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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

AAA support of a ban on texting - are they meeting stakeholder needs ?

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has announced a campaign to push for texting while driving bans in all 50 states .

This is a great example for us in the sustainability world. Why ?

AAA stakeholders, the members and funders of the organization, are the ones who are texting while driving. So they must want to text while driving. The AAA could be taking the approach that our members want to do this so we need to lobby on behalf of their desires so they can carry on. They could create fear of a ban by finding an obscure example of a AAA member who was able to text ahead a life saving message while driving a sick child to the hospital.

Instead the AAA has taken a more holistic view and led their stakeholders to what we all know is the right thing to do, not just from a societal perspective but for their own self interest too.

Other organizations, commercial and otherwise, should emulate this approach and take a leadership role with stakeholders to meet not their narrower short term needs, but their longer term more holistic best interests.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Creating a Framework to Overcome Barriers to a Sustainable Future

The October 2009 edition of Consumer Reports features a special section on cutting energy bills by using more efficient and renewable energy sources. It includes a look at wood pellet stoves and solar water heaters and gives both what I would characterize as cautious support. Cautious because the reviews quite appropriately take into account practical considerations including: sourcing and storing fuel (for the pellet stoves), certifications, neighborhood association rules, and maintenance costs (for the solar water heaters).

I’ve now seen several houses that are using more efficient energy sources. Nearly five years ago, I visited a former boss in Germany and he very proudly showed me his house wood pellet heating system, which was working wonderfully. If I recall correctly, the basement of his house was designed to accommodate the infrastructure it required. More recently, during my trip to Israel it was hard to find a house without solar water heating.

Both of these examples illustrate that overcoming many of our barriers to a more sustainable future are contingent on having the right framework in place. If there was a framework for solar water heating then neighborhood association rules would not be an issue and I bet the cost of maintenance would decrease too.

In fact, a study came out couple of months back (sorry I don’t recall the source) where I saw this dynamic more pointedly. The study showed that if an American-made SUV was in an accident with a smaller European style car, such as the Smart Car, the driver of the smaller vehicle would be more seriously injured. It was portrayed as a reason not to move towards smaller cars. But of course, if everyone drove smaller cars then the problem of a collision with a large vehicle goes away and we settle at a better status quo.

We owe it to ourselves in the corporate world to be on the lookout for things we may rule out mistakenly because they don’t make sense within our current frame of reference. We need to develop positive visions of a sustainable future that allow us to evaluate good ideas within an appropriate framework and infrastructure.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sign the Copenhagen Communique

Earlier this week I attended an alumni event of the University of Cambridge Program for Sustainability Leadership held in Washington DC. One of the speakers was Craig Bennett, Deputy Director and faculty member of the Program.

The program addressed the Copenhagen Communiqué , subtitled 'A call from business for an ambitious, robust and equitable global deal on climate change'.

In two pages, the communiqué establishes a set of principles intended to deliver a message of support from businesses globally, to the negotiators at Copenhagen. Ten pages display the logos and names of the currently 650 companies that have signed up to the principles from across the globe.

Craig is the one of the key drivers behind the communiqué. He made some interesting observations both during his presentation and in a smaller group afterwards (repeated here with his permission). He mentioned that American companies are under-represented (I noticed for example that not all the companies in USCAP or BICEP have signed up). This is partly because the program is European originated and so the staff have a stronger network within Europe. But Craig also shared that some American companies were not comfortable with the statement and declined to sign.

The second component called for in the principles is 'Developed countries need to take on immediate and deep emission reduction commitments'. That is a pretty strong statement and I suspect may have deterred some potential signatories. That said, Craig shared that he was not entirely unhappy having some companies declining to sign. If everyone had said yes, it would have indicated the document was not strong enough.

I suspect that one of the challenges of signing up to a document like this is that there is not an established precedent or approval pathway in most large organizations for resolving a position on such a statement.

I would urge more companies to sign up. BT is in there. I see the logos of many of the companies of my peer group of CR practitioners in the US, but many are not there. You can sign up here

Incidentally, Craig mentioned that there is a signatory from every country in the G20 except Indonesia - anyone able to suggest some contacts who could help Craig with that ?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cost/ROI - A Double Edged Sword

In June of this year we surveyed IT professionals on their attitudes towards, and action on, environment and climate change. You can read the full survey results here. In some forthcoming posts I will draw out conclusions that I think are of particular interest to sustainability practitioners. Let's start with this.

At a headline level 81% of respondents identified lowering cost as a major goal of their green IT initiatives. A much lower 47% identified reducing the negative impact of company activities on the environment and 22% specifically identified climate change. We are more likely to see Green IT action because off the cost savings than because of the green benefit.

But 64% identified 'difficulty of showing ROI' as a significant barrier to implementation of green programs. So, cost/ROI is a double edged sword. Both the most significant driver when it is in our favor and the most significant barrier when it is not.

On the one hand, this does not bode well once the IT teams have picked the low hanging fruit. Although I suspect that it is a couple of years off, when the cost reduction opportunities start to dry up, the green driver itself will not be enough to maintain momentum. On the other hand, I think that impending regulation (noted as a driver by 31 % of respondents), the impact of cost of carbon and rising energy prices and continued innovation by ICT companies and Green IT teams will result in significant opportunity for continuing action. I hope the latter outweighs the former.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Running a Company is like Owning a Book

I may have mentioned before that I am a collector of antiquarian books. I don’t find it easy to explain why I have a passion for a dusty old book. Sometimes I can even take a step back and see how boring it must seem to others. But a passion I do have. And when I enter an antiquarian bookstore my heart beats faster and my breathing shallows at the anticipation of what I might just find.

I read somewhere that the current owners of an antiquarian book should not think of themselves as owners. They should enjoy the book certainly while they have it. But rather than possessing the book, they should think of themselves as the caretakers of that book for others in the future. This philosophy has brought more pleasure rather than less to my caretaking of the books I currently have in my small library (well, shelf actually!).

I am part way through a relatively contemporary book by Peter Block “Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest”. The author, Block, positions today’s executives as stewards of both their organizations and of the common good. Similar to owning an antiquarian book, these executives should not view themselves as possessors but rather as caretakers.

Although not identical concepts, I think the idea of caretakers and stewards rather than owners and bosses have much in common. Both concepts will help businesses in their striving towards ever more sustainable behavior.

Monday, September 21, 2009


On Saturday, the Business Pages of the Washington Post carried two stories relating to my industry sector (Information Communications Technology) that highlight the importance for all corporate responsibility practitioners to keep materiality front of mind.

One article describes that the FCC is considering what control, if any, telecommunications, internet and similar companies should be allowed, to block or delay certain traffic on their networks. In the other article, the Justice Department, Google, book authors and publishers are in dispute over arrangements for Google to create a digital library.

Both issues contain prime characteristics of corporate responsibility issues;

- Positive or negative community/civil society impact
- Significant business impact
- Ethical dilemmas
- Corporate risk and reputational impact

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are critical issues and have allowed us to come together across industry sectors. Two items in one day on material issues in my sector reminds me that we also need to ensure that the focus required for green issues does not result in our taking the eye off the ball for other material CR issues that are specific to the industry sector we are in.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Follow me on Twitter

In a post back in May “Is Blogging good for Corporate Responsibility” I talked about why I believe blogging is good for Corporate Responsibility. I also highlighted the potential downsides of the drive for immediacy and incentive to develop controversial viewpoints to attract attention.

For those reasons I used to avoid Twitter. But I have been persuaded by a number of colleagues that the ability to provide short updates and observations and to highlight others comments is a good complement to a blog. So I am giving it a try. I have to say that only a week or so in I am already feeling the pressure of tweeting frequently – a challenge for someone who cannot multitask.

You can follow my progress with Twitter @KevinIMoss or with the widget on this blog page.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guest Post: Staples

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure: Why global sustainable production and consumption matters.

By Mark Buckley

Mark Buckley is Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Staples, where he directs Staples’ environmental commitment and sustainable business practices to protect and preserve natural resources. He is responsible for driving the company’s environmental leadership in four major areas: the purchase and promotion of recycled content products; chain-wide recycling initiatives; energy conservation programs and renewable power procurement; as well as educational initiatives for customers and associates.

Have you ever seen the PBS series titled, The Antiques Road show? Regular people bring in their junk, heirlooms and hand me downs to a group of antique experts who appraise the value of their items. Some of these items are worth very little and folks are dejected while some others are surprised that the appraised value is beyond their wildest dreams.

As a loyal member of Red Sox nation I can remember all of the old baseball cards that my brothers and I had stashed in a shoe box under our beds. At the time I was happy to trade them…. a Roberto Clemente rookie card for Carl Yasztremski or Al Kaline for George Scott or we used them in the spokes of our bikes to make them sound like they were “motorcycles”. Many of these “wasted” cards that I had deemed “disposable” then are worth hundreds of dollars in today’s sports memorabilia markets.

Similarly, The earth’s resources, the materials and the critical ecosystem services that they provide, can not be viewed as “disposable” and need to be viewed as having immediate and long term value. Many sustainability experts believe that if the emerging economies of just China, India and Brazil were to consume natural resources and energy at the same rate that we do here in the US it would require the planetary output of 5 Earths.

As populations grow, we approach or have reached peak oil, see the collapse of many of the world’s fishery stocks, lack of clean water and unprecedented deforestation …clearly “business as usual” is not an option or a sustainable model for the future!

So how are companies starting to look at designing products with sustainability and hidden value in mind? They are designing these products by looking at the life cycle impacts of raw materials, where are they derived and are they sustainable?

They are considering the direct and indirect manufacturing impacts, toxics, carbon and energy intensity, product recovery, reuse, and end of life disposition. Surprisingly by taking a life cycle approach to product design they are finding new uses for materials that have historically been viewed as “invaluable” and worthless “waste”.

At Staples we have had a long-standing commitment to utilize post consumer recycled waste and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)certified fiber in the production of our office supplies and in particular paper, but we are increasingly looking at other materials that diversify our fiber supply and reduce the pressures on natural forests.

To that end we have developed a line of high quality paper products that are produced from sugar cane waste or “bagasse”. Sugar cane is grown north and south of the equator all around the world for the production of sugar, alcohol and biofuel. The sugar cane is traditionally harvested and then the juice is extracted at the mills. The residual cane fiber “waste” that remains is either burned for fuel or worse burned openly in the fields creating localized air pollution which contributes to respiratory disease in these farming communities. Utilizing sugar cane waste for paper production has several social and environmental benefits.

The agricultural waste fiber takes pressure off of natural forests and land use, the farmers derive additional revenue from the sale of a “waste stream”, we eliminate open burning and mitigate air pollution for a village half a world away and the heat and energy required to manufacture the paper comes from the “bagasse” waste making it’s production carbon neutral. This is just one example of many where non traditional “waste” materials can be utilized to create high quality products with direct and indirect social and environmental benefits.

We can no longer let post consumer and post industrial “wastes” go into landfills and incinerators. Interestingly, many experts believe that someday we will actually “mine” these very same landfills for metals and other valuable resources. Today we must find innovative ways to create scalable markets to effectively recover these materials that reduce life cycle impacts and take significant pressures off of our dwindling natural resources.

A life-cycle approach will help transform our attitudes toward waste management and help us think more about “resource management”. Companies that are focusing on life cycle for all of the internal and external costs of production are finding cost and efficiency savings and new innovative market opportunities for these products where product quality, efficacy and price does not have to be a trade off. They are also beginning to recognize that such an approach helps mitigate supply chain risks and avoid cumbersome government regulation today and in the future. In the end sustainable production and consumption is just good, smart and responsible business……..the way businesses should operate today and for future generations!

“Now where is that shoe box with my old baseball cards?”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Isn’t the Healthcare debate a CR issue too?

The healthcare debate is raging. The nation hasn’t been quiet about it – not the people, the hospitals, insurers or doctors. In fact, many of us viewed this week as the President addressed Congress and urged for healthcare reform. But one group has been quiet. The absence of comment on the healthcare debate within our Corporate Responsibility community is notable.

Look at a typical corporate responsibility issues list and it potentially includes environment, climate, poverty, ethics, economic disparity, diversity, education and employee wellbeing. Many companies will include healthcare in developing countries in their corporate responsibility scope.

Surely our own nation’s healthcare debate has all the characteristics these typical corporate responsibility issues share;

o Community/civil society impact
o Significant interaction with employee wellbeing and productivity for employers in all sectors
o Significant cost impact for most employers
o Short term cost, long term outcomes
o Direct and indirect product impact, both positive and negative, for many sectors
o Ethical dilemmas

So what has precluded that debate from happening?

I think two things 1) the significant core business impact on the companies in some business sectors and 2) that the debate has become politicized. Politicization makes it hard to take positions from a CR professional basis lest it be seen to be taking a political side in the debate too.

I am interested in how we can structure a space for debate on this and other future 'hot potato' issues within the community of CR professionals. That space needs to be able to include practitioners of companies whose core business is directly impacted by the issue as well as those indirectly impacted.

To reach that point we need to have a stronger foundation for what it means to be a CR practitioner and the boundaries and principles guiding the role. That would allow us to discuss and present views based on a common set of professional principles that I would suggest is not currently in place.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is it Corporate Responsibility to sponsor Arts and Cultural Events?

I recently attended a free theater performance in Washington DC. It was free because it was sponsored by a prominent retailer – a retailer that is known for its strong focus on price. But as I looked around at the other attendees I made the, admittedly subjective, judgment that we were on average a relatively affluent audience. Probably more affluent, on average, than the customers of the sponsoring retailer.

It got me to thinking about the corporate responsibility (CR) implications of the wealth transfer involved from customers of this retailer to me. I guess I could write to Randy Cohen, Ethicist at the New York Times and ask him if I should pay for my ticket anyway. If I were him I would probably tell me that I don’t need to, but that if it made me feel better I should make a donation to the theater.

But of course that isn’t really the point. The point is whether it is CR to sponsor arts and culture, especially for a company that draws customers from less affluent market sectors, to support theater attendance for a more affluent audience.

I don’t think it is CR, but I am struggling to define exactly what would define CR in this context. CR is certainly not defined by spreading the wealth from the affluent to the less affluent. For it to be CR the sponsor would need to be able to demonstrate a broader community benefit. Are attendees likely to be those who would otherwise not be able to attend for reason of cost and is there a demonstrable and sustainable community benefit of arts and cultural programming.

Otherwise it is marketing and PR spend. And that’s fine too. If the business benefit is equal, it still better to spend the dollars promoting culture than on product ads.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Progress on our Employee Solar Residential Program

Have I mentioned that we implemented a solar installation for our HQ in El Segundo? Too many times I am sure. As the installation reached completion we also launched an employee residential program to help employees interested in implementing solar PV at home. We have partnered with two vendors that we selected through an RFP process. Selection criteria included ease to work with for the private individual and ease to work with for us as a company.

Benefits to the employee are: 1) a level of confidence that the vendor has more at stake than the employees individual implementation – they have their reputation with BT and with other employees at stake too; 2) a discount to employees; 3) a hopefully smooth process; and 4) a corporate discount for participants.

The program attracted significant interest. Many people attended webinars and read the web material so we achieved the objective of increasing awareness. We also had a healthy number of participants requesting a home visit and a quote.

But we launched just in time for the credit crunch and so take-up has been low. That said, we have had implementations and one of our participants, Joseph Vaughn-Perling, kindly agreed to speak with me on the record in the audio above (click play to listen). Joseph explains a little about the process and implications of having solar installed at home. I think you will find his enthusiasm shines through and hopefully will inspire you to launch a similar program for your organization.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

ACCO Webinar – Beyond Best Practice

I spoke earlier this week on a webinar of the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO). I joined Erin Meezan – VP of Sustainability, Interface and Patrick Browne – Sustainability Program Manager, UPS on the panel. Moderated by Samantha Putt del Pino of the WRI.

Erin has the enviable position of speaking for a company that has a mission driven objective in the sustainability space. It is inspiring to hear the potential of organizations that have been able to bridge the gap between profit and mission driven objectives.

Patrick described the programs that UPS has implemented. Of course, I particularly relished hearing about the programs, such as GPS enabled vehicle routing and package flow, that use ICT technologies to reduce carbon emissions!

I addressed the foundational components that I think are required as we move forward into the next generation of corporate climate action. These include:

  • Reinforcing Why
  • Taking a Holistic Approach
  • Taking an External Leadership Role
  • Solution Focused Target Setting

I also described a set of tactical activities that will allow us to think creatively and so help get to the magnitude of reductions we need to achieve in business. But you will have to take a look at the slides or listen to the replay if you want to know what they were!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kraft’s Water Targets Exceeded

A couple of weeks back I noticed that Steve Yucknut, Vice President, Sustainability at Kraft announced that the company has reduced water usage by 21% since 2005. That is ahead of target and represents a whopping 12 billion liters saved.

But I imagine that the challenges in the water sustainability space parallel those for carbon emissions (I highlighted some of these challenges in my post World’s Largest Companies Not Doing Enough).

How much is enough? For climate change I think there is some consensus that enough is avoiding catastrophic climate change. Perhaps it should be avoiding any climate change, but few believe that that is now practicable. We do know that we are not currently doing enough to avoid catastrophic climate change. I don’t know what ‘enough’ is for water.

And just like climate change there are also different methodologies. A quick web search showed that the metric used by the Coca-Cola Company is intensity based - liters of water per liter of product saved. 2005 to 2007 shows a 5% reduction (2.6 down to 2.47 liters). PepsiCo has a target to reduce consumption by 20% by 2015 based on 2006 baseline.

I don’t provide this data to compare or judge Kraft with Coca-Cola or PepsiCo. Simply to illustrate that the challenges in climate change targets are not limited to carbon emissions but apply to other areas of sustainability too.