C.K. Prahalad Q&A: Lessons from the Bottom of the Pyramid

| Monday November 2nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

Fortune At The BOP 5th AnnivIt’s been five years since the publication of “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits,” the seminal work by C.K. Prahalad, a professor of corporate strategy at the Ross School of Business of the University of Michigan.

The book combined a pragmatic framework with inspirational case studies to show companies how they could develop innovative business models and find new profits by serving the world’s five billion poorest people at the bottom of the economic pyramid (or BOP).

To commemorate the event, Wharton Publishing has issued a revised and updated anniversary edition that includes a new introduction by the author, as well as many new case studies.

I recently spoke with Professor Prahalad to discuss what these companies have learned as they’ve built profitable businesses in emerging markets while reducing poverty in the process.  Excerpts from this discussion follow:

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Triple Pundit:  What are the big lessons learned over the past five years since the book was first published?

C.K. Prahalad: First, the thesis of the book that the private sector is an integral part of the poverty alleviation process is well accepted by multilaterals, aid agencies, many NGOs and large private sector firms as well.  Second there is now a growing belief that the bottom of the pyramid provides an opportunity for business to “do good and do well.” Third, we recognize that the BOP is more than micro-consumers.  It also represents micro producers and micro investors who can be connected to national and global markets. And the BOP can also be the source of major innovations that affect us all.  These ideas were in the original book but have been confirmed and amplified.

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Chocolate Goes Green: Kraft Rolls out Sustainable Sweet Treats

Jace Shoemaker-Galloway | Monday November 2nd, 2009 | 9 Comments

Move over Willy Wonka, a different type of chocolate will soon be coming to a store near you.

Kraft Foods recently announced it is launching a type of chocolate derived from sustainable cocoa farming.   The premium dark chocolate, Cote d’Or, contains cocoa from farms that meets Rainforest Alliance Certified standards.  Cote d’Or chocolate will first launch in France and Belgium.   The sweet treat will then roll out in Germany, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Netherlands, Canada, UK and the US.   The special seal will be added to Kraft’s Marabou chocolate brand in Sweden, Denmark and Finland.  And finally, the sustainable chocolate will be available in Switzerland and Austria under Kraft’s Suchard brand.

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Working Towards a Sustainable Chamber of Commerce

Bill Roth | Monday November 2nd, 2009 | 6 Comments

SBA LogoThe U.S. Chamber’s lobbying efforts against climate change legislation has sparked highly public defections by Nike and Apple. What is bubbling below the surface could be more telling as local businesses and associations explore sustainability’s potential as a catalyst for economic growth.

One such example is the 100-member Sustainable Business Alliance (SBA)  of Berkeley, California and its Executive Director Mark McLeod. From my chamber and association experiences, including serving as the founding president of the Decatur (Georgia) Business Association that now has 400 members with a strong track record of economic and community accomplishments, I would describe McLeod as the prototype of the association/chamber leader who leads through outreach, engagement, consensus and innovation. This is his perspective on sustainability:

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Europe Moves Towards Universal Cell Phone Charger – How Far Behind Is US?

Kathryn Siranosian | Monday November 2nd, 2009 | 2 Comments

Earlier this year, leading telecommunications companies, including Apple, Motorola and Samsung, made a commitment to start making cell phones that can be charged using a universal charger.

In Europe, that change seems to be on the fast-track now that several of these manufacturers have agreed that, beginning in 2010, all their devices sold there will use the micro USB connector, which is already the standard on handsets such as the BlackBerry.

What’s more, last month the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) gave their okay to the plan, explaining that the new universal cell phone charger will:

•    Eliminate 51,000 tons of redundant chargers, and so reduce 13.6 million tons in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions each year.
•    Reduce standby energy consumption by 50 percent.
•    Allow users worldwide to power up their cell phones anywhere, from any available charger.

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Transit and Trails: Connecting People to Nature on Public Transit

| Saturday October 31st, 2009 | 4 Comments

City bus gg80_to_sf_webNature pic sunset_matt_davis_fog2_web

Don’t own a car, but want to get out to one of the Bay Area’s hundreds of parks and trails? Or perhaps, you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint and wondering how to get to your favorite hike without using your car?

Transit and Trails is a new resource for outdoor enthusiasts who want to leave their cars behind and easily get information on how to take the bus (or ferry) to reach Bay Area hiking trails and campgrounds.

A project of the Bay Area Open Space Council (BAOSC), the new interactive website identifies hundreds of trailheads and 150 campgrounds to explore across the Bay Area’s 1.2 million acres of preserved lands. Just enter your starting location, and roughly how far you want to venture, and the site suggests possible hikes and featured trips. Once you decide where you want to go, it connects with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s 511 Transit Trip Planner to provide a detailed trip itinerary, complete with a map, transit times, fares and walking directions to and from the transit stop.

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Eco-rate Aids Eco-Minded Buyers

Bill DiBenedetto | Friday October 30th, 2009 | 0 Comments


eco_houseIt’s a Consumer Reports or CNET type of comparison shopping service for the eco-conscious crowd.

Eco-rate is the brainchild and a labor of environmental love and activism founded by a Seattle couple, Brycelaine Self and Colby Self.

“The Eco-rate idea is to allow people to compare common household products, based not only on their green attributes, but also on their affordability,” says Brycelaine Self, co-founder of Eco-rate and principal of a related green building, green marketing and energy consulting company, Eco-innovations.

Launched in mid-May, they spent more than two years designing and developing the Web-based product and technology rating and comparison resource for shoppers looking to make ecologically-intelligent choices on just about any product out there, from autos to dishwashers to TVs to paint to water heaters.

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EcoUnit Partners with Organic Valley to Supercharge Sustainable Consumer Behavior

| Friday October 30th, 2009 | 2 Comments


ecounit logoHow do you effectively shift consumer behavior with minimal cost to you as a business and minimum effort required of consumers? EcoUnit is one company attempting to answer that question.

When we last wrote about them in June, they were testing out ways to reward customers for bringing in their own bags. This earns them EcoUnits, redeemable for anything from store discounts to donations to local eco non profits of choice. As mentioned, the pilot store program was a huge success, a 77 percent increase in reusable bag use in the first two months after launch.

Where are they now?

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We Need More Lobbyists! And Other Insights From Solar Power International

| Friday October 30th, 2009 | 3 Comments

David and GoliathSPITo gain an overall picture of the solar power industry today imagine David and Goliath, with valiant David representing solar, and Goliath the big, bad fossil fuels.

Then imagine David’s sling shot is subsidized by the federal government.

At Solar Power International, the solar trade show that ran wrapped up yesterday in Anaheim, CA, the tone set by Solar Energy Industry Association CEO Rhone Resch, and echoed by keynote speaker Robert Kennedy Jr., was one of defiant confrontation with fossil fuels and their lobbyist axis of evil in DC.

Their plan: fight fire with fire. The solar industry needs to band together and hire an army of lobbyists to demand more money and favors from federal and state governments — or just a level playing field with fossil fuels, depending on how you look at it.

It’s Just Un-American!

But out in the trenches, where solar companies large and small are trying to make a go of it, the tone was much more conciliatory, even plaintive.

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What Really Matters in Clean Technology, or “The Spark Plug Guy”

| Friday October 30th, 2009 | 5 Comments


I attended a panel discussion Wednesday night at UC Irvine on the future of the automobile, part of OCTANe‘s clean tech program. There was a series of presentations on hybrids, plug in hybrids, all-electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles, from some of the most respected names in advanced automotive design, representing some of the world’s biggest car companies. Each one of those technologies represents a sea change in the way cars drive, and by extension, in the way we live. It was exciting, heady stuff.

And then there was the spark plug guy.

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Finisterre Finds Best Path to Staying Warm and Dry Is to Act Like an Otter

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday October 30th, 2009 | 1 Comment


FinisterreOn any given day, you’re likely to find a small team of product designers, material developers and scrappy marketers holed up in a converted mine building in the town of St. Agnes on the North Cornwall coast—unless, of course, the surf is good. At those times, you’re more likely to see these folks, who operate the Finisterre outdoor apparel company, bobbing in the chilly waters of the Atlantic, just a quick walk away from the office of Finisterre.

Finisterre makes jackets and base layers for people who love being outside, whether they’re surfing, hiking, skiing, climbing…whatever.

Most of the baselayers it sells are made of the soft, high-performance wool of sustainably-raised merino sheep. But the company is not only using materials from animals in its products, it’s also designing products that mimic the way that animals stay warm and dry. In developing this season’s Humboldt and Storm Tracker Finisterre jackets, the designers employed biomimicry.

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Cash Cows: Vermont Dairy Farm Converts Cattle Manure into Electricity

Jace Shoemaker-Galloway | Friday October 30th, 2009 | 11 Comments

cow-faceA Vermont dairy farm is producing something other than milk.  Earlier this month, state officials were on hand to visit Vermont’s newest methane facility.  Westminster Farms Inc.,  along with Green Mountain Power (GMP), have been working together in an on-site plant that converts methane gas released from cow manure into electricity.

Cow manure is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses and the runoff from manure pollutes water.  Taking a liability and converting it into an asset, just made environmental and economic sense to the farm’s Shawn Goodell.  An anaerobic digester is used to mix, heat and break down the manure.  The raw manure and ag substrates produce methane biogas, which  is captured and then generates electricity.  And with an estimated 1,200 cows on the Westminster-based dairy farm, finding a supply of manure is not a problem!  Sure gives new meaning to the term “natural gas” doesn’t it?

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“Harmless” Packaging – Something We Can All Buzz About

| Friday October 30th, 2009 | 1 Comment


HarmlessBy John Comberiate

Harmless Enough?

An up and coming low impact packaging idea comes from the British company “Harmless“.  Everyone’s received a magazine covered in a plastic bag in the mail at some point in their lives.  Everyone has shipped a delicately packed box with a fragile treasure inside meant for a close friend or relative.  So we’re all familiar with packing materials as well as the waste that goes along with disposing of them once they’ve completed their useful life.  Harmless is making that waste a little more eco-friendly.


Harmless has several options that have the ability to accommodate packing needs but the most impressive is the Harmless-Dissolve.  Similar to any magazine wrapping you’ve received in the past, the Harmless-Dissolve protects the magazine from knicks, scratches and tears from point of origin to your door.  Different though, is how you get rid of it; you just put it in water.  The Creative Review, for examples, is shipping its magazine out this month in Harmless-Dissolve and even has demonstrational pictures of it in action.

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Why Having More Won’t Make Us Happy

Gregory Wendt, CFP | Friday October 30th, 2009 | 5 Comments


money-happyAs a financial adviser, I regularly meet the “haves and have-mores.” One thing I have learned for sure: Having more does not necessarily mean having more happiness.

Barbara Walters interviewed billionaire media mogul David Geffen in a conversation published in More Than Money magazine: “She said, ‘O.K., David, now that you’re a billionaire, are you happy?’ He shot back without hesitation: ‘Barbara, anybody who believes money makes you happy doesn’t have money.'”

Of course I think to a point, money actually does buy you happiness, or at least in our society money provides the mechanism to get basic human needs met. Take someone who is truly in poverty and a bit of money will actually, truly, make that person and his/her family more happy – they’ll get food, shelter, some labor saving devices, they’ll get education, they’ll get leisure time.

What’s right is to say that after basic needs are met the marginal return of happiness per dollar declines rapidly, at some point every additional dollar means virtually nothing.

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What About the People?

| Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 0 Comments

people jumpingBy Brahm Ahmadi
Ecological economics is a transdisciplinary field of study that addresses the complex interconnectedness of human systems and natural ecosystems. Unlike neoclassical economics, which is preoccupied with the value-free idea of efficiency, ecological economics focuses on the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem, and emphasizes the natural limits of our planet in relation to human social and economic systems.

It’s ironic that many of the environmental problems of today have been driven by social norms and cultural values and, yet, these factors are not central tenets of ecological economics.

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Democratization of Electricity: Are You a Public Utility?

| Thursday October 29th, 2009 | 2 Comments

rfkSPIIn typical Kennedy-esque fashion Robert Jr. delivered a liberal-environmentalist stem winder from the main stage at Solar Power International this morning, pillorying the coal and oil industries (“carbon cronies”), and calling for the “democratization” of electric power.

He was largely referring to the perceived lobbyist-led stranglehold fossil fuels have on power production. But later in the day, members of a panel on electricity regulation (“Who Will Be the Next Regulator?”) cited Kennedy’s speech to refer to what is happening as more and more individuals, businesses, and organizations install solar panels on their property, generate their own electricity, and sell the excess back to the local utility.

The question that arises is this: if these companies are generating electricity, are they utilities?

If you have rooftop solar panels, are you an utility?

The answer for individuals is almost certainly not. For companies who sell and maintain solar panels, or rent space on rooftops to install their own, the answer is maybe, sort of, hopefully not, but possibly eventually.

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