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Here’s my latest trend piece for Sustainable Brands.

February 20, 2014

Recent commitments from L’Oréal, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and P&G to phase microbeads out of their products by (or before) 2017 is laudable and a good step forward. This news responds to scientific research linking the tiny, polystyrene balls to Great Lakes pollution.

Meantime, “ban the bead” laws are taking shape in California and New York. Like the manufacturers’ phase-outs, it will take years for the ban law, if passed, to go into effect.

Together, these news items have me wondering:

  • Could our sustainability and government leaders be doing more, faster?
  • And if companies do decide to act faster, with some short-term financial hit, will investors and consumers support them for doing the right thing in the long-term?

We could call it the “CVS Effect” — playing off the drugstore chain’s “no smokes” decision — and the burgeoning “Blackfish Effect” sparked by the anti-Sea World film.

I think these questions deserve a closer look because of the bigger picture. The answers can either support — or hinder — climate action that’s getting underway by the Obama administration and leading U.S businesses.

These questions come from a place of examining what’s possible for forward-looking brands that are already committed to sustainability. It bears repeating that all of the brands in the microbead discussion already are sustainability leaders in their industries. Obviously, global manufacturing supply chains can’t be turned off overnight. But when necessity demands it, such as the 1982 Tylenol recall, things can happen very quickly.

So if CVS is truly a game-changer for health reasons, it opens the door for other forward-looking brands to take faster, bolder action for environmental and natural capital reasons as well. Making the decision to phase out an ingredient, while important, doesn’t stop the clock on the harm being done. The longer we wait, the more microbead pollution will go through wastewater treatment facilities, enter waterways, affect that water body’s ecology, and be consumed by fish, then by people. Each of these steps arguably has some amount of harm associated with it.

It strikes me that change can only happen today. That’s true for any choice we make as individuals, as citizens, and as business owners, to protect and restore the environment. So why not start stretching the bounds of what’s possible, sooner, as a better way of doing business?

For now, it remains to be seen how consumers and investors will respond to CVS’ “no smokes” announcement, and if any other retailers will follow their lead. And on the microbead side, how will consumers respond to the news? Will they shift to a brand’s other products that don’t contain the beads? Would they be open to guidance from manufacturers to do so?

I’m betting that, as it become more normal for companies to make bold pro-health and pro-environmental choices, these decisions will be rewarded by investors and consumers. I’d back this up by pointing to cross-sector collaborations such as the Net Positive group, the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance and Sustainable Apparel Coalition — they’re finding that working together with industry and nonprofit peers, for bigger global benefit, is good business, too.

Our responsibilities in life and business don’t end at the factory wall. That’s where they begin. It’s time for big sustainability actions to be the norm for business-forward action, instead of the exception.

Here’s hoping the CVS Effect is just getting started.

Microbeads: Helpful post w/beads product list & non-beady alternatives http://t.co/yAADskgh33

My latest for Sustainable Brands: Testing the ‘CVS Effect’ on Microbeads: Could L’Oreal & @Unilever Be Bolder? http://t.co/menwewKs7B

Going! Mar. 7 Tri-State #Sustainability Symposium! http://t.co/o558YTQL1O

Interesting petition, we need the same in the US: UK media should move #climate debate to response https://t.co/mCYipFC7pZ

From the always on-target @blindspotting: “So how do you change paradigms?” http://t.co/18HrjlzhK4

Simple advice for having more of what matters: You don’t need it. http://t.co/MpgSYDJk9h

Truth: “Climate change deniers have grasped that markets can’t fix the climate” http://t.co/6Wii7crdRr

ENJOYING Jeana Wirtenberg’s new “Building a #Culture for #Sustainability” book. Features 7 NJ business case studies. https://t.co/rS7k5EvmTw

MAY 2014 Classes Scheduled: Transitioning to Green’s NEW #Leadership for #Sustainability (grad myself) http://t.co/yHd0YjPtYy

Intriguing peek at an upcoming book — It’s All My Fault — here: http://t.co/M0laYHAFiy

All about NJ’s climate plan inadequacy: http://t.co/EhUbH1lvhr. And shorter by me: http://t.co/TlXq1ug3Bu 

Here’s hoping we’re at a tipping point where climate action becomes the norm for business-forward action http://t.co/garojSvH8v

Worthy and worth sharing: The “St. Francis Pledge”? http://catholicclimatecovenant.org/the-st-francis-pledge/

Laudable but wondering: Does microbead “phasing out” by 2017 signal consumers that green & climate action can wait? http://t.co/COUVKM5HEU

Appreciating Alex Steffen ‘s “attention philanthropy,” ie, the gift of pointing out something worthwhile http://t.co/Zm0Rn7aT38

On steroids & quarterly reports: short-term fixes can really screw up systems thinking http://t.co/OsIQAifXjJ

Nicely put on climate change denial http://t.co/V98v64IB8f

Score! Check out this post on climate change action & sports http://t.co/HDR1ZDxAr4

Maybe a boat instead? (tongueincheek) “Miami Luxury Condos Come w/Free Tesla” http://t.co/yz5BNXQ715

John Kerry warns on catastrophic  climate change http://t.co/ZOUYIaO4hL

When consumers hear an end-date of 2017 for the tiny problematic beads, does this tell them that crucial environment and climate actions can wait?

L’Oreal’s (and others’) announcement that they are phasing out the use of microbeads in their skin cleansing products by 2017 is laudable and a good step forward. There’s new scientific research linking the tiny, polystyrene balls to Great Lakes pollution.

Meantime, a new “ban the bead” law is shaping up in the New York state legislature. But like the manufacturers’ phase-outs, it will take years for the ban law, if passed, to go into effect.

But these announcements have me wondering:

*Does a multi-year “phasing out” or ban of this problem ingredient inadvertently send a signal to consumers that there’s time to wait on other important environmental and climate change actions?

*Is this the best that our sustainability and government leaders can do? Could they be doing more, faster?

*Are the full costs of the environmental harm being done to the Great Lakes today, and repair, being priced into these companies’ phase-out plans? If not, why not?

*And if companies do decide to act faster, with some short-term financial hit, will investors and consumers support them for doing the right thing in the long-term?

We could call it the “CVS Effect”—playing off the recent news of the drugstore chain’s decision to no longer sell tobacco in its stores—and the burgeoning “Blackfish Effect” movement sparked by the anti-Seaworld film.

These questions deserve a closer look. Here’s why: the answers will either support—or hinder—important climate action steps finally getting underway by the Obama administration and leading businesses.

These questions come from a place of examining what’s possible for forward looking brands that are already committed to sustainability. It bears repeating that all of these brands already are sustainability leaders in their industries. I’m completely aware of the reality that global manufacturing supply chains can’t be turned off overnight. But when necessity demands it, such as in a case like the 1982 Tylenol poisonings, things can happen very quickly.

It strikes me that change can only happen today. That’s true for any choice we make as individuals, as citizens, and as business owners to protect and restore the environment. So why not start stretching the bounds of what’s possible, sooner, as a better way of doing business?

Forward-looking brands can be leaders in this movement, by taking faster, bolder action that takes natural capital into account, as well as the bottom line.

Our responsibilities in life and business don’t end at the factory wall. That’s where they begin. It’s time for sustainability actions that have global impact to be the norm for leading companies, instead of the exceptional.

It remains to be seen how consumers and investors will respond to CVS’ “no smokes” announcement, and if other retailers will follow their lead. One encouraging trend is the collaboration we’re starting to see among leading brands across industries.

Here’s hoping that the CVS Effect is just getting started.

Here’s my latest trend piece for Sustainable Brands.

February 14, 2014

Leaders Now Seeing Climate Change as Risk That Can Be Managed, Not Uncertainty That Can’t (New for Sustainable Brands)

Last month, a front-page New York Times story reported that global business leaders Coca-Cola, Nike, and others are factoring in climate change risks as threats to the bottom line. This news followed CDP’s December reveal that 29 major companies use a shadow carbon price in their finances for climate risk evaluation.

What do these stories have in common? Risk.

I’ve noticed a decisive pivot in business conversations about climate change impacts from uncertainty — as just cause for delay or inaction — to a core business competency: managing risk. For forward-looking companies, this pivot may signal a tipping point from academic discussion to business action that they can use to their advantage.

Simply put, this change moves the conversation from: “What if we’re wrong about potential climate change-fueled catastrophes?” to “What if we’re right? What do we stand to lose, and how can we manage those risks?”

As an example of how this conversation has shifted, look at how Talking Climate’s Adam Corner explored uncertainty versus risk as an academic finding in November 2012. Compare that to his forceful Jan. 31 Guardian piece calling for the framing of risk over uncertainty as a business imperative.

While this idea may be familiar to SB readers, it’s worth noting how fast and far the “risk rather than uncertainty” message is spreading to broader business audiences — and who is delivering the message.

Forward-thinking business leaders and influencers can leverage this momentum for action within their organizations, and with industry peers, supply chain partners, customers, government and civil society allies.

Here are 11 notable recent instances in which business conversations about climate-change impacts center on risk:

Sept. 9, 2013: Harvard Business School’s “Working Knowledge” site reports on shifting the debate about climate change from a political discussion to a practical conversation about risk and reward.

Oct. 3, 2013: Financiers Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson and Tom Steyer announce their year-long “Risky Business” initiative to measure U.S. economic risks from climate change impacts.

Oct. 24, 2013: Investors ask oil, coal and power companies for climate risk information.

Dec. 6, 2013: Climate scientist Tamsin Edwards reports her findings from a meeting called “Communicating Risk and Uncertainty around Climate Change.”

Jan 15: Ceres hosts the Climate Risk Investor Summit with 500 global financial leaders.

Jan. 23: Sustainability thought leader Bob Willard posts “Unleashing 3 Risk Arguments in the Climate Debate” article

Jan. 24: At the Davos World Economic Forum, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim calls for carbon pricing and climate risk disclosure by government, businesses and NGOs

Jan. 30: Citing fiduciary duty, 17 philanthropic groups pledge divestment from fossil fuels and investment in clean-energy technologies as a “prudent response to climate risks.”

Jan. 31: Bloomberg starts his new job as United Nations special envoy to help cities around the world prepare for climate-change risks.

Feb. 5: White House announces “climate hubs” to help farmers and rural communities respond to climate risk.

Feb. 7: A new Ceres report shows more companies reporting climate risk to CDP than to the SEC.

The scientific consensus on human-caused global climate change hasn’t changed that much in the past 10 years. In that time, there’s been very little climate action overall. But now that’s clearly changing.

It’s been said that, “When we change how we look at things, the things we look at change.” I’m encouraged that global leaders in business, finance, government and behavioral economics are shifting to talking about climate-change impacts as business risks that can be managed rather than uncertainty that can’t.

This is a powerful mindset we can use to help achieve broad, global sustainability gains at every level.

Show your sweetheart you love the world as much as them.

Here are 6 ideas to make the sweets-for-your-sweetie more sustainable and easier on the environment.

#1: Pour It On Thick With Maple Sugar
Satisfy your sweet tooth with delicious, nutritious maple syrup. Real maple syrup is more expensive than pancake syrup, but a little goes a long way and adds nutrient-packed taste. New England-produced maple syrup is available at local supermarkets, for a regionally-produced, sustainably grown, delicious sweetness.

Two upcoming NJ events are: Feb. 23 at the Reeve-Reed Arboretum in Summit and Mar. 15-16 at Lusscroft Farm in Sussex County.

#2: Make It the Thought That Counts, Not the Card
You can say it better than Hallmark. Make a card with magazine-cut-outs. Tramp out an I Love You in the snow. Hide a list of the top 10 reasons you love someone in a pocket. Bake their favorite cookies. Let them drive the remote. Do their most-hated chore. Call them just because. Create your own tradition that costs less, doesn’t produce landfill trash and shows how you feel.

#3: Dress Up (or Down) and Dine Local
Whether you pick white-linen upscale or family friendly, a close-to-home night out saves gas and supports local business.

#4: Say It with Flowers, But Greener Ones
It’s hard to think about, but commercially grown cut flowers that come from South America often are produced using pesticides and labor practices that put floral workers at high risk of chemical exposure and harm.

Whole Foods Market sells cut flowers that ensure better wages, environmental practices and working conditions.

#5: Make Their Heart Beat Faster
Spend time, rather than money, and get outside for a heart-healthy Valentine’s Day for a walk or hike. Visit the penguins at the zoo. Find a good spot to look at the skyline twinkle. Skate hand-in-hand at your local rink.

#6: Chocolate but Better
Bypass the generic big red heart-shaped box and spend a little more for an earth- and worker-friendly choice of organic, fair-trade or locally-made chocolate. Find them at Whole Foods Market and specialty grocers.

With a drop of creativity and an extra dollop of planning, you can show your sweethearts that you love the world we live in just as much as them.

Check out this new two-page fact sheet on NJ and climate change: Understanding New Jersey’s Vulnerability to Climate Change.

It puts all the most important scientific facts in one easy-to-read piece about the three biggest climate change threats facing our state.

This useful tool was developed by the Rutgers Climate Institute and the Georgetown Climate Center. You can share it with your local town council, environmental commission, and school science teams. Use it to write letters to your local papers, or to back up a discussion with a friend.

It’s important to remember that Global Climate change doesn’t cause any single, specific weather event like a hurricane or heat wave. But it does make weather events more likely to happen and more likely to be extreme when they do.

A simple way to think about it is that climate is your personality—who you are a person. And weather is your mood—how you feel on any particular day. If your personality changes, so do your moods.

In the case of our planet, the greenhouse gases that we’re dumping into the atmosphere are raising the earth’s temperature. In other words, we’re changing the earth’s personality. These changes from the generally consistent climate patterns we had for billions of years affect where, when and how weather happens. Those are the earth’s moods.

So here’s the deal: Climate change is making NJ stormier, floodier, and hotter.

1. Threats from Extreme Storms

“Power interruptions due to extreme weather, such as hurricanes, thunderstorms, and ice storms, are 10 times worse in New Jersey today than 20 years ago.”

“Heavy precipitation events in the Northeast have increased dramatically in the past two decades, occurring more than twice as often in recent year than during the past century.”

2. Threats from Rising Seas

“Scientists consider New Jersey a hotspot for sea-level rise, as waters along New Jersey’s coast are rising faster than the global average. Best estimates for sea-level rise along New Jersey’s coast show an increase of 10 inches by 2030 and by 1.5 feet by 2050.”

“Scientists are highly confident that future storms will have greater impacts because of rising sea levels. Storm surge combined with higher water levels will make severe coastal flooding more frequent in the future.”

3. Threats from Extreme Heat

“By mid-century, about 70 percent of summers in New Jersey will be warmer than the state’s warmest summer on record.”

“This extremely hot weather will increase health risks for the elderly and young children, stress rail lines and major roadways, and pose threats to agriculture.”

So now that we know—what are we going to do about it? That’s exactly what lots of people around the state are working on.

This accessible guide gives citizens, planners and policy makers another tool to make better decisions about how our state should spend money and resources.

We don’t have time to waste debating about whether climate science is 100% for-sure or merely 97% sure. It’s time to take action on the family, local, county and state levels.

This post evolved into a Feb. 7 piece for Sustainable Brands. But here’s my original post that inspired it.

No more smokes.

Yesterday, drugstore chain CVS announced that it will stop selling tobacco products.

This is a business decision that will inconvenience at best, and aggravate for sure, many of their customers.

It’s a big deal, and here’s why.

(As a side note, I believe that commercially produced tobacco is a faulty product. Unlike sugar or trans-fats or salt, there is no safe dose of it.)

It signals a tide turning towards saying, “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping.” Even when there doesn’t seem to be a financially sound reason for doing so.

When a business owner says this, it means they are valuing something else more than short-term profits.

It’s saying, “I can’t go on with business practices that are fundamentally incompatible with being a responsible person for my company, my community, and for my customers.”

CVS is making a very carefully calculated decision. And good on them for it.

To back up, let’s remember that Target made a similar decision to stop selling tobacco way back in 1996. (Thanks to Kathrin Winkler for the tip.)

In 1996, Target stopped selling tobacco because it was *too expensive* for their bottom line short term. Target’s tobacco sales were being wiped out by: 1) shoplifting and 2) overhead costs for (inadequate) theft prevention measures.

Today, CVS leadership is saying that it’s taking tobacco off the shelves because it they are valuing long-term results. It’s part of CVS’ strategy to pivot from being a seller of goods (stuff) to a provider of service (health services). Over the long-term, the $2 billion loss in annual sales from tobacco products won’t matter.

In 1986, Target said, “It’s a money decision” because saying “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping,” wouldn’t have flown.

Today, I feel, CVS can say, “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping,” for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s happening when more Americans can access and afford more healthcare services.

Second, CVS can count on its allies to quickly broadcast and broaden support for the move through social media. Remember, Twitter’s megaphone didn’t exist in 1986. (President Obama’s office tweeted his endorsement within minutes of the announcement.)

And third, most importantly, I think the CVS leadership team decided that it’s the right thing to do.

I believe that sustainability’s greatest strength has always been that it’s the right thing to do. I’m inspired by Lincoln’s (and Milton’s) call to appeal to our fellow humans’ better angels, rather than their bank balance.

CVS’ announcement moves the ball down field for more business decisions based on social and environmental impacts. It creates new safe “middle ground” to operate from the “morals” argument rather than the “money” business case argument that hampers well-meaning people from doing the right thing.

Sometimes the right thing to do doesn’t look like the best thing to do, money-wise, in the short term.

But when we give things a chance, they have a way of working out.

CVS’ leaders decided to say, “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping.”

Others will follow.

Jeana Wirtenberg knows sustainability is about people.

Living, breathing, caring, feeling human beings.

It’s not green. Or eco. Or solar. Or resilient. And it’s not even environmentally conscious or any other of the buzzwords we hear.

Sustainability is what people do to make sure we’re living today so there’s enough for all, forever.

That means each one of us.

Including what we do at work–whether we’re the boss or employee.

And if we spend the majority of our waking hours at work, we need to make them count.

For people close to home, across the county and around the world.

So, how do great companies do that?

They embed this “enough for all forever” awareness into their organization’s DNA by building a culture for sustainability.

A company’s culture is how each person works, and how they work together, for their customers and stakeholders.

That’s the genius behind Jeana’s new book. She exhaustively interviewed and researched nine leading global companies that have made sustainability part of how they do business. And then laid out a road map for replicating their success.

The companies she picked also happen to be headquartered in or have a large presence in NJ.

For too many years, the cult of “shareholder value” has lead companies to make decisions based on profits first.

That’s changing. And these companies prove it.

Jeana’s book is an essential contribution to the growing realization that not only is being a responsible corporate citizen a good thing for business profitability, it’s also the moral, right, human way for us to conduct ourselves in the world.

And as we race towards a 2 degree centigrade tipping point for our earth’s temperature, it’s also a game-ending race for survival.

As the sustainability expert Andrew Winston has said, “Business cannot succeed in a world that fails.”

In the same way, business cannot succeed if the people involved aren’t working together.

Jeana’s book offers case studies, concrete examples, and a path forward towards a sustainable, prosperous future–for ourselves, business and the world as a whole.

Building a Culture for Sustainability
People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy

Jeana Wirtenberg Ph.D
Foreword by Andrew Winston

This practical, easy-to-understand book sets a path to successfully building a culture for sustainability in today’s global marketplace, providing “best practice” case studies from industries and sectors including manufacturing, business-to-business, hospitality, consumer products, telecommunications, and professional services.

“Sustainability” isn’t merely a buzzword; it’s critical to long-term success.

In their own words, leaders, managers, and employees from nine global companies explain how they are turning their visions into reality. Sustainability and human resources expert Jeana Wirtenberg describes how these companies are transforming challenges into opportunities by opening their minds to the megatrends that will define the future. The vast majority of today’s CEOs consider sustainability essential to their company’s success, yet most do not know how to embed it into their company and its culture. This book guides firms of all types and sizes—from those organizations just starting their journey to sustainability, to those seeking to accelerate their positive impact on people, reduce their negative environmental impact, and improve their bottom line. Wirtenberg shows readers how extraordinary results are possible by engaging the hearts and minds of employees throughout the organization.

Features
• Never-before-published stories and lessons learned from nine successful global companies that are building cultures for sustainability
• Tips from business leaders on how to create purposeful work environments that ignite employees’ passion
• Practical resources: on-the-ground successful programs; proven global and local best practices; top-down and bottom-up strategies and activities; and user-friendly frameworks, tools, and references that help firms at any level of sustainability build a more sustainable culture via increased employee engagement

New Jersey doesn’t have a statewide plan for keeping our people safe, our economy strong, and our businesses thriving when the next Sandy hits.

Every state around us does, or at least is far ahead of us. There’s boatloads of good work going on in our towns and counties, but nothing on the coordinated, resource-efficient State level.

Why not? I’d like to ask personally Governor Christie about the role that climate change plays in our hot summers, destructive storms, and rising sea levels. (I believe he’s a smart man and knows perfectly well the risks facing our state.)

Chris Sturm from New Jersey Future wrote a great Sept. 23, 2013 article for NJ Spotlight where she laid out what NJ is missing and what our neighbors are doing to plan for Climate Change.

As an update, here’s the latest ways that our neighbors are pulling way ahead of New Jersey to be ready for the next big storm.

1. In New York on Jan. 7, Gov. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $17 billion climate change resiliency strategy to keep the state’s citizens safe from future Sandy-scale events. It’s called “Reimagining New York for a New Reality.”

Last June, Mayor Bloomberg announced the “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” document with NYC recommendations for rebuilding post-Sandy and strengthening infrastructure and building citywide.

2. Look at Connecticut’s Climate Preparedness Plan. Just last week, Governor Malloy stood front-and-center at the ribbon-cutting for a new world-class climate resiliency institute.

3. Low-lying Delaware’s Gov. Markell knows that his state is vulnerable to climate change and that it’s a state priority right now. In December, Markell attended the inaugural meeting of the White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness as a Presidential appointee.

4. Here’s Maryland’s state climate change plan. On Jan. 31, the state issued new guidelines for state construction in areas vulnerable to coastal flooding and sea level rise.

5. And finally, Massachusetts’ Gov. Deval Patrick announced Jan 14 that the state is adding $50 million to its already robust statewide climate change planning efforts.

Right now, in New Jersey we’ve got Bridgegate and the governor’s baffling pocket veto last week of a sensible law that would let the public know about raw sewage discharges into public waterways. (A law, by the way, that New York has had on the books since 2012.)

In the cold comfort category, at least we have Pennsylvania for company. Our neighbor to the west has a new climate action plan that doesn’t include specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So who’s filling the state leadership gap?

I wrote back in May that the NJ Climate Change Adaptation Alliance has stepped up to fill the leadership and coordination role that I feel the Governor and the NJDEP should be doing.

This alliance of NJ-focused planning, development, and conservation groups are working together to create a climate change adaptation plan for New Jersey.

And on the citizen side, we can count on the good work being done by Citizens Climate Lobby to give our legislators support for reducing carbon emissions.

Also worth mentioning is North Jersey Public Policy Network that has a terrific spring lecture program lined up.

(Yale’s Geoffrey Feinberg speaks Feb. 20 on climate change communications.)

I care about our state, and want our state leaders to take the actions needed to prove they do too.

Can you think of any sane reason that our neighbors should be kicking our butts on climate action?

I can’t.

So check out these links and then tell your local and state legislators to get us stronger than the next storm.