Author Archive

Waiter, There’s a Fly in My Soup

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Drew Arnold, Assistant Account Executive, H&K Northwest


The ability to cook and eat good food is one of my highest priorities.  I am grateful that I have the luxury to know how to cook great meals.  My skills in the kitchen were developed the same way many of us learn how to cook – through family experiences and recipes passed down, modified and savored.  The act of eating is, if not spiritual, at least a private moment.  It is often anchored with family and friends.


Consider though the massive industries in place that allow the food to be delivered from farm to fork.  Recently these industries have been under scrutiny following food contamination and gross negligence; a far cry from a romanticized dinner setting.


Increased government scrutiny has led to bills that are being considered in Congress to revamp the U.S. food safety system.  These changes will lead to the largest overhaul of the country’s food safety system since FDR.  Take a look at a bill that passed the House here, and a great summary from the Packer here.


Some critics are worried about increased government involvement and the take-on costs farm businesses would have to endure.  Indeed, food producers will have to pay fees to support an infrastructure to monitor the safety of the country’s food.  Producers that maintain stellar safety records might see this added cost as an unnecessary burden.


I wish we didn’t need this legislation; that food producers would always have the health of their customers as a top priority, and that food safety records were always stellar.  Companies need to be safer about the shipping of food into the supply chain. Examples such as Peanut Corporation of America knowingly ship tainted food into the chain is the very reason we stand in this position today.


Recognizing PCA is an exception, not the rule, it seems to me that an infrastructure feeding every American every day needs exceptional oversight.  Even food that is unknowingly tainted and shipped is not acceptable. Concern should be focused on the little things, like mom’s sauce, not whether a child can be poisoned by a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.


The question remains: how to best balance the internal inspections and burdens on companies while giving the government the responsibility to keep our food supply safe.


This will be a debate that continues into the fall, and it will be interesting to see what Congress cooks up.





A Toast to Buying Local

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President in the Corporate Practice, Washington, D.C

A visit to my uncle’s small farm in Massachusetts a few weeks ago gave me a new frame of reference on the “buy local” movement, and how it connects to corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability. It is a fascinating, multi-dimensional subject that I hope to read and write about much more on Hill & Knowlton’s ResponsAbilty blog in the future.

But it was President Obama’s much hyped “Beer Summit” (a term I know that the White House dislikes, but which has not dissuaded the media from using) that got me thinking about how the products we choose send symbolic messages about consumption and responsibility, and the extent to which product selection actually impacts the environment and the economy.

The buy local debate focuses on two primary dimensions of benefits – strengthening the local economy (by keeping dollars circulating in your region, promoting economic growth and development, jobs, taxes, etc., as well as creating a greater sense of community) and protecting the environment (since local goods require less transport, reducing related emissions and packaging materials). When discussing food in particular (as opposed to goods and services generally), there are a few other benefits that come into play, including fresher foods requiring less use of preservatives and other chemicals, supporting small businesses (especially farms), promoting fair trade, and preserving natural and green spaces (namely by keeping family farms profitable and thus preventing their sale and development).

Getting back to the beer summit, in Washington’s sometimes fervent climate of “buy American”, it’s not surprising that criticism of the White House by some parties here was focused on buying American beer, not buying local beer. If the latter were of top concern to those involved, then I would have heartily recommended a few bottles of Dominion Lager, a product of the Ashburn, Virginia based Old Dominion Brewing Co., and a personal favorite.

The buy American debate raises a whole host of different issues connected to corporate responsibility. For example, when is a company that is headquartered in the U.S., but which maintains a global manufacturing and operational footprint, an American company? When do companies and their products become “global” brands? How “Japanese” is a Japanese car made in Alabama? What about an Irish beer brewed “under license” in Canada? Good questions for another time.

But putting national or local economic considerations aside, would it be more environmentally responsible to consume an imported beer from a brewery with a best-in-class sustainability program, rather than buy locally from one without?

In the final equation, the most responsible and sustainable choice is probably a carefully considered balance between these two sometimes complementary, sometimes competing dimensions.

CR in U.S. Starts with an Eye on Washington

posted by Andrew Cuneo

It’s tough for consumers and businesses to know where to turn when it comes to reducing their carbon emissions. Energy has come to the forefront of the conversation here in Washington D.C. and while there are seemingly endless source options, which ones are the cleanest? To practice corporate responsibility effectively, businesses must keep a watchful eye on where the nation goes for energy and which technologies they should use.  My recent blog posting on H&K DC tech blog, Tech & The District, provides a more in-depth look at the discussions being held here in DC and around the United States.

CSR is for the Birds (and the tigers and the crocodiles…)

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President in the Corporate Practice, Washington, D.C


“Life on Earth is under serious threat.”  This isn’t the teaser for a new Hollywood blockbuster pitting humans against blood thirsty aliens.  I wish it were.  Instead, it’s a warning from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which recently released a major report describing the world’s ongoing (and so far, losing) battle to save plants, animals, natural habitats and geographic regions around the world.


Biodiversity protection and species conservation are important aspects of corporate responsibility.  In fact, addressing biodiversity has long been one of the Global Reporting Initiative’s core performance indicators, and they now make some excellent resources available to companies who want to learn and do more in this area.  In recent years, some companies have begun to address biodiversity in earnest.  But many more have not.  There is a lot that companies can do in this regard – some more than others, of course, depending on their size, line of business, geographic footprint, and specific environmental impact.  But every company can do something, even if it is simply financial support for organizations working to preserve habitat critical to threatened and endangered species.


Stepping back for a moment, we know that an important benefit of corporate responsibility is that it can enhance and protect a company’s brand.  But what if that brand (or corporate logo) is synonymous with an endangered animal?  In such a case, the value and importance of biodiversity to the company is immediately and significantly elevated.


A recent Washington Post article reminded me of a great partnership that the Global Environmental Facility, the World Bank, the International Union for Nature Conservation and the Endowment Fund for Biodiversity have launched.  The initiative matches companies whose symbols or logos include threatened plants and animals with organizations that direct funding to the conservation of that species.


Ford, a Hill & Knowlton client, has a great program to help save wild mustangs (one of its iconic brands, of course), and Exxon has long championed preservation of the tiger.  Now, through the Save Your Logo program, Lacoste is helping to preserve habitat critical for the real world version of its famous crocodile, and French insurance firm MAAF is funding programs to protect dolphins, its corporate logo for more than 20 years.


Think about how iconic the bald eagle is to the American brand?  Wouldn’t it be shameful if we Americans were to let that beautiful, noble and symbolically important animal disappear?  And while we as a nation would live on were that to happen, something important to our national soul would be lost.  So too would Lacoste, Exxon and the other companies’ whose iconic symbols are animals live on.  But something more than their logos and brands would be diminished were those species to disappear forever.