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Is climate change relevant to businesses? (140 or less)

August 15, 2013

In keeping with my latest challenge – presenting a tough topic in 140 words or less – today I’m taking on climate change. Previously I wrote about human rights and business.

The reaction on social media was positive, quite a few shares and re-tweets – thank you all very much! I did receive one question from Dana Fatol, who asked how I saw leaders using human rights to reduce costs. Indeed a good question because the link isn’t as obvious as some of the other examples. I responded by clarifying that I think costs can be reduced primarily through two ways: the improvement of quality and the potential reduction of transaction costs due to switching suppliers if a crisis were ever to arrive.

The text below answers the

Read more…


CSR: A Grand Illusion or Driver of Real Results?

August 14, 2013

I was recently asked by the US Department of State to contribute to their publication eJOURNAL USA about corporate social responsibility and its potential for businesses.

While it wasn’t positioned as a “debate,” the author of the piece with opposite point of view was Dr. Aneel Karnani, a professor of strategy at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Nearly three years ago (how on earth did time move that quickly?) I wrote an open letter to Dr. Karnani addressing an op-ed piece he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. So it was Read more…

Human rights: What are they and why are they relevant to business? (140 or less)

August 12, 2013

I was recently issued a challenge: Explain what human rights are and why they are relevant to businesses in 150 words or less. In the spirit of social media, I decided to shrink that to the 140 threshold to echo the 140 characters or less of text messages / Tweets.

Here’s what I came up with. I liked this exercise, so I am going to make it into a series. Stay tuned!

Human rights refer to the shared dignity that all human beings inherently posses at birth. As President Roosevelt outlined, each of us have the freedoms of speech, religion, from want, and from fear.

These last two freedoms are particularly relevant in the governmental context Roosevelt referred to, but also in business. No longer can businesses ignore what occurs in the depths of their supply chains. Now more than ever, businesses are expected to use their influence to ensure that their business operations do not employ child, sweatshop, or forced prison labor, as a few examples. Companies that aren’t mindful of these impacts run the risk of tarnishing their brand, reputation, and violating laws.

However, leaders that “get it” see it differently. They promote human rights to manage costs, improve quality, decrease systemic risks, and lead to a more stable future.


Word count: 140. Boom.


The Changing Tides of Sustainability Talent: It’s Not About Being Indiana Jones

January 22, 2013

A career in corporate social responsibility or sustainability can be thrilling. It seems nothing ever stays the same. Sure, many of the leaders from ten years ago are still blazing trails. But as more companies adopt sustainability policies, the shifting tides in the field change the skills and knowledge required.

Ellen Weinreb of the Weinreb Group.

Ellen Weinreb of the Weinreb Group.

To gain some perspective on the evolving needs of sustainability talent, I sat down with Ellen Weinreb, who runs an executive search firm called the Weinreb Group with a specialty in corporate social responsibility and sustainability. As far as I know, there is no greater expert in sustainability talent recruitment. She has seen the field evolve since starting her career in sustainability in 1996 while in business school at Yale and has gained notable clients like Walmart, Patagonia, Levi Strauss & Co., and Nestle Waters. In addition, I’ve had the honor of seeing her in action as we collaborate on a research project due out later in the year.

In this interview, she describes the needs of sustainability leaders, identifies where the pockets of job growth in the field may be in the future, and dispels a great myth about being a sustainability professional.

Q: You’ve been involved in sustainability for a long time. How have you seen the field change over the years, particularly relating to who’s hiring, at what levels, and what your clients are asking for in their searches?

The good news is that the sustainably field is expanding. The job market ebbs and flows in tandem with the economy. When times are bad and companies are laying off parts of the workforce, the sustainability program can be seen as non-essential business in the eyes of the people making the cuts. Right now, however, things are definitely on the uptick.

I’ve observed a progression of the sustainability position.  For example, in 2008/2009 during the downturn, many companies replaced senior level sustainability professionals with more junior professionals at half the salary. The result was that the junior person was doing the work of many staff.  In 2010/2011 I saw many heads of sustainability receive the budget to add a deputy to her team.

What I’m seeing now, big companies are Read more…

The CSR Challlenge For Companies Doing Business In China

November 6, 2012

China’s emergence as an economic force has been both rapid and relatively recent. It was only in 2001 that China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), allowing it access to foreign markets with very low tariffs on Chinese exports. In exchange, China had to lower its own tariffs on imports and follow the terms of trade governed by the WTO and its members.

For foreign businesses operating in China, the past few decades have been challenging  when it comes to corporate social responsibility and sustainability. To separate myth from reality, I wanted to get an “on the ground” perspective. So at the annual BSR (Business for Social Responsibility)conference, I spoke with Jeremy Prepscius. Based in Hong Kong he is BSR’s Vice President, Asia-Pacific:

What have U.S. companies learned about CSR in China over the past 10 years? What have they yet to learn?

U.S. companies have learned a lot about dealing with supply chain aspects of CSR in China over the last 10 years. That learning has been both good and  a challenge in terms of supply chain engagement.

But what they actually haven’t learned yet, I think, is the value of Read more…

Despite $1B Fraud Lawsuit, Bank of America Insists, We Acted Responsibly

October 29, 2012

It’s safe to say that when most people think of corporate social responsibility (CSR), they think of environmentally friendly packaging, supply chain issues, or even corporate philanthropy. But finance?

According to Alexandra (Alex) Liftman, Global Environmental Executive forBank of America, finance has an important role to play in advancing CSR and sustainability goals. I sat down with Alex at the Business for Social Responsibility conference in New York City last week to get her perspective on Bank of America’s approach to CSR and sustainability. The conversation comes at an interesting time for the country’s second-biggest lender by assets. Federal prosecutors filed a $1 billion lawsuit last Wednesday, accusing Bank of America of carrying out a scheme started by its Countrywide Financial unit that defrauded government-backed agencies by making loans without proper controls.

How does the news of the government’s lawsuit against Bank of America affect the company’s reputation for socially responsibility?

Well, in any situation, you have to look at the facts. Around these legacy mortgage issues, we have stepped up as an institution and acted responsibly and as quickly as possible to address a broad range of issues. In this particular instance, the claim that we failed to repurchase loans from Fannie [Mae], is just false. At some point, Bank of America can’t continue to be expected to compensate entities for the losses that were the result of the financial crisis. That’s the position we have taken on this particular instance.

I would also say that whether it’s the Read more…

CSR Lessons For CEOs

October 25, 2012

A few days ago, my fellow contributor Paul Klein published an interviewwith Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) President and CEO Aron Cramer. The flagship organization in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) field is celebrating its 20th anniversary at its annual conference in New York. I was fortunate enough to continue the conversation with Aron Cramer. We highlighted some of the insights from the conference and we dug into the history of the field and the direction it should be headed. Here is my conversation with Aron:

How did Business for Social Responsibility start?
BSR got started by a number of strands that were woven together actually. But primarily there were members of the Social Venture Network who had created an organization that was really for individuals and that’s what SVN was and still is today. Some people, with Josh Mailman being one in particular, said wouldn’t it be great for to have an organization for companies in addition to a network of entrepreneurs who are concerned about corporate responsibility? The word “sustainability” wasn’t used much in those days. It was called CSR.

So that’s the short version. The organization was set up as a counterpoint to traditional business lobbying organizations in Washington. So it started with the mission to provide a progressive voice to influence public policy. Simply put, a year or two in, people concluded that that wasn’t really working well so it was re-launched in 1994 as an organization that would provide direct assistance to companies to help them become more sustainable in their own operations.

How have CSR and sustainability changed in the past 20 years?
I think they have gotten more serious. The story over the last 20 years is Read more…