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Here’s my feature story from Day 1 of the Sustainable Brands ’14 conference, held June 1-4 in San Diego, CA.

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Getting to Zero: Multiple Sectors Convene Around Deforestation at SB ’14 San Diego

When all the right people work together — from suppliers to brands who use their products to NGOs — and commit to extraordinary goals, transformational change is not only possible, it happens.

That’s what participants saw in action at Monday’s afternoon workshop on progress being made and the work ahead to support the emerging “new norm” of zero deforestation in forestry supply chain standards. Major responsible sourcing commitments in forestry in the past few years are helping protect rainforests, promote safe labor practices, and drive down carbon emissions.

Future 500 CEO Bill Shireman led a conversation with major forestry supplier Asia Paper and Pulp (APP), leading consumer-facing brands, and NGOs. Setting the stage, he said, “We’re seeing the roles that different groups play in the process of transformation—to create tipping points where change becomes transformative.”

Fresh off a 20-hour plane ride, Aida Greenbury, APP’s Managing Director for Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement, shared how her company’s historic 2013 Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) came about after years of activism — transformed into collaboration — with NGO partners The Forest Trust and Greenpeace. Speaking of APP’s commitments, and the contentious path to get there, Greenbury said, “It’s an unfolding story of relationships, customer requests, conversations, friction and all the history behind it.”

Senior brand leaders on the panel included Kevin Petrie from Nestlé North America, Mark Buckley of Staples, and Sarah Severn from Nike. Robin Barr from The Forest Trust, Greenpeace’s Amy Moas, and Chris Elliot from Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA) represented the NGO communities.

A key theme was the process of building personal relationships based on trust in the midst of fierce disagreements on business practices, complicated and opaque supply chains, and remote physical locations. Speaking about what makes groundbreaking environmental commitments possible, Robin Barr, director of The Forest Trust said: “Transparency is the best way to build trust. You have to engage in a conversation on transformation.”

Barr discussed the importance of helping suppliers and brands recognize their responsibilities and roles to solve global problems like deforestation: “We’re all responsible because we’re all in the same supply chain.” And on the power of brands to lead change, she said, “Brands have the potential to make a difference. When you ask your suppliers to do something different or meet standards, that means something to them.”

“When one player changes the way they operate, the situation changes,” she saiid.

Shifting to the brand perspective, Kevin Petrie shared how Nestlé’s Creating Shared Value program for water, nutrition and rural development responsibility led to the company’s 2010 announcement that Nestlé products will not be associated with deforestation. And from there, how this led to responsible palm oil sourcing commitments.

A fascinating part of the discussion centered on the complicated issues brands face reestablishing purchasing relationships, once supplier deforestation commitments are in place and shown to be working. Mark Buckley, VP of Environmental Affairs at Staples, shared the challenges of moving away from a supplier relationship and then stepping back into it. Petrie noted that Nestlé will examine buying from APP again once assurance audits are done.

As well as the relationship between suppliers, brands and NGOs, brands are working together on issues where they share common interests, specifically climate policy. Severn spoke about her company’s collaborations with other leading brands as a BICEP founding member, a Climate Declaration signatory, and the We Mean Business coalition.

“It’s not good enough to be silent,” she said. “Our legislators need to know that companies care.”

The roundtable was the first meeting of a new multi-stakeholder initiative led by Future 500 and Sustainable Brands. The group seeks to bring together major brands, suppliers and NGOs to solve problems by redesigning how stakeholders can work together, instead of as combatants, to fully tap the power of supply chains to drive sustainability. Shireman encouraged anyone interested in participating in future conservations like this to contact him.

This conversation continues today at a 2pm breakout session on Avery Dennison’s responsible paper sourcing policy in partnership with the Rainforest Alliance.

Summing up the roundtable, Shireman referred to each responsible sourcing commitment as a domino, or multiplier, for reaching the tipping point of zero deforestation. Greenpeace’s Moas pointed to last December’s unprecedented No Deforestation announcement by Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm trader, and that new palm oil commitments are being announced nearly every month.

While global deforestation is still an ongoing crisis, this conversation showed that progress is happening. “As solutions get developed and prove successful in the marketplace, you can no longer say it’s not possible,” said Barr.


YES–A banker counts social capital as equal to economic capital, vital & essential to business. http://t.co/505G3iIgia

My take on the communications dust-ups surrounding the new EPA rules–that aren’t even out yet. http://tinyurl.com/ojr92bm

Stash this for climate & sustainability comms: Krugman explains why carbon reduction is affordable (and prudent!). http://t.co/qqh1qgq1fj

GREAT prep on the EPA ‘s 6/2 rule to limit carbon & why it’s a positive BFD. http://t.co/24RGaJyEJ0

Tons of Newark Riverfront summer fun planned. Love seeing NJ citizens enjoying our shared waters. http://t.co/9lvANmTZ6a

Congrats to @GreenSportsBlog friend Lew Blaustein for 1 year & 100 posts about where green & sports connect! http://t.co/Ec11h1E1ar

Grateful to say I’m a new Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise. http://t.co/Vf3mVZ21Z7

Getting to a carbon tax: 3 options for improving how EPA addresses air pollutants. http://t.co/jl2XORmzDY

Do it, Mr. President: President Said to Be Planning to Use Executive Authority on Carbon Rule. http://t.co/OyA05eZK8z

Attended a letter writing evening with my local CCL chapter. Felt good to write directly & honestly to my reps asking them to act on climate for a carbon tax.

China announces next steps for cutting .28b tonnes of HFCs by 2015. http://t.co/6RNPs45jVR

Just registered, looking forward to 6/25 sustainability event with the U.S. Green Building Council in Philly. http://t.co/FEuyGyVP8l

Searing. “I don’t give a shit that you feel sorry for me…Get to work and do something.” http://t.co/GdrC4xNqq0

Simple and clear.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy spoke on a briefing call today about the rules her agency will announce on June 2 to fight global warming.

The new regulations will limit “coal-fired plants from spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere,” as Jonathan Cohn puts it, writing with verve for The New Republic.

Administrator McCarthy made three points:

1. This is about moving from climate risk to economic opportunity.

2. The proposed rules are “legally sound, solid and doable.”

3. It’s not one-size-fits-all. U.S. states will have flexibility in how to apply the rules.

That’s the way to do it. Simple and clear.

By talking today, she got out in front of the controversy already in full spin from people who oppose these measures.

They claim that stricter enforcement of Federal clean-air laws will cost jobs, endanger businesses and send homeowner electricity costs soaring.

Exhibit A, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out swinging:  U.S. industry gears up to fight Obama’s climate rules

On the pro-climate action side, Cohn’s piece for The New Republic is a valuable Q&A on the issues.

Via The New Republic:

Obama’s New Rules for Coal Plants Are a B.F.D. The Ensuing Political Fight May Be Even Bigger.

Conventional wisdom holds that second term presidencies rarely yield accomplishments and that this second term president, in particular, has lost the ability to get much done. In one week, President Obama has a chance to prove that the conventional wisdom is wrong.

And he can do it while helping to stop the planet from cooking.

On June 2, Obama will to unveil a new set of federal regulations on power plants, designed primarily to keep coal-fired plants from spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere. The hope is that these new regulations will slow down climate change—at first incrementally, by reducing emissions from existing plants in the U.S., and then more dramatically, by providing the Administration with more leverage to negotiate a far-reaching, international treaty on emissions from multiple sources.

I’m sensing a growing divide between businesses that align themselves with spokespersons on the anti-regulation side, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or on the pro-climate action side, such as Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) or the American Sustainable Business Council.

Sooner or later–I’m betting sooner–businesses will have to choose which side of the table–anti-regulation or pro-climate action–will best be able to represent and further their interests long-term.

I’m looking forward to that debate.

“Reducing risk” rules over “More profits” PwC Survey Finds Majority of Investors Consider #Sustainability http://t.co/autZ8qpqsd

Kudos to the Alabama planning director working with climate deniers to help his state. Tough job #actonclimate http://t.co/VhH4584FKX

A MINING exec talking about sustainable license to operate, zero-waste, zero-harm. Asking the right questions http://t.co/RyrHOs4gAV

Vision! Revived Longitude Prize offers £10m to solve greatest scientific challenges/ http://t.co/vJmBI3GYAZ

Important & encouraging: Evangelicals in Florida working for climate change. http://t.co/PUDSyvWYwR

Some practical “where-to-invest-once-you-divest” suggestions. http://t.co/287G24Dk4W

My latest: The ‘CVS Effect’ in Action: Lessons from Chipotle’s #BurritosNotBullets CSR Win.  http://t.co/pX4ZDQSNEr

In Shell carbon bubble argument, Guardian rockyrex commenter reminds that fates can swiftly shift, a la asbestos litigation. http://t.co/fZ6D0g4SrC

Shell reassures investors that carbon bubble is not a biz risk. Want to ask the reinsurers about that? http://t.co/78nNhVduGv

Great article! Jeana Wirtenberg: How 9 leaders are building sustainable culture http://t.co/wS7gDBvYam

IMO, the open-carry folks weren’t there for burritos. My $.02 on #BurritosNotBullets  http://t.co/nClfM7qHW4

Andrew Winston at Fortune Green this week: In terms of climate change, “the cost of doing nothing is now. Not next year or next century.” –

10 Companies That Are Actually Listening to Customers. http://t.co/JJhLqcmRIP

Bottomless salad bowl in your own backyard! http://t.co/Y1uFyDkrsR

Leave the gun, enjoy my burrito. Thanks Chipotle for standing up for your customers’ peaceful enjoyment http://t.co/QpX9quD0Rl

TweetChat #fails….grats to Aman Singh for hosting productive collegial #sustybiz chats http://t.co/R7eRsWQTod

“Get to Yes” progress from Obamacare opponent shows change is possible for climate action. http://t.co/znAYTQpC8o

A poem that cleans the air—literally a breath of fresh air! http://t.co/uarkyxGjtD

“What everyone does when no one’s looking” Good MITsmr piece on corporate culture http://t.co/vn91PkjW20

Andrew Winston: How CEOs Can Save the World http://t.co/Gh2iQuWOd

Here’s my latest for Sustainable Brands.

After a bruising shareholder vote-down on executive pay last week, Chipotle Mexican Grill sure needed a win.

It got one, courtesy of some loaded semi-automatic weapons and some pissed-off moms. In a May 19 statement, the company asked customers not to bring guns into Chipotle restaurants.

This is another great example of what I’m calling the “CVS Effect” — the growing trend of companies doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do.

Every time a major brand, retailer or company speaks up or takes positive steps for their customers’ well-being, health and the environment, they create a little more safe ground for others to follow their lead.

Here’s how Chipotle’s win came about.

Last weekend, open-carry gun rights advocates in Dallas, Texas displayed their guns at a Chipotle restaurant, and then posted the photos on social media.

That’s when the gun-control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America decided to, well, demand action.

Moms Demand Action launched a viral campaign, #BurritosNotBullets, and a petition, asking Chipotle to ban guns from its restaurants.

Just two days later, on May 19, Chipotle responded by asking customers not to bring guns into their restaurants.

In doing, so, the company’s leadership responded quickly to parents and advocates who are working for sensible, eminently reasonable gun control laws as a public health and safety imperative.

I see several “what went right” lessons for other leading brands to follow:

  • Listen to your customers: The Chipotle social media team was paying attention to customer issues, on a Saturday.
  • Commit to quick response: Chipotle’s leadership team responded in just over 48 hours.
  • Assess risk, but act: Chipotle did risk alienating some customers, but it was a good bet to make. This last one is worth unpacking for the bigger picture.

First, Chipotle had 10,000 petition signatures and a Twitter storm to back up a “please, no guns” statement.

Second, coming out on the side of moms and families fits with Chipotle’s “Food With Integrity” positioning that prioritizes serving its customers healthy food in ways that also support farmers, the environment, and animal welfare issues.

Third, the “please don’t bring guns into our stores” ground was previously tested just this past fall. Take a look at Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s Sept. 17 open letter asking people not to bring guns into Starbucks stores. It’s a model of a sensible appeal to civility and respect for all Starbucks customers and employees.

Fourth, just three months ago, a Chipotle customer in Utah accidentally discharged his concealed handgun inside the restaurant, narrowly missing nearby diners. The man was not cited.

Fifth, it’s worth remembering too that, besides being the right thing to do, good CSR action is good business. From a cold-hard-cash perspective, there are a lot of moms (and dads and caretakers and aunties) who like taking their young ones to Chipotle to eat a burrito in peace.

And finally, I wonder if Chipotle leaders are looking ahead and seeing increasing public support for more actions that support public health and public safety.

Together, these reasons all add up to support Chipotle’s “please, no guns” position, but honestly, the brand didn’t need them. Putting them all aside, there’s no good reason, of any kind, ever, to bring a loaded semi-automatic weapon into a public dining establishment.

Chipotle deserves this CSR win, which comes with a ton of free good publicity and hopefully a bump in sales, because its leadership team acted quickly and unequivocally to do the right thing.

That’s a smart business model for others to follow.

When customers talk, brands listen. And act.

Or at least the smart, winning ones do.

After a bruising shareholder vote-down on executive pay last week, Chipotle sure needed a win.

It got one yesterday, courtesy of some loaded semi-automatic weapons and some pissed-off moms.

The company’s leadership responded quickly to parents and advocates who are working for sane, sensible, eminently reasonable gun control as a public health and safety imperative.

This is another great example of what I’m calling the “CVS Effect”–the growing trend of companies doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do.

Every time a major brand, retailer or company speaks up or takes positive steps for their customers’ well-being, health, and the environment, they create a little more safe ground for others to follow their lead.

Here’s how Chipotle’s win came about.

Four days ago, open-carry gun rights advocates in Dallas, Texas decided to display their guns at a Chipotle restaurant.

Then, they posted the photos of their “open-carry rally” on social media.

That’s when the gun-control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America decided to, well, demand action.

They launched a viral campaign, #BurritosNotBullets, asking Chipotle to ban guns from its restaurants.

Just two days later on Monday, Chipotle responded by asking customers not to bring guns into their restaurants.

Via Huffington Post:

The Pro-Gun Invasion of Chipotle Totally Backfired

Gun-rights activists have shot themselves in the foot, again, with a gun rally that caused another major American retail chain to declare firearms unwelcome.

Chipotle on Monday said it wanted customers to stop bringing guns to its restaurants, after photos of an open-carry rally at one of its Dallas restaurants went viral — thanks in part to the shrewd social-media campaign of a gun-control group. The striking photos showed a dozen or so people brandishing firearms, including semiautomatic rifles, both inside and outside the restaurant.

I think that Chipotle Mexican Grill deserves this CSR win (that’s Corporate Social Responsibility), a ton of good publicity after last week’s executive pay black eye, and hopefully a bump in sales.

That’s because the company’s leadership acted fast and unequivocally to do the right thing.

Because come on, there’s no good reason, of any kind, ever, to bring a loaded semi-automatic weapon into a public dining establishment.

In my mind, the open-carry advocates weren’t there for the burritos. They were there to make a point–their point.

Sure, Chipotle took a risk in making their public statement, but it was a calculated one bolstered by public, customer support. They had 10,000 petition signatures and a Twitter storm to back them up.

As well, coming out on the side of moms and families is consistent with Chipotle’s brand value of putting their customers’ needs and wants for healthy food first.

Plus, it’s worth remembering too that, besides being the right thing to do, good CSR action is good business.

From a cold-hard cash perspective, there are a lot of moms (and dads and caretakers and aunties) who like taking their young ones to Chipotle.

And just want to eat their burrito in peace.

Yes it is. Insurers sue town over flooding claims because “Climate change is a foreseeable risk”.  http://t.co/Q3LhjtHjKs

Microbead ban law moving forward in NY State Assembly: 19 *tons a year* of polluting microbeads wash into NY waterways http://t.co/Dmy5kpxxJK

Well done job by Climate Outreach: 7 ideas for helping IPCC communicate climate action better with storytelling http://t.co/RLEvdqCoj1

Profile of NJ ‘s state climatologist Robinson. http://t.co/mnRytfNpuT

Clear, inspiring how-to on building action by William McDonough. Butterfly Resolution! http://t.co/bhzqeKbmZ0

Job for some well-qualified person: Sustainability director position for Amherst College, MA, USA https://t.co/Eyyl8sOoXw

Q for EU friends: When will European Council officially adopt the EU corp disclosure into law? http://t.co/PXJ9H0kN4a

Thanks to Aman Singh for getting my #sustybiz Twitter chat question answered: http://t.co/0q30ytXQ5L

Microbeads ban passed NY Assembly *108-0* last week. Way to go @5Gyres @Anna_Cummins http://t.co/Qk2o3U9cMw

Kudos NJ’s Star-Ledger Editorial Board for this strong statement: Climate disruption & Christie inaction. http://t.co/Qf9PTLlhoM

I’m always on the lookout for great examples and stories of “what works” in climate communications.

I’m interested in writing that not only shares information, but also inspires us to make ourselves, our communities and our world better.

Here’s a darned fine article chock full of ideas for changing how we actively care for all other humans–by caring for Nature.

In this conversation with Cradle to Cradle creator William McDonough, Greenbiz’ Joel Makower tackles a specific way that Nature needs humans, and a concrete plan for doing something about it.

The McDonough Conversations: Why nature needs humans

Joel Makower: You’ve been talking lately about the fact nature needs humans as much as humans need nature. That’s the opposite of what some conservation groups are talking about — that “humans need nature more than nature needs humans.”

Bill McDonough: I’ve been thinking specifically about the collapse of the monarch butterfly. This is one of the most amazing indicator species. We talk about the canaries in the mineshaft as the indicator that their air quality has collapsed and it’s time to get out. Well, I think we should see the monarch butterfly as the harbinger of some amazing information for us to quickly integrate because this is a case where nature needs us now.

What caught my eye most was how effectively McDonough describes (and Makower reports) a step-by-step how-to for inspiring action.

The conversation starts with the end in mind–a beautiful, meaningful, lasting result. Just like the very best Design of any kind, and intrinsic to Cradle to Cradle projects.

Here’s how an outline of the article looks to me:

* * *

Nature is beautiful and meaningful. (Start with the end in mind)

But it needs our help. (The problem)

How can we go about doing that? (The challenge)

Here’s a specific answer to a specific problem:

Make it about children.

Children love butterflies.

Butterflies start as caterpillars.

Caterpillars need flowers and plants, including milkweeds.

Plant lots of butterfly and pollinator friendly plants.

But milkweeds are scraggy plants and sound weedy. (An obstacle to be overcome)

So let’s call them milkflowers instead and plant them everywhere that’s not a park. (A solution that keeps the process moving forward)

Let’s have a a BUTTERFLY REVOLUTION (Moving the solution to scale with a positive, collaborative idea that brings people together for a common purpose)

For kids. (Brings it all around to the beginning as kids grow up to be parents who have kids)

* * *

Kudos to Makower for so ably presenting McDonough’s elegant ideas.

I’m touched by something else that goes unsaid in this article.

McDonough is implicitly acknowledging his indirect connections to an industry that harms Nature: forestry.

While McDonough has never personally wielded an ax to Mexico’s forests, his life’s work as a builder and designer has caused harm through overlogging.

Thankfully, the overlogging that threatened Mexico’s Monarch migration has largely ceased.

Blame for the Monarch’s extinction risk has shifted north, to agricultural practices that have decimated milkweeds populations.

McDonough’s sensible solution includes pollinator-friendly public spaces, inspired by the love we all share for children, and the love they have for butterflies.

As a designer and architect of considerable renown, McDonough has a platform to speak out for Nature. (Another great communications tactic is picking the best, more credible messenger.)

The article’s title, “Why Nature Needs Humans” is very smart too.

Framing the discussion in this way gets people to pull back from our usual perspective of taking and consuming from Nature. This step back lets readers see things from a broader perspective.

To see things from a fresh perspective.

It’s true, ineluctably, that Nature needs us.

And by answering that need, we find we need it back.

Why plastic bags suck. Great global overview w/stats & links http://t.co/Fr5jugobnQ

Amazing New Yorker read, bringing sustainability convos into mainstream http://t.co/IiXuFaJkuQ

Important climate risk drum beat for summer’s Risky Business report from Next Generation  http://t.co/r7eRwApRqM

Great job from Greg Harman  on what the skeptics are dishing up next. http://t.co/7xQluh7MaO

Divestment empowerment will have ripple effects. Expect more empowered actions from citizens, like Rutgers students saying “no thanks” to Secretary Rice. http://t.co/T9a76aC7F5

Talking economics, opportunity cost and susty metrics. http://t.co/EdTBCsIo0P

Faith leadership joins for climate action “Blessed Tomorrow.”  http://t.co/kosdLZeXLl

When we get the money people on board, we’ve won. “Why don’t economists get climate change?”. http://t.co/BXU6dWJbcB

Good on McDonald’s for new sustainability plan. Now let’s talk about it. http://bit.ly/McDSusty

The changing tide pulls everything in its wake. Paddle with it. Stanford to divest $18B in coal. http://t.co/bWH5JoQqcT

Message in a bottle of our planet’s plastic burden at @5gyres plastic event. http://t.co/NFkEpajXih http://t.co/PcP0z0NEYT

Love Obama’s climate plan, needs more business.  http://t.co/02yFV91z5I

DEP hosting Northeastern climate change prep conference. http://t.co/IAxJn59rbo

More “consumers speak, brands respond” action | Teen spurs Pepsi & Coke to dump flame retardant chemical. http://t.co/TzvA0sx2dD

Refreshingly transparent talk from UK KFC’s CSR exec 1. KFC doesn’t market 2 kids in the UK. 2. “KFC is a treat.” https://t.co/uwJgy0Yy04

Unilever’s ‘Help A Child Reach 5’ campaign reports that child diarrhea rate are plummeting. http://t.co/5yuZbk2tpA

I’ve got one word for you: Plastics.

Many thanks to green-marketing-guru Jacquie Ottman for hosting last night’s event on plastics with the Sustainable Business Committee of the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of New York:

Plastics: Global Scourge. Sustainable Business Opportunity

The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic every year.

Discarded plastic fills up landfills and washes out to sea. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a vortex of floating plastic twice the size of Texas, one of five major ocean gyres.

• What is being done to address the problems with petroleum-based plastics, including advocacy and industry solutions?

• How do we address harm to our ecosystem from products that are not biodegradable; contain harmful chemicals; and affect wildlife, sea life and the safety of the global food supply?

Join us May 6th for an informed discussion, from consumer education and awareness to business innovation in alternative plastic products and recycled plastic waste.

The event was moderated by Tim McDonnell, Associate Producer, Climate Desk with panelists:

Anna Cummins, Executive Director and Co-founder, 5Gyres Institute
Steve Davies, Director Public Affairs and Communications, Natureworks LLC
William Jordan V, Director Business Development, Axion International
Joe Risico, Executive Vice President Business Development, Ecovative