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9 April 2018

The Power of Sustainability Rankings

One of the more uplifting concepts in the last decade or so has been the emergence of pro-Sustainability activist corporations, a welcome break from the traditional 'minimal rules, narrow interest' mindset of the corporate lobbying industry. UK thinktank InfluenceMap has attempted to plot these efforts in the diagram above.

It's worth noting the layout of the quarters. Top left is the traditional anti-regulation mob (Koch et al), bottom left could be categorised as 'stick our heads in the sand', and the good guys drift towards the top right. So there's something of a U-shape in the line of increasing virtue, rather than the usual bottom left to top right diagonal.

I like publications like this, not just because they lay out the detail, but the pressure they bring on brands to improve. After all, it was a Greenpeace Sustainability ranking of electronics companies a decade ago that spurred Apple into action – and they've since gone from bottom of that list to InfluenceMap's A-list. Businesses are competitive by nature and they never like to be shown up by their rivals.


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29 June 2011

VW feel the full force of Greenpeace's wit

Well, Greenpeace have done it again. Having successfully targeted Apple back in 2007 - forcing a rare about turn by Mr Jobs - they're now gunning for VW with this well crafted Star Wars spoof. VW are being targeted for having the worst emissions record amongst Europe's major motor manufacturers.

Where Greenpeace excel in these campaigns is the wit and craftsmanship that go into the content - note perfect to go viral in the social media age. VW have a real problem on their hands here - no matter what their plans for future vehicles are, the evidence speaks for itself. They now have three options - put on the tin hat and hope that it goes away, come out fighting or defuse the situation by acknowledging the problem and pledging to change their ways. Jobs tried the second one, but ended up taking the third.

I would strongly advise that anyone in this situation takes the "it's a fair cop" option first - turn a problem into a driver for improvement. Check out what Lexus managed after being criticised by the Advertising Standards Agency.

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28 February 2011

Keeping Good Company

Here's a short excerpt from my next book, The Green Executive, available for pre-order now:

Deliberate disassociation

The flip side of joining positive organizations is true – if you want to appear environmentally enlightened, you need to distance yourself from bad company. Ever since Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring catalogued the effect of pesticides and herbicides on eco-systems, there has been a co-ordinated attack on the green movement by certain sections of industry. Whether the issue is persistent organic pollutants, the health effects of passive smoking or, more recently, climate change, there have always been elements who would prefer to invest in dubious tactics to maintain the status quo rather than change their ways.

For example, the industry-backed and disingenuously named Global Climate Coalition spent 13 years feeding exaggerated accounts of the uncertainties in climate change science to the press, despite their own scientific advisors protesting to the contrary. The group eventually withered and died in 2002 as members such as Shell, BP and GM decided to disassociate themselves. Associating with any such organizations will backfire on green efforts. The hyenas mentioned in Chapter 4 are particularly hard on any organization perceived to have be saying one thing while doing another.

Having a zero tolerance to industrial resistance to sustainability can be used to demonstrate commitment. In 2009 a number of high profile companies including Nike and Apple left the US Chamber of Commerce in protest at the Chamber’s stance on President Obama’s climate change bill. By doing so they sent out a clear message to their customers, their peers and the government that they were taking the green agenda seriously.

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16 February 2011

Traceability rules...

We have seen countless examples where a company has been hung out to dry due to malpractice deep in their supply chain (Apple, BP and Nike spring to mind). This is leading inevitably to tighter and tighter traceability systems - yesterday I met with a tissue paper manufacturer who can boast that, for certain products, if you gave them the barcode, they could tell you down to the acre of forest/plantation where that wood came from.

The driver for this comes, of course, from the brand concerned rather than from the manufacturer. Brand protection is the goalkeeper to green marketing's £50million striker - the less glamourous, but equally important part of the team (I hope someone can add an appropriate soccer-free analogy for our US readers!).

For big corporations, such traceability is essential and can be demanded as a condition of their custom. But what about smaller companies with less buying power? The best answer is to use third party accreditation such as the Forestry Stewardship Council label for wood/paper products, Marine Stewardship Council labels for fish, or the FairTrade labels for food and other products (including gold!) These all have their limitations, and indeed their detractors, but they give some reassurance over and beyond crossing your fingers.

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24 January 2011

Lessons from Andy Gray & Richard Keys' own goal

In these days of Twitter, Facebook and 24hour news, reputations can be blasted out of the water in a second. Sky TV presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys' sexist rant against female football officials and executives spread like wildfire across the web, the print and the broadcast media in a couple of hours. As myriad politicians, celebrities and businesses can attest, it only takes one little aside to ruin a career.

Likewise, there is no doubt that brand protection is a key driver for corporate social responsibility (CSR). Apple, BP and Hewlett Packard have all been caught up in scandals of quite different types in the last year, and the swiftest reparative action can never quite remove the whiff of wrongdoing. The key is preventative action - creating the culture and systems that prevent casual sexism, racism, supply chain worker  exploitation, pollution incident or habitat destruction raising their ugly heads. Because as Gray and Keys (and their employer) now know, it doesn't matter how safe you think you are, chances are someone will find you out.

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