Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Smartphones making us more efficient

posted by Andrew Cuneo

Over the weekend, I read a piece on how smartphone mobile applications are helping to guide us towards sustainability. As a member of Hill & Knowlton’s tech practice, and a leader on our internal green team, I’m hopeful that these applications will shape our sustainability across the country.  I wrote a piece for our sister blog, Tech & The District that identifies these applications. One of the biggest roadblocks to being more sustainable is convenience.  “It’s too hard to be sustainable.”  These applications give me hope those complaints will die down soon.

Capitol Energy Rating for Washington D.C.

posted by Andrew Cuneo

I’m a Bostonian by heart, but having lived in Washington D.C. for the last 7 ½ years, I’ve grown to really take pride in this city. So, when the EPA announced the top 10 cities with Energy Star certified buildings, and knowing DC was in the top 10, my chest puffed out a bit. And, looking deeper into the rankings, I found that the very building our H&K DC offices are located in, The Westory, was one of an astounding 114 certified buildings in D.C.

Throughout the United States, there are 6,200 commercial buildings that earned Energy Star certification in 2010. According to the EPA, that’s an increase of 60 percent over 2009 totals. For those of you wondering why that’s an important statistic, it comes down to impact and money. The EPA reports that 20 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions come from commercial buildings and energy used in those buildings costs a staggering $100 billion each year.

Having an Energy Star rating associated with your building is a major honor. Certified buildings use 35 percent less energy and emit 35 percent less carbon dioxide than average buildings. I know firsthand how hard our building  managers in Washington have worked to achieve this certification (as well as LEED Silver Certification). Our offices have installed new energy efficient lighting and new flush valves on all the toilets to reduce water consumption, among many other adjustments.

This is a great day for Washington, D.C. and perhaps, a bit selfishly, a great day for H&K here in D.C. as well. We take tremendous pride in our own Green Team and are proud to work with our building management to achieve reduction in our carbon and environmental footprint. 

For a complete list of the top Energy Star cities in the U.S., please visit this site.

Life-Saving Technology Innovation

posted by Andrew Cuneo

Technology innovation has changed the way we conduct our daily lives. And much of that technology, whether it’s an e-reader,  mobile devices or GPS, is intended to make every day life easier. But my Washington D.C. colleague, Ben Breit, wrote a piece recently for our sister blog, “Tech & The District” that shows how technology innovation can also be life saving. 

The piece shows how a not-for-profit technology company has developed a software that is helping Kenyans deviate from danger. Definitely worth the read.

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.

A Cool Idea to Heat Buildings in Sweden

posted by Andrew Cuneo

All around the world, we’re seeing innovation that can turn back the clock on our climate change dilemma. Companies are making strides never before seen that illustrate ways to conserve energy and water, while cleaning our air.

But this story out of Stockholm, Sweden makes the grade as the most innovative, and perhaps most unusual, means to generate heat and electricity – the human body.

That’s right, as reported by the BBC last Sunday, Stockholm’s Central subway station is harvesting the body heat of the 250,000 passengers that ride each day.  So how is this being done?  Well, “Heat exchangers” in the station’s ventilation system are converting all excess body heat into hot water which is then pumped into a nearby building to keep it warm. And it’s saving that building a tremendous amount of energy.  In fact, the 250,000 daily passengers in Stockholm are actually saving that building 25 percent of its normal energy bill.

The human body is providing a new source of heat for Stockholm buildings – and that’s pretty cool.

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.

A CSR tale of two mines: when the path chosen makes all the difference

posted by Tara Knight

In November of 2010, the Canadian government rejected an $800 million copper-gold project of Taseko Mines, called “Prosperity” in my home province of B.C. Although the federal government ultimately cited environmental concerns in declining the license to operate, relations between the company and the First Nations communities in the areas around the mine really hit rock bottom during a federal environmental review process for the project.

Taseko’s “Prosperity” mine had potential to generate significant economic wealth for the Williams Lake region of BC, an area hard-hit by other economic factors and desperately in need of jobs. However critical stakeholders, such as the First Nations in the area of the proposed mine believed their communities would not benefit from the mine in their territory and actively opposed the project during the environmental review.

Interestingly, on the same day the Canadian government rejected the Taseko Mines Prosperity project, it approved a $915 million copper-gold project (“Mount Milligan”) in a different area of the province. In speaking about its decision, the federal government indicated that the Mount Milligan project (Prosperity mine rejected, Mt. Milligan approved) had designed appropriate mitigation measures and minimized environmental impacts and that as a result, was likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. 

In further contrast to how Taseko Mines managed key stakeholders such as the First Nations communities in the area around their proposed mine, Thompson Creek Metals (Mount Milligan copper-gold project) reached out to First Nations communities in a meaningful way, and adopted Principles for Sustainable Relationships with First Nations, a framework developed by the Association for Mineral Exploration BC.

The Mount Milligan project had First Nations support in the form of a revenue-sharing agreement between the province and the McLeod Lake Indian Band – only the second such deal in the province. Further, Thompson Creek Metals partnered with post-secondary institutions to create an environmental training employment program for First Nations – allowing them to participate in project operations.

Although neither mine is without opposition, nor serious environmental and local concerns, it is an interesting contrast of the employment of two very different stakeholder strategies. It is also a powerful narrative about the power of relationship building for economic prosperity, and recognizing stakeholder dynamics as a critical component in a company’s social license to operate.

What is the cost of developing a solid CSR program that incorporates social and environmental responsibility concerns into the cost of business? In this tale of two mines, the path chosen made all the difference.

Disclosure: Taseko Mines and Thompson Creek Metals are not clients of Hill & Knowlton.

Let’s Make This Holiday Season Better for All – Together

posted by Andrew Cuneo

At ResponsAbility, our goal is to share and celebrate best practices and new ideas in corporate responsibility.

We share highlighted news items, offer our expertise and provide insight into ways corporations can improve their social standing. It’s also important for our readers to know we also practice what we preach.  Every year, Hill & Knowlton’s DC office hosts a toy drive for needy families around the holiday season. We do it not because it improves our reputation, but because it feels good.

I’m one of the fortunate individuals who looked forward to this holiday season every year. Food would always be on the table, a fire in the fireplace, and a Christmas tree with presents underneath every year.  As a new parent, I can truly appreciate what my parents did to make my holiday a bit brighter.  My daughter, just four months old, will hopefully look back years from now and remember with fondness the family holidays.

But as a new parent, it also breaks my heart to know some kids might wake up and not have a gift to open, a large dinner on the table or even a warm fire to sit next to. That’s exactly why I’m so proud of our agency for making a real difference.  We’re proud to be working with Martha’s Table to collect food and toys for families in need.

There are so many ways you can help kids smile this holiday season. Just by donating canned goods, toys or even clothing, you can bring a smile to a child’s face and relief to a parent’s heart. This holiday season, let’s make a difference together.  Forget bottom lines, smiles are worth millions.

Factoring CSR performance in executive pay

posted by Tara Knight

I stumbled upon an article recently about the summary of the recent removal of Shell from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI).

According to the article in The Responsible Investor, Dow Jones and its partner SAM, dropped Shell from the index in September.  DJSI rules allow for elimination of companies from the Index following extraordinary events (for example, BP was removed in June following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill) however, there seems to be no specific reason given for the decision to remove Shell from the index that I have come across. It’s pretty clear that Royal Dutch Shell (in a post on their website) was very surprised by the move too.

Curious, I decided to look up Shell’s most recent Sustainability Report (2009). Sustainable development happens to account for 20 percent of their executive compensation scorecard.  For 2010, the Dow Jones sustainability Indexes assessment of Shell’s performance accounts for half of the sustainable development element in the scorecard for members of the Executive Committee. It’s no surprise that Shell is seriously re-considering this executive bonus program as a result (“Shell to review Dow Jones Sustainability Index as bonus metric after being dumped from benchmark“). Being dropped (unceremoniously) from the DJSI is a serious hit to potential compensation, and there are likely a lot of concerned executives about this event.

What I hadn’t realized (until I dug a bit) is that this is part of a wider trend for Dutch businesses to seriously consider, and link, sustainability performance with senior management compensation packages. In fact, Royal Dutch Shell is one of a number of Dutch companies (including Dutch life sciences giant DSM, and postal operator TNT). According to Sustainable Sourcing this kind of incentive plan was pioneered by Akzo Nobel which based its long-term bonus payment structure according to its position in the Dow Jones sustainability index for chemical companies.

I am now very curious about other companies tying their executive bonus packages with external sustainability indices. Clearly, this kind of association will cause real shifts in decision making around sustainability within organizations. Do you know of North American companies who are experimenting with new models for their senior management compensation packages?


A Ray of Light from the White House

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Andy Cuneo, Senior Account Executive, Washington, D.C.

It’s one thing to preach energy sustainability – it’s another lead by example. That’s just what the White House is doing here, as President Obama is having solar panels placed atop the beautiful mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The panels will serve as a means to power the entire house – from press room to the President’s basketball court – serves as a reminder of the differences we can make – one panel at a time.

President Jimmy Carter was the first to implement solar panels when he had them built to heat the White House water. President Carter made a famous prediction that day, saying: “In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy. A generation from now this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”

President Obama and many others around the U.S. are relying on new energy means to power this country. For generations, we’ve relied heavily on coal and foreign oil to heat our homes, power our transportation, towns and cities.  Today, we have an incredible opportunity to do what no generation has done prior. We can utilize advanced technologies to take advantage of the wind and solar energy we have in the U.S. Plus, technology is also allowing us to safely obtain near infinite amounts of natural gas and use nuclear as yet another means.

President Obama took the first step. He’s placed solar panels on his residence.  What will you do to match?

Hill & Knowlton works with the CASEnergy Coalition,  the America’s Natural Gas Alliance and other companies within the solar and wind energy sectors.