Engaging Millennial Employees in Sustainability Campaigns

[Watch an introductory video on Millennials by Erin Schrode of Teens Turning Green, SB 2011]

People make a company. This simple truth is becoming increasing relevant for businesses looking to hire and retain a younger workforce, one that will take companies forward for the next few decades. The challenge is, the emerging pool of talent is dominated by ‘millennials‘, a group that is changing the rules of the game. Remember a time when a steady paycheck was enough to ensure lifelong commitment from employees? No more.  A 2011 PWC study on those born between 1980 and 2000 indicates that millennials actively seek multiple employers, sometimes at the same time. They are willing to forgo financial reward for enhanced personal development opportunity and a better work/life balance. And in a radical breakaway from earlier generations, nearly 60% of millennials say they would only work for an employer whose social and environmental values resonate their own progressive views. A stunning 86% would consider leaving an employer whose ethics did not match their own. They are constantly asking the question, “Why do I want to work here?”, driven by the belief that their work can change the world. One respondent sums it up as, “My career will be one of choice, not one chosen out of desperation. It will align who I am with what I do.” Continue reading


5 Challenges Of Using A ‘Made With Renewable Energy’ Label

Eco-labels play a role in promoting renewable energy developments, like this wind farm in Washington State (CC Jeffrey G Katz, 2010)

I am going to start this post with a story. In 2005, an ex-employee and self-appointed ‘green’ vigilante accused sustainability-minded beer maker, New Belgium Brewery, of ‘greenwashing’. No company wants to hear that, especially a small business with green cred, one that publishes carbon footprints for its six-pack. The accusation – the Colorado-based brewery was misleading its customers with the claim that it is 100% wind-powered. The problem was two-fold. Firstly, the utility that New Belgium purchased its power from, switched buying from wind farms to purchasing carbon offsets. The second blow, and the more grievous of the two, was that producing, bottling and selling its Fat Tire beer was not powered entirely by renewable energy. The bottles, for example, are sourced from suppliers that use fossil fuels and require much more energy to produce than the beer itself. The ex-employee took these issues to the local media and got results. In 2011, New Belgium changed its message to ‘Wind Powered, Employee Owned’. The current message is ‘Alternately Empowered’, reflecting their inclusion of solar and bio-gas into their energy portfolio. Unfortunately for New Belgium, the scandal tarnished their green image for a long time.

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Measuring Forest Footprints – Chalk It Up, Pt. 2

A strip of Brazilian rainforest struggling for survival, CC Pedro Biondi/Abr, 2007

What do beef, soy, palm oil, timber and bio-fuels have in common? What might appear to be the innocuous contents of an emergency survival kit for campers, is arguably, the most powerful set of commodities in the world. From hamburgers and chocolate chip cookies to shampoo and toilet paper, the Big Five and its derivatives are found in hundreds of common-place products on supermarket shelves. Growing demand for these commodities has a profound effect on global commerce and presents a tremendous opportunity for developing nations to generate wealth. To satisfy the global appetite for these products, developing countries are channeling the one free resource they still possess – forests. It is estimated that the Big Five play a significant role in the destruction of nearly 13 million hectares of tropical forests every year. To put it in perspective, that is an area the size of Greece. Who is responsible for this rapacious trend? In the second post in the series, Chalk It Up, we will examine new methods to chart out the impact of commodity trade on forests and try to understand if these metrics can help save the most valuable living resources we have left on our planet.

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Retail Activism. Now, there is a phrase that instantly makes you feel guilty. Should you embrace the movement and risk look like a lightweight? Or worse, should you dismiss your credit card as a world-saving tool and zero in on cheap, cheaper, cheapest? After all, the only activism you should be involved in during shopping is trying to prevent the stores from suckering poor, innocent customers. Right? Well, if you are like me, shopping is no fun at all. You buy things, you hate them the moment you come home and feel terrible about the whole episode. Which is why I look for things that alleviate my guilt, allow me to think my cash can make a difference. I admit, retail activism appeals to me. Continue reading

“Made In USA” Claims: A Quick And Dirty Guide

“Made in USA”, Lupor Metal Products, NY (CC Joe M., 2007)

Have you ever bought a product because it said “Made in USA”? I have, because I believe in buying local. Because I hoped that my money would go towards creating jobs and help businesses grow, creating local economies that are largely self-supporting. I looked at the label that boldly stated that it was manufactured in this country and I trusted the company. Ah, the innocence! Little did I know that claiming to be “Made in USA” is a territory marked with loopholes, misinformation, ambiguous labeling and outright lies. “All-American” goods like Converse sneakers and Levi’s jeans are made overseas. Good old American cars are from Mexico. Coors is equal part Canadian, Brazilian and South African as it is American. New Balance is in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the advertising watchdog, for making “American Made” claims, as was Craftsman. The list is long and saddening. Continue reading

Holding Marketers Responsible For The 7 “Sins” of Greenwashing

FIJI Water sued in California for "greenwashing" (CC 2010 M Sundstrom)

Something very interesting is happening in Californian courts. In a class action suit filed in a District Court in Santa Ana, a group of individuals claim that the bottled water maker, FIJI Water Company, has been misleading customers by making false carbon offset claims. Their cause for complaint is that FIJI Water’s assertion that it makes a “carbon negative” product is blatantly untrue. “Carbon negative” would mean that FIJI removes more carbon from the atmosphere than they generate, which is based more on clever accounting than reality. In another case, SC Johnson, the household chemicals giant, was sued for placing a non-verified eco-label on their cleaning fluid, Windex. The label, Greenlist, created a false impression of being third-party approved when it was only meant for internal use. What links the two cases is that companies are being held accountable for false “green” claims, “eco” exaggerations and deceptive advertisements , otherwise known as “greenwashing”. Continue reading

A Business Case For Diversity – Chalk It Up Pt. 1

Chalk It Up talks about sustainability metrics (CC Nobert Lov, 2010)

I love numbers, which is why I believe that hard data is critical to sustainability strategy. In my approach to marketing, my mantra is “what you can measure, you can communicate”. To explore the “numbers”, I am starting a new series on metrics and measurement tools called Chalk It Up. Hope you will enjoy these posts as much I will! (PS: A thank you to the organizer and participants of a great Tweetchat #sustyXX, where this  idea was born!)

The first Chalk It Up post looks at the issue of diversity, an indicator of social justice and an important measure on the social side of sustainability. Continue reading

Sustainability Reporting For Small Businesses – Five Questions To Ask Yourself.

Nike wins Best Sustainability Report 2010 at Ceres ACCA Awards (Copyright: Nike, Inc., 2010)

Have you ever sat at a restaurant and wondered what the kitchen looks like? Do they keep all the surfaces clean? Do they use fresh ingredients? Do they follow the “Employees must wash hands” policy to the letter and then some? If only the kitchen had glass walls, the germophobe in you thinks wistfully. Now extend that to knowing what went into any everyday product, where they were made and what happens to them once you throw them out and you have a wonderful, transparent world. With the multitude of information sources on the internet, that scenario is not that unthinkable. Customers, investors, employees or any concerned citizen can find and create searchable information on businesses. What about companies themselves? One way for businesses looking to stay one step ahead and put out accurate, permanently available and third-party reviewed information on their operating practices is to publish a sustainability report. Continue reading

6 Reasons To Morph Into A “Benefit” Corporation

Patagonia- California's first Benefit Corp (Andrew Hyde/ CC BY 2.0)

Ever heard the words “fiduciary duty”? I hadn’t either, till I looked up Corporate Law for Dummies. Here is what caught my attention, “Unless modified by statute, traditional fiduciary duties require corporate officials to
further the interests of shareholders, and thus require them to maximize corporate profits subject to the obligation to comply with independent legal constraints”. Translating into English, it simply means it is the legal responsibility of a corporate to maximize profits and protect the interests of its shareholders. On the flip side, it is not within the scope of the “fiduciary duties” of a corporate to consider the interests of other stakeholders, including, employees, suppliers, communities and the environment. If they do, a corporate can set itself up for some expensive lawsuits by profit-hungry stakeholders. Craigslist found out the hard way. Ben and Jerry’s, that role model do-good business, lost a lot of its glory in the Unilever buyout and the founders still think it cuts deep. Continue reading