Is your company a good company?

February 16, 2021 by  
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Is your company a good company? Suzanne Shelton Tue, 02/16/2021 – 00:05 Last year at this time, I wrote a piece with the exact same headline as this one. This time, I have some interesting new data and the beginnings of a framework to fill in the gaps. I’ve also got a sneak peek for you, from my presentation last week at GreenBiz 21. We’ll be publishing a full report with even more insights and ideas in April, but this deck will get you started. In our annual Eco Pulse study, we ask a battery of questions that get at how Americans perceive companies’ actions for people and the planet — what do people expect of the companies they buy from, and how do those expectations drive brand preferences and product purchases? This year, we fielded an additional study to ask some new, deeper questions and to create some forced-choice exercises so we could better understand what Americans really believe a Good Company is and why. Not at all surprising to the seasoned brand marketers reading this, great products and great customer service top the list of what makes a company good. Perhaps also not surprising, then, Amazon.com far and away tops the list of companies Americans name — unaided — when asked to identify a good company. ESG-related mentions round out the top three on the “what makes” list, so those are open-ended responses such as, “they treat their employees well… they give to the community… they care about the environment… they have good values.” But we should never confuse what makes someone like a company with what makes someone dislike a company. What do people expect of the companies they buy from, and how do those expectations drive brand preferences and product purchases? Facebook tops the list of examples of Bad Companies, followed by Walmart (which is also No. 2 on the Good Company list) and Wells Fargo. So, what gets a business on the Bad Company list? A bucket of ESG-related answers is most important — treating employees poorly, fraud/scandal/corruption, disagreement with their values or social stances, and generally being harmful to the environment. The blanket takeaway here is that your ESG actions are a fantastic tool for preventing disfavor and deselection. Secondarily, they are a solid tool to drive favorability — provided that you have great products and great customer service. There’s more to it than that, though, and while my GreenBiz deck and the report we’ll release in April get into a lot more detail, here are three key takeaways you should know: 1. Treating employees well earns you some Good Points (8 percent); treating employees poorly chalks up a lot more Bad Points (14 percent). We’ve seen this theme for years, but it intensified as a result of COVID-19. If the word gets around that you don’t treat your people well, it will taint everything else you’re doing right. So to all the sustainability professionals reading this: yes, measure and manage your GHG emissions diligently but also measure and manage employee sentiment and work across your organization to ensure they’re being taken care of. As we all know all too well, intangibles make up 90 percent of a company’s value — and good will is one of the main intangibles. Walmart is the best example of this scenario. Most of us know the amazing leadership role it has taken in moving sustainability forward. Some may argue with me, but I wholeheartedly believe the consumer packaged goods industry wouldn’t be as far along on reducing its environmental impacts if not for Walmart insisting that it happen. Walmart was more often listed as a good company (235 mentions) than a bad company (162 mentions), but it was No. 2 on both lists. The top reasons for Walmart being named as a Good Company were price, variety and customer service, while the top reasons for Walmart being named as a Bad Company were treating employees poorly, followed distantly by bad service and poor quality/cheap. Very few people chose Walmart for its social/environmental record (less than 10). Walmart has made great strides in the last few years regarding its employees, but the stigma from the past sticks to this day. So, bottom line, if you get labeled as a company that doesn’t treat its employees well, it’s really hard to shake. 2. Taking a societal stand/displaying your values buys you a few Good Points (4 percent); taking a stand/displaying values that Americans don’t agree with gets you far more Bad Points (9 percent). This one is interesting, and Nike is a really good example. They came in at No. 5 on both the Good Company list and the Bad Company list for exactly the reasons you would expect, based on another question we ask: Name a company whose products you’ve chosen — or not chosen — because of the manufacturer’s environmental or social record. Nike came in No. 2 on the list of companies chosen because of its eco/social record and No. 1 on the list of brands not chosen because of its eco/social record. A lot has been written about Nike’s bold decision to back Colin Kaepernick, but my favorite — and the most relevant point to what we’re discussing here — comes from Jerry Davis, a University of Michigan Business School professor: “It turns out Democrats buy a lot more sneakers than Republicans. The demo that is willing to spend $200 on Nike sneakers is not the demo that’s going to boycott them because of Kaepernick.” Although the Kaepernick decision happened in 2018, in 2020, Nike was still reaping the benefits of the campaign in both brand reputation and sales numbers, despite continued criticism from some camps. A Harris poll pegged Nike’s overall reputation at a 54 percent positive ranking, up six points from 2018. The company’s value was reportedly up $26.2 billion as well. 3. Giving to communities and charities earns you a lot of Good Points (12 percent total); not giving to communities and charities doesn’t actually cost you any points. When we asked Americans what makes a company good, we heard community/charitable-giving kinds of answers from 12 percent of Americans. When we asked what makes a company bad, nobody said, “They don’t give to charity or the community.” Target is a really good example on this front. The company comes in as the fourth-most popular unaided answer on two questions: Name a Good Company; and tell us the brand or product you’ve chosen because of the manufacturer’s social or environmental record. Reasons why Target is named as a Good Company are price, products, customer service and variety. Being community-focused came in as the sixth-most cited reason it’s a good company. And while it wasn’t a top answer for the second question — a brand chosen for its social or environmental record 6 percent — everyone who chose it cited community involvement/giving as a reason. There’s a lot more here, including a framework for how companies should think about all of this and apply it to their commitment-setting and storytelling. So download the GreenBiz deck and stay tuned for the full report coming out in April. Pull Quote What do people expect of the companies they buy from, and how do those expectations drive brand preferences and product purchases? Topics Consumer Trends Collective Insight Speaking Sustainably Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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Is your company a good company?

4 alternative protein trends to watch in 2021

January 4, 2021 by  
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4 alternative protein trends to watch in 2021 Jesse Klein Mon, 01/04/2021 – 01:30 It is highly probable your children will be vegans eating a Christmas ham Dec. 25, 2050. Alternative proteins will be the norm very soon and we might look back at this decade as the time when real shift in diets occurred.  Don’t believe me? Here are a few stats. Venture capital invested $1.5 billion in alternative proteins in 2020. The plant-based meat market is predicted to grow from $3.6 billion in 2020 to $4.2 billion by 2021 . And by 2040, 60 percent of meat sales will be plant-based or cultured meat products.  Every movement has the trends that significantly shape its future and others that quickly die and are forgotten. Here are four trends for 2021 that are expected to last beyond the initial excitement.  1. Fermentation is king  Fermentation, using genetically engineered microbes to mass-produce plant-based proteins, is on the verge of dramatically altering our protein food system. The value of fermentation lies in the system’s simplicity, effectiveness and flexibility to be used across food categories. Perfect Day uses fermentation to make dairy-like products while startups such as Clara Foods are focusing on egg substitutes . And there is about to be even more competition. According to a Prepared Foods report , 44 new fermentation companies launched in late 2019 and early 2020, a 91 percent increase compared to 2018.  But it looks like there will be plenty of money to go around. Even as COVID-19 upended global markets, alternative protein companies focusing on fermentation raised $435 million in venture capital by July, 58 percent more than in 2019. High-profile investors such as Al Gore and Bill Gates got in on the 2020 action, leading an $80 million investing round for Nature’s Fynd in March. And in December, Nature’s Fynd added $45 million from Oxford Finance and Trinity Capital. The company uses microbes found in Yellowstone National Park’s famous geysers to grow a protein with all nine amino acids. As we move to 2021 and beyond, fermentation technology likely will become a pillar of the alternative protein supply chain.  2. A move to direct-to-consumer In early 2020, some premier alternative protein companies had restaurant-only strategies. Impossible Foods had chefs such as David Chang serving the burger at its trendy restaurants. Soon after, the focus expanded into fast-food chains. But when the pandemic shut down restaurants, it expedited a shift to grocery stores and even direct-to-consumer purchasing.  You can buy Impossible’s ground “beef” at 15,000 Safeways, Krogers, Trader Joe’s and many other grocery stores across the country. Beyond Meat, which was in grocery stores before Impossible, can be shipped directly to your door. Impossible Foods also created a shop section on its website, bypassing the grocery store middlemen completely.  Eclipse , a vegan ice cream company based in the Bay Area, shifted from partnerships with popular ice cream shops such as Salt & Straw to chef collaborations on limited-edition pints ice cream lovers can buy directly from Eclipse online. Next year, alternative protein companies will continue to take the pandemic’s lessons to heart by giving consumers the convenience of direct purchasing while the companies get to rake in dollars without the help of restaurants or grocers. Atlast and Meati are two companies using precise mushroom cultivation to produce whole cut substitutes that taste and act like the real heterogenous meat versions. Photo by  Ksenia Lada  on Shutterstock. 3. An opportunity in whole cuts  While the alternative protein industry has made huge strides in the areas of ground beef and processed products such as chicken nuggets or fish sticks, a huge section of the meat market that has yet to be successfully tapped into is whole cuts. In fact, according to a USDA agricultural marketing and economic report , about 80 percent of meat purchases are whole cuts such as chicken breasts, steaks and loins. In 2021, the alternative protein industry will need to focus on innovating in this very valuable part of the market. Some are already doing it and planning on coming to market with consumer products next year. Atlast and Meati use precise mushroom cultivation to produce whole cut substitutes that taste and act like the real heterogenous meat versions.  “The way we make bacon is the equivalent of making mushroom pork belly,” said Eben Bayer, CEO of Atlast. “We grow this blob of mushroom like a big piece of meat, and we run it right through a conventional pork slicer.” To create bacon that has different layers and doesn’t act like a standard mushroom, Atlast tightly controls and changes environmental factors such as airflow and temperature during the growing process to create mushroom sections that taste fattier and other sections that get crispy to create that true bacon experience. While the industry inches towards whole cuts in 2021, the companies that figure out how to make convincing plant versions of steaks, chicken breasts and hams at scale will have cracked the alternative protein market wide open. 4. A focus on non-allergenic substitutes  Many standard ingredients for alternative proteins are soy, oats, legumes and nuts. These are also some common allergens. One percent of the U.S. population is allergic to nuts. And estimates suggest up to 6 percent of the population has a gluten sensitivity, along with the many who have jumped on the trend of cutting out gluten without any intolerance. Legume allergies, such as peanuts and soy, are also frequent. In 2021, the industry will need to start creating products that cater to this demographic. Going vegan or vegetarian for people with allergens can be extremely difficult and limiting. Soy and gluten-free vegan options such as Sophie’s Kitchen seafood products or Atlantic Natural Foods’ Neat Meat will be important in making alternative proteins accessible to everyone.  Topics Food & Agriculture Alternative Protein Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off The plant-based meat market is predicted to grow from $3.6 billion in 2020 to $4.2 billion by 2021 . Photo by Line Tscherning for  LikeMeat on Unsplash .

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Here’s what embedding circularity looks like at Cisco

September 24, 2020 by  
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Here’s what embedding circularity looks like at Cisco When Cisco started embedding circular economy practices into its work several years ago, it worked on building proof of concepts first. For other companies looking to embark on a similar journey, Scott Scheeler, vice president of engineering at the company, advises that they start small and build from there. “Don’t start where we are now. We started several years ago and we started small,” Scheeler said. One of the projects Cisco is currently working on is extending the life cycle of some of its products by making them modular, enabling customers to replace parts of a product after a couple years instead of buying a brand new one. “We’ve always kind of designed our products to have a long life cycle,” Scheeler said. “But what’s different now is we’re thinking about it as it may end up going to more than one customer. … Now we’re talking about products that may last in the field for five, 10, even 15 years.” Deonna Anderson, associate editor at GreenBiz Group, interviewed Scott Scheeler, vice president of engineering at Cisco, during Circularity 20, which took place August 25-27, 2020. View archived videos from the conference here . Deonna Anderson Thu, 09/24/2020 – 16:44 Featured Off

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It takes a village to succeed in climate tech

June 3, 2020 by  
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It takes a village to succeed in climate tech Ben Soltoff Wed, 06/03/2020 – 02:00 Solving climate change depends, to some extent, on technological innovation. The world’s leading climate authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published a landmark 2018 report highlighting the urgency of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report outlines four potential pathways for reaching that goal. The pathways are vastly different, but one thing they have in common is a central role for new technologies, all of which fall under the growing category known as climate tech . Relying on emissions-reducing technology isn’t the same as blind techno-optimism . New technology needs to complement existing solutions, deployed immediately. But the IPCC pathways make clear that the route to mitigation goes through innovation. So, what does it take to turn a societal need into a functional reality? Scientific breakthroughs are only part of the challenge. After that, there’s a long road before solutions can be implemented at scale. They require funding through multiple stages of development, facing many financial and operational risks along the way. There’s a parallel here with the response to COVID-19. Even if a working vaccine is developed, it must go through trials to determine efficacy and the logistical challenge of distribution to billions of people. But a key difference is that effective climate solutions are more varied than a single vaccine and usually more complex. At a webinar last week hosted by Yale, Stanford and other groups, Jigar Shah, co-founder of clean energy financier Generate Capital , noted that climate technologies, unlike medical breakthroughs, must compete with systems already in place.   “In the biotech industry, which I think folks herald as a well-functioning market, once companies reach a certain validation of their technology and approach, there’s a payoff there,” he said. “And in [climate tech], there really isn’t one [in the same way], largely because there are a lot of incumbent technologies that provide electricity, energy, water, food, land and materials.”   The period when a new technology is costly to develop but too early-stage to produce commercial revenue is often called the “Valley of Death” because even promising technologies often fail during this period. Success requires the collaboration of a wide set of partners and investors. As an Environmental Innovation Fellow at Yale, I’ve helped compile insights for investors on overcoming the unique barriers faced by nascent climate technology. Fortunately, many investors are already tackling this challenge.   The new wave of climate tech investors In the early 2000s, there was a well-publicized boom then bust in clean energy investing. According to Nancy Pfund, founder and managing director of impact venture capital firm DBL Partners , much of this interest was from “tourists” looking for an alternative to the dot-com failures earlier in the decade. On a GreenBiz webcast last week, she observed that the current interest in climate tech is markedly different. “Today there’s such a high level of focus, commitment and knowledge on the part of both the entrepreneurs and investors,” she said. Pfund said the interest in climate tech is partially due to the compelling economics of renewable energy compared to alternatives. “There’s been a stunning cost reduction over the past decade,” she said. “This brings in mainstream investors who are just making dollars and cents. They’re not even necessarily waving the climate banner. They want to rebalance their portfolio for the future.” During the same webcast, Andrew Beebe, managing director of Obvious Ventures , noted that an additional factor in the rise of climate tech has been the overwhelming public demand for climate action. “There’s been a societal shift as well,” he said. “In entrepreneurs today and investors, I see an urgency like we’ve never seen before. People are not that interested in doing yet another social media company, unless it has a real impact.” In entrepreneurs today and investors, I see an urgency like we’ve never seen before. It’s important to note here that climate tech takes many forms. There are software solutions that can help reduce emissions and that don’t face the Valley of Death I mentioned earlier. But some of the most critical solutions are physical technologies that require a lot of time and capital to succeed. “You can’t spell hardware without the word ‘hard,’ and everyone knows that,” said Priscilla Tyler, senior associate at True Ventures , at the Yale-Stanford webinar. “Hardware is hard, which isn’t to say it’s impossible. And if anything, in my opinion, it begets more impact and more opportunity.” There are promising signals that climate tech is here to stay. Tyler is part of a group of venture capital investors called Series Green , which meets regularly to discuss climate tech opportunities. Additionally, multiple weekly newsletters share the latest deals in climate tech, and in a recent open letter , a long list of investors confirmed that, despite the COVID-19 economic downturn, they remain committed to climate solutions. Going beyond traditional venture capital A notable climate tech deal that happened last week was the $250 million investment in Apeel Sciences . The California-based company has developed an edible coating for fruits and vegetables that can help to preserve some of the 40 percent of food that normally gets thrown away. Investors in this round included Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Katy Perry. A company such as Apeel doesn’t start out raising hundreds of millions of dollars from large institutional investors and celebrities. At the early stages, many new technologies depend on government grants and philanthropy. Apeel got started with a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation in 2012. Apeel coats fruits and vegetables with an edible layer that can is designed to extend shelf life by two to three times. Media Source Courtesy of Media Authorship Apeel Sciences Close Authorship Prime Coalition is an organization that helps foundations deploy philanthropic capital to climate solutions through flexible funding structures that allow for long periods of technology development and multi-faceted risk. It calls these funding sources “catalytic capital,” because they can help unlock other forms of finance further down the line.  In addition to helping others deploy catalytic capital, Prime also makes its own catalytic deals directly through an investment arm called Prime Impact Fund. “We’re looking to support companies that have specific things to be de-risked before they will be attractive to follow on funders, and then we can be the source of that de-risking capital,” said Johanna Wolfson, principal at Prime Impact Fund, at last week’s Yale-Stanford webinar. By collaborating with one another, investors such as Prime can help technologies move through the stages of innovation, until they’re ready for more traditional investment structures. Catalytic capital invested today could help create the next Apeel Sciences several years from now. At each stage, investors serve not only as sources of money but also strategic partners for the startups themselves. This is particularly true for corporate investors, who may have substantial industry knowledge to share and more flexible expectations than traditional investors. There’s a lot more sophistication on part of corporate investors now than there was 10 years ago. “There’s a lot more sophistication on part of corporate investors now than there was 10 years ago,” said Pfund. “Then, you saw the agenda of the corporation being pushed around the board table more than you do today, and that’s never a good idea.” If their interests are aligned, corporations and startups can create mutually beneficial relationships, where each offers the other something that it couldn’t have obtained on its own. “These corporate investors see so many different technologies, and they believe their own products are better than the startup products, so how do you actually get their support?” said Andrew Chung, founder and managing partner of 1955 Capital , on last week’s GreenBiz webcast. “Well, you need to have a widget or product they haven’t seen before or can’t build themselves.” Non-financial support also can be catalytic Investors such as DBL Partners often connect the startups in their portfolio to corporates and other partners. These connections can be hugely valuable for startups, especially in emerging industries where networks are largely informal. While investors’ main role is to provide capital, they also provide many forms of non-financial support, which can be essential to advancing innovation. In addition to connections, they also can help startups to navigate dynamic policy environments at the state and federal level. “Policy plays a pivotal role,” said Pfund. “We don’t invest in policy, we invest in people, but we know that our companies are going to have to address the changing policy landscape.” We don’t invest in policy, we invest in people, but we know that our companies are going to have to address the changing policy landscape. DBL Partners helps to shape the policy landscape by convening roundtable meetings, advocating for legislation and reaching out to regulators in order to help create a more favorable environment for innovation. This sort of engagement is relatively low-cost in the short term, but it can have massive benefits in the long term, especially as new technologies begin to scale up. Shah pointed out that the challenges facing climate tech don’t end once solutions reach commercialization. Nascent technologies still need to be deployed at a large scale to have impact. “A lot of us focus on going from zero to millions,” he said, “but then, in fact, millions to billions is still nascent.” Reaching the necessary scale requires a careful alignment of technological development, market creation, political support and investment across a wide spectrum of capital. “All of these things work together in tandem to really unlock nascent technologies,” Shah said. This story was updated June 4 to correct Apeel’s funding information. Pull Quote In entrepreneurs today and investors, I see an urgency like we’ve never seen before. There’s a lot more sophistication on part of corporate investors now than there was 10 years ago. We don’t invest in policy, we invest in people, but we know that our companies are going to have to address the changing policy landscape. Topics Innovation Climate Tech Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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A tightrope walk ahead for corporate sustainability managers

June 3, 2020 by  
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A tightrope walk ahead for corporate sustainability managers Rajat Panwar Wed, 06/03/2020 – 00:00 Amidst numerous uncertainties surrounding post-COVID corporate climate, one thing is certain: Sustainability managers will face multifaceted challenges.  Many could face budget cuts, even as their stakeholders expect them to ramp up sustainability efforts and seize this unique “opportunity” to initiate fundamental corporate transformations. Many may find their companies’ post COVID-19 business strategies are no longer aligned with ongoing or planned sustainability programs. The job of a sustainability manager never has been easy, it will become even more challenging during economically turbulent times.  After the 2008 economic recession, I led a study to show that companies generally scaled down sustainability programs during periods of lowered financial performance, but they did so rather selectively. This study also shows that the extent of scaling down is contingent upon the level of economic turbulence. The latter issue is especially critical in the current context because the COVID-19 has inflicted turbulence on economic systems at a deeper level and more pervasive scale than previous downturns have, at least in the recent history.  I believe that this is a time for sustainability managers to act with foresight. They should not only concern themselves with broad sustainability goals, but they also should be active partners in helping their companies recover from economic hardships.  Sustainability managers should also be active partners in helping their companies recover from economic hardships.  This ambidextrous approach will help them garner more trust for sustainability units within their companies, which in turn will enhance internal support for corporate sustainability programs in the long term. Here are five ways (call them 5Cs) that together can help sustainability managers act ambidextrously:  1. Focus on communities These are times of community-level distress, manifesting in multiple ways. Community well-being is the most salient of all concerns that companies must attend to as part of their sustainability programs. Many companies are doing it through corporate philanthropy; but engaging in community-oriented projects more directly would provide companies with visibility, goodwill, improved employees pride and enhanced societal trust.  Community involvement will be the yardstick with which stakeholders will measure companies’ sustainability and social responsibility performance in the post COVID-19 recovery period and well beyond it.  2. Develop coalitions with other businesses This may be a promising approach for companies to engage in community-oriented projects. A critical part of community involvement should be the support for small and micro businesses in the area.  Initiatives taken by grocery chains, such as Publix, can play a critical role in providing much-needed support to save farmer markets and small farmers throughout the world. Local sourcing and purchasing can help revitalize small businesses and are well aligned with broad sustainability goals. Indeed, local sourcing also can uniquely demonstrate companies’ commitments to foster circular economies.  3. Display creativity This is truer than ever. As goes the adage, “If you want creativity, take a zero off your budget. If you want sustainability, take off two zeroes.”  The COVID-19 outbreak has removed those two zeroes for many companies. Sustainability managers could draw on such concepts as frugal innovation to spur outside-the-box thinking and to develop and execute sustainability programs that actually help in cutting cost, reducing waste and projecting companies as originators of cool, simple solutions to complex problems.  To clarify, it is not time to stall climate initiatives; but it is time to more vigorously engage with stakeholders who have urgent claims.   Workplace risk mitigation will be a priority for companies as economic reopening starts. Innovation in this area is already happening — combining smart scanning technologies , drone-enabled deliveries and artificial intelligence — but such high tech-high cost innovations will not be accessible to all companies.  Frugal yet effective sanitization, I believe, is the most important area in which sustainability experts can provide critical input. Keeping sanitization costs low while ensuring the safety of customers and employees alike is indeed a litmus test for creativity and innovation: Backed with expertise in design thinking, safety norms and customer expectations, sustainability managers are among the best positioned to advise companies on how to effectively handle sanitization in the most frugal way. 4. Show genuine concern A core tenet of sustainability is a concern for all. These are periods of immense hardships. Indeed, bigger threats of climate change loom at us, and sustainability managers ought to not take eyes off that big issue. Yet the open wounds need urgent treatment. It is exactly the time for sustainability managers to display concern for all and live up to their own ideals. Sustainability entails integrated thinking: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are interlinked , after all.  It is an immense opportunity for sustainability managers to institutionalize integrative thinking in their companies and cultivate fraternity across functional units. By showing empathy for communities, employees and customers, sustainability managers will further ingrain stakeholder orientation within their companies.  To clarify, it is not time to stall climate initiatives; but it is time to more vigorously engage with stakeholders who have urgent claims and earn their trust and support for future sustainability initiatives that they may not otherwise support.  5. Get everyone on board with the changes Finally, sustainability managers will need to make their co-workers on sustainability teams comfortable with the adjustments in their corporate sustainability programs. Co-workers’ discomfort may emanate from their fearing job loss as they might perceive adjustments as curtailments. This discomfort also may emanate from a perceived value-misalignment as some co-workers simply may not value new approaches to sustainability.  Keeping up the spirits of team members and instilling in them the confidence that theirs is a critical role in helping the company recover from financial hardships is a new and important task for sustainability managers. Sharing with sustainability co-workers a short-, medium- and long-term vision of strategy will help sustainability managers keep co-workers motivated and creative.  Clearly, times are difficult. But these are exactly the times when the relevance of sustainability thinking will be put to test. After all, sustainability is about resilience and adaptation: Sustainability managers will have to show both in the coming months.  Pull Quote Sustainability managers should also be active partners in helping their companies recover from economic hardships.  To clarify, it is not time to stall climate initiatives; but it is time to more vigorously engage with stakeholders who have urgent claims. Topics Corporate Strategy COVID-19 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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A tightrope walk ahead for corporate sustainability managers

A tightrope walk ahead for corporate sustainability managers

June 3, 2020 by  
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A tightrope walk ahead for corporate sustainability managers Rajat Panwar Wed, 06/03/2020 – 00:00 Amidst numerous uncertainties surrounding post-COVID corporate climate, one thing is certain: Sustainability managers will face multifaceted challenges.  Many could face budget cuts, even as their stakeholders expect them to ramp up sustainability efforts and seize this unique “opportunity” to initiate fundamental corporate transformations. Many may find their companies’ post COVID-19 business strategies are no longer aligned with ongoing or planned sustainability programs. The job of a sustainability manager never has been easy, it will become even more challenging during economically turbulent times.  After the 2008 economic recession, I led a study to show that companies generally scaled down sustainability programs during periods of lowered financial performance, but they did so rather selectively. This study also shows that the extent of scaling down is contingent upon the level of economic turbulence. The latter issue is especially critical in the current context because the COVID-19 has inflicted turbulence on economic systems at a deeper level and more pervasive scale than previous downturns have, at least in the recent history.  I believe that this is a time for sustainability managers to act with foresight. They should not only concern themselves with broad sustainability goals, but they also should be active partners in helping their companies recover from economic hardships.  Sustainability managers should also be active partners in helping their companies recover from economic hardships.  This ambidextrous approach will help them garner more trust for sustainability units within their companies, which in turn will enhance internal support for corporate sustainability programs in the long term. Here are five ways (call them 5Cs) that together can help sustainability managers act ambidextrously:  1. Focus on communities These are times of community-level distress, manifesting in multiple ways. Community well-being is the most salient of all concerns that companies must attend to as part of their sustainability programs. Many companies are doing it through corporate philanthropy; but engaging in community-oriented projects more directly would provide companies with visibility, goodwill, improved employees pride and enhanced societal trust.  Community involvement will be the yardstick with which stakeholders will measure companies’ sustainability and social responsibility performance in the post COVID-19 recovery period and well beyond it.  2. Develop coalitions with other businesses This may be a promising approach for companies to engage in community-oriented projects. A critical part of community involvement should be the support for small and micro businesses in the area.  Initiatives taken by grocery chains, such as Publix, can play a critical role in providing much-needed support to save farmer markets and small farmers throughout the world. Local sourcing and purchasing can help revitalize small businesses and are well aligned with broad sustainability goals. Indeed, local sourcing also can uniquely demonstrate companies’ commitments to foster circular economies.  3. Display creativity This is truer than ever. As goes the adage, “If you want creativity, take a zero off your budget. If you want sustainability, take off two zeroes.”  The COVID-19 outbreak has removed those two zeroes for many companies. Sustainability managers could draw on such concepts as frugal innovation to spur outside-the-box thinking and to develop and execute sustainability programs that actually help in cutting cost, reducing waste and projecting companies as originators of cool, simple solutions to complex problems.  To clarify, it is not time to stall climate initiatives; but it is time to more vigorously engage with stakeholders who have urgent claims.   Workplace risk mitigation will be a priority for companies as economic reopening starts. Innovation in this area is already happening — combining smart scanning technologies , drone-enabled deliveries and artificial intelligence — but such high tech-high cost innovations will not be accessible to all companies.  Frugal yet effective sanitization, I believe, is the most important area in which sustainability experts can provide critical input. Keeping sanitization costs low while ensuring the safety of customers and employees alike is indeed a litmus test for creativity and innovation: Backed with expertise in design thinking, safety norms and customer expectations, sustainability managers are among the best positioned to advise companies on how to effectively handle sanitization in the most frugal way. 4. Show genuine concern A core tenet of sustainability is a concern for all. These are periods of immense hardships. Indeed, bigger threats of climate change loom at us, and sustainability managers ought to not take eyes off that big issue. Yet the open wounds need urgent treatment. It is exactly the time for sustainability managers to display concern for all and live up to their own ideals. Sustainability entails integrated thinking: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are interlinked , after all.  It is an immense opportunity for sustainability managers to institutionalize integrative thinking in their companies and cultivate fraternity across functional units. By showing empathy for communities, employees and customers, sustainability managers will further ingrain stakeholder orientation within their companies.  To clarify, it is not time to stall climate initiatives; but it is time to more vigorously engage with stakeholders who have urgent claims and earn their trust and support for future sustainability initiatives that they may not otherwise support.  5. Get everyone on board with the changes Finally, sustainability managers will need to make their co-workers on sustainability teams comfortable with the adjustments in their corporate sustainability programs. Co-workers’ discomfort may emanate from their fearing job loss as they might perceive adjustments as curtailments. This discomfort also may emanate from a perceived value-misalignment as some co-workers simply may not value new approaches to sustainability.  Keeping up the spirits of team members and instilling in them the confidence that theirs is a critical role in helping the company recover from financial hardships is a new and important task for sustainability managers. Sharing with sustainability co-workers a short-, medium- and long-term vision of strategy will help sustainability managers keep co-workers motivated and creative.  Clearly, times are difficult. But these are exactly the times when the relevance of sustainability thinking will be put to test. After all, sustainability is about resilience and adaptation: Sustainability managers will have to show both in the coming months.  Pull Quote Sustainability managers should also be active partners in helping their companies recover from economic hardships.  To clarify, it is not time to stall climate initiatives; but it is time to more vigorously engage with stakeholders who have urgent claims. Topics Corporate Strategy COVID-19 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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A tightrope walk ahead for corporate sustainability managers

Companies push Congress to promote climate action. Is anyone listening?

May 18, 2020 by  
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Companies push Congress to promote climate action. Is anyone listening? Joel Makower Mon, 05/18/2020 – 09:15 What happens when more than 300 business people descend, virtually, on Capitol Hill to advocate for climate action amid a pandemic and economic crisis? Logic would dictate that these well-intentioned lobbyists-for-a-day would be met with a resounding shrug. After all, with two of the most devastating events to hit the United States happening simultaneously, there doesn’t seem to be much room to talk about anything else. As with so many other things these days, logic is not always the best guide. That’s my takeaway from last week’s LEAD on Climate 2020 , organized by the nonprofit Ceres and supported by other sustainability-focused business groups. It was the second annual opportunity for companies to educate legislators and their staff on the need for congressional action on the climate crisis. Among the larger participating companies were Adobe, Capital One, Danone, Dow, eBay, General Mills, LafargeHolcim, Mars, Microsoft, NRG, Pepsico, Salesforce, Tiffany and Visa, along with hundreds of smaller firms . Last year’s LEAD (for Lawmaker Education and Advocacy Day) event brought 75 companies to Capitol Hill. This year’s garnered 333 companies, including more than 100 CEOs, to have video meetups with 88 congressional offices — 50 Democrats, 36 Republicans and 2 Independents — from both the House (51 meetings) and Senate (37 meetings). Some had as many as 70 companies in attendance. This year’s bigger turnout no doubt had to do in part with the ease of meeting from one’s sequestered location — no travel, no costs and a lot smaller carbon footprint — but also from the growing push to get companies off the sidelines on climate action advocacy, whether motivated by external pressure groups, ESG-minded investors, employee concerns or a company’s own board or C-suite. To be quite frank, it was some of the most valuable conversations we’ve had with members on climate in a long time. Last year’s LEAD event focused specifically on carbon pricing; this year’s focus was broadened, Anne Kelly, vice president of government relations at Ceres, the event’s organizer, told me last week. “We reframed it knowing that long-term solutions like carbon pricing are important, but that there were immediate opportunities that companies could speak to.” That, too, may have broadened its appeal. For Nestlé, the event was an opportunity “to have meaningful conversations with Congress on climate change and on our priorities,” said Meg Villareal, the company’s manager of policy and public affairs, in an interview for last week’s GreenBiz 350 podcast . “To be quite frank, it was some of the most valuable conversations we’ve had with members on climate in a long time. I think the virtual platform created an opportunity for us to have very in-depth discussions about what company priorities are and how we want to see Congress engage on climate going into the future.” Among Nestlé’s interests, Villareal said, was scaling up renewable energy use in its operations. “We also want to develop agriculture initiatives for carbon storage and reforestation and biodiversity that help support our carbon initiatives. That was definitely a key piece of some of the conversations we had as well.” Her company is a founding member of the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance , along with Mars, Danone and Unilever. “We put out a set of climate principles last May that have five principles as part of it, the first of which is creating a price on carbon.” Several congressional allies participated, first among them Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), who has a strong record on climate advocacy. It appeared that his role in the event was primarily to cheer the companies on and give them insight into the Capitol Hill zeitgeist. Bank shot Whitehouse made it clear that while CEO pronouncements on their company’s climate commitments are good, they only go so far. “CEOs may say we support a carbon price,” he explained. “No, they don’t. I happen to know that because I have the carbon price bill in the Senate. And nobody’s ever come to me and said, ‘We want to support your bill.’ You can’t underestimate the continued opposition and challenge that the fossil-fuel industry presents. They’re still really strong here and really powerful.” The senator cited the American Beverage Association as a case in point. “Coke and Pepsi both have terrific climate policies. They do all the stuff they should be doing. But they pretty much control the American Beverage Association because of their size. And the American Beverage Association has not lifted a finger, period” to support climate action, he said. CEOs may say we support a carbon price. No, they don’t. I have the carbon price bill in the Senate. Nobody’s ever come to me and said, ‘We want to support your bill.’ Whitehouse advocated what he called a “bank shot” — perhaps an unintentional play on words — as a way to build pressure on companies through their investors. “We put pressure on Marathon Petroleum for the climate mischief that they have done — particularly the CAFE standards, the fuel efficiency standards mischief, that they’ve been string-pulling-on behind the scenes. They could care less when I call them out on that. But their four biggest shareholders are BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street and JPMorgan. And all those entities care quite a lot when they’re funding climate misbehavior. And they get called out on it themselves. So, you can use the pressure that the financial community feels to defend itself now against these climate and economic crash warnings to bring pressure to bear on even very recalcitrant companies.” The human factor I had the opportunity to speak during the LEAD training day, the day before they “hit the Hill” for their member meetings. As part of that, I interviewed Leah Rubin Shen, energy and environment policy advisor to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), who co-chairs the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus with Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana). I asked Shen, a trained electrochemist with research experience in energy storage technologies and green chemistry, for some insights into what it takes to change minds on Capitol Hill. “I’m a scientist,” she responded. “I think there are plenty of things that we could do tomorrow, or today even, that would make all of our systems much more robust and resilient, and set us on the right path. But politically, it’s just really difficult. As tempting as it is to just say, ‘Well, this is what experts say,’ or ‘This is what people say we should be doing’ — I wish that were enough; it’s not. It needs to be something that will resonate back home.” Storytelling is key, she noted. “Don’t discount the human element. Facts and figures are helpful — ‘This is how many jobs we have in your state,’ or ‘This is what our annual revenue was last year.’ Those things are important and helpful. But being able to tell a story is something that will resonate with a lot of staffers and members both.” Nestlé’s Villareal experienced that in a conversation last week with a congressman from Florida “with whom last year it was a bit of a difficult conversation, particularly around carbon pricing,” she told me. “So, this year, we tried a new approach with that office. We didn’t go in and lead with the ask on carbon pricing but wanted to have more of a general conversation about the companies in his district and how we are prioritizing our carbon principles and our climate principles. And it led into a very healthy discussion on carbon pricing and why the companies in his district were supportive of it. It was a very productive and surprisingly good conversation, and we were really pleased coming out of it.” We have to make these introductions on a large scale so that Congress knows if they act on climate, the broad business community will have their back. The whole exercise isn’t just about getting members of Congress to support climate action. It’s also letting them know that if they do, they’ll get business support.  “We have to make these introductions on a large scale so that Congress knows if they act on climate, the broad business community will have their back,” explained Anne Kelly. “Most lawmakers think that big businesses only want to break the rules, not call for new ones.” Among other things, she says, members generally aren’t aware of corporate climate leadership, science-based targets or large-scale renewable energy procurement by companies. The LEAD exchanges help them understand such things.  According to Kelly, the success of the virtual advocacy day — which she dubbed a “high-impact, low-footprint and low-budget model” — and the enthusiasm by participating companies has led Ceres to consider upping the frequency of LEAD events, from annually to quarterly. “Based on the rave reviews, I’d say many colleagues are hooked,” she added. I asked Villareal, one of those enthusiasts, what advice she’d give someone who hasn’t yet dipped their toe into the congressional advocacy waters. “It can always be scary to try something new, but it is so worth it,” she replied. “In the end, you get tremendous benefit from using your voice and especially on critical and positive issues like climate.” I invite you to follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz , and listen to GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote To be quite frank, it was some of the most valuable conversations we’ve had with members on climate in a long time. CEOs may say we support a carbon price. No, they don’t. I have the carbon price bill in the Senate. Nobody’s ever come to me and said, ‘We want to support your bill.’ We have to make these introductions on a large scale so that Congress knows if they act on climate, the broad business community will have their back. Topics Policy & Politics Carbon Policy Featured Column Two Steps Forward GreenBiz Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz photocollage via Shutterstock Close Authorship

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Companies push Congress to promote climate action. Is anyone listening?

These pendant shades shine a light on recycled materials

May 18, 2020 by  
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Innovative companies around the world are looking at everyday objects in a new light, and custom lighting fabrication and design studio LightArt is no exception. In fact, LightArt is moving “from waste to watts” with its newest line of pendant light shades made from recycled materials . The process began with the question, “What can we do with falloff material?” Finding the answer took over two years of research and development investment, but the result is a line of light-cover pendants made using additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing.  Related: This lovely lampshade is made from cabbage Relying on 3D printing , the team at LightArt found the initial trials to be less than elegant. Ryan Smith and his team explained, “This is where things started to get really challenging. When we first started, it did not look polished — it looked like what you might expect when you’re trying to turn garbage into something beautiful. But we kept following the promise of the process and made something we’re so proud of.” Based out of Seattle, Washington, the team worked with parent company 3form and other companies involved in polymer development across the country to hammer out the finer details for the shade designs.  For now, LightArt is recycling waste materials from inside the plant, using new technology to sort out the black and white pieces for the desired look. With this upcycled waste, the company created seven shapes in each of the two shade colors. Diameters change with each shape but range from 8 inches to 12 inches. Called the Coil Collection, the pendants have a matte finish and a touch and feel that resembles handmade pottery. In addition to recycling cast-off materials, the company used PVC-free cord and TGIC-free powder coat for the canopy and interior hub for each of the pendant shapes. LightArt plans to continue in its efforts to produce quality, custom lighting options that are sustainable. According to the company’s website, “Under the guidance of Align, we aim to create net-positive products that will leave our planet in better condition than when we started.” + LightArt Images via LightArt

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These pendant shades shine a light on recycled materials

Episode 216: Commemorating Earth Day amid the pandemic

April 17, 2020 by  
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Leaders from Archer Daniels Midland, Danone, Herman Miller, Mars, Perdue and more share how their companies are marking the 50th anniversary, while keeping their sights firmly focused on addressing COVID-19.

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Episode 216: Commemorating Earth Day amid the pandemic

What’s your energy strategy for an empty office or retail space?

April 17, 2020 by  
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Asking these five questions during the COVID-19 shutdown could help your organization reset its power consumption habits to more energy-efficient levels for the future.

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What’s your energy strategy for an empty office or retail space?

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