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Restoring Chitimacha: How Companies Can Serve as Agents of Cultural Preservation

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Washington

“The artist has a special task and duty: the task of reminding men of their humanity and the promise of their creativity.”

As historian, sociologist and critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) so eloquently noted in the quote above, all art – visual, musical, literary, architectural, performing, culinary – reflects the best of humanity.  We are, after all, the culture that we create.

This month, the Smithsonian held its 46th Folk Life Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the institution’s annual celebration of American and global cultural heritage. I try to attend each year to remind myself of the richness and diversity of human expression and our collective human achievements. The Smithsonian calls the exposition “an exercise in cultural democracy,” where cultural practitioners “speak for themselves, with each other, and to the public.” I can attest that festival visitors are encouraged not merely to observe, but “to participate – to learn, sing, dance, eat traditional foods, and converse with people presented in the Festival program.” Indeed, where else can you nibble on Azerbaijani dolma, join a discussion on native Hawaiian aquaculture, and reflect on graffiti-based public murals all while listening to Mariachi music?

The fact that museums and institutions like the Smithsonian and other non-profits, NGOs and academic organizations (along with a few government agencies) would work so hard to preserve our collective culture is heartening and noble, but not surprising. For many institutions, this is part of their core mission and, for some, their raison d’être. But, as with so many other aspects of life in the 21st century, the private sector has a tremendous opportunity to assist in the vital mission of cultural preservation and celebration. In fact, many critics have argued that, through globalization, the great forces of commerce and industry have actually helped to spread and speed the homogenization of today’s global culture. They have a point. That’s why I’m encouraged to see so many companies embracing cultural preservation as part of their corporate responsibility commitment, and working to find ways to protect, celebrate and share some of the most unique and important manifestations of our global culture, particularly those elements that are threatened. 

Many of these efforts are perfectly aligned with the specific business goals, core competencies and products and services of the companies leading them. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

  • When China’s famous Terracotta Warriors were threatened with several strains of fungi in the late 1990s, Johnson & Johnson brought its products and expertise to bear, working closely with scientists at the Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Army Museum. Following the successful development of anti-fungal solutions that have since helped to preserve the sculptures, the company established a laboratory dedicated to research on material protection, which to date has contributed to the preservation of other cultural relics around the world.
  • HP (a former client) is using its IT infrastructure to help preserve art and cultural treasures around the world. Collections at the National Gallery of London and the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi are being digitized and cataloged, and in some cases, masterpieces are being restored, with the help of the company’s digital and imaging technologies. In 2002, HP launched an effort with the Vatican Library to digitize one of the world’s largest collections of manuscripts, documents and ancient texts, making them available to millions of people online. HP has also provided tools and resources to 18 Native American communities in California to help them record and archive tribal languages, histories and elders’ stories.
  • In 2004, language learning software company Rosetta Stone launched a program to preserve endangered languages. The company works with indigenous groups around the world to develop software specifically designed to help revitalize at-risk and in some cases, already extinct languages. The program aims to reinforce endangered languages with current speakers and introduce them to younger generations. A great example is the company’s effort to preserve and revive the “sleeping” language of the Chitimacha tribe of south central Louisiana, whose last fluent speaker died in 1940. Equipped with the new software, the tribe is actively working to restore Chitimacha as a spoken language among young people at school and at home, both on and off the tribe’s reservation. Rosetta Stone also instituted a grant program to address any financial barriers that might prevent groups from participating in the project.
  • Google is using its platform and technologies to preserve culture in a number of ways. Three notable initiatives are the company’s Endangered Language Project, the Google Art Project and Google Books. All of these efforts provide access to material and content, but more than that, they help foster understanding and appreciation. They facilitate research and collaboration between individuals and institutions, and encourage conversation, interaction and exchange. In this way, by sharing culture and making it accessible, they are also helping to preserve it.

There is so much need and so much opportunity here for enlightened companies to incorporate cultural preservation into their sustainability and CSR platforms. I would love to see a global food manufacturer or a major restaurant chain collecting and preserving indigenous recipes and disappearing foodways. And how fitting would it be for a major music label to record and capture for posterity endangered folksongs and tribal dances?

With ever decreasing coffers, governments at all levels are facing increasingly more difficult choices in terms of what to support and the degree to which they can support it. This reality isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Non-profits and academic institutions are equally challenged, leaving fewer resources to put behind preserving and celebrating our cultural heritage. Many companies are helping to stage exhibits and performances and to keep the lights on at museums, theaters and institutions through sponsorships, corporate donations and cause marketing. But for those able and willing to go beyond simply writing a check, saving and celebrating the best of human art and achievement presents a powerful opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.

Business… with Liberty and Justice for All (Part Two)

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Washington

The world is more peaceful today than it has been since 2009. This is the finding of the 2012 Global Peace Index, released last week by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

As noted in my previous post, with a few unfortunate exceptions (think Syria and Sudan), this annual study of relative peacefulness and stability throughout the world is encouraging. It also reaffirms, for me at least, the role that the private sector can play in democratic development.

Once a company has sufficiently addressed its core sustainability and responsibility fundamentals, true corporate citizens can work with and support other sectors of society in promoting and advancing liberty and justice, the cornerstones of democracy.

If the Arab Spring (the subject of my last post) was about liberty, then the Special Court for Sierra Leone was about justice.

On June 5, just days after the sentencing of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes, my firm organized and sponsored a panel discussion at the National Press Club on the global impact of Taylor’s war crimes conviction.

Taylor was convicted at The Hague on April 26 by the United Nations backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which unanimously found him guilty on all counts of the indictments against him. On May 30, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by rebel forces during Sierra Leone’s long and devastating civil war. Not since the Nuremburg trials after World War II has a former head of state been convicted of war crimes.

The panel was moderated by Hill + Knowlton Strategies Vice Chairman Frank Mankiewicz and featured special prosecutor Stephen J. Rapp, ambassador-at-large and leader of the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the U.S. Department of State; Richard Downie, deputy director and fellow in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies; Jonathan Temin, director of the Sudan Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace; and Corinne Dufka, senior researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

The discussion concluded that a country cannot flourish if its people believe there are two disparate sets of rules being applied. Now that the citizenry truly believes that justice is possible and has been fairly administered, all sectors of Sierra Leone’s society—especially private enterprise—can prosper.  More on the linkages between transitional justice, security and development can be found in the World Bank’s latest World Development Report.

While companies were not permitted to contribute financially to the operations of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, they were able to support it in other ways. My firm provided pro bono strategic counsel, media relations and communications services. Legal and research services were also donated by other firms. No one seems to take issue with whether or not companies should be allowed to provide such in-kind donations to entities like the Special Court, but debate continues as to whether or not corporations should be allowed to provide direct financial support for their operations. Microsoft made what is thought to be one of the first such contributions when it donated $100,000 to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia. I understand the concerns this may raise, but provided the right checks and balances are in place to ensure impartiality, I see no issues in allowing companies to express their support morally, in-kind or financially. Such donations seem like noble expressions of a desire for the stability, development and prosperity that can only come through justice.

As I am reminded every day, there are many dimensions of corporate responsibility. Every company has something to contribute to society, even when it comes to fostering democracy. With the continued involvement and support of the private sector, let’s hope the positive trends reported in this year’s Peace Index continue in the years ahead.

Business… with Liberty and Justice for All

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Washington

The 2012 Global Peace Index was released this week. This annual study of relative peacefulness and stability, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, found that in spite of some unfortunate pockets of strife and unrest (think Syria and Somalia), the world is more peaceful today than it has been since 2009.

In the face of so many challenges confronting our world, this is a positive development. It also reaffirms, for me at least, that in today’s dynamic, globalized world, the private sector has a responsibility and an opportunity to promote and advance the cornerstones of democracy – liberty and justice.

Once the more basic boxes of sustainability and responsibility are checked, corporate citizens can work with and support other sectors of society in ways, both large and small, that are mutually beneficial. After all, free enterprise is vital to democracy. And conversely, rule of law, transparent government, individual and property rights, the free flow of information—all hallmarks of true democracy—are essential to free enterprise.

The Center for International Private Enterprise said it best in their landmark policy paper, Helping Build Democracy that Delivers:

“Together with other citizens and segments of society, the business sector must play its part in democratic development. As a key component of civil society, business possesses resources, human capital, and problem-solving capabilities that can benefit society as a whole. A politically engaged private sector can improve policymaking, represent legitimate economic interests, and defend democratic rights and institutions.”

There is a lot corporations can do, directly and indirectly, long and short-term – from advocacy and moral support (alone or through trade groups or chambers of commerce), to new ventures, partnerships and direct investment. The dialogue at two recent events I attended underscores this point. A few weeks ago, I co-chaired a roundtable conference on building civil society after the Arab Spring, hosted by the Association of Americans for Civic Responsibility (AACR). And just last week, my company sponsored a forum with the National Press Club’s International Correspondents Committee on the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes.

As I noted during the AACR roundtable, from the smallest street market peddlers to the largest global corporations, there can be no mistake that businesses played a central role in spurring, supporting and shaping the Arab Spring. While experts continue to debate and discuss the specific root causes for the uprisings and escalation of civil protests, it’s likely that historians will one day point to the self-immolation of Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi as a primary catalyst. Bouazizi was a man who felt so harassed, humiliated, repressed and defeated that he could only envision one response. From that horribly sad but galvanizing statement by a small business owner with a fruit cart to the tacit and explicit support of some of the world’s largest global corporations, including telecommunications and social media companies, business and the Arab Spring have arguably been inextricably linked.

In the months and years ahead, how will economic growth and democratic reform continue to play a role in the region? What can the private sector do to bring about positive changes in democratic governance and economic development? And what role and responsibility does the business sector really hold? These were just a few of the questions we explored in a panel session that included Joseph Siegle, Director of Research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies; Gregory Simpson, Senior Project Officer at the Center for International Private Enterprise; and Nivin Safwat AbdelMeguid, a Leaders for Democracy fellow and research assistant at the American University of Cairo, who provided a firsthand account of what she experienced during the historic events in her native Egypt. I encourage those interested to review the summary report of the entire roundtable conference.

If the Arab Spring was about liberty, then the Special Court for Sierra Leone was about justice.

More on that in my next post.

Telling the Whole Story

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill + Knowlton Strategies, Washington

More jobs and cheaper energy. In the lead up to this week’s Super Tuesday primaries, these have been constant refrains from the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. They have also been central messages from President Obama.  No doubt, they will continue to be among the key themes repeated between now and November 6.

Almost as if on cue, comes a new study by Deutsche Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation. The report suggests that a renewed emphasis on energy efficiency retrofits across the country could save Americans $1 trillion over the next ten years and help create 3 million jobs, all while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 600 million metric tons, roughly 10% of current levels.

It is an exciting and compelling prospect. But aside from how well this narrative plays into election year campaign themes, it underscores the connection between sustainability and a company’s financial performance. And this is only the latest of several recent studies that show increasingly stronger connections between environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and business performance and success.

Take a look at the new study by researchers at Harvard Business School and London Business School  – The Impact of a Corporate Culture of Sustainability on Corporate Behavior and Performance, the KPMG study – Expect the Unexpected: Building Business Value in a Changing World, and the third annual Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group.

More evidence of this connection is found in Responsible Investment: Creating Value from Environmental, Social and Governance issues, a new study of the private equity sector by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The research found that 94 percent of respondents believe ESG activities can create value.

For years, my firm has provided counsel to companies around the world, big and small, on how to embrace corporate responsibility and sustainability, and how to communicate effectively about that commitment.  Increasingly, as more companies are seeing the connection between financial and non-financial performance, they recognize the need to integrate their communications and reporting – to tell the whole story.

To help provide this guidance, we’ve partnered with Harvard Business School Professor Robert G. Eccles, one of the world’s foremost experts on integrated reporting, and one of the authors of the aforementioned HBS study. Research by Professor Eccles finds that companies with a long, consistent track record of engaging in and disclosing efforts to operate with ESG policies in mind significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term, both in terms of financial performance and rate of return for investors.

As the size, reach and influence of global corporations continues to grow, so too does the public’s demand for transparency and accountability.  According to new H+K Strategies research, more than two-thirds of Americans hold corporations directly accountable for their actions.  But the same holds true for the positive impact a company can have.  A new Deloitte Touch Tohmatsu Limited study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit finds that 76% of respondents believe that the value of a company should be measured not only by its profits, but by the positive contributions its core business makes to society.

For business – whatever the product, whatever the sector – it seems there’s never been a better time to tell the whole story.

Helping Japan in the Best Way Possible

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill & Knowlton, Washington

Just over a year ago, in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster ever to befall Haiti, I wrote about the generous and inspirational commitments that individuals, organizations and corporations were making in response. I also wrote about the very best way to help in times of disaster, based on lessons long learned by government, NGOs and others in the disaster response and relief community.

Now, in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster ever to befall Japan, I feel compelled to revisit some of those same themes and learnings. It’s unfortunate that just a year later, we are faced once more with a seemingly unprecedented crisis and the prospect of a long, hard recovery and rebuilding process. If there is any glimmer of a bright spot here for humanity, it is that when times are their worst, people and companies are often at their best. And, with each disaster, we have the benefit of knowing what worked – or didn’t – in previous instances.

According to the latest data collected by the Business Civic Leadership Center, response by the corporate sector has been incredibly strong – more than $200 million dollars in aid committed in just over 10 days. If giving continues at this pace, it is on track to surpass business support for disaster relief efforts following the January, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Individual giving to major relief agencies is also picking up, totaling more than $64 million just one week after the disaster. And that’s a very good thing, because the cost, by any measure, is going to be severe, even for as advanced and industrialized a nation as Japan. Experts now estimate the cost could reach $309 billion, making it the world’s costliest natural disaster ever.

Most telling for me about the true need and real plight of those affected was the appeal I received from ChildFund International, an organization that I support. On an ordinary day, it noted, ChildFund Japan raises funds for the programs it implements in developing countries around the world… but today is no ordinary day. For the first time in its history, ChildFund Japan launched an emergency response effort for its own country.

One of the most important lessons the world has learned from responding to disasters is that cash donations are the best way to help the people impacted, especially in the initial aftermath. Cash is immediate, it is flexible, and it provides for culturally and geographically appropriate support. Most importantly, it allows disaster relief organizations to purchase exactly what is needed, and to procure materials near the affected area, cutting down on transportation time and cost. It also supports regional economies and speeds the rebuilding process.
One of my clients, the Center for International Disaster Information, has been tracking and advocating for responsible and appropriate disaster response for more than 20 years. Over that time, they have witnessed some incredibly insensitive, culturally inappropriate, inefficient, and even harmful responses. Simply put, when individuals, groups or companies send stuff that is unneeded, supply chains get clogged, boxes must be unloaded and warehoused eating up precious time, personnel and storage space. Ports near Sendai and many throughout the Miyagi Prefecture are severely damaged; some will be closed for months. There are extremely limited points of entry for the critical relief supplies being brought in by experienced agencies, so it’s critical that they not be choked up by well-meaning but unneeded donations.
Worse than that, in some instances after disasters people send items apparently without any thought at all. Hard to believe, but people have sent winter coats to affected people in tropical climates; companies have sent stale cookies and long-expired medicines; canned ham has been shipped to predominantly Muslim countries and canned beef to predominantly Hindu areas; in one shipment of donated supplies, a relief agency found used tea bags; party decorations were mailed to families who had just lost their homes. And, in perhaps the worst instance of inappropriate disaster response ever, one company sent a shipment of breast implants. However well-intentioned, it often seems that some companies and organizations don’t take into account the full impact of their donations. They are in such a rush to act, that they forget – or just plain fail – to think.
That’s why in the midst of this tragedy, I am encouraged by the thoughtfulness and innovativeness of corporate response, not to mention the sheer volume of companies expressing an interest in helping. Some companies, because of their unique capabilities, core competencies, knowledge and expertise, and product and service offerings, are in great positions to bring those things to bear after a disaster. This is especially true when they establish long-term relationships with relief organizations ahead of time, and invest in preparedness and contingency planning. 

In the past week alone, I have read about and learned of some truly responsible and wholly appropriate ways for companies to do their part for the people of Japan.

First and foremost, companies are giving cash – lots of cash – and they are directing it to the experienced, credible relief agencies that are already on the ground, the ones in the best position to help and to help quickly. Firms are matching employee donations, and many are waiving transaction and service fees for their customers who are making donations. And, many companies are giving products, services and expertise that have been specifically requested by agencies on the ground – equipment, supplies and know-how that are desperately needed right now.

  • Coca-Cola has pledged $31 million in cash and much needed beverages to relief and reconstruction efforts. The company is also donating its TV and radio ad time to public service announcements encouraging Japanese citizens to conserve energy, a necessity given continued power outages in much of the country.
  • Wireless carriers and telecommunications firms are facilitating text donations and allowing customers to call and text family in Japan free for a specified period. Others are offering free programming from TV Japan to keep their subscribers aware of what’s happening.
  • Financial services firms like American Express, MasterCard, Visa, Discover, Citi and Western Union are waiving fees on donations and money transfers to Japan for specified periods. Wells Fargo has programmed its ATM machines to accept donations for relief efforts directly from customers.
  • PayPal, Zynga, Living Social, Sony, Apple, Facebook and other tech, gaming and social media firms are doing some wonderfully creative things to help people make financial contributions.
  • Airlines are awarding bonus miles to their frequent flyers as an incentive to make donations. Hotels are allowing their customers to convert rewards points into cash donations to relief organizations.
  • Fed-Ex and UPS are providing logistics and transportation support to a variety of relief agencies and NGOs already on the ground.
  • GE is contributing $5 million in cash, equipment and service – including critical expertise and a 24-hour command center related to their nuclear energy business.

There are many, many other great examples of companies not only doing the right thing, but responding in the right way. Take a look at some of the inspiring commitments being, cataloged by the BCLC’s Corporate Aid Tracker. The bottom line is that sending cash donations is the very best way to help the people of Japan, especially right now. CIDI and the State Department are directing people and organizations interested in helping to InterAction, a large coalition of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations. 

Many of the same companies noted above have also announced major commitments to provide additional funding, materials and support during the post-disaster phase, when rebuilding and re-development will be the priority. This is important, because as we have seen so many times in the past, when a disaster no longer makes the headlines or the evening news, the world often forgets about it and support for vital rebuilding efforts can wane. The long-term generosity and commitment of many companies will help pave Japan’s long road to recovery that lies ahead.

Our hearts are with Japan and her people. As Emperor Akihito said in his solemn address, “those who were affected by the earthquake must not lose hope.” They must “survive tomorrow onwards…and continue to oversee the rebuilding process.”

A few blocks away from where I sit, thousands of cherry blossom trees are blooming. These are the living legacy of a gift of friendship to the U.S. from the people of Japan 99 years ago. In addition to being beautiful symbols of friendship, these trees are symbols of strength, hope and resilience. So too is Japan strong, hopeful and resilient. Like the sun so perfect and proud in the center of her flag, the Nisshōki, the sun will rise over Sendai tomorrow. And it will rise the day after that. It will shine on Japan. And in time, her people will once more be able to bask in its warmth.

Privacy is Dead. Long Live Privacy!

posted by Chad Tragakis

Privacy in the Facebook Age – can we really have it both ways?

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill & Knowlton, Washington

The Queen of England joined Facebook late last year. I signed up early last month. It was a New Year’s resolution and I was officially out of excuses. If, at age 83, Her Majesty could do it, then I certainly could. I had my reasons for waiting so long, much to the surprise, chagrin and teasing of friends and family. First, the time crunch. I’ve seen how so many friends and colleagues practically live on the site, and how much it consumes some of them. But, more than concerns over time were concerns over privacy. How much would I have to give up to glean the benefits of the site and all it had to offer?

Facebook has had to deal with continued criticism, boycotts and legal action over allegations of violating user privacy. Some of this was related to the site’s wildly popular but seemingly innocuous gaming apps, like Farmville and Texas HoldEm. And Facebook is just one of many firms being forced to address privacy issues head on.

  • Google, a company with a strong track record in corporate responsibility, has come under fire on several fronts and in many countries for ethics and privacy issues related to its Street View technology featured on Google Maps. It also settled a class action lawsuit over privacy breaches related to Google Buzz, its social networking program.
  • There are concerns that photos uploaded to Flickr or Photobucket using the Exchangeable Image File Format can contain the GPS coordinates of where a photo was taken, compromising a user’s privacy and possibly their safety (or that of their children).
  • A Wall Street Journal investigation found that dozens of iPhone and Android apps can share personal information with other firms without the user’s awareness or consent.
  • Location-based and geosocial networking services like Foursquare present a host of challenges (check out for more on their push for greater awareness around locational privacy and over-sharing).
  • Video game systems, such as the Xbox Kinect, capture and store user profile information and share them with game developers.
  • Other growing concerns including scraping, where media research firms troll seemingly private chat rooms, social networking sites and discussion boards for personal information; re-identification, where aggregated and anonymized personal data is traced back to its owner; and Flash cookies, which can track a user online without their knowledge or consent.

There’s no question that new social networking sites and apps are great in so many ways. They are connecting (and reconnecting) us in ways we never imagined, they help inform and even educate us, and they certainly entertain us. In a way, these sterile, impersonal and technical platforms allow us to share and celebrate our humanity like never before. After all, these connections and relationships are what it means to be engaged and alive. But, they don’t come without a cost. And one of those costs, I am finding, is that with each new gain we lose a little bit of our privacy.

Privacy – for customers, employees and data – has always been an important facet of a company’s commitment to corporate responsibility. But, as technology has grown, so too has the focus on and importance of privacy.

How do we, as consumers and citizens, balance our desire for the benefits of these new technologies with our needs for and rights to privacy? Are current policies and limitations spawning a generation of privacy fatalists? Or do the old norms, mores and expectations for privacy just not exist anymore? Or is it both?

A bigger question may be, how can corporations balance their business needs – the seemingly endless benefits that come from these platforms and technologies, and the wealth of information they contain – with their legal and ethical responsibilities to safeguard consumer privacy? The Web Analytics Association, a trade group for internet data analysts, has launched a code of ethics for its members and supporters. It’s a good start, but some wonder how effective such a voluntary code can really be.

There is an increasing need for companies to meet market demands and win in the marketplace while also protecting, respecting and ensuring consumer privacy and navigating new laws and policies. I think most companies would agree that self policing is better than regulation, but Congress and the Federal Trade Commission (along with a host of other regulatory bodies around the world) are exploring a variety of “Do Not Track” provisions. These will certainly be game-changers if and when they are enacted.

In the meantime, the WAA code provides a solid framework, focusing on five key pillars: privacy, transparency, consumer control, education and accountability. A commitment to privacy rooted not just in legal requirements but in ethics-based and values-based criteria can have tremendous benefits for companies today. Such a commitment engenders confidence and loyalty on the part of customers and other stakeholders, manages risks, enhances reputation, and can even help increase sales. These benefits, however, must be balanced with the stark reality that we live in the age of data-mining and targeted marketing.

But just because consumers put their information out there, intentionally or unintentionally, doesn’t mean that they will tolerate the use of that information by third parties. Research clearly shows that Americans do not want to be tracked online. And so, we see a growing contradiction between many people today who vacillate between demanding privacy on the one hand, and on the other, practically posting their Social Security Number and blood type online. As a society, we seem to want it both ways, and this is fostering a new understanding of what privacy really means. Is it situational? Is it dependent upon the definition of the individual? I’m not sure we know the answer just yet.

And, while many of these concerns are related to social networking sites and new media, this isn’t just a technology issue. Every company in every industry should talk to its consumers about privacy. Consider, for example, the fact that more than 80% of teens and more than 40% of children ages 3 to 11 are now spending considerable time online. Or, the myriad issues looming related to increased use of RFID tags at the individual product level in supply chain management and inventory control. No time like the present to let your customers – as well as your employees, partners and regulators – know exactly where you stand.

Too often it seems, the corporate privacy policies we see – in publications, on websites, or mailed to us from the companies we do business with – are outlined in the finest of fine print. Transparency, clarity and frequency go a long way in establishing trust. When it comes to privacy, I don’t think it’s possible to over-communicate with your customers and stakeholders.

There are some excellent resources out there for those inclined to learn more, including: the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the International Association of Privacy Professionals, and Privacy Exchange.

So, with apologies to Her Majesty, to borrow from the centuries old proclamation Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi!, as one king passes, another ascends. As one construct of privacy leaves us forever, a new one is taking shape. Responsible companies, and those that will thrive in the Facebook Age, will take heed.

Imperceptible But Meaningful Change

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill & Knowlton, Washington

“If mankind is not to perish after all the dreadful things it has done and gone through, then a new spirit must emerge.  And this new spirit is coming not with a roar but with a quiet birth, not with grand measures and words but with an imperceptible change in the atmosphere – a change in which each one of us is participating…”

If ever there were a New Year’s wish for humanity, this beautiful prose from Albert Schweitzer would fit the bill perfectly.  A new year, a new spirit, a new chance to live and work responsibly and sustainably.  It is the season for looking back and looking ahead, and I’ve been doing a lot of both lately.  Colleagues, clients and friends have been asking me what I’m seeing in terms of coming trends in corporate responsibility and sustainability.  Here’s what I’ve been telling them.

In spite of changes in Congress, questions over the validity of research, and a general “green fatigue” on the part of many Americans, climate change will still be accepted as the primary environmental issue and challenge of our time.  Research strongly suggests that citizens expect businesses to play a role in mitigating it, and act in concert with government to address it.  Additionally, business risk related to climate change will remain increasingly important to mainstream investors, and many will continue to scrutinize corporate sustainability reports and other collateral as a window into the company and its exposure. 

Leading companies are recognizing and responding to consumer demands for action and information regarding climate change, and embracing this as an opportunity for reputation building and thought leadership.  To stand out, companies will need to rethink where and how they share and celebrate their climate change related programs, policies and partnerships with customers and stakeholders.  As is often the case, one innovative and memorable effort will be worth more than dozens of smaller ones.

External influencers and organizations will continue to impact consumer brand perceptions more than corporate PR or CSR reports.  Research suggests that consumers want more information on a company’s commitment to corporate responsibility and sustainability, but need that information in simpler ways and where it connects to them.  In response to these changing influences on consumer brand perceptions, sector leaders will need to integrate their company’s CSR story into mainstream consumer communications channels – from marketing and television advertising to in-store displays and product packaging to digital communications.      

Interest in the environment will remain strong on the part of both businesses and consumers. We will also continue to see an increase in firms applying for LEED certification for their facilities, and entering into strategic partnerships with environmental conservation organizations.  It will be essential for companies to carefully navigate “green” opportunities and partnerships, as vocal consumers, activist NGOs and government regulators such as the Federal Trade Commission continue to call firms out for greenwashing, fraudulent claims and abuse of marketing communications.        

Water use, availability and scarcity will continue to be of growing concerns in nearly every part of the world, posing a major operational and reputational issue for companies.  This is especially true for firms in water-intensive industries, but since every company uses water, it will be an issue for the entire business sector.  Companies will need to get in front of the water issue first by conducting assessments of their true water “footprint”, taking steps to minimize use throughout their supply chains and product lifecycles and then highlighting success stories and sharing best practices with customers, partners, regulators and other stakeholders.

As companies and individuals continue to take action and find new ways to be more responsible and sustainable in the year ahead, 2011 presents an opportunity for humanity’s finest hour.  The critical changes we need don’t have to come with a roar or with grand measures, to paraphrase Schweitzer’s poignant words, although many of our greatest challenges certainly deserve and require them.  In the spirit of an ambitious New Year’s resolution for the world, it would be wonderful to see every individual, organization and company ask themselves how they can participate in that imperceptible but meaningful change.

Supersizing Responsibility, Not Portions

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill & Knowlton, Washington

Hard to believe that the end of another summer is upon us.  Earlier this month I was on Cape Cod, enjoying a week of vacation, which included eating a lot of fresh seafood.   The menu included cod (of course), clams, flounder, haddock, lobster and scallops.  All of it was delicious, but with every bite there was a little remorse.  Ever since I first read the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP’s) prediction that the world’s fisheries could be depleted by 2050, I have suffered a tinge of guilt with every plate of broiled scrod, every cup of seafood stew, every lobster roll.

According to UNEP, 30 percent of global fish stocks have already collapsed – meaning that they now yield 10 percent or less of their previous potential.  I also know full well that some one billion people around the world, most of them from developing countries, rely on seafood as their primary source of protein and a major source of their sustenance.

Responsible fisheries management and improved practices here in the U.S. and around the world are a good start and help alleviate some of my guilt.  Fish farms also have a role to play in meeting the world’s growing demand for seafood, but they are not without their challenges or critics.  And while I’m intrigued by the promise of genetically altered fish, there are many unanswered questions and many associated risks still to be addressed.

Although my concerns about the health and vitality of the world’s fisheries are rooted in a desire for ecological sustainability and preserving biodiversity, a connection between overfishing and societal health and wellness (in America at least) is becoming increasingly clear.  I’m talking specifically about portion sizes and how (and how much) we consume.  The seafood platters I saw this summer were huge – as big, or bigger, than I can ever remember.  This trend isn’t limited to fish, and it certainly isn’t limited to Cape Cod.

A new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) shows that at restaurants across the country, “regular” portions are now super-sized:  two, three (or more) times USDA and FDA recommendations.  No surprise then that CSPI believes this is contributing directly to the two-thirds of adults and one-third of children who are obese or overweight.

The same nation that now heralds the organic, fair-trade and locally-grown food movements is the same one that spawned the massive portion trend and the “endless,” “bottomless,” “unlimited,” “all you can eat” buffet.  I’m no expert on the economics of running a restaurant, but I’ve never understood how these buffets can be profitable.  Nor do I understand how such limitless consumption – of seafood or any other food – can be sustainable.

Businesses must make a profit, but there is increasing evidence that they can do so by encouraging sustainable consumption on the part of their customers.  From the television programs we watch, to the clothes we wear, to the toys we buy our kids, businesses play a major – maybe even a central – role in conditioning us as consumers.  Businesses help us define what constitutes value and normalcy in the products and services we consume. 

This is a discussion that every company in every sector should be having and many are, encouraged and aided by a great Business for Social Responsibility report – The New Frontier in Sustainability: The Business Opportunity in Tackling Sustainable Consumption.  Clearly, it’s bigger than restaurants – but food (and seafood in particular) is great place to start.

More often than not this summer, my wife and I shared the huge seafood platters at the restaurants and clam shacks we frequented.  If any of them had offered half-sized portions for half the price, they would have seen a lot more of my business.  Don’t tell them, but I would even have paid a little more than half.

Echoes of Bhopal in BP

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill & Knowlton, Washington

“Business started long centuries before the dawn of history, but business as we now know it is new – new in its broadening scope, new in its social significance.  Business has not learned how to handle these changes, nor does it recognize the magnitude of its responsibilities for the future of civilization.”

        Wallace Donham, Dean of Harvard Business School – 1929

I love this quote.  Sadly, it rings as true today as it did 80 years ago.  Business had not yet learned how to handle the changes that were happening then in terms of the real impact the sector had on society.  And while incredible progress has been made in the decades since Donham’s prophetic observation, it’s clear that business still does not recognize the real power it holds in shaping the future of our planet and its people.  There are great models of responsible, sustainable corporations and glimmers of hope from enlightened enterprises.  But there are too many BPs out there – companies with lots of promise but little execution.

As someone who used to live in the Gulf Coast region and who holds a solemn respect for our natural world, the BP spill—coming to me live via 24/7 spillcam—continues to crush my spirit.  As a communications professional, it continues to astound and amaze me.  There are many important communications, public relations and corporate positioning lessons to be learned from the BP saga (no doubt, detailed analyses and dissections of the event are already appearing en masse in the PR and communications trade journals).  But the longer term story here is that BP’s spill now joins the annals of corporate communications landmark events – the flashpoints in our collective consciousness that create lasting legacies, sometimes good (think Tylenol) but usually bad. 

Every individual has their own mental list – and what’s on it depends a lot on where you live, what you do and when you were born.  For some, the list begins with watershed, game-changing books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed.  For others, it is a laundry list of mismanagement, malfeasance and missed opportunity – Barings Bank, Bridgestone/Firestone, Enron, Parmalat, Societe Generale, Toyota, Tyco, WorldCom…  Exxon’s Valdez oil spill ranks high on most of our lists, but for many, the list is topped by Union Carbide’s 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India.  More on that in a moment. 

Plenty of companies have slow simmering issues and scandals that play out over time, but I’m convinced that the ones that are largely event-driven are more powerful to the human psyche – regardless of their actual impact.  As a result, these legacies live on sometimes for generations.  Some may argue that Prudhoe Bay or the Texas City refinery explosion would already have landed BP a place on the list, especially because of how antithetical those events were to the culture of responsibility and environmental stewardship that the company (through the voice of Lord John Browne) spent a decade building, or at least talking about.  That may be true, but those events—as unfortunate as they were—were nothing compared to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Some consumers have short memories, but many more do not.  I know people who are still punishing Exxon for the Valdez spill – going out of their way to another service station even if the price is a few cents higher per gallon.  And this brings me back to Bhopal.

Bhopal remains the world’s worst industrial disaster.  It also remains one of the early, principal milestones and demarcation points for when the world woke up to what it should expect of corporations.  And while Bhopal may still top our mental lists, until recently, it was largely a talking point in CSR speeches and a footnote in text books.  Dow, which bought Union Carbide in 1999, has maintained a quiet microsite on the event and resulting settlement, but the tragedy hasn’t been much of an issue for them, at least publicly.  That changed a few weeks ago, when sentences were finally handed down in the long running case.  Although seven former employees of Union Carbide were found guilty of death by negligence, their two year prison sentences have been hailed by survivors and their advocates as a slap in the face, prompting a torrent of fury and protest.  And there are renewed calls for Dow to do more in terms of site remediation and accepting greater responsibility to compensate victims and bring about true justice.

A full 25 years later, and Bhopal is still generating community outrage, criticism from NGO activists and a robust online campaign, pointed media coverage, interest from policy-makers and reputational risk for Dow.

So, if the recent echoes of Bhopal are any indication, it appears that the very actions by which BP hoped to save a little time and a little money are going to cost them plenty more of both.

Remembering C.K. Prahalad

posted by Chad Tragakis

by Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Hill & Knowlton, Washington


“What is needed is a better approach to help the poor, an approach that involves partnering with them to innovate and achieve sustainable win-win scenarios where the poor are actively engaged and, at the same time, the companies providing products and services to them are profitable.”


                   C.K. Prahalad – From The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits


I’m often asked – by colleagues, friends, clients and prospective clients – what is the value of CSR?


I am always happy to run through the now well-established list of how different dimensions of a genuine commitment to corporate responsibility can impact the bottom line, directly and indirectly.  From stronger relationships with communities and an enhanced license to operate to increased profitability through operational efficiency gains and materials and resource management, to management of risks and improved relations with the investment community, enhanced employee relations that yield better results and cost savings with respect to recruitment, motivation, retention, learning  and productivity, to improved reputation and branding, and qualification for billions of dollars in screened business, the business value of and return on investment in CSR is increasingly clear.


In addition to these many benefits, some of the world’s largest companies have found that embracing CSR can also provide access to new “aspirational” consumers and new revenue streams in emerging markets, which in turn can foster significant product and business innovation.  Recently, we lost a visionary man who made truly game-changing contributions to the world through his research, observations and recommendations on these aspects of corporate responsibility and global citizenship.  Coimbatore Krishnarao “C.K.” Prahalad died last month after a brief bout with a lung ailment. Sadly, he was only 68.


Born in Chennai India, Prahalad earned degrees from Loyola College in Madras and the Indian Institute of Management, and later a PhD from Harvard Business School.  He would go on to consult for some of the world’s leading multinational corporations in a variety of industries, but he is best know as a distinguished professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, where he pioneered and popularized the “bottom of the pyramid” concept.


While his theory that the world’s poor should be viewed as consumers is more firmly established today, it was still a radical and unorthodox notion even 10 years ago. 


The numbers speak for themselves – 4 to 5 billion underserved people representing more than $13 trillion in purchasing power.

Whether detergent and household products, cement and home building materials, microfinance and financial services products, or cell phones and consumer technology products, Prahalad proved to Fortune 500 companies that they could satisfy market needs, help address social problems, improve the quality of life for millions and make a profit. 

Companies across the business sector – from Unilever to Motorola to CEMEX, among many others – have now embraced Prahalad’s idea of “inclusive capitalism,” and have benefitted through increased sales, tax exemptions, and increased brand awareness.  This last benefit is significant for companies doing business in emerging economies, where it is important to cultivate consumers who may not be able to afford your products today, but who will demand them tomorrow.  Establishing brand preference and loyalty early on can pay huge dividends over a consumer’s lifetime.

And it isn’t always developed countries selling to the poor.  On occasion, innovations in products, services and business models developed in and for emerging markets have applications in established economies, providing still more benefits for enlightened global firms.

C.K. Prahalad was on my mental list of people I would love to meet at a conference or cocktail party some day.  He died too young, and I’m sure he had at least one or two more books left to write, and many more innovative ideas to share with those of us working in the corporate responsibility arena and those in the broader business and public policy communities.  While I’m deeply saddened by his loss, I’m appreciative of the fact that so many around the world are benefitting and will continue to benefit from the ideas and approaches to business and corporate responsibility that he pioneered.  His impact will be long-lasting, his legacy is secured.