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The Next Generation of Responsible Business Leaders

posted by Chad Tragakis

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

 

Recently, I hosted a group of graduate students from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.  I also spoke to a group of undergraduates at George Mason University.  I was struck by the questions they asked me and their responses to the questions I asked of them.  They wanted to know about the linkages between ethics and business performance; they asked about the risk management dimensions of social and environmental responsibility; and they hold crystal clear points of view on corporate reputation, respect for customers, and the value and impact of strategic philanthropy and employee volunteering.

 

These interactions reminded me of the numerous survey findings suggesting that young people prefer to work for companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.

 

§  Research recently conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 88% of millennials say they will choose to work for companies whose corporate social responsibility values reflect their own. 

 

§  A survey by Kelly Services found that nearly 90% of respondents say they are more likely to work for a company that is ethically and socially responsible and 80% are more likely to work for a company that is environmentally responsible.  The same survey found that 46% of Generation Y, 48% of Generation X and 53% of Baby Boomers would be willing to forego pay or promotion to work for an organization with a good reputation.

 

§  A MonsterTRAK.com poll found that 80% of young professionals are interested in jobs that have a positive impact on the environment, and 92% are more inclined to work for an environmentally friendly company.

 

§  A poll by BT found that a third of those surveyed felt that working for a caring and responsible company was more important than the salary they earned, and 44% said they would discount an employer that did not have a good reputation in terms of social responsibility.

 

§  Clearly, to land top talent, HR execs should pay heed to all this.  And it doesn’t seem to change once employees are onboard.  A survey by the St. James Ethics Center found that 77% of employees would leave a company if it acted in a way that contradicted their core principles.  The PwC study of millennials found that 86% would consider leaving a company if its CSR values no longer matched their expectations.

 

In some ways, it’s not surprising that young people have an interest in social and environmental responsibility – after all, they’ve grown up in an age when service-learning is an increasingly common concept in schools.  And they’ve been bombarded (in a good way) with eco-consciousness courtesy of Earth Day, Al Gore, and the green marketing prowess of Madison Avenue.

 

But is this ethos of responsibility sustained as these young people grow up?  Does the spirit of sustainability stick with them as they enter the workforce and deal with the real-world pressures that come with families and mortgages?  I would like to think so, but I haven’t seen any longitudinal studies that have attempted to test this.  If it is sustained, why?  And how can we apply those learnings to other populations?  If it isn’t, what can we do to recapture and then perpetuate that sensibility as young people grow into adults?  I am hopeful that enlightened sociologists and social psychologists may soon explore the answers to these questions.  Until then, we should find new ways to tap into and harness this interest and optimism.

 

Incidentally, next week, in conjunction with my company’s volunteer efforts around the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I’ll be speaking to a group of first graders.  I can’t wait to hear what they have to say!

 

 

Treat the Earth well.  It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. 

 

Native American Proverb

Kids, Soccer Balls and the Unintended Consequences of Good Decisions

posted by Chad Tragakis

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

 

Several years ago, I attended a forum in Washington, DC on supply chain responsibility.  At the time, I was managing corporate social and environmental responsibility communications for two different clients, both with vast, global supply chains.  Supplier responsibility was an area of constant focus and opportunity for these companies.

 

The forum was a quiet, routine affair as these things go, and polite.  I saw a few participants looking a bit sleepy at the end of one session in particular – where representatives from three Fortune 500 multi-nationals spent the better part of an hour outlining the steps their companies had taken to eliminate child labor from their supply chains (the inspections and audits, on the ground partnerships, tracking and reporting).

 

Everything changed when, during the Q&A period, a young woman in the audience stood up and posed a question to the panelists.  She worked for a small NGO with operations in India, and noted that many families there desperately rely on the income of all family members – parents, grandparents, and yes, children.  She spoke briefly but compellingly, painting a picture of poverty and need that most in the room couldn’t comprehend.  The panelists look puzzled, and there were murmurs of surprise and disbelief throughout the audience.

 

I remember being at first repelled by her comments, to being puzzled (can child labor ever be okay?), to being unsure about the whole thing.  In my college sociology classes, I learned to appreciate cultural relativism.  It’s important to value and respect other cultures and their norms, but in my heart, I know that some things (like kids working in factories) are just plain wrong.  This woman, however, had a firsthand perspective and a better informed point of view on the issue of child labor in India than I could claim, so how could I argue with her?

 

I was reminded of all of this recently when I read an excellent piece by Hasnain Kazim in Spiegel Online.  He writes about the football stitchers of Sialkot in Pakistan, who produce millions of hand-stitched soccer balls each year.  The city has become the world leader in the manufacture of high quality soccer balls, and several companies that export them around the world bring jobs and opportunity to thousands of Sialkot’s people.  Tens of thousands more benefit from this work indirectly through the stability, economic development and related employment that come with the material suppliers, subcontractors, shipping and packaging firms, and the shops, restaurants and other businesses that cater to the workers.

 

For years, before greater attention was paid to the issue of child labor and before global companies like Nike and Adidas began cracking down on it, children as young as 10 worked in the factories stitching balls together.  In his article, Kazim quotes a stitching center manager who notes that these kids fared reasonably well there, learning a trade that guaranteed them income for life.  Now, the parents of many of these children, desperate for the income that their work can bring, are sending them to toil in the local brickworks and in metalworking factories – places far more dangerous and far more damaging to little bodies than the stitching centers.

 

As the father of two children under 10, the true cost of child labor is becoming increasingly relatable and ever more disturbing to me.  When I see pictures of children in factories or fields or behind market stalls… it’s difficult to absorb and impossible not to be moved.

 

The decisions we make—even the obvious and unquestionably good and right ones—have ramifications, good and bad.  And the longer I work in the area of corporate responsibility, the more I see that the principles and policies that once seemed so black and white, are every shade of gray.

 

In a perfect and just world, 10 year olds should be playing with soccer balls… not making them.  But I am constantly reminded that we don’t live in a perfect world.

Saving Ducks and Confiscating Guitars

posted by Chad Tragakis

A good law gets better

 

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

 

The United Nations has declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity.

 

There are many definitions for biodiversity, but the one adopted by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity is: “the variability among living organisms from all sources, including, ‘inter alia’, terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”.

 

Preserving the world’s ecosystems and the web of life they each support is a good and noble goal in and of itself.  But by preserving biodiversity we are really ensuring our own health, safety, economic security, and our very way of life.  So this year, global institutions of all kinds, government agencies, and even corporations are coming together to celebrate the variety of life on planet Earth, and the value and importance it has for us humans. 

 

From supporting and advancing agriculture, medicine and tourism, to combating climate change, biodiversity has real bottom line benefits for our global society.  If you’ve never seen it, The United Nations Environment Programme issued a great report on the topic, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).

 

But how do we make the goal of protecting species and ecosystems real?  How do we preserve biodiversity?  One way is through policies and laws with teeth, and through the rigorous enforcement of those laws.  One such law is the Lacey Act.

 

Named for Iowa congressman John Lacey (1841–1913), the politician who introduced the conservation measure in 1900, the law made it illegal to transport certain species of game animals, particularly ducks and other waterfowl, across state lines.  By the late nineteenth century, professional market hunters were killing hundreds of thousands of migratory birds to supply the nation’s growing taste for wild duck and to satisfy the millinery industry’s demand for feathers (fashion at the time called for feathers of all shapes, sizes and colors).  The Lacey Act was a direct response to this wanton and unsustainable slaughter.

 

The Lacey Act was subsequently amended and strengthened several times over the years, but almost 108 years to the day it was signed into law by President William McKinley, it was granted far greater significance.  The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 expanded the scope of plants and plant products protected under the Lacey Act (think: timber, wood and paper).

 

This change caught many companies off guard, and this past November, in the first major enforcement action of the newly strengthened Lacey Act, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents raided the Nashville, Tennessee facilities of the Gibson Guitar Corporation.  According to various reports, federal agents and local police seized raw wood, guitars, computers and company files – all stemming from allegations that Gibson was in possession of illegally harvested rosewood, a popular hardwood used in crafting guitars.  It’s unclear if the wood itself was a protected species of rosewood, or if the issue was its source, since Madagascar’s forests are home to several species of critically endangered lemurs.

 

What is perhaps most puzzling about this incident is that Gibson was a recognized leader in responsible sourcing.  They are a major purchaser of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, and obtain FSC-chain-of-custody certificates for much, though not all, of their raw material. Like their competitor C. F. Martin & Co., Gibson even launched a series of environmentally-conscious guitars, including the SmartWood Les Paul model.  And Gibson’s chairman and CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, was a member of the board of the Rainforest Alliance (he has since stepped down in the wake of this issue).

 

Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the investigation for Gibson (and any fines, lawsuits, protests, or boycotts – not to mention lost sales that result), this was a public relations headache that the company did not need.

 

The World Resources Institute has developed a Lacey Act fact sheet designed to give companies an overview on the expanded law and a primer on compliance and risk.  Business leaders tasked with managing corporate responsibility and sustainability would do well to familiarize themselves with this resource.

 

The true value and importance of biodiversity is elegantly and succinctly expressed in this ancient proverb, translated from Malagasy, the national language of Madagascar:

 

Without the forest, there will be no more water, without water, there will be no more rice.

 

I’m sure the lemurs (not to mention the ducks), would wholeheartedly agree.

   

The Best Way to Help Haiti

posted by Chad Tragakis

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

 

Our hearts are with Haiti.  The 24-hour news coverage is arresting, but at the same time, it is difficult to watch.  For each glimmer of hope – each miraculous rescue more than a week after the initial earthquake – there is the grim reality of despair, desperation and dire need.

 

The world is coming together for Haiti, hoping to fill that need.  Individuals, community groups, civic organizations and corporations are displaying levels of interest, compassion and generosity not witnessed since the South Asian Tsunami five years ago.  People are marveling, and rightly so, at the seeming speed and ease with which the Red Cross has received more than $22 million for Haiti relief efforts via text.

 

That $22 million is indeed amazing, encouraging, and critically important all at once.  One of the most important lessons the world learned from the Tsunami is that cash donations are the best way to help the victims of a disaster, 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, which cuts down on transportation time and cost, 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.  Haiti is a powerful case in point for this, as there are extremely limited points of entry for the critical relief supplies being brought in by experienced agencies.

 

Worse still, many people send items apparently without any thought.  Believe it or not, people have sent winter coats to disaster victims 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 disaster victims 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, and invest in preparedness and contingency planning.  Think of the logistics and transportation know-how of Fed-Ex, UPS and DHL – or Motorola or Qualcomm’s ability to restore and operate critical communications infrastructure for first responders.  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 Haiti.

 

§  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.  For example, the Avon Foundation’s $1 million donation is being split evenly between the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.  Donations tied to Avon’s product sales are also being planned.  Many companies, including Morgan Stanley, which is also donating $1 million, are actively encouraging employee giving through matching and incentive programs.

 

§  Western Union is waiving all fees to wire money from the U.S. to Haiti for a full week; MoneyGram International is making a similar concession.

 

§  Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships operates a private beach on Haiti’s northern coast, and while this is far from the center of devastation in Port-au-Prince, the revenue it generates is critical to Haiti’s economy, and will be vital to the country’s recovery.  For this reason, the ship line has decided to resume and maintain calls on Haiti.  In addition, company ships are helping to transport relief supplies and personnel.

 

§  Timberland is redirecting funds that were earmarked for a reforestation project on Haiti to basic humanitarian relief efforts.

 

§  While Abbott, McKesson Corporation and UPS are making significant cash contributions, they are also making in-kind donations of products and services specifically requested by relief organizations already on the ground, including the Red Cross, World Vision, Direct Relief International, CARE and UNICEF.

 

§  Apparel retailer TJX Corporation (T.J. Maxx, Marshalls) is in a unique position to provide clothing to families that have lost everything, but first, they are donating cash to the Red Cross.  They are waiting for more details on what, specifically, is needed, where and by whom in terms of their planned in-kind donation.

 

§  Target and Wal-Mart have each made $500,000 donations to the Red Cross, but owing to their unique core competencies, they are also providing foodstuffs to be delivered in close coordination with relief agencies on the ground.

 

§  The nation’s wireless companies – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon – are waiving standard text-messaging fees for their subscribers’ donations to the Red Cross.  No doubt, this is helping to drive that $22 million.  More than that, they are transmitting the funds to the Red Cross in advance of collecting them via their customers’ monthly bills.

 

§  My own company, in addition to making financial contributions to the Red Cross and Water.org’s Haiti relief fund, is making information and resources available to all employees offering assistance locating family members in Haiti, tips on how best to contribute to relief efforts, guidelines for talking to children following natural disasters, and tips for coping with traumatic events.

 

There are many other great examples of companies not only doing the right thing, but responding in the right way.  The bottom line is that sending cash donations is the very best way to help the people of Haiti, 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. 

 

Haiti has a rich history and an equally rich culture.  The country’s flag includes the motto (in French), Strength through Unity.  That will serve as a fitting national mantra in the difficult months and years ahead.  In the center of the flag, is a palm tree – strong and tall, fresh and full of life.  The world will watch and pray as the people of Haiti work to get through this epic challenge.  Let us hope that they re-emerge from this tragedy as a stronger nation – and like the tall tree on their flag, proud and full of life.

 

Far Beyond Sustainability

posted by Chad Tragakis

By Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Washington, D.C. Office

It’s great that the word sustainability is in such common usage today. It suggests that people, organizations and institutions have accepted that environmental responsibility matters, and that we all play a role in achieving and ensuring it.

Still, I know plenty of people (both within the broader community of CSR thinkers and doers as well as outside of it) who find the word problematic. Few would argue that the term is overused, and much has been raised and written about the limitations of sustainability as both a word and a concept. Despite these limitations and challenges, though, usage of the term persists.

There is great diversity even among the most often quoted and widely used definitions of sustainability, among them, those developed, adopted or advanced by the United Nations, the World Business Council for Sustainable DevelopmentBusiness for Social Responsibility, and the World Resources Institute. Looking at these and at other definitions of sustainability collectively, a common theme emerges. There is a strong focus on maintaining, preserving, and ensuring the continued viability of a process, product, resource, system or state. Many would argue that, in terms of the environment and natural resource management, achieving this level of performance by business would be incredible. It would certainly be a good start.

The notion of becoming truly sustainable and having no impact on the environment is becoming an increasingly popular mantra for business. It could even be considered de rigueur for today’s CSR reports and global citizenship communications. But what if a company were able and willing to go beyond simply sustaining, beyond having a neutral or zero impact? What if, instead of just maintaining the status quo, they could have a net positive impact? What if business could actually restore the damaged and broken elements of our environment?

Household and personal care products company Seventh Generation prominently lists “restore our environment” among its global imperatives. And in its code of basic working conditions, Ford states that it seeks to become “an environmentally restorative and truly sustainable company in the long term.” I love the fact that both Seventh Generation and Ford use the notion of restoring. They are among the only companies I have seen who are using that term.

Many companies are in strong positions to add to and enhance the world around us – to rebuild, refresh, replenish, and repair. This is the thrust of Ray Anderson’s concept of the Restorative Enterprise. Anderson is the founder and chairman of Interface, an Atlanta, Georgia-based carpet and flooring company. As their Web site explains:

Interface committed to become the first name in industrial ecology worldwide. Ray set before his global team the challenge to convert Interface to a restorative enterprise. As a first step, this means reaching sustainability in our own business practices. To become truly restorative, however, will require Interface to ultimately return more than it takes. We will meet that higher goal by helping other organizations achieve sustainability.

The key line to me is “return more than it takes.” Anderson and Interface recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of the launch of Mission Zero, a promise to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by 2020, and the first part of their commitment to becoming truly restorative. Since that time, the company hasreduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30%, reduced total energy intensity by 45%, powered seven of Interface’s facilities with 100% renewable electricity, reduced water consumption in modular carpet facilities by 74%, and diverted over 100 million pounds of materials from landfills.

I am firmly in the camp that subscribes to Anderson’s ideology. But the best part is that regardless of your opinions or beliefs about environmental responsibility, you can’t argue with Interface’s cold hard business numbers. Since launching Mission Zero, Interface has enjoyed a 60% increase in sales and a doubling of its profits. By eliminating waste, the company has also avoided more than $400 million in expense, more than enough to cover the costs of all of the other parts of the initiative. And product quality, overall efficiency, and employee morale have all increased.

I continue to be fascinated and encouraged by the Interface story, and by the charismatic and pioneering Anderson. Interface is the first and arguably only real poster child for the notion of the restorative company. I hope this won’t be the case for too long.

On outdoor hikes and fishing trips when I was young, I remember my father instilling in me an ethic that has been popular with outdoors enthusiasts since time immemorial – that is to leave the natural places we visit better than we found them. Clearly, this was instilled in Ray Anderson somewhere along the way. And if he has his way, he will instill this approach in an entire generation of business leaders, so that other companies can follow down the restorative trail that Interface is so successfully blazing.

Making Copenhagen Personal

posted by Chad Tragakis

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

 

No, this isn’t the new ad slogan for the Danish board of tourism (fortunately for them).  Copenhagen is a beautiful city, and they have certainly done a better job than that in marketing themselves to the world.  I’m talking about the need to make a personal, human connection between the bureaucratic and technocratic workings of next month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, and the planet’s 6.8 billion people.

 

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (or COP15, as this will be the 15th Conference of the Parties), will host political leaders and top government officials from 192 countries who are coming together to develop a new framework to combat climate change.  The new agreement will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

 

Most of what has been written thus far about the conference has focused on scientific, political and economic considerations – namely, what must the world do to slow and reverse the effects of climate change, what kind of an agreement can be reached, and what impact will it have on the global economy?  Less has been said about the efforts of individuals and small groups who have been working to humanize and personalize the issue.

 

I’m encouraged by the sheer number and wide variety of efforts to engage and inspire average citizens – in America and all over the world – to make their voices heard leading up to the conference.  Youth groups, women’s groups, civic organizations, labor representatives, environmental groups, clubs and student-led efforts from colleges and universities, and all manner of NGOs and civil society organizations are launching online petitions, Facebook groups, virtual bulletin boards, YouTube videos, letter writing campaigns, rallies, student delegations, and flash mobs.

 

And this week, I am delighted that my own company, Hill & Knowlton, and our parent firm WPP, have announced some additional small parts in support of this effort.

 

Hill & Knowlton was selected by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to serve as the official media sponsor for COP15.  As our announcement on this states, Hill & Knowlton will support an information campaign to encourage climate conscious behavior by delegates and others to help reduce GHG emissions during COP15.  The campaign will also ensure that knowledge from the conference regarding climate conscious behavior will be communicated more broadly, locally and internationally.

 

WPP has launched the UN ‘Hopenhagen’ campaign, which aims to generate worldwide public support for an agreement in Copenhagen.  As the Hopenhagen site aptly states:

 

Hopenhagen is a movement, a moment and a chance at a new beginning.  The hope that in Copenhagen this December – during the United Nations Climate Change Conference – we can build a better future for our planet and a more sustainable way of life.  It is the hope that we can create a global community that will lead our leaders into making the right decisions.  The promise that by solving our environmental crisis, we can solve our economic crisis at the same time.  Hopenhagen is change – and that change will be powered by all of us.

 

Most scientists agree… Copenhagen represents our last, best chance for world leaders to address global warming in a comprehensive way before its effects become irreversible.  If our leaders and representatives at COP15 are to make the difficult decisions required to strike a meaningful agreement, it may just take our collective 6.8 billion voices to give them the political will to get it done.

Enter the Sustainable Century – Part 3

posted by Chad Tragakis

Strategic communication for business will be critical as President Obama ushers in a new green vision for America and the world.

By Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Washington, DC Office

 

“We will move forward with investments to transform our energy economy, while providing incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy. We will press ahead with deep cuts in emissions to reach the goals that we set for 2020, and eventually 2050. We will continue to promote renewable energy and efficiency, and share new technologies with countries around the world. And we will seize every opportunity for progress to address this threat in a cooperative effort with the entire world.”

From President Barack Obama’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 23, 2009

 

As mentioned in my previous post, President Obama is ushering in a new green vision for America and the world.  Each company will need to take a close look at its current strategy, and determine where, when and how it makes sense to introduce or expand environmental sustainability programs, partnerships, policies and processes into its operations.  But in terms of strategic communication and stakeholder outreach in support of business goals, there are some clear and deliberate actions that every company, regardless of size or sector, should be actively considering.

 

Get moving!  This is a unique point in time, a confluence of public sentiment favoring all things green, a public policy environment that supports it and marketplace opportunities that are rewarding it.  The business benefits of a genuine commitment to environmental sustainability are now well established and early movers will have distinct advantages.  Corporate communications may be the quarterback, but every division of your company has a role to play, and nearly every facet of your operation can take advantage.  This starts in the executive office (with board level oversight and encouragement), and includes sales, marketing and advertising, government relations, investor relations, operations, R&D, product groups, finance, legal and HR.  Integration is critical – get everybody on board, on target and on message.

 

But not too fast… Don’t rush to your new environmental messaging and outreach before fully understanding the opportunities, audiences, issues, risks and benefits.  Understand what your stakeholders expect.  Conduct research, and then still more research.  You know that policy-makers and NGOs are interested, but your customers and employees care about this too.  Work to understand why, and what it means to your business.  Consumer expectations are increasingly high for all companies to do their part across the board, but they expect more from certain industries and sectors.  The good news is that, in spite of the global recession, consumers still seem to prefer environmentally responsible products, and many are willing to pay a premium for them.  The research here is becoming increasingly clear – consumers want products that are environmentally responsible, they prefer companies whose operations are environmentally sensitive, they want this information available at multiple levels (including at the retail level), and they want companies to be able to prove what they say.

 

Under-promise and over-deliver.  Consumers are increasingly savvy and increasingly skeptical when it comes to the environment.  Your commitment must be real, your product claims must be genuine, and your stories must be authentic.  Green products from a company or industry with a questionable social and environmental record don’t add up. Make sure the company’s left hand knows what the right hand is doing.  Be clear, be consistent, be as transparent as possible, and be ready to prove whatever you say.  Don’t take shortcuts, do not greenwash – you get one chance to do it right, so be sure to do it right

 

But don’t be afraid to tell your green story.  If you have a good story to tell – a great product, a great process, a model partnership with an environmental NGO – talk about it, celebrate it.  If it’s genuine and if it has impact, it’s okay to brag a little.  Your stakeholders want to know, others can learn from your model and no one else is going to tell your story better than you.  Be sure to find the right communications channels and vehicles that will best convey your good story to the audiences and stakeholders that matter most to you – media relations, online, product packaging, integrated with advertising, marketing collateral – whatever works best.

 

In the midst of the worst economy in recent memory, dozens of America’s biggest companies and most storied brands—from McDonalds to AT&T to General Electric to Proctor and Gamble—have launched green initiatives, and are getting their stories out there effectively.  Regardless of what one thinks about politics or about President Obama’s new green vision, it’s clear that the sustainable century is here to stay.  The most successful companies, in America and around the world, will be those that rise to meet it.

 

 

 

Enter the Sustainable Century – Part 2

posted by Chad Tragakis

Strategic communication for business will be critical as President Obama ushers in a new green vision for America and the world.

 

By Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Washington, DC Office

“The danger posed by climate change cannot be denied. Our responsibility to meet it must not be deferred. If we continue down our current course, every member of this Assembly will see irreversible changes within their borders. Our efforts to end conflicts will be eclipsed by wars over refugees and resources. Development will be devastated by drought and famine. Land that human beings have lived on for millennia will disappear. Future generations will look back and wonder why we refused to act; why we failed to pass on an environment that was worthy of our inheritance.  And that is why the days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over.”

 

From President Barack Obama’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 23, 2009

 

 

Building on my previous post, President Obama is moving quickly to reframe the environmental debate and reset expectations on the part of many stakeholders.  All this change will have both an immediate and a long-term impact for business.

 

Despite some uncertainty over the timing and substance of legal and regulatory changes to come, whether you are an American firm, or a global enterprise doing business in or with the U.S., there’s a new sheriff in town.  And despite the policy and political challenges Obama faces, companies would do well to take stock of the fact that the very citizens who voted for a green president are the same consumers who will vote for clean energy, for products with recycled content, for low energy consuming electronics, for reduced product packaging, and for companies with a genuine and demonstrated commitment not only to quality and value, but to sustainability.

 

It’s about embracing both environmental opportunity and environmental responsibility – and the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  There are tax incentives and grants to take advantage of; a host of new business opportunities with the public and private sectors; new product and service offerings; partnership possibilities; bottom line energy and resource efficiency gains to be made; not to mention risks to be mitigated and managed (in the form of fines, lawsuits, boycotts, protests, and disastrous media stories).  And the low carbon economy will bring about new winners, including solar, nuclear and natural gas providers, which will increasingly fuel the rest of the economy. 

 

Each company will need to take a close look at its current strategy, and determine where, when and how it makes sense to introduce or expand environmental sustainability programs, partnerships, policies and processes into its operations.  But in terms of strategic communication and stakeholder outreach in support of business goals, there are some clear and deliberate actions that every company, regardless of size or sector, should be actively considering.

 

I’ll outline these in my next blog post…

Enter the Sustainable Century – Part 1

posted by Chad Tragakis

 

Strategic communication for business will be critical as President Obama ushers in a new green vision for America and the world

 

By Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Washington, DC Office

 

 

 

“Let’s be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil. We can harness homegrown, alternative fuels like ethanol and spur the production of more fuel-efficient cars. We can set up a system for capping greenhouse gases. We can turn this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation, and job creation, and an incentive for businesses that will serve as a model for the world.”

— From Barack Obama’s speech announcing his Presidential Bid in Springfield, Illinois, February 10, 2007 

 

From his campaign kick-off more than two-and-a-half years ago right up through his inauguration this past January, the environment and environmental sustainability were central themes and important priorities for candidate Barack Obama.  He’s been in office for only nine months, but President Obama is moving quickly to reframe the environmental debate and reset expectations on the part of many stakeholders.  All this change will have both an immediate and a long-term impact for business.

 

Making good on his stump speech commitments, President Obama, supported by a Democratic-controlled House and Senate, is quickly turning campaign pledges into national policy:

 

§  He has re-energized the push for a cap and trade system to limit greenhouse gases;

§  He instructed the Department of Transportation to require higher fuel economy standards;

§  He asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a new rule limiting mercury emissions from power plants;

§  He asked the EPA to review a Bush Administration order denying California and 12 other states the right to enact auto emissions standards stricter than the current federal level;

§  He reinstated a critical practice on the part of government agencies in support of the Endangered Species Act;

§  He reversed a last minute Bush Administration order allowing offshore drilling and drilling on some public lands;

§  He mandated that federal agencies cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 2010 levels by 2020.

 

And his recent address to the U.N. General Assembly underscores the way Obama wants the world to view the U.S. when it comes to the environment.  It signals his desire for America to re-join the global dialogue on climate change, and to resume a leadership position.

 

President Obama is tapping into a public policy sweet spot, connecting the dots between energy, the environment and economic recovery.  Even before the effects of the recession were truly felt, he espoused the economic benefits of an environmentally focused stimulus—clean tech, renewable energy, low carbon, resource efficiency—noting that it could create tens of thousands of high-skilled, well paying American jobs, spur new technologies and new industries, and foster a truly sustainable economy. 

 

But even as the economic crisis has become the issue and the central challenge for his young administration, Obama has remained steady in triangulating energy, environment and economy.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for example, allots funds for numerous environmental initiatives including $11 billion for an electricity smart grid and funding for 40 million smart meters for American homes to promote energy efficiency; $6.3 billion for state and local green efforts; $4.5 billion to modernize and efficiently energize federal buildings; and $2 billion in grants to foster the next generation of high performance batteries.  And the much hyped “Cash for Clunkers” program, while criticized by some, has been hailed by most as a win for business, a win for consumers and a win for the environment.

 

The Obama Administration has also committed to investing $150 billion over ten years in energy research and development, and most recently, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Treasury began accepting applications for a new $3 billion program offering direct cash payments to companies that create renewable energy facilities.

 

All this momentum, of course, reflects the broad public interest in and support for environmental sustainability that helped get Obama elected.  And while the environment certainly was not the only issue, for many voters it was a central concern. 

 

But by no means will this be a slam dunk.  Continued economic uncertainty and a heated national debate over health care are casting a pall over everything the new administration does.  Well entrenched sectors, from the coal lobby to agriculture, are making their voices heard, and this is leading to dissent even within President Obama’s own party.  Securing the 67 votes needed in the U.S. Senate to ratify whatever comes out of Copenhagen will be an uphill battle.  So, when and if a climate change deal is struck, it will likely look much different than the grand, elegant solutions that were once envisioned.

 

So what does all this mean for companies?  I’ll share more in my next blog post…