Writing for a Bluer, Greener World
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10
April
2014

Here’s my latest trend piece for Sustainable Brands.

In earlier articles, I asked whether consumers will back up brands that makes decisions “because it’s the right thing to do” over pure profit motives.

My bet is that these decisions will be rewarded by consumers as it become more normal for companies to make bold pro-health and pro-environmental choices. Here are five recent examples that point positively in that direction.

1. On April 1, Avon announced that it will stop using the antibacterial chemical triclosan in its products “based on the preferences expressed by some of our customers.” This move isn’t that surprising, since triclosan is already on the phase-out list for Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. But nonetheless, it’s a statement that some customers’ voices matter enough to stop selling products that other customers might still want to buy.

2. Two days later, on April 3, Nabisco’s graham cracker brand Honey Maid released a video called “Love” as a response to anti-gay comments about the brand’s March 2014 “This is Wholesome” commercial. That commercial, which shows gay and multi-racial families, had been blasted by conservative group One Million Moms as “promoting sin.”

We don’t know yet how the “Love” response video will impact sales. But with 3.5 million views and counting, I predict a graham cracker bump. On Twitter, the #thisiswholesome feed was awash with feel-good comments about wanting to make s’mores and one photo showing empty shelves.

3. Also on April 3, Mozilla’s new CEO Brendan Eich resigned after only two weeks on the job. He faced pressure to do so after online protests and a brief boycott campaign by OKCupid for his support of California’s anti-gay marriage law, Proposition 8, including a $1000 donation Eich made to the campaign in 2008. The OKCupid boycott caught eyeballs, but the real story, in my view, was about talent war pressure.

You can see that in Mozilla’s official corporate apology for Eich’s brief appointment, which cites an “organizational culture” that values “equality for all.” In other words, the most in-demand people want the best workplace. That increasingly assumes pro-equality and pro-environment policies.

The Eich resignation story is also notable for how fast it happened: his resignation was an about-face from his weather-the-storm stance just days earlier.

4. Then on April 6, restaurant brand Chili’s announced that it was withdrawing support for an autism-awareness group’s fundraiser, scheduled for the next day. Chili’s said it cancelled the event “based on feedback we heard from guests.” Others have noted that the autism awareness group’s website includes questionable statements about vaccination safety and the causes of autism. By responding fast to customer feedback, on a Sunday no less, Chili’s was able to extinguish a volatile public relations situation with a minimum of lost face.

5. And finally, on April 8, California lawmakers considered the so-called “Blackfish bill” that would ban keeping orcas in captivity. State assembly member Richard Bloom says that he wrote the bill after seeing the film Blackfish. Months of positive citizen support on social media surely helped, too.

The April 8 hearing attracted hundreds of people, but after testimony from the bill’s supporters and opponents, the committee declined to take up a vote. Instead, they sent the bill for further study, a process that could take up to a year.

For now, SeaWorld’s orca shows will go on as scheduled. I’m curious about what anti-captivity campaigners will do next, and if they will be able to influence ticket sales.

Together, what the first four examples show is that being a good business is good for sales. When customers speak up, and brands respond, everyone wins. Most of the time, at least.

That’s because what’s good for SeaWorld visitors, and good for sales, and good for California jobs, is really bad for these animals. Keeping captive orcas has been compared to spending one’s whole life in a small bathroom. SeaWorld has a huge opportunity here to be a world leader for truly responsible oceanic stewardship. It’s up to the company’s leadership to imagine — and create — that reality for its next generation of guests.

They won’t have to do it alone. As more customers speak up, there will come a day when SeaWorld says, “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping.” I plan to be a customer who supports them in that decision.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business - (0 Comments)
4
April
2014

CVSEffect, consumer voice edition: “Avon cites customer concern as its reason for reformulating” w/o triclosan http://t.co/jq1QCQYu2F

Cool USDA graph “decline of smoking” How ’bout one for stamping out #climate denial? http://t.co/nNFYEKlZv7

Former SEC Commissioner calls Exxon ‘s bluff on “Nope. No stranded assets here” play. http://t.co/QXqrxvjoIM

Hey NJ–we can do this too! How Boston is-and should be -preparing for rising seas. http://t.co/Zvpu2tHtuG

There goes our last excuse to not take climate action. China ordering 2,000 coal mines to be closed. http://t.co/cqZ6gEeixq

More CVS Effect of doing CSR right: Mozilla’s CEO steps down because of talent war pressure. http://t.co/yy44F2udUn

Another step for CVS Effect. Honeymaid’s LOVE video for #thisiswholesome backlash. http://t.co/cuN2dwywSi

Wow NJ’s FEMA Disaster Plan was filed Mar. 5, 6 days *before* the public comment period opened. http://t.co/mIafbwBWhC

Buzz buzz! The waggle dance of honeybees has been decoded. http://t.co/j996GLc649

Leveraging IPCC: Well-sourced “Dos” & “Don’ts” for climate communications. http://t.co/2pfSIN7rwr

Here’s how NJ can transition to 100% renewable energy: save $$$, create jobs and own our power. http://t.co/IXbELjEdJ8

Expose Climate Denialism: Faux “NIPCC” wants to be compared to IPCC. Um, no. http://t.co/vyR3qJ48Yz

It’s a man. It’s a bird. No. Wait. http://t.co/2xvW8ouTkx

What does the CEO say? Cognitive science research on CSR/sustainability conflicting objectives. http://t.co/eLxOezXZbR

My review of Andrew Winston ‘s The Big Pivot: A Realist’s Guide to a Climate-Challenged Present http://t.co/VeFrFq7RYh

Lesson of the day: “You’ve come here to offer me your gifts. Thank you for your offer, but I do not accept.” http://t.co/7hVlLvFNzx

Let’s bridge it. “There is an environmental literacy gap in the C-suite,” http://t.co/

Exxon won’t disclose business impacts of 2 deg scenario. http://gu.com/p/3z8dg/tw

By me: NJ’s Disaster Plan: Long on Hazards, Maybe Short on Mitigation, Silent on Public Comment? http://t.co/9wYIqKyoSI

MotherJones Mar. 21 on NJ Hazard Mitigation Plan: “a contradictory mess.” http://t.co/pJLaCaDTLY

Change the way NJ business gets done: LeaderShip for Sustainability course starts 4/25. http://t.co/tdPNTgxRfP

Share/link/pin/tag: Carbon Brief ‘s simple 1-page IPCC climate communications summary. http://t.co/Ll5urZMEP9

Share w/your CFO: Solutions for profitably breaking climate gridlock. http://t.co/Lcyl7FLM3i

Now the economists are saying it: Want sustainable growth? Get a long-term focus. http://t.co/Lcyl7FLM3i

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business - (0 Comments)
2
April
2014

Here’s my book review of The Big Pivot on Sustainable Brands.

If you’ve ever thought of dropping a book on your boss’s desk, in the hopes of sparking a Ray Anderson-type conversion, here’s a tip. Don’t use the new IPCC report: It’s gloomy, terrifying and a muddle.

Try this instead: Andrew Winston’s business transformation book for the “new normal” of climate change-fueled disruption. It’s called The Big Pivot.

The strategist and Green to Gold author has written a practical, working handbook for teams, organizations and corporations to “recreate their operations to succeed within the scientific reality of a hotter, wilder, more radically open world.”

In the book, which launches April 9 (join us for the launch! See details below), Winston deftly manages a tricky balancing act: talking about humanity’s impending catastrophes while maintaining a rational, business-minded focus on solutions. I’m glad to say that he pulls it off.

And glad for the rest of us, too, because we need a Big Pivot. That’s what Winston calls the kind of rapid and radical business transformation needed to get from today’s normal of insufficient action to new low/no-carbon, climate-resilient practices and strategies.

To start, Winston briskly lays out the science: Failure is what awaits us if businesses don’t prepare for climate-change-fueled weather disasters, resource scarcities and a radically transparent global marketplace.

For sure, Winston is swinging for the fences by calling for “dramatic improvements in operational efficiency and cuts in material and energy use, waste and carbon emissions.” But only because climate science — not the boardroom — demands it.

Then onto examples: Winston knows The Big Pivot is possible because he’s seen and helped companies do it. He shares stories to show that change can come from decisive leadership rather just than the stick of regulation or crisis. These up-to-date case studies are perfect, sharable examples of what leading companies are doing today.

And finally, he offers 10 strategies for how your company can make big, bold moves for equally big returns on business stability and profitability.

Each strategy is stated as an action, such as “Fight short-termism” and “Set big, science-based goals.” And for each strategy, there’s a “How to Execute” section.

For example, one of the simplest (but hardest) things companies can do is to throw out their goal-setting processes that rely on internal or industry benchmarks. Instead, Winston says we have to peg our goals to meeting the true size of the planetary problem, with suggestions for doing that.

Overall, I appreciate Winston’s refreshingly blunt perspective on two points, both of which can mire sustainability work in problems rather than solutions.

The first is that climate change — as a human-caused, dangerous scientific reality — is not up for discussion. Readers who are grappling with climate denialism or its poisonous cousin, climate fatalism, in their workplaces will find Winston a good model for not engaging and getting on with things.

The second is to dismiss the stall tactic he calls “the increasingly absurd question [of], ‘What’s the business case?’” For readers who are genuinely uninformed about why the world’s businesses need to do things differently, the book’s appendix offers a crash course. Readers can also consult Winston’s earlier book, Green to Gold.

I find his use of the pivot metaphor to be really smart. For one, readers who aren’t comfortable with high-stakes sustainability goals might find themselves on more familiar ground by thinking about entrepreneurial pivots. Successful Start-Up 101 is all about trying one thing, then shifting deliberately to another, to find the right customers and positioning. Giving The Big Pivot an entrepreneurial cast, deliberate or not, may help draw in hesitant readers.

What Winston doesn’t talk much about, by necessity of brevity, are the specific people at leading companies who are making Big Pivot changes towards science-based goal-setting, heretical innovation and radical cooperation.

And that’s a shame, because they’re the real story of The Big Pivot — not companies or strategies or tools to get to zero.

I think that The Big Pivot starts with each of us thinking of ourselves this way. And more importantly, by thinking of our colleagues, partners, competitors and elected officials as capable people who are also up for the challenging of creating a better future.

I’m inspired by Winston’s call for businesses to buck the short-term safety of a quarterly profits-obsessed status quo. It’s time to pivot to a focus on long-term, science-based realities. With a certain climate-challenged future ahead of us, The Big Pivot gives us a realist’s path to making sure it’s a prosperous one, too.

 

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business - (0 Comments)
19
March
2014

Little-better isn’t going to cut it. Nor will less-than-last-year.

No. If businesses want to survive the changes coming down the pike from climate change, it’s time for something bigger.

Here’s my review of Andrew Winston’s new book:

The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World (Hardcover)

* * *

It’s quite the balancing act to talk about humanity’s coming catastrophes with a rational, business-minded focus, but strategist and author Andrew Winston pulls it off.

That’s because he knows what he’s talking about. As he and others have said, “Business can’t succeed in a world that fails.”

To start, Winston briskly and clearly lays out the science. Failing is what awaits us if businesses don’t start getting ready for climate-change fueled weather disasters, resource scarcities and a radically transparent global marketplace. What’s needed is for businesses to make The Big Pivot to low/no-carbon, climate-resilient practices and strategies.

Then, on to examples. Winston knows The Big Pivot–rapid and radical business transformation–is possible because he’s seen and helped companies do it. He shares stories to prove that change can come from decisive leadership rather than just the stick of regulation or crisis. These up-to-date case studies are perfect, sharable examples of what leading companies are doing today.

And finally, he offers 10 strategies that show why and how your company or organization can make big, bold moves for equally big returns on business stability and profitability. I’m inspired by Winston’s call for businesses to buck the short-term safety of a quarterly profits-obsessed status quo. It’s time to pivot to a focus on long-term, science-based realities.

With a certain climate-challenged future ahead of us, The Big Pivot gives us a realist’s path to making sure it’s a prosperous one too.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business - (0 Comments)
14
March
2014

What I’m Reading: Andrew Winston’s The Big Pivot: lucid, practical, scalable solutions to sustainability & climate hurdles http://amzn.to/1cZGAFr

Also Reading: Jeana Wirtenberg’s Building a Culture for Sustainability: People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy http://amzn.to/1kcwF1n

Comprehensive overfishing piece by Triple Pundit http://t.co/GOJUSQeqFU + my 2012 personal essay http://t.co/pPZ0SvhZAc

Discuss: Are business schools a “silent but deadly barrier to the sustainability agenda”? http://t.co/xbrANY2JOK

Provocative read: “Your Theory of Human Nature Predicts Your Policies  http://t.co/MIiK5IyrSq

Analysis of SEC’s role and climate change disclosure: this is about following the spirit *and* the letter of the law http://t.co/xEMATnNfTs

New CSR book by BP insider Christine Bader examines “doing the right thing” complexities http://t.co/vhP08Ug4SD

Really good read w/solid examples: “Flipping Sustainability” http://t.co/1orWCxBQS2

Amy Larkin’s “Environmental Debt” book: counting cause & effect as well as profit & loss. http://amzn.to/1fxiUT4

Recommended reading for latest climate science as frame for systems thinking change, from Alnoor Ladha http://t.co/DrNQsbO85N

Mar. 12 Forum for the Future event with Guardian Sustainable Business kicked off with Helen Clarkson: “A sustainable future is desirable, exciting and possible.”

Feels like a big deal. Vatican calls sisters, priests to live modestly for economic equality http://t.co/4kmX5zbMVh

“Economists take the public’s decency out of the equation.” Fairtrade & socent put it back in. http://t.co/ExgISPSu3o

“Science is not there for you to cherry pick” http://t.co/4u8CHFYJGY

Nice sharpen-the-saw tips for all sustainability folk http://t.co/HKs6Ar0cxp

LOVELY systems thinking essay http://t.co/QkEEPvIvrX

My NJ Senator Cory Booker stayed up all night for climate action. Thank you! http://t.co/Z9iB6D58kh

40% to go. 60% of Americans now believe climate change caused by human action http://t.co/CdxZrKWgnf

My latest: The ‘CVSEffect’: Apple, Disney & Chipotle Step Up http://t.co/W3GBiyp95n

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business | Green Links - (0 Comments)
10
March
2014

Here’s my latest trend piece for Sustainable Brands.

Five major brands have just made news for decisions that buck the bottom-line mantra. Could this be momentum for the “CVS Effect”? Take a look and see if you agree. And note too how brands are joining with allies on these issues, while one brand — Chipotle — is potentially breaking major new ground.

Feb. 28: Apple CEO defends doing the right thing — not just the bottom line

Last week at a shareholder meeting, CEO Tim Cook said that investors who don’t agree with the company’s commitments to renewable energy among other sustainability issues should divest.

Cook knew that he was on safe ground with this issue. A related shareholder proposal against pursuing renewable energy investment got less than 3 percent of the vote. And just two days earlier, Apple had announced that it had signed the Climate Declaration along with more than 120 other California companies.

I don’t know if these two issues occurred to or mattered to Cook before he spoke. But as a high-profile, profitable CEO, his stance creates more “safe ground” for other brand leaders to publicly talk about doing things because they are just and right, not just to make money.

Mar. 2: Disney stops Boy Scouts of America funding because of gay troop leader policy

According to CNN, Disney joins Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Major League Soccer, Merck, Intel, Alcoa, AT&T and UPS as companies that have ended partnerships with the Scouts because of its anti-gay policy. So, Disney wasn’t the first to make this move, but this is a noteworthy step because of Disney’s close brand identification with childhood and families.

Mar. 3: Kroger and Safeway say no to GMO salmon

This one is interesting because it’s about something that doesn’t exist yet. The FDA is currently considering whether to allow genetically modified salmon to be sold.

The US’s two largest grocery store brands — Safeway and Kroger — have joined other leading national retailers in saying they won’t carry the product if approved, which include Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s. Sure, this isn’t as big as CVS pulling tobacco off the shelf. But it still matters because it shows big companies saying “no” to a product that some customers might want, even if peremptorily.

Mar. 5: Chipotle names climate change as a material risk in its 10-K. As reported by Climate Progress’ Emily Atkins, last month Chipotle listed climate change as a risk for the company in its SEC filing and then downplayed it.

Atkins countered that it is a big deal, because, “The fact that Chipotle openly acknowledges climate change, even as a ‘routine risk,’ is news — as there are likely companies that wouldn’t mention the words ‘climate change’ if their business depended on it. And they do.”

Which leads to another reason why this is potentially a big deal.

It’s no secret that SEC disclosure requirements leave room for companies to be opaque about climate change risks.

Bill Russell, of Transitioning to Green (and a Green Accounting professor), noted that, “Chipotle taking this leading position on climate-change risk disclosure could allow shareholders of any competitor company to ‘demand’ that their company explain how climate change is not a material risk to their company. At any time in the future, should it turn out to be material and they had ‘demanded’ the question be addressed, they could potentially be set up for a shareholder lawsuit.”

While climate-change risk might still be a hard thing for some people to grasp, litigation risk sure isn’t. This is something that corporations are finely attuned to — and take action to prevent.

So with this move, Chipotle may have blown a transparency hole in climate-change risk disclosure for shareholders of other companies to climb on through.

I wrote earlier that I’m betting that forward-looking brands that make bold pro-health and pro-environmental choices will be rewarded by investors and consumers — and others will follow.

It’s just the “Diffusion of Innovations” theory in action. Innovators take the risk and go way out on the limb. Early adopters see it and spread the news. Then others follow it and it becomes normal.

As a whole, these announcements — as signs of changing times — were met at worst neutrally (Disney) and at best positively (Apple) in the press. I’m betting on more to come.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business - (0 Comments)
26
February
2014

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.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business - (0 Comments)
17
February
2014

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.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business - (0 Comments)
17
February
2014

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.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business - (0 Comments)
6
February
2014

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.

Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business | Sustainable Business - (0 Comments)