What Earth Day Means to Us

posted by Andrew Cuneo

Hill & Knowlton would like to extend a warm and happy Earth Day greeting to you all. This is a special day; one that pushes us to be better environmental citizens. It is also a reminder to take a moment to reflect and take part in one activity that will reduce your environmental footprint – whether it’s using fewer lights, running less water, or even walking to a destination instead of driving to one.

In the spirit of Earth Day, our Green Team (comprised of staff from across our U.S. offices) wanted to share a few thoughts on what Earth Day means to us.  We wish you a Happy Earth Day!

  •  “Earth Day is an important reminder that we need to do all we can to leave our world in good shape for our children, and theirs. An old Native American proverb sums it up best: We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. Happy Earth Day!” — Chad Tragakis, Senior Vice President, Washington D.C.
  • “When I think of Earth Day, I think of all the things I can do to help preserve our planet for my daughter’s generation, and every generation that follows. I think of an old Greek proverb that says ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.’” Andy Cuneo, Senior Account Executive, Washington D.C.
  • “To be grateful for what you have, and to think of ways for you to constantly express that gratitude through the little things that matter. Reflecting and not being wasteful are good ways to show that you are aware of what you’ve been blessed with. It just goes to show that you are indeed thankful for it.” — Christopher Ward, Facility Supervisor, New York
  • “It’s an annual reminder that the world is bigger than all of us. A prompt to use today to start a new habit, and perhaps give up on an old. That we can make a difference, one small act at a time.” — Lena Davie, Vice President, Tampa
  • “Earth Day is the day that I will think more about what I can do for Mother Nature and make my Green resolutions for the year. It is also a year to review my Green efforts made last year. Earth Day should not only be the day for us to treat the planet better, but should be the day for us to show more energy and enthusiasm to plan for a Green future.” Theorina Li, Syracuse Fellow, Washington D.C.
  • “To me, Earth Day is a reminder to stop and appreciate our natural environment and to do my part to go green at home.” Austin Lamb, Senior Account Executive, Chicago
  • “A day to honor the energy and goodness of the Earth and to unite to help keep it beautiful, clean and healthy.” Melissa Penn, Senior Account Executive, Los Angeles
  • “Earth Day serves as a reminder and staple of what we should be cognizant everyday – ensuring that we are all doing our part to protect the environment, which is intrinsically linked to the safety and security of our communities. And it also gives us – as public relations professionals – an opportunity to stress the importance of corporate social responsibility to our clients – which now more than ever needs to be a cornerstone of reputation management. We all need to do our part to make our neighborhoods more green – and I’m thankful that Earth Day reinforces this point.” — Brett Broesder, Senior Account Executive, New York
  • “At a time when “being green” has become commercialized, it is heartening to remind ourselves though our green actions and in-office discussions how achievable it is to be green the other 364 days of the year.”  - Mallory Thompson, Account Executive and Sarah Shahrabani, Senior Account Executive, Seattle
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With Earth Day Closing in, Here are some Tweets to Follow

posted by Andrew Cuneo

By Jennifer Hamilton, Account Executive, Hill & Knowlton in Tampa

Earth Day is right around the corner – Friday, April 22! Since this day is all about educating people about current environmental issues and getting them to actively do something “green”, the more you know, the more likely you will take part in addressing those issues.

Mashable has indicated that Twitter’s analysis of the 25 billion tweets sent in 2010 showed the Gulf Oil Spill as the top overall trend, demonstrating how environmental topics are becoming more mainstream.

So, to kick off conversation a little early for Earth Day, here’s a list of 10 green Twitter users, in no particular order, to follow for some great tips and info on sustainability.

  1. @EPAgov – The U.S. EPA has a total of 18 different Twitter handles, tailored to different green areas of interest, from their blog and green building to different regions of the U.S. Check out the entire list on their Twitter profile page.
  2. @nytimesgreen – The New York Times Green section links to current news discussed on their Green blog.
  3. @ESA_org – The Ecological Society of America tweets updates on the latest research and headlines regarding the health and safety of planet Earth.
  4. @CNNGreen – Another news-related Twitter user, CNNGreen tweets about the latest news and research related to the climate change.
  5. @the_daily_green – Described as the consumer’s guide to the green revolution, TheDailyGreen has a remarkable audience of 20,000-plus followers.
  6. @sustainablog – Jeff McIntire-Strasburg microblogs about how to live a sustainable lifestyle.
  7. @bestgreenblogs – They’re the source for tweets, retweets and follows on all things green, eco, organic and sustainable.
  8. @Earth911 – Check out Earth 911’s tweets for tips on recycling.
  9. @HuffPostGreen – This Internet newspaper posts about the latest environmental news.
  10. @seth_leitman – This Green Living Guy and Author and Series Editor of McGraw-Hill’s The Green Guru Guides delivers hard news along with some green humor.

Know of other great green users to follow? Comment below and share!

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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.

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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.

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Every company is an energy company?

posted by Tara Knight

I just read a really fantastic article by one of our clients, Deloitte.

The essay was written for Forbes by Nick Main (Deloitte’s Global Managing Director for Sustainability & Climate Change Services) and Dr. Joseph Stanislaw (an Independent Senior Advisor to Deloitte’s Energy & Sustainability practice) about corporate energy use and the need for a strategy to manage energy use.

Here’s a teaser, if you would like to read the full article, click the link below to go right to the Forbes blog to read the full post.

Every company is an energy company
Every company is an energy company. And if it isn’t, it will be soon. A decade from now, a company without an energy and sustainability department could be as unusual as one without a human resources department.  Or, it might be out of business.
Read the full article here: Every company is an energy company (on Forbes blog)

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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.

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Update on ISO 26000 (Guidance on Social Responsibility)

posted by Tara Knight

This is an update to a post I previously wrote about the publication of ISO 26000

Since the official publishing of the long-awaited ISO 26000 (Guidance on social responsibility) code in November 2010, many companies have been excitedly leveraging the standard to their business process.  

The ISO 26000 code is intended to provide an international consensus on definitions and principles of Social Responsibility and guidance for integrate it throughout the operations of an organization. Unlike many other ISO standards, the working group that developed ISO 26000 decided that it would not be appropriate to be a certifiable standard – but that hasn’t stopped consultants from offering to certify it. 

To the ISO 26000 working groups’ surprise, it turns out that ISO’s national standards bodies are not bound by that decision. So, national ISO bodies are offering to certifying national variations of the international standard. Under the ISO system, the national bodies are within their organization rules to offer this certification. It is certainly creating a lot of confusion for an international code that expressly states is not intended or appropriately “certifiable” not to mention, creating a host of national versions of what is supposed to be one international consensus.

It is an example of how companies are clearly seeing value in CSR – why would organizations so ardently seek independent verification for their CSR policy if it didn’t offer them some reputational or organization value? However, to ‘get back to the basics” the aim of CSR – and the ISO 26000 standard – is to create and follow the policy and principals of social responsibility – not just acquire the symbols of it.

@TaraKnightHK
 Q3YJSKERK8SM

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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.

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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 pleaserobme.com 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.

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What Makes a Nation? How governments view CSR

posted by Tara Knight

Please excuse me for being a bit behind in reading my news, but I just came across the June of 2010 German Government announcement to officially adopt a National Strategy for Corporate Social Responsibility. A Just Means article (A National Action Plan for CSR) was what piqued my interest, and I decided to take a better look at how governments were integrating social responsibility principals into their governing policies and actions.

Germany is joining a number of countries, such as Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, India and Poland who have created separate institutions and positions of a CSR Minister or an Ambassador for CSR implementation. It is fascinating to me the different approaches each government has taken to tackling CSR principles within their governing policies and programs.

In this regard, North America is playing catch-up. At this time, the United States Government does not have a coordinated or explicit CSR approach, plan or policy.  The U.S. government has recognized some dimensions of CSR by taking a series of steps in areas such as environmental policy, anti-corruption and bribery, and child labour. Further, true to its entrepreneurial roots, the U.S. government does endorse CSR activities by providing awards to companies, such as the Department of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence.

In 2006, the Canadian Government held a series of four National Roundtables on CSR, and from these roundtables in April of 2009, the Canadian government announced their “National” CSR strategy Building the Canadian Advantage.  Most narrowly however, the strategy was designed only to assist Canadian mining, oil and gas companies in meeting their social and environmental responsibilities when operating abroad

In the U.S. and Canada, one could most convincingly argue that these governments have ultimately only loosely addressed CSR within the four key roles of governments in global CSR identified by the World Bank: endorsing, facilitating, partnering and mandating. It was therefore with great pleasure that I read the German Government’s Action Plan for CSR, where they indicated a very broad and deep mandate for CSR within Germany:

“The development of a national strategy to promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) was undertaken with the aim of making a contribution to meeting the core challenges facing us in the globalised world of the 21st century. In Germany, corporate social responsibility is a fundamental element in the country’s social market economy system….

Corporate social responsibility is not however a substitute for political action. Rather, it augments the responsibility borne by the political sector and civil society and goes beyond what is required by law. The reason: Tapping the potential CSR offers requires the combined efforts of society as a whole. Neither the political sector nor business nor civil society is able to master the enormous challenges of our times single-handedly.”

What more can I say? A CSR policy well said, and I will be watching Germany’s progress with interest.

@TaraKnightHK

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