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Here’s my latest for Sustainable Brands.

Previous articles in this series talked about leading businesses taking bold steps on their own for the common good — because it’s the right thing to do — even if it costs the company financially in the short term.

This time I want to point to the latest wave of businesses working collaboratively on the urgent, common ground issues of renewable energy and climate policy. In America’s history of westward expansion and exploration, pioneer families came together in wagon trains for mutual support. In the same way, the examples below show that businesses are taking action, together, to ensure a more certain future that’s good for all of us and for business.

To start off, a June 2014 clean energy report by Ceres, WWF and Calvert Investments supports the idea that this trend is gaining momentum. The report makes the case that big US companies are already investing in renewable energy as a basic “business as usual” material issue, including UPS, Cisco Systems, PepsiCo, United Continental and General Motors. These and the other companies in the report have already saved a billion dollars in energy costs and upped their business planning certainty. Far from a fringe or boutique concern, renewable energy investment is about knowing where your energy is going to come from tomorrow, and having some sense of how much it will cost.

It’s worth noting that several cross-sector partnerships and multi-stakeholder groups for climate issues have been working on these issues for years. The UK- and EU-focused Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group first convened in 2007. And the US-focused group BICEP has been advocating for energy and climate legislation since 2008, with its Climate Declaration attracting over 700 corporate signatories to date. (For more examples of creative, effective partnerships on climate-impacting issues, take a look at Sustainable Brands’ collaboration and co-creation channel.)

But just in the past three months, there have been several high-profile announcements, as well as one intriguing low-key entry. These are four groups to watch:

1. March 2014 — Business Alliance for the Future Meets for First Time
The Business Alliance for the Future is a new alliance of alliances that’s being organized and supported by about 40 business affiliations including BSR, B Team, Ceres, World Business Academy, SVN, National Association of Women Business Owners, Young Presidents’ Organization and others to “to connect, magnify and exponentially accelerate, business’ role in building a world where business excels, people thrive and nature flourishes.”

The group first met in March in Santa Barbara, CA and it is scheduled to meet again in October at the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at Case Western University. The Alliance is formulating its strategy around the intention to dramatically impact existing game-changing projects (to the tune of 5x in 5 years) by fostering action-oriented collaboration.

According to Alliance member Jeana Wirtenberg, co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise, who is heading up one of the working groups, “There are several collaborative action team initiatives already well under way, including: amplifying and spreading a new business narrative; creating 100 percent renewable energy economy; participating, aligning around, and designing a grand economic strategy; and developing and implementing a new corporate scorecard and metrics.”

2. May 2014 — We Mean Business Coalition Launches
While we don’t have specifics yet about what this group will tackle, We Mean Business stated goal on their website is to call for “ambitious climate policy and bold climate action.” The group is like a super-pod of business action leadership, with partners from BSR, CERES, CDP, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Climate Group, and the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, in conjunction with Nike and IKEA.

3. June 2014 — Small Business Poll Shows Support for Market-Stabilizing Rules
In late June, the American Sustainable Business Council released poll results showing that US small business owners support climate rules for market stability and predictability.

The survey found that “clear majorities of small business owners are concerned about how climate change will affect their companies, including its impact on energy costs, health care costs and the infrastructure they depend on. Survey respondents voiced strong support for government action to address climate change, specifically, efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants which produce a third of all U.S. carbon emissions.”

I find this poll interesting because it shows that leaders from small US businesses are on the same page when it comes to wanting business certainty in the face of climate instability as many of their colleagues at global behemoths.

4. July 2014 — Launch of Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles
And on July 11, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) announced that 12 major companies — spanning communications, manufacturing, consumer goods and tech — are jointly asking utilities and energy suppliers to offer more renewable energy products.

The Buyers’ Principles provide a coordinated starting point for what these companies need in terms of options, financing, contracts and emissions levels. The inaugural signers are Bloomberg, Facebook, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Novelis, Procter and Gamble, REI, Sprint, and Walmart. I’m hoping that this will be an unmistakable unmet need signal to the energy market that yes, business wants more renewables and is willing to pay for them.

In my mind, these groups are coming together now for one profound reason. With government paralysis on one side and entrenched lobbying for the fossil fuel status quo on the other, the Cavalry isn’t coming. If renewable energy and climate action are going to be truly become Business as Usual for successful companies — as Ceres’ clean energy report posits — then business has to make it happen.

Together, I see all these efforts leading up to this September’s UN Climate Summit in New York City, where business will be asked to take on larger and more meaningful commitments. Just last week, the UN event’s organizers and partners called for business leaders willing to stand up for carbon pricing “as a necessary and effective measure to tackle climate change.”

And then, it will be time to take all this positive forward momentum to the COP21 meeting in Paris in December 2015. That’s where, once again, the entire world will attempt to agree on climate action and who is going to pay for it. I’m hopeful that, by the time we get there, collaborative efforts like these will have blazed the trail for business to be a major part of the solution.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.