Olympic Champion Hannah Mills Launches #BigPlasticPledge

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Rio 2016 sailing gold medalist Hannah Mills has launched the Big Plastic Pledge, a global campaign to unite athletes and fans around the issue of plastic pollution. The campaign is supported by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as part of its commitment to the U.N. Clean Seas Initiative.

The Big Plastic Pledge calls on athletes and fans to reduce the use of single-use plastic in their daily lives by pledging to at least three actions, such as using refillable water bottles, refusing plastic packaging and encouraging sports clubs and event organizers to find alternatives to single-use plastic.

Hannah Mills (U.K.) won a silver medal at the Olympic Games London 2012 and a gold medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. She is also a two-time world champion in the Women's 470 class, having won in 2012 and 2019.

As a world-class sailor, Mills has experienced first-hand the devastating impacts of plastic pollution on the world’s oceans, which is what triggered her to launch the Big Plastic Pledge.

“I think, as athletes, we have such a platform to change people’s habits and demand more from our sporting events and organizers,” Mills said. “If we unite together, our voice can be so loud and powerful that we really can change people’s attitudes globally.”

Each year, we produce over 300 million tonnes of plastic, half of which we use only once and then throw away. Eight million tonnes of plastic end up in our seas every year, harming sea life and threatening our food security and health. Plastic pollution also impacts sports from surfing and sailing to hiking, cycling, running and skiing, as it damages the natural environment on which they depend.

As the leader of the Olympic Movement, the IOC offers guidance and support to International Sports Federations (IFs), National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and athletes in their efforts to address plastic pollution and other sustainability issues.

In June 2018, the IOC joined U.N. Environment’s Clean Seas campaign against plastic pollution and called on the Olympic Movement to come on board. Eleven International Sports Federations, four National Olympic Committees, worldwide Olympic partners DowProcter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, and the Japanese town of Ichinomiya—host of the Tokyo 2020 surfing competitions—have since joined the initiative, as well as Hannah Mills herself.

Sustainability is central to the Olympic Movement’s vision of “building a better world through sport." It is also one of the three pillars of Olympic Agenda 2020, the strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement.

A version of this story was previously published in the 3BL Media newsroom.

Image credit: IOC

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ASBC: A Decade of Pushing for the Triple Bottom Line

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This story is part of an editorial series featuring speakers, organizations and themes we will discuss in depth at the 2019 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands—What’s Next, a two-day event on Oct. 29-30 that delves into the "why" and "how" behind corporate responsibility. You can follow the series here

Despite the mounting collection of evidence that operating a business sustainably is not just good for the environment but the bottom line as well, many in the corporate world still cling to the old business philosophies.  

Through advocacy and illustration, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) is committed to growing a business model with a focus that goes beyond profit. ASBC members and member organizations represent more than 250,000 socially and environmentally conscious businesses in the U.S., according to Executive Vice President Thomas Oppel. “ASBC believes that enterprise can thrive financially in an ever-competitive economy, not in spite of a focus on the ‘triple bottom line,’ but because of it,” Oppel said.

The organization advocates for policy change and informs business owners, policymakers and the public about the need and opportunities for building a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable economy, he added.

The 10-year-old organization was founded by Jeffery Hollender, David Levine, David Brodwin and Richard Eidlin. In 2009, more companies were starting to make the shift to the idea of greater social responsibility in corporate life and needed a forum, explained Levine, now ASBC president. “Our goal is to tap the credibility and the power of businesses to build a more sustainable economy and then implement the public policy to do this,” he said. “We want to provide an alternative reality to show how business and the economy could operate.” 

Among ASBC’s members include well-known sustainability leaders Ben & Jerry's, Seventh Generation, The Lego Group, The Durst Organization, Eileen Fisher and Patagonia

The biggest challenge for ASBC remains refuting the “false narrative,” as Oppel calls it, that social, economic and environmental responsibility are not the purview of the corporate world or that paying attention to them can negatively impact business.

“ASBC’s members provide countless examples of tangible, qualitative and quantitative evidence that these assumptions are far from accurate,” Oppel explained. “Recently, the leadership of the Business Roundtable, representing some of America’s largest corporations, issued a statement finally acknowledging that businesses have an obligation to all stakeholders—employees, customers, community—and not just their shareholders, admitting that their previous, more narrow view, was a short-term one.”

To encourage that advocacy, each year at its national Sustainable Business & Advocacy Summit, ASBC presents the Sustainable Leaders Award that can be given to government officials, ASBC members or journalists. The award honors foresight and commitment on the part of public- and private-sector leaders in promoting public policies that help build “a more just, inclusive and sustainable economy,” according to the ASBC.

And at a time when income inequality and fears about climate change are growing, not to mention lingering anger about the private sector's role in global warming, ASBC plans to host a forum called making Capitalism Work for All, scheduled for Dec. 10-11 in Washington, D.C. “The primary purpose of the summit is to restore faith in and revitalize the capitalist market to be a dynamic force of progress and freedom without sacrificing the planet or its people,” Oppel said. “It is clear that our economic system is under far more scrutiny today, with growing gaps in income and opportunity, as well as challenges like climate change seen as a direct result of capitalism.”

While ASBC maintains that “capitalism has proven to be the greatest engine of broad prosperity in human history,” Oppel said, that doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked. “[Capitalism] is subject to excess and concentration of wealth and power without appropriate government regulation,” he added.

Bringing members together also makes ASBC’s mission easier. “This unifying space serves to reinvigorate the commitment and fight in each member to continue moving forward to a more prosperous and efficacious future,” Oppel told us. “While each single group makes its own impact every day, a space to unify and collaborate allows us all to effect change at a higher level.”

Don’t forget: Next month, we're hosting 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What's Next, October 29-30, at MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C. Together, our 80-plus speakers promise to make this two-day event one that is fast-paced, high-octane and invaluable with their perspectives on the latest in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) community. We're proud to have ASBC as a partner for this event.

Companies that will be represented onstage include Aflac, American Express, ESPN, HP, Owens Corning, P&G, United Airlines and Verizon.

We're pleased to offer 3p readers a 25 percent discount on attending the Forum. Please register by going to the 3BL Forum website and use this discount code when prompted: NEWS2019BRANDS.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Plant-Based Foods Are Making Their Way Onto More Foodservice Menus

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If the world is really going to shift toward a diet based mostly on plants in the quest to take on the looming climate crisis and ensure our lands can support a growing population, we’ll have to push all industries and companies to embrace this change.

We’ll need more than fast-food companies and celebrity chefs to raise awareness about plant-based foods. After all, not all of us brave the drive-through window for a Beyond Taco at cult favorite Del Taco or an Impossible Whopper at the local Burger King on a daily basis. But many employees do work at places where foodservice companies serve up breakfast and lunch fare, whether they are eating at a cafeteria in a hospital, government agency complex or within a massive tech firm in Silicon Valley. If plant-based foods can make it there, the reality is that these options can make it anywhere.

To that end, foodservice giant Sodexo, working closely with WWF and Unilever’s food and beverage brand Knorr, is evangelizing plant-based foods wide and far, including at what Sodexo says is approximately 2,500 cafeterias in the U.S. and about as many across the pond in Europe.

And when these organizations say plant-based foods, we’re not talking about the fake burgers from the likes of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat that are taking all of the oxygen out of the business newswires (and according to some nutritionists, are also taking some oxygen out of human health, but I digress).

No, this talk is about what are literally plant-based foods, focused on 50 ingredients that Knorr describes as the Future 50 Foods.

Many of us are already familiar with some of these foods: black beans, lentils, quinoa, kale and walnuts. But there are other foods that you may have only come across in some cooking magazines, travel shows or while venturing abroad: lotus root, black salsify, fonio and nopales (if you haven’t had a nopales taco, such as one shown above, while traveling around the western U.S., you’re missing out).

There are many reasons why Knorr singles out these foods. First of all, if prepared correctly, they taste fantastic (skip the ham and egg omelette, for example, and try one with squash blossoms). Second, these foods are nutritious and packed with good stuff your parents, doctor, dietician and trainer—not to mention Gwyneth Paltrow—have been telling you to ingest all these years. Furthermore, all of these 50 ingredients can be grown sustainably with minimal impact on people or the environment.

Ultimately, this Sodexo-Knorr-WWF alliance is also urging us to try out these foods (and love them) so that they can scale up and make our global agricultural food systems more resilient. In the end, if more people eat orange, yellow or heirloom tomatoes rather than the conventional red ones, for example, that helps us step away from the current monoculture agriculture systems critics say leave farms vulnerable to pests, diseases and environmental degradation.

Watch for some of these foods to land at a cafeteria near you, as Sodexo and Knorr employees work together to develop recipes that could give a new twist to yogurt parfaits, tartines and vegetable bowls.

Image credit: Yesica/Flickr

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The IPCC Climate Change and Land Report: Three Things Every Investor Should Know

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Resource scarcity in our globalized economy jeopardizes the abundance of countless goods, but one resource—as spotlighted by the recent coverage of the fires in the Amazon—underpins them all: land.

As investors look at land-based portfolio risks, the agriculture sector is at the center of their attention. This focus makes sense. As outlined in the IPCC’s special report on climate change and land use, agricultural commodities will be hit hard if harmful land use practices are not stopped.

Yet the agricultural sector view fails to capture the full scope of land issues. Minerals and mining, consumer goods and retail sectors are just some of the many industries that depend on extensive natural capital for their goods and services. For most industries, land is a vital material resource. Therefore, companies across multiple sectors and industries need to better manage this increasingly scarce and highly-degraded resource.

Investors risk decreasing returns when companies fail to properly manage land resources down their supply chains. So we broke down the top three IPCC findings that investors in all sectors should know to minimize the material market risks in their portfolios and to understand how land, climate and the global marketplace are inextricably linked.

1. The time to act is now

The full report provides credible and comprehensive evidence on the impacts of climate change on earth systems. With over 1,400 pages created by a team of 107 experts from 52 countries, the report is backed by over 7,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers on the impacts of climate change on land and water. At around 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, the risks from dry land water scarcity, wildfire damage, permafrost degradation and food supply instabilities are projected to be high. These risks, along with risks from droughts and heatwaves, become even more severe at 2 to 3 degrees Celsisus of warming.

Bottom Line: The evidence base overwhelmingly supports the investor business case to address the systemic risk of climate change. 

2. Curbing harmful land use lessens risk to investor portfolios 

The report highlights the role of land-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in global climate change. Land (including agriculture, forestry, and all other land uses) contributes 23 percent of net anthropogenic GHG emissions, half of which come from agricultural production. Forestry and land use change, including commodity-driven deforestation, produce 11 percent. However, improved management of croplands, grazing lands, and livestock, as well as reducing forest degradation and land conversion, can reduce GHG emissions.

Bottom Line: To mitigate systemic climate risk within portfolios, investors must address the role of land management in driving climate change.

3. Turning things around presents measurable opportunity

The report emphasizes that land-based mitigation is essential in order to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. All pathways that limit warming to 1.5 degrees require land-based mitigation, with different combinations of reduced deforestation, reforestation and afforestation. But conversion of non-forested to forested land may have trade-offs with food security when employed at large scales (several millions of km2). In evaluating investment opportunities, it is therefore important to consider the net carbon benefits and the likelihood of future forest carbon uptake.

Bottom Line: Land-based mitigation presents attractive opportunities for investment, but only if managed properly.

So, what can investors do now to act on land-based portfolio risks? They can join hundreds of institutional investors addressing these risks, such as the Investor Initiative for Sustainable Forests (IISF), a shared working group of the Ceres’ Investor Network and the U.N. Principles for Responsible Investment, which supports investors engaging companies on the material financial risks of deforestation for companies sourcing commodities such as cattle, soy, palm oil and timber.

Investors can also analyze their portfolios for risks related to land, engage with companies on mitigating issue-specific risks (such as deforestation) and push companies to improve supply chain (Scope 3) emissions disclosures. This analysis starts by addressing the gaps in investor awareness of these issues and sharing leading practices to drive deeper integration of deforestation, climate, and land-related risks into the investment decision-making process.

Ceres’ Engage the Chain site has been updated to include the latest information from the IPCC land and climate change report and outlines direct ways to act now. Investors should take heed of the new special report from the IPCC, which sends a clear warning: land use and the climate crisis are inextricably linked, not only in relation to agriculture, but also to companies and products across many sectors.

Previously posted in the 3BL Media newsroom.

Image credit: Rosario Xavier/Pixabay

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Supporting 500 Students and Closing the Mentoring Gap

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One in three young people grows up without a mentor outside their family. Dr. Derald Davis, assistant superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS), refers to this as the mentoring gap in America. 

Hallmark aimed to impact that gap in urban education in 2018 by launching Lunch Buddies to connect students to a support system. Nearly 30 Hallmark employees of varying backgrounds acted as mentors during the lunch hour to provide guidance, encouragement and friendship to elementary school students. 

As KCPS’ first corporate partner, Hallmark leveraged previous community experience to help develop and structure the new program. Based on the success of the initial program, KCPS implemented Lunch Buddies in 18 elementary schools throughout their district in August 2018, increasing the overall impact of the program to provide one-on-one mentorship to 500 children. 

“Hallmark has been a terrific partner,” Davis said. “Through this program, we’ve seen a true impact and spurred interest throughout the district. The Lunch Buddies program is better because of Hallmark’s involvement. Students with mentors return to class happier, feel encouraged and supported, and engage with the teacher and other students in a positive manner.”

Teachers see firsthand the value the program brings. One teacher saw improvement in her student’s behavior since the student was matched with a Hallmark Lunch Buddy and another affirmed that her students are more engaged when they know they will see their lunch buddy every week. 

“Our goal is to be a positive role model and motivate these kids to stay in school,” said Andrea Gomez, corporate contributions manager of the Hallmark Corporate Foundation and a Hallmark Lunch Buddy. “We lift them up in any way we can,” she added. In 2019, KCPS has rolled out Lunch Buddies to additional corporate partners and individuals in the Kansas City community to benefit even more students.

“To date, the Lunch Buddies program is making a difference in our community,” Davis said. “Mentees have shown increased school attendance, improved grades and improved behavior. We are optimistic about the future of the program based on what we’ve seen so far and expect to see more great results at the end of the year.” 

Read more in Hallmark’s Caring in Action Social Responsibility Report.

Previously published in the 3BL Media newsroom.

Image credit: Hallmark

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The Democratic Debates Have Overlooked Water, Though It Absolutely Matters to the Economy

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Tonight, the 10 leading Democratic candidates take the stage for a debate, the third in the cycle. Each one of them has been busy over the past few months releasing their climate plans, and they all participated in the recent seven-hour long marathon climate town hall. There is a lot of overarching similarity between most of the plans (Andrew Yang, as in a many policy areas, is a bit of an outlier with his stances on geoengineering and nuclear energy), but only a few lay out details relating to water.

Here’s where Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang stand:

  • All the candidates talk about water in the context of resilience, such as natural infrastructure (restoring wetlands, for example) and hardening infrastructure. Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar keep their plans there.
  • Castro (pictured above) lays out plans to strengthen the Clean Water Act, fully funding water programs, and combating pollution and runoff from industry and agriculture. His plan specifically calls for updated flood maps and improving flood protection standards. This was a huge issue post-Hurricane Harvey in his home state of Texas.
  • Harris states that clean water is a fundamental human right. She proposes improving water infrastructure, affordability, and clean water. Her plan includes a Water Justice Act to ensure sustainable water supplies.
  • O’Rourke’s plan includes research and development priorities and funding for water infrastructure.
  • Sanders lays out a plan to address crumbling infrastructure, including a green infrastructure jobs corps, and includes several plans for environmental justice initiatives related to water (every candidate has an environmental justice or affordability component to his or her plan, as well as a jobs plan).
  • Warren make no specific reference to water in her plan, other than to note that everyone deserves access to clean water.
  • Yang throws some climate science in, noting that the southwestern United States, in particular, will suffer more extreme droughts, and proposes the creation of a “Climate Change Adaptation Institute” that will continually monitor and propose solutions for urban planning, agriculture, and land use, especially during droughts. He also notes support of water recapture and talks about sustainable infrastructure.

It should be noted that the renewable energy or net-zero emissions plans that each candidate has will have a significant impact on water, as our traditional fossil fuel-based energy portfolio is incredibly water intensive.

So, why is water so important in this discussion? For one thing, 93 percent of climate change impacts will be felt in the water sector, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Droughts and floods have already become more of an issue for every sector of the country: cities, agriculture, industry. Cities that cannot manage their water will find fewer companies willing to locate there and bring employees. As demands on water sources increase, if businesses are not willing to reduce their demand, they may find themselves at the back of the queue in getting access. Smart water management is the key to sustainability in every sense of the word.

The real estate industry is one area that is already starting to feel the pinch. Put aside the issues with the real estate industry and sea level rise, some lakeside communities are already finding themselves high and dry. For example, as water infrastructure crumbles, a quasi-governmental river authority in Texas is draining lakes to ensure more damage is not caused when the dams fail.

Climate change is not a single issue, but many wrapped into one. Water is a key issue. Infrastructure, resiliency, water quality—these are all critical aspects related to water. It is imperative for the candidates to recognize that water flows through every aspect of our lives.

Plans should include intersectionality, not simply grouping things together. As a start, we need to give the water sector a role in renewable energy goals. We also need to increase technical support and funding for new business models for the water utility sector, which typically lags behind electric utilities when it comes to innovation. In the end, if water is not on the table for discussion, we may soon find it’s not available for drinking, either.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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Embrace Opportunity Employment to Build the Workforce of the Future

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Last month, the Business Roundtable acknowledged the evolving role and purpose of business in the 21st century by updating its Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation. In it the CEOs of America’s leading companies argue, “The long-term success of these companies and the U.S. economy depends on businesses investing in the economic security of their employees and the communities in which they operate.”

We could not agree more.

We especially applaud the BRT’s explicit focus on employees as a critical facet of this new commitment. Of course, operationalizing on this new statement of purpose will be no small feat. As the impact of this far-reaching and potentially disruptive new outlook becomes clear, new questions arise. What does it actually look like for an employer to invest in their employees? How will BRT members and other like-minded employers measure success? How might stakeholders hold employers accountable in this updated worldview?

Successfully navigating this transition is critical because the nature of work is changing. Both workers and employers face the effects of globalization, shifting demographics, increasing automation, and a growing gig economy.  While a forward thinking manager could anticipate one or some of these changes, no one should be expected to account for them all.  The challenge then is to design and build new employment systems that confront today’s challenges while staying open to tomorrow’s. 

In a time of growing economic inequality we believe that the workplace of tomorrow – the one that will be most competitive in attracting and retaining talent – is one where employers are providing economic dignity, creating good jobs, training their employees for new technological advances, and redefining the workplace experience for all employees.

This is what it means to be  an Opportunity Employer. Opportunity Employers commit to the principles and practices of Opportunity Employment – principles and practices that prioritize economic opportunity and mobility for all workers and lead to increased retention, diversity, employee engagement and stronger performance for entry-level and frontline workers while generating business value for the company. In short, it’s about creating a workplace where people of all backgrounds are valued and can thrive.

Our organizations, Talent Rewire and Grads of Life, collaborated to define and publish the Opportunity Employment principles and practices that are simultaneously good for employees and the bottom line. Our framework builds on years of engaging with employers, and in partnership with a community of experts that includes B Lab, BSR, Generation, Good Jobs Institute, JUST Capital, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, Skillful, B Lab, JUST Capital, and many other leaders. In order to make these findings actionable and measurable, we created the Opportunity Navigator – a free, online tool that allows employers to assess their progress against the best practices of Opportunity Employment. The Navigator provides a customized scorecard with strengths and opportunities for additional impact, along with resources that can support employers in taking action.

We’ve taken these steps in part because we know how challenging it can be for employers to move from a commitment to employees to taking the steps needed to prioritize opportunity and mobility for all. We invite BRT members and their industry peers to join the Opportunity Employer movement. Taking the quick assessment to see how your company scores through the Navigator tool is a great first step.

No matter what the future economy holds for business and society, we know one thing is certain: the changing landscape of work requires companies to invest in their employees and ensure that each and every one of them has the opportunity to reach their full potential. We believe the best and most sustainable path forward to achieve this is by becoming an Opportunity Employer. In the end, the companies that embrace these practices will be at a competitive advantage.

To learn more about Opportunity Employment and how your company can empower employees, come explore the Opportunity Navigator.

Elyse Roseblum is Principal at Grads of Life. Nicole Trimble is Managing Director of Talent Rewire.

Previously posted in the 3BL Media Newsroom.

Image credit: Alex Kotliarskyi/Unsplash

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The Path That Led to Amazon Employees Joining the Global Climate Strike

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Workers at the Boston headquarters of the home furnishing company Wayfair raised the bar on employee activism earlier this summer, when they staged a street protest rather than settling for the now-familiar open letters to corporate leadership. At first it seemed like a one-off, but now employees at Amazon are prepared to take to the streets as well to join this month’s Global Climate Strike.

What happened in the weeks leading to the upcoming Global Climate Strike? 

The Wayfair walkout marked a significant milestone in the employee activism movement.  Although employee letters and petitions can attract some media attention, they do not have the visual impact of a street protest in the heart of a leading U.S. city. 

Employees at Amazon may be following a similar trajectory. A group of workers has been lobbying the company to take a leadership role on climate change, and they are prepared to take it to the next level. 

The vehicle for their protest is the upcoming Global Climate Strike on September 20.

The strike is supported by the #FridaysForFuture movement, sparked by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in addition to other grassroots organizations. 

Organizers of more than 2,500 events in 117 countries have already registered to join the Climate Strike. The group of Amazon employees may be unique, though, because they are apparently the only employee group from a leading company to join with the specific intent of calling attention to their employer’s climate policy.

The employee group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice posted a petition letter on Monday, September 9, detailing their case for joining the Climate Strike and calling for support.

By early Tuesday morning, 1,000 names were on the petition. 

A call for climate leadership

While Thunberg and other activists call for government policy makers to step up and lead, the Amazon employees are focused squarely on their employer — and on themselves.

In an open letter published on Monday in Medium, the group made it clear that top executives at Amazon are not the only ones responsible for company policy.

“As employees at one of the largest and most powerful companies in the world, our role in facing the climate crisis is to ensure our company is leading on climate, not following,” the letter begins. 

“We have to take responsibility for the impact that our business has on the planet and on people.”

The group does not let Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos off the hook, however.

They take Bezos to task for talking the talk on climate change, while engaging in business and politics that together promote the fossil fuel industry and its political allies:

Amazon contributes directly to climate change through intensive use of fossil fuels throughout our businesses and pollutes communities with our fossil fuel infrastructure; we have custom solutions to help oil and gas companies accelerate extraction and exploration of new oil and gas reserves; were funding the premier climate denying think tank and we funded 68 members of Congress in 2018 who voted against climate legislation 100 percent of the time.

Employee activism and brand reputation

The letter includes a series of detailed action steps aimed at reducing Amazons direct greenhouse gas emissions, cutting off contracts that accelerate oil and gas extraction, and zeroing out financial support for climate denying lobbyists and politicians.

That may seem like a tall order, but the employee group argues that Amazon is uniquely positioned to hit those goals. In fact, they appeal to the companys own reputation as one of the worlds most innovative companies.

They argue that the climate crisis is an opportunity to reach the zero emissions goal ahead of the pack, not one who slides in at the last possible moment.

They also bring up their influence on other companies:

“…a company with the innovation, boldness, and resources of Amazon should be at the forefront of driving this transformation of our economy that the climate crisis requires. A commitment from Amazon has the power to move industries. Investment by the company in electrified aviation or maritime shipping would be a game-changer.

In concluding their case, the employees point to their achievements so far in terms of developing a a massive logistics network that achieves speed,and they call for the company and themselves to put at least that kind of effort, innovation, and multi-year dedication into achieving zero-emissions logistics.

Another milestone for employee activism

If the Amazon group follows through on their walkout plans, it could mark another milestone in employee activism, in which workers emphasize their own complicity in corporate operations that they disagree with.

In some ways, that trend is already evident. Earlier this year, for example, a group of employees at the powerful public relations firm Edelman reportedly convinced their firm in private conversations to drop a contract with the prison firm Geo Group, after they refused to work on that client's projects.

Last month a group of Google employees ratcheted up that approach by taking their case straight to the public. Instead of waiting for corporate leadership to engage in a contract, hundreds of employees signed a petition pledging not to work on potential business with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol or any other federal agency associated with human rights abuses.

If the Amazon group inspires other employees to join a street protest, the Google group could be next in line. 

Image credit: Jasmin Sessler/Pixabay

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Fearless Girl: Voting Your Voice for Gender Equity Makes a Difference

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On the eve of International Women’s Day, 2017, New York’s Financial District was introduced to “Fearless Girl,” a four-foot bronze statue of a girl with her hands on her hips, resolution on her face and wind in her hair.

State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), the world’s third largest asset manager, commissioned the piece as a symbol for their initiative to bring more women to leadership roles, especially on corporate boards. Two years later, the financial firm has outlined the results of its initiative in its 2019 Annual Stewardship Report.

The report doesn’t only quiet skeptics that would assume the statue was an empty corporate ploy; it also shows that investment firms can make a tangible difference with their voice and voting power.

In 2017, SSGA reached out to 1,357 companies — amounting to about 70 percent of the equity assets the firm manages — that lacked female representation on their corporate boards. As of June 30, 43 percent of those companies have added a female director. That amounts to 577 companies. Six more have committed to doing the same.

Was the statement behind Fearless Girl enough to move the needle?

State Street did more than install an inspiring statue to achieve these results. They had to engage the chosen companies in conversations, and when necessary, vote against the chair of businesses that did not taken adequate action to add a female board member.

The firm has taken voting action against 667 companies thus far.

“Unlike their active manager colleagues, index portfolio managers don’t have the luxury of selling companies they think are adding risk to the portfolio,” Rakhi Kumar, Senior Managing Director and Head of ESG Investments and Asset Stewardship, says in a 2018 State Street article. “If a company is in the index, we own it. So our job is to identify areas of concern or opportunity, and help companies to act on them.”

Kumar added, “We do that through a constructive engagement process: When companies fail to take action we will use our proxy voting power to bring about change.”

Most conversations with companies have been positive, according to Kumar, but some took a turn for the worse. She recalls a company leader saying, “So you want a woman? We’ll give you a woman.” The company didn’t comprehend the bigger picture — that diverse perspectives are important, even good for business.

The benefits of diversity to business are well documented. A McKinsey Study found that companies with more gender diverse executive teams outperformed their competitors by 21 percent in profitability and by 27 percent in value creation. And companies that opted out of diversity were 29 percent less likely to achieve above-average profitability.               

State Street has been nuanced in its engagement with its companies, beginning by understanding how the companies view diversity and whether they are open to having a conversation. If a company shows it is open, the investment firm proceeds with the company’s data — what they collect and how they are using it.

Other investors are speaking out and demanding data

Data collection and transparency show that a company cares about diversity. That data is essential for investors to understand the companies they buy into.

The state of equity and diversity data is dismal amongst Fortune 500 companies. To get a better picture of their assets, some investors have recently taken a stand for more transparency. While SSGA may have been the first large U.S. asset manager to take action on gender diversity, it is far from the last.

Ninety-nine investors (as of June) have signed a disclosure statement, asking companies to publish data on workplace equity policies and practices. Like State Street, these investment firms understand the role diversity plays in profit.

Workplace equity is not a piece of cake

Achieving workplace equity and diverse leadership will not be easy. State Street itself faced a gender discrimination lawsuit in late 2017, ending in a $5 million settlement. If anything, this shows the road will be long.

While SSGA is expanding its stewardship in 2020, it will not abandon Fearless Girl. In its third year, State Street plans to tackle the 57 percent of its companies that have not yet taken action on gender diversity. The firm is stepping up its reprimands by voting against the entire nominating and governance committees of companies that lack action and productive dialogue.

Productive dialogue can start a chain reaction. Kumar describes one such situation in a State Street article. In Houston, a real estate investment trust “wrote us a letter informing us that they had added a woman to their board and that our input had helped shape their board refreshment process and discussions.”

Investment firms have inordinate power to change business landscapes. State Street’s Fearless Girl is showing the difference this power can make when it is used for value-based stewardship.

Image credit: Billie Grace Ward/Wiki Commons

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Some Bottom-Line Sense, Finally, On Gun Safety

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Last week, the floodgates on gun safety opened after Walmart declared that gun owners were no longer welcome to carry their weapons openly in its stores, even in states that broadly permit open carry. The announcement could have been just another one-off, with no wider impact. Instead, several other major U.S. retailers quickly followed suit. So, what changed?

Retailers turn up the heat on gun safety

The latest wave of announcements on shopper safety began on September 3, when Walmart announced a new policy on open carry in a public letter to its employees. Also on that date, Kroger also revoked what had previously been a more permissive open carry policy.

Other companies quickly followed suit with new policy announcements of their own, including CVS, Walgreen’s, Wegmans, Meijer and Albertson’s.

Last Friday, the politics blog The Hill ran a list of open carry policies at the top 30 leading retailers and noted that Costco also discourages open carry, in addition to Starbucks, Target, Texas-based H-E-B, and the Food Lion stores of parent company Royal Ahold Delhaize.

Companies affirming “no gun restrictions” in response to inquiries from The Hill include TJX (TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods), Macy’s and Aldi’s. The remaining stores on the list did not respond, with noted brands such as Amazon brick-and-mortar stores, Apple, Lowe’s, Best Buy and McDonald’s.

The building of a gun safety movement

The new cluster of policy announcements by retailers contrasts sharply with the fits-and-starts nature of previous efforts by companies to limit open carry in states that permit it. 

Back in 2013, for example, Starbucks revoked its previous tolerance for open carry, and made a “respectful request” for gun owners to refrain from carrying guns in its stores.

There was little discernible follow up until the following year, when Target made a similar announcement. Target used the same “respectful request” language while summing up the shopper safety angle with this common sense observation:

"This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.”

Other major retailers were slow to follow suit, though by 2015 at least five restaurant chains also publicly discouraged open carry, including Whataburger, Chipotle, Panera, Sonic and Chili’s.

In 2016, Levi Strauss & Co. discouraged open carry in its stores by formal announcement, repeating the now-standard “respectful request” language.

Last year Levi’s also upped the ante by lending its muscle to grassroots gun control efforts. The company announced that it would partner with the group Everytown for Gun Safety, the umbrella organization for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Still, no other retailers drew media attention to their open carry policies until the new Walmart announcement.

Retailers turn up the heat on gun safety

Last week, TriplePundit conjectured that the rise of online shopping has made a key difference in the willingness of retailers to address gun safety in open carry states.

Shopper safety has always been a consideration for retailers, and the e-commerce trend has increased the pressure on brick-and-mortar stakeholders to ensure safe spaces for shoppers.

The e-commerce angle does not fully explain, though, why so many retailers have followed Walmart’s lead in recent days.

One additional factor could be the threat of legal action.

Regardless of state laws that broadly permit open carry, retailers may be held responsible for failing to take adequate steps to ensure shopper safety. That issue came up in a pair of lawsuits involving Kroger earlier this year, and that may have motivated other retailers to take preemptive action.

Brand reputation, activism and gun safety

Lawsuits draw unwanted attention, and that brings up another important factor, brand reputation.

Until very recently, brand reputation among retailers in open carry states was entwined with policies advocated by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Retailers risked public blowback when attempting to discourage open carry in their stores.

More recently, Moms Demand Action has challenged the NRA for the hearts and minds — and voting power — of residents in open carry states and elsewhere.

Concurrently with the rise of Moms Demand Action, the NRA has inflicted a good deal of damage on its own brand in recent months.

Those twin trends have provided retailers with far more wiggle room to adopt sensible gun policies that make shoppers feel safe in stores.

In a common sense world, the sight of a non-uniformed stranger carrying a gun into a store for no particular reason should be enough to send other shoppers walking toward the exits, if not racing out pell-mell in a panic.

By spreading that common sense message to millions of shoppers in their daily lives, retailers will play a critical role in de-normalizing state laws that broadly permit open carry, and help contribute to a legislative environment that brings public policy into agreement with public opinion on the rights and responsibilities of gun owners.

Image credit: Joanna Nix/Unsplash

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