Subscribe: Communications4Good
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: English
business  change  companies  economy  environmental  market  new  people  product  social  sustainability  sustainable  world   
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Communications4Good

Communications4Good Blog

Communicating sustainability stories for business and individuals. Advancing thinking and actions around people, planet and profits. Sharing new ventures and best practices for creating a world that values people, cares for planetary resources and fosters

Updated: 2017-07-29T01:44:55.797-07:00


Is Sustainability Really the Jargoniest Jargon?


The Book of Tens at AdAge seems to think so. But I’d like to propose another way of looking at the growing use of the word sustainable. First, I take issue with rejecting a word because it’s “a good concept gone bad by mis- and overuse.” That seems to be more the fault of the users than the innocent word itself. After all, the post continues to sing praise for sustainability, “Used properly, it describes practices through which the global economy can grow without creating a fatal drain on resources.” So, maybe this word belongs on a different list – Ten Words We Wish People Would Use Properly.”Additionally, “It's come to be a squishy, feel-good catchall for doing the right thing,” seems like a backwards compliment to me. And captures a sentiment that warrants a bit more exploration.- “squishy and feel-good”: Can someone tell me why these are used in the pejorative? Squishy things like pillows and actually feel good (most of the time). And feel-good might be something we could use a lot more of as we head into 2011. Frankly, after the long-lasting economic correction, environmental devastation and social upheaval the world over, a little feel-good is just what we need.- “doing the right thing.” I am a big believer that we need lots of words and reminders and encouragement to usher in the transformation where doing the right thing becomes commonplace in business. And, let’s face it; we’re not there yet. Not sure how we can have a word become jargon before the behavior becomes ubiquitous.It’s clear that practice of true sustainability (practices through which the global economy can grow without creating a fatal drain on resources) is still a long way from becoming a standard way of doing business. There are indicators that this discipline is growing in significance and focus.According to a recent study from Accenture, more than 90 percent of respondents indicated that over the next five years they will be doing just that. CEOs would have indicated that their businesses would be seeking to deploy new technologies aimed specifically at addressing issues of sustainability?According to a recent post from Patti Prairie at Fast Company, “market forecasters predict ongoing growth rates well into the double digits for corporate sustainability services, a market already valued in the billions of dollars. Sustainability is now big business in the U.S.” Verdantix predicts that “In the post-recession economy, sustainability will become a more strategic issue as firms seek competitive advantage on a new dimension of business performance. And that CFOs will be pulled into decision making on sustainability and cleantech. In 2011, multiple factors will pile pressure on CFOs to engage in decision-making on sustainable business “What makes this interesting is that for many, the attention of the financial sector in sustainability gives it legitimacy. What I believe is that it indicates the need for the same type of disciplined language, process, methodology and knowledge that has seen the financial dimension of business become its primary filter.I think that the word sustainability is hamstrung by its misuse rather than its overuse. What it needs is a lot more words -- perhaps an entire language -- to represent all of the concepts, ideas, categories, approaches and disciplines that this one overused word has been burdened with carrying.Any emerging industry needs its own nomenclature, and that’s not jargon.(Blog post also appears at Sustainable Life Media)[...]

The Challenge of Social Entrepreneurship


I'm working with several new companies that are in the thick of developing business models, branding strategies and funding for their social enterprises.  Part for-profit, part non-profit, they seek to meet the needs of the world through a business vision.  The challengers are innumerable:  when seeking funding, do they solicit grants or investments or both?  If both, then how do you develop the financials that meet the requirement of grantors while answering the questions that traditional angel or early stage investors have?

How do you develop a business model and legal structure that incorporates the traditional for-profit business and integrates a non-profit foundation or similar structure that allows people to donate and participate as supporters?  Right now, the closest we have is a B Corp and the work underway to develop a Fourth Sector in the tax code.  Either way, these are initial efforts to begin recasting corporate governance to allow for true triple bottom line operational excellence that does not just put everything in financial terms.

An article in the New York Times  proclaims that "the emerging sector of social entrepreneurship appears to be booming."  They cite the growth of conferences like SOCAP, and social investment funds like Ingia Partners.  Whatever tea leaves you choose to read, the evidence is mounting that more and more individuals and institutions are looking for truly purpose-driven businesses to support.

The communications challenge is that a multi-layered, complex story is required to explain who these newly formed companies are, and seek customers, supporters, advocates and evangelists to help by buying, giving, partnering and extolling.  Because this new business model is still being invented, there are no short cuts to educating everyone about how it all works and why anyone should care.

It has become one of the most invigorating and demanding parts of my job.  And I am grateful, everyday, to be in the thick of it.

Here are a few of my go-to sites for information and inspiration:


Sustainability Signs are Promising


 Image Credit:  Emilia StasiakThese days, the talk of a double dip recession and the lagging job market could obscure several positive indicators that provide good evidence that a significant and lasting change is underway.  Pay attention to the more important transformation that is affecting product development, business formation, job creation and the very way we live and work. In any number of areas, you’ll find upbeat indicators where you might expect to find a downbeat story:Social CapitalA month after the Sustainable Brands 2010 conference in Monterey, CA, it's worth noting that many of the presenting and attending companies are truly integrating social impact into their sustainability efforts.  For example, environment and ‘green’ issues, which have dominated sustainability discussions in the past, have given way to more practical explorations of new strategy, measurement, metrics and marketing initiatives. This has moved social programs from the periphery to the core.  According to Jason Saul of Mission Measurement, the scale of impact and benefit to business is exponentially greater when social change is connected to the engine of the company -- driving product development and market expansion -- rather than being relegated to the ‘fumes’ of the business -- located in philanthropy or community relations only.     Takeaway: The true integration of environmental and social impacts alongside financials has found its footing and will forever change the face of business.Green ConsumersThe Green Brands Study --  a fifth annual study by Cohn & Wolfe, Esty Environmental Partners, Landor, and Penn, Schoen & Berland -- polled almost 10,000 consumers in eight countries regarding attitudes about the environmental and social initiatives of over 350 brands.  In spite of the economic challenges dominating the news and peoples' live, the study concludes that overall, concern for the environment is up 3.5%. It is interesting to note that respondents is China and Brazil selected the environment as a greater concern than the economy by a significant margin when compared to the US (70 versus 30%). When the effects of pollution and environmental degradation are experienced at close hand -- as air quality and rain forest issues are in China and Brazil -- the local citizens are far more concerned. Takeaway: What the study showed is that consumers are still looking to change their purchasing behaviors and use their wallets to support companies whose products and initiatives have proven to result in positive environmental impact. This tendency is more pronounced in markets outside the US.Renewable Energy Despite experiencing a 7% drop in global investments in 2009, renewable energy surpassed fossil fuels in creating power capacity in the U.S. and Europe for the second straight year, according to two reports released in July by the United Nations.Renewable energy in 2009 accounted for more than half of new electricity capacity in the U.S. and about 60% in Europe, the U.N. reported.   The devastation in the Gulf caused by the BP Deep Horizon disaster is playing a role also, as a growing number of celebrities, organizations and average citizens see the results of oil dependency being played out in fragile wetlands and local economies.Takeaway: Early stage companies and established players who are tackling energy creation will benefit from the growing support for a transition away from fossil fuels. Sustainability IndustryMIT Sloan's Quarterly Management Review's recent report on sustainability indicated that "many corporations view sustainability as a strategic opportunity and are pursuing it as an operational excellence.... Although other initiatives tend to pivot about a particular function such as purchasing, IT or operations, sustainability applies to every role and every action of the enterprise. It therefore requires widespread operational as well as cultural changes."  Recent s[...]

New Good Works article...on LocalDirt


Today we’re beginning a series of profiles of American farmers and ranchers who are using their considerable ingenuity, intuition, dedication and entrepreneurial spirit to bring goodness to all of us in the form of good food. Check out our Good Works Page by Susan Ditz

Branding Technology as a Sustainability Solution


Photo courtesy StockxchangeCan technology save the world?Most of the biggest brands think they can.  Yet, as small upstarts start getting real traction with innovation, they are faced with the challenge of building strong brands as big players change the products, services and business models they offer to the marketplace.As a center of innovation, Silicon Valley is an ideal place to gather and review its own technological prowess in addressing climate change, resource depletion, soaring energy needs, and the integration of policy and business in deploying massive scale solutions.I recently attended GreenNet2010, produced by GigaOM, a one-day conference that showcased technology solutions aimed at responding to the social and ecological challenges facing our world.  From energy production and management companies to new transportation solutions, alongside close looks at the smart grid and IT as a solution provider, over 500 attendees heard from established brands and early stage innovators.What struck me is the almost giddy enthusiasm for the enormous market opportunities available to the companies who most quickly and creatively address climate change, transportation issues, grid complexities, energy creation and management.  Venture capitalists, engineers, public utilities, and technologists are enthused and optimistic about their ability to solve these intractable problems and make money in the process. Imagine a panel with Better Place, Ford, OnStar, Nissan, and PG&E al discussing how they are both individually and collectively addressing the need to radically transform our transportation industry to reduce its 30% contribution to GHG. “We are in a unique era where we’ve never had this many stakeholders trying to affect this big of a change, in this small period of time,” said Saul Zambrano Director, Integrated Demand-side Management Core Products, Pacific Gas and Electric Company.  To a man (and they were all men), they communicated their personal commitment and satisfaction in participating in the transformation.  Their language of goodness was a welcome dimension in the overall discussion of trillion dollar market opportunities. Don’t get me wrong; I am a capitalist with the best of them. However, as those on the car panel demonstrated, we all need to discuss, make space for, and value these other attributes.  Purpose and meaning, according to Dan Pink, are the very things that motivate us.  This is where the playing field levels a bit for large and small businesses.Big brands like Ford and PG&E can share the world stage with upstarts like Lit Motors (also at the conference but not on stage – my opening point exactly) because what they share is an intention – to leverage business acumen and technological prowess to meet environmental and social challenges.It will be interesting to watch the big players compete with the small innovators.  Pitting imagination and cleverness that is not hemmed in by existing infrastructure and assumptions against the ability to scale and dominate.  I think it’s going to be a matter of both/and.  It will take small players and large organizations to create solutions and deploy them broadly and quickly.  At the heart of both approaches is, frankly, the heart.  As we learn more about the cost of natural resource depletion, the power to galvanize people through campaigns like presenter, and hear from panelist like Bill Gross CEO of Idealab who links his solar efforts back to childhood passion and shop tinkering, we will be engaged because our hearts are engaged.  Brands both small and large that trust and have the courage to communicate their interior purpose will be the players who lead the technology transformation and reap its benefits.POST IS ALSO FEATURED AT SUSTAINABLE LIFE MEDIA [...]

CSR+Sustainability is On the Rise


According to recent research conducted by Boston Center for Corporate Citizenship, McKinsey, and the Entrepreneurs Foundation's 2010 Corporate Citizenship Report (which I helped research, write, analyze and present), data consistently shows that sustainability is gaining traction inside corporations.  The initial appearance and implementation of sustainability can begin inside Environment Health and Safety (EHS) departments, as a special branding and marketing campaign, within a product development task force, or as a supply chain initiative.  Where it starts doesn’t matter.  Once the sustainability mindset takes root inside two or more groups in a corporation, consistent and credible communications are required.  A new “language of goodness” that incorporates social, environmental and profit programs, and creates linkages between them to accelerate change and increase benefits.  A Shifting Sustainability DefinitionThe Business Roundtable’s S.E.E.(Society, Environment, Economy) Change program defines sustainability as “maintaining the balance between the human need to improve the quality of life and standard of living of current generations, and the need to preserve natural resources, and ecosystems for the economic growth, and well-being of future generations.” Many would add that these generations, both current and present, extend beyond the human species to all living species and need to be accounted for in all triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) companies.  Ray Anderson, founder and Chairman of InterfaceFLOR, describes his company’s journey to sustainability in his recent book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist.  As he often says, “if we can do it, anybody can. If anybody can, then it follows that everybody can.”McKinsey’s Global Survey on Sustainability makes it clear that the lack of a consistent definition and shared language are creating blocks to deployment within companies.  The summary reveals the following: "Overall, 20% of executives say their companies don't [have a clear definition of sustainability].  Among those that do, the definition varies: 55% define sustainability as the management of issues related to the environment (for example, greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, waste management, green-product development, and water conservation). Another 48% say it includes the management of governance issues (such as complying with regulations, maintaining ethical practices, and meeting accepted industry standards), and 41% say it includes the management of social issues (for instance, working conditions and labor standards)."   CSR+ SustainabilityGlobally, CSR is a collective of all measures that produce an overall positive impact on society through economic and social actions. Combining CSR and sustainability is more than just linking community and philanthropy efforts to environmental initiatives.  Lasting business transformation -- like the radical changes espoused by Ray Anderson -- require that a business’s core strategy provide business benefits as well as social and environmental benefits.  CEOs like Anderson point to clear benefits that are driving the move to corporate sustainability: risk reduction, lowered costs, markets or revenue creation, brand value and building loyalists (i.e., transforming customers into investors, and partners into shareholders).A Language of Goodness (tm)A new vernacular is required for describing how companies -- in alliance with NGOs and governments -- are meeting health and service needs, exceeding governance requirements, innovating product design, and increasing brand relevance through a new approach to business.When companies shy away from talking about their actions in CSR and sustainability while framing them in a broader corporate strategy, they often cite fear of being accused of green washing.    Give[...]

Carol Cone to Edelman: another proof point of business transformation


With the recent news that Carol Cone has joined Edelman, I see a strong indicator that cause marketing is clearly on the path to becoming integral/core to effective communications and a business imperative.   CSR is no longer a "fringe practice" (Carol's words) but a dimension squarely in the center of global brand making.  I have followed Edelman's Goodpurpose studies and believe that their research is tracking the traces of a fundamental shift in business.  We can use various labels for it -- reputation, brand, citizenship, CSR, sustainability.

I call it goodness.

What's exciting about Cone's move to Edelman is the recognition that smart cause marketers, sustainable brand makers, are the right stewards of change as businesses grapple with the increasing call for better brands. 

I share Richard Edelman's belief that public relations, in general and in particular, is the best discipline to guide the communications challenges facing good companies and have said so In many previous posts.  PR is not just posturing and positioning. It is the two-way conversation an organization needs to have with all its stakeholders as it goes about its business. Authentic communications, listening, feedback loops are all components of public relations and have a critical component to play in the sustainability market. 

I see effective communications strategy as part of the solution to global economic, environmental and social challenges.  A brand's communication shapes timely discussion about how that individual company is participating in and adding to the business transformation that is taking place on a worldwide platform.  Critical stakeholder engagement uses two-way conversations that are relevant, authentic and transparent.

Earth Day Reflections


 "Every Earth Day is a reflection of where we are as a culture. If it has become commoditized, about green consumerism instead of systemic change, then it is a reflection of our society."
--Robert Stone, documentary filmmaker, as quoted by The New York Times
Why not both?

If Mr. Stone is right, what do we make of the commoditization of Earth Day?  On the one hand, we lament the trivialization of  a serious situation.  Resource depletion and the exploitation of native peoples' are center piece issues in environmental discussions and deserve the careful and comprehensive exploration of solutions and best practices required to diminish their effects.

But does this make every green product, campaign, toy, seminar and web conference irrelevant and silly?  I don't think so (unless, of course it IS silly like the umbrella, described in today's Times article, that is designed to catch rain run-off.  Huh?)

I actually welcome a pervasive and consistent environmental aspect to everything.  If we don't stop and consider the planet and its peoples as integral dimensions affected by every commercial or pop culture object we consume, we won't accelerate the mind shift needed to drive real change.

And change is what we need.

The transformation is one from a consumption culture to an experience existence.  Where thriving and well being are the measures of success.  Not simply untrammeled growth (of trinkets and toys, of banks and balances, of stock prices and stocked pantries)

We live in an amazingly abundant world, with enough resources to give every person all they need.  We suffer from distribution problems and insidious hoarding that prevents the flow required for well being.

So, if we can be playful and a bit silly with Earth Day AND be serious and deliberate, then we are onto something.  Because it will take a both/and approach.

After 40 years, it's time to let the profound AND the trivial coexist as we heal the earth and each other.

Happy Earth Day!

The Car 2.0


Is the world ready for a new generation of cars, particularly the electric kind?  There are at least 41 teams hard at work, and competing, on the assumption that the world is not just ready, but that it’s in desperate need for Car 2.0.  Energy and transportation analysts as well as green media sites like Earth2Tech have begun using the Car 2.0 moniker and predicting a sizable market opportunity.  The new electric car infrastructure has implications beyond reducing the highly toxic impact that current fossil fuel transportation has on the environment.  Electric cars will link to the smart grid, making them efficient and connected communicating transportation.According to Frank Cloutier, director at Future Vehicles Technologies (FVT), the car of the future will have a lot more in common with computers than its horse and buggy heritage.   And Frank would know.  He’s the former Vice President and CTO at HP’s imaging and printing group, and started a number of HP's businesses, including their industry leading inkjet and notebook computers.  Frank is also a lifelong car enthusiast who’s managed to link those two passions into a single purpose at FVT.  “After more than 30 years of bringing new technology to market, sometimes in cycles as fast as every six months, I took a long look at the flailing automobile industry and decided I could have a positive impact,” said Cloutier.He envisions a Car 2.0 industry that brings innovation and improvements to market quickly, based on rapid technology cycles and a fabrication and assembly mentality that replaces Detroit’s more staid industrial and machining approach.  “We think of our car, the eVaro, as essentially the world’s first personal driving computer.  It’s fast, looks beautiful, can be programmed and controlled to minute personal specifications from the individual driver, and can be upgraded or reprogrammed to accommodate increasingly improving battery, generator, or computing technology.”Cloutier and FVT are not alone in seeing significant market opportunity with the electric car of the future.  Experts predict new markets for a smart charging infrastructure, energy storage technologies, telematics, and the wide open opportunity for onboard Smartphone applications and touch screen capabilities that are just now being created.  That’s Car 2.0.FVT is just one of the remaining 41 car teams (from a beginning field of 121) betting on the electric car of the future by participating in the Automotive X Prize.  The goal of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE is to inspire a new generation of viable, safe and super fuel-efficient vehicles. $10 million in prizes will be awarded to the teams that win a rigorous stage competition for clean, production capable and super fuel efficient vehicles that exceed 100 MPG equivalent fuel economy. (MPGe)The eVaro, FVT’s newest prototype and the next generation in hybrid development, is competing in the high performance class at the Automotive X Prize.  This summer its proven specifications will be put to the test in a series of shakedowns and race at the Michigan International Speedway.  Winners will be announced in Washington DC in September.  Right now, the eVaro has succeeded in getting between 122 and 325 MPGe (and 100-125 mile range on electricity alone) with an onboard gas generator that promises unlimited extended range.With a 3 hour re-charge time plug in at home, and 1 hour with on-board generator, the eVaro looks like a bright spot in the new Car 2.0 world.[...]

GLOBE 2010 Brings The World to the Individual Level


“A green economy needs to just be the economy,” said Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, a board director at InterFace Global and member of the closing Town Hall session at the 20th anniversary Globe 2010 in Vancouver.  - a sentiment which would be shared by many and echoed throughout the conference.Held every two years, Globe Foundation gathered over 10,000 participants from more than 80 countries to focus on a variety of themes that included Corporate Sustainability, Climate Change and Energy, Finance and Sustainability, Urban Infrastructure, Clean Technology, and Water: Impacts on Business.According to many speakers, this year the conference seemed different – more participants, more women, and a greater number of students and young professionals.  One young woman, summed up her generation’s challenge with a question to the panel – as she looks for her first sustainability job, should she work for an oil and gas company and try change them, or work for something new and different? Nicholas Parker, Executive Chairman, Cleantech Group LLC in San Francisco, CA, encouraged her to “work in the lion’s den and help create the change we, and they, need to be.”  Those fossil fuel companies, Parker asserted, are facing necessary and inevitable transformation and we should all welcome and support it.The Honorable John Yap, Minister of State for Climate Action, Government of British Columbia, Victoria, BC, David Runnalls, President & CEO, International Institute for Sustainable Development, Ottawa, ON  and Tony Manwaring, Chief Executive, Tomorrow’s Company, London, UK rounded out the panel.  Christopher Henderson, President, Lumos Energy in Ottawa, ON moderated a lively conversation between attendees and panelists that explored -- what is a green economy? What is each person going to commit to changing or doing different? How do governments, citizen consumers, businesses and NGOs tell the stories that will effect the swiftest, necessary changes?Diane Dillion-Ridgle observed that a sense of urgency of the moment is needed, alongside a long horizon view.  “This is the 21st century agenda for the completion of democracy throughout the world,” said Dillion-Ridgle.  Interestingly, she cites language as a key factor in accelerating change.  “We still have such siloed language, and we must integrate economic language to include language of the social component – one that ensures equity and parity. As a society and in business,” she continued, “we simply have to find a way to work horizontally rather than these silos of financials, and human rights and environmental concerns.”John Yap, British Columbia’s Climate Action Minister, is showcased his provinces’ leadership in climate change legislation.  “Green must become mainstream because climate change is the challenge of our generation.  In BC we made this one of the central planks of our agenda and we now have the first ever CO2 emissions tax in North America.  We also pledge to be the first jurisdiction that is carbon neutral by the end of 2010.”David Runnalls, founder and CEO of International Institute for Sustainable Development, took a global view of the challenges facing humanity, “There is too much business as usual.  We have to make significant reduction of our ecological footprint.”  He described the dichotomy of both a bottoms up or top down approach and articulated that it requires an integration of both efforts. The addition of meaning, a spiritual dimension is what is missing in most discussions of a green economy, according to Tony Manwaring of Tomorrow’s Company.  “We must include a different sense of what has value and what is valued.  This means a change of consciousness about how we live and the interconnection of en[...]

CSR and Sustainability in Silicon Vallley


(image) I am knee deep in survey results, interview transcripts, background studies about CSR, and recent news and opinion pieces about sustainability trends as I move into the final stages of a research project with the Entrepreneurs Foundation. It's gratifying to see how many hard-working people are deeply committed to creating and implementing programs that support local communities and employees. As we begin drilling down into the survey results, initial respondents are split into two distinct groups: small early stage companies, many of whom are creating market-based solutions addressing social and environmental concerns and large global corporations whose community relations programs and CSR programs are gaining more exposure and importance withing the company.

It's the stories behind the numbers and policies that hold the most interest for me. A new CEO, who has always spent personal time volunteering, instituting a corporate wide culture that embraces volunteering as an important ingredient in employee work life. Or the developer who integrates a way for gamers to contribute to breast cancer research because a key participant's wife is battling the disease. Or the founder who creates an entire new business model to help families caring for aging parents because he faced the same challenges and recognized a market need/opportunity.

But the thing that strikes me the most are the attitudes that people bring to their jobs -- compassion and passion, pragmatism and persistence, resourcefulness and leadership. They tell me that their work is getting results and gaining interest within their respective companies in a way that is new and exciting. More employees are coming to them looking for ways to get involved. Particularly following the earthquake's devastation of Haiti, employees want their companies to provide them with means to help. Additionally, companies are seeing an uptick in interest for green/environmental programs that link company initiatives to changes people are making at home.

The report will be compiled over the next month and results presented at the Entrepreneurs Foundation's annual meeting in early March.

2009 Corporate Philanthropy Awards


Yesterday morning, I attended the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal's 2009 Corporate Philanthropy Awards with more than 300 people gathered to honor the region's top 50 corporate givers. Applied Materials was the top philanthropist, giving $4.99 million in a top ten that gave over $30 million. According to James MacGregor, publisher at the Business Journal, "While giving overall declined by about 4% among the top companies on the list, the breakdown between those who increased what they contributed and those who were forced to cut back was about even." He also pointed out that this is only the second nationwide decline in charitable giving since 1956. Not a bad record for big business, especially in this Great Recession.What struck me, as I watched the community relations, corporate social responsibility, sustainability and HR executivesm and a few CEOs as well, accept their awards, is the kindness and deep concern I heard from each one. They compete with each other for the title of biggest giver and, following host James MacGregor's instructions, in crafting the best 10-word acceptance speech. How gratifying to watch over 50 companies be recognized for staying engaged in community work at a time when budget cuts and donation declines at non profits are met by increased need.My favorite quotes from the morning give me hope:"We are science focused but community based." Amgen"Money is a lot like manure, it's best when you spread it around." Deloitte"When people are safe and happy, our communities and businesses thrive." NetApp"Companies are social institutions and need to behave that way." Agilent"Non-profits are our best bet and at eBay, we bet to win." eBay"We're still Ma Bell, you're still community, and we're still family." AT&T"It's not a question of if, but of how much more can we do?" Cisco"Because we can, because we should, because we all must." Microsoft"It's up to us to make a difference." West MarineI agree with Laurie Fried, chief sustainability officer of West Marine, that is is up to us -- business -- to make a difference. All of the facts, figures, research, opinions and news coverage tell us that people are looking for leadership and integrity from business in dealing with environmental and social challenges. And businesses are stepping up. Some are giving more donations and increasing philanthropy. Others are giving employees time off to participate in community activities. Still others are increasing their in kind donations as a way of filling the need gap.I will be learning more about what companies are doing in a regional study for the Entrepreneurs Foundation and Silicon Valley Community Foundation that I am conducting with JonesPR. We will measure corporate citizenship, philanthropy and community engagement alongside sustainability and/or environmental efforts. We will benchmark current levels and assess what companies are doing to meet social challenges. Look for regular updates here as we review early survey results, interview local CSR leaders and gather the heart stories that lie behind corporate decisions to give back.[...]

Dashboards and Meters: the Next Blinking 12:00?


We are bombarded with data, visuals, advertisements, tweets, updates and videos, so do we really need our products to beep, change colors, add leaves or update graphs? Especially since many people never use all of the functionality built into most products or, worse yet, simply discard the product when its complication oversteps its usefulness?Recent product design is incorporating dashboards and metering capabilities as consumer features. Prius, Honda, Google Smart Meter, and even are examples of products that incorporate a feedback mechanism into the product itself. ‘Hypermiling’ is the term for how to wring every last drop of efficiency from hybrid automobiles and can be found on sites like CleanMGP. While these dashboards provide a clear and powerful way to display data, they introduce a set of design challenges that must integrate social science strategies in order to be most effective. In the same way that compelling stories can change behaviors, dashboards can do the same, if they are designed from the outset to generate behaviors that add up to a larger benefit.I interviewed Marc Rettig, CEO of Fit Associates and social ethnographer, for his thoughts on dashboards, and he had several recommendations that help to frame the design and communication challenge: - - Displaying information does not equal “feedback.” Just because you show it doesn’t mean people see it, understand it, know how it correlates with their behavior, or feel motivated to adjust their behavior. 
- It isn’t always obvious what to measure: people will adjust their behavior according to the feedback they receive. If you’re measuring the wrong thing, their behavior change may have less impact or even the wrong impact. 
- It isn’t always obvious how to measure: sometimes getting the data you need to provide good feedback is tough. Bodymedia, for example, carefully researched where they could put sensors on people’s bodies so they could get accurate data while people were active, without making them uncomfortable. 
- It isn’t always obvious how to communicate the feedback: “kilowatt hours?” “tons of CO2?” Who knows what these things mean? “100 calories?” It’s up to the dashboard to help people map the feedback to their behavior. Otherwise you’re only giving them a meaningless gimmick, uninteresting after the novelty wears off because they see no connection to their lives.- The social possibilities are relatively unexplored: how interesting might it be when we can roll up say, household and institutional energy consumption to the level of neighborhoods, cities, regions, states, nations? Would a competitive spirit set in if this were visible to everyone in the same way? Will that help us introduce new language into the conversation about change?- For product design, there is a tension between this idea and the need for simplicity. We face an epidemic of complexity in our products, and it is making people nuts. This keeps coming up in our household studies. A dashboard could very easily be Yet Another Damn Display, yet another gadget. Increasing product cost, increasing frustration levels, and delivering little or no value. In two years there will be six of the damn things in my life, all using different visual language, controls, and metrics, and none of them talking to each other.When we say “simplicity” we're not just talking about too many features in each product -- it's systemic complexity. We’re to the point where even if your product has just one light and one button, it’s coming in to a home that’s over laden with lights and buttons and displays. Your product can be loved if it brings relief to that situation. If it adds without bringing relief, it [...]

An Early Look at Sustainability Business Trends for 2010


Conversation and debate around the environment, ethical consumerism, corporate social responsibility and sustainability are changing fast. In just the past year, sustainability is no longer being questioned as a passing fad; it has been validated as a key business driver. PricewaterhouseCoopers has issued a report detailing how companies that report their sustainability efforts get better returns on their assets than companies who do not. Let’s look at a few other key findings:40% of consumers bought because they liked the social or political values of the company…Nearly half of Americans in our poll said protecting the environment should be given priority over economic growth … and this comes in the midst of a recession.” (Time, Sept 21,2009)More than half—62%—of online posts discuss various solutions to environmental issues. This is a shift from 18 months ago when people were still spending much of their time discussing sustainability by debating whether or not the environmental crisis was real. Consumers in the blogosphere group discuss sustainability solutions into two categories: broad social, organizational, and political change; and incremental personal change.” (JD Power & Associates, Sept. 2008)Despite taking tough economic hits, at least two-thirds of the U.S. adults who took the survey and have been green buyers in the past said their green purchasing has been stable during the first half of this year. For many, it even increased.” (Earthsense, Sept., 2009)This research, and my experience with both large corporations undergoing massive change and early stage innovators who are creating ways to capitalize on the power of the market to generate public benefit, set up three trends I see emerging for next year. Be, Not Buy There is a push among consumers for a less throw away economy to one where sustainability is real and counts. Key trend watchers are pointing to the earliest signs that we are shifting to a world where things will no longer be the dominant modality, but experiences will drive our cultural norms. We will see more attention paid to quality and less purchasing of goods that have a designed-obsolesce. Technology designers, take note. Show Me How I am Part of We The growing proliferation of dashboards (Prius, Honda, GoogleSmartMeter) and labels are creating an expectation by consumers that the can see – from the moment of purchase throughout the entire use cycle – how their activities add up to something bigger than themselves. The zeitgeist of the moment is inclusivity and the power of the individual to change the world. This is the year of enlightened self-interest. Once unleashed, people not only expect to make a change, but watch it happen in real time. What consumers are seeking is a way for the products and, increasingly services and experiences, to add to their efforts to change themselves and bring their lives into alignment with their social and ecological values. Narratives as Transparency Radical transparency and zero waste pressures by consumers and governments are creating a Babel of labels, a cacophony of metrics and measures. But what do all these facts and figures mean? How do consumers, purchasers, suppliers, legislators, reporters, and others make sense of this data? It will take clear communications and the constant updating, contextualizing and story telling that a complex world requires. 2010 promises to be an exciting year for sustainable brands.[...]



During Preside(image) nt Obama's speech to Congress last night, he spoke eloquently, reminding us that caring for others is a deeply rooted American value.
"That large-heartedness -- that concern and regard for the plight of others -- is not a partisan feeling. It's not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character -- our ability to stand in other people's shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise."
More and more economists, business schools, corporations and NGOs are exploring how concern for others and the planet can be integrated into profit margins and market share growth. In seems to me that many of our elected officials are slow to recognize that a growing number of citizens are willing to accept their responsibility to care for others, and want our institutions -- government and businesses -- to be constructed and operated in support of that value.

The Center for Partnership Studies (full transparency, they are a client) is hard at work creating the programs and information people need to examine how we look differently at assumptions in our current economic structure. Based upon the scholarship and work of Riane Eisler (The Real Wealth of Nations), they are working to create an understanding and implementation of a "Full Spectrum Economy." A full spectrum economy is a six-sector economy instead of the three sector model we recognize and put energy/resources into: the market, government and illegal trade.

The three new sectors that are vital in an understanding of a true economy are the household (where optimal human development starts), the unpaid volunteer sector (where relationships are enabled throughout the community) and the natural sector (where caring for the planet employs thousands for restoration and long-term sustainability). The premise is that we must track, monitor, support, nurture and integrate these sectors into a full spectrum economy if we are going to deliberately and successfully build lives that are prosperous and have meaning.

President Obama's call to an ethic of caring, as an integral component of the American character, begins the work of building a true wealth for this nation.

The Power of Buycotting


(image) Consumers and advocates have embraced a new found power -- show up, be vocal, cast a vote, boycott a company. But there is a growing interest in a new type of activism, buycotting, that merits a closer look. A clear example is Carrot Mob. Developed under the Virgance wing, Carrotmob is a method of activism that leverages consumer power to make the most socially-responsible business practices also the most profitable choices. The opposite of a boycott, buycotts are organized efforts to deliberately buy from companies whose efforts to improve their business practices, tackle social problems, reduce environmental impacts, are rewarded by customer purchase. While Carrotmob designs and deploys a single day of buying, more and more people are looking for ways to tangibly support the businesses doing good in the world.

Can marketers create this kind of activism?

I don't think so.

The beauty of buycotting is that it works best when it is random, grassroots, amorphous (Carrotmob's business model notwithstanding) and tied to a growing awareness that we "vote" with our wallet. If you begin with the assumption that all of marketing is designed to encourage customers to buy, then buycotting is a natural outgrowth of that. What I like about the activity, as an activist consumer rather than a marketing/communications professional -- is that it helps me continue to be conscious about where I spend my money.

Buycotting expands an individual's point of view. Old marketing and advertising paradigms connected products and services to values and emotions that were individualistic. How does this product make ME feel? What does this product say about ME? How much value do I get if I buy this thing?

The beauty of buycotting is that the underlying assumption is from the WE point of view. How does buying this product tell a company that they are doing better as a global citizen? When I buy this product, am I part of a bigger effort to improve the planet or society? The changes that companies are making are incremental, to be sure, but buycotting is one way that a consumer's has of participating in that incremental change.

The Rise of the Phoenix Economy


(image) Volans , whose tagline is "The Business of Social Innovation," offers a tantalizing view of a new economy using an powerful icon. Forget the bear and the bull, what's coming is the Phoenix.

“A new economic order is rising from the ashes—and a new generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors is accelerating the changes essential for delivering scalable sustainable solutions to the world.”

For those whose business model involves changing the world, take a look at the web site and download the Phoenix Economy report. John Elkington, former SustainAbility founder is a Volans founder. They have written an incredibly rich report, presenting examples and rationales for an economic theory that attempts to map this emerging social innovation business sector.

In my experience, there are few resources for those in the social innovation sector who are trying to rationalize their valuation, forecast success, and establish authentic metrics. This report is a good compendium of fifty corporations and organizations who are beginning to document success and get real traction. It's a thought-provoking assemblage of business models, new company formations, statistics and interviews with those on the forefront of a new economy.

Monitor Institute has issued a similar report, Investing for Social & Environmental Impact, that makes a strong case for the emerging financial market. According to the report,
"Evidence suggests that many thousands of people and institutions around the globe believe our era needs new type of investing. They are already experimenting with it, and many of them continue even in the midst of a financial and credit crisis. That’s why the idea of using profit-seeking investment to generate social and environmental good is moving from a periphery of activist investors to the core of mainstream financial institutions. No one can know for sure how much money has been invested or is seeking investment that generates both social and environmental value as well as financial return. But a good guess is that the total size of the market could be as big as $500 billion within the next decade."
Both groups make the case for an emerging economic sector that will feature not only strong (and responsible) financial returns but a business sector that matches such returns with purpose, people and the planet. What's compelling about both is the rigor that is used to size and set market parameters. It's a part of the momentum at corporations, business schools, legislative bodies, and NGOs to reinvent what success looks like when business takes a broader role in the world.

Can we make goodness a game?


There is an interesting trend afoot these days. As I set about developing a messaging platform and launch strategy for my client, Boom Boom Revolution, I became aware of a whole world of new games that give people a way to practice random acts of kindness -- using cards, coins, and online tracking.From Kind Acts and RandomKindActs to the Boom Boom Revolution, entrepreneurs are taking their passion for changing the world and creating an interesting new product category. What struck me about each of them is the blend of altruism and fun that pervades each offering, in very unique and different ways. You can be a social revolutionary or part of a coin-spiracy. You can play or be inspired. But the goal for each is to connect in the real world and then watch that connection ripple out in the world, using an online community.We are seeing this trend over and over again, the integration of real and virtual lives, communities and activities. As technology visionary and proclaimed long-term thinker, Kevin Kelly, correctly stated a few years ago: "online culture is the culture." We are just now seeing how that is playing out in the convergence of two macro trends: online as culture and goodness as game.According to Trendwatchers, they see Random Acts of Kindness as a major sub trend in their claim that the overarching global theme for 2009 is “Generosity“ They cite several business programs that randomly give individuals a gift, a nice surprise or an intriguing idea: • "Leading Chinese e-tailer DangDang gives back to its customers—and encourages their vigilant attention to the site—by randomly assigning one hour a day as “Lucky Time” in which all purchases made within that hour are free of charge. (Tip of the hat to • Wings is a credit card brand owned by Akbank, one of Turkey's largest banks. The card is targeted at frequent travelers, who earn miles as they shop at member restaurants and shops. Wings recently partnered with five upscale restaurants in Istanbul—Ulus 29, Hakkasan, Gilt, Topaz and Beymen Brasserie—to offer a random selection of lucky Wings members a pleasant surprise. After having dinner at one of the restaurants and paying with their Wings card, the customer is notified that Wings will foot the bill. • Northern-Irish fashion brand ARK (short for Acts of Random Kindness) sells a line of logo-emblazoned shirts for men and women. They ask that each time a customer wears one, they do something kind for someone else – whether it be buying someone a coffee or giving up their seat on the bus. In addition to spreading random acts of kindness, ARK's shirts will no doubt also prove to be conversation starters, providing wearers with status stories to share with family and friends.”How will this play out? I believe that we will continue to see goodness and kindness emerge as key themes for individuals, businesses and organizations. Of course, it goes without saying that authenticity and no gimmickry are the watchwords here. It's more than just jumping on this bandwagon, but creating experiences where being generous and kind are enough. They aren't a means to an end but the end game itself.When authentic goodness is present, people will be draw in, the word will spread, the community will expand. And along the way, free coffees and kind words will be tracked, thank you letters and words of gratitude traded.Sounds like fun to me![...]

Join Me at Sustainable Brands 09


(image) This is the third year I’ve attended Sustainable Brands and, once again, I am looking forward to being among “my people.” In 2007 in New Orleans, I attended the inaugural Sustainable Brands conference and discovered a vibrant community of communicators whose purpose matched my own. I spent three amazing days listening to, talking with, and being inspired by marketing and communications professionals – at some of the biggest brands in the world – talk passionately about their efforts to transform business.

In just ten days I will attend Sustainable Brands 09 in Monterey, this time as an advisor, speaker and PR counselor. Once again, I am confident that I will learn, be challenged, and create connections to the innovators and stalwarts of sustainability. More than 750 of us will gather to share best practices, insights and trends in order to re-imagine products, services and business models so that we can build a sustainable world.

If you're designing, building, analyzing or dreaming innovations in sustainability, SB’09 is the place to be. Join colleagues from Dell, Clorox, Coke, Frog, HP, Interbrand, Steelcase, Frito Lay Sun Chips, Johnson & Johnson, Gap, Starbucks, NASA and many more.

I'll be presenting a breakout session on PR and Transparency, along with Annie Longsworth of Cohn & Wolfe, reviewing media trends with a panel of journalists on Tuesday June 2nd.

Please consider joining me in Monterey. Register now by logging on to

Economy Looks Mixed at Sustainable Industries Forum in San Francisco


I spent yesterday morning at the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum with an inspiring and amazing group of sustainability innovators, beginning with the self-described “radical industrialist,” Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface Global. He came with a clear message for the group of over 500 -- the economic benefits of true sustainability are real, tangible and the truest purpose a business must pursue. I’ve heard Ray speak before and, as always, I leave feeling optimistic and knowing I’ve been educated by one of the smartest business minds today. All this great information is delivered with the most appealing southern drawl and sprinkled with colloquialisms that are somehow comforting. I believe Ray when he says, “if we can do it, anybody can. If anybody can, then it follows that everybody can.”After Ray’s concise presentation on the various ways in which his petrochemical flooring company in Georgia transformed from a “brown company to a green one,” the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum continued with a discussion between Bob Davis, CEO of Sentilla, Laura Rodormer, division manager of green construction at Swinerton Management & Consulting and Anup Jacob, founding partner of the Virgin Green Fund. Moderated by Gil Friend (from Natural Logic), the panel discussed various ways in which the current economic realities are affecting the building industry, its transparency and tracking, as well as investment decisions.Government support around the world is the single greatest economic impact on private equity investing decisions, according to Anup Jacob. If early stage companies view government subsidies as integral to their business strategies, they are likely to leave pitch meetings empty-handed. “We see more than three firms a day right now, ”Jacob said. “We are looking for business opportunities that don’t rely on government subsidies.”Green building has been hit hard by what will be known as The Great Recession, but many are looking at to government intervention as the one bright spot in the current economy. As local and regional governments begin mandating green construction and retrofitting and federal programs will fund such efforts, Laura Rodormer sees the signs of an uptick.Transparency about the data center is Bob Davis’ key issue as he advises companies in sustainability tracking programs. “When we look at operations and facilities, energy management issues are staggering and overshadow any other concern,” he noted. “Data centers are buildings’ ‘black boxes.’ Only 70 percent of energy that enters a data center actually gets to computers.”The consensus of the speakers is that progress is being made, innovation is accelerating and the need for change in increasing. Perhaps Ray Anderson said it best, “the status quo is a powerful opiate, so extra commitment and courage are required.”[...]

Kindness and Goodness Inspiration


“Do all the good you can
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
- John Wesley

Junk Email Pollutes


According to a recent post in Environmental Leader on the energy effects of spam email, we have proof from MacAfee that there is more than just the massive irritation that such emails cause, but a real world effect. What is it about those emails that makes my blood boil? Is is the predatory nature of the copy? the attempt to dupe some unsuspecting reader? the use of hard-luck stories to mislead and engage when the world is full of too many real stories of lost fortunes?

And now we learn that these emails are contributing to the accumulated GHG. "The average GHG emission associated with a single spam message is 0.3 grams of CO2, or the same as driving three feet (one meter. However, when multiplied by the yearly volume of spam, it is equivalent to driving around the earth 1.6 million times."

Thank you MacAfee for the report and giving us all another reason to eliminate spam email. Let's try to stop it at the source rather than at the end point and develop a solution that finds the culprits and prosecutes/deploys laws already on the books.

Launching Your Product Begins with Great Design


(image) It might be presumptuous for me to talk about great design when my area of expertise is public relations and branding. But I can assure you that launching any product into the marketplace has two basic requirements – a deep understanding of the market/customer needs and a beautifully intuitive response to that need. Right now, I am working with a new company that perfectly demonstrates the value of great design for a shifting market. It begins with a little known fact about electricity usage: 22 percent of all electrical power generated in the world is used for lighting. A quarter of that power is used for exterior lighting, which costs $3.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.

There’s a market need that can be met with beautiful design. Enter world-renowned sculptor Tom Joyce, and Qnuru is born. Tom Joyce is an artist, designer and blacksmith who forges sculpture, architectural ironwork and public art for projects throughout the United States. For over 30 years he has freely shared his design concepts and working knowledge in lectures presented in Europe, Africa, the US and Canada. His work is in many public collections and has been exhibited in numerous museums internationally including the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Detroit and Minneapolis Institutes of Art, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Museum for Kunsthandwerk in Frankfurt, the Museum of Applied Arts in Moscow, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

He founded Qnuru with venture accelerator Noribachi because, “We all see that we have a problem in our world and in some ways we’re all implicated. As the creator of functional objects, I have a unique opportunity to express a new realm, to showcase solar technology in a more aesthetically compelling way. This is about toolmakers’ problem-solving.”

Qnuru is a revolutionary solar lighting firm that integrates sophisticated, contemporary lighting design with advanced solar technologies and control systems to create lighting for commercial and residential installations. What Joyce has done is design solar landscape lighting with natural materials, utilizes proprietary, custom-designed power control system, so that the resulting products are completely untethered to the power grid.

When developing the launch strategy for Qnuru, we looked at the various influencers that would be interested in such a solution and the breadth of the horizon becomes quite significant because great design has tapped into the universal need for lighting at night with a broad human response to beauty. Environmental, green, electricity, design, landscape, architecture, sculpture, lighting, homes, public spaces -- all of these industries will be affected by Joyce’s innovation and are interested in how untethered lighting can be deployed to meet the market’s growing need for illumination.

(Photo credit: Nick Merrick-Hedrick Blessing)

Boomers Rebuilding their Lives as Sustainable


(image) According to a recent report from Natural Marketing Institute, Boomers are feeling the effects of the rec(depr)esssion most keenly and are making life changes that respond to a belief that the downturn will be deeper and longer than experts are saying.

A search for meaning and strong desire to contribute are driving the changes Boomers are making in their lives, according to the research. I see this in my own life and the research mirrors my reality. We are indeed buying fewer things, but making sure that what we buy is of value and will last.

According to NMI, "Four out of five Boomers believe that they have made a positive contribution to society, while a similar number state that balancing home and work life is important in their lives today." We are looking to give back, live smaller and more sustainably and take up our part in solving the crushing problems facing our world and societies today. We are making life and purchase choices based upon a deeper set of criteria. There are certainly many of us whose actions will, once again, set the momentum for cultural norms. It's gratifying to see that so many Boomers are looking for sustainability, meaning and balance.

This is the great opportunity we find in the midst of such turmoil and it is interesting to see how many people are responding with hope, a sense of belonging, and a drive to participate in making things better. While we watch our largest institutions crumble, we are hopeful and energized. Amazing.

Do we really need all this stuff?


As sustainable design takes hold, there is increased focus on life cycle issues and growing demand that design become a change agent for transforming cultural and business systems. Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, does a brilliant job of explaining how design has become one of the six senses that will thrive in the new world.But it seems to me, and recent research bears this out, that the first question a designer must ask is, do we need this?I was chatting the other day with a technology analyst seeking to understand how sustainability will impact the Web 2.0 start-up mentality prevalent in Silicon Valley. My response was to suggest that the first question to ask any entrepreneur or inventor, does this heal or hurt the world? Because when you can marry a beautifully-designed, innovative device or service that ALSO adds to the quality of life, then the market will respond favorably. Rethinking our approach might mean not making that new thing you were thinking of making!The proof that this trend is real comes from a disparate set of indicators:• In March 2009, the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) released its annual trends report for 2009 and the overarching theme is “Recalibration.” The report details consumer attitudes and their attempts to reengineer their lives to reflect "comfort, safety, sustainability and moderation."• Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue upon whom Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wear Prada,” was reportedly based, had this to say in an article in the Wall Street Journal, “…to be honest there's been too much product, too much copy-catting, and, probably too much consumerism. I think a sense of clarity, a sense of leveling off and a sense of reality is needed.” When the diva of fashion is suggesting that less is more and quality is the new fashion dictum, something is happening.• As I have covered in a previous posting, The Story of Stuff is a remarkable 20-minute video, written and produced by Annie Leonard, that describes how manufacturing and production, seen as a linear process, must be recast as a interdependent cycle. Her premise, that we cannot keep using third world assets and people to provide cheap goods is clearly communicated. It’s interesting to see how this has translated into a movement – in just three months, the audience for The Story of Stuff doubled to 5.5 million views.• Numerous trend watchers and researchers have studied this emerging mindset. Benjamin Barber, author of Consumed, declares that selling and buying unnecessary stuff is unsustainable. Retail stores are closing, planned expansion of locations have been halted. Retail sales are off.• The rec(depr)ession is a reaction to an over-heated, over-spending, over-consuming culture. People are shifting toward “under consumption” -- the slow food movement, cocooning as entertaining, localvores, farmers markets, greening of everything, ecological fashion, and others.Now we know that we don’t need – or want – all this stuff.(Also published as an Industry Blog at Sustainable Minds)[...]