Latest Insights articles

Horse burgers and fake fish: What does this mean for CSR?

1 March 2013 -

You’d have to have been living in a vegetarian paradise to have missed the horse meat scandal that’s been spreading across Europe and beyond. It seems that if you’ve eaten any “budget” processed beef within memory, you’ve probably unwittingly eaten some horse as well. Coming hot on the heels of the pony burgers is a new study from Oceana that reveals a whopping one third of all seafood in the United States is mislabeled, either out of malice or pure ignorance. Tilapia masquerades as pricey red snapper, and escolar – a fish that can cause oily, explosive gastric distress – is labeled as tuna.

The food safety issues might not be as apocalyptically horrifying as the ones revealed in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but it’s evident that our food system is far from perfect. Convoluted, international supply chains mean that it’s easy for fraudsters to game the system. Consumers can’t tell the difference; the deceit is so subtle that it takes DNA testing to tell fact from fiction.

Could there be a silver lining to these scandals? Clearly small, artisanal farmers, fishers and butchers stand to gain from increased public mistrust in Big Food. Yorkshire Meats in the UK and Niman Ranch in the US are examples of humane farmers who have an almost fanatical devotion to traceability. But what about bigger companies? Corporations need to take these scandals as the opportunity to get serious about traceability in their supply chain. Restoring confidence should not be a mere matter of more stringent DNA testing. Proving to consumers that they know their meat and their producers is vital to restoring public confidence. In this regard, companies with strong commitments to sustainability are well positioned to come out on top. Time for Lidl, Tesco and Albert Heijn to get serious about CSR!

Those bourgeois bohemians, and why they are good for business

22 November 2012 -

Parodied, mocked, and dismissed, the bourgeois bohemian is nonetheless a huge cultural force.  ”Bobos’” for short, these are the people who reject conspicuous consumption and mass consumerism in favor of all things local, organic, artisanal, handmade and authentic. As (slightly) exaggerated in the sketch comedy show Portlandia, these are the people who demand not only to know if their chicken was organic, but its breed, its personality, and its favorite color. The bobo’s rejection of mainstream capitalism, however, does not preclude them from spending lavishly on goods that match their ideals. The Williams and Sonoma chicken coop below, for instance, is € 1,000. Businesses big and small, new and existing, are serving the needs of this back-to-the-earth (but not too back) population.

While it’s easy to chuckle at bobos and their small-batch mayonnaise, the fact remains that these consumers are driving real change. Not only do they demand “realness” in products, they are also well-to-do and well-educated enough to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to advertising promises. Witness, for example, the uproarious backlash against Campbell’s instant Go soup, which was so blatantly marketed to food-truck-loving millennials that it inspired a scathing Gawker post and a segment on the Colbert Report.

No longer content to buy the hype, the bobo craves a connection to authentic goods and stories. Luckily for sustainable, fair, or otherwise unique businesses, from the local farm to the giant B corporation, this (relatively) new breed of consumer has opened more opportunities than ever before to translate “realness” into sales and brand awareness.

So how to target the bobo, the urban homesteader, and the DIY hipster? Companies can compete by offering what Mike Doherty of Fast Company calls real experiences, real products, and real access. Honest, transparent, and ‘good’ products must not merely help people in the business of living, but must also give shape and meaning to their lives. Compelling narratives play a large role in crafting this sense of realness.  An interesting back story, however, is nothing if it is not properly framed. Can your company trace back the wool in a sweater to a specific flock of sheep? Then do so. Do your employees pursue interesting second lives outside of their work? Then advertise it. Putting a human (or animal) face on your products will hold special appeal in a sea of cheap, disposable and undifferentiated consumer goods.

IKEA photoshops women from its Saudi catalogue

12 November 2012 -

IKEA, a company known for its strong CSR program, recently found itself the target of internet outrage when it was discovered that it had used photoshop to erase the women in its Saudi Arabian catalog. In the images, men and children remain, but the women have evaporated.

Were human rights activists and interested observers justified in taking offense to IKEA’s disappearing ladies? Of course,   companies must respect local tastes, laws and norms, not only for CSR reasons, but for their bottom line. Advertising materials, even products themselves, differ depending on the target market. That said, IKEA stumbled into a hornet´s nest when it decided to follow the Saudi Arabian stricture against depicting grown women in printed materials. In an atmosphere of extreme religious conservatism, women only occasionally show up in ads and magazines, and only then in clothing that leaves them fully covered. Censors often use black markers to cover up bare flesh in foreign publications. IKEA´s actions only seem reasonable on the surface. Deeper down they conflict with a company that prides itself on projecting a progressive, socially conscious image.

IKEA could have avoided the controversy by simply re-shooting with no women or, better yet, re-shooting with no humans at all. Instead, its actions appear to implicitly accept Saudi Arabia´s marginalization of women: Women not only must not be seen, they must be erased.

The company issued an apology in early October, saying that ”We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalog is in conflict with the Ikea Group values.” It went on to say that ”We are now reviewing our routines to safeguard a correct content presentation from a values point-of-view in the different versions of the Ikea catalog worldwide.”

IKEA’s example goes to show that all CSR actions must be evaluated on a commonsense, case-by-base basis. Embracing mainstream cultural values does not necessarily mean showing sensitivity to local issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Allison Guy.

allison@thegreenplace.eu

 

 

Whole Foods Drops Hershey’s Scharffen Berger Chocolates Over Child Labor Abuses

13 October 2012 -

Whole Foods Market (NYSE: WFM) locations around the country will be removing one of  Hershey’s high end products– Scharffen Berger chocolate– from  shelves across the country by the end of the year due to Hershey’s failure to assure that the cocoa is sourced without the use of forced child labor.

Read the full article here.

Clean Energy Investment Falls to 2009 Levels

13 October 2012 -

Clean Energy Pipeline (ht Business Green) has released clean energy investment figures for the third quarter of 2012 showing that investment has fallen 28% from Q2 2012, and 52% from this time last year. Investment levels are now as low as the beginning of 2009.

Read the full article here.

Chevron Defeat at Supreme Court Part of Growing Hostility of U.S. Judiciary Toward Oil Giant

13 October 2012 -

The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal this week to hear Chevron’s appeal of its $19 billion liability in Ecuador is the latest in a long string of courtroom setbacks suffered by the oil giant in the historic environmental case, according to an analysis of all legal actions filed by the oil giant in U.S. federal courts.

Full article here.

Can Brands Be Too Big To Do Good?

6 August 2012 -

(Daniel Baylis)

In kindergarten we’re all taught to play fair. It’s the golden rule, the ethic of reciprocity: treat others as you would like to be treated. Yet when it comes to the business world, what becomes of this golden rule? The individual rule of “being good to one another” does not have an equivalent proverb when we consider larger human systems, especially in regards to the corporate world.

Read the full article here.

Top 10 mistakes in CSR communications

23 July 2012 -

(Jen Boynton)

We covered the seven signs of a great CSR report a few weeks ago, but the truth of the matter is, we see a lot more grounders and fouls than home runs when it comes to corporate sustainability communications. Here are 10 common mistakes your company might be making with its CSR communications and how to fix them.

Read the full article here.

The story of change

23 July 2012 -

(Annie Leonard)

Can shopping save the world? The Story of Change urges viewers to put down their credit cards and start exercising their citizen muscles to build a more sustainable, just and fulfilling world.

Read the full article here.

Why water matters

23 July 2012 -

(Mike Hercek)

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), water is “a fast-unfolding environmental crisis… and analysis suggests that the world will face a 40% global shortfall between forecast demand and available supply by 2030.”

Read the full article here.

Hewlett Packard: Using IT to help revolutionise healthcare in Kenya

15 July 2012 -

Computer science students at Strathmore University in Nairobi have developed coding for a database giving health workers online access to lab results for infants who have been tested for HIV.

Read the full article here.

Lessons for corporate sustainability from India

25 June 2012 -

(Saatchi & Saatchi)

It was my first trip to India. My task was to take the lessons from my book Strategy for Sustainability, and apply them to the Indian subcontinent. It seemed straightforward enough.

Read the full report here.

In Defense of Genetically Modified Crops

13 June 2012 -

Genetically modified Bt crops get a pretty bad rap. The pest-killing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria protein these plants are bioengineered to make has been accused of harming monarch butterflieshoney beesrats, and showing up in the blood of pregnant women.

Just one problem: None of that is true.

Read the full article here.

Is quarterly reporting inherently unsustainable?

11 June 2012 -

(Mallen Baker)

Al Gore has made the case that companies should no longer be required to produce quarterly financial reports. Such short term updates, he argues, prejudice against long-term and environmentally sustainable investing.

Read the full article here.

Switching to a Green Economy Could Mean Millions of Jobs

11 June 2012 -

(Mother Jones)

Tens of millions of new jobs can be created around the world in the next two decades if green policies are put in place to switch the high-carbon economy to low-carbon, the UN has said.

Read the full article here.

Unilever’s Paul Polman: challenging the corporate status quo

11 June 2012 -

(The Guardian)

Paul Polman, the chief executive of consumer goods giant Unilever, is in a league of his own when it comes to being the leader a multinational company challenging the corporate status quo.

Read the full article here.

Will we shwop til we dwop at Marks and Spencer?

11 June 2012 -

(Mallen Baker)

More and more of those companies that are committed to sustainability are experimenting with ways to influence the way customers behave. Marks and Spencer are not exactly new to that experiment – but they have just launched a high profile attempt to take it a stage further.

Read the full article here.

So You Call This CSR? Or One of Its Many Other Names?

11 June 2012 -

(Forbes)

It’s not a good sign when an entire profession can’t agree on what to call itself. Here’s a short list: Corporate responsibility (CR), sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainable development, corporate accountability, creating shared value (CSV), citizenship, and just plain social responsibility.

Read the full article here.

Imagine a Pollution Monitor That Checks Your Vital Signs

11 June 2012 -

(New York Times)

A bus just passed by. I think I have a headache. This is the sort of inane information that the most tweet-happy among us rush to share with the rest of the indifferent world. 

Read the full article here.

The Service Patch

11 June 2012 -

(New York Times)

Several years ago, the investment banks and consulting firms decided it was better to hire a supremely gifted 22-year-old than a moderately gifted 40-year-old who wanted to go home to his family.

Read the full article here.

Tiny corn could be the next big thing

11 June 2012 -

(Grist)

If modern baseball can teach kids anything about science, it’s that steroids make things huge. We’ve all seen players with tree-trunk sized arms blast baseballs out of ballparks thanks to steroid hormones that bulk up muscle cells.

Read the full article here.

NASCAR’s Increasingly Green Flag

11 June 2012 -

(Mother Jones)

Can a sport devoted to gas-guzzling machines ever be a good environmental steward? Well, the stock car racing industry is trying—and is seeing results.

Read the full article here.

Corporate Social Responsibility: A Lever For Employee Attraction & Engagement

11 June 2012 -

(Forbes)

While the notion of “corporate social responsibility,” may have once been regarded as a corporate philanthropy, it has quickly become a crucial part of any large company’s long-term strategy – not just in marketing, but in recruiting, too: As consumers are ever more concerned with where products come from, employees now want more from their employer than a paycheck.

Read the full article here.

Lidl: On their way to sustainability

11 June 2012 -

(Fairfood)

The struggle for sustainable chocolate has been, and still is, a bitter fight. After ten years of unmet commitments in the cocoa sector the 10 campaign was launched on 22nd September 2011. 

Read the full article here.

International Pacts Don’t Work: The World Is Still On Track For Environmental Disaster

11 June 2012 -

(Co.Exist)

Sorry to ruin the buzz before the Rio+20 conference, but a new report (from the UN itself) says that all these international agreements about fixing the environment are basically useless, because no one follows them.

Read the full article here.

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