Girlboss, a Professional Network for a New Era of Women

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

A new social media site – as of press time named the Girlboss professional network -- is taking the LinkedIn networking concept and creating a space “where women support women” by asking, answering and finding advice as well as celebrating wins together.

The site, created by Girlboss CEO and Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, recently launched in beta. Signing up is free and gives you access to a community of “strong, curious and ambitious women” redefining success on their own terms. With a more millennial design and tone than LinkedIn, the website pledges to “inform, entertain, and inspire,” and is “unapologetic” in its beliefs and values of supporting girls and women who are chasing dreams both big and small.

Amoruso told Business Insider that Girlboss is “a place for someone who does or doesn't have a traditional career, who may not have this C-level title but may be on her way up. There are very few places for her to go to represent her resume or life today."

No topic at Girlboss is off limits

Signing up for me was easy and only took a few minutes. Unlike LinkedIn where you are prompted to add your resume and life story, Girlboss asks you to fill in the blanks to three questions: "I'm good at ____," "I'd like to learn ___," and "I'd like to meet ___."

Once registered, you can join in the discussion. The site’s FAQs explain that no topic is off limits. “The Girlboss platform is a place where you can ask and answer questions about all things life, career, and money, and share your vulnerabilities in a safe environment.” The community is diverse, including posts from women (and a few men) of various ages, backgrounds and professions. Some are asking for networking advice, others are looking to market their services. As the site explains, Girlboss is “a place for entrepreneurs, career pros, side-hustlers, freelancers and gig-economy workers.”

The site includes “fireside chats” with women icons such as fashion designer and blogger Aimee SongBeth Comstock, former vice chairman of GE and recent author of Imagine it Forward; and Bozoma Saint John, chief marketing officer at William Morris Endeavor. The site expects to launch new chats weekly.

There is also a “required reading” section that includes dozens of blogs such as “The Ultimate Reading List for Women in Media,” “How to Grow a Brand People Will Obsess Over,” and “Money Moves: A 12-Week Guide to Investing in Yourself.”

While sign-up to the platform is currently free, buried within the FAQ section the site mentions a subscription plan and payment option. It explains that “If you choose to continue your membership after your trial ends, you’ll be automatically charged one low annual fee for your all-access membership.” While the site says that “The length of your free trial period, if any, will be disclosed clearly on the enrollment page,” this did not happen when I joined, nor was I asked for a credit card or other payment options. Perhaps this will change when the platform emerges from the beta phase.

Phoenix rising from the ashes

The new site is the latest offering from 35-year-old Amoruso, who first became known in 2006 when she launched Nasty Gal, a popular women's online clothing store. According to the Los Angeles Times, Nasty Gal went from an eBay store to a thriving 200-employee company with stores in Los Angeles and Santa Monica that currently pull in in $100 million in revenue.

In 2014, Amoruso’s autobiography, “#Girlboss” spent 18 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and two years later was the inspiration for a short-lived Netflix series. That same year, Forbes called Amoruso one of America’s richest self-made women.

Nasty Gal’s success didn’t last forever, however, and in 2016 filed for bankruptcy amid turmoil. According to the LA Times, there were several rounds of layoffs and allegations by employees of discrimination and by designers claiming copyright infringement.

Despite the downfall of her inaugural start-up, Amoruso picked herself up, continuing the Girlboss brand with a podcast, website and an annual two-day conference. Billed “part conference, part experiential inspiration wonderland,” the Girlboss Rally, as it is known, has drawn speakers such as Arianna Huffington, Cynthia Rowley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Graham and Emily Weiss.

This year’s event, which took place last month at UCLA, attracted 1,800 women from 28 countries. The conference includes workshops, a job fair and a “transparency wall,” where women are encouraged to anonymously share their salaries in hopes of helping other women better understand their own value. Attendees can pick workshops clustered around various tracks: Start-Up Studio, Hustle Hall, Leadership Hall, Confidence Club, and Branding Bootcamp. In between, there are musical performances and poetry readings.

The new Girlboss social platform seems to be a virtual extension of the Girlboss rallies, including more than 65 hours of videos from past conferences.

Building a unique community in her own style

Girlboss has received funding from some highly visible backers such as Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit and husband of Serena Williams, who invested $3.5 million according to media reports.

“Sophia has built a remarkable, global community of professional women both offline at the rally and online through all these other social media platforms,” Ohanian told the LA Times. “She knows exactly what her audience wants and has already done the hardest part — built a community.

 “We see countless engineers who’ve built platforms and have never been able to figure out the community-building side of the equation. Her experience and emotional intelligence are an invaluable part of why this is so special.”

Girlboss isn’t the only social networking platform targeted to women – there is also Landit, Bumble Bizz, and Dreamers // Doers. But if the Girlboss platform is anything like Amorusa’s other ventures, it will blaze its own trail and create a unique sense of community.

Image credit: Pixabay

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Girlboss, a Professional Network for a New Era of Women
Description
Girlboss is taking the LinkedIn networking concept and creating a space where women can support women by sharing advice and celebrating wins together.
Newsletter Sent
On

Unions, Environmental Groups Join Forces on Climate Action

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

On the heels of the polarizing “Green New Deal,” the BlueGreen Alliance has released a “Solidarity for Climate Action” plan. The plan is the product of a partnership between 14 organized labor and environmental organizations.

The ultimate goal, according to this partnership’s leaders, is getting the United States to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in a way that enriches and sustains the American workforce.

“This is the most comprehensive statement brought together by environmentalists and trade unionists, so far, in the United States, Canada, and perhaps Europe,” International United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said at a recent press conference announcing this venture.

Some of the partners include the United Steelworkers, Sierra Club, Communications Workers of America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Service Employees International Union, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Utility Workers Union of America.

The BlueGreen Alliance has facilitated this partnership of labor unions and environmentalists to design cohesive solutions to two pressing issues: climate change and income inequality.

Part of the plan’s focus is on communities that once relied on coal and fossil fuel. The hope is to rebuild American manufacturing in industries such as renewable energy and sustainable products, but also to divert jobs into repairing neglected, hazardous and energy inefficient infrastructure.

The document includes the group’s vision, principles and many policy goals. Although the plan does not include specific steps the coalition will take, it does propose policies the group aims to promote for the country at large. Policy categories include:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions reductions
  • Infrastructure and community resilience
  • Competitiveness, strength and innovation
  • High-quality job creation and retention
  • Equity, responsibility and safe and healthy communities
  • Fairness to workers and communities

The real power of the document, though, is found in this statement:

“The BlueGreen Alliance and its labor and environmental partners are committed to the vision, principles, and policies outlined in this document, and are committed to a process of working together to identify concrete solutions to achieve these goals.”

Time will tell what that process looks like.

A focus on jobs protected by labor unions

As stated in its vision, jobs that are both stable and well-paying have been few and far-between in the clean energy economy. Meanwhile, there are many jobs to be accomplished in building and rebuilding America’s infrastructure before we can form a comprehensive renewables sector.

Are unions part of the solution?

If America wants to build a sustainable manufacturing industry, unions are essential to protecting the rights and needs of the blue-collar worker. As the renewable industry burgeons, unions can ensure that lower income workers and communities of color are not cast to the fringes of progress.

A recent study has found that unions can have the effect of reducing income inequality, even though union membership is at an all-time low.

And when it comes to the American economy, a system where wealth is more equally distributed may not cushion a CEO’s bank account, but it does support a healthy, balanced and prosperous economy.

A vision for the renewable sector

This plan may be ambitious, but the ultimate goal is to set forth policies that do not simply focus on carbon emissions, but also include the American economy and people.

In an age where coal is more expensive than renewable energy sources in most of the United States, carbon neutrality is not a fantasy. It is clear that achieving a net zero carbon footprint is possible. The BlueGreen Alliance has laid out what it will take to achieve this - investing in new infrastructure and creating union-protected jobs are essential parts of that vision.

As NWF Executive Director Collin O’Mara said at the late June press conference, we shouldn’t sit back as China and Germany manufacture our solar panels and wind turbines. We should be creating our own clean energy future. We have the workforce for it. Now, we just need the policies and investment.

Image credit: Jon Kline/Pixabay

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Unions, Environmental Groups Join Forces on Climate Action
Description
On the heels of the Green New Deal debate, the BlueGreen Alliance released an ambitious climate action plan to boost renewables and workers' incomes.
Newsletter Sent
On

An Early Look at the CECP Giving in Numbers Survey Data

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and no, we don’t mean the holidays! We mean the release of the annual Giving in Numbers infographic, which offers the public the very first look at the latest trends that are defining the strategies behind corporate social investments in 2018.

CECP’s Giving in Numbers report – now in its 14th year – offers benchmarking on corporate social investments and data-driven insights for corporate giving officers and industry practitioners. Professionals across all sectors use this data to gauge how corporations invest in society, with topics ranging from cash and in-kind products and services, employee volunteerism and giving, as well as impact measurement. 

While the full report will be released publicly on October 17 (October 16 for companies affiliated with CECP), below we’ve highlighted some of the top-level findings on 2018 corporate contributions from the 2019 Giving in Numbers survey.

  • Community investments remain strong and continue growing: Median total giving in 2018 was $26 billion dollars, an increase of 11 percent (2018 vs. 2016). Also, six out of ten companies increased total giving by at least 2 percent in the last three years.

 

  • Employee engagement sustained: The average participation rate of employees volunteering at least one hour on-company time increased from 33 percent to 34 percent between 2018 and 2016 in a matched-set of companies.

 

  • Volunteer programs that allow service flexibility and easier access to employees rose: Offering of flexible schedule and paid-release time increased from 81 percent to 85 percent between 2016 and 2018. In fact, paid-release time (time that employees can take off to volunteer within the community) was the most offered volunteer program in 2018, with 66 percent of companies offering it. Paid-release time continues to be an excellent opportunity for companies to demonstrate to their employees that giving back in the community is a value that the company wants to reward and in turn, employees sign up with gusto. (Popularity of various volunteer programs to come in the final Giving in Numbers report.)

 

  • Cash vs. non-cash structure remains stable: The distribution of cash versus non-cash, in a matched set of companies that have provided giving data in each of the last three years, has remained steady. Non-cash represents 19 percent of total contributions in 2016 and 2018; most contributions come in the form of cash—81 percent of all contributions.

 

  • Healthcare industry leads giving growth: With 69 percent of health care companies expanding giving, the health care industry accounted for two thirds of the aggregate increase in giving between 2016 and 2018 across the board. Some of the most common reasons for such increase in contributions are related to the increase of product donations for patient support programs, assistance funds, product donations for disaster relief among global programs, and product donations in response to the opioid crisis, among others. 

So, what do you do with these data and trends? Bring them back to your team and look for opportunities to refine strategy or adjust giving programs. Is there room for more employee volunteering? If your company has a multinational footprint, reach out to offices around the world to discuss global social investment. As CECP’s founder, Paul Newman, replied when asked what companies can do, he said simply, “More. Companies can do more.”

CECP is inspired to see that giving, employee engagement, and volunteerism continue to steadily grow, which comes as no surprise given how readily companies are stepping up to fill the unmet needs of communities around the world.

Check out the latest Giving in Numbers infographic and consider staying in touch with us on social media for the final Giving in Numbers: 2019 Edition report to be released in October.

 

Prime
Off
SEO Title
An Early Look at the CECP Giving in Numbers Survey Data
Description
The latest Giving in Numbers report from CECP offers insight on corporate social investments for corporate giving officers and industry practitioners.
Newsletter Sent
On

Sports Leaders Come Together To Drive Impact Off the Field

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

Image: Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles and host of the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit. 

Sports have a unique ability to bring people together, and a growing number of the world’s largest sports franchises are leveraging their influence to make an impact off the field. The Green Sports Alliance catalyzes many of these efforts around sports and sustainability. Its membership includes hundreds of teams, leagues, venues and other industry stakeholders from around the world, who share best practices around improving operational efficiency and engaging fans.

“There's this massive power in sport that is unparalleled compared to other industries,” said Erik Distler, director of partnerships for the Green Sports Alliance. “We have an opportunity—frankly, I think it's a responsibility—to harness and leverage that power to advance broader environmental and social issues that are bigger than the game.”

Pushing for sustainability in sports

In December 2018, sports leaders came together with the United Nations to launch the Sports for Climate Action Framework—which challenges industry stakeholders leverage sports as a "unifying tool to drive climate awareness" among the public.

The Green Sports Alliance launched its Playing for the Next Generation campaign in support of the Framework, calling on its members to join and to do their part to combat climate change. “We've worked hard to figure out how to latch onto the Framework and help propel it in North America,” Distler told us. Several North American members of the Alliance have already signed on, including the New York Yankees baseball franchise, the National Basketball Association (NBA), and sports and entertainment company AEG—which owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey franchise, among other teams and venues.

Playing for the Next Generation also served as the theme for the Alliance's annual Green Sports Summit, held last month at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles football franchise. As the Summit's host team, the Eagles offer an example of what’s possible when sports takes sustainability seriously.

The Philadelphia Eagles put words into action

What began with an office recycling program back in 2003 has grown into a company-wide effort to reduce environmental impact and increase fan awareness of sustainability issues.

Lincoln Financial Field—known to locals as The Linc—is one of the most environmentally sustainable stadiums used in sport. It’s home to the largest solar power plant of any stadium in the world, constructed in partnership with NRG Energy, which supplies enough power for all of the Eagles’ annual home games and 40 percent of the stadium’s overall energy needs. The Linc also diverts nearly 100 percent of its waste from landfills through recycling, composting and waste-to-energy systems.

Beyond operational improvements, the Eagles are increasingly looking to engage their fans around sustainability. Still, while sports teams command a unique authority with their fans, franchise leadership feels it’s important to be strategic around sustainability messaging to avoid turning people off, said Norman Vossschulte, director of guest experience for the Eagles.

“As a sports team, you put on a show,” Vossschulte told us at the Summit. “Fans come to the stadium to be entertained. They don’t come to necessarily learn about sustainability, so we have to be careful how we message. We believe in connecting with our fans, but we try to do that in fun and organic ways."

Case in point: In partnership with plastics manufacturer Braskem, the Eagles created a closed-loop recycling system to collect plastic bottle caps and turn them into durable goods for use in the stadium. To drive fan engagement around the initiative, the team and Braskem constructed an eight-foot-tall replica of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, commemorating the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII win, made entirely from bottle caps.

It’s become a favorite spot for picture-taking in the HeadHouse Plaza fan zone, and it’s surrounded by messaging about plastics recycling. Braskem also made a dozen bicycles out of bottle caps, which its executives rode in the Eagles' annual bike race to raise money for autism research.

“With us, it's really an organic journey,” Vossschulte said. “We are constantly asking the question, no matter what meeting we sit in or what venture we’re launching: Can sustainability be a part of this? That helps us to constantly evolve.”

Eagles Autism Challenge recycled plastic bicycles

Image: These bicycles made from recycled bottle caps rode in an Eagles' bike race fundraiser to support autism research. 

Driving collaboration for a sustainable future in sports

The Eagles were one of many franchises, leagues and venues to share their sustainability journeys at the Green Sports Summit. While sports are known for fierce competition, the power of teamwork is also very much a part of the game—and the Green Sports Alliance leans on this unifying sentiment to drive knowledge-sharing across the industry.

“Sports bring up something in your heart about competition, but also about collaboration,” said Roger McClendon, executive director of the Alliance. “When you're on the same team, wearing the same uniform and fighting for the same goal, there's nothing you won't do to support the team. That's where Green Sports has the power. It’s not just the NBA, it's not just the U.S. Tennis Association, it's not just NASCAR. It's all of us together.”

Along with rallying support for the Sports for Climate Action Framework, the Alliance serves as a learning platform to help members reduce energy, waste, and water usage and make their procurements more sustainable. But for McClendon, who took the helm of the Alliance in February after nine years as Yum Brands’ first chief sustainability officer, this is only the beginning. He often refers to operational changes as Sustainability 1.0—they’re commendable, but they’re essentially table stakes for sports companies seeking to be good corporate citizens.

The deeper, fan engagement piece—which McClendon dubs Sustainability 2.0—is a logical next step. “You start to think about the fans who come and engage and you realize, ‘This is bigger than just what's inside my stadium,’” McClendon explained. But his 3.0 vision ultimately extends even further, as the Alliance calls on industry players to make strategic investments that have a lasting impact in their communities. 

“That's where you get significant change, but it takes a long time to see the impact,” McClendon told us. “What's pushing us in that area is kind of like the chase to get to the moon—if we have that level of focus, we can make it happen. [Sports] has the resources and the power to influence for good.” 

This drive for continual improvement and collaboration is central to the Alliance's mission—and it helps members push forward into what is often uncharted territory, said Vossschulte of the Eagles. "Sustainability is not our native language," he told us. "We’re really good at speaking in the language of sports, but sustainability is something we have to constantly learn, and that means we have to share what we’re doing with each other and think about what’s next. That's where we need the [Alliance] to help us forge those relationships with partners in the industry to find new solutions, new endeavors and new destinations on this journey." 

The 2020 Green Sports Alliance Summit will be held in Minneapolis at the LEED Gold Certified U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings football team. It will mark the Summit's 10th anniversary and represent the push toward the 3.0 vision and beyond. You can learn more about the event here

Images courtesy of the author and Keith Johnston/Unsplash

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Sports Leaders Come Together To Drive Impact Off the Field
Description
Sports have a unique ability to bring people together, and a growing number of the world’s largest sports franchises are leveraging their influence to make an impact off the field. 
Newsletter Sent
On

Paul Polman Still Striving to Secure a Sustainable World

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

Reports about the departure of Paul Polman have turned out to be premature.

True, it’s only been several months since Polman stepped down as CEO of Unilever after a decade leading the fast-moving consumer goods sector for a decade. But as discussed on several news sources including Bloomberg (which he has verified) Polman plans to be front-and-center in the global sustainability movement with the foundation of a group that he says will take on ongoing problems including climate change and poverty.

Details on how this organization, Imagine, with which Polman is joining forces including Valerie Keller and Jeff Seabright, are still under wraps. But with Polman on board, who has long stood tall as showing how business can serve as a force for good, we can imagine what Imagine could do on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) front.

Such an organization is absolutely needed considering all the challenges society will continue to confront in the coming decade. Polman’s track record stands tall when considering how corporate sustainability has evolved over the past decade. Consider the time when Polman first took the helm at Unilever. Back during the quaint time of the 2000s, most companies were focused on showing that they could be environmentally responsible – and trying do so while scoring a net positive for the planet and their companies’ bottom line.

But Polman was among the visionaries who understood that a sustainable planet meant that people had to be healthy, have access to economic opportunities and above all, be treated as human beings. Hence the laundry list (no pun intended, Domestos, Rinso and Surf brand managers!) of programs Unilever launched during Polman’s tenure, such as a Lifebuoy handwashing campaign in India.

Sure, such a campaign appears to some as self-serving, considering the financial benefits for one of the company’s most timeless brands. But the numbers are hard to argue with: evidence suggests the campaign reached at least a quarter billion people in India alone several years after the program launched. Any illnesses prevented, let alone lives saved, make the message of this campaign one that is difficult to criticize (In the end, Unilever claims the total number of people reached totaled over a billion people, and was achieved two years early). The bottom line is that Unilever has started to crack the code on how a business can be both profitable while mitigating harm to people and the planet. We’re not there yet, but Unilever’s actions have helped pave that road on which we can all move forward.

Unilever has been a game-changer in other ways as well – from striving to open more doors for women and challenging gender norms in its advertising. Noteworthy for a company that has made a mint selling sachets of cleaning and personal care products in developing countries, Unilever was among the first multinationals to shift toward a circular economy model – again a tall order. These programs lunched while Polman was CEO of Unilever – along with other programs focused on human rights, the challenges smallholder farmers face and transforming how tea is sourced.

But there’s more at stake than global sustainability when thinking about Polman’s new venture. There’s another message his work could send – as in redefining retirement and showing experienced and seasoned employees worldwide that their perspectives are still very much valued.

Image credit: World Economic Forum/Flickr

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Paul Polman Still Striving to Secure a Sustainable World
Description
Reports about the departure of Paul Polman have turned out to be premature with the launch of his new venture that plans on tackling problems like poverty.
Newsletter Sent
On

Dairy Industry Efforts to Market Milk to Teens Face Criticism

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

One would think that when it comes to positioning its product as “responsible,” the dairy industry would have it made. After all, milk is known for its wholesome and nutritious qualities and the world’s leading health experts recommend that everyone consumes it.

What could be controversial about getting teenagers to drink more milk?

Well, some health advocates are now criticizing the dairy industry for its push to expand milk consumption among teens by sponsoring coffee and latte bars in high schools.  

Facing declining consumption rates of milk, the Florida Dairy Group is one of several regional groups around the United States trying to find new ways to market the beverage. Through it’s “Moo-Lah for Schools” program, the group funds freestanding coffee bars in high schools. Its website explains that the coffee bars are an opportunity for schools to “serve 8oz. of milk with 2 oz. of coffee and added flavorings that fit into your school wellness policy,” and to encourage “students that might not normally select milk with their school meals to consume milk.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sets rules for schools participating in its meal programs, says high schools can sell espresso drinks that are no bigger than 12 ounces, and that are made with fat-free or 1 percent milk.

In the Southwest, the regional dairy group Dairy Max, which represents more than 900 dairy farmers across seven states,  has provided similar grants to schools for coffee programs through its” Dairy-4-Schools Moo-La-Tte” program. “Great for high schools, coffee bars create opportunities for students and school faculty to grab a cup at school instead of their local coffee shop!” says the program’s website.

The industry is also hoping the coffee bars will expand consumption of other dairy products such as smoothies, and encourages schools to offer other healthy a la carte items at the coffee bars such as oatmeal and salads.

Industry aims to increase milk consumption

The programs are the latest tactic by the industry to help dairy farmers reclaim consumers after facing nearly 40 years of falling consumption rates.

A report by the USDA found that since 1977, mean intakes of milk have decreased for children and adolescents. Among adolescents, the decline is particularly acute; the percent reporting milk consumption was 76  percent in 1977-1978, but only 48 percent in 2005-2006.

Health and nutrition advocates agree that milk provides protein, nutrients and vitamins, including vitamin D and calcium, critical to teens’ growing bodies. In fact, they recommend that teens drink three cups of milk each day.

Health advocates raise concerns

As a parent who struggles to get her own teenage daughter to drink milk, the school programs seem innovative and helpful. But not everyone agrees that the dairy industry should be lauded for its efforts to support the nutrition of America’s teens.

Critics claim that the new coffee cafés will create a population of over-caffeinated kids and that there are other ways to increase dairy intake.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine consumption among children and adolescents, citing potentially harmful effects on developing bodies. And while dairy is an efficient way to get calcium and vitamin D, it’s not the only way to get such nutrients, Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and representative for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Associated Press. Muth added that there are ways to encourage students to get the nutrients of milk without promoting caffeine habits that could lead to headaches, agitation and lack of sleep.

Muth has a valid point, but is it realistic to attempt to eliminate all caffeine from today’s teens’ diets? With energy drinks of dubious claims continuing to explode on the market and vending machines full of sugary drinks, is one 12-ounce latte really that terrible of an alternative?

Image credit: Tye Doring/Unsplash

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Dairy Industry Marketing Efforts to Teens Face Criticism
Description
Some health advocates are criticizing the dairy industry for its push to boost milk consumption by sponsoring coffee and latte bars in high schools.
Newsletter Sent
On

Cost of Rooftop Solar Power Set for Another Steep Plunge

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

Rooftop solar arrays can be a valuable asset for businesses seeking clean power, and new financing tools make it easier than ever to avoid up-front costs. However, the process of buying a rooftop solar array can still be intimidating. It is not unusual for solar customers to lose interest after their project gets bogged down by long processing times for permits, inspections and grid connections.

That’s about to change, if the new “SolarApp” program goes according to plan.

What’s keeping the cost of rooftop solar up?

For solar installers, the processing issue is more than a simple matter of losing customers. The installer also loses money on advertising, outreach and other administrative costs.

Those costs end up being reflected in the price paid by other clients. In other words, everyone pays.

The impact on the cost of rooftop solar is a significant one when multiplied across the U.S. solar industry. Administrative “soft costs” make rooftop far solar more expensive in the U.S. than in other countries with a mature solar industry.

According to the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, soft costs tack thousands of dollars on to the total price of an installed rooftop solar array in the U.S.

Some of those costs could be avoided by streamlining the permitting process, and that’s where SolarApp comes in.

Rooftop solar made easy: there’s an app for that

SolarApp stands for the proposed “Solar Automated Permit Processing” software platform. Spearheaded by leading solar industry stakeholders, the campaign to create SolarApp addresses to the heart of the problem. More than 20,000 different authorities in the U.S. have jurisdiction over different elements of rooftop solar installations. That includes permits, inspections, application fees and grid connections.

The SolarApp campaign seeks to streamline the process for residential, commercial, and industrial rooftop solar into a single, nationwide online portal that includes federal, state, and local authorities.

In contrast to a process that can take months, SolarApp aims at practically “instantaneous” approval for most routine solar projects. The campaign also seeks to create national standards for safety and quality, and it also accommodates the growing popularity of solar systems paired with energy storage.

Who wants to cut the cost of rooftop solar?

There is some heavy firepower behind the campaign to bring SolarApp into being.

Last week, the U.S. Energy Department of Energy assigned an award of $695,000 to its National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to help get SolarAPP off the ground.

NREL will function as an independent, third-party software developer for the solar industry. The non-profit Solar Foundation is an ongoing partner of the Department of Energy, and it will spearhead a an industry stakeholder group that includes the Solar Energy Industries Association, the California Solar + Storage Association and the Institute for Building Technology and Safety - along with the leading solar installers SunPower, Sunrun, Tesla and Vivint Solar.

The effort could also get a boost from scores of U.S. cities that are involved in SolSmart, another Energy Department-Solar Foundation partnership that encourages local governments to speed up the processing time for solar permits.

Why rooftop solar is still a good deal, soft costs or not

Even without SolarApp in hand, a growing number of U.S. businesses can easily access solar through a clean power option provided by their utility.

Still, a rooftop solar array provides benefits that can’t be matched by a line item on a utility bill.

Although initial up-front costs are relatively high in the U.S., a rooftop solar array can still save money over its lifespan. In contrast, utilities can charge a premium for clean power.

When paired with energy storage, the benefits of rooftop solar multiply. Storage systems can cut the payback period down by years. They also provide businesses with access to zero emission backup power in emergencies, and they create more opportunities to avoid peak demand charges and participate in other “smart grid” initiatives.

Businesses with excess solar capacity on their roofs can also take advantage of opportunities to sell or share their clean power with the community.

The visual impact of rooftop arrays

Above all, rooftop solar panels also form a powerful, high-visibility demonstration of a business’s commitment to climate action.

That’s important from a bottom line perspective because evidence is growing that public opinion favors clean power regardless of partisan political affiliation. Climate change is a growing concern among younger adults, a key advertising demographic.

A recent Deloitte study underscores that businesses can — and should — respond to consumer expectations for clean power.

Deloitte found that consumers still tend to waffle on rooftop solar because they are intimidated by the process. In contrast, businesses are aggressively pursuing it.

With or without SolarApp, there are plenty of good reasons for commercial ratepayers to go solar.

Image credit: Biel Morro/Unsplash

Prime
Off
SEO Title
Cost of Rooftop Solar Power Set for Another Steep Plunge
Description
Rooftop solar is a valuable tool for businesses seeking clean power, but the process can be intimidating. A new program, however, could help solar scale up.
Newsletter Sent
On

Why Amazon’s Long Island City Plans Should Have Considered Climate Risk

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

When Amazon was turned away from its Long Island City dream by angry New Yorkers, the company narrowly skirted a bigger issue – the impact of a climate change event that even Amazon is not big enough to get away from.

After all, it’s called Long Island for a reason: in the event of a volatile weather event such as a superstorm, evacuation of all of those working folks whose welfare about which local protesters were so concerned would have been tough. They would all have had to traipse through Manhattan or Connecticut to get out of harm’s way (with much of Manhattan and Connecticut’s populations traversing the same terrain).

Considering that Amazon is planning to be around for the long haul, it seems prudent to look at climate risk criteria in their site selection. Settling down in a place that will likely be partially underwater by 2050 is not prudent. But with all the other risks that companies need to evaluate, what to do about this relatively new vector?

In the U.S., corporate risk managers should turn to free open source tools like the Urban Adaptation Assessment (UAA) created by researchers at the University of Notre Dame. Faster than you can select your kid’s college comforter on Amazon Prime, you can see climate vulnerability assessments, data and graphics for 270-plus cities that will inform these critical decisions. For each city, UAA provides metrics for vulnerabilities related to flooding, extreme heat, extreme cold, drought, and sea-level rise, as well as the city’s readiness to adapt.

While Amazon evaluated measures like a metro area of more than one million people near an international airport with a stable and business friendly environment where there is potential to attract strong technical talent, they missed this risk that investors and global leaders are increasingly working into their decision making.

For a risk manager that gets push back that climate risk is something the firm can build its way out of, offer up that that is true – asset level resilience can be bought. But recall that those new soaring office and hotel buildings in South Boston’s Seaport District (where Amazon is expected to house 2,000 workers) with their inflatable and storable sea walls were no match for the March 2018 Nor’easter that surged onto streets throughout the seaport. By the way, UAA gives Boston good scores for its existing adaptive capacities but notes a flood event there could cost upwards of $1.5 billion.

So what about Amazon’s Northern Virginia metro area choice? Using NOAA sea-level rise projections, the Urban Adaptation Assessment makes plain that the District of Columbia could expect a 1.2-foot inundation along the Potomac in 2040 with costs approaching $155 million per foot of sea level rise. For Alexandria, the Potomac and other waterways could rise as high as a foot, with damages up to $25 million.

And Amazon is not the only one who cares about its risky choices: the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure’s 2019 Status Report shows a steady increase in the number of investors taking the physical risks of climate change into consideration in their decision making. Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor, investor, business owner and climate activist, as well as the co-lead of TCFD, points out that assessing climate risks means that “businesses are better informed about the risks they face, and investors are more capable of making sound decisions.”

In the fickle investment marketplace, accounting for and acting to avoid the worst of climate risk beyond physical assets to your strategies and operations is likely to bring competitive advantage. That would be an Amazonian move.

Image credit: Darin Kim/Flickr

Prime
Off
Description
When Amazon was turned away from its Long Island City plans by angry New Yorkers, the company narrowly skirted a bigger issue: climate change risks.
Newsletter Sent
On

What Solutions Exist for a ‘Toxic’ Workplace for Content Moderators at Facebook?

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

Humans with help from artificial intelligence have been enforcing Facebook’s community standards to ensure its 2.3 billion users do not interact with disturbing content. These 15,000 contractors who view videos of animal torture, beatings and more of humanity’s most horrific acts on the world’s largest digital community so users don’t have to watch are now bringing attention to the dark realities of their jobs.

Over the past year, these content moderators have taken different actions – including issuing lawsuits and breaking their non-disclosure agreements to share their stories with the press to highlight the grueling culture as they strive to make their case for better pay and workplace conditions. 

In a recent feature published on the Washington Post, a group of content moderators who work within an Accenture site in Austin issued a letter on an internal Facebook forum. The letter described the poor morale in their workplace due to a sense that they could be easily replaced, the jobs' low pay and strict production quotas.  

How Facebook is reinventing this toxic work environment

Facebook claims that it currently provides pre-training for all content moderators so they know how to access wellness support and ongoing coaching. The company says it also has a team of clinical psychologists who design and evaluate resiliency programs for all content moderation centers – as stated in Facebook’s blog.

The social network says it also plans to raise contractors’ hourly wage globally – including from $15 to $18 in Austin and from $20 to $22 in northern California’s Bay Area by the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, the company insists it is expanding on-site counseling for all hours of operation and developing a tool for content moderators to blur disturbing images before they review the material.

 “We have to run a very large-scale platform. We have to take care of the community. And that means we have to get a whole lot of work done,” Arun Chandra, the company’s vice president of scaled support, told The Verge, “but that is not at the expense of [contractors’] well-being.”

Moderation is critical to Facebook’s brand reputation

To secure its position as a leader in the technology space, Facebook must answer its own question about how to foster a safe community for its content moderators so the company can deliver on its brand’s mission to build community. Since Facebook’s moderators put the brand’s values of globalization and connectivity into action, they are critical to Facebook’s positioning as the company to bring communities from around the globe together.

“The fundamental reason for content moderation – its root reason for existing – goes quite simply to the issue of brand protection and liability mitigation for the platform,” explained Sarah T. Roberts, an assistant professor at UCLA who studies commercial content moderation. 

“It is our job at Facebook to help people make the greatest positive impact while mitigating areas where technology and social media can contribute to divisiveness and isolation,” wrote CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a 2017 blog.  

How can Facebook mitigate the harsh realities of humanity to preserve its legacy and uphold democracy without harming thousands of contractors’ mental health?

What are viable ways to reinvent a toxic work environment?

One way Facebook can reinvent the toxic moderation environment is by hiring these content moderators as full-time employees, rather than as contractors. The result would be employees who had more affordable healthcare (and perhaps most importantly, access to mental health professionals), and would also be able to take time off for any reason without losing pay. A counter-argument to such a policy, however, would be that the scaling of such a solution would require huge sums of cash that would otherwise be used to retain talent in other areas of Facebook’s business.  

Another option the company could consider is to continue paid counseling sessions and other mental health services post-employment at Facebook for a certain length of time. Since some content moderators have reported PTSD symptoms and drug use, such long-term services would allow for a safer transition after their tenure at Facebook, continuing to their next jobs. In the end, employees would have access to longer and better well-rounded treatment.

Both solutions could come across as band-aid approaches, and would not stop thousands of contractors from watching traumatic videos day in and day out to create a safer Facebook community. Is it possible for Facebook to reinvent its strategy for fostering a safe global community that negates content moderation all together without closing its doors? What do you think?

Image credit: Glen Carrie/Unsplash

Prime
Off
SEO Title
A ‘Toxic’ Workplace for Content Moderators at Facebook
Description
Content moderators at Facebook have pushed back against a culture in which they feel easily replaceable-on top of low pay and strict production quotas.
Newsletter Sent
On

This Program Gives Bees Independence from Environmental Degradation

Distribution Network
Primary Category
Content

In a state full of incredible scenery, one route that shouldn’t be missed in California is Highway 20, which takes you through the Mendocino Range west into Fort Bragg. Redwoods that pierce the sky eventually recede as you enter Fort Bragg and arrive at the spectacular Mendocino coast. Among the many reasons to visit, this town of 7,000 is becoming a haven for pollinators, due in part to its participation in the Bee City USA program, a Xerxes Society initiative.

Fort Bragg became the first California city to participate with Bee City USA three years ago. Cities, towns and counties that join the program make various commitments to raise awareness about the role pollinators have in our food supply, as well as the development of habitats that attract the likes of bees, butterflies, bats and hummingbirds. Cities that align with this movement are encouraged to develop teams that include local environmental leaders, municipal employees and experts well-versed in how to boost local populations of pollinators.

Nationwide, the Bee City program includes Duke Energy and the information technology firm DelCor as sponsors. Local supporters in Fort Bragg include a local coffee roaster, which has marketed one coffee blend in a partnership with the NGO Friends of the Earth to help raise funds for projects designed to create ecosystems that can help pollinators thrive locally. The results have included a bee garden at one of the city’s central attractions (the historic Guest House Park, shown above), as well as educational programs in surrounding Mendocino County.

Bee City USA is still at a nascent stage, and could certainly benefit from more awareness and corporate support. The challenge is huge: research published in the journal Biological Conservation earlier this year concluded that over 40 percent of insect species worldwide are confronting the risk of extinction over the next few decades. Another study published in 2017 suggested that there has been a 75 percent loss of insect biomass since the 1980s. Rampant overdevelopment, the use of pesticides, increased diversion of land to farming and of course, climate change are among the reasons the plight of pollinators has surged from a problem to crisis across much of the world.

California poppies in northern Fort Bragg, California
California poppies in northern Fort Bragg, California

(photo above: California poppies along the Mendocino coast)

The drive to save pollinators certainly offers a compelling reason for cities, with local business support, to align with the Bee City USA movement. But there are other reasons to become a Bee City – including another boost for local tourism as well has providing more aesthetics to a town’s central core and surrounding neighborhoods. Walking along the town’s main drag along Highway 1, Fort Bragg benefits from the pops of color resulting from its drive to revive local bee populations. Varieties of lavender, lilacs, poppies, sage, goldenrod and Mendocino Coast Indian paintbrush complement the town’s historic buildings. Locals, visitors and pollinators all win.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

Prime
Off
Description
Fort Bragg, California, is becoming a haven for bees and other pollinators, due partly to participation in the Bee City USA program.
Newsletter Sent
On