Archive for the ‘Corporate Responsiblity’ Category

We’re Back!

posted by Boyd Neil

In 2007, the North American corporate responsibility (CR) team launched a blog on Collective Conversation called ResponsAbility, a play on words reflecting H&K’s unique and powerful ‘ability’ to help provide counsel on all facets of CR and CR communications. ResponsAbility featured original thinking, case studies and insights from H&K offices across North America, on a wide range of CR topics including employee volunteering, recycling, stakeholder engagement, privacy, green tech, and workplace diversity. (All of these posts have been migrated to this new platform and are accessible here.)

Although well received by clients and H&K colleagues alike, with posts attracting hundreds of views and trackbacks, the demands of keeping up a blog ran up against the business exigencies of day-to-day client service.

Well, ResponsAbility is back . . . with renewed commitment and energy and frankly a better infrastructure for ensuring the breadth and regularity of contributions. Why are we doing this? Because we have more and more clients coming to us for support on various facets of CR and sustainblity. We want to demonstrate that H&K’s CR consultants are among the brightest and most passionate counselors in this field. And we want to prove we deliver confirmed results.

From our perspective CR is much more than strategic philanthropy or “green” initiatives. So expect ResponsAbility to offer a broad range of posts covering everything from governance issues, employee engagement, impact on biodiversity, ethical behavior of sales forces, employee benefits, product quality and safety, CEO compensation, and energy efficiency . . . to responsible downsizing, supply chain working conditions, and responsible advertising and marketing to children.

Our goal is to make this the go-to source for the best thinking on corporate responsibility and sustainability.

You can help by subscribing to our RSS feed, adding ResponsAbility to your blog roll and insisting — by way of your comments, criticism and praise — that we make evident high standards in our thinking about, and our counsel on, these crticial business issues.

Boyd Neil . . . on behalf of Chad Tragakis and the North American CR team.

Corporate Responsibility as Public Diplomacy

posted by Boyd Neil

By Manuel Pauser, account executive in H&K’s Washington office.

As a 17-year-old I decided to live in Malaysia for a year, to immerse myself in another culture, learn the language, live with a local family and attend a local high school. At that time, I saw the year mainly as a benefit for me, for my family at home, and for my host family and friends in Malaysia. It had never crossed my mind that this cultural exchange could be a tool of foreign policy and diplomacy—to share and advocate German ideals abroad while bringing Malaysian values back to Germany.

Only a few years later, as a student of political science and international relations, I realized how crucial such programs are to foreign policy. Whereas traditional diplomacy—the art and practice of direct communication between political representatives of different countries—remains an integral part of foreign policy, public diplomacy has become increasingly important to the foreign policy efforts of the U.S. Department of State and other foreign ministries around the world.

Instead of reaching out to officials, public diplomacy programs seek to engage a wider audience in a non-political fashion. These programs provide a country with a human face abroad—something that is tangible for the public. Prominent examples include the Fulbright academic exchange program and the recent concert of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in North Korea.

Increasingly however, governments have realized that corporations and their corporate responsibility efforts can be part of public diplomacy strategies as well. Only a few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of State inaugurated its Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy. The award recognizes the achievements of Americans who actively contribute to advancing America’s ideals through public diplomacy. In the category of corporations, Johnson & Johnson won the award for its Safe Kids Worldwide campaign, one that aims to educate the public and advocate for children’s safety at home and in school.

On another occasion, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced that the German Federal Foreign Office, together with the Bertelsmann Foundation, planned to set up an internet platform to highlight best practices in corporate responsibility among German companies at home and abroad. Embassies will provide background information on countries and confer on-the-ground insights regarding companies’ cooperation with the local public.

In both cases, corporate responsibility as public diplomacy is viewed as a new way to create understanding and appreciation for other cultures, while establishing a dialogue between people of different nationalities. Subsidiaries of companies in other countries tend to resemble the culture of that parent company, the quality of products and production processes, the relationship between management and workforce, and the relationship with local communities.

Each case also indicates that diplomacy not only serves businesses, but businesses can serve diplomacy as well. For the past decades, it has been common practice for country officials to travel on official diplomatic visits accompanied by representatives from the business community. Such trips help to build and strengthen economic ties with other countries and serve businesses.

Businesses, in turn, can provide grounds for closer diplomatic relations and increased collaboration. With strong corporate responsibility engagements abroad, businesses can help build and expand powerful ties among the publics and people, while at the same time, enhancing the image of their home countries.

Corporate responsibility is part of public diplomacy. And public diplomacy becomes an integral part of corporate responsibility strategies. Even though we are still miles away from a fully integrated relationship between public diplomacy and corporate responsibility, I am glad to observe that governments around the world are beginning to recognize that corporations can assist diplomacy efforts by conveying the ideals and values of their home countries abroad.

Transgender Protection in the Workplace – PART ONE

posted by Boyd Neil

by Michelle Tsai, senior account supervisor for the corporate group in the New York office. 

This is the first of a two-part post on equal protection for transgender employees in the workplace.

When I started my communications career in the early 1990s at the Texas Department of Transportation as a public information officer, my boss told me there was an unwritten rule that women were discouraged from wearing pants in the office, by fiat of the district engineer.  But, she said, things were better than when she started her career in the 1970s, when women who flouted this rule were actually sent home to change! 

We’ve come a long way indeed.

Interestingly, this example of our shifting attitudes toward sex stereotypes (i.e. that women wear skirts and men wear pants) has become a factor again with regard to non-gender conformist individuals increasingly present in the workplace.  This group includes transgender men and women, people who are transitioning or have already transitioned to a different sex than they were assigned at birth; and intersex individuals, those born with genetic anomalies that can cause impaired development of secondary sex characteristics.  But this group also includes individuals who simply are more comfortable with challenging traditional sex stereotypes, such as men with long hair, or women who don’t wear makeup.

In order to fully understand the issue, it’s important to make a distinction between three separate concepts: gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.  Gender identity is your own internal feelings of being male, female, both or neither.  Gender expression is how you present yourself externally to the world, whether masculine, feminine or androgynous.  Sexual orientation is your preference for a partner based on your physical, emotional and spiritual connection to the gender qualities of another person, and is usually described as being gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Public attitudes and legal protection of transgender employees varies widely throughout the world, with Canada and Europe generally more liberal and the Middle East generally more conservative.  Currently, there is no federal law in the United States that explicitly prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws hiring or employment discrimination on the basis of the employee’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” but does not mention sexual orientation, much less gender identity.

Early court decisions held that transgender people were not entitled to protection from employment discrimination under Title VII. More recently, however, a new line of cases, based on intervening U.S. Supreme Court decisions, may provide protection for LGBT people in some situations. 

In my next post, we’ll look at one landmark Supreme Court case almost 20 years ago that continues to impact gender identity law today, and take a look at the progress we’ve made in establishing equal rights for LGBT employees in the workplace.


From Earth Day to Earth Week to Sustainable Environmental Practices

posted by Boyd Neil

By Liz Purchia is an account executive in H&K’s public affairs group in Washington D.C.

Last Tuesday was Earth Day and for many organizations, Hill & Knowlton included, it turned into Earth Week. 

Everywhere you looked from clothing stores to TV stations to global corporations, people were championing the environment, offering environmental tips and discounts on eco-friendly products. In our Washington, D.C. office Hill & Knowlton handed out free reusable water bottles and tote bags to every employee to cut back on the amount of waste we produce.

I found myself logging on to various Web sites, signing up for petitions and learning tools that I can use to curb my environmentally harmful habits.

Sustaining Environmental Energy

I work on a lot of energy and environmental issues for clients in D.C. and what I’m wondering is now that Earth Day is over, what’s going to happen? Has everyone done their part for the year?

Recently, President Bush outlined the administration’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.  As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said, “We can’t wait until 2025 to deal with greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). That is too late, that is dangerously late, that is doing nothing.

The Warner-Lieberman bill, scheduled for debate in the Senate calls for halting growth in GHG emissions starting in 2012, 13 years earlier than the president proposes.

All three presidential candidates, Sens. McCain (R-AZ), Clinton (D-NY), and Obama (D-IL) support mandatory limits on GHG and are advocating a much more aggressive climate change platform. But with the election year, there’s very little chance that much will get done in terms of environmental policy.

Everyone’s looking to see what others are doing to support the environment and to reduce their environmental impacts. Before hiring us, some potential clients are even looking to see what Hill & Knowlton is doing as a company to address climate change.

Environmental Sustainability as Business Opportunity

In February, I was on a Hill & Knowlton exchange program in Brussels where we were the exclusive PR partner for the European Business Summit. The focus of this year’s event was “Greening the Economy,” underlining that the environment can become a business opportunity.

The U.S. can take a few notes from European businesses, which have incorporated environmental plans into their business models for many years. We can support our economy through green practices. What’s good for the environment can and should be good for business.

I recently read a New York Times article, “Millions of Jobs of a Different Collar” in which Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance predicted that the U.S. could generate between three million to five million more green jobs over the next 10 years. Van Jones of Green for All is quoted in the article as saying that green jobs “cannot be easily outsourced…If we are going to weatherize buildings, they have to be weatherized here…If you put up solar panels, you can’t ship a building to Asia and have them put the solar panels on and ship it back. These jobs have to be done in the United States.”

As clients come to us to help shape their business and communications plans, inserting environmental practices will be beneficial to their business, their potential business and employees.

The market needs companies to adopt environmental practices. It may just be monitoring data center usage, improving energy efficient technologies or turning off the lights on weekends, but making a commitment to the environment means making a commitment to sound sustainable business practices.

Being Responsible Starts With You

posted by Boyd Neil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejuvenating Recycling – In an Age of AL

posted by Boyd Neil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Seat at the Table for CR

posted by Boyd Neil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article.

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

Here are a few simple first steps:

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

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