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Monday, November 23, 2009

Should companies comment on politics?

Back in August, John Mackey (Co-founder and CEO of Wholefoods) was pretty heavily criticized for an opinion piece he wrote in the Wall Street Journal “ The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare.” A story in ABCNews, typical of the headlines generated, carried the subtitle “Branding Experts Say CEOs Should Stay Quiet When It Comes to Politics”

This headline is not confined to this side of the Atlantic. In October, Sir Terry Leahy, Chief Executive of Tesco and Sir Michael Rake, Chairman of BT, were criticized in an opinion piece in the Times headlined “When business leaders start getting political, it is time to switch off” for speaking on the ‘political issues’ of climate change and education.

The fourth dimension in the Four Dimensions of Sustainability is the opportunity that companies have to ‘Inform and Influence’ the views of all stakeholders, including government and civil society. I have proposed there that companies use the opportunity they have to influence stakeholders. In a post back in September “Isn’t the Healthcare debate a CR Issue too” I questioned why more companies were not speaking out on healthcare issues for example.

I have often contrasted the approaches of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the US Chamber of Commerce on climate change. While I, and BT, support one of those approaches and contest the other, at no time would I suggest that trade associations, companies or their CEOs should not speak out with a position on the issue.

Companies must represent their interests. If the education system is failing to deliver the required quality of employees or anticipated environmental change is threatening future supplies of a raw material for example, then CEOs are obliged to comment on this. Of course this needs to be within the context of taking seriously their own responsibilities in the particular field. If we want companies to be serious about their impact on sustainability we need them to take an active role in society.

But while corporate leaders must speak out on societal issues that effect their business together with the outcomes they would like to see, should they propose specific solutions? What is the best solution for healthcare cost and availability, which balance of tests and course work is optimum for high school education, cap and trade or tax which is better public policy? I doubt corporate leaders are experts on all these things, but then perhaps neither are political appointees or civil servants in many cases. And it can be hard to draw a clear line between defining required outcomes and suggesting solutions.

In my view the corporate world has been too far away from these important civil society debates in the past couple of decades and the recent increased involvement is welcomed. It is important is that positions should be transparent in the extent to which they represent the view of the individual, the best interest of the company and the best interest of society (for the record, the views in this post reflect mine and mine alone!) I for one would prefer to see C-level execs overshoot a little in expressing their views before we try and pull back, and I think we are far from that right now.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guest Post: Microsoft

I just moved across to Windows 7, an early mover in a BT wide program with anticipated benefits that include improved power management. In addition to Microsoft reducing their own direct footprint, the power management of Microsoft products have the potential to make an impact on reducing some of the 530M tons of CO2 emissions that SMART 2020 identified for the whole ICT sector. I asked Francois Ajenstat for some insights into the energy consumption implications of this new release"

Francois Ajenstat is the Director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft Corp. He is responsible for Microsoft’s communication and outreach for key sustainability initiatives across Technology and Innovation; Global Partnerships and Corporate Environmental Practices.

Microsoft views software as a key foundational component of helping better understand our world and tackle environmental challenges. We believe it can enable the IT industry to significantly increase computing capacity around the globe, while simultaneously reducing the amount of energy required by our industry. With the recent launch of Windows 7, we have committed to reduce the energy consumption of our operating system and help our customers around the world save energy and save costs.

Microsoft has been investing in power management for many years in order to help our customers reduce energy costs but also extend the battery life in notebooks. When I look back at Windows Vista, in addition to the many power management features that we included in that product, the most important change that we made was power management “on by default”. That effectively meant that any Windows Vista user would have their PCs go to sleep after a certain period of inactivity. Considering that there are over 1 billion PCs around the world and the vast majority of users leave their PCs on 24/7, the savings in energy alone can be staggering. The NRDC found that this could shave $500 million off the US energy bill and eliminate 3 million tons of global warming pollution.

With Windows 7, efficiency was a guiding principle during our design and engineering efforts. We focused on core innovation to improve energy efficiency both when the PC is in use and when it is off. We also worked closely with our platform and software partners to help improve the efficiency of Windows computers, attached devices and installed software.

Windows 7 takes advantage of down time to save energy to scale the hardware down to the lowest available power consumption level. One of my favorite new features to help reduce idle power consumption is Adaptive Brightness. The power consumed by the display in a mobile PC is as much as 40 percent of the total power used by the system. Similar to a mobile phone, Windows 7 allows the display to dim after a short period of inactivity, reducing the amount of power used when laptops are idle for just a few minutes. Adaptive Brightness helps improve the user experience by sensing user activity so that it refrains from reducing the display brightness if there is activity immediately after dimming. This automatic behavior helps balance power savings with the PC user experience.

Another area that we focused on was to help improve energy efficiency when the PC is in use. For example, in Windows 7, when a user disconnects the network cable, Windows automatically places the network adapter into a low-power state. If the network adapter and its driver support the low-power state, additional power savings can be attained. We’ve also made optimizations to DVD Playback which reduces the amount of computing resources required for DVD playback and reduces the amount of time when the optical drive needs to be spinning.

Finally, I get a lot of questions on whether you need to upgrade to new hardware to run Windows 7 and what the impact is on eWaste. If your PC is less than a few years old, you can simply upgrade to Windows 7 and do not need to purchase a new PC. According to Softchoice, 88 percent of corporate PCs it has under management meet the minimum system requirements of Windows 7. Of those not equipped to run Windows 7, the majority would simply need more RAM and hard drive upgrade. Only one percent of their PCs would require replacement.

Overall, we have consciously thought about the design of Windows 7 and its impact on the environment. We were committed to making these changes and I’m personally very excited about Windows 7. I hope that you will get a chance to upgrade and take advantage of the new power management capabilities in this new OS.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Want More Junk?

My children are at a wonderful school, with wonderful programs on environmental responsibility. They recycle and compost and learn about the importance of biodiversity from an early age. As they grow up they will carry with them a much deeper sense of responsibility to the environment than my generation.

But when it comes to school holiday events, participation is still recognized with piles of cheap plastic trinkets. This reinforces one of the key behaviors we need to change, that disposable material goods are the reward for success. But we grown-ups demonstrate exactly those behaviors too, and at sustainability conferences of all places.

At the most recent round of fall corporate responsibility conferences, CRO, WEEC, BSR, Net Impact, FOSI, I collected re-usable water bottles and conference bags galore. But if you get a re-usable water bottle at every conference there is no opportunity to reuse it. And who has ever re-used a conference bag? Most can’t even be used at the supermarket.

I have collected enough stress balls, memory cards and ‘do not use for climbing’ carabineers from expo stands to last my family for years. But still I find myself hankering for even more. I try to determine how long I need to speak to the guy behind the table before I can take another credit card flash light without it being obvious that was the only reason I approached. I recently picked up a baseball cap made from recycled bottles and I was pleased with my acquisition. But I already have more baseball caps than I know what to do with.

We are allowing recycling and notional re-usability to ease our conscience for having stuff we don’t need. Instead we should treat it as a transitional step that has served its purpose. As a next step, I encourage the sustainability community, including myself, to wean ourselves off all this stuff and find other ways to make our clients and ourselves feel good for participation at conferences. I think we will find it liberating.

And then maybe, with a clearer conscience, I can speak with my kids and with their school about finding new ways to reward the next generation that rely less on material and more on substance.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guest Post: Autodesk

A ‘Wild West’ of Corporate GHG Target-Setting

As I have mentioned in my blog before, at BT we launched our Climate Stabilization Intensity Target in 2008. Until now we have been (as far as I am aware) the only company with such a target. However I am thrilled that Autodesk has now launched a target with a similar approach. Emma Stewart kindly agreed to provide some insights in a guest blog.

Emma Stewart, Ph.D., is the Senior Program Lead at Autodesk’s Sustainability Initiative, where she combines expertise in environmental trends analysis, policy and metrics design, and management consulting. Her award-winning work has been covered by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times, Harvard Business, and Forbes, among others.

With the scientific and policy trends pointing to increasing and unprecedented levels of consensus on the scale of global emissions reductions, corporate leadership in defining a path forward remains varied, not comparable, and under-scrutinized. A bit like the Wild West, the domain lacks law, scrutiny and is full of somewhat aimless shooting.

Even amongst the leaders charting the frontier, targets are:
  • grounded in little more than ‘guesstimates’
  • very short-term in nature
  • at risk of accusations of ‘green washing’ because they mask an actual increase in absolute emissions
  • opaque due to intensity calculations or derivation from multi year commitment
To address these challenges, at Autodesk we have developed a Corporate Finance Approach to Climate-stabilizing Targets (“C-FACT”), a science-driven, business-friendly and transparent approach, which is grounded in climate science but recognizes that companies are GHG emitters and simultaneously create economic value.

In 2008, BT announced a Climate Stabilization Intensity model, which introduced the idea that corporate carbon reductions should be set relative to economic value-add. Autodesk strongly endorse this idea and applaud BT’s leadership. To make this concept applicable outside of the UK, we have suggested a universally acceptable metric for ‘value-add’.

With consultation from Clear Carbon Consulting, we have built the model to be compatible with existing business reporting norms, replicable and verifiable, accommodating of organic and inorganic changes in business, proportional to company's contribution to GDP and predictable, appropriate to attain climate stabilization.

I see a strong foundation for brand-enhancement through communicating that the approach is data-driven, grounded in science and a rigorous approach to a complex problem.

We applied C-FACT to a set of leading tech companies and found that if they were to adopt this approach, global GHGs could be reduced by a whopping 3,801,112,763 metric tons by 2050, equivalent to roughly 9 percent of the global target laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

I hope that other companies will, in the spirit of open source tools, consider this model, analyze its strengths and weaknesses, improve upon it, and then adopt it. For a video tutorial and White Paper that explains the methodology step-by-step, please go to and help Autodesk and BT turn the Wild West into a Renaissance.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Should we pay our interns?

I was listening to an interesting piece on the radio a few weeks back about internships on NPR. The piece talked about the importance of getting an internship for students hoping to get into good jobs after college. Not surprisingly, the more sought after the job field, the more competition there is for internships. And it is increasingly common that companies don’t pay interns. Of course, it can take quite an investment of time to get someone acclimated, linked-up and trained-up and then they go back to school just as they are performing effectively. And there are plenty of potential interns chasing even the unpaid positions so why is there a need to pay?

The journalist then went on to talk about the cost of going to school and how some students have to get paid work during the holidays or they cannot afford to be at school. Of course those are the students from less advantaged backgrounds. And so, unintentionally, unpaid internships perpetuate the economic divide. Students from more advantaged backgrounds can take internships that lead to the best jobs. Students from less advantaged backgrounds cannot afford to go for those internships and so are disadvantaged in applying for those jobs.

Corporate responsibility and sustainability are amongst the most sought after fields these days. I see unpaid internship positions advertised all the time. I have had students come up to me at conferences and offer to work for me as interns for free. It is a tough call. I have no budget for paying an intern, so it is that or nothing. Why deprive someone of the opportunity? But if removing barriers that discriminate against the economically disadvantaged is going to be recognized anywhere in the corporate world it would be from within the corporate responsibility field and it seems to me that unpaid internships are one of those barriers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Breakfast Panel - Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan

I have been invited to speak on a breakfast panel in DC on November 10 by It is part of a series called, "Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan." This one is on the environment. Other speakers include Jennifer Alcott, Telework!VA Program Manager and Steven Ruth, Professor, George Mason University School of Public Policy.

You can book via the eventbrite link at the top of the BroadbandCensus homepage. The link with a photo of eggs and bacon on a plate. If the panelists get to eat I guess I won’t be eating much :-)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dilemmas in Corporate Responsibility – Privacy and Safety

In my mind, the most challenging issues for corporate responsibility officers involve conflicts between different CR priorities. In the ICT sector the tensions between privacy, freedom of speech and online safety is one of those issues.

Balancing these priorities can present real ethical dilemmas. Here are just a few of the dilemmas in this space that have been enhanced by the internet;

    • How much privacy do you allow individuals on line - a battered woman seeking help needs to remain anonymous but what about an adult trying to engage in predatory online chats with children?
    • In my eyes a private citizen battling the authorities in an oppressive regime deserves the protection afforded by privacy, but I don’t want someone battling with deadly weapons where I live. I might prefer we stopped them using the internet to enhance their plans.
    • What level of access prevention is applicable for sites that are illegal, hateful or immoral?
    • As a consumer, what components of information from my online activities can be used to select the advertising presented to me?

There are cultural differences to consider too. I think it is generally true that Europe (including the UK) puts a higher priority on online safety at the expense of privacy and freedom of speech. Whereas, relative to Europe, America tends to balance freedom of speech and privacy more highly.

Later this week I am attending the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) conference in DC. FOSI (of which BT is a member) is one of the organizations that works with companies to consider these issues, exchange views and develop conclusions and solutions that balance the issues appropriately. FOSI’s focus is protecting kids and families on line. I attended last year and found the discussions important and fascinating – true ethical dilemmas. I plan to tweet from the conference this year so I can share my thoughts in real-time.