Please visit to see the new & improved site.
Please visit to see the new & improved site.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Is Blogging Good for Corporate Responsibility?

I am often asked why I take the time to blog. Overall I believe that blogging makes a positive contribution to corporate responsibility.

In large organizations the individual connection between the employee and the stakeholders can be lost. The internet is thought of as an equalizer for small voices to have an equal voice to larger ones. But the internet also has the capacity to serve as the personalizer, allowing executives in large organizations to share their views and be more connected as individuals with their stakeholders.

Here are some examples of executive blogs and communities that I find impressive:

· Melanie Holmes, VP of World of Work Solution, Manpower North America blogs about topics including gender gaps, giving back to the community and diversity.

· Bank of America and MIT collaborate together in this blog, which highlights executives’ views on a range of topics, including corporate social responsibility.

· Sun provides a portal for its employees’ blogs, including this one on CSR from Marcy Scott Lynn.

· Tom Glocer, CEO of Thomson Reuters, blogs about work at Thomson Reuters, as well as wider issues such as technology, information publishing and globalization

By simply supporting any type of blogging these companies give a key message on the importance and acceptance of differing viewpoints. Blogging provides a strong foundation for individual accountability and contributes towards continually improving corporate responsibility.

But with blogging comes responsibility. The fast cycle of the blogosphere begs us to provide quick responses to issues that may well justify a more considered response. And the media influenced drive to get noticed incents us to be extreme in our views. Don’t fall into this mode. I try not to.

My approach to blogging is contrarian. The internet allows for immediacy, but it doesn’t mean we have to use it. The proliferation of media requires controversy to draw an audience, but it can be resisted.

Corporate bloggers, CSR or otherwise, should take a different tack. Rather than for reporting on today’s conference as soon as you return to your hotel room, blogs can be a tool for sharing ideas, drawing responses and developing considered views over a longer time period. A drive for quality not quantity will enable blogging to be a force for good in corporate responsibility.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Greenest Companies

The Sunday Times recently ranked the greenest U.K. companies by highlighting the most environmentally aware companies with the most environmentally engaged workforces. Full disclosure: BT Group was ranked no. 7 on the list.

I’ve written several times about rankings and their impact and expressed a level of skepticism. However, this ranking is a bit different. It is the only ranking that I know of that not only looks at an organization’s initiatives and performance, but also takes into account what the employees think about the organization’s environmental standards and performance. I encourage this type of methodology. I believe it is very important to get employees involved, and realizing that they are involved, in their organization’s environmental efforts. In doing so, companies see a step change in the level of interest, commitment, and knowledge about environmental issues among employees and in their willingness to take action outside as well as inside the workplace. .In some ways, talking the talk is as important as walking the walk.

I also like that this ranking includes smaller organizations, many of which dominate the top ten, and was interested to see government in there, namely the UK government's Environment Agency.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Blue Coat’s Approach to Sustainability

Having posted about GE Healthymagination earlier this week, I also wanted to demonstrate that smaller companies can build comprehensive and sophisticated approaches to sustainability.

My fellow green speaker at Futurenet in Boston recently was David Cox, senior VP of operations of Blue Coat Systems, Inc. - a network security company. David's presentation addressed how Blue Coat's green initiatives address the Direct Impact of the company itself through reducing energy usage. He also addressed how Blue Coat translated their own learning into how their products can help their customers with sustainability - the Product in Use category of the Four Dimensions framework.

Tim Scannell at IT Knowledge Exchange and Scott Hogg at Network World both commented on the environmental presentations of Futurenet. eWEEK Europe also conducted an interview with David in 'Green is the Color of Money too' and recognized BlueCoat's activities in this space.

But, sustainability is not only about environment. Sustainable thinking also calls upon us to address social and economic wellbeing. BlueCoat's commitment is impressive in this area too.

Blue Coat took the core competency behind one of their B2B products - Blue Coat Web Filter - and applied it as a key component of their approach to community outreach. Blue Coat's K9 Web Protection is a free Internet and parental controls filter that gives parents control over their family's use of the Internet. It has over 1 million users.

I happen to be a very satisfied user of the product at home and as David explains to me, input from their consumer users helps them to refine the filtering in their business product. I am sure it also helps their brand awareness. This is a great illustration of combining business and social benefits.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

GE’s sustainability initiatives

Yesterday I attended an outreach event, organized by AccountAbility and GE, to bring together NGO stakeholders to provide input on GE's continually developing sustainability initiatives. I was one of a couple of other corporate attendees invited to provide input. I tried to do my part, but I think that I also learned just as much on behalf of BT as my GE colleagues no doubt learned for their company. It was an excellent event and something more companies should do.

I had the opportunity to hear about GE's recently announced Healthymagination initiative. What a fantastic example of staying ahead of the competition. Many companies are trying to work out how they catch up with GE's Ecomagination and GE leapfrog themselves with this!

Although I don't for one minute think that the folks at GE based their program on my Four Dimensions of Sustainability, it is a great example for me to use of a comprehensive and holistic approach. It includes significant attention to each of the four dimensions: Direct Impact, Product in Use Impact, Enabled Impact and Inform and Influence.

  • Direct Impact - key initiatives focused on GE's own employee wellness and health.
  • Product in Use and Enabled Impact - the major thrust of the program is R&D spend to launch an ambitious range of health product innovations aiming for cost reduction, access improvement and quality improvement.
  • Inform and Influence - A commitment to applicable health information programming on NBC and MSNBC.

I was also impressed with a recognition of some of the policy issues facing overall healthcare costs and expectations with GE's commitment to producing a range of "only what is needed" products.

Not every company has the range of business capabilities that is available to GE - especially the media outlets that enable them to take Inform and Influence so seriously. But I think this is still an enviable example for all CSR and sustainability executives of taking our role within our own companies way beyond philanthropy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Student Impact on Sustainability

I’ve seen more involvement from students in sustainability in recent years. In fact, I recently tapped into this network of students when I presented at the NetImpact conference at Wharton this past November and saw their excitement and involvement in sustainability matters.

BT also recently hosted a team of graduate researchers from the UCLA Anderson School at the site of our new headquarters to see the finished solar installation and ask questions. For an alternative take on the installation, take a look at the comprehensive and very interesting report they wrote giving their perspective on the project.

I am thrilled to see the involvement of students in sustainability. More importantly, our higher education institutions have implemented commendable programs that incorporate environmental factors within the context of business, tourism, food and other areas of everyday life. As someone who has a corporate social responsibility job, its great to see a younger generation seeking to make an impact.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The American and British Chambers of Commerce on Climate Change

News broke in the last couple of days in a Politico story 'Chamber under fire on Warming' that Nike, Johnson and Johnson and other corporations are challenging the position the American Chamber of Commerce is taking on climate change on the basis that it is not representative of the views of the chamber's membership. A great example of the fourth dimension of sustainability - Inform and Influence.

Johnson and Johnson’s Clifford Holland, Corporate VP of Government Affairs wrote a
letter on April 16, 2009 to the U.S. Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue stating that as a member, the company appeals to the Chamber to reflect a full range of views.

The contrast with the UK situation is interesting. The UK counterpart organization to the American Chamber of Commerce is the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The
CBI has taken an aggressive and pro-active approach to climate change action. It started with a Climate Change Task force, set up by the CBI in 2006 under then CEO of BT, Ben Verwaayan. The task force produced a report "Climate Change - Everyone's Business" that can be thought of as the business response to the Stern Report. It is illuminating less in its specific findings than in firmly recognizing the risk of climate change and setting the scene for business, consumer and government to work together to combat it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The recession could be good for sustainability

At the end of 2008, I posted my thoughts on the positive impact of the recession on sustainability.

People have asked me if I continue to maintain that organizations can pursue a sustainability path even when times are tough. Peeling the onion one layer, I can say that energy reduction comes with cost reduction. In a recession that ROI is there even more so.

But, we need to peel the onion another layer. Sustainability is more than reducing energy usage and more even than environmental impact. Sustainability is our holistic impact (social, economic and environmental) on the communities in which we do business. The well-being of those communities on which we depend for our employees, investors and markets, determines the long term health of our businesses.

I think we need some substantive change to make our business frameworks more sustainable and that is where I see the most significant opportunity from the current recession.

When profits are good it can be hard to gain the support to make substantive change. After all, why change the status quo? In troubled times there is more preparedness to try out new models.

As the glimmers of hope are starting to appear in the economy, we need to build new and different models to support that regrowth -- new models that are not dependent on increased material consumption for prosperity and new models that break the linkage between economic growth and energy consumption. Once we have grown and everything looks rosy, it will be too late again. Therefore, we need to build consensus now on what the new more sustainable models for business need to look like.

I maintain that not only can organizations pursue a sustainability path even when times are tough, but I hold out hope that this downturn is an opportunity to make a step change for the better in the way corporations approach sustainability.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Guest Post: Behind the Scenes at BT “Goes Solar”

Jon Reiter is Senior Director for Major Transactions. He came up with the idea for the solar installation, constructed the conceptual business case and drove the process both internally and externally. He comments here on some of the lessons learned through the process.

When I initially proposed pursuing what became BT's 500-kW El Segundo solar project, I knew we would have some fundamental challenges to address, such as:

  • the site is owned by a third party real estate investor and therefore we required formal consent;
  • our carport tracker design was uniquely engineered for our site and therefore it would be a complex plan submission to the local planning department; and
  • we elected not to allocate capital resources to the project and therefore needed to engage with an additional third party (a PPA Provider).

In order to achieve cooperation from all stakeholders, our project team adhered to two key principles.

Engage Early and Often. After conducting an initial feasibility assessment, my very first call was to our site owner (Broadreach Capital Partners) to gauge interest. Admittedly, there was some reluctance at first. However, with early education about the benefits of solar to Broadreach as the property owner and by working with the company in assessing the system's design aesthetics as well as the soundness of its engineering plans, we were able to earn their trust and support. Likewise, as soon as the preliminary design of the system was complete, I scheduled a meeting with the Mayor of El Segundo and his team well in advance of our plan submissions. This early notice and subsequent regular engagement enabled the planning process to progress very smoothly.

Open Communication. As the ultimate driver of the project (and of course consumer of the solar energy produced by the system), we encouraged open communication among all parties involved. This emerged in several contexts -- design finalization, contract negotiations, construction and project management, marketing and public relations, etc. The result was that we created the right environment for all stakeholders to 'row the boat' in the same direction. This degree of transparency was especially critical in managing our PPA provider (Solar Power Partners) and solar integrator (Suntech Energy Solutions), both of which maintained excellent lines of communication throughout the process.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Are companies doing the right things to influence consumer behavior?

A couple of weeks back I spoke at the DC conference of the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association. The keynote speaker Stephen Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels, made a very interesting observation about implementation of their towel reuse program. Like many other hotel groups, Choice Hotels has implemented processes for customers to reuse their towels in most of their hotels. Towels hung up on the towel rail and are reused. Towels left on the floor are removed and freshly laundered towels provided. Although Choice Hotel's research shows that most customers want their hotel to have this option, most don’t actually use it. They continue to leave their towels on the floor.

I was involved in organizing the annual conference of the British American Business Counsel in DC last week. We heard Steven Winberg, Vice President of Research and Development at Consol Energy speak on a low carbon energy panel about clean coal and carbon sequestration. Steve suggested that consumers would not be willing to pay the additional hundreds of dollars that would be required to get to the carbon reduction levels in current legislative proposals. Sad to say, if hotel customers are not even willing to reuse their towels, how much more are they going to resist paying extra for electricity if that becomes necessary?

I used to believe that pretty much any green message in advertising is valuable for its contribution to raising awareness of environmental issues. But I am starting to see things differently. I am coming to the view that much current 'green' advertising is contributing towards a general belief that it is easy to fix climate change. You would think from watching the TV that all you need to do to save the planet is switch to on-line bank statements, fill the recycling bin each week and switch your laptop off overnight. Or even worse, choose a hotel that has a towel reuse program, even though you don’t use it. Perhaps it is time the business world stepped up the response a notch. We have an incredible marketing expertise in understanding and acting on what motivates consumer behavior and we could use that to great effect in the climate change arena. All part of the fourth dimension of sustainability - 'inform and influence'.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

WRI and Member Companies Achieve Solar PV Milestone

Early last week I attended the 2009 Corporate Climate and Energy Workshop of the World Resources Institute. The workshop included an announcement of achieving 1000MW of additional green power set by 15 participating companies in the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG) in 2000. The target was very aggressive when it was set. 2000 was a year when solar was not a hot topic at all, and a year in which only 75MW of solar PV capacity was added in the US in total – and here were 15 companies saying they alone would add more than that every year over the next ten years. The target was met a year early.

BT Americas, HP, News Corp and others have since joined the 15 original companies that included Alcoa, Dow, Starbucks, GM and Johnson and Johnson amongst their number.

One thing that I am trying to reconcile; BT Americas contribution to the target is our recently completed solar system in El Segundo. It is a 600kW DC system which by my reckoning makes it less than 1/1000th contribution towards the overall achievement. W believe it is one of the five largest urban based systems in Southern CA, but I have not been able to reconcile that apparently large system with it being such a small contribution towards the GPMDG target!