Hiring Formerly Incarcerated People Is Good For Communities (and For Business), Leaders Say

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(Image: The secret ingredient in Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavors like Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Half Baked: tasty brownies from Greyston Bakery, which hires formerly incarcerated people and others struggling to find work.) 

It’s no secret that the United States has the largest prison population in the world. Nearly 2.3 million Americans sit in prisons and jails at any given time. 

The mass incarceration system tears families apart and sends ripple effects across the economy and society, with communities of color being the hardest hit: Though the U.S. population is roughly 13 percent black and 19 percent Hispanic, black and brown people make up 56 percent of those incarcerated

After decades of jailing people at increasing rates, approximately 1 in 3 U.S. adults now has a criminal record that would appear on a routine background screening. 

People with conviction records are often shunned by employers, locked out of housing, and deemed too high-risk for loans and other financial services. In over a dozen states, they can never cast a vote again

Though over 600,000 men and women come home from prison each year, more than half remain unemployed 12 months later, increasing the likelihood they’ll return. “We set up all kinds of barriers,” said Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which represents over 300,000 HR professionals worldwide. 

“Roughly 62 percent of the HR professionals we’ve surveyed admitted they did not know their company’s policy around hiring formerly incarcerated people. As a result, they decided not to hire or to institute their own policy around background checks to eliminate individuals who were formerly incarcerated.” 

Experts often cite difficulty finding employment as a primary reason why almost 70 percent of people released from prison are back behind bars within three years. At the 2019 3BL Forum last week, Alonso and other business leaders called on the private sector to shift their thinking around second-chance hiring—and discussed the benefits for both business and society. 

Human connections open up new conversations around hiring formerly incarcerated people

Defy Ventures has worked for over a decade to give people a second chance after incarceration. Its seven-month Entrepreneur-In-Training (EIT) program starts in prison, combining entrepreneurship training with career readiness and personal development in a rigorous 1,200-page curriculum. The program culminates in a pitch meeting inside prisons, where successful business people provide feedback and vote on ideas. 

“It’s part of our subversive advocacy mission to bring business people into prison, where they’ll actually have a human interaction with somebody who is impacted by the criminal justice system,” Andrew Glazier, president and CEO of Defy Ventures, said at the Forum last week. “These person-to-person moments, these relationships, this human interaction, that's what changes the narrative.” 

More than 3,000 people from 22 prisons enrolled in EIT programs last year, and nearly 1,500 graduated. The employment rate for Defy’s post-release program stood at 82 percent in 2018 and, importantly, less than 10 percent of EIT graduates returned to prison.

“Once our folks come out, we have continued mentorship and access to a growing pool of fair-chance employers,” Glazier said. “Business people are so important to this. We cannot solve this problem without business.”

3BL Forum panel on hiring formerly incarcerated people(Image: From left to right: Marcus Glover of M. Glover Capital, Susan Braig of All Broads Affordable Plumbing, Andrew Glazier of Defy Ventures, and Joseph Kenner of Greyston Bakery discuss second-chance hiring at the 2019 3BL Forum. 

Open hiring: A bold solution to an economic problem 

Getting a job at Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, is as simple as writing your name—seriously. 

Greyston pioneered the practice of open hiring back in 1987. Ever since, it has built its team without interviews, job applications or background checks. Applicants simply write their names on a list, and they’re hired on a first come, first served basis—no questions asked. Benefits begin on day one, and new hires go through a seven- to nine-month apprenticeship before becoming full-fledged bakers. 

“We always say we don't hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people, because that's what the bakery is all about,” Joseph Kenner, vice president of programs and partnerships for Greyston Bakery, said at the 3BL Forum. “We make that investment because we believe in the power of people. As long as they're ready, willing and able to work, we'll make that investment in them without worrying about their past.” 

Greyston’s model gives an unconditional second chance to people with criminal justice histories, as well as those experiencing homelessness, substance abuse issues or who are, for whatever reason, struggling to find steady work.

What some may see as a massive risk turned into a reward for Greyston, which now supplies major corporate partners like Delta Airlines and Ben & Jerry’s. The mode has been so successful that Greyston recently partnered with Unilever to launch the Center for Open Hiring, a learning hub focused on the practice. 

“I can only hire about 60 to 70 folks at any given time. I would love to see other companies taking that step,” Kenner said. “At the end of the day, this is an economic development issue. This is an innovation that we're talking about here. When we start to place folks in positions, you're making an impact in communities, particularly urban centers, and you're making an impact on your stakeholders.” 

From second chances come new opportunities 

A year ago, Susan Braig was in prison on a nine-year sentence, of which she ultimately served five and half years. “During that time, I took a lot of days reexamining the path that I took in life, every poor choice I made, where I went wrong or could've changed things,” she remembered. Then, she entered Defy’s EIT program. “It made me stop questioning my poor choices in the past and start thinking about my future,” she said at the Forum last week. “It changed my life.”  

Braig now runs All Broads Affordable Plumbing, a Connecticut plumbing company staffed entirely by women with criminal justice histories, and she’s just getting started. “I would like to start an education program for young women and girls to get them into the trades,” she said. “Nobody is going into the trades.”

Her inspiring story shows not only what’s possible with the help of education and investment programs like Defy’s EIT, but also the untapped potential that employers routinely leave on the table—to their own detriment and that of society. 

At the 3BL Forum, Braig summed up the conversation around second chances by asking the audience to think about the worst thing they’d ever done. “Now imagine having to put that on your business card, a job application, talk about it to an HR person when you're about to be hired,” she said. “That’s what people leaving prison face.” 

“I do everything I can to help men and women coming out of prison, because it's important,” she concluded. "They're part of our society. I'm part of our society.”

Image credits: Ben & Jerry's, 3BL Media

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Hiring Formerly Incarcerated People Is Good For Business
Formerly incarcerated people are the most overlooked talent pool in the U.S. At the 2019 3BL Forum, experts called on the private sector to shift their thinking around second-chance hiring—and discussed the benefits for both business and society. 
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Tech Companies Still Lagging on Sustainability Leadership

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The technology industry has been under much scrutiny in recent months. Facebook’s treatment of political advertisements has been put under the microscope, another pitfall for the company as it still struggles in the wake of criticism it has received for its role in the meddling of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. WeWork – which is more of a real estate company but one that catered to tech companies and startups - saw its attempted IPO fail quite spectacularly. Other tech companies have seen their feet held to the fire over various issues: Google has found itself mired in controversy over immigration, Amazon employees felt their company could do better on climate action, and Uber and Lyft have raised eyebrows over data suggesting that they’re responsible for more cars on the road instead of less.

According to the American Center for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) the lack of strong sustainability leadership is endemic across many of the world’s leading technology companies. The CSE’s study found that only 37 percent of companies report on their climate change performance, while only 23 percent explicitly mention the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their reporting. Despite a vocal outcry that the tech sector’s responsibility should grow with the power that they accumulate, there is still a long way to go for that scenario to become a reality.

Understanding the benefits of sustainability

Tech companies largely understand that millennials are their most important demographic, but there is a clear disconnect in terms of priorities.

The study notes that many Silicon Valley companies did not include sustainability as part of their core strategy as recently as 2016; meanwhile, millennials have increasingly expected companies to lead on social issues. This gap in priorities is certainly closing, but not up to the standards of innovation set by the industry itself.

The overall sustainability score for the industry comes in at 50 on a scale of 100 on CSRHub, which is considered an average mark. The average active sustainability scores lie at 17, which is also considered average. For an industry that prides itself on pushing the envelope, the middling results should be troubling.

Following the money doesn’t always pay off

While there has been a very real shift in the actions of executives on the topic of sustainability, there has long been a perception in the C-suite that being more socially conscious isn’t a priority for shareholders. The study notes that angel investors’ and venture capital’s inherent focus on quick returns and exit strategies doesn’t help incentivize a strong long-term sustainability strategy.

That perception, however, is becoming outdated.

Investors have begun to see that reporting on sustainability is actually beneficial to an organization. That knowledge has put topics of environmental, social, and governance issues at the top of the list of priorities for executives at some of the largest investment firms in the world. That fundamental shift allows for rapid progress to be made, as executives of tech companies now have even more incentive to understand how they can have an impact, for better or worse, on society.

Progress is being made - somewhat

While concerns still exist, this report notes that of the 100 companies surveyed, 60 percent have a sustainability report, up drastically from 29 percent in 2016. Of those 60 percent that do have a report, 50 percent used Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting standards.

Focus on environment and community may have been lacking in the report from 2016, but they have significantly improved in the three years since, rising from a 63 percent to 98 percent focus on the environment, and a jump from 51 percent to 66 percent on community engagement. Emphasis on philanthropy and supply chain has increased as well, while any drives to improve ethics and employee engagement have remained largely steady.

This upward progression, along with the recent shift in investor attitudes, shows a clear reorientation toward more sustainable practices not only in management, but in applications of leading-edge technology as well. Overall, the technology industry is making strides on social impact with advancements such as artificial intelligence and blockchain. Companies are weighing the broader social implications as well as financial potential in new technologies and innovations, a clear positive trend.

Ultimately, sentiment is changing around sustainability as a core part of an organization’s strategy. The question is, can the technology sector keep improving – and eventually, even lead?

Image credit: Riccardo Annandale/Unsplash

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Tech Companies Still Lagging on Sustainability Leadership
According to a recent survey, the lack of strong sustainability leadership is still evident across many of the world’s leading technology companies.
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Investing in Career Development Helps Companies Attract, Keep and Promote Top Talent

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In today’s tight labor market, companies cannot afford to ignore untapped reservoirs of smart, motivated potential employees. Yet many have just such a pool of talent right before their eyes. By innovating on outreach, continuing education and career development, some companies are finding new ways to ensure their workforce is the best it can be—and that can mean a more diverse workforce, as well.

Diversity and outreach

Reaching jobseekers outside of the traditional hiring pool is one area in which some companies have excelled. The waste hauler Republic Services, for example, realized a range of benefits after it recruited female school bus drivers to its formerly all-male roster of truck drivers.

Appealing to jobseekers by proactively creating an inclusive, supportive environment is another effective strategy, as demonstrated by the LGBTQ initiatives of the global firm Accenture.

One key area in which progress seems to have stalled, however, is racial diversity. More companies are talking about diversity more openly, but there is still a persistent bottleneck in hiring and promotion.

In this regard, JetBlue’s employee education and career development initiatives offer an example for companies seeking to walk the diversity walk.

Higher education’s diversity problem

Racial disparity in college degrees is one key obstacle for companies seeking to diversify their workforce, especially at the managerial and executive levels.

The problem is not just about access to college. For those who do go to college, data show that black and Hispanic students disproportionately never complete their degrees, or they receive diplomas from less competitive schools.

As a result, they are more likely to enter the workforce with some college credits but no college degree, or with a degree that does not help them advance professionally.

This issue also has an impact on the U.S. workforce overall. More than 36 million adults have some college credits but no degree. Many cannot return to school full-time because they need to pay down college debt or have family commitments that make a degree seem out of reach.

Additionally, in today’s rapidly changing job market, consistent up-skilling is necessary to ensure advancement—even for those with four-year degrees. At least 54 percent of all employees will need re-skilling and up-skilling by 2022, yet those who need it most are often the least likely to receive it, the World Economic Forum noted earlier this year. 

How companies can fill the gap with career development

JetBlue credits its employees with sparking ideas for a path forward. The company launched its JetBlue Scholars program in 2016, in response to employees seeking help in completing a bachelor’s degree.

JetBlue took a hard look at the cost obstacle and developed a comprehensive program that helps employees to overcome it. 

This program, however, goes far beyond simply offering tuition reimbursement. Participating employees attend college primarily online, eliminating costs associated with campus life while adding flexibility in scheduling. They are also eligible for financial aid, and they can convert qualifying professional certificates and work experience—including aviation and military experience—into college credits.

In addition, JetBlue Scholars enrollees receive hands-on guidance both within their company and from the college, allowing them to tailor their degree programs for maximum professional and career development.

Most importantly, JetBlue Scholars attend high-quality schools. JetBlue’s launch partner in the program is Thomas Edison State University, part of New Jersey’s highly-rated network of public universities and colleges. TESU is designated as this network’s adult school, meaning it’s a perfect match for the needs of older working students.

Thomas Edison state university partners with JetBlue for career developmentImage: JetBlue works with highly rated institutions such as Thomas Edison State University on its career development program for employees. 

Beyond a bachelor’s degree

The JetBlue Scholars Program was a success from the beginning. Within its first year, 50 JetBlue employees completed their college degrees, including pilots, reservation agents, flight attendants, mechanics and administrative staff. 

This year, JetBlue is taking it to the next level with a new master’s degree program at discounted and affordable rates in partnership with TESU and other universities in New York, Louisiana and Maryland. Also included is Western Governors University, a multi-state educational partnership that gives classes online.

As with the JetBlue Scholars program, the idea of an advanced degree program came in response to inquiries from JetBlue employees.

The airline also stands to benefit: The new JetBlue Scholars Master’s Pathways program is aimed at enabling the company to promote more workers from within—an important consideration for employers seeking to retain valued employees in a tight job market.

“As you move up in an organization, you have the technical training and experience in corporate culture, but you might not have the educational background to move to the next level,” says Dr. Dennis W. Devery, TESU’s vice president for enrollment management.

The vocabulary of managers and executives is one of the key stumbling blocks for those looking to climb up in the ranks, he says. “Employees have told me that [executives] are talking at a level they don’t understand,” Dr. Devery explains. “As you move through an organization, there are nuances that have to be learned through education—and while you’re getting that degree, you’re starting to learn the higher-level issues of management and learning the vocabulary of organizations at senior levels.”

Investing in people

The JetBlue model provides other companies with a pathway for demonstrating that their diversity efforts are more than just words on a webpage.

Though the company’s educational and career development initiatives did not begin with a focus on diversity alone, they are an expression of JetBlue’s core values around inclusion. In particular, the company’s approach to diversity translates into a concerted effort to “appreciate, respect and value crewmembers’ points of view across the spectrum.”

The cornerstone of JetBlue’s success is listening to employees from all walks of life—and responding to their concerns and aspirations in a concrete, effective way. Companies seeking to replicate JetBlue’s educational and career development programs would do well to start there.

*This series is sponsored by JetBlue and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image credits: Pixabay, Flickr/Gov. Phil Murray

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Career Development: The Secret to Talent Retention?
By innovating on outreach and continuing education, some companies are finding new ways to ensure their workforce is the best it can be—and that can mean a more diverse workforce, as well.
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For this ESG Professional, 3BL Forum Was Inspirational and Aspirational

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I attended this week’s 3BL Forum themed Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next and heard from more than 90 corporate responsibility professionals and experts from NGOs over two amazing days.

Given this is the height of conference season and we can’t all be everywhere, I wanted to share a few of the learnings and comments that I found particularly insightful. Enjoy!

Does it ever feel like you are being pressured to  sign on to every petition and join in every cause? Well Eileen Boone, EVP of Corporate Social Responsibility, CVS Health, thinks differently. She shared with attendees her perspective: “Just because it’s the issue of the day doesn’t mean you have to jump in…If you can’t bring resources to the issue , don’t do it. People will see it’s not authentic.“

Whoever said CSR was easy? “Being in the CSR space, is a challenge. Every side of every issue is going to get more sophisticated going forward,” said Tim McClimon, President, American Express Foundation and SVP, American Express.

Timberland shared details of its recently launched Nature Needs Heroes campaign which seeks to inspire a greening movement among consumers. What’s different about the campaign is that it involves consumers. “The campaign is a call-to-action to engage people in small, everyday actions that make a difference and help create a greener world,” Atlanta McIlwraith, Senior Manager of Community Engagement and Communication, Timberland, shared. "The small actions add up, and as many people do small actions, you get a movement—and it is movements that change the world."

Is it possible for a perfume to solve the world’s greatest challenges? According to Kip Cleverley, Vice President of Global Sustainability at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), it is. Speaking during the first day of 3BL Forum, Cleverley shared his company’s pursuit to focus not simply on doing less bad – for example, by reducing water use, something they have done – but by doing more good.  And what’s really cool is he’s working with actress and environmentalist Michele Pfeiffer to do it. Curious? Read more in my recent coverage.

Perhaps my favorite speaker of the Forum – and not just because he gave out free ice cream to all attendees, although that certainly helped – was Matthew McCarthy, CEO of the iconic brand Ben & Jerry’s, who said “If your company is not doing something to deal with a global issue it is probably dead.” 

While I am all for plant-based diets, I was interested to hear from Stewart Leeth, VP of Regulatory Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer at Smithfield Foods, that they are working with local farms in their supply chain to convert manure into biogas to create a second revenue source for struggling U.S. farmers.

Amanda Gardiner, Director of Social Responsibility at Verizon, announced that the company is working on a new CSR framework that will be based on “radical transparency” and partnerships and will include new targets. Not surprising given the refreshing focus on CSR by their new CEO Hans Vestberg. Watch out for an announcement next year.

According to the new 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study shared at the Forum, Gen Zers believe they are the key to pushing forward on the world’s top social and environmental issues, from climate change to gun control. And they are  willing to roll up their sleeves and participate. Around three-quarters stand ready to support companies that care in a variety of ways, including: sharing their positive opinion about a company doing good (85 percent), buying a product with a social or environmental benefit (84 percent) and learning what they can do to make a difference (also 84 percent). Check out my article on 3p for more details

Alicia Chin, Senior Manager of Social Impact and Growth Initiatives at the NHL, shared how the League is helping local ice rink operators and owners invest in new sustainable, energy efficient technologies so they can stay open. And the NHL is offering  tips on how fans can be more sustainable in their lives. Very cool.

And last but not least, I loved a quote from Mona Amodeo, Author of Beyond Sizzle: The Next Evolution of Branding, who said she likes to think of the shift in focus from “looking at a company’s environmental footprint – measuring negative impacts -- to focusing on their environmental handprint – measuring positive impacts.”

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3BL Forum: Inspirational and Aspirational
Over 90 corporate responsibility professionals and experts from NGOs who spoke during 3BL Forum offered insight Maggie Kohn found valuable.
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Electric and Self-driving Cars Must Still Win Consumers' Trust

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Electric and self-driving cars, to many observers, will be an inevitable of transportation systems worldwide. But that sentiment isn’t held by all, or even most, people. Unease was expressed extensively in a recent survey by JD Power, showing a “Mobility Confidence Index” at 36 (100-point scale) for self-driving cars, and 55 for electric cars. Both are troubling figures for automakers and tech companies in the space, yet there are pros and cons to the findings.

Companies such as Tesla have paved a new path in the auto industry, which is inherently a positive, but the concern over public safety and viability of these products stand in question. While these advancements are to be commended, it’s also important to note that they are far from finished products, still in either a test phase or nestled in as a niche market.

Mistrust over self-driving cars needs context

Self-driving cars are a new and unproven technology. People inherently don’t trust what they don’t know, and 68 percent of respondents have “little to no knowledge about self-driving vehicle technology.” That is to be expected with a new technology that stands to fundamentally change the way we traverse the world around us.

The survey cites that problem is “proving more challenging than originally thought.” These delays, along with the accidents that have been well publicized, have turned public sentiment against the technology. The fact is, there is no real basis for either end of the debate. We’re unsure if self-driving cars will prove to be an improvement over human drivers. 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error, so in theory, this technology will save lives.

There are too many factors that play into testing to accurately quantify whether or not assumptions made by advocates for electric and self-driving cars are true. A great deal of context needs to be assessed in reviewing the data that already exists, such as where testing has happened and the variety of tasks the car does. More research needs to happen, more advancements need to be made, and more people need to be educated by the companies that are working on the technology to speed up the timeline for which self-driving cars become mainstream.

Viability of electric cars is growing quickly

Electric cars pose a slightly different challenge for consumers, but still suffer from the same broader trends. Investments in electric cars have jumped drastically, up to $90 billion, as exemplified by Ford’s investment in Rivian earlier this year. Investments continue across the global automotive sector, and they are being funneled less into concept cars and more into consumer-viable cars, meaning the shift from niche to mainstream is beginning.

That growth is encouraging, but it’s also worth noting that electric cars made up less than one percent of the 90 million cars sold annually. Challenges abound; the auto industry is one of the most difficult industries to permeate, and until more mainstream companies that consumers trust begin making electric cars a part of their core offerings, enthusiasm will be tempered for some time.

That being said, innovation has struck the electric car and battery sector like a bolt of lightning. Tesla has recently announced the launch of a battery that the company says can last a million miles before it wears out, more than double the current leading battery capacity. This advancement has to be understood by the public for it to move confidence numbers up, and the JD Power study only emphasizes that point.

The reality of innovation

Many would like to believe that the leaps and bounds made through technology happen instantly, a sudden breakthrough catapulting us to new heights. The reality tells a different story, and this particular anecdote is no different. Electric cars have struggled as an affordable option for the masses, and are just beginning to become mainstream options, with a charging network just starting to expand to an acceptable degree.

Self-driving cars are even further behind, more theoretical than practical at this stage. The technological and regulatory challenges that exist won’t be easy to solve, and with the scrutiny many in this industry have faced, such as Uber and Tesla, the bar seems even higher.

In sum, the JD Power survey offers several lessons – and questions.

At the macro level, we know that technological innovation involves a great deal of gray area. There are clear financial and societal benefits to be reaped from these advancements, but these particular examples make it clear that there will inevitably be shreds of doubt that exist. Adaption is an inherently difficult thing to do and expecting consumers to shift to electric cars quickly is hardly a good bet.

Consumers will continue to have more questions in the years ahead.

Why is this technology an improvement over the current state of affairs? Is it a noticeable enough improvement to warrant large-scale investment? How will it alter the landscape of the community with which it resides?

These questions lie at the feet of the organizations that pursue these advancements. These surveys make it clear that companies that are pursuing self-driving and electric cars not only have technological hurdles, but marketing hurdles. The technology may be ground-breaking, but consumers also need to believe it’s ground-breaking.

Image credit: Vlad Tchompalov/Unsplash

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A recent survey by JD Power shows that the manufacturers of self-driving and electric cars have a long road ahead before they win consumers' trust.
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#TeamTrees Campaign, Led By YouTube Influencer, Raises Millions For Tree-Planting Worldwide

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We all know that online influencers have revolutionized popular culture: Ask folks under 18 about their favorite celebrity, and they’re far more likely to name an Instagram model or YouTube personality than an actress or musician. 

But can all of those makeup tutorials, prank challenges and sketch scenes shake up the way we view decidedly more serious topics like purpose and philanthropy? For YouTube sensation MrBeast, real name Jimmy Donaldson, the answer is a resounding yes.

Earlier this year, a Reddit user challenged Donaldson to do something special to celebrate reaching 20 million subscribers on YouTube: plant 20 million trees. 

Donaldson—known for increasingly fantastical YouTube videos like “Paying People $10,000 To Eat Ghost Pepper”—quickly accepted. But of course, he couldn’t accomplish such a feat on his own, so he linked up with the Arbor Day Foundation to turn his fans’ eco dreams into reality. 

Out of the collaboration, #TeamTrees was born. The unprecedented influencer campaign has raised more than $12 million since mid-October. Along with do-gooder YouTube fans, the campaign proved a hit with another high-profile influencer set: tech companies and their executives. 

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk pledged $1 million to the campaign, bested only by Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke, who threw a touch of shade with a $1,000,001 donation. Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and fin-tech firm Square, donated $150,000. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki pledged $200,000, while the company committed to match $1 million in donations, Donaldson wrote in a tweet last week. And the support keeps rolling in. 

#TeamTrees YouTube influencer campaign raises millions for tree-planting

Donaldson (pictured above) and the Arbor Day Foundation have set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2020, to raise the $20 million needed to plant 20 million trees. Through its network spanning around the globe, the Foundation will plant the trees on every continent except Antarctica, from January 2020 through December 2022. Tree species will be native to each area, ensuring survivability and maximum benefit for local ecosystems, according to the campaign’s website

The case for tree-planting to fight climate change 

For many in the sustainability community, tree-planting is something of a table stakes move. It’s great and all, but with the urgency of the climate crisis and accelerating ecosystem degradation worldwide, is it really enough to match the challenges we face? 

#TeamTrees doesn’t kid themselves. On its FAQ page, it willingly answers the question, “Can planting trees solve climate change?,” with a transparent: “No, not on its own.”

Still, as we’ve reported before here on TriplePundit, the world loses 18.7 million acres of forests every year, according to the WWF. Research indicates that if current deforestation levels continue, the world's rainforests may completely disappear in the next 100 years

This is bad news for the fight against climate change. Forest restoration has the most global climate mitigation potential compared to all other natural climate solutions, according to the National Academy of Sciences. That’s because forests are natural carbon sinks: U.S. forests alone store 14 percent of all annual carbon emissions from the national economy, and restoring global forestland has the potential to contribute over a third of the total climate change mitigation scientists say is required by 2030. 

Additionally, healthy forest ecosystems are critical to help communities stay resilient to natural disasters, which are increasing in severity and intensity due to climate change, Arbor Day Foundation President Dan Lambe said at the 2019 3BL Forum last week.

“The U.S. lost 8.5 million acres of forest lands due to wildfires last year alone,” Lambe said at the Forum. “The five hottest years on record were the last five years, according to NASA, and we're all seeing the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters. All of these things are taking a toll on our forests, which are critical part of our health, wellness and resiliency.” 

In response, the Foundation collaborates with governments, NGOs, community groups and corporate partners around the world on tree-planting efforts that maximize resilience to climate change. 

“We're planting millions of trees, strategically with government and non-government partners, to help restore forest lands and to strategically buffer and create natural solutions to resiliency,” Lambe said. “If ever there was a time for trees, now is that time. If ever there was a time for natural solutions and leadership through conservation efforts, that time is now.” 

Influencers taking stands 

The 3BL Forum included a panel on the power of influencers—including eight members of the sustainerati, including our very own Leon Kaye. They spoke to the potential of leveraging millions of followers to spark positive change—and #TeamTrees presents what is perhaps the most apt example to date. 

"The #TeamTrees initiative has taken off thanks to the creativity of YouTube creators who are harnessing the power, the influence and the passion of their followers," Lambe told InsideEdition. "Twenty million trees is going to make an enormous difference in helping to fight and combat climate change and other important and pressing issues all around the world." 

Is viral tree-planting just the start of a new chapter in the brands taking stands story? All we can say is: We certainly hope so. 

Image credit: Unsplash/Noah Buscher, Twitter/YouTube

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Influencer Campaign Raises Millions For Tree-Planting
The viral #TeamTrees campaign has raised more than $12 million for tree-planting in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation. What does it say about the role of influencer culture in the brands taking stands movement?
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8 Mindset Shifts To Up Your Sustainability Game, From Business Leaders Who Know

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For decades, the private sector has operated under the premise of profit first. As consumers, investors, employees and other stakeholders increasingly expect business to operate with a higher purpose, many leaders are wading into uncharted waters. Navigating the sustainability seas successfully requires mindset shifts that change the way we approach our operations, supply chains and cultures. At the 2019 3BL Forum, conscious leaders shared powerful insights to help you shift your thinking and become a purpose pro. 

Know your strengths—and partner to address your weaknesses 

No one can be all things to all people. Every organization—from nonprofits and startups to major multinationals—has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Your teams' unique core competencies are what make your organization great, but identifying areas where you need help—and asking for it—can help you become even better, says Dan Keim, director of humanitarian logistics for the UPS Foundation. 

"Be engaged" in the way your teams function, he advised at the 3BL Forum. "Know what your organization does well, and look for others to collaborate with and partner with in those areas that you may need more support." 

When you champion sustainability in the C-suite, speak in their language

"We in the sustainability community have long used our own language, buzzwords and jargon when trying to communicate internally with executives," Lawrence Heim, managing director of  the conflict minerals and sustainability advisory Elm Sustainability Partners, said at the Forum. "That’s great, except for the fact that not all of the executives necessarily understand what we’re saying." 

"One thing we need to do as sustainability, ESG and CSR professionals internally is talk in their language," he continued. "We need to adapt to them. We don’t need to try to force the executives to change. They will eventually, but in order to build that credibility within the organization, we have to begin the conversation with their terms." 

If you're going to talk the inclusion talk, make sure you walk the inclusion walk

The seemingly endless string of offensive fashion pieces released earlier this year made it painfully clear how many brands don't have a single person of color on their design or leadership teams. 

At the 3BL Forum, Leslie Short, CEO and president of the diversity and inclusion collective The Cavu Group, dug into how that's even possible in 2019 and what brands can do about it. 

Short's refrain over two days at the Forum was: "Nothing about us without us," which simply means that brands—or anyone else, for that matter—shouldn't make decisions that pertain to a certain stakeholder group without consulting people from that group first. And it's not as simple as having a person at the table—even if that person is a chief D&I officer. 

"Inclusion does not mean I’m sitting in that room. Have you actually spoken to me in the room? We really need to look at a company’s intent when it says that," Short said. "Everyone wants to say they have a chief diversity and inclusion officer. But what is that person doing? What is his or her purpose? Culture is not something we just speak about. It’s something you need to create."

The secret all conscious leaders know: Failure is your friend

Taking a public stance—whether it's a bold environmental goal or alignment with a social cause—can be nerve-wracking at first. Most of us fear falling short or looking silly, but really, these fears are unfounded, says Mercedes Escala, director of corporate citizenship initiatives at IBM. Your stakeholders, particularly your employees, know your company isn't perfect—and they're more likely to respect you if you aim high and fall short than if you sit on your hands and do nothing. 

"It's okay to try something that ultimately doesn’t work," Escala said this week. "As our employees see us being willing to fail and to iterate, they're even more likely to amplify in our voice and believe in us because they feel proud of what we are all doing." 

Invite people to be a part of your purpose activations

We heard consistently at the Forum that today's consumers and employees, particularly young people, don't just want to read about your social or environmental stance—they want to be a part of it. 

"If you’re talking about an issue, it’s important to not only talk about what it means to your company, but also how it affects other people and why the company is addressing the issue," said Wesley Gee, director of sustainability for the Works Design Communications. "And the even better way of doing it is to bring other people into the fold and make them a part of that discussion rather than the perception of companies beating their chests." 

Vulnerability is a good thing 

As Nandika Madgavkar, senior director of CECP's Strategic Investor Initiative, said at the Forum: "If companies don’t tell their story, someone else will tell it for them—and it’s not going to be pretty." 

Cecily Joseph, who spent over a decade leading corporate responsibility and D&I efforts at Symantec before becoming chair of the youth mobilization nonprofit Net Impact, elaborates: "I encourage everyone to tell your company’s story and to do it from a place of feeling vulnerable and striving for continuous improvement," she said at the Forum. 

"I have been through 11 years of corporate responsibility reporting and setting goals, and it can be very challenging when you feel you don’t have it all together yet. But that’s okay. That road we’re all on toward trying to be honest and trying to tell our story is very important." 

To gain buy-in from the uninitiated, lead with the ROI

Like many multinationals, Ascena Retail Group, the parent company behind brands like Ann Taylor, Loft and Lane Bryant, focuses much of its responsibility work on its supply chain. As part of its work, the company committed to empower 100,000 women in its global supply chain with health or financial literacy training in partnership with BSR's HERproject.

There are clear social benefits that come with this, but focusing on the financials is what really inspired suppliers to jump on board, says Jeannette Ferran Astorga, vice president of corporate responsibility for Ascena.

"Find the ROI," she advised other business leaders. "In our story, we lean heavily on our partners to drive impact—and that influence is important—but there’s no better way to influence than by showing the ROI. We were quickly able to prove to our suppliers that there is a return on investment from creating space in your workplace to empower women with more education—higher productivity, lower turnover, higher retention, lower absenteeism. It’s a win-win-win for the business, for the women and for the supplier." 

Cut yourself—and your peers—a little slack

As the saying goes, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Some might call this a cop-out, but the truth is that adopting change in massive institutions such as multinational companies takes time. By criticizing those who don't have it all figured out yet, we essentially discourage them from trying—and that's the opposite of what we in the sustainability community really want, says Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas, managing director of corporate leadership at CECP. 

"The reality is there are some of us that are leading a little firmer than others," she said at the Forum. "They’re a little clearer about their direction. But that doesn’t mean that those who are just starting on their journey or who are maybe making some attempts at a journey should be criticized for even attempting. Part of the concept of inclusion is to open the door and welcome everyone—and that means that everyone has to be able to get started." 

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End your week on a high note with powerful insights from conscious leaders that delve into the "why" and "how" behind responsible and sustainable business.
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Carbon Capture Could Do More Harm Than Good, Researchers Say

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(Image: The natural gas life cycle is just one factor cited by researchers who cast doubt on the efficacy of carbon capture at energy facilities.) 

Carbon capture has been touted as an effective way to reduce emissions on a global scale, and that has attracted the eye of investors looking for innovative opportunities to boost their green cred. However, the proof is in the pudding. Evidence is mounting that carbon capture is becoming irrelevant—and may even do more harm than good—when renewable energy is already at hand.

Carbon capture once made sense…

Not too long ago, carbon capture was actually a pretty sensible solution for emissions from power plants, at least from an economic perspective. Renewable energy was expensive, and the global fleet of coal power plants seemed to be on a path of all but certain growth.

More recently, low-cost wind and solar have combined with energy storage, energy efficiency, and smart-grid technology to beat coal at its own game

Here in the U.S., coal power plants are already falling like dominoes. Low-cost renewables are also beginning to threaten coal’s main competitor, natural gas.

In addition, the clean tech supply chain, workforce, and financial pipeline are all growing and maturing. That has created the conditions for the renewable energy transition to accelerate.

The natural gas angle

Into this scenario steps new research from Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

Published this month in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Jacobson’s study looks at the publicly disclosed emissions from a coal power plant equipped with a carbon capture system. The study also covers public data from a plant that captures carbon from the ambient air.

At both of the plants, the carbon capture systems were run on electricity, generated by natural gas.

Methane emissions and electricity

That should set off red flags right there. Gas produces less pollution when burned than coal, but the burning comes at the tail end of a long “upstream” chain of methane emissions.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas, and it is a powerful greenhouse gas. Methane escapes from multiple points in the supply chain, including drilling operations at natural gas fields, transportation pipelines, storage facilities and distribution networks.

That is exactly what Jacobson takes into account. His study compares the savings in carbon emissions at both plants with the upstream emissions related to natural gas supply, as well as “downstream” emissions from the coal power plant and emissions relating to gas-sourced electricity.

The results are striking. According to Stanford, typical studies of carbon capture technology are based only on downstream emissions. By including upstream emissions, Jacobson arrived at a 20-year average carbon capture rate of approximately 10 percent.

That’s a far cry from the impressive rate of 85 to 90 percent claimed by carbon capture stakeholders.

The social costs of carbon capture

Jacobson’s study also took social costs into consideration, including “air pollution, potential health problems, economic costs and overall contributions to climate change.”

These upstream impacts are critical, but until now they have played little part in the carbon capture economy.

Nevertheless, both coal mining and natural gas drilling have been well established as leading sources of public health hazards and economic malaise in local communities.

“Even if you have 100 percent capture from the capture equipment, it is still worse, from a social cost perspective, than replacing a coal or gas plant with a wind farm because carbon capture never reduces air pollution and always has a capture equipment cost,” Jacobson argues.

Of course, carbon capture, biogas recovery and other air pollution controls will continue to play a growing role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from other industrial operations, including agriculture.

For now, though, carbon capture for electricity generation is a no go, at least here in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Energy is still funding carbon capture research. However, the agency’s lone showcase carbon capture project, the $1 billion FutureGen facility, stalled out back in 2015 and is permanently mothballed.

It appears that U.S. policymakers have already looked at the same math as Jacobson and reached a similar conclusion.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Carbon Capture Does More Harm Than Good, Researchers Say
Evidence is mounting that carbon capture is becoming irrelevant—and may even do more harm than good—when renewable energy is already at hand.
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This Unlikely Partnership Drives Positive Change in the Food Sector

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(Image: A biogas capture project on a Missouri hog farm—which helps restore native prairies and monarch butterfly habitat—is just one part of Smithfield Foods' unlikely partnership with Environmental Defense Fund.)

It is imperative that farmers, food companies, policymakers, and environmental advocates collaborate to figure out how to feed a growing global population while minimizing environmental impacts and building a more resilient food system. One company that is stepping up to this challenge is Smithfield Foods.

Over the past six years, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been working with the global food company, which is also the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer, to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and environmental impacts from its operations and across its supply chain. And last week, Smithfield president and CEO Ken Sullivan and I were both at the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit in New York City to talk about our work together and how partnerships can accelerate environmental results.

The common themes in our collaboration are an ambitious goal and a focus on solutions that generate shared value for the environment, farmers and the bottom line. That shared value creates lasting commitment to sustainable agricultural practices and can serve as a model for other business leaders seeking to address the growing demand for climate action from investors, consumers and the next generation.

Here are two key ways Smithfield is raising the bar for corporate sustainability leadership—and proving what’s possible for other food companies.  

Commitment to big, hairy sustainability goals

Based on nearly 30 years of forging unexpected partnerships with high impact companies, I’ve seen firsthand how setting big goals can unlock innovation and big results for the environment. 

Our collaboration with Smithfield began when our mutual partner, Walmart, engaged its suppliers in reducing GHG emissions in its supply chain. Smithfield stepped forward to become the first major animal agriculture company to address the environmental footprint of the grain it grows for animal feed, by setting a goal to implement climate-smart agriculture practices on 75 percent of its grain acreage. (Animals consume nearly 40 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., so companies like Smithfield can play a critical role in ensuring that grain is grown as sustainably as possible.)

Through its work with EDF, Smithfield built a grain sustainability program that enabled the company to surpass this goal in 2018, hitting 80 percent of its grain acreage, the equivalent of more than half a million acres. Smithfield’s ongoing sustainability efforts continue to support farmers in implementing these practices, which include diversifying their crop rotations, growing cover crops, and optimizing fertilizer applications. 

Reaching this milestone highlighted the company’s appetite for sustainability leadership and revealed new business opportunities for the company and its farmers. 

In 2015, EDF challenged Smithfield to “think big” when the company committed to setting a new sustainability goal. And Smithfield seized the opportunity to lead the livestock industry by following with a commitment to reduce absolute GHG emissions 25 percent by 2025 across its supply chain, from feed grain to packaged bacon. This ambitious goal has the potential to reduce emissions by more than 4 million metric tons, the equivalent of removing 900,000 cars from the road.

And just last year, Smithfield committed to installing manure lagoon covers and digesters on the majority of its company-owned and contract hog finishing farms in four states over the next 10 years. The new technology can capture approximately 85,000 metric tons of the potent GHG methane each year and turn it into biogas.

Collaborating for scale

Ambitious climate commitments cannot be achieved alone. Only by working together can we accelerate environmental progress across global supply chains with the scale and speed required. Smithfield’s GHG goal is no different: It requires collaboration within different divisions of the company, across its own supply chain, and with diverse partners outside of the company. 

Smithfield’s partnership with EDF is the first such example: While we don’t agree on everything, we have found substantial common ground in developing Smithfield’s sustainability goals and initiatives. One of our focus areas has been identifying tools and practices that reduce environmental impacts while generating benefits for farmers.

These programs also benefit Smithfield: By building relationships with local grain growers, Smithfield increased the proportion of grain it buys directly from farmers from less than 10 percent to more than 60 percent in just 10 years, saving $8 million in grain purchasing costs in 2018 alone.

Smithfield and EDF also collaborated with the University of Minnesota’s NorthStar Institute for Sustainable Enterprise to develop a detailed GHG footprint for the company. The analysis created a map of emissions “hotspots” that guides Smithfield toward the highest-impact opportunities to reduce emissions. And the company is partnering with Dominion Energy to deliver on its commitment to install manure lagoon covers and digesters. 

Smithfield and EDF are also working with Roeslein Alternative Energy to capture biogas on the company’s Missouri hog farms. This collaboration presented an unexpected opportunity to restore native prairies and monarch butterfly habitat. To multiply the benefits of the initiative, the prairie grasses can be harvested and used as additional fodder for biogas generation. 

It will take more collaborations like these at scale, from within and across industries and supply chains, to bring about the transformational changes we need to create a world where business and the environment can thrive in unison. 

The future of sustainability partnerships

As we look to the future, EDF will continue to work with Smithfield and other major companies to identify new ways to accelerate the transition to a 100 percent clean economy. Forward-thinking companies are investing in Fourth Wave technologies like sensors and data analytics to supercharge business and sustainability. EDF is also collaborating with business leaders to make their voices heard in the halls of government to influence smart climate and environmental policy

When companies take the leap to embrace ambitious goals and new partners, environmental and business benefits follow. 

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This Unlikely Partnership Drives Change in the Food Sector
Most of us assume that environmental NGOs and major multinational companies are like oil and water, but a seemingly unlikely partnership between the Environmental Defense Fund and Smithfield Foods proves otherwise.
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American Express Relaunched the Green Card—And It's Greener Than the Original

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American Express relaunched its classic Green Card last week. The color represents more than 50 years of serving customers, and the card itself marks an environmental first for the company. 

Renamed Green from Amex, it's the first American Express card manufactured primarily from plastic recovered from oceans and coasts

“Through our materiality process, we found we were vulnerable by our use of paper and having cards made out of plastic,” Tim McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation and senior vice president at American Express, said at the 3BL Forum this week. “So, we did something about it.” 

American Express will source the plastic in partnership with Parley for the Oceans, a collaborative of organizations and individuals working to protect the world’s oceans. 

“American Express is creating a symbol of change and inviting their network to shape a blue future, one based on creativity, collaboration and eco-innovation,” Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans, said in a press statement.

As part of its work with Parley, American Express has committed to remove up to 1 million pounds of marine plastic pollution. To help, in September, the company and Parley kicked off a global call-to-action rallying card members, merchants and employees to take to Instagram and explain why they #BackOurOceans. For every comment received during this time, American Express and Parley committed to remove two pounds of plastic from beaches and coasts.

McClimon also shared that Green from Amex will be recyclable. Starting in 2020, U.S. consumer, small business and corporate card members can send their expired or non-working cards back to American Express, which will work with a vendor to remove the metallic chip and protect consumers’ information while recycling the plastic. 

Another new card feature allows customers to redeem their reward points on products that help reduce plastic waste in their daily lives, including stainless steel water bottles and straws, beverage mugs, and reusable food bags. 

“We hope Green from Amex will serve as a daily reminder to our card members to do their part to back our oceans and consider how they can reduce the use of plastic in their own lives,” Rachel Stocks, executive vice president of global premium products and benefits at American Express, said in a press statement announcing the new card. 

The relaunched card is all part of the company’s broader commitment to eliminate single use-plastics across its operations by 2025. To date, it has replaced all single-use plastics in its cafeteria with compostable packaging and utensils, eliminating 62,000 pounds of single-use plastic, according to the company. It also removed plastic straws and coffee stirrers from its global headquarters, managed office facilities and operating centers. 

Credit card holders have more ways to be green

American Express is not the only financial services company thinking more broadly about how it can reduce its environmental impact. 

Mastercard recently became the first in the sector to set a science-based emissions target, which ensures that its actions help the world meet the goals outlined in the Paris climate agreement.  

Meanwhile, Visa offers several credit cards aligned with the environment. The Green America Visa supports the nonprofit Green America's programs that work to advance clean energy and support green businesses. With the Amazon Watch Visa, card holders can help Amazon Watch in its work with indigenous communities and at the regional and international levels to protect ecologically and culturally sensitive ecosystems in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. 

We also heard at 3BL Forum this week that consumes want to join with companies who value the same issues they do. American Express and others in the sector are giving them just the opportunity. 

Image credit: American Express via Business Wire

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The New Amex Green Card: Greener Than the Original
“Through our materiality process, we found we were vulnerable by our use of paper and having cards made out of plastic,” Tim McClimon of American Express said at the 3BL Forum this week. “So, we did something about it.”
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