CSR Blogs

Enter the Sustainable Century – Part 1

Strategic communication for business will be critical as President Obama ushers in a new green vision for America and the world
 “Let’s be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil. We can harness homegrown, alternative fuels like ethanol and spur the production of more fuel-efficient cars. We can set up a system for capping greenhouse gases. We can turn this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation, and job creation, and an incentive for businesses that will serve as a model for the world.”

Kiva and fungibility

David Roodman, whom we previously interviewed, has a very interesting post up about a specific microfinance vehicle, Kiva.org.

Our existing report argues that donations through this sort of vehicle are likely “fungible,” and therefore better thought of (for impact purposes) as general support of organizations rather than as support of specific projects or people. Mr.


The five Ws of buying local, Part 2

The why and where are the trickier parts of buying local, though the conundrum doesn’t end there.

WHO should buy local?

You, of course. You and your wallet have control over the success of local. Because of all the advantages of buying local, your purchases benefit you and your community. You buy local because you care about the local economy and the place you live in.

On the flipside, I’m reminded of the song chorus, “If everybody looked the same, we’d be tired of looking at each other.” Would we get tired of local if everybody were buying it, the same way mass production makes everything look blandly alike? With economic diversity, which entails better product choice, as a major argument for buying local, this may not happen. Yet by doing just one thing, buying local in this case, you may be undermining the diversity principle of sustainability.

Similarly, just as hybrid owners drive more, you may think buying local takes care of your commitment to sustainability. Though your commitment to buying local may be admirable, buying local is but one piece of a big, complex picture. It also is a matter of prioritizing your sustainable pursuits and how buying local ranks on your list.

WHEN to buy local?

All the time, as the proponents of buying local would have it. If it’s not available locally at the time you need it, like with seasonal produce, you shouldn’t buy it.

Best Management Practices for Green Businesses – Collaboration

Best Management Practices (BMPs) are methods that organizations use to manage their impact on the natural environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a website of helpful information about BMPs (EPA.gov/ne/assistance/univ/bmpcatalog.html). These practices are useful for owners of small and medium-sized businesses (SMB). One publication by Harvard University and the EPA’s New England Division illustrates the value of BMPs. In this publication on Preparedness and Security, Harvard University discusses the...

The five Ws of buying local, Part 1

In their last Business News update, Rivermark Community Credit Union encourages me to consider how my purchases support local businesses and to buy local. Of course, buying local features prominently in sustainable marketing, so my credit union calling to buy local got me thinking. Why is buying local good? Just what is local? Are there any rules to buying local? I decided to take a closer look.

(As with everything, buying local can be argued both ways, and while I lean strongly in favor of buying local, I can’t overlook its shortcomings. Hence 5W+1H over two posts.)

WHY buy local?

There are essentially three arguments for buying local. First, buying local means more money stays and circulates in your community, supporting jobs and tax revenue. According to one Oregon economist, a “dollar spent at a locally owned store is usually spent 6 to 15 times before it leaves the community. From $1, you create $5 to $14 in value within that community. Spend $1 at a national chain store, and 80% leaves town immediately.” I’ve seen variations of these statements circulating in my community.

Of course, when national chains locate their stores in your community, they employ local people and do business with local suppliers or vendors. Which they do on a much bigger scale than your neighborhood store. So while your dollar may not be circulated as much when you buy chain, some spillover from chain activity definitely exists. Nevertheless, local does seem to hold the advantage here.

Hyatt (still) should be ashamed

Business for Social Responsibility (“The Business of a Better World”) does valuable work with business around social and environmental issues. It’s helped organize efforts to get global companies to take responsibility for the rights of workers in their supply chains, particularly in poor countries.

So what will BSR do about its 2009 conference, the premiere event on the corporate-responsibility circuit, now scheduled for the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in San Francisco?

You’ve heard about Hyatt’s labor problems by now, haven’t you? Last month...

How to Lead a Great Panel Discussion

In my work in training and preparing business executives and professionals for service on nonprofit boards of directors, I facilitate panel discussions. The panelists include corporate leaders who chair and serve on NGO boards, and CEOs of global, national, and regional nonprofits. I've always said that the best panel discussions are more like Broadway shows. You get across the vital learning content--but with spontaneous drama, engaging the audience in the personalities and dynamics of the panelists and the stories and experiences they are conveying.

At the Clinton Global...

Moody's and Kiva: "The Double Bottom Line"

While it's a thrill for me to help engage companies in strategic philanthropy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), skilled volunteering, and other forms of giving and service, I've always believed that corporate initiatives are only sustainable if there's a solid business case to be made. So after my initial excitement about a terrific new corporate-nonprofit partnership, my next question is: "How did you sell it to the board?"

At last week's CGI, I was delighted to meet with Premal Shah, President and CEO of Kiva, the world's first person-to-...

Time to Re-think Think Pink?

This morning I walked through The Bay and had a look at the many pink products on display as a part of their annual Think Pink program. By purchasing these products consumers can support the work of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF).

At one level, cause related marketing programs like this are a positive way to create awareness of important issues and to motivate behaviour change. However, in addition to featuring products that re-enforce gender stereotypes of women (without a sense...

Half-empty or Half-full?

Last week, EMC was ranked as #74 out of 500 in the Newsweek Green Rankings.  I received quite a few congratulatory emails, as well as one or two from folks puzzled as to whether this result warranted celebration

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. I'm glad we're in the top 100, of course - plenty of people in EMC have been working hard and making progress, and the recognition is well-deserved. But we're not satisfied with what we've accomplished so far - nor should any of us on the list be.

Oh, I get that...

Nike at CGI: Helping Girls and Women Achieve their Potential and Change the World

I have admired Maria Eitel since I met and interviewed her at last year's CGI. Talking with her again this year reminded me why. Imagine that just a few years ago, she was asked to create a purpose and a plan for the Nike Foundation. What she presented to the Nike Board of Directors was The Girl Effect-- the idea that when you invest in girls, you change the world. Eitel explains: "A girl is the...

Genzyme at CGI: Global Problem-Solving Gives You a Competitive Advantage

If your corporate social responsibility (CSR) program is ancillary to your corporate strategy, it's on the chopping block--or already in the waste bin. This is especially true in today's economy. On the flip side, you have a chance to gain a competitive advantage by creating a unique approach to making the world a better place.

Say the CEO or the board asks why the company is spending money on a particular CSR program. You need to have an answer ready, but you should also see it as an opportunity to make the case for a sustainable, strategically integrated CSR program.


What Wall Street Can Learn From Distance Runners

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill & Knowlton, Washington

Anyone who has ever run a 10K or 10 mile race (or longer) knows that you can’t start by going all out.  You have to work up to cruising speed.  And you need to leave something in the tank for the last part of the run.  This is seemingly common sense, but for many “running” on Wall Street and within the business community generally, it is a lesson that bears repeating.  Long runs require a sustainable pace.  And if a business or an investment is to enjoy long-term success, it must create sustainable value.

This is the subject of a new report prepared by the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program   – Overcoming Short-termism: A Call for a More Responsible Approach to Investment and Business Management.

The CFA Institute defines short-termism as: the excessive focus of some corporate leaders, investors, and analysts on short-term earnings guidance, coupled with a lack of attention to the strategy, fundamentals, and conventional approaches to long-term value creation.

That pretty much nails it, but as the Aspen report states, short-termism is not limited to Wall Street.  It pervades the entire web of business – corporate leaders, company boards, investment advisers, providers of capital and even government.  Therefore, the report concludes, meaningful reform will only come from comprehensive, system-wide change.

Trust Agents: Bestseller Good Fit for Nonprofit

In the index to Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s new book, Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust, the words charity, nonprofit, and fundraising do not show up. I looked.

But still, Beth Kanter’s name is there. Through her blog (number one on the List of Change), Kanter has made a trickle of conversation about using social media for good causes into a river, the currents of which most of us now happily paddle...

Goldman Sachs at CGI: Investing in Women for the "Highest ROI"

That's what Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs told us today. That providing business and management education to women in developing and emerging economies meets a "great need" for "enormous [investment] returns" and provides a "wide open area for us [GS] to go." He says that the firm's goal of helping 10,000 women is just the beginning.

GS's CSR investment in 10,000 women has the key ingredients for a successful CSR program: alignment with company goals and objectives; research and metrics to demonstrate need and progress; partnerships and alliances; employee...

Clinton Global Initiative: Empty Gift Bags and Global Give Back

Today I attended the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in NYC. It's my second year attending. In many ways, it's similar to other conferences, with plenary sessions, breakouts, networking, etc. In other ways, it's unique. To begin with, as former President Clinton said in his speech to us, "This is the only conference you'll ever attend where the gift bags are empty." Because CGI provides its members with the chance to give to others.

There is a great deal of power at CGI. More than 60 current and former heads of state, 500 business leaders, and 400 leaders from...

Corporate social responsibility in the U.S.: Have we made any real progress in 2009?

Corporate responsibility is a buzz term of the new millennium that has come to mean different things in different rooms. In the living room and the oval office, it has to do with throwing over a well-entrenched way of doing business that rewards individual failure at the highest levels, leaves investors unprotected and forces taxpayers to bear the direct and immediate consequences or risk losing a way of life that once depended only on the strength of their work ethic.

In the boardroom the phrase corporate responsibility is all about opportunity. It is the stuff of press releases...

Catalytic Philanthropy: A Perfect Lead-In to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI)

My friend and colleague, Mark Kramer, just published an excellent new article on Catalytic Philanthropy. It's an extension of his work in helping foundations and philanthropists to improve their giving strategies. Kramer's work also complements the approaches I recommend in Leveraging Good Will and in this Fast Company blog on Leading Companies for Good.

Kramer urges philanthropists to take responsibility for achieving results, and praises donors who "think about how to solve a specific problem using every skill, connection, and resource they possessed." And he gives an example of...

The Importance of Ritual in Board Retreats

This afternoon, my husband and I executed our wills. Since I had made my intentions clear in discussions in advance of today's meeting, and my husband (a law professor) and our attorney prepared the documents carefully, I glanced at my will and asked where to sign. The both looked at each other and then at me, and said simultaneously, "But there is a signing ritual." They then explained to me that the law requires a specific ritual to ensure that people regard and recognize the importance of the decisions they are making.
I walked home thinking about the ways in which I use the same...

My Journey for Sustainable Food

Last winter, my husband Dan and I noticed we were beginning to struggle in our quest for fresh, local food. As a Californian learning to endure my first Boston winter, I wanted more variety in our produce. At the same time Dan, a culinary school student, was learning more and more about the role of things like corn syrup and stabilizers in processed food. Between the two of us, we often ended up wondering what we could do to ensure that what we put into our bodies was healthy, fresh and ultimately unprocessed. So we took up cooking more and expanded our repertoire to include items like homemade bread, chicken stock, ice cream and others. Still, in hindsight we relied more often than we would have liked on cheap meat, poultry and dairy – often because it was what we could afford.

All of this came full circle recently in the sustainability class I took a few weeks ago. The day we talked about global food production – including factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFOs) in the U.S. – I felt like the world opened up and swallowed me with it.

In Factory Farms, animals are packed in high-density pens, often with little or no room to move.
(Ashley’s Note: CAFOs are hugely depressing operations, in my opinion. For your sake and mine, I am not going to recount just how unhealthy and harmful these farms are for animals, for humans, for our economy and for our environment. I’ll just say that for a brief intro, google “Factory Farm” and see what comes up…)

“Smart” Banks?

“Bank” used to be one of those oh-so-solid words that made you feel grounded. As in “bank on it” or “you can take it to the bank.” You could count on it.

But since the fall of 2008, the start of the Economic Collapse of the New Millennium, “bank” has taken on new, negative meanings.

“Bank” now stands for loan shark lending, IBG deals (“I’ll Be Gone” after the commission is booked), overleveraged assets, consumer gouging, and Just Plain Stupid business practices.

The wonderful term “zombie banks” has entered the language, describing institutions that are open for business—they look “alive”— but are paralyzed by their failed financial policies.

SustainLink is trying to change our view of all banks as working for the Dark Side by introducing a new phrase: “eco-intelligent banks.” By “eco-intelligent,” SustainLink means those select financial institutions with a commitment to sustainable practices.

 A research and score-carding firm, SustainLInk has launched a profiling service that reports on banks and credit unions that are doing good business in a good way. SustainLink reviews banks to evaluate them for their triple bottom line strategies. Only those that qualify as “eco-intelligent” are profiled on SustainLinks’ site.

The first group of these “smart banks” has been chosen. You can see the proud winners at www.sustainlink.net.

Why authentic marketing is hard (and how to make it easier)

authentic, adj. = of undisputed origin, genuine; reliable or trustworthy

You hear the advice everywhere these days: Be authentic! Practice authentic marketing!

To be authentic is to be grounded in reality, to be real, to be yourself. If you’re authentic, you really are who you say you are and who others perceive you to be. If you market your business authentically, you represent yourself truthfully, genuinely. This is particularly important in sustainable marketing.

That calls for authenticity circulate through marketing conversations tells me there’s a need; a gap exists between who you are and how you market yourself or your business. Why is that? Why does anyone have to be reminded to “be yourself”? Why is authenticity in marketing so hard to accomplish? What can you do be authentic and practice authentic marketing?

The authenticity gap explained

Perhaps in your quest to meet your customers’ needs, you pose as someone you think they want you to be rather than who you are. If to be inauthentic means to not be who you are, something must be propelling you to behave that way. The most powerful explanation I can think of for the authenticity gap is role.

Role is a combination of behaviors and actions expected of an individual in a certain social situation. In everyday life, you perform a string of roles. You have little to no control over ascribed roles, like man/woman, child, member of a nation or culture. You do have a choice in assuming achieved roles, like parent, partner, member of a profession.

BSR’s Aron Cramer: What’s changed since the meltdown?

"This week’s guest post comes from Aron Cramer, the president and CEO of BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability. Aron’s a great guy, BSR’s an important organization, and its annual conference is a must for people like me who want to keep up with the goings-on in corporate responsibility. Aron’s worked closely with FORTUNE 500...

How To Do a Good Job on a Nonprofit Board

So you've joined the board of a nonprofit where you care about the mission and the work, you think you can be useful, and you like some of the people you'll be working with--the ones you've met so far. What do you do next in order to be productive?

Nothing blue about this airline

Imagine. An airline people actually like to fly. A low-fare carrier that provides friendly service as well as such amenities as leather seats, live TV, XM radio and unlimited snacks. That’s JetBlue. JetBlue also makes money. That alone makes it an anomaly in the dismal airline business.

Those friendly flight attendants, ticket-takers, reservations agents, grounds personnel and pilots (at least a couple who I met) are, as it happens, the key to the success of JetBlue. That was my takeaway after spending some time with the company and its people for a story about JetBlue and its CEO, Dave Barger, that I wrote in the current issue of FORTUNE. It’s part of my year-long series for the magazine on FORTUNE 500 companies.

Here’s how it begins:

Welcome aboard,” says the CEO of JetBlue Airways. “I’m Dave. It’s a first-name-basis airline. My door is open.”

It’s a steamy Florida morning, and Dave Barger, a 51-year-old airline-industry lifer, is addressing a new class of about 160 students at JetBlue University, the airline’s training center next to Orlando’s airport.

In a few days, after a brief history of the airline (it was originally going to be called Taxi), a thorough immersion in its core values (safety, integrity, caring, passion, and fun), a sobering analysis of industry economics (including the meaning of VFR, CASM, and BELF), and mundane sessions on uniforms and employee benefits, these new crew members will go to work as ticket takers, baggage handlers, and ground crew at some of the 56 airports served by JetBlue (JBLU).


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