Are We There Yet? Bringing a New Framework to Sustainability

3p Contributor | Friday October 31st, 2014 | 0 Comments

5238106509_0af207589a_zBy Maureen Hart and Bob Willard

Are we there yet? Most existing sustainability reporting and assessment systems focus on progress made since a prior baseline year. And each year thousands of companies publish corporate sustainability reports detailing millions of pounds of greenhouse gas emissions avoided, tons of waste reduced, and gallons of water and BTUs of energy saved. With all this progress being made, surely the sustainability battle must be almost won by now, mustn’t it? Unfortunately, no.

But it’s not for lack of trying. Many businesses, government agencies and NGOs are trying to chart a new and more sustainable course of development. They are changing their processes and systems in ways that use less energy and fewer resources, reduce emissions, and restore ecosystem functions. However, much of these actions are done piecemeal, hindered by the lack of a comprehensive understanding of what a sustainable organization — indeed, what a sustainable global economic and social system — would look like and an approach for getting there.

Another problem is that most of the sustainability reporting and assessment tools, guidelines and standards currently available – Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Accountability 1000 and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), to name a few – are focused on external reporting and ranking. As a result, their output focuses on the most positive aspects of what the organization has done in the past, not the difficulties or challenges for the future.

So, what does sustainability really look like? And how do we know if we are getting there?

Two new open-source tools are now available to answer these two key questions, the Future Fit Business Benchmark from The Natural Step (TNS) Canada, and S-CORE from the International Society of Sustainability Professionals. Both of these tools can be integrated with the 150+ sustainability reporting and rating standards that are currently in use.

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Can Higher Ed Solve the Climate Crisis?

3p Conferences
| Friday October 31st, 2014 | 23 Comments

SolutiongenerationBy Deborah Fleischer

At the AASHE conference, three different speakers evoked Ronald Heifetz’s concept of adaptive challenges — problems that can’t be solved with a simple, technical fix.  If ever there was an adaptive challenge, climate change is one of them: It will require systemic change at a large scale, collaborative conservations and  engagement of many sectors to solve.

At the opening ceremony of the conference, Dr. John Anderson, president of Millersville University, announced MomentUs, a new cross-sector climate solution, and the launch of  Solution Generation, a new initiative to engage higher education in climate solutions. Read on for an overview of MomentUs and Solution Generation.

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Food Waste is a Bigger Problem Than You Think

RP Siegel | Friday October 31st, 2014 | 12 Comments

640px-GI_Market_food_wasteFood waste is a horrendous problem in this country that no one seems to want to talk about. Yet food is the one product type that everyone consumes, and while a surprising number of people don’t have it, those that do are shockingly wasteful. As recently as 2012, close to 50 million people experienced food insecurity, not in Africa or Bangladesh, but right here in the USA. Worldwide, that number is over 1 billion people.

That makes the fact that somewhere between a quarter and a third of all food produced worldwide is never eaten all the more shocking. America is the worst offender by far. Here in the states, the portion of food production that goes to waste is closer to 40 percent.

A report by the National Consumer League, called Wasted: Solutions to the American Food Waste Problem, came out last week. It maps the magnitude of the problem and, as the title suggests, offers a number of practical suggestions.

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The Container Store’s $50,000 Retail Staff

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Friday October 31st, 2014 | 1 Comment

Feel free to use this image just link to www.rentvine.comAs stores and restaurants ramp up for the Christmas season, the eye is naturally on the bottom line. And even though the National Retail Federation is forecasting a bumper sales record, Kip Tindell, CEO of the Container Store, has a message for the fast-food industry: Pay your employees well, very well, and they will return it in profits.

His concept isn’t new. Costco, Trader Joes and the Gap have all listed the benefits of paying their workers a living wage.

But Tindell’s approach, which he has detailed in the book “Uncontainable,” goes far beyond that initiative, since he effectively pays them more than twice the national median salary. According to ThinkProgress, sales staff at the Container Store earn around $48,000 a year, rather than the median salary of $21,410.

“[One] great person can match the business productivity of three good people ,” Tindell explained in an article for Inc. It’s a strategy that has defied the common American ethic of paying low for jobs that are perceived to be entry level, such as restaurant servers, stocking clerks and sales representatives in large department stores.

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McDonald’s to Customers: Ask Me Anything!

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Friday October 31st, 2014 | 0 Comments

McDonalds_PointnshootThe Internet has reshaped how we do business in amazing ways. It’s provided a pipeline that has made it easier for companies and NGOs to reach out to consumers. It’s bolstered charity efforts by making them more accessible. And it has made it easier for consumers to find and reach all of those services.

But I often think the true value of the Internet is in the education it can share. It makes it easier for us to learn about the companies we’re considering doing business with and the products they offer. It also increases transparency when it comes to the initiatives we’re asked to donate to. In many ways, it’s truly made the world smaller and less complex.

But can a company ever share too much information?

Or put another way: Is there ever a time when a consumer’s question (and the answer) is better left unpublished?

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Business Inspired By and In Harmony With Nature

3p Contributor | Friday October 31st, 2014 | 1 Comment

butterfly1By Giles Hutchins

Much has been explored recently about the flaws in our current economic paradigm and ways to move beyond capitalism. For instance: conscious capitalism, capitalism 2.0, regenerative capitalism, closed-loop economics, co-operatives, social enterprises; and yet so often the underlying logic that created our plethora of problems in the first place remains unquestioned, even unwittingly applied to these new ways of operating.

Woven into our scientific-philosophy and socio-economic thinking at deep and partly unconscious levels is a corruption of the most fundamental degree. It is a flawed logic that sets us apart from each other and Nature – an illusion of separation. It is what Einstein spoke of as an optical illusion of consciousness which now manifests a devastating delusion.

Any new business approach that does not address this corrosive and deeply divisive logic at source will not last long. The new frontier of business must be rooted in a new logic – a new consciousness no less – that transcends this illusion so that solutions and remedies no longer apply the corrupting logic of yesterday.

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The Closed Loop Fund Helps Cities Increase Recycling

Sherrell Dorsey
| Thursday October 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Closed-LoopThe biggest barrier facing most cities when it comes to providing the level of innovation and infrastructure needed to reduce waste and increase recycling rates often boils down to one factor: Money—or specifically, the absence of it. As budgets dwindle, missed opportunities to leverage problems in waste diversion cost cities millions of dollars in potential revenue each year.

In 2013, low recycling rates caused cities to collectively spend billions of dollars on landfills and lose over $11 billion in commodity revenue from the sale of recyclable material sent to landfills.

Enter Ron Gonen — co-founder of RecycleBank and former deputy commissioner of sanitation, recycling and sustainability for New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration.

Last week, the recycling maverick took the stage at the Municipal Waste Management Association (MWMA) Fall Summit (the environmental affiliate of the United States Conference of Mayors) to announce his latest project, the Closed Loop Fund — a consortium of large corporate companies that plan to invest $100 million over the next five years to support the development of recycling infrastructure and services.

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Harley-Davidson to Plant 50 Million Trees

Leon Kaye | Thursday October 30th, 2014 | 5 Comments
Harley Davidson, The Nature Conservancy, tree planting, Leon Kaye, Geof Rochester, Renew the Ride, Plant a Billion Trees, Brazil, Virginia

50 million trees by 2025, says Harley and TNC.

The Nature Conservancy and Harley-Davidson are now partnering with a commitment to plant 50 million trees worldwide by 2025. Yes, I gave this one a double-take, too. The pairing sounds about as natural as Rand Paul writing for Scientific American, so I dug in to find a little more information on this one. Yesterday I had an interview with Geof Rochester, Managing Director of The Nature Conservancy, to learn more about this unusual team.

It turns out the partnership is not as odd as one may have thought. Harley-Davidson has embraced sustainability in recent years, risked committing heresy by launching an electric motorcycle this summer and has indicated it takes climate change seriously. Tree planting is just another cog in the company’s plan to engage its loyal fans and raise awareness about environmental issues many consumers care about—but just do not know how to go about confronting them.

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Chevron Tries to Buy Local City Election

| Thursday October 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments
The 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery, as viewed from 15 miles away in Larkspur, CA

The 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery, as viewed from 15 miles away in Larkspur, CA

Chevron is spending big bucks — $3 million to date — on the outcome of mayoral and city council elections in the town of Richmond, California, a city with just over 100,000 residents. You’ve got that right — the company has spent about $30 per resident.

Why all the muss and fuss over a local election? Well, Richmond is the home of a major refinery for the oil and gas producer. The refinery was the site of a 2012 explosion and fire that sent over 15,000 area residents to the hospital with respiratory distress, rashes and other ailments. In 2013, the city of Richmond sued the corporate giant, alleging that the blaze was the result of  “a continuation of years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs.” (as quoted in SF Gate).

At the time, Chevron promised to vigorously fight the lawsuit, claiming that it is “a waste of the city’s resources and yet another example of its failed leadership,” claiming that the lawsuit was designed to shift focus away from a “dysfunctional” city council.

Well, it seems that vigorous fighting includes trying to buy a Chevron-friendly city council that will be more magnanimous to the local employer. According to KQED, “A new council majority sympathetic to Chevron could squelch the suit or pave the way for a settlement more favorable to the oil giant.”

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Why Rwanda’s Youth Are ‘Wired’ to Lead Africa

| Thursday October 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Editor’s Note: This is part four in an ongoing series on Rwanda’s rise. Follow the series here.

HeHe2They say that home is where the heart is. For many of us, the idea of ‘home’ conjures feelings of comfort and convenience — the good life. But what if home is where heartache is?

After residing in Uganda for most of her young life, Clarisse Iribagiza returned to her home in Rwanda kicking and screaming. “When my family moved back, I had no choice,” she reflected. Like many young Rwandans, Clarisse believed that she would only achieve her dreams away from home.

As a small, landlocked country with limited natural resources and a tragic history, Rwanda is often regarded as a place of little opportunity, especially for its youth. Rwanda currently registers a 42 percent youth unemployment rate, and 67 percent of the population is under the age of 25. For years, Rwanda’s youth – alongside neighbors throughout sub-Saharan Africa — have scrambled for opportunities elsewhere, many thirsting to further their education in the U.S. or Europe.

This ongoing exodus is popularly referred to as ‘brain drain.’ In 2010, the total diaspora of Africans living outside of Africa totaled 30.6 million, according to the World Bank. A hefty percentage of Africa’s diaspora is highly educated, as demonstrated by UNESCO reports. In the U.S. alone, 50 percent of the African diaspora possesses at least a bachelor’s degree.

Yet a shift is underway across young Africa. According to a 2012 survey by Jacana Partners, a pan-African private equity firm, 70 percent of African students studying at top 10 American and European business schools plan to work in Africa following graduation. No place does the yearning for home seem greater than in Rwanda, thanks to a generation of innovators like Clarisse.

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World Vasectomy Day Pushes Men to Take an Active Role in Family Planning

Alexis Petru
| Thursday October 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments
A doctor performs a vasectomy as part of last year's first-ever World Vasectomy Day.

A doctor performs a vasectomy as part of last year’s first-ever World Vasectomy Day.

Last year, 100 physicians in 26 countries performed nearly 100 vasectomies on Oct. 18. The occasion? The first-ever World Vasectomy Day, an idea dreamed up by documentary filmmaker Jonathan Stack and urologist Doug Stein to bring more attention to – and to dispel myths around – this permanent form of birth control.

And this year, Stack and Stein are at it again, aiming for 250 doctors in 30 countries to carry out 1,500 vasectomies on Nov. 7 for the second World Vasectomy Day. This year’s World Vasectomy Day will be headquartered at Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando’s new health center in Kissimmee, Fla., where Stein will be performing and live-streaming free vasectomies for 25 men. In addition to broadcasting Stein’s “vasectomy-athon,” the live webcast will feature feeds from other participating doctors and interviews with family-planning leaders.

Stack and Stein came up with the idea of World Vasectomy Day when the Emmy Award-winning, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker was shooting a documentary about global population and met and traveled with Stein, the world’s leading provider of vasectomies. The pair realized that a film could only do so much to highlight vasectomies, so they hatched a plan for a global day dedicated to the important family-planning procedure.

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KKR Green Portfolio: A Sustainable & Lean Private Equity Machine

Leon Kaye | Thursday October 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments
KKR, private equity, green portfolio, CSR, ESG, Dollar General, waste diversion, Pets at Home, Leon Kaye, Ali Hartman

Dollar General is one KKR company to go through the Green Portfolio Program.

What do Dollar General and the U.K.’s Pets at Home have in common? They are among the 27 companies that have been through the KKR Green Portfolio Program. Launched back in 2008 in a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, KKR designed the program to optimize financial and environmental performance within its portfolio. With revenues close to $3.4 billion, the 38 year old private equity firm has been not only a pioneer in the leveraged buyout industry, but in transforming companies into leaner and more sustainable operations to make them attractive to future buyers. KKR recently announced the program’s most recent results for 2013.

Considering the gut reaction many of us have to the words “private equity,” one big question comes up: why would a firm such as KKR take on such a task in the first place? Most of us do not plunk CSR or ESG (environmental, social and governance, the term our friends across the Atlantic prefer), in the same thought or sentence when describing these types of companies. So to find out, I had an interview with KKR’s Vice President for ESG Strategy & Communications Ali Hartman.

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Change.org Extends Gender-Neutral Parental Leave Policy

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday October 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

babyChange.org announced recently that it will amend its parental leave policy. The site that allows users to create petitions will increase the paid time an employee can take for the birth of a child from six weeks to 18 weeks. This is extended to both fathers and mothers. The new policy also includes people who adopt as being eligible for leave. Change.org has about 200 employees, and about 51 percent are women.

The company’s new policy goes further than federal law. Although the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides job protection so parents can take leave, there’s no guarantee of pay during time off. Jennifer Dulski, president and CEO of Change.org, told CNN Money that “giving people unpaid leave only solves half the problem.” The company’s goal was “to create a generous and equal leave policy that supported all parents,” she said.

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North Carolina Cigarette Plant to Switch to Producing Batteries

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday October 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

wind farmFormer Philip Morris cigarette plant in Concord, North Carolina will produce batteries to store energy for wind and solar farms, Fortune reports. The Swiss owned startup Alevo, which manufactures batteries, bought the 3.5 million square foot plant. The batteries are lithium-iron-phosphate and can be charged within 30 minutes, run 24/7 and last for 40,000 charges.

The North Carolina plant used to manufacture a billion cigarettes annually. However, smoking is not as popular and many Americans are either smoking less or quitting altogether. Years ago, Philip Morris stopped producing cigarettes at the plant. Now, it will produce batteries and create jobs while doing so. Alevo says it will hire 500 people in the next year, and within three years it will create 2,500 jobs. When the plant produced cigarettes, over 2,000 people were employed there.

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The Business Guide to Talking About Carbon

Mary Mazzoni
| Wednesday October 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment

8211403515_09f016001a_zCarbon offsetting gained international awareness back in 1997 with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, which sanctioned offsets as a way for governments and companies to meet their greenhouse gas emission targets.

After a few years, offsets gained something of a stigma in the environmental community. Thoughts drifted to wealthy celebrities using offsets to justify weekly use of private jets or Coldplay’s infamous mango tree debacle, and critics were quick to bemoan offsets as an easy pathway to greenwashing or a half-hearted attempt to quell eco-guilt. But the market has changed drastically in the past 17 years.

“I know you mentioned in an article about the Coldplay thing, and that’s the ugly elephant in the room that nobody likes to talk about who’s in this industry,” Nancy Bsales, manager of carbon solutions for TerraPass, said with a laugh in a recent interview. “But over the years the transparency and the quality of offsets has improved tremendously. There are so many strong standards out there that a company or an industry can be very confident that what they’re doing is real.”

Rather than a bandage tasked with covering up environmental indiscretions in one fell swoop, today’s carbon market actually offers a deeper fix. “On a corporate level, when companies look at [offsets], they look at them as a way to bridge the gap,” Bsales continued. Even for companies that are on top of their game as far as efficiency and utilizing new technologies, emissions are still created, she noted, and that’s where offsets come in.

“So what do you do with what’s left? And that’s when you take into account the market-based tools of renewable energy credits or carbon offsets,” Bsales said. “And then the real approach is supposed to be: On a yearly basis [companies] are supposed to become so much better at efficiencies and technologies that [they] need less and less offsets. That is the true goal that we want everyone to look at.”

Despite these changes in the marketplace, some companies may hesitate to incorporate offset decisions into their sustainability communications — whether it’s because they’re new to sustainability or simply worried of being nailed for greenwashing. We sat down with Bsales to get her top tips for sharing your offset decisions effectively — and making them a highlight rather than an afterthought in your sustainability communications.

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