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Being Responsible Starts With You

posted by Boyd Neil

(By Lauren Cozzi, a senior account executive in Hill & Knowlton’s Washington, D.C. office)

Working for Hill & Knowlton, I’m fortunate to have a firsthand view of what many leading companies and organizations are doing in the area of environmental responsibility. And while so many corporations and institutions are ‘going green’ and discussing sustainability these days, it’s important to note that responsibility begins with individuals. There is much talk about what we should be doing, but taking action is what makes the difference. By taking a few simple steps and making some slight changes to our daily routines, it can be easy to reduce our environmental impact.

Small things, like turning off the water when brushing our teeth and taking shorter showers, can help conserve water. At home and at the office, recycling, rather than throwing away recyclable items, is another way each of us can minimize input into landfills.  It’s also pretty simple to add a separate container, reserved for paper that can be recycled, next to regular trash bins.

Lately, there has been discussion surrounding plastic water bottles because of the overwhelming increase in our use of them. Using water filters at home and in the office can counteract this. If the use of water bottles cannot be avoided, steps to recycle should be taken to reduce the build up.

Some good Web sites for general information about recycling can be found at:

http://www.re3.org/
http://earth911.org/
http://www.nrc-recycle.org/consumers.aspx
http://www.recyclecurbside.org/
http://www.epa.gov/osw/
http://www.recyclenow.com/

Many companies have pledges and business plans which incorporate responsibility into the business. Especially among the IT industry, individuals have the opportunity to take advantage of what is being offered. Purchasing electronics with eco-labels, like ENERGY STAR® and EPEAT, to name only two, is a great way to buy products with confidence that you limit your environmental impact.

http://energystar.gov/
http://www.epeat.net/Consumers.aspx

Many of these specially-labeled IT products are also designed to use less energy, which saves us money, while helping to protect the environment.

One of the clients I work with, HP, has developed some great energy-saving tips for individuals.

Taking responsibility to do our part is the least each of us can do to preserve our environment. As a public relations professional who works on environmental responsibility issues each day, I’m sensitive to practice what I preach, but the same tips can be helpful regardless of what anyone does. We should each take advantage of the great information resources available to us, which offer ways to minimize our environmental impact. By taking responsibility for our own actions, we can help make a difference for the better in the near future, and for generations to come.

Rejuvenating Recycling – In an Age of AL

posted by Boyd Neil

(By Lena Davie, a vice president in Hill & Knowlton’s Tampa, Florida office)

 It has been 36 years since “Iron Eyes Cody” (aka the Crying Indian) shed his famous tear that helped spawn a nationwide anti-litter revolution. Now, the dominant environmental images of the day include blocks of glacial ice crashing into the ocean and a snow-suit clad Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover of Vanity Fair.

There is no question that recycling, whether at home or away, is the easiest way for everyday Americans to help the environment. No hybrid purchase necessary. And yet, rates are declining and while the demand is there for recycled material, the supply is not. This means that U.S. companies are spending more money and energy to use virgin sources to create and manufacture goods. This affects all of us in the form of rising prices.

Has recycling gone the way of terrestrial radio? Should companies deeply affected by declining recycling rates get off the bus or should they fight their way through the crowd?

If you ask the “forward thinkers” in Corporate America, they’ll say that corporate reputation and environmental stewardship go hand and hand. And while their fundamental purpose is to make money, they also know the importance of “giving back what you take” and for the most part, are doing their part. But with newfound attention directed at the environment thanks to Al Gore and others, comes the unintended consequence of more noise and more “talk the talkers.” 

Many major corporations are doing it right, however. They are riding the global warming tidal wave and are using their marketing prowess and brand recognition to make a real impact. Companies like Hewlett Packard have developed highly successful programs around recycling. In fact, this summer HP reached a recycling milestone – over one BILLION pounds of products recycled. An important contribution for sure. And they have plans to recycle another billion by 2010. HP has truly found a way to enhance the price and performance of their product by being an environmental leader.

U.S. industry is also deeply affected by declining recycling and while not as historically powerful from a brand recognition perspective, they are implementing community-based programs that are also having a significant impact. Over ten years, companies like Alcoa, ARCO and Novelis have watched the recycling rate of aluminum cans drop from 65% to around 52%. Each rate point is approximately 33 million cans that now have to be created anew, placing a tremendous environmental and financial strain on an industry already reeling from globalization. Recognizing this, they have joined forces with companies like Ball Corporation and Anheuser Busch to help communities better educate their residents about recycling at home in an effort to increase the supply of recycled cans. Communities are facing uphill budget battles that cut in to programs like recycling, but the desire is there to improve and consumers are responding. In fact, consumers say “where have you been?” They simply don’t hear about recycling anymore, like they hear about other issues such as melting glaciers. And they know that recycling is beneficial, but they often just don’t have time or don’t really understand what to do. “Just remind us” they say. “Everyone else is in our face, why aren’t you?”

We cannot take for granted the need for ongoing communication. Al Gore didn’t stop at one slide show. He went on to lobby legislators, meet with corporate leaders, publish a book, launch a Web site, film a documentary and even produce the worlds’ largest one-day concert. U.S. corporations can influence environmental issues by staking their claim on one that closely touches them, such as recycling. But the space is crowded and the voices are loud. Those who are successful find a way to rise above the clutter.

While recycling may be an “old school” answer to a newly popularized problem, there is nothing wrong with old school. It’s tried and true; it’s easy and it can make money. Just ask Will Ferrell.

A Seat at the Table for CR

posted by Boyd Neil

(By Madeline Turnock, vice president at Hill & Knowlton NW in Portland, Oregon)  

The old adage is true that if you’re going to make change happen, you first need a seat at the table.

Hill & Knowlton (H&K) is providing the table, and we’d like to invite you to take a seat.  Topic: corporate responsibility (CR).  We’re taking the initiative to educate and engage our colleagues and clients on the topic, by way of this blog, research and special events.

In just one example, H&K recently released the results of a global cleantech survey of 420 senior business decision-makers, titled “Return on Environment.”  Then, business leaders were invited to the table to discuss, digest and, ultimately, take CR action steps.

Among the research findings, 65 percent of the executives polled said their firm has not yet defined an energy strategy, but many of these are working on expanding their executive suites to include a chief energy officer (CNO).

Most recently, in the San Francisco and Portland markets, company executives joined roundtable forums to share insights into their firms’ CR and environmental practices.

Nik Blosser, publisher of Sustainable Industries Journal, led one such roundtable discussion in Portland last month.  Among the attendees were executives from key local organizations including the Portland Development Commission, enXco, Torrent Energy, Metro Regional Government, and the Department of Environmental Quality.

Sustainable Industries Journal editor’s column accurately highlights Hill & Knowlton’s position on cleantech this way, in the editor’s own words:

“I like how Hill & Knowlton defines cleantech to include ‘a broad range of technological solutions designed to reduce or eliminate negative environmental impact while offering significant financial returns and economic sustainability.’ The firm, which publicly states a refusal to “greenwash” its credentials or those of its clients, reports, ‘We are now set to embark on … a “green” revolution whose impact will go far beyond the energy industry as transportation, manufacturing and agriculture will all have a major stake in the changing environment.’”

Read the full article.

So, now what can you do to make sure that a corporate responsibility champion has a seat at the table?

Here are a few simple first steps:

  • Identify individuals to be the organization’s CR champions and set up a regular gathering.
  • Gather, assess and benchmark the organization’s current corporate responsibility-related efforts. 
  • Identify a short-term, mini-project that can demonstrate traction and success.
  • Share that success story – and more – to begin developing internal support and traction for a new organizational culture that values and strives for CR.
  • Incorporate CR into one person’s job description and evaluation.

On another note, if you don’t have a table, please join ours at Hill & Knowlton.  Corporate responsibility is what we’re doing – all day, every day.

Corporate Volunteering Extends Past Soup Kitchens and Fun Runs

posted by Boyd Neil

By Leigh Nakanishi

(Leigh Nakanishi is an account executive in Hill & Knowlton’s Washington, DC office. He was also a City Year Fellow and currently serves on the Alumni Board for City Year Washington, DC.)

In the past when many people thought of corporate volunteering, images of soup kitchens or fun runs came to mind. Although these programs are important, companies today are finding ways to tie volunteer activities to key business and HR goals. The Corporation for National and Community Service found that in 2006, 62.1 million volunteers dedicated 8.1 billions hours of volunteer service in the United States. As volunteerism continues to increase in the United States, having a well developed corporate volunteer program has become an essential part of corporate responsibility planning.

Volunteer programs, if done right, can have many positive benefits for businesses.  Volunteer programs can help to raise the visibility of companies in communities in which they do business, build teamwork and develop the skills of employees.  A recent survey by Deloitte & Touche USA found that four out of five respondents (78 percent) see volunteering as an opportunity to develop business skills including decision-making, problem-solving and negotiating.

Here are a few ideas that companies should consider when developing and improving their volunteer programs:

Tie Volunteer Activities to Key Business Strengths and Capabilities

Finding ways to lever the core values and business capabilities in volunteer programs is probably the most important thing to consider when developing a program. This strategy will allow a company to utilize already developed talent and cut costs through using in-kind goods. Having a program that surrounds key business capabilities gives companies new avenues to present product offerings and can help position them as leaders in their field. Many technology companies have developed programs to donate their software, computers or infrastructure to educational institutions to help bridge the technology gap. In conjunction, many have also run volunteer tutoring programs where employees teach staff and students how to use the new technology they have received. The companies are able to reach future customers while demonstrating to the community how their products are able to help people.

Establish a Committee to Plan and Promote Volunteer Programs

Having an internal team plan and oversee volunteer programs is an important part of making any program sustainable. As in business, effective planning is essential for a successful program. The committee should consist of members from all parts and levels of an organization to ensure that the programs being developed will be of interest to a wide variety of employees. It is also important to identify or develop internal communication tools to share the successes of efforts with employees to build buy in for future programs.

Brand Volunteer Programs

Branding is an important driver to raise visibility of a volunteering campaign and can help ensure that the public knows the good work a company is doing.  Branding should go well beyond wearing company t-shirts on service days. Finding creative ways to brand support materials is one good way to raise visibility. Many companies have gone the extra step of developing specially produced versions of their products as part of their campaign. For example, the Aluminum Association created branded canned water for recent Habitat for Humanity builds they worked on. Consider working with company communications staff on local media outreach and signage for events.

There are many great non-profit organizations that provide resources to companies and individuals looking to build a volunteer program. These include the Points of Light Foundation (http://www.pointsoflight.org/), The Corporation for National and Community Service (http://www.nationalservice.org/) and The Hands On Network (http://www.handsonnetwork.org/welcome-corp-partners/)

Clarence Walton’s notion of CSR . . . 40 years later

posted by Boyd Neil

By Chad Tragakis

(Senior vice president in Hill & Knowlton’s Washington DC office, Chad co-leads the firm’s North American corporate responsiblity team. He also serves on the advisory board of the Association of Americans for Civic Responsibility)

The year 2007 marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Clarence Walton’s book – Corporate Social Responsibilities.  Walton is without question one of the founders of the CSR movement and in his 1967 landmark work (and in many others published before and since), he helped to establish, clarify and advance the concept that we know today as corporate citizenship.

In his pioneering work, Walton acknowledges the cynics and skeptics of CSR, those “who insist that a firm best serves the public interest when it best serves its own private interests through effective service to consumers, adequate profits to stockholders, fair working conditions for employees, and scrupulous observance of the law.” 

These are the same critics, Walton says, who argue that “to go beyond these commitments is folly.” 

Even four decades ago, however, Walton wrote that in spite of the prevailing attitude of the day, “one finds evidence, especially in large enterprises, of a willingness to support not only higher education and the arts but slum-clearance projects, reduction of air and water pollution, civil rights, job training for the unskilled, and the like.  In most cases, the justification is enlightened self-interest—a principle cherished in the orthodox business creed and hallowed over centuries by slow accretions in the common law.”

Walton goes on to say that: “growing evidence indicates that the modern corporation is consciously placing public interest on a level with self-interest and possibly above it.  This development is explained by the fact that a corporation is really as much a social and political entity as an economic unit.” 

Again, that was 40 years ago. But so much of what Walton writes sounds like it could have been published last week in Boston College’s Journal of Corporate Citizenship or the Business Civic Leadership Center’s Corporate Citizen newsletter.

There is much that business today can still learn from Walton, but it’s not always easy to find time for the classics.  As the pulsing drumbeat of daily commerce moves us forward at an ever increasing pace, it can be insightful, instructive and enriching to take a few minutes to glean some golden nuggets from the yellowed pages of Walton’s book.