Spotlight on MLM and Pyramid Schemes: Brand Risk Is A-Plenty

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When the leading cosmetics manufacturer Coty acquired a 60 percent share in the multilevel marketing company Younique in 2017, the $600 million deal looked like a good opportunity for a legacy brand to ride the coattails of startup magic and social media sparkle. Barely two years later, Coty has shed its interest in the company for a reported $84.5 million. The loss was a steep one on paper. However, considering negative publicity over MLM and pyramid schemes akin to Younique in recent days, overall the decision is a win for Coty’s brand reputation — and a warning signal for other leading brands.

What is the problem with MLMs?

As defined by the Federal Trade Commission, multilevel marketing (MLM) involves selling products to family and friends and recruiting others to do the same to within their circle of acquaintances.

Though not all MLMs are pyramid schemes, even a legitimate MLM can easily be a waste of time — or worse — for those who join.

According to the FTC, “Most people who join legitimate MLMs make little or no money. Some of them lose money.”

To compound the problem, it can be difficult for the general public to distinguish between a legitimate MLM and an illegal pyramid scheme.

The FTC observes that “people who become involved in an illegal pyramid scheme may not realize they’ve joined a fraudulent venture, and typically lose everything they invest. Some also end up deeply in debt.”

Coty drops MLM like a hot potato

With that in mind, Coty’s focus on brand reputation in the MLM area comes into sharper focus.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal took note of Coty’s leap into — and out of — Younique. Reporter Dave Sebastian linked the decision to drop Younique specifically to the MLM model, writing that "executives have said that the business model, which relied on recruiting 'presenters' to sell products to friends, family and others, ultimately proved a poor fit.”

Coty executives may have also taken note of red flags raised last June, when reporter Amelia Tate of The Guardian took a deep dive into Younique’s business model and that of other MLMs.

Tate wrote that fraudulent or not, MLMs tend to recruit people who are vulnerable to exploitation.

“Many people who join MLMs have disabilities, or poor health, and are unable to work full-time,” Tate wrote. "Those who sign up are taught to target new and single mothers.”

More trouble for MLMs

Last week, Forbes reporter Lisette Voytko took stock of the MLM situation overall. Aside from Coty’s decision to ditch Younique, she highlighted several MLMs that have recently gotten into hot water with the FTC.

The list includes hefty fines paid by AdvoCare and Herbalife and lawsuits faced by LuLaRoe.

President Trump and his family have also been drawn into the MLM mess. Voytko’s list includes a July 2019 ruling in federal court that enabled legal action to move forward against three Trump-related MLMs that operated between 2005 and 2015.

The Trump name is already associated with considerable brand risk. Renewed publicity over the family’s involvement in allegedly fraudulent MLMs only adds fuel to the fire.

Canary in the MLM coal mine: Neora/Nerium

Adding to the timeliness of the Coty decision, Voytko also mentions a new lawsuit filed by the FTC against the MLM Neora, formerly known as Nerium.

Announced on Nov. 1, the FTC lawsuit alleges that Neora “operates as an illegal pyramid scheme and falsely promises recruits they will achieve financial independence if they join the scheme.”

In the lawsuit, FTC spells out exactly why people joining Neora/Nerium and other MLMs are at financial risk, regardless if any illegal activity is involved.

“Nerium allegedly incentivizes recruits to make a substantial upfront investment in Nerium products,” the FTC explained. “And then commit to additional product purchases each month.”

Participants can quickly incur other costs. For example, some MLMs require participants to pay for training courses and seminars. Others, like Younique, charge participants on a regular basis for maintaining their status as account holders.

If that all sounds sketchy, it is. However, none of it is necessarily illegal until it crosses a line described by FTC.

“Participants in legitimate multilevel marketing companies earn money based on actual sales to real customers, rather than recruitment,” explained Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But pyramid schemes depend on recruitment of new participants to pay out to existing participants, meaning that the vast majority of participants will ultimately lose money.”

Of course, there had to be a Facebook angle

Not that all roads lead to Facebook in the area of brand risk, but in recent years the social media site has been called to account numerous times for its business practices and for its role in spreading and amplifying objectionable online behavior, including (but not limited to) hate speech as well as conspiracy theories, propaganda and other forms of deception.

Facebook does enforce guidelines for advertisers regarding false claims and other issues, but advertisers are increasingly deploying users to post promotional content that skirts the guidelines.

That appears to be the case with the MLM model described by Tate in The Guardian.

“Social media means MLM presenters now sell to – and recruit from – the entire world,” explained Tate, noting that participants on the higher rungs of the ladder routinely write posts on Facebook promising “'rocking’ sales, ‘instant’ pay and the chance to run ‘your own business.’”

Although MLM participation in the U.S. has been declining, MLMs experienced a strong growth spurt in the United Kingdom beginning about five years ago.

More than 425,000 people in the U.K. currently are involved in MLM on at least a casual basis, and many rely on social media as their main channel. Of particular interest is the increasing use of Facebook Live in the U.K. to broadcast “selling parties,” according to a study cited by the accounting firm PRB.

Whether or not the MLM renaissance comes to the U.S. remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, all things considered, the Facebook connection adds yet another element in favor of Coty’s decision to take the long view, absorb the loss and protect its brand from a business model that is all too susceptible to fraud and abuse.

Image credit: Pixabay

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For Veterans, There’s Hiring - And Then There’s Meaningful Hiring

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Many leading companies have recognized that veterans enter the civilian workforce with a set of valuable skills. However, not all veterans hiring is the same. A new study by LinkedIn suggests that companies are missing opportunities to hire veterans into positions that match their skills and experience, and that enable them to move up the corporate ladder.

Hiring veterans: more than an employment rate problem

LinkedIn developed the new Veteran Hiring Report, released last week, to explore how its data could provide could provide insights into a disturbing pattern that has emerged in recent years.

Though the overall rate of veterans’ employment has improved along with the general employment rate, veterans still face many barriers to advancement up the corporate ladder.

As described by LinkedIn, the problem could be rooted in a view that military experience does not provide the kind of training that leads to career development in a corporate environment.

The statistics, though, tell a different story.

In the new report, LinkedIn surveyed users on its platform who identified as being veterans, and who had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The survey found that veterans with bachelor’s degrees have almost three times the work experience of their civilian counterparts. Veterans are also 160 percent more likely than nonveterans to have a graduate degree or higher.

Once in a civilian job, veterans are also 39 percent more likely to be promoted earlier, and they stay with their company more than 8 percent longer than nonveterans.

Those longer stays are significant, considering the extent to which some companies invest in on-the-job training and education.

A step down into civilian employment

Unfortunately, many companies seem to be unaware of these advantages.

According to the study, veterans entering the workforce receive far more recruiter messages than civilians, but they don’t win employment at a corresponding rate. The report found that many companies hire veterans at a lower rate than civilians, despite the stepped-up recruiting.

Many companies also fail to perceive the value of the skills and experience that veterans possess. Compared to their position in the military, veterans are significantly more likely — 70 percent, according to the LinkedIn report — to get an initial job below their skill level.

Veterans and the race for talent

The problem may also cut both ways. Employers may not fully realize the depth of talent in the pool of job seeking veterans. Meanwhile, LinkedIn suggest that veterans may not fully grasp their potential for employment in fields outside of law enforcement and other familiar military-to-civilian pathways.

It is also possible that veteran-friendly fields are skewing the results somewhat, by aggressively recruiting veterans who might otherwise explore other opportunities.

The burgeoning solar industry, for example, has been ramping up the pipeline from military service to solar jobs. Part of the strategy is to offer training to members of the armed services at their bases, while they are still on active duty. That includes the “Solar Ready Vets” program, launched in 2016 with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The wind industry has been especially successful in recruiting veterans. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) notes that its members employ veterans at a rate 67 percent higher than the national average.

Getting beyond the basics

AWEA highlights the fact that its members employ veterans throughout the corporate structure. Still, when making the pitch for hiring veterans, the organization focuses on basic skills.

That includes teamwork, experience with heavy equipment, a clear sense of mission, and possessing the ability to work outdoors and in challenging physical environments.

What is missing is the education, training, and experience that can groom veterans — or potentially qualify them — for upper management positions.

With that in mind, the LinkedIn report recommends that employers “look beyond the idea that you have ‘jobs for veterans.’”

Among other guidance, LinkedIn suggests that employers take a close look at their hiring practices and identify bottlenecks that exclude veterans. The report also exhorts employers to focus on nuances like “functional dispersion, full time vs. hourly or skilled roles [and] seniority.”

Education is the key

Some companies are already adopting a more sophisticated view of veterans’ hiring.

JetBlue provides one good example. The airline began focusing on veterans in 2012 with a relatively basic approach, and now those efforts are now dovetailing with the company’s new JetBlue Scholars college degree program. The initiative provides assistance and mentoring for adult employees who left a bachelor’s degree program before graduating.

Any JetBlue employee can apply to the program, but it is broadly tailored for veterans. The company’s educational partner is New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State University, which has extensive experience in veterans' services. That includes transferring aspects of military service into certified college credits, enabling participants to complete their degrees more quickly and economically.

The program launched in 2016 and it has already motivated JetBlue to take an additional step. Last summer, the company announced that it is offering support for a Master’s degree, with the specific aim of enabling employees to advance their careers.

In addition, Walgreens stands out for how it has been recruiting military veterans – and for good reason. Veterans come into the civilian labor market with an impressive set of work skills that can first translate into store aisles and on to top management positions.

The technology angle

There are other signs that employers are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to veterans’ hiring.

Last spring, Military Times listed 200 private sector companies vying for recognition in its list of “best places to work” for veterans.

The list includes companies in the energy field, but there is ample variety. For example, First Data Corp. nailed down the #1 slot due to its “best-in-class” education resources and career opportunities for veterans.

The #4 slot went to a relatively small company called Intuitive Research and Technology Corp., which Military Times cited for its focus on veterans’ recruitment and its 30 percent rate of veterans’ employment.

The military-serving banking and insurance company USAA came in at #5, with Military Times noting that “the banking and insurance powerhouse has veterans in the positions of chief executive officer, chief of operations and president of USAA Federal Savings Bank.”

Companies like these are tuned into the fact that today’s military is a high tech, data-intensive environment that can provide veterans with training, skills, and insights that parallel the broader technology transformation of the U.S. economy.

The bottom line: As LinkedIn suggests, companies that have been skating on their recruitment efforts of veterans should step it up and take a good look at what the leaders are doing.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown/Wiki Commons

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Leave or Stay, We’ll Always Have the Paris Agreement

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The United States federal government, under President Trump, has officially begun the one-year process to have the United States fulfill his promise to leave the Paris Agreement. This was predestined by his earlier announcement back in June 2017 that the U.S. would do so. The process would end literally one day after the next U.S. presidential election. If Trump is reelected, then the withdrawal would be a certainty. Virtually all of the candidates vying to be the Democratic nominee, including front-runners (at this time) Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, have made the commitment to reverse this policy.

Leaving the agreement would be a mistake, I have argued, because the reasons for leaving are not only specious, but walking away from discussions is never a strategy for gaining better terms.

When the Paris agreement was signed, it was a watershed moment, not for the climate, but for human history. With virtually every nation signing on, as I wrote thenPerhaps even more important than the climate agreement, COP21 has demonstrated our ability to come together as a species to determine priorities and address the critical issues facing us as a species.”

The meeting also introduced the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognizing the inter-relationship between many of the issues, including climate change that face our species (if you need a refresher on what each of the 17 SDGs is about, click here).  

What occurred in Paris at the COP21 was a watershed meeting because it demonstrated our ability to agree on the big important issues and come together to set universal goals. We can and should take notice of the importance not just for the global climate, but for all the issues, including those impacted by climate change and the need to address it (such as health, well-being, sustainable economic development, equality, justice, and fighting corruption).

That may be the biggest benefit from COP21 - reminding and reassuring us of the unmatched power of people when we come together and really address the issues.

I hope the U.S. rejoins the right side of history – for the benefit of our country – and all nations. Otherwise, it will remain a bittersweet memory (as alluded to in the title). Doing otherwise may make some people feel “good” but it certainly does nothing that could remotely be considered “great.”

Image credit: United Nations/Flickr

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HP’s New Carbon-Neutral Printer: A Sign Of What’s To Come in Sustainable Product Design

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(Image: HP executives discuss the new carbon-neutral printer and the company's long-term sustainability plans at a press junket in Nashville.) 

Over the past year, TriplePundit has tracked HP’s increasing use of ocean-bound plastic—or plastic recovered from ecosystems and waterways before it can reach the ocean. 

“We've deliberately worked across our businesses and our functions to think about the future as an interconnected ecosystem,” Nate Hurst, chief sustainability and social impact officer for HP, said at the 3BL Forum last week. 

In June, the company released the Elite Display, which it bills as the first computer monitor made with ocean-bound plastics, sourced from self-employed refuse collectors in Haiti, who earn a living wage by removing plastic from the outdoors and selling it into the reuse market. 

Three months later, it unveiled the HP Elite Dragonfly laptop, the world’s first PC built with ocean-bound plastics. Half of all plastic used in the computer is recycled, including 5 percent ocean-bound plastics from its supply chain in Haiti. 

And last month, HP invited tech professionals and media to its recycling center in Nashville to show off its newest release: the Tango Terra printing system. The printer itself is made from 30 percent recycled plastic, and the system is certified as CarbonNeutral by Natural Capital Partners.  

“This is our first certified carbon neutral product,” Ellen Jackowski, global head of sustainability strategy and innovation for HP, told reporters in Nashville. “This printing system really establishes the vision of where we're headed across our entire portfolio.” 

HP ink cartridge recycling(Image: Manual sorting complements the high-tech recycling equipment at HP's ink cartridge recycling facility in Nashville.) 

Building a closed-loop system

HP has recycled old ink cartridges through its Planet Partners program since 1987. Its team invented a disassembly machine to take the cartridges apart and separate plastic and metal components for recycling. The plastic pieces are fortified with material from recycled plastic bottles and apparel hangers to increase strength before they're turned into new ink cartridges and sold back into the marketplace. 

HP now recycles 1 million plastic bottles every day through this process. Through last year, the company has manufactured over 4.2 billion ink and toner cartridges using more than a cumulative 107,000 tons of recycled plastic. 

By upcycling these materials for continued use, an estimated 830 million HP cartridges, 101 million hangers and 4.37 billion post-consumer plastic bottles have been kept out of landfills, according to company estimates. 

These numbers are surely impressive, but they also represent a complex supply chain that includes a whole lot of transport. Recycled cartridges are mailed back by consumers or collected for free at retail locations like Best Buy, Staples and Office Depot. They’re sent to HP’s recycling plant in Nashville then shipped to Montreal, where they’re combined with recycled plastic from Haiti and around the world before being manufactured into new cartridges. 

“Is it really an environmental benefit when you've got all of those logistics and transport involved?” asked Shelley Zimmer, sustainable impact program manager for HP. “The answer is absolutely yes.

"We find that by using recycled plastics in our ink cartridges—including all of those logistics—we reduced the carbon footprint of the plastics by 30 percent, we reduced the fossil fuel usage in that system by 60 percent and we reduced the amount of water usage in the system by 39 percent, compared to using virgin plastics." 

HP Tango Terra printer(Image: The HP Tango Terra printer contains 30 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.) 

Rising ambition around the circular economy

Having established a closed-loop process for one of its signature products, HP is now looking to increase its ambition by using more recycled plastic and giving it a home in splashier pieces of technology with the potential to draw consumer interest. 

All new HP Elite and HP Pro desktop and notebook computers launching next year and after will contain ocean-bound plastics. And the company has committed to use 30 percent recycled plastic across its entire product line by 2025.

“This is a big, bold, hairy goal,” Jackowski said. “We’re not exactly sure how we're going to get there yet. Today we're at 7 percent, so we have quite a lot of work to do.” 

Pioneering new collection models 

So, why is a 30 percent goal so hard to achieve anyway? The world is lousy with plastic waste—we create around 300 million tons of it every year, roughly the weight of the entire human population. 

But it’s not a matter of too little plastic—it’s about how much plastic large users like HP can get their hands on. It’s estimated that only 9 percent of the plastic ever produced has been recycled, and as economics threaten the viability of recycling systems worldwide, this trend appears poised to continue—at least in the near term. 

Meanwhile, more companies are getting into the recycled plastic game.

“No doubt, other companies will see the opportunity based on customer demand for more recycled content in products that everyone sells, including our competitors,” Jackowski said. “As the rest of the world starts turning this way, there isn't enough recycling infrastructure to generate the volumes of some of these commitments that companies like HP and others are making.” 

With its own recycling facilities in Nashville, which accept ink cartridges and electronics of any brand and recover the components for reuse, HP is already ahead of the game. And by creating new supply chains in regions like Haiti, it’s well positioned to continue building its recycled plastic supply while addressing the social side of plastic pollution and how it affects developing countries. 

Of course, that “big, hairy goal” is still a long way off.

“We need to be thinking about how to reinvent our entire supply chain to move away from virgin materials and use more recycled content,” Jackowski said. “And that's what we're doing.” 

HP Tango Terra printer packaging(Image: On-pack messaging reminds consumers about the sustainability of the new HP Tango Terra printing system.) 

The new carbon-neutral printing system: A sign of what’s to come at HP  

Released last month, HP’s Tango Terra is carbon neutral, from raw material extraction and processing, to printer manufacturing and transportation and all the way up to consumer use—including electricity, paper and cartridges. The system also contains a sample of HP's deforestation-free paper, certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and an opt-in to its cartridge subscription service, which includes free recycling. 

The entire system was designed with sustainability in mind: Inside, it contains no shrink wrap around the printer and instructions are printed on the recycled cardboard package, rather than being included as a separate insert. At end of life, spent cartridges, as well as the printer itself, can be recycled through HP for free. The white recycled plastic, which comprises 30 percent of the Tango Terra printer, is partially sourced from discarded refrigerators. 

This type of bottom-up design is the future for HP, its leaders told reporters in Nashville.

“We're thinking about the entire process of what we're selling and how our users are interacting with it,” Jackowski said.

And this move toward sustainability is no coincidence, she said. Last year, HP tied $900 million in revenue directly to its sustainability programs alone and estimates potential revenue at around $20 billion per year from scaling this work. 

“Our customers care,” Jackowski concluded. “This is real—and we're facing pressure from our customers. This is part of how we intend to be successful financially long term, and it does have direct business impact.” 

Images courtesy of HP

*Travel and accommodations in Nashville were provided by HP. Neither the author nor TriplePundit were required to write about the experience. 

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Tackling the Decarbonization of Transportation

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By now, many of us have heard the statistics and news reports: Organizations need to be moving at a much faster pace to address the global climate crisis and meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report’s warning of limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

While this information might feel overwhelming, we don’t interpret it that way for two reasons. First, there has already been good progress made reducing Scope 2 emissions with increased investment in renewable energy. From utilities taking action to switch to cleaner fuels for their power plants to companies stepping up to invest in increasingly cost-competitive renewable electricity, emissions from electric power usage have been on the steady decline. Next, we know exactly where we need to turn our collective efforts to have the biggest impact on reducing GHG emissions: the transportation sector. Put simply, we have the map and know the road to take—now it’s a matter of mobilizing and taking action.

The road to reducing transportation emissions

In 2016, the transportation sector surpassed the power sector as the larger emitter of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in the U.S (responsible for 27% of emissions), driven by changes in both consumer and business market behavior.  A confluence of activities is resulting in a larger transportation carbon footprint: the growth of e-commerce (including international shipping), increased business travel as a result of globalization and more.

While solutions to transportation emissions are within sight, they come with challenges. Most will take time to become fully practical to implement on a large scale and will require a significant amount of financial investment and policy support to get there. The good news is that progress has already been made in a few notable areas, including fuel efficiency (vehicle manufacturers have made significant improvements in fuel economy) and advanced aerodynamics. However, the solution that will have the biggest impact on emissions is undoubtedly the transition to low-carbon transportation fuels (including renewable electricity).  

Incentives can accelerate the transition to low-carbon fleets

Although low-carbon fuels, such as renewable power and renewable natural gas (RNG), are gaining traction, the transition to these fuels will take time. New vehicles and fueling infrastructure require large capital investments that are hard to justify before the billions of dollars of existing vehicles and infrastructure begin to wear out. There are, however, some levers available to help support the acceleration of these transitions, such as incentive programs like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) and the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Market-based incentive programs were designed with the goal of decarbonizing the transportation fuel mix and can actually help fund fleet decarbonization and infrastructure roll out, which may otherwise be cost-prohibitive to many businesses. 

California, Oregon and British Columbia have incentive programs for low-carbon transportation fuels, and several other states and provinces are considering them. California’s program requires providers of petroleum-based fuels to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuel mix by 20 percent by 2030, as compared to a 2010 baseline. The LCFS incentivizes low-carbon fueling in California by allowing alternative fuels, such as electricity or renewable natural gas, to generate credits which can then be sold in the LCFS market. Organizations already engaged in low-carbon fueling may be eligible to register those activities under what are referred to as LCFS “pathways." For organizations that have yet to transition to low-carbon fuels, the LCFS can act as a financing mechanism to help fund the transition costs.

The role of carbon offsets

In addition to incentive programs, carbon offsets are another market mechanism that play a role on the road towards decarbonizing transportation. While they are not the end goal, carbon offsets can provide a funding mechanism for programs to decarbonize auto manufacturing, recycle vehicle waste or support the rollout of EV or biofuel infrastructure.

We have a map of viable pathways for decarbonizing transportation. And there are many examples of organizations already taking action and mobilizing others to follow—but we’re going to need many more to start down this road if we’re going to make a true impact on lowering our transportation emissions. We hope that the growing availability of market-based incentives mentioned above encourage your organization to step up and take the wheel.

This article series is sponsored by 3Degrees and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image credit: Pexels

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The Link Between Solar, Wind Power and Groundwater Sustainability

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A recent study, led by Princeton University and published last week in Nature Communications, is one of the first of its kind to show that increased use of solar and wind energy can aid groundwater sustainability, an important aim for both taking on droughts as well as boosting sustainable agriculture. While the researchers used California as a case study, the findings could also apply to states like Texas and other countries that are trying to balance groundwater depletion, drought and agricultural output.

Known as the energy-water nexus, the link refers to the water embedded in energy and the energy embedded in water. Consider the amount of water it takes to produce and distribute electricity. As well, consider the amount of electricity used to treat, pump and distribute water. And while solar PV and wind energy resources are virtually water-free, traditional sources of energy—such as coal, nuclear and natural gas—require a significant amount of water to generate power. Depending on the fuel mix for electricity and the level of water stress, the tradeoff could be significant. From California to Texas, recent droughts and declining groundwater levels require more pumping to provide irrigation water for crops.

Agriculture combined with population growth during droughts means groundwater is being depleted at alarming rates. As regions experience more frequent droughts, it requires more energy to pump more water out of the ground as the levels drop. It can take a long time to replenish groundwater, and though it seems intuitive that heavy rains could take care of it, the rain has to fall in the right spot to make a difference. The scenario gets complicated quickly.

Strategic placement of renewable energy could get the biggest water-savings bang for ones buck. In 2016, I led a study at Environmental Defense Fund (EDG), in collaboration with the Texas Army National Guard, which mapped water stress and the potential for solar, wind and geothermal energy at 60 of the National Guards Texas facilities. By overlaying the water data with renewable energy, the lowest-hanging fruit become clear. For example, Fort Bliss Readiness Center in El Paso has both the highest solar potential and the most extreme category of future water stress. Therefore, Fort Bliss is an ideal candidate for protecting water supplies by installing solar panels.

The Princeton-led study’s findings show a clear link between deploying more solar and wind energy and more sustainable groundwater supplies. When looking at long-range forecasting, energy and water planners should look at both resources. California is better placed than some due to its statewide cap-and-trade program that includes a Water-Energy Team of the Climate Action Team to better coordinate carbon reductions from the water sector, whose emissions largely come from the energy used by the sector. Further, the California Energy Commission found that as much energy could be saved through water conservation as through the investor-owned electric utility efficiency programs, but at half the cost. There is a lot of potential to reduce emissions and water demand when the two sectors are looked at more comprehensively.

Energy and water are inextricably linked, so it makes sense that increasing the use of low-water energy resources will decrease the demand on water. The next step is critical. We have the data, now it is up to policymakers in states, regions and countries to consider water impacts when making energy choices and energy impacts when addressing water supply issues. In many places, the two sectors are siloed, within both budgets and policy. Concerted effort could be taken to break down those silos to preserve the water we need for our people and our food.

Image credit: National Park Service

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The Glass Isn’t Half Empty: Reasons To Be Optimistic About Water Issues

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The news about climate change’s impacts on water supply and availability is often dire and can feel overwhelming.

A recent study led by the U.S. Forest Service found that by 2071 nearly half of the 204 water basins in the U.S. may not be able to meet their monthly water demands. Data from the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct tool, which maps water stress globally, has found that 17 countries, containing a quarter of the world’s population, face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress, and several other countries, including the U.S., have pockets of extreme water stress.

Every day, it seems as if a new story emerges about crippling water shortages, from Chennai, India, to Cape Town, South Africa, from Mexico City to Los Angeles.

Solving the water scarcity problem, especially as the impacts from climate change mount, can feel like a Herculean task. Water evokes a visceral reaction from people. We drink it, bathe in it, swim in it, watch our children play in it. It courses through our cities, and our bodies, we plan vacations around it. Despite our close connection to water, most people do not know how it gets to our taps or what is involved in that process. 

Water is a localized commodity, and the sector is highly fragmented. In the U.S. alone there are about 152,000 water systems, creating a tangled web of regulations and interests. Policymakers in the European Union, where water resources vary greatly from region to region, have yet to fully integrate their water management plans. And regions with a history of cross-border disputes, such as South Asia, often treat water data as classified national security information—creating clear roadblocks to effective management of shared resources. 

It all sounds like a recipe for water disaster. But there is no need to give up hope. In fact, there is reason to feel optimistic.

The solutions to water supply scarcity are not technical or hydrological. There are an abundance of solutions already available on the market, and companies and governments are undertaking research and development to advance technology further.

Some of the most effective technologies being deployed are in water reuse. Water reuse, sometimes called reclaimed or recycled water, is a proven technology, but has seen increased innovation in recent years.

Desalination, both groundwater and ocean, is another technology that has seen a surge in interest recently. Desalination faces some barriers due to upfront costs, high energy costs and waste issues, but innovations are improving on that front as well.

Other technical issues that are imminently solvable include irrigation and rainwater runoff—the latter of increasing concern with recent flooding in areas around the world.

How to prevent another Cape Town Day Zero with existing solutions to water issues

(Image: Taken in the midst of Cape Town's "Day Zero" crisis in February 2018, this image shows a small puddle of water—over a mile from the edge of the dam—in what was once a city reservoir.)

So, if technology is not an issue, what is? The solutions to water scarcity are political and ethical, but the sands are shifting in the right direction. Momentum is building around the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Reuse Action Plan, of which a draft for comment was released in September. The plan aims to better integrate federal policy and leverage business expertise and state and local government to identify, and ultimately implement, action on water reuse. 

In Singapore, recycled water even has a brand name. The island city-state has used recycled water for non-potable industrial purposes since 1966, and in 2003, it introduced NEWater—a high-quality, drinkable water recycled from treated sewage. Any initial “ick” factor that came along with the announcement has since faded, as five NEWater recycling facilities powered by membrane separation now provide 40 percent of all drinking water needs—a figure set to top 55 percent by 2060.

There is increasing awareness about the need to value water correctly. This is a tricky policy issue to tackle since it involves an essential good for public health and safety. No one wants to be the one who overprices water and makes it unaffordable for lower-income communities. But policies can help shift the value of water to where it should more appropriately sit while safeguarding access to clean water and ensuring everyone is able to afford it.

In the U.S., for example, inefficient water subsidies, such as for large-scale irrigation and groundwater pumping, could be phased out. Much like efforts to phase out wasteful fuel and energy subsidies, eliminating these in the water sector could help realign demand and supply.

Similarly, the European Union’s Water Framework Directive operates under the premise that "water is not a commercial product like any other but, rather, a heritage which must be protected, defended and treated as such.” In pursuit of this aspiration, the EU regularly analyzes water availability and management policies in its member countries in an attempt to streamline water governance.

When thinking about the global impacts of water scarcity, a reimagining of diplomacy is in order. Currently, policymakers look at the global community in reference to water to evaluate the risk of shared-basin conflicts in countries. But the real threat is that water stress will destabilize local and national governments, as seen in places like Yemen. Thinking about water from a global standpoint means integrating knowledge from development and intelligence agencies into foreign policy discussions.

Companies with global reach—working in a multitude of countries with varying needs—have built an expertise and innovative nimbleness to help governments and industries figure out how to address water scarcity issues.

According to Kimberly Kupiecki, global leader for sustainability, advocacy and communications at DuPont Water Solutions, “businesses can bring together technologies sequenced in the right way” in a city or system, building on other work they have done previously. Companies have the ability to move quickly and can act as advisors in prioritizing which policies and technologies their clients should first invest in. 

Kupiecki and her team also note that while science and technology breakthroughs are global, implementation is local, so solutions can be tailored, depending on what a particular market needs.

In Suez, Egypt, where rainfall is often minimal, DuPont Water Solutions collaborated with local partners to design a containerized Ultrafiltration plant—which can be set up in only three months to address intermittent water stress, compared to 12 months for traditional designs. In Kenya, where more than half of all groundwater contains dangerously high levels of fluoride, the company and USAID deployed an onsite water defluoridization unit at a school and hospital near Nairobi. The company even provides water in the least hospitable place on Earth—Antarctica—using reverse osmosis to purify seawater for scientific research stations.

Cape Town hopes to solve its water issues with desalination

(Image: Cape Town plans to lean more heavily on desalination to cope with intermittent water stress. Here, an intake pipeline is under construction in Gordon's Bay Harbor, about 35 miles south of the city center.) 

Because water solutions must, by their nature, be local, culture plays an important role. Israel has, in effect, solved its water woes. Its water sector is centralized, and water is priority in national policy. That decision has made accessing (and developing) the necessary technologies easier, such as desalination, reuse, leak detection and drip irrigation

But a straightforward federal system is more challenging in other parts of the world. In India, for example, experts say crises such as Chennai’s Day Zero are not a matter of water availability, but rather of water management. As urban sprawl puts stress on reservoirs, residents are increasingly forced to deplete groundwater reserves, purchase water from trucks run by private companies or draw water from sources growing increasingly polluted due to lack of management. Here, concerted efforts to recover rainwater, implement water reuse systems and improve overall efficiency hold the greatest promise.

Still, realigning behavior and culture to understand and address the needs of a community can absolutely be done in cities worldwide. City officials may know what makes their citizens tick, and businesses may know how to best deploy the most appropriate technologies to meet their needs. Private-private efforts can also be critical to helping cities meet demand. For example, Kupiecki of DuPont Water Solutions notes that more than half of their work is with industrial clients, especially in water-stressed areas around the world. If industry can reduce its water demands, then more water can be made available for other needs.

The daily feed of news stories may seem like water is an unsolvable problem, but there is no need to give up hope. In fact, there is reason to feel optimistic. Working in partnerships across government, the private sector (including industry and agriculture) and civil society can solve water scarcity. 

The technology is already here. The question is: Will the relevant stakeholders—from large municipal water users and multinational companies down to local governments—come together to deploy it? And more importantly, will we start to recognize water for what it truly is: a public asset, made available to everyone? 

This article series is sponsored by DuPont Water Solutions and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team. 

Image credits: Unsplash/Abigail Keenan, Flickr/6000.co.za, Flickr/HelenSTB

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How Walgreens Has Stepped It Up and Hired More Veterans

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Last year, Walgreens added itself to the growing list of employers actively recruiting military veterans – and for good reason. Veterans come into the civilian labor market with an impressive set of work skills that can translate into store aisles and on to top management positions.

Walgreens launches the HERO Program

Walgreens launched the Helping Veterans with Educational and Retail Opportunities (HERO) Program on Nov. 8, 2018, with the aim of adding 5,000 military veterans to its workforce of approximately 230,000 over the next five years.

Those relatively modest increments could have an outsized impact on employee culture at the company.

The aim is not simply to bring more veterans on board. Walgreens plans to hire veterans directly into junior leadership roles, as shift supervisors or assistant managers, as a first step toward becoming a store manager.

A look at veterans’ workplace skills underscores why Walgreens is targeting veterans for hiring.

As described by the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA), military training goes far beyond the ability to stick to a schedule, follow rules and perform assigned tasks. Veterans also become accomplished in teamwork, responsibility, accountability, confidence, organization, discipline and the ability to handle difficult situations, adapt to new circumstances and solve problems.

Today’s military veteran has also worked extensively with computers and other new technology.

Making the pitch

Walgreens recognizes it has to compete with other employers to attract top workers who previously served in the military.

In pitching the HERO program last year, Walgreens noted that store managers have the potential to move into field or corporate leadership positions.

The company also stated that veterans can contribute to the company’s mission of championing the “health and well-being of every community in America.”

That could easily include a veteran’s own community. According to Walgreens, about 75 percent of the U.S. population lives within five miles of one of its thousands of locations. That provides prospective hires with a chance to work where they live rather than relocating.

Adding punch to the program

Walgreens also knows the offer to move up the corporate ladder is a hollow one unless it includes the kind of educational opportunities that qualify workers for senior management positions.

To that end, Walgreens launched HERO as part of a five-year partnership with Southern New Hampshire University, a school that already has a long history of education programming tailored for veterans.

The new partnership will assist Walgreens employees who are veterans in obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree from the school, with tuition discounts added to any other financial assistance they may have.

In addition, Walgreens will train its new hires in store management skills. This includes customer relations, managing teams of more than 20 employees and overseeing sales and merchandise.

Walgreens is stepping up to the plate for veterans

If that sounds challenging, it’s because it is.

Managers also tend to the operation of in-store health clinics and other health services at a growing number of Walgreens locations. They must be alert and responsive to the company’s business model as it evolves in the hotly competitive retail health-care environment.

That’s the kind of challenge that attracted Arin K., a veteran who is currently in the HERO Program.

“I was intrigued by a company the size of Walgreens making a commitment to hire veterans into a position where the opportunities are endless,” she wrote in an email interview with TriplePundit. “I decided to apply because I was new to the area and wanted to find something where I could utilize my leadership talent and try something new.”

In addition to the skills cited by the VA, Arin listed trust, integrity, attention to detail and superior planning and execution skills as intangibles instilled in veterans from their military training. Being able to utilize these, she said, contributes to her appreciation for the work environment at Walgreens.

“My coworkers are the most unique and amazing team that I have had the honor to work with since serving in the military,” she explained. “My store manager allows me to work independently and trusts me to make sure tasks are completed to expectation.”

That’s quite a compliment from someone who served as an air defense artillery captain at several domestic bases and spent time working on the PATRIOT missile system across Kuwait.

Last June, the VA sent a bulletin to its subscriber list to help publicize the HERO Program through an online lunch-and-learn session.

Walgreens is ramping up its efforts to recruit more like Arin – before someone else does.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force/Flickr

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Saying “Thank You” Through Action. How We Provide Veterans The Post-Military Careers They Deserve

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By Troy Vandenberg

Many military veterans find themselves in uncharted territory once they begin to transition out of service. A 2012 study conducted by Prudential Financial, Inc., revealed that nearly half of post-9/11 veterans say they are unprepared for the move to the civilian workforce, citing the greatest challenge as finding a job. They often struggle for long periods of time to find a new career path—sometimes going back to school to earn a traditional or vocational degree.  

There are an estimated 200,000 service members exiting the U.S. military annually, and post-career service placement has become a critical issue for each of them. Many companies are eager to hire veterans due to the many benefits their military service brings to a business environment, but often find it challenging to transition an individual’s unique military skill set into an applicable position within the company.

As a Navy veteran, I understand these challenges. In my role today as a civilian and military talent acquisition manager, I’ve witnessed many servicemen and women achieve successful post-military careers at Smithfield and in various industries. This is not by chance, but by intentional design. 

Veterans are a valuable asset to any workforce with their strong work ethic, leadership skills, sense of purpose, and ability to adapt. I am proud that Smithfield has recognized the increasingly vital role that our over 1,800 veterans play in our workforce and our initiative Operation 4000! which is our company goal to employ 4,000 veterans, 10% of our U.S. workforce, by the end of 2020. Achieving this goal requires robust recruitment efforts and, just as importantly, intentional efforts to retain these veteran new hires.

We’ve created purposeful programs that support service members during their transition into civilian life and we’ve also created programs to keep them engaged once they begin their career at Smithfield.

I’ve been involved in a variety of military recruitment and development efforts, but what’s most important is that we encourage other companies to do the same for our nation’s veterans.

I want to share some insight into the programs and initiatives that we’ve developed where our veterans have truly succeeded in finding their place after military service: 

Smithfield Salutes

This is our veteran employee business resource group at Smithfield that supports military personnel as they transition out of active service. This group is made up of both veterans and other Smithfield employees who are actively involved in supporting our military. This group aids and embraces incoming military service members as they transition into careers at Smithfield and is a continuous resource throughout an employee’s career at the company. This group also volunteers in numerous capacities, helping support veterans in need across our local communities.

Military Fellowship Program

This program aims to prepare veterans entering the Smithfield workforce for leadership opportunities. The Military Fellowship program offers an 18-month rotational leadership development curriculum for first-rate, recently transitioned military leaders. As the new year approaches, we encourage veteran job seekers to consider this fellowship program that introduces these individuals into a variety of skilled careers at Smithfield.

Military Supervisor-In-Training Program

This 52-week training program also supports leadership development for veterans working at Smithfield. This program is geared toward giving junior military leaders, E-4 and above, operational training to equip them with the skills needed to become an effective leader in manufacturing. Upon completion of this program, individuals are eligible for promotions into full-time production supervisor roles at over 40 locations nationwide.

As a veteran, I’m proud of Smithfield’s long history of supporting veterans and military families through volunteerism, food donations, and philanthropic partnerships. There has been a conscious effort to commit substantial resources toward veteran recruitment, engagement, and career development with the intention to make a difference for veterans in their post-military career—and it’s been successful.

As Veterans Day approaches, I want to challenge employers to say thank you through action and to make an impact where it really counts—supporting those who have served and sacrificed for our freedom, and rewarding our veteran community with fulfilling, lifelong careers.

As a proud veteran employer, we’re always looking to expand our military workforce and encourage individuals that are interested in producing good food in a responsible way to learn more at smithfieldfoods.com/veterans.

This article was previously posted on LinkedIn and in the 3BL Media newsroom.

Image credit: Smithfield Foods

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A Driving Passion for Supporting Veterans: Booz Allen and the Salute Military Golf Association

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Nearly four out of five (78.2%) veterans live with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, according to the Annual Warrior Survey by the Wounded Warrior Project.  
 
The Salute Military Golf Association (SMGA) harnesses the power of golf to improve the quality of life for veterans who have been wounded or injured in post 9/11 military operations, including those with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). As a 10-year community partner, Booz Allen has helped the SMGA Wounded Veteran Golf Tournament grow to multiple locations nationwide and raise over $800,000 for SMGA.

A natural partnership

In 2009, two Booz Allen associates invited a speaker from SMGA to a client event on PTS. The two organizations quickly recognized their shared values. 

“Booz Allen’s team of nationwide volunteers has gone above and beyond to ensure SMGA can provide our wounded veterans the opportunity to grow stronger through golf,” said Rich Crowe, Booz Allen executive vice president and chairperson of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan tournament.  “Across the country, these volunteers exemplify Booz Allen’s commitment to fusing connections in our communities through collective ingenuity and passionate service.”

Furthermore, he added, “Our clients have a vested interest in the well-being of our country’s veterans and many of the projects we work on help to ensure the safety and survivability of future soldiers.”

Organic growth, powered by volunteers

This powerful collaboration soon spread nationwide. Booz Allen now hosts SMGA tournaments in 13 locations, administered entirely through dozens of firm volunteers and one community impact grant. 

“In 2018, our team of nationwide volunteers turned a $20,000 Booz Allen community impact grant into a $132,980 contribution to SMGA by hosting 13 events across the country,” said Crowe. “With a 565% return on investment from a single community partnership grant, no other community partnership project compares with the efficiency, performance, or actual rate of return of this annual event.”

Among participants in SMGA events: 

  • 92% said that SMGA helped improve mobility, range of motion, flexibility, and/or level of pain
  • 93% found that participation helped with their PTS
  • 93% found that participation helped improve family life or other relationships 

Joining forces, paying it forward

The annual tournaments deliver invaluable returns for those involved as well. 

“Organizing the SMGA tournament was a great opportunity for me to not only support an amazing cause, but to expand my leadership skills,” said Booz Allen Lead Associate Cheryl Wolfe, a former site lead. “I asked volunteers to champion different aspects of the tournament, and developing that team led to a true group effort.”

Lead Associate K.C. Schuring joined Booz Allen in 2012 after recovering from near-fatal injuries in Iraq and over two dozen surgeries. He has been involved with SMGA’s program since his local office in Troy, Michigan hosted its first tournament. 

“I immediately volunteered to assist with this event because of what SMGA had done for me several years before,” he said. “Now I could return the favor.”

Learn more about the SMGA Wounded Veteran Golf Tournament and how Booz Allen supports veterans and military families.

Originally published in the 3BL Media newsroom.

Image credit: Salute Military Golf Association

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