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Monday, March 29, 2010

Transatlantic Contrasts in Corporate Responsibility

I spoke on a panel this month on “The Reality and Rhetoric of Corporate Social Responsibility” for George Washington University’s Institute for Corporate Responsibility.

Each year, Professor Jenn Griffin, associate professor at the Institute, takes a group of students on a highly oversubscribed trip to the UK to meet with corporate executives and look at contrasts between UK and US approaches to corporate responsibility. This is a topic that I often talk about here on my blog, so I asked her to share her top findings from years of visits and study. The video is below.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Connectivity and Communications - Key Driver of Sustainability (CERES)

CERES recently launched their report The 21st Century Corporation: The CERES Roadmap for Sustainability. Last year’s report, CERES 20-20, laid out four pillars. The second pillar was ‘setting new standards and expectations for business leadership’. This new report dives deep into this pillar exploring 20 expectations related to governance, stakeholder engagement, disclosure and performance. It is comprehensive in breadth, thorough in depth and full of inspiring examples that demonstrate it can be done. I think it will remain valuable for many years as a benchmark.

My initial look was dominated by the four key drivers of sustainability: (1) Competition for Resources, (2) Climate Change, (3) Economic Globalization and (4) Connectivity and Communications. Although my original inspiration for CSRPerspective was the intersection between ICT and sustainability, I realized haven’t written much about that recently. In fact, this CERES report has reminded me of the importance of my own sector as it highlights it as one of the key drivers together with resources, climate change and globalization!

This part of the report highlights the rapidity and disaggregation of communications and the impact that has on tracking company’s sustainability performance. CERES talks about an era of “radical transparency” . I certainly agree with this. Some of my recent comments about the importance of social networking to demonstrate authenticity and bridge the gap between the company and civil society are a part of the picture. All companies, telecommunications, communications and others have the choice to embrace this now and use it proactively; or wait, but have a lot of catching up to do.

But I see some additional significant attributes of connectivity and communications that need to be taken into consideration. The less positive side of the “radical transparency” coin is trial by public opinion and, perhaps even more potentially destructive, the short termism engendered by the immediacy of the social networking news cycle.

Connectivity and communications have other potential positive attributes. On the topic of social and economic sustainability; leveling the playing field for the economically disadvantaged and providing better access to healthcare and education are some of these attributes. On the topic of environmental sustainability; substitution of and efficiency for energy intensive activities are positive elements. There are negative attributes too though which have the potential to be carried out more anonymously and on an ever increasing scale; things such as cyber crime, online bullying, child pornography and government abuse of human rights.

I am thrilled and newly inspired to see connectivity and communications considered by CERES to be one of the key drivers of sustainability. It brings with it a renewed obligation to the sector, and to everyone who uses connectivity or communications services, to take that responsibility seriously and ensure we do not permit the downsides to prevail. Rather we must leverage and optimize all the potential benefits.

By coincidence, this month, BT’s Global Services organization is highlighting some of the sustainability impacts of ICT services. You can read more about this here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Social Enterprise Symposium: Transforming Business for the Global Good

I have the pleasure of joining an esteemed panel of speakers this week to discuss jump starting sustainability in the corporate sector. This is a topic that I talk about extensively on this blog and speak about at many conferences throughout the year. Businesses around the world are rethinking their business models, products and employment engagement programs to address sustainability.

The event is being hosted by University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith’s School of Business and for those who are unable to attend in person, it will be streamed live here at 6.00pm EDT. You can also follow my tweets or post your own tweets throughout the event using the hash tag #SES10. The twitter stream will also be visible here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guest Post BASF – 3:1 Emissions Balance

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Armstrong Leader of BASF’s Construction Markets North America and also a board member of the Sustainable Building Industries Council and Chair of the Construction Market Team of the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council.

Jack described to me the “3:1 Study” that compared the carbon benefits and carbon burden of the chemicals industry. I was intrigued by the parallels with the Smart 2020 study produced by The Climate Group and Gesi, that I have written about previously and that looks at a similar comparison between benefit and burden in the ICT sector. Jack kindly agreed to say a few words about 3:1 Study on video for me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Guest Post from EMC: Speaking of Climate Change…

A couple of weeks back in Some Thoughts on Climate Change I shared some responses to the recent controversies within the climate change space and in particular how corporations should respond. Kathrin Winkler, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC Corporation shared her thoughts on the same topic on her own blog Interconnected World. I found them very enlightening and asked Kathrin if I could repost……

The subject of Climate Change has inexplicably (OK, maybe explicably) become a touchy one, particularly here in the U.S. (though I'm assured by a friend Down Under that we are not alone). I'm sure you've seen the polls, not to mention the press. One of the conundrums (conundra?) of being in an environmental sustainability job is deciding how to talk about Climate Change and how to react when the confronted by a challenge to the idea of global warming.

With nearly 43,000 employees, EMC has its share of people who are understandably befuddled by the barrage of conflicting information in the media and simply don't have the time to do the research to sort it out. And yes, we have our out-and-out skeptics and cynics, too. So what do I say when someone says to me "Did you hear? They've found out that the earth is actually cooling!" A woman on our Green Business Leadership team was asking my advice on this question the other day. And I'm not really sure what the best approach is.

We can…

…Tackle the objections one by one, starting with "don't confuse weather with climate".

…Get pedantic, delving into climate forcings and the carbon cycle.

…Go narrow, focusing on energy and how reducing dependence on fossil fuel is good for our wallets, for national security and for the economy.

…Go wide, emphasizing that even without global warming, the environmental insults we are perpetrating on the planet are devastating water supplies, destroying species, and hampering ecosystem services that communities depend on, never mind using up resources like water, tin, copper and much more.

…Appeal to people's competitive natures by highlighting how China is taking the initiative in green technology.

…Be selfish, maintaining that regardless of individual opinion, it's good for business to care about Climate Change since our investors, customers, and partners are asking us to demonstrating that we're responsibly managing the associated risks.

…Deflect. Expound on how increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations are causing ocean acidification that can be measured in the thinning shells of pteropods, endangering this critical link in the food chain. (Warning: this one can stop a conversation dead in its tracks!)

…Dismiss "ClimateGate", pointing out that the behavior of a few scientists doesn't change the science.

…Simply hold our ground with "the science really is unequivocal, and corroborated across many, many disciplines".

… Soft-pedal by only referring to "Climate Change" and avoiding "anthropogenic" (human-caused) so as not to inflame the most rabid skeptics.

…Cite well-known conservatives who have concluded it's a real issue - people like David Brooks and Rupert Murdoch.

…Play the percentage card, by seeking agreement with the challenger that there is at least a reasonable chance that the skeptics are wrong, leading to the conclusion that we can't afford to take that chance.

All of these approaches are legitimate, and I've use all of the above depending on the person, the nature of the comment I'm responding to, and the circumstance of the conversation. The problem is that whenever I sidestep the fundamental question, I feel a bit like a coward. On the other hand, my job is to drive change, and small detours can get you past roadblocks to progress.
How have you handled it?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What does Corporate Responsibility Mean to You?

Get an inside view and hear personal insights on what corporate responsibility means to some of my colleagues in BT across a range of CR roles. Is it a strong economy, a sustainable 2012 Olympics, a different attitude to work? Is it about applying commercial principles to CSR, CSR principles to our commercial practices? Can business help address the challenges the world faces? Hear perspectives from my BT peers in different roles and look out for more in coming weeks.

What does corporate responsibility mean to you? Align Center

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don’t Let “Internet Fear” Stop You from Giving to Chile

There have always been reasons for not giving to charitable causes; the urban myth of the panhandler who earned enough from it that he drove a Mercedes; the more realistic story of the charity that spends most of its funding on overheads and now, unfortunately, the exploitative stories of willful use of search terms like ‘Chile’, ‘donate’ and ‘earthquake’ to spread viruses.

But of course none of these are good reasons not to give. The Mercedes story is a myth. There are a great many websites such as Charity Navigator that provide all the insights needed to help choose a good charity.

But what about the internet security problems that have recently arisen with people searching for Haiti and Chile? How do we make sure they are a reason for not giving?

I have a few suggestions. Most importantly, don’t respond directly to links in emails soliciting donations. Instead, go to the internet and search for the website of the organization or another organization you know, or go through your company’s selected donor (for example BT works through DEC in the UK and the American Red Cross in the USA).

But to give you even more insight into the aspects of security and giving, I spoke with a colleague, Sushila Nair, from our security practice and asked for some additional hints on how to void the common pitfalls on the internet.

Kevin: How can I ensure that my personal or corporate virus software protect me against these threats?

Sushila: It is extremely important that you keep your antivirus up to date. Your antivirus should be set to look for new updates every hour or so to minimize the time you are unprotected.

To ensure that you are detecting newer threats, it is very important that you run Windows update to ensure your system has all the latest patches on it. If you don’t update Windows regularly you are leaving yourself open to many exploits that your antivirus may not have updated yet.

However it is also important to know that your antivirus won’t protect you against all malware. It is advisable that you use layered defense and install anti-spyware and a personal firewall.

Take sensible precautions by going to well known and respected web sites. Click on links with care, after all if it is not a reputable, well recognized site would you really be interested in what they have to say?

Kevin: What do I do if one of those windows comes up that looks like operating anti-virus software, warning me that my computer has a virus problem? I know I shouldn’t accept it, but I am nervous about touching anything on the screen at all – should I do a hard shutdown of my computer?

Sushila: There has been a lot of fake anti virus software out there. It claims to have detected some malware and then tried to install itself. It will then inundate you with requests for money and claims that you have been infected. What ever you do don’t let it install the software on your computer. Stop the program by using Windows task manager or if necessary restart your computer. If the software does a partial install then restore your system restore point.

Kevin: How can I protect myself from having my credit card number stolen?

Sushila: Any site where you are using your credit card number should be treated with care. Ensure that the site is using Secure Socket Layers (SSL). You can verify this by noting the padlock comes up, typically at the bottom of your screen when you are using it. Many banks are offering the capability to use Virtual Account Numbers. The idea here is that you generate a virtual credit card number which you use just for that transaction and so if anyone steals the number it is worthless.

Kevin: Does it really matter what browser I use? Is Internet Explorer less secure than Firefox?

Sushila: Malware developers like to get the biggest bang for their buck and they always try and exploit the most common platforms. There are more people using Internet Explorer and Windows so using Chrome or Firefox moves you out of the main stream and may decrease your risk

For the more internet savvy, a more technical treatment of the issues on our Secure Thinking blog

Friday, March 5, 2010

Employees Should Be Part of Any Green Solution

A report published by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) last week highlights the business benefits of environmental and sustainability education for employees. According to the study, these business benefits include improving operational efficiency, strengthening customer and community relations, innovation, supply chain management, and attracting and retraining employees.

I would agree with the assessment of these business benefits, and emphasize that the value of sustainability education and engagement of employees is as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. Engagement in environmental programs increases awareness of and sensitivity to key sustainability issues.

Often, employees take that heightened sensitivity back into the workplace and apply it in their day jobs, as well as at home and in their communities. For example, the McDonald's project cited in the study shows how restaurants and their employees worked with customers to reduce 3 million pounds of CO2; BT and Hewlett-Packard have created programs to support employees who want to install solar installation in their homes.

While the report highlights several very tangible business benefits of employee engagement in sustainability initiatives it neglects one key intangible benefit: trust. Authenticity is the key here. I maintain that trust is driven by authenticity and distrust by lack of authenticity.

We judge whether a person is authentic by the consistency with which they apply their values. The public judges companies in the same way. If we declare a corporate responsibility value through our environmental investments we are expected to apply that value consistently. Therefore it is important that environmental values are applied consistently throughout the company and incorporated into the work of all employees -- not just Corporate Social Responsibility professionals.

What would you think of an IT company building a solar installation on top of an inefficiently run data center? Unfortunately, this is a plausible scenario in the absence of the involvement and coordinated efforts of employees throughout the company.

However, when employees are engaged, they can help align practices throughout the company, resulting in outcomes like Baxter's "lean" energy program for its 63 key manufacturing facilities. At BT we have tackled core operations by widening the operating temperature range of our network data centers to significantly reduce HVAC usage.

This report provides good news in a down economy. Companies should be encouraged by examples of the linkages between sustainability education and engagement of employees and clear business benefits. However, we still have work to do.

A recent study from Brighter Planet finds that 86 percent of firms fail to engage employees on sustainability. And, true skeptics are likely to question the scarcity of quantifiable measures of impact of engagement of employees in sustainability initiatives. I agree with NEEF that next steps include gathering data further linking employee engagement to environmental outcomes.

This post was originally published on March 4, 2010 on at

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

PR News CSR Awards: Highlights on Authenticity, Corporate Community Investment and Social Networking

Here is the first part of my keynote at the PR News CSR Awards last week addressing how corporate responsibility can contribute towards rebuilding trust in business. My key point is that authenticity is key to trust. We judge whether a person is authentic by the consistency with which they apply their values. I imagine people judge corporations in the same way.

So if we express our values through our community investment, then to substantiate our authenticity, we need to be consistent in applying those values to our core business; our products, our employees, our customers and our public voice as expressed in our brands, advertising and lobbying. My challenge to the CR practitioner, myself included, is to increase the proportion of time spent in the core business. I would welcome your comments.

In the second part of my comments, I explained that I see a key role for corporate community investment, not so much as an end in itself but as a means to increasing sensitivity and awareness amongst our employees that they can take back and incorporate into their jobs. Volunteering is especially important from this perspective. But beware, community investment can undermine authenticity if we do not follow through and apply the same values in our core business.

I also address the key role I see for social networking to bridge that perceived distance between the company and the stakeholders. Frank and engaging exchanges with corporate executives, as demonstrated by Bill Marriott of Marriott and by Tom Glocer of Thomson Reuters, and with our employees, can be one of the best ways to demonstrate authenticity and to bridge the perceived distance between the stakeholder and the corporation.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Who decides what is acceptable?

A few days ago an employee within Citi cut off the internet business account of a customer, Fabulis. The Citi employee determined Fabulis breached Citi rules for what internet business accounts Citi is prepared to support.

In fact it was a mistake. The employee made what seems to be a serious misjudgment that the Fabulis website contained pornography. The site didn’t contain pornography and didn’t breach Citi’s standards (although perhaps the content did breach the individual’s personal standards regarding sexual orientation) and the account has been reinstated.

Lots of interesting issues, but from a corporate responsibility perspective I am most fascinated by the question of whose values should be applied and how, by a corporation operating across regions, countries and cultures.

Citi’s clarification of the situation for Internet Business Accounts includes the statement “we will continue to reserve the right to decline or suspend an account if we find illegal or discriminatory content, or if the site involves gambling or pornography.” Citi is clearly defining a set of standards, beyond legal, that they will require their customers to adhere to.

I have written a couple of posts suggesting that we should include sustainability criteria in selecting our target customers. This approach from Citi takes things a step further by refusing to do business with customers that are carrying out activities that do not meet certain standards, although they are legal.

I believe that a fundamental characteristic of corporate responsibility is ‘beyond compliance’. On a related note, as I once wrote in a blog, I believe that ‘legal doesn’t equal sustainable’.

But in practice, and employee error aside, when you start refusing to do business, the challenge is twofold. First, whose standards define what constitutes discriminatory content, pornography and gambling? Are Sports Illustrated’s ‘paint-on’ swim suits considered to be porn? Are state lotteries gambling? Are ethnic, gender or sexually oriented websites discriminatory?

And secondly who actually reviews the material and decides?

I welcome companies trying to apply their CR values broadly, but I am going to have to give a bit more thought to how it plays out in practice and where I draw the line.