Currently, I am working with a group of MBA students on developing an employee engagement strategy focusing on sustainability for a large corporation. It is an interesting task, since everyone seems to agree that this sort of employee engagement can be very beneficial for any corporation, but it’s still very difficult to find companies that have implemented it successfully and can provide a good example of how to do it right.
Then I attended COMMIT! Forum earlier this month in New York, where I finally saw the light. I found one company that not only provides a great example of successful engagement, but also offers a model that can be a game changer in the intersection of business and sustainability. It is no other than the Big Blue, aka IBM.
Two IBM programs were presented during the first day of the conference: Corporate Service Corps and Smarter Cities Challenge. Now, neither of these programs is new – the first began in 2008 and the second in 2010, but this is actually even a better reason to pay more attention to what they have to offer as they already have a record to show.
Nathan Shedroff, the Chair of the MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts explains that one of the most difficult challenges designers, business people and pretty much everyone else face is that we don’t know what a more sustainable world looks like.
Now, I’m not sure I know what a more sustainable world looks like, but I have a pretty good idea what an unsustainable world looks like. I just saw it in the new Toys “R” Us holiday season commercial, “Make all their wishes come true.”
According to Toys “R” Us, the story is how the company “surprises some lucky kids by letting them pick any toy in the store. Toys “R” Us is making wishes come true this holiday season.”
The company is somewhat modest – the storyline is a bit more creative. We see children on a bus on what they believe is a school field trip to a forest. Their “guide” is trying to teach them the names of some trees, but the children seem bored and some even fall asleep. Then he explains (while taking off his park ranger shirt and showing his Toys “R” Us shirt) that “I’m a big fan of trees, but we’re not going to the forest today. We’re going to Toys “R” Us, guys. You can choose any toy that you want.” And the children go wild, screaming, smiling and generally looking like they won the lottery. Now, you don’t need to be Don Draper to guess how this ad goes on.
Last August, Andrew Winston wrote a piece in The Guardian about the strategies American companies need to adopt in order to tackle sustainability challenges. One of these strategies was lobbying. “…Problems as large as climate change require communal action, which means government…But in the U.S., there’s no government action without corporate support,” he wrote.
Last week, over 150 American companies followed Winston’s advice, but in a different direction than Winston probably had in mind. The companies signed a letter calling on President Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
In the heated debate over the future of the Keystone pipeline such letters are no surprise. However, what comes as a surprise is the identity of some of the signatories. In addition to the usual suspects (aka oil and gas companies), there are companies like GE, AT&T, PwC, Siemens, KPMG and Waste Management, which are among the leaders in the business community when it comes to sustainability, and frankly you would expect them to make a case against the pipeline, not lobby for its approval.
Let’s say you are looking for a new job. You apply for a position that seems like a good fit – your skills and experience match the job description and you believe this job would be good for your career. There’s only one little problem – the company has a bad reputation. Let’s assume the company would like to hire you – what would you then? Would you take the job?
According to a new survey presented last week at the COMMIT! Forum in New York, there’s a very good chance you would say no. Conducted by Corporate Responsibility Magazine and human capital company Allegis Group Services, the survey found that 69 percent of Americans would not take a job with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed.
“The results of this year’s survey demonstrate the importance of a positive corporate reputation in recruiting and retaining talent. Our year-over-year analysis shows that this sentiment remains strong among employees and potential new hires in 2013,” said Elliot Clark, CEO of Corporate Responsibility Magazine, which hosts the Forum, in a news release.
This concept certainly seems to make sense – better company reputation attracts better talent. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder about the validity and the application of the survey’s results. Is it really possible that reputation has become such an important factor that 7 out of 10 people would actually say no to a new job just because they feel the company is not good enough? And if so, what does it mean for companies, especially when it comes to sustainability?
Athletes and commercial endorsements go hand in hand and probably have since the dawn of advertising. It’s a win-win, right? Athletes enhance their income while companies enhance their sales and brand, using athletes’ fame and achievements to promote their products.
But what happens when athletes promote products that are unhealthy, like snacks, soda drinks or fast food? Is it still a win-win, or does the fact that more people will consume unhealthy products make the ad deals a net-negative? And last but not least, is it fair to ask athletes to adhere to higher standards and not to advertise unhealthy foods and beverages?
These questions came up following a study published this month in the journal Pediatrics. This study quantified 100 top professional athletes’ endorsement of food and beverages in 2010, “evaluated the nutritional quality of endorsed products, and determined the number of television commercial exposures of athlete-endorsement commercials for children, adolescents, and adults.”
The results of study showed that 79 percent of the 62 food products endorsed by athletes in advertisements that year were energy-dense and nutrient-poor, and 93.4 percent of the 46 beverages the athletes advertised had 100 of calories from added sugar. The researchers also name names – the worst athletes when it comes to endorsing unhealthy food and beverage products were Peyton Manning, Serena Williams and LeBron James.
If you feel a little bit down lately with the U.S. government shutdown, the latest IPPC report, the end of Breaking Bad and other devastating news, we have something that might cheer you up a little.
This is the 2013 Aspirational Consumer Index that was published last week, offering a fresh glimpse into the rise of the Aspirationals, more than a third of the consumers worldwide who are uniting style, social status and sustainability values to redefine consumption. The index offers a positive outlook into the future, where Aspirationals, especially in emerging markets, will “shift in sustainable consumption from obligation to desire.”
While it sounds promising, please note that I mentioned that this news might cheer you up. The reason I’m cautious is not because I don’t believe in the Aspirationals, but because I’m not sure a future shaped by their sustainable shopping habits is necessarily a sustainable one.
Let’s look at the findings of the index and then try to figure out how sustainable the future portrayed there is. The index follows Re:Thinking Consumption, a report published last year by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility, where you could learn for the first time about this promising consumer segment called the Aspirationals. These consumers, the authors wrote back then, “are materialistically oriented while at the same time aspiring to be sustainable in their purchases and beliefs.”
By the time you finish reading this article (let’s say 5 minutes from now) 20 children around the world will die because of diarrhea or pneumonia. This is 2 million children every year.
This horrible statistic is even more devastating given the fact that the simple act of handwashing with soap can significantly reduce these diseases – 6 out of these 20 children can be saved with this intervention.
These numbers prompted Lifebuoy, Unilever’s soap brand to start the ‘Help A Child Reach 5’ campaign, aiming to eradicate such preventable deaths one village at a time, by teaching lifesaving handwashing habits. Directly connected to Unilever’s Sustainability Living Plan goals, this campaign is not only a great example of Unilever’s ability to create viral video clips (almost 8 million views so far), but also an acknowledgment of the fact that no company or organization alone, powerful as they might be can change this somber reality by themselves.
To further focus the discussion on the need for partnerships between business, NGOs and governments to accelerate such live-saving programs, Unilever gathered some of the partners it collaborates with in this campaign, including Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Karl Hofmann, President and CEO Population Services International (PSI), and Kajol, a Top Bollywood star. They were joined by Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman on a panel which took place as a part of the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Although the panel’s start time was 7:00am, the panelists were very lively and provided a lot of food for thought. Here are the main four lessons I learned there (or more accurately, three lessons and one question):
Last Thursday McDonald’s made an important step towards becoming McDonald’s 2.0, a Millennial-friendly fast food chain that makes healthy food a more substantial part of its value proposition. In partnership with the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the company announced its plans to make significant changes in its menu and marketing, increasing “access to fruits and vegetables to help families make informed choices.”
This is not the first time McDonald’s has taken such steps, but so far these were mainly baby steps. Now, for the first time, it looks like the company is really ready to get serious about embedding healthy food into its business.
How serious? McDonald’s said on Thursday it will provide customers in 20 of its largest markets a choice of a side salad, fruit or vegetable as a substitute for French fries in value meals.
Other important changes are related to the promotion and advertising of Happy Meals: McDonald’s will start promoting and market only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising, utilize Happy Meal and other packaging designs “to generate excitement for fruit, vegetable, low/reduced-fat dairy, or water options for kids” and ensure 100 percent of all advertising directed to children includes a fun nutrition or children’s well-being message.
So why did McDonald’s announce all of these steps now? In one word: Millennials.
I have to admit: I like eating at Chipotle. I like the food there as well as the idea that I’m eating in a place committed to the concept of “food with integrity,” or “serving the very best sustainably raised food possible with an eye to great taste, great nutrition and great value.”
This is probably the reason I liked The Scarecrow, Chipotle’s latest marketing effort, which includes a YouTube video clip and a game app. After all, how can you not love such a beautiful work of art presenting a strong anti-industrial food production message?
Well, apparently you can. While some think the video is really great, “both on a musical and an animation level,” others questioned the authenticity of the message coming from a chain of over 1,500 restaurants. Funny or Die even came up with a video parody, titled “Honest Scarecrow,” highlighting some of the critiques of the ad’s narrative.
This debate got me thinking – while Chipotle’s campaign obviously tries to present a “disrupt and delight” approach, where the unsustainable status-quo is disrupted in a way that offers consumers delightful solutions, it’s not clear if the result is indeed “disrupt and delight” or “disrupt and dislike.” So which one is it?
Does appearance matter? After all, beauty is only skin deep, right? While we’d like to believe this is the way things should be, life teaches us this is not the case, not even when it comes to fruit and vegetables.
When was the last time you bought ugly fruit or vegetables? A misshapen cucumber, a deformed carrot, or a discolored zucchini? You probably have a hard time remembering because these sorts of ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables are screened and thrown away before they reach the supermarket’s shelves to ensure customers see only fruits and vegetables with perfect (or near perfect) shape, size, and color.
The result is that we have a wasteful food system – in the UK, for example, according to the Soil Association, 20-40 percent of produce is rejected because it’s misshapen. If you wonder why the produce doesn’t get used for canned goods or processed foods rather than being sent to the landfill, NRDC’s report on the wasteful American food system has the answer, “Although some off-grade products — those that are not of a quality grade to sell to major markets – go to processing, many do not. Most large processors have advanced contracts with suppliers and often require specific attributes that make the product amenable to processing,” it explains.
The size of this wasteful phenomenon has driven a growing number of entrepreneurs and organizations to look for ways to change this unsustainable reality.
One of latest effort is the ‘ugly fruit’ campaign from three German students trying to make the case that selling ugly produce is not just about being more sustainable but also about taking advantage of a business opportunity. But are the students right? Is there really a business case for selling ugly fruit and vegetables?
Hearing about Coca Cola Enterprises’ (CCE) new sustainability initiative in the UK designed to boost the reuse and recycling of plastic bottles, my expectations were pretty high. After all, CCE, the largest Coca-Cola bottler in Western Europe, is known to be taking sustainability seriously and is even considered one of the leaders in exploring consumer behavior change.
Therefore I hoped the ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ campaign would be strong, maybe even as progressive and exciting as CCE’s ‘Recycle for the Future’ study, wherein the company teamed up with university researchers to closely observe the dynamics that drive waste disposal and recycling in the homes of 20 French and English families.
Unfortunately I was dead wrong. If ‘Recycle for the Future’ was all about the future of using brand marketing to encourage recycling, ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ campaign is all about the past and not necessarily in a good way.
In fairness, maybe my expectations of CCE were too high in the first place because of its impressive track record, but please read the following description of the campaign and tell me if it doesn’t have a ‘90s feel to it:
The latest example that more is not necessarily better comes from CVS, where its absurdly long paper receipts have generated a public outcry on social media. It wasn’t the first time customers complained about the wasted paper, but the receipts got a lot of attention last week after Matt Brownell reported on Daily Finance about a coworker at AOL who bought a single item at CVS and received a 38-inch receipt.
CVS explained that this was its way to inform its ExtraCare rewards program members about coupons and rewards. In the age of apps and eReceipts, that answer felt unsatisfactory to many and the outcry became viral with the help of Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, where a new account, ‘CVS Receipt’ gave people a stage to demonstrate their irritation creatively:
— Frank Cappiello (@frankjcapp) August 28, 2013
From time to time you see an article or study challenging one of your beliefs. This is exactly what happened to me when reading a recent article about ConvergEx, a brokerage firm warning its clients that the ripple effects the sharing economy could be “catastrophic.”
The argument ConvergEx made was that the sharing economy can hurt the overall economy because people share and rent rather than buying stuff. This behavior shift might lead them to become more risk-averse and even think twice before getting into debt.
The crisis-sparked renting and sharing economy could have an effect similar to that of the Depression, in which the consumer psyche is morphed to constantly imagine a worst-case-scenario. The recent recession, arguably, could be fostering a generation of ‘renters’ and ‘sharers’ (as opposed to ‘savers’) who are wary of potentially risky investment vehicles or financial instruments.
You might wonder what’s so bad about people who are wary of potentially risky investment vehicles but it only means you’re not working for a brokerage firm.
Nevertheless, questioning the value of the sharing economy isn’t a bad thing, so I decided to take a closer look at the main claims ConvergEx makes in order to determine if they have merits.
Living within your means can have a negative impact on the economy. Is this a bad thing?
“Materiality is like packing a backpack for a hike: you can only bring the supplies that are absolutely critical, otherwise the weight will slow you down and eventually bring you to your knees.”
This great quote by Gary Niekerk, Director of Global Citizenship at Intel, opens Redefining Materiality II, a new report written by Marcy Murninghan for AccountAbility, which aims to help companies understand the current materiality landscape, or in other words – what they should take into consideration now when packing their backpack.
You might think that 10 years after AccountAbility published its first Redefining Materiality report, it would be easier for companies to figure out what’s material and what isn’t when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. Yet, in a way it looks like things have become more complex. “The boundaries between corporations, the environment and society continue to blur,” explains Ted Grant, Head of Global Research and Development at AccountAbility.
But not to worry, the report is here to help. Here are five important lessons:
1. Shareholder resolutions are a good indicator of present ESG concerns – One of the questions companies constantly struggle with is what ESG issues are highly material to investors and other stakeholders. The resolutions shareholders file in an effort to influence companies’ policies and practices provide a good indicator on what these issues are.
Farmigo has been one of the startups getting more attention in the food sector, with a mission of creating a healthy alternative food system and $10 million in funding so far to make this a reality. In its four years of operation, the company has been evolving from an online software provider helping farms to manage their CSA subscriptions to creating and managing communities of people interested in buying local food directly from multiple farms.
Now the company is getting ready for its next evolutionary step, enabling entrepreneurs, or Champions, as Farmigo calls them, to start their own food communities. To learn more about the new program, I talked with Benzi Ronen, Farmigo’s co-founder and CEO. Here’s an edited version of the interview:
TriplePundit: Can you tell us about the new Champions program and how it is different from your current model?
Benzi Ronen: In general, Farmigo has been looking at the different ways we can get healthy food to consumers around the country. When we started the company four years ago, that was our mission. Initially, we started off by focusing on farms that want to sell directly to consumers, like CSA models. We come from a background of software, so we built an internet technology to enable farms to manage a farm-direct business.