Tag Archives: CSR

Sustainability: Seeking Balance

If you follow my blog posts you know that I often address the question, What Is Sustainability? For me sustainability is bringing into balance the elements of planet, people, and prosperity with an eye to the future generations beginning with our children.   I draw from the the sculpture of Alexander Calder to convey the framework sustainability can provide us as we make decisions in both our personal and professional lives. (Click on image to see it more clearly)

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I’ve also started to reference the circular economy championed by Ellen MacArthur and her Foundation because of the off-balance orientation of our economic system that has failed the test of time, not only in its collapse, but in the practice of externalizing costs and risks, resulting in the degradation of Mother Earth and her peoples to a point, possibly, of no return.  An economic-centered view is championed by many business leaders at the same time they promote their organization’s sustainability initiatives and programs and talk of a sustainable future.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 12.33.01 PMThere are also executives, using the imperial “we” of course, who express a more balanced view such as found in the release of the Wells Fargo & Company’s 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report.  Here is a quote from the press release by Jon Campbell, executive vice president and head of Government and Community Relations:

“We understand and embrace the important role we play in people’s lives, the environment and the economic health of our communities,” said Jon Campbell, executive vice president and head of Government and Community Relations. “We’re committed to meeting our 2020 CSR goals, and will continually find ways to integrate sustainability practices into all of our business strategies, products, operations and culture to benefit our customers and the communities we serve.”

It’s the perfect note to end on.

Video Spotlight on Three Sustainability Leaders

CIWThe ongoing story of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers is a model of place-based community action (grassroots) working through coalition, collaboration, and agreement rather than separation, disagreement and opposition. It’s about CSR, business human rights, and leadership.

It’s how Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland and former UN High robinsonCommissioner of Human Rights, moved beyond “declarations” and used her leadership position and power to bring support to the co-founders Lucas Benitez and Gerardo Reyes-Chavez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

We have added three videos today to EarthSayers.tv, Farming and Food Production special collection, to share our respect for and advance the work of Lucas Benitez, Co-Director, tn_24615Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and that of the workers, friends, members, and colleagues of the Coalition.

The first video is a speech by Mr. Benitez back in 2002 at the Mary Robinson Speaker Series in which he honors Mary Robinson for joining their cause and talks about the Coalition and the Code of Conduct they are successfully enlisting Corporations and growers to sign and adopt.

The second video is a news report from Democracy Now for today, May 20th on the hundreds of farm workers and their supporters who are in New York City ahead of Wendy’s shareholder meeting to ask for improved working conditions for those who pick its tomatoes in the Fair tn_24617Food campaign organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.  CIW farmworker and a co-founder with Lucas of the CIW, Gerardo Reyes-Chavez talks about this social responsibility campaign.  So far McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell have all joined the White House-recognized Social Responsibility Program, agreeing to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes to raise wages and only buy from fields where workers’ rights are respected.


The third is a video record of the fifteen-day, 200-mile March for Rights, Respect, and Fair Food which came to a “loud, colorful, and jubilant end” on Sunday, March 17th outside Publix corporate headquarters in Lakeland, Florida.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, Earthsayers.tv, May 20, 2013, Cleveland, Ohio.

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VP of Social and Environmental Sustainability

tn_24020Meet Michael Kobori. He is VP of Social and Environmental Sustainability at Levi Strauss and Company.

He is the person I had in mind when in March of 2011 I wrote a blog post comparing sustainability to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and noted “Up to now the C-level sustainability officer is generally focused on environmental concerns, water and energy being high priorities, and cost reductions.  At the social and environmental sustainability intersection is where companies can begin to examine their role in externalizing risks and costs, a practice and mind set that has greatly harmed the environment and all living beings.”

So look at how Levi’s represents sustainability on their Website.

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Follow the leader.

Listen to a video interview of Michael by 3BL Media at the BSR 2012 conference on EarthSayers.tv, voices of sustainability.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, November 12, 2012, Portland Oregon

Real Estate Transaction as Social Responsibility Action

Screen shot 2012-02-29 at 10.56.02 AMInvesting In Communities (IIC) is a young nonprofit empowering real estate professionals, like the founders and social entrepreneurs Michael Pink and Sharon Porter, to generate unrestricted revenue for non-profits through real estate transactions whether the client is an individual or company. Think of IIC as a client-directed, broker-funded social responsibility program.

It puts CSR into the real estate transaction to benefit communities.

IIC is an innovative program that corporations can launch as part of their CSR and sustainability initiatives for their real estate transactions as well as for those of their employees, enhancing the reputation of all and increasing the visibility of the broker, the employee, and the leaders of the company and the non-profit. Everybody wins.

Real estate brokers, as members of IIC, commit 10% of their commission from IIC-related Screen shot 2012-02-29 at 10.23.16 AMtransactions to the non-profits of the clients’ choice. The membership fee is nominal at $150.00 per year.  A recent Cone study reported “Anywhere from 87 percent to 96 percent of consumers in all countries expect companies to be doing something to support causes” ranging from economic development, environmental and human rights to health, education and poverty.

As part of increasing the visibility of these brokers, organizations, and their employees we here at EarthSayers are teaming up with IIC to feature online videos of their participants in an IIC special collection on our all video site, EarthSayers.tv, voices of sustainability.  Now over 1,000 voices strong EarthSayers.tv gives our citizens easy Web access to the largest collection of thought leaders on sustainability in the world.

As the curator of the IIC special collection, I have been scanning the Web for videos of thought leaders around these two phrases, investing in communities and impact investing. The first step in creating a special collection starts with definitions.

Screen shot 2012-02-29 at 10.56.25 AMSo to get us started, here is a short interview (video) with the author, Jed Emerson in which he defines impact investing; gives good examples; and distinguishes it from socially responsible investing.  He is co-author of the book, Impact Investing. Click on the image to order from Amazon.com.

There will be more to come.

IIC logo for blogInvesting In Communities® enables individuals and businesses to fund non-profits through brokered real estate transactions. Anyone can use IIC – individuals, business or organizations – for any commercial or residential real estate transaction using any broker they choose to give their assignment to.

CSR staff can leverage the real estate transactions of their company and employees to enhance corporate giving without touching the bottom line while significantly increasing brand awareness and reputation with the IIC program. It starts with creating an account here. It’s that simple.

earthsayers_logo for linkedinEarthSayers.tv is the only thought leadership platform that highlights business and civic leaders, experts, teachers, students, and citizens from all walks of life who are addressing one or more of the twenty-eight sustainability categories under the elements of planet, people, and prosperity. With nearly 1,000 videos we have created special collections around environmental, social, and economic challenges ranging from climate change to human rights to social entrepreneurship and investment.  We include interviews from events such as those produced by 3BL Media for the Ceres Conference 2011.

Sustainability Advocate is by Ruth Ann Barrett, Founder and CEO of EarthSayers.tv, voices of sustainability, Portland, Oregon, February 29, 2012.

Sustainability News is mostly CSR Reporting

One of the many Web advantages are alerts.   I subscribe to sustainability alerts from the New York Times and, recently, the Financial Times. I didn’t anticipate any difference, really,  in either the quantity or quality of the news alerts, but I was surprised by both the quality and the quantity.

The alerts from the New York Times come in sporadically, here are four in March:

  • At the Home and Housewares Show, All Things Bright
  • Armani Takes Up a Cause
  • New Technology Could Make Desalination More Accessible -A Singapore company..
  • Spa Treatments by the Dead Sea

Now compare these to the alerts from the Financial Times received today, Sunday, April 3, 2011

  • Call on companies to act on emissions
  • Danish pensions invest in giant offshore wind farm
  • Data providers join forces to meet information demand – In the aftermath of the financial crisis, key data providers have all made the same bet – that in years to come environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues will be a more important part of investors’ decision-making.

And three more topics to drive home the point:

  • Environment to be at heart of aviation policy rethink
  • Technology has potential to retrofit the world
  • Reporting: Building a system – Commercial building sites are perhaps not the first places most people would look to find examples of the way IT systems and software are helping companies manage their environmental footprint and reduce waste.

What became painfully obvious to me is that the lightweight nature of news stories, not only in the New York Times, but 3BL Media and their CSR Minute (they mix sustainability and CSR coverage) as well as Just Means (actually Just Means positions itself as one stop news for CSR, but mix in sustainability) are practicing business oriented  reporting on what mostly boils down to what I call RADs or reports, awards, and do-good stories praising corporations for their actions.

Even Sustainable Life Media (SLM) (sustainable business focus and “bridge to better brands”) spends an inordinate amount of time and space covering the do-good actions of large, multi-national corporations some of which have as their core business toxic chemicals and reputations for environmental and social justice abuses.  There are exceptions such as a recent story by Bart King in SLM that PUMA could be the first brand to measure impact on eco-system services, a major accounting and financial management issue.  This is a critical sustainability issue as discussed on EarthSayers.tv by  John Fullerton of the Capital Institute and Larry O’Connor of LaTrobe University in Australia. Interestingly enough PUMA’s initiative is part of a larger one by the French parent company, PPR group. The author goes on to report, “The Group said the overarching program, dubbed PPR Home, will go beyond the traditional Corporate Social Responsibility model and set a new standard in sustainability and business practice in the Luxury, Sport & Lifestyle and Retail sectors.”

Fact is, though, if you are in the business of reporting on sustainability here in the U.S., there’s not much out there.  No point in blaming the messenger unless they aren’t digging deep enough and finding those companies who are making inroads like B Corporations and non-profits such as the Textile Exchange. The messengers are reporting on what corporations are giving them as news and progress. It’s all about RADs – reports, awards, and the do-good stuff.  At some point, however, a U.S. focus on large companies combined with the assumption that CSR can be reported as sustainability and vice versa makes  “news” more like PR spin and reporting more like marketing rather than journalism, blogs or no blogs.

More on Sustainability and CSR

Recent report by Deloitte, How to Leverage Sustainability Initiatives for Finance Transformation, makes Environmental Sustainability stampthe point “sustainability is no longer just an effort to portray good corporate citizenship along side ‘normal’ business operations.” If in the short run the best way to have a C-level voice for sustainability is through the CFO, and we all agree that any initiative worth its salt needs C-level representation, then it is time for companies with a strong sustainability bent, and no C-level sustainability officer, to move their sustainability reporting out of the Corporate Social Responsibility Report and onto the main playing field. GHG emissions, materials, waster, water, land use and biodiversity are not externalities in terms of risk and costs. It’s the CFO who runs accounting and these sustainability measurements need to be on the books.  John Fullerton of the Capital Institute talks about externalities in the content of an economic transformation and Larry O’Connor of LaTrobe University in Australia comes at the same issue from an accounting reform perspective.

Social + Environmental

There is a strong argument for a C-level Sustainability officer who integrates social and environmental sustainability addressing the need for improving health and welfare by engaging customers, partners, and employees in adopting sustainability practices and principles at home, work and in their communities along with an in tandem with ConsciousAwareness4Genvironmental sustainability. Fundamentally, raising consciousness levels and creating a sustainability culture has to be the work of all us, it just isn’t going to happen if we don’t transform the way we do business and without C-level representation it isn’t going to happen fast enough.  One executive who speaks eloquently on culture and consciousness is Dominque Conseil, Global President of Aveda.  Give him a listen, links are to his videos on EarthSayers.tv, voices of sustainability.

Where does this leave Corporate Social Responsibility?

In the Economic Intelligence Unit’s, Future Tense Report (2008), they reference IBM’s transformative efforts at removing barriers between its communications functions which in addition to the more traditional of marcom, media and PR was to include the”corporate citizenship” function.  This was not seen by IBM as a reorganization, but about rethinking.   No word on how things are going, but it’s a good point to start a conversation.

Comparing Sustainability to Social Responsibility

I wish I could say I came up with this comparison chart. I could have used it many times over the past year. It was part of Webinar sponsored by two companies, Verdantix and Enviance. The chart  is from David Metcalfe’s presentation which was excellent as was Greg Scandrett’s introduction. Greg is VP of Product Development at Enviance and David Metcalfe is CEO of Verdantix.

Responsibilty is not Sustainability 2

As a sustainability advocate it became clear to me early on in my journey that the social responsibility professionals in an organization were not very interested in our project, EarthSayers.tv, the voices of sustainability. CSR since the advent of social media has become heavy on the “managing corporate reputation” with emphasis on the managing part and, as noted in this chart, focused on NGO’s and eco-consumers, rather than building a trustworthy reputation based on social sustainability principles and practices.

Up to now the C-level sustainability officer is generally focused on environmental concerns, water and energy being high priorities, and cost reductions.  At the social and environmental sustainability intersection is where companies can begin to examine their role in externalizing risks and costs, a practice and mind set that has greatly harmed the environment and all living beings.

Two Silos: Marketing and CSR

I wrote a version of this article yesterday on the CSR/Sustainable Development Network, but wanted to repeat myself.

In the July issue of The Economist a particular sentence jumped out at me as being relevant to my experiences in the world of sustainability as a marketer. The sentence read “part of the reason” economists failed to see the crisis coming “as partly due to the professional silos which limited both the tools available and the imagination of the practitioners.”

Marketing Silo
I don’t t think it’s just an issue with economists. As a marketer involved in creating Earthsayers.tv, the voices of sustainability, I was slow to recognize marcom as a silo, but it is, and it is limiting imagination and creativity, two capacities crucial to bringing about change or as Jeffrey Hollender of Seventh Generation puts it, doing “the right stuff, quick enough.”

Here are several symptoms of the marketing silo and its effects.

Organizations continue to expend resources on mediums that marketing professionals feel comfortable with and are, in the end, unsustainable – events and print – while adoption of Web 2.0 tools is slow. How are marketing resources allocated today in your company? Do your executives rely on processed information, fearful of new technology and slow to embrace collaboration across the enterprise and with partners? Are any executives you know using video to blog like John T. Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems does? His observation: “Today’s world requires a different leadership style – more collaboration and teamwork, including using Web 2.0 technologies.”

Let them eat cakeA recent report by the WWF-UK entitled, Let Them Eat Cake, calls out the six myths that have further strengthened resistance from the marketing industry, an industry pivotal as “the marketing function is at the heart of the sustainability debate, because it is the interface between the forces of production and consumption.”

One debunked myth in the WWF-UK report suggests many marketers are just waiting for permission and an appropriate framework in which to engage with sustainability issues even if not familiar with the language of sustainability. One of the leaders of high tech in the U.S. was Admiral Grace Hopper who advised people new to the industry (I heard her speak in 1981) to not seek permission as much as learn how to apologize. Are you waiting for permission?

wpp reportEven Sir Martin Sorrell in the WPP’s Social Responsibility Report (2007/2008) advises his flock “to shape and encourage consumer demand for sustainable products and lifestyles; to restore the true value of durability; to reject the superfluous in products and packaging; to make much of what has passed for fashion deeply unfashionable…” Quote him in your apology.

CSR Silo
Yet if marketing is slow on the uptake, what of Corporate Social Responsibility professionals? Operating from another silo, limiting both the tools available and the imagination of the practitioners? I offer but one symptom and look to fellow network members to think about their own experiences.

At the eighth annual Corporate Philanthropy Summit hosted by the CECP this past June in New York City the bywords were collaboration, systemic change, advocacy and sustainability as reported online in “on Philanthropy.”

It’s good to see sustainability on the short list, BUT its strategic importance as the business and investment strategy is not understood as reflected in this meeting report.

Sustainability needs to be a strategy not a program. It needs to be the strategy that drives all programs, all investments. Advocacy focused on supporting the cause of sustainability nets big changes precisely because it brings a focus to collaborative efforts, all of us need to be on the same page at the strategic level and we are not.

Silo Demolition
One company involved in silo demolition and referenced in the report, Future tense: The global CMO by the Economist Intelligence Unit (sponsored by Google) is IBM. They seek to remove the barriers between its communication functions to include “marketing, media and public relations, corporate communications and, eventually, the company’s corporate citizenship function which is responsible for promoting IBM’s corporate values.”  Would you recommend this in your organization, and if not, why not?

The WWF-UK report includes a ten point plan for sustainable brands, two of which are particularly relevant to this discussion:

1. The Corporate Responsibility Function should act as a driver of innovation, using its combination of sustainability expertise and broad strategic view to tease out consumer insights.

2. Collaborate. Create multi-functional, multi-skilled teams that include personnel from all relevant functions, including marketing communications, investor relations, product design/development, brand strategy, financial planning and analysis, and corporate responsibility.

In closing, I quote a recent letter to the Editor of the New York Times by Aliza Wasserman. She points out another field of siloes, special interests, which should come under the sustainability banner. (We have created a taxonomy for sustainability as part of our earthsayers.tv project)

“The story that is waiting to be told is the one that unites these issues (health care, climate change and economic crisis) as symptoms of our decades’ long failure to create moderate, forward-thinking systems that are built on concepts of sustainability and prevention.” ALIZA R. WASSERMAN, Cambridge, Mass, July 30, 2009

The professional class, “siloed” and often issues focused, has a chance to bring about the right stuff, quick enough, if the keynote is advocacy and collaboration, and I would maintain, the key initiative is sustainability as both a business and lifestyle strategy. It can’t be business as usual.

The reports referenced here are on my whitepaper library.