Earlier this month, the news was filled with stories about recent studies that showed the growing, and often devastating, impacts of climate change – from an increase in malaria cases in Africa and South America to heavier losses in global crop yields to spikes in crime.
Yet, Americans don’t seem to be overly concerned. A new Gallup survey looking at the degree Americans worry about different issues found that only 24 percent of Americans worry a great deal about climate change. Fifty-one percent of them worry about it very little or not at all.
So what do you think when you read that?
I know it’s very easy to get upset about these results or wonder if this is that surprising given the American record so far on climate change, but if you leave these emotions aside for a minute you can actually find some interesting lessons in this survey that might even give us a clue about the way to change these results.
You love your cell phone and can’t spend a minute without it, right? If the answer is yes, here are three facts you should be aware of.
First, in 2012 1.6 million Americans were the victims of smartphone-related crimes. Second, one in three robberies in the U.S. include the theft of a mobile device. Third, cell phone thefts are now the single biggest source of property crime in many American cities.
Is this inevitable? Not necessarily, according to a growing number of policymakers and law enforcements officers. They believe consumers deserve better and that a “kill switch” that would make smartphones useless when stolen is the best solution to the “epidemic of violent smartphone thefts,” as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman calls it.
But not everyone is convinced a kill switch this is such a great idea.
Are you into food porn? Well, you don’t have to admit right here right now, but given that there are more than 175 million food hashtags ond Twitter and Instagram, there’s a good chance you’re also part of this phenomenon.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry–we’re not talking about porn that mixes sex with food, but about people sharing online photos of meals they’re about to eat at a restaurant or homemade food, from Krispy Kreme glazed donuts to peanut butter brownie pizza.
If you want to get a better idea about this phenomenon just go to Tumblr, Instagram or Twitter and search for #foodporn. What you’ll quickly notice is that most of the #foodporn photos on the various social media channels are of food that is not exactly the healthy type and include mostly fast food and fatty, sugary food.
Now, a new website wants to change that, one photo of kale at a time.
While the eyes of most of the world are on the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, some places are actually more focused on their own local events.
Take for example Tallinn, Estonia, where “February and spring is the perfect time for outdoor activities…and for attending musical events and festivals all the month long at the local concert halls and venues,” as the Tallinn.ee reports.
Now, it’s true that the Olympic Games might be a little more interesting than Tallinn’s upcoming BMX contest (Feb. 22-23), but the residents of Tallinn can be proud of having at least one thing the residents of Sochi don’t have: free public transit.
On Jan. 1, 2013, Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, became the first European capital to extend free public transport to all of its 430,000 residents. One of the main drivers was mobility for all, explained Allan Alaküla, head of the Tallinn EU Office. While pensioners and youths already benefited from free public transport in Tallinn, the city wanted to make it easier for people to travel in search of work, and for low-paid workers, who might choose not to take a job that they have to travel to if the cost of transport means it is financially not worthwhile.
So, does it really work? Is making public transportation free actually increasing mobility (i.e. getting people to use it more)? While it might take some time to evaluate the economic impact of this change, a new study of three researchers from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology provides an initial outlook into the changes in ridership following the introduction of free-fare public transport.
Last week one of the largest fast food companies decided to remove a chemical from its food after a public outcry on social media led by an influential blogger. Now, you might have heard similar stories before, but what makes this one even more interesting is the identity of the company.
This time it is none other than Subway, the restaurant chain that prides itself on providing a healthier and better alternative fast food.
Azodicarbonamide, Hari explained, is used in yoga mats, shoe rubber and synthetic leather, the World Health Organization has linked it to respiratory issues, allergies and asthma, and it is banned as a food additive in Europe and Australia. However Subway, she added, uses it in the U.S. as a bleaching agent and dough conditioner in order to produce bread faster and cheaper.
If you’re a fan, just like me, of Natural Quaker Granola you might be surprised to find that your beloved granola brand has changed its name. It is no longer “Natural Quaker Granola” but “Simply Quaker Granola.”
Don’t worry, though. Other than the name, nothing has really changed in the granola. This is just part of a step PepsiCo, the company that produces the granola, has taken to replace the word “natural” with the word “simply” in all of its products. Its “Simply Natural” line of Frito-Lay chips for example will be called now just “Simply,” and so on.
Why has PepsiCo gone through the trouble of changing the names of so many of its products, omitting what seems to be a key part in the marketing strategy of these products?
According to Candace Mueller-Medina, a spokeswoman for PepsiCo’s Quaker brand, this is quite simple. “We constantly update our marketing and packaging,” she said. Apparently though, the answer is a bit more complicated.
Sometimes all you need is just the right framework to keep moving forward and reach your goals. This might also be the case in the fight to limit the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold experts agree will avoid the worst effects of climate change.
The framework, which was presented last week at the Investor Summit on Climate Risk at the U.N. was quite simple: All we need to do is to add $1 trillion in clean energy investment per year through 2050. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) such an increase in clean energy investment will significantly increase the chances of maintaining the 2 °C limit.
But how do we do it exactly? This was one of the main issues on the agenda of 550 leading investors from all over the world who came to the U.N. to this biannual summit co-hosted by Ceres and the U.N. Foundation.
The acquisition itself as well as the hefty price Google will pay for Nest generated a very interesting conversation online that was focused around the reasons that motivated Google to close this deal and pay so much money for a 3-year old start-up selling thermostats and smoke detectors.
The guesses went all the way from Google’s aspirations to deepen its involvement in the Internet of Things, “a world in which everything from household gadgets to cars, clothes and pets are connected wirelessly to the web” to adding to its ranks Nest’s co-founder and CEO Tony Fadell, an Apple veteran who helped design the iPod and the iPhone and might become Google’s equivalent of Jony Ive, Apple’s Chief designer.
While it’s interesting to understand the reasons behind this deal and what it says about Google’s plans for the future, I find one part that seemed to be missing in all of this even more interesting. Yes, I’m talking about the S word.
It’s not that sustainability was totally absent – the energy savings capabilities of Nest thermostat (14-26 percent savings according to Nest) were mentioned by Larry Page, CEO of Google in the press release, as well as by Tony Fadell in a blog post he wrote, in which he looked back to the beginning of Nest:
“Starting a business focused on the lowly thermostat seemed like a crazy idea at the time, but it made all the sense in the world to us. That little device that went unnoticed and unchanged year after year on the walls of our homes was a lost opportunity to save energy and money. We knew we could do better.”
Yet, when it comes to sustainability, the story of Nest is more than just the creation of a smart tool helping families to save energy. It is first and foremost a story about the company’s ability to succeed where so many other companies have failed – making simple, beautiful, thoughtful and desirable products that among other things help people make their lifestyles more sustainable.
Today’s story is about Nike’s latest innovation – ColorDry technology which eliminating the use of water and process chemicals from fabric dyeing. The new technology, which Nike’s CEO Mark Parker described as a “manufacturing revolution” was introduced earlier this month at the opening of a water-free dyeing facility at FENC, the company’s Taiwanese contract manufacturer.
This is a great story to close 2013 with as this isn’t just another story about an innovative technology introduced by an innovative company – this story exemplifies the current path of sustainable business, including its opportunities, difficulties and challenges.
What does it mean exactly? Let me explain through four lessons we can learn from this story:
1. Making the status quo obsolete – we live in this weird reality where externalities manage to shield manufacturing processes from real world problems like increasing water scarcity. The result is inefficient and wasteful systems that somehow still dominate and shape the status quo.
This is the time of the year when you see endless summaries of 2013. The ones about sustainability can usually be characterized as a bag of mixed news, filled with both good and bad news from the past year.
And it can be quite depressing, right? After all, mixed news means that at best we move forward in tiny steps when it comes to sustainability, while we need to be running as fast as we can.
Nevertheless, I think there’s no room for depression. First, it doesn’t really help get you anywhere. Second, looking carefully at the trends that shaped 2013 you see that there are also some good reasons to be optimistic, even if you’re into systematic changes, not just incremental ones. And no, this is not about choice editing and ignoring the bad news, but about identifying which sustainability trends become dominant and which ones are about to vanish.
So looking back at 2013 here are five trends that should keep you optimistic about sustainability in 2014:
A couple of weeks ago two major companies presented us with their vision for the future. Unilever launched Project Sunlight, “a new initiative to motivate millions of people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles,” while Jeff Bezos revealed that Amazon is experimenting with drones that will deliver packages to customers within 30 minutes.
The visions are very similar and very different at the same time. They aim to disrupt ‘business as usual,’ are customer-focused and innovative, yet while one’s desired future is a world “where everyone lives well and within the natural limits of the planet,” the other’s desired world is one utilizing advanced technology to provide customers with lower prices and faster delivery.
In a way, Unilever’s new campaign and Amazon’s plans are clear reflections of the choices we have ahead of us: a more sustainable path that is about making better choices or a less sustainable path where innovation is limited to the context of the consumption culture. The first can lead to systematic changes while the second can generate incremental improvements at best.
So which of these paths will we take – the one with skies filled with drones getting packages in no time to your doorstep or the one filled with people adopting more sustainable behaviors for the sake of their children?
I definitely hope it will be the latter, but I’m worried it might be the former. Here’s why:
Two months ago I wrote about IBM’s triple-benefit employee engagement programs. I thought it would be difficult to find a company with a similar program that provides substantial value for the company and truly benefits the community or people that the employees work with. Fortunately, I was wrong.
Meet Project Belize, PwC’s international development leadership program in Belize. Since 2008, the firm’s professionals at all levels, from interns to senior partners, travel to Belize City every year to host financial literacy camps, provide scholarships to students, train teachers and principals, and build educational playgrounds.
Throughout the years, Project Belize has become one of the most competitive programs within the firm: out of the thousands who apply, less than 400 are selected to participate. What makes Project Belize unique according to PwC is that it combines the firm’s business goals with social impact and it’s an international volunteer experience to boot.
To learn more about Project Belize I talked with Shannon Schuyler, Principal and Corporate Responsibility Leader at PwC. Here’s an edited version of my interview with her:
You might think that the most interesting news coming from Microsoft these days is about who will be the next CEO, campaigns to limit NSA surveillance of users or free versions of Windows Phone and Windows RT being offered to device manufacturers.
But, no, their foray into wearable technology, specifically a stress-detecting bra, takes the cake. It’s not that the tech giant is suddenly interested in entering the lingerie business – Microsoft is more interested in what can be placed in the bra – a sensor system “that monitors the wearers moods and helps to regulate stress eating.”
The idea, Microsoft researchers explain in a recently presented paper, is to use wearable technology to support behavior modification in health. More specifically, the company is “focused on building a persuasive system for behavior modiﬁcation around emotional eating.” This system includes physiological sensors placed into women’s brassieres that can detect changes in emotions and report them to the wearer through a phone app in order to help them avoid emotional eating.
In other words, Microsoft is exploring the intersection of smart technology with health behavior change. While the idea sounds promising given the market opportunities in this field and the company’s capabilities, the stress-detecting bra still lacks what it needs to become a successful product.
Three years ago Adam Davidson, Planet Money’s co-founder, had an idea: let’s make a T-shirt. His idea wasn’t to diversify Planet Money, NPR’s podcast and blog covering the global economy into a new business, but to tell the story behind the T-shirt’s creation.
What’s so interesting about T-shirts? Davidson, who was inspired by Pietra Rivoli’s book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy explained that T-shirt turns out to be a great lens through which to view the world economy. “Every T-shirt you wear tells the story of the economy we all live in.”
Three years later Davidson’s idea became a reality, with a series of podcasts on NPR documenting the T-shirt’s journey from the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta through the different manufacturing phases in Indonesia, Colombia and Bangladesh all the way back to the U.S in a container.
This series provides some important insights on the world economy, globalization, trade and consumption. Here I’d like to focus on the 4 lessons in sustainability I found most interesting in this series:
MBA students want to work for responsible companies. According to Net Impact’s 2013 Business as UNusual report, 67 percent of the 3,300 MBA students surveyed said they would take a 15 percent pay-cut to have a job in a company committed to corporate and environmental responsibility.
An even higher percentage of the students (88 percent) said they would take a 15 percent pay-cut in order to work for an organization whose values are like their own.
Some may question the validity of such results, but let’s assume for the sake of the argument that these results actually reflect reality, especially when it comes to students in sustainable MBA programs (I wouldn’t make the same argument though for the general population).
So these sustainable MBAs want to work in the Unilevers, Nikes, SAPs and M&Ss of the world. But what about the ‘bad’ guys? Wouldn’t it make more sense for these MBAs to take a job at the ExxonMobil, JP Morgan, BP, Monsanto, or Lockheed Martin?