes” when it may have been in their best interests to say “no.” So, when a public health crisis – such as obesity – occurs, who is to blame?
Although data shows that Americans are consuming fewer soft drinks and more bottled water, current research blames sugary, carbonated drinks for the rise in childhood and adult obesity in the United States. It appears that soft drink giant Coca-Cola (who received an overall scientific rating of 6.1 out of 10 from the GoodGuide) is taking the “best defense is a good offense” approach when it comes to thwarting claims and eliminating perceptions that their products contribute to obesity.
It may be easy for some in the business world to dismiss, but there’s something (quite a bit, actually) to be said about interconnectedness and how it’s driving our new economy. For a case in point, let’s review public media’s collaboration with crowdfunding.
For a typical startup, one of the most challenging problems is raising money. For Planet Money (a co-production of the radio show, This American Life, and NPR) raising cash to make a T-shirt that tells the story of its own creation didn’t require any hand-wringing or sleepless nights. Instead, the show’s producers turned to their roots – the public – for a funding solution.
Enter Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform that simply refers to itself as “a new way to fund creative projects.” According to their website, since the company opened its virtual doors in 2009, more than 41,000 creative projects were funded, and over $611 million was pledged by more than four million people. Kickstarter has clearly tapped into the collective mind and wallet of the public, echoing the popularity of NPR’s programming with listeners nationwide.
By Lisa Marie Chirico
Move over rivets, it’s plastic bottles that make a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans unique now. Iconic brand Levi Strauss and Co. is participating in the effort to drive consumers to think about recycling in a new light with the introduction of their limited-edition Waste<Less jean. The company, who received an overall scientific rating of 7.1 out of 10 from the GoodGuide, chose to partner with the brand initiative ”Ekocycle” for this collection. According to their website, the Ekocycle brand initiative, which is led by musician and producer will.i.am and the Coca-Cola Co., is dedicated to supporting a more sustainable environment. In addition, it supports recycling by helping consumers recognize that items they consider waste today, may be a part of a fashionable and valuable lifestyle product, like jeans, that they can use tomorrow.
Purchasing a pair of 501 Waste<Less jeans won’t make the Great Pacific Garbage Patch disappear, but what each pair is manufactured from (29 percent post-consumer recycled content, using an average of eight recycled plastic bottles) is certainly a sustainable step in the right direction. Levi Strauss says it plans to repurpose over 3.5 million recycled PET plastic bottles for the Spring 2013 Waste<Less collection.
By Lisa Marie Chirico
Did you know that more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette? Well, according to a nationwide survey, that is. As absurd as this statements sounds, it was sold as “truth” back in 1946, when R.J. Reynolds aspired their Camel brand to be the cigarette of choice for consumers. The tobacco industry’s advertising strategies can be seen as nothing short of über-successful during the twentieth century, when cigarette smoking gained wide popularity in the United States. In 1965, when per capita consumption peaked in the U.S., approximately 33 percent of American women and 50 percent of American men smoked, causing untold damage to their health.
The ripples of that damage are felt today, although cigarette smokers are declining in the U.S. as they increase in developing countries. Few would agree that big tobacco represents a sustainable business model, by any means. Yet, the manufacturers of some of today’s most popular (and unhealthy) products, from fast food to soda to tanning beds, are replicating the tobacco industry’s tried-and-true advertising and marketing strategies.
Although we’ve seen George Jetson watch TV on a flat screen, it’s not very likely that the rest of us will be doing so fifty years from now. Consumers are already watching more and more TV on their mobile devices or the Internet, and pushing their old TV sets out the door. How will we manage the ongoing environmental impact that the accumulation of toxic electronic waste, or e-waste brings? Moreover, how are electronics manufacturers implementing environmental sustainability efforts?
Dubbed “Zero TV” households by the Nielsen Co. since they don’t fit its usual definition of a TV home, their numbers are steadily increasing. This segment prefers to watch their favorite content on a computer (37 percent), or Internet TV (16 percent), followed by smartphones (8 percent), and tablets (6 percent). In 2007, there were three million Zero TV residences in the United States that unplugged. Today, the number of Zero TV households in the U.S. has increased to more than five million. Satellite dishes, antennas, and cable TV providers are all things of the past for this segment. Nielsen’s study suggests that this new group may have left traditional TV for good.
The twenty-first century is upon us. Really, I double-checked. Yet, in the business world, women have a way to go before they can claim to enjoy a level playing field with their male counterparts.
Case in point: women receive a mere 4.2 percent of venture capital funding – that’s right, less than five percent. This statistic was an inspiration to the researchers at Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, who conducted a study to shed some light on Venture Capital (VC) decision-making.
One finding that the Clayman Institute study uncovered is that women are penalized for their lack of technical acuity. According to Andrea Davies Henderson, one the Clayman study’s researchers, not having a technical background was something that hurt women, but not men. Henderson relayed that women’s chances of securing a meeting in addition to attaining VC funding are both negatively impacted by their technology gap.
By Lisa Marie Chirico
It’s not yet passe to ask someone if their purse, shoes, or formal wear were created by a well-known designer. In spite of the global economic downturn, designer goods remain the purchase of choice for some consumers. According to an HSBC luxury-goods analyst, the future for this market is bright. “Trends in luxury consumption in the United States have continued to outperform overall consumer trends,” he says.
People like Livia Firth, creative director of eco-age.com and co-creator of the Green Carpet Challenge, are helping to change the discourse around designer goods. “Is that a Rainforest Alliance Certified leather Gucci handbag?” has begun to replace “Is that a Gucci handbag?” during some conversations. CSR, is clearly an idea whose time has come for luxury goods manufacturers, who undoubtedly desire to be seen by their customers as socially and environmentally responsible. Today, 71 percent of American consumers align their spending with their values.
The renowned Italian brand Gucci recently made a giant leap into sustainability. They chose to partner with Firth and the Rainforest Alliance to produce the world’s first handbag line using leather from Rainforest Alliance Certified ranches. The result is a beautiful thing.
If Gordon Gekko was still wandering around Wall Street today, he’d probably be surprised to learn that his favorite mantra, ”Greed…is good,” has been replaced by “Ethical is good.” I also assume that he would demand some proof that corporations are more concerned in 2013 with ethics, than they were with their bottom lines in the 1980s.
To Mr. Gekko I say: behold the World’s Most Ethical (WME) Companies list, compiled by the Ethisphere Institute. Now in its seventh year, this year’s WME list contains 138 companies, down from 145 last year, and sets a record for both nominations and applications. These companies, forty of which are headquartered outside the United States, represent a diverse cross-section of industries, from business services to leisure and hospitality. There are 23 companies, such as Starbucks and General Electric, who have achieved WME all-star status, and made the list from its inception. Notable companies such as Patagonia, Stonyfield, Costco, and Timberland were not included in the 2013 list.
So, how do businesses get labeled ethical? The standard definition of ethical behavior from Merriam-Webster is, “conforming to accepted standards of conduct,” while words such as “moral” “virtuous” and “honest” serve as synonyms. The extensive list of twenty-first century unethical corporate behavior from companies such as Enron Corp., Bear Stearns, and Arthur Andersen has undoubtedly left many consumers feeling jaded. Hopefully, WME companies are helping to reverse that mindset.