Why Companies Should Divest from Sudan

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday June 4th, 2009 | 1 Comment

During the week of April 13, the Vanguard Group’s mutual funds shareholders received their first proxies since 2002. The proxies contain a proposal which asks shareholders to “institute procedures to prevent holding investments in companies that, in the judgment of the Board, substantially contribute to genocide or crimes against humanity, the most egregious violations of human rights.”

The proposal was coordinated by the non-profit group, Investors Against Genocide. Voting was open until the shareholder meeting on July 2. Eric Cohen, chairperson of Investors Against Genocide, characterizes the proposal as “particularly unusual, because Vanguard customers have not had an opportunity to vote in nearly seven years, and also because the genocide-free investing proposal is the first shareholder proposal to make it onto the proxy ballot at Vanguard.”

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Prison-Business Parterships: Harbingers of Positive Change?

| Thursday June 4th, 2009 | 1 Comment

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Prisons have long held a reputation for being resource “black holes.” Incarcerated people fade away into obscurity, most without any true chance at rehabilitation. Yet inmates consume huge amounts of food, and even larger amounts of energy. In 2007, California taxpayers spent over $8 billion on their prison system, more than any other state in the nation. Recidivism rates are not improving, and the state is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Prisons have become an icon for waste and consumption.
One California prison, however, is determined to change the notion that a penal system can only consume resources without reusing them. Avenal State Prison is home to 6,500 inmates. It is located in the dry and somewhat desolate San Joaquin County. Beginning in June of 2000, Avenal State Prison initiated a revolutionary program: food scrap and green material collection. The facility entered into a partnership with San Joaquin Composting, a local and for-profit business that sells compost to the many agricultural wholesalers that exist in the San Joaquin valley. This collaboration between a state-run prison and a private enterprise has generated unbelievable financial, environmental and social benefits.

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Microfranchise Solutions: Scaleable Microfinance?

3p Contributor | Wednesday June 3rd, 2009 | 1 Comment

By Rebecca Busse
In my quest for a new, innovative, scalable microfinance model that could also be coupled with environmental sustainability, I met Grant Hunter, the VP of Franchise Development and Marketing for Microfranchise Solutions, LLC. He assured me that he was anything but a grant hunter, despite his name, and that he was searching for a business-based approach to poverty alleviation. After having some less-than-ideal experiences in the non-profit world searching for a microfinance model that could be easily scaled up or down according to need, he abandoned the non-profit models and went to a for-profit model: microfranchising. Microfranchising is pretty much what it sounds like – exporting small franchises to developing countries in an effort to harness the power of business to help people help themselves.

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Domestic Vs. International Microfinance

3p Contributor | Wednesday June 3rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

By Rebecca Busse

Microfinance in the US is an entirely different species than its international cousin. Microfinance was popularized by Mohammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Grameen Bank as “Banker to the Poor” in Bangladesh. His work started a revolution in poverty alleviation, with the aim of encouraging dignity through self-sufficiency for the clients. The basic premise is that banks lend low-income would-be entrepreneurs loans that range anywhere from $50-$2000, and even this small influx of capital can be vital to small businesses abroad. Interest rates are often higher abroad than in the US because of higher administrative costs. Because borrowers often do not have collateral to secure loans, their reputation is used to ensure that they repay. And repay they do: international microfinance loans have some of the highest loan repayment rates, and often this small helping hand is enough to raise entire generations out of absolute poverty.

Several key differences in international microfinance spring from dissimilar business and cultural environments: domestic microfinance is highly regulated; there is more socioeconomic diversity among borrowers which leads to bigger outreach expenses, and the scale is entirely different. Last year, India saw 3 million microloans, whereas Opportunity Fund, one of the larger domestic microfinance institutions, has made only 900 loans over ten years. In the US, most of the administrative costs are subsidized by donations, and licensing and permit regulations make it a more bureaucratic process. Marketing also plays a part – most budding entrepreneurs in the US don’t think of microfinance as a tool that they can access, but as more people find themselves being turned down by major banks for funding, microfinance is filling that gap in financial services. Like microfinance abroad, its domestic cousin serves primarily women, primarily minorities, and is increasingly being perceived as a “hand up” rather than a “handout.”

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Pipeline Operator Says Wind, Solar Not the Answers to Energy Crisis

| Wednesday June 3rd, 2009 | 6 Comments

Reuters TV has an interesting interview of Rich Kinder, the CEO of Kinder Morgan, who says that wind and solar energies are not the answers to reducing America’s greenhouse gas emissions or the country’s dependence on oil.
Rather, he says that natural gas, nuclear, and even clean coil are much more logistically viable options. We’ve previously covered the pros and cons of nuclear energy, more recently Germany’s attempt to utilize clean coal, and even energy think tanks that believe our energy policy should be governed by “facts, sound science, and good American common sense.” As we learn more about our energy capacities and potential, it seems like the debate over energy policy just seems to get more convoluted.
Despite his obvious entrenchment in the oil business, which undoubtedly colors his opinions, is there any validity to Kinder’s claims? Check out the video, and tell us what you think.

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Is Earthkeepers Hero “Mission Possible” Mission Sustainable?

| Wednesday June 3rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Last week, in partnership with changents.com, Timberland released “Earthkeepers Hero ‘Mission Possible,’” furthering the company’s vision to develop Facebook applications that blur the line between virtual and real-world eco-action in order to catalyze an environmental movement of “do-ers” under the banner of Timberland Earthkeepers. Many brands, non-profits and social activism campaigns have begun to harness the power of the web in creating experiences designed to drive real life behavior, consciousness and goodwill. And the “game” element helps create memorable engagements that promote adoption of causes and lifestyle integration.
Akoha is another good example of this, giving players points for a variety of social change-related activities that they complete in the real world.
But the question becomes are games like these fads, fueled by initial hype, or do they have the potential to create sustainable change and elevate consumer consciousness of important social and environmental issues?

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Xerox : How Green is Your Print Job?

Sarah Lozanova | Wednesday June 3rd, 2009 | 1 Comment

copier.JPG “Waste-free products from waste-free facilities”
The zero waste vision has been gaining steam lately. One of the most important strategies for this involves designing products and factories that don’t have large amounts of waste created in the manufacturing, use, and disposal of the product. Since 1991, Xerox Corporation (NYSE: XRX) has made significant progress in this area, often reducing waste by 90%.

Design for Reuse

The invention of interchangeable parts helped fuel the industrial revolution. The same concept can also greatly expands the end-of-use possibilities for products.
Instead of recycling parts, the many parts are cleaned, inspected, and put back to use. Products are designed with fewer parts and can be easily dissembled. According to Xerox, “A returned machine can be rebuilt as the same model through remanufacture, converted to a new model within the same product family, or used as a source of parts for next-generation models.”
Each part is built to last for numerous product life cycles and 70%-90% (of the products weight) is reused to make new products. This innovation requires forethought. Product families are designed with a core set of components that are used throughout.
The program has saved over 2 million pounds of waste from landfills. Remanufacturing is even better than recycling, because waste such as water and energy is also eliminated by not processing the materials.

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E3 Bank Intends to Invest in Green Businesses

Scott Cooney | Wednesday June 3rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

e3%20logo.gifPreviously on Triple Pundit, John Gartner covered the launch of a green bank that will provide loans with a Triple Bottom Line purpose and focus to green businesses and projects. Today at 3:30 EST, the bank is holding one of its investor webinars for those interested in owning E3 Bank stock and investing in changing the financial industry for the greener.

Sandy Wiggins, former chair of the U.S. Green Building Council, and Frank Baldassarre, Jr., a bank industry veteran, teamed up to launch E3 Bank, a bank that will give preferential loans to green projects, especially green building projects. The premise is that traditional lenders don’t understand the potential for Return on Investment in many green projects, and conform to strict lending principles which can sometimes penalize sustainability initiatives simply because they are new or different or both. Wiggins and Baldassarre, Jr. thought this was counter-intuitive: sustainability initiatives help improve the financial return of most long-term investments, which bank loans usually are. Traditional lenders just might not have figured that out yet.

There is sound logic. To put it in layman’s terms, if a green, LEED certified building has lower maintenance and utility costs (which it should), the monthly payment on the loan is easier to make because the owner has more money left over after other bills are paid. If the monthly payment is easier to make, the risk of default is reduced. If the risk of default is reduced, the bank is happy. If the bank is happy, loans can be offered at a lower rate. Which is exactly how E3 Bank plans to operate.

E3 offers a simple way to invest by letting people buy stock in E3 Bank. E3 has opened this opportunity to investors other than traditional Blueblood capitalists by setting the minimum investment at $5,000. This approach may help democratize E3 Bank in a way that beholdens them to more owners and more diverse owners, much in the same way small, internet based donations changed the face of the political landscape and allowed Barack Obama to raise tremendous amounts of money without having to raise it only from large donors with agendas that might not be in the best interest of the country.

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Microfinance: The Business Case for Poverty Alleviation

3p Contributor | Wednesday June 3rd, 2009 | 0 Comments

By Rebecca Busse
Doing well by doing good” is a commonly heard phrase in sustainability circles, and the Microfinance California Conference was no exception. Microfinance CA was held at Stanford University on May 28, 2009, and was remarkably well organized for a first effort. “Doing well by doing good” was spoken or alluded to by several of the conference sponsors, including Wells Fargo and Chevron, and the phrase could almost be the tagline for “Sustainability Marketing 101″. Julia Brown, the Community Reinvestment Act Officer for Charles Schwab, said this was her reason for attending the event. According to Brown, not only does microfinance encourage a strong community, it creates a strong future customer base. A common theme among conference presenters, microfinance is growing out of its nascent stage as a tool for poverty alleviation and into its adolescence as a financial investment tool that makes good business sense.

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Eco-stats On Travel, David Suzuki Style

Scott Cooney | Tuesday June 2nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

Continuing a line of previous posts about terrific eco-stats coming from David Suzuki’s Green Guide (on energy and food), here is a summary of travel-related stats for the eco-conscious that can be used in marketing for any green entrepreneurs in the travel industry.
More Americans have died in car crashes than in all the wars fought in US history combined, including the bloodiest: Civil War, WW2, and Vietnam.
Children living near freeways suffer noticeable lung function decreases and 89% higher risk of asthma.
Cost of economic externalities (social and environmental) of our car-dependent culture are estimated at between $400 billion and $2 trillion annually. This does not include military protection of oil security.
The average Canadian spends 34 equivalents of 8 hour work days commuting each year.
Continued…

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Tetra Pak Promotes Packaged Sustainability, Part I

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Tuesday June 2nd, 2009 | 8 Comments

Tetra_Pak.jpgTetra Pak is a nearly 60-year-old packaging and food processing company. It’s likely that Tetra Pak wrapped up many of the products sitting in your kitchen cupboards right now. One of its flagship packaging products is the rugged, paper-based cartons that are widely used for selling soy milk, soups and other liquid food and beverages. Last week I participated in a twitter conference that Tetra Pak hosted in order to spread a message of sustainability around this packaging type, also called aseptic paper packaging.
I should add that after I signed up to participate in the twittercon, TetraPak sent me two sample products packaged in the aseptic Tetra Pak: a bottle (or rather, carton) of wine and a carton of chicken broth. (I’m a vegetarian, so I’m looking for a home for the chicken broth. I also think they could have sent a product that is less energy-intensive than chicken broth. But I digress.)

Along with this product, the company sent along some printed information about these Tetra Pak cartons. They are made of 74 percent paper. They are lightweight and make up a smaller packaging-to-product ratio than other packaging forms. In other words, glass and plastic weigh more, which means they require more energy to transport. The square dimension of the cartons make them efficient in terms of load space – you can often load more cartons on a pallet than cans and bottles, for example.

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Genomatica Announces Breakthroughs in Bio-Manufacturing

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Tuesday June 2nd, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Does “1,4 butanediol” ring any bells for you? Unless you’re a chemist, it probably doesn’t. But this compound is used in making many of the plastics and fibers that we use every day. This important building block of modern-day materials is created from petroleum-derived material. Aside from making it a non-renewable resource, this also makes the cost of 1,4 butanediol highly volatile, since it fluctuates with the cost of oil. But San Diego startup Genomatica aims to change all that; it has developed a means of using sugars and bacteria to create this common industrial chemical.
The company, which announced its discovery last fall, says it has now refined its processing system and is ready to begin producing commercial grade BDO. It also announced that it plans on taking its process out of the lab and into a demonstration facility that will begin churning out the chemical next year. The company has also shown that it can increase the concentrations of bacteria needed to ferment and purify 1,4 butanediol in large quantities, which will allow it to compete with makers of petroleum-based 1,4 butanediol in terms of scale.

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Can Complimentary Currencies Stimulate the Economy at Large?

3p Contributor | Tuesday June 2nd, 2009 | 2 Comments

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By Lisa Bingham
Economics is all about connecting our needs or wants with resources. Most of us associate that exchange as happening with the exchange of dollars for goods, but there are alternatives. I attended a fascinating session at the BALLE conference last week called “Bartering and Complimentary Currencies.” This was a new concept for me, but I discovered that it is an idea that we are all more familiar than we might suspect. Think of movie tickets, stocks, and stamps, which are all alternate forms of currency that we use on a regular basis to obtain goods and services that we want or need.
Annette Riggs, founder and Managing Director of Community Connect Trade Association (CCTA), spoke about b-to-b trade credits. CCTA facilitates the exchange of goods and services between businesses, from which companies can earn trade credits, and provides a central marketplace through their website. There are some caveats to the program, however. Not all businesses are a good fit, as they need to provide some good or service that is needed by other participating programs, and there are some tax issues that participants should be aware of. Still, these b-to-b exchanges allow participating businesses to reserve their capital for other expenses, which is especially helpful for small businesses that may be suffering from a paucity of cash.

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Stakeholder Engagement: Six Tips for Effective Dialogue

| Monday June 1st, 2009 | 2 Comments

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By Deborah Fleischer
Stakeholder engagement is a process of reaching out to a range of constituents who are interested in, or impacted by, your business, including employees, investors, suppliers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), consumers, governmental agencies and thought-leaders.
It means opening up your company to feedback, and potentially criticism, from a diverse range of perspectives. So, why would you want to take this risk?
Business case for stakeholder engagement
Before I launch into the key tips for engaging stakeholders, I want to touch on why stakeholder engagement is a solid business practice.
Alex McIntosh, Director of Corporate Citizenship at Nestle Waters, believes that lacking a stakeholder engagement strategy “…is like launching a new product without doing any market research….You are taking a big risk without doing it. Stakeholder engagement is an important, essential element in good citizenship and good business strategy. You need to know what issues are most important to the people that are most relevant to your business.”

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Ehlers Estate: In Philanthropy We Trust

| Monday June 1st, 2009 | 2 Comments

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ehlers%20estate.jpgThis series focuses on all of the companies who have adopted philanthropy as part of their business model, and spotlights their efforts as a way to help shift the paradigm toward adopting a socially responsible mission. One common element I’ve observed is that many companies dilute their giving by opting to support a multitude of charities rather than focusing on one, where they can concentrate their efforts — and profiits — toward tangible change. While the intent to help as many charities as possible is a noble one, it is not the most sustainable option if the end goal is to make a significant impact. It’s for this same reason that I recommend to companies that their cause marketing be tightly aligned with their business instead of randomly selecting flavor-of-the-month charities.
Ehlers Estate is emblematic of this concept, representing the fusion of a for-profit winegrowing estate, environmental consciousness and international philanthropy. The winery’s diverse Napa Valley vineyard is cultivated using organic and biodynamic farming techniques to produce exceptional Bordeaux-varietal wines, and all proceeds from the sale of these wines fund international cardiovascular research through the Leducq Foundation. While they are unique in that 100% of the profits are used toward philanthropy, the manner in which they’ve wholly integrated the cause with their business practices, from operations through marketing, can be effectively reproduced in profit-based companies.
The “secret sauce” in all of these types initiatives is to stand for something and support it fully in all you do — from internal communications with employees and stakeholders to external engagements with customers. You don’t have to donate all of your revenue to charity as Ehlers Estate does, but you do have to select and nurture a mission that is the embodiment of an authentic commitment to social responsibility, and is exemplified in all you do. At the end of the day, it’s all about walking the walk. Talk is not only cheap; it’s sour grapes.

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