Financial Inclusion: The Most Important Question for Business Leaders

3p Contributor | Tuesday March 3rd, 2015 | 1 Comment

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on

3280347394_4d33caf27d_zBy Ross Baird

The philosopher Tony Judt, while dying of ALS three years ago, wrote a final essay, “Ill Fares the Land.” Below is its opening paragraph:

“Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth. We no longer ask of a judicial ruling or a legislative act: is it good? Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right? Will it help bring about a better society or a better world? Those used to be the political questions, even if they invited no easy answers. We must learn once again to pose them.”

Judt’s message: As a society, we focus nearly all of our time, attention and resources on maximizing wealth for shareholders in private companies. We know what things cost, but not what they are worth.

A close friend and collaborator once showed me a New Yorker cartoon that sums up the consequences of this scenario: a series of kids gathered in a post-apocalyptic landscape around a pyre of burning trash, with an older man in a dirty suit saying: “Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a brief moment in time, we created wonderful value for shareholders.”

To “maximize shareholder value” is required by law in many states as a part of any investor or company manager’s fiduciary duty. The term “fiduciary” derives from the Latin “faith” — the faith an asset owner has in its stewards. In society, our fiduciaries have incredibly high standards for how the resources perform on a cost-benefit analysis — and they should. Investors managing pension fund assets are charged with the retirement accounts of firefighters and teachers, and public company CEOs recognize that the net worth of millions of people potentially depend on the stock price.

Yet, the New Yorker cartoon shows that if business leaders are not simultaneously fiduciaries for society at large, the world faces grave consequences. It’s easy to read a stock ticker; how do we begin to discuss what things are worth?

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Has China Reached Peak Coal?

Alexis Petru
| Tuesday March 3rd, 2015 | 1 Comment
Chinese factory

Cement factory in southwest China.

Last fall, China made a historic climate agreement with the U.S., committing to reach peak carbon by 2030 and peak coal by 2020. And now it appears that the world’s top carbon emitter is starting to make good on its promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions and scale back on its reliance on dirty sources of energy.

According to energy data released by the Chinese government last week, the country’s consumption of coal fell by 2.9 percent in 2014 – the first dip in 14 years, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports. This drop in coal consumption has also led to the first decline in China’s carbon emissions this century – 0.70 percent – estimates Glen Peters, senior research fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway.

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Earth Balance Switches to Sustainable Palm Oil

Leon Kaye | Tuesday March 3rd, 2015 | 4 Comments
Palm oil, Earth Balance, sustainable palm oil, deforestation, human rights, land rights, Leon Kaye, Colombia, Leon Kaye, RSPO, Palm Oil Innovation Group, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, supply chain

Earth Balance is now moving toward supplying only RSPO-certified palm oil.

If you are regular shopper at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, chances are you have come across Earth Balance products. Its variety of mayos, spreads, nut butters and snacks are all vegan and, according to the company, contain heart-smart oils. And, like many companies, Earth Balance has long refused to use hydrogenated oils and now sources palm oil instead.

The increased global demand for palm oil, however, has caused its own set of environmental and social problems, from land rights to wildlife habitat destruction to increased carbon emissions. To that end, Earth Balance is in the midst of revamping its supply chain and says its goal is to source only sustainable palm oil by the end of this year.

Earth Balance has decided to join other companies in partnering with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and says it is committed to the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) in order to cease the links between palm oil cultivation, deforestation and human rights violations. In an email exchange with Adriane Little, a director at Earth Balance, we discussed the company’s shift toward sustainable palm oil.

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Three Senators Launch Investigation of Climate Deniers’ Funding

Leon Kaye | Tuesday March 3rd, 2015 | 106 Comments
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Some on Capitol Hill want to investigate climate deniers, but do not expect the inquiry to go far

The climate change debate has been a rancorous one for the past 20 years, even though there really is not much debate: as much as 97 percent of all scientists publishing research related to climate change believe there is a human connection to global warming. Nevertheless, it is that remaining three percent that receives a lot of press attention, and in part why poll after poll reveals Americans are fairly split on whether they believe climate change is caused by human activity. A recent New York Times article, however, indicates more of the public believes more action needs to be taken to mitigate climate change risks. To that end, three United States Senators are investigating the ties between “climate deniers” and any funding they may receive from energy companies and trade associations.

Last week, Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) authored 100 letters to businesses and organizations to inquire whether they are funding scientific studies that could be confusing the American public while skirting action to reduce carbon emissions. Their requests for information follow on the heels of documents Greenpeace released suggesting one leading climate scientist has accepted over US$ 1 million from entities including ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers.

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Conversation with Novo Nordisk’s VP of Corporate Sustainability

RP Siegel | Tuesday March 3rd, 2015 | 0 Comments

Novo logoAs a follow-up to our recent story on Novo Nordisk’s annual sustainability report, we had the opportunity to chat with Susanne Stormer,  Novo’s VP of corporate sustainability. Susanne was in Washington last week to attend the Partnering for a Healthier America summit, which featured Michelle Obama as keynote speaker.

TriplePundit: Can you give us an overview of what you’ll be addressing at the conference?

Susanne Stormer: While the conference is primarily focused on the U.S., I will speaking about our experience in community engagement in Denmark and elsewhere.  The conference has a strong focus on childhood obesity, which is a topic that is very close to our hearts.

3p: In your sustainability report, you specifically address the linkage between cities and the rise of diabetes. Is this a widely accepted view in the field, or is this something that Novo-Nordisk is taking a lead on?

SS: We have come across this through several of our initiatives. You see people moving to cities for economic opportunity and to be a part of what is happening, but at the same time we see statistics showing that their health tends to suffer as a result. For us, it’s really the epitome of the challenges of sustainable development. We would like to see economic growth, of course, but if it comes at a cost to people’s health, it’s a dilemma.  So, we have started addressing what we call ‘urban diabetes,’ and I believe we are the first to try and tackle it.

3p: So, how do you go about tackling urban diabetes?

SS: It requires a systemic approach. You have to look at how the city is designed. You have to look at habits around eating, exercise, leisure activities — it’s all taking us in the wrong direction. So, we’re beginning to ask questions about how you can design cities that are conducive to people’s health. Clearly we’re not the ones who can provide these answers: We need designers; we need architects; we need transportation infrastructure. We need all these players to come together to each bring their piece of the puzzle so that we can get it right …

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EPA Takes on the ‘Gas Guzzlers’ of Home Appliances

3p Contributor | Tuesday March 3rd, 2015 | 0 Comments

4665591732_fd3ab9725b_zBy Diane MacEachern

For the first time ever, it is possible to buy a highly energy-efficient clothes dryer that meets performance standards set by Energy Star. As a result, consumers can save as much as $245 on energy costs over the life of the efficient dryer. The nation benefits, too. If all clothes dryers sold in the U.S. were Energy Star certified, Americans could save $1.5 billion each year in utility costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 2 million vehicles.

Clothes dryers are the “gas guzzlers” of household appliances: They consume more energy than clothes washers, dishwashers and even refrigerators. For the past 20 years, people have been able to choose Energy Star-certified models of major energy-using products in the home. But, until now, they did not have that choice on clothes dryers.

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SunEdison Invests $5M To Boost Solar Workforce Diversity

Alexis Petru
| Monday March 2nd, 2015 | 0 Comments

Solar panel installationThe U.S. solar workforce grew nearly 20 percent faster than the national average employment rate last year, according to the Solar Foundation’s 2014 National Solar Jobs Census. But like the rest of the tech industry, this sector of the renewable energy field has a problem when it comes to diversity. Women make up only 22 percent of the solar industry, while 16 percent of the solar workforce is Latino, 7 percent is Asian and 6 percent is African American, last year’s Job Census found.

But a new program from renewable energy development company SunEdison and nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives aims to build a more diverse solar workforce. Last month, the organizations announced the launch of the RISE (Realizing an Inclusive Solar Economy) initiative, which will provide women and members of underserved communities with solar job training and job placement through GRID Alternatives’ workforce development program. SunEdison and its foundation will be contributing $5 million to the partnership – in both the form of funding and solar panels.

“The solar industry is adding jobs at a rate of more than 20 percent year over year,” said Erica Mackie, co-founder and CEO of GRID Alternatives, in a statement. “This is an incredible opportunity to connect an industry that needs good people with people that need good jobs, and that’s just what this partnership is doing.”

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Incentivizing Investment In Climate Change Infrastructure

3p Contributor | Monday March 2nd, 2015 | 2 Comments

Maddie Keating--Flickr Creative CommonsBy Peter Weisberg

However you frame the environmental challenges ahead of us, the need for investment in new infrastructure is staggering. Credit Suisse, World Wildlife Fund and McKinsey estimate that “to meet the need for conservation funding, investable cash flows from conservation projects need to be at least 20-30 times greater than they are today. “ The World Economic Forum reports $5.7 trillion will need to be invested annually by 2020 to build the infrastructure needed to mitigate catastrophic climate change. Much of this investment is additional—meaning it faces new risks and, without intervention, it will not otherwise occur.

Given this context, it’s essential for the public sector to use its limited dollars in a way that mitigates risks and attracts private capital to needed infrastructure investments.

Patrick Maloney, an advisor to investors interested in social and environmental results, has a great series of blog posts about why true “impact investments” must be in addition to investments the rest of the market is currently willing to make. The trouble is the rest of the market stays away from these new investments because the risks (real or perceived) are higher than other investments with similar returns. True impact opportunities are often new, novel, or unproven and rely upon new markets, technologies and companies.

The Climate Trust has explored options for raising capital to invest in building new GHG offset projects, and has identified a variety of new models for using public financing to mitigate and manage the risks associated with true impact investments—models that attract private capital to new ideas that otherwise wouldn’t be funded.

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Y Combinator Invests in Mexican Solar

Leon Kaye | Monday March 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment
Mexico, solar, solar energy, clean energy, Bright, Y Combinator, power purchase agreements, Leon Kaye, renewables

Solar energy’s potential in Mexico, courtesy of SolarGis

Y Combinator has had an impressive track record investing relatively small amounts of money (US$ 120,000 annually) into over 800 start-ups the past 10 years. Its list of companies to which it has granted seed money reads like of what assumedly is an alumni of premier venture capital firms: Dropbox, AirBnB, Reddit, Scribd and Disqus are just a few of Y Combinator’s success stories. Now Y Combinator’s first investment in a clean energy company could add to the US$ 30 billion in valuation this seed funder already has in its portfolio. The start-up Bright Exchange, Inc. (branded as Bright) believes it can transform solar energy in Mexico.

Bright aims to address the high costs of electricity while benefiting the environment. Utilities take too much out of Mexicans’ wallets—by some accounts electricity rates in Mexico ranks eighth highest within the 34-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Bright promises to slash those costs by 20 to 30 percent with its rooftop solar programs.

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Cool Planet’s Biochar Reduces Water Use, Increases Crop Yield

| Monday March 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment

biocharIn the past several years, Cool Planet has rocketed from inception to the pilot stage to producing commercially available biochar, a product that could have a significant impact on California’s severe drought conditions. Farmers that use Cool Planet’s biochar can use up to 40 percent less water on the same crop surface area and maintain the same yield, or use the same amount of water and harvest a significantly bigger yield.

The enhanced biochar (the commercial name is CoolTerra) is created from biomass, which can include agricultural waste but the preferred source is wood chips, Cool Planet’s Commercial Director, Neil Wahlgren, explains. Living trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere, but when the tree dies, the carbon is released back into the air. Cool Planet’s biochar process uses locally sourced biomass (within 30-50 miles of each plant, reducing transportation) and captures the carbon, keeping it permanently in the soil so it is not released back into the atmosphere. This helps reduce the total amount of greenhouse gases.

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Salmon Skin Accessories a Clutch Above Conventional Leather

Leon Kaye | Monday March 2nd, 2015 | 0 Comments
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Salmon skin card holders by Heidi & Adèle

Salmon skin: it’s not just for sushi anymore.

Ever wonder what happens to that skin that was once part of your lox, dinner or the fishy pate in a tube that you were brave enough to buy while passing by the food market in Ikea? Well, it turns out that it usually just discarded after salmon is harvested.

But two fashion designers, Heidi Carneau and Adèle Taylor, have decided salmon skin is a beautiful and resilient material for their fashion accessories. With years of designing leather goods under their belts, the two long-time friends have joined forces and now design handbags and wallets using more sustainable options than conventional leather, including the skins of salmon and eel. Together they launched their own designer line, Heidi & Adèle.

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Farm-to-Table Greets Visitors at 1620s Jesuit Monastery

Sarah Lozanova | Monday March 2nd, 2015 | 0 Comments

Hacienda Chorlavi

Our family ecotourism adventure in continues on the outskirts of Ibarra in Northern Ecuador to what was the northern end of the Inca Empire when the Spaniards first arrived. We stayed in the historic Hacienda Chorlavi, a country inn which was previously a Jesuit Monastery. Founded in 1620, the oldest building was constructed in a European style by local tradesmen that used adobe and wood. Today the inn brings fourth centuries of history, in an artful manner. Cobblestone paths lead to thick-walled guest rooms with decorative touches throughout.

After acquiring the property, the Tobar family used it for agricultural production for a few generations before José and Pilar Tobar transformed their home into a country inn in 1973. The barn transformed into a conference room and the laborer’s quarters became guest rooms. In the last forty years, other Ecuadorian haciendas have followed suit, making this once innovative transformative idea much more widespread.

All the rooms in the inn possess a colonial-era feel, with antique furniture, and some containing a wood-paneled ceiling, fireplace, and wood flooring.

From a social responsibility standpoint, Hacienda Chorlavi stands out.

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Still Doubting that Organics are the Future?

3p Contributor | Monday March 2nd, 2015 | 39 Comments

Organic Cherries

By Tim Sparke

The words ‘organic’ and ‘sustainability’ are bandied around quite a bit. While some won’t eat anything but organic, others deny that there’s any future in organic farming. After all, with a population that’s seven billion-strong and growing, how can we possibly expect organics to feed the world? Or so the critics ask. In their view, feeding the masses simply can’t be done without strong chemicals and genetic modification.

However, organic farming has far more capacity than many people imagine. It goes way, way beyond growing a few tomato plants on your back verandah. Besides, if we want to live on a clean, healthy planet, going organic is the only way forward – not only for gardeners and farmers, but also for all businesses related to agriculture, from your local café to your nearest supermarket, from your preferred beautician to your favorite clothing boutique. In fact, when you think about just how many industries depend on agriculture, it’s clear that a shift towards sustainable, chemical-free practices is essential.

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Women in Corporate Leadership Twitter Chat

| Friday February 27th, 2015 | 0 Comments

tweet-jam-pwc-northern-trustMary is taking a break this week so in lieu of our usual 3p-Weekender here’s a special announcement about a new twitter chat we’re putting on with PwC & Northern Trust next Friday, March 6th.

Longtime TriplePundit readers have repeatedly asked us to do more with our Women in CSR series which has been one of our longest running and most popular columns. With that in mind, we’re excited to announce, in honor of International Women’s Day, a one hour conversation with Shannon Schuyler, Principal, CR leader, PwC and President of The PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc., and Connie L. Lindsey, Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Global Diversity & Inclusion, Northern Trust.

Over the course of an hour, we’ll invite you to explore ways to foster female leadership and overcome gender inequality in the workplace. The conversation will cover topics such as obstacles to advancement today, how companies can proactively approach gender diversity on boards, and specific things we can do to foster confidence and leadership skills among girls in school today so that they may become the women leaders of tomorrow. We’ll also discuss the role men can play in the workplace to empower their female colleagues. And we’ll address your questions!

Learn more here, or click here to RSVP for the chat!

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TJ Maxx Follows Walmart’s Lead, Promises to Boost Wages

Leon Kaye | Friday February 27th, 2015 | 0 Comments
TJ Maxx, Retail Sector, TJX Companies, wages, minimum wage, Walmart, Minnesota, Leon Kaye, Costco

TJ Maxx’s parent company has promised to boost wages

Is retail finally starting to become more humane in the United States? It is not anywhere close to becoming a job that can lead to a decent middle class — or even a lower-middle class — lifestyle, but wages are starting to inch up.

Walmart started the ball rolling with its announcement last week that it will increase wages to $9 an hour. Now TJX Companies, the operators of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, is the latest nationwide retailer to announce it will also give many of its workers a raise.

In a press release discussing its recent financial performance, the company announced it will raise the minimum wage for its employees to $9 an hour starting in June. That is a slight uptick from current wages, which now range from $8.25 to $8.50 an hour. By 2016, all employees who have six months’ tenure with the company will make a wage of at least $10 an hour.

So, why is the stubborn retail sector slowly changing its ways?

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